Canada still has room to grow
In a 1936 speech to the House of Commons, former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King said, “If some countries have too much history, [Canada] has too much geography.”
Perhaps this statement sounds off now due to innovations in technology that bridge the east and west coasts, the northern tips and southernmost reaches of the country. Or maybe it is rendered obsolete by 82 years separating his speech from today.
Sure, it still makes sense in a comparison between 151-year-old Canada and B.C.E Mesopotamia. But even by 1936, Canada had a long history as a country. It was in 1876 that Candian inventor Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call between separate buildings. In 1885, the last spike was laid for the Canadian Pacific Railway, linking the province of Quebec to B.C. On April 6, 1917, Canadian Corps made a courageous victory at Vimy Ridge, despite the loss of 3,600 troops. The first successful transatlantic flight left St. John’s, Nfld. on June 14, 1919. In 1921, Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to Parliament. Banting, Best, MacLeod, and Collip share the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin in 1922. In 1932, the Statute of Westminster (Dec. 11) authorizes the Balfour Report (1926), granting Canada full legislative authority in both internal and external affairs.
Through all this, a nation was built on unceded Indigenous land. Abhorrent assimilation of Indigenous peoples carried on in residential schools from the 1840’s until 1996. As such, July 1 celebrations are an affront to Indigenous Peoples across the nation who have and continue to suffer the consequences of colonization.
An important question took the stage surrounding last year’s 150 celebrations: Can you celebrate Canada Day while respecting Indigenous rights? Which nationality should I take pride in instead? I was born on Canadian soil to Canadian parents whose parents were born in Saskatchewan to settlers from France.
I acknowledge my white, straight, Canadian privilege and am ashamed of it as I am ashamed for privileged people everywhere.
King’s quote was introduced to me in Grade 10 by a friend on exchange from Brazil. He used it to caption an Instagram photo of an icy green lake bordered by grey and white powdered mountains. I was delighted to meet someone who enjoyed the snow as much as I did; our company of winter enthusiasts skated around Mirror Lake one January afternoon until two of us had frost bitten toes.
Of course, increased temperature sensitivity to my feet was not the only lasting impact of our friendship. I clearly remember him encouraging me not to leave my backpack, laptop, phone and keys unattended in public spaces. I would never get away with such recklessness in a Brazilian metropolis.
The reality of colonization is rotten, to say the least, and there is no escaping this. Canada is a country with flawed policies, past and present. But we are a nation with systems in place to hold our citizens and government accountable. It is significant that we live in relative safety, with a Charter to protect our rights and freedoms and a population passionate about advocating for inclusivity with regards to these rights and freedoms.
This Canada Day was also a special day for 51 people who took part in a citizenship ceremony at the Calgary International Airport. Many of these new citizens came from a place of uncertainty and instability. They can hope to be greeted with tolerance and opportunity here.
Where human suffering is concerned, good deeds cannot and maybe should not atone for the bad. My point is not to excuse any system, foreign or Canadian, that has or continues to cause a human being harm. Reconciliation is absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, the people on Canadian soil are human and capable of astounding goodness. While there is no reversal of those systems which have caused harm to human beings, we do get to shape the present. As such, my national pride lies not in a land but in the individuals living on that to create an atmosphere of safety and equality.
Whether whooping it up however your style or abstaining from celebrations, July 1 is an opportunity to think about identity as individuals and as a country, and to share with one another our visions for a unified nation.