When I was 16, I got a tattoo of a maple leaf on my left shoulder. It was in the in the basement of some guy’s house in Prince George and the tattoo turned out horribly. Prison quality bad. I have yet to get it fixed, but I still wear it with pride. My 16-year-old self’s decision, ill planned as it was, is forgivable by my 29-year-old self. I’m still just as proud to be from this country as ever. Despite this deeply held pride, I’ve only visited a very small percentage of our country. My travel resume begins here on the coast and ends around the badlands of Alberta.
My upbringing has always been one of an egalitarian praise for both sides of our great land called Canada (which we all know means “nation”). Of course, on the nights the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing, things changed in our house. My dad is from Toronto. I’m born and raised a British Columbian. Which basically makes me a Canadian version of Mr. Spock. I’m a western guy through and through but I’ve chosen to follow the ways of my father’s culture and cheer for the Leafs.
My father’s roots have connected me to the eastern side of our country. That connection seems lacking for some who, like me, have never travelled east but who, unlike me, don’t have any way to relate to it. As a Vancouverite, I’m constantly reminded of this. I feel like I’m supposed to have some deep hatred for all things Toronto because other Vancouverites say so. It seems to stem from a belief that Torontonians hate us somehow. More likely, it’s probably due to our feeling that Torontonians don’t think of us at all. Which is also kind of funny to me. Growing up in northern B.C., everyone thought the same thing about the Lower Mainland: they make all the decisions, but they never think of us.
Perhaps wherever the population is higher and/or wherever the government is located, there will be a certain amount of self-importance at work. We’re a species that’s been programmed to form tribes and fight all other tribes on the basis that our tribe is superior the other tribes, regardless of fact or reason. Which is exactly why the Leafs are better than the Canucks. It’s also the reason Canada is such an amazing place. It’s moved beyond all that nonsense. Well, at least it’s trying. Lets just say that.
From May 3 to 9, I’ll be in the belly of the eastern whale that is Toronto, Ontario. I’m excited for the trip, but also interested to see if all the animosity across the continent is warranted. I imagine this is much how Louis Riel must have felt back in his Red River Rebellion days. Or not (my Riel history is a little rusty). If my column doesn’t return next month, you’ll know that the Torontonian’s have been right all along — it’s way better there and I stayed. My expectations for the trip, however, are much less epic. I imagine I’ll probably find a bunch of great new places and things and people that merely add to my love of our great country rather than supersede any other part of it. Cue the patriotic Shane Koyczan beat poetry!
Here’s the thing: for all our various genuine problems I’ve conveniently glossed over here, I think we have an important thing going in this country. When you consider the myriad points along the way where events could have gone differently, our idealism has persisted. Despite our prejudice, we choose to embrace one another. Nationalism is a twentieth century idea. I know this because when I was 16 it was still the twentieth century. Multiculturalism is the only way I see for everyone to move forward. No matter who we are or who we have been we’re all stuck here. Together.
Unless you’re a Montreal Canadiens fan. Then you’re dead to me.