Celebrating the freedom of opportunity.
There’s just something about being around Ottawa for Canada Day. The smiles seem bigger. The energy is so real, so infectious. And from cheeks to café windows, you see flag everywhere, on every corner. I love it. Plus, I’ve got the whole family with me and I hope this is something they remember for decades to come. I’m a lucky guy for sure.
Yes, the big nation is 150 years young. Looking back, we are reminded of the people who founded this great country. Men and women who had sense of place, a strong sense of community, a love and respect of the land and the natural resources it offered. A respect for the past with a focus on the future, a balance of language and a desire to welcome others. These are the people of our First Nations. And we need to acknowledge that yes, Confederation is worth celebrating, but it should also be a moment of reflection, respect and consideration for those who have been here for thousands of years before us.
Home in Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1st is different. It’s multidimensional. We are Canada’s youngest province but we are one of the oldest part of the new world. Here, the first is the anniversary of Beaumont Hamel. Prior to joining Canada, we lost a generation of young brave men in the first minutes of the Battle of the Somme in France. A defining moment stitched into our fabric. It seems unbelievable… on July 1, 1916, over 700 soldiers charge forward on the battlefield. Just half an hour later 85% of the force is wiped out. The next day only 68 men report for roll call. Only 68. You don’t have to be a Newfoundlander for that to give you chills. It’s difficult to mourn and celebrate all at once. That’s why on July 1st we honour the fallen in a sunrise ceremony. A new day is hope. And there’s no better symbol of hope than Canada itself.
When I was a teen, I remember one random day at Cape Spear being asked on camera, by someone shooting a documentary, what differentiates us as Canadians from others. I’ve always been a proud Newfoundlander and Canadian, but I was stumped. At a loss for words. Eventually I eked out that we are neither British nor American but we have the best traits of each. Feels so shallow and naïve now.
But thinking back on that question I realize how far we’ve come. We all should feel the pressure of our feet on the shoulders of those on which we stand. We have grown from a series of colonies to the second largest country in the world. We are more than what we are not. We are a beacon of hope and light for so many. Yes, we have far to go with how we reconcile ourselves with our First Nations people. But I truly feel we are on that road, moving forward.
As I have traveled abroad I have thought more about what makes us all Canadian. How are we linked from coast to coast to coast. There has to be a common thread that makes some one in Victoria feel connected to someone in Montreal to someone in Torbay. The options and permutations are endless. But one principle stands out and it’s the basic tenet of democracy… freedom. Not freedom of expression or speech or to vote or choose. Yes, these are all important, but it’s the freedom of opportunity. We are afforded by the virtues of our ancestors, the freedom to exercise endless opportunities.
Throughout Canada, we have opportunities that we often take for granted. Our children have the chance to go to school, to have access to healthcare and education. They can choose their own adventures and blaze their own trails without the fear of persecution and with the safety of a socially responsible society. Canada, we should be so proud of that.
But with Canada’s position in the world comes a massive responsibility. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure the principles on which this nation was founded remain solid and protected. We need to continue to embrace diversity and care for those less fortunate. We need to respect the environment and act on its behalf. Look behind you. See the eyes of all those who have sacrificed to get us here today. Let them know it meant something. That in the next 150 years, our children’s children will always know the freedom of opportunity. That’s really what it means to be Canadian.
Happy Birthday Canada, here is to another 150.