Saturday, 17 September 2016

Being Canadian

Growing up in Newfoundland in the 60s and 70s I was always conscious of being a Newfoundlander. My whole world was bounded by a triangle from St. Georges to Stephenville to Corner Brook with the odd trip to Barachois Park and to Deer Lake to visit relatives. I didn't even visit the rest of the island much less Canada until I was 17. So I grew up steeped in ocean, trees, rocks, sand and Newfoundland folklore, family history and stories. My Dad was in the  Canadian Air Force when I was born so  I was born in Ontario travelled at the age of six weeks by car in a carry cot in the backseat of Dad's car as we moved "home". Being born Ontario always was the only piece of exotica about me. It was shrouded in mystery. My early experience being Canadian was that we had the maple leaf flag and that for those who had fallen on hard times there was social assistance, welfare, so that they didn't have to starve like my mother's family had when she was young. She spoke of regularly fainting from hunger, having no shoes, no uniform for school and being called "Christmas tree" by the other children and trying to scrape flour from the edges of the cupboards and picking out mouse poop to see if they could get enough for a loaf of bread. So early on for me Canada was an abstract idea with a positive association.
 As I reached my teen years I was in the era of Prime Minister Elliot Trudeau. I grew up believing in bilingualism. I grew up adjusting to the metric system. I grew up believing that Canada was a world leader in peace keeping because it was. I learned all the statistics about Canada's involvements in the two world wars and of Newfoundland's involvement in these same.  I grew up curious about Canada and eager to see something of it. In my final year of high school My knowledge of Canada grew from experiences that changed my life. There were two events: my participation in my high school's play The Miracle Worker and my participation in the Rotary Club's public speaking contest. Both of these were frightening and daunting for me. Chuck Furey, my grade 11 high school teacher, believed I could do these things and so I made the huge effort and succeeded with his help. With the play I traveled with my fellow students and saw more of Newfoundland. It was as exciting as going into space for me. I had to buy two towels at the Avalon Mall, never having traveled before I did not think to pack any, and I still have their remnants as rags and think of this when I use them. Incredibly I won the public speaking contest  and won a trip to Ottawa called "Adventure in Canadian Citizenship. I was so excited and overwhelmed at the same time. I met so many young people from all over the country. We were only five students from Newfoundland and how awe-struck I was to be one of them and to see and have a tour of the Parliament buildings, visit the Governor General's House ( Ed Shreyer himself greeted us), visit an embassy ( mine was Equador), eat dinner at the Chateau Laurier ( an true castle in my mind) and have something from each region of Canada. From NL we had petits fours (not a Newfoundland dish but I loved the name) and I think there were cloudberries involved, but we call them bakeapples so I was bewildered at the time. At any rate my life long interest in Canada and in politics was assured.
The five Newfoundlanders on our adventure in citizenship. I am the furthest to the right. 

At my high school graduation our local MP, a friend of my teacher Chuck Furey, Brian Tobin spoke as our guest speaker. For all of us this was somebody famous. That is my Canada where a small group of high school graduates are important enough for a local MP to come and speak to them about what the future might hold for them.
That is me giving the valedictory speech. Brian Tobin is immediately in front of me. 

At some point in my post secondary studies I visited Ottawa and saw Chuck, who was now the assistant to Brian Tobin, in his office there. I never got over the feeling of feeling important to be visiting someone on Parliament Hill. Just at the beginning of the month I was in Ottawa and took another tour of the Parliament buildings. That same feeling remained of being awed and proud at the same time to be a Canadian. In between these two visits I visited with my daughters and husband because I feel it is so important for each Canadian to see the seat of where so much of our country's history, present and future happened and will happen. This middle tour we did with a francophone  guide and the latest with an anglophone guide. I love that Canada is bilingual. I was ever so proud to be able to speak both official languages and to share this with my daughters and husband and most recently with my son-in-law ( and wee grandson :Canadian in training already).
We don't always get it right. Witness residential schools, the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII, the exploitation of Chinese workers during the building of the Canadian Railway, the exploitation of indigenous workers at Great Bear Lake during the WWII, the ruling by the SCC in 1928 that women were not persons, the banning of Potlatches until 1951, many provisions of the Indian Act such as the one stripping women who married outside of their indigenous group of status, the deportation of the Acadians in pre-Confederation Canada between 1755 and 1763, decisions harming French language and culture for the early part of our history and the, until recently, lack of interest in the epidemic of murdered and missing indigenous women across the country. What we do extremely well, however, is learning from our mistakes. What we do equally well is continuing to implement needed changes and national programs to help all Canadians, not just those whose voices are loudest or most powerful. We can be proud of our country, while remaining on guard for freedom and for the eradication of all types of prejudice and injustice. We don't claim we are the greatest country on Earth because we carry the knowledge of our past accomplishments and our past injustices into our present and our future to continue to make this country better and better, It is not a contest with the world. It is a sacred pursuit of freedom, respect, justice and equity within the Canadian psyche and heart. It is a contest with ourselves to raise each member of each  generation to a better human condition than ever before in Canada and in the world where we can bring our pursuit of the humble and ever-unfolding Canadian dream to help. Our hands will not fail as we hold high the torch passed on to us by those who have given much and gone before us. We will not break faith.


  1. Well Said Lyrinda. We all have a role to play in the development of our young country. We have a responsibility to make it better for generations to come. Canada is still so young and the young make mistakes. The true pride lies in our ability to not only admit we didn't (and don't) always get it right but to support our leaders & each other to make it right.

    1. Thanks Diana for your thoughtful comment. You are right we each have a role to play to make our Canada, blessed with so many resources and so much land and ocean the country it aspires to be: a place of peace, of equality, of mutual respect and understanding, a place of compassion, of strength, a place of hope and promises fulfilled, a place of welcome diversity and pride which comes from a sense of what is right and just being universal.