Tuesday 22 March 2016

Living on a Floating Canada

Sea Wolf is a Canadian flagged vessel on which I differ from everyone else because I’m not Canadian. Below decks there is very little that would give any clues as to the nationality of the boat. The keen observer might pick up on maple syrup stowed in the galley and a higher percentage of Canadian authors in the bookshelves. Without more physical clues one is forced to seek out Canadianishness amongst Sea Wolf’s crew.

The first striking thing is that they are very proud of their country, and rightly so. A nation that began with British immigrants has continued to take in a wide range of displaced people with considerable success. I’ve heard it said that Canada is the salad bowl to America’s melting pot, in the sense that in Canada immigrants are encouraged to keep their identity, as opposed to the expected level of assimilation in the US.

And this brings us on to the prickly subject of their neighbour, and you strongly get the impression that Canada wishes it could be transplanted somewhere else on the world map due to issues of association. Whilst anxious to appear different to America, it appears there is much more that connects them than separates them. Or in the words of Jonathan Raban, “Canadian differential more as absence than presence”.

This is perhaps unsurprising given the crude way in which the bulk of the border divides the two countries. The rigid parallel of 49 degrees north makes no attempt to assimilate the natural geography of rivers and mountains, which typically tend to provide a division between communities and hence a contrasting psyche.
If the agitation of being linked with America wasn’t enough, there are also the historical and cultural ties to Britain and France. Whilst the Canadians on board like to poke fun at the British (rich pickings there), it is ultimately where they came from and the Queen’s head still appears on their bills. Again, resemblances appear closer than they care to admit.

The Canadian province of Quebec serves up another dichotomy. Those Canadians outside Quebec seem to view it with both disdain and respect, much in the same way that France and England observe each other. I’ve yet to meet a Canadian who doesn’t revere the city of Montreal for its sense of identity and place. 

And this appears to be the crux of it. Canadians are to some extent envious of the strong identities of the triple influences of America, Britain and Quebec. 

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