Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 06.28.09
Stanstead, Quebec


My Canada includes ample storage

Invariably at this time of year I think about what it means to be Canadian, just like around Labour Day, I think about pie... not sure why that is, actually.

What it boils down to is this: 142 years in and we still haven't gelled as a nation. There are many theories as to why this is: our vast size, our squeamishness about starting wars and other bonding exercises, or our tendency to be standoffish (yes, you, Manitoba).

But I have my own theory. It's the way we describe ourselves: a confederation.

What is a confederation? "Con" is Latin for "with," while "federation" comes from the Greek "federos," which means "squabbling." Other than that, no one really knows what it means.

Plus, listen to it. "Confederation." It sounds like a stomach ailment. ("My daughter was licking library books and came down with confederation.") It's just... blaaah.

Compare that to a word like "republic." Now that's a hearty word, a word a nation could rally around. I'd name my dog Republic, and it would be a good dog, a true dog.

In fact, I don't think any of the words that describe Canada -- confederation, dominion, accident -- do justice to this great country. I think we need to get away from the abstract and pin our notion of nationhood (or nation of notionhood) on a strong visual metaphor.

I say Canada is a chest of drawers: a sturdy piece of furniture, a solid presence in a room, yet fairly easy to push around.

On the bottom you have your Atlantic drawer. This is mostly empty, which means the other drawers have to share items from their own drawers to justify the continuing existence of the Atlantic drawer. On the plus side, with all that space in the drawer, there's lots of room for dancing jigs and piling up two-fours.

Next, there's the Quebec drawer. This one can be a bit stubborn. To get it open, sometimes you have to coax it, sometimes you have to grease it, and other times it just needs a good kick. In fact, you occasionally wonder if it wouldn't be better out of the chest of drawers altogether.

But inside, the Quebec drawer is pretty hip. Music, food, culture -- you can find just about everything in this drawer. Except apostrophes.

The biggest drawer is Ontario, and it knows it. In fact, Ontario often doesn't remember that there are other drawers at all. This drawer is packed full of resources, tools, glitz. It's right in the middle of the chest of drawers so it's quite easy to access. Really, we should be impressed. But, well, we're not.

Glad it's there, but it's really just a drawer.

Above that is the Prairie drawer. This drawer is a good place to keep your firearms, Bible and collection of phrases like, "I'm as liberal as the next man, but..." This drawer also seems to hold more stereotypes than any of the other drawers. The ghost of Tommy Douglas lives in this drawer too, quietly weeping.

The top drawer is British Columbia. Unfortunately, it's a little hard to reach, a little, well, high. Consequently, this drawer often feels neglected and isolated. It would seriously consider opting out of the chest of drawers except that... it... uhhh... what was it going to do? Oh yeah, snowboard, dude!

Finally, the top surface is Ottawa, where you find all the junk that doesn't fit in any of the drawers. A lot of spare change winds up here and then just... disappears. It's really quite messy, actually. Ottawa keeps promising it's going to clean it up but never does.

Oh, and those little tables beside the chest of drawers? Those are the territories. And what's that swept under the chest of drawers? Our First Nations. So there you have it. Our country is a chest of drawers: solid, practical, well-crafted and a little bit wooden -- that's my Canada.