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Maxed Out: How to celebrate (discretely)

'Cultural hangups aside, this is the August long weekend and it’s time to dance and celebrate. Discretely though, we’re Canadian.'
GettyImages Max july
Celebrate this August long weekend like a good, discrete Canadian.

This weekend, Canadians from coast to coast to coast—with the notable exception of Quebec—will celebrate... well, let’s just leave it at that. They’ll celebrate.

Canadians aren’t really that good at celebrating. It makes us uneasy. It’s too much like boasting. Canadians consider boasting an American shortcoming, and therefore go out of our way to avoid boasting… unless we’re boasting about something that distinguishes us from Americans, in which case we’ll beat whatever it is to death boasting about it.

But celebrating makes Real Canadians a little uneasy. After all, somewhere in this unjust world, someone is suffering, and as long as that poor, unfortunate, overlooked, oppressed person can’t join in the swing of things, who are we to be celebrating? Shame on us. As a people we should apologize, which is, apparently, even more Canadian.

I was faced with this dilemma recently. Feeling particularly listless one dull evening, I was channel surfing with no streaming option. I’d winnowed the dismal choices down to two. CBC, our beloved/reviled public broadcaster, was showing a typically sombre exposé about starving people in the horn of Africa, austere in the extreme but totally in keeping with the network’s Leave No Developing-World Person Behind guilt-tripping mentality. Meanwhile, over on the U.S. public broadcaster, PBS, there was a sybaritic travelogue dedicated to ferreting out the most tasty sandwiches in the USA.

I tussled with my conscience for maybe 30 seconds and went with the sandwiches. I’ve become sufficiently Canadian to feel a bit guilty about my choice but accept there’s still enough latent American in me to be hungry in the face of starving people. Talk about your two solitudes.

Cultural hangups aside, this is the August long weekend and it’s time to dance and celebrate. Discretely though, we’re Canadian.

Of all the holidays across Canada, this is possibly the most quintessentially Canadian. No one, from coast to coast to coast, agrees about what exactly we’re celebrating, no one agrees what to call it, some don’t celebrate it at all and at least one province doesn’t celebrate it on the same day as the others. As holidays go, it is contrived, borrowed, and with absolutely no connection to anything that’s ever happened anywhere in the country, it verily screams “I Am Canadian!”

Locally, in an effort to give the holiday some panache, the government of British Columbia more than two decades ago declared the holiday formerly known as the August Long Weekend Civic Holiday would henceforth be known as British Columbia Day. I don’t know about you, but my heart just about bursts with provincial pride.

And by simply changing the name of the holiday from the August Long Weekend to British Columbia Day, the wise leaders of our province lifted us out of anonymity and the meaninglessness of a name celebrating nothing. Perhaps aping B.C.’s bold move, most provinces, Manitoba excepted, have dropped the beige Civic Holiday name for something, anything, more celebratory.

Our next-door neighbour, Alberta, celebrates Heritage Day. Festivities include the ceremonial burning of the Prime Minister in effigy and Turning Off The Oil Tap to symbolically let the Eastern Bastards freeze in the dark. Symbolic since the Eastern Bastards are generally sweltering in heat and humidity in August.

Newfoundland celebrates Regatta Day in August. Weirdly though, they celebrate it on the first Wednesday in August, not the first Monday. Whereas Monday gives people a long weekend, having a holiday on a Wednesday just confuses people. But Newfoundlanders pride themselves on being, uh, different.  

And Ontario, which also refers to the day as the Civic Holiday, is rife with municipal exceptions. Toronto celebrates Simcoe Day in honour of John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor and the man most responsible for Canada looking a lot like England without the mouldy, historical trappings. Given the sacking of historical British figures in modern-day Canada, the days of Simcoe Day are likely numbered. Not so Colonel By Day in Ottawa, where they celebrate the engineer who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, offering the opportunity to ice skate from Ottawa to Kingston, assuming you can navigate the nearly 100 dams and locks along the way.

Let’s be serious though. In this modern day of cheap symbolism, Canada needs something to really celebrate, and August is one great time to celebrate whatever it is. At least as long as it’s something summery as opposed to, say, ice fishing.

Since Canada, as a loosely affiliated country of provinces, can’t really agree on anything, it’s pretty much up to us, as British Columbians and more specifically Whistleratics, to show the way. And why not? First in tourism, first in partying, first in trailblazing real holidays instead of these bogus, faux holidays devoid of meaning and chest-thumping symbolism. Amen!

Coming as it does at the height of summer, I ask you, what could be more in keeping with relaunching the Whistlercentric August Long Weekend, formerly known as B.C. Day, than to turn it into a celebration of that most loved summertime passion—barbecue? 

If there is anything Canadians can agree on it’s firing up the propane grill or the ancient ritual of lighting charcoal and burning something while we drink beer and hope it doesn’t rain.

For a brief decade, we almost pulled it off when Whistler hosted the Canadian National Barbecue Championships every August holiday down at Dusty’s. With no genocidal nastiness affiliated with its history, it seemed as though the ritualistic rite of fire and meat had a good shot at becoming the focal point of the loosely defined holiday. Alas, waning interest and covid killed the effort.

Oh sure, there were those trying to guilt everyone about celebrating the low and slow rendering of meat to the apex of perfection. But even vegetarians can barbecue. Granted, tofu tends to slip through the grill, but heck, barbecue historically includes such non-animal side dishes as beans, coleslaw, pickles and buns. And all the New Age barbecuers toss on such untraditional veggies as eggplant, kohlrabi and that most ubiquitous symbol of summer, zucchini. 

And some found it unseemly to indulge in such bounty when so many had so little. But their protests were drowned out by the throngs clamouring for smoky swine perfection. 

Still, the opportunity presented itself. And with the murky history of barbecue—not to mention the influence of social media, which seems to be able to get people to believe anything—we could have claimed the cuisine as our own! Who’s to say the rich tribal traditions of our coastal First Nations didn’t embrace cooking things slowly over smoky fires? You don’t really believe smoked salmon came from Scotland, do you? 

Alas, as a country we are destined to remain disparate. But celebrate we shall... discretely.