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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 spent time observing Europe, writing about Europe, and publishing books about Europe. This activity served to identify and encourage one important facet of the developing American character, a weakness for self-examination, pleasure in self-analysis, which runs through their society. This combination of self-examination and self-assertiveness is not sympathetic to Canadians.
For many years, the Canadian identity was largely defined by British influences, and also by a desire among Canadians to retain British culture and traditions. As the twentieth century came, the Dominion of Canada begun to seek out greater independence from Britain (the Statute of Westminster 1931), but still remain loyal to the larger Empire. However, after the two successive world wars, the once mighty British Empire was announcing its decline. Britain could no longer afford, nor had any grate desire to keep playing the mother role to Canada.
The collapse of British imperial leadership had large consequences for the Canadian national identity. Canada could no longer see itself as a child in a grand imperial family under mother England. Canada was now a completely sovereign nation, sharing a border with a super power which was also her main business partner. Since World War II, Canadians have struggled to decide what it is exactly that makes them Canadian.
The fact that Canada grew up from two peoples speaking different languages meant that nobody could ever know what a hundred percent Canadian was. This feature of Canada brought confusion and disorientation to its people but also a distinct way to demonstrate their uniqueness and maybe their identity.
A nation’s identity is particularly difficult to characterize because it covers such an immense population across an enormous land mass. Canada’s identity is even more ambiguous because Canada’s people seem to be less open than most. Nowadays the Canadian identity is being characterized by its multicultural society, its firm grasp on its heritage and its diverse landscape. Though Canada is a diverse country, it is in these differences that the Canadian people recognized their identity.
Canada’s identity can be associated with its patience and promotion of multiculturalism and variety. Within Canada lie most distinct cultures and languages. This is unique for a nation because most cultures, such as the United States, force or promote the assimilation of all its peoples into one large society, where there is no cultural diversity. Nations typically identify with similarities in its society, but not Canada, it identifies with its diversity.
The Canadians should not be confused in what their identity is concerned because there identity exists and is fundamentally based on their bill of rights. Their inclusion of all races, age groups, and gender gives their country a more enjoyable and prosperous lifestyle. They have hundreds of different ethnicities and religious beliefs; in their country teenagers, children, adults and seniors have the same rights and opportunities. They tend to present themselves as a country with no racism; they, as a country, accept all cultures, backgrounds, appearances and religions.
In a world where many countries are in the process of violently tearing themselves apart over cultural and linguistic differences, Canada’s achievement of a multicultural society represents an example of tolerance. Canada has chosen a different way of accommodating the immigrants; is has the ability to incorporate immigrants from all parts of the world into Canadian society without requiring them to plunge into an American-style melting pot and abandon their original cultural identities. “As a society, we have gone from one defined by colonialism through reference to the British crown to one seeking definition through references to self; from a society of almost uniform colour to one that is multi-hued; from a society that was of almost uniform religion to one that is multi-faithed. The traditional nations of Canada, then, representing the centre of the nation’s being, are being challenged, even effaced, by the need for transition- a need created by multiculturalism.”

Canadians now usually define themselves by comparing their differences with the United States because very few historical and cultural statements can be made about Canada that do not have obvious counterparts in the United States.
Northrop Frye in his book entitled Northrop Frye on Canada highlights some differences between Canada and the United States of America. He brings into discussion matters as the formation of the two nations by means of battles and revolutions. The United States had a revolutionary war first, a struggle against European domination, and a civil war afterwards, while Canada had its civil war first, a struggle of two European powers on its soil, and a war of independence afterwards. One result of this difference is that, while the United States has made a melting pot of its immigrants, and has constantly struggled to become a more homogeneous country, Canada made much less effort to assimilate its other ethnical groups.
In America the building of the railways across the United States to the Pacific was connected to romance and exploitation, while in Canada the construction of the railroad is one of the most impressive chapters in Canadian history. It represented a matter of life and death and it became a central devouring obsession. Another difference between Canada and the United States is concerning the eighteenth century. Canada, in contrast to the United States, did not achieve anything distinctive in this particular period. Another important matter that was pointed out by Northrop Frye is the situation of the president and the flag. In America the consciousness of the people revolves around these two symbols, while in Canada the president and its personality are not so much emphasized and more significant Canada did not even had an official flag till the middle of the twentieth century.
Wayne Thompson draws attention to some other noticeable differences concerning the American and Canadian Federalism in his essay Dividing the Spoils: American and Canadian Federalism. The United States was the first to adopt federalism as a means of governance. The Canadian federalism is presumed to be less centralizing that American federalism. The Canadian provinces are more significant political and economic entities and their budgets are greater in comparison with most American states.
The matter of social policy in brought up by Keith Banting in an essay in which he makes a distinction between Canada and the United States. During the twentieth century, Canada developed a more expansive welfare state than their neighbors to the south. Social programs have become an integral part of Canadians’ sense of identity, part of their conviction that they have created something different and significant.
Another important difference is that Canadians, unlike the Americans, are more pragmatic and progressive when dealing with controversial social issues such as: the medical marijuana and the same sex marriage. In these matters Canadians seem more secure on themselves. They are not afraid of foreigners, of homosexuality; they know how to accept each other.
One important difference between the two cultures, the one of Canada and the one of the United States is announced by Northrop Frye: “Who is Canadian? Well, the political answer is that he is an American who avoided revolution” . Canadians rejected the American Revolution and they also turned their back to America at several crucial moments. Canada was founded on very difficult principles than those of the U.S.A.- Canada chose evolution over revolution. Canadians chose a less romantic, more pragmatic trio of beliefs: peace, order, and good government.
As they reached the modern communication age the Canadians created the Cultural Mosaic. The idea of Canada as a mosaic and the United States as a melting pot is an important difference in the evolution of the two countries. Canada may not be a U.S.-style melting pot, but it is a meeting place of ideas, of people, of possibilities.
George-Etienne Cartier, one of the fathers of Confederation, declared in 1867 “Henceforth we shall rank among the nations” . Today, Cartier would be pleased that his dream got to be fulfilled: Canada is held up around the world as a model of tolerance, civility and social-mindedness.

Bibliography:

1. Banting, Keith, The Social Policy Divide: The Welfare in Canada and the United States in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.
2. Benett, Samantha, It’s not just the Weather that is Cooler in Canada, in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.
3. Bissoondath, Neil, What is a Canadian, in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.
4. Feldman, Elliot J., The Future of North America: Canada, the United States, and Quebec nationalism, Harvard Univ. Press, 1979.
5. Frye, Northrop, Northrop Frye on Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2003.
6. Jedwab, Jack, Melting the Mosaic: Changing Realities in Cultural Diversity in Canada and the United States, in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.
7. Smith, Allan C.L., Canada-an American Nation? : Essays on Continentalism, Identity, and the Canadian Frame of Mind, McGill-Queen’s University Press 1994.
8. Star, Toronto, Canada’s Bond of Many Fibres, in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.
9. Thompson, Wayne, Dividing the Spoils: American and Canadian Federalism in Georgieva, Maria and Yankova, Diana, Canadian Kaleidoscope. An Anthology of Civilization, Sophia 2006, St. Klement Ohridski Univ. Press.

Internet Sources:

1. http://www.tcrecord.org/library

2. http://www.knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclopedia/Canadian_identity/

3. http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/m9/3

Bibliography: 4. Feldman, Elliot J., The Future of North America: Canada, the United States, and Quebec nationalism, Harvard Univ. Press, 1979. 5. Frye, Northrop, Northrop Frye on Canada, University of Toronto Press, 2003.

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