Okay, quick:who are your favorite Canadians? You decide the criteria: hero, role model, humanitarian, rich, successful, altruistic, brilliant, cute, famous, infamous, influential, living or dead.
The no-brainer choice for me is Terry Fox. Twenty-three years after his death I still cry when I see footage of his unique double step / hop as he ran his way into our hearts. It blows me away to think a 22 year old kid who could have withdrawn into his disease and misfortune instead became a national hero.
He was the youngest recipient of the country’s top civilian order, the Companion of the Order of Canada. He’s immortalized in the Sports Hall of Fame, Guinness Book of Records, and The Canadian Encyclopedia. He’s had a mountain in British Columbia named for him. I visited his statue across the street from the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
His greatest legacy however is the continuation of the work he began in 1980—raising money for cancer research. His impact defies belief. In 2001, 242,000 people in over 50 countries took part in the annual Terry Fox Run. The money raised to date totals over $300 million with no end in sight.
Canadians have excelled in virtually any field of endeavour you can imagine: arts, science, research, sports, entertainment. Some of those accomplishments are the stuff of history classes, others are happening as we speak. The relative worth of those achievements is of course a matter of opinion. At least one web-site I checked lists Pamela Anderson as the #1 Famous Canadian. Yikes.
Canadians have been stereotyped as respectful, apologetic, reticent, don’t-blow-your-own-horn types. In some circles our proudest claim to fame is that we aren’t Americans. That’s not good enough. Isn’t it about time we began defining ourselves in our own terms?
We’ve taken mocking our own to an art form. We don’t recognize or reward homegrown talent and are baffled by the exodus south.
Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has taken a $95 million US gamble on Celine Dion’s star power and ability to fill a 4000 seat venue 200 days each year for 3 years. In Canada you’re likely to hear cracks about how she can make your ears bleed. Which is the truth?
The list of expatriate Canadians is long and illustrious—-from Bonanza’s Lorne Green to hockey’s Wayne Gretzky. Jim Carey, Tom Green, Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Mike Myers are just some of Canada’s comedy exports.
There’s probably nothing we can do to repatriate the Michael J. Foxes or Shania Twains. Where we do have some influence is how we recognize and value those making contributions right here right now. It’s easy to track celebrity careers. Much harder, the anonymous Canadians working in schools, hospitals, research facilities, business, commerce, farms, visual and literary arts who deserve our recognition. Our national inferiority complex is getting in the way of our true potential. And it’s getting real old. It’s time to stand proud, from where I sit.
* Reprinted with permission