Judging by all the social media comments, I was clearly not alone at 5:00 am last Friday. Along with many others, I watched the Canadian Women’s Football Team, led by captain Christine Sinclair and keeper, Stephanie Labbé, take the Olympic Gold Medal. Such a glorious feeling.
I could not have been more proud of these women, not so much for the medal they won, but rather for their desire, commitment, dogged determination and class both on and off the pitch. The truth is, I was incredibly proud of all our Olympians…..medals or not! Each and every one of the athletes gave Canadians reasons to shout out our usually “quiet patriotism”. The same will hold true for our upcoming Paralympians.
Maybe Canada needed this opportunity more than we realized. Our sense of national pride has been knocked about the last few years as different issues have become apparent. These include:
- our need to properly address climate change;
- the true facts of our treatment of Indigenous peoples and the related history of the residential schools system;
- systemic discrimination in many (all?) of our institutions;
- the toll a global pandemic has brought upon our health care systems, and into our daily lives.
These are big issues that must be addressed and resolved. But if we only focus on the trials of today, we miss the opportunity to engage those vehicles which inspire our sense of “quiet patriotism”. We need to believe that we can address the seemingly insurmountable…that we can, indeed, evolve as a caring, compassionate, thoughtful, pluralistic society.
In the early 1990s a long-haul truck driver from Toronto, James Taylor, was concerned about the rising separatist sentiments in Quebec. He felt that if the folks in Quebec heard only the negative side of the constitutional debate, national unity would fail and the second referendum on separation would succeed.
Taylor’s response was to pay for the installation of 15 billboards saying “My Canada includes Quebec.” This individual action engendered a heartfelt response from across country with thousands offering to help the driver, or explaining their projects to address the unity issue. Taylor observed: “There is a quiet patriotism in Canada. All that people need is a vehicle to express it.”
For me, that sense of “quiet patriotism” is grounded in individual Canadian points of pride (P.O.P.): the actions and impacts of a wide range of Canadians who made their communities, their regions, their country and the world, a much better place. We will all have our own thoughts about who should be on such a list. Mine is expansive and ever-evolving, but let me share some of my most revered:
- Terry Fox – with his loping gait, ready smile, shy demeanor and indomitable spirit in the face of losing a leg to cancer, Terry conquered a country with his courage and grace. And in his honor and memory, Canadians have raised more than $800 million and changed the face of cancer research.
- Joannie Rochette – who captured our hearts as she won a bronze Olympic skating medal….and then raised her hand heavenward in honor of her Mother who had passed away just days before. Joannie recently graduated with her medical degree from McGill and will continue to inspire in a very different fashion.
- Oscar Peterson – described as the “Maharaja of the keyboards” by Duke Ellington, Peterson also composed the iconic Civil Rights anthem, “Hymn to Freedom”.
- Banting, Best, Macleod and Collip – the four Toronto researchers who discovered and purified insulin, creating a new and effective treatment for Diabetes.
- Viola Desmond – a Nova Scotia businesswoman who played a seminal role in Canada’s civil rights movement by successfully challenging laws that supported racial inequality.
- Cadmus Delorme – Chief of the Cowessess First Nation whose statement after the discovery of 751 unmarked individual graves at the residential school on his Nation’s lands, exhibited amazing leadership based not in anger, but inclusion. It is an invitation to do the difficult work of reconciliation,… together.
- Malala Yousafzai – a Pakistani activist whose fight for female education warranted her recognition as an Honorary Canadian Citizen.
- Beverley McLachlin – the 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and first woman to hold the position. Madame Justice McLachlin is known to have one of the finest legal minds in the history of the court.
- Donovan Bailey – the sprinter who returned Canadian pride to the sprinting world by winning the 100-meter race in the 1996 Olympics.
- Clara Hughes – a dual-season athlete, Clara is the only person to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Olympics. More impressively, however, she has allowed the nation to open up a necessary discussion about depression and mental health.
That is just a start as my list could go on for many pages. And to my list now, I have to add some of our Olympic and Paralympic heroes. I think, however, it is more important for each person to develop their own list which instills that national pride identified by Mr Taylor. But let us be clear, “quiet patriotism” should never be blind to the wrongs of the past. Indeed, those uncomfortable truths need to fully understood and accepted in order for us to move forward. Only such acceptance will allow us to embrace individual actions that tap into the potential of our shared future,… and spawn a continuing national dream.