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Canadians Celebrate Nation's 150th Anniversary


As we've said, we're getting an early start on Independence Day celebrations in the U.S. And up North, it's also a big weekend for national pride. Canada celebrates its 150th birthday today with parades and fireworks across the country. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann is in Montreal, Quebec, for the festivities. He tells us this anniversary comes as many Canadians see their country moving in a sharply different direction from the U.S.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Dozens of dancers carry long Chinese dragons, silver and blue, swirling down Saint Catherine Street here in Montreal. It's the Canada Day parade. They give way to men in kilts.


MANN: Here's a super quick history lesson. Britain and France fought a war over Canada. Then 150 years ago, a group of French and English-speaking provinces formed a new Canadian colony still part of the British Empire. It has a kind of tense double identity with French and English roots. In the 1980s, the British Parliament finally ceded full autonomy to Canadians. The country is vast geographically but still has a population and economy only about the size of California. Even more than the U.S., Canada sees itself as a nation of newcomers.

Claire Poirier is wearing a T-shirt with Canada's iconic maple leaf. She's French Canadian, one of the parade volunteers. She and Angie Triantafillou say it's a good thing Canada has kept its doors wide, open especially to Muslim refugees.

CLAIRE POIRIER: Islam and everybody, we take everybody. And we don't judge, you know.

MANN: Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hugely popular here in Quebec. Both women say they're less comfortable with the direction the U.S. is taking under President Donald Trump and his policies on undocumented immigrants and the temporary travel ban on refugees and migrants from some Muslim countries. Triantafillou says her own family came from Greece.

ANGIE TRIANTAFILLOU: They welcomed my parents so many years ago, they given a chance. We've grown here. We love Canada.

MANN: Again and again, this is what people here want to talk about - immigration and their new better, lives as Canadians. Jatinder Singh Banhari moved from the Punjab region of India more than 40 years ago.

JATINDER SINGH BANHARI: I am Canadian and am proud to be Canadian. Over here, you see everyone, so you can say you are in the heaven.

MANN: But Canada, of course, isn't really heaven. One of the bagpipers in Highland Scottish regalia turns out to be a college history teacher. Jeremy Tetrault-Farber says Canada's past includes some complicated chapters.

JEREMY TETRAULT-FARBER: People come together to both showcase their pride and also to raise kind of thorny questions. I mean, Canadian history has more than its fair share.

MANN: This province, French-speaking Quebec, tried several times to secede from Canada, a conflict that sometimes turned violent. And there's a big debate underway about Canada's treatment of First Nation native communities. But on this birthday, many Canadians do see their country as an important player in the world, taking a bigger, more confident role on issues from climate change to global trade. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.