A different kind of Canada Day

Petrolia Legion Member Tom Mackesy pauses to reflect on the losses of Indigenous people in Canada at residential schools set up by the Canadian government to assimilate First Nations into the white man's ways.

There were small celebrations, moments of reflection and a very large show of support for the Indigenous community Canada Day.

The normally boisterous celebration of Canada was marked on a smaller scale, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic which still places limits on socializing, and because of tragic details of the confirmation of at least 1,500 unmarked graves of children who died at Indian Residential School.

Since the formation of Canada until 1996, Indian residential schools were federally mandated. Their original goal was to “take the Indian out of the child.” Thousands of children were taken from their homes to go to school and an unknown number died there. In most cases, the children were buried on the school grounds and many family members never knew what happened or where they had been laid to rest.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard testimony about the unmarked graves in 2008. At the time, the commission asked for $1.5 million from the federal government to investigate; the request was turned down.

New technology has led to the confirmation of what many First Nations had know, children were buried in unmarked graves on school grounds. So far, about 1,500 graves have been discovered in a month.

A massive crowd, most wearing orange t-shirts – a symbol of the horrors children faced at residential schools – gathered at Sarnia City Hall Canada Day to show support for the Indigenous communities in the area. The photos below, by Lou Sprenger, are of that gathering.

In Petrolia, downsized Canada Day celebrations started with raising the flag at the Petrolia Legion. There, an land acknowledgement was made and about 50 people took some time to reflect on the realities of Indian Residential Schools.

The day in Petrolia included a scavenger hunt by car, the opening of the annual fishing derby and a party wagon that made its way around town handing out goodie bags to families. The night ended with virtual fireworks.

In Brooke-Alvinston, the annual Canada Day dinner became a drive-thru affair and the community was one of the only spots in the region to see live fireworks.