Churchill cancels Canada Day events in light of discovery of unmarked graves

A town in northern Manitoba is cancelling Canada Day events in light of the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites in other provinces.

Thompson to display orange on its materials for July 1, urges residents to learn about country's history

Churchill, Man., on the shore of Hudson Bay has cancelled Canada Day celebrations in light of the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools in other provinces. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

One community in northern Manitoba is not going forward with Canada Day celebrations this year, and another is shifting its focus in light of the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites in other provinces.

Churchill, on the shore of Hudson Bay more than 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, says the decision was made after talks with residential school survivors and the Indigenous community.

The town says in a news release that it is encouraging people to use the day to learn about the true history of Canada and to work on advancing reconciliation.

Community members are being asked to participate in a walk to honour the children believed to be buried at former residential school grounds. That walk will begin at 1 p.m. at the Town Centre Complex.

The decision was made after talking with members of the Indigenous community and residential school survivors, said Churchill Mayor Mike Spence.

After those conversations, the town's leadership felt this year it wouldn't be appropriate to celebrate Canada Day, but instead take time to reflect, he said. 

"We knew that in reaching out to them, it's not a time to celebrate. We understand that," he said. 

"I think we're all grieving together, whether it's the community of Churchill ... I think Canada as a whole is grieving with what's happened in the past in terms of residential schools."

He said there will be Canada Day celebrations again, another year "when the time is right." 

The City of Thompson has decided to shift the focus of its Canada Day celebrations this year. 

The city will be displaying orange on its materials on July 1 and is encouraging residents to educate themselves about Canada's past and Indigenous history in Canada, says a news release. 

In Winnipeg, a spokesperson said it has not issued any special events permits for in-person Canada Day celebrations this year, but noted that the city typically does not organize them. 

The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced last week that ground-penetrating radar located potentially 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School site.

The same technology detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Marjorie Dowhos and Canadian Press