Sunday, July 01, 2007

Oh, Canada...

The Great White North turns 140 today, and I'm sitting here sweating in the ferocious heat of California's high desert, my heart aching with pride and longing. Longing because I'm not there. And pride because, damn it, I'm Canadian.

There was a Molson beer TV commercial a few years ago. The ad originally aired during hockey games (where else?) , but soon became a national sensation.

It starts off with a young man walking up to a microphone. He clears his throat, and starts, hesitantly at first.

"Hey... I'm not a lumberjack or a fur trader.

I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled and I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzie from Canada."

Then he adds, "Although I'm sure they're really, really nice."

A fanfare starts to play quietly in the background.

"I have a prime minister, not a president. I speak English and French, not American, and I pronounce it "about," not "a-boot."

His voice is starting to rise. "I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack."

Crowd noises start to be heard. A few stray whistles. By this point, his voice is definitely louder and more passionate and the music has picked up.

"I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal, a tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch and it is pronounced "zed," not "zee"!

He's in full rant now.

"Canada is the second largest land mass, the first nation of hockey and the best part of North America!" he's practically screaming. and then he delivers the punchline.

My name is JOE AND I AM CANADIAN!!!!"

The crowd roars and the music swells.

And then he quietly adds "Thank you."

Silly? Maybe. It's just a shill for a beer, after all. But it touched something in the Canadian psyche. There were T-shirts and parodies and much serious discussion -- once again -- on what it means to be Canadian.

But even now, five years later, I hear that bit (I found an mp3 of it) and my heart breaks a little.

Don't get me wrong. I love D.L., and I generally like my life down here, but I miss Canada. I miss my kids. I miss my family. I miss Montreal.

I miss health care. I miss multiculturalism. I miss a place where speaking more than one language is seen as a plus, not a weakness or a loss of face or a surrender to "them."

I miss the CBC. I miss real weather and seasons and snow. I miss political discussions in a country where everything isn't polarized, where everything isn't controlled by "us' or "them."

I miss poutine. And little restaurants on cobblestone streets, not faceless chain restaurants. I miss feeling safe and fortunate. I miss speaking with people who can argue without hating. I miss speaking with people who can name both the current prime minister AND the current president. I miss skating on outdoor ice, the squeak of snow under my boots and the way, on really cold days, when inhaling freezes -- momentarily-- the insides of your nose.

I miss the TV news being read by journalists; not TV stars.

I miss a place where diplomacy and compromise is seen as a good thing; not as wimping out.

I miss Tim Hortons and bicycle rides along the Lachine Canal. I miss a place where violence is seen as a failure, not a strategy; where rights and dignity and good government and a better life for everyone matter more than an individual's "pursuit of happiness." I miss real bagels. I miss people who know how to spell "neighbour."

I miss being in a place that plays well with others. Canadians, for the most part, know that we may not be the greatest or most powerful country in the world, and we certainly know we're not perfect. But we can live with that, and we know that we're still a pretty damn good place to live. I miss real maple syrup. I miss hockey being on television (The Mighty Corporate Logos won the Stanley Cup this year, and as far as I could tell, not one local station carried it!). I miss the explosion of colour each fall.

I miss, I miss, I miss... Forty years ago, Canada celebrated its centennial. Pearson was prime minister, Trudeau was in the wings, and the World's Fair was in Montreal. I was a kid, but it was a heady time. The world came calling and we were ready. "Hey, Friend, Say Friend" backed with "Un jour, un jour" was the official, inescapable bilingual (of course) theme song that welcomed visitors to Expo 67, and Bobby Gimby's "Ca-Na-Da," sung by a children's chorus, was equally hard to avoid.

But songs and celebrations aren't what really makes a country. It's the people.

So here's to Stompin' Tom and Mordecai Richler, Gordon Lightfoot and Pierre Tremblay, Rene Levesque (no, seriously) and William Shatner, Nick auf de Maur and Jean Beliveau, Anne Murray and Laura Secord, Gump Worsley and Neil Young, Leslie MacFarlane and Brian Moore, Alice Munro and Blue Rodeo, Will Feguson and Norman Jewison, Pierre Berton and Norman Bethune, Magic Tom and Stan Rogers, The Tragically Hip and Ken Dryden, k.d. lang and Tommy Douglas, Donald Sutherland and Mr. Dressup, Roger Doucet and DeMaisonneuve, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Chez Helene, Tecumseh and Nick Adonidas, Hugh McClennan and Michel Pagliaro, Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Atwood, Sir John A. and Pierre Radisson, SCTV and Kids in the Hall, Joni Mitchell and Mackenzie King, the Irish Rovers and Thomas D'arcy McGee, Peter Gzowski and Great Big Sea, Murray McLauchlan and Marshall McLuhan, The Rheostatics and Mack Sennett, Bruce Cockburn and Isaac Brock, Oscar Peterson and Terry Fox, Sarah McLachlan and Banting and Best, Aislin and Wilfred Laurier, Margaret Laurence and The Band, Jacques Hebert and Ross Macdonald, the Friendly Giant and Ginette Reno, Youpi and Farley Mowat, Rick Mercer and Pierre LaVerendrye, Nelly McClung and Gilles Vigneault, and everyone else.

If you get a little rush from hearing any of those names, or are immediately ready to argue at length with me about why I didn't include this person or that one, you know what I'm talking about.

Happy Canada Day.



Blogger Kent Morgan said...

Great post, Kevin, but I have one comment and one question. First of all, I don't think you would miss the new version of CBC radio as much as the one you remember. And tell me the truth, when was the last time you skated on outdoor ice?

Kent Morgan

6:03 PM, July 09, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

On outdoor ice?

Six years ago? It wouldn't have been the year I left -- it was a really mild winter.

I don't think they even set up the outdoor rink that year.

4:22 PM, July 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice essay, Kevin. Strange you haven't had more comments. So how did you celebrate Canada Day if you couldn't have pancakes and maple syrup?

8:26 AM, July 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently in England and I do miss Montreal, and Quebec, but not Canada. I don't feel it's my country, anyway. But I do feel like you, Kevin, about a couple of things from home: real bagels (from Saint-Viateur), poutine, beers (although the Brits have great microbreweries, I miss our own, although not Molson or Labatt), tourtiere, snow (not that there was that much last Christmas), the colours in Autumn, etc. I celebrated "la Saint-Jean" in Liverpool, eating my own home-made poutine, sans the fromage en grain and with British gravy. Not quite the same, but better than nothing.

7:54 AM, August 07, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Ah, Guillaume...

Quebec and Canada, without each other, would have long ago been sucked into the melting pot of the States, and the French in Canada would have long ago become about as relevant as the French in Louisiana (or Massachusetts, for that matter); colourful curiousities with no real political clout.

You don't feel Canada is your country? That's sad, man. Don't listen to the separatists -- for the most part the current breed are a bunch of slimy and ignorant xenophobes, playing fast and loose with North American history, willfully turning a blind eye to anything that doesn't suit their divisive and petty little agendas. And by separatists, I don't just mean those in Quebec.

Levesque would have been disgusted by the antics of some of the current group of thugs and bully boys. Especially since everything he wanted for Quebec has more or less come to pass without Quebec separating.

Multicultural, multilingual, open, tolerant Montreal is what both Canada and Quebec should aspire to.

Those who don't believe in such things can always go to Hull.

1:10 AM, August 17, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Didn't Joe, I'm Canadian move to L.A. to get acting work?

Additions to your list: Jack Curran and Ron Hill.

I remember one recent visit to Canada, waiting in line to go through customs at Dorval, watching the scrolling red signs above my head:

"Bienvenue au Canada / Welcome to Canada ... Bienvenue a Montreal / Welcome to Montreal ... Bienvenue au Quebec ...... Bienvenue au Canada / Welcome to Canada, etc. "

And a great line about weather and pride in one's country:

"Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver."

Maple syrup ... man, I grew up with maple syrup. I couldn't believe it when I got to the U.S. and found table syrup, pancake syrup, syrup ... What the hell is all that artificial crap?

Salut, Guillaume! Connaissez-vois les romans de Fred Vargas?

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

1:25 AM, August 20, 2007  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

The "Detectives Beyond Borders" guy is from Montreal?


Confess, Peter! You must be. I mean, Jack Curran, the radio/TV guy. It's Your Move? Afternoon movies?

And Ron Hill? Mr. Seed?

It's obvious Montrealers are taking over the world. All will be explained next fall when President Shatner makes his acceptance speech.

12:22 PM, August 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You figured out I was from Montreal? Câlice, I tried to cover my tracks.

Though Jack Curran was a kind of TV utilityman, wasn't the host of It's Your Move Bill(?) Hanover?

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:45 PM, August 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Kevin, I know a few separatists, I live among them and I am one of them, and with all respect, your conception of Quebec's independantist movement (in a very bad state these days, I am afraid) is to say the least faulty. We simply find it natural that a people should have its own country, since it already has its own language, its own culture, its own history. By that I mean that Quebeckers do not share the same culture, language and history as Canada, simple as that. I don't feel home in Ottawa, the so-called "bilingual" capital of Canada. I don't feel I belong there. And frankly, I think a lot of canadian attachment to Quebec is due more to their fear of becoming too much like the states than to real, genuine love. Independance would help them more thann us, in a way: they would be forced to define their culture without the bilinguism (which has no reality in Canada anyway) and multiculturalism (a concept that is not proper to Canadian society). The PQ developed Quebec and defended it much better than Liberals ever did (or the ADQ every will do, for that matter) and the ideal of independance was the driving force of these changes. I will not summon the dead and evoke Rene Levesque, but at the end of his life, he was very bitter that independance didn't happen. Changes that he made (the bill 101 for instance) are still being attacked today, by the same federalists who say they respect him.

Anyway, not all separatists are bitter vengeful guys. Most of them aren't. But when I read the junk the Globe and Mail say about my people, sometimes I get angry. And I don't think this angern is entirely unjustified.

1:13 PM, September 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter said...
You figured out I was from Montreal? Câlice, I tried to cover my tracks.

Though Jack Curran was a kind of TV utilityman, wasn't the host of It's Your Move Bill(?) Hanover

Peter, to add to your information about Jack Curran, He was not the host of It's your move he was the V/O guy for the show and many more. For most of his carrier he worked for CFCF Television (now CTV Montreal). Curran also appeared on the CBC's Fine and Dandy, and The Way Things Are, also did local theatre. He was the advertising face for Dow Breweries, and was the face and voice for advertisements for Kool cigarettes and Edsel cars on the Ed Sullivan Show. He also did numerous NFB films. He work on Radio as the morning man on CJAD, CFCF 600 and others. Jack Curran was in broadcasting for 50 years before he retired. He died in 2003.

9:03 AM, January 21, 2009  

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