Posted by: Alvin | July 6, 2009

The Invisible Canada Day

CanadaDaySo another Canada Day has come and gone. For those that have experienced Canada Day in our nation’s capital, you’ll know the folks running the Capital Commission know how to throw a wicked party. Sharing a little square of grass on the Hill with your friends and passing around a bottle of wine is a common sight, and the police turn a blind eye as folks flood the streets after the fireworks to parties that last for the rest of the night all over downtown. Here in the Terminal City, many people have started to notice how we’re doing Canada Day a bit better every year. The fireworks are better, the parties more plentiful, live music is easier to find, and there are more street parties. In fact, the one comment I heard more than any other this Canada Day was how many things there was going on compared to just a few years ago. This is good news for Vancouver. The one thing I always wished we were more like the Americans on was the way we celebrated our National Birthday. We’re nowhere near what they do for the 4th of July, but hey, it’s getting better.

So what’s the problem then? Nothing really, unless you’re outside of the country (or Quebec!) and then Canada Day becomes invisible. There are only two main non-Canadian celebrations. The first is in London at our High Commission at Trafalgar Square which is a massive party outside Canada House. The website for the event proudly states: “We want to tell the world about the real Canada. Our Canada…It’s vibrant, colorful [sic] and filled with progressive people.” The other main party in in Washington DC, although it’s less public and more geared towards diplomats and other ‘insiders’.

The Americans on the other hand make a big deal of the 4th of July and host diplomatic parties in almost every country they have a major presence in. Granted, these parties are seldom open to the public, but they don’t really need to be. The USA is a cultural commodity unto itself. It doesn’t need to market. Canada on the other hand isn’t a household brand and could do with a little fanfare. Canadian politicians and citizens alike regularly bemoan the lack of understanding of all things Canadian outside our borders. So what better way to show ourselves off and project an image of a nation that is fun, young, dynamic, and a great place to visit and find out more about than throwing a massive party on Canada Day? Canada severely lacks an international brand. Other countries in our ‘demographic’ do much better than us with regards to branding. Australia and New Zealand have distinct international images, so do countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and Brazil. Just the name of those nations evoke a certain set of images, some of them are there because of stereotype, but a lot are part of a concerted effort by those countries to project a deliberate national brand to the world.

The Canadian brand is something our government should be much more concerned with. In the grand scheme of things, it’s surely one of the cheapest ways to cultivate cultural awareness. What are the alternatives? 1) Start wars 2) End wars 3) Build cultural or geographic empires 4) Become a centre for international commerce 5) Convince the world to do something amazing (like at the UN). All of these avenues take a lot of time, energy, and money. But throwing a series of public and cultural Canada Day celebrations is an easy way of inviting others to take part in the Canadian brand.

The funny thing is that our government already gets this, and I’ll give you two examples. The first I’ve already mentioned, the wording on the site for Canada Day at Trafalgar Square that states explicitly the goal of the celebration: “We want to tell the world about the real Canada.” The second example is more direct, our government’s push to cultivate Canada Day festivities all across the USA. Called “Canada Day Across America” it’s an interactive site showcasing Canada Day parties across the USA complete with an easy to search database, twitter, and facebook hookups. For Canada Day 2009, 190 parties were registered on the site, helping Canadian ex-pats and unsuspecting Americans take part in pushing Brand Canada.

There’s no reason why this site couldn’t serve as a model for a more global approach. I spoke to a good friend of mine in Berlin who wanted to find a party for Canada Day. To her surprise, there was no official party in Berlin, despite us having an amazingly huge embassy in a central part of the city. The best she could find was an ex-pat organized gathering in a Best Western filled with 40-something foreign service folks and their “boring” friends. Why not spend a few bucks and throw a huge party outside the embassy like they do in Trafalgar? The Government could even approach Canadian companies for sponsorship (I guarantee you Molson, Labatt’s, Sleeman, or Moosehead would all jump at the chance to be the exclusive beer for sale at any one of these events – whether the rest of the world will appreciate this is another question though). These events would be ways we could showcase our artists, and there could even be tie-ins with museums and galleries to showcase Canadian works a few weeks before and after July 1st.

Why can’t we be known as the nation that rocks out every July 1st all over the world? Why can’t we be all over BBC and CNN showcasing how fun and awesome we are? It’s cheap and it’s effective. Canada is such a multicultural country. We do a really good job of celebrating international festivals here at home and really owning them and making them ours. So why not do a little of the reverse? Why not make Canada Day our gift to everyone else? Invite the world to be Canadian every 1st of July and use the network of young travellers and ex-pats that are spread all over the globe each summer to push it? If I had any say at all, it would be my number one plan to build and sustain a Canadian brand.



  1. Haha thanks for the shout out Al. It’s completely true – for a city that has a “Ron Telesky’s Canadian Pizza Place”, and that cool Canadian acts like Peaches calls home – you’d think there’d be more of Canada scene going on.

    Unless, of course, Canadians move to places like this to escape all things Canadian… (how’s that for self-loathing?)

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