When I was little my sister and I always waited between velvet ropes with my dad to see the bank teller — while lines rounded, stamps pounded, and thumbs counted, bills. Sometimes we grabbed faded pink and green deposit slips — the ones printed on the thinnest paper ever — and amused ourselves drawing on them or making million-dollar withdrawals on behalf of Scrooge McDuck.
Trips to the bank were pretty boring with only three major highlights: 1) Watching someone slowly open that thick giant door to the vault with metal-prongs the size of tennis ball containers, 2) Listening to the dot matrix printer screech a few lines onto my dad’s vinyl bank book, and 3) If we were really lucky, being handed a brand new calendar for next year full of beautiful scenery shots of Canada.
Yes, my sister and I would flip through those calendars in the back of the station wagon on the ride home. Our eyes popped at misty rainbows over Niagara Falls, snow-capped peaks smeared like icing over mountains, and tiny people walking on Bay of Fundy floors. We stared at evergreens standing silent behind mirrory Algonquin lakes, red and yellow leaf-covered drives on twisting Cape Breton roads, and a dim orange sun setting over a sparkling Toronto skyline. We gazed deeply at mossy boulders beside frozen lakes, a majestic Chateau Frontenac looming over Quebec City, and bright green grasses rolling over Prince Edward Island hills.
“Just remember how lucky you are,” my dad used to say, while steering us back into our shady subdivision. “All those pictures are from your own country. It’s the best country in the world and you get to live here!”
Dad, you were right:
1. Drink till you drop. See all those blue puddles on the map of Canada? Yeah, the last ice age ripped deep holes up here and now they’re filled with the world’s largest supply of fresh water. Sometimes they’re not even frozen.
2. As the world turns. Our tiny planet tilts on its axis every year and since Canada is smacked on the top of Earth, those big tilts result in big seasons. There’s a quiet rhythm with the seasons in Canada — with ice scrapers, wet umbrellas, chipped picnic tables, and heavy wool sweaters all making annual appearances.
3. Share the wealth. Canadians toss about half of everything they make into a big glass jar and use it to pay for health care, education, and services for all. Oh sure, the system’s never perfect, but if you shatter your leg in an icy parking lot, need a dozen years of free school for six kids, or want to drive on clean roads across the country, well we got you baby, we got you.
4. Paint it black, and green, and blue. Canada has a long history of investing in culture and arts. There’s afternoon storytelling on public radio, film festivals all over the place, and musicians and movie-makers scoring cash from the government to make their masterpiece. People paint bikes, spraypaint alley walls, and busk on sidestreets, with folks always looking, finding, and sharing beauty.
5. Free to be you and me. “It’s a free country,” my dad used to say, and he meant it, too. You can live where you want, pray to anybody you please, marry anyone you like, and watch anything on TV. Plus, being one of the world’s most diverse countries means you can find temples, neighborhoods, and sports broadcasts to fit your taste.
6. Deliciously disgusting. With so many backgrounds and cultures a city in Canada might have samosas, schwarma, and ceviche on the same corner. But there are other very Canadian treats too like Nanaimo Bars (chocolate, coconut, icing squares), poutine (hot fries covered in gooey cheese curds and steamy gravy), butter tarts (melted brown sugar with raisins in a greasy pastry), Montreal smoked meat (salted, cured, steamed beef brisket served with mustard on rye bread), and Ketchup chips (ketchup chips).
7. Canadian animals seem polite too. No pythons, scorpions, sharks, crocs, or kimodo dragons here. Just cute and cuddly arctic hares, polar bears, Canadian geese, Canadian meese, and beavers. (Sidenote: Do not cuddle a beaver.)
8. This land is our land. Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia. It’s big! You can drive from one side to the other in about a week if you floor it and don’t mind putting almost 8,000 clicks on your car. But size helps with other things, too. If you live in a city, it’s easy to get away go camping for a day. If you pee your pants at school, it’s easy to skip town and change your identity.
9. 2 Languages, 2 Distinct Cultures, 2 Legit 2 Quit. Hey, hey! The province of Quebec makes all Canadians richer with French culture smeared coast to coast. There are two official languages so French classes broadens minds while Cirque du Soleil, French films, and delicious foods keep adding to the Canadian identity.
10. It’s full of Canadians. Sure, we’ve got lots of faults like apologizing too much and beating each other senseless in hockey. (Sorry about that.) But Canadians are some of the most peaceful, progressive, and cultured people in the world, if we do say so ourselves. Shaped by waves of new folks (40% of Canadians are first- or second-generation immigrants) the community is inclusive, funny, and polite. Also, Canadians are extremely humble, rarely extolling their virtues in long, meandering essays published online. (Sorry about that.)
So … after my dad parked the wood-panelled wagon in the driveway Nina and I headed inside to hang up the calendar on the yellow kitchen wall. It was hidden behind December for a month but soon we’d slowly scroll through polar bears on frozen lakes and setting suns over silos and hay bales. We gazed fondly on those pictures and dreamed of distant trips to far off places… and of course, like any country, like your home country, it’s only with exploring that we really truly see all the beauty that makes our home