Two commemorations on same winter day in parts of Canada this year .. Louis Riel, the flag, and Justin P.J. Trudeau

Feb 15th, 2016 | By | Category: In Brief

Happy Flag Day Canada from the staff at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta.

Up here in the brrrrr … cold wilderness north of the Great Lakes, Monday, February 15, 2016 is a day when two commemorations coincide.

Both have been written about in the past on this site. And in commemoration of both commemorations today, we are going to quickly review these past writings, and then end on two new notes.

As an ultimate added attraction, the second and final of the new notes involves some striking words from our current Prime Minister of Canada, Justin P.J. Trudeau – the remarkable blend of Montreal and Vancouver that those of us whose fate is to reside in Toronto (and elsewhere?) can only marvel at in a state of incomplete comprehension.

(Or as the official biography now declares, our new PM’s “passion for public service and vision for Canada are shaped by his experiences and influences – his father, Pierre, and mother, Margaret; the Trudeau and Sinclair families; his roots in the East and West, French and English.”)

In any case, getting back to the two commemorations, to start with (and as also officially explained by the federal government in Ottawa) :

Hon. Maurice Bourget, P.C., B.Sc.A. MP Levis, Quebec 1940—1962, Speaker of the Senate of Canada, 1963—1966.

“On February 15, 1965 our national flag was raised for the first time on Parliament Hill … In 1996, February 15 was declared National Flag of Canada Day and has been observed every year since.”

O and by the way : “‘The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion,’ declared the Speaker of the Senate at the Inauguration of the new flag in 1965.”

(Where these words were spoken more exactly by Lester Pearson’s man in the Senate of Canada, the former Quebec Liberal MP Maurice Bourget – “known to his Senate colleagues for his scrupulous review of legislation, his instinctive understanding of the rules and decorum necessary in the chamber, and his deep concern for the future of Canada.”)

1. Flag Day in Canada

Allison Perry, co-president of the Memorial Club in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, gives a reading during National Flag of Canada Day ceremony, as Frank Grant of Yarmouth Recreation, MC for the event, looks on. ERIC BOURQUE PHOTO.

Down here very deep on the ground of this wild political blogazine (as we’ve been told) we actually had two Canadian flag-day-related postings last year : “Standing up for Canadian flag’s 50th birthday .. and Sarah Palin, Emma Holten, migrants to Canada and USA,” on January 31, 2015 by Citizen X ; and “Ontario’s flag flap 2015 .. and its own burden of history from just before (and after) the War of 1812,” June 22, 2015 by we collective Counterweights Editors.

We don’t want to take up time with either of these pieces now, Except to say that “Standing up for Canadian flag’s 50th birthday” does include an introduction to the BC meteorologist Alistair B. Fraser’s Canadian flag history on the world wide web – probably the best thing of its sort – along with some daring thoughts from the Danish journalist Emma Holten.

Danish journalist Emma Holten, deep in thought.

We are bound to flatter ourselves as well by pointing to what we think is still relevant wisdom in our remarks on “Ontario’s flag flap 2015.”

Eg : “we are not yet ready, in Ontario or Canada at large, to start dealing altogether practically with such still unresolved essentially constitutional questions as the future of the British monarchy in Canada, Senate reform, Quebec in confederation, the rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada, and even flags for such provinces as Manitoba and Ontario …

“But we need to be quite seriously debating these issues now, to marshal public opinion toward the kind of durable consensus on such matters that … must precede successful action. This won’t happen if the mainstream media keeps trying to confine this kind of debate to some point in the future that has not yet arrived.”

Madinah Masjid mosque on the Danforth in Toronto today ...

In this same spirit, we point to an excellent current posting on the Republic Now || République du Canada website by the noted authority on almost everything concerning Canadian coins, flags, and stamps, Mr. Wayne Adam of East Toronto (aka “Danforth Guy” on various social media), aptly entitled “Put the Canadian flag first.”

Very briefly, Mr. Adam explains : “As the Canadian flag turns 51 this Flag Day (Feb. 15), we urge Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to honour it by erasing a rule that disgraces our proud banner, and thereby all of us. A federal decree says the Maple Leaf is inferior to the personal flags of the governor general, the 10 lieutenant-governors, plus some 20 members of Britain’s royal family. The mere presence of any one of these people demotes the Canadian flag to a lesser flagpole or has it taken down completely.”

And in 2016 this does seem quite crazy to us! As Mr. Adam says : “Put the Canadian flag first.” Why not?

2. Louis Riel Day in Manitoba and … ????

Statue of Louis Riel on Manitoba Legislative Building Grounds, Winnipeg.

The second great matter of commemoration today is known in some Canadian provinces (such as the one we are writing from right now) as Family Day – the third Monday in February, when to some but not all Canadian provincial governments the rigours of the northern climate have accumulated to the point where the hardworking sovereign people deserve a holiday.

But in the forward-looking and future-oriented province of Manitoba (in some ways : note contradictory provincial flag questions above), the holiday on the third Monday in February is known as Louis Riel Day – in honour of the leader of the two great Canadian Metis rebellions of the later 19th century.

We also have, as it were, two prior engagements with a particular issue here on this site. Quite long ago now on February 18, 2008 Randall White was arguing : “It should be Louis Riel Day in Ontario too.” Two years later, on February 15, 2010 (another third Monday coinciding with Flag Day, oddly enough) we Counterweights Editors ourselves were urging “Happy Louis Riel Day 2010 .. that’s what it should be called everywhere in Canada, coast to coast to coast.”

Photo : Graham Hughes/Canadian Press.

Some half a dozen years later, and of course under another political regime, on Monday, February 15, 2016, we are pleased to see a “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on Louis Riel Day” that at least moves the ball some welcome and surprising yards ahead.

Here is what Justin P.T. Trudeau has to say on this front : “Today, I join the Métis people, Manitobans, and Canadians across the country to commemorate Louis Riel: a champion of minority rights, a Founder of Manitoba, and a key contributor to Canadian Confederation … Louis Riel made important sacrifices to defend the rights, the freedoms, and the culture of the Métis people. The ideals that Louis Riel fought for –  ideals of inclusiveness and equality –  are now the very same values on which we base our country’s identity.”

Happy flag day from model Valerie Poynter, putting together a short visual piece in celebration of Canada Day 2012, with help from photographer Spencer Edwards.

We haven’t agreed with everything Justin Trudeau’s new government has done over its first 100 days and so forth. No one will. But it is hard to resist some fresh respect for the renewed Search for Canadian Liberalism when the prime minister says things like this.

Now … what about it? Will he finally declare the third Monday in February a federal as well as a sometime provincial holiday called Louis Riel Day right across the country, coast to coast to coast, next year in 2017, to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of 1867?

Whatever, even if this never quite happens, in joining “the Métis people, Manitobans, and Canadians across the country to commemorate Louis Riel” today Justin Trudeau has started to reopen some of the doors Stephen Harper seemed to be working so hard to close. And like many others we very much welcome that.

Today especially Louis Riel Day reminds us of some of the historical depths behind what the 1965 Liberal Speaker of the Senate of Canada Maurice Bourget meant when he said : “The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.”

Main Street Bridge in Welland, Ontario lit with red and white colours early on the morning of February 15, 2016 to commemorate 51st anniversary of Canada’s Maple Leaf flag.

Or as the prime minister has said, 51 years later : “The ideals that Louis Riel fought for –  ideals of inclusiveness and equality –  are now the very same values on which we base our country’s identity.” Amen to all that. And Happy Louis Riel Flag Day Canada, wherever you may be.

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