Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is the first to acknowledge Canada 150 had its share of ups and downs.
She doesn’t shy away from mentioning the torrential rains that flooded Parliament Hill’s Canada Day show and tries to laugh off the frosty temperatures that forced the cancellation of many New Year’s Eve events, including musical shows planned for Parliament Hill.
“We’re Canadians,” she says. “We’re used to dealing with Mother Nature.”
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But Joly believes strongly the things Canadians will walk away with at the end of Canada’s big birthday bash won’t involve the weather.
“I think it was a success in terms of creating great memories for Canadians,” she said. “I really have a feeling of gratitude towards Canadians that really decided to embrace this unique occasion and unique opportunity and make it the best for themselves and for all.”
Heritage Canada budgeted $200 million for Canada 150 events and programming. Another $300 million went to a Canada 150 infrastructure project to upgrade community ice rinks and public parks. Parks Canada spent about $76 million to make national parks free for the year.
Joly said the goal was to invest in projects and “moments Canadians will remember.”
“I think that is one of the legacies is these memories Canadians will have about what they did on Canada Day, which projects went through their communities and how they celebrated,” she said.
For Joly, the story isn’t in the amount of rain or the freezing December. It’s in the numbers of people who joined in.
Heritage Canada says 87 per cent of Canadians participated in at least one Canada 150 event, with 31 million people overall.
There were 5,800 Canada 150 events across the country throughout the year, many of which drew enormous crowds. La Machine, a French theatrical performance involving giant robotic dragon and spider, attracted 750,000 people to downtown Ottawa in just four days in July, three times the expected turnout.
Free national parks and historic sites drew a record 27.3 million people through their gates. There was the 50,000-person strong Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver, 1.4 million people who attended the tall ships events at ports in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, and the biggest National Acadian Day in history.
The New York Times and Lonely Planet both ranked Canada as the number one place to visit in 2017 and international and domestic tourism was up 3.1 per cent for the year. That was led by a 7.1 per cent increase in overseas visitors and 2.7 per cent increase in American tourists, making it Canada’s biggest year for international tourism ever.
Ottawa, where many of the Canada 150 events were centred, saw overnight visits increase 5.5 per cent, the biggest for any city in the country. Montreal came in a close second at 5.1 per cent.
Guy Laflamme, the head of the non-profit Ottawa 2017 Bureau assigned to develop a year-long celebration in the nation’s capital, said from his perspective it was a “huge success.”
“I think we’ve changed the perception people have about Ottawa,” said Laflamme.
Laflamme said it is also important to note the entire year went off without a major security incident, a threat that hung heavy over anyone planning a public event in the era of Islamic State terrorist cells.
Some Indigenous youth made known they didn’t feel like there was a reason to celebrate, erecting a teepee on Parliament Hill on the Canada Day weekend as a protest. But that helped draw attention to the issues of reconciliation and Joly says it shows Canada can have a mature conversation about our weaknesses.
“Although the past 150 years have been far from perfect for Indigenous people I think this was a pivotal moment in time and I think there was more dialogue and openness on the part of non-Indigenous communities this year,” she said.
One-quarter of Canada 150 events were aimed at the reconciliation theme.
Chief Robert Joseph, the ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, said reconciliation is not an overnight event and one year isn’t going to tell its story.
“There are going to be a million little steps but every time we take one of them it’s progress,” he said.