OTTAWA — Kids splashed in boggy mud puddles and brandished sodden paper Maple Leaf flags Saturday as a waterlogged rainbow coalition of rain slickers, ponchos and umbrellas assembled under grey skies on Parliament Hill to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Crowds that were projected to number in the hundreds of thousands were estimated at just 25,000 as the show wrapped up, officials said — a consequence of the inclement weather, as was the cancellation of plans for an airshow to take place in the skies over the national capital.
By midday, however, the rains relented, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau arrived — their children in tow — with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to take in the day’s performances, kicked off by a rousing version of “Carry On” by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
A single CF-18 streaked over the Centre Block, drowning out the final notes of O Canada, before the prime minister took to the stage to deliver a rousing, forceful and enthusiastic celebration of the unique power and resilence of the Canadian character.
“We don’t aspire to be a melting pot,” Trudeau told the crowd. “We know true strength and resilience flows through Canadian diversity. Ours is a land of original peoples and of newcomers, and our greatest pride is that you can come here from anywhere in the world, build a good life and be part of our community.
“We don’t care where you’re from, or what religion you practice, or whom you love — you are all welcome in Canada.”
Stormy weather wasn’t the only damper on the day’s festive mood.
Canada 150 celebrations have been tinged throughout by resentment and frustration from indigenous people who chose instead to use the holiday to draw attention to the country’s oppressive, colonial past — a sentiment symbolized by the teepee erected not far from the stage.
“Our past is far from perfect,” Trudeau acknowledged. “For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have been victims of oppression, from the time when the first explorers celebrated their discovery of the new world.”
He urged the crowd to acknowledge the country’s history and confront its reality.
“We must educate ourselves and dedicate our efforts to progress,” he said. ”It is a choice we make not because of what we did, or who we were, but because of who we are.”
His speech also included one monumental gaffe: as he recited the names of the provinces, he omitted Alberta. Moments after he was done, he jumped on the front of the stage, called out, “I love you, Alberta,” and blew a kiss, before sitting down and shaking his head.
U2 frontman Bono and guitarist the Edge took the stage after Trudeau, acknowledging the country’s reputation for tolerance and consensus-building.
“This is your home, and we are grateful guests in it,” said Bono, whose brief remarks alluded to the protectionist and confrontational policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“When others build walls, you open doors,” he said before a stripped-down version of U2’s 1991 hit, “One.”
“Where you lead, others follow, and that’s the real reason the Edge and I are here today.”
Spirits were high despite a persistent downpour all morning as a long line of revellers snaked down Wellington Street, the southern edge of the parliamentary precinct, in order to brave a steely security gauntlet in order to get onto the grounds.
Officials were keeping the crowds off the waterlogged grass initially as Ottawa fire crews pumped away the standing water.
“I’ve wanted to come to Parliament Hill since high school,” said Jenna Doerksen, 29, whose family travelled from Winnipeg to mark what her father Don Collinridge described as her favourite holiday.
Doerksen, clad in a red T-shirt and sporting a tiara festooned with flags, described herself as ”dressed down” compared with the rest of her family — the airline, she said, lost her luggage, forcing her to cobble together an outfit from borrowed bits and pieces.
Her father spent five hours the night before crafting a hat out of red and white balloons, while wife Lynda, 56, built a crown of flags, including two from the centennial celebrations in 1967, when she was in Grade 1.
To them, like countless others, Canada is home, a place of safety and security.
“We were very happy to see the security here today, searching us.,” said Lynda, 56. “We feel safe.”
Charles, for his part, was effusive in his praise for Canada as he acknowledged its history, cheered its ambitions and expressed gratitude for setting an example for the world.
We should be clear and proud that we are celebrating a country that others look to as an example — an example of fairness and inclusion, of always striving to be better,” he said.
“Around the world, Canada is recognized as a champion of human rights, as a peacekeeper, as a responsible steward of the environment and natural resources, and as a consistent example of diversity and the power of inclusion.
“With, if I may say so, Canada’s commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples demonstrating a remarkable determination to forge an ever-better society.”
Some at the very back of the line were warned to expect a wait of up to three hours. Street vendors all along the lineup took advantage of the captive market, hawking everything from stickers and flags to Canada Day pins and temporary tattoos.
As crowds gathered at the foot of the stage early in the day, Trudeau sat down for an audience with the prince at Rideau Hall, where the pair commiserated briefly about the conditions outside.
“We’re Canadians,” Trudeau was heard to say over the din of camera shutters. “We can handle a little weather.” The prince was later invested as an Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who attended his last Canada Day as governor general.
Even Trump himself got into the spirit of the occasion, tweeting his congratulations on the occasion of Canada’s birthday and acknowledging the prime minister by name, whom he described as his “newfound friend.”
The teepee, a source of some tension earlier in the week, became an exhibit of sorts as visitors stopped by to express their support or chat with the so-called “reoccupiers” of unceded Algonquin territory.
Regina resident Rhoderic Sia, 40, a red, flag-bedecked colander on his head, acknowledged the cause of the activists as they huddled around the teepee.
“Everybody has their own opinion,” said Sia, who hails originally from the Philippines.
“I respect it, but we still have to respect what Canada is now. Coming from another country, being here is all about your freedom. You can have everything if you work hard.”
A couple of blocks from the Hill, the long security lines and a morning drenching of rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of many who ventured into Ottawa for the big day, including Luciana Nunno from Ajax, Ont.
“I’m proud to be Canadian, I feel safe in this country,” Nunno said as she and her husband Mike — along with tens of thousands of others — slowly made their way along Queen Street toward one of two security checkpoints on either side of the precinct.
“You know it’s wonderful, all the nationalities, all the cultures,” Nunno said. “The one thing I hope for is really true reconciliation with our aboriginal people.”
— With files from Terry Pedwell in Ottawa and Sue Bailey in St. John’s
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press