It is a sea of red and white – Canadian Pride being displayed in the middle of February in a foreign country. It is Canada Day at Golden Village Palms (GVP) in Hemet, California and 280 snowbirds have gathered to celebrate. To those of you who have not yet experienced “snowbirding”, it may surprise you to know that many resorts in California and Arizona celebrate Canada Day every year. It is a chance for Canadians to gather together, show their true colors, and to trade stories about their RV’ing experiences.
Here, in GVP, this is the 20th anniversary of the Canada Day celebration and it is the hottest ticket in town – event sells out in just a little over 20 minutes and everyone is primed to have a great time. At 4:00 p.m. the doors open and Canadians, dressed in their red and white, file in and find a seat at one of the 35 tables that have been decorated with red and white placemats, Canadian Flags, and a Trivia Contest that will test the table’s knowledge of how much they really know about Canadian history. Do YOU know which province was the first to grant women the vote?
Once the appetizers have been consumed, the bottles of wine opened (and partially consumed), the barbecues lit and awaiting the steaks, everyone stands and happily sings both the Canadian and U.S. anthems – the voices raised louder than I have heard at many a hockey game – we all sit back in our chairs and hope that our table number will be called early, signaling that a BBQ is now available for our use.
However, this year the routine is changed. Instead of calling table numbers, our MC for the evening seems to be missing. Before any concern can be expressed, a strange sound is heard out in the hallway – can that really be the sound of bagpipes and drums? It is and without really understanding why, we are all back on our feet and clapping our hands in time to “The Maple Leaf Forever” as two pipers and two drummers, dressed in full Scottish regalia, enter the room. It is what follows the band however, that has everyone grabbing for their cameras, and, for more than a few, grabbing for a handkerchief as well.
It is an Olympic Torch Bearer… here, many miles from home, we are able to experience the thrill of seeing one of the torches that has participated in the Torch Relay and it is being carried by a woman wearing her official Torch Bearer uniform. It was an emotional moment for all who were there – those of us who hail from BC and the Vancouver area seemed to feel an extra moment of extreme pride, and perhaps just a small bit of regret at what we are missing. I, for one, will always feel grateful to our Torch Bearer, Brenda, for giving us a small peek at what our friends and family at home are experiencing.
Canadians being the kind people that we are, we do not gather just to celebrate civic pride. Most of us are very mindful of the fact that we spend a good portion of our lives in this small town of Hemet, and that we need to be good citizens here as well as at home. Everyone attending the party has been invited to bring a donation to the food bank and, over the years, Canada Day has donated hundreds of pounds of food to the local bank. A 50/50 raffle is also held and this year a record $1,075 was raised – the winner took home $535 and the other half, $540 was donated to local kids’ charities. The footprint we leave behind is in total character with the Canadian generosity for which we are well known.
So, the steaks and trimmings are consumed, many door prizes are handed out, we dance to the sounds of a local entertainer, and we all seem to agree that this is perhaps the best Canada Day celebration ever. The many volunteers are already promising their help for next year. Our MC and party planner Stu Macaulay is probably already working on next year’s program. We even learn that Manitoba was the first province to grant women the vote. Most years, this would be the end of the story.
However, this year it is not. There is one more opportunity for Canadians here in GVP to “fly the Flag” and to show how very proud we are. On February 12th, in conjunction with the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver, our Olympic Torch once again makes its appearance. Entering the Resort at the Gates, it is run on a well-publicized route through the Park. All those who want to participate (no matter what their citizenship) are granted the right to take the torch and carry it for a few paces. When the torch reaches the Clubhouse, our own version of a cauldron has been set up (a propane fireplace) and it is lit – it will burn for the entire duration of the Olympics – a reminder to all of us that no matter where we are, a small flame is capable of uniting both a nation and a world.