This is Canada

Our Bucket Listed blogger Robin Esrock reflects on what makes our country special

  • Jun 29, 2021
  • 747 words
  • 3 minutes
Fireworks in Toronto for Canada Day, 2020. (Photo: Leanne Hay)
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Immigrants often get worked up about Canada Day. Not in a chest-thumping, messianic sort of way, more like: “I’m so glad I live here, and not anywhere else.” Immigrants like me get especially excited because we have a unique perspective of what anywhere else can look like, and if we appreciate Canada the way we do, it’s because anywhere else wasn’t all that great.      

More than a decade ago, I wrote a love letter to Canada for a now defunct blog. It celebrated Canada’s quirks and culture, our natural beauty and achievements. I wrote that “being Canadian perfects the art of understatement” — an observation that is thankfully losing some steam. Accolades did not capture the essence of my argument, so I gravitated to anecdotes, starting with this one: 

“A 23-year-old Brazilian is being fêted at a BBQ. Julia works two jobs, including one as a nanny for a family in the suburbs. They are hosting the party because Julia finally received her permanent residency. Growing up in a slum with few opportunities, Julia has worked her way into Canada with great determination. The family make a speech of warm-hearted acceptance, and Julia tears up. In her face, I see a tough past and promising future. This is Canada.”

Here’s an update: Julia now runs her own successful business and is a respected city councilor. 

Here’s another true story: Auschwitz, Poland, 1942. Condemned prisoners arrive to the Nazi-run concentration camp by cattle car carrying the few belongings they haven’t sold for their survival. Immediately, their bags and battered suitcases are confiscated. Family heirlooms, wedding rings, prized photographs and other valuables are replaced with a striped uniform, a numbered tattoo and a death sentence. 

Their goods are taken to a large warehouse on site, which fills up so quickly, another 30 buildings are constructed. To the prisoners, these warehouses represent invaluable personal treasure, cherished memories, freedom, opportunity and hope. They give the warehouses a nickname to represent this promise: they call them Kanada. 

The same promise that appealed to millions of Jews in Poland led my family to leave everything in South Africa and start fresh in this unfamiliar land. My older brother immigrated to Vancouver in 1997 having never visited Canada before. I followed him 18 months later, and 18 months after that, my parents and younger brother joined us.   

Along with countless others, I moved to Canada because it offers a better life. By my reasoning and research, the very best life I could hope to find. Today, I don’t need global surveys or research indexes to tell me that I have it good. My extensive travels have made that fact abundantly clear. 

It wasn’t easy starting anew, finding new friends, building new networks and grasping cultural nuances. Forgive me for wondering if there were actual beavers in those deep-fried beaver tails! Yet working hard and persevering has led to opportunities that have surpassed my wildest dreams. 

Sports, science, comedy, art, literature — for a relatively small nation, we have a large impact on the world, even if it feels like some Canadians, and certainly the rest of the planet, don’t always notice. I love Canadian bucket list experiences, our naivety, industriousness and toothy international reputation. I love how quickly Canada mobilized to support and buttress its population during a devastating pandemic (to the awe of friends and family abroad). I love our wildlife, bountiful landscapes, much-criticized medical system and multiculturalism. I love that for all our issues — and we definitely have issues — Canada continues to thrive as one of the world’s most stable, desirable and progressive democracies.   

We must recognize that national celebrations in countries with checkered colonial pasts are salts in the wounds of their Indigenous populations. Canada Day is not Canada Day for everyone. Yet solace should be taken that many more voices are now being amplified; that we are able and encouraged to debate these issues, and that learning from history will fashion a better future. One senses that modern Canadians feel a general affinity — and moral imperative — toward doing the right thing. 

I’ve spent 15 years travelling the world and have yet to find anywhere I’d rather live, grow a career or raise my family. If you need more reasons to celebrate our country, I wrote a door-stopper bestseller packed with them. A proud immigrant sharing the remarkable joys of exploring his adopted home? This is Canada.  

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