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Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

Today is Canada's 150th birthday! To celebrate and commemorate this fine Confederation, I have written the below. It is my hope to shed some light on my kind nation, pay homage to it, and highlight some of the challenges we will face ahead. 

When you think of Canada, what comes to mind? Lumberjacks? Maple syrup? Snow? The first thing you have to know about Canada is that most of our stereotypes exist, and are true, for a reason. We are the second largest country, by area, but the 38th largest by population, with fewer citizens than even the state of California. The geographical distribution of our populace means that to be "Canadian" means a lot of things, and understanding our national identity is not easy, because it's hard to define. 

On the world stage, Canadians are fortunate, as our country has a very favourable reputation. In my experience, most people don't think about Canada at all, and if they do, it's all positive: universal health care, for a nation of polite, apologetic people, who give generously in foreign aid. Our reputation proceeds us so well that stories exist of people wearing our flag just to make traveling easier. 

This reputation is, as most are, mostly true, mostly earned, but of course not all-encompassing. Today, I'd like to talk about this a little more.

I once read a quotation, which I am unable to since find again and properly source, that said, "Canada is a country of not being". We're not American, we're not exactly British, and we're not exactly French, but in a way, we're all that and more. 

Our government resembles British structure; our second language is French, and the overtones of our culture are heavily influenced by the USA.

Rather than a revolution, our country came into being through confederation, through separate colonies uniting and obtaining permission from Queen Victoria to be recognized as independent. What started as a few eastern colonies, eventually became 10 provinces and 3 territories, between 3 oceans. Fun fact: Newfoundland and Labrador did not join this confederation until 1949, so some parts of Canada are quite young. 

Citizens of France are often surprised that I'm not more fluent in their language or, at least, that my accent isn't so different from their own. This is because the province of Québec is well-known to the French, and sometimes it is the only perspective they have of Canada. Despite the united roots of French and English within Canada, I personally feel that this influence has decreased over time. Québec is a large province, with nearly 1/4 of the political power and resources of the entire country, but the French influence is rather minimal outside of it. There are small communities, many organizations, but in my experience, if you're not seeking it out, not living in Québec, and/or not working for the government, your experience with French stops in high school. And what French I learned was mostly "Parisian" French, so my accent is kind of in-between, something I'm constantly working on. 

Canadians are often mistaken for Americans, and it is an easy mistake to make. We speak the same language, in much the same way, and the massive amount of trade between our countries ensures that most Canadians have similar experiences with food, culture, and leisure as our southern neighbour. 

Additionally, because our neighbour is, shall we say, louder, Canadian identity often becomes intermingled and/or "forgotten". For example, do you know just how many famous actors are Canadian? Think again. Because the film industry is more prevalent in the US, many of these actors gain dual-citizenship, or just live down south, and their Canadian status is often forgotten by fans.

But, things are just different enough in Canada to keep them interesting. Our Thanksgiving is a month earlier than in the US, our $1 and $2 currency are not on paper and are in fact called a Loonie and Toonie, we use the metric system (mostly), and we spell things in the British way of colour, neighbour, and labour. 

My favourite word for exemplifying Canada's "in-between/not being" nature, is theatre. Most Europeans say cinema, while Americans say theater, but Canadians say theatre, spelled in the French manner. 

I have spoken on some pretty broad terms, so now I would like to provide my personal perspective on Canada, and Canadians. 

I was born and raised in Ontario, near Ottawa, the nation's capital. Like many Canadians, I lived in a very rural area, surrounded by trees, lakes, and far away from my nearest neighbours. During my university years, I lived in Toronto, a very large, busy, and culturally-diverse city.

As such, I am very fond of the great outdoors, but also of having access to amenities and luxuries. Many of my summers were spent swimming in the lake at my grandparents' cottage, and I find it odd to not have access to some kind of natural environment in my everyday life. (E.g. my only current access to canoeing in France would be to rent one and possibly take a tour guide with me, as opposed to just taking a canoe onto some random lake in Canada)

I am one of the few Canadians who doesn't care too much for hockey, but I know a lot about it, because it is ubiquitous in my country. Nutritionally-speaking, I prefer a more "continental" diet of meat and potatoes, and peanut butter for breakfast, but I'm expanding my horizons. Keeping with Canadian custom, I also like poutine, maple syrup, as well as donuts from Tim Hortons.

Most of the media I consume comes from the US (although my favourite band is Rush, which happens to be Canadian), and almost all of it is in English. Spending time in Toronto, among other places, gave me a greater understanding of different cultures, and is one of the benefits of the "cultural mixing bowl" that is Canada. 

I am well aware of my privileged status, both as a citizen of a very developed country, and as that of a Caucasian male. I am also aware of the struggles that others face, and I try to be polite, honest, direct, while also observant and outspoken about injustices. 

I tend to lean a little to the left on the political spectrum, heavily in favour of government-supported programs for health care and education.

I tell you this because I believe that all of these qualities, opinions, and perspectives were heavily developed by being a Canadian. Much of who and what I am comes from the cultural influence of my country. So, if I can't define my country's spirit, I can at least discuss mine.

But we're not all the same. One of the greatest strengths, I believe, of Canadians, has been our ability to accept, tolerate, and respect, diversity. Our nation has always been populated by people of various backgrounds, and we have made great strides because of it. For the most part, we welcome different opinions, heated debate, and intellectual discourse, and there are many, many Canadians who have had completely different experiences than my own, yet are still Canadian. We believe different things, and want our country to be run in different ways, but for the most part, it's all part of the same spectrum. Just like the citizens of any country, really.

Canada isn't paradise. Many of the troubles we are seeing worldwide, and especially from that one, loud neighbour, are prevalent in Canada, as well. The cultural divide we've seen with Brexit, the worry of terrorism, the rise of ignorance and increased fighting over small matters, the concern with immigration, the middle-class struggle and discomfort, poverty, and the unwavering institutionalized limits placed on us all by the 1% and outdated perspectives, these all exist in Canada, to some extent.

It has worried me, in recent years, to see such a divide, both on a global, and national, scale. That universal healthcare we're so known for? There are gaps, cracks in the system, and some people are left suffering as a result. The open tolerance that we espouse especially through symbolic leaders such as Justin Trudeau? There is still a lot of intolerance, ignorance, and legislation to fight against, and despite Canada having a high percentage of educated citizens, we still argue over stupid things, sometimes.

Many Canadians watch the news, see what's happening in other countries, and likely feel a small spark of satisfaction, knowing that we're different, that we aren't suffering in the same way. But, we're not so different. While our issues are often quieter on the world stage, it would be foolish to claim that Canada has harmony where others don't.

In keeping with my personality, my upbringing, and the tone of this blog, I strive to be positive, to work toward ideals, in a pragmatic, cooperative manner. As such, I do not want to leave you with anything other than hope, and encouragement.

Canada is 150 years old today. Starting small, we have united a large landmass, hundreds of cultural perspectives, and have made a nation to be quite proud of. We are spoiled by Earth's natural beauty, and we've worked hard to "spoil" our citizens with rights, freedoms, and amenities that we believe all should share.

Canadians have invented technology and sport we all use/play today, Canada has been highly present in international matters and in the efforts of space exploration, and our stereotypes of a polite, positive people result from an overwhelming majority of, well, polite, positive people.

I am so very thankful to be Canadian, to be accepting, to be accepted, to have accomplished great things but, like all Canadians, I will not rest on my laurels, I will work harder and seek out more cooperation, in order to make the world a better place for us all.

I've come to see Canada as a bridge between America and Europe, a mixture of cultures, and it is my hope that Canadians work hard to put their best foot forward in the years to come.

Thanks for reading! To those celebrating today, be safe and have fun! To those wanting to learn more about Canada, message me, it might be fun, eh?

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