Human hand a symbol of Canadian patriotism

First published:
July 3, 2002

On the eve of July 4th, the American’s day to celebrate their independence from Britain, it is a good time to reflect on patriotism. Yanks are internationally known for their flag-waving. This year their patriotism will be off the radar in the shadow of the tragedy on Sept. 11 – – the bombing of the World Trade Centre. No doubt it will be particularly poignant.

While we are not so obvious in showing our love for  our country, Canadians are embracing patriotism, a poll released this past weekend tells us. The Dominion Institute, along with Ipsos-Reid, found that 74 per cent of Canadians agree Americans do a better job of celebrating their accomplishments than Canadians. But we do not believe Americans have more important people and accomplishments to celebrate.

Alexander Graham Bell, Sir John A. Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau, Nellie McClung, Margaret Atwood, Celine Dion are among a few of the long list of Canadian who have contributed.

Dominion Institute executive director Rudyard Griffiths said the results show Canadians are modest when it comes to individual recognition, but we are becoming more patriotic as a nation.

This was followed by another national poll released Monday done by the Toronto Star and EKOS Research Associates, saying Canadians have a stronger sense of identity and a greater national confidence. Fifty-two per cent say they want Canada to become less like the United States. This study looked at trends over the past decade. While we are happy to have an economic union with Americans, we do not want to be drowned by their social or cultural ways.

This is a big departure from what is commonly believed. Often Canadians have felt somewhat inferior to our southern allies. For many decades, especially after World War II, American culture dominated. Canadians knew little about their history or accomplishments. Even today it is laughable to watch a crowd sing our national anthem. Most people can get the first few words out. But, after a line or two, there appears to be more humming than singing.

Occasionally, we still become misty eyed when we gaze across the 49th parallel. Some economists believe we should adopt the American dollar. Then there is the nasty business of a North American free trade zone, which has yet to prove to be the bona fide success promised. Look around Northumberland County to see the devastation and closed plants for any hard evidence. And just watch the number of family farms falter following the passing of the new U.S. farm bill.

Our government also gets muddled when it comes to setting its own foreign policy. Lately it appears to be a faint echo of whatever is being decreed by the White House.

And while their inappropriate uniforms and lack of equipment embarrassed our soldiers in Afghanistan, at least we knew how to follow orders and when to fire our weapons. We also know who the bad guys were on the ground.

Extreme patriotism can be bad. It turns into a form of rampant nationalism that blinds its citizens. We have witnessed this many times over in our history. Nazi Germany, Palestine and Israel, along with a list of others provide sufficient examples.

But a little bit of flag flying never hurts. And we have lots to be proud of.

Northumberland County residents share in this patriotism through our own local events. The various celebrations put on by each municipality reflect its own values from fireworks to community picnics. There will be parades with marching bands and floats. We can all wave our flags and feel good. Over the weekend there were a number of drivers sporting full-size Canadian flags whizzing around town. The Waterfront Festival in Cobourg is the second largest Canada Day weekend event outside Ottawa, some say. It is certainly recognized in Northumberland and beyond.

But we do not just celebrate communally. Many families use the long weekend to get together, have a barbecue, drink some beer and enjoy. It is an official launch into summer for many.

During a recent kindergarten class at Burnham Street Public School, the children completed a Canada Day craft. It involved taking an 11-inch by 17-inch rectangle of white paper. Two red strips were cut for each end. Then the children placed their open palm into red paint and placed it strategically in the centre of the remaining white field. With the middle fingering pointing to the top of the page, the little hand looks remarkably like a Maple Leaf.

What is most endearing about this simple child’s art is the realization that a human hand in the middle of our national flag can replace the Maple Leaf. Nothing could be more deeply symbolic. There is not one other national flag where this can be done. What a wonderful tribute to our country. Wouldn’t it be great if we decided next year to have everyone make a Canadian flag this way? It would be a marvelous act of patriotism.

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