Earlier this season, a group was launching our voyageurs’ freighter canoe. As is tradition, we placed a Canadian flag on a pole in the stern of the vessel. One participant indicated that in these times, it is not entirely appropriate to celebrate Canada.
I have seen the last year or two unfold in Canada, and I am of mixed emotion.
I have always been someone who was proud of my country. I have been known to celebrate Canada Day with live music, fireworks, specialty foods, and just a general sense of red and white merriment.
I am not sure how we are going to proceed in the future, but my feeling is that we must celebrate our nation. And at the same time, we must study, examine, and evaluate our collective historical experiences. In so doing, we can understand what happened, what went horribly wrong, what went incredibly right, what can we learn from, and what can we change to make our future more promising, more accepting, more loving, more compassionate and more understanding of differences.
I recognize that in our past, colonization was a driving force that led to some populations flourishing, while others were marginalized. I recognize that our original peoples, our indigenous brothers and sisters were instrumental in moving explorers, traders, entrepreneurs, map makers, adventurers, and so many others across this country safely. Without their expertise, and generosity we would have never left the St. Lawrence River Valley. They trusted us, and we betrayed that trust. We have a lot of work to do to gain back any measure of respect from them, and to gain back that trust.
I recognize that so many migrants, who sought out the new world of Canada, as a land of opportunity, and as a fertile land whereby they could start life anew, never did make it. So many Irish migrants, who left Ireland during the Hunger Years, can be found in mass graves on Grosse Isle, in the St. Lawrence River, buried where they died, as they attempted to make the crossing of the Atlantic in their “coffin ships”.
I recognize that later in our colonial development, we imprisoned indigenous children at Residential Schools, in our attempt to assimilate them into our white Christian culture.
Our nation has been in a period of reconciliation for these atrocities against humankind, and hopefully we can come to realize how wrong we were, apologize and make amends by learning, and by celebrating in a sincere and genuine manner the significance of our indigenous people. Attending a powwow, listening to the drum, watching a Grand Entry, soaking in the beauty of the dancers splendid in their traditional regalia is a good place to start your personal reconciliation process during this summer season.
I recognize that during WWII, Canada forced over 20,000 Japanese Canadians into Internment camps simply because their ancestry was of Japanese origin. Canada was at war with Japan, at the time, and our west coast Canadian Japanese, many who were birth Canadians, paid a terribly unfair price for their heritage.
So things sure look kind of bleak for our nation, Canada and its history. And we may be tempted to ask - Why celebrate this Canada Day? Why paint maple leaves on faces? Why light fireworks into the night sky? Why blow out candles? Why the national holiday?
The answer lies in looking at the other side of the coin.
It is in this land, and in this country, that we celebrate Tommy Douglas’ notion of Universal Healthcare. Hospital care for all, regardless of financial ability to pay. I have experienced four major surgeries in my lifetime, and never once did I foot the bill. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country, that we can celebrate education for every child from JK to Grade 12. All public schools, and in some provinces, Catholic Schools, are all funded publicly. Teachers are prepared at provincial Teachers’ Colleges, and academic standards are rigorous, consistent, and reflective of our new world norm of being accepting of differences between nations, religions, and ways of being. For this we must Celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country, that we have built highways, railways, and airline infrastructure that extends from sea to sea to sea. Every corner of our land can be accessed by some means of transportation. Remote travel is possible, and exploration and personal discovery of this majestic and beautiful land is something we can achieve. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
Our veterans of war have fought valiantly for our freedom in many theatres of war over the last hundred years, and many paid the ultimate price by giving their life for their country. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country, that we developed the best hockey players in the world. Hockey has become a way of life in this nation, and it has provided a way out for so many youngsters. Camaraderie, teamwork, sportsmanship, learning how to win humbly, and learning how to lose graciously are just a few things hockey has taught our children. It has provided an escape whereby kids could skate like the wind, air filling their lungs, and pushing their bodies to their physical limits. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country that we have provided billions of dollars, over the last forty years, for cancer research based on the incredible efforts and human spirit of a young man named Terry Fox. Terry’s memory and his legacy, as a once in a generational kind of human being, lives on every autumn season as Canadians run, walk, bike, and move to raise funds for cancer research – all in his name. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country that we have employed a more open immigration policy. We have welcomed the world’s citizens to our doorstep, and we have worked generously to help them get started here. Refugees from zones of war, the impoverished, the sick and down and out, have all been welcomed here. Our more recent efforts to help the amazing people of the Ukraine get here safely and start a new life here is a testament to our generous nature as a national community of compassionate people who welcome others. For this we must celebrate Canada Day.
It is in this land, and in this country that we have just endured two years of pandemic hell. The Covid virus caught the world by surprise, and no political leader, in any nation, was ready for that one. But here in Canada, over 80% of us are vaccinated, and boosted, and we have made it through to the other side. Our children have studied remotely for two years, our office workers have stayed home, our gatherings were reduced in size or eliminated altogether. Our sports teams played in empty arenas and stadiums, and our health care workers just went through a war zone. But we survived, and we are moving again, and restrictions are being lifted. And for this we must celebrate Canada Day.
And so fellow Canadians, although my celebrations will be more subdued this year, as I am not quite ready for a grandiose party, I will have a smile on my face this Canada Day. I will greet my customers with the salutation “Happy Canada Day folks”. At the end of the day, after my business has closed, I will have my family around me, my two grand girls, and my new grandson, my beautiful children and their spouses, and I will raise a glass to our country, Canada. An imperfect nation for certain, but my country nonetheless.
Happy Birthday Canada!
Frank is a former teacher and local businessman who owns and operates Voyageur Lodge and Cookhouse on Batchewana Bay with his wife Gail.