By Adam Slight
Ottawa residents must barely recognize their city on Canada Day. On July 1st every year, Ottawa sees its downtown core dramatically transform from a bustling city core filled with tourists and politicians to a circus ground, jam-packed with every type of person imaginable. Throw in dozens of street performers, vendors, political activists, royal family members, (rickshaw runners), and religious zealots into the mix and you’ve got yourself a birthday party!
Canada Day in Ottawa is one big balancing act. Our city represents a municipality on one hand, but moonlights as an entire nation on the other. Similarly, Canada Day in the City of Ottawa/Canada’s Capital serves very distinct, opposing purposes.
People want to have fun on Canada Day. The holiday is part of a long weekend, and Canadians gather to celebrate in whatever ways they know best. For some, this means traveling downtown with friends and family to enjoy some home-grown entertainment and food. For others, this means enjoying a BBQ with neighbours in the backyard. For others, this means getting shit-faced and smashing bottles all over the street.
If you were in the Byward Market at 11pm on Canada Day 2010, you witnessed the “city-that-fun-forgot” transform into the “city-where-fun-screamed-in-
It is in Canada’s best interests to let its children party in its name in whatever way they see fit (except in rare situations where this partying becomes symbolic of national disrespect—see peeing incident). If Canadian’s are screaming “CANAAAADAAA!!” after finishing an epic beer bong hit and then kicking over a park bench, then Canada wins (yes, this is the modern day war cry). But if Canadian’s are screaming “CANAAAADAAA!!” while kicking over park benches, then the City of Ottawa clearly loses.
You can see the tension.
With one hand Ottawa does everything it can to get people downtown and party hard in the name of patriotism. We’ve got concerts, fireworks, royal visits, Snow Birds flybys and restaurant promotions all designed with the explicit purpose of exciting our internal patriotic fire. However, with its other hand, Ottawa deploys hundreds of police, road barriers, and crowd control tactics, all intended to control and restrict these excited patriots so that they don’t go too far and burn the city down.
This is like smoking a cigarette on an exercise bike.
But one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see on Canada Day aren’t the crowds, or Prince Charles’ comical ears and teeth—Its the cleanup effort that is engaged at 5am after the celebrations. Waves of massive street-sweepers comb the litter-strewn city streets, purifying Ottawa of its nationalistic self-desecration. By the time anyone wakes up in the morning (which is at about 3pm if you’re a rickshaw runner), the city looks as straight laced as any other day. In that way, Ottawa is like that quiet co-worker with a secret life as a Hell’s Angels biker.
The Ottawa Citizen shares the astronomical operational expenses of Canada Day the next morning as well (as well as the number of arrests, injuries, and sun-stroke emergencies). While I think Canada Day is an awesome and necessary celebration, there is something funny and contradictory about holding a party of this magnitude while exerting an equal amount of effort in repressing that party. It would be like hosting a high school kegger when your parents leave for the weekend, and then inviting everyone’s parents.
Of course, you can’t invite 1 000 000 people to a birthday party and not have chaperons. Canada wants us to have fun at its party, whether that involves community celebration, backyard eats, or self-intoxication. To ensure that everyone has fun in their favourite way, the chaperons are there to allow us to let loose.
So as long as you don’t pee on any national monuments, I encourage everyone to celebrate Canada in whatever way you want! Your tax dollars are already paying for it!
How will you be celebrating?