Un canadien errant

Today is once again Dominion Day, as it is no longer called up here in “the True North strong and free” — as it is still called, but with irony. I like to enter my protest annually.

In Toronto this year we now celebrate the “Canada Day” weekend with three big parades: Trans Pride today, the Dyke March tomorrow, and the grand Pride Parade on Sunday. Meanwhile there will be the throb of heavily amplified funk bands, paid for with my taxes; and a Sudanese Rap festival at City Hall. There will be other celebrations of Multiculturalism (any culture that is not natively Canadian). But there is only so much room in my head for what I read on posters.

One recalls the remark of the late immigrant George Jonas, after one publicly-funded multicultural performance: “I left Hungary to escape Communism, but even more to get away from Gipsy Dancing.”

The Canadian folk song, “Un canadien errant” (Ian and Sylvia version, here), was written after a rebellion in Lower Canada, going on two centuries ago. Some French Canadians found themselves exiled to exotic countries such as Vermont, and Australia. They looked homeward with nostalgia, to the old (very Catholic) Quebec; and recalled the fate, too, of their fellow countrymen banished generations before from Acadia.

In fact the older Acadian hymn, still known among the “francophone” survivors in our Canadian Maritimes, is a variation on the eighth-century plainsong of Ave Maris Stella, sung by preference in Latin. (There is a lovely anecdote in some album notes I have somewhere of broadcast types trying to get the choral inhabitants of St-Antoine in New Brunswick to sing it in French for their cameras; and they refused, such was their loyalty to their actual traditions.)

Un canadien errant: we have achieved today a kind of inverted national unity, between French and English, as everyone still attached to that old bag of a country we both called “Canada” — as it was before the Martian invasions of the 1960s — shares in the sense of an internal exile. Wherever we are, we find around us a Canada that does not resemble the one in which we were raised, and with which we were contented.

Next year will be the sesquicentennial of the proclamation of that Fair Dominion, in the British North America Act of 1st July, 1867. That Canada had many flaws and foibles, which we may also recall with a dripping nostalgia. But when asked to stand, she stood. For she had also many virtues, and did not deserve to die.

My thoughts turn also east this morning, to Newfoundland, which lost the “best of its best” in the mud, blood, and futility of the Somme trench offensive, launched one hundred years ago, on 1st July, 1916. Altogether at least 57,000 were killed and maimed, among the British forces who thrust themselves into the German wires; by far their largest bloodletting on a single day, in the course of history so far. So great a stream, that even to criticize the allied generals is pointless. For all Europe had embarked on the ultimate, post-modern, voyage au bout de la nuit.

Un Chrétien errant: from knights-errant, to the most spectacular, heroic, and obscene acts of self-destruction, only modestly echoed in our domestic Canadian experience. It is Friday, now: a day for fasting and atonement; for the observation that we have got what we deserved, or so much less than we deserved, by replacing Christ in our hearts with the vanity of our progressive human wishes.

And farther east, one’s thoughts wander to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall.