O Canada

O Canada

A flash of light rent the October sky, lasted a few short moments, and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared. A comet, you ask? A meteor strike perhaps? No, even more incredible than that. Two weeks ago, Canada made the US news. Yes, Canada, you may have heard of it, that vast country above us on the map, the one we never talk about, the one that if you didn’t know it was there, you could be forgiven for thinking it didn’t exist.

The other country we share the North American continent with is always in the news. If it’s not the war on drugs, then it’s the hordes of illegal immigrants marching through Mexico to get to the southern US border, swine flu, or devastating hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast and inconveniencing American tourists. Yes, you don’t have to go far to find a story about Mexico, but Canada? You’d have an easier time finding a raindrop in California.

Why don’t we ever report on Canada? I think it’s because nothing ever happens there. I mean, they don’t appear to have a crime problem and as far as I can tell not too many of them are trying to sneak into the USA either. Their weather isn’t too bad. Well, I mean it’s cold, but there don’t seem to be any extreme weather events that get similarly news-neglected countries into the US media spotlight. I do remember they got a mention back during the health care debate, you know, before Obamacare got passed. Canada, apparently, has a single-payer health care system, the kind of system Obama wanted but didn’t get. I seem to remember something about drugs being cheaper up there, too (no, not the Mexican kind), medicine.

Basically, Canada is just too well-organized, and the Canadians are not very good at making a spectacle of themselves. I mean what really is there to say?

Let’s start with a few facts. Canada has ten provinces and three territories and shares a 5,525 mile border with the USA. The name Canada comes from “Kanata,” the Iroquoian word for “settlement” or “village.” Canada became a country in 1867. Before that, she, like the United States, was a colony of Great Britain.

I had to look all of that up. I don’t know much about Canada either, to be honest, or what I do know is selective and specific to my own experience.

When I was a child, Canada was the place you went to in the summer. New Englander that I am, this meant the Maritimes. Canada was thus for me a land of fir trees, lobster boats, boulder beaches, jagged mountains, and flat, windswept dunes above the red sand cliffs of Prince Edward Island. Canada was everything that was great about Maine, only more so.

At the age of ten, Canada became for me something even greater than that. It assumed an important place in my private inner life. I had, of course, discovered the fictional character who would for years be more real to me than many people I knew. I speak of Anne Shirley, known to the wider world as Anne of Green Gables.

I reread this book so many times my original copy withered and fell to pieces in my hands. I went on to read the whole series. I read it again and again. Later, when I was older, I discovered other Canadian writers into whose worlds I might disappear as surely and satisfactorily as I had disappeared into Anne’s. I discovered the small country towns of Alice Munro’s Ontario, the Cape Breton Island homes and light houses of Alistair Macleod’s Scots, the edgy parlors of Howard Norman’s Newfoundlanders, and the neighborhoods of Michael Ondaatje’s and Margaret Atwood’s Torontonians.

Canada. A land of beauty, good books, quiet people, quieter than us anyway. Not a lot of sensational stories up there, except for that Ford fellow of course.

So what did the Canadians do to finally get our attention? Why, they elected a young, attractive liberal man to be their next Prime Minister. They elected him against all odds and most predictions. They elected the oldest son of a former Prime Minister of the country, Pierre Trudeau. They elected an English Major and a teacher. They elected a proponent of multiculturism who is bilingual in French and English. They elected an interesting person to lead their country and represent them on the world stage, and for one brief, shining moment, this was recognized down here in the south, wistfully, perhaps, with a certain degree of longing. Where is our Justin Trudeau, or have we already had him? Before we can answer this question, however, the news cycle moves on, taking our attention with it.