Banner photo is of fireworks at the Canadian National Exhibition, 1905. From the City of Toronto Archives.
Working on a new post, I’ve been up to my eyeballs (literally, because I use them to read) in old newspapers and documents. But I wanted to take a moment to wish you all a happy Canada Day. So, Happy Canada Day!
My earliest memory of celebrating Canada Day is being about 6 or so and going to the neighbourhood park with my Mom. There was a makeshift stage with balloons on it and someone made a speech about it being the country’s birthday. For whatever reason, the number 100 was mentioned. And because I was young, impressionable and my brain was a fairly blank slate, I took it to mean we were, right then and there, celebrating its 100th birthday. Which would’ve meant it was 1967. Which it wasn’t – it was sometime in the ’80s. But the memory of that day – the bright sun streaking through the trees, the balloons, holding my mom’s hand, having no concept of time – was so strong that I’m a little embarrassed to tell you how long I held onto that belief. And I had a silly noble attitude about it too, like “Ah yes, the Centennial – I remember it well.”
Anyhow, as I wasn’t actually celebrating in ’67 – or happily, 1867 – I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at how early Torontonians marked the occasion.
Well first off, it wasn’t always called “Canada Day.” Up until the late date of 1982 it was known as Dominion Day. Here are some of the amusements the city offered a hundred years before that:
On a side note, the Hand brand became a big name and is actually still around.
Today the Euro Cup is playing on every TV in every pub in the city, but in 1881 it was all lacrosse, baby.
If a boat ride wasn’t your idea of fun, there was always the racetrack:
The original Woodbine Racetrack is no more – the new one shares the name, but is on the complete opposite end of town. Here’s a look at the original:
Here are a couple of ladies who’ve spent the day at the races:
If horse-racing was a little old-fashioned for your tastes, you could instead take in the hot action of bicycle racing:
These were some seriously mean-machines:
Here we see an illustration of the kind of action you could expect:
Light entertainment aside, Dominion Day didn’t seem to take up a lot of space in the local papers. Even this article, which appeared on Dominion Day 1881, was far from a featured item – it was tucked amongst the death notices towards the end of the edition:
But in 1890, things got really exciting. It was Carnival time:
But look at the turnout!
Of course, local businesses would’ve rubbed their hands together excitedly and dreamed up ways to siphon off a bit of the traffic:
As you’d imagine, the biggest Dominion Day celebrations came in the Centennial year, 1967. For this milestone, there were events held throughout the year. New coins were minted, a Centennial flame was placed on Parliament Hill and a Centennial Train crossed the country.
And while I now understand that I was not present for any of these events, my mother certainly was. As part of Canada’s most popular (and in my opinion, best) folk group, The Travellers, she recorded This Land, The Travellers Centennial Album in 1967. The record featured what has become the country’s unofficial anthem – the Canadian version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land.
My lovely mother with her fellow Travellers:
Happy Dominion – I mean, Canada Day everyone! However you’re celebrating, I hope it’s grand!