Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barometer of a Nation ... Canada

What is a nation? Is it a place bounded by unseen lines upon a land or the twining path of a river or the sea? Or is it one people, though they be scattered far and wide?

Were suddenly all U.S. citizens to be called home from wherever they live in the world, a flood of millions would pour across the borders. Some would hardly seem American, having been away so long. Some of them would be deeply resentful.

What is a nation? Is it a unity of purpose in spite of differences, like the Roman citizenship that once bound men from Britain to Libya, from Spain to Anatolia?

I enjoy my little hobby of studying the nations of the world, one at a time, month by month. In December, I have been contemplating my great northern neighbor, Canada. Though I have yet to sample a beavertail pastry or learn the words to "O Canada," perhaps what I have studied has been more significant. I have read Canadian Hugh MacLennan's "Barometer Rising." Authored in the 1950's, it is the tale of a terrible tragedy in Halifax during WWI: the collision of two ships in Halifax Harbor, one laden with munitions, that killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, and leveled nearly the entire city. MacLennan's tale begins quietly, swelling like a wave upon a darkened sea,finally rising to terrible climax.

May I be forgiven for having learned nothing about this horrible event in my life until now, nothing in school, though I certainly should have.

MacLennan also throughout the book contemplates what it means to be Canadian: Neither a (U.S.) American nor British. But must a Canadian define himself only by what he is not? And what is Canada's destiny in the world? A bridge between its southern neighbor and the Old World, perhaps. He ponders whether Canada would rise to be one of the great nations of the world after Europe exhausted itself in war.

"...Neither a colony nor an independent nation, neither English nor American ... Canada must remain noncommital, until the day she becomes the keystone to hold the world together."

"... This nation undiscovered by the rest of the world and unknown to itself ... this unborn mightiness, this question mark, this future ... for God knew how many millions of mankind."


Anonymous said...

I recently counted and discovered that I have had the privilege to have traveled to at least 28 countries, spent more than 2 weeks in at least 9 countries and lived for a while in 3 countries. After all that, I am firmly a Canada-phile. It is almost everything that I hope for in a country including its self-effacing people, social welfare system, community tolerance and mosaic, and its historical tradition of fair play and peace-keeping. However, a friend of mine whom I met in Canada felt that Finland was even better.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thanks, LG, and thanks for reading that very long paragraph. Blogger suddenly refuses to allow me to break up paragraphs in my posts anymore.