Unlike other immigrant societies like the United States or Western European countries, we don’t have an overly dominant traditional or mainstream culture of our own. People have a pretty clear idea of what it means to be an American, to be British or Italian, but what does it mean to be Canadian? What is Canadian culture? Apart from a few tidbits (Timbits?) here and there, we don’t really know. Any attempt to define a Canadian identity, our culture or our values, usually descends into vague generalizations that could pretty well include anyone the world over. Basically, what it takes to be Canadian is just to be a decent human being and call this place ‘home.’ And that’s a huge advantage, because not only does it make us perhaps the most welcoming (if far from perfect) society in the world, it also on balance makes us more adaptable when we travel abroad. It’s a lot easier to find commonality when you don’t think of yourself as being unique and exceptional, and when you deal with intense diversity within your own collective identity.
Some may see this as a problem and try to congeal a sense of Canadianness around rallying points like hockey or some concocted summary of ‘shared values,’ but I see our diffuse sense of national identity as one of our greatest strengths.” – Mark Rowswell, a.k.a. Dashan, renowned Canadian comedian, performer and host in China
34. Charlevoix, Que.
“Where else can you ski while at the same time watch an icebreaker open the way for a cargo ship on the river below? Living in China makes you appreciate Canada’s clean air and water and how close to nature Canadians are.” – Guy Saint-Jacques, Canadian Ambassador to China
35. We’re safe (and that’s not boring)
“If you say the word ‘Canada’ in the war zones where I’ve been living in recent years, people usually respond: ‘Ah, good. A safe place.’ That’s one of my favourite things about Canada, the way our country embodies the idea of sanctuary – especially for people who do not feel safe in their own countries. I tell my Afghan friends about neighbourhoods in Toronto where you can hear the evening call to prayer at the local mosque, smell the sizzling kebabs and see women in skimpy tank tops sharing the sidewalk with men wearing traditional shalwar kameez. My part of rural southern Ontario includes some religious conservatives who prefer horse-drawn buggies instead of cars – but, I explain, such distinctions do not ignite wars.
Yes, violent crime still exists in Canada. Still, there’s something magical about watching the facial expression of a Libyan militiaman while I explain Canadian gun controls: not only does the government ban citizens from buying Kalashnikovs, but the state also refrains from using such weaponry to massacre people.
Sometimes I tell the story about my early years as a journalist when I worked the overnight shift at a Toronto newspaper and listened to police scanners. My job was to monitor the city for shootings, stabbings, and other mayhem, but hours would pass with almost nothing on the radios except static and silence. I’d look out the window at the bright lights of Canada’s biggest city as millions of residents slept in peace. It’s a beautiful view, and it only gets prettier as you go further away.” – Graeme Smith, a former Globe and Mail correspondent, is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Kabul
36. Gentle patriotism. Sometimes expressed with a bugle
“There is a gentler patriotism more about the traits and qualities that inspire and encourage that we should never fail to embrace.
I tear up easily at stories of refugees who as adopted Canadian citizens achieve huge new vistas for their new country and their own lives, or veterans of old or new battles whose selfless devotion to others preserved freedom or let girls in far away lands attend school.
But a Canadian moment I shall not forget was Remembrance Day, 2012, in Kingston, Ont., Cold and windy, but not too wet. The usual large gathering at the cenotaph behind the hospital next to Lake Ontario. Prince of Wales Own Regiment had marched in, along with the flag party from the Royal Canadian Legion. To applause all around the distinguished, irrepressible and sometimes halting veterans marched in too. Wreaths were placed. Padres offered prayers. ‘The act of remembrance’ was recited.
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