Kickass Canadians reflect on what Canada means to them and what they hope it will mean in the future.
This July 1 marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation. For some living in Canada, that’s cause to celebrate a great nation of freedom and opportunity. For others, it’s a bitter reminder of the history surrounding how the country came to be, and how its Indigenous peoples were stripped of their rights, their land and their culture. Still others view it with indifference.
In preparing this post and reading the thoughtful entries from the Kickass Canadians—and hearing why some of them preferred not to contribute—I’m reminded more than ever that Canada means very different things to different people. And I think that’s okay.
We have dark roots; there’s no denying it. But I’m proud to live in a country where our government is finally acknowledging Canada’s shameful treatment of Indigenous peoples and working toward reconciliation. Where we stand up for equality, whether among races, religions, genders, ages or any other differentiator. Where, in spite of our reputation for politesse, we won’t be bullied into abandoning our values.
And I am grateful for so many other wonderful aspects of Canada: clean air, fresh water, spectacular natural beauty, relative peace, access to healthcare and education, and the freedom to voice our many different viewpoints. Here, we welcome all manner of cultures and ideas. That diversity is what makes us so unique; it’s what defines us. We are all helping to shape this country we share—a nation focused on the future, one that continually evolves as new Canadians of all walks arrive and are born here.
Canada 150 is a complicated event. But it presents us all with the opportunity to reflect on what we want our country to be and to contribute to its landscape. So, in recognition of Canada 150, I present to you various reflections from some of the Kickass Canadians, all of whom are committed to bettering themselves, their country and the world.
“I’m very proud to be a Canadian at this point in our nation’s history. We are a country whose pride is based upon strength derived from our diversity and desire to care for others. For such a large country to have the collective spirit of a local barn raising when something important needs to happen is a pretty cool thing. I can’t wait to experience the celebrations that Canada will be putting on in our 150th year, with many of our neighbours and visitors.” —Stephen Beckta, Beckta, Play & Gezellig owner
“This is what I am working on at the moment—it will be on display at the Salt Spring Arts Council gallery at Mahon Hall, starting in early 2018:
“The collection of portraits, and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, are meaningful for a number of reasons. Salt Spring Island became my and my husband’s home four years ago and, as well as being beautiful, it is full of very interesting people of all ages. I wanted to celebrate the people and the island, which has truly become our home. My family emigrated to Canada from the U.K. in 1966. We arrived in Vancouver in time to begin working on the 100th anniversary of Confederation. This was celebrated with a birthday party at the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, with the organizers asking me to dress characters from west coast history—Mackenzie, Vancouver, etc. They were to be part of the pageant at the stadium, an early introduction to British Columbia and Canada’s history. I shall always remember my parents, brother and grandmother kneeling on the ground at the stadium, switching on the ‘flames’ of 100 small children dressed as candles—quite a feat! We came as a family and although English was our mother tongue, we suffered many of the problems that immigrants are still suffering through today. It is not an easy thing to emigrate, and when you arrive in Canada coming from a different language and different culture, I often think how much harder it is for those immigrants, especially refugees, than it was for us. Immigrants choose to be here for one reason or another and I often wonder if this makes us commit more as Canadians. My work in Canadian theatre started then, 50 years ago. In 1966, theatre was a very young profession. People were only just starting to graduate from the National Theatre School and there were only a couple of professionally trained designers working in Canada, so it gave me many opportunities when I arrived. I have tried to repay this over the years by training and mentoring young Canadian designers and artists.” —Susan Benson, costume designer, painter
“My daily commute takes me along the Rideau Canal. There’s a slight curve in the road and as it opens up to the final stretch of my ride, the view I see never ceases to bring me a feeling of pride and appreciation for where I live. That view is of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. The downtown skyline and the canal are beautiful in all seasons, but that tower with the Canadian flag inspires me to no end. My workday is not an easy one, so starting each day with a reminder to give back to my country helps fuel me. Through my job, I am surrounded by trauma and stories that would break your heart. However, I am also fortunate to witness incredible courage and resilience—to work with other survivors, colleagues, volunteers and service providers who are taking action and inspiring hope. My vision is for a Canada where we see children and youth growing up without experiencing sexual abuse. A Canada where all survivors of the heinous crimes of sex trafficking and sexual abuse get the support and services they need. A Canada where no other child has to hold on to the secret of abuse and suffer the consequences, as I did for so many years. We’ve made some headway but we still have a long way to go. We need to use our voices and not hide from the ugly truth that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will experience an unwanted sexual act before their 18th birthday. I know we can do this. Happy 150th, Canada! I am proud to be of service to Canadians.” —Cynthia Bland, Voice Found founder
“Over the last 20 years I have been blessed to work with thousands of Canadians from coast to coast, and through this experience I have discovered Canada is more diverse than any other country I have worked in. But I don’t mean diverse in ethnicity, religion, gender equality—the regular three we hear about a lot. What I witness is diversity in thinking, diversity in approach to life, diversity in problem solving. This type of diversity gives our country an advantage that many other countries do not experience. This diversity in thinking is the result of the way we accept and appreciate the many different cultures we host in Canada. Immigrants to our vast country are allowed to flourish in our society, while keeping and frankly celebrating their own traditions. This is true in personal lives but also in boardrooms and businesses across the country. As we are more accepting of different culture, we have become more accepting of new ways of approaching problems, new ways of running businesses and new ways of us all flourishing. It is important to celebrate all that is Canada and the unique advantages that our policies and society provide.” —Don R. Campbell, Real Estate Investment Network senior advisor
“When I think about the country I live in, and in particular my province of Quebec and the community of Verdun, I think ‘togetherness.’ Just yesterday I was walking to my car when I saw an Asian man whose car was stuck in a snowbank. I offered to show him the technique my father taught me, which he learned after moving to Canada from Jamaica in the late 1960s. I took the driver’s seat and managed to move the car a fair ways out of the snowbank. Then another car stopped and an African-Canadian man pulled out some tire grips and laid them down to get the car the rest of the way out. The owner was so grateful. As we all got into our cars to pull away, a bystander, who appeared to be of European descent, cheered for our everyday victory. This is why I love Canada; we’re a mixture of different ethnic backgrounds, we are helpers, we assist when we can and we do it smiling, without expecting anything in return. I am so grateful to be a part of the province of Quebec and the community of Verdun. It is changing and has so much potential for growth, just like Canada. I wonder what the next 150 years will bring. Joyeux anniversaire, Canada.” —Lorraine Elizabeth Campbell, When We Play-Quand On Joue founder
“If I could wish something for everyone fortunate enough to be Canadian, it would be to really understand, really feel and really recognize how fortunate we are to live in a beautiful, free country as great as ours. To top it off, it would be for every Canadian to then be lucky enough to represent Canada in some type of sport, activity or duty where you get to stand in your nation’s colours, singing the national anthem and feeling the blood coursing through your veins, and your heart bursting with so much pride that it feels like it is going to explode out of your chest. That is special because Canada is special. So I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone throughout history who has had a part, big or small, minute in detail or in great significance, who contributed to making Canada the country and home it is. O Canada, indeed!” —Al Charron, Rugby Canada manager, Player Advancement & Alumni Relations
“To me, Canada is the best word in the world to describe the best place in the world, and when I hear that word, it fills me with endless pride.” —Rob Cohen, filmmaker (Being Canadian), comedy writer (The Simpsons)
“I am excited to partake in work that I can’t not do. I believe in humankind, and that gentleness, decency and bravery are available to not only me but all human beings. All that is required is sane action in this insane time. I also believe in the collective intelligence, wisdom and capacity of those around me—my colleagues and Queen of Green supporters.” —Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green
“To be Canadian is to be there for all people, to make the world a better place and to play in the snow while doing it.” —Ryan D’Arcy, neuroscientist
“Just 50 years ago we celebrated Expo ’67. Although I wasn’t there to celebrate it, it seems universally remembered as a remarkable event and one which many believed helped to establish Canada on the world stage. It began the contemplation of our identity as a nation, one that persists in many ways. This year, as we reflect on notions of identity and the value of nationhood, let us consider two things: That nationalism can be a source of pride but that it can also be a tool for division. To identify and celebrate that which makes me, me, I must have something to compare it to. Comparison and separation are necessary for identity to be determined. Then the ‘other’ can be used as a target of fear, blame and villainy, which in turn can be used to start wars, increase wealth, and control power and the direction of the masses. I am a very proud Canadian who is cautious of flag waving—especially since we have our own skeletons to atone for and capacity for duplicity and betrayal. We are not without faults but we also hold (wonderful) social values that have become the cornerstone of our identity abroad. Let us use this sesquicentennial to celebrate all nations who understand we are ALL born onto this planet: human with EQUAL inalienable rights, no matter from which part of the map we are born.” —Matthew Edison, actor-writer
“I’ve always believed travel is the greatest teacher. My travels have taken me across our great nation and beyond, and I’ve discovered that we are all united by a common sense of place. It’s founded in a diversity that extends beyond the crisp borders of the maple leaf to the rest of the world. Hockey, maple syrup and our love of a northern climate—these themes unite us. But who we are and how the rest of the world sees us are greater than the sum of those symbols. We are 150 years of people united by a sense of compassion, empathy, diversity and ingenuity. And above all else, a sense of wanting to leave our country, and indeed our world, a little better than how we found it.” —Andrew Furey, Team Broken Earth founder
“Our First Nation’s history is rooted deeply in a connection to nature. More than any other country, we experience seasonal change—the cycles of birth and death each spring and autumn. We are shaped by our freedom to play, learn and experience solitude in the great outdoors. We are shaped by our national and provincial parks, a vast wealth of untouched beauty. Even the nighttime of our cold and dark winters shapes who we are. Our currency boasts images of moose, beavers, loons and polar bears. Playing shinny on the local pond, tobogganing, swimming in lakes, skiing or simply going for a short hike—the list of outdoor activities tied to our identity as Canadians is endless. We are fundamentally shaped by this land and the time we spend outside, and we are so fortunate to have such an amazing backyard to play in. Our responsibility of being stewards to this land is paramount, but so is our responsibility to ensuring our children spend time outside—developing a lasting relationship that will not only help them care about their surrounding environment but will shape the very core of their character.” —Colin Harris, Take Me Outside founder
“My ski career provided me with many opportunities over the years, but one that has shaped who I am and that I’m incredibly grateful for was the chance to explore our great country. I’ve skied, run, hiked, explored and appreciated our trails from coast to coast, and still have so much more to see. We are fortunate to have endless spectacular terrain here in Canada, and with that comes a responsibility to protect our environment and make sure generations to come get to explore and experience its beauty as well.” —Perianne Jones, Olympic cross-country skier
“I am honoured to have contributed to 26 of Canada’s 150 proud years! As an immigrant, I was given the opportunity to raise a family and grow professionally, and now I have the privilege of serving our community in need. I believe that it is people from all parts of the world who have made Canada the great place that it is, and this is the Canada that I celebrate today!” —Elizabeth Lewis-Crudgington, Quest Food Exchange executive director
“Through the greatest challenges and the darkest times come the greatest treasures and the brightest light. I’m not a believer in accidents but rather that every experience, no matter how painful, has positive purpose buried within. The trick is for us to be brave enough and bold enough to look through the right lens. Our dark days here in Canada will always be viewed as dark if we do not dare to look for the light. As an Indigenous woman coming from a life and lineage that has experienced the dark, I feel privileged to bear witness every day to the brilliance that is breaking through. It is as if those experiences are preparing us to deliver something so invaluable to humanity; that only through such darkness could such illumination be born. I’m truly excited for Canada’s birthday, as it marks the beginning of this new era and the unwrapping of many new gifts. I believe the next 150 years will mark a new path for humanity, one that is light from the fire within.” —Shannon Loutitt, honour runner, International Indigenous Speakers Bureau co-founder
“In the early 1960s, I saw some remarkable low-budget feature films produced by Canadians. In these movies, the characters were obviously Canadian, walked the streets of Toronto or Montreal, and spoke Torontonian or French-Canadian. It was life changing. I realized at that moment that my experiences and my community were valid sites for meaningful storytelling. I’ve spent the rest of my life telling these stories.” —Clarke Mackey, filmmaker (The Only Thing You Know), Queen’s University professor
“The further I move along in my career, the more and more I appreciate that diversity truly fuels creativity and that many different voices are needed in developing new, innovative ideas. I am more keenly aware of the diversity (or lack thereof) of participants in projects I work on. Many viewpoints are needed as we continue to push the boundaries of science and technology through bridging disciplines and thinking holistically.” —Marianne Mader, geologist, STEAMLabs co-founder
“As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, it seems that, as a country, we are incredibly lucky. Diversity and inclusiveness have been woven into our country’s DNA and made our society much richer. In so many parts of the country, we embrace differences and celebrate the unique cultural perspectives of our country’s citizens. So much so that diversity and inclusiveness (in spite of the strides still to be made) can almost be taken for granted. However, as we watch with increasing anxiety in other parts of the world how quickly these values can crumble, it’s a stark reminder that our uniqueness is not a birthright. It’s something to be defended and nurtured even more vigorously than ever before.” —Michael McGowan, writer-director (Between, Still Mine, One Week, Saint Ralph)
“For as long as I can remember, my adoptive American parents bragged to everyone that I was ‘their Canuck’ and it always filled me with a sense of so much pride! As the lone Canadian in my family, my childhood was serendipitous and I was thought of as a ‘great mediator’ and an ‘incredibly polite’ person. (Despite my schoolyard fighting or cussing with my classmates.) Luckily, such a wonderful sense of self-identity, based on my nationality, was imprinted in my personality and would stay with me forever.” —Bif Naked, rock star, spokeswoman
“What makes me proud to call myself Canadian? That we’re a nation that believes in tolerance and diplomacy. That we don’t possess nuclear weapons and don’t aspire to. That we don’t wage wars, then close our borders to the very people displaced and threatened by them. And that we believe healthcare should be freely available to everyone, whereas guns should not.” —Samantha Nutt, War Child Canada founder
“As we stride into 2017, the question I have is: ‘How can we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in a way that says, I challenged myself to make a difference?’ We live in turbulent times. It’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and negativism. One way to break out is to tackle a goal that at first might seem overwhelming. Maybe it’s running your first 5km race or your first marathon. Once you’ve picked your goal, then make the decision to make a difference. Select a race and support a charity that you really believe in, one that changes the lives of others. I did my fist 5km race in 2003 at the age of 48. The charity I’ve chosen to support is Right To Play. For the 2017 Calgary Marathon weekend, I’ve signed up for the 150km ultramarathon. I may have bitten off more than I can chew; however, if by fundraising for Right To Play I can change the life of one child, then whatever happens, it will have been worth it. Let’s make 2017 the year of building bridges, not walls. Canada is a country made up of a people who want to make a difference and do something. So, in 2017, what something will you do?” —Martin Parnell, Right to Play Ambassador
“Canada, as I have come to know, is derived from the Indigenous word for ‘village.’ The country has become a global village and a place of safe refuge for many. As I have come to know more about this land, I have been privileged to become familiar with First Nations people in the Coast Salish Territory in southwestern B.C. I have come to understand the tremendous sacrifice and social costs the first peoples had to endure in the name of the creation of Canada. I have also witnessed their tremendous courage and resilience through their expression of culture, their relationship with the land and each other. The acknowledgment of the past, search for identity and quest to move forward in a good way is something that I am deeply internalizing personally and expressing through my creative pursuits. I hope the best ways of many villagers now settled here on Indigenous land can also express themselves and become a solid part of the future of Canada.” —Jay Peachy, artist, mental health advocate
“In light of the many challenges facing our country’s social fabric, economy, environment and health, I hope to see a Canada where people speak more with their actions rather than critical, uninformed words about how things should be. More people need to step up to be part of the solutions. In our nation’s future, I hope to see a Canada that has: less disparity between the rich and the poor; better resources for people with chronic illness and disabilities; Indigenous peoples who feel like they are true Canadians, with a balance between their past and the future; and a proactive approach to health vs. a reactive one, which will result in a reduction in obesity and chronic illness, and a stepped improvement in quality of life for Canadians.” —Blaine Penny, MitoCanada co-founder
“The canoe, in all its expressions from coast to coast to coast (including the qayaq and its variants over time, from the Inuvialuit through Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut) was instrumental in the writing of Canada’s story from then to now. As such, with all of its messages about geography, communication, transportation, innovation, design, cultural diversity, economics and recreation, the canoe is something we should cherish for its (pre)historical significance. But in this nation of coasts and rivers and in this river of nations that is Canada, the canoe has lessons to take the country forward as well. My hope for Canada in this sesquicentennial year is that Canadians will rediscover and embrace the canoe as idea for building a better country. The canoe reminds us who we were, who we are and who we can be. Similarly, it affirms where we are, where we have come from, and can indicate where we might travel together as a nation. My secret hope is that one day we would have at least one canoe in every school in the nation. It could be a physical canoe that students could paddle to get fit and connected to the land. But it could also be a building project, a planter on the front lawn, a half model on the wall or an image on a poster. It could be canoes in Canadian literature. It could be the object of an art project, or a musical composition, a poem, or a reason to bring elders into the school to share stories. Whatever form the canoe might take, as an idea this presence would serve as a reminder that we are all in the same proverbial boat and that there is value in pulling together.” —James Raffan, author (Circling the Midnight Sun), filmmaker (Goh Iromoto’s The Canoe), Canadian Canoe Museum executive director
“As we celebrate the 150th, I will always be celebrating the ancestors who first walked on this land. It is because of their strength that we as native people are able to be where we are today.” —Savannah “Savvy” Simon, motivational speaker, #SpeakMikmaq founder
“Recent events in the U.S. and Britain have made me angry, frustrated, sad and confused… and also a lot more proud to be Canadian! But I’m aware of the danger of resting on this pride. Canada is not immune to these problems. We should celebrate how far we’ve come, but there’s a lot more work to be done and now we have an even greater responsibility to help our friend-countries find their way to the future with us.” —Henry Smith, Spaceteam creator
“Canada is a menu of stories, a land of ultimate culinary possibilities! The richness and biodiversity of the Indigenous harvest—our original palate—is the foundation of it all. Built solidly upon that base are our iconic ingredients—wheat, beef, apples—enriching and embroidering the culinary traditions of a multitude of immigrant groups who have gathered together from the four corners of the globe, men and women with a passion for this land which they now call ‘home.’ Local ingredients are becoming sexy and we are beginning to recognize that seasonally harvested food actually tastes better. This is causing a massive repositioning of our entire culinary economy—and it’s just beginning. By being attentive to our food sources, not only do we keep the cash flowing for our producers, we enable them to maintain and nurture diversity, creating a fabulous edible shopping list for us now and, even more importantly, for future generations. We are indeed cooking a better Canada.” —Anita Stewart, Food Day Canada founder
“I’m constantly reminded of the incredibly diverse group of people that are able to say, ‘I am Canadian.’ There are so many differences: background, culture, life experiences, language, etc. Yet Canada is still a place that staunchly defends concepts that are communal: universal healthcare, strong public education, socio-economic support… So many different peoples, all caring for the common good. It’s amazing.” —Gavin Thompson, Boom! Savings! Charity Shopping Club founder
“In Canada, we often feel like we have to apologize for being decent, sober-second-thought types. For saying ‘sorry.’ For being careful not to offend. For trying to include instead of throwing up walls. But when we look south of our border, or across the oceans, our national habits of quiet decency are beginning to look downright eccentric. So on our 150th birthday, let’s celebrate a Canadian tradition of trying to be decent. Used to be boring—now it’s radical!” —Niobe Thompson, documentary filmmaker (Vital Bonds, The Great Human Odyssey)
“I began my career in the ’70s, when I realized how ignorant B.C. was when it comes to our Indigenous people. As I began to support myself with my art, I came to the understanding that Canada is ignorant of its Indigenous people. I became an artist to teach our world about the wealth of knowledge available to us from our First Nations communities. Today, 43 years later, it seems like there is more to do to inspire learning of our history. My wish for Canada is that we finally make up our minds to change the past and learn the sad history of our Indigenous communities. We can make no mistakes when our actions are predicated on a desire to help based on love and compassion.” —Roy Henry Vickers, Eagle Aerie Gallery artist
“Of all the pieces that make me whole, I am most proud of being a father. I am energized by the thought of my two daughters helping to shape our incredible country.” —John Zahab, Continuum Fitness owner & movement trainer
“Canada is my home. When I am away, I try my best to describe our country to people who have never been here—our cultural diversity, our geographical diversity, our freedoms. Canada, I love you!!!” —Ray Zahab, impossible2Possible founder