Canada is set to turn 150 and I figured I’d leave you a note about the Canada I’ve grown to love during my life. What will Canada be in 25 years when you are 27 and it celebrates its next major anniversary milestone of 175 years? What will it mean to you? Will the things I love about it be relevant in 25 years? Will its dark issues and warts be finally set right or improved? In the end, what will you ultimately love about it and be disappointed in?
I must admit, this was originally meant to be a short note…then it became an essay it seems. However, the more I edit it the more I realize that exploring what Canada is, through my eyes, could become an opus-like novel. Maybe that’s a project for another day.
Canada is always home and it has definitely always felt like that for me after I have travelled abroad. I’ve been lucky enough to see countless countries, epic cities and quaint small towns across three continents beyond North America. No matter how inspired I’ve been by the places I’ve seen and experienced, when I’ve touched Canadian soil upon my return, I’ve always been happy to be home.
Canada can be what you want it to be but I really believe, to understand it better, you need to see a lot of it. What Canada means to a Torontonian is very different than what it means for someone in Charlottetown, Quebec City, Winnipeg or Jasper.
Visit Canada’s great cities and you get a sense of how layered The Canadian fabric can be. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are awesome cities and examples of some of the things that make us great: tolerance, efficiency, passion, sensitivity, multiculturalism, art, music and civic pride. Now realize, there is a laundry list of issues in these cities too, just like all major world cities, from poverty to racism to traffic.
Visit Canada’s smaller towns and you will also see what makes it great. From Bell Island, N.L., to Cobourg, Ont. or Tofino, B.C., these places are just as important to that Canadian fabric I mentioned. The sense of community, tranquility, history and pace in these places will never disappoint and can surprise you.
As with many things you will experience in life, you can find poignancy and nostalgia in many things if you allow yourself to experience them that way. For me, Canada is watching a sunset on the Pacific Ocean, while near Tofino with two of my dearest friends, after driving across the country. Canada is standing on North America’s most easterly point, Cape Spear in Newfoundland, in a fog so thick that besides it being blinding it seemed deafening too in a strange way. It’s about trying to order in French while in Montreal or Quebec City and usually getting a friendly or disdainful smile…be prepared for either and roll with it. Canada is also about experiencing a variety of world cultures and food by hopping on and off Toronto’s streetcars and subways in only one day.
The greatness of a nation can sometimes even be measured by the structures it builds and Canada has some iconic ones to be proud of. The CN Tower, the Confederation Bridge, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Rogers Centre, the CPR railroad, the St. Lawrence Seaway and I’m just getting started here, are examples of Canadian vision and construction excellence. Our gothic revival Parliament Buildings in Ottawa are beautiful and their story is a “Canadian one” in many ways. You will learn about all these in time.
Know this too, Canadian stereotypes of us being a bunch of puckheads (hockey fans), being ultra-polite (we always say sorry even when it doesn’t apply), we say “eh” a lot and that we are always “nice”, have been around since I was child. I suspect they will be around for quite awhile still. Some of these are rooted in some truth…once again, just roll with it.
Canadians are fierce fighters too. When provoked or when the need to get into the fight arises, Canada answers the call valiantly. Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach, Passchendaele, Dieppe, Ortona, Kosovo, the Korean War and Afghanistan, these have been some of our greatest battles, in some, we bled badly but Canada showed the world we will fight when called upon. Our peacekeeping initiatives are just as worthy as well.
Please note, we are not a nation of rainbows, puppy dogs and ice cream, though some Canadians are blissfully always like this. We have dark mistakes we have just started to atone for. What our country did to its indigenous people, in particular through the residential school initiative, is awful. Slowly and just recently, Canada has begun to accept this horrible past and has apologized for it but the road ahead is very long. Respecting treaty rights and helping support the indigenous people of this land is something Canada has failed at. The state of many reserves are atrocious and rival third world nations and…most Canadian do not even know it or acknowledge it. I really hope that by Canada’s 175th we will have made some inroads to better help and support the indigenous communities that need it…I really hope and pray for this.
In the end, Canada is a wonderfully diverse, tolerant, accepting and passionate country. It is has welcomed millions from around the world, no matter their race, religion or socio-economic status. A drive across its massive landscape and how it changes from province to province is awe inspiring. In fact, in the end, Canada is incredible in how it has managed to make itself work. It gave your Italian grandparents an opportunity at a new life and helped shaped me into who I am. Canada will shape you in ways you may not notice for awhile and I hope you will be passionate about this country we call home.
True North strong and free forever.