Thoughts on being Canadian

Cranbrook columnist Peter Warland talks nationality

Peter Warland

“When Reagan was making a mess of being president I was in Europe and so glad to show people my Canadian passport.” – Pamela Raiment

Strangely enough, most of my close friends were not born anywhere in what is now called Canada. Like me, they are immigrants and very happy to be here in The Great White North. Most of them have resided here for many years and have children and grandchildren born here so, being of an enquiring mind, I asked some of them if they felt Canadian. Their responses didn’t surprise me; very largely, I felt the same way.

If asked my nationality whilst I am abroad, I invariably boast (no estoy gringo) that I am Canadian. In fact, some Americans have assumed that I happened to be Canadian just because of my residual English accent. When I was chatting – in French, mind you – to a bank manager in Lille, France, he looked at me quizzically but, when I proudly showed him my Canadian passport, he seemed to understand. He assumed that my odd French and even odder French grammar were those of a Quebecois.

Over the past 58 years that I have dwelt happily in this nation I have visited little bits of it. I’ve been driven all around Nova Scotia and even stayed in some of the delightful seaside villages. I’ve spent some time in Montreal and Quebec City. I have travelled by train right across the country but, in fact, managed to see very little of it; it’s so large. I have also spent too much time in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. I feel little affinity to those damp places.

Come to think of it – not that anyone anywhere ever bothers – the whole concept of nationality is inane. People live in small communities and get on with life. Then along comes a conqueror or an eager politician and suddenly those people from disparate communities are informed that they are now members of a nation, probably one they’d never heard of before. By war, skulduggery or sneaky politics, ambitious leaders expand their territories and then tell the occupants that they are now subjects of this or that nation. Alexander the Great did it, then the Romans, Genghis Khan had a go and so did the Incas of Peru. But I wonder if some fellow in what is now Turkey suddenly became proud to be a Greek, if some native in the Andes shouted gleefully about being a part of the Incan empire or if a native of Jerusalem quickly became proud to be, ipso facto, a Roman. I somehow doubt it.

But nationality doesn’t appear to be anything permanent these days. In English football there is a furor erupting because one genuine, born English player thinks (out loud, to the chagrin of others) that English teams assembled for international competitions should contain only true English-born players. This started, I believe, because a young soccer star presently playing in Manchester was born somewhere in what was once called Yugoslavia and raised in Belgium, and can legally play for Kosovo, Albania and probably Croatia, plus Belgium if he chooses, and will be able to play for England after he’s lived there for five years. What kind of nationality is that, I ask?

When I say I am Canadian, I am thinking about the East Kootenay, not the rest of the huge country. As one friend said years ago, “I wouldn’t care if the Atlantic Ocean washed up on the shores of the Rockies,” and I was inclined to agree with him. But, should we be threatened by some foreign power ambitious to take over running the place, I’d definitely stand side by side with my neighbours to fight them off. I enjoy being Canadian. It’s a marvellous country to live in. My governments are total crack-pots but I’m sure I wouldn’t want any others. Mind you, as Bertrand Russell said, “I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”