Every year on July 1, Canadians celebrate their national holiday, Canada Day. This statutory holiday commemorates the confederation of the British territories in North America into one single entity: Canada. It's one of the biggest celebrations across the country and most businesses are closed down to revel in the festivities, including government offices, many retailers, some grocery stores, and liquor stores.
For anyone who's celebrated Independence Day in the U.S., July 1 in Canada feels very familiar. Celebratory events vary by province but typically include barbecues, parades, outdoor fairs, and extravagant fireworks shows. The biggest celebrations always occur in the nation's capital, Ottawa, and are usually presided over by the prime minister or a visiting member of the royal family from the U.K. But virtually all the major cities from Vancouver to Montreal celebrate in some way, with festivities continuing on late into the evening.
History of Canada Day
Canada Day commemorates the anniversary of the British North America Act, which was signed on July 1, 1867. Under the act, the separate British colonies of North America came together for the first time under the same name, Canada. It's not quite an "Independence Day" since the newly-formed Canada continued to be a British colony and gradually gained full independence from the U.K. over the next century.
Although Canada now fully runs its own government and national affairs, it's still a constitutional monarchy and the reigning king or queen of the U.K. is the official head of state, albeit a figurehead.
Enjoying Canada Day
Banks, government offices, and many other stores and businesses close on July 1 (or the following Monday if July 1 falls on a weekend). Even many retailers and grocery stores close down in observance of the holiday. Tourist attractions and restaurants are usually open but may have reduced hours, so it's always wise to call ahead to confirm. In most cities, public transit is available but runs on an altered holiday schedule with reduced frequency, so plan extra time for getting around.
Typically, Canada Day celebrations include parades, fireworks, backyard barbecues, and other get-togethers. Many revelers wear red and white in honor of Canada's national colors and the Canadian flag is proudly hung up in front of buildings and on windows.
Canada Day in Ottawa
Ottawa is Canada's capital and the nucleus of Canada Day events in the whole country. The bulk of Ottawa's Canada Day festivities happen on Parliament Hill and at Major's Hill Park, right on the banks of the Ottawa River. Head down to the park early in the day to enjoy a patriotic festival with concerts, food stands, and interactive art displays, but also to snag a viewing spot for the evening fireworks show.
During the day, a special dignitary addresses the city and the nation from Parliament Hill with a commemorative speech—past speakers include Canadian prime ministers, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Queen Elizabeth II herself.
Many of Ottawa's museums are open and have free admission including the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of History, and Canadian War Museum. Check individual museum websites to confirm admission rates and opening hours.
Canada Day in Toronto
As Canada's most populous and most visited city, Toronto puts on a party to remember for Canada's Birthday. As with other cities, Toronto celebrates Canada Day with festivals, live music, and fireworks in several parks around the entire city, making it easy to find a convenient location to join in on the fun. Mel Lastman Square in the north of Toronto is one of the biggest events, bringing in around 30,000 spectators each year, but downtown has plenty of revelries to enjoy with a final fireworks show over Lake Ontario.
One can't-miss event is the Toronto Ribfest in Centennial Park, located in the city of Etobicoke and right next to the Toronto International Airport. This artisan food fair takes place every year during the weekend of or after Canada Day, bringing out thousands of locals and visitors to celebrate the holiday with finger-licking delicious barbecued ribs.
Canada Day in Vancouver
From a city-wide parade to a huge fishing festival, Vancouver goes all out for Canada Day. The hip and trendy Granville Island is always near the top of lists of things to see in Vancouver regardless of the time of year, but for Canada Day it's extra special. Multicultural performances, live music, a parade, and a massive birthday cake for Canada are just some of the highlights.
The Waterfront Party at Canada Place is one of the most happening places to celebrate in Vancouver, with street hockey tournaments, live performances, food stalls, and genuine citizenship ceremonies. It's also a perfect viewing point for the evening fireworks spectacular over the water, so don't leave before enjoying the show.
Canada Day in Montreal
In Montreal and around the entire province of Quebec, Canada Day is not celebrated as fervently as in the rest of the country. Federal offices and banks are closed, but many people in Quebec look at July 1 as "moving day" because this date has been historically the end of lease agreements. However, you'll still find some festivities for this national holiday—called fête du Canada locally—and the majority of them are concentrated downtown around the Old Port. The party kicks off with a dramatic 21 gun salute by the Canadian Armed Forces. As with other major cities, the afternoon is filled with live music, food stalls, and interactive exhibits for family-friendly fun, with a fireworks show over the Saint Lawrence River to finish off the night.