By Sarah Nathanson
It’s been about a week since July 1, but unlike fireworks and temporary flag tattoos, the conversation about Canada Day hasn’t disappeared. Most countries have days celebrating their nationhood, along with similar turbulence around what that means: history both good and bad, and the potential for a different, brighter present and future. No matter where we live, it’s important to consider all parts of a nation’s story (which is always complex, and never linear). I always feel a bit conflicted during a time that seems to glorify Canada, with its tumultuous, not always glorious history, but also Canada, a place in which I and many others have found a social niche and a comfortable home.
In the lead-up to Canada Day, I wondered if I was alone with such thoughts. What does Canada Day mean to you, readers? Is it a pleasant reminder of family barbecues and muggy July heat, or is it merely reminiscent of a worrisome colonialist past? In conversation with more or less random people around the college, national pride (or lack thereof) seemed to exist without grey areas. Perhaps people were reluctant to share their unfiltered opinions with somebody who seemed “official.” In my explorations, most people either had exclusively good things to say about opportunities they’ve had in this country, whether they have been life-long residents or newly arrived Torontonians, or they didn’t seem comfortable saying anything at all.
But I did hear some fascinatingly nuanced thoughts about Canada. Ruchi Mathur, for example, recently moved back to Canada to study for a second time (the first time she lived here was in 2010), and has found that the “conversation on diversity has opened up” since then, making her more comfortable living here. To me, this indicates that we are moving in a positive direction — that while social issues might not yet be resolved, they will eventually be, inspiring optimism in the future without erasing the difficulties and pain of the past.
Rosa Na, who works at the intersection of environmental education and Indigeneity, also has an interesting relationship with Canada. While, like many people I spoke to, she’s thankful for the safe environment in which she lives, she finds inconsistencies in Canada’s sociopolitical approaches. She says: “I have mixed feelings about Canada as a whole because the relationship between the government and the people feels contradictive, as does seeing my peers disconnected from these issues while I’m so engaged. In some environments, things feel positive, but there is a whole world of what it means to be Canadian, and there are definite disparities in people’s experiences.”
Grey Spafford, an Equity Studies student, has lived in Canada all their life and has similarly mixed feelings about Canada Day festivities. They say: “On the one hand, there are many worse places to live in the world right now, but on the other hand, Canada certainly isn’t a utopian paradise. I think it’s important to be critical of our country and its history, and to keep in mind during these festivities that we still have a lot of work to do to live up to our global reputation.”
Politically, it feels like the world is at a crucial moment, and so a (re)consideration of our past is topical and important. But maybe it is just as significant to celebrate the undeniable strides we’ve made toward a better future. Is Canada Day a symbol of a growing nation, and are we ready to acknowledge that, 151 years into its establishment, Canada is not yet fully grown?