I grew up in Canada, the best country in the world. My parents grew up in Canada, the best country in the world. So far as I know, the first of my ancestors to come to Canada arrived in the early 1780s, right after the American Revolution. Some of them had to leave the new U.S.A. because they were so loyal to their king and native land that the men of the family had fought for the British during the American Revolution, so came to Canada as United Empire Loyalists. Some of them were persecuted in the new U.S.A. because they were “Pennsylvania Dutch,” pacifist Ana-Baptists who would not fight, whose spiritual heritage had the same roots as that of the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish of today. That would be seven or eight generations before me. Some of my great great grandparents came to Canada on a sailing ship from Cornwall before 1850. They were miners and farmers. A Scottish great grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who did much of the stone work and brick laying on original buildings on Young Street in Toronto. My one grandmother was the last to come to Canada, arriving from Belgium when she was seven years old in about 1890. My ancestors were among the hard working people who built Canada, who helped to make it the best country in the world.
When I grew up, the Canadian flag was the Red Ensign, with the Union Jack in one corner and the Canadian Coat of Arms in the middle. Every school day started with the singing of O Canada, God Save the King/Queen, the salute to the flag which was recognized as “the emblem of my King/Queen and country,” the Lord's Prayer, and a Bible reading without comment. Sixty years ago, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated throughout the country. In Wetaskiwin, many of the floats in the celebration parade were made in school time by classes of school children. The day of the Coronation was a school holiday with the parade and an interesting, varied, and long program at the Drill Hall. Television was new and in few homes, so the movie of the Coronation was shown in movie theatres, a must see for everyone. French and English were the official languages of Canada, but anyone who spoke any two languages was rightly considered bilingual.
I grew up in Canada, the best country in the world, before the Liberals and especially the evil genius of Pierre Elliot Trudeau destroyed so much of the best of it. Trudeau was a master at manipulating the media to make him look like a star to the kind of people who idolized entertainment stars. He said and promised exactly what he knew people wanted to hear, then did exactly as he pleased, often exactly the opposite of what he said. He managed to leave perceptions of his actions that were far from reality. For example, there is a perception that he championed immigration, but the number of immigrants actually entering Canada decreased while he was in power. He pretended to champion the efficient use of energy, but presided over the destruction of the railway system, the most energy efficient method of transporting both passengers and freight. Many of his policies were divisive, creating animosity between regions of the country, between provinces, between languages, between people groups. His version of bilingualism, which effectively eliminated those who did not speak French from the federal civil service throughout the country, was one of those divisive policies. Quebec responded by legislating more and more restrictions on the use of English within its borders. He pushed through a constitution which Quebec would not sign on to. His was the National Energy Policy which alienated the West, especially Alberta. He couldn't eliminate the Monarchy, but he drastically reduced references to the Queen, the singing of “God save the Queen,” the recognition of the flag as the emblem of our Queen as well as of our country, the use of “Royal.” His was the vision of a cultural “mosaic” which ended up with every minority group being able to dictate its minority terms to the whole country whenever it claimed to be “offended” or wanted to claim its “rights.” Trudeau produced a divided country torn from the roots which had made it the best country in the world.
As we approach Canada Day, three things reminded me of the huge contrast between the Canada in which I grew up and Canada today. As a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Program, I had a student say to me, “I'm surprised that you are a Canadian. You're not like what I think of as a Canadian.” Turns out he had worked with a lady from England, and he recognized the English in me. How sad that those British Christian roots are no longer recognized as the very foundation which makes Canada a highly desirable destination for immigrants.
In another situation, I heard a man in his fifties, a “Baby Boomer,” say, “As a male white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, I have the least rights of anyone in this country.” How sad that the descendant of generations of Canada builders should now be made to feel like a second class citizen.
Thirdly, I see short news clips about the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and I remember the joyous celebration of her Coronation in schools and small and large communities across the country. There have been some short visits by members of the Royal Family to some special occasions to mark her remarkable 60 year reign, but most of us have seen these as mere news clips. How sad that we are not celebrating this rare and special event in every school and community across the country. She is our Queen, our titular head of government.
So this Canada Day, I remember with gratitude and sadness the best country in the world that I grew up in. At the same time I recognize the beauty of this vast land and the peace and degree of remaining freedom for which we can still be very thankful. This Canada Day I will celebrate my home and native land and work and pray that she may grow and develop in ways that will once again make her the best country in the world.