What It Means to be Canadian

An appreciation essay.

What do you think makes you a Canadian? Is it about just living in the country? Owning a passport that declares so? Root for the Maple Leaf’s next game? Even being a fan of hockey for that matter? Does embracing the cold weather or surviving it make you any more Canadian than the next guy? How about all those “Eh’s” at the end of each sentence? Or perhaps, it is something much more relevant than some sort of physical or arbitrary element? Truth is, identifying as Canadian means more than those preconceived ideas that one assumes. It is a personal belief defined by your own pride, love, and appreciation of this country’s ethics.

The freedom of being the type of person you want to be.

One of Canada’s most valuable qualities is the ability to express yourself and live by your own cultural and religious beliefs. We have a democratic society that allows us to make our own decisions, living with a sense of autonomy. This has certainly been the case since the Charter of Rights was signed in 1982, inscribing the freedoms and rights to all persons in Canada. For everyone, this quality heavily influences their identity as a Canadian. As it was the case with Zunera Ishaq, regarding how she finds importance on wearing her niqab regardless of what others have said. 

Zunera Ishaq in her home.

“To me, the most important Canadian value is the freedom to be the person of my own choosing. To me, that’s more indicative of what it means to be Canadian than what I wear.” Says Zunera, who even as a Muslim woman, openly identifies being a Canadian because of this freedom. It is also noted that she has no sense of oppression in wearing her niqab. Our country does not condone discrimination or hatred to our fellow citizens. Our government instead openly embraces people from everywhere, from societies that don’t express or allow this level of freedom that we share. It is a symbol of showing how we are all equal. This level of acceptance towards everyone is a true mark of being a Canadian. We grow as a country by learning more about these cultures, and it adds a deeper understanding to what we stand for as Canucks. Furthermore, our freedom garners an impression of individualism, which empowers us in many ways. We feel empowered by having a voice to stand on, to be proud of our ancestry and having a sense of belonging.

Your roots and love for your country also plays a part, regardless of where you live.

There is much more to being a Canadian than simply residing here. This aspect is more about the personal and strong connection that one has for their country. It is because of this, that even legal documents aren’t the end all factor on how you see yourself as a Canadian. 

Donald Sutherland at the premier of "The Hunger Games: Catching fire"

“They ask me at the border why I don’t take American citizenship. I could still be Canadian, they say. You could have dual citizenship. But I say no, I’m not dual anything. I’m Canadian.” Says actor Donald Sutherland, who is a proud Canadian that has expressed the love for his country in the past. As an expatriate resident, Donald cannot even vote. But even if his acting career makes him travel outside the country, or even if he can’t participate in its politics, his accomplishments here precedes him greatly. He’s an officer of the Order of Canada, and he’s even in our walk of fame in Toronto. So, as a man who’s outside of his homeland, Canada defines every aspect of who he is. After all, as the old saying goes: “home is where the heart is”. Furthermore, the connection we share for our country follows us wherever we are. Whenever some of my Canadian friends have traveled, they tell me stories about how residents of other countries are delighted to hear where they are from. They describe Canada as a friendly place, of a beautiful and varied geography, with mountains, oceans and great forests. We pride ourselves to be known for this country, it is part of our identity, the world sees us as true Canadians. Its long history represents us, and we’re honored to see the positive impact Canada’s free society has had on our image.

Canada is represented by a diverse pool of people from around the world that see themselves as Canadians too.

The standards that we follow in this country defines us as Canadians, it’s not so much about originating here. Myself as a Nicaraguan young man have lived most of my life outside of Canada. My national roots tell me that I’m a Nicaraguan, but Canada has played a huge part in my life, influencing my moral compass and beliefs. Its multiculturalism has given me the opportunity to appreciate and respect a variety of different cultures, and its freedom has given me the same empowerment that people like Zunera felt with her Niqab. According to Canada Ca, a government information database, “immigrants freely choose their citizenship because they want to be Canadians.”, because we share the same democratic values and want to be a part of the same equal opportunities. We don’t reject our own culture or forget who we are, but we wholeheartedly embrace this new identity as a Canadian. 

“Everybody says being proud. It’s, it’s a lot more than that. It’s, it’s a feeling deep in your heart that I finally came to a place where I’m accepted, not only accepted, appreciated and then it was all the way up, golden opportunities.” Describes David Shentow, a Holocaust survivor who Immigrated to Canada. He still goes to visit his home country but admits that he feels relieved returning back to Canada as his second home. Whatever the circumstances for arriving here may have been, be it war, financial or career based opportunities, you have a right to consider yourself a true citizen of the country you call home. As such, we are all responsible to help the country grow and participate in all its affairs as a true Canadian.

In the end, the way you identify with Canada or any other country for that matter is not a tangible or simple answer. We could simply assume that a typical Canadian needs to be a regular inhabitant who abides by Canadian laws, is friendly and pays his taxes like everyone else. However, when you take your time to consider our citizen’s lives, you’ll realize that the reality is, that being Canadian is what you make of it, a personal commitment and attachment to our country, and what it stands for. We call ourselves Canadians because we live by what it represents, by its liberty, the respect for our fellow civilians and the deep affection we have for this land. As the German Poet, Christian Morgenstern once wrote, “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”

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What It Means to be Canadian