Canada Day And The Sheep Are Nervous.

Dispatches from a town of patriots and grillers.

Courtesy of Dreamtime

“Oh, sweet blindness, all over me.” Laura Nero

I saw sheep in the meadows gathering in a weird formation. This isn’t common, since sheep wouldn’t know a formation from a frat party. They were huddled together, in any event, wondering what freakish goings-on were brewing in town.

None of them wanted to approach the fence and find out. Being too visible (or handy) is how sheep become mutton burgers. Better to hang back and watch the citizenry in red t-shirts with white maple leafs make a mad monochromatic rush to the fairgrounds.

I was braver than the sheep, or at least aware of the hoodoo small towns make during Canada Day celebrations. I moved to Port Dover the day before, hoping to get a good seat (which turned out to be my front lawn, right across from Silver Lake Park, where hoodoo and whoopee is very common, according to the locals).

By late afternoon, people were in the park, getting ready for the evening’s fireworks display. Folding chairs came out of car trunks, coolers rode on shoulders, and old rockers did a raspy version of The Band’s Ophelia.

On a porch behind me, a woman held her hand to her breast and sang “Oh Canada.” One neighbour introduced himself, saying the whole family had gathered from parts far and wide to “barbecue a pig.” Sheep aren’t considered nearly as spit-worthy as pigs. Still, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself scarce if you’re eatable.

Earlier that day, I’d wandered down to Main Street for the parade. People lined the sidewalks, holding flags and hotdogs, each with considerable fervour, being both patriotic and hungry.

Marching bands played, floats went by with colorful plumes of crape, and a soap box derby turned into an adolescent crash site. Rituals are respected here, so is barbecuing pigs. By nine in the evening, the air was a mixed brew of roasted meat and craven patriotism.

The old rockers started playing “How Long Has This Been Going On?” a one-hit for 60s Cleveland band, Ace. Colby Cosh, in his article for the National Post, wondered if Gen-Xers knew what Expo ’67 meant to young people. I wondered what Ace meant to the Gen-Xers in Silver Lake Park.

Nationalism doesn’t play the same here in as it does in big cities. You can wave a flag without worrying about political correctness or poking someone’s eye out. This might seem backward to the overly self-righteous foreign observer, but even they have to admit it’s refreshing to see this kind of patriotic free-for-all.

We’ve avoided dictatorships, military conscription and religious persecution. If that’s what Canadians celebrate, good for Canadians. It ain’t easy keeping your country from turning into a political or religious toaster oven.

Good for you, Canadians. Wave your flags, roast your pigs and keep those sheep nervous. Celebrations are meant for eating flesh.

By ten o’clock, the park was crowded with families. If you want to put the fear of God into sheep — or any livestock — nothing works better than fireworks exploding like spiders across the stars. Big noise, lots of gunpowder, it really creeps out sheep — not to mention little children.

As empty canister bits floated down from the sky, parents cradled hysterical babies, seniors wandered through smoke with their walkers and drones flew above like really weird crows. People hung out of car windows with their cell phones, capturing what looked like a battlefield aftermath.

One man told me his brother just returned from a fourth tour in Afghanistan. At a similar fireworks display the week before, the brother was found banging his head against a wall. Strange things happen to good people, even during festivities where everything is supposed to be right with the world. Sometimes it isn’t.

At some point in the evening, families laid down blankets on my front lawn, forming what looked like a mini Woodstock. “Thanks,” they said, afterwards. “We’re one street over. Anything you need to know about Port Dover, just ask.”

Where do I begin? I come from Toronto where even dogs have to be mindful of private property. I’ve seen signs saying, “This street is supplied with motion detectors and cameras. Anyone caught not picking up after their pet will be dealt with by the proper authorities.”

Try putting blankets on their lawns and see what happens. Police handle all sorts of property disputes. It’s a type of territorial prerogative, sometimes played out in courts of law, sometimes with garden hoses.

The following morning, a few cars remained in the park. Lone men and women wandered across the soccer field picking up trash, while joggers returned to their daily routine. It was all very pastoral and slightly comical.

Down by the marsh, a man was raking up fireworks canisters from the bulrushes. “What goes up must come down,” he said as I walked past. Another man went by with two large sheepdogs and a Home Depot paint bucket. “Big animals,” he said.

On the beach in town, people gathered with their blankets, most still too full of meat to consider swimming. It was a far cry from the previous night’s revelry. Taken in context, though, being on the beach is the right thing to do. Sun and sand and the occasional dip strengthens one’s constitution and reminds one that parades come to an end — and meat will eventually return to the ground.

“What goes up must come down,” as the man said, and Doverites are used to the “morning after.” They take it all in stride, and already posters are going up around town. More festivals are planned, more music, more humming.

The vintage car folks gathered for their usual Monday night showing of chrome and mechanical ancestry. Over a loudspeaker, a man thanked the crowd for coming out so soon after the Canada Day Festivities. They were a tired but enthusiastic lot. Putting a shine on your ’36 roadster seems to do the trick.

For some, it’s good to have a temporary respite, a chance to sleep and eat more sensible food. Sheep, on the other hand, and possibly all livestock, are happy knowing they’re still wandering around a field and not on a grill.

That’s when you know it’s a good Canada Day. You’re still alive.

Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for details.

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.