Three summers back, a friend and I were being hurtled by bus through the heart of Australia, the desert flashing pink and red before our disbelieving eyes. It seemed never to end, this desert, so flat, so dry. The landscape was very unlike ours – scrub growth with some exotic cacti, no lakes, no rivers, just sand and rock forever. Beautiful, haunting even – what the surface of the moon must look like, I thought as I sat in the dusk in that almost empty bus.
I turned to look out the front of the bus and was suddenly taken completely by surprise. Screaming out at me in great black lettering were the words CANADA NO. 1 COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. My eyes lit up, my heart gave a heave, and I felt a pang of homesickness so acute I actually almost hurt. It was all I could do to keep myself from leaping out of my seat and grabbing the newspaper from its owner. As I learned within minutes (I did indeed beg to borrow the paper), the pronouncement was based on information collected by the United Nations from studies comparing standards of living for 174 nations of the world. Some people may have doubted the finding, but I didn’t, not for an instant.
Where else in the world can you travel by bus, automobile, or train (and the odd ferry) for ten, 12, or 14 days straight and see a landscape that changes so spectacularly: the Newfoundland coast with its white foam and roar; the red sand beaches of Prince Edward Island; the graceful curves and slopes of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail; the rolling dairy land of south-shore Quebec; the maple-bordered lakes of Ontario; the haunting north shore of Lake Superior; the wheat fields of Manitoba and Saskatchewan; the ranch land of Alberta; the mountain ranges and lush rain forests of the West Coast. The list could go on for pages and still cover only the southern section of the country, a sliver of land compared with the North, the immensity of which is almost unimaginable. For six years in a row now the United Nations has designated Canada the no. 1 country in which to live.
We are so fortunate. We are water wealthy and forest rich. Minerals, fertile land, wild animals, plant life, the rhythm of four distinct, undeniable seasons – we have it all.
Of course, Canada has its problems. We’d like to lower the crime rate, but ours is a relatively safe country. We struggle with our healthcare system, trying to find a balance between universality and affordability, but no person in this country is denied medical care for lack of money. Yes, we have concerns, but in the global scheme of things we are well off.
Think of our history. For the greater part, the pain and violence, tragedy, horror, and evil that have scarred forever the history of too many countries are largely absent from our past. There’s no denying we’ve had our trials, but they pale by comparison with events that have shaped many other nations.
Our cities are gems. Take Toronto, where I have chosen to live. My adopted city never fails to thrill me with its racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity. On any ordinary day on the city’s streets and subway, in stores and restaurants, I can hear the muted ebb and flow of 20 different tongues. I can feast on food from different continents, from Greek souvlaki to Thai mango salad, from Italian prosciutto to Jamaican jerk chicken, from Indian lamb curry to Chinese lobster.
And do all these people get along? Well, they all enjoy a life of relative harmony, cooperation and peace. They certainly aren’t terrorizing, torturing, and massacring one another. They’re not igniting pubs, cars, and schools with explosives that blind, cripple, and maim. And they’re not killing children with machetes, cleavers and axes. Dislike – rancour, even – may exist here and there, but not, I believe, hatred of the blistering intensity we see elsewhere.
Is Canada a successful experiment in racial harmony and peaceful co-existence? Yes, I would say so – and proudly. When I, as an aboriginal citizen of this country, find myself thinking about all the people we’ve received into this beautiful homeland of mine, when I think of the millions to whom we’ve given safe haven, following agony, terror, hunger, and great sadness in their home countries, well, my little Cree heart just puffs up with pride. And I walk the streets of Canada, the streets of my home, feeling tall as a maple.