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Fireworks explode over the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill at the end of Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa on July 1, 2018.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

It will be a quiet Canada Day across much of New Brunswick after several communities cancelled celebrations in light of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Fredericton, Bathurst, Saint John and Cap-Pelé are among the municipalities that have chosen to scrap the traditional festivities in favour of what many are calling a day of reflection.

The City of Fredericton said in a news release earlier this week the city’s Canada Day committee had already rolled back plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic but has now decided not to hold any events at all. “Given the situation regarding our Indigenous communities, a quiet day of reflection may be the best way for our community to spend the holiday,” co-chair Paul Wentzell said in a statement.

Instead, the city will light City Hall in orange – the colour associated with efforts to remember Canada’s residential school history – and is urging citizens to spend the day learning about Indigenous communities and reflecting on how best to work toward reconciliation.

There have been calls to cancel Canada Day celebrations after the remains of what are believed to be 215 children were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia last month. Those calls intensified this week after Cowessess First Nation announced that ground-penetrating radar had detected 751 unmarked graves at another site in Saskatchewan.

Marieval, Kamloops residential schools: What we know about the unmarked graves, and Canada’s reaction so far

The City of Saint John announced late Thursday it would lower its flags at city hall to half-mast, and would cancel all Canada Day activities in solidarity with mourning Indigenous communities.

“We encourage everyone to view this time as a critical point in our history, and a time to reflect – as individuals, a community and a nation – on our past and the course we can set for a better future,” the city said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the City of Moncton said officials had decided in March to cancel the main Canada Day celebrations because of the pandemic. In a phone interview, Isabelle Leblanc said the city feels that both the pandemic and the discovery of the unmarked grave sites make this a good time for people “to reflect on the history of Canada and what kind of country we want to live in going forward.”

The New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council said in a statement on Thursday that the discovery of the 751 graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School was “a reminder of the ongoing atrocities committed against Indigenous people.”

Barry LaBillois, the organization’s president and chief, urged leaders to turn Canada Day into a day of truth and reconciliation. “Canada Day is an opportunity to heal as a nation – it gives us a day to reflect and draw attention to our relationship with one another,” he said.

“It is a time for leadership to demonstrate to Canadians how to talk about these issues – that Canada Day can be a day of truth and reconciliation.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday acknowledged the abuses that took place at residential schools, saying that for many, Canada Day is “not yet a day of celebration.”

July 1, Mr. Trudeau said, would be an opportunity to think about the country’s achievements, but also on how to make Canada a better place going forward.

Other Canadian cities, including Victoria and St. Albert, a city northwest of Edmonton, have already announced plans to cancel some or all of their Canada Day events.

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