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You need to know that my husband and I weren’t looking for love, but there you were. I was born in Virginia, and my husband is from western New York. We love our own precious country but, being what we consider true patriots, we are not blind to its faults – particularly at the present time.
Our love for you crept up on us slowly and, before we even knew what was happening, we were head over heels.
I started coming to visit you in 1978 with my future husband for a change of pace. These days, we visit at least twice a year, some years more than that. We mostly head to Toronto, but also visit a number of your other cities as well, including Vancouver, Windsor, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, not to mention almost every town on the highway between Buffalo and Toronto.
The first thing that captivated us was, yes, the stereotype: Everyone is so very polite, so very nice. Such a small, subtle thing; such a critically important indicator of a country’s values and culture, such a civilized thing. And we absolutely delight in the fact that, being the humble, funny country that you are, you have a long-running national practice of making jokes about saying “sorry” too much.
When visiting during the celebrations for your 150th anniversary, we saw a sign on a store: “Celebrating 150 Years of Being Nice.” Was it a corporate public-relations slogan? Of course. But of all the infinite possibilities a country has to describe itself, what country celebrates that? You do, Canada.
We love that Toronto is considered one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. The fact that downtown Toronto has banners reading “We’ve Been Expecting You.” Every time we see those banners, my husband and I get a little emotional, because for us, Canada, this sums you up in four words.
Our emotions are shocking, because we are extremely pragmatic people. I am a long-time trial lawyer with a skin so thick that turtles are jealous, and neither of us are usually given to such displays. But you’ve done that to us, Canada.
We love Toronto’s Santa Claus parade. Well, what we really love is walking among everyone gathered to watch prior to the parade. Children, yes, but so, so many adults risking looking silly by wearing crazy Christmas headgear, all in the service of joy. A street vendor with Christmas lights on his turban. Runners in Santa gear. Although the parade itself is fun, we skip it most years, as we’ve already found the day’s treasure.
We love that you can find Hockey Night in Canada – Punjabi Version. We love the gentleman outside SkyDome (sorry, not Rogers Centre) at most Toronto Blue Jays games wearing full Scottish gear. Because nothing says baseball like a man in a kilt playing the bagpipes.
We love that you tweaked a line in the national anthem from “thy sons” to “of us.” Having the courage and morality to change your mightily beloved national anthem to become more gender inclusive. Well done, so very, very well done, Canada. Because that’s what a civilized country does.
We love that in Canada, you write sympathetic TV comedies about mosques, on the prairie, no less. And – as if we needed another reason – we love your ice dancers, Tessa and Scott. You are just taunting us with these two!
We could mention the quaint, Old World charm of Quebec City, or the stunning beauty of Vancouver. But, like any true love, Canada, we love you for who you are, not what you look like. And even though we adore you, we are not blind to your faults, either. We know that you have your own problems, most importantly your continuing treatment of the Indigenous. But if there is one country on this earth that we believe will eventually right its wrongs, it’s you.
But it was while attending a Jays game on one of our visits in July that made me start writing this letter. Between innings, a red and white sign on the scoreboard flashed “Welcome To Canada!” and then showed a family with an Arab last name.
The Guess Who’s Share the Land was playing: “Maybe I’ll be there to shake your hand/Maybe I’ll be there to share the land/They’ll be giving away when we all live together.”
The crowd applauded wildly during all of this, 100 per cent of the crowd applauded wildly – not one person booed.
I watched this with total stunned delight, but also thought sadly about how different this would be in my own country, if it even happened at all. Only my mule-like stubbornness kept me from bawling right there among 50,000 people. Thank goodness my husband managed to keep himself together.
Canada, this says everything to us about you, everything.
In fairness to our own country, our borders and our immigration history are different. Comparing the two, truly, is like comparing apples and oranges. On the other hand, given our own past history of how we treat “other” people in the United States who are not immigrants, I am not so sure that a comparison is totally unfair, either.
So, now you know, O Canada, why I had to write this letter. For a long time, our hearts have been glowing, too.
Lorraine Koury lives in Virginia.