Canadian Mosaic versus American melting pot

By Sharon Taylor –

If you grew up, like I did, in the 1960s and 70s, you will remember how we proudly compared the mosaic that was Canada to the melting pot that was the United States. While it was important for people who immigrated to the US to become American in every sense of the word, in Canada, it was considered admirable to still feel tied to your home country: to sing the songs, dance the dances, and eat the food.

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In a speech to the Ukrainian – Canadian Congress, Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau claimed, “There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian. What could be more absurd than the concept of an ‘all Canadian’ boy or girl? A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.”

I grew up with cultural festivals where you could go from booth to booth to taste Indian samosas here, Filipino lumpia there, while watching Ukrainian dancers whirl in wide white skirts and bright red trousers, and then all sing “They call it Canada, but I call it home” with great conviction. I grew up in a city with a museum filled with First Nations art and living culture, with a bustling, crowded Chinatown, with friends whose families spoke many languages.

I grew up believing that celebrating our family heritage and honouring our Canadian culture were not mutually exclusive: that it was possible to be proud of both. And, despite all I have learned since about our colonialist, racist history, I continue to believe there is no simple definition of ‘Canadian,’ that we create what ‘Canadian’ means every day in our legislature, in our courts, in our companies, in our cultural centres, and in our streets. The way we think of each other, the way we treat each other: these define essential Canadian traits.

We still struggle with this on a daily basis. Humans are quick to judge; it is a basic survival skill left over from the days when a split-second judgement could keep you alive—is this person who doesn’t look like me or speak like me safe or dangerous? Is she smiling or showing her teeth? Is he putting out his hand in friendship or threat? When she says sharia law, does the word law mean the same thing it does to me? His language sounds quick and harsh to my ears; does that mean he is angry?

It would be easier in some ways to say, “No, you are in Canada. You must dress like us, speak like us, eat Kraft Dinner, and watch hockey like us. We are all the same and you must be the same too.” But that is clearly ridiculous—even as a Canadian (and a white, settler Canadian at that), I wear sandals in the winter snow, while my daughter wears hoodies in the summer. I wouldn’t eat KD and watch hockey if you tied me to the couch. And who would I root for anyway? Toronto in honour of my father-in-law? Montreal because of Carey Price? Vancouver… well, really. You can see the problem. And once we admit that Newfoundlanders and Prairie-dwellers have very different experiences of what being Canadian is like, not to mention Vancouver Islanders, the problem grows and expands.

What is Canadian? As soon as you start the definition, you run into trouble.

Tim Van Horn, photographer and creator of the Canadian Mosaic Project.

Tim Van Horn, photographer and creator of the Canadian Mosaic Project.

A few years ago, Tim Van Horn of Red Deer, Alberta began the Canadian Mosaic Project, an art-based exploration of Canada. He has taken over 54,000 portraits of people on the streets of Canadian cities, which he then turns into photo-mosaics. He will be here in Williams Lake on Wednesday, June 21, at the Tourism Discovery Centre, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with his mobile pavilion, adding pictures of Cariboo residents to his grand 2017 – 150 years of Canada project. It’s a chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, a chance to see Canada as the sprawling, complex mosaic that people of my generation grew up believing in.

Perhaps we are finally learning not to narrowly define what being a Canadian is, but accepting that we are many, many pieces of a whole picture that shifts as we grow. It isn’t simple. But who wants simple?

Sharon Taylor has lived in Williams Lake with her husband Rob for most of the past 35 years. Together they have raised four loving and compassionate children, taught hundreds of students in elementary school and at the university, and have been leaders in the Anglican church here and in Vancouver. Sharon now works with the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to help newcomers to Canada settle in the Cariboo.

To Canada With Love visits Williams Lake June 21

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Help unite Canada in the largest portrait ever created in the history of Canada. By sponsoring a kilometre of our journey across Canada for $20, you ensure an authentic portrait of Canada in our 150th year converges into a spectacular visual defining the essence of cultural identity. Your contribution helps further our mission to inspire the nation with the ‘To Canada with Love’ mobile travelling bus. Please consider joining our Canadian Mosaic Facebook page to help spread the word about our project.

Thank you in advance for your sponsorship; whatever amount it might be, it all helps. Please note, all sponsors’ names will be recorded and included in the opening pages of the To Canada with Love book in 2017.

Tim Van Horn and the Canadian Mosaic mobile pavilion is in Williams Lake at the Tourism Discovery Centre on June 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come down, represent your community, and be a part of the largest portrait every created in Canadian history. To see more visit http://canadianmosaic.ca/. To become a sponsor visit: canadianmosaic.ca/become-a-sponsor/

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