FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Residents of Fort St. John and surrounding areas gathered in Centennial Park on Friday to observe Canada Day in person for the first time since the pandemic began.

The City of Fort St. John teamed up with the Treaty 8 Tribal Association for the first time to plan this year’s celebrations with the theme “Celebrating together.”

Opening Ceremonies began in the park after a drive-thru pancake breakfast at the Fort St. John Firehall and the Canada Day Parade.

This year’s parade saw the North Peace Filipino Association take home first place, followed by the North Peace Fall Fair in second and the North Peace Home Educators in third.

The Northern Winds Community Band gathered on stage at Centennial Park at 11:30 a.m. to play a selection of songs, including the Star Wars theme, despite reportedly losing their rehearsal space prior to the event.

Centennial Park festivities then began with a land acknowledgement from mayor Lori Ackerman, opening remarks from an elder of Doig River First Nation, followed by drumming from the Doig River Drummers.

“Canada day is a time to socialize and get to know each other in your community and surrounding area to celebrate our diversity and grow in unity,” Gerry Attachie from Doig River First Nation said.

“Take time today for reflection and learn the truth of Canada’s history, both dark and bright,. Wecan be joyous and also heal together this day,” he continued.

After the national anthem was sung by the North Peace Community Choir, Peace River North MLA Dan Davies took to the stage to speak of the resiliency of Canadians.

The North Peace Community Choir sings the National Anthem.

“Respect, hard work and resilience are all great qualities that Canadians have continued to show in the face of the pandemic. Today, we should celebrate those values and what we have overcome in the past few years,” Davies began.

He said that while Canada Day acknowledges the successes of Canada, it also provides residents with an opportunity to reflect on the historical failures and address the injustices and inequalities that still exist for Indigenous peoples and others in Canada.

“Let’s do the necessary hard work and build a great society for everyone. The story of Canada is really a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Davies said.

“We have the valour of Tommy Prince, the courage of Viola Desmond, the leadership of Thérèse Casgrain, and the incredible tenacity of Terry Fox. In these great Canadians, the true story of Canada is told.”

Following Davies’ speech and sponsor recognition, emcee Connie Greyeyes with the Indian Residential School Survivors Society took to the stage.

“I would be a liar if I said that in the past, I have actually celebrated this day, but in the spirit of reconciliation, I felt it was really important to accept and come be here with you today,” Greyeyes said.

She then invited her sister, Marlene Roy, executive director of the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, to the stage, who shared her appreciation of the opportunity to partner with the city for this year’s celebration.

“Today is another step taken together with reconciliation leading the way today. Everyone will have the opportunity to listen to the drums and watch the dancing, a small piece of our amazing culture. Please ask questions. Let’s continue to learn together, and please remember to be kind to one another,” Roy said.

Festivities then kicked off with performances by local musicians, tea dancers, and powwow dancers.

Residents participate in a Tea Dance.

Roy says she was thrilled with the turnout of this year’s celebrations, and hopes to partner with the city again next year.

“I think we do well working together. The city has shown a lot of respect in wanting to share the Aboriginal culture to help teach residents, and it’s all about education.”

Roy adds that this year’s celebrations were a great opportunity to heal together after the discovery of the 215 children in a Kamloops Residential School and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spencer Hall is a news reporter for energeticcity.ca and a recent graduate of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Radio Arts & Entertainment program. Growing up in Northwest B.C. made Spencer aware of the importance of local journalism, independent media, and reconciliation. In his spare time, you can find Spencer reading, playing video games, or at the FSJ dog park with his dog, Teddy.