What does it mean to be Canadian?
This question seems to be more pertinent today that it ever did before. What could a first generation Canadian from a family who were originally refugees from a war torn country, say about what it means to be a “home grown” “bona fide” Canadian? Probably not much, but I do have one insight that I found particularly striking about what many Canadians have in common.
They are all immigrants!
Now this is true historically. Apart from the First Nations peoples, we can say as a matter of fact, that every group here arrived at some point in time during the history of Canada or New France. The French began to arrive in the mid 16th century. The English arrived in large numbers from the north of England in the 1830s.
Because of the American revolution, a group of English refugees sought freedom and safety within Canadian borders in the late 18th century. A series of famines led to an Irish influx in the mid 19th century. I am told that out of a desire to cultivate the rich farmland in Eastern Canada, Canadian immigration welcomed peoples from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Russian, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland etc .
It is interesting to note that all these various groups had one thing in common. They were coming to Canada to seek a better life for themselves and for their families. They were setting out into the unknown, perhaps with little resources, with few safety nets, in the hope of something better.
There is something very unique and inspiring about the immigrant mindset. The strength and grace in the ability to venture into the unknown. To leave one’s security net behind and start again, and again, and again.
My father first came to this country with less than fifty dollars. I am told that he and a friend would go out into the cold nights, and search for bread to bring back to their homes where other refugees were huddled together. It must have been something for him to set out into the cold of night to search for bread. Who knows what dangers could have been out there?
This for me then is one of the striking qualities of being Canadian. It is perhaps part of the DNA that all Canadians share. A tenacity. An ability to let go of one’s safety nets and set out into the deep, into the unknown mystery that is life.