It comes down to a matter of architecture.
I had not been to the States in about two or three years, and even then it was on the blind movement of a Greyhound bus, where I was unable to see much except for the taillights of passing cars and the
halogen halo’s of overhead street lights. It had be a long, long time since I had driven down in a car. It had been an even longer time since I can remember taking the side roads instead of the interstates.
My girlfriend and I were driving down to visit some of my relatives in Rhode Island and at the last minute we decided to get off the New York Thruway and take the minor roots. It was our second day of
driving. On our first day, we had been stalled up in Canada by a flat tire. So up until the morning of the second, our trip through the states had been at night. It was on that bright an clear morning, driving out of Schenectady, New York, that we had both begun to notice the difference in the architecture.
In Canada, especially in Southern Ontario, there is a general pattern of movement. People come here; they move to the cities and rent a house or an apartment. They save money, and when they have enough, they put a down payment on a house of their own. They live there for a while, usually in a neighbourhood of a similar ethnic background. They raise a family, and then, either they, or their children, sell the house and move further out of the city, usually into an area with a similar ethnic background. This time however, they don’t move into the house on the property they just bought. They instead tear down the house and build a new one.
This is where the major difference is. In the States, from my travels and experiences there, when someone moves out from a city and onto a property where they want to settle, they do not usually demolish the house that is already there. They renovate it, they add to it, they change the colour, and perhaps the trim, but they do not usually tear it down. When they want to start a business, they don’t turn their 4-story, 200 year old Georgian into a parking lot. They simply they make minor adjustments to the interior and hang a sign out front.
What does this difference have to with Canada’s survival as a country?
Everything. Americans keeping the old houses and buildings, and consciously or not, it gives them a sense of continuity, a connection to the past. You can feel it when you walk down the close streets of New York’s little Italy, or tour through the old bank buildings of Boston. Unlike us, Americans don’t like a clean slate, they prefer to simply add the old one. As a result, the wooden, brick and stone faces of history are everywhere to remind them of who they are and where they came from.
Canada is not a young country. One of, if not the oldest street in North America runs along the waterfront of Saint John’s Newfoundland. We are considered young because we look it. We do not wish to keep our historical landmarks. Instead we prefer to tear the drafty, dated, things down and put up something bigger and more expensive looking. As a result, the area where I live, just north of Toronto,
once an old quaint neighbourhood, has steadily become a neighbourhood of pocket-sized mansions, all with about as much character as your average big box shopping plaza. In Toronto, a small group of
preservationists had to fight tooth and nail to stop the powers that be from demolishing the old city hall when they were building the new one.
This desire to wipe the slate clean, to start again, results only with a general disregard for our own past. Ford might have said “history is bunk” but it is us Canadians who habitually practice what he preached.
This lack of respect for our old architecture is representative of a great national apathy that pervades Canada on many levels. How may of us vote? How many of us can remember being taught a decent
lesson in Canadian history when we were in school? How many have us have travelled much in Canada? How many of us care?
This apathy has spread to the younger generations as well. Children today have no real concept of what Canada is. I have personally witnessed this myself. A 10-year-old student of mine knew who George Washington was, but couldn’t tell me who John A. Macdonald was. Another student thought that Toronto was in New York. It’s hard to believe this, but to our very young, Canada is not a country.
I wish I could offer some easy solution for our predicament, but there is none, especially when most of us don’t really care one way or the other. Like an Alzheimer patient, we are perfectly happy in our own softly fading world, ourselves completely oblivious to what we are losing.
Even if I was to show you, how many would care that we are losing our country, our history? How can I convince you that you are suffering, when you sit on your plump leather couches in front of your wide screen TV’s? How I can make you realize the importance of what we are losing when you have more than you need?
Perhaps I can’t.
Maybe the only way that people will learn of the greatness of our country is when we lose the more obvious characteristics of our country, like gun control and health care. It frightens me to think that having a gun to our heads or having to use a credit card when we visit the family doctor are the only things that will wake us from our deep, peaceful slumbers.
But before that happens, I can offer you some preventative advice: if and when you do get a chance to move onto an older property, think twice about demolishing the history that is already there.