Tuesday, July 01, 2008


One of my earliest memories is of "Canada Day" sitting on the edge of the bathroom sink and watching my father shave. It was pre-dawn dark and he was excited about something, implying it was going to be a special day. And it was. For July 1st marked the beginning of the Swift Current rodeo, the biggest one in our part of the country.

Everybody packed saddles and ropes and headed into the city, some of them towing the horses they'd be riding in the events to come.

I was only 4 or 5 and completely knocked out by the flags and rhinestoned cowboys in the sun-drenched outdoor arena. A high school marching band played the National Anthem and a local politician inspected a color guard of WW2 vets before making a speech about national pride.

It was a time when some in the crowd were older than the country itself and many more had been around when Saskatchewan became a province. The day was called "Dominion Day" then and the flag was a different one. But the celebration was identical to the ones that will be held from coast to coast to coast today featuring hot dogs and fireworks and homegrown music.

I remember the bronc riders and the calf ropers and the steer wrestlers, but I was considered too young to watch the Brahma bulls have their way with the local cowpokes.

Luckily that happened after lunch and all around the parking lot, moms similarly concerned with the scars their children might bear from watching cowboys stomped into the dirt were tucking their tots into the back seats of cars and the beds of pick up trucks for their afternoon nap.

In an interesting difference from today, most of those moms went back to the stands once their tots were a-nod, returning after the festivities were over. And nobody of either generation seemed the worse for the experience.

After the rodeo, there was a midway with a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel I could ride and a spinning rocket ship I couldn't. There were more hot dogs, root beer out of a barrel, candy floss and fireworks. July 1st became instantly planted in my brain as the best damn day of the year.

Those of us who work in the story telling trade in Canada are often asked why we stay here. The weather's crappy. Nobody seems to need the tales we come up with and pay you poorly for them when they do.

Writers who become ex-pats often bemoan the fact that more Canadians are exposed to their work after they leave the country than when they were resident. That's hardly ever the motivation for their move, but it's still a truth we all find hard to fathom.

Somehow we're a nation neither comfortable creating our own myths and heroes nor interested in going out of our way to celebrate those that we do have.

Around the time I was going to that first rodeo, my own hero was the Cisco Kid, a Hollywood version of a Mexican Caballero. Nothing about him was remotely "Canadian" but I still thought he was cool. I got my mom to save up some boxtops or coupons from something and sent them off to get my own Cisco Kid coloring book. Another odd choice since the Kid only dressed in black.

Instead of the book, I got a nice letter from the cereal company explaining that the offer wasn't available in Canada. That was the identical experience of another Canadian writer (whose name for the life of me I can't remember) who'd sent off a request for his very own "Captain America" decoder ring a couple of decades earlier, also discovering that it couldn't be sent across the border.

That writer's famous quote went something like. "Not only did they have heroes we didn't, they had codes we weren't able to solve".

He claimed that event inspired him to be a writer and stay in Canada to help create local heroes.

I don't think that Cisco Kid coloring book did the same thing to me, but maybe it did on some subconscious level. At the very least, it would have made me look around for something else to color or draw. And in looking around I might have found a wealth of more interesting stories that nobody has told yet.

I now think I stay (or still write with the soul of this place when I go) because I know it's still virgin territory, that there are stories and ideas here that simply cannot be found or conjured anywhere else.

Today, as Canadians celebrate their country's birth, many of them will be more interested in which hockey free agents are changing teams on this first day of recruiting than how the place ended up as or managed to remain a country in the first place. And I'm kind of okay with that.

For I think it says we'll also never be a nation that needs to make our myths into religions others have to worship or our heroes into character traits we need to send our sons to die in foreign wars to prove are still very much alive.

Lack of sales options aside, I think that's the kind of country I want to stick with.

Have a Happy Canada Day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh boy do I feel your pain! I am a mid-thirties Canadian who yearns for our stories of self -- I gobble up as much truly Canadian movies and Tv as I can! I love science fiction (not disguised action) and biopics of non-entertainers who make a difference in our culture. We make garbage too of course -- it's just that the signal-to-noise ratio seems so much higher here (at least for me)