The Canadian Identity

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The Canadian Identity

“To achieve an identity you must stop working on whatever you are working on, and concentrate on who you are”

A society’s location in space may inspire its sense of character and identity. To be located in a strange and new land may imply to become more fully alive of the responsibilities one has as the representative of a special and chosen society. In such a land, one functions on behalf of those things for which one’s order stands. The sense of mission and responsibility held by the explorers from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was increased by the opening of the New World. The discovery of that world, barbarous, but wealthy in what the riches of nature were concerned, made more urgent the achievement of the culture and civilization. The explorers took as their duty to incorporate the land in which they had been placed into the life of the land from which they had come. This perspective was shared by the French of New France. It was their duty to extend in the New World the French and Christian civilization. Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the France’s first permanent Canadian colony, wrote: “I came to the conclusion that I would be doing very wrong if I did not work to find some means to introduce New France to the knowledge of God. ” Their activities in the New World were controlled from the imperial metropolis; they functioned as agents as they were linked to the centre. In contrast, what resulted in the case of those English who came to live in America was very different from the experience of the Europeans. The English in America did not consider that their position in the New World worked as an obligation for them to incorporate it in the Old World. They did not perceive themselves as agents of the civilization from which they came. They felt different, as if they had the task to create a society untouched by the impure influences of the Old. Theirs would be a society that might act as an inspiration to all of mankind, one that would function “as a city upon a hill”. The situation for Canadians changed with the massive entry of American publications into nineteenth century Canada. The fact that they were so fully provided with knowledge of public controversies into matters which seemed less exciting items for a foreign country and more vital matters which penetrated into the heart of Canada. Because of these publications, Canadians started to have the tendency to view American issues as though they were their own. The Canadians, like the Americans, would come to see themselves free of the constrains imposed by Old World civilization and prepared to built a new community. They found themselves promised to a view of their national destiny which had much in common with that expansive vision articulated by the people to their south. But still differences could not disappear. Canadians became convinced of their special power and capability as creatures of the New World but also could not forget their link with the Old. “Ultimate destiny is not annexation to the United States or a precarious independence….but to be a free British dependency, at once the grateful scion and the faithful potent ally of the motherstock”.

Because of this tie that exists between Canada and the Old World the vitality of the country was uncorrupted by excess, by materialism and vulgarity. This vitality, channeled by Old World restraint, became a gift of the New.

“American indifference wounds Canadian pride; American influence, economic and cultural, excites alarm. But much involved with these sensitive reactions is the fact that Canadians themselves remain uncertain as to what they are.”

Americans, too, have had identity problems; one way to approached them was to confront Europe. Throughout the nineteenth century, almost every major American thinker or writer...
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