Like most young Canadians I know little of our past.
Sure I remember the Plains of Abraham, and Sir John A. Macdonald, and some other random bits from grade 10 history. But to be honest, that’s about it. (and I had to Wikipedia those to refresh my memory). I could give you a pretty decent summary of the major events of WWII, yet know next to nothing of the role our country played. I have spent countless hours watching and reading about America’s Revolutionary War but have no idea how our own nation was formed.
But I don’t feel bad; I know it’s not my fault. Tom Hanks has never played a quiet but strong Canadian soldier so I have never felt a burning need to learn much of our history. And there’s another reason that I don’t dwell too hard over my patriotic shortcomings – because the things that make me “Canadian” are not meant to be so simple to define.
When I travel the world I always show my passport with pride. Always utter the words “I’m Canadian” knowing it will be met with a pleasant reply. Have always waved our flag high during the Olympics. But why? Why identify myself positively with this country? Because I had a sense that this was a good place. That’s it. That’s all I ever needed to feel proud of where I came from. I did not need a glorious history of rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air. I felt this country had a good heart and that was enough for me.
In an increasingly globalized world, a traditional sense of national identity becomes less and less practical. Divisions based on name have only ever led to short-sightedness and conflict, so the fact that we Canadians do not cover ourselves wholly and blindly in the red and white maple leaf is a good thing. It keeps us open and ready to evolve with the rest of the world.
Yet as I turn on the television and read the paper and go about my life, I see things that trouble me, things that stir in me a desire to step up and defend this difficult-to-define nation of ours. Defend it not from traditional enemies attacking traditional notions of country – but from more elusive adversaries threatening that more subtle definition of our nation.
I see how Canada’s reputation on the world stage is being tarnished by an embarrassing devotion to fossil fuels and big money. How we are building more prisons than schools. How our political discourse has devolved into endless attack ads influenced by special interests. How our media is going the way of Fox News and our American neighbours, with increased partisanship trying divide our nation in two. And how we have allowed corporate advertising to take over public spaces without restraint, turning our cities into clones of suburban Texas strip malls.
Doesn’t this seem impossible? Not here. Not us. Never would we allow money to influence our national welfare. Never would we want the Canadian landscape to become an amorphous replica of a shopping mall. But it’s happening. And it’s happening because we are losing track of the very thing that made us who we are, the only thing that gave Canadians any sort of deep national identity. That this is a good place. That good things happen here. As the world eats at itself over petty disagreements and greed and distorted senses of value – we Canadians could always sit up here, supposedly cold and backwards and living in igloos, and chuckle at how ridiculous they all are. We could recognize the subtle difference that made us special.
So with Canada Day approaching, perhaps this is the one thing about being Canadian that we should remember. Not General Montcalm or the Battle of 1812 or powdered wigs; not making the most money or beating the other side at any cost – but that definition of ourselves as people with some common sense living in a good place we want to keep good. If we keep that in mind as we go forward and drop some of these bad new habits, things just might straighten themselves out.