As I mentioned in my previous blog, Freedom to choose, most of us make decisions that impact our lives all the time. Sometimes our decisions turn out to be inspired, other times not so much so. Sometimes they turn out to life-changing, other times pretty mundane. As it happens, my decision as a high school senior in the suburbs of NYC to choose McGill over my other options for university (which I called ‘school’ or ‘college’ at the time, in the American vernacular) was both inspired and life-changing. I’ll be honest, I made that choice on a whim. I liked the idea that it wasn’t what people were expecting, that I’d be living was in a big city instead of in a sleepy campus town, and that Montreal had a real winter. Those were the winning criteria for my 17-year old self.
The unanticipated consequence was that, aside from a quality education in an absolutely amazing city (and definitely with real winter), I not only fell in love with the man who became my husband, I fell in love with Canada. And so, in 1972, I became a Canadian citizen. A very proud Canadian citizen. And increasingly proud as the years go by.
Some readers may be surprised to learn that Canada was just starting to come of age when I arrived as a 1st year student (freshman in the American vernacular). Sure, it had been a country independent from Great Britain since 1867, but those ties remained extraordinarily strong for a long, long time. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this when I arrived. Montreal was busily digging up their streets to build the Metro and the city was making its initial moves in preparing for the World Exposition (Expo) to be held there in 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday. But pictures of Queen Elizabeth graced most public buildings, which was definitely not something I had been used to. That has not been the case for a long time, but in 1963 Canada still thought of itself as a dominion of Britain (although not so much in Quebec!). That all changed pretty darn quickly.
In 1965, while I was in my second year at McGill, Canada’s Parliament unveiled its new flag, announcing to the world that Canada would no longer be represented by a flag that featured Britain’s Union Jack in the top left corner, but would proudly wave the Maple Leaf, signaling its emotional independence. Two years later, Montreal – and Canada – welcomed the world to the most popular world exposition known, Expo ’67. It was a glorious coming of age party for Canada.
Five years later, I officially became a proud Canadian citizen. I have to say that as the world struggles to defend the most basic of human rights, when empathy seems to have gone missing and all that matters is money and what’s-in-it-for-me attitudes, I am even more proud to be Canadian.
No, Canada is not perfect by a long shot, just ask our indigenous peoples if you need confirmation of that. But at least we keep trying. And, by and large, the majority of our population believes that the greater good is at least as important as individual rights. By and large, the majority of our population believes that the rights of minority groups must be honoured and protected. By and large, the majority of our population understands that to live in a safe, peaceful society, the better off must do their share to help the less well off. That’s one of the responsibilities of living in a civil society. That’s what taxes are for, along with improving infrastructure and supporting the economy, protecting the well-being of all citizens. This is the kind of country I want to live in.
Canada has continued to support its policy of multiculturalism, whereby people’s culture and traditions are acknowledged, respected, and indeed celebrated, along with Canadian values and traditions. This is the kind of country I want to live in.
Along with heart, Canada abounds in beauty and geographic diversity. As the chorus of the theme song at Expo 67’s Canadian Pavilion went,
From the Vancouver Island to the Alberta Highland
‘Cross the Prairies, the lakes to Ontario’s towers
From the sound of Mount Royal’s chimes, out to the Maritimes
Something to sing about, this land of ours
And that chorus doesn’t even include one of my favourite parts of Canada, the Arctic. In fact, it doesn’t really include Newfoundland either, when push comes to shove. [As an aside, did you know that this song, Something to Sing About, was a contender for Canada’s National Anthem? O Canada, which was originally written in French for Saint Jean Baptiste Day way back in 1880, only became officially recognized as our National Anthem by Parliament in 1980!]
Admittedly, Canada hasn’t been blessed with many areas that can boast of long summers, but happily I prefer cold weather anyway. The idea of having to keep on gardening past October is too much pressure for me! 😉 Give me 5 – or even more – months of winter anytime. 🙂
And so, as we celebrate Canada’s 151st birthday on July 1, I’d like to say, “Thank you, Canada, for accepting me as one of your citizens. It is something I cherish, nearly every day these days, and never ever take for granted.”
And to everyone reading this, remember, you never know which of all those fairly arbitrary decisions you make, like where you go to university, is going to truly change the direction of your life. May your personal milestone decisions turn out as well as mine did.
Happy birthday, Canada! ❤