My earliest memories of understanding how lucky I was to live in Canada go back to when I was about 6 years old. My family had immigrated to this country from South Africa in 1959 and by the time I was 6 we had been here about 3.5 years. I would sit around in the living room with my dad after supper and he would listen to the CBC news on our black and white TV (with the rabbit ears receiver) while I played or read a comic book. Likely an Archie comic. (But I digress).
Most nights I would play in the living room, lost in my imaginary world, as the TV droned on in the background. Often my dad would say something to me about the news. One night in particular I recall he was upset because the person being interviewed was loudly complaining to the reporter about Canada not doing enough for its citizens. My dad said something unfavourable about the person on the screen and it surprised me so I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. He looked back at me and said, “Arlene never ever take this country for granted. We gave up everything we had to live here. It was hard and we have nothing, so it is a struggle, but I would do it all again. It is a privilege to live here.” I asked him why that guy on the TV didn’t seem to think Canada was all so great then. His reply? “Because sometimes when you are born with good fortune you can’t recognize it for what it is as you don’t know anything different.” That stuck. And for many nights after that, whether on the TV (which eventually became a colour TV set) or on the radio listening to shows like Cross Country Checkup on CBC, we spoke a lot about this great country.
He would tell me about South Africa and that while the country was beautiful, the opportunity for everyone who lived there was not quite so pretty. What had convinced my parents to move here was the equality and opportunity Canada represented. They knew anybody could come here and live a good and rewarding life if they were prepared to work hard and protect the rights we came to cherish. He pointed out and helped me to understand and see the beauty in the great swaths of farm land, in the people who embraced each other instead of fought with each other, in the benefit of having a rich, albeit young, heritage and a dazzling future. He made me see that anything was possible because we lived in peace and in freedom. With dignity even though we were poor, and above all else, with endless possibility. Together with my parents fresh view of this country and the strong education I was receiving at school about its laws, culture and social fabric, I became passionate about Canada.
50 some odd years later I still love listening to CBC radio. I love hearing the rich and unique stories from coast to coast as told through the voices of fellow Canadians. Immigrants, refugees, indigenous people, 6th generation Canadians. Their stories are Canada’s story. The story of a country who has embraced the beauty of diversity. A country of diverse people with one thing in common. A love for the land they feel privileged to live on and for the type of people who love to call it home. We are not a perfect country. That is because people are never perfect. But we have so very much as a nation because of our multicultural people. We have come from far and wide. From various religions, races and creeds. We came here for the beauty of the word 'equality'. We stayed for its truth.
These are troubling times. Today on the TV you hear much that is worrisome and sorrowful; of horrible acts that represent a lack of humanity, of intolerance and prejudice against race and religion. We are susceptible to forgetting a fundamental truth. That beyond the strong and beautiful indigenous people, we are all from somewhere else. That this land is a land forged by hard work, diverse cultures and an unwavering commitment to human rights no matter your gender or race or religion.
We are a nation of peacekeepers. We uphold what is good and worthwhile. Canadians have much to give and much to share on the world stage in the way of demonstrating good human values. My hope on this Canada Day is that we do not let those people who would have us become uncaring, mean, biased or prejudiced, into our true spirit of good. I hope that on this day, like every day, we will not take for granted the obligation we have to serve as an example to the world of all that is possible when humans of all types learn to live in peace and harmony together.