'Cancel Canada Day' rally brings hundreds to Manitoba Legislature grounds

Hundreds of people clad in orange shirts marched through downtown Winnipeg late Friday afternoon to honour Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

Crowd walked from Portage and Main to legislative building grounds

Demonstrators hold up smoke flares outside the Manitoba Legislature on Friday evening while standing on a pedestal where a statue of Queen Victoria once stood. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Hundreds of people clad in orange shirts marched through downtown Winnipeg late Friday afternoon to honour Indigenous children who died in residential schools.

The crowd left the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street at 5 p.m., and arrived on the grounds outside the Manitoba Legislative Building as a rally called "Cancel Canada Day" got underway.

Winnipeg police urged motorists in the area to choose an alternative route or expect delays during the march.

It's the second year that rallies were held in Winnipeg on Canada Day to call attention to the painful legacy of the country's residential school system.

On July 1, 2021, two statues of British monarchs were toppled during a rally aimed at replacing national holiday celebrations with actions in memory of hundreds of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at residential schools across the country.

Michael Yellowwing Kannon says the 'Cancel Canada Day' rally on Friday was a continuation from last year, when two statues were toppled near the Manitoba Legislative Building. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

A statue of Queen Victoria that was toppled and beheaded was deemed by the provincial government to be beyond repair and won't be restored.

Michael Yellowwing Kannon was beside the statue last year, taking photos as it was tied up with ropes and pulled to the ground.

"The sound of bronze breaking across stone felt like a tomb opening up, releasing all those residential school bodies," he said.

Yellowwing Kannon, a Sixties Scoop survivor, recalled the chants of "no pride, no genocide," that rang out last year. He said this year's rally is a continuation of the inflection point that occurred last July.

The 'Cancel Canada Day' march walks through downtown Winnipeg on Friday. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"This is something different," he said. "As the rest of the nation is doing their thing, we are celebrating our resilience against genocide."

Meaning of Canada Day different

Canada Day holds a different meaning for Jamie Couture following the discovery of what are believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021.

"After they found a bunch of unmarked graves with our ancestors in them, absolutely it changed," she said.

Couture, who is Anishinaabe, said it was important for her two daughters to be at the rally. 

She stressed the importance of knowing Canada's past, including the source of the pain for First Nations people, which is something she has dealt with during the two previous generations.

"It means just trying to change the future, trying to find our way back, our seven teachings, our way, and everything that was lost," Couture said of the rally.

Gilbert Paul was one of several people who placed painted handprints on the former site of a statue of Queen Victoria on Friday. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Like Couture, Gilbert Paul's perception of Canada Day has been altered.

He attended the rally because he wanted to see unity, not just among Indigenous people, but people of varying and diverse backgrounds.

"I've learned a lot growing up and a different outlook and a different world today, and I'm just so proud that everyone comes out," Paul said. "It means the world to me."

Paul, who is Ojibway, has ties to residential schools. Both his parents survived the schools, and for him having a chance to place an orange-coloured handprint on the site of where Queen Victoria's statue used to be was important for him.

Handprints cover the site where a statue of Queen Victoria once stood in Winnipeg. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"It's not just a handprint," Paul said.

Blanche Chief was out at Assiniboine Park on Friday, selling jewelry and orange T-shirts with various slogans.

She suggested it could be time to have a different holiday in place of Canada Day.

"It's now maybe time to have a day to remember the colonial genocide that took place in Canada," she said.

"It's not a day for celebration."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

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


Nathan Liewicki is an online reporter at CBC Manitoba. He has worked at several newspapers in sports, including the Brandon Sun, the Regina Leader-Post and the Edmonton Journal.

With files from Stephanie Cram and Sam Samson