Vol 2 Part 6 : Where the Real Canadians Are From

Posted by Ansel Brandt & filed under But Where are You Really From?, Identity.

Ansel Brandt - But Where Are You Really From?
Brandt: Grew up in airports.

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I always take great pleasure in telling people that I am from Manitoba—an answer that usually seems unexpected, despite being completely banal. I often add, “Where all the real Canadians are from,” as if I were an American from the Midwest attempting to cash in on some folksy ideal of the heartland promulgated by the likes of Garrison Keillor.

Fortunately, we have no such mythology in this country about a singular Canadian identity, but have always embraced a plurality of experiences. Constantly seeking to define ourselves through the diversity of our culture and heritage seems to be the quintessential Canadian pastime.

Shooting gophers with a .22 caliber rifle.

I was born in Gladstone, a small town with a population of less than 1,000 that attempted, quite laughably, to re-brand itself in the 1970s as ‘Happy Rock‘ in order to attract tourists. I stayed there only 5 years, but that brief period had a significant and lasting effect on my attachment to the Prairies. Living at the edge of town next to the Yellowhead Highway, I would watch the trucks drive by, ferrying loads of grain and livestock against a backdrop of expansive wheat fields.

I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic childhood: playing in wooded streams, swimming in dugouts, tearing around my friend’s farm in his father’s pickup when we were barely old enough to see over the steering wheel, and shooting gophers with a .22 caliber rifle. A friend of mine often tells me she feels comforted when surrounded by tall buildings. I feel most at home standing in the middle of a flax field in late summer under a clear blue sky.

After I finished kindergarten, my family moved to Brandon, which was only an hour away from our previous home. My father was tired of being a country doctor and sought a lighter workload. Despite being 40 times the population of Gladstone, Brandon, Manitoba is hardly a city. While I would consider it my hometown, I’ve never really felt a strong connection to it. Neither of my parents are from there, and neither of them had any particular deep ties to the community.

Although my father is a second-generation Canadian, both of my parents come from families of immigrants many times over.

The Mennonite side of my family has been kicked out of more countries in Eastern and Western Europe than I have space to list, and my mother’s family emigrated from Southern China to Taiwan a number of generations ago, and from who knows where before that. I spent a great deal of my childhood visiting relatives in faraway places. I remember long and frequent car trips, trains, planes, and Christmases spent in airports, waiting for connecting flights in Vancouver or Hong Kong. All that traveling left me with a strong distaste for air travel and long distance driving. Many of my summers, especially during elementary school, were spent in Taipei, which is where my mother is from – a city that couldn’t be more different than a small town on the Prairies. The skyscrapers, the smog, but mostly the drenching humidity were a stark contrast to dry heat and clean air of the Prairies where the tallest building for miles was usually a grain elevator.

My uncles and aunts would take me around their bustling neighborhoods to the crowded markets, or to buy pot stickers and fried meat buns from busy street vendors. I still firmly believe that the best food you can find anywhere is usually the food sold on the street. When not summering in Taiwan, I would often find myself in Mennonite country in Southern Manitoba. Faspa, an afternoon luncheon of homemade buns, jams and cold cuts was mandatory anytime we stopped by to visit a relative. The best foods, like vereneki, kielke noodles, and rhubarb platz were usually reserved for communal meals; and rollkuchen (deep-fried dough twists) and watermelons were a must for church picnics.

NEXT: Dumplings in my lunch box.

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