Rivers: Canada Day is a Time for Reflection


 When a war between nations is lost

The loser, we know, pays the cost

But even when Germany fell to your hands

Consider dear lady, consider dear man

You left them their pride and you left them their lands

And what have you done to these ones

(Now That the Buffalo’s Gone – Buffy Sainte-Marie)


Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

June 29th, 2021



This will be a tough July 1st for a lot of Canadians.  For one thing there are fewer of us to celebrate this year – over twenty-six thousand of our loved ones have died from COVID.  Another million and a half became infected, a third of whom have been inflicted with long haul issues.

And the pandemic is not over by a long shot, even though the infection and death numbers are down and the vaccines up.  Just look at the UK which thought it was in the clear but is experiencing its highest COVID infection numbers since February, even though their first and second dose vaccination rates are better than ours.

shoes aboriginal children

The first stage of the public response to the tragic news of the unmarked graves.

And then there is the shock and the ongoing tragic saga about the residential schools.  So far a thousand unmarked graves have been located.  But that is on the grounds of only two out of the 150 schools which the churches had operated.

Even if the children had died from TB, Spanish Flu, measles, influenza or some other disease, they were still in the care of the churches.  And the buck stops with the federal government which had authorized their kidnapping and confinement.    Malnutrition, over-crowding, physical stress from manual labour and emotional stress from the abuse, including sexual abuse, all weighed in with deadly consequences.

Nobody should take a child away from their parents without their permission and just cause.  But having elected to do so they needed to ensure their health and safety.  Why were the school records not maintained by the government and disclosed to the parents? Why were parents not even informed of the deaths and/or the bodies returned?  One can only imagine how the parents and the community leaders and the community felt, watching helplessly in anguish and horror, as their children were taken away.  And then to learn that so many were not coming back.

The Prime Minister suggests that Canada Day this year is a time for reflection.  We should reflect on what the original inhabitants of this land are feeling.  To them Canada is that country which took away their lands and their freedom.  Should we really expect them to be as enthusiastic about celebrating Canada Day as Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative party thinks they should be.

O'Toole smug 4

The plight of our indigenous population is something Leader of the Opposition O’Toole does not appear to understand.

Despite O’Toole’s plea to party on July 1st as if nothing had happened, much of the country is heeding the wishes of the indigenous leaders and cancelling fireworks and other celebrations.  Ottawa will be holding a sacred fire and municipalities in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and B.C. are cancelling traditional celebrations.  They are suggesting that this day be one of reflection for the plight of our indigenous population and of how we can do better into the future.

Mr. Trudeau has called on the Pope to publicly apologize given the huge role the Catholic Church had in all of this, but there is no sign of that happening.  There is some discussion about criminal charges being laid against those responsible for the schools and the program.  And internationally China has used this incident to challenge and embarrass our PM after Justin criticized China’s treatment of its Uighur minority.

Canadians are generally outraged and some will heed the direction of the Prime Minister for a sombre day of reflection.   There are demonstrations planned in protest, this Canada Day.  Catholic churches situated on some reserves have already been burnt to the ground, presumably in protest.  Some people have defaced and destroyed statues of Canada’s founding father, Sir John A. Macdonald.  And, civic authorities are renaming buildings and edifices honouring Sir John A. and Egerton Ryerson, the architect of the school system.

It was the Indian Act which provided the framework for assimilating Canada’s first nations and destroying their native culture.  And the residential schools were part of that framework.  This racist piece of legislation is still in place today, curiously and ironically, because the very indigenous leaders who disdain it also refuse to let it die.   Pierre Trudeau tried to get rid of it back in 1969 and was thwarted by the aboriginal community, who fretted over losing rights that had been conveyed to them under the Act.  Nothing is easy about this.

weeping aboriginal woman

The healing has begun – now we have to find all the cemeteries.

As Canadians we had been taught that ours was a more peaceful treatment of our indigenous population than, for example, the USA.  After all, European settlers arriving in the Americas were responsible for the elimination of an estimated 90% of Indigenous populations, either through the introduction of disease or by outright massacre.   The US government committed as much genocide against its indigenous people as did almost any other nation on earth.  Some 1500 ‘Indian Wars’ later only a quarter of a million indigenous people was all that remained from the estimated 15 million living in North America when Columbus first arrived.

Canada’s approach to evicting its native population from what they considered their lands was less violent and less deadly than our neighbour to the south.  But the indigenous people ended up being marginalized to the same extent.  So there is much to ponder as we reflect on this coming Canada Day.

I for one will not be attending any celebration of Canada Day this year.  I’ll probably engage in discussions among my peers and family about this issue and give a toast for the good things this nation stands for.   Then I’ll take time to enjoy the music of indigenous artists like Robbie Robertson or Buffy Sainte Marie while I take a moment for those lost children whose fate we must all bear some responsibility.


 Background links:

John A –   Residential Schools –   Genocide

US Genocide –     Burning Churches –    Cancelling Canada Day

O’Toole on Canada Day –    Canada Day –    Records

Indian Act  –    Indigenous History Makers

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12 comments to Rivers: Canada Day is a Time for Reflection

  • david barker

    Rivers, I generally find your writings to be fair and balanced. This though falls well short of your usual high standard.

    I have no idea what part of your piece has irritated Susan Corrigan’s so much.

    Your final paragraph though was completely un-needed and is very self-serving, ingratiating and tells us what a wonderful person you must be.

  • david barker

    Wooster, much as it pains me to say so, I am in agreement with your comment regarding O’Toole’s statement.

    So please let’s today and always celebrate Canada for what it has become and for what it aspires to be. Then strive to make it happen. With the horrors of the residential schools atrocities in mind let us, as we do in remembering veterans who gave up their lives so we could have a better society, and as we do in remembering the horrors of the holocaust, bring these two phrases to mind:- “lest we forget” and “never again”. Use this sad, disgusting episode from our history as a spur to do better in our dealings with one another.

    Pity though, Wooster, that you had to then go on your usual ant-Trudeau rant. For the record Raybould resigned. She was not fired. Yes, she was moved from her two positions as MoJ and AG to veterans affaires. PMs shuffle ministers all the time. Enough said on this. Stay focused on righting wrongs and improving our country.

    • Phillip Wooster

      I am focused on righting wrongs and improving our country–getting rid of the wrong Prime Minister and thus dramatically improving our country.

  • Susan Corrigan

    Don Fletcher. How dare you make such a statement? That is inflammatory, uneducated and certainly uncultured. Also insensitive especially in light of the recent discovery of the mass gravesites. I suppose you have never tried walking in other peoples shoes, seeing things through other peoples eyes.

    Edited for use of language.

  • Don Fletcher

    Sadder than the residential school saga of the past is the continuing Indigenous peoples’ public stance of victimhood, seemingly intent upon guilting Canada’s taxpayers into further reparations (which actually only perpetuates their beggar nation status going forward). The problem isn’t always someone else’s fault.

  • perryb

    A great essay, Ray. Thanks for putting things in a reasonable, balanced perspective.

    • bill

      I’m sorry perryb, I have to disagree with you. I think maybe Ray should spend more time investigating his stories before he writes them.

  • Hans Jacobs

    There has been substantial disagreement in the Gazette over whether or not Egerton Ryerson should be implicated for any role in the residential schools tragedy. Statements such as “Egerton Ryerson, the architect of the school system.” create an association and perpetuate the assumption that Ryerson is to blame without supporting evidence.

  • Susan Corrigan

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. I also wonder about the institutions that housed mentally challenged and unwanted children left like the one in Smith Falls Ont . When l was in high school two of my indigenous friends were taunted repeatedly by racist classmates. There is an underlying culture of racism in burlington who’s eletist parents are the ones we should point the finger at. Very sad commentary indeed.

    • david barker

      Oh, you want us to be vigilantes! What if a finger gets pointed at you. How’d you feel then. Very un-Canadian of you !

  • Phillip Wooster

    “Despite O’Toole’s plea to party on July 1 as if nothing had happened”. A blatant partisan distortion as might be expected from this writer. O’Toole, according to the Global News Report, said the following, “O’Toole, speaking in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, argued that it’s not out of the question to celebrate Canada while recognizing “where we’ve fallen short” and rededicating “our efforts to do better.”

    Perhaps the writer might have also reflected on the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister in his approach to “Truth and Reconciliation”: Sarcastically thanked members of the Grassy Narrows First Nation for their cheque at a Liberal fundraiser–this to an Aboriginal community that has been suffering from mercury pollution for the past 50 years. Fired his Aboriginal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, for doing her duty and standing up for the rule of law. Refused to fire his cabinet minister who recently slandered that same Aboriginal member of Parliament. Yes, Ray, there sure is a lot to reflect on this Canada Day.