About a year ago I moved downtown. After lugging couches, a bed frame, and two desks up four flights of stairs only to spend a month readjusting, I could not find the energy or the time to venture out into the Canada Day festivities. A year has passed. I have not only come to love the apartment, but I have also become accustomed to considering the unsavory parts of downtown Edmonton home.
This Canada Day I decided to not let the mini donuts, boundless crowds, and heart congealing fireworks slip through my fingers. At noon I ambled off to City Hall. On my way, I passed the new Boyle Street Community League. After about a year of construction, the yellow and blue building was finally finished. As I strolled by, what caught my eye was the endless lineup that spanned the front of the building. Women with strollers, children with towering Canada Day hats, and resilient old men waited in line for a hot dog or hamburger. Many of the neighborhood’s homeless took advantage of the free meal as well. This was the centre’s first Canada Day BBQ, and it was an undeniable success.
After observing the grinning faces of the heartily fed, I moved on down the street. As I walked, my eyes alighted on Canadian flags stuck in pants pockets and clipped onto car windows. That feeling of community could be wrung from the pavement under my feet, or the trees that branched over the streets.
At last I stumbled upon the Art Gallery of Alberta. The metallic building gleamed under the balmy sun. Hand holding couples and patriotic families climbed the concrete steps to the air-conditioned building. The cool air, along with free admission, lured people into a world of art. I entered, and was taken aback at the room jammed with people. The spiral staircase was lined with stalled individuals. Their wandering eyes expressed bewilderment. I could not imagine being able to enjoy art while sweat drenched, with sugar filled beings leering over canvases and sculptures. I spun on my heel to be under the sun once again. I promised myself that I would return on a quieter day.
I crossed the street, entering Churchill Square. As I approached, I could hear singing, clapping, and incessant chatter. More people were ambling about at The Works Art and Design Festival than I had seen all week. The lines for hot dogs, poutine, and lemonade were unending. One might have struggled to find an empty table in the beer gardens. The smell of deep fried food and sunscreen tickled my senses as I stood in line for a bottle of water. My eyebrows rose in surprise as I was told there was no water left. At one o’clock in the afternoon, the latecomers would have to go elsewhere to dampen their parched lips. Fortunately, this did not spoil my time. I sat and watched the performers and my fellow onlookers. From where I sat I could just hear the shrill cries of happy children swimming in the outdoor pool next to City Hall. Everyone appeared to be savoring the sunshine.
At around four I strolled over to the Heritage Chinatown Night Market on Harbin Road. In the oldest part of Chinatown, vendors selling trinkets, art, and traditional Chinese food were scattered along the road. Dragon dancing opened the festival. The dancers warmed up, moving slowly in the beginning. Egged on by the masked ‘trainer,’ the two dragons approached the sitting audience. They advanced on the smiling faces in a teasing fashion. Once again they were back on the stage, rearing on their hind legs as if the trainer had demanded such a feat. From time to time one could glimpse the two dancers underneath each dragon. The show ended, and the dancers revealed themselves with a bow. The festival, with many more performances, bustled until nine o’clock in the evening.
As eleven o’clock approached many made the trip to snatch a spot to view the fireworks. Some even lounged in the grass along the road. Perhaps simply hearing the fireworks was enough for them. A few friends and I found ourselves on a hill, awaiting that first firework. As the initial lights broached the quiet of the sky, a family next to us clapped and ‘oohed’, while a couple snuggled in the grass below us. With each firework more people clapped together. Individuals were no longer confined to their company; we were all out there watching the fireworks together. As I sat watching the bright lights I really felt as if I was a part of the group. Canada Day is not just about the country, but about the communities within. Despite the heat, lack of water, and heaving crowds, we were out there together.
Photos by Emily Storvold.