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Celebrating 150 years with a giant rubber duck

Canada recently observed the 150-year anniversary of its founding on July 1st. For this special occasion, I put on a red polo shirt and took the bus to the city’s core to take part in the festivities. Later I wanted to watch the firework display at Toronto City Hall. It felt good to stand alongside fellow Canadians of diverse backgrounds on this historic milestone. Strangely enough, the highlight of the Canada 150 festivities for me was seeing the five-story giant rubber duck that graced Toronto’s harbour-front. The Government of Ontario had rented it for the three-day holiday weekend.

Interest in the duck was so great that a few aspiring entrepreneurs took advantage of “duck capitalism”. They sold rubber-duck shirts and toys with the red maple leaf on them. On the whole, however, the official celebrations were very modest. Canada 150 just wasn’t a big deal. Admittedly, there was more ceremony and fanfare in the national capital of Ottawa, but many Canadians just didn’t seem to be in the mood to celebrate. According to an Ipsos Public Affairs poll, seventy percent of Canadians felt that the Canada 150 festivities were too expensive.

The Canadian federal government will spend $500 million (343 million euros) over the course of the anniversary year. Of that total, $200 million is being spent on special events and projects, and the other $300 million will be put toward improving infrastructure, mostly in Indigenous Canadian communities to ensure a better future for them. As a Canadian, it is shocking and shameful to mention that, among other structural deficits, the drinking water is contaminated in many Indigenous communities.

“Indians of Canada Pavilion”

Some people have also blamed Indigenous Canadians for putting a damper on the Canada 150 celebrations. Prior to the anniversary, Indigenous Canadians loudly and rightly pointed out that Canada, the land that the nation was founded on, is much older than 150 years. And this time hasn’t been so kind to them. In fact, the 100-year anniversary in 1967 marked a turning point in the struggle of Indigenous Canadians to be heard in society after they emphasized their point of view in the “Indians of Canada Pavilion” during the six-month-long centennial festivities. Since then, Indigenous Canadians have gained an increasingly large voice in Canadian public life.

Most recently, the final report published in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has caused many Canadians to face some hard truths about the extremely poor treatment of this community from the early colonial period, to very recent times. Ahead of the final report, Beverley McLachlin, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, characterized the Canadian government’s past actions as an attempt to commit cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples.

Keeping this in mind, it seems appropriate to have put off large-scale celebrations for this Canadian milestone. But, after enough healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians, I’m certain there will be a future anniversary where Canadians can all celebrate together. So this might just explain how a giant rubber duck with absolutely no political or historical meaning can end up being the highlight of my Canada 150 experience.


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