Workmen are busy here building some of the newest weaponry in the Canadian government's propaganda war against Quebec independence: A 12-foot beaver, a truck-sized blue whale with two igloos on its back, a 30-foot plastic lobster and a fake birthday cake made of styrofoam, satin and wire.
These garish objects are part of a $4 million spectacle being staged in Ottawa and across the country July 1 by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau's government in what has become known as the "battle of the bands" against the separatist government of Quebec Prime Minister Rene Levesque.
July 1 is Canada's national holiday, the 110th anniversary of confederation. The Trudeau government is trying to outdo Levesque's separatists, who declared June 24 a national holiday in Quebec and staged a festival of drinking and dancing across the French-speaking province.
This Friday, a 145-foot maple leaf flag costing $5,000 will be attached to the bottom of a window cleaner's scaffold and hauled up the face of the Peace Tower at the Parliament buildings here. Throngs of citizens, sated and belching from the 60,000 hot dogs given away earlier and wearing lapel buttons with beavers on them, are supposed to respond in a frenzy of patriotism, showing Quebec separatists that Canada is a unified country after all.
Federal authorities say they blundered last year in canceling Canada Day celebrations to save money. They officiall deny that they July 1 spectacle, the biggest National Day celebration since centennial year in 1967, is a direct response to Levesque's campaign to make Quebec an independent republic. But the organizers, from Trudeau on down, do say the celebrations are needed to help re-establish some sense of national unity in this divided country.
"We are going to show that we really love Canada," Secretary of State John Roberts said. "We are going to be wearing our hearts on our sleeves."
Last week, thousands in Quebec took to the streets in an exuberant celebration of their own marking the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, (St. Jean Baptiste), the patron saint of French Canada. The day has been celebrated in Quebec for 143 years, but Levesque put the official stamp of separatism on it this year by declaring it a "national holiday" in the province.
About 60,000 Quebec resident, including Levesque, almost filled the Olympic stadium Montreal for a concert by French Canadian performers. Levesque had begun the day of celebrations the night before by lighting a fire on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, site of the battle in 1759 in which New France fell to the British.
The federal government, which owns the historic park, initially refused Quebec festival organizers permission to use the park but later relented.
Trudeau meanwhile was in Quebec attending a shrimp festival in the Gaspe Peninsula fishing and farming district, where Levesque grew up.
It was the first time Trudeau officially visited the province of St. Jean Baptiste Day since 1968 when, as newly-elected prime minister, he attended a parade in Montreal that was disrupted by separatist riots.
Today, districts of Montreal and Quebec City were littered with empty beer and liquor bottles from a night from singing and dancing. There were no riots.
The Trudeau government is being careful to give French Canadians a big part in the Canada Day celebrations. Many Quebec performers have been included in a three-hour grandstand show which the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corp. will televise live to all parts of the country.
The over-sized beavers and lobsters are all part of Parade floats depicting various regions and provinces. Quebec's float will include a huge snowman on a truck decorated with the fleur-de-lis, Quebec's symbol.
The federal government wanted the provinces to build their own floats for the parade, but decided to do the work in Ottawa so that the Levesque government would not have a chance to refuse to cooperate.
The federal government is also helping to organize celebrations in towns and cities across the country. A small town in British Columbia has curiously decided to stage something called "Las Vegas Night" where, presumably, there will be gambling. The townsfolk are also going to sign a petition that night urging Levesque to stop his independence campaign.
The New Brunswick town Moncton will hold a "Kodiak Hubbub" which, an organizer said, probably will include impromptu roadside boxing matches "amd maybe we'll wreck some old cars."
There will be a heavy accent on performances by ethnic groups, another planner said, "Every Ukrainian in Canada will be dancing someplace on July 1."