Riverbank painted with red, white and orange on Canada Day
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Hundreds of people gathered at the Riverbank Discovery Centre on Friday to do something they hadn’t been able to do since 2019: celebrate Canada Day.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Manitoba, the fields, roads and pathways along the north bank of the Assiniboine River were filled with people from all backgrounds, food trucks, vendors, inflatable obstacle courses and live music in honour of the country’s birthday.
Though Canadian flag red was the dominant colour on display, a significant number of people wore orange, either in uniform as part of the Manitoba Search and Rescue team providing first aid on-site or in recognition of the damage done by the residential school system.
Live entertainment on the Fusion Credit Union Stage started in the late morning, but the opening ceremonies didn’t take place until 1 p.m. “O Canada” was performed by Mariah Phillips before a series of speeches.
On hand to welcome guests were Mayor Rick Chrest, Brandon–Souris MP Larry Maguire, Spruce Woods MLA and deputy premier Cliff Cullen, Brandon East MLA Reg Helwer and Brandon West MLA Len Isleifson.
The mayor remarked that it was his last time addressing this crowd in his role as he plans to retire after this October’s municipal election.
“Today we celebrate, we commemorate, we reflect and to me, I reflect that we belong to a country where all cultures, all peoples can come together to help each other, be generous and kind to one another, reflect on the past and look forward to better times ahead,” Chrest said.
“We’re a country and community of reconciliation. I really believe that in our community, we’ve turned the corner and I’m in the position to attend many First Nations commemorations and celebrations, many of our newest cultures in Canada, their celebrations and events and events such as this week in and week out … we don’t have to look too far away to see atrocities around the world where they are not so fortunate, such as in Ukraine right now.”
After comments from Chrest, Cullen and Maguire, the celebration was provided with a fly-by from two vintage aircraft owned by the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum — a Fairchild Cornell and a North American Harvard. The museum also had one of its classic cars set up as an information booth.
One of the people most decked-out in maple-leaf-themed gear was Ken Masters, who was wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey, a Canadian flag being used as a cape and a big red and white hat.
“It’s very important not just for me but for everybody else,” he said of being able to celebrate Canada Day in public again. “Being in lockdown for two-and-a-half years and not doing anything, it’s good seeing people get out and enjoying it in any way they can.”
Over at the kids zone, the inflatable obstacle courses, mini golf holes and large versions of games like Jenga, cornhole and Connect Four appeared to be quite popular.
“Probably petting the bunnies and playing golf,” nine-year old Nubiat Rahman said his favourite activities were.
“It’s very eventful,” 13-year-old Arabi Mobassira said. “There are a lot of things to do.”
Members of the Ukrainian-Canadian community and their local organization Tryzub were operating a booth selling souvenirs and gifts to fundraise for their efforts to support refugees from the ongoing war in Ukraine both in Canada and abroad.
Some of the items on display were brought back from Ukraine personally by Vartan Davtian, a local resident who returned in June from three months of volunteer work carrying out supply runs back in the country of his birth.
That included a rack of white T-shirts with original designs drawn on them by children in refugee centres in Western Ukraine. One shirt showed off by Davtian included characters frequently seen on Ukrainian military flags and emblems that he said means “freedom.”
“It’s really cool, the whole Brandon community, Canadian people, Ukrainian people are coming together as a big team,” Davtian said.
He told the Sun that he saw full school gyms full of refugees and villages full of half-destroyed buildings. The fruits of a life’s work gone in an instant.
“When you see it with your own eyes, it’s super emotional,” he said. “Every [piece of] help is a huge thing. Some people just don’t have anything.”
» Twitter: @ColinSlark