Last year Doubleday published an amusing book called Raeside’s Canada, a collection of cartoons and thoughts about Canada by Adrian Raeside, cartoonist for the Victoria Times-Colonist. One of the first cartoons in the book shows a man and a woman sitting on a grassy bank with big smiles on their faces, looking across the water at a pristine, tree-covered island. Two cartoonist’s balloons above their heads show what they are thinking. The woman wants to clearcut the island to build a resort; the man wants to bulldoze it to create condos and an amusement park.
The cartoon is a poke at Canadian values, but it sums up the country better than any team of constitutional lawyer could do in a thousand pages: land, people and dreams.
On a planet that seems to be shrinking under the weight of a population explosion, Canada is still a country of vast, open spaces. Most of the rest of the world understands the value of Canada’s land — understands it better than many Canadians.
Land has economic value, social value, aesthetic value, cultural value and life-sustaining properties. Land helps define us as Canadians, not just the landmarks like Mount Robson or Niagara Falls, but the "empty," vast north; the Canadian Shield, pockmarked with lakes and streams; the miles of prairie; and the rugged coastlines.
For all the talk of high-technology industries, satellite communications and the internet, land is still essential to how we live, work and play.
Land has always been a part of the North American dream, as European settlers first envisioned it, as Asian investors see it now and as First Nations hope to see it. Who owns our land and how it’s used has been crucial to Canada’s past, and it will be crucial to our future.
In British Columbia, the issue of land ownership has finally begun to be faced head on, as treaty negotiations get underway with the First Nations of the province. The process is controversial but most agree it is a process that must be followed. It too, will help to define all of us as Canadians.
On July 1, 1995, the nation’s 128th birthday, Canada is still a country rich in land, people and dreams — riches many other countries covet.