The Calder Bateman team is marking Canada’s 150th birthday by reflecting on what this country means to them. The last post in our four-part series is written by CB CEO Catrin Owen, who reflects on her experience with the classless Canadian society.
Canada has no class. In a good way…
I moved here from the UK in 1984. Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s Prime Minister – and while ultimately, she sought (in her rather brutal way) to create a robust middle class in the UK, it was early days for her, and the massive class divide between the landed gentry and the working class was alive and well in my home country.
A few weeks before I decided to come to Canada to do graduate work at the U of A (and to follow my heart in a burgeoning romance), I had an interview with the Thomson Corporation, then the owners of The Times, to be a post-graduate intern. It was an interview that shocked me to my core – not just because I was ill prepared to talk about the world of work (I had, after all, spent the last few years talking about post structuralism, TS Eliot and the plays of Pinter in seminars with my tutor!), but because about three quarters of the way into the interview, the recruiter, asked me, in a plummy accent, what my father did for a living.
I am a working class girl from a small seaside town in North Wales, with working class parents who did not attend University – and my dad was a motor mechanic who began his apprenticeship in his trade at age 14. This interview was by no means my first brush with the class system, but it was my first stark realization that “pulling myself up by my boot straps” (as it were), and having great marks in school might not be enough to get me the career start I had imagined.
That plummy recruiter wasn’t the reason that I “fled to the colonies”, but having decided to try my luck in a new country on a new continent, imagine my delight when I discovered that Canada didn’t give a toss whether my dad was a mechanic or a magnate.
I was welcomed as ME by a country eager to give people a chance to contribute, prosper and be happy.
Now, as a white immigrant who was fluent in the dominant language of Canada, my experience of settling in 1984 was remarkably egalitarian. I didn’t have to think about whether my Northern accent gave me away and set me apart from the supposedly more urbane Southerners, who tended to sound more like Kate Middleton. I didn’t have to even consider elongating my vowels in certain settings so that I didn’t announce myself as working class. I didn’t have to be self conscious about anything other than making myself understood (with my funny accent) in my adoptive home and asking myself how I wanted to shape my life here. What an extraordinary luxury.
Certainly, in the intervening 33 years, I have learned that this is not a country without division. And the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been a painful and poignant reminder of the work that is yet to be done. Yes, there has been a historical apartheid system. Yes, there has been acute discrimination and unfairness. Yes, there has been (and still is) abuse of the Indigenous Peoples who welcomed European settlers into their midst.
At the cusp of the sesquicentennial celebration on July 1st, it is the ancient and proud “Kanata” that I will be honouring.
A beautiful country of bounty and generosity that has given so many people their fresh start. I am grateful for the one I was given, in a country that cares less about class and more about merit, and among people who are more interested in my character than my lineage.
This is a remarkable place and after decades of being a landed immigrant, and with a nod to my Welsh DNA, and huge gratitude to the First Peoples of this land, I took the oath of citizenship and am proud to sing those meaningful words: