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The Canadian identity: the essence

The Canadian identity: the essence

What is the essence of the Canadian identity? In what ways are Canadians similar to, or different, from Americans(or any other nationality/culture)? Feel free to use current events, such as COVID response, in your answer if you would like to.

In a newest operate in Vancouver an Irish immigrant asked me why Canada doesn’t use a foundational story for the developers to learn. We don’t have a statue-worthy heroine with a baby in each arm or a ripped warrior hero with a hound by his side. We don’t have a national unifying myth.

The Irishman enjoyed a moderate offer. He suggested the Institute for Canadian Citizenship get to work putting that story together. He wasn’t calling for a retooling of a narrative from Europe or Asia; he thought the organization should create something born of the country in 2016.

The project would yield all kinds of benefits – including, he believed, for citizenship. Culture-wise, newcomers don’t have much they can identify as being the obvious local equivalent of what they left behind. No Canadian Monkey King or Ramayana. No Robin Hood or, indeed, the Cuchulainn of Celtic lore.

Consequently, the Irishman stated, new citizens don’t see Canada as a radiant social entity, one worth their already culturally divided focus. Give them the right story for this place and they’ll become engaged with it. Give better-framed Canadian culture, and you’ll get more active citizenship in return.

I thanked him for his thoughts. To myself, I thought: Here we go again.

Can a vague social anxiousness flourish for life? In English Canada it sure can. That anxiety – Do we have much of a culture? Do we much care if we don’t? – has underwritten our public conversations for 70-plus years. That the root of it may be based on an inadequate conception of the collective space we inhabit is only now starting to be discussed.

The inferior getting pregnant is of Canada being a 19th-century land-status like a lot of other people, having its designers proclaiming “its” poetry and performing “its” music. Most of these other states house a dominant ethnic identity, good for the production of a dominant artistic project and, to an extent, character.

This sort of countries – virtually all on this planet, for specific – often do have a very powerful ethnic personal identity. They do have a few fabulous stories to tell, ones they’ve been refining for centuries, and believe capture their essence.

But English Canada, no less than, by no means really found its footing as one of those nations. (French Canada did, an essential point of difference.) Lucky for us, it is now too late, and we have no choice but to establish ourselves as something different – a culture that is many cultures, many stories, in a place that stretches across a continent and is richly occupied.

How far have we are available in our understanding of ourselves as being an experimental nation? Last October, just a few weeks into his tenure, Justin Trudeau issued a mild identity shock by telling The New York Times Magazine that he was now prime minister of the “first postnational state.” Our PM also said: “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.”

Mr. Trudeau’s remarks usually are not without precedent in our cerebral historical past. A half-century ago, Marshall McLuhan made a typically playful and elusive observation about his homeland. “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity,” he said. What Mr. McLuhan meant was far from clear to most people at the time, but he did want it known that the condition wasn’t a negative. He added an intriguing follow-up: “Any sense of identity we have is our sense of density.”

No matter, almost all thinkers and performers have fought using this seeming underperformance like a “people.” In 1942 Bruce Hutchison published The Unknown Country, now considered the pioneering foray into the Whither-the-Canadian-Identity book trade. A bulging shelf of titles have followed in its wake.

Those titles alone have often been personal-explanatory: What exactly is a Canadian? and The Unfinished Canadian come readily to mind. Our cultural identity has usually come under the greatest scrutiny, and been found the most anxiety-producing. Laments have included a tendency to be too small, too regional, too marginal, too easily overlooked, or simply dismissed.

Those anxieties appear sensible. After all, the arts – theatre, film, music, dance, books – are meant to tell you where you really live. Here is the country of the soul, not the census: Shouldn’t every citizen wish to belong there?

Apparently not. Mordecai Richler, firing daggers from his 1960s exile in London, declared Canada to be “here a professor, there a poet, and in between thousands of miles of wheat and indifference.” (He was being negative.) In their 1992 song Courage, the Tragically Hip celebrated artists like the novelist Hugh MacLennan who tried surviving in that unknown country.

And piss on all your history, Gord Downie performed from the awful Canadian habit of denigrating our very own. And piss on all your surroundings.

It has certainly been a gradual waking up. In 1972, a young Margaret Atwood willed a unity onto the then-nascent notion of a Canadian literature with her influential thematic study, Survival. “When I discovered the shape of the national tradition I was depressed,” she admitted. The immigrant “is confronted only by a nebulosity, a blank: no ready-made ideology is provided for him.”

Ms. Atwood famously announced the act of ethnic, governmental and, sure, meteorological “survival” in these an environment to get our identifying narrative. Not long afterward, the journalist June Callwood wondered if the actual daily practice of civility – in part, our overpraised politeness – might be the Canadian unifier. Truth be told, neither concept goes far enough toward the territory of heroic statuary or stirring legend.

Here we are in 2016, when number of dispute any longer the unseemly length of English Canada’s colonial hangover. For the first century of nationhood, we didn’t bother moving away from imported and inherited customs and thinking, a stark disavowal of lived history and geography.

Canada in the 21st century is certainly an energized place by comparison. Our cultural industries are big businesses and our artists are reasonably supported. Audiences for most of the arts are on a steady rise.

Even so, we continue to export much of our acting and musical talent, ignore our films, keep Canadian theatre largely in the commercial margins, and at the moment appear destined to outlast the era of brilliant long-form television without making a significant contribution to it – unlike, say, tiny Norway or Denmark.

The senior film company Robert Lantos fumed within this local newspaper with the CRTC’s rejection of any all-Canadian video route beneath the “obligatory carriage” group, calling the chairman “utterly sightless for the societal imperatives of what is required to be a united states.” That was last weekend. Mr. Lantos also lamented the modest Canadian box office for Remember, the latest film by Atom Egoyan. Add Paul Gross’s impressive Hyena Road to the predictable list of the predictably neglected.

Given these ongoing problems for Canadian arts and artists, why then would any individual think it blessed for English Canada to become too late to create an old-created social land? Consider the Prime Minister’s comments again, especially his calling us the “first postnational state.”

Like a lot of the main purpose of your respective new govt, the words look like analyzed to modify the pathway of group considered. In the months since the election, the Liberals have proposed lots of new words for fresh thinking: reconciliation, diversity, inclusion, to name a few.

If it was Justin Trudeau’s intent, it might be worthy. We do need new language to describe this vast, improbable country called 21st-century Canada. We do need to find a way to inhabit our entire cultural space.

To do this, we need to get past one particular myth – the out of date nation-condition design – and one tougher reality: the historic level of comfort among Canadians with conceiving a child of themselves as parts of smaller, cozier self-explanations, also an attendant incuriosity about who else life reasonably in close proximity.

The introducing stage for this project is obvious. Indigenous Canada is where we all live, in terms of geography, spirit, and history. In order for that to be real and meaningful, we must start with the stark: that a cultural genocide occurred, and most of us were unaware or, perhaps, just not concerned enough. Artistic expressions of these truths are necessary, and can only help.

Overall, Canada being an experimental societal area needs the proper soul so that you can acquire shape. That spirit, simply, is an openness to having your history unsettled and your mind changed. As well, a certain comfort level with complexity and irresolution is probably good. In her forthcoming book, The Promise of Canada, Charlotte Gray calls us an “unfinished and perhaps unfinishable project.” That sounds about right.