O Canada, our home and disparate land
BY SHELLEY FRALIC, VANCOUVER SUN JUNE 30, 2009
I love that, as countries go, Canada is just a baby, because if you think the past century and a half that has zipped by us since Confederation means we’re ancient, you might want to talk to the Greeks.
I love, too, that we’re renowned and respected peacekeepers around the world, that we’re (mostly) polite and (often) clean and (sometimes) safe, and that we have more fresh water than most anyone else.
I love that the land is huge and carved by history, all rock and desert and glacier and prairie and rainforest, and that there are only 33.7 million of us, and that our heritage includes Inuit and native Indian and immigrants from every corner of the globe, and that we’re a modern backwater, and that we are responsible for Celine Dion and Jim Carrey, Frank Gehry and Pamela Anderson, Chief Dan George and Alice Munro.
Love, too, that we have a Queen and a man who would be king.
And that we have bears and cougars and orcas and marmots and moose and eagles and caribou, and that the majority of us, because we live in cities close to the border, get our meat from Safeway while those of us who don’t sometimes get theirs with a gun.
Mostly, though, I love that we have no identity.
That’s right. No identity. No unifying zeitgeist that any two Canadians could name on cue, like Americans do with their relentless patriotism south of the border.
Much of our so-called Canadian identity is, in fact, what central Canadians have historically seen out their front door, and so the unifying portrait we’re presented of ice hockey on frozen ponds and Tim Hortons at dawn is regional at best.
So much of the national news we get simply isn’t, but for the odd diversion of a serial killer or maybe a Winter Olympics.
Instead, it’s the east beats west perspective, inside baseball from Ontario and Quebec, where so many of the people and most of the media live.
For the rest of us, it’s a Canada, as a Newfoundlander might say, from away.
Truth is, we Canadians live and revel in our isolated pockets from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans, sharing little aside from a uniting railway and an obsession with coffee.
Out here on the west coast, we rarely glance beyond the Rockies, instead looking south and west for cultural, social and economic connection.
We don’t have cottage country. We don’t plug in our cars or fret about ice storms. We don’t learn to skate before we can walk — we didn’t even have a professional hockey team until the 1970s — and we don’t wear fur (at least not when Paul Watson’s in town).
Our houses are wood not brick, our topography is lumpy not flat, our Disneyland is the one in Anaheim not Orlando.
We are also woefully baffled by the French language spat, finding it hard to relate to or even take seriously the perennial debate that is all things francophone. You want bilingual? Try Mandarin. Or, lately, Spanish.
So what are we?
Well, mostly we’re a motley and fascinating crew — hey, we invented Pablum and our first prime minister saw dead people.
But the truth is that as a populace we have always been, and always will be, irrevocably divided by geography, language, weather, history, politics and psyche. But we make it work. And that, of course, is what unites us.