A NATION OF OPENINGS © David Watts 24/04/2010

“A Nation of Openings” is a good description of Canada—from her coastland and borders to her immigration policy, from her economy and culture to her system of government.

Look at the North American coastline on a map. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts below the Forty-Ninth parallel are straight and smooth apart from major river deltas.

Canada’s coastline is irregular: punctuated by fjords sculpted by glaciers in the ice ages.

Many of these finger-like inlets seem to lead nowhere, to the hope and frustration of explorers searching for a quick northwest passage through the continent.

But they do lead inland. Each has streams or rivers running into it. On the Pacific Coast they are lush feeding grounds for Coho salmon and grizzly bear.

On the East Coast they shelter the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the shipyards of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Among the myriad mini-openings are a few of grand proportions.

The Gulf of Saint Lawrence is an opening deep into the continent via the Great Lakes. It was this that gave New France the advantage over New England in the early days of the fur trade. Later it gave Britain the advantage in a more peaceful penetration of the interior.

On the West Coast is the opening into the Gulf of Georgia and the subculture and climate this creates for the Lower Mainland, the Gulf Islands, and southeast Vancouver Island.

On the North coast are the openings of the Beaufort Sea and Hudson Bay. The latter is one of the largest bays in the world: a signature mark of Canada as seen from outer space

This enormous drainage basin was the basis of prosperity of the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade. Today tributary James Bay is a source of power for Hydro Québec.

The limitless openings in the East, West and Northern coasts of Canada are opportunities for habitation, exploration, conservation and economic development.

Our southern boundary with the United States offers similar possibilities. Before a border, it was a bridge over which First Nations moved: Iroquois in the East, Lakota on the plains.

This porous membrane between countries has been beneficial not only for travel and trade.

It has served as an escape hatch and safety valve when things got too hot for people on their home side, and who needed to be able to move easily to more neutral ground.

It served Louis Riel and Sitting Bull this way and others on both sides of the Medicine Line. It served larger populations: the Lakota who came with Bull to escape famine, the refugees from the Revolution who became Canada’s first substantial English speaking population.

Fugitive slaves and war resisters from the US, and the so-called “brain drain” from Canada who crossed the line to pursue careers in the arts and television, in business and academia.

Geography has made us A Nation of Openings from inside or out, whichever way you look at it. Canada’s population has made us a nation of opportunity both within our country and to peoples from other countries around the world. This is especially true in our larger cities.

The Pluralistic Society is more than a slogan. It is a society built on immigrants, and on an ability to welcome and incorporate without needing to homogenize or assimilate them.

We do not limit public office or places of influence to those who have been here a generation.

Our past two governors general were born in other countries. The man who may be our next prime minister has spent much of his life abroad. Look at our Olympic athletes, our artists and innovators, our business leaders with names from Stronach to Gretsky to Gramezhian.

A visual description of a Canadian does not exist. The dynamic mix of people and landscape has created an openness of spirit that is a recognized Canadian characteristic.

Being Canadian is about who we are and what we choose to be. It is not about how one looks or wears their hair. It’s not about how long you’ve lived here, if you speak with an accent, or which of the world’s religions, if any, you adhere to

It’s about Being Human in harmony—not unison—with other humans. It’s about Villages: the Algonquian kanata that is our name, the global village described by a Canadian communicator.

Canadians find ourselves at an opening in time: between multicultural empires of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a new globalism shaken by economic collapse and religious extremism. Both depended on trade and power, imperial or corporate. Both have shown that these are not enough.

A new emerging type of connectedness is what Canada is about. We’ve lived under colonialism and we’ve outgrown it. We’ve been stressed by nationalism but not split by it. We’ve always been traders, and our exchange has been about more than goods and services at the best price.

We have shared the illnesses of so-called “civilization.” We tried—unsuccessfully, thank God—to extinguish aboriginal culture. We’ve had internment camps in war, and been implicated in actions that are not worthy of an otherwise principled military. From each has come healing.

From the residential schools have come survivors who can show us strength without oppression. From a child of internment came a geneticist and environmental leader, from foreign genocide a Canadian general determined to begin a new for peace.

All possibilities are ours: in land, in people and in spirit, where all of these work together. And we are still only approaching the end of the beginning, the overture to the full opus yet to come.

Canada is a Nation of Openings in a world that is looking for a way. .