“Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” – Marshall McLuhan
It is Canada Day and the country is celebrating. Large, joyous celebrations from coast to coast to coast. That day of the year dedicated to what it means to be Canadian and express our joy of being Canadian. For many new Canadians, this is the first experience enjoying a Canada Day celebration and welcome. Many more have celebrated back to the time it was still called Dominion Day and for those, to quote a great Canadian artist (Neil Young), “keep on rocking”.
What would Canada Day be without a bit of Canadian trivia, another contribution to the world, Trivial Pursuit? Today is “Canada Day”, originally called Dominion Day but changed to Canada Day when the British North American Act (BNA Act) repatriated to Canada in 1982. From that point forward the BNA basically ceased to exist and the Constitution Act, we we know it today, came into being as did Canada Day. “O Canada” was not proclaimed our official national anthem until July 1, 1980 but was sung for the first time in French 100 years ago. The Canadian flag became official February 15, 1965 leaving the Union Jack behind. We have been an evolving country for 152 years now. As long as new Canadians continue to arrive at our shores and families, regardless of what part of Canada they live in, we can look forward to another 150 years of celebrations.
In the 90’s I was very involved in an international exchange student program. I spoke with more international students (these were high school students) about where they would prefer to be placed. The program had volunteer host families (no families were paid but the student was expected to some of their own spending money). The importance of a “good fit” placement could not be understated.
This was planned this way with the expectation that the student would become part of the family and truly understand life as part of a Canadian family. In my mind it was a successful model. My wife and I hosted a young man from Japan the first year, a young fellow from Belgium the second and finally a young fellow from Germany. I am still in touch with all three of them almost 30 years later and they continue to be like family.
That is when I really began to think about Canadian “identity”, I needed some concepts to help frame it for these kids. The first time I heard my student from Japan phone his parents the call was over in about five minutes. He then shared with me the extent of the conversation and part of it was “Canadian”. I asked how he had cramped all of that info into such a short call including describing what a Canadian was. His was response was simple “Easy, I said you were Canadian”.
I have lived in Toronto and they would describe a Canadian very differently than some from Calgary. I have lived in Halifax and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Montreal. I have lived in Montreal and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Vancouver. My experience has been to most of the world we are “Canadians” and identity is unimportant. Identity reminds too many of them of “class distinctions” which is what many immigrants were fleeing when they came to Canada. They just wanted to be “Canadian”. My point is Canada is diverse and regional, that has worked for 152 years now.
Marshall McLuhan made that statement over fifty years ago and it is true today as it was then. We don’t have an identity. We are simply Canadian. We are a country that has been build by immigrants escaping perceived “identities”. My roots go back generations however they began with one branch escaping persecution in Europe. We all started somewhere so it is always overwhelming for me on Canada Day to see the focus being put on what it means to be Canadian, diverse, accepting and open to compassion. We are Canadian not based on identity but based simply on being Canadian.
I can only hope that 150 years from now those grandchildren of this newest group of immigrants are sitting around in their lawn-chairs celebrating the way most are today. Right now I fear we are at a turning point where too many politicians are playing “identity politics” rather than continuing to build on the strength that is the commonwealth of Canada. We may have regional differences but at the core we are all CANADIAN.
Happy Canada Day…and in true Canadian fashion, let me close by saying “I’m sorry” if I’ve offended anyone (smiley face).