Canadian pride is a rare and elusive thing. The stereotypical Canadian is self-effacing, humble, apologetic, and meek. In some perverse way, we’re actually proud of this image. I call it “aw shucks, little ol’ me” thinking accompanied by downcast eyes and a toe digging in the dirt. We don’t as a rule blow our own horns.
Too often the stars among us have to be recognized elsewhere before they’re appreciated here at home. It’s no challenge to list all the expatriates who’ve made it big in the United States. David Spade, Alex Trebek, Jim Carrey, Donald Sutherland, Celine Dion, the whole SCTV gang, and Pamela Anderson are just some in the entertainment business.
Americans have also taken the awards show format to extremes. They’re too frequent, too long, too much. I was pleasantly surprised to catch the Canada Walk of Fame broadcast on TV the other night. The Walk of Fame began in Toronto in 1998 and honours nominees from the world of arts and sports. The program included a bio clip of career highlights, a celebrity introduction, a performance and heartfelt acceptance speeches.
The 2005 inductees included heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo, former teen idol Paul Anka, ballet dancer Rex Harrington, actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Alanis Morrissette. Unknown to me were music industry producers Daniel Lanois and Pierre Cossette, father of the Grammy Awards, and concert promoter Michael Cohl. Fay Wray of King Kong fame was inducted posthumously. How sad, how telling that nearly all the inductees had to come ‘back’ to Canada for this honor.
Michael Buble sang a personalized version of “My Way” during the tribute to Paul Anka. In a career now spanning six decades, over 120 albums, sales of over 10 million records, 900 songs written or co-written, and royalties from Carson’s Tonight Show theme of nearly a million dollars per year, Anka is a force to be reckoned with. And he’s ours.
George Chuvalo’s story of triumph over more personal grief than anyone should have to endure brought tears to my eyes. To see this tough guy admit that perhaps the focus on his boxing career led to inattention at home was sobering for anyone with misplaced focus. That inattention led to the drug-induced deaths of two sons, and the suicide of another son and George’s wife. Talking to kids about drugs has become his new life’s work.
I was struck by the tasteful, impressive presentation. I was touched by the sincerity and humility of the acceptance speeches. I wondered how many more visionaries, pioneers, stars and greats are under the public’s radar. I wondered why mocking Celine Dion has become a national sport.
Perhaps this year instead of waving the flag on Canada Day and singing the anthem at sports events, we could begin honouring exceptional Canadians every day. Perhaps we could take pride in our own achievements. Perhaps we could educate ourselves about our record of success. Perhaps we could change our national persona to one of pride. It’s about time, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission