Canada’s national identity is a tricky thing to pin down.
If you go looking for an explanation, the odds are it won’t be the same for any two people you ask — if you get an answer at all. Trying to explain the defining characteristic of the Canadian experience is like a layman trying to explain the big bang theory. It starts out strong, maybe they mention quarks or the words “quantum physics,” but then it breaks down into a laundry list of terms and everyone is left confused and unsatisfied.
Most of the time you can get as far as saying that we’re a “mosaic culture,” or that we’re multicultural, and you wouldn’t be wrong but you wouldn’t have really answered the question. The problem is that Canada as a nation is fractured. It’s a shifting mass of opposing interests and foreign influences. But Canada is special. From its clumsy beginning to its confused and mixed-up present, it’s a unique entity which is composed of a thousand little pieces of everywhere else.
Canada is a country that was founded by delusional spice traders who were convinced by Stadacona Indians that somewhere in the middle of the gigantic boreal forest that covered the entirety of our fair country there was a kingdom of people who had no anuses. Of course, most of those sailors must have believed they would be eaten by a hydra long before getting here, so the idea of forest-dwelling natives who were devoid of digestive tracts must have been a whimsical treat. Canada is naive.
Canada is a country that still revels in the victory of burning down the White House in the war of 1812 but manages to forget that we were very nearly America’s shiny new colony. In fact, if not for the involvement of native volunteer soldiers and the unconventional thinking of their leaders we never would have survived as a country or conquered as much of the American territory as we did. Of course, we also wouldn’t have returned all of the territory without terms and cheated our loyal native allies out of their reward. Canada is a nation that knows how to reward its enemies and punish its friends.
Canada is a confused young country that’s still getting accustomed to the shape of its changing body. We’re a country whose aged voting majority sees computers in the same superstitious light as mummies or the evil eye and believes people still get polio. Of course, we’re also composed of a growing number of young people who define their Canadian experience with American-owned breweries and a Toronto-based hockey team which is composed of over 50 per cent foreign players. Beer and hockey remain the bottom line, regardless of Canadian citizenship. Canada is devoted to its national pastimes.
Canada is number one in terms of the security of our banks. Out of 134 countries surveyed, our banks are the most likely not to collapse, and that’s something to be proud of because it distracts us from the fact that we have a lower literacy rate than the Republic of Moldova and a higher unemployment rate than Mongolia. Canada is not letting its priorities interfere with business.
It’s hard to feel patriotic about something that you can’t define and our country is a slippery concept. It changes more and more every generation and that in itself is something to be proud of. We’re not trapped in the old conventions and recycled moralities of our forefathers. We have even given the Queen the boot for the most part. Why, if she wasn’t on our money we might be able to forget about her altogether.
But what we have to remember is that we live in a remarkable country. We have incomparable civil liberties, a mostly responsible government and a nearly flawless international reputation. We’re the country that every other nation’s mother would just love to see them date, but is too nice to be attractive.
photo Andrew D’Entermont