Canada: That Which Makes us One

Written by Harold McNeill on January 7th, 2019. Posted in Editorials, Tim Hortons Morning Posts

Diversity in Canada Has The Capacity to Inspire The World

Celebrating at a Ukrainian Christmas (1) dinner gave me pause to think about how these cultural
celebrations help to define Canada – that which makes us one. One dinner you ask? Well, it goes much deeper as it also includes coffee breaks at Tim Hortons, restaurants and the Canadian Soccer teams. It all fits into the fabric of our national identity.

1. A Ukrainian Dinner Celebration

On Sunday, January 6, 2019, Lynn and I went to dinner on the eve of Ukrainian Christmas at the home of one of my former police partners. We both retired twenty-five years ago and for years our families lived a stone’s throw from one another in West Saanich. Ukrainian Christmas was, and is, always a big celebration in their home (1). In addition to Al and Mary and their immediate family, three other couples, also long retired police members and their wives, were at the table of eighteen.

As we dined, surrounded by that uniquely Ukrainian bounty, we were not just celebrating a special event in the Gregorian calendar year, we were celebrating what it means to be Canadian. That feast and those friends served to remind us of how fortunate we are to live at peace in a mix of cultures, languages, traditions, religions, and varieties of food types that is unprecedented in the world. It is a mix that accompanies us every day, not just on special occasions.

Photo (Web source).  This table represents about half the set for our special meal. All items were prepared at home and served piping hot. 

2. Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s:  The coffee crowd

Earlier in the day (Sunday), I made a couple of visits to Tim Hortons at the Royal Oak Shopping Centre (2). It was, as usual, overflowing. I grabbed a seat beside an acquaintance from Syria. He and his delightful family are making their way in a new country they now call home. When he left for an appointment, I struck up a conversation with the man on my right, a person I did not know.

I soon learned he was from Lebanon and came to Canada some twenty-five years earlier as a single man in his mid-twenties. He left Lebanon because of political instability to join a sister and brother in Canada. We joked about our having ended up in Victoria at around the same age, twenty-four, and mainly by chance. Over the years, we have both come to feel we won the lottery by arriving in this fine city. After he and his work partner departed to complete clean-up job left by our recent storm, my thoughts drifted towards others I have met in my daily visits to Tim Horton’s.

In the corner sits a retired contractor, an immigrant from Croatia; in another a painter Serbia. At still another table, four nattily dressed and turbaned businessmen with whom I often exchange pleasant greetings. Their dress suggested a heritage that takes them back to India.  Later in the day, I have coffee with another Canadian friend who, as a young man in his thirties, immigrated to Canada from England.

Later that week, I met a man who fled China to Viet Nam shortly after the Sino-Japanese War. He was fifteen and arrived just in time for the Viet Nam War. Born and fleeing a war, to end up in another war, then, after fifty-five years of war, he leaves for Canada.

He’s about five years older me, has a large extended family in Canada and is enjoying a coffee in Tim Hortons. My new friend speaks at least five languages and seems to be a naturally inquisitive, happy person.  Take a moment and think about his life, then compare that to the lives we live in Canada.  Perhaps I shall meet the man again and learn more about his travels in life.

At other tables over the course of each week, are many more who have found their way to Canada, then Victoria from some distant land. The vast majority I know are now Canadian citizens. And, whether they are or not, at Tim Hortons and in this country, we are at one.

Behind the counter, a dozen young men and woman work frantically as they try to keep pace with a line that often never seems to end. Some are relatively new to the English language, and in their midst, one or two trainees are dropped in and left to sink or swim.

The majority of customers are understanding of the challenges these young people face, but a few are selfish and chide them for being slow or making a mistake on an order. If you walk next door to McDonald’s, the lines, the faces and the frantic pace of workers, are similar.

During my life, I have held many jobs, but I don’t think I would survive more than a couple of days behind a Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s cash register or working in the food prep area. Do these young people work for minimum wage? You bet they do. Do they get tips of 15%, 20% or 25%, like those at Starbucks? You bet they don’t. None-the-less, out of a willingness to work hard, they take on a thankless job to support themselves and their families, and they do it with a smile and a pleasant greeting.

3. Restaurants and Soccer: Examples of diversity

On leaving Timmy’s and bike towards home through the mall, I count no less than fifteen restaurants and coffee shops. Nearly half specialize in ethnic foods and a number are mom and pop operations. Many of the owners arrived in Canada within the last three decades, some more recently.  To many, a standard forty-hour week is but a distant dream. Heck, for some a day off is a distant dream. While food is an indicator of the depth of our cultural diversity, soccer is another.

Over my five decades in Victoria, I spent one of the later decades heavily involved in organizing international soccer events, with single games (friendlies), two World Cups (2002. 2007) and other competitions. During those years, I was in regular contact with dozens of cultural groups and vendors who brought to the games the best in costume and foods of the world.

The reason for my increased cultural interest is that soccer, among all the sports of the world, is the most widely played and followed. To promote the game in Canada, one needs to understand the cultural roots that drive the game. Having stood in the midst of those thunderous crowds at European events, helped to build my understanding.

Soccer has a unique and lasting beauty in being carried forward from nation to nation and from parent to child across the lifetime of families. A standing observation in the Canadian version of the game is that our national teams seldom hold a home game advantage. Each time we host an international friendly or full competition like a World Cup, the event draws tens of thousands of fans, not just in support of the Canadian team, but also in support of the visiting team for fans from the nations playing. The colours, the vibes, the sounds, the energy, is that which is the world game.

Photo: Over the years, Nigeria was likely our most vigorous crowd as we had to re-arrange the stadium to accommodate their legions for the 2007 U20 World Cup. Yet, the entire crowd at Royal Athletic Park savoured the energy the Nigerians brought to the came.  Brazil was the second most boisterous.  Go to the following link for photos taken by a journalist friend who captured the colour and costumes of both the Canadian and Brazilian supporters. I will admit he showed a little bias in his selections. (link here)

The only time Canadian teams held a captive audience was when playing the United States. That’s an eternal, undisputed, do or die truth. However, regardless of who supported whom, it is beautiful to watch, as it represents the best of what it means to be Canadian.

4. Who we are as Canadians

While every individual entering our country from another land moves towards that elusive and ever-changing norm that makes us “Canadian”, they do so while celebrating the best that within their own family, cultural and religious traditions. That is what we experienced in our feelings of ‘oneness’ at our Ukranian feast on Sunday, and will feel as we celebrate at other cultural events in the future.

We are a favoured nation by having become more inclusive than the United Nations in our ability to celebrate cultural, religious and racial differences. We have somehow evolved in our immigrant roots, a social glue that binds us as one in a country where we live in peace and harmony, even as those who are fearful of losing their preferred place in society, sometimes seek to sow the seeds of unrest, distrust, fear and hate.

While I understand and feel sympathy for those who honestly feel fearful about others who are different, what causes me greater concern is with those who deliberately seek to stoke the embers of unrest, distrust, fear and hate for political advantage or personal gain. They are doing the exact thing that has destroyed or is destroying other nations. Even in the face of that, I think our nation is at one and is strong enough to withstand their attack.

All the best in the New Year
January 7, 2019

(I) Christmas in UkraineMany Orthodox Christian churches in Ukraine observe the Christmas Day date from the Julian calendar, which is different from the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. So, while Christmas is still on December 25 in the Julian calendar, it appears on January 7 in the Gregorian calendar, up until 2100 (source, a Google highlight). Go to the link for a more complete description.

(2) Royal Oak Community Gardens:  Go the link for a more complete description of the Royal Oak Shopping Centre. The link also provides links to a series of photos taken in and around the mall.


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  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold