Yukon communities cancel Canada Day celebrations, call for reflection instead

Yukon communities including Dawson City, Carmacks and Haines Junction have opted not to go ahead with Canada Day celebrations this Thursday.

‘It does not feel like the time to celebrate,’ wrote Dawson City council

Dawson City's Canada Day parade in 2018. The town's events have been cancelled this year, with the funds set to go to the Yukon government to help pay for investigations of residential schools.

Falling in step with several cities and towns across the country, some Yukon communities have decided to cancel their Canada Day plans. 

Dawson City, Carmacks, Teslin and Haines Junction have opted not to go ahead with planned celebrations this Thursday, citing the need to reflect following the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. 

"It does not feel like the time to celebrate," wrote Dawson City council in a statement, adding that the decision was made after consulting with Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in leadership.

Haines Junction issued a similar statement, writing that the mayor and council "unanimously agreed it would be inappropriate to hold a Canada Day celebration this year." 

In statements posted to their municipal Facebook pages on Monday, Carmacks and Teslin followed suit.

Carmacks celebrations are being set aside this year as a demonstration of "support and compassion for our Indigenous peoples and communities," while people in Teslin will use the upcoming holiday as an opportunity to "reflect on how we can continue building our community and a better Canada." 

Hand holding a large Canada flag.
Other municipalities that have cancelled their events include Victoria, Penticton, B.C. and La Ronge, Sask. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The decisions follow the preliminary discovery of 751 unmarked graves for Indigenous children and adults who died at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess First Nation, Sask.

Weeks earlier, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that as many as 215 children could be buried on the site of a former Kamloops, B.C., residential school. 

Those discoveries led to #cancelcanadaday trending on social media, and prompted a number of Canadian municipalities to cancel Canada Day events, including Victoria, Penticton, B.C. and La Ronge, Sask.

The Rotary Club in Yellowknife, N.W.T., has also cancelled its annual Canada Day parade "out of respect for the Indigenous community."

In Whitehorse, it's the legion, not the city, that traditionally organizes Canada Day events. They chose to pull the plug earlier this month over concerns about the territory's COVID-19 outbreak. 

Funds from Dawson City to go to territorial investigation

The statement from Dawson City council also says the money earmarked for Canada Day events will go to the Yukon government to help fund a planned investigation into all former residential school grounds in the territory. 

"The City of Dawson is interested in moving beyond empty gestures at this point," they wrote in their statement. 

In early June, Premier Sandy Silver said that his government would not wait for anticipated federal funds to pay for residential school investigations, saying that they "will invest the resources necessary" to get started.

"It really shows the government that this is bigger than Canada Day," said Peter Johnston, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Johnston said he hopes that July 1 can be a day of reflecting together — and thinking hard about ways to move forward. 

"It does give us an opportunity to be with family, and look at it through a whole different perspective," he said.

"To take time to be with one another is the most important aspect of all."