|Parliament in Ottawa, ON; November 2012|
Happy Canada Day.
Today marks 150 years since Confederation in Canada, which occurred on July 1, 1867 as a result of a British North America Act assented to by none other than Queen Victoria, Empress of India herself, orchestrated by various white guys. An anniversary of this kind is, of course, an arbitrary thing to celebrate, and it's a lot more controversial than it was last time Canada had a major birthday, but today I find myself in Ottawa, the country's capital city, a place where I've wanted to spend Canada Day for many years.
I've only been outside of Canada once on July 1st, while I was taking a bus tour of Europe after I finished my bachelor's degree (I know, try to be a bit more cliché). When I told the various Australians and Americans I was touring with that it was Canada Day, the information was met with what can only be described as thunderous indifference. This had a lot to do with the fact that the anniversary of a country that isn't your own is not particularly interesting when you are driving through the Swiss Alps. But that tour and that indifference were two of the many experiences that have shaped my understanding of what it is to be Canadian and what being Canadian means out in the world. I learned the comfort of hearing a Canadian accent in a strange country (we really do pronounce "about" in a unique way). I learned that the only thing more obnoxious than an American traveller is a Canadian traveller being vocal and insistent about how not American they are. I realized how much of my own country I hadn't bothered to get to know, when people asked me about things like Niagara Falls (still haven't been there!).
|I have been to Vancouver, however,|
seen from the Granville Bridge; September 2016
Some of my illusions about Canada had already been stripped away by Will Ferguson's 1997 book Why I Hate Canadians, which I read in high school, and introduced me to a skeptical view of patriotism that I would've taken a lot longer to arrive at on my own.
And yet I'm in Ottawa for Canada150, an event that many people I respect and like have no time for. It should be Canada15000, they say. It's expensive and treacly. Canada has all these problems. Canada is the worst. Besides that last hyperbole, these critiques are all valid to the point that I feel like I have to defend my decision to participate in any Canada Day celebration at all. I do not dispute anyone else's reasons for opposing Canada150. At this point I will also make the disclaimer that I am a white Canadian whose immigrant origins are several generations behind me and that's where my opinion is coming from. But it's also coming from these other places that I'm about to write about.
My most basic point is that almost every country in the world has a national day, so it's not like Canada Day is anything special or unusually self-congratulatory. It's trivial to turn this point on its head, however: lots of those other national days celebrate the end of colonial rule or slavery or similar. Canada Day is explicitly not that.
|Montreal Olympic Stadium,|
seen from the Botanical Garden; July 2011
|Land of Living Skies, Saskatchewan; July 2013|
This haphazard evolution sort of reflects my own ancestry. Like many third-or-more generation Canadians, my ancestors have varied origins and came to Canada at different times. I'm largely French-Canadian to the point that three out of my four grandparents spoke French as their first language. One branch of the family has been in the country for so long that there are theories that the Jeanne who married Jean in Québec several centuries ago could have been a fille du roi. Most of the other branches of my family tree were more recent immigrants to the Canadian prairies, including some who came north from the United States.
|Buffalo Narrows, SK; July 2016|
|Clouds over Churchill Lake, Buffalo Narrows, SK;|
Besides my time in Buffalo Narrows, I mostly enumerated my own neighbourhood. Again, besides a few outliers, people were so friendly and kind to me. I got to meet hundreds of people in my area from all different walks of life, with different ancestry, origins, languages, and jobs. They invited me into their homes and told me their stories. I came away feeling that Canada really is a tapestry, a place that people not only come from, but choose to come to.
At the same time, I understand that Canada is a place where some people (i.e. too many) live in poverty, lack basic services, and face racism. I had rose-coloured glasses regarding Canadian attitudes to newcomers a few years ago, prior to working with one particular construction crew that resolutely ground everything down under their heels until all that was left was a rose-coloured shard stuck in my eye. There is a long litany of ways in which Canada struggles and fails. The support, or lack thereof, that we give our veterans. The struggle to treat mental health and addictions, in the face of teen suicides and opioid deaths. The "pitiful" action on climate change. Knowing our own history, both good and bad.
But if we needed things to be perfect in order to celebrate them, we would never celebrate anything at all. If there is a country without skeletons in its closet, it's probably because they haven't had a chance to shove them in there yet. Here, we are in the process of dragging our skeletons out onto the front step for the world, and for us, to see, and I think that's why Canada150 is so painful. Change is hard, and it hurts. We are, too slowly, but surely, responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. I wish I could write a list here of various official Canadian policies and positions that I am proud of but the fact is that I am frequently disappointed. My patriotism may be skeptical, but it is still primarily emotional, based on the fact that I was born in Canada and it's the only country I've ever lived in.
|Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia; February 2016|
|My favourite Canada: rural Saskatchewan; June 2010|