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Thursday, July 01, 2004

hApPY bIrTHdAY cAnAdA!

hApPY bIrTHdAY cAnAdA!

Canadians stuck flags in their hats, plastered them on their faces and waved them in the air Thursday as they celebrated the nation's 137th birthday.

In Ottawa, the Parliament Hill celebrations focused on the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia — the original colonies of New France, an area that included southeastern Quebec, eastern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. French colonists first arrived in 1604 on Saint Croix Island near the Maine-New Brunswick border.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose Liberals won a minority government in Monday night's federal election, spoke about the country's history of cultural diversity and strong patriotism in a speech during the noon-hour show at Parliament Hill.

"We are quiet patriots, but not today. Not today," he said to much cheering and applause from flag-waving onlookers.

The Prime Minister said he looks to the future with a positive attitude.

"Our confidence in the future is second to no other. Our pride in being a welcoming country that is the envy of the world is second to no other. Our compassion toward those in need and the inclusive nature of our society are second to no other. Canada is second to no other."

Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, who addressed the crowd wearing a large white hat, noted that wherever Canadians are Thursday, they are likely to be celebrating their pride.

"Canadians are coming together in all kinds of places. You're here on Parliament Hill, but perhaps some of you would be in that park in Swift Current, on the Market Square in Saint John, on the beach at Blind River."

Both Ms. Clarkson and Mr. Martin made note of the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day earlier last month, and to the continued commitment of Canadian forces as they serve around the world.

"To me, that is our Canada. Those are our heroes. Those are the people who were called forth and volunteered to fight for freedom," Ms. Clarkson said.

Ottawa's celebrations also featured a performance by the Snowbirds and singer Chantal Kreviazuk and a recreation of some Acadian history by actors and singers.

Even hours before the ceremony hundreds of pedestrians crowded the downtown sidewalks as they made their way to Parliament Hill.

People had Maple Leaf tattoos on their arms and faces and there were lots of flags draped around Parliament Hill. The gathering reflected Canada's cultural mosaic, with a variety of peoples and languages in evidence.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper sent out a statement encouraging people to remember Canada's proud history and to have a positive outlook on the future.

He said Canada Day is a day to "ponder the road we have travelled, to recall our greatest successes and, more importantly, to look to the future. This future is built on the confidence we derive in having made Canada a truly open, welcoming and free country."

In Montreal, the Canada Day parade came in the wake of a strong electoral showing by the separatist Bloc Québécois on Monday night.

"I've come before but I feel it a little more this year," Jose Santafosta, 53, said of the parade. "It's a little worrying how well the Bloc did."

But with thunder rumbling in the distance and raindrops to dodge, some paradegoers had anything but politics on their minds.

"Canada Day has nothing to do with any politics or any election," said Linda Agcaoili, 68, looking up at the dark grey clouds and fiddling with her golf umbrella. "The parade is about people coming together to celebrate and forget about politics and hopefully forget their differences."

In Toronto, thousands of adults and children converged on the lawns outside the Ontario legislature to take in the rides, games, clowns and musical entertainment during a day-long celebration.

In Winnipeg, residents celebrated with festivities at Assiniboine Park and at the historic Forks district.

Fireworks were scheduled for Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

In Halifax, the Public Gardens were officially re-opened in a ceremony Thursday. The Gardens were badly damaged last year by hurricane Juan.

Vancouverites celebrated Canada Day on Granville Island from dawn until midnight.

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