I was in Canada one time on July 1. Being a typical ignorant American, I had no idea that our neighbor to the north celebrated their version of “Independence Day” on July 1. Let me tell you how this happened – you might get a kick out of it.
At the time in 2003, my son was a 14 year old Boy Scout in Troop 641, right here in Aurora, Colorado. That year was the year that most of the older boys in our troop decided to do the “High Adventure” outings offered by the scouts. We took 9 boys along with us (7 adults) up to the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada) to do a canoe trip. We had planned this trip for many months, and had spent long hours on the smallest details. We had been fortunate enough to win a one-way trip from the base in Atikokan, Ontario to Ely, Minnesota, so we would be having to cross the border into Canada and have drivers take our vehicles back to Ely for us.
It was day 3 of our adventure when we picked up our drivers and headed to International Falls to cross the bridge into Canada into a little town called Fort Frances. It was also July 1, as our canoe trip was scheduled to start on July 2. So, we wandered around the little town of International Falls trying to find the bridge over the river, it wasn’t entirely obvious because being a relatively small town, the signs are smaller and less obvious than in big metropolitan areas. We finally found the crossing, and made it across into Canada and pulled up at the Customs Office to talk with the Immigration folks.
You must understand that one of the details we spent particular time dealing with was the identification paperwork for all the boys and adults in our party. Given our proximity in time to the events of 9/11/2001, the borders supposedly were very strict about paperwork. We had copies (and originals) of all the boy’s identification cards, their medical paperwork and all our travel papers, itineraries and so on compiled into a nice neat notebook. We had spent literally weeks compiling all that documentation for this particular event. We walked into the Customs Office and the fellows saw the boys in their uniforms and they said “Hi, Boy Scouts, eh?” They waved us on. They never even _looked_ at the paperwork!
We were so shocked we didn’t quite know how to react. We laughed about it for some time, but it was not near as funny as what happened next. Remember now, this is July 1, or “Canada Day.” All Canadians celebrate Canada Day, just as everyone in the U.S. celebrates July 4 – Independence Day. But, as I said, even though there were 7 adults in our party, and 2 extras now who were the drivers for taking our vehicles back south to Ely to wait for us at the terminus of our canoe trip, all of us apparently were geographically challenged and not one of us knew (or remembered) July 1 was Canada Day.
So there we were in all our glory. We were driving in 2 vehicles, a 16 passenger van and a suburban. The boys had “decorated” the vehicles with that spray paint that High School students use to write their class year and school name on their vehicles. The boys had written their names, and “Troop 641” and things like “Canada or bust!” and “Ely – here we come!” and “Colorado Blood Donors” all over the outside of the vehicles. We were quite a sight. The “Blood Donors” reference has to do with the fact that we were headed to one of the more notorious mosquito infested areas in the world, the boys nicknamed our patrols for the trip, and we even had special Troop 641 Class B Uniform T-shirts made for the trip that had a picture of a giant mosquito with the same slogan on it: “Colorado Blood Donors.”
Anyhow, as we left the Customs Office we were quite a sight coming down the main street in Fort Frances, Ontario. It was already late morning and all the local folks were lined up along the street in their lawn chairs waiting for the Canada Day parade to start. We came down the street in our decorated vehicles, the boys hooting and hollering out the windows at all the people, and they were looking at us and wondering whether we were the start of the parade. Some cheered, some clapped, some just stared at us.
To top it all off, I was sitting in the passenger seat of the van and I yelled at some fellow sitting at a corner as we were stopped at probably the only traffic light in town: “Hey! What day is it?” He yells back of course (being a pragmatic Canadian that is) “It’s July 1!” So I holler at the guy again: “But what’s _that_?” Then he (of course) shouts back “It’s Canada Day!” Can you picture Homer Simpson hitting his forehead and saying “Doh!” That’s pretty much what we all did.
Those poor folks in Fort Frances are probably still – to this day – wondering whether those weird Americans from Colorado were the first float in their Canada Day parade or whether that was some kind of strange joke from their neighbors across the bridge in International Falls.