Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oh, Canada!

Canadians are usually pretty quiet and low-key in terms of patriotism. Take for example our Canada Day celebrations. I live just a few miles from the US border, and on July 1st the city of White Rock puts on a fireworks display over Semiahmoo Bay, right across the water from Blaine, WA. It lasts about ten to fifteen minutes, and some people wave little flags and take the time to reflect on how lucky they are to live here and be Canadian.

Three days later on the fourth of July when Blaine has their celebration, the fireworks display lasts at least half an hour, and you can practically see all the people out waving flags from this side of the bay. Americans have huge pride in their country, and I wish Canadians had more. But I suppose that would mean us being un-Canadian like, eh?

What's my point? The opening ceremonies for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games were held last night. Personally I was very disappointed by the way Canada was portrayed to the rest of the world because it focused on a few minority groups without properly reflecting our multiculturalism. Contrary to the typical stereotype about our country, 99.99% of us do not live in igloos and don't live in snow up to our necks throughout the year. We are a hell of a lot more than First Nations people. Canada is an immigrant nation, formed by the people who come from overseas to seek a better life and make their homes here, whether a hundred and sixty years ago crossing the Atlantic in a wooden Coffin Ship as my Irish ancestors did, or arriving today at an airport from the earthquake stricken nation of Haiti.

People all across Vancouver and the province of B.C. were revved about showing the world who we are, and a shocking wave of patriotism has hit the region. Our house is practically the only one on the street without a Canadian flag (I'm going to rectify that real quick), and it's a surprising but welcome change. There are more flags up now than there will be on Canada Day.

Because of this, the whole display last night at the ceremonies left me feeling let down and even a bit embarrassed, with one major exception. A poem by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan, someone I'd never heard of before. You can bet I'll be paying attention to his work now. In less than three minutes he did more for portraying the image of what Canada is and who Canadians are than anything else in the entire three hour telecast. From today's edition of the Vancouver Sun, here's his incredible poem that still gives me goosebumps.

We Are More
by Shane Koyczan

When defining Canada

you might list some statistics

you might mention our tallest building

or biggest lake

you might shake a tree in the fall

and call a red leaf Canada

you might rattle off some celebrities

might mention Buffy Sainte-Marie

might even mention the fact that we've got a few

Barenaked Ladies

or that we made these crazy things

like zippers

electric cars

and washing machines

when defining Canada

it seems the world's anthem has been

"been there done that"

and maybe that's where we used to be at

it's true

we've done and we've been

we've seen

all the great themes get swallowed up by the machine

and turned into theme parks

but when defining Canada

don't forget to mention that we have set sparks

we are not just fishing stories

about the one that got away

we do more than sit around and say "eh?"

and yes

we are the home of the Rocket and the Great One

who inspired little number nines

and little number ninety-nines

but we're more than just hockey and fishing lines

off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes

and some say what defines us

is something as simple as please and thank you

and as for you're welcome

well we say that too

but we are more

than genteel or civilized

we are an idea in the process

of being realized

we are young

we are cultures strung together

then woven into a tapestry

and the design

is what makes us more

than the sum total of our history

we are an experiment going right for a change

with influences that range from a to zed

and yes we say zed instead of zee

we are the colours of Chinatown and the coffee of Little Italy

we dream so big that there are those

who would call our ambition an industry

because we are more than sticky maple syrup and clean snow

we do more than grow wheat and brew beer

we are vineyards of good year after good year

we reforest what we clear

because we believe in generations beyond our own

knowing now that so many of us

have grown past what used to be

we can stand here today

filled with all the hope people have

when they say things like "someday"

someday we'll be great

someday we'll be this

or that

someday we'll be at a point

when someday was yesterday

and all of our aspirations will pay the way

for those who on that day

look towards tomorrow

and still they say someday

we will reach the goals we set

and we will get interest on our inspiration

because we are more than a nation of whale watchers and lumberjacks

more than backpacks and hiking trails

we are hammers and nails building bridges

towards those who are willing to walk across

we are the lost-and-found for all those who might find themselves at a loss

we are not the see-through gloss or glamour

of those who clamour for the failings of others

we are fathers brothers sisters and mothers

uncles and nephews aunts and nieces

we are cousins

we are found missing puzzle pieces

we are families with room at the table for newcomers

we are more than summers and winters

more than on and off seasons

we are the reasons people have for wanting to stay

because we are more than what we say or do

we live to get past what we go through

and learn who we are

we are students

students who study the studiousness of studying

so we know what as well as why

we don't have all the answers

but we try

and the effort is what makes us more

we don't all know what it is in life we're looking for

so keep exploring

go far and wide

or go inside but go deep

go deep

as if James Cameron was filming a sequel to The Abyss

and suddenly there was this location scout

trying to figure some way out

to get inside you

because you've been through hell and high water

and you went deep

keep exploring

because we are more

than a laundry list of things to do and places to see

we are more than hills to ski

or countryside ponds to skate

we are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait

we are first-rate greasy-spoon diners and healthy-living cafes

a country that is all the ways you choose to live

a land that can give you variety

because we are choices

we are millions upon millions of voices shouting

" keep exploring... we are more"

we are the surprise the world has in store for you

it's true

Canada is the "what" in "what's new?"

so don't say "been there done that"

unless you've sat on the sidewalk

while chalk artists draw still lifes

on the concrete of a kid in the street

beatboxing to Neil Young for fun

don't say you've been there done that

unless you've been here doing it

let this country be your first-aid kit

for all the times you get sick of the same old same old

let us be the story told to your friends

and when that story ends

leave chapters for the next time you'll come back

next time pack for all the things

you didn't pack for the first time

but don't let your luggage define your travels

each life unravels differently

and experiences are what make up

the colours of our tapestry

we are the true north

strong and free

and what's more

is that we didn't just say it

we made it be.

He nailed it. We are a country willing to help; we have a military that's now small, but with a proud history of service in war and peacetime; this is a place where people are free to maintain their beliefs and heritage yet still call themselves Canadians.

Here's the poet himself, telling it like it is.

Thank you Shane, for telling the world what we're really about. My hat is off to you.
Go Canada!!!


Mary Ricksen said...

I lived in Ottawa for a year in high school and I loved it there!

lainey bancroft said...

Couldn't agree more, Kaylea! As much as the opening show was impressive, it did NOT convey the broad brushstroke that encompasses Canada. We are not merely our Aboriginal/French population! We are the ultimate cultural melting pot.

Lucky for me, I live on the brink of the Niagara Falls Canada/US border, and Canada Day is celebrated with equal exuberance to 4th of July. There is a whole Friendship Festival that rocks! For both sides of the border.

Cate Masters said...

The aerial shots took my breath away. So gorgeous! Canada is an incredible country.

Kaylea Cross said...

Thanks for dropping by, ladies!

Lainey, I wish we had more of a patriotic showing where I live, but at least right now people are in the spirit of things :)

TC said...

I am a HUGE Shane Koyczan fan! My friend told me about him when I started my poetry unit in September, and then he performed for us at a pro-d conference for English teachers. He made us laugh and cry- sometimes both at once. It was such an amazing emotional roller coaster! I got to meet him afterwards, and he was very charming and funny to all who lined up to but his CDs and books. I bought his book Stickboy, and I loved it- read it to my class, and THEY loved it. I hope everyone gets a chance to hear more of his work. AMAZING. I'm such a nerd I found him on facebook and am now one of his 2000+ friends (and rising!). I think it's so amazing that this Canadian poet is now in the world's eye!

Kaylea Cross said...

TC, I'm going to look up more of his work. I absolutely loved his poem, and his performance of it. He looked like he got energized by the crowd!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Kaylea,
I thought Shane was great too, a real highlight for me. His poem did more to tell the world about Canada then the rest of the ceremony.


Katie Reus said...

I got chills reading that! I love it when people are proud of where they live. :)