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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    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

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    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

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    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

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

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    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.

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    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.