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Holiday identity crisis

What's behind first Monday in August?

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Aug 07/02) - So there was a holiday on Monday. That meant a lot of people weren't working, and those who did -- well, they were making time and a half. But what exactly is the holiday?

"Hell if I remember," said Don Strang, on Monday.

"There's a holiday today?" said Nick Leonard.

"That's an excellent question," said Yellowknife mayor Gord Van Tighem.

"I don't know. Civic something . . . civic day?" said Bas Oosenbrug.

The day is most commonly known as "Civic holiday," but if any holiday has an identity crisis it's this one. In fact, not even the GNWT seems to have a good answer. The Consolidation of Labour Standards Act includes it under the definition of "general holiday" and calls it simply "the first Monday in August."

That's interesting, considering the holiday has been around almost as long as Canada itself. Toronto's city council established the day in 1869 as a "day of recreation."

The idea spread from there -- the Brits picked it up and called it bank holiday.

But across Canada, the day has become a sort of name-your-own day. Toronto calls it Simcoe Day, Alberta calls it Heritage Day and New Brunswick calls it New Brunswick Day.

Not surprisingly, the day -- whatever you want to call it -- has its supporters.

"It's a day that was meant to get time off," said Dennis Marchiori, a GNWT employee who was out enjoying the sunshine.

"I don't know what the reason is, but we'll take it," said Oosenbrug, who was doing some painting and gardening. "We should have off the first day of every month."

The mayor wasn't complaining, either. Van Tighem said he going to "go catch fish" on the day off.

But what about personalizing the day, giving it a more northern flavour? How about a new name?

"My background's from Alberta, and I got used to it as Heritage Day, so that's the one I like," Van Tighem said. Of course, not everyone got the day off -- and not everyone wanted it off. Leonard spent part of the day as a traffic controller for a Volker Stevin construction crew.

"If I'm not working, I'm spending money," he said. "I'd prefer to make it than spend it."