My father was a drifter before he met my mother. From the age of 15 when he left home, he spent the next 14 years exploring Canada as few do – by riding freight trains and hitchhiking. He was a great storyteller and he was a Canadian patriot. He could have been a great dad but his problems with alcohol precluded this.
Dad had a particular love for Canada’s west. A few years ago, over the course of more than one full month, we drove all the way to Whitehorse, Yukon, to spend a week in the land of the midnight sun. It was an epic road journey and along the way, I hope, an appreciation for our country was passed on to my kids, just as my father once did for me through his storytelling.
As I think about my country at 152, though, I do so mindfully — not mindlessly. That is, I do not wave the flag without being mindful of our imperfections, too.
These include, but are not limited to these two points:
- Our failure to reconcile our colonial past, recognizing that people who looked a lot like me arrived here to find many nations made up of indigenous people who were already thriving. Because their society was merely different from ours, we acted systematically, violently, and oppressively to ensure our own way of life became ascendant.
- Our failure, still, to fully appreciate and nurture our natural environment, rather than causing wanton destruction in our unquenchable quest for oil, diamonds, gold, and the many natural resources that consume our kind.
On the other hand I have great pride for many of the things we’ve accomplished in Canada.
- Our incredible education system with an emphasis on equity between schools. We also have more post-secondary graduates than any other OECD nation.
- Our massive network of protected spaces – parks, conservation areas, and marine coasts. But we still need more.
- A democratic process that ensures most anyone can run for public office; an election process that is fair and efficient, with big money largely out of the equation, thanks to our election financing rules.
When my father was travelling across Canada the nation created an incredible imprint on him because he took the time to truly experience it.
It was those transcendent sunrises in Jasper and Banff. It was the swapping of stories with fellow drifters in places like The Pas, Prince Albert, and Grand Prairie. It was the kindness of a church in Montreal on a bitterly cold winter night.
When I contemplate the country I live in, I do so like my Dad did – knowing we are but custodians, passing through. We leave this land and the best way of life that we know how to build for a younger generation to improve upon.
Missing out on visiting the Yukon was my Dad’s one Canadian travel regret. On our journey to that far-flung territory we brought Yukon soil back to his grave here in southern Ontario, a small gesture in what was a grand and meaningful journey for us.
I can tell you that my Dad knew this country wasn’t perfect.
But he also knew it was worth celebrating.
Happy Canada Day.