It has been almost 20 years since I first arrived "off the bus" in downtown Toronto. Having made the 48 hour bus ride from Saskatoon I remember well plodding up Bay Street with my backpack, happy to be rid of the tanker that brought me there. Prior to this grueling trip I had never been east of Winnipeg. Growing up in the west my family always traveled westward to the Pacific or south to the United States on our annual vacations. After the monumental bus ride across northern Ontario I then understood why. I challenge every Canadian to make that trip. The vast distances that separate east from west become ever so real when days of your life are lost in the confines of a motor vehicle. God knows how cyclists and ambitious walkers feel.
Two decades later I still yearn to travel back to Saskatchewan. And yet it it so far. It is, for all purpose, in another country. In fact, I can fly to Europe for cheaper fares than I can to Saskatoon. That has been my unfortunate situation for too long. I feel like an immigrant unable to visit my family for lack of resources. No doubt I have many Jamaican friends who have traveled back to their homeland more often than I have returned to Saskatoon over the years. And I know that they are able to fly there for much cheaper fares than I could ever hope on a milk run to Saskatoon. Am I sounding bitter? Perhaps. But it is a constant reminder that the bonds of this country are tenuous on many very real levels.
We can ask: how many Torontonians have been to the Badlands of the prairie? How many British Columbians have seen the shoreline of Cape Breton? How many Quebecers have seen the majestry of the Rockies? No, the tally would be shy, and who could blame the population? Indeed, my first year studying Canadian economic history at the University of Toronto taught me one thing I never once before considered: that eastern Canadians know very little about their nation. I learned that the "educated" elites of Toronto yearned not for knowledge of the provincial bretheren, but instead craved attention and a place on the world stage. Almost all of the students I went to school with at the U of T had traveled to Europe, to New York, to Florida. But to Vancouver? Winnipeg? Calgary? Not unless it was a consolation prize. Maybe a chance to earn some summer dough. Nope, these people - the ones that would aspire to be great "Canadians" - cared little about the Dominion. I learned that many years ago.