Canada: That Which Makes us One

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

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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  • Harold McNeill

    January 15, 2021 |

    Wow, Graham, I was taken by surprise (but then again that’s not too hard). Having all you fine folks (my children by other fathers and mothers) would have been great. I’m hopeful that sometime in the not too distant future, we can reprise that trip. Perhaps we’ll just set aside a time for someone else’s landmark day, and we can surprise them. Love to you two. Harold

  • Graham and Nazanin

    January 15, 2021 |

    How could we miss this historic event my friend!!!
    Nazy and I were booked for that cruise Harold, we were looking so forward to it.
    We will be together soon! We both wish that continued unconditional love you receive from everyone to continue as you are that special someone that makes a difference in this world.
    Happy birthday sir, cheers!

  • Harold McNeill

    January 7, 2021 |

    Glad you found the site and that Dorthy enjoyed. I’ve added a lot of school photos in other locations linked to the High School Years stories. Cheers, Harold

  • Shelley Hamaliuk

    January 2, 2021 |

    Hi there, I am Dorothy Marshall’s (nee Hartman) daughter. Mom was quite excited when she discovered this site while surfing the net yesterday, so excited that she told me to have a look! She quite enjoyed taking a trip down memory and seeing old pictures of herself.Keep up the great work!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]