OTTAWA – Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau kicked off celebrations Saturday to mark the country’s 150th birthday amid heavy security as thousands braved incessant rain and long delays to reach the main site in the nation’s capital for a party that has been years in the planning.
About 500,000 people reached Ottawa for the long-anticipated Canada Day festivities.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, had a giant rubber duck floating in its harbour. The yellow duck, which cost C$200,000 (£118,400) including the rent, according to the Globe and Mail, drew criticism from some who described it as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Some 3,600 people gathered at Portage and Main in the Canadian city of Winnipeg to create country’s “largest living maple leaf”.
But the biggest bash was at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where thousands of people joined the celebrations. The celebrations included a concert by Canadian artists, a display from Canada’s aerobatics squadron the Snowbirds, a citizenship ceremony for new Canadians, and a massive fireworks display.
Canadian theatre giants Cirque du Soleil performed, and Bono and The Edge from the rock band U2 serenaded the crowd with an acoustic set.
PM Trudeau, accompanied by Britian’s Prince Charles, shook hands with some of the thousands of revellers who converged in Ottawa for the festivities.
“Canada is a country made strong not in spite of our differences but because of them,” Trudeau told the gathering. “We don’t aspire to be a melting pot. Indeed, we know true strength and resilience flows through Canadian diversity.”
“We don’t care where you’re from or what religion you practise, or whom you love – you are all welcome in Canada,” Trudeau said.
His speech was delivered in both English and French, a tradition in Canada, which recognises both as its official languages.
“This is as good a reason as any to reflect on our past, to cheer on today, and to recommit ourselves to the future,” he said to the 25,000 partygoers who had waited hours to get past security and on to the parliament’s lawn.
Indigenous culture was represented in many ways across the festivities, with a number of indigenous performers participating in Canada Day concerts in the capital region.
But some indigenous peoples refused to recognise Canada 150, saying it represented more than a hundred years of colonisation.
National and local police were also out in force, with security top of the agenda for many Canadians after fatal attacks in London, Paris and Germany.
Across the Ottawa river in Gatineau, Quebec, crowds also lined up to see Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall open a new hall at Canada’s Museum of History.
Prince Charles’ mother, the Queen, is Canada’s head of state.
Canada shelled out an estimated C$500m ($385m; £293m) on everything from festivities to security and infrastructure projects.
Canada Day, held on 1 July each year, marks the merging of four former British colonies into a single new country. It is a national holiday.
The country grew in size in the years that followed, and finally achieved complete autonomy from the UK in 1931. It was not until 1982, however, that the British parliament transferred final legal powers to Canada, including the power to amend its constitution.