I went to school in a small B.C. community in the ‘70’s – a pretty cool time. Back then, everybody knew the difference between a Saskatchewan Roughrider and one from Ottawa. Every kid with a TV also knew who Tommy Hunter was (whether you wanted to or not), and that Reach for the Top came on just before The World of Disney on Sunday evenings. Then one day in the summer of my 12th year, our parents sat my sister and me down on our 700-year-old Simpsons Sears couch (because they lasted that long back then) for the talk.
“Your Dad and I have been discussing it, and we’d like to know if you would like to get… cablevision.”
Cablevision. In 1978, asking a kid in western Canada if he wanted cablevision was like asking a hound dog if he would be mildly interested in a ham hock. MTV wasn’t even a gleam in a network’s eye yet when sis and I choreographed our response – a full-on five-minute musical performance that featured hopping (what hip-hop was before Kanye), synchronized swim motions (high-fiving hadn’t been invented yet) and a trilling technique recently demonstrated by some visiting Africans on The Irish Rovers show. Or maybe they were Australian Aboriginals.
“The thing is, it’s going to cost eight dollars a month,” Mom said, “and the only way we can afford it is if we use the monthly child allowance cheque the government sends for you and your sister. What do you think?”
Child allowance? All I could think of was the Fonze, the Incredible Hulk, Fantasy Island, and CHIP’s. My sister’s eyes glazed over with her own bucket list that included Laverne and Shirley and One Day at a Time. Child allowance cheque? What good is a birthright if you don’t have The Love Boat?
“Yes!” we chirped in sync, like a couple of Dutch traders who had just bought Manhattan for a bag of fishhooks. Before you could say three’s a company, our backyard Saturdays of fort building and All Star Wrestling were swallowed up in a tsunami of Scooby Doo and Space 1999. But as the summer of 12 P.P.H. (pre-pubic hair) fades to an ever smaller dot in the rear view mirror of memories, I sometimes wonder if the trade we made that year had more in common with Faust than it did with Peter Minuit. And evidently I’m not alone.
Every so often, Canada goes through an identity crisis of sorts, where it can’t figure out whether to redefine or reinvent itself. 2012, by all appearances, seems to be the year of high redefinition. Around the country, the regurgitated portrait of loquacious Liz – our sovereign in every way except fact – has become the smart symbol of when we were beautiful, while in Ottawa, the ruling junta parades the troops like they were returning from Italy instead of Afghan-irrelevant. With John A. McDonald on the best seller’s list, a boring as sod Anglo-Saxon male in the Governor General’s shack, and the feds building prisons like they haven’t since the days of Diefenbaker – you have to wonder if they’ll soon be driving the last spike on a coast to coast subway.
But of all the entertaining steps backward this year, the funniest may be the suddenly chic War of 1812 – better known in Canadian high school history tests as the War of wha? According to the party line being bank rolled out of Ottawa, 1812 was the year Canada served notice that we are not Americans. That’s rich.
According to a recent piece by John Allemang in the Globe and Mail, at the beginning of the skirmish, the average Upper Canadian was “a newly arrived American lured by cheap land and low taxes.” Yup, Americans (and British regular army conscripts) – fighting Americans – to prove that they weren’t American. Sombody needs to call Monty Python. In the book The Civil War of 1812, Alan Taylor even notes that the peace treaty that eventually settled the row in 1814 was signed in Belgium, between the british and the Americans. Not a single Canadian in sight. And history says there was a good reason for that.
“The idea of the border was an artificial creation,” back in 1812, says Major John Grodzinksky, a history professor at Royal Military College. According to him, long before the Six Million Dollar Man leapt the 49th parallel, “there was considerable shared contract and trade,” on both sides of the invisble wall. The (North) Amercians of the early 19th century liked it that way. And if Wal Mart, Target and Nordstrom’s are to be believed, little has changed.
The it-could-be-worse truth of the matter is that Canadians have always been Americans in heart – just as Americans have always been British and vice versa. Just ask Madonna. Or Gerard Butler. Or Justin Bieber. And while $29 million worth of ado will be made this year about how un-American the Great White North is, my advice is to pop a cold Pepsi and enjoy the fact that Celine Dion and Cirque de Soleil now have a bigger piece of Vegas than Elvis ever did. Trust me on this. I saw it on TMZ.