A day off from work, Canada Day is often a time for outdoor activities in the early Canadian summer. It is also Canada's main patriotic holiday and often referred to as "Canada's birthday", particularly in the popular press.
While it is the date upon which the present Canadian Constitution first came into effect, the first day of July does not commemorate a clear-cut date of "independence" or "founding". Instead, it commemorates the beginning of the establishment of the Canadian confederation through the 1867 British North America Act. The British Parliament still retained several political controls over Canada after 1867, and the country still lacked many of its modern provinces. The date represents the biggest step in the establishment of Canada as a self-governing country, and the beginning of a gradual march towards full independence from Britain, attained with the proclamation of the Constitution Act by Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, in 1982.
Canada Day marks the creation of the Dominion of Canada through the British North America Act on July 1, 1867, uniting three British colonies—the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada. The three colonies united to form one country divided into four provinces. The Province of Canada became Ontario and Quebec (see Canadian Confederation).
A proclamation was issued by Governor General Lord Monck, on June 20, 1868, asking for "all Her Majesty's loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the celebration of the anniversary of the formation of the union of the British North America provinces in a federation under the name of Canada on July 1."
The holiday was formally established by statute in 1879, and was originally called Dominion Day, making reference to the term "dominion," which was first used to describe a political union within the British Empire for Canada, at a time when the British government was hesitant to adopt the name proposed by the Fathers of Confederation: Kingdom of Canada.
Dominion Day was not a particularly prominent holiday in its early inceptions; in the late 19th and early 20th many Canadians continued to think of themselves as primarily British, and were thus less interested in celebrating a distinctly "Canadian" form of patriotism. No official celebrations were held on July 1 from confederation until 1917, the golden anniversary of Confederation, and then none again until ten years later. This trend declined in the post-war era. Beginning in 1958, the Canadian government orchestrated Dominion Day celebrations, usually consisting of Trooping the Colours ceremonies on Parliament Hill in the afternoon and evening, followed by a mass band concert and fireworks display. Canada's centennial of July 1, 1967 is often seen as an important day in the history of Canadian patriotism, and Canada's maturity as a distinct, independent country. Post-1967, Dominion Day became far more popular with average Canadians. Into the late 1960s, nationally televised, multi-cultural concerts were added, and the fete became known as "Festival Canada." After 1980, the Canadian government began to promote the celebrating of Dominion Day beyond the national capital, giving grants and aid to cities across the country to help fund local activities.
Quebec also has Moving Day on July 1, due to the fact that most leases there begin and end on that day, with many people changing residences. Federalist Quebec residents who oppose the popular sovereigntist campaign for an independent Quebec joke that Moving Day is scheduled to ensure Quebecers are too busy moving house to celebrate Canada Day.
Since the 1980s, Canada Day is generally marked by patriotic celebrations. Most cities have organized celebrations, with entertainment usually having a Canadian theme, and often featuring fireworks. Canadian flags abound, and some individuals paint their faces in Canadian national colours (red and white). Pancake breakfasts are common as well. As the day falls in July, most Canada day activities are frequently outdoors. Municipal governments and community organizations usually organize high-profile public events for the day, such as concerts or carnivals.
The celebrations in Ottawa are particularly large and lavish. Every Canada Day, hundreds of thousands gather on Parliament Hill to celebrate Canada's birth. Official celebrations are held throughout the national capital, including in Hull, with the main show taking place on Parliament Hill. This event is normally presided over by the Governor General, though the Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, attended Canada Day ceremonies in 1990, 1992, and 1997. The Queen also helped celebrate Canada's 100th anniversary on July 1, 1967. In 2007 it was announced that the official site for Canada Day celebrations would be at Rideau Hall, the Canadian Monarch's and Governor General's residence in Ottawa. The first Canada Day celebrations to be held here are to include a citizenship ceremony, and the annual Canada Day CHIN picnic, with multicultural entertainment featuring Karl Wolf, the Stars of Lebanon band, and international dancers.
Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario have, since the 1950s, celebrated Dominion Day/Canada Day and United States' Independence Day with the International Freedom Festival. A massive fireworks display over the Detroit River, the strait separating the two cities, is held annually with hundreds of thousands of spectators attending.
Newfoundland and Labrador specific events:
In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1 is recognized as a day of remembrance and sacrifice, and commemorates the Newfoundland Regiment's heavy losses during World War I, at Beaumont Hamel, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Remembrance ceremonies similar to those held on Remembrance Day are held in the morning at Cenotaphs around the province; flags are usually at half-mast (and the atmosphere somewhat more sombre) until noon, when normal Canada Day ceremonies start.
Under the federal Holidays Act, Canada Day is always observed on July 1 unless that date falls on a Sunday, in which case it is officially observed on July 2. Most provinces observe the statutory holiday on July 2 in that situation as well, although events generally take place on July 1 even though it is not legal.
If it falls on a Saturday, the following Sunday is generally also a day off for those businesses ordinarily closed on Saturdays.
On Dominion Day 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 went into effect. Until the act was repealed in 1947, many Chinese-Canadians referred to July 1 as "Humiliation Day" and refused to celebrate Canada's birthday.