Monday, 4 April 2016


A Modest Proposal to Put a Face to the Name

Approaching the 150th anniversary of Confederation Canada remains an earnest understudy on the global stage. Our slightly modernist flag (consider the elegant Canadian National Railway ‘worm’ logo designed in the same era) still isn’t old enough to qualify for the seniors’ discount at a pancake house. In 1867 railway spikes were the ties that stitched a big, empty and regionalized would-be state together. The face of the nation has changed since the CBC since went live on air in 1936 and the benevolent Canada Council for the Arts crown corporation was created in 1957. (Both institutions were granted welcome boosts in funding in the recent federal Liberal budget; culture was akin to black bathroom mould and mildew to the deposed Harper regime.) Twenty-first century multicultural Canada, established and stable, is blossoming into a diverse and complex country.

A vibrant culture provides a sense of self and a sense of place. Our stories, songs and poems, our still and moving pictures, are the cues that enable us to recognize and tolerate one another, familiar threads that unify this entire awkward federation. Culture is informed by our shared or divergent histories, and the landscape which overshadows us all. It’s the nature of human existence that virtually any era may be cursed as ‘interesting’ times. Since nation-states will not become anachronisms anytime soon, Canada’s future entails embracing its immigrants and engaging its young. But, yet, jeez, frankly, many of us harbour fears of both groups because they might constitute an insidious fifth column or become radicalized; anyway, they’re both vaguely threatening: they dress funny.

To counter this imagined insurgency I propose a modest ‘Face to a Name’ national campaign. I suggest that every new Canadian receives a year-long family Parks Canada pass alongside their certificate of citizenship. I suggest too that every young person between the ages of 18 and 21 who casts a vote in a federal election for the first time receives one as well. My idea is neither propaganda nor brainwashing. Instead, it is an invitation to join the national conversation with context, the means to consider Canada beyond the abstract of a government wordmark, to get a handle on this vast territory.

Want to know how the First Nations hunted buffalo on the prairie or who built the citadel in North America’s only walled city? Want to see what’s left of the glaciers that inspired the paintings of Lawren Harris? World Heritage Sites? Check. National Historic Sites? Check. Viking settlements? Check. Battlefields? Check. Nineteenth century railway spans and tunnels, and military and industrial canals? Check. Cod fisheries and salmon canning factories? Check. Dinosaur footprints? Check. Tundra? Check. Sandstone hoodoos and etched hieroglyphs? Check. Risk of being buried alive in an avalanche or mauled to death by a wild animal? Medium threat level, but watch your back. All of this is us.

While I have quibbles with our various levels of government I’ve never once objected to paying the fee of a Parks Canada pass. My giveaway scheme may seem expensive and silly given the department’s budgetary struggles and its mounting upkeep costs. But nothing happens in a vacuum and the number of annual visits to our parks has been declining steadily. Here in Edmonton the city’s library network and the Art Gallery of Alberta have dropped their user or admission fees to encourage traffic. Visitors to anywhere generate incremental dollars en route: fees, fuel, food, taxes, sundries and accommodation. And they create buzz through word of mouth or social media: You really should go there.

Where is there and how far is it from here? In Canada there is far from here and here is a long way from many places. It’s critical to get a scope on the sheer enormity of the country and everyone mixed up in it, to put a face to a name: Canada. New Canadians should ditch their old country baggage at the border; young Canadians should drop their digital devices; everybody should get outside themselves and just go outside. Explore, learn, muse upon some of the many parts of this place, ponder those and these bits and pieces of us. A Parks Canada pass is not just a ticket to then, but context for our here and now, this land we live in together.

No comments:

Post a Comment