Photos: My Canada Day in Vancouver includes protesters, soldiers, and a little bit of music
If I want to know how the Conservative government uses tax dollars to promote its vision of Canada, I head to the Canada Day celebration in downtown Vancouver.
Today promised to be one of the more entertaining national holidays. That's because peace activists had earlier promised to disrupt the Canada Day military display by banging pots and pans.
That's why I went straight to Waves Coffee House on West Pender Street, where the StopWar activists were gathering before their march to Canada Place.
Martha Roth, a writer and editor, told me that the protest was against the "increasing militarism of Canadian patriotism".
"It's like everything good about Canada is being swiped from us and replaced with guns and jet bombers," she said. "Some of us are really angry about that, and we would like to celebrate a peaceable, constructive Canada."
Martha Roth explains why she joined a protest on Canada Day.
Roth added that she's shocked by the cuts to education at the same time as millions of dollars are being spent to commemorate the War of 1812. "It's disgraceful," she declared.
The turnout for the protest wasn't large. A few marchers headed across Pender Street and through Harbour Green Park, where their insistence on banging pots and pans attracted curious stares.
There were no incidents as they entered Jack Poole Plaza and passed the Olympic flame, which had been lit for the national holiday.
Protesters talk while walking and banging pots and pans.
When they posed for a photo op in front of the cauldron, several people pulled out cameras to record the occasion. It seemed like the peace activists were getting their message across, particularly when some passersby took stickers to attach to their jackets.
A few moments later, I mentioned to a CBC reporter that the StopWar people were planning to protest at the military display, but she seemed uninterested. Her crew was focusing more attention on a young man wearing a Canadian flag on his back.
A few minutes later, one of the StopWar leaders, Derrick O'Keefe pulled out some "Harper War Bucks". They were created to show how the prime minister is investing in war machinery on behalf of the U.S. government.
O'Keefe and the others weren't sure where the military display was set up, but they guessed it was in the old convention centre beside the Pan Pacific Hotel.
At that point, I left the protesters to see what else was going on. At the C-Fox Radio booth, Derek Bourbon was playing his guitar to an appreciative crowd. He told them that his band will be at the Roxy on Tuesday (July 3) if they want to hear more of his music.
Derek Bourbon performs on Canada Day.
About 20 metres behind Bourbon, kids were playing street hockey in a pen created for the occasion. Now, it was starting to feel like the country that Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore is so eager to promote on July 1.
Every Canada Day needs some street hockey.
Moments later, I spotted the first soldiers. I started to wonder if those pot-banging intellectual protesters would encounter these rugged, young members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The demonstrators were about 15 meters away. I decided to follow the soldiers in the hope that they would lead me to the Canadian Forces' display.
Eventually, I reached a sign saying "The Canadian Trail". It suggested I was on the right track. Then, I noticed the soldiers dart inside a side door to the old convention centre.
At that point, I lost them. And there was no sign of the StopWar protesters, either. So I headed into the first exhibit hall, where I was greeted by a massive portrait of Raymond Burr.
That's right. Old Perry Mason, who was born and raised in New Westminster, was staring me right in the eye. Next to him was Ladysmith's own Pamela Anderson. Then it hit me: this is how James Moore is celebrating Canada for me.
The most famous Canadian entertainers and athletes were lined up over several walls in a display that could only have been conceived of by a Conservative government for the most mainstream audience possible.
I must admit to being surprised by Kiefer Sutherland's presence in this gallery of Canadian heroes. Perhaps somebody forgot to tell the minister that Sutherland's grandfather was Tommy Douglas, the founder of medicare and the first social-democratic premier in Canadian history.
There were no soldiers to be seen, so I scampered out of this room and, as Jim Morrison famously sang, walked on down the hall. And there it was: a banner heralding the arrival of the Canadian Forces Zone.
This exhibit hall was enormous. One of the first things I saw was a mock CF-18 fighter jet cockpit, which had kids and parents crawling all over it.
Off to the right were those three soldiers I had spotted earlier. Yes, the same ones who didn't know I had earlier put them under surveillance. They graciously posed for another picture even as they probably wondered if I had some sort of soldier fetish like Postmedia columnist Christie Blatchford.
Not far from them was a simulated weapon inside a tent. The man overseeing the lineup told me that he wasn't authorized to speak on camera about this particular display. No kids were allowed. You had to be at least 18 years old to try this hardware.
I hung around in the Canadian Forces display area for a long time, hoping to witness the arrival of the peace activists. I had a video camera ready to record the occasion. But alas, they didn't show up while I was there.
Maybe it was for the best. The two male soldiers looked pretty burly. They would have made mincemeat out of the people with pots and pans had they been given the green light to do so by their commanding officer.
The Canadian Forces Zone included the obligatory homage to the War of 1812. I recalled reading a news report earlier this year that the Conservative government is spending $28 million promoting this bit of history involving British and American soldiers.
The War of 1812 was also celebrated on the promenade outside. I bumped into a man dressed like a British soldier. There was even a 19th-century cannon, which attracted the attention of children in the area.
As I wandered closer to the street, a large crowd had gathered around a lumberjack competition. This seemed a little strange. Huge men were sawing giant logs in a scene from the country's earliest days.
Who needs Margie Gillis when you have a loggers competition?
By this point, I was feeling exhausted. Log sawing, British soldiers, CF-18 fighter jets, famous actors and musicians, and street hockey seemed to sum up the Conservative vision of Canada. I'm sure there was more of the country in some of the other displays, but I had seen enough for one day.
On the way back across the plaza, I noticed the Global TV booth. News anchor Chris Gailus was having his photo taken with his many admirers. How do I know there were so many? Because they were lined up for quite a distance.
It's a shame we don't have more militant protesters in Vancouver like they have in Quebec. It would have been fun to watch them make a serious attempt to crash the military display—and see what would have happened. Better yet, they could have started banging pots and pans beside the Global display. That might have even gotten them on the news.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.