I have been a very lucky man.
I was lucky enough to be born in a great country. In my almost 50 years, I have not known war. When I have been sick, I have been able to find treatment. When I have been poor, I have been able to find support. When I have been lonely, I have been able to find friends. And a lot of that is because I live in Canada.
Canada is not a perfect country—it is no Shangri-La—but it is a good proxy. And today, July 1, it is 146 years old.
Being so free, however, I have often been complacent about how good things are for me. I have forgotten what went into creating this haven. Forgotten how my life has compared to those living elsewhere.
One of the great things about living in a cosmopolitan centre like Toronto is that I get the opportunity to meet many of the people who started elsewhere.
Several years ago, in the span of just a few months, I played host to a couple of post-doctoral researchers who came to Toronto to work at the Hospital for Sick Children. One was a researcher from Moscow, the other a student from Beijing. Both rented a room in my house, and while the rent money was nice, the life lesson was more valuable.
Wei marveled at the space available in this thriving metropolis; that he could go for a walk and find places where he saw no one. He also marveled at the speed and insanity of NHL hockey on Saturday nights (just because it’s cliché doesn’t, mean it’s untrue).
Sergei was reminded of home in some ways, and amusingly found Torontonians a bit repressed (ah, our Scottish banker roots were showing through). At the same time, when I informed him that yes indeed, public consumption of alcohol was illegal in our parks, he marveled that no one stopped him or that the police didn’t arrive suddenly. And he was grateful at the open welcome he received from everyone including my family. Our cookies were a little stale, but then, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d mistaken dog biscuits for cookies (we call them Sergei cookies, now).
As I would listen to both of these men recount their lives back home, I gained a new appreciation for what I had…and for what I took for granted.
From my geographically central location, I have had the luxury of traveling most of my country. I’ve taken in its historical sites—Fortress of Louisbourg, Quebec Citadel, Plains of Abraham—visited some of the most majestic landscape I could hope to see—the Shield of Northern Ontario, the Fraser River valley, the Bay of Fundy, the Lachine Rapids—participated in amazing cultural festivals—the Stratford Festival, Pride Week, Fringe Toronto, Caribana—and met amazing people.
I am a lucky man to live in such a beautiful, dazzling country.
Happy birthday, Canada. I love you more today than I did yesterday, and I will love you even more tomorrow.