April 2002
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What it Means to be Canadian
By Karen Buhler, Garden Valley Collegiate, Winkler, MB

What does ‘being Canadian’ mean to young people today? That is a fascinating question with fascinating answers.

"Being Canadian means being liked by everyone because we are so laid back and forgiving and don't have a great deal of historical hates and prejudices and such," says Valerie Friesen, a high school student in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "We're multicultural, beautiful, happy, courteous, peaceful and we know how to throw a wicked party!"

Ashleigh Viveiros, a student at Red River Community College in Manitoba says: "I think being Canadian is just acknowledging the fact that we live in such a great country. It's understanding what that beer commercial is saying. It's feeling a weird sense of pride when we win gold at the Olympics, even if you hate sports. It's tearing up when you hear the national anthem being played at the Olympic games, realizing that we are just one young country among many, but that we are still ONE country, united and multicultural."

To Carla Friesen, a secretary at the Garden Valley school division office in Winkler, Manitoba, being Canadian means "living in a country which I call my own…a country that is as physically diverse as the people it shelters." Carla says she is proud to be a Canadian. "From coast to coast people of all nations live here in peace. We are people from different ethnic backgrounds, color, faiths, education, language and thought. Yet, in this imperfect world—and, yes, in this imperfect country--there is no place I would rather live because of freedom -- it all comes down to freedom."

When I asked young Canadians what is most important to them, the five most common answers were family, friends, freedom, peace, and good health.

Valerie says that she thinks the quality of Canadian life is so good because "we have free health care and the emphasis of our law system is on the welfare of society as a whole and not the individual." She also notes that Canada "is a huge country with tons of space; comparatively low crime; lots of resources; friendly people; good education; relatively low taxes and living costs; awesome people!"

The Canadian confederation brought together people from very different regions, who had different languages and cultures and strong religious differences. Confederation unified diverse peoples with a positive idea, not in order to change each other but so that they could live together in one country. Wars, sporting events, and tragic life-events can all unite people who share the joy or the pain of those moments in time. We have learned to tolerate a range of peoples, which brings us together and makes us stronger. The result is a unique blending of cultures to give us our sense of being Canadian.

“Canada's religious backgrounds and tolerance for diversity are what makes this country stick together," says David Guenther, a student at DeVry in Calgary, Alberta. "When you look at Canada, and at the rest of the world, you wonder why there are wars. Why not just peace? When people say they can't stand some other countries and their cultures, I say, ‘Look at Canada! We have all these different cultures living in one country and you don't see us fighting."

Our cultural differences are what enrich our lives and challenge to live together in peace and harmony. We try to reason with people. We are known as the peacemakers. We co-operate. Ashleigh summed it up nicely when she said, "We do not have an aggressive patriotism like the U.S. and that is what makes us different. It makes us more open to other cultures, religions, and ideas. To live true to these words is much more difficult than just saying them. It means tolerance and freedom. It means talking and listening. It means giving and taking. To be able to do that enhances all our lives."

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