MUSINGS ON PATRIOTISM
Earlier this year, The Walrus magazine’s cross-Canada speaker series, Walrus Talks: Conversations About Canada, began its tour in Whitehorse. A camera crew affiliated with the project approached my friend and me one night and asked us our impressions of Canada, what it means to be Canadian, and our hopes for the future.
As you must know by now, Canada hit the big ol’ 150 this year, which is what spurred on these discussions. As I pondered their questions, I had somewhat of a breakthrough moment: I realized I was more in touch with what it means to be Canadian since moving to the Yukon.
Even though I lived four years in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, and toured Parliament Hill, my higher learning in patriotism came when I left Ontario. That’s because until arriving in the North I hadn’t been properly introduced to different perspectives on our country, both dark and light.
Sure, I’d taken Canadian history classes in high school and even enrolled in a course during university. However, those textbooks and teachings never spoke of the residential-school system and the impact it had on people from coast to coast to coast. When I moved to Whitehorse, one such school still stood down the street from my first apartment. And, until my move north, I had never witnessed firsthand the despair faced by families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Before moving to the Yukon I had rarely been exposed to First Nations traditions, from their legacies, stories, and dances to their crafts and cuisine. I only knew the small portion of tales that made it into those textbooks and teachings, and I quickly realized they barely scratched the surface.
Growing up in a large suburb outside of Toronto, I wasn’t presented with these viewpoints, which are huge pieces of our national puzzle. We cannot truly look at our first 150 years without acknowledging both what worked and where we went wrong. By looking at it all, we’ll find places to grow and better understand each other, which will aid reconciliation efforts.
Living in the Yukon has also provided me a new perspective on our climate and its fragility in these modern times. The North comes with a front-row seat to the stereotypically Canadian and picturesque wilderness, but also tells of a vulnerable region with changing temperatures, melting glaciers, and thawing permafrost.
The Yukon has influenced a new sense of wonder in me regarding our environment: pastel hues painting the sky on a winter day and dancing ribbons of aurora borealis at night; a blue sky that seems eternal as the summer hits its peak; vivid reds, yellows, and oranges devouring a landscape in autumn; and a brilliant year-round blanket of boreal forest stretching as far as the eye can see.
While I haven’t seen every corner of this country, I’d argue you haven’t seen true Canadian beauty until you’ve roamed these parts.
Being Canadian is about appreciating our diverse community. It’s about getting to know one another, talking, coming together, and supporting our similarities and our differences. That is a perspective I’ve come to know so well since I chose to call this place home.
It’s important we think about both the darkness and light in our country as we try to determine what defines where we live. I like to think the Yukon is defined by First Nations self-government agreements, environmental stewardship, diversity, creative minds, and gentle souls. I hope each of those qualities grows stronger into the future.
This territory is a place that gets into people’s bones for good reason. Some may leave, but a part of them always stays.