Canada, 150 Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number, Eh?

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I am fiercely proud to be Canadian. No doot aboot it. Yeah, it’s a tad on the chilly side here at times, and we’re not perfect, but this country is pretty amazing. It’s sufficiently amazing that our 150th birthday is reason enough for us to overcome our trademark shyness and brag a little. Becoming your own country is a big deal, and staying together in a relatively peaceful manner is also a big deal. Go us! Put on some Tragially Hip, eat some poutine, get dressed up in red and white, and light some sparklers!

I do, however, think it’s important to point out (as many Canadians online have been this past little while), that who we are as a country spans a whole lot more than 150 years. We don’t want anyone patting us on the head and telling us we’re an adorable baby nation without having a deeper understanding of what went on long before the BNA (important document, look it up) was signed.

Here’s a small, but important sampling of Canada, pre-1867:

  • First Nations: There’s a reason the word “first” is used to describe our indigenous cultures. According to the archaeological record, they ventured over here a good 20-30,000 years before anyone else. There are over a million Canadians with this as part of their heritage, forming 634 nations, and speaking 50 distinct languages. I mean, come on, the name Canada itself is First Nations in origin. If this isn’t the right time to (finally) show a little respect, I don’t know what it.
  • Vikings: Our rocky shores called to these guys over 1000 years ago. Okay, they didn’t stay all that long, but it’s still pretty cool to think that Canada was an important stop on their illustrious journey. Some of them (my family included) found their way back again eventually.
  • The French: They got a fair bit earlier than the English did too (mid-1500’s to be exact), and a whole lot of what’s amazing about Canadian culture stems from the fact that we have two official languages. It’s so much more than having two sides to the cereal box.
  • Canadian Inventions: That’s right kids, lacrosse, hockey, the fog horn, the odometer, newsprint, kerosene, and oh yeah, a little thing we like to call the telephone, were all invented in Canada, before it was officially its own country, and these are just modern examples. Let’s not forget the contributions of indigenous people and early settlers to our proud technological history.
  • Can Lit: For more than 150 years, people in these parts have been slaving away, sticking together words and ideas, putting pen to paper, and churning out some pretty influential stuff. Long before there were “official” Canadians, there were writers and storytellers galore, and what’s even more cool to me is that a nontrivial percentage of them were female. Our literary tradition gained its footing at a time when women were also finding their voices.

150 really isn’t all that meaningful by itself. It’s a symbol, a landmark, but it doesn’t really speak to who we are and how far we’ve come as a nation. It doesn’t say anything about the diversity of our population and our culture. It’s not a big enough number to express how we’ve managed to stay united. It’s way too small a number to indicate how far we still have to go, and how much we still have to learn about one another.

Yes, on July 1st, I will be wearing a dorky t-shirt, fake tattoos of maple leaves on my cheeks, belting out our national anthem and doing a myriad of other hokey things. But it won’t just be the signing of a document that I’ll be celebrating. I’ll be raising a glass to tens of tens of thousands of years of human beings learning to be happy and fruitful on a big, frosty chunk of land. I’ll be congratulating the ones who stayed (including the more recent additions) and who made us who we are. I’ll be appreciating the fact that this country took my family in, and that it continues to do so for others. I’ll be waving a banner for our artists, our thinkers, our leaders and our makers. On Canada’s birthday, I’ll be thinking what I think every year on my own birthday: it’s just a number. Now, let’s have cake.

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