Barrie to change virtual Canada Day programming in light of residential school discoveries

'The focus of the day is remembrance and education,' says Mayor Lehman

Orange will be the new red and white on Canada Day in Barrie.

Orange Shirt Day commemorates indigenous children forced into residential schools
Orange Shirt Day commemorates indigenous children forced into residential schools

The city is changing its virtual programming for July 1 following the discovery of about 751 unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school site, just weeks after the remains of 251 children were found at another former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

“We will be including resources related to Indigenous history within the community and the tragic residential school system,” said Dawn McAlpine, General Manager of Community and Corporate Services.

“This year’s focus will be on our shared history and encouraging people to educate themselves and reflect on our history.”

McAlpine told city council on Monday the library has some great resources from the Indigenous community such as readings and a number of authors and there will be links to that information.

Meridian Place and the Five Points Theatre downtown will be lit up orange on July 1, and planning is underway for a sacred fire at the Spirit Catcher on the waterfront.

Spirit Catcher – City of Barrie

For a second straight July, traditional Canada Day celebrations such as fireworks and concerts have been cancelled because of pandemic restrictions.

“I think the really critical piece here is recognition that the focus of the day is remembrance and education,” said Mayor Jeff Lehman. “I think the message that will go up on the city’s Canada Day website and the focus of our celebrations should be on that, and using the opportunity of Canada Day in the city’s programming and material to help provide that opportunity for education to non-Indigenous residents and Canadians.”

McAlpine said a trivia contest and community photo contest was planned. While there are question marks about the trivia, she said the photo contest is something that will likely be discontinued unless there is an alternate solution.

“A lot of us are contemplating Canada Day much differently,” said the mayor. “We’ve shifted our Canada Day activities to be more reflective of that shared history and the focus on reflection and education.”

The shift in focus on Canada Day will not be unique to just Barrie. Many municipalities have announced that July 1 will be used as a day for reflection rather than celebration. Those communities include Fredericton, Belleville, Pickering, Victoria, Kamloops and Vancouver.

During a visit to Bracebridge on Monday, Premier Ford said Canada Day should be “a time for Ontarians to reflect” on what has happened to the First Nations communities in the past decades.