Saturday, July 01, 2006

Canada isn't a Real Country


Well, maybe it is, since it has its own currency, borders, anthem, beer, etc. But what I mean to say is that it is not a country in respect of all those secondary characteristics of nationhood.

Take, for example, its creation as a nation. Was the Canadian national character forged in the crucible of revolution or war? No. Unlike our neighbours in the rest of the Americas, there was no Canadian Revolution throwing off the shackles of foreign imperialism. A case might be made for the "rebellions" of 1837 and 1838 in which there were a mere handful of casualties and whose ringleaders were merely kicked out of the country for a few years as punishment. Instead, Canada was born around a meeting table of regional leaders in Prince Edward Island - all very civilized, refined and boring. No baptism of blood for our country, just tea and wine.

Was there a race of Canadians whose origins celebrated in myth and legend? No. Well actually "yes", but let's not mention our aboriginal populations who had their "special" day of lip-service celebration about a week and a half ago. No King Arthur here, no dynasties stretching back to the beginnings of time, no descendents of the gods - just those interested in beaver and bargain basement land prices.

Today is Canada Day, or "Dominion Day" as it was called in my youth. Legally and constitutionally, we still live in the Dominion of Canada, although 99.99% of the population would be surprised to learn that we still are.

But it being Canada Day, and since I only have to face this one time a year, I would like to reflect upon what it means to me to be Canadian. All I can think of are the words of the Quebecois poet/singer Gilles Vigneault:
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'envers
D'un pays qui n'était ni pays ni patrie

(My country is not a country, it's the opposite
of a country being neither a state or nation)
Although the theme of this poem is comparing the poet's country to a season - winter, obviously - I like to think of my country as land: rock, river, lake, sea. Physical things, things you can touch, not ideas or ideals that come and go with time, that can become enflamed and then dwindle away. It is the quiet permanance of the pre-Cambrian shield, the Rockies, the tundra, things which change at a rate imperceptible to humans.

My country is not its population; indeed anyone living here is, by my definition, Canadian. Whether we wear a stetson, nassak, toque, turban or baseball cap, we merely occupy this country for a brief period of time. Our surnames change, indeed with my wife's people they only started to be assigned surnames half a century ago, and the verbal soundscape of our urban centres changes every decade or two, but the land remains unmoved and untouched by all this human morphosis. The leaves continue to rustle, the waves still lap the shores and the mosquitos will drone on and on for an eternity despite what we do.

At this point I find I'm rambling, so I'll end with an anecdote from some Canadian comedian who had toured extensively in other lands. He said the could tell the number of Canadians in the audience by the amount of laughs he got from this joke:
I saw a religious fanatic the other day walking around with a placard which read: "Repent, for the world ends tomorrow at 9:00PM - 9:30 in Newfoundland".
Did you get it, eh?

15 Comments:

Blogger D said...

Hahahaha, that's a great placard.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Attila The Mom said...

Something!

Ok, that was a joke. I came through The Blair Bitch's blog and noticed your comment. ;-)

Loved your post. Happy Canada Day!

1:27 PM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

I get the joke of course, but there's a regional variation we tell here.

"The world will end tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. 9:00 o'clock in some parts of Labrador."

Countries are funny things. I've always had a half-baked theory that human beings can only bond over a limited geographical area, hence the regionalization of Canada, the US, the former USSR... ever notice the size of European countries? Roughly the same area, more or less of our regions. And even they have regions.

But I have a question Do we need wars to define a country?

3:30 PM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

I agree with Dawn. We don't need war. And I have a confession to make... Even if I once was a Separatist, and even if I am very proud of my French (and Native and Scottish) origins meaning I'm a Québécoise, I love Canada. We are different from the US of A. Very different. I've been to the States many times. And in conventions, I always felt more in harmony with the Canadians. There is a little something that is different... But maybe if we wait a little bit, we will all be Americans...You know... We have a strange (euphemism) Prime..
PS I love the joke. Here we say ONE HOUR later in the Maritimes...
Happy Confederation Day! And don't eat toooo much seal! Mwhahaha!

4:42 PM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

Yay! My Canada includes Québec (trite but true).

Also - Newfoundland. It's not the end of the world. But you can see it from here...

7:44 PM  
Blogger marty said...

Happy Canada Day! As an American, I kinda don't know what to make of Canada. Montreal seems like a foreign country. Toronto is like another US city. Not been west of Toronto but I hear it's very scenic.

11:34 PM  
Blogger fairscape said...

n

conceived at niagra falls - not sure which side though...

9:30 AM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Thought the end would come in Halifax.

I wouldn't worry about missing the born in blood stuff, highly overrated. God Save the Queen, eh?

10:54 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Great joke! Do you remember the comedian's name? I'd like to check out more of his stuff.

2:16 AM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

Nah, Halifax is a couple thousand miles west of St. John's.

You really can see the end from here, you know.

8:39 AM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

I think Anticosti is the best place to see the end, Dawn! :) I will check in Vancouver this August! Maybe the other end is there... :)

10:12 AM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, those are urban legends.... :)

10:13 AM  
Blogger nanuk said...

To everyone: Wrath of Dawn knows what she is talking about - the edge of the world has been sighted of the coast of Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

Merlinprincesse, we all know that Canada's political prisoners are being held without trial on Anticosti Island.

7:27 AM  
Blogger The Wrath of Dawn said...

I rest my case, m'lord!

But you know a scary lot about Newfoundland, Nanuk. Are you sure you're a Canadian?

11:52 AM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

Yes I know Nanuk! I've been a political prisoner on Anticosti in the eighties... (1880). I'm older than I appear to be, ya know! And the Wapitis are being held there without a trial too!

1:45 AM  

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