The 150th Canada Day Debate; Where do we Stand and What Does it Mean?

20170702_155747-1I think it’s fairly safe to say that very nearly everyone and their dog has had an opinion about the Canada Day 150th celebration that had passed only some couple days ago. And, shockingly, this might have been among the most charged and polarized discussions and arguments that has lit up the internet since fidget spinners first hit the scene (what was that: like, 3 weeks ago.

For people outside of Canada, a country celebrating 150 years of existence sounds like it should be a pretty straight-forward party. Fireworks, anthems, flags and over-priced merch that totally doesn’t all look the same. Inside the borders (or on just about every Canadian-based online forum) was a very different story. There seemed to be an almost polite civil war going on about the very nature of these celebrations. On the one side, you have the Pro-Canadian folks: proclaiming our love for beer, back-bacon, the long history of inclusion and awesomeness and incredible Canadian icons. On the other, however, was a group that I’ve taken to referring to Genocidal Canada: our long history of betraying and murdering the aboriginal communities, of clear ideological divides over our Euro-centric focuses and unwillingness to make amends for our past transgressions. Then, of course, the more quiet group, the Pure Canada folks: how dare we let refugees into our country, the gays should be put to the axe (because its sacrilegious that we should be flying the gay pride flag below the Canadian flag), and that our acceptance of more liberal views is degrading our values of a once great and proud nation.

3 Way Fight Chart
No matter how I look at it: there’s no winning side in this mess. Least of all that middle area.

Good Gods when you look at the three-way brawl that’s been going on online for the past couple months it’s enough to make you forget that, as a country, we’re viewed as the kind and benevolent neighbours to a much more volatile nation south of the border. And I have no doubt that, for many of us, this kerfuffle will continue into the next few months with no signs of slowing down.

Again, not unlike the fidget spinner fad…

The biggest problem with this whole debacle is that I don’t know how I’ve felt about any of this. When lines are drawn, sides are expected to be picked. And I’ve seen all sides very clearly chosen by even close friends of mine, let alone the extended friend basis I like to think I’ve kept. I’ve seen very compelling and articulate arguments for all sides at one time or another (except that Pure Canada thing; it’s hard to make a logical and compelling argument for killing homosexuals that doesn’t come off as a little maniacal). I like to pride myself as something of a hobbiest historian, so I am all too well aware of the long-standing history of “things are great so long as you don’t look into native reserves” that is so prevalent in our country.

But the thing that’s been bothering me most about this whole thing is: do our sins of the past and present outweigh the option for us to celebrate that which we value?

It almost seems that we, as a society, have been brow-beaten every time we wish to celebrate something that is important to us by interest groups or by particularly passionate individuals. We are guilted for thinking that it’s okay to have a good day when awful things are still transpiring all around us. And while I can certainly appreciate the sentiment that we should always be aware of the terrible things that have occurred on all our watches, I’m also something of a believer that in a world so seemingly bleak and hopeless as the one we find ourselves in, we need to have a little fun (more on that subject another day; getting into the dissertation of how the world isn’t as awful as mass-media makes it seem is a very complicated issue).

But, hold a moment. What exactly is this Canada 150th celebration about? Surely, the nature of what the party is will change the tone of our decision (my decision, anyway) of whether it is okay to partake or not. Again, things get fuzzy on this one. The celebration is to commemorate 150 years of Canada being Canada. Which makes no literal sense; what are we discussing exactly here? Canada as a specific thing, or as an idea/concept/symbol?

PrintWell, Canada as a specific thing. That has to be fairly simple, right? 150 years of Canada being a great nation. Well, not quite; Canada wasn’t a truly independent entity until only 35 years ago, with the Constitution Act, where we achieved full independence from the British Parliment. Or maybe it was with the symbolic act of the Statute of Westminister in 1931, where very nearly all British Colonies (except Quebec, for whatever reason) were to be given independence from the crown. Or maybe it was even earlier in 1763, where with the Treaty of Paris, control of the Canadian colony was surrendered to the British by a defeated France. Scale it back again to 1534, where French explorer Jacques Cartier stuck a foot and a cross into the ground and declared it land belonging to the French crown (while brushing aside the native peoples who were sitting there a little perplexed). On that note, what is to be said of the centuries or millennia (dependent on your reading sources) of aboriginal history on the continent of what we recognize as North America? Or even before that when the landmass that is recognizably Canada first emerged with the splitting of Pangeae 175 million years ago?

I’m sure at some point in that paragraph you mentally drew a line and said “yeah, that is Canada”. I don’t blame you; hell, I’ve done similar in the past and even to this day. What Canada specifically is in our minds is very much a reflection of experiences and personal philosophies. The same can be said for what precisely the very idea of Canada is. What is it that we, as a people, stand for and represent?

And we all know the stereo-types that surround that philosophy for our less-local friends. I’ve been to a few different countries in my time, and the impressions of what Canada is is not very different whether you live in the US or in Belgium. We’re the happy-go-lucky nation of buck-toothed beavers who drink beer and go polar diving in June, after riding our dog sleds to the nearest Tim’s for a bucket o’ double-double.

I’d go further with that description, but you, reader, have probably already inserted several more icons into the mix. I think you get the point.

ut inside our own borders, we’re just as ideologically divided as any other country; perhaps even more-so. Because of this huge divide, I’ve been exposed to so many different views as to the nature of celebrating Canada Day that it makes my head spin. It’s been very difficult to reconcile all these different views to figure out exactly what it is that Canada Day means to me, let alone something as apparently monumental as 150 years of existence (though I don’t put much stock in that number; refer to a few paragraphs previous). Even as I watched a modest fireworks display firing off on the coveted July 1st, I was still battling in my own mind where I stood on the issue.

Note from Self: I felt bad for all the bats in the area that were going to have splitting migraines from the show, but immediately forgot about that when the sky lit-up in that impressive display.

For the time being, I think I’ve come to a decision on the matter: The nature of the Canada Day 150th celebrations is less a matter of praising something physical, visceral or even said. It’s not about celebrating all the things that have been achieved under the iconic banner of red and white, or even the historic peoples who were born on this landmass. It’s not about political borders, or about spiritual beliefs or even past by-gones. The celebration is to commemorate an identity that is not shared by anyone else in the world. On this day, we acknowledge everything we have achieved: accomplishment, crime and otherwise. This day marks a moment in our history where we can look back to all we’ve collectively and individually done and discuss it with our friends and family to learn and improve.

Residential School
Residential Schools: one of the many, MANY mires on our collective history

Canada has accomplished great and terrible things; not occasionally at the same time. We have committed great atrocities within our own borders while reaching a humanitarian hand to those suffering in other countries. We have shed words, tears and blood in this and other nations to stand for what we believe in: whether that be by ten, one hundred, one thousand or one million voices. And the greatest thing of all: it is not an absolute.

These views will change and morph as we discuss and learn. So long as we continue to speak and to listen, we are doing our nation the honour it deserves. There will be times when we acknowledge and admit our shames, just as there will be times where we raise a toast to praise our accomplishments.

For the time being, this is my view of what this 150th celebration stands for. Undoubtedly, it will change in time, as all ideas and concepts should. I will see new things and experience new sensations that will forge and shape my beliefs.

To all those who have spoken up about their beliefs (even if they’re ones that make me uncomfortable or ones I disagree with), thank you from the bowels of whatever I have left of a soul for your opinions. The challenges I’ve faced with understanding this celebration has been an arduous one; one I feel that I am all the better for facing.

To the idea that you and I carry for what Canada is during this 150th year, I raise a toast. Here’s to the difference in our views that allow us to think and to grow. Here’s to the symbols we have become and the ones we are to be in the future. And here’s to our uncertain future; for better or worse, I am proud to identify as a Canadian and face these coming challenges head on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear the huskies bickering again. I’m going to go take them for a once around the tundra to burn off some steam. Until the next time: g’day, eh?

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