The stage is set for what promises to be a more normal Canada Day in Fredericton, N.B.

Final preparations were underway at the city’s exhibition grounds, where festivities begin Thursday night.

And there are plenty of people who say they’re ready to celebrate again.

“I feel absolutely awesome about Canada Day,” said one Fredericton resident. “It’s so exciting to be able to get together again and do great things together – and not be locked in our house!”

The pandemic changed the way Canada Day was celebrated in 2020. Many celebrations went virtual, and family and friends couldn’t gather in large groups.

Then, last year, after hundreds of unmarked graves were found at former residential school sites, many communities cancelled their Canada Day plans, out of respect. In Fredericton, “Resiliency Day” was marked instead.

This year, protests expressing anti-COVID-19 restrictions and anti-government sentiment – known as the Freedom Convoy – occupied downtown Ottawa and blocked some key border crossings for weeks.

The Canadian flag became a symbol of those protests, leaving some conflicted.

“I really hope that all of us as Canadians can find within ourselves to realize that we have differences and we have to work really hard towards reconciliation,” said a Fredericton resident.

“I feel like, with everything happening, with a lot of residential school children and their bodies still being found, I feel like no – it’s really tough to celebrate Canada Day for that reason right now,” said another.

“Canada Day is Canada Day! It should never be cancelled,” a couple said.

For Chief Alan Polchies, who helped organize a Resiliency Day march last year, it’s about balance.

“This is a complicated history that we have here in our country,” he said.

“So as an indigenous, Wolastoqey, two-spirited man, I will always move forward as Resilience Day. I can’t give honour to a celebration of confederacy based on the history. But I can walk hand in hand with my brothers and sisters, you know. People make their own choices. But let’s find some balance.”

He now hopes that Sept. 30 – the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – will be the day Canadians take a moment to learn and reflect.