My first draft for this love letter began: “Shall I compare thee to a hot summer day? Fireworks erupt and the BBQ steams a sweet sticky scent into the air, both driving my neighbour’s dogs insane.” It went on to praise the ten provinces and three territories, the virtues and industriousness of our people (IMAX, Insulin, Basketball), the extraordinary natural beauty that stretches coast to coast. I had a few lines about our money, our artists, our national temperament, our national sport (watching our teams crash out of the Stanley Cup?)
Said the letter: We mine over 60 minerals inside the world’s 9th largest economy, but have a healthy respect for nature and enjoy the outdoors. Unless it’s freezing the carrot off a snowman, in which case, we are known to enjoy underground heated shopping malls.
But I knew something was missing, and if you’ll indulge me a few moments more, I’d like to share some vignettes.
A 23 year-old Brazilian girl is having a BBQ. She works two jobs, one as a nanny for a family in the suburbs, and they are throwing a celebration because she has just received her permanent residency status. From a poor background, offering little opportunity for education or much else, she has worked her way into Canada at great personal sacrifice, and promises to accomplish much. There is a speech, and she tears up, and in her face I see a tough past and promising future. This is Canada.
Auschwitz, Poland, 1942. Condemned prisoners arrive 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, and anything of value stripped away, replaced with a striped uniform and numbered tattoo. The goods are transported to a large warehouse on site, which fills up so quickly, another is needed. To the prisoners, these warehouses represent a wealth of material treasure, cherished memories, and most importantly, hope. They give the warehouses a nickname. They call them Canada.
In May 2004, I was sworn in as a Canadian citizen. The day before, a car had run me down at a Vancouver section, breaking my knee, and setting me on the path to travel journalism. I popped a small pill of morphine before I settled in the front row of the courthouse, my leg heavily strapped up. Missing the ceremony would delay the process, and after five years, I had waited enough. My older brother immigrated to Vancouver without once having stepped foot in Canada. I followed him 18 months later in the same manner. What made me leave everything I know behind on the other side of the world (South Africa is literally the opposite side of the globe) to start fresh? Very simply, the answer is Canada.
For all the negative news you might read in the newspapers, for all the economic challenges we face – the rising crime, reports of corruption, environmental disaster – it pays to put things in perspective. I moved here, along with so many others, because Canada promises a better life. By my reasoning and research, it promised the best life I could hope to find. I didn’t need UN Reports and various research indexes to tell me that the quality of life in Canada is among the best in the world. It would take me a year before I could find a good job, longer still to re-establish the kind of friendships I had lost. Through it all, I felt safe, I felt welcomed, and I felt that anything is possible, because the opportunity exists. I have a successful career that pays me to travel the world, the ultimate dream job. This is Canada too.
My first love letter lightheartedly identified modern icons of Canada, from yoga-stretching hippies on the West Coast to foot-thumping lobster chompers in the Maritimes. We have wolves and cougars and bears and moose, but our national animal is the beaver: industrious, capable, a bucktooth smile for teamwork. We embrace the outdoors, the big prairie sky, the Albertan Rockies, the Quebecois’ providing tenacious unity in diversity. Sports, science, comedians, writers – for a relatively small nation, we have had a relatively large impact on the world, even if sometimes we feel the world doesn’t exactly notice.
My second love letter is a lot more personal. I love that I can drive on a highway for days, meeting friendly people along the way, chewing on eye candy throughout. I love that I don’t have to fear the police. That politicians are called to task, that our much criticized medical system helps me every time I’m sick. I love conversations with immigrant taxi drivers and nurses and dock workers and computer scientists who work hard and have made great sacrifices to be here. I love drinking tap water. I love the efficiency of our transport system, the phones, the blazing-fast Internet. I love that our Canadian teams are always the underdog. I love our beer and wine and fresh seafood and healthy beef. You can criticize everything I love, and sure there’s room for improvement. But compared to just about any other country on the planet, things could not get any better. I’ve travelled to over 100 countries on seven continents, but there is only one country I call home. And that, of course, is Canada.
– Robin Esrock