It’s okay not being American. Though I wasn’t so sure when I was seventeen, I know now that it’s okay not being European. I’m still a bit miffed at not being Scandinavian. And being from somewhere cache like Istanbul or Estonia or a former Soviet Bloc country has only ever been a wild fantasy, so I’m not particularly crestfallen.
But being Canadian feels sometimes like being a walking conversation stopper. I had a South African pen pal as a kid, and nearly burst with questions about her gated community in Johannesburg and her holiday safari in Swaziland. I think she was probably curious about me, as a kid from another country, but not particularly about Canada. Canadian stereotypes are unromantic and unmysterious, and the only real secret we have is that those stereotypes are unusually true. We have long winters, vast stretches of wooded countryside, bears, beavers, maple trees, we enjoy quality brews — and I’d be hard pressed to find a fellow Canadian who didn’t own at least one toque and something plaid.
But beyond stereotypes, what does it mean to be Canadian, in the living, breathing, national, historical and cultural sense? How can we explore being Canadian by looking at Canadian art, politics and daily life, without relying on international comparisons? And what keeps so many Canadians from being curious about their country and culture, from asking questions and embracing an identity that includes Canadian nationality?
Some would say it’s because there is nothing uniquely Canadian, that Canada is merely a mishmash of other identities and cultures, or a watery scion of Americanism. Some would blame Canada’s polycentric, un-nationalistic brand of politics, or the government’s failure to protect and foster a common identity. But the purpose of this blog is not to discover why being from Canada is like being from nowhere, and why being Canadian ranks somewhere between toast preference and vacuum filters on the scale of interesting topics of conversation. Here at Whither Canada, we believe in the existence of the Canadian identity, and are hereby committed to uncovering, exploring and discussing every detail of it.