Crowds gather to watch William Prince on Canada Day at Somba K'e Civic Plaza, July 1, 2022. Amelia Eqbal/Cabin Radio
With a plethora of firsts for organizers and visitors alike, there’s no denying that this year’s Canada Day was one of the most memorable in recent years.
Aside from being the first Canada Day parade since the pandemic began, this year’s procession also boasted both a new route and a new format.
The parade ran down 48 Street and southwest along Franklin Avenue, finishing at the community arena parking lot. It also began with a running race for the first time.
A selection committee judging the parade entries on behalf of the Rotary Club of Yellowknife deemed Bella Dance Academy as the best entertainment entry, the Yellowknife Southern Cameroon Cultural Association as the best community group entry, the Yellowknife Co-op as the best business entry, and the Radio Control Enthusiasts of Yellowknife entry as the judge’s choice winner.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve turned up this morning who we haven’t seen before, and a lot of kids too, so it’s great,” said Conrad Schubert, an organizer behind the Canada Day Mile race.
Schubert said he was inspired to put together the Canada Day Mile after hearing about places in the US where they have a race on the same day as a parade while the roads are all still closed to traffic.
“We’ve got a closed route, we’ve got a big crowd, and we’ve got people coming in costumes and that sort of thing, so it’s been fun. The community response has been really, really good,” Schubert said.
Participants in the Canada Day Mile were encouraged to wear orange as well as red and white, in honour of residential school victims.
“Canada is a great place but you know, we’re still getting better, and I think orange reminds us that we’ve still got a little ways to go,” Schubert said.
One runner stood out from the rest for his unusual choice in running gear – namely, a cartoon giant panda costume.
“I figured it’s Canada Day, why not dress up in something fun just to keep it exciting for the kids?” the runner said, identifying himself only as Kung Fu Panda.
While it wasn’t his first time running in the costume, the runner said it was his first time running in the costume in six years – and his first time without a partner to guide him.
“I am nervous – not about the run, but bumping into people, or tripping and falling and the head falling off. But all the kids love it, so I’m just happy to help build up some ‘oomph,’” Kung Fu Panda said.
For others, today was their first time participating in a parade.
Siobhan, 8, visited a bike decorating station where children who participated received flags and streamers for their bike, a $10 bill and the chance to ride in the parade.
While Siobhan said she was “a little nervous” about being in a parade for the first time ever, but she felt her four years of bike riding experience had prepared her well for this moment. During the parade, she was all smiles as the crowd cheered for her and her decked-out wheels.
Adults and children alike lined Franklin Avenue in a sea of red, white, and orange apparel as they cheered on the parade floats.
“It’s good to see a lot of orange shirts out there, and everybody getting along and enjoying themselves today,” said spectator Joanne Tsetta, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation from Ndilǫ.
Wearing an orange shirt herself, Tsetta said it’s important on days like today to not only celebrate, but also think critically about Canada’s history.
“My mom, my aunties, my uncles, they all were in residential school. So, Canada Day is just another day,” Tsetta said.
Afterward, spectators made their way to Somba K’e Civic Plaza to indulge in the many food stalls, art vendors, and bouncy castles stationed in the area.
“This is a day we always enjoy. It’s a happy Canada Day,” said visitor Mohammed Khan. “It’s amazing, beautiful weather and a lot of people. It’s really nice.”
Down by the stage, the afternoon of performances began with a land acknowledgement, prayer, and a drum dance courtesy of the Yellowknives Dene Drummers.
While the fire feeding had to be cut from the schedule due to persistent winds in the area, speeches proceeded with remarks from Mayor Rebecca Alty, Premier Caroline Cochrane, Marc Whitford from the North Slave Métis Alliance, and Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine.
Each speech encouraged the audience to reflect on colonial violence in Canada, particularly with respects to the enduring painful legacy of residential schools in the wake of the mass graves being unearthed across the country. Chief Antoine also made sure to call attention to the ongoing threat of climate change and the importance of shared environmental stewardship among all Canadians.
Then, it was time for William Prince to take the stage.
People sat shoulder to shoulder, singing along as Prince and his band performed an hour-and-a-half set.
“I’m liking William Prince, his music is really good,” said audience member Nancy Lamb. “I didn’t know him before today, but I really like his music, it’s really neat. I think I’m going to listen to him some more later.”
Although it wasn’t Prince’s first time entertaining Yellowknife crowds, he did experience a first of his own: his first time receiving art from a fan onstage.
Maddie, 7, said she was inspired by his music to make a drawing for Prince, which she gave to him as he finished a song from his set onstage. Maddie said she drew two roses and a sign that read “I love your songs.”
“He was singing a song about nature and stuff so I thought I would give him a flower,” Maddie said.
Prince’s set was followed by performances by Bella Beats, and Patrick Jacobson and The Bush Pilots.
For spectators like Gilbert and Dorothy Suchy, the day’s festivities served as a reminder of all they have to be thankful for as Canadians.
“We live in the most wonderful country in the world, and we have everything. We have all our freedoms,” Dorothy said.
“We’ve traveled all over the world, and Canada is the best.”