10. We’re Post-National.
Which is to say, we used to worry about what our national identity was. Were we British? Pseudo-Americans? Two nations? Too nice? Too violent (i.e. our passion for hockey)? Too diverse?
Now, not so much. We’re a nation of individuals who can claim many different identities that all co-habit in this place. Sometimes we argue, but compared to other places, we’re a model of peaceful co-existence.
9. We Are Dealing With Our Past.
My dad used to say that the difference between Canada and the US was that the Americans killed their Indians while we just put them on reserves. Well, that kind of mythology is breaking down. The reality is that our forebears in New France, British North America, and the Dominion of Canada mercilessly pushed aside First Nations, Metis, and Inuit in the great land grab of the 18th and 19th centuries. They saw as providential the massive mortality among aboriginal peoples due to infectious diseases from the Old World. They cleared the valleys of Ontario and the plains or the Prairies, making treaties and not honouring them. They tried to assimilate them through the Indian Residential Schools. On any number of counts, it was a genocide.
But now? We have had the apologies from religious leaders and the Prime Minister. We have had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Scholars are unearthing the truth. The aboriginal peoples have greater self-determination than at any time in the past 190 years. The Supreme Court has asserted the reality of aboriginal title. To me this is progress.
8. We’re Diverse and We Like It
I live in a town that is pretty “white bread”, but I rejoice in the fact that we still find many immigrants from non-European countries here. Elsewhere it is even more so. Half of Toronto’s population is foreign born, and just under 50% of the total population is a visible minority. And yet, when riots break out in our major cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, they are not driven by ethnic differences but by (respectively) hockey, globalization, and tuition costs. I’m not in favour of riots at any time, but at least they’re not about “race” or “religion” (unless you consider “hockey” a religion).
While we have two official languages, I like the fact that I can watch a hockey game with the commentary in Cree. Quebec likes to describe itself as a “distinct society” but arguably the same thing is even more true of Newfoundland and Labrador (eh boy?). I especially like the fact that the people of Quebec voted down Pauline Marois’s ill-conceived Charter of Quebec Values.
7. We Get to Watch the Americans
Some Canadians are really anti-American. Usually what that really means is that they do not like the US government, its foreign policy, its sheer power in the world, and the extremism of the NRA. On the other hand, scratch a Canadian and you’ll probably find a rabid consumer of American culture – its music, literature, television, film, and so forth. If we lived close enough to the border we used to (before 9/11) zoom through immigration with ease, stocking up on cheap milk, clothes from the factory outlets, and filling ourselves with over-sized portions at the chain restaurants that hadn’t made it across to the land of the Red and White. Because we are the mouse sleeping next to the elephant we know far more about the big beastie than it knows about us. We can withdraw into smug self-assurance that we are more humble, not recognizing that Americans really don’t need to know very much about us.
I really like the view of the Olympic Mountains from Victoria – much better than the other way around. Oh, and some of us marry Americans!
6. Canadian Writers
Alice Munro. Gabrielle Roy. Yann Martel. Margaret Atwood. David Fennario. Robertson Davies. Roch Carrier. Leonard Cohen. Mordecai Richler. Douglas Coupland. Michael Ondaatje. You get the point.
5. Canadians are Funny
Catherine O’Hara. Dan Ackroyd. Wayne and Shuster. SCTV. Lorne Michaels. Jim Carrey. Tommy Chong.Kids in the Hall. Michael J. Fox. Cathy Jones. This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Rick Mercer. Mike Myers. The Frantics. And so on. Some would add Calgary native and Texas senator Ted Cruz to this list, but I don’t think he means to be funny.
4. Rocks and Trees
. . . and WATER!
Lyrics and translation at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/mon-pays-my-country.html-1 .
2. Musicians and Artists
k. d. lang. Robert Lepage. Great Big Sea. The Group of Seven (and Tom Thomson). Healy Willan. Serena Ryder. The Watchmen. Guy Maddin. Bill Reid. Stan Rogers. Victor Reece. USS. City and Colour. Norval Morrisseau. The Tragically Hip. Emily Carr. Alex Colville. Atom Egoyan. Bruce Cockburn. Crash Vegas. Paul Halley. Bruce McDonald. Susan Point. Tegan and Sara. Christopher & Mary Pratt. Harmonium. Sara McLachlan. Cordell Barker. Cirque de Soleil. Blue Rodeo. Denys Arcand. Neil Young. Ken Danby. Broken Social Scene. William Kurelek. The Pursuit of Happiness. CHOM 97.7 Montreal (in the ’70s). CFNY 102.1 Toronto (in the ’80s & ’90s). The Zone 91.3 VictoriaCJZN (now). I’ll also admit to being proud of Avril Lavigne and Rush (but do not talk to me about Justin, Celine, or Nickelback).
1. Our Heroes
Canadian heroes tend not to be politicians, military types, or athletes- although many of them are, but their modesty and achievements explode those categories.
Take Terry Fox, for example. Few paid attention to the 21 year-old when he began his fund-raising cross-country run April 12, 1980 (although I do vaguely remember seeing a CBC news item about him dipping his foot into the Atlantic in St. John’s, but this was probably several weeks after). On his artificial leg he ran the equivalent of a marathon each day. He never finished his run across Canada, being taken down by a recurrence of his cancer just outside Thunder Bay on Labour Day weekend. He died less than a year later, but by then, through the money he raised on the road and in a telethon following his departure for treatment, some $23 million had been raised for cancer research. Over thirty years later Canadians around the world still join in Terry Fox runs, and over $600 million has been raised.
About a block from my house sits the Nellie McClung library. Born in 1873 McClung started off simply enough as a relatively uneducated woman on a homestead in Manitoba, but worked to become a teacher. Upon marriage she became active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was allied with women’s suffragette movement. She played a leading role in the “Persons Case” in which the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (then the last court of resort) overruled the Supreme Court of Canada and asserted that “[t]he exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.” McClung lived in Edmonton then, but sensibly moved to Saanich BC and wrote her memoirs here, dying in 1951. Her legacy is the equal treatment of all women in our society, ultimately enshrined in our Constitution.
A third and final example of a Canadian hero is Roméo Dallaire. Born in 1946 as the son of a French-Canadian soldier and a Dutch mother, he followed his father into the Canadian Army and was commissioned as an officer in 1970. He rose through the ranks and in 1993 he was assigned the role of Major-General of UNAMIR, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. From April to July of 1994 the mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda took place – the Rwandan Genocide. Despite pleas to the outside world, neither the United Nations nor the US, France, or Belgium chose to intervene. Between 500,000 and one million were killed, and two million person became refugees. Despite the thankless situation, the withdrawal of troops by Belgium, and the unresponsiveness of the UN, Dallaire consolidated his troops and managed to directly save the lives of some 32,000 people. Subsequently he returned to Canada, served in command and staff positions, and retired in 2000. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted suicide and suffered from alcoholism. He recovered, and was appointed to the Canadian Senate, where he has been an outspoken advocate for conflict resolution and veterans.
One could, of course, celebrate others – sports stars such as Wayne Gretky, politicians like Pierre Trudeau and John A. Macdonald, and soldiers such as Victoria’s Arthur Currie (Canadian military commander in WW I) and Andrew McNaughton (Minister of Defense in WW II), but somehow these three I just discussed and other like them seem to epitomise what I like about Canada.
God bless Canada on this Canada Day 2014!