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WE the Future!

WE the Future!

Photos by Kamara Morozuk, Renee Doiron and Andre Gagne

While Canada Day’s themes looked back on the country we were, thousands returned to Parliament Hill yesterday to look towards the future. In his July 1ST address to the Nation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of how the country was being born again, an emphatic statement carried over for the weekend’s 5-hour encore celebration for WE Day 2017. Who was that message aimed at? One look over the growing crowd revealed a vibrant answer.

This was not a moment for a 150-year-old Canada; it was a moment for the young!

“What an inspiring day to come together and prepare for the future,” Trudeau said, his voice hoarse from his Canada Day hosting duties, eyes firmly focused on the youthful audience.

“There was a lot of looking back but now we are looking forward. You are the future of Canada. You are not the leaders of tomorrow. You’re the leaders of today!”

Created to empower, educate and inspire, WE Day and the attached organization is the world’s largest collective of young people, families and schools.

Founded in 2007 by Thornhill, Ontario brothers Craig and Marc Keilburger, WE Day now takes the philanthropic world by storm with 17 events in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. As 200,000 students from 10,000 schools would be participating in the global celebrations, the brothers turned their focus on their Canadian audience continuing the theme of forward motion.

“We’re here today to look towards the future. This is a chance for conversation about the type of country we want to build. Every person on the stage will share their pledge how they will make the next 150 years even stronger,” said Craig Kielburger.

While more rain threatened to delay the first outdoor gathering for the event, the sun crept through the grey shortly before showtime though people weren’t packing up their umbrellas and ponchos just yet as the weather would continue to be dodgy throughout the day with a torrent cascading down later in the evening. It may have damped the Hill but not the spirits as a cast of distinguished Canadian trailblazers joined the young for a day of epic performances and inspiring speeches.  

Perhaps the most moving moment came midway through the event with a rare public appearance by Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie.

“Now we begin on a new 150 years,” the musician said in an impassioned plea for Canadian youth to learn from the country's Indigenous people and not repeat the mistakes we have made in the past. He was joined by Daisy and Pearl Wenjack, sisters of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, an Indigenous youth who froze to death while trying to escape a residential school in Kenora.

“It’s time to listen to the stories. We’re blessed as a young country, to look to the wisdom of really, really old country. Yours is the first generation in the new, and real Canada. I love you,” Downie said holding the sister’s hands and looking ahead with hope filled eyes.

Prime Minister Trudeau returned to the stage to embrace the musician and the Wenjack’s as well as add to his speech on reconciliation from the previous day stating that this is not “an Indigenous issue. It’s a Canadian issue.” The Kielburger brothers then announced that they would be opening the WE Global Learning Centre, a state of the art establishment in Toronto to serve as place for young people to come and find their voice. Inside there will be a legacy room dedicated to the memory of Chanie Wenjack.

After Pearl Wenjack lead a Cree healing song in a somber moment of reflection, over a hundred young singers from the Ottawa Catholic School Board choir came together to sing Downie’s “Secret Path” in a moment that visibly moved the musician and many of those in the crowd.

Other speakers throughout the day would include Governor General David Johnson, Margaret Trudeau, Lieutenant-General and humanitarian Roméo Dallaire, NHL’er P.K. Subban, Olympians Penny Oleksiak and Rick Hansen, and musician Serena Ryder. Performances by Lilly Singh, The Tenors and Les Trois Accord were pocketed between the touching speeches and pledges from both those in the crowd and on stage.

Shania Twain made her second surprise showing on the Hill in two days and, with her WE pledge, proved that should she ever decide to retire from the music biz she’d have a promising career in comedy.

“Today is all a good time for us all to remember how to be great Canadians,” the country singing stunner said before going on with her list.

“Celebrate our choice to call this Canada 150 because who wants to spend a year trying to pronounce the world sesquicentennial. Not every Canadian graduated from Degrassi High and several of us were homeschooled by Drake. If you see somebody doing graffiti that’s not in both French and English notify the authorities immediately.  Bublé is not a type of champagne. Always bow to our fearless leader Justin…Beiber!”

However, it was her reference to the U.S. population being greater than Canada’s as “size isn’t everything” that elicited the biggest laughs. The larks continued when the Barenaked Ladies took to the stage, changing the lines in their hit “Pinch Me” to include a  jovial jab at the recent onslaught of rain. After “One Week” got the crowd moving, the band brought out astronauts Chris Hadfield to join them in the classic "If I Had $1000000".

“You’ve sang with your friends, you’ve sang with a Nation, now sing with a space man,” shouted Ed Robertson hardly able to contain his laughter.

Nelly Furtado would be joined by Indigenous youth for her performance of “Powerless” and “Sticks and Stones".

"Performing on Parliament Hill for WE Day Canada was an extraordinary experience -- as a WE ambassador and proud Canadian, there was nowhere else I'd rather have been this weekend," said singer, songwriter, and  WE ambassado. "Having had the opportunity to meet warm and welcoming young people and leaders from across the country, my heart is filled with hope -- I'm confident in the difference we can make as a collective good and in the future of our nation."

As the show edged toward the 6-hour mark, Hedley brought out whatever reserves of energy the crowd was storing with singer Jacob Hoggard sprinting around the stage. While the event would end right before a torrential downpour, the band’s performance was the perfect storm needed bring WE Day 2017 to a close.

“I am so proud to be Canadian,” shouted Hoggard. I don’t believe Canada is the best country in the world, but I believe that Canada is the country that the world needs.”

With an eruption louder than the nearing thunder, the young North strong and free jubilantly agreed!

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