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Goodbye, Canada

 

As Canada Day approaches, a self-described 'Connecticut Yankee' reminisces about living and working north of the border

 

Dave Burwick, National Post Published: Monday, June 30, 2008

 

Last U. S. Independence Day, I was listening to CBC Radio One and heard U. S. ambassador David Wilkins offer his views on life in Canada. As an American in Canada (at the time, I had been living and working in Toronto for about 18 months), I was curious to hear what he had to say. When asked what Americans can learn from Canadians, Wilkins responded with a resounding thud of an answer: "Canadians really know how to dress for the cold weather."

 

I think I can do better than that.

 

Now, I won't get political, other than to say that I grew up in Boston and my political loyalties clearly lie outside of Mr. Wilkins' sphere. But the shock I felt hearing his answer had nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with the passion I felt for what Americans can learn from their northern neighbours (besides how not to freeze to death in their own driveways).

 

As I reluctantly prepare to move back to the U. S. with my family, I'd like to build on the ambassador's answer with my own. Having had another full year to reflect on the differences of our two seemingly similar cultures, I feel qualified to answer the question of what Americans can learn from Canadians.

 

To me, it's simple: Our differences are embedded in our genetic codes. While the U. S. Declaration of Independence promotes "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the British North America Act talks about "Peace, order and good government." One led directly to "manifest destiny" and aggressive individualism, the other to "manifest tolerance" and one of the most accepting societies the world has known.

 

It's easy to be open when you live in a homogeneous society like Denmark (no offence to the Danes). It's far tougher in immigrant-rich, multicultural Canada, where diverse cultures must learn to live harmoniously. And Canada's successful cultural connectiveness has produced many wonderful things: A global perspective, a willingness to compromise and social benefits like universal health care (yes, even though it's not perfect).

 

Some Americans would say, "That's all very nice, but the result is that Canada is a bland society with little edge." I say they are wrong. There's plenty of edge here -- just look to the ice. It took me a while to figure this out, but one day, as I watched my 8-year-old, skating with his Leaside Flames teammates, I had an epiphany: Hockey is not just the national pastime and passion, it's the embodiment of Canadian values. It's about work ethic, team play, physical conditioning and mental toughness. It's also about knowing when to leave all of that on the ice and move on.

 

Which leads me to the most important thing Americans can learn from Canadians: How to know when enough is enough, when it's time to just be content with your life. Family and personal passions are more important to Canadians than work. People seem to know when the balance of life is just right. Their moral compass seems to always point to "true north."

 

So, I thank my Canadian friends for teaching this Connecticut Yankee how to better appreciate others, my family and my co-workers. You have made me a better person, and hopefully, a better American.

 

As I head south, I will miss many things beyond the lessons I've learned and the friendships I've made. Here is my top-10 list of irreplaceable Canadiana that I'll have to find a way to smuggle past customs:

 

1 Tim's: What more can I say? It's 110% Canadian (even if it's owned by Americans now). Real coffee for real people, started by a real hockey player.

 

2 The sheer beauty and diverse geography of the country. From St. John's to Vancouver, with a long stopover in Banff.

 

3 Sweeter ketchup -- and sweeter Diet Pepsi.

 

4 Terminal one at Pearson International Airport in Toronto: Nothing's more civilized.

 

5 The National Anthem: How can you beat the lyrics, "The true north strong and free"?

 

6 Hockey Night in Canada: One of the last communal TV events left anywhere.

 

7 Eating a peameal sandwich every Saturday at 7 a. m. during my son's hockey practice. That ritual became Pavlovian.

 

8 Raising a family right in the middle of the city, and knowing they're safe.

 

9 Surviving a minus-30-degree day in downtown Winnipeg, and how it made me feel more alive.

 

10 CBC's coverage of international news. You just can't get that in the U. S.

 

And the list could go on and on.

 

I'd like to close with one last thought. This might seem crazy, but I think Canada as a country should do away with those cheesy provincially unique license plate tag lines -- like "Yours to Discover" or "Je me souviens" -- and replace them with one thought that sums up this great country: Live and let live.

 

[email protected]. - Dave Burwick is the former president of Pepsi-QTG Canada.

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8 Raising a family right in the middle of the city, and knowing they're safe.

 

That was pretty significant.

 

Other than that it felt a bit contrived, but hey, the man said nice things, so...

(though the licence plate thing WAS crazy talk)

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