Canada 150

My home and native land is celebrating a special birthday this week. July 1st marks 150 years since the confederation of Canada in 1867. Although I’m feeling sad not to be there for the event, I still remember the party we had 50 years ago.

The summer of 1967 marked a lot of milestones for me. Perhaps it was the first time I became aware that ours was a bilingual country. At school we all learned a special song to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. There were English and French versions, and each had some of the other’s lyrics so we had to sing a bit in French.

The province of Ontario also did its own song for the centennial, ‘Give us a place to stand’. Now it seems they’ve done a remake for the 150th. A lot of people seem to be offended by that, but I’m just glad to be from a country that has groups with names like Ginger Ale and the Monowhales.

It was also the summer I turned ten. My grandmother took me to see Expo ’67 in Montreal. That was a big deal too, my first time in French-speaking Canada and the first trip without my parents (if memory serves, which it may not as it was all a very long time ago).

A lot has changed since then. In 1967 we sung about being 20 million strong. Now we’ve grown to over 35 million. Back then the concept of Canada as a multicultural mosaic vs. the melting pot of the USA was new; now it’s part of who we are. Back then we were much more aware of our French and British roots. We didn’t have much of a sense of our country as having its own identity, or wave either of our flags. Perhaps the centennial celebrations helped change all that.

What hasn’t changed? Well, we still have a leader called Trudeau. Who can rival Macron for being young and hot, as leaders go.

I am not going to pretend to know anything much about Canada’s current politics,  but I have been along for the ride during the last half century. And although the most recent years have been in France, Canada still feels very much like my homeland. Mon pays.

How can you tell? I’ve posted before about feeling pulled into two directions as a dual citizen. But it comes down to a few simple things:

I apologize a lot.

But never for the fact that beer is my favourite drink.

When the temperature drops, I feel happy.

When it freezes, I can’t wait to get my skates on.

When it snows, I still light the barbecue.

I believe that everyone has a right to healthcare.

And I can’t help but clap when the plane lands.

Happy Canada Day, eh?

 

Mon beau pays

It’s been a great many years since I was last in Canada in the midst of the fall colours. Autumn has always been one of my favourite times of year, at least before the days get too short and the weather too miserable.

I enjoyed this past week’s solo trip visiting friends and family in Toronto, my old stomping ground. This time I could not help but notice that while the city still feels a little like home, I increasingly see it through the eyes of someone who lives in France.

I’ve posted before about how much the French love Canada. C’est un beau pays, they will say. Mon pays de rêve… I used to think they had an idealized view of my country but now I find myself experiencing it differently.

Here are some of things that struck me about my beautiful hometown of Toronto this time around.

Tree canopySo many trees, so little time… the fall colours were not quite at their peak, and they may never get there before winter comes calling.  But even so, a walk through Sunnybrook Park was stunning. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in the city.

The squirrels. These little urban rodents are as common as pigeons in Europe. They are everywhere at the moment, scurrying to gather nuts and squirrel them away for winter. We see a few squirrels in France but they are generally reddish brown, where their Toronto cousins are more often black.

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Toronto is booming. This was already the case when we left 25 years ago. Now, every neighbourhood has come into its own and has its image to maintain. In well-heeled North Toronto, even the sidewalks are branded.

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Halloween is everywhere. As sure as the leaves will fall, the craze of candy and macabre carryings-on will hit the great white north at the end of October. Yes it’s commercial and perhaps a little over the top, but it’s fun. Canadians are rather good at having fun. Halloween is our way of warding off the evil spirits as the days grow short. I eyeballed these cupcakes:

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Le shopping! Toronto is truly a shopper’s paradise. Aside from the sheer number of stores, open all hours, there are so many beautiful arcades. They are the visible part of the many underground passages that link the downtown core, enabling people to move from subway to subway station, restaurant to department store without setting foot outside in the winter.

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Alongside so many emporiums to wealth, the neighbourhood convenience store is a fixture of downtown Toronto neighbourhoods.

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You may wonder: so if you love it so much, why did you leave it? One of the reasons was the high price of Toronto real estate, which made it hard to buy a first house in a nice area. The housing boom is still on and despite all the new builds, bidding wars often erupt for homes in the best and most upcoming neighbourhoods.

The city has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to anyone who has been away for a few years. I frequently found myself getting lost and wondering how it was that what used to be so familiar now feels foreign.

I don’t regret choosing France but I do love to go back for a visit.

Have you been to Toronto? Do you have a favourite city, home or away?