Like so many people living in this great country, I’m an immigrant; Canada was the country of choice for my family. A choice we’ve never regretted.
I was born in Scotland and lived the first few years of my life in one of Glasgow’s most notorious post-World War II slums. The government owned housing scheme we lived in was slowly being demolished while we still lived there. At one point the entire ceiling of the little room that five of us lived in fell down, fortunately it happened when we were out, otherwise one of my brothers, who was only a few months old, could have been crushed in his crib.
When we were finally moved by the government into a new housing development, it didn’t take long for the street gangs from our old neighbourhood to sort out their base territories and begin their weekend battles. Our new tenement (which, luxury of luxuries, had an indoor toilet and running water) happened to look out at a bridge that was a gang boundary, so Saturday night street brawls were often our “entertainment.”
With four sons, my parents knew that the possibility of us ending up engaged in Glasgow’s gang (and knife) culture wasn’t out of the question and this was one of a number of reasons why they began to look for another country to live in that might offer their sons better opportunities.
We immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba in February 1967, Canada’s centennial year. Our initial introduction to the country was a little rough, as we arrived just after a massive snowstorm had buried the city and at the start of a long period of deep prairie winter. However, that first summer Winnipeg hosted the Centennial multi-cultural festival, introducing our family to Canada’s cultural diversity in a wonderfully celebratory manner that I’ve never forgotten.
For our family, Canada afforded us incredible opportunities to live a very different life and pursue different opportunities than if we’d stayed in Scotland. We’ve always been grateful for this fresh start and Canada Day presents us with an opportunity each year to celebrate our country of choice.
All immigrants have their own stories and their own reasons why they left their home country and why they chose Canada as their new place to call home. In fact, somewhere in every Canadians’ history is an immigrant story, including those of Canada’s First People.
Of course, First Nations have primacy of place in Canada because their origin stories pre-date modern settlers by millennia, giving First Nations territorial claims and rights that no other immigrant population can claim, either morally or legally. Again, Canada Day is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the fact that Canada’s First Peoples made it possible, in so many ways, for those who came much later to discover this nation and settle here.
This Canada Day, as the world protests systemic racism in all its forms, I hope we can all pause and reflect on the fact that Canada’s historic and inherent diversity of origins should not be something that divides us but rather it should be seen as a strength we can all embrace and celebrate.
Learning the stories of others and, particularly, how their family arrived and settled here is a good way for us all to break down barriers and celebrate both our cultural diversity and our nation’s history. Let’s celebrate Canada Day, by celebrating its diversity in all its forms: take the time to ask someone their origin story, how their family came to Canada, and you’ll deepen both your understanding of the person and the history of our nation.
I would also like to thank all of those who are safely celebrating Canada Day this year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District are inviting all Quesnel and CRD residents to capture your Canada Day celebrations on camera and share your photos on the Explore Quesnel (@explorequesnel) Virtual Canada Day Celebration Facebook event. Although we cannot all be together, we can still celebrate Canada and what it means to be Canadian.