oooooh, caaaanahdahhaaaa….

It wasn’t planned this way, but my family and I wound up in Victoria, BC for Canada Day (Or as my kids insist on calling it, ‘Canadia Day’). This wound up being a lucky coincidence; the dates were picked around my mother-in-law’s trip to Everett for a high-school reunion, my work schedule, and my kids […]

It wasn’t planned this way, but my family and I wound up in Victoria, BC for Canada Day (Or as my kids insist on calling it, ‘Canadia Day’).

This wound up being a lucky coincidence; the dates were picked around my mother-in-law’s trip to Everett for a high-school reunion, my work schedule, and my kids summer school. We had no idea, when booking, that Canada Day fell on july 1st, nor did we think about the significance of this.

July fourth means little to me, apart from being the day we used to have fireworks (before local communities decided to punish the responsible many in order to weed out the irresponsible few, by outlawing all fireworks). America may be my country of birth, but now, and even when I was a child, it all too often it represents what’s wrong in western culture. While I will root for American teams in the Olympics, and think the ideas upon which this country was founded are pretty damn good, I can’t in good conscience stand for the national anthem or salute the flag; these things carry too much aura for me of mindless, reactionary, love-it-or-leave-it patriotism.

Particularly in this bush-era, post 9/11 world, the stars and strips says to me, ‘we don’t care of we’re stupid and wrong’. Yes, I’m cynical, but I remember the sixties, when we fought another war far away for no reason anyone could justify; I remember when we wore american american flags on our jackets to say ‘it’s my country too.’ We fought a culture war then, and thought we were winning. I don’t always have the resolve to keep fighting it.

So it was particularly refreshing to come to a country in the midst of celebrating it’s symbolic birth, when it’s a country I have no emotional baggage with.

Canada is a northern neighbor, a country that’s produced some of my favorite bands and musicians, a place where they share my passion hockey. Ok, sure, they don’t know how to play football correctly and they kind of sound like Bob and Doug; but they have far saner policies on drug enforcement and gay rights, and they make much stronger beer. The sum is still pretty largely positive. So I could embrace the festival spirit easily, letting go my own opinions on nationalism and politics. Today, it was about red and white flags, fireworks, beer, and pretty girls (have I mentioned the girls in Victoria? Ok, let me put it this way – grrrrrowl.)

Victoria does a pretty good job of throwing a party. My hotel faces the Legislature building across Victoria’s Inner Harbor; this means I was greeted at 8am – yes, 8am – by loud, live music from a stage across the water. This pretty much went on all day; bands, DJ’s, speakers. It was going on when I went to breakfast, a couple hours later when I walked into town, and it was still going when we came out of the Empress Hotel after having afternoon tea.

I felt wildly out of place; I wasn’t wearing red. It looked like everyone walking up and down the street, locals and tourists alike, were decked from head to toe in red and white, including a number of girls who’d found clever ways to fashion Canada’s flag into tops and mini-dresses. Every car seemed to sport a flag, and everyone looked happy. No one was protesting anything; no anti-war demonstrations, no rallies, no nonsense; it felt like the entire city had set down it’s issues for a party.

The best part about all this was how my kids reacted to it.

We planned a brief foray into Canada just because Ruby, my youngest, has no memory of being anywhere but the USA; I wanted to give her the experience of spending money that isn’t all uniformly green. I wanted her to see road signs in metric; I wanted her to see what it’s like to cross a border. But today’s celebration gives her more than an experience of place, it gives her a sense of national identity. A week ago, she thought of Canada as a name on a map, and a place where sports teams or certain family friends used to live. Today, it’s a people. It’s a culture. She’ll never forget seeing people in red, celebrating a flag and a nation that meant nothing to her only days ago.

Businesses were giving out small Canadian flags; our hotel has pins in a dish on the concierge desk. My kids decorated themselves with flags and pins, and dug through their luggage for any red garments they had. Happy Canada Day, they said, to anyone they talked to.

The party went on into the evening, culminating with a terrific firework display which was launched directly in front of my hotel; we were able to see both the display in the sky, but also the pyrotechnicians on the ground and the apparatus they used to put on the show. People had been camping out for hours to get a good viewing spot; but we had best possible vantages, both from our room, and from the hotel’s rear patio, only a few yards from the launch point.

It was a terrific day; one of those experiences one can’t really have, other than traveling with kids. Watching some vague concept become real and tactile and human; watching how that lights them up. I’ve traveled a lot, and those moments don’t come every day, not even in every trip. But when they come, they make every penny spent pay off a hundred-fold.

Tomorrow, we leave Victoria for the states. The only good thing about this, for me, is that my iPhone will once again work over EDGE without paying insane international data rates. Apart from that, I can’t think of anything I look forward to. I want another week in BC, at least. But the three days I’ve had are some of the best travel days I’ve had in quite a long while.

I’ll admit, though, that I’ve been singing Blame Canada all day.