Define Canadian, in your own words

Please add a comment to this blog below, define what it means to be Canadian in your own words.

Is it a national identity or is it a more regional affiliation, do you associate more with where you are or where you came from?

Let’s hear it.

Update: Very nice piece on Canada on NBC.

Ranting starts now…

After watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony, hearing about the official responses from our government leaders and reading the letters to the editor resulting from the ceremonies and the newspaper articles I am struck dumb by our continued inability to define ourselves and show the world who we are.

People like to say that we are more than the sum of our pieces, but I would be so bold as to say that Canada is currently much less than the sum of it’s pieces, simply because of our insistence on focusing on the pieces.

We define our nation using words like multiculturalism and regional and ethnic diversity. Words that do not draw us together as a nation, ideas that do nothing to promote unity but force us to establish a “small-i” individual identity instead of a “big-I” Canadian Identity. When we attempt to define Canadian we resort to defining what we aren’t, we are more European than that American, we are more American than the Europeans. We aren’t brass and bold, we aren’t abrasive or offensive.

Who are we?

We apologize for everything, we never take the offensive but are always willing to lend a helping hand. Sometimes you need, as a country, to be offensive, to take a stand, to have an opinion.

Our cultural modesty is pervasive. We vilify our most successful citizens, those who are drawn by their success to larger markets (the US) and in their triumphs become bigger than Canada. We claim they have sold out, have lost touch with their root, have become “too American”. We want our heroes to successful at home, to retain the cultural modesty in which we wrap ourselves. To be Canadian is to know your place and not reach beyond.

As a society we go to great lengths to remember where we come from, celebrating our cultural heritage, afraid to celebrate who we are. But in doing so we alienate the Canadians that have been here for generations.

We celebrate World Day in our schools and leave the poor Canadian boys and girls standing in the corner wishing they had a “nationality”.

My son came home the other day and asked me what nationality he was, I said he was Canadian, he said no, what was his real nationality. I said he was fifth generation (at least) Canadian, but that his grandparents were part French, Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish. He said he would go with Irish because his best friend was Irish. I asked if his friend was born in Ireland, he said no his grandparents were. I calmly tried to explain that his friend was Canadian as well.

He told me he understood but that he wasn’t allowed to be Canadian during World Day!

Is this what it has come to?

The ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of the Canadian population makes this the best country in the world. I have friends and work with people that can trace their roots to all corners of the globe. I love experiencing other cultures, other religions, our diversity enriches everyone, but it shouldn’t define us. We should insist on defining ourselves in a way that brings us together.

And we as a population, the ever inoffensive silent population, just sit back and let our political leaders lead us down this path.

We need leaders that are not afraid to say the word Canadian with no prefix. Leaders that do not identify with one region or another, that are not Western Canadian or a Maritimer or Franco-Ontarian or Québécois but just Canadian.

Leaders that are not afraid to take a position and stand behind it, even if it is unpopular in their “region”.

We need to celebrate the successful among us and encourage them to do more. We need to be unafraid to reach for the moon and fail, knowing that in our failure we have learned and will be supported and encouraged in our next attempt.

It is time to stand up and define ourselves as something other than beer commercials, snowy roads,  beavers and hockey.

I challenge you to define Canadian in a positive, unifying manner. Let’s make ourselves heard.

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8 thoughts on “Define Canadian, in your own words

Add yours

  1. Largo,
    First off let me commend you on what I believe to be a fantastically written post! You have succeeded, in my mind, in summarizing quite eloquently a question I’ve wondered about many times while I’ve never been able to express it so well. Before I add to the confusion let me throw the ball back in your court though, with such a well crafted post why not submit it to the editorial section of The Ottawa Citizen or your favourite Canadian newspaper to reach a wider audience if you REALLY want to get people thinking. The “Canadian” approach, as you’ve outlined, would be NOT to post it, because we don’t like to make a stink or raise a fuss…which is exactly why I challenge you to do it. Equivalently, your son should have challenged his teacher and maintained that he is Canadian, no more no less – regardless of the outcome……yet the “Canadian” response as you’ve clearly outlined was to give in and pick “Irish”.
    Now that I’ve said my piece on that issue, my short answer to your question is I do not know either, though my long answer is as follows. I too do not know why we are so passive as a people, why we ended up with Bomark missiles instead of the Avro Arrow, why we still have the bloody Queen (and the governor general) as our head of state so many years after gaining independence from Britain, why we opened the Olympics with the Regal Salute (God save the queen cut short) FOLLOWED by a terribly modified version of the national anthem….and why we showcased 500 native Canadians over and over and over. I too find this frustrating. That said I have a theory. The history of Canada is one of subtle submission. Where the Americans fought “taxation without representation” and threw a tea party followed by a revolution, we paid the taxes….and waited 100 more years until Britain was tired of running the world before we “requested” to be independent, and even then only on paper without bothering to “Canadianize” our head of state. We are a passive and submissive nation by inheritance. I forget the author, but one of my favourite quotes is “an American will always sacrifice order for freedom, while a Canadian will gladly sacrifice freedom for order”…..and I think this sums us up nicely.

  2. Rant as you will, immigration is the best chance Canada has of surviving as a nation. Our two founding cultures were on the way to dismantling the country by the end of the 20th Century. The constant bickering brought us to the point where some of us wondered if Canada was worth saving. But the infighting seems to have cooled off, mostly in Quebec where the separatists have been in remission for a decade or more. Sure, there’s an opposition Bloc of them in parliament. But that’s a sign of Canada’s celebrated tolerance for diversity more than a signal that their movement is on the upswing. Moreover, Canada is a bright beacon to those souls who hope for a better life somewhere other than in their homeland. Canada will be defined by newcomers. As much as that may make some of us pine for our ancestral glory, it is becoming a new fact of life in our country. Multiculturalism or melting pot may be the question, but the answer is an all-inclusive Canada. The time to wish otherwise is long past.

    1. You are missing the point. I am totally in agreement with what you suggest is the future of Canada. But the only way to move forward as a nation is to establish an identity that is all-inclusive and provides a unifying message to everyone that lives in Canada, be they newcomer or fifth generation native.

      Celebrate the diversity that is Canada, welcome the immigration with open arms but create an identity that truly is all-inclusive.

  3. I am still pondering the definition of what it is to be a Canadian. Me and 35 million others I’m sure. We all have our own opinion but no unifying one.

    I asked my French mother once and she said ‘cottage life’, we love our cottages and are priviledged to have such a grand country in which to have them.

    “Pot au Feu”…..a soup into which whatever is in the kitchen at the time goes in, nothing is wasted and it is forever evolving, changing flavours, changing textures. Everything that goes in adds it’s own special flavour. Some days it’s a good soup other days not so but it’s there to satisfy one’s hunger.

    This may not be profound but ‘ Pot au Feu’ is what came to mind.


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