Lets Paint the Town Red

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

Canada Day is coming up, which means its time for another party here in Tumbler Ridge.

Owing to the success of the thirty year block party, Canada Day Celebrations will be held downtown this year.

While this means that the roads will be closed again (heads up to anyone heading for the clinic), the new location allows both access to the Roman Walkway area, where bands will be playing all day, as well as to a number of local businesses, who will be able to display their wares on the street in front of their place of business.

Canada Day celebrates the day that the British North America Act took place, creating the Canadian Federation.

It is also a day for Canadians to celebrate and reinforce our national identity.

But what is that identity exactly? What defines us as Canadians?

For many people, what it means to be Canadian is summed up by the classic Molson’s ad, I am Canadian. (The fact that a beer ad defines who we are as Canadians also says a lot about what it means to be Canadian.)

“I am not a lumberjack or a fur trader,” says a man, standing in front of a screen, “and I don’t live in an igloo, or eat blubber or own a dogsled,” he says, poking holes in the stereotype that all Canadians live in the high arctic.

“I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada, although I am certain they are really, really nice.”

This poking fun at Americans is actually part of what defines who we are as Canadians, or rather, who we are not as people who share this continent, sometimes uneasily, with our more populous southern neighbours.

“I have a Prime Minister,” he says, continuing to define what it means to be not American, “not a president. I speak English and French, not American. And I pronounce it about, not a boot.

“I can proudly sew my country’s flag to my backpack. I believe in peacekeeping, not policing, diversity, not assimilation and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.”

“A toque is a hat,” he screams, now really getting into it, “a Chesterfield is a couch, and it’s pronounced zed, not zee! Zed. Canada is the second largest landmass, the first nation of hockey, and the best part of north America. My name is Joe, and I am Canadian!”

And, having delivered this rant at the top of his lungs, he does the most truly Canadian of things, he stops, leans into the mic, and says “thank you.”

While the ad pokes fun at American stereotypes and celebrates Canadian stereotypes, it only scratches the surface of what comprises the Canadian National identity.

The most meaningful line in the whole rant is where he says that Canadians believe in peacekeeping not policing and diversity not assimilation.

I remember grade 10 Social Studies where we discussed the idea of the Canadian National identity, and the teacher discussed this last point, once again in terms of how we were different from Americans. Canada, he said, is a mosaic, while America is a melting pot. In Canada, we celebrate and accept diversity of cultures, of beliefs, of skin colours and ethnicity. In America, he said, people who come in with their own ethnicity, their own language, are put into a cultural melting pot, and asked to lose their traditional identity and take on their new identity of Americans.

Recently, I’ve noticed this attitude starting to seep into Canadian thought as well: “You’re in Canada now, you need to speak our language, think our thoughts and believe what we believe.”

It’s not truly new. Even in the 1970s and early 1980s, I remember watching Stampede Wrestling, and when wrestler Gama Singh appeared, the crowd would chant “go home Paki!”

Singh, of course, was East Indian.

At the other end of the spectrum is the story of Lanier Phillips, a black sailor who survived the wreck of the USS Truxton off the coast of Newfoundland.

Phillips was scared to leave the sinking ship as he thought he was off the coast of Iceland, where he had been told by the crew that blacks were not allowed to go.

The lifeboat that he was on capsized as it reached the shore, and hes climbed onto the shore, wet and coated in oil, where a local helped him up and told him that he’d freeze to death if he didn’t move. It was a simple act of kindness, but, he says, “I had never heard a kind word from a white man in my life.”

The locals, having never seen a black man, tried to scrub him clean, and he was scared that their kindness would end if they knew, but when he admitted that was his actual colour, he was taken in by a local woman who fed him and gave him a warm bed.

It was a life changing experience for the man who discovered that some people (read: Canadians) were willing to accept others no matter the colour of their skin.

It is stories like that which I cling to when I think about what it means to be Canadians. And I find it sad when I hear people speaking the language of assimilation here.

Because by trying to impose our cultural identity on people who come to Canada from other countries, we are losing our own culture. By trying to make others like us, we are, in turn, becoming more and more like Americans. And since our cultural identity is defined by being not American, it becomes an untenable proposition.