The only premier near the dance floor at Queen’s Park was the long-dead Sir James Whitney, who really had no say in the matter, and looked slightly disapproving up there on his plinth.
“Don’t be scared, move your feet,” an MC shouted as a small crowd danced between the statues of father of Confederation George Brown and former premier Whitney at the Liberal-sponsored Canada Day party.
The Progressive Conservatives had cancelled the long-held Canada Day celebrations at the legislature this year, citing dwindling attendance and rising costs, and instead offered free admission to the first 500 people at several provincial attractions including the Ontario Science Centre and Sudbury’s Science North. (On Monday, Premier Doug Ford was spotted, tongs in hand, serving up barbecue at Toronto Ribfest at Etobicoke’s Centennial Park.)
The provincial Liberals stepped in to host a “People’s Picnic” at Queen’s Park funded by their party riding associations. Just before noon on the holiday Monday, a couple of hundred people found a shady spot under the trees as festivities kicked off with free ice cream, face-painting and the dance party.
“Nobody cancels Canada Day,” Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood) said, thanking staff and volunteers who organized the event in four days. “This park is for you. It’s for the people.”
Kathryn Grimbly held a “My Canadian Nation does not include Ford Nation” sign over her head. The teacher said this is the second time in her life she has protested. (The first was earlier this year at the protest against provincial education cuts.) She had never before felt compelled to attend the Canada Day event at Queen’s Park, but decided this year she had to “do something,” so she whipped up her sign Monday morning.
“When they announced this was cancelled, the first thing that came into my head was, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if a whole pile of people just showed up and started protesting?’” Grimbly said. Then she heard about the picnic. “To be fair, I only live walking distance away,” she said with a laugh.
Grimbly said she is fairly paid as a teacher, but she is concerned about provincial cutbacks, including education cuts she said will affect students with disabilities.
“As far as I’m concerned Canada is the best country in the world and I think Toronto is one of the best cities in the world. It’s so easy to break something, right? But to build it up, that’s something completely different,” she said.
Juliet Herchenrader was also at the picnic, dressed in head-to-toe red and white, including sunglasses with maple leaves emblazoned on the lenses. “Every Canada Day I like to prepare myself like Canada because I’m really proud to be Canadian,” she said. “I’ve been here already for over 29 years now.”
She has been assembling the pieces of this patriotic look for months. “I can attest to that,” said her husband, David.
Behind Queen’s Park, a crowd of curious people were drawn in by free earplugs and the artillery pieces parked on a closed-down section of Wellesley St. W. The 7th Toronto Regiment, RCA, gave a gun salute, firing blanks toward the trees of the park, shuttered for renovations. The loud boom echoed through the side streets as plumes of smoke hung in the air and a military band played “God Save the Queen” and “O Canada.”
Meanwhile, at the East York Canada Day Festival at Stan Wadlow Park, local politicians sang the national anthem, and Adrian and Rayan Rakhshan, 8 and 4, wore their Canadian flags like superhero capes as they chased each other across the grass. Closer to the ferris wheel, Simon Lauzon and his son Kieran walked through a ball diamond, flag and snow cones in hand. This is part of the family’s annual tradition — East York Canada Day parade, ice cream, rides.
Diane Dyson waved her Canadian flag near a line of food trucks as she chatted with sisters and members of the East York Garden Club, Rosalind Regnier and Sonia Van Heerden.
The ladies were momentarily stumped when asked what the most Canadian flower was. The trillium seemed a little too Ontario-specific. A suggestion of bird of paradise was quickly brushed aside. Tulips are nice and red, but Holland already has dibs.
“Maybe a wild rose,” Van Heerden said, “Because we can get that across Canada.” Something of an Alberta flower, but they didn’t mind. That’s where the sisters were born.
Katie Daubs is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @kdaubs