You would be hard pressed to find a fiercer city rivalry in Canada than between Montréal and Toronto. This week it’s been revived by the Montréal Canadiens’ triumphant ascent to the finals of the Stanley Cup – the oldest sporting trophy in North America – which started on Monday. The last time a Canadian team won the National Hockey League, which has been dominated by US teams despite ice hockey’s storied place in Canada’s sporting life, was in 1993 when the Habs (the Canadiens’ nickname) claimed victory. That might seem like a long time ago but Montréalers still hold it over their nearest Canadian rivals.
But even Toronto’s most curmudgeonly hockey fans might crack a smile if Montréal beats Tampa Bay in the best-of-seven-game series to win hockey’s highest prize – particularly given that the mood around Canada’s national holiday, which is marked today, has otherwise taken a more sombre tone. In the front garden of a house along my street in Toronto a yard sign bears the words “Happy Canada Day” with “happy” crossed out and the word “thoughtful” scrawled in its place. Several cities have cancelled today’s official celebrations following the grim discoveries of unmarked mass graves of indigenous children at former residential schools in the provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan (pictured) in recent weeks. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has urged a day of reflection, rather than celebration.
Polls show that broader public opinion does not support a push by some activists to cancel Canada Day altogether – but it’s a complicated moment. In many parts of the country reconciliation has been equated with erasing the symbols of Canada’s colonial past, removing statues or changing the names of streets and institutions. But confronting and making amends for what those symbols represent could be a more meaningful response than removing all references to the darker chapters of Canada’s complicated history. Reflecting and rethinking the past – whether in society, in communities, in education, and, indeed, in sports rivalries – should itself be a source of national pride for those undertaking it.