What is Canada?

On this Canada Day weekend I reflect on exactly what Canada is. II’s a challenging concept. We’re such a geographically  vast country that any singular vision of us as a nation is very difficult to find. Sometimes I think that we are, at best, a loose collection of mutually exclusive municipalities. I grew up in small towns in the Interior of British Columbia, but spent my adult years (most of my life) in Greater Vancouver. The differences in lifestyle are striking. Once you leave the the metropolitan Fraser Valley and start east down Highway 3, you can go for a hundred kilometres without seeing so much as a house. From the small junction town of Hope to the small copper mining town of Princeton is a one and a half hour drive through a winding mountain pass. I imagine the issues that concern the people in Hope and the people in Princeton vary markedly.

Even within the very metropolitan Lower Mainland of British Columbia, our needs and interests from borough to borough are different. For example, pockets of Surrey are heavily populated by Indians. My neighbourhood in Coquitlam has a large Persian minority. In Richmond are many immigrants from Hong Kong. But racial and linguistic differences only tell a part of the story. The geography of these boroughs has big effect on differences. The Fraser Valley still has an agricultural base (Yesterday at a Coquitlam farmers market I met a woman selling strawberries from her Abbottsford farm). Vancouver is very much the commercial centre of BC. Coquitlam is a bedroom community. All of these boroughs are within about a 75 km radius.

The difference become more profound when you consider the history and geography of a country that spans well over 4500 km from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Factor in the history of doomed tribalism and European expansionism onto the North American continent and our differences become impossibly irreconcilable. At least, that is how Canada sometimes seems.

Yesterday, though, one simple conversation reminded me of what is good about Canada. I was looking to rent an RV in the southeastern BC city of Cranbrook. My family is attending a reunion of my wife’s relatives in nearby Yahk, BC, and I hoped that the RV rental agency could set up a trailer for us in the campground there. I left a callback message, and received a call from a woman at the RV place later that day. I let her know my needs and she had to give me the bad news that no RVs were available on the weekend I had in mind. But I couldn’t get off the phone until this very affable person had got into my business (so to speak) and made sure that she could offer me at least some satisfaction. She spent some time talking to me about the various nearby communities and offering suggestions about the various bed and breakfast inns in the area. She had no way of benefitting from these recommendations; she was just a nice person, interested in helping others.

Now I known that such people exist everywhere in the world, and Canada has no exclusive claim to kindness. But there was something distinctly Canadian about my interaction with this person. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was because she was an entrepreneur (Through our conversation I learned that not only did she run an RV dealership, but she was also involved in the construction industry). Maybe it was because that even though I live some 600 km away from this person, I felt as though I could have been having a coffee with her in her kitchen. Maybe it’s because my travel plans include a drive through some of the most beautiful country on earth, culminating in a stay in Creston, a pastoral orchard town. Maybe it’s a thousand things that happen in a day that wrapped up with a pleasant conversation with a stranger. Hard to say. But I do know that Canada is a concept I believe in.

Happy Canada Day!

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