As the fireworks detonated in humid night skies across an improbably large, disparate, and yet deeply ardent nation, Canadians gathered in the common spaces. Those same spaces created by much-debated tax dollars, in some cases on contested land, watched by a police force many are unhappy with, lit by lights powered by unpopular public utilities – or even less popular private ones, having arrived by vehicles that the cyclists would rather not abide, and by bikes that the larger vehicles wish would just stick to the parks, and stay off the effing streets.
The Liberals. The Conservatives. The New Democrats. The Bloc Québécois. The Green Party. The unaffiliated. The third of Canadians who didn’t vote in the last federal election but still have loudly-held opinions. They all gathered to watch the events. To stake out a decent seat with a view. To eat the food. To drink the drinks. To sing the national anthem; lustily or quietly, fearfully or hopefully, longingly or carelessly, bawdily or reverently. Silently, or not at all. And to wave an improbable flag.
“Mike,” says a man, happening on a guy he knows in the near-dark of a lakeside park in eastern Toronto.
“John,” acknowledges the other man, grateful for his hat, the brim of which hides his eyes, which are not happy with Mike, whom he considers an asshole.
“You here for the fireworks?”
“Uh-huh. Yep. You?”
“Yeah. I’ve the whole gang here. Somewhere.”
“Oh yeah. Hard to keep track of, aren’t they?”
“Did you have a good weekend?”
The two men looked out at the open space between themselves and the lake. It’s full of people; drifting and mingling, running and walking, disappearing and reappearing among themselves. A churn of differences, a mix of values. Tightly held conspiracy theories bumping into fervent ideals, interwoven with those who couldn’t care less. None of them aware of each other’s politics in the anonymity of the crowd, and unlikely to mention them on a day that is as much a laying down as it is a taking up.
“I saw you on the old Facebook there last week,” one of the men said eventually, breaking the silence.
“Oh yeah. Yeah, now that you mention it, we had a bit of a debate going didn’t we?”
“Yeah. Hope I didn’t offend you.”
“Oh no. No. No, don’t worry. It was all good.”
The fireworks began then without any warning. The crowd turned to the display, dark shapes craning their necks upwards to follow the tracers of aesthetic artillery. Everyone watched, gasping together when the largest explosions erupted overhead, murmuring wows as the staccato bangs split the peace over the darkened lake. And then the cheering, and whistling, when it all ended in a cataclysmic volley, and the night returned to the warm heaviness of summer.
“Phew. Heck of a show.”
“Yeah. Really something.”
“Well. See you around.
“Happy Canada Day, Mike.”
“Yeah. Yeah Happy Canada John. We’ll see you around.”