On Being Canadian

On Being CanadianI’m writing this column from the United States.  It is my favourite foreign destination to travel too.  Ditto for most Canadians.  Our border crossings are full of Canadians traveling to the US.  A common culture nurtured by a common history means cross border visits are almost taken for granted.  Sure, 911 changed everything, but at the end of the day, the Canada US relationship is one of the most unique in the world.

For many Canadians it defines us.  We know who we are as Canadians but sometimes the best way to define how we feel is that we are not Americans.  I always chaff on that argument as I think it includes a little chauvinism and maybe even a little bit of prejudice.  For instance I don’t feel that way, even though I’ve been first off the mark while traveling in foreign lands to tell people I’m a Canadian when mistaken for an American.  It’s almost a reflex reaction.

Last week was Canada Day, the 144th anniversary of Confederation.  Across our land many Canadians took time out to celebrate what Canada means.  I worked all day, as my day job sometimes demands that.  However, as I drove through my fields, I had a real appreciation for what was going on around me.  Canadians were celebrating from the eastern shores of Newfoundland and Labrador to the western shores of Queen Charlotte Islands British Columbia.  It was a happening, a celebration of Canada and what it means to be Canadian.

For many in this summer of 2010, that means some connection with Royalty.  It’s funny, how a relic of 1000 years can capture the imagination of Canadians.  The tour of William and Kate has surely caught our imagination, even though much of that might not have to do with “royalty” versus our modern hype machine fixated on celebrity.  Needless to say, our membership in the British Commonwealth does form a bond around the world, and connects us with the British Royal Family.  God Save the Queen does have a resonance for many Canadians; still a part of our heritage and it certainly partly defines us up against our American cousins.

Interestingly enough, others in the British Commonwealth go through convulsions over the monarchy.  Our Australian cousins for instance went through a referendum on whether they should cut ties and be a Republic.  In the end they decided the status quo was good enough, the Queen survived and the Australians continue to have heartburn over the issue.  In some ways it defines part of who they are.  Could you imagine the same thing happening in Canada?  It would not happen in a million years.  Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien used to say, he had enough problems with Quebec separatists, he didn’t need to stir up a debate with English Canadian monarchists.

So what is it to be Canadian?  Is it all about bannock, the beaver and hockey?  Or is it about Kandahar, peace keeping and being polite?  Or is it rioting about hockey in Vancouver?  Or is it about all those things?  I’d say all of the above.  Despite our notions of being morally above the rest of the world in our more subliminal moments, Canadians are just like any other human beings.  The difference lies in the society we have built.  It molds us into citizens with a certain set of expectations and ideals.  Thankfully many of those are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in case we forget.

For the last several years, I’ve written a column for Canada Day, “On Being Canadian”.  It’s my annual patriotic examination of who we are.  This year, I forgot, so maybe that tells you how much of this is on our radar screen.  Do Canadians care, do I care, or is it a case of getting too old and too fatigued to remember the date.  I dunno.  However, it’s better late than never.

Being Canadian to me means taking a walk on the boardwalk in Quebec City.  It means walking around Waterton Lakes in Southern Alberta, the cold January air of Grande Prairie or the spectacular view of Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.  Cavendish Beach at PEI comes to mind along with Long Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  The picturesque splendor of this country knows no end.

For me, being Canadian is what it is, but really manifests itself when I come home.  Simply put, that Canadian flag looks a little differently when you come back from far off lands.  Being Canadian is feeling it down deeply.  If you love this country, you know what that is like.