Song for a winter’s night


We are all used to celebrating our country in the warmth of July. Outdoor events, parades, food and drink and games feature prominently in our festivities. But this is Heritage Week in Ontario, a time to reflect on what that heritage may be, and how much we value it. Heritage can mean many things to many people: buildings, history, literature, art, songs, and sport. All of these are part of what it means to be a nation. One of the greatest of the Fathers of Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, always emphasised the fact that making a new country was far more than a political construction. It needed to be backed up by the building of a new nationality, one that transcended ethnic origins.

A new nationality needed to set down and celebrate its own stories, in books, songs, traditions, and whatever would reflect a Canadian identity, independent of British, or Irish, or Scottish, or French, or any other background. Canada has achieved so much in that regard. Canadian writers, historians, singer-songwriters, dancers, artists and people in so many other spheres of life, even astronauts, are known throughout the world for their achievements.

The Group of Seven, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland, Chris Hadfield, Frank Gehry, Julie Payette, and Dan Akroyd, these are a very few names known around the world. The list is long and impressive, going right back to Sandford Fleming, Timothy Eaton and John Molson.

Canadians, rightly or wrongly, are also known as nice, peaceable and friendly people, who are unfailingly polite and helpful. We live here, and we can smile at the stereotype, but at the same time we appreciate it and like to believe there’s something true about the description. Before I came to Canada, I can remember meeting people from the United States who were touring Europe with maple leaf emblems on their backpacks and jackets. This is no myth, they really were more secure knowing that they were seen to be Canadian and not American. And they were right to think that.

This is my song for a winter’s night. In the deep cold, deeper snow, and a longing for hibernation, we can think about our heritage over a Tim Horton’s or a “beverage”. We have a lot to be grateful for, an inheritance from our predecessors here in this area, people who went through much more than we ever have to battle the climate, the distances, the hunt for food and shelter. We have a heritage from them that we can pass on to our descendants. And we can add to that heritage while we’re here.

But what will we be adding for them? Our society has been intimately affected by the technologies that dominate our lives today. I don’t want to keep banging on about social media and the changes it is bringing to our way of life and behaviour, but it is a real and present danger in so many ways. Traditional social interactions are being replaced by on-line communications, and those communications are getting increasingly tetchy.

A recent headline in this paper contained a word that was completely misinterpreted by a few people, leading to the most awful comments on social media. Thinking that someone had been called a “loser”, which they had not, some posters hit back using words like “moron”, and “pathetic piece of humanity”. Because we published the headline, we have been called “a creditless; tasteless and rediculous publication” (spelling as in the original post).

One person even suggested that the writer of the article should be investigated, to gather all the “dirt” on him and his family so it could be posted on-line in order “to destroy his life”. All because they misunderstood what he meant by one word.

Sad to say, this kind of response is not unusual on-line. I have those I call my “groupies”, who seem to eagerly look at whatever I write so they can criticise, dismiss, or denounce it in comments on Facebook pages. This kind of knee-jerk reaction, impatient and angry with anything that goes against their own opinions, is destructive and counter to everything we want to see in our community. It is, unfortunately, a worldwide problem.

Heritage also means the people who came before us. Heritage is what we, as people, will leave after us. We have had some amazing individuals in the past and the present, giving us examples of the best we can be. And the best can be really great. There have always been the begrudgers, the critics, the ones who cannot stand for opposite points of view. It is our choice: what do we leave as our children’s heritage. In relationships, in architecture, in music, poetry, art, the environment both physical and social, will it be something we can be proud of, something that future Canadians will cherish and value.

That is something to consider as we sing our Song for a Winter’s Night.


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