The DNA of Cana­di­ans: What makes us?

We are bound to­gether by com­mon threads: Po­lite­ness. Di­ver­sity. Re­spect

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - DR. DAVE DAVIS

It was a young woman who made me start ask­ing the ques­tion, ‘What makes a Cana­dian?’

I was in­ter­ested in where she came from — she and her daugh­ters were vis­i­tors to a place in the North End that I know. She was stand­ing in the door­way, her hands in the pock­ets of one of those puffy quilted coats. The coat was grey, the colour of the chilly sky.

“Where are you from?” I asked, think­ing Thai­land or Viet­nam.

“Locke Street,” she replied, or some­thing close to it, a lo­cal street any­way. “No, no, be­fore that,” I clar­i­fied, smil­ing. She re­peated the street name. Af­ter I re­phrased the ques­tion, she told me her coun­try of ori­gin — South China as it turned out. Later, on the drive back home, cof­fee in hand, (a Tim Hor­tons; this is about Canada, right?) I re­flected on the woman’s re­sponse, think­ing, How Cana­dian. And asked the ques­tion: What makes us Cana­dian?

There are count­less sto­ries like this. Over­hear­ing the ab­so­lutely Cana­dian con­ver­sa­tion be­tween two guys at the gro­cery store, com­plain­ing about the Leafs, the na­tional pas­time.

Later, when I looked back, one of their tur­bans was a bright blue. Syr­ian women join­ing a cook­ing class in down­town Hamil­ton, learn­ing to pre­pare Cana­dian and their own recipes with lo­cal pro­duce, cre­at­ing a sort of Arab-Cana­dian fu­sion. The cul­tural aware­ness train­ing we took in an in­ner city clinic years ago to un­der­stand Latin Amer­i­can cus­toms.

There is strength in di­ver­sity. This is Canada, home of new­com­ers and orig­i­nal peo­ples, of bilin­gual­ism and beavers, of loonies and lib­eral poli­cies (small L of course), of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and mul­ti­ple com­plaints about our favourite los­ing sports team. The home of im­mi­grants: my par­ents for one, my wife’s par­ents for an­other.

For the last sev­eral weeks, I‘ve been ask­ing peo­ple what they thought our dis­tin­guish­ing na­tional traits are. The com­mon­est an­swer, no sur­prise, was po­lite­ness, a na­tional dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture if there ever was one.

I used to com­mute to Wash­ing­ton from Toronto Is­land on one of those itsy-bitsy tin cans Air Canuck likes to call planes. Tak­ing my 200 pound (well, it feels like 200 pounds) lap­top one Mon­day morn­ing down from the over­head I ac­ci­den­tally wal­loped a guy, hit­ting him with enough force to make me wince. In a nanosec­ond, be­fore I could get the words out of my mouth, he said, “I’m sorry!” To me. Af­ter I hit him. Poor guy prob­a­bly still has a bruise the size of PEI on his shoul­der. (They say by the way that the av­er­age Cana­dian says ‘sorry’ 45,000 times a day. I know we do it a lot, but c’mon, 45,000 times?)

And, once in the US, where I think I don’t have an ac­cent, some­one will say, “You’re a Cana­dian, aren’t you?” Why? I say PRAWcess like a U.S. na­tive, swal­low those ‘eh’s’, don’t wear my Jays T-shirt. I am to­tally incog­nito, the in­vis­i­ble Cana­dian, but I still get spot­ted. Maybe it’s in sub­tle things, like com­pro­mise. Fig­ur­ing out what the other per­son thinks or feels. Re­spect­ing the other guy. Hold­ing the door to the 7-11 open for the mother with her three young kids.

Most of all, I think, un­like the na­tions of the yes­ter­day, where peo­ple found com­mon ties in their ap­pear­ance — the fair freck­led skin of the Scot, the broad serene face of the Finn — we are a na­tion of to­mor­row, a fab­ric bound to­gether by com­mon threads. Po­lite­ness for one. Di­ver­sity for an­other. Re­spect for the other guy yet an­other — a kind of shared, com­mon value as strong and tough as the rail­road that runs across the coun­try. Who knows? Maybe one thread made of Tim Hor­tons. One mak­ing Canada ‘home’.

As big as those things are, it’s more than those threads though.

Cana­di­ans are the liv­ing demon­stra­tion of an idea, stronger than mor­tal genes and their short-lived ex­pres­sion. It’s this no­tion: that hu­mans from across the world, trust­ing that if two cul­tures can live to­gether in peace, pros­per­ity and the pur­suit of health, then many more can achieve those same goals. Not bad ideas to build a coun­try on. For sure, we’re not per­fect (take the plight of our na­tive peo­ples for ex­am­ple) but we’re young yet (150 puts us in like kinder­garten for coun­tries), but our kind of bond is def­i­nitely more durable than genes or cus­toms. “There is noth­ing stronger,” Vic­tor Hugo said, “than an idea whose time has come.” Canada is one of those ideas. We are, above all, a na­tion of the fu­ture. It’s in our DNA.

Oh, I got one other an­swer to the ques­tion, ‘What makes a Cana­dian?’ con­trib­uted by my grand­son, ten years old go­ing on twenty-five. “Luck,” he said. For em­pha­sis, “Cana­di­ans are lucky.”

He and the lady from Locke Street have it just right.

Dave Davis, lives in Dun­das, On­tario and Fort My­ers Beach, Florida. He’s a hus­band, fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and a re­tired physi­cian, writer and speaker. You can fol­low him, if you have noth­ing bet­ter to do, @drauthor24 or write him at dr­dav­e­ He likes it when you write


Cana­di­ans are the liv­ing demon­stra­tion of an idea, stronger than mor­tal genes and their short-lived ex­pres­sion, writes Dave Davis.

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