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Victoria mayor talks virtual Canada Day, impact of pandemic on British Columbia's capital

No crowds this year for Canada Day in Victoria, B.C., because of the pandemic. But virtual celebrations will be held.
Jordan Rockerbie
Flickr Creative Commons
No crowds this year for Canada Day in Victoria, B.C., because of the pandemic. But virtual celebrations will be held.

July 1 is Canada Day, when the country celebrates its formation in 1867. In any given year you can find celebrations across Canada, including in Victoria, B.C., where tens of thosuands of people come to the Inner Harbour District for festivals, fireworks, and the living flag — a huge crowd in white and red T-shirts directed into the pattern of Canada’s red-and-white maple leaf flag.

Not this year, though.

Like so many other places in North America, the COVID-19 pandemic has stifled in-person celebrations of Canada’s national holiday this year. But organizers of virtual events are hoping people still participate online.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says the pandemic has had a huge impact on tourism.

“We do miss the visitors from Washington state,” she said. “You’re notably missing from our downtown right now, so we’re hoping that can be sorted out.”

The international border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to all but essential travel since March, and isn’t expected to reopen until at least July 21.

Still, she says British Columbia was particularly careful in how it dealt with the pandemic, and as a result, the impact was far less than it could have been. Some businesses — such as construction sites — were able to continue operating. Victoria’s tech sector is its largest private employer, and while there were reductions, virtual work kept many people on the job.

Helps spoke to KNKX All Things Considered host Ed Ronco about this year’s Canada Day, the pandemic, and the current conversations around race. Listen to the full interview above.


On Canada Day: “People who are First Nations, people who are Black, people who are immigrants — everyone has a very different experience of Canada. One of the things we’re always mindful of in our Canada Day events is that for some people it’s a day to celebrate, and for other people it’s not a day to celebrate. Even in this one-hour virtual event, we begin the event with the Lekwungin dancers who are from the Songhees Nation. We have a very deep relationship with both nations here (Songhees and Esquimalt) and recognizing that Canada is still a colonial place. There’s no decolonization on the horizon, and also Black Lives Matter and racism are not confined to the United States. Those are very real things that happen in Canada. I think Canada Day this year is going to have a lot of poignancy to it.”

On the U.S. response to COVID-19: “It’s hard seeing our closest neighbor go through a really challenging time. British Columbia’s approach has been very careful. We never had a complete lockdown. Construction sites kept functioning, so buildings kept being built, people kept being employed. But we did it in such a way that we followed all the rules our provincial health officer gave us. Every day she would give her address, and every day I would say the majority of British Columbians were hanging on her every word thinking ‘What is Dr. (Bonnie) Henry saying? That is what I must do.’ Because we’re very rule-following we’ve been able to be very lightly hit. My impression is that there are some people in the United States who are doing that — taking the public health emergency very seriously — and it would be very frustrating for those who are doing that, to see those who aren’t. … I’m actually quite worried.”

News CanadaUS-CanadaCoronavirus CoverageCOVID-19COVID-19 British Columbia
Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.