Welcome to Canada. Bienvenue.

My country of origin is celebrating 150 years as a Nation State.  About 150 years ago some old, rich, fat white European men sat around in rooms and decided that we all needed to be defined by a something, and there was a need to unite some disparate French and British colonies and protect valuable financial interests under one name: The Dominion of Canada. So there was a Confederation, and they drew up a Constitution, some basic rules and rights were laid out for all, and some structure of governance was established.

The history of this land goes back much further, to the time of the first Vikings landing somewhere on the East Coast (a very long before Columbus) and firstly to all the vast and varied Aboriginal peoples who lived and thrived here quite nicely without knowing anything about Jesus or smallpox blankets or booze or borders. But neither of these are considered that important in the grand scheme of things because the Vikings didn’t keep good records and didn’t hang around long (because they couldn’t take the winter), and the First Peoples didn’t think it was important to put up fences, or assign a dollar value to something like water, or trees, or a herd of buffalo or a beaver pelt. And it’s also important to note that like everywhere else, history is written by the conquerors, so it’s likely what we know and understand from back then is fairly skewed.

So, what does it mean to come from this, from these beginnings. And what does it mean 150 cycles of the earth around the sun later? What does it mean to me when I think about or “identify as” Canadian? That’s hard to define simply, partially because we grew up next door to some Very Loud Neighbors, we for a long time also identified as A Proper British Colony, and in some ways we lived in the shadow of these things, kind of in between some rugged wild-west individualism and keeping a stiff upper lip. I think these things meant we had to forge something that was a bit of a blend, and in doing so we eventually found a voice that was uniquely our own. We were also okay with not needing to say things to the rest of the world like “We Are Canadian and We Are The Best”, because we actually didn’t think that way, we tended more towards humility and politeness and just showing up when stuff needed to get done (like, both World Wars, as example).  Because our country is so geographically large and there is so much space and so few people, the culture that evolved during the expansion into the west was a bit more of a mosaic, a patchwork quilt of you will, whereas the exported cultures we got exposed to seemed to need to be more succinctly defined…more homogeneous, more You Are One Of Us. Because the weather in the wintertime can really really be harsh in much of our land, I think we tended to stick together in communities more so than in other places where you can survive on your own; we looked out for each other because someone could and would die if we didn’t.

It is important to note these things, to understand and acknowledge where we came from, but for me personally I think in terms of places, people, events…significant works of art, music and literature when I think about what shaped my view of Being A Canadian who was born in the 1960’s and grew up in a period where I think our young nation found it’s outdoor voice.

Early memories included just a basic understanding that we were somehow different than our cousins south of the 49th. They were definitely a bigger player on the world stage, they had this big personality and you had no choice but to listen to them and watch their movies and TV, read their books and absorb their influence (all of which seemed infinitely cooler than ours at times). But I also remember things like discovering truly Canadian art, like Tom Thompson, Emily Carr and The Group of Seven. They had a new vision and style that shook up the art world and were hugely influential both at home and abroad. And others, like Alex Colville, who’s Horse and Train on the cover of my 2nd Grade Reader left a huge mark on me…I was transfixed by this mysterious and foreboding yet serene and dream-like style called Magic Realism. Others, like Rioplelle, Bush, Bateman, Shadbolt, Pratt…photographers like Yousuf Karsh, and Fred Herzog who had a style that was informed and sometimes influenced by others but also seemed to put a unique stamp on things that we all recognized. Being Canadian meant I grew up with stories and poems by Mitchell, Mowat, Munro…Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler; Robert W. Service, Pierre Berton, Robertson Davies, and later works by Crummy, Hay, Kinsella, Shields, Stuart McLean, Douglas Coupland and William Gibson. It means I grew up with the FLQ Crisis, with Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of our current Prime Minister) and his charisma and intelligence but also his elitism and egalitarianism. And also with his wife (and Justin’s mother) Margaret who was as gorgeous socialite, a bit of a wild child who partied (sans underwear) at Studio 54, who may have slept with Fidel Castro and Mick Jagger and once notoriously appeared on the cover of a men’s magazine.

Being Canadian and coming from a series of small towns means I grew up with CanCon rules and the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, our government controlled cultural propaganda division in both official languages). I grew up with KIng of Kensignton, Front Page Challenge, The Beachcombers, Rainbow Country, Hymn Sing, Mister Dressup, The Friendly Giant, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (Billy Van was an absolute genius), Monty Python, The Goodies, David Suzuki, Kids in the Hall, Trailer Park Boys, SCTV, Super Dave Osborne, The Littlest Hobo and Hockey Night In Canada (note: I am Canadian and therefore hockey is part of my genetics however what the sport has become today is just another  mega entertainment package, I tuned out years ago). It absolutely means I grew up with Paul Henderson’s Goal, with Wayne Gretzky. And with the rise of Women’s Hockey as a great new sport to have our girls play and compete in at an international level.

It means I grew up with Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young; with Martha and the Muffins, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, Stompin’ Tom and Hank Snow, Buffy St. Marie, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis and k.d. lang and Shania Twain; Rush and April Wine and Trooper, Arcade Fire and Cowboy Junkies and Sloan, Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, Skinny Puppy and 54-40 and Men Without Hats…(I could go on forever here). I grew up with Terry Fox, and with Tim Horton’s and Tommy Hunter. I grew up watching National Film Boards films in grade school that entertain, puzzled and sometimes educated. It means I grew up in a country that has a Province where they mostly speak French and the rest of the country mostly speaks English, and every once in a while the French get worked up and threaten to ‘separate’ from the rest of us, because they are French and can get a little uppity sometimes. It means I live in the country that is the only nation on earth to successfully invade the United States and march to Washington and burn the White House and the Capital Building to the ground (yes, that’s right kids, check The War of 1812. We kicked some serious ass). It means I grew up knowing that we’ve made significant contributions to the fields science and health, and we have some basic universal health care system that, for the most part works most of the time (if my kids get seriously ill and am I not wealthy they will still get the treatment, care and medicine they need).  It means I grew up watching many of our best and brightest talents go south to seek larger audiences and fame and fortune, and how we all still claim them as our own…Michael J. Fox, Lorne Greene, William Shatner, Pamela Anderson, Ellen Page, John Candy, Paul Shaffer, Mike Meyers, Jim Carey, Ryan Reynolds, Rachel McAdams…(also could be an endless list). I also grew up knowing that ‘we’ also gave the world Basketball, poutine, insulin, Superman, SONAR, instant replays, the Bloody Ceasar, the paint roller, the Robertson head screws (accept no substitute), Java programming language, maple syrup, the telephone, Nanaimo bars…but unfortunately we also also unleashed Justin Bieber and Nickleback to an unsuspecting world (oops, really sorry about that, but we are not perfect).

It means I come from a place where we have a global reputation as being ‘decent’ and ‘kind’ and polite’, perhaps mild mannered sometimes (although this is more about we just don’t want to be assholes) and this doesn’t consider playoff hockey season or anyone anywhere attacking or besmirching our good name. Canadians also get perceived as not having much passion in the bedroom, but, well, what exactly do you think we do all winter long? Netflix and Chill? We invented that shit. It means that, generally speaking, we tend towards acceptance and inclusion, we try to step up when we are wrong (like Residential Schools, as example) and learn from our mistakes…that we just really want everyone to just get along. We have a dogged determination, a stoicism about us and a die-hard work ethic. Maybe we are not as cool, or flash, or posh as other places or people….and we are really quite ok with that. We are friendly, do like to have fun, throw a good party and to laugh and we have a pretty good sense of humor about ourselves. We understand irony and satire goes hand in hand with critical thinking, sometimes you need to take things seriously, and that walking around with a big grin on our faces all the time just makes you look a bit clueless and out of touch.

Right now our neighbors next door are making themselves look ridiculous and increasingly irrelevant to the rest of the world (but we still do love them), and we see that same sort of thing creeping in here on a smaller scale…the old ways of being and doing things, the systems our parents and grandparents operated under are not going to work for us moving forward. Although I try to view things on a much larger scale, and I’m not much on flag-waving Nationalism, ultimately where we were born and how we were raised has a huge impact on how we see and move through the world. I am thankful that I was born and raised here in Canada, because it is such a beautiful natural landscape with lots of wild to explore, seemingly endless resources and it’s people have a general sense of…not needing to be seen as good; but rather wanting to do the good, to lead by example where we can.  We are a relatively young nation, we can wear our hearts on our sleeves. We are still growing, and figuring out who we are, and where we fit in the world…what we want to be when we grow up. And that seems to be constantly changing and evolving.

So…Happy Birthday to the ideas, dreams, thoughts, hopes…to the work and play and all the weird conceptual things that go into the idea of whatever it means to be a Canadian.

Welcome to Canada. Bienvenue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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