Thursday, April 3, 2014

As the tundra thaws.

Can it be that it was all so simple then,
or has time rewritten every line ...

That couplet query from the classic tune "The Way We Were" has been crooned by everyone from Doris Day to Gladys Knight, Bassey to Beyoncé - even sampled by Wu Tang, but originally featured in Barbara Streisand's 1973 film of the same title.

Undoubtedly intended for wistful romanticism in the context of the screenplay, the universality of sentiment lends itself to broader interpretation, in the tradition of the greatest song lyrics.

A chilly mid-March trip to Ottawa, the stoic capital of Canada, and a foray to its impressive Museum of Civilization, stirred some misty watercolor memories in the corners of my mind, which I've parlayed into a dot-to-dot, didactic dispatch from the diaspora.

Images of imperial impetus, implicit on London's festooned Coronation Arch, surpass largesse and God's love for King.

This was in fact, brilliant billboard marketing strategy by Canadian politico Sir Clifford Sifton, in encouragement of immigration en masse from Britain, amid the euphoria of Edward VII's crowning.

Invite them and they will come. All so simple then, in 1902.

However, just as each successive singer re-interprets a familiar standard, so too is history, in time, rewritten ... every line.

Sifton's Conservative immigration policies expressly discouraged such "undesirables" as Asians, Jews and Blacks, while millions of Continental Europeans were seduced and settled. Still, post-war, and particularly post-Expo '67, patterns of immigration ensure what's too painful to remember, we can't simply choose to forget.

 As my scattered pictures can attest to, the social fabric of Canada is sewn with imported memories from disparate realities and far-flung motherlands. We are a populated, yet sparse Precambrian template where tropic meets temperate, turning tundra into hybrid identity.

Don't tell me Jerk Poutine doesn't make sense in this melange.

Back in the sanctuary of my venerable copper-roofed refuge, the Lord Elgin Hotel (on, you guessed it, Elgin Street - after James Bruce 8th Earl of Elgin who became Governor General of Canada in 1847), I mine for more insight into the way we were.

And I find gold.

It turns out that our good peer, was deployed northward after four challenging years as Governor of Jamaica. From one territory reeling from profit-loss after the end of four hundred years of enforced agricultural labor, to another where farms were selectively granted gratis.

Both lands requiring responsible structural self-governance. A cooling Carib-cauldron, for flux of a frigid frontier, warming up.

But, as I've discovered during this throwback winter-of-old, it can't have been easy as a pioneer, regardless of circumstance. So much so, that even when the weather improves it's advisable to keep looking above, as the thaw presents a discrete set of issues.

This is testimony that nothing is ever truly simple, answering one question in the song - the one about simplicity and time, yet highlighting the next conundrum therein.

If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? could we?

1 comment :

  1. I didn't have any choice. I was born here. I didn't truly understand the nature of warmer climates until I chanced to visit one during the coldest month of winter. What a difference! I shared a train ride with a friend one evening between Los Angeles and San Diego. Although it was pitch black outside the window, and I could not see anything other than the ground lighted up by the cabin, I kept expecting to see snow. I told her so. She thought I was nuts.

    It is no surprise that 90% of Canadians live within 200 km of the American border. We don't love the cold any more than anyone else. I think that our cold and snowy winters are one of the things that make us a friendly and polite nation. After all, misery loves company.


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