Canada’s Democracy Week: “Connect with Democracy”

September 16th, 2013 by Dan Allan

For the third year in a row, Elections Canada is organizing Canada’s Democracy Week, a civic education initiative to promote the importance of democratic involvement and voting. This year’s Democracy Week runs from September 16th to 23rd.

The theme for this year is “Connect with Democracy.” Democracy Week is about “connecting with people, places and information that help broaden your understanding of why democracy and voting are so important.”

We’re proud to be taking part in another Democracy Week! On September 23, CIVIX President Taylor Gunn will be in Ottawa to take part in a discussion on civic education titled “Breaking Down Stereotypes and Hang-Ups: Democracy and Citizen Engagement in Your Classroom.” It’s open to the public.

We’ve also been coordinating multiple “Rep Day” visits in schools across the country during Democracy Week, and throughout the fall. Rep Day is a nationwide civic education initiative that allows high school students to connect with their democracy by meeting elected representatives for a dialogue on current political issues.  

Rep Day

Rep Day aims to break down the stereotypes that young people have of politicians and the political process, and develop a better understanding of and a sense of trust in the people and institutions within our democracy. We’ll be sharing more details throughout Democracy Week and the weeks ahead.

Click here for a full list of Canada’s Democracy Week events.

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Labour Day

August 30th, 2013 by Abhi Saini

Many Canadians view the Labour Day long weekend as their last opportunity to visit the cottage or spend time with family and friends before the end of summer. Most of us are unaware of the fascinating history behind the holiday.

Labour Day in Canada is celebrated on the first Monday of September to commemorate the contributions of organized labour towards Canadian society.

The origins of Labour Day can be traced back to the “Nine-Hour Movement” that began in Hamilton, Ontario. Unions were illegal in Canada, so activists used strikes and demonstrations in an effort to achieve a shorter work day.

The most prominent example came in 1869 when the Toronto Printers’ Union petitioned for a work week of 58 hours. Employers rejected this request repeatedly, and workers went on strike on March 25th, 1872.

The publishing industry was “paralyzed,” and workers from other industries joined the movement. On April 14th, 10,000 workers staged a rally and marched together to Queen’s Park demonstrating worker solidarity. Employers retaliated by hiring replacement workers.

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald eventually stepped in to side with the workers. Macdonald helped pass the Trade Unions Act that “legalized and protected union activity” on June 14. The majority of the workers’ demands were eventually met, including a shorter work week. 

Sir John Sparrow David Thompson

In 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson’s government officially declared Labour Day a national holiday, and a huge parade was organized in Winnipeg celebrating workers’ solidarity. The celebrations quickly spread to other Canadian cities and eventually became annual tradition across Canada.

This Labour Day, take some time to commemorate the contributions of those who fought for the rights we enjoy today.

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The Civic Holiday: What’s in a Name?

August 1st, 2013 by Abhi Saini

The first Monday of August is observed as a public holiday in most Canadian provinces. This day is frequently referred to as the “civic holiday,” but many provinces and municipalities give it different names.  

Here are a few examples of how the holiday is marked across Canada:

  • In Alberta, Heritage Day is an “optional holiday” held since 1974 to “recognize and celebrate the varied cultural heritage of Albertans.”
  • Saskatchewan Day recognizes and celebrates Saskatchewan’s history and culture.
  • Celebrated since 1976, New Brunswick Day recognizes the culture and the way of life in the province.
  • Some municipalities in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island celebrate Natal Day. “Natal” means “to be born,” and the holiday recognizes the birth of the respective provinces.

In Ontario, the holiday is celebrated differently in many municipalities. Here are some examples:

  • Toronto celebrates Simcoe Day. Major-General John Graves Simcoe was the first appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.
  • Burlington observes Joseph Brant Day to commemorate Mohawk leader Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, the city’s first settler.
  • Brantford celebrates Founder’s Day to honour the contributions of the families that influenced and shaped the history of the city.
  • Sarnia celebrates Alexander Mackenzie Day.  Mackenzie was Canada’s second prime minister and is buried in the city.
  • Cobourg celebrates James Cockburn Day. Cockburn was one of Canada’s founding fathers and was appointed as the first Speaker of the House of Commons by Sir John A. MacDonald.

The holiday is not observed in Quebec, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador, but they hold regional celebrations of their own:

  • In Newfoundland, the City of St. John’s celebrates Regatta Day on the first Wednesday of August. First held in 1816, the Royal St. John’s Regatta is North America’s oldest annual sporting event,
  • The Yukon Territory celebrates Discovery Day on the third Monday of August. Discovery Day has been held since 1911 to commemorate the discovery of gold in the region.
  • The Quebec National Holiday is held annually on June 24 to mark Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day and to celebrate French-Canadian culture.

Should the civic holiday have one name that is used throughout the country, or should we continue to celebrate unique regional identities?

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Happy Birthday, Canada!

June 27th, 2013 by Dan Allan

The British colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Province of Canada (which contained what is now Ontario and Quebec) combined to form the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867.

The anniversary of this date was first celebrated on July 1, 1879 on a holiday called Dominion Day. Dominion Day was not celebrated again until Canada’s 50th anniversary on July 1, 1917.

Dominion Day was renamed in 1982, and the holiday has since been known as Canada Day.


An initial attempt to rename Dominion Day was made in 1946 in a private member’s bill introduced by Liberal MP Antoine-Philéas Côté. The bill was passed by the House of Commons but stalled by the Senate, who suggested that the holiday be called “The National Holiday of Canada.”

The federal government has celebrated Canada’s “birthday” annually since 1958.  This has always included an afternoon ceremony on Parliament Hill and a concert and fireworks in the evening. The events began being nationally televised in 1968. Click here for information on this year’s events in Ottawa.

Queen Elizabeth II visited for Canada’s Centennial in 1967, and again in 2010. Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, attended Canada Day ceremonies in Ottawa in 2011.

Several noteworthy events have occurred on Canada Day throughout Canadian history:

  • The Canadian National Railway completed the first national radio hookup on July 1, 1927.
  • The CBC held their first cross-country television broadcast on July 1, 1958.
  • The first color television transmission in Canada was broadcast on July 1, 1966.
  • The Order of Canada was inaugurated on July 1, 1967.
  • “O Canada” was named the official Canadian national anthem on July 1, 1980.

Looking for something to do on Canada Day? We’ve compiled a list of “unconventional” Canada Day events in communities across Canada and around the world.

July 1 also marks the beginning of the first ever Canada History Week. Created the Department of Canadian Heritage, the week will promote Canadian history and encourage Canadians to get actively involved in their past.

Visit the Department of Canadian Heritage website for more information on Canada Day.


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Victoria Day

May 17th, 2013 by Dan Allan

Monday is Victoria Day!

Named after Queen Victoria, the holiday is also known as the Sovereign’s Birthday and celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria and the current reigning monarch, regardless of their actual date of birth.

Canada has had six monarchs since Confederation:

  • Queen Victoria: born May 24, 1819; ruled from 1837 to 1901.
  • Edward VII: born November 9, 1841; ruled from 1901 to 1910.
  • George V: born June 3, 1865; ruled from 1910 to 1936.
  • Edward VIII: born June 23, 1894; ruled from January to December 1936.
  • George VI: born December 14, 1895; ruled from 1936 to 1952.
  • Elizabeth II: born April 21, 1926; began her reign in 1952.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch, is Canada’s head of state. The Queen is currently represented in Canada by Governor General David Johnston and ten provincial lieutenant governors.

Victoria was the Queen of the United Kingdom from 1837 until her death in 1901. Queen Victoria presided over many historic developments, including Canada’s Confederation in 1867. Victoria was known by many as “the Mother of Confederation.”

Victoria’s birthday was declared a holiday by the Legislature of the Province of Canada in 1845. After Confederation, the Queen’s birthday was celebrated annually on May 24 (unless that date was a Sunday).

After Victoria’s death in 1901, the Parliament of Canada passed an act to establish a legal holiday on May 24 called Victoria Day. Victoria Day has been observed on the first Monday before May 25 since 1952.


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International Women’s Day

March 8th, 2013 by Dan Allan

March 8 is International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a day to show respect and appreciation for the economic, political and social achievements of women across the world. 

International Women's Day

Women’s Day was first observed in 1909 in the United States. International Woman’s Day was first held in Europe in 1911, and more than 1 million people took part in protests and demonstrations. Participants demanded equal rights for women, including full suffrage (the right to vote in elections).

The suffrage movement had been taking place in many countries, including Canada, since the mid-19th century. Canadian women received the right to vote in 1918.

In the beginning, International Women’s Day was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries. In fact, International Women’s Day protests in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1917 helped spark the Russian Revolution. Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin later made Women’s Day an official holiday in the USSR.

International Women’s Day became an international event when the United Nations declared March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace in 1977.

Learn more by visiting the International Women’s Day website.

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Black History Month

February 1st, 2013 by Dan Allan

February is Black History Month in Canada. Black History Month was created to “honour the legacy of black Canadians, past and present.”

Black History Month began in 1926 as “Negro History Week” in the United States. The week became more popular over time and was formally acknowledged by the U.S. federal government with the creation of Black History Month in 1976.

Canada began officially observing Black History Month in 1995. Notably, the motion to implement Black History Month in Canada was introduced by MP Jean Augustine, the first black woman elected to the House of Commons.

In 2008, the Senate of Canada unanimously approved a motion to officially recognize Black History Month. The motion was introduced by Senator Donald Oliver, Canada’s first black man appointed to the Senate. Canada’s first black woman senator was Anne Cools.

Visit here for more information on Black History Month in Canada.

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Republic Day of India

January 30th, 2013 by Abhi Saini

The Canadian Prime Minister is the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons.

India, one of the world’s largest growing democracies, uses a completely different system to choose their leader.

The Indian republic is led by a President chosen by other elected officials from across the country.


This past Saturday marked the 64th Republic Day of India.

The Indian Constitution came into effect on January 26th, 1950 and, as a result, India became a republic.

India had removed itself from British rule in 1947 with the Indian Independence Act, but the country did not yet have a permanent constitution.


Abhi, our Research and Program Development Intern, summarizes how government and the electoral system work in India:

On July 19, 2012 India’s legislature elected Pranab Mukherjee as the country’s 13th president, replacing  incumbent President Pratibha Devisingh Patil at the end of her 5 year term in the country’s highest elected office.

According to India’s Constitution of 1949, Article 324 vests powers in Election Commission of India to exercise its constitutional responsibility to “supervise, direct and control” the presidential election and to ensure that the elections are “free and fair.”

India, being a republic, is led by a president.  This leader is elected by representative lawmakers from Vidhan Sabha (Lower House at the provincial level), the Electoral College comprised of elected MPs from Lok Sabha (House of People or Lower House, elected directly by citizens), Rajya Sabha (Council of States or Upper House comprised of 250 members; out of which 12 are appointed by the president and rest are elected by the state and territorial legislature), and lastly by the legislatures representing India’s Union and Territories.

As outlined in Article 53 of the Constitution, executive powers are exercised through the president in accordance to the constitution. In addition, part 5 of the constitution notes that the president holds “supreme command” of armed forces regulated by law and plays a provisional role in the Legislative and Judicial Brach of the government. Further, the president is seen as the nation’s first citizen and represents the “Indian nation and does not, therefore, belong to any particular political party.”

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Sir John A. Macdonald Day

January 11th, 2013 by Dan Allan

Happy birthday, Sir John A. Macdonald!

January 11th is Sir John A. Macdonald Day. Macdonald was Canada’s first Prime Minister and played an instrumental role in Canada’s confederation in 1867.

Impress your friends (and your teachers) with these interesting John A. Macdonald facts:

  • John Alexander Macdonald was born on January 11th, 1815, in Glasgow, Scotland. The Macdonald family moved to Kingston, Ontario in 1820.
  • In 1856, Macdonald became the Premier of Canada West (which later became the provinces of Ontario and Quebec).
  • The 1864 Charlottetown Conference, which led to confederation, was originally designed to discuss only a union of Maritime provinces. MacDonald, and the other delegates from the Province of Canada, requested that the agenda be expanded to discuss a union of all provinces.
  • Macdonald was elected as Canada’s first Prime Minister in 1867, representing the Liberal-Conservative Party.
  • Macdonald was our second-longest serving Prime Minister (after William Lyon Mackenzie King). Macdonald led the country for a total of 19 years: from 1867 to 1873, and again from 1878 to 1891.
  • Canada added several new provinces and territories to confederation under Macdonald’s watch: the Northwest Territories in 1869, Manitoba in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873.
  • The North-West Mounted Police were created under Macdonald’s watch in 1873. Today, we know our national police force as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
  • The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed with Macdonald as Prime Minister in 1885, linking Canada from coast to coast.
  • After winning re-election in 1891, Macdonald passed away at the age of 76. He remains the only Prime Minister to lie in state in the Senate chamber.

Posted in Famous Canadians in Democracy, News, Special Events | 3 Comments »

Festive Celebrations at Canadian Legislatures

December 7th, 2012 by CIVIX

Provincial and territorial capitals all across Canada are kicking off the holiday season by holding festive celebrations. The Christmas Lights program was originally launched in 1985 to help brighten up dark winters in Ottawa, but over the years the program has expanded beyond Parliament Hill and now illuminates the wintry capitals of the 13 provinces and territories and has become known as Christmas Lights Across Canada.

The maritime provinces began their celebrations in November. In Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, up to 8,000 lights were illuminated at Province House on November 23rdNova Scotia’s Legislative Assembly celebrated the beginning of the holiday season at the Halifax City Hall Building on November 24th. In New Brunswick, holiday festivities began on November 30th with the lighting of 7,500 lights.

In St. John’s, the Newfoundland and Labrador capital, the annual Christmas tree lighting and illumination of over 60,000 energy efficient LED lights took place at Confederation Hill yesterday. On November 29th, local Girl Guides, Sparks, Brownies, Pathfinders and Rangers were invited to the Government House to help decorate the Christmas tree. The ornaments were all handmade from girls all over the province.

In Ottawacelebrations were held on Parliament Hill last night (pictured above). Hundreds of thousands of lights decorated Parliament Hill and other historic landmarks in the Capital Region. Guests were invited to join in on Christmas caroling, free hot chocolate and beaver tail pastries.

In Saskatchewan, holiday goers were asked to brave the cold in order to kick off the holiday season at the lighting of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building yesterday. Alberta’s Legislative Assembly marked the beginning of the holiday season with choir performances followed by the lighting over 125,000 outdoor lights last night. A special “Made in Alberta” Christmas event will be held tomorrow to showcase local producers.


Tonight, Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly is holding a special lighting ceremony at the Legislative Building with over 3,200 lights for guests to enjoy. A special holiday open house will also be held tomorrow with the premier, cabinet ministers and MLAs on hand to welcome holiday goers. Musical performances, craft stations and holiday picture taking are offered to those attending.

Also today, Iqaluit, Nunavut is holding the Illumination of Lights. In the Northwest Territories, the Legislative Assembly is inviting guests to the Great Hall to witness the illumination of thousands of lights, all to the tune of holiday carols performed by local choirs. The Yukon Legislative Assembly held a series of celebrations from December 3 until today as part of their holiday season kick off.

In Victoria, British Columbia, festivities began on November 27th on the front steps of the Provincial Parliament Buildings with the lighting of 5,000 Christmas lights. Guests were treated to Christmas caroling performed by local choirs.

In Quebec, more than 20 historical buildings were illuminated on December 1st to kick off celebrations held during QuebecAdabra!, a holiday season event showcasing dazzling light shows, live entertainment, parades, exhibitions and outdoor activities that run from December 20th to January 2nd.

Ontario’s Legislative Assembly in Toronto lit up over 8,000 lights on December 3rd while being serenaded by the St. Victor School Choir.

Click here for photos from Christmas Lights Across Canada, and click here for an interactive map of where events are taking place.


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