British Columbia’s capital city has cancelled Canada Day celebrations after the Mayor and council concluded marking the day would be damaging to Victoria’s efforts at reconciliation.
Mayor Lisa Helps presented city council with a motion earlier this week noting that longstanding Lekwungen participants had said they would not take part as usual after the announcement by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops. The chiefs of the Songhees and Esquimalt supported that direction, she said.
“The history of our country’s genocidal relationship with First Nations has been once again revealed in a way that is painful for the Lekwungen people as well as First Nations across the country,” the mayor wrote in the motion presented to council.
Council agreed unanimously to do nothing for July 1 and hold an event instead by Sept. 6. Ms. Helps noted federal funding is available until that time.
The City of Victoria had already cancelled any outdoor event marking Canada Day in deference to pandemic restrictions. Like last year, the city had planned a one-hour, televised program that was intended to be a “diverse, multicultural celebration of Canada” featuring local musicians and artists.
As usual, members of the local First Nations community were expected to play a role. But they would not participate, given the events in Kamloops.
Ms. Helps said city staff had been considering ways to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to be buried at the former Kamloops Residential School.
“The more we reflect, the more we understand that holding the usual Canada Day celebrations could be damaging to the city’s and the community’s reconciliation efforts,” Mayor Helps wrote in the motion.
Instead, councillors voted to produce an hour-long broadcast that would be an educational tool to share the Indigenous history and stories from Victoria area along with the history of residential schools and of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald.
Mr. Macdonald was an architect of the country’s residential school system and held a seat in the House of Commons representing Victoria from 1878 to 1882. A statue of him was removed from in front of Victoria’s city hall in 2018.
Other cities have struggled with Macdonald’s legacy, particularly in Kingston, Ont. where the former prime minister had close ties. Municipal leaders there have debated as recently as last week what to do with a statue of him, while Macdonald monuments elsewhere have been subjected to vandalism.
Mayor Helps said she is not discouraging Canadians from celebrating July 1. Rather, she said the capital city in B.C. had an obligation to do something different.
“We’re using our leadership to be more focused on reflection and less on celebration,” she said in an interview. “You can feel free to celebrate, but, as a city, we have a responsibility to show leadership.”
A spokesman for the Songhees and the Esquimalt First Nations was unavailable for comment.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Mayor Lisa Helps presented city council with a motion Thursday noting that the Indigenous communities of the Songhees and Esquimalt had declared they would not take part in the occasion as usual. In fact, the motion noted that it was longstanding Lekwungen participants that had said they would not take part as usual.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.