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Canada Canada Day’s real heart, in the country’s grassroots communities

We speak correctly of two official languages and incorrectly of two founding nations – but we may, in fact, be talking of two very different Canadas: 1A and 1B.

Canada 1A is found in the headlines and talk shows, around water coolers and coffee shops and in the small talk that isn't about the weather. It is the Canada of Senate disgraces, political spittle, electoral fraud, military boors, residential school shame, boneheaded monuments and waste – the country as its own negative ad.

Canada 1B is far less common, almost rare. It is the Canada of the Olympics, particularly the Winter Games, of individual success around the world and in outer space, of Gordon Lightfoot and Gilles Vigneault songs, Alice Munro and Gabrielle Roy stories. It can be a bit corny, even a tad embarrassing – but never around this, the best time of the year.

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Ever determined to be politically correct, the federal government has tagged this an "11-day Celebrate Canada period" to include June 21 (National Aboriginal Day), June 24 (Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day), today, June 27 (Canadian Multicultural Day) and, of course, July 1 (Canada Day).

(Anyone left out will have a monument of apology erected to them as soon as suitable space in the national capital can be found.)

Knee-jerk cynicism aside, Canadians hardly need to be encouraged to party around what used to be called Dominion Day. Increasingly, it has become the one moment in each calendar year when Canadians – masters of humility – turn into some unique combination of cheerleaders usually associated with Latvian hockey or American college football.

Only in this case, in a remarkable departure from the daily news, Canadians are cheering for their nation, regardless whether they think of it as country or province.

Canadian Heritage offers a Celebrate Canada program that will spend $6.7-million this year to help organizations and communities defray the costs on about 1,700 events, such as the $500 grant the town of Lunenburg was given to hold a Canada Day family picnic. But even if such small grants were unavailable, the partying would go on across the country.

Some themes are virtually universal for the celebration: pancake breakfasts, bikes and/or dog decorating competitions, face-painting, highland bands and, without exception, evening fireworks.

In Coquitlam, B.C., citizens will form a "Living Flag" at the Town Centre Park and sing O Canada. Charlottetown will hold a waterfront concert. Edmonton will light up the High Level Bridge and also host a semifinal match in the Women's World Cup at Commonwealth Stadium – a marvellous competition in which, at press time, Canada was still alive and, hopefully, kicking.

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In Leduc, Alta., the morning will feature a traditional pancake breakfast; the afternoon a rather untraditional reptile show. In Timmins, Ont., there will be pontoon boat cruises on the Mattagami River and a concert by local sensation Celeste Levis, who recently starred on La Voix, the francophone version of the international television hit, The Voice.

Truro, N.S., will have a children's parade and a dunk tank. The village of Breton, Alta., offers a pinata at Centennial Park. Free freezies will be handed out at Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island.

Even beyond the borders there will be celebrations to mark the day.

In Seoul, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Korea will be at the Changdeok Girls' Middle School, where the highlight will be a naming contest for the Canadian embassy's RCMP-costumed moose doll – a true challenge given that there are neither Mounties nor moose to be found in that part of the world.

In all scheduled events, the focus is far more on children than on the creaking, 148-year-old country in which they live. And, given that children are, rather obviously, whatever future the country is to have, this is as it should be.

If their parents and grandparents increasingly see Canada as the natural habitat of Mike Duffy and Dean Del Mastro, it is worth a look at how today's youngsters perceive their country: more 1A or more 1B?

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In North Bay, a small city at the point where Southern Ontario meets Northern Ontario, they recently held the eighth annual Canada Day Poster Challenge, inviting students from kindergarten to Grade 7 from that region to depict "Canadian Pride" in their art.

Top prize was a brand-new bike – red and white, of course.

The bicycle went to Meagan Clouthier of École secondaire catholique Élizabeth Bruyère in the small francophone-and-anglophone town of Mattawa on the Ontario shore of the Ottawa River.

There were more than 200 entries in the North Bay contest, and the art gives a snapshot as to how children perceive the country in which they will grow up.

Organizers Bryan Kimber and Erin Vaughan say there are certain themes and symbols that occur again and again in the contest.

Top of the line would be Tim Hortons and hockey – one child, Tianna, even had a cloud in the shape of a hockey player. This should come as no surprise, although whether it is the result of advertising or northern town reality is unknown. What is known, alas, is that the No. 1 Canadian icon of the contest, Tim Hortons coffee – is no longer owned by a Canadian.

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Also high on the list is the CN Tower, indicative of Toronto's dominance of central Canada; the beaver, the country's official national animal symbol; poutine, the country's unofficial national food symbol; maple syrup, the unofficial condiment; the Rocky Mountains, Parliament buildings and astronauts, thanks to the continuing popularity among schoolchildren of Chris Hadfield.

The symbol that most pleasantly surprises, however, is the predominance of "dream catchers" in the posters.

The threaded circles originate with the Ojibwa, which is perfect in that Temagami First Nation is close by.

But it is appropriate in that Canadians have been digesting the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and thinking about where the country goes from here.

The dream catcher, as all these young artists know, is to protect them from further nightmares.

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