What is the Canadian identity?

March 21, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

Simon Granat / Silhouette Staff

I remember my first university class. It was 9:30 a.m., Political Science 1G06 with Dr. Alway. Around the end of the class he asked us, his students, to think about Canadian identity.

Then, when I took a second year Canadian politics course, Dr. Flynn asked us to do the same thing.

The result of all this thinking was the general consensus that there is no Canadian identity. There may be Canadian identities, or at the very most, there was what we call ‘the mosaic’ - the idea that Canada is made up of distinct and separate cultures that make up our national identity.

If Canadian history is any witness, it shows that (at one time at least) there were attempts to assimilate and impose an identity on many peoples.

Maybe that’s why I don’t completely subscribe to ‘the mosaic’.

Having been someone who was born in Canada and given the luxury of citizenship without the need to work for it, I have never been told what Canadian identity is. And perhaps collectively, for many of us who were born here, the delineated meaning of ‘what makes a Canadian’ has faded with the passing of our ancestors.

But simply saying Canadian identity does not exist is not necessarily true; the absence of a definition is not proof that no definition exists.

For me, the definition of what makes Canada comes, in part, from the story of my father’s family.

My grandparents and their children, my father and uncle, came to Canada from Poland in the late fifties.

They were Jewish immigrants who had survived the Second World War. After settling in Toronto, they worked in factories, sewing clothes. It was a humble job, and I’m not sure how well it paid, but they worked hard. Yiddish was a dominant language in the house. My father received most of his schooling in Canada, and went on to practice law for a time.

By no means do I mean to embellish the ‘pull yourself up from your bootstraps’ mentality. Instead I tell the story to illustrate my point - that the Canadian identity is a story.

It is the story of you, of me, of us. Sometimes these stories are good, sometimes they are bad. They can be filled with privilege, poverty, systemic barriers to success, great successes and great sorrows.

The Canadian identity is a collection of identities, interwoven into the history of Canada. It is more than a mosaic - my grandparents would not have been legally allowed to purchase homes in some parts of Canada when they arrived.

But it is their story, your story, our story - our lineage, interwoven into the social fabric of this country that constitutes our collective identity.

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