As a Canadian living in London, UK (Sorry Ontario), I find myself explaining what the heck Canada Day is every time the topic comes up. Often times the conversation starts with something like “You have a Canada Day!? What even is that?”, to which I reply (mostly out of laziness), “It’s like the fourth of July but for Canadians”, which isn’t exactly accurate. After going through this cycle several times, I thought it would be worth breaking down when, why, how, and where we celebrate Canada Day.
Now, why should you care??
Because Canadians know how to celebrate, and it is in your best interest to find out where to be when the party kicks off. It also doesn’t hurt to pick up some extra knowledge about the Great White North in case you get a jeopardy question on it or something…
So, when and why do we celebrate Canada Day?
Bear with me as I briefly explain Canada Day, I promise I’ll get to the fun stuff quickly. The British North America Act (now the Constitution Act) was enacted on July 1st, 1867. It united the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Québec as a domestically self-governing federation; creating Canada. On June 20th, 1868, all Her Majesty’s subjects across Canada (Yep, the Queen of England was/is still our monarch) were asked to celebrate July 1st. In 1879, July 1st became a statutory holiday called the “anniversary of the Confederation”, which would later be named “Dominion Day”. The holiday that all us Canucks know and love was formed; and we’ve been planning our celebrations every year since! Dominion Day became known as Canada Day in 1982.
How do we celebrate it?
Canada Day is a day to celebrate everything that makes us Canadian; we celebrate our values, diversity, freedom, and the natural beauty of our country. We also have some fun embracing the stereotypes. We eat Canadian food, dress in true Canadian fashion, and enjoy some classic Canadian festivities.
These foods are some Canadian classics that we travel out of our way to get, make at home, or find in a food truck at one of the celebrations; there’s something about them that really makes you feel at home!
Many Canadian’s pride and joy. I’ve only been living in London for a month and I’ve already figured out that my nearest Timmy’s is in Manchester. Tim’s offers Canada Day themed menu items that are exciting to try out, but you’ll definitely find a lot of people indulging in a classic Canadian Maple donut and a good ol’ double double.
It’s worth mentioning that it isn’t poutine unless is has ACTUAL cheese curds; sorry, but otherwise you’re just having fries with cheese and gravy. The variations of poutine are virtually endless so you can decide how adventurous you’d like to be at your local poutinerie (we all have one, right?).
📷: Shelby L. Bell
You’ll find people enjoying things like Alberta Beef, Canadian Lobster, and Montreal Smoked Meat out of respect for their local food cultures.
Delicious dough that is stretched into the shape of a beavertail, deep-fried, and covered in your favourite toppings (Nutella is a favourite, but I prefer the classic cinnamon and sugar with lemon juice).
Put it in your coffee, on your pancakes, or in your morning smoothie and you’re good to go. The Québécois will traditionally pour maple syrup over snow so it cools and becomes a taffy-like consistency, and then wrap it around a stick; this is called “Tire sur la neige”. It has spread throughout Canada as a traditional treat, it’s REALLY good.
Crack yourself open a Molson, Labatt’s Blue, or Sleeman; they pair well with any of these Canadian eats!
Created in Calgary, Alberta, in 1969, the Caesar is now a classic Canadian drink that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. In it’s most basic form, it contains vodka, Caesar mix (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth), hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce; it’s then served in a celery salt rimmed glass with ice and garnished with a celery stalk and wedge of lime. There are plenty of Caesar variations so check the menus and you might come across something pretty creative.
📷: Ruth Hartnup
I don’t think Canadians realise that it isn’t normal to wear toques in the summer or to have a different flannel for every day of the week, but you’ll probably see both of those things together on Canada Day.
Red and White
You’ll see a lot Canadian Maple Leafs, red, and white when you’re oot and aboot on July 1st (Canadian accent intentional). Chances are people will head to the Hudon’s Bay Company and browse their selection of Canadian themed attire to make sure they’re looking the part.
📷: Jordan Schulz
Everyone knows we love our hockey, so you’ll without a doubt see some people repping their team’s sweater. What you may not know is that we also have a soft spot for the Canadian Football League (CFL), and July is high football season! Many people will opt to sport their Calgary Stampeders jersey (or other team I guess…) to celebrate an integral part of the Canadian identity while simultaneously supporting their team.
They’re stereotypically Canadian, and we love it. The reality is that flannels are fashionable, and functional; it only makes sense to bring one along.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force (RCMP) will often be seen wearing their traditional dress uniforms, including the Red Serge (jacket) and RCMP Mountie Hat. They’re a true Canadian icon!
AKA beanies, stocking caps, hats, etc… We know it’s July but depending on where you are it can get quite cold at night, better to be safe than sorry.
The Canadian Tuxedo
Ryan Gosling approved (you’re welcome world), the Canadian Tuxedo is a classic outfit consisting of a denim jacket, with denim jeans; and yes, it looks as good as it sounds.
Friends and families have countless different ways to celebrate Canada Day; they bring people together, help us relax a bit, and are an excuse to embrace everything that makes us Canadian. There are even international celebrations for people who are abroad and missing out on the Canadian celebrations; you’re welcome to come even if you aren’t Canadian, and now you’ll know why you’re celebrating too 😉.
Aside from the usual parties at bars and clubs, there are entire full-day events planned by the cities. The events put on by cities across Canada are family friendly, easily accessible, and free. These events also take the time to acknowledge important parts of Canadian history, including the Indigenous Canadian people and Canada’s French heritage. You’re guaranteed to find food stalls/trucks, live music, and fireworks at these events; as well as activities for kids like face painting and petting zoos. Here are some of the largest celebrations across Canada:
Canada Day celebrations are an entire weekend event in the Canadian Capital. It hosts celebrations on Parliament Hill, Major’s Hill Park, and The Canadian Museum of History. The celebrations spread out in front of the parliament building and throughout the downtown parks and streets; complete with live music performances and fireworks, as well as street performers and other attractions!
Vancouver, British Colombia
The second largest Canada Day celebration is at Canada Place and the surrounding streets in Vancouver. There are performances by various Canadian artists throughout the day and night, displays from the Canadian Forces and the National Film Board of Canada; and of course, fireworks! They also host a Citizenship Ceremony where sixty new Canadians are welcomed to the country. While all this is going on there are food trucks ready to serve up some fantastic food.
Edmonton has music, art, and dance across the city to celebrate Canada Day. Aside from the fireworks finale over Edmonton’s many river valley parks and the opportunity to watch them from watercraft ON the river, there are plenty of other attractions to check out too. It starts the day with a free pancake breakfast, has a bunch of patriotic family fun planned at the Muttart Conservatory, and opens a night market in Chinatown; and those are just a couple of the events taking place!
Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area go all out for Canada Day. The events bring hoards of people out so it can be nice to pick a location to view the fireworks and stake out a spot earlier in the day. You’ll have a broad choice of food and activities to enjoy leading up to the main spectacle. Some of the main fireworks displays are at Ashbridges Bay Park and Canada’s Wonderland. The Toronto Ribfest is another fun event that runs for three days in Centennial Park. It has live music, rides, games, TONS of food, and its own fireworks display on Canada Day.
The Regina celebration starts with a Canada Day Fun Run & Walk, followed by a free (donation to the Regina food bank encouraged) pancake breakfast. A Children’s Stage has many performers and demonstrations throughout the day to keep the young ones entertained as well! The Plywood Cup is a unique event to Regina, where teams of four are tasked with building a boat with limited supplies and having one team member race the boat across Wascana Lake. The team members pledge donations on behalf of their team, and all the proceeds go to local charities. Another jaw-dropping event is the Western Canada Strongest Man competition, where the top twelve strength athletes in Western Canada compete for the title of Western Canada’s Strongest Man. There are also cultural performances from around the world and the essential fireworks display at dark.
Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Halifax and Dartmouth have an entire day of events planned for Canada Day. They each have free pancake breakfasts, followed by a Canada Day opening ceremony at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada; complete with a singing of “O, Canada” and free Canada Day cake! After the opening ceremony, there are concerts and festivals all across Halifax and Dartmouth, so you can pick and choose the one that works best for you. End off your Canada Day with the official Canada Day Fireworks show at the Dartmouth Waterfront.
Victoria, British Colombia
Victoria’s Canada Day celebration focuses on gathering communities together and celebrating Canadian heritage and achievements as one. The celebration takes place on the iconic Legislature Lawns, directly in front of the Parliament Building. In true Canadian fashion, local and multi-cultural acts will join the Main Stage showcase; including Indigenous acts and performances from Brazil. You’ll be able to grab some food and enjoy activities in the Kids Zone while listening to the music. Free red and white t-shirts will be given out at the event to create the “Largest Living Flag” in Canada for a second year in a row (last years was made of 5,000 people!). The day wraps up with fireworks over Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour.
Calgary’s downtown centre comes to life of Canada Day. All the events are within walking distance of one another, making it incredibly easy to spend the day going from one celebration to the other. The events represent many different Calgarian communities including Franco-Albertaine, Indigenous, Chinese, and Sikh, so you can learn about people from many different walks of life! The night ends with a Canada Day Concert along the river valley and Fireworks on the Centre Street Bridge; best viewed from the top of the river valley that overlooks downtown Calgary.
A sea of red and white fills Diefenbaker Park in Saskatoon on Canada Day. People come from all around the city to enjoy the breakfast buffet, official ceremonies (with Cake, of course), all-day mainstage entertainment, and fireworks. There are a ton of fun displays, food vendors, markets, and beer gardens to enjoy too!
Montreal has been putting on a Canada Day Parade since 1977 when all they had were a few cars driving around honking their horns. As public participation in the parade grew, and more cultures moved to Canada and developed communities within Montreal, the parade became a true spectacle. Cultures from all over the world are represented within Montreal’s Canada Day Parade including countries like China, Turkey, Hungary, and many others. At the end of the parade, Place Du Canada has a giant cake, live shows, and other attractions for Montrealers. Once you’ve experienced the ample enjoyment supplied by the performances, food, and sense of community, conclude the festivities with the staple Canada Day firework display.
Culturally diverse showcases of music and talent, kid friendly activities, extended patios, live music stages, sales, AND a Canada Day Classic Hockey Tournament are among the events you can look forward to at Winnipeg’s Canada Day celebrations. Winnipeggers will also be singing happy birthday to Canada and enjoying free Birthday Cake. Fireworks will be on display as certain celebrations for check that out when you’re planning!
Québec City, Québec
Québec City’s Canada Day Celebrations will take place in two historic locations: Dufferin Terrace and The Plains of Abraham. You can start off the party with group Yoga and/or Cardio-F.I.T. behind the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, followed by the official flag-raising and cake at the Terrasee Dufferin of Parks Canada. Family activities and shows will give you a unique look at Québécois and other cultures. Live performances will keep you entertained through the night until the fireworks are set off at dark.
Moncton, New Brunswick
Entitled ‘Whoa Canada!’, the Moncton Canada Celebrations are sure to give you a proper Canadian experience. As New Brunswick’s largest July 1st celebration, they hit all the bases; tons of bilingual family activities, food vendors, presentations from the City of Moncton and other municipalities, and fireworks!
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
As one of Canada’s Eastern most cities, St. John’s has the honour of being among the first to celebrate Canada Day. The celebration starts off with a 6am Sunrise Event and continues all day with family fun and activities, live music, and food until the fireworks start firing off at 10pm!
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Yellowknife starts their Canada Day celebration off with a parade through the city up to the City Hall, it is a celebration of Canadian unity and the acceptance of all people. Activities then ramp up on the shore of Frame Lake; the Yellowknife Farmers Market gets set up, musical acts and general performances take place in the amphitheatre, and plenty of food options are offered!
Getting into the outdoors
Canadians love to get outdoors on Canada Day and appreciate the amazing spaces that we are so lucky to call home. If you know any Canadians, chances are you’ll find yourself at a backyard barbecue at the very least. All national parks and historic sites are free to enter on Canada Day too, so it’s even easier to get out and enjoy the scenery! The national parks have beautifully maintained campgrounds that people love to stay at over the long weekend; however, they fill up very quickly so it’s important to book well in advance. Other provincial and private campgrounds are also very popular. Heading in to Crown Land is a free alternative, but there are no facilities such as washrooms, and you can’t book in advance, so you never know where you’ll end up camping! Another activity that I’ve never personally had the pleasure of trying out is renting a houseboat and spending Canada Day long weekend on one of Canada’s breath-taking lakes. These options generally involve a bunch of dollar store Canada Day decorations, cake, backyard games (bean bag toss, bocce, etc.), fireworks, and of course, Canadian beer.
📷: Bruno Soares
Canada includes many different cultures in their Canada Day celebrations; and many different cultures help to host Canada Day events in their home countries as well. As I said earlier in this article, I’m currently living in London, which means I’ll be missing the Canada Day celebrations. I was disappointed at first to not be able to celebrate with my friends back home, until I found out that London actually hosts a Canada Day celebration of its own, and London isn’t the only city that does so. Here are a couple options for Canadians abroad who are looking to celebrate:
Ideally located across from Canada House, there was a celebration in Trafalgar Square for many years. The party comprised of traditional Canadian food, fun activities, and live music. The celebration has since stopped, but there is still hope! The Maple Leaf is a Canadian bar in London that is sure to make you feel at home on July 1st. There are also Canadian Expat groups to help you meet up with other Canadians who want to celebrate.
📷: James Heatlie Photography
Network Canada puts on a huge Canada Day celebration from June 30th to July 1st called Winter Wonderland. The event has Canadian and Soul/RnB DJs, Prizes and Raffles, Caesars, Poutine, Canadian beer, a street hockey tournament, and 50 tonnes of snow to make you feel right at home. Cover is 50% off if you’re dressed Canadian, and everyone if welcome so you can bring your non-Canadian friends too!
If you’re looking for a proper Canada Day celebration in Paris, look no further than The Great Canadian Pub. You’ll find a familiar Canadian pub feel and menu options to go along with it.
New York, USA
The Canadian Association of New York sells tickets to a party, including an open bar for a portion of the night, gifts, and prizes. There isn’t much more information about other celebrations in New York for now, but there have been several parties at pubs in past years so keep your eyes peeled for more options! You might also get lucky and see the Empire State Building lit up in red and white.
Seoul, South Korea
CanCham-Canada Day BBQ takes place in Seoul and has almost everything you’d expect from a community celebration. There are plenty of activites for kids, including a pool, bouncy castle, and ice cream, and attendees receive a one-of-a-kind t-shirt and eco-bag. This is a great one to make you feel like you’re back in Canada, at your local community’s Canada Day BBQ.
The Canada China Business Council hosts a celebration complete with musical performances, cake, Canadian beer and wine, and an after-party. This event takes places a bit earlier on June 23 but is still a great way to celebrate being Canadian!
The Canada Day 2018- La Fête Du Canada: Canadian Cottage Party took place on June 16 at the British Club in Bangkok. They offer authentic Canuck food and family friendly activities; including ball hockey, grill stations, live music, Caesars, Wine, and Canadian Craft Beer… That’s the dream.