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In the changing North, the many faces of Canada Day

The Philippine community in Yellowknife celebrate Canada Day in style.

Josh Wingrove/ The Globe and Mail/Josh Wingrove/ The Globe and Mail

Gloria Reyes had been preparing for this day for weeks.

It wasn't nerves that fueled her determination - Ms. Reyes is something of a parade veteran and had seen Canada Day celebrations come and go since moving North nearly 40 years ago.

This year, however, was different.

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There'd be no float in Friday's Canada Day Parade for Ms. Reyes and fellow members of Yellowknife's Philippine Cultural Association. They had chosen to avoid it, and the traditional trappings of the city event. Instead, amid the changing face of the region, they unveiled something new to the North - an ages-old Filipino indigenous cultural celebration, known as Ati-Atihan. To prepare, local Filipinos toiled over costumes, hand-making traditional gowns, using hot glue and brooms to make traditional hats and crafting artificial spears.

They debuted it at the parade, with its theme of "My Canada."

"We wanted to show our culture, and be a proud Canadian as well," says Ms. Reyes, 63. "Look at all these people. It's fun. It's great."

In a tightly knit city where few warm days are wasted, Yellowknife's Canada Day parade is something of a city institution. Ms. Reyes was among hundreds who marched down the streets of the city, which has just over 20,000 residents, on Friday afternoon. In turn, thousands of onlookers lined the streets of the Northwest Territories capital to watch them.

The parade was also a demonstration of the city's increasing diversity - joining the politicians, soldiers and police that line parades across the country were a series of cultural performances, including local Dene aboriginal drummers and Ms. Reyes's exhibit.

"We have a very multicultural community, so this day [Canada Day]is as important for us as it is for any other city," said Barry Bessette, 46, a 23-year Yellowknife resident who watched the parade while proudly wearing his Saskatchewan Roughriders hat and shirt.

"It brings our community together," added his wife, Carmon.

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In the 2006 census, Yellowknife had a population of about 18,000, about 1,800 of which are neither First Nations nor Caucasian. Filipinos are the largest subgroup of that cohort.

Since those census figures were released, the city's booming economy - primarily, the territory's diamond industry - has driven its growth and diversification, Mayor Gordon Van Tighem said. The city is now home to people from 120 different countries; at its most recent citizenship ceremony, there were 37 languages spoken by the 100 newest Canadians.

"As they become Canadian citizens, the pride around Canada Day is going up," the mayor said, before invoking Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who! in explaining Canada Day's significant to the territorial capital: "It's another opportunity during the year to stand up and say: 'We are here, we are here.'"

The city is also playing host to tourists in advance of Monday's visit by the Royal Couple. "They [the tourists]get to see a little piece of what we are" with the parade, the mayor said.

As the parade ended, Ms. Reyes explained the Filipino tradition to curious onlookers as her group took photos.

"We come all together as one big family, we embrace all cultures," says Annie Esteban, 45, who marched with the group but didn't wear the traditional costume. Instead, she wore red and white.

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"We carry our hearts not just as a Filipinos, but as Canadians as well... This is it. This is what we can offer for the rest of the world."

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