Though not my native land, Canada is my home. She was the place my grandparents first felt settled after being kicked out of Burma by the Japanese during WWII and wandering India for decades. She was where my mother’s mother learned about “ice hockey” in her 60s and became an aficionado of Hockey Night in Canada. She is where my father made his mark, and my mother stretched her wings. Canada raised me, nurtured me, educated me (for the most part). She gave my family hope and a home.
I remember my first days here as a child. I saw empty streets, clean pee-free sidewalks, trees and more trees, and even more trees, and cool grass under the tootsies. Most amazing of all, everyone had a car!
As I grew up, I noticed other differences. Racism infected my schoolmates and Canadian society in general, yet it was not nearly as invasive as in India where there was always some reason to look down upon or despise "others" whoever the "others" were. Weather never stood still. It showed more than the two Indian moods of hot and rain. Here hot saunas cool down into breezy nights, and trees turn red and gold. Then golden trees give way to soft white flakes falling from the sky, and in turn the greyed white blanket melts under fresh rain and warming days. In concert with the crack of the bat, growth emerges slowly over weeks in the south and up in the Yukon in a single day.
Indians revere education. Yet Canadians did not seem to. I often heard that learning takes childhood away from children as if children by necessity do not learn every minute. Without learning, how would our young leave diapers behind, learn to speak, learn to share, learn to work with others? Children love to learn; it’s innate. It’s adults who hate it. Children are smart, for in the current information and knowledge revolution the country that respects education and begins formal learning at the youngest age possible is the one that will prosper.
Our ancestors set us up to lead the knowledge revolution. They did not relish living in the stone age; they toiled to build a modern, prosperous, just nation from dark forests, raging waterways, and feuding peoples.
I wonder what drove them? For it seems to me that that gushing desire to create, to build a home for everyone has trickled into a puddle of complacency.
I discovered part of the answer when I travelled north, way north. Canada’s spirit lives in her wilderness. We here in Toronto can glimpse it in our deep, leafy ravines and the wildness of Lake Ontario on a stormy day. But only in the northern territories can one feel it. Seeing the young mountains of the Yukon, experiencing chicken lunch time in a small store in a small place on the one road snaking north, marvelling at a forest burnt down fifty years ago with nary a new leaf to be seen, boggling at the rigorous hike men and a few women endured to get to Dawson City while gazing upon the river churning nearby, imagining that river flowing into all the large and small waters that nourish our land, all that and more makes you feel the deep, dangerous heart of Canada, a heart that beats for her people and expects much.
That heart must’ve been what impelled our ancestors to claim cities out of impenetrable flora, to ambitiously build a railroad from coast to coast, to declare the 20th century ours, to forge a national identity on bloody battlefields, to imagine and build places like Chalk River that used to heal the world, to create a social safety net that alleviated so much worry, to bring the Constitution home, to aver that we are strong and mature enough to handle free trade. Our past leaders spoke into being vast northern dreams, and we followed them, cheering, kicking, screaming but never slowing down. Their courage, their persistence, their imagination built us a paradise.
I wish all my fellow Canadians a happy day in Paradise and for us all to remember how we came to be. On this Canada Day, I wish that we as a people will invite into ourselves that burning northern Spirit again, that we will drive ourselves off the comfortable couch to continue on with the creation our ancestors began.