We’re friendly, compassionate and active. We love our bacon and the fact that ‘half the stars in Hollywood are secretly Canadian,’ writes Andrea Mongomergy Andrea Montgomery, Terra Nova Productions
Oh Canada! Informal surveys, conducted by me, in pubs after a few too many, show that when people think of my country they think of…maple syrup, moose and mounties… as in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They always get their man. I like the sound of that.
Oh Canada. Terre de nos ayeux. The maple leaf forever. Ice hockey. People who say ‘sorry’, even when someone else stands on their toes.
When George W Bush was still making pronouncements about world politics he spouted nonsense one day about the ‘Axis of Evil’; I can’t remember who was in the Axis – probably Iraq at the time. Afghanistan and – who knows. What I do remember is that immediately afterwards some wag in diplomatic circles leapt to his feet in the UN and immediately proposed ‘the Belt of Boredom’. Belgium, Luxembourg and – Canada.
Yes, Canada. Universally perceived as one of the three most boring nations on earth.
I’m asked to set you right. Overturn the stereotypes about Canada. So I have to ask myself: “what does Canada mean to me, the child of Canadian diplomats, now that I live here, in Northern Ireland?”
“Mon pays c’est l’hiver.” But not for me it isn’t. We lived in the tropics, and visited Canada in the summer time, on leave from Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, our blood was too thin for winter visits. We saved that for when we came home to live.
I have to circle around the idea a bit before I can land. I think of… Snow. Yes, but not really, for the reasons above. Space. Heat. Sunshine. It is only when I zero in on the details that Canada zings into life for me. Lying down on the hot boards of the dock, listening to river water slap gently against the underside. The shock of the cold brown river as you dive in. The prickle of the tiny feet of a dragon fly landing on your wet shoulder after you climb back out. The smell of clean water in your swimming towel. The smell of rain on the hot dusty road. The smell of mosquito coils in your room at night. The slide and drip of canoe paddles, and voices carrying across the river at dusk. Trees rustling. Grasshoppers. Boiling river water to cook corn bought in a hot stall in the parking lot of La Vallee. Taking it out of the pot too quickly and burning your fingers, then the roof of your mouth, right between your front teeth, on hot corn and salted butter. Canadian cheddar. Calgary red eye. Tomato sandwiches, with big beefsteak tomatoes from the market, Ace sourdough bread from Freshmart, mayonnaise and Canadian bacon
Tabernacle. Canadian bacon.
I’m up to my ankles in the swamp of cliché.
What else are we about? The Alberta tar sands. Logging the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Brazil of the North. We’re a nation who has transformed the great cod banks from the richest fishing on earth into a dead zone. Canadians can be passive, whiney, thoughtless. But they’re also friendly, compassionate and active. We’re outward looking. But we can be insecure as a nation. Currently we’re just months away from an election to defeat or re-elect the most conservative Prime Minister Canada has ever known. A man whose favourite book is the Guinness Book of World Records. Who has cut funding to the arts, the humanities, to science, to statistics and math, to parks and the environment, to childcare, to women’s health. A Christian fundamentalist who has sold our forests to the Chinese, fights every attempt the G8 make to tackle climate change, and who has dismantled our rights and freedoms and given the Canadian security forces unprecedented freedoms to spy on Canadians (they’re probably spying on me right now). We’ve re-elected his government three times. And it’s getting harder and harder not to, with the changes he’s made to our political system. That’s all boring enough to make my teeth ache. I don’t want that Canada to be what you think of when you think of my country.
So the Canada in my head is what I’m left with. What’s knit into my soul and skin and bones. It’s a jumble. Margaret Atwood, Save the Gatineau, The Band KD, growing up bilingual, Billy Bishop, broomball, scratching mosquito bites, Tom Thomson, down with free trade, loons calling Emily Carr, maple cookies, Carol Shields, skating on the canal, Whistler, why is cheese so expensive, Anne of Green Gables, the International Peace Keeping Force, Wakefield cemetery, floating on my back in the middle of the river, watching the sun go down and ‘did you know that half the stars in Hollywood are secretly Canadian?’.
If you spit, it’ll freeze before it hits the ground.