Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Symbols of Canada - Part 6 - War and Peace

One of the most powerful symbols of Canada throughout history and into modern day is our presence in the world, particularly in places where there is conflict.  We are not the cause of the conflict; in fact, we are generally recognized for our extremely peaceful natures, however, we have a strong tradition of placing ourselves in danger to preserve the rights, privileges and freedoms of other nations.

Symbol #6 - War and Peace

Throughout history, we have been quick to support peacekeeping missions and to step into war to support others.  I am not a fierce or violent man.  I have never felt equal to combat, or overt conflict.  However, I recognize, respect and honour the proud history of our nation at war to bring peace.

While visiting Ottawa, across the street from my hotel was the war memorial.  Similar to my preconceptions about the Parliament, I had pictured a monument far from the bustle of a busy city.  I pictured a quiet and peaceful location, where one could visit to gather one's thoughts, reflect on the noble sacrifices of the distant and recent past, as well as that of the current time.  Instead, I found a small square off a crazily busy street, from which rose a picturesque statue, depicting the contributions of our military through the 2 World Wars, the losses that occurred and the greater freedoms and benefits that resulted.  However, when I entered the square, I felt a peace and quiet settle over me.  Coloured maple leaves moved slowly around the area, blown by a light wind.  I could see the monument to the Unknown Soldier and the larger monument.

I reflected on the contributions of my ancestors, who, thankfully came through the war relatively unscathed.  I felt like I became more a part of Canada than I had been before, simply by being there.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
When visiting the Parliament Building, we took some time to visit the memorial chapel/chamber in the building that documents the various actions and battles where Canada played a part, in the many different world conflicts that have taken place over the years.  On one wall, inscribed in marble, was a famous poem written by a great Canadian peacekeeper, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, during the First World War.  As a child I recall hearing and reading this moving piece of prose, which tore my young heart (and still does) and cemented in my mind the deep sacrifices of our nation.

"In Flanders Fields" - Written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, on May 3, 1915, following the 2nd Battle of Ypres

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Over the years, many brave Canadians have left their homes and their families to go into dreadful situations to bring a better, more peaceful world into being.  I am grateful to be a fortunate beneficiary of that rich history, which repeats each year around the world.  I am particularly grateful for the opportunity that I had to experience one of the most poignant symbols of Canada.  That of War and Peace.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Symbols of Canada - Part 5 - Bilingualism

Symbol #5 - Bilingualism

Canada's history is rich with cultural traditions that stem from both our British and French settlers.  One of the most unique characteristics that comes as a result is our two official languages.  While many in our country don't speak both official languages, this trait permeates our entire society, for better (and for worse).

I have lived in other countries where there are more than one official language.  One language unifies.  More than one language enriches and adds diversity to the culture.  It broadens the appreciation of things, as you have the opportunity to look at life and society through two or more lenses.

As a young man growing up in an anglophone region, and not being able to speak French, it was always a source of great confusion when confronted with labels, which, by law, were required to have both languages on them.  Over time, a habit developed, where you simply turned a product around until you arrived at the label that you could understand.  It became deeply ingrained in me.  So deep, that I never even noticed it, until it was brought to my attention when I arrived in Switzerland.  As I reached for a box of cereal or some such basic item, I found myself at a loss as to what it was.  I proceeded according to habit and turned it around.  Again and again.

And so, to me, bilingualism is personified in the following example.  A carton of orange juice.

Bilingualism is complex.  It adds all sorts of things to our culture and country that we wouldn't have otherwise.  So, even if you aren't bilingual, embrace it.  It is a neat opportunity.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Symbols of Canada - Part 4 - Loonies & the Mint

The other day, while visiting the USA, I was out for appetizers and a visit with some friends.  One friend remarked that it was hard to see which US bills were which in the poorly lit restaurant.  This brought to mind another of our unique symbols that personifies Canada.  Our money.

Symbol #4 - Loonies and the Mint

For as long as I can remember, Canada has had colourful and unique bills and coins.  Our bills and coins had/have stereotypical symbols of Canada, ranging from the RCMP musical ride on the $50 (no more) to the beaver on the nickel, the caribou on the quarter and the maple leaf on the penny (also no more).  When the dollar bill and then two dollar bill were removed from circulation and replaced with the Loonie, we became even more unique; it took a bit of getting used to.  But now, it would be hard to go back.  Acceptance of the Twoonie was easier, I think.

While visiting Ottawa in October, I jumped at the chance to visit the Royal Canadian Mint.  I collect coins and I was thrilled to discover that the Mint was only a couple of blocks from where we were staying.  We gladly paid the admission for a guided tour of the facility.  Even if I'd only seen the 27 kilogram block of solid gold in the gift shop, that would have been worth it, but the tour highlighted how awesome Canada is and how cool our money and the Mint is.  If you get a chance, TAKE THE TOUR.  You won't regret it.

The Royal Canadian Mint
That is worth a lot of money
Look at me.  I'm the money!
Did you know that Canada mints coins for over 30 countries in the world, and has done so for some of them for more than 25 years?  Yup, it's true.

Did you know that Canada is the only country in the world that can produce coins as close to pure gold and silver as you can get?  To 5 places pure (99999).  A few years ago, to rub it in the faces of the world, the Mint created massive 100 kilogram replica coins that retailed for several million dollars.  Mint nerds (shrug).  The whole creation process is very specific, very precise and very interesting.  The Mint in Ottawa specializes in investment coins, which have an extremely high level of quality, as well as some of the other specialty coins.  The Mint in Winnipeg does circulation coinage only, but I am sure it is a cool place as well.

Did you know that the Mint is commissioned to make Olympic medals?  Yup, it's true.  For the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (both Special and the other one), they created over a 1000 bronze, silver and gold medals, each with a unique design that when combined with all the other medals for each Olympic games, created a massive symbolic First Nations art piece.  Not only that, but the medals were done with a curved, wave design, just to show that it could be done.  Mint nerds (shrug).

There are so many other neat things about our money and the Mint, but when it comes down to it, our money makes us special.  Don't dread the heavy pockets.  Take a closer look are your money.  Enjoy it.  Embrace it.  It'll surprise you what you see.  And remember, it makes us uniquely Canadian.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Symbols of Canada - Part 3 - Snow & Cold

While Canada is full of massive landscapes, ocean coast lines, a diverse and vibrant culture and bunch of epic cities, what is the first (idiotic) thing that people (from somewhere else) ask when they meet you?  “Do you live in igloos?”  "How do you survive in all that snow and cold?”  I could list other, even dumber questions, but I won’t pain your brain by doing so.

Symbol #3 - Snow and Cold

The fact of the matter is, we live in an extreme northern climate, the main exception being the populated part of British Columbia (I'll give some some of the sissy spots in Ontario a break on this one, since they get winter).  They (BC) are punished for the soft weather by having a CFL team that has to dress in a horrid shade of orange...  Deep breath...  Moving on.

We have snow.  We have cold.  Usually together.  We are known for it.  Do we kick butt at the Summer Olympics?  No, we do not.  We dominate the winter sports.  As we should, since our winter can run for 6-8 months of the year.  Our winters give us bragging rights.  Or at least some significant shock factor when addressing those from softer climes.

Winter's beauty

Snow, cold, winter = Canadian
Much like the snowflake, our winters are unique
Be cold.  Be proud.  Be Canadian.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Symbols of Canada - Part 2 - The Parliament

While I was in Ottawa at the end of October, I took the time to visit some of the sights down around the hotel.  Foremost among the things I visited was the Parliament, centre and symbol of our nation's government.

Symbol #2 - The Parliament

I will admit that I kind of always pictured the Parliament Building as a giant, free-standing structure, without anything at all around it.  I expected it to stand separate and away from the bustle of the city, the clamour of vehicles and the throngs of people.  I hadn't envisioned the adjacent buildings, the police cars (and their accompanying occupants) every few steps and the proximity to a modern city.  Nope, I was wrong on all counts.  Well, the standing alone part.  The rest was accurate.

I don't think of Canada as being all that old, probably because the oldest constructed things in my neck of the woods are barely pushing into the early hundred-somethings, whereas I've lived in places with many hundreds of years of history piled on top of each other.  Seeing old, weathered stone of the Parliament and the surrounding buildings certainly brought out our great history.  I loved the stonework, the gargoyles (who doesn't love a good gargoyle) and the rich opulence of the detail work, inside and out.

The Parliament Building
The Peace Tower
The top of the Peace Tower
Panoramic picture of the back of the Parliament, including the library
The Parliament Building from the front, with the throngs of tourists and a few multi-tasking protesters (protesting 2 or 3 things at once)

Some of the many gargoyles adorning the buildings of Parliament
The bonus features were the view from the Peace Tower, the Centennial Flame and the Memorial chamber inside the parliament.

Saskatchewan's part of the Centennial Flame, in front of the Parliament Building
Alberta's part of the Centennial Flame, in front of the Parliament Building

My incorrect notions aside, it was interesting to see and visit the building, watch a veritable host of security personnel working and see a bunch of loud-mouth, bone-headed politicians endlessly debate topics that may, or may not, have much merit.  Despite my dislike of politicians in general, I enjoyed and appreciated experiencing that iconic symbol of our nation.