What is Canadian culture?

If you live in Canada, the odds are pretty good that you’ve come across the question, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Or someone has asked you to explain exactly what ‘Canadian culture’ is. And chances are, you’ve felt stumped trying to find an answer.

Since I moved to Canada in 2003, I’ve come across this question countless times, and it took me a long time to come to any sort of definition for this.

To give some background on my fascination with this question, I am a Trinidadian immigrant with Canadian heritage. My grandmother was born in Val-d’or, Quebec, to Canadian-born parents of Scottish and Irish descent. Her family was one of the layers upon layers of immigrants who contributed to this country’s history.

I consider myself to be a hybrid Trinidadian-Canadian; I always have. I wasn’t born in Canada but, despite my misleading accent, I consider myself to be every bit as much Canadian as I am Trinidadian. My grandmother’s Canadian roots influenced how my dad and his sisters were raised, and how I was raised. Both countries are my home; they are both a part of my identity.

My Trinidadian identity is one that’s easy for me to pinpoint. If you ask me what it means to be a Trinidadian, I can immediately say that to be Trinidadian is to be warm, welcoming, and accepting. It’s sunshine. That identity is something I feel within me; an identity that I always feel sure of.

By comparison, when asked what my Canadian identity is, I haven’t been able to easily pinpoint that in the past; and from searching the interwebs, I’m not alone. There are pages of articles trying to define just that — what it means to be Canadian.

Articles I found trying to define what it means to be Canadian gave me a range of answers. A “starter pack” of sorts.

Friendly. “Eh”. Ice hockey. Maple Syrup. Winter. Diversity. Poutines and pierogies. Mounties. Human rights. Peacekeeping. Universal Healthcare.

All of these things are reflective of Canada in some way, I’m not denying that. But there must be a simpler way to express what being Canadian means to us — to me.

A common answer I’ve come across in researching this topic over the years is that Canadian identity is difficult to pin down because we’re a country of immigrants, with so many different identities existing within our one country, across all of our provinces, that we don’t have one identity — we have numerous ones.

And there’s some credibility to that answer. 1 in 5 Canadians is foreign-born. We are extremely ethnically diverse. We speak over 20 different languages in our homes across the country. At a glance, our identity seems fragmented.

But I don’t agree with the notion that Canada being comprised of so many cultures means we are restricted from claiming a singular identity — an identity that is just ours, and is distinct from our neighbours to the south. I don’t think we should settle for this lack of definition, and accept that as an excuse.

To me, being Canadian is to be part of a large patchwork quilt. And I say patchwork quilt for a reason. We are not a melting pot, which expects everyone’s cultures to melt into one another in public and only be expressed in private. In Canada, we sew together our cultures side by side, observing and respecting the beauty of each.

We take pride in the range of ethnic cuisines available to us, which we can find in our largest cities and smallest towns. We publicly celebrate and acknowledge the religious holidays and cultural festivals of our fellow multi-cultural Canadians.

We may not all be immigrants, but I can guarantee that the immigrant story is a part of all of us. In our families, our friend circles, and our communities, everywhere in Canada, there is an immigrant story.

No country is perfect, and I’m not about to claim that this one isn’t without its faults. But in my years here, I’ve seen us take those stories, and those cultures, and build a society where they don’t only exist alongside one another, but they can be embraced, accepted, and respected. I feel proud to be a part of that patchwork quilt — to me, nothing feels more Canadian than that.

The definition of a Canadian identity has been left open-ended, undefined, for decades. To start the end to that conundrum, I’d like to put this out into the ether: let’s take the root of that question of Canadian identity — the complicating factor that multiple cultural identities exist within Canada — and own the answer that multiple identities doesn’t lead us to a lack of a definition; it is one.

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