With Canada Day just around the corner, the Ravine Vineyard Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake has announced the return of its annual celebration of the country’s confederation this Friday, July 1.
However, in a move that reflects the nation’s growing contention with the holiday as it unpacks troubling aspects of its past and present, the business is asking people to help a national organization aiding survivors of the residential school system.
The event will kick off at 5 p.m. at 1366 York Rd. in St. Davids, featuring an evening of drinks, barbecue-style food, live music, and a large fireworks show starting around 10:15 p.m.
This year, the winery is offering free attendance to the event for those who make a donation to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS), a British Columbia-based organization that provides services to the survivors of Canada’s residential schools and their families, helping them to heal from the trauma many former attendees of the schools experienced.
Tony Milana, general manager of the Ravine Vineyard winery, said the idea came from Paul Harber and the family that owns the winery.
“They’re very conscientious of these issues that have arisen,” Milana said.
Like others in Canada and around the world, they’ve been taking in news since last year’s of the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools across Canada, believed to contain the remains of previously unaccounted for children who attended the schools.
This countrywide search began after the discovery of a suspected 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C. on May 27 last year. Last year, many called for the cancellation of Canada Day celebrations to honour those who lost their lives, and conversations around Canada’s legacy continue.
“As Canadians, it’s been a hard thing to swallow,” Milana said.
The winery has set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations (the page is set up to give donations directly to the IRSSS). Since setting up the page on June 24, it’s received nearly $3,000 in donations, out of its goal of $10,000.
“We just want to make sure we’re doing our part,” he said.
The event will also have QR codes on-site on July 1 to allow people to make a cashless donation before entering the vineyard. Those who donate online will be asked to provide proof of their donation when entering the event.
This is the first time Ravine Vineyard is hosting its annual Canada Day fireworks events since 2019, putting off the event for two years due to the pandemic.
Milana said the winery’s team is keeping an eye on the latest news around COVID-19, such as a potential new wave of cases this summer or the spread of the Omicron variant BA.5 in Ontario, and will be trying to host the event as safely as possible.
“We’re very excited about it,” Milana said. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s family fun.”
The winery notes this is a cashless event, and that parking on-site is limited. There will be spots available around the property for attendees to lay blankets or set up chairs.
For more information, including the food and drink menu, visit ravinevineyard.com/events/winery-events, and to donate to the IRSSS for this event, visit gofundme.com/f/indian-residential-school-survivors-society.