There is a definition that American author Bill Bryson used in his magnificent book ”Down Under” to refer to Australia, which is, to my opinion, perfectly applicable to Canada: “It doesn’t misbehave. It’s stable, pacific and good“. Bryson was trying to explain why so little is known about such an immense country, and why it barely makes it to the news. Very few know who its Prime Minister is or what its national sport is or who its celebrities are other than Kylie Minogue or Rupert Mordoch. Most people will be in doubt when asked about what its capital is… And no, it’s not Sydney nor Melbourne.
Australia is unmanageable, just like Canada. Most of its inner territory is an infinite desert, arid and inhabitable, known as ”the outback” and it offers the same vital constant as the infinite, frozen and inhabitable Canadian piece of map by northern territories of Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut. They really are two countries that live in antipodes but they are also, in a way, very similar and they share their Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II. These former British colonies can be recognised from great distances and not only for their habit of long socks and short trousers worn by elder men; a tendency that Bryson also observed in Down Under.
I also believe that not many would know what the capital of Canada is if they are told to forget about Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Very few could say the names of Canadian celebrities, with the exception on Neil Young, Leonard Cohen or Bryan Adams. About this, the corrosive characters of South Park already said all that had to be said: “Canada must apologise to the world”. One funny thing is that Canadians themselves seem to forget their glories and greatest names, whether it is due to apathy, intellectual laziness or simple onomastic confusion. They astonishingly discover them later, such was the case of architect Frank Gehry or the author Alice Munro, who had to win a Nobel to become a “Universal Canadian”.
Definitely, Canada isn’t loud and you can notice that in the frequency that it gets to the international media. Canadian people carefully dose their expressions of national pride, a very civilised kind of patriotism in which cultural diversity is the main value. Unlike Australia, that took many centuries to assume that its origins were British inmates, Canada has absorbed its multicultural nature, avoiding by all means stupid discussions on the sense of identity.
Its patriotism is market oriented, which is reasonable in a country that is deeply capitalist and resigned to cope with the crippling company of it neighbour, richer and, probably, less scrupulous. A kind of complex in its economy can also be noticed in other aspects of social life with the previously mentioned consequences: Canadian people take themselves for granted and simply accept the features of its neighbour.
This is why Canadian market oriented patriotism is expressed by the good manners of protestant puritanism. Sponsors call themselves “proud sponsors” and the “made in Canada” becomes the sign of the silent patriotic. Almost three year ago, Canadians started to shake off some complexes with the adventure of Chris Hadfield, the astronaut who led the last expedition of the International Space Station. Never before I had heard “proud to be Canadian“ with so much determination.
Hadfield became on of the most showy astronaut in History thanks to his clever use of social media, where he told his routine in the Station. Hadfield, born in Milton, a suburb in west Toronto, explained in his Twitter account the details of every day in space, he uploaded pictures of Earth from space and didactic videos in YouTube about earthy tasks such as washing his teeth or sleeping without gravity. On the last day, he recorded a moving version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, that is already a world’s phenomenon. Hadfield’s impact in society has been a revulsive for the aero-spacial career, and a boost of self -esteem for Canada. They won’t take this one away from us, they seem to say.
Hedfield is Canadian to the bones, raised in one of those farms that not long ago populated South Ontario and are depicted in the books of Munro or Robertson Davies. An isolated society that is now unrecognisable in the urban world of the Greater Toronto Area but that remains in the collective conscience as the origin of all things. And that origins, as everything in Canada, is not remote or strange.