“What brings you to Vancouver?” we were asked at Customs.
“We’re visiting. We heard how beautiful Vancouver was and we’ve been wanting to visit for a long time,” said my husband.
“If we really like it, we may defect,” I joked.
With that Canadian sense of humor, the customs officer told us that we were always welcome in Canada.
We enjoyed that humor when we attended a sketch improv group’s show called “Oh Canada.” The audience, mostly Canadians, laughed at their own foibles in that dry, self-deprecating way. During intermission, the audience was asked to fill out slips saying what they loved most about Canada. I wrote that I loved the way everyone said “Sorry” all the time. To my surprise, the first skit after the intermission was “Sorry, Eh.” All the actors in the ensemble got the chance to correct each other prefacing it with – you guessed it – Sorry Eh. By the time the skit was finished, all the ensemble members had their chance to say “Sorry” about just about every aspect of Canadian life.
|Poster at Oh Canada Skit|
We witnessed this tendency to apologize in more important ways as we traveled through Vancouver, Victoria, and the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Vancouver has an outstanding Anthropology Museum on the campus of BCU (British Columbia University) where we spent many hours. Their collection of native American – or as Canadians call it First Nations – artifacts, totem poles, and artwork was fascinating. Free tours of exhibits are given throughout the day and the history of injustices done to First Nations by Canada is fully acknowledged by the tour guides.
|At entrance of the Museum|
|Sculpture by Bill Reid, First Nation Artist|
In Victoria, we took a tour of the Provincial Capitol Building. Again, the guide talked about Canada’s past injustices to their First Nations and to Japanese-Canadians.
|British Columbia Provincial Capitol Building|
The town of Duncan population 4,944 in the Cowichan Valley has 30 totem poles and a museum featuring the history of First Nations in that part of Canada. We took this very interesting tour and learned a lot.
|Totem Pole in Duncan|
Canada and the United States share a history of injustice toward their native American and other nonwhite populations – the spread of European diseases, usurping of native lands, relegation of First Nations people to reservations, boarding schools that erased native culture. They also interned Japanese-Canadians during World War II and then didn’t allow them to return to British Columbia when the War was over. The main difference between the two countries is that the Canadians have acknowledged their wrongdoing and said “Sorry” as they go forward as a multi-racial society. They apologized and arranged reparations for the Japanese in 1988. They apologized to the First Nations in 2008. In the meantime, we Americans still argue among ourselves about whether or not to keep our Indian sports mascots despite many Native Americans who have protested them saying how insulted they feel by those mascots.
We can’t undo the past but we can acknowledge our wrongdoing as a society, say “Sorry,” and change our collective behavior going forward. We in the United States need some lessons from Canada in saying “Sorry.”