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"Oh, Canada!"

By Paul Knowles

(Photo: a group of Canadians, including the author, celebrating Canada day in a  British pub in Cranbrook, Kent).

"O, Canada!" At public events, we sing it loud and proud. But on any given day, we might pronounce it with very different inflections.

 

When we think about our country's history of maltreatment of native peoples – "Oh! Canada" is a lament.
When we reflect on our record of international peacekeeping, "Oh, Canada" is a statement of pride.
When we remember Paul Henderson's 1972 goal in the Summit Series against the USSR – "Oh, Canada," is simply yelled at the top of our voices.
When we watch a YouTube video of Chris Hadfield singing his version of "Space Oddity" – from space! – "Oh, Canada," is whispered with wonder.
In March, 2000, the Molson brewing company issued an iconic commercial: the rant that concluded, "My name's Joe, and I am Canadian". One of the finest beer commercials ever, in my opinion. "Joe" – in reality, an actor named Jeff Douglas who today, perhaps surprisingly, is co-host of CBC Radio's excellent "As It Happens" – celebrated sundry misunderstandings and stereotypes about Canadians.
Happily, the best stereotypes prove to be true. Joe is able to proudly wear his country's flag on his backpack. He believes in peacekeeping, diversity, and hockey. He celebrates the words "toque" and "zed".
Oddly, in the past two weeks, I have had the chance to educate two Americans about those very words, both of which had them baffled at first hearing. I digress.
Except, perhaps, for hockey, we Canadians often take those other attributes of our country for granted. We wear a small flag as a pin or a patch, but we don't make a big deal of it. But while visiting the east coast of Ireland last summer, we met a B&B owner – a transplanted American – who admitted that she often simply explains to guests that she's Canadian, especially at times (like right now) when American politics embarrass her.
We accept diversity and inclusion, by and large, although many of us (especially from small places like Wilmot) might admit grudgingly that we get a bit nervous when up close and personal with people from some other cultures. But most of us – because we are Canadian, and we know this country is a sum of a vast number of parts – do the work to be inclusive and accepting. To be, in fact, good neighbours.
We are proud of our record as peacekeepers – and most of us hope that this continues to be our role, as Canada engages its neighbours in an increasingly fractured global environment. The truth is, they need us – if we are willing to be at our best.
I find I am happiest to be a Canadian when I am not in Canada. When I walk down a city street in Missouri and see stores advertising beautifully designed "conceal carry" purses. When I encounter a clerk in Florida rejoicing that the President will finally kick out all the damned, illegal Mexicans. When I see the change in expression on the faces of people in England, Ireland or Germany when they realize I am from Canada, not somewhere else with similar speech patterns.
Not everything in our nation's history is cause for pride. Canadians, and Canadian leaders, have done some terrible things, our treatment of native Canadians, our internment of Japanese Canadians, the endemic abuse of women in our national police force among them. This has been a country that, at times, has clearly acted in racist and misogynistic ways.
But we are also a country that seems to be able to learn from our mistakes, to be better than we once were. And that's a history to be proud of – a history of learning to be a kinder, gentler people. Is that a stereotype? Perhaps. But maybe it's also reality, and maybe that reality is becoming more real as Canadians are reminded of the blessings we have in this country, 150 years down the Confederation Highway.
My name's Paul, and I'm a Canadian.