Canada has been inhabited by various indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Beginning in the 16 th century, the British and French began immigrating to this land and forming colonies. British North America gained and lost territory, but by the 18 th century, it controlled most of what comprises Canada today. On July 1 st , 1867, the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were federated to form the semi-autonomous federal Dominion named Canada.
Since then, millions of people from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas have been immigrating to this newly formed country. They came looking for a new home, a new life and an opportunity to create family and community.
We are a country of immigrants. We always have been. We have learned to live together in peace, respecting each other’s customs and beliefs. We have co-created a culture of tolerance and acceptance as core principles in our value system. As one of the Fathers of Confederation, Sir John A. MacDonald, once said, “Let us be English, or let us be French, but above all let us be Canadians.”
But what does it mean to be a Canadian? Former Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, stated:
“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.”
When we feel morally opposed to certain actions, we intervene in a way to spread peace, not fear. As a result of former Primer Minister, Lester B. Pearson’s leadership in the 1956 Suez Crisis, and Canada’s role in the UN Emergency Force that he helped create, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Since then, we have embraced peacekeeping as part of our national identity.
As we have grown as a country, there have been some individuals or groups, both inside and outside our national borders, that may disagree with our values of preserving peace. They work hard to spread fear; to create artificial barriers of division between “us” and “them”. But these artificial divisions are deeply rooted in fear of the “other”. We can overcome these fears with empathy, understanding and compassion. As Lester B. Pearson once said:
“We are now emerging into an age when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other’s history and ideals, art and culture, mutually enriching each other’s lives.”
We have so much to learn from each other. We have so much to gain from cultural diversity. Diversity is important to our evolution as a society and as a species. We must learn to embrace our differences and celebrate our diversity if we are to peacefully co-exist. For those are inherent to our values and identity as Canadians.
So what does being Canadian mean to you?