OTTAWA, July 1 (Xinhua) -- The vast, green land of Canada turned into a sea of red and white Wednesday as citizens across the country rallied outdoors to celebrate their country's 142nd birthday.
Parades, carnivals, barbecues, air and maritime shows, fireworks and concerts ... outdoor public events were held in all major cities, drawing throngs of Canadians who dressed themselves in the colors of the national flag's red and white.
In the capital city of Ottawa, nearly 50,000 people packed the lawn of Parliament Hill to partake in a full day of festivities. Young and old, black and white, people of different ethnic groups merged into a massive crowd of revellers, highlighting the diversity of the multicultural country.
Indeed, multi-culturalism has become one of the most important themes of the annual celebration on July 1, as was underscored by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his speech this year.
"We are a product of diverse peoples from all corners of the earth, but committed to common values, a country that cherishes freedom, democracy and justice, a country that offers opportunity to all who seek it, a country proud of our past and confident of our future," he said in a short speech.
A lady in her 50s from Ottawa, who gave her name as Harriet and was wearing a tall, white hat decked with colorful straps, echoed the prime minister.
"I am an ambassador for Canada. I want to spread all the love around to all the world, in a multi-culturalism way," she told Xinhua.
Others stressed the message of peace that Canada has always been sending to the international community.
"The things about Canada that mean most to me is friendliness..., close family and peaceful living," a sergeant of the Royal Mounted Police of Canada (RCMP), whose first name is Daniel, told Xinhua.
The highlights of the day in Ottawa included the ceremony of the Changing of Guard, world-renowned Musical Ride of the RCMP, the Snowbirds aerobatic show and performances by world-class pop stars such as Sarah McLachlan.
The forthcoming 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics also featured in the celebration, as the country's top athletes were introduced on the stage and the mascots of the games greeted the audience.
The festivities were capped off with a thunderous fireworks display at 10 p.m. local time (0300 Thursday GMT).
Formerly known as "Dominion Day," July 1 is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrating the anniversary of the 1867 enactment of the "British North America Act," which first established the single country of Canada by uniting four provinces in nowadays eastern Canada. The name was officially changed to "Canada Day" in 1982 when the British "Constitution Act" patriated the Canadian constitution.
But as early Canadians thought themselves primarily to be Britishers, it was not until 1967 when Canada really matured into a distinct, independent country that "Canada Day" began to dominate the country's calendar.
Blessed with a vast land and abundant natural resources, Canadians are immensely proud of their country. A recent Strategic Counsel survey showed 90 percent of Canadian respondents agreed with the statement that "Canada is the best country in the world."
About 36 percent of the respondents also put multi-culturalism as one of the country's most representative symbols, only after hockey (48 percent).
Undoubtedly, with the influx of immigrants in recent years, the makeup of the Canadian mosaic, now 33 million people strong, has changed considerably over the years.
While two decades ago, the average Canadian was, in his or her late twenties, less likely to be in a relationship with someone of a different ethnic origin and new immigrants were more likely to be of European background. Nowadays, the average Canadian is 39 years old, more likely to be married to someone of a different ethnicity and new immigrants are more likely to be from Asia or the Middle East.
According to Statistics Canada's 2006 census, 20 percent of the country's population was foreign-born, the highest percentage since 1931. In 2006, 58 percent of new immigrants were from Asia or the Middle East, and only 16 percent arrived from Europe, down dramatically from 61 percent in 1971.
But the country is also challenged by an increasingly aging population and the declining of the rural communities. Because two-thirds of Canada's population growth come from immigration and not new births, the country's median age has risen to 39 from 26 in 1971, becoming one of the oldest societies in the world.
As the majority of immigrants settle in and around Canada's largest cities and a large number of young adults continue to leave small towns to pursue higher education and job opportunities, there are fears that some of the country's rural villages will disappear completely.
But Harper encouraged Canadians to be confident about an even brighter future.
Canada is "a strong and resilient" nation, "We will soon have a chance to showcase Canada to the world," Harper said in his speech, referring to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver-Whistler.
Meanwhile, Canada's Governor General Michaelle Jean hailed the country's youth, saying the youth "are in fact our most powerful antidote against inaction and indifference."
"Through our youth, we will come to embody, within our borders and beyond, the Canada we still dream about, whose full potential we hope one day to realize," she told an applauding audience.