I am Canadian, What am I

Posted in Opinion

Ianiv is going to the official ceremony tomorrow to become Canadian. I thought this would be a good time to review my old school paper on what it means to be Canadian – or, rather, what it doesn’t mean. It was probably one of the most challenging papers I have ever written – partly because it was important to me in some way, and partly because really nobody speaks authoritatively on what the “Canadian identity” really is. What does it mean, after all, to be Canadian?

A cool tidbit – there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen until 1947 when the Canadian Citizenship Act was passed. That has given us 58 years to truly define who we are – our norms, values, traditions, images, patterns of behaviours and institutions.

Barriers to the definition

- Yes, we have the language barrier. We never have been a nation with one language.
- And yes we have lots of ethnicities. But when was that ever a barrier?
- Perhaps we are dispersed. Ok, somewhat of a barrier. Canada has developed over time more regional identities than perhaps a larger less dispersed population would.
- A heck of a lot of our popular culture is brought to us via US media
- We never had an early struggle to separate ourselves from our European roots – the US did. Our struggle was not open, not discussed daily, not something grown out of all the angst.
- We don’t take our struggle to define ourselves seriously. We openly laugh about it. Look at those Molson ads!

You will see some of the above barriers to definition are exactly what come to mind when we try to define it. Screwed up, hey?

Symbols of Canada

- Our media: Maclean’s & the CBC
- Our flag
- Our stars: Gretzky, Atwood
- Our sport – no, not lacrosse. Hockey.
- Our beaver
- Our health care system
- Our geography (its vastness) & climate
- Our linguistic diversity
- Our ethnic diversity (more than 32 ethnicities)
- Our civility
And finally, our cultural diversity. Yes. Cultural diversity.

So here is the challenge: how do you define an overarching Canadian identity when we openly admit we love our diversity? And if you refer this to popular culture, very little fits the bill in terms of how it gets expressed back to us as “who we are.”

In the US, this is not so. The culture of the United States puts pressure for difference to be absorbed. But in Canada, acculturation is not necessary. We don’t care.

The only one symbol from the list above that approaches a unified symbol of what it is to be Canadian is hockey (won’t go into the issue of it being professional men’s hockey only, for the most part). Love it or hate it, you have to know about it. So what happens when the NHL becomes US-based, and when hockey starts to become as much an American thing as a Canadian thing? Well, it erodes our difference, our identity.

What our identity is not

Not French. Not British. More importantly, not American – one of the most common things that I hear. The anti-American sentiment has been a big issue because of what we see as a cultural threat. They are close, their media is bigger, we consume their products, and they have a more strictly defined identity. This is not new. Anti-Americanism has been a patriotic assertion since as early as 1890.

What is the Canadian identity

We have to agree to disagree on what it means to be Canadian. If we cannot be solid by now, we never will be. If all we have in common are our differences and our negations of what we are not, then so be it. Maybe our adaptability and diversity is our claim to an identity. We should just scrap the idea of a national identity and take pride in our multi-faceted identity, celebrate our differences, be a pluralistic society.

Canada is rooted in difference. Canadians have adopted an identity that will continue to remain elusive; as soon as one formulates a definition, it will change.

Why this is cool

When we say our identity is forged in negation, difference, and perhaps even the quest for identity, then we have what many others do not. Fluidity. We have seen what comes from old rules and old ways. Lots of conflict. Just as an identity can forge bonds it can also be the very source of heated internal conflict. Canada, on the other hand, can change its identity as the times change. Our differences are our strength.

From Arieanna – If you’ve read this far, thanks. And yes, I know it was too long. But I hope you got something out of it.

33 Responses to “I am Canadian, What am I”

  1. gillian says:

    Uh oh Ianiv, you’re one of us now!

    Congrats on making your craziness official.

  2. nomeemeat says:

    Beautiful, absolutely beautiful!!!!

  3. Wendy says:

    As an American who has fallen head-over-heels for a Canadian man (because he rocks!) I found your post wonderful and moving. Thank you for the insight. While I am currently day-dreaming about moving to Canada to be with him, (like I said, he rocks) at the moment, a lot of things bar my path, mainly finances and my Mother. But reading this made me feel like it is not too much to dream of. Thanks!

  4. Lee Cipolla says:

    You’ve said it Arieanna !!!… Canada is the world as it SHOULD be !!.. Thank you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It is interesting and disheartening to me that you feel it is so wonderful to embrace people of all cultures as long as they are not American. I hope that my half-American, half-Canadian daughters don’t have to experience this sentiment from other Canadians.
    Robin Holmes

  6. Arieanna says:

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for the commentary. I hope I wasn’t sounding anti-American there. I may not agree with some parts of the culture, but that was not what I was really trying to talk about here. It is unfortunate that our struggle to define who we are as Canadians has been by contrast to Americans – and, yes, mostly it’s a contrast against things Canadians try not to be. This is not really a personal statement, as I did a really phenomenal amount of research into the subject and this is a synthesis of many people who write on it.

    Anyway, thanks again for the comment and I hope your children gain a lot from learning from both cultures. That is truly valuable life experience. Perhaps they will be better qualified to contrast the two cultures, if indeed it can be done.

  7. M^~ ~Y says:

    i think it’s good that canada is multicultural, it’s like a collage not just one boring old picture kinda like the U.S.

  8. Kaila says:

    I really found your blog interesting as i am currently trying to write a paper defining what it means to be canadian.. i was already going to approach the paper with the “not defined” identity but reading this has made it alot more clear why it would be important to do so. I think as canadians we long for an identity which is why we are so quick to say how we are not american and our differences in opinions but we have a really tough time defining what makes our society any different.. Thanks again..

  9. Jessica says:

    I randomly came across this blog through google. I’m currently writing a paper on Canadian identity, and the way in which it seems to be defined through negation – we are NOT Americain, we are NOT British…anyway, I found your thoughts on the matter really interesting! I know you posted this over a year ago, but I just thought I’d comment and let you know I enjoyed reading it!
    - a random student named Jessica

  10. Mike says:

    I am Canadian

    Firstly, I love hockey and the Stanley Cup.
    Secondly, I love Canadian football and the Grey Cup.

    Yes, I am Canadian

    (from a sports persective)

  11. Kelson says:

    Moving. Simply moving. Like many here, I too am looking into what the Canadian Identity is. I have to disagree with Kaila, I don’t think the majority of Canadians are looking for a specific identity, I believe that one of the reasons we have no specific identity is because we just don’t care to be labled beyond being “Canadian.” Canadian explains it, just as you explained it so well, we are fluid, we change as change is needed and we are accepting as long as those we are accepting are accepting of us.

    Thank you again for such a magnificent piece of writing.

  12. Cdn in the Hrt says:

    Hey Arieanna,

    Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring words on what it means to be Canadian.

    This was a very truly a beautiful piece…

    Thanks a lot for writing it.

  13. arieanna says:

    Thank you! I am glad it has meaning to others as well :)

  14. Curtis says:

    I’ve always been a proud canadian and I think why so many of us get a little anti-american is because they dish it out, but can’t listen to others. When do they ever give canada a thanks, our men and woman are being kill in afgan based on greed and lies! I didn’t care for the american government years ago and to me they just as wrong as bin laden. I have more respect for the american people who are being brainwash and lie to, I feel like the american government has a identity and the american people are starting a new identity F$%k bush!! Canada isn’t perfect and we have issues but the difference is were not afraid of ourselves. Canada is love and love is hockey, my one year son will learn to love everybody and respect them, but he will also learn not to hate but understand and think why people are the way they are! It’s to easy to hate and be angry. look at bush evil, dick chenny more evil, but they is a reason for that who knows. I could go on and thankyou letting me vent because i don’t want to be angry!! Go leafs Go

  15. Sammantha says:

    omg thanks sooo much this really helped me with my geography porject! :)
    the question was…”what does it mean to be Candain?” THANS SOOOO MUCH!!:) :) :)

  16. Amanda says:

    Well..this also helped me with an assignment with my class. i love being Canadian and i love hockey !

  17. Joe says:

    Hey, I was wondering if you could share some more information regarding that paper you wrote about Canadian Identity or if I could even read the paper. I am currently taking a course in Canadian Literature in the States and have become completely intrigued. Do you have any good sources where you’ve collected information about Canadian Identity or is this what you’ve come up with on your own?

    Shoot me an email at sparky930@yahoo.com. I’d really appreciate it.

  18. Dennis Dubeau says:

    Dear Arieanna,
    One of the things that somewhat bugs me, about being Canadian… is that inability to get rid of the British Crown and move on… it might only be symbolic, but, at least, the US people got over with it. Not us… This, I believe, seriously impeech the formation of a true Canadian identity. Look on the back of every coins you have in your pocket… there should be something Canadian there… not British! And, to better sink the French identity into a multicultural “soup”, this idea of having each and every ethnies making nothing but a small replicae of the country they were from, into city ghettoes is a bad idea. You came here? You like the democracy? The values we all stand for? You’re welcomed… but you’re now Canadian, and this means some adaptation… It’s a fair deal. It’s no different anywhere else on earth… Why should it ever be different here? So, the Canadian identity is a work in progress… we’re a young culture. Let’s learn and forge what we are, with pride and dignity… Two cultures have founded this country… not 25!! Let’s not forget this or, the Canadian identity will only resume to a beer advertisement or a sport… and this would be a waste, truly…
    This is my view, as a born Canadian, that speaks French but, none-the-less Canadian…

    In true friendship…

    Dennis Dubeau, QC

  19. Karen says:

    I am a Canadian expat living in Finland. I too am writing about the Canadian identity for my Master’s thesis. Interestingly enough, we expats are just as confused as the rest of you. I am finding that Canada is a bit of everything including NOT American, multicultural, Ice hockey GODS, and regionally diverse. Perhaps, as Marshall McLuhan once said “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” Whatever we are …. we are GREAT!

  20. Adam Duke says:

    i dont know what the canadian identity is i think we are still trying to find out what it is. I also think we are still trying to define ourselves as a nation and expand our shared beliefs and values amongst the canadian citezens. I think once we do that then we will have a better understanding of the meaning of the canadian identity. I was born in canada and as i grew up i tended to see canada as a more diverse country and tolerable to all races, religion and skin colour. Once we can figure out what our identity is i think then all the other unanswered questions will finally get answered.

  21. fitz says:

    To be a Canadian is to be free to express yourself, your background and your beliefs. It is to be socially and culturally accepted in a society where to be different is ‘in’. To be Canadian is not only to be able to play hockey and be excellent in the winter Olympics, but to excel in whatever field of expertise you work hard at. It is the privilege of having excellent beer and the ability to laugh at ourselves. It is not only having free health care – in comparison to many other countries – but to live in a country that the rest of the world agrees is one of the best countries to live in. To be Canadian is to not only have the highest literacy rate in the world, but to be educated and kept up to date on other countries around us. But what really sums all this up is that we as Canadians have no identity, as is mentioned throughout this response page. We do not force people to adapt to a certain living style and we do not expect everyone to like us. We are whoever we want to be and that is what I think it means to be a Canadian.

    If anyone is interested, check up the United Nations Human Development Index. Canada is the best country to live in.
    just thought I’d throw that out there. Other’s *thoughts on that would be greatly appreciated*

  22. Mireia says:

    I’ve been taking a subject at university related to Candaian culture, literature and cinema. I’ve found your article absolutely interesting. Many of the issues I have been taught during this course appear in your text but it also serves to compare a Canadian opinion with other pieces of information that you can find in the net that sometimes are quite vague or repetitive.
    thanks a lot for your paper!!
    I will use some of the information you expose here in an oral presentation in class tomorrow !!!

  23. Robert says:

    I was born in Canada and feel dissolusioned about the Canada that has been created for us by our government. As children we were taught in school that multiculturalism was “good” and that there was “zero tolerance” if one disagreed. It was not until later when I was in my twenties living in Toronto, a (perhaps the most) multicultural city, that I started to question whether or not multiculturalism was really such a good thing and if I had infact been brainwashed as a child. What brought me to this conclusion? The everyday things mostly. I’ve noticed is a SEVERE lack of etiquette in every day situations because, unlike a more homogenous society, there are no rules- anything goes and this is distressing when trying to run everyday arrons. It seems to me that Canadian Citizenship means little or nothing to the many refugees who come here, go on welfare and do drugs and pump up the crime rate.
    Also, I’ve noticed that here in Ontario the Quebecois get a lot of flack and are openly called `racists` or `fasist` because they are somewhat strict when they deal with multicultural issues and protect their french identity. Increasingly we here debates in Quebec about what `reasonable accomodation` really is and again I am met with this resounding and automatic response born out of sheer sentiment that this attitude is racist. I think that if people come to Canada from another country they must naturalize and if being Canadian really means anything to anyone anymore we have to be extremely careful who we allow in to our country, they MUST speak ENGLISH or FRENCH or if they dont they MUST learn one of these languages by a certain deadline or be forced to go back from where they came from as they will not be able to contribute to Canadian society. The ratio of Immigrants (ie. professionals) must be significantly higher than the ratio of refugees. They MUST also have to attend classes to help them NATURALIZE. They have to know what is acceptable conduct in public. They have to also acknowlege that they will NOT under any circumstances be given any special rights once in Canada, that they will only be entitled the same rights as regular Canadian citizens. If this does not occur, Canada will continue to be what it is now, a dumping ground without any culture, save Quebec.

  24. Kelley says:

    :) i loved it i was just looking around to see what information i could find for my debate-”canadian identity is NOT threatened by americans” and what you wrote helped a lot! and it makes me proud to be Canadian

  25. brian says:

    i love 8==D

  26. sakshi says:

    canada is very multicultural.
    it lets other immigrants in,
    and makes them feel welcome

  27. Lilly kabrinkonka says:

    I heart canadia
    but ill have u say america is bettr than canada
    because of entrtainment resons

  28. Lilly kabrinkonka says:

    uh huh, uh huh
    that’s right girl
    u r on a roll!11

  29. Carlene says:

    Wendy says:
    April 28, 2005 at 5:25 pm
    As an American who has fallen head-over-heels for a Canadian man (because he rocks!) I found your post wonderful and moving. Thank you for the insight. While I am currently day-dreaming about moving to Canada to be with him, (like I said, he rocks) at the moment, a lot of things bar my path, mainly finances and my Mother. But reading this made me feel like it is not too much to dream of. Thanks!

    Carlene: I will fight you any day of the week Wendy! Bring it on!!!

  30. Get real says:

    This article is exactly what is wrong with Canada. Canadians don’t have an identity, they are followers and posers. Multiculturalism is a myth and produces only one thing; the lack of identity. For that reason, Canada as a country is doomed to fail. This article to me shows nothing but ignorance and sounds like a cry for recognition which is all too typical of Canadians. To say that “We never had an early struggle to separate ourselves from our European roots like the US did,” is the perfect example of this ignorance. Although, Canada might not have faught a civil war there have been many struggles poth physical conflict and ideological. The Rebellions of 1837,the Red River Rebellion, the quiet revolution,the Oka crisis, Conscription Crisis of 1917, FLQ – October Crisis, Air India flight 182 bombing, The On-to-Ottawa Trek and Regina Riot, the two Quebec referendums, just to name a few struggles, conflicts, riots that have shaped Canada. Not to mention that the result of two of those led to political hangings. People like yourself work so hard at sugar coating everything that you are eroding the very essence of Canada or at least whatever is left of it. With people and attitudes like that Canada will self-implode. You are so focused on trying to paint Canada as a “mosaic” (which is BS) that you neglect to realize that the very canvas on which this mosaic is paint is cracked and flawed. There is a great lack of unity in this country from east to west and having live in 5 provinces I have witnessed it first hand. How can a country be united when all we can focus on is how “different” we all are. The convas of this “great mosaic” is falling apart.

  31. s andrews says:

    canada blows for culture. All we have is american culture. I live in VAncouver, and when i look around i see large mostly happy chinese, spanish, east indian families that hang out together…. contrasted with canadian ‘nuclear’ families whos family members can’t wait to get the hell away from each other when they go out in public. Just go to any mall in vancouver and you will see.

    All the ethnic families bring their own culture over here and protect it because they know canada has none that they would ever want. I used to think ‘Those asses refuse to learn our language and dont talk to canadians unless they have to… they wont assimilate’. Now i see it differently and am envious of their cultures…. cultures that go back many centuries and WORK.

    What does canada have? 100 years of beaver pelts and settlers, american style city planning, gridworked suburbs, lousy conceptual art, and that FUCKING native indian culture the government shovels down my throat… makes me want to hurl. Why the hell should i have to put up with that? That isnt my culture, i have no relatives or great grandparents that even knew an indian. We have jack shit, and i now know that this sort of way of living is not good for any person’s mental/emotional well being in the long run. Americanism has pretty much taken over… if they are budweiser, we are bud-light.

  32. Ibraheem says:

    Living in Canada, especially in places like Toronto, will only create and nurute individuals who are socially akward and confused. I fear for my children and I hope to get out as soon as possible. Their is nothing more valuable you can offer your children than roots and sense of belonging. Wake up and look around you! People in Canada are extremely shallow and have no natural vibrance and no originality. Everything they do is deliberate, even their personalities are deliberate and often carefully thought out. No tradition, no heritage. What is even more pitifull is that most of them do not realize it.

    Young immigrants are the most confused of all, as they still identify with their native countries but are not genuine enough to be considered as such by their own native people, nor do they have anything to assimilate to, therefore they lose the art of effectively communicating along with many other valuable characteristics, and become one of two people; intelligent and frustrated or shallow and dumb.

    If material gain is more valuable to you than the richness of ones soul and being, then Canada is the place for you.

  33. Tatiana says:

    I live in a city where there is never a dull moment somthings ALWAYS happening.. Toronto…i just have to say i have a freind of asian decent, black,spanish,indian(sikh),white and all of them are amazing people all Canadians…we all get along perfectly well there is no hate between us…i absolutley love living here…where would i ever be able to meet so many diffrent ppl nowhere!.. i love living in such a diverse nation…and i love hockey..its a canadian thing eh?..

    I <3 being a Canadian ;)

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