In the North there are no French or English, only Canadians. If you should touch down in Frobisher Bay and enter what passes for the airport lounge, you would hear a host of languages all of which you would understand, because each would be sprinkled with simple English or French phrases.
The frigid ice and snow, the bone-chilling winds, the sting of ice crystals, all combine to dissolve differences of racial background, religion and sect, leaving only native “Canadianness”. We are shaped by our environment, as if by a mould, regardless of where we or our ancestors came from.
No matter what we may say, the Canadian and Le Canadien have both been shaped by the same land; its obvious Northernness, its endless abundance of rivers and lakes, its great frozen mountains, its harsh stormy winters and brief bright summers. None of us, other than those inhabiting the balmy west coast, would venture out in winter without a modicum of emergency supplies, either in the shape of extra clothing or food or some chains for the wheels of our car. All of us regard the wilderness with a wary respect, knowing that it can turn unexpectedly ferocious; this has been bred in the bone through countless generations. Both English and French are familiar with the workings of a snow-shovel, both love to identify with hockey teams, both know how to lace up a skate and to bundle up a baby.
We must remember these similarities when we consider our Diversity, for it is these very similarities which make possible the paradoxical phrase “Unity in Diversity” on which our nation is founded. Quebec is part of Canada and it once was the whole of Canada. Which other people in the whole world does the French-Canadian most resemble? Think about it for a while and you will be forced to the conclusion that there is only one possible answer. In their economic life, their social organizations, their institutions, their innate human character, they most resemble English Canadians, for they have fought the same fight against the same natural foes to ensure their own survival. In tilling the Plains of Abraham, Louis Hébert was but the first of many generations who have worked the soil and battled the elements in doing so.
Canada is not a country easy to govern or in which to promote unity. Nor is it easy to arouse national fervour. In the words of the late Robertson Davies, Canada “is not a country you love, it’s a country you worry about”. There are still those among us who cannot or will not accept diversity. Yet our nation is built on diversity; the First Peoples, the French, the English, the Ukrainians, the Dutch, the Germans, the Sikhs, the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Japanese and oh so many others, they have all contributed to building this nation of ours. Remember, we have had a Provincial Premier of Lebanese ancestry and a Governor-General descended from Ukrainians.
Our two prime cultures, English and French, run like two parallel rivers, blind to each other until, just before the sea is reached, they merge, to pour out into the world as one great stream. There are French, English and many other currents in that stream and it has an impact on the Sea. But if that just-in-time merger is severed then two relatively minor rivers will empty into the ocean, both entirely worthy but lacking the vitality of the grand torrent.
We cannot hope for intellectual solutions to our national problem; it would be impossible to render it into an equation to be solved mathematically. It arises from emotional strains of ancestry and it is on the emotional level that we must confront it. We need to create a new sense of “a Canadian”, based on our shared values and experiences not our differences. We must recognize our shared love of winter sports, our affection for the outdoors and our fear of its unpredictable moods.
The Land will mould us yet into a single nation, but it will leave us all with a residue from our specific ancestry which will contribute to the rich compost of our national being, allowing us a resourcefulness rare in the world. The old nations of Europe with their basic homogeneity have each contributed their own “pure” strain to the world, but for us it is our diversity we offer and we must do it with pride rather than apology. We must celebrate Diversity as a good in itself. In fact we have no choice, because Canada is an evolving nation which cannot be encapsulated in one static picture, it continually changes as waves of immigration follow one another and as the development of the land and its industries continues apace. Unity in Diversity is the only call we can make and we must live up to it, be proud of it, even revel in it.
For myself, I know that Quebec is the homeland of French Canada and I feel it is also the heartland of the whole of Canada, the “nurturing place” of a fine nation. I see Quebec culture as vibrant and dynamic and I wish that other Canadians could know it better. I also wish that Quebecers would feel the need to look outward, to investigate other parts of the country – it is, after all, the country they founded.
So what can be done, in a practical way, to bridge the Solitudes? There are certain common sense initiatives which could be undertaken. The CBC for example could translate core programs in its French and English networks for re-transmittal in the rest of the country. There could be mass exchanges of students through summer camps and student programs of all kinds. More exchanges between professional and social groups could be encouraged. Government – subsidized air and rail fares between Quebec and the rest of Canada linked with holiday programs and journeys supervised by bilingual Canadians might be a small price to pay for national unity. The tourist industry could be involved in promoting intra- Canadian travel and could itself develop the means of shepherding French and English across the land. Certain hotels could designate themselves as officially bilingual, provided their entire staffs were trained in both languages.
These things and others like them must be done, they are imperatives if we are to preserve and promote this country. Let it not be said that we went out with a whimper; we must not be overcome by our differences, we must celebrate and rejoice in them.
– A. Lynden Evans,
North Vancouver, B.C.