The ‘Britannia’ float from Parksville and District’s 1927 Dominion Day parade. (Photo courtesy of the Parksville Museum Archives)

The ‘Britannia’ float from Parksville and District’s 1927 Dominion Day parade. (Photo courtesy of the Parksville Museum Archives)

Canada Day through the decades in Parksville Qualicum Beach

History: A look back at July 1 celebrations

By Beverly Brendon

This year, Parksville Qualicum Beach celebrates Canada Day virtually, an historic first.

We’ll all be missing the seas of red-and-white clad revellers that usually mark the day. But given the importance the celebration of Canada’s birthday has taken on in recent decades, it is quite likely the patriotic fervor of our big July 1 bash will carry on unabated (in appropriately-distanced small groups) in homes and on backyard patios across the country. The evolution of Canada Day nationally and locally over the years all points to this.

On July 1, 1867, the Constitution Act formed the Dominion of Canada and the following year, Canada’s governor general called for an annual birthday celebration. By 1879, July 1 was made a national holiday and dubbed ‘Dominion Day.’

In the early years, Canada’s birthday was a low-key affair, most often acknowledged with a military parade or a sermon from the church pulpit.

Canada’s 50th year of confederation landed in the midst of the First World War, so we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee in 1927. In that year, Parksville and District took a light-hearted approach: July 1 centered around beauty contestants. The festivities kicked off in Qualicum with a parade headed by a showy float carrying Miss Canada and her nine provinces followed by Britannia (the personification of the U.K. in Canada) in a ‘most effective decorated car,’ sporting trident and bulldog. The procession made its way to Parksville’s community park flagpole for rounds of ‘God Save the King’ and ‘O Canada.’

READ MORE: WATCH: Virtual Canada Day celebrations in Parksville Qualicum Beach

In 1946, Phileas Cote of the Quebec House of Commons introduced a private member’s bill seeking to change the name ‘Dominion Day’ to ‘Canada Day’ but it was defeated in the senate. It was only in 1958 that the government first celebrated July 1st with Trooping the Colour on Parliament Hill. Finally, with our 100th year of confederation in 1967, Canada recognized the day with the first country-wide celebration.

That year, Parksville’s centennial fete was jam-packed with family-friendly events – much like present day – though a beauty pageant still took center stage. The day began at 8 a.m. with a pancake breakfast at the community park. This was followed at 11 a.m. by a parade from Parksville Memorial Park to the community park, then at noon, a show by the Alberni Valley Motorcycle Club followed by a Parksville band concert, Nanaimo Majorettes and a model airplane show. In the afternoon was a sand castle contest, a comedy soccer game, a baby show, a pet parade, a fashion show and a preliminary judging of Miss Parksville contestants. There was a dinner at the Island Hall for the beauty queen contestants and as a nod to Canada’s birthday, a centennial skit by the Little Mountain Theatre Club. The festivities ended at midnight with the crowning of Miss Parksville, 1967.

After the centennial, for the next 12 years, a big multicultural birthday celebration on Parliament Hill was broadcast on TV Canada-wide. Starting in the early 1980s, Canadians began to hold July 1 festivities locally, and fireworks shows became the norm in major cities.

In 1982, with the passing of the Canada Act, our country became independent of the U.K. and from 1983, July 1 was celebrated as Canada Day.

Over the years, the celebration of Canada’s birthday has evolved from rather restrained affairs to enthusiastic expressions of pride in our national identity: last year, in Trenton, Ont., 3,942 people donned red T-shirts and formed a massive, 11-point maple leaf, setting a Guinness world record.

This year will be different, yes. But as you sit at home enjoying this first virtual Canada Day celebration, be sure to paint your face, wave your flags and smother your pancakes with maple syrup. Happy Canada Day!

— Submitted by Beverly Brendon of Qualicum Magical History Tours

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