The earliest photo of my late father is of him crouched down in a Strathroy sugar beet field. His father and a brother are kneeling too, hands in the dirt but tentative grins for the camera. They are only a few months off the boat. One suspects that this is not an image they will mail back to the relatives in Drenthe. It will fan no envy; it will hardly stand as proof they made the right decision.
As John Hultink writes in his magisterial To All Our Children, immigration was for many done on a wing and a prayer. Some came for adventure; others looked around at their bombed-out socialist nation, busily re-employing the collaborators, and thought they could do better. My Opa looked around his rented cigar shop, considered the six sons he had to feed and said he was out of there.
Out of there, but to where? Had their forefathers and mothers ticked a different box, many readers could be going over this editorial in New Zealand or Brazil. Canada came up first. And what changes these elders have seen. This nation has morphed from the sober, Presbyterian and Methodist land the immigrants first discovered in the 50s. It has moved beyond the fossilized debates of Quebec nationalism. We are plagued no longer by persistent doubts that we can exist so close to the elephant that is America.
Economic historians have called ours “this improbable land.” The poet Al Purdy famously called ours the country that hardly knows itself. But we have made it to 150. We have moved from improbable to inevitable. And we are starting to get to know ourselves. We look south of the 49th with jealousy no longer. We may still huddle along the border for warmth but there is bounce in our step, a few dollars in our jeans. Per Richard Gwyn, we “no longer look southwards in fear and envy, but rather with an un-Canadian cockiness.”
It is good and well to strut; being self-righteous is a far less appealing trait. But it is a measure of our success as a nation that the great national debates we have are in fact of such minor import: Whether the deficit should be $10B higher or lower; whether to send a few hundred soldiers to Mali; whether our national airline can bump us from flights. These are the indulgent debates afforded a society which has been blessed beyond its most fantastic dreams.
Some grow gloomy and pessimistic as they age. Their rants fill the comment sections of our national newspapers. Not me. I consider the photo of those in the sugar beet field and I am all Pollyanna.
One of my law clerks, a Toronto fugitive, once bought 200 acres south of our town. I asked her what on earth she did with that kind of land. She giggled and said, “Once a week I walk the entire perimeter with my white lab and say ‘Mine, mine, mine.’”
There are worse impulses in life.
May I suggest that in this summer of celebration as we tramp around this Dominion with minivans, we pause to giggle every now and then at our blessed fortune and laugh as we say, “God’s, God’s, God’s.”
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