“Who is a Canadian?” I had to ask, noticing that every other person I meet would either be American, German, French, Scot, Irish, Polish, even Estonian, as well as, Italian, Portuguese, South American, and what about, Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese, and Filipinos “like you”, of course—they’d point out—among many more immigrants and refugees, giving away my ignorance.
I’d be referred then, to the Aboriginal peoples, which include the First Nations, Inuit, Metis and Squamish, among 617 communities that comprise 5.6 percent of the total Canadian population in 2011, whom the explorers and colonizers dealt with in this land they called, “Kanata”—in Huron-Iroquois language, meaning “settlement”—as about the only true Canadians, who had birthed in and with the land.
Canada’s history turns out much more complicated than I had hoped to learn—coming here way past half my life, I can’t imagine how much of it I’ll ever absorb, especially the complex strain of cultures and peoples that make of us, Canadians. But where to begin does present a conundrum; when and where does a country’s history really start? Rather sadly though, most histories take off with the explorers.
Still straining in my readings, European arrivals, where the British and French later dominated in the 15th century, colonizing and fighting over wherever they landed and claimed as theirs, and established three separate colonies, namely, Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. With the enactment of the Constitution Act on July 1, 1867 (then called the British North America Act), celebrated since as Canada Day, all three merged into a federated Dominion called, “Canada, a single self-governing nation under the British crown”; the other six provinces would join through the years of territorial expansion, with British Columbia, among the last, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador, as late as 1949. Freedom proved that fierce, and still does, especially among the Quebecois, whose threat of separation keeps looming.
In 1982, Canada finally had its constitution brought home, or ‘patriated’, as properly termed, from British Parliament, where it had resided for 115 years. It’s amazing how life can so insulate us where we’re planted to seed and bloom, so much so that we could be totally unaware of any place else, like I was then, of this moment in Canadian history. Perhaps, it was headlined in Foreign News pages of broadsheets—what with then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, known as his last big accomplishment, whose charismatic leadership has been all I recall.
And that’s just skimming the surface. Much of it figures out in US history, too, and why not. I had since realized, Canada and the US, comprise this continent until a not-quite-visible line called, “border”, divided it, running from east to west, with Canada in what we proudly call, “The True North”. No wonder the common notion that possibly, either all are Americans or Canadians. Indeed, especially among Caucasians, each could be mistaken for the other to each other’s chagrin.
I had glossed over all that, until I took my oath of citizenship—in the package, detailing where and when and what I’d expect in the ceremony, one item jolted me: I would have to pledge allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, queen of Canada, head of my country, and her heirs. It made me silently scream; “Now I have to willingly subject myself to another royalty with my inherited freedom gained through fighting colonizers under Spanish royalty for 333 years!” When I confessed this to a friend, a British turned Canadian, she exclaimed, “Imagine me. I felt insulted!”
This then perhaps, among other things, makes us different. But on Canada Day, except for one member of the royal family attending the rites in Ottawa, we hardly gave this a thought. Allowed to retain our identities under a “multicultural policy”, we do, however, share absolute rights and privileges in a Parliamentary Democracy under a Constitutional Monarchy. Hence, among Catholics on Canada Day, at Holy Rosary Cathedral, the Red Maple Leaf dominated the altar. We listened to a homily that fused love of God with love of country—a concept so palpable, as lived here.
We sang ‘Oh, Canada’, our national anthem, for the recessional. Outside, a civic parade wound its way through major streets. While formal rites had long been over in Ottawa, Ontario, the nation’s capital, and in each of the ten other provincial capitals and three territories—ours, British Columbia’s in Victoria—celebrations continued in hundreds of neighborhoods, where flavors of barbecued steak and ribs, smoked hot dogs and burgers, as well laughter and music, laced the evening spring air.
As my sister and I sat down at table for barbecue on invitation of a neighbor, whose Irish ancestors settled in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador, conversation centered on food. How do you cook meat the Filipino way? I was asked. I talked about caldereta, lechon, cocido and puchero alongside sinigang, pinapaitan, swirling in the many influences of Filipino culture, conjuring a mere chip of the mosaic piece, among those of other nationals, we’ve been fated to add to what makes Canada.