COVER

VOICES FROM THE CANADIAN PRAIRIE

July 7 1986
COVER

VOICES FROM THE CANADIAN PRAIRIE

July 7 1986

VOICES FROM THE CANADIAN PRAIRIE

COVER

On Tuesday, July 1—Canada Day—the nation celebrates the 119th anniversary of Confederation. In search of Canadian patriotism, Maclean’s associate editor Peeter Kopvillem spent five days travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway between Falcon Lake, Man., and Moose Jaw, Sask., talking to ordinary Canadians about their lives—and their feelings for their country. His report:

In the geographical centre of Canada the rugged northern shield of rocks, forests and lakes melts into miles of achingly flat prairie. History seems somehow closer. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, people still talk of grandparents “turning the first sod,” as if settlers, arriving along the partially completed railroad, some pushing farther west in oxcarts, arrived only yesterday instead of in the late 1800s. And here, where grain elevators loom over the sunbaked streets of Prairie towns, a deep sense of Canadian nationalism and pride is summed up in the words of a Grenfell, Sask., woman whose family farm was 100 years old in 1982: “We should fight for what our country stands for: freedom and the right to voice your opinions.”

And along the TransCanada, where the 49th parallel often lies no more than 100 km to the south, past fields with their fresh summer stubble of green crops, people also express their pride in Canada as a more tolerant, accommodating society than the United States.

“Americans are very individualistic,” said Ed Baker, a Richardson Greenshields of Canada Ltd. stockbroker in Brandon, Man., and a former Canadian Air Force pilot during the Second World War.

“Here, we have a feeling

for our fellow man that I don’t think is reflected across the way. And I think that we’re prepared to pay a little extra for that.”

The basis for that tolerance may stem from the history of the Canadian Prairie itself, a land and society that has nurtured a mosaic of people from all corners of the globe. Said Winnipeg native Georgina Panting, 25, a park attendant in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park near the Ontario border: “People still have touch with their backgrounds. You don’t feel pressured to become a Canadian.”

Values: Indeed, many prairie residents view that lack of pressure to assimilate—and conform to a norm—as paramount. In Winnipeg, in a turn-ofthe-century brick building that once housed a Bible school, Sophia Kachor, executive director of the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre, said, “I feel that my being Ukrainian is an integral part of my being Canadian.” Added Kachor, 37, whose parents emigrated to Canada after the Second World War: “What defines a Canadian

is all the cultural baggage that he has—the ability to be able to hold on to values from the past.”

Along the main asphalt artery, many Canadians voice unabashed pride in the nation’s accomplishments, from the Canadarm on the U.S. space shuttles to performances in international sporting events. “It gives me a charge when Canada is mentioned internationally,” said Chuck Dunning, 32, assistant treasurer for the town of Virden, Man. One special moment for Dunning: the 1984 Summer Olympics, when Canadian swimmers won 10 medals. In many communities— where Canada Day has traditionally been celebrated with sporting events— athletics have a strong symbolic significance. For John Fletcher, 18, this year’s class valedictorian at Arthur Meighen High School in Portage La Prairie, Man., hockey, for one, is a living part of his heritage. His grandfather and his father both played minor league hockey, and when Fletcher begins first-year science studies at the University of Manitoba this fall, he says he hopes to play on the university team. “It’s part of the Canadian tradition,” he said, “like baseball to the Americans.”

Emotions: Of course, other, more tangible symbols also stir Canadian emotions: the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, provincial emblems and the Queen. Yet on the prairie, where the terrain is so flat and empty that a driver on the Trans-Canada can see a

complete 100-car-long freight train— from locomotive to caboose—the land itself is a powerful symbol. “There are few countries in the world that have the vast open spaces that we have,” said Brandon, Man., fire inspector Frank Watt, a five-year veteran of the Canadian air force and president of one of the city’s two Royal Canadian Legion branches. “It is definitely a Canadian symbol.”

Symbol: But the overriding focus of Canadian patriotism is the red-andwhite Maple Leaf flag, the subject of rancorous debate when the Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson adopted it in 1965 to replace the Canadian Red Ensign and the British Union Jack. Now, it unobtrusively asserts itself in front of post offices, from flagpoles on the tidy lawns of private houses and on spare-tire covers of vans and campers. Ivan Smith, minister at the Bethel United Church in Moosomin, Sask., said that because of his United Empire Loyalist background, he “had a loyalty to the British flag.” But, he added, “Canada most definitely had the potential and the right to be a country on its own.” Now, Smith concedes, the flag is becoming “a symbol of Canadian patriotism.”

For others, that transition is already complete. Although Bruce Penton, editor of the weekly World-Spectator in

Moosomin, insists that he is not a “flaming patriot,” he nonetheless says bluntly: “I love the flag.” First-year University of Manitoba commerce student Deanna Smeltz, 18, whose family has farmed the homestead in Cromer, Man., for at least 100 years, declared that the flag “signifies that Canada is a distinct entity all its own.” And in Moose Jaw, Sask., where the main street is draped with Canadian and provincial flags, public school superintendent Barclay Cant recalled a recent high school assembly during which a Grade 12 student immediately picked up the flag after it had fallen over. Cant later asked the boy why he had reacted that way. ö The student’s response: g “We were talking about § it over the dinner table, I and my dad said we 8 should be more proud of

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In towns and cities sprinkled along the Trans-Canada, this week’s celebrations of Canada Day are perhaps the most obvious indication of increasing national consciousness. While some Canadians say that the day holds no special significance, about 20 per cent of Winnipeg’s 612,000 people took part in Canada Day events last year. The per-

centage was even higher in Regina (population 175,000). And Canada Day is also celebrated in many smaller communities—with the aid of federal grants of $80,000 per province. In Grenfell, Sask.“ population 1,307, the holiday will be marked this year by five days of events that include a parade, community supper and sporting tournaments. Said Frank Clark of Manitoba’s Canada Day Committee: “People are becoming much more aware of the country and getting the idea of celebrating Canada’s birthday.” Pains: At times, day-to-day concerns intrude into conversation, adding a cutting edge to patriotic sentiments. The free trade debate—and what many regard as the tough U.S. treatment of Canada—confuses and upsets many prairie residents. The plight of the nation’s farmers stirs them to anger. Others, among them Brandon businessman Lome Collins, owner of the city’s Redwood Travelodge motel and a member of a “Pentecostal-style church,” contend that the country is becoming weakened because “Christian beliefs are being driven out of the school system.” But all seem to share a sense of gratitude that Canada’s problems—no matter how serious—in no way compare to the troubles experienced in other parts of the world. Said Grant Allan, a 33-year-old firefighter in Brandon and the father of two children: “These are just growing pains we’re going through.”

Potential: The image of Canada as a young country still evolving shapes the words of young and old alike. “We’ve got a lot of potential,” said Connie Hutchison, a first-year arts student at the University of Manitoba, whose family has farmed for four generations. Delmer Martin, 64, a retired farmer, carpenter and now curator of the Fort La Reine Museum and Pioneer Village in Portage la Prairie, echoes that: “We’re

still in the experimental stage, still striving to meet our objectives— whatever they are.” From his cluttered office, he can see the museum’s main display room filled with the paraphernalia of a Prairie past. But the nation, says Martin, a descendant of loyalists whose family has farmed in Manitoba since the 1880s, is poised for the future. “We’re still stretching out, reaching