Originally from France, I chose to settle in Canada in 2006 because of its wide open spaces and its values of tolerance and multiculturalism. When I became a Canadian citizen in 2011, I promised myself that I would make an extended journey across my new country. A journey of discovery that would give me a chance to connect with the land, the history and the peoples that created and still make up Canada.
I set out with my partner and our dog Karma in May 2014. We would be on the road for seven months. We wanted to spend time in every province, go hiking, visit family and friends, explore national parks and historic and iconic places and taste local products.
We went all the way to Cape Breton, to the beach where John Cabot landed in 1497. It was 7,000 kilometres from Whitehorse, where we live. In Europe, if we had started out from Paris, such a journey would have taken us to the gates of Mongolia after crossing almost a dozen countries with different languages and cultures. In Canada, we stayed in the same country. However, I learned that beneath this uniformity lies great diversity. Diversity in the accents and landscapes but also in the groups of immigrants who have created local history.
I discovered, for example, the story of the Doukhobors, a Russian Christian group whose descendants still live along the southern edge of the Western provinces. The story of the Japanese interned in camps in British Columbia during World War II. And the history of the Blacks of Nova Scotia whose ancestors were freed American slaves in search of a new homeland.
The traces and heritage of the First Nations also left their mark on our journey: Ucluelet, BC, Writing-on-Stone, Alberta, Agawa Bay, Ontario, Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, Kouchibouguac, New Brunswick, Tadoussac, Quebec – all of these evocative and poetic names are now part of my new vocabulary.
Because that is what builds a sense of belonging to a country. Defining new landmarks and reference points. Experiencing different places and the vastness of the country. Seeing with my own eyes the Rocky Mountains, the endless wheat fields of the Prairies, the primal forests of the West, the tides of the Bay of Fundy. Living the quintessential experience of a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, which my Canadian friends had been talking to me about for a long time as one of the memories of their youth. I now have the impression that I am speaking the same language, connecting to the same geography, sharing common memories.
Our trip across Northern Ontario along the shores of Lake Superior, listening to the words of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is for me one of the best examples of the intimate connection that this journey offered me. I owe this connection through popular songs to my partner Lauren, a Canadian Anglophone. Lauren shared ‘her" Canada, shared the reference points and landmarks that she has picked up throughout her life and that built her Canadian identity. The very reference points and landmarks that I am seeking and that I am making my own in my daily life, as in this fantastic 30,000-kilometre journey across my new country.
I recently took part in the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s Symposium where we discussed the question of belonging and Canadian identity. This is a complex and difficult issue. In conclusion, I will say this: I do not feel Canadian yet, that will take many more years - but I feel at home here. Here in the Yukon, here in Canada.