Canadian Holidays: HERITAGE DAY

Canadian Holidays: HERITAGE DAY David Watts 5 July 2003

The second weekend in August many Canadians gather for a festival of food and dance and dress-up. Heritage Day is a recent holiday in Canada though the idea behind it is not.

Multiculturalism is something that goes back to our first nations, though it wasn’t called that then. There was an enormous diversity among the peoples who first lived in what is now Canada.

Some wore headdresses of feathers. Others wore masks and helmets of cedar. Some wore nothing foreign, but shaved their heads in what we call the Iroquois cut. Others braided their hair.

Housing varied too. On the plains they lived in teepees covered with skins. In the brush wigwams were covered with bark. Coastal tribes had more permanent lodges, easterners longhouses.

Across the breadth of Canada many nations were too far distant to have contact with each other.

Those side by side alternately fought and traded: the Huron and Iroquois, Blackfoot and Cree.

Today when Canada’s first nations gather they weave a rich tapestry.

The first Europeans, French and English, who settled in Canada, brought traditions of their own. Like the aboriginals, they competed for trade and often fought for dominance.

On the west coast competition was between British and Spaniards, Russians and later, Americans: for trade, alliances with first nations, harbours and forts.

Occasionally friendships like that of Vancouver and Quadra pointed to a new type of relationship.

Along the St. Lawrence French and English, enemies for centuries in Europe, lived side by side, joined by Scots and Irish to make the multicultural mix on our shield at Confederation.

Then the 20th century and a third wave: from mainland Europe, from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They worked the land, enlivened our communities, brought passion and experience.

The faces of today’s Canadians would not be recognized by those of the past four centuries, yet they would feel familiar to citizens from almost every part of the globe.

Canada’s institutions mirror this. Our Mounties rode west in pillbox hats and pith helmets. Now we see them in Stetsons, standard police hats, aboriginal braids and East Indian turbans.

Heritage Day is a celebration of the richness of Earth’s peoples who now live in Canada. If we go back far enough, we’re all transplants here. There is the variety of our first peoples.

There is the mix of English, French, Scottish and Irish all once at war with each other in Europe, now sharing a common homeland and contributing their symbols to the Canadian coat of arms.

There is the dynamic wave of migration from around the world, giving us a culture of incredible richness. It is this last wave in particular that we remember in our August Heritage Day festivals.

Our national festivals have been migrating too, moving later in the year: from Victoria Day and Saint-Jean Baptiste in May and June to Canada Day in July, we now have Heritage Day in August

This is the new Canada. May our newcomers be welcome here,

May we prove worthy of their choice of us. May they enrich their adopted land,

May we be linked through them to peoples around the earth in a celebration of our humanity.