Canoeing and the Question of Belonging

One of the things our family loves most about Canada is the great outdoors and all the opportunities it offers to get outside and connect with nature (as evidenced by this blog). We took our first camping trip nine years ago and immediately fell in love with Canada’s landscapes, tranquility and the call of the loon. Ever since that first trip we haven’t stopped exploring. We have traversed Ontario many times. We did a Lake Superior Circle Tour. We took a road trip across the Maritimes. If asked to pick our favourite outdoor activity, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We love them all: camping all year round, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, biking in warmer months, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. We cherish every minute we spend in nature and look forward to the discoveries that lie ahead.

family in a tent

This post is not about our love for outdoors, though. It is about belonging.

portagingLast summer, we went canoeing at Kawartha Highlands. On our way back, we came across a bit of a portage jam. There was a big group of young guys getting ready to carry their stuff to the other side of the portage trail. There was also a couple that had just arrived. My husband deftly maneuvered through the crowd with a canoe on his shoulders and lowered it into the water. As we started loading our things and children, we were chatting in Russian with our friends who were already in their canoe, all packed and ready to go. The other couple was still around unloading their gear. The guy listened to our conversation for a while and finally interjected.

“Where are you from?” he asked. He didn’t sound unfriendly but wasn’t very welcoming either.

“Oh, we are coming from the Cox Lake,” we replied.

“No, no, I mean where are you from?” he repeated more slowly. “I can hear you are not Canadian.”

We paused thinking of a reply. We could have asked what it means to be a Canadian. Is it the official Canadian Citizen status? Well, we all have it. Or maybe it’s about meaningful contributions to the Canadian society? Something we do every day both through our jobs and volunteer activities. We could have pointed out that apart from the members of Aboriginal groups, all of us in Canada are from somewhere else. We could have explained that we are very proud of our heritage (Ukrainian in our case, Russian in the case of our friends) but for a number of reasons we chose to call Canada our home. We could even have laughed at the irony of being called non-Canadian while participating in one of the most quintessential Canadian activities.

We still had a long way to go, though. So we simply said:

“We are from Toronto.”

“Oh, I thought that was Toronto accent I heard,” replied the man, probably realizing his poor choice of words.

“Is that the way we pronounce ‘Tronno’?” we smiled back as our paddles touched water.



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