Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Canada will never be the same.

When I was growing up I remember a continual, if not nascent, debate on the issue of our Canadian identity. We we were always asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” We always sensed that we were different from the Americans but were hard pressed to say how. I remember hearing jokes (that were never very funny) about us being the 51st state.

Most of our culture came from south of the border. The Canadian music industry was mostly non-existent and most viable Canadian artists had to go south to make it big. Bye bye Joni. Bye bye Neil. In the 70’s the Canadian film industry was a bit of a joke and was renowned for providing tax shelters for producers looking to make a fast buck. There were so many bad films made then that the idea of going to a “Canadian” film was mostly reviled and met with derision.

Sure, there was Porky’s, one of the first Canadian films to make it in the States, but that was an exception and only made money because it aped an existing and fairly crass Hollywood formula. Quebec cinema was starting to flourish but those films mostly reflected Quebecois culture and were always in French, which significantly limited their appeal.

As the pundits and thinkers tried to define the Canadian identity they would mostly do it comparatively, by showing how we were different from the Americans. This was a reactive, and not proactive, attempt at self-definition. We weren’t Canadians because of who we were. We were Canadians because we weren’t American. This never sat well with many and always felt lacking in substance. There was nothing to really get behind.

Well, we’ve come a long way, baby.

This past February Canada hosted the world at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. We threw a big ass party, we invited the world, and everybody came. And we didn’t only play host. We competed, we won and we were proud.

The Olympics have always been iconic and as the Opening Ceremonies approached you could feel a swelling pride and a stubborn determination to stand up, be seen, and be appreciated. The huge sense of occasion seems to have accomplished in 17 days what previously had been a patchwork effort.

Suddenly, it was cool to be Canadian.

Of course, winning has helped tremendously. Every medal has been met with fanfare and a unique kind of Canadian boastfulness. It was pride without the arrogance that so dominates American characterization. And as we beat country after country in a variety of sports, we cheered every win with a renewed sense of nationality. When those wins were gold we could hardly contain ourselves – and we didn’t. We cheered, we clapped and we stayed up past our bedtimes. Exhilarating.

We were, of course, destined to succeed. After all, we know how to do winter better than most. And how could we go wrong with the Vancouver/Whistler setting? Some of the most beautiful country in the world.

As we filled the bars to watch hockey and as we cheered our athletes competing in sports that most of us have never heard of, an amazing thing showed up. Our Canadian identity. The spectacle of the Olympics suddenly seemed to showcase what we were instead of what we weren’t. It was the perfect backdrop and audience for a country that was in the right place at the right time. We shone, we knew it, and we basked in the glow of the international recognition.

Over the past 30 years Canada has evolved into a fairly homogenous multi-cultural melting pot and I saw people of all nationalities on TV proclaiming their support for Canada and not for their home country. You really have to love a country a lot to be able to do that. It gave us a commonality that we previously were missing. For the past two weeks we have all been Canadian, no matter where we lived or where we were born.

Because of the focal power of the Olympics we could suddenly see all of the things that made us who we are and not who we weren’t. For the first time our self-definition had nothing to do with how different we are from the USA.

We’re unique and we’re loving it.

We’re boundless landscapes populated a by a firm, steady and resolute people. We’re maple syrup and bannock and bacon. We’re a police force on horseback. We’re winters that are big and bad and we pride ourselves on their endurance. We’re universal healthcare and we’re social welfare. We are individuals and we are also communal. We are kind and polite and nice. We’re very nice.

We’re dependable and will always show up if we can help out. We don’t like guns and we love our sense of public safety. We’re about great movies that are both shot and set in Toronto. We’re The King of Kensington and the Little Mosque on the Prairie. We’re the great outdoors and the cozy indoors. We’re BTO and the Guess Who. And boy oh boy, do we love our hockey!

We apologize for everything – even if it’s not our fault. We’re about paying higher taxes for better services. We have a profound connection to nature and the land around us. We are clean and not mean. And we are beer. Lots and lots of beer.

For the past two weeks we have shown our heart and we wore it proud and I have a genuine depth of patriotic pride that had previously eluded me. I suspect I’m not alone. We have all stood together for two weeks and that is a powerful force. And even though eventually we will, in time, retreat to our familiarities; I predict we will be stronger as a nation than we ever were before. And I predict that will endure.

We should be very pleased with ourselves and I think we are.

After all, it turns out it really is cool to be Canadian.