New Brunswick

New Brunswick communities cancel Canada Day celebrations to 'step back and reflect'

While a number of municipalities in British Columbia and Western Canada have opted to put a pause on celebrations, Cap-Pelé, N.B., was one of the first in the Maritimes. Fredericton, New Maryland, Saint John were among those that followed suit Thursday.

Decision follows discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites

A growing number of New Brunswick communities are opting to cancel Canada Day celebrations this year. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Canada Day will be quiet in New Brunswick this year, as a growing list of communities cancel celebrations and encourage a moment of reflection.

The movement to put the holiday on pause comes in the wake of the discovery of what are believed to be the unmarked burial sites of children's remains near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. 

On Thursday, a Saskatchewan First Nation announced a preliminary finding of more than 750 unmarked graves at another residential school site.

While a number of municipalities in British Columbia and Western Canada have opted to put a pause on celebrations, Cap-Pelé, N.B., was one of the first in the Maritimes.

Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John, Bathurst, New Maryland and Rogersville were among those that followed with announcements Thursday.

In the provincial capital, where a show was planned, organizers said in a statement that "a quiet day of reflection may be the best way for our community to spend the holiday," given the situation.  

Holding moment of silence

Justin LeBlanc, Cap-Pelé's director of events and communications, said he presented the idea to council after seeing the movement gain attention on social media.

"It's time that we really step back and reflect on what happened over the years," he said. 

Cap-Pelé is planning to raise the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag for the first time and have a moment of silence in honour of the victims of residential schools. 

The community, about 50 kilometres east of Moncton, is also sharing information about reconciliation on social media to help residents educate themselves.

Roger Augustine, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Cap-Pelé's gesture of raising the Mi’kmaq Grand Council flag is 'powerful.' (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

When announcing the decision, the Acadian community reminded residents of its historically close relationship as allies with the Mi'kmaq, as both groups faced persecution. 

LeBlanc said he has heard from some Indigenous communities expressing gratitude and calling it "a step in the right direction."

"The word on the street here is very positive," LeBlanc said. "People are understanding of why this decision was made."

'That support is heartwarming'

Cap-Pelé's decision to raise the Mi'kmaw flag is welcomed by some of New Brunswick's Indigenous communities.

Roger Augustine, the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief, said the gesture of raising the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag is "powerful."

"I'm sensing that Cap-Pelé pretty well decided as a community this is what they're going to do, and that support is heartwarming and I really appreciate what they're doing," he said.

"People that live there truly understand the issues that we've faced in the past, present and future."

The Mi'kmaq Grand Council Flag will be raised over Cap-Pelé on Canada Day. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

While some towns and cities across Canada are cancelling celebrations, the federal government's decision to move ahead with a virtual show has received mixed reaction.

Augustine said the movement in the wake of the discovery in Kamloops, B.C., is greater than anything he has ever experienced. 

"We've got to sit and talk to each other and see how we can resolve it in a positive way for the future of our children," he said.

"It's sad in a way that it took something like what happened in British Columbia to make people realize what's happened to our people."

Miramichi considering changes 

Canada Day will also look different in Miramichi this year.

Mayor Adam Lordon said he is asking nearby First Nations for recommendations on how to mark the occasion.

"We're not comfortable proceeding in a business as usual way," he said.

Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon said the city is asking nearby First Nations for recommendations for Canada Day. (CBC)

The city will discuss different possibilities on Thursday night after hearing from local chiefs.

Lordon said he expects his community will understand and stand behind the decision to take a different approach. 

"It's on people's minds," he said. "This is a moment of national reckoning from my perspective."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. He can be reached at alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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