Last year 3,400 Winnipeggers turned out to form Canada’s biggest-ever living flag in Memorial Park on Canada Day in response to a Downtown Winnipeg BIZ challenge. This year organizers hoped the number would hit 5,000.
Canada is home to my parents from Italy. They immigrated here over 45 years ago for reasons similar to those of other Italian immigrants: to create a better life for themselves and to start a family.
My dad often pulls me aside and says in broken English: “Stefano, you and your sisters have no idea of how good you have it here in this country,” while my mom often reminds us that while she was born in Italy, Canada is her new country of choice. Despite the coldest of winters and the peskiest of mosquitoes, my parents remain proud Canadians.
There’s a real sense of community here; when push comes to shove, Canadians – whether Italian, German, Jewish or all other cultures in between – come together to get a job done, and welcome challenge. Canada’s got great hospitality, friendly and eclectic people and diverse landscapes, and is arguably one of the safest and most beautiful places to live. And most importantly, there are opportunities for everyone.
And the amount of pride and patriotism that Canadians have for their country is immeasurable. When travelling overseas for example, you see it in their backpacks adorned with our maple leaf and their “I am Canadian” clothing. It’s simple: Canadians are proud of their roots, proud of their Rocky Mountains and have got pride, eh? Canadians want everyone to know that their country is great, although most already do.
Winnipeggers showed this shared sense of national pride in Canada by standing shoulder to shoulder, adorned in red and white, at last year’s Canada Day Living Flag event, hosted by the Downtown BIZ. The BIZ challenged 3,400 Winnipeggers to form into Canada’s biggest-ever living flag, beating out Victoria, B. C., by 1,300 participants.
We were hoping for just over 2,000 people but, when the line started forming at 7 a.m., we knew our event had really captured the imagination of Winnipeggers. And when everyone started singing O Canada together, I could not help but get shivers down my spine; this event was truly something else: it was amazing.
Not only was there a strong showing of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures – a real multicultural mosaic and snapshot truly representative of our downtown community – there was a feeling of resilience and pride as participants were attending the event despite the pouring rain!
I’m glad I got to share the experience with my parents and family who were there too, along with my office staff. I also brought my three sons to the event and they really enjoyed the experience.
They got to meet an assortment of Winnipeggers, all passionate about their city and their downtown. My wife packed a picnic lunch to eat on the legislative grounds afterward, too!
Leading up to 2017, when Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, maybe we’ll even be able to take over the streets of Portage and Main and co-ordinate an even larger living flag!
We hosted the event again this year and called on our downtown community for help and support. We set our sights on bringing out 5,000 Winnipeggers to beat last year’s record and other competing cities as well. This year, the gathering jammed to special performances by resident rockers, Enjoy Your Pumas (www.enjoyyourpumas.com) and Brenlee Martin. HOT 103’s Lloyd the Intern also joined the celebrations. For more information on the event, visit: http://downtownwinnipegbiz.com/home/events/living_flag/
Stefano Grande is executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. Read more from him at www.stefanogrande.tumblr.com.