Or: Jason Brennan gets sentimental about discovering his Canadian pride only after become an expat.
After spending the first twenty-four-and-a-half years of my life living obliviously as a Canadian, in January 2013 I moved to the United States to live with my girlfriend in New York City. My time here has been nothing short of fantastic, but it wasn’t until I got here that I realized what my home country meant to me.
This is not the simple story of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, although there are some aspects of that. But I think the real crux of it is the culture of my home country was so subliminal to me, being immersed in it, that I didn’t even realize it existed until it was missing.
Growing up in the Maritimes I was submerged in — drenched by — CanCon, the CRTC (Canada’s version of the FCC, essentially) mandate to play at least 30 per cent Canadian content on the airwaves. This meant Canadian artists were given a government-backed promotion on the radio and television, to give them a fighting chance against the seemingly limitless American music industry. For someone developing a musical taste in the early 2000s, this meant hearing lots of Rush, The Guess Who, and The Tragically Hip (the latter I specifically loathed). But what I didn’t realise was, mandated or not, these artists (and many others, like 54-40, I Mother Earth, Our Lady Peace, Bare Naked Ladies, hell, even Nickleback) were indeed infused into Canadian culture, a culture in which I was unknowingly a member. To me, they were just overplayed bands, constant requests on the 105.3 FM (“The Fox”)’s “Drive At Five” request line, repetitive and unoriginal staples and traffic-jam anthems.
Almost always, the songs were written about subjects I could barely relate to, whether they were from the vast Canadian Prairies I’ve never seen, or even the coastal songs of choppy Atlantic waters. From the cushy every-town valley that is Fredericton, New Brunswick, I found little to relate to with the rest of Canada’s geography or the songs about her. What I never realised, however, was there was something subtle amidst. There was an effect I could not smell or taste or hear, and that was although I could never relate precisely to any of these stories, I could relate to them as a Canadian on some level. I could relate on the level of being aware and surrounded by diversity of all levels. Diversity of geography and of heritage and of language and of politic. These are some of the truisms of Canadian culture, and they were utterly invisible to me living in Canada.
Since leaving Canada, however, these things became almost instantly and painfully apparent to me. Even though I could never relate to the Prairies, they were at least a part of my culture, even if the culture of New Brunswick was “we don’t get the Prairies”. And now, I’m here and that’s sorely lacking. There’s a hole where a misunderstanding of my Canadian culture used to be. Now there’s nothing and I’m choosing to identify that as pride.
You can pry my u’s from my cold dead fingers. YYZ is a second Canadian anthem, and it’s pronounced zed, not zee, zed. I pretend to understand Marshall MacLuhan, the Tragically Hip’s lyrics, and Canada’s foreign policy. My name is Jason Brennan, and I Am Canadian.