I’ve always considered myself patriotic.
Olympic moments, international events and even Canada Day were all times in my life marked with extreme pride in my heritage.
Remembrance Days for my family were times to not only be patriotic, but also humble about the privileges we Canadians had over other members of this globe.
At the age of 17, I was chosen to go overseas on an exchange to Europe. Our role there was to socialize and network on a global scale and to witness the historic sites of Canada’s involvement in both World Wars.
It was this trip that truly emboldened and strengthened my patriotism.
The other exchanges present came from Belgium, Germany, Sweden, France and parts of Great Britain.
As a female, I was asked to come back and visit family of male locals and to stay evenings with newly acquainted friends in the “Disco”. It was a pattern that replayed itself over and over with every member of the Canadian exchange.
Other groups tended to be posed questions about their country, then their home regions and finally personal questions. On the reverse, Canadians already had a very particular identity to these groups.
July 29, 2006, my 18th birthday presented itself while on this fateful trip. The exchange chaperons decided that it would be a good day to visit France and spend the day seeing various historic sites.
I had thought I had a very good understanding of Canada’s participation during both world wars, but when I stood at the foot of the Vimy Ridge Monument, unexplainable tears appeared in my eyes and my heart became heavy.
As a lover of history, I fell in love with the rolling hills of the Vimy Ridge fields. The beauty of these fields to my own eyes represented not only a geographical identity for the location of a definitive fight, but also demonstrated the importance of the wars to me in a way that no classroom had.
Similar to the beautiful rolling hills of Québec, the hot sun of the Okanagan, and the gentle breeze found in mid-summer at Jasper, France was a home to a people.
Canada had fought not on our own home soil, but had left our own vast and pleasing geographies to live in squalor amongst the trenches and face the most horrible of deaths.
To the French and most others in Europe, Canadians have proved themselves. This is not a sentiment that has died with my grandparents or the grandparents of the European citizens I met. Rather, each European I met reminded me through our social exchanges that not only do I have the duty and responsibility to remember my heritage, I have the duty and responsibility to conduct myself in a way that honours those who died and maintain the integrity of their contribution.
In a European country, an 18-year-old girl discovered her true patriotism.