In a recent article in Consensus Journal, Canadian theologian Stephen Farris suggested that the reason why Canadians are obsessed with our national identity is because we have no grand, historical narrative.
We have historical moments (War of 1812, 1837 Rebellion, the CPR, Confederation, Repatriation of the Constitution) but no story, personalities (MacDonald, Laurier, Mackenzie King, Trudeau) but no heroes.
In contrast, our American friends have stories of the Mayflower, the revolution, the civil war, and civil rights. They have political heroes: Washington, Lincoln, FDR, JFK.
Theirs’ is a success story, a triumph of good over evil. Ours is a history of slow, methodical development. Our revolutions are “Quiet.” Our successes muted.
Just compare national mottoes:
Americans: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Canadians: Peace, Order, and Good Government.
Doesn’t exactly stir the blood, does it?
It’s easy to identify ourselves as how “not-American” we are (or in the last century, how “not-British”), but what do we have that binds us together as a country? A unifying force that says “This is Canada”?
Is it universal health care? Parliamentary Democracy? Hockey Night in Canada? The fist-fights between the federal government and the provinces. The fact that our cereal boxes have English AND French on them? Peacekeeping? Western alienation v eastern arrogance? Our fixation on national identity?
Is it all of this? Is there more? Do these parts make up something greater than their sum?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Personally, I’m glad that we have no overblown personalities, people who’s presence fill the country. We have no cult of personality. That saves us from believing our own mythologies. Our national narrative is more complex than the battle between good and evil.
Yet, still there’s more to who we are. Something as yet undefined.
Maybe it means that we are still a young country and have a lot of growing to do.
But today, I’ll celebrate living in this marvelous country – the “true north strong and free,” – by eating hotdogs in the park, watching fireworks, and saying a prayer for our Canadian soldiers, giving thanks for their sacrifices and asking for their protection. Then offering a prayer for peace and reconciliation among bitter enemies everywhere, so that our world may live.
Maybe they – our Canadian forces - are what Canada is all about.
Happy Birthday, Canada.