Friday, February 12, 2010

What defines us...

Tonight the Olympic games begin in Vancouver. It's a time for Canada to show our colours and take pride in our identity, while playing host to an international event. Which is interesting, when you think about it, because Canada is very much "international" with our mosaic ideology and history of immigration. Hosting the Olympics and inviting our friends, neighbours and international colleagues into our home is an extraordinary event. And if nothing else, the people I know and the places I have been are all rooted in a deep sense of hospitality, so I hope that those who come and enjoy these games, either in person or via television, will find themselves enjoying that hospitality and thinking about returning to our land.

I've lived all over Canada and visited from east to west coast, plus as north as Labrador. I've seen the northern lights dance and the wind caress the prairie crops. I've put my feet in the Great Lakes and stood in our Rockie Mountains. My family has served overseas in the military.

In my soul, I carry all of Canada.

As a university student, my minor was Canadian Studies. I'm fascinated by where we have been and what defines us. In the 1990s, many Canadian scholars focused on what were are not. We are not American, not British, and not French. Although our relations with our American neighbours and our British and French ancestors are important too. But time has gone on and I have noticed whisperings and mullings of what we are now.

The opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics did show so much of us, from past to present. We trotted out many of our celebrities, from kd lang to Brian Adams to Rick Hansen to Wayne Gretzky and many, many more. There were speculations in some circles of a visual of Terry Fox to do the final lighting of the flame. Although as a country we will never forget Terry, the image of a collection of our heroes and athletes lighting the flame together is a strong one and I find myself proud of that choice.

I'm still mulling over the imagery from the musical and visual presentations. The fiddling in the fall presentation spoke to me deeply. It was the mosaic and my heart soared to recognize it. Weavings of fiddle music that has different roots from coast to coast, but yet has grown into a single voice. A voice that is our country and our people. Those differences define us and challenge us. Seeing them come together in beauty should inspire us.

As a daughter of the Prairie (I was born in Edmonton, Alberta and also spent my teenage years in Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and a student of Canadian literature, I could smell Prairie summer and feel the wind for a moment during the Prairie presentation. Watching the one artist fly as the wind made me ache a little inside. Now I know why I dream of flying frequently and why some summers come and I turn to my husband and tell him that I have to go home to the Prairie and see the wheat blow this summer.

The poetry of Shane Koyczan was breathtaking. You too, Shane, define us.

As you think about the images and the people you came to know tonight, please know that this really is Canada. We are a young, vibrant nation. Strong. Complex. Full of life. Our history carries burdens and blessings. Our people are as varied as the fish in the ocean and our definition is just as slippery.

I am always proud to be Canadian. Tonight though, I am proud that we can stand up and speak about what it is to be Canadian and to begin to show the world the beauty that lies within our land and our people.

If this is your first taste of Canada, I say: "Welcome!"
If you are returning, I say: "Welcome back!"

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