Canada Day 2016 is nearly upon us; or Dominion Day, as I am old enough to remember it being called (just barely, I hasten to add). I have very hazy memories of celebrating it under that name in 1967, which marked our country’s 100th birthday, and expect to be here to commemorate our 150th birthday next year.
Canadians have—at least when compared with our neighbours to the south—always seemed rather underwhelmed by overt displays of nationalism; so much so that when the Winter Olympics were about to be held in Vancouver in 2010, Canucks were encouraged to put aside their natural reticence about all things patriotic and show enthusiasm: for the games, for our athletes, and for our country. Anyone who remembers the 2010 games doesn’t need to be told that Canadians responded in stunning fashion, with an outpouring of national pride that took many by surprise, it seemingly not being in our nature.
I wasn’t surprised; not in the slightest. I’ve always been aware that while Canadians do not wear their national heart on their sleeve, that pride is there; a quiet pride that now and then bubbles to the surface. It just took the Olympics to bring it to the forefront for many people, as if they felt they were at long last being given licence to express something that had always been within them but had never been properly articulated.
Like many readers, I grew up singing “O Canada” at the start of every school day, and heard it regularly on other occasions. I will not say I was ever blasé about it, or that it became something I sang out of habit, but I never fully realized how much it meant to me, and how much it meant to be Canadian, until I lived in Great Britain for five years in the 1990s, and could count on the fingers of one hand (with some fingers to spare) how many times I heard our anthem in all that time.
It took another Olympics—the Atlanta summer games of 1996—to truly bring home my feelings about my country. The occasion was the running of the final of the men’s 4×100 relay race, where the Canadian team was expected to place in the medals. The race was run at about 1:00 a.m. British time, and I sat glued to the telly in my living-room as it played out, willing the Canadian men on to victory. I cheered loudly when they won the gold, and then waited the few minutes until the medal ceremony took place.
The athletes accepted their medals, and then the flags of the winning countries were raised—the maple leaf with pride of place in the centre—and “O Canada” began to play. I stood and sang along with it as tears poured down my face: proud to hear my anthem again after so long, proud to be able to sing along with it once more, proud beyond words to know that I was a Canadian.
Because Canada is an experiment in nationhood that went mostly right. Yes, there are things about us and our past that we should not be proud of, but for the most part we managed to take the notion of creating a country and do it in a way that makes us the envy of many. So the next time you hear “O Canada”—at a Canada Day celebration on July 1, or at a school assembly, or before a hockey game—sing it out with pride. You have every reason to.