- John C. Thompson
30th June, 2017
This is last in a series of blogs for Canada’s 150th Anniversary. Canadians are defined by our climate and geography, an unfinished frontier, the institutions of the Crown, and our – mostly – British Heritage. There still remains a certain je ne sais quoi.
Pierre Berton once said that a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe… a real Canadian knows better than to try. My own theory is that any nationality is truly defined by three experiences. A true Canadian is someone who has 1) learned to appreciate something about winter, 2) has at least given thought to making love in a canoe, and 3) has a first-person bear or moose encounter to relate.
But who are Canadians really? There are many wonderful examples. However, there is the point that anybody can become a Canadian if they learn to live with the climate and the geography; adopt the customs and states of mind imposed by our wilderness; respect our institutions and pick up on the better traits of our British heritage.
Canadians adapt and improvise. Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen (1887-1970) was a myopic Montrealer who became the pistol-packing bodyguard to Sun-Yat-Sen and a hero in China. Or there was Ben Dunkelman (1913-1997), a hard-fighting and highly decorated officer in WW-2, who lent his talent for battlefield improvisation and principled stubbornness to Israel in 1948.
We ignore limits: Forget Ottawa’s “Famous Five”, women who really broke barriers were the likes of Roberta Catherine MacAdams (1880-1959). A nursing sister with the Canadian Army in France, she became the second woman elected to legislative office in Canada and the first in the entire British Empire to propose legislation for debate. Or there was Margaret Lally “Ma” Murray (1888-1892) the Lillooet journalist, ‘feisty’ and ‘stubborn’ only begin to describe her.
We can be cheerfully under-handed. Ask the as-yet-unidentified Canadian embassy staffer who quietly orchestrated the first Terry-Fox Run in Moscow in the early 1980s. He or she got hundreds of diplomatic personnel from many embassies to suddenly surge out on the streets one day and start jogging – to the utter consternation of the KGB minders who normally watched them all like hawks.
Nobody tells us what do: It is a statistical fact from two World Wars that Canadian soldiers are very slow to surrender or yield ground. More recently, we have the example of Tara Singh Hayer, the editor of the Indo-Canadian Times who denounced the violence of militant Babbar Khalsa supporters here. A beating with an iron bar that left him in a wheel-chair didn’t stop him, nor did any number of threats; in 1998, he was shot to death but others have picked up his torch.
We have grace: Look to the example of Father Albert Lacombe (1827-1913), the Quebec priest who won the trust and affection of the Cree and Blackfoot, not least through his own courage. Or look to Jean Vanier (born 1928) – the son of two formidable parents and the founder of L’Arche and a true champion of those born with disabilities.
The values of the moment are peripheral, and those espoused by hectoring politicians and today’s vapid chattering classes are essentially meaningless. Real Canadians reflect the physical conditions of our land, our history and our experiences. That spirit doesn’t require somebody to be born and raised here; but it does require someone to be truly alive and open. Our land demands the best of what is within us, and if you give it, the Land gives back.
This is the last in a series of five about what constitutes the Canadian character and identity. If you like these blogs, feel free to share them. Donations to www.Thinktankofone.com are always especially welcome through GoFundMe or PayPal.