Part-time Canadians

So many part-time Canadians. What’s a poor Canadian boy to do, eh? Summer’s hardly over before the moaning and groaning starts.

Right after Labour Day, as if the oncoming winter is a surprise. I can almost hear the Florida suitcases being packed. If folks didn’t have to work for a living, this country would be deserted every time it gets cold. Like cottage country. Only open for the summer. No wonder our national identity is so fragile. What with all that packing and travelling and moaning and groaning and wishing we were some place else.

Why Not Stay Home?

Maybe our problems would disappear if we stayed put. Americans know who we are, with a cocky certitude that brooks no argument. We are the Great White North, the home to Eskimos and polar bears. We are those unassertive northern neighbours that can’t agree on anything except coveting all things American. Those metric millions “up there” with their red musical police, postal strikes and high taxes. Those intrepid inhabitants huddled along the world’s longest undefended border for easier access to cheap shopping. We are those strange socialists who move like molasses because they have to repeat everything again in French. We are those crazy Canucks who must really love the cold, else we’d all move to Disney World for the winter.

American opinion might be different if we’d take the colour out of our dollars instead of just the value. Or remove the “eh” from our speech and still have something to say. Or if we’d invented golf instead of hockey. But now we’re stuck with being defined by our monopoly money, by our frequent use of the alphabet’s first letter and by our inexplicable ardency over a bunch of grown men chasing a little black rubber hunk around the ice. It could be a whole lot worse. Most Americans don’t get the CBC.

What’s With Winter?

Geographically, southern Ontario is far enough south to support the rumour that winter might not happen this year. So we are always shocked to find that Old Man breezing up our shorts again. We moan and groan. Wish it away. Wish ourselves away, hibernate or make like it hasn’t arrived.  Even after we’re ankle deep in slush. We shiver behind our Great Lakes shield and chuckle when Buffalo gets dumped on again.

One unusually mild winter becomes our perennial expectation. We are put off by the thought of snow. Except the man-made stuff which we control and thereby make a buck. Is it coincidence that our most prevalent winter virus – the common cold – is named after our most hated sub-zero temperature range?

But it’s always summer in our minds. All in all, we are a sorry lot to be blessed with this land that we love less than half the year. We haven’t learned to live with it, so we mark time until we can move to Florida and live without it. Which explains why Americans think most Canadians are old. Is it any wonder that we fair weather patriots have such difficulty with what it means to be Canadian?

My personal identity crisis ended with my acceptance of winter and I became a better Canadian for it. After all, childhood winter memories are a carefree flurry of fun – skating, tobogganing, skiing, snow forts, balls and men. Sure, I got cold and wet, but what kid cares?

Alienation set in, as I grew old enough to shovel what I’d previously played in. As a teen, dressing `”cool” meant no bulky winter coats or hats or gloves or galoshes. I became cooler than cool and winter became the enemy, a conflict that became habit. It’s a losing battle.

When resisted, winter is an implacable, ruthless and unforgiving foe. It left me bitter, frustrated and wanting to be elsewhere. Until I realized that living with winter is being Canadian. So I divested myself of my winter hates. Like being cold. Inactive. Bored. Always fighting the elements. Moaning and groaning. `

Today, winter is a good friend. I discovered snowmobiling. I outfitted to stay warm and cozy. I bought a winterized cottage, a four-wheel drive vehicle and two Ski Doo sleds. For the price, I could have moved to Florida, but that would be admitting defeat. Also, the bank wouldn’t let me leave the country.

Today, I’m a true winter person. A full-time Canadian. I’m no longer cold or wet or bored or inactive. I have solved my identity crisis. I have contributed to the national debt. What more could a poor Canadian boy ask, eh? Keith Spicer eat your heart out.

This article was originally published as part of the syndicated “Intrepid Cottager” column in many Ontario newspapers. 

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