On Being a Canadian Farmer at 150


You see the Canada 150 symbols almost everywhere.  In fact, your loyal scribe bought my Canada 150 flag last winter and I’ve been flying it ever since then over my farm.  On Canada Day this year our country will mark 150 years since Confederation.  That’s when four provinces got together to form our country with everybody else joining later.  Since that time we have forged a country together from sea to sea to sea.  Canada at 150 continues to be a work in progress.  As a country we try to get it right, as hard as that can be.

I’m old enough to remember 50 years ago.  The small community of Dresden Ontario held a huge parade and there were many activities during the day.  That year was full of symbolism, as Canada had reached 100 years.  There was Expo 67 in Montréal.  There was celebration across the country.  50 years later we are set to do it again.  Is not as big, but the country has changed and so has society.  Needless to say, it should be quite a party for the hundred and 50th anniversary of Confederation this weekend.

Being Canadian is what I am, but what does it really mean?  Many Canadians define themselves as those other people in North America, who aren’t American.  Yes, there is some of that, but I really don’t feel that way about myself.  I had an American grandmother and have lots of American relatives.  I really didn’t know exactly what it was like to be Canadian until I left this country to go to foreign lands and come back.  On my return, I looked at the Canadian flag quite a bit differently.

The first time I remember feeling that way was on a visit to Australia in 1984.  I was a young farmer at the time, when I found myself wondering through Australian farm country in the winter of 1984.  I remember I was taken to a soybean field in the middle of January and I was so amazed.  I remember thinking what an advantage this country had in the southern hemisphere.  Essentially, they could grow food, all year round.  It never dawned on me that Brazil and Argentina would be doing that in spades by 2017.

I knew that back in SW Ontario, I grew soybeans in a very small enclave where the Canadian climate allowed it.  I knew standing in a southern hemisphere soybean field was a game changer.  How would somebody like me survive in a soybean market where the southern hemisphere “should” dominate?  Well, things change, here we are in 2017, and soybeans are everywhere, even in the much colder climate of Saskatchewan where 840,000 acres of soybeans will be grown this year.

On my return home in 1984, I had a greater appreciation for being Canadian.  Simply being back, gave me a greater appreciation of who we are.  That would change again over the years with more travel.  Seeing the rest of the world helped, seeing the rest of Canada was gold.  So far I haven’t been to Newfoundland, I’ve got to get there.

I’ve often said, from an agricultural perspective, Canada is made up of 3 agricultural “countries”.  These are Quebec, Ontario and “the West.”  I say “countries” because they are all so different agriculturally.  In the case of Quebec, there is a language barrier, which makes it more so.  As my career progressed, I was widely published in Western Canada and Quebec in French.  I also was able to travel to both places for speaking events.

In Western Canada I listened as Canadian farmers talked about western alienation and grain transportation issues.  In Quebec, I listened intently to unilingual French Canadian farmers tell me their concerns about Quebec nationalism and what it feels like to be a Quebecer.  All across this country in my writing and my speaking I bridge those cultures.  It makes me proud to be a Canadian farmer.  We are so diverse and productive as Canadian farmers.  In both languages we know Canada is a special place.  150 years of Confederation has been worth it.

There have been trials, like Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the other horrors of WWI, where many say our nation was born.  Dieppe, Juno Beach and the WWII campaigns in Holland and Italy did what they did.  We almost blew it up twice in 1980 and 1995 when Quebec almost voted for independence.  In 2017 after 150 years, this nation is again poised for greater things.

Canadian agriculture will surely be a part of that.  Canada at 150 possesses a dynamic agricultural sector ready to accept the many trade and climate challenges ahead.  Have a Happy Canada Day, 150 is special.

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