I don’t recall how old I was when I decided I didn’t want to be a Canadian. I think I was likely still in elementary school when it came to me that my ‘home and native land’ didn’t really interest me in any sort of patriotic way. Patriotic? I had no idea what that meant, all I knew was that my country didn’t sit right with me.
I had a Canadian inferiority complex.
I’m not certain when I became aware I was Canadian – hence, different.
I cannot say that my attitude originated due to a wealth of experience with other cultures. How could it have? I wasn’t even in junior high so my multicultural connections were non-existent. True, I had been to visit my aunt and uncle and cousins in Seattle a few times, but that was my only claim then to any cosmopolitan pretensions or interactions with denizens of the broader world.
I know it was pointed out to me at a tender age that Americans subscribed to a different ethic than we did. It was back at the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. My female cousin and I were terribly excited at the pending celebratory ‘thing’ though we had little idea what it was. Anyway, I asked my cousin if she was as thrilled as I was that we would be getting this Queen person to do whatever it was that Queens did, though we were pretty sure it involved wearing a crown and perhaps beheading bad people like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland was wont to do. My cousin professed to be thrilled by the prospect of it all.
At that point my Canadian-born but US citizen aunt intervened and stated that the Queen had nothing to do with my cousin since my cousin was American.
So now that I knew I was different, what exactly did that mean? I thought it was a bit of a pity that my cousin couldn’t have the Queen, too, but my aunt said she could only respect her as a significant ‘foreign’ person but that she meant nothing more than that. And there I’d been thinking she was everybody’s Queen.
My social studies classes didn’t help with my nationality confusion. I liked social studies, especially the history part of it what with Romans and Greeks and medieval knights and Crusades and so forth, and then found that none of those things had anything to do with Canadians, either.
What did we get in social studies? A bunch of ‘eastern’ written boring crap that had nothing to do with us out here in the west. We learned about French guys tramping through the wilderness of Ontario and Quebec with their damn birch bark canoes and bearing names none of us west-coasters could either pronounce or appreciate. Radisson? Huh? We gravitated to Davy Crockett.
And then later my horizons broadened. In the summer of my last year of high school the family took a trip to California. It was a place that was the epitome of exoticism to me. I had broken out of boring Canada, truly. California! The next place on the map was Mexico. I had become worldly, I believed. Worldliness does not include being Canadian, it seemed to me that it involved anything but being Canadian. I found I was able to feel at home in foreign climes and I worked diligently to ‘not’ seem Canadian because to me ‘Canadian’ translated to ‘dorky’. I learned that summer that American public toilets are found in ‘restrooms’ never in boring old Canadian ‘washrooms’.
Then later in my life I moved to England for a year and I subconsciously strove to include UK lingo in my patter and hence I would seem even more cosmopolitan rather than boring Canadian. ‘Apartments’ became ‘flats’ and ‘elevators’ became ‘lifts’ in my parlance. And restrooms/washrooms became ‘loos’.
Yet, once I was back in Canada I began to appreciate the virtues of my country. In a disruptive era Canada wasn’t such a bad place in which to live. Especially my part of Canada.
OK, now here is my confession as a ‘bad’ Canadian, and that is that I have seen little of my own country and have always chosen to vacation abroad. No shame in that, to me. I accept that is who I am. As for my knowledge of ‘greater Canada’, it’s pretty sparse from a firsthand perspective. I have traveled as far as Montreal by train. Montreal was cool; Toronto is hugely overrated as a place of interest. I’ve not seen the Maritimes and would like to – someday. I have ridden the ‘iron rooster’ across the Prairies and the tiresomeness of Northern Ontario.
As for the Great White North. The concept of ‘North’ chills me literally and figuratively. I mean, I have flown over the vastness of the north many times, but have never wanted to alight in a land of a gazillion lakes and quintillion mosquitoes. If I want mosquitoes I shall go to the Cook Islands. So, my northern ventures in Canada ceased at Quesnel when I was 12. I don’t feel so bad. I had a colleague who felt Campbell River was a little too far north for him. He now lives in Mexico.
Am I proud of my ignorance of my home and native land? Actually, I am ambivalent. It is who I am, but I am actually and finally rather proud to be a Canuck, though I’m not so mad about our government. Truthfully I have never been mad about any of our governments and don’t get me started on Pierre Trudeau. And despite the my childish enchantment with the Coronation, I am now bemused by the fact we still have the ‘Royals’ and are meant to be enchanted by a ragtag family of foreigners. Oh well, cannot have it all.