By Stefano Grande, Executive Director, Downtown BIZ

Canada is home to my parents from Italy. They immigrated here over 45 years ago for reasons similar to other Italian immigrants: to create a better life for themselves and to start a family.

My dad often pulls me aside and says in broken English: “Stefano, you and your sisters have no idea of how good you have it here in this country.” While my mom often reminds us that while she was born in Italy, Canada is her new country of choice. Despite the coldest of winters and the peskiest of mosquitoes, my parents are proud Canadians.

There’s a real sense of community here. As Canadians, we all come together and get the job done, and welcome challenge. Canada’s got great hospitality, friendly and eclectic people, diverse landscapes and is arguably, one of the safest and most beautiful places to live. And most importantly, there are opportunities for everyone, from any cultural background.

And the pride and patriotism Canadians have for their country is immeasurable. When travelling overseas for example, you see maple leaf patches on backpacks and distinctive Roots or HBC Canada clothing. It’s simple: Canadians are proud of their heritage, proud of their rocky mountains and got pride, eh? Canadians want everyone to know that their country is great, although most already do.

Winnipeggers showed this shared sense of national pride for Canada by standing shoulder to shoulder, adorned in red and white, at last year’s Canada Day Living Flag event, hosted by the Downtown BIZ. While we did not defend our title as the largest living flag in Canada, one thing is for certain: 2,500 Winnipeg citizens demonstrated immeasurable civic pride and community resilience despite torrential downpour. This year, let’s take back our rightful title!

When the line started forming at 7am, we knew our event really captured Winnipeggers’ imaginations. And when everyone started singing O’Canada together, I could not help but get shivers down my spine; this event was truly something else. It was amazing.

Not only was there a strong showing of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures – a real multicultural mosaic and snapshot truly representative of our downtown community – there was a feeling of resilience and pride as participants still attended the event despite the pouring rain!

I’m glad I got to share the experience with my parents and family who were there too, along with my office staff. I also brought my three sons to the event and they really enjoyed the experience. They got to meet an assortment of Winnipeggers, all passionate about their city and their downtown. My wife packed a picnic to eat on the legislative grounds afterwards too. Leading up to 2017 where Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, maybe we’ll even be able to take over the streets of Portage and Main and coordinate an even larger living flag!

We are hosting this event again this year and need help from our community. We hope to bring out 5,000 Winnipeggers so we can beat last year’s record and other competing cities. This year, we will jam to special performances by resident rockers and have a chance to win great prizes. Stay tuned to find out where the flag will be assembling. For more information, visit: http://downtownwinnipegbiz.com/home/events/living_flag/

Stefano Grande is the Executive Director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. Read more from him at www.stefanogrande.tumblr.com