Friday, July 3, 2009

Memories of Canada

Another Dominion Day has come and gone. It is what foolish people tell us we should now call "Canada Day." The folks at The New York Times who wish that Canada would absorb America, and not the reverse, featured statements on their op-ed page from eleven Canadians on what they miss about their country ("Our True North"). Most of it is grumping about America by politically leftist Canadian expats.

Rick Moranis simply despises everything associated with whatever remains of British North America.

David Rakoff, an author, misses all the free stuff from the government. Perhaps I misread him. Perhaps it’s the moral superiority of having a government that treats its citizens like men who still live at home, and whose mothers still cook and clean for them. The generous welfare state. Other than that, he misses a particular mint that you can’t get here. A great nation indeed.

Sarah McNally, a bookstore owner, misses Canadian literature (which of course she can read in the United States). She says there is a national conversation in CanLit that you don’t see in American lit. But that's because Americans know who they are. Canadians are constantly in anguish about their identity. But if you reject your founding principle, i.e. British North America as a unique and noble project, an interminable identity crisis is sure to follow. It is interesting that, despite the superior worth of this literature and its importance to Canadians as a people (supposedly), she says that it “probably wouldn’t exist without government support.” What does that indicate about the sustainability, or even the reality, of Canada as one people? All the same, the government tells Canadians who they are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to like. I don’t miss that.

In a likely unintended political faux pas, Lisa Naftolin, a creative director, expresses her fondness for a Britishism, the “u” in color. She likely understands holding onto that "u" as an act of defying American cultural imperialism. What she doesn't see is that for the last fifty years and into the foreseeable future, Canada has three, and only three, models from which to choose for its identity: America North, British North America, or post-modern Euro-North America. Led by its left-wing intellectuals, Canada has chosen the Euro-model, and so is following (though not mirroring) Europe in its economic, moral, spiritual, and demographic problems.

Musician Melissa Auf der Maur, after mentioning cheese and pâté, recalls fondly the Canadian cultural mosaic in contrast to the evil American melting pot. The concept of the cultural mosaic as a national virtue was invented by the Trudeau government as a way of defusing the French-English conflict. In the 1970s, my high school taught us this like a catechism. They told us that we are not two nations, but a blend of many nations. As result, however, we became no nation. Americans are more of a melting pot because they have noble and ennobling principles worthy of embracing: political, economic, and religious liberty. It has nothing to do with ethnic food, traditional clothing, and folk music all of which people are free to cultivate and, much to everyone's enjoyment, they do.

Sean Cullen, a comedian, misses hockey highlights, “the height of civilization.” It is said that Canadian culture can be summarized in two words: hockey and beer. Perhaps an overstatement.

Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker (I should have known that a man named Malcolm could not have been born in the U.S.A.) misses the “true” account of the American regime and it’s founding history. According to this view, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and John Adams were just “ungrateful tax cheats.” The revolution had nothing to do with the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence. Isn't it strange that such a hoax could produce such an energetic and world-transforming nation?

Kim Cattrall’s career as an actress is finished. All she did was remember childhood games on beached logs, and failed to make any political point about global warming, acid rain, American economic imperialism, or anything like that.

Tim Long, a writer for “The Simpsons,” misses Canadian snow, but he has to throw in a jab at American health care (which people travel from around the world to use, by the way). In the end, he has one of the best reflections.

When I was a child, it wasn’t unusual for my 15-minute walk home from school to begin under clear skies and end in a blizzard. I remember once, when I was 8 years old, stumbling into my house, my hair covered in powder and my eyelashes frozen together, and screaming, “Why do we live here?!” My mother took my face in her warm hands and said, “Because it’s where people love you.”

Bruce McCall, a writer and illustrator, and A.C. Newman, a musician, miss certain foods. For Newman, it is Dai Ching bean curd or bean sprout chow mein, unobtainable in their familiar perfection outside Vancouver. McCall misses the Coffee Crisp chocolate bar, and he supplies a delightful appreciation and history of the confection. These are honest men. Aside from friends and family and particular terrains, food is what people really miss from their homelands. The rest is mostly political trumpeting, which in this article is all from the left.

I see my family from time to time. My friends have grown up, become family men, and set off on divergent paths. The familiar places have all changed. Toronto's downtown is more crowded, and the University Theatre where I worked as a blue-jacketed boy is gone. Georgetown isn't 1971 anymore. There's no going back.

But I miss Toronto fish and chips. Tender, flaky Halibut encased in thick, crisp, golden batter. Greasy, floppy fries. Also fresh, baked Whitefish from Lake Huron. Yum. Heaven, though its glory and chief delight is Christ himself, is nonetheless described as a banquet. I pray that the feast involves these Canadian delicacies.

But as for this world, with eyes turned now toward the fourth of July, I am grateful to be in the land of liberty and I would not have it any other way.


Anonymous said...


I grew up in the Bronx, played basketball through high school, and was pleased to think of myself as a bit of a roughneck. If someone on the other team tried to gorilla me or mine, I was pretty much always willing to straighten the situation out.

Several years after I got back from Viet Nam, I went to sea on Columbia University's oceanographic ship, the R/V Vema. I was on the scientific staff but our deck crew was mostly from the Maritime Provinces, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, etc. When they found out I had been in Viet Nam, they often asked me questions about it in their manly young hockey player ways. They were proud that I had had a Canadian national in my squad. Over the course of the cruise, I found myself enjoying them and their company more and more. 

One day, we put in to a small village, up a fjord on the east side of Iceland. Our ship's Captain, also a Canadian, wasn't the best at docking the ship; usually he would have the harbor pilot do it, but this village was so small that there was no pilot. It took the Captain so long to dock the boat that most of the village had come out to watch, which was somewhat embarrassing to our deck crew. We finally docked, disembarked and went off seeking the pleasures of the harbor.

 Several hours later, our ship blew its whistle and we headed back.

While we were "downtown", another ship had arrived and docked inside of ours so that we had to cross that ship to reach ours. Now this later-arriving ship was no more than 30-35 feet across (10 meters?) and probably had a crew of 10 or 12. Unfortunately for them, they had heard the story of our docking fiasco and a couple chose to share their insights about it with our somewhat inebriated crewmembers. Before you could say "drop your gloves" the fight was on.

We did very well for ourselves in everybody's eyes except our Captain's. He badly wanted to hang someone from his favorite yardarm. However, in order to pay him back for wasting my drinking time trying to dock the ship, I told him that I started the fight and the crew had to come to my rescue. As I was on the scientific staff, there was nothing he could really do to me except report me to the Chief Scientist. Our deck crew skated as good hockey players always should.

No disrespect, but maybe it's time for you to take a mental trip back to the Maritimes (but no Goofie Newfie jokes, please). As much as we are all inundated with the images and ideas the media wish to purvey, I just can't, or won't, believe that the descendants of those hardworking hockey-playing sailors have given up the faiths of their fathers. And, as for those commentators from the op-ed page, there's a fishing boat I would love to see them on.

David C. Innes said...

Oh, let me make myself clear. Canadians are nice folks (unless they're in skates and pads and in competition for a puck). I speak as one myself. !)

There is more Christian faith in Canada than you would realize from observing the public square.

I don't know the downeasters. They vote Liberal, but imagine they're as nice as anyone else. There were several Albertans in the doctoral program with me a Boston College, Not religious, but fine folk. Obviously Canadian, but politically conservative. Of course, they were Westerners who had chosen to study in the States.

So far that reason, and others, it is sad that the country as a country is such a write off. After WWI, even WWII, Canada was poised for greatness. Then the Liberal establishment got a hold of her, and the conservatives were never able to cast a convincing vision for Canada in the post-war world. It was Diefenbaker's ball and he dropped it. I'm not clear on the details, but here's a start: Bill of rights. Avro Arrow. Auto Pact.

I would like to read an article that summarizes the sorry decline.

Thank you for sharing that delightful story. I read the children's version of Moby Dick to my kids this evening, so my heart was in just the mood for it.

David C. Innes said...

Oh, let me add that, unlike down here, Canadians do from time to time "throw the bums out" of Parliament in a sweeping change of he guard. This happened in 1984 when they threw out the Liberals and gave Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives a majority government, the first for the PCs since Diefenbaker in 1958(?). They did it again after I left the country when they destroyed the Progressive Conservative Party itself, reducing it to just a handful of seats under Prime Minister Kimmy "Cheesecake" Campbell's three month leadership.

So there is virtue in the population, but the thought police there is very strong.

R.B. Glennie said...

thanks David, for your thoughts on Dominion Day.

As for the `New York Times' piece, all I had to do was read the first paragraph or two in which Bob (or Doug?) McKenzie says, `Canadians don't jaywalk...'

Sorry, this... fellow grew up in Canada?

As much as I love my country, we should face up to one fact: there is one nation in North America - leaving aside the Quebecois minority: it is the Anglo-American nation founded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by settlers from Britain and nordic Europe.

Sure, this nation resides in two countries, and that's fine.

But given the national commonality between Canadians and the U.S., what you say about Canadians is true, as a rule of Americans: polite, generous, law-abiding, etc.

Harold Kildow said...

Some of my best friends in college and grad school were Canadians, and my visit to Montreal discovered to me many more of the conservative, down to earth types I knew from school. Makes me wonder why so many Canooks are so whacky liberal--I too would like top see a general history of this sad saga of Canada slipping into Euro stagnation.