Some people associate Canada with beavers, hockey, Tim Horton’s doughnuts, igloos, polar bears, alpine lakes and moose. Above the 49th parallel there exists numerous ideals that make up the Canadian experience and it differs depending on who you talk to. So on this Canada day I want to write about what Canada means to me.
I am one of a handful of people born and raised in Vancouver and have lived my entire life in North Vancouver, a suburb that sits a short, 10 minute seabus ride away from the downtown core. Growing up on the North Shore mountains made for an interesting childhood – in grade 5 and 6 our wednesday afternoons during school were ski lessons up Grouse Moutain. My Father, as avid hiker and outdoors person would haul our whining butts up many a forested trail for a weekend hike. Other times we’d be on the family sailboat cruising between the Gulf Islands and there were the early lessons on what to do if you ran into a bear in the front yard.
My parents immigrated to Canada in 1957 and 1960 – and my Mother from India via England. They both wanted to live in a new world where opportunity and horizons were abundant and fresh. For a young man who spoke little English and a shy girl freshly removed from her family, these two individuals made a new life togeher, in a new land.
I’ve often wondered how the Canadian landscape and a young, not-yet-formed culture effected their life together and the raising of two daughters. Why did my parents choose to make me Canadian FIRST and German-Indo-English second?
Yes, I was born in Canada, but many immigrant families I have known have resisted the Canadian culture to some degree and teach their children about their genetic heritage and culture before teaching them the Canadian ways.
So I asked my Mom & Dad.
My Dad told me that when he arrived in Canada he left Germany behind, even the language – forcing himself to speak/learn only English from day one. He left behind a complicated family dynamic and his memories of growing up in war ridden Germany shaped his path with his plans to settle in a country where peace abounds. Throughout my childhood I heard stories about the war, being separated from his Brother due to the Berlin Wall and having only potatoes to eat as the family relocated to a remote area of Germany to “sit out the war”.
My Mother came from a very privileged upbringing in Madras, India. They were part of the uber rich and had numerous servants to help with the most mundane daily chores – feeding children, dressmaking, one was hired to take the children to school atop an elephant, washers and so on. When the Raj ended in India in the late 50s, the family relocated to England and it was from there that Mom made her way to Canada. Mom says that upon arrival in Canada she had a sense of freedom and choice that was not present in her upbringing – they had to act and speak a certain way as was their station in the community. She really felt for the first time, a true sense of self, once arriving in Canada.
I am fortunate to have been raised by an international set of backgrounds and to have parents who dug deep into their personal essence and were true to their adventuresome selves to want a different life for themselves and their future family. As an adult, I relaize that their relocations across the globe took incredible insight, strength and risk.
So what does this mean for me, a born and bred Vancouverite? A first generation Canadian?
Quite simply – I am one of the lucky ones. I live in a country where peace has always been the norm, where as an individual I can vote, protest, say no, step in, enjoy fresh air, be safe, travel well, own a home, buy fresh food, be a neighbour, stay healthy, go to school, make choices, read any books I choose, access information, pay taxes, and so much more. I have deep gratitude for the abundance and opportunity we take for granted so often and I try to be aware every day that being Canadian is a blessing.