I admittedly had a far more grandiose introduction in mind for the second phase to #Chronicle150, but there’s an àpropos saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men that comes to mind instead.
Tales from the 2.9 was quite the ordeal and an ambitious way to start #Chronicle150, but with my annual Black History Month celebration at a close, I’m redirecting my energies into celebrating this sesquicentennial in style—I only get one shot at it, after all! I’ll share my thoughts soon enough, but I’ll let my good friend Rob start us off for now.
Rob’s one of the most intelligent and passionate writers I know—his #Chronicle150 submission has a lot to pick apart, from our murky history to our internationally-renown niceness, and a bevvy of ways in which we can grow. I think you’ll take a lot from his words, and hopefully, they inspire you to look at your own Canadian experience and what you’ve gleaned from it!
I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll see you tomorrow with the 30th #Chronicle150 post!
Who are you and what are you all about?
My name is Robert William Iveniuk, and I am an author, columnist, and scriptwriter who lives and works in Toronto. I enjoy flights of fancy and media studies, and I have worked in and out of the not-for-profit sector for years. Whether or not I am good at any of those things is up for debate, really.
What makes you so Canadian?
I could type “I was born here, mate” and then walk away, but then I wouldn’t be a good writer if I did that.
Let’s go into terminology first, because that definition of “Canadian” has become increasingly vague over the years – and for the better, really.
When I think of such concepts as The Canadian, I think back to what I’d always been told growing up that Canada embraces being a Mosaic over a Melting Pot, that people are Swedish-Canadian, Bengali-Canadian, Ghanaian-Canadian, or First Nations, rather than simply “Being Canadian.” It’s that idea of having distinct values that you grew up with, maintaining a unique cultural or ethnic identity while being part of a larger whole. Being Canadian, in that respect, is not about Where You Came From so much as it is about What You Came From. It’s asking that question of how the hardships you and your family endured and whatever privileges you benefitted from over the generations affected your worldview and what you expect out of life and other people. It is also your reference point for your ideas of success and being a better person to yourself and those around you.
Speaking for myself, my family’s history is pretty Canadian. My father is descended from Ukrainian refugees who fled Eastern Europe during the Bolshevik Revolution, and my mother is an expat who left Britain to see the world. Hearing about my father’s life growing up in the poorer parts of Winnipeg and my mother’s experiences when she first came here played a huge part in my growth as a person. This made it easy for me to understand the friends I’d made who were New Canadians or still had family abroad. It was also what inspired my decision to work in the not-for-profit sector, especially in immigration, and part of the reason why I am a storyteller.
That ability to connect and empathise with other people, no matter how different they are, is very Canadian to me. It’s something that I see in my family, friends, and the people around me, and it’s something that I see in myself.
If you could distill your world to one story or moment that truly defines what being Canadian means to you, what would it be?
Back in 2013, a friend of mine and I were exiting a bookstore when we saw an elderly woman trip on her own walker and hit her head on the pavement. We bee-lined to the scene and called for an ambulance. At the same time, several bystanders came around to prop the old woman’s head up, dress her wound, and get water while other folks stood and watched, waiting with bated breath for the paramedics to arrive.
I remember some of the major players on the scene well. I remember the girl with the green hair who wept as her friend put her shirts under the woman’s head, and the man who ignored his friend’s flippant remarks to tend to her, apparently reminded of a time when he had to do the same thing for his own mother. What I remember most, however, was the sense of urgency and the need to support someone who was suffering, to rush to another person’s side when they were in trouble because it was the right thing to do. Torontonians are notorious for being very guarded and will often just pass by someone struggling with something without a second glance. Seeing people actually be there for another human was encouraging to say the least, and, in my mind, indicative of what the Canadian spirit is, or at least should be.
This is Canada today after 150 years. Where would you like to see it go from here on out?
I read somewhere that Canada’s could become the world’s first post-national country, one devoid of a “mainstream” culture. I’d like to see that push to destroy our self-imposed borders if that is the case. It would also be ideal if we developed and implemented better environmental platforms since we’ve been doing our fair share of polluting. I remember returning to Toronto after spending two weeks in Costa Rica and being rather disgusted when I realised I could taste motor oil in the air.
More importantly, I’d like to see us address the ugly side of our past and our present failures in order to create a better nation. Our spirit of generosity needs to be extended to everyone within, or entering, our country. We have the infrastructure to improve our fellows’ lives, whether they’ve been here since before the settlers arrived, turned up in boats during the reign of John A. MacDonald, or showed up on a plane an hour ago. It’s time we stopped our hand-wringing and did something about that.
Finally, what’s the one thing you think the rest of the world needs to know about Canada?
There’s a lot of things about Canada to enjoy and admire. We have a good health care system, lush nature, a diverse population, and some solid laws against hate speech. Please understand, however, that we do have our shortcomings. Never forget that Amnesty International gave us a failing grade back in 2012. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
This does not, however, make us an inherently bad country. Yes, I’m critical about my homeland, but constructive criticism is a form of love, and I do love Canada. We are a young and prosperous nation with a lot of potential. We mean to see that vision we have of ourselves as a strong but compassionate nation realised. It is clear that we find joy and love here, and that we very much want to share that feeling with the world – if only because the world has shared so much with us already.
Robert William Iveniuk is a Toronto-based writer. His short fiction has been featured in a number of anthologies, including “Long Hidden” by Crossed Genres Publications and “Quick Shivers About Bugs” by Daily Nightmares. He has also contributed articles to Urban Fantasy Magazine, Archenemy Magazine, and BlogTO, and started a very small production company. You can read some of his work on his blog and watch the videos he and his friends put together on The Aquarium Entertainment YouTube channel.