This past weekend at a parenting course at my church, a young family originally from New Brunswick announced they were packing up and heading to their province of birth. They had made the decision to come to Calgary 10 years earlier but found the lack of family support (with their extended family still in New Brunswick) made it difficult raising their young children.
I don’t know if the downturn in the economy had impacted them, but no matter the circumstances, I was sad to hear them leave. A few key points from the father’s remarks about their decision really struck me.
It was not an easy decision to make. Him and his wife loved living in Calgary. They loved the church they were a part of. They loved the work they were doing, the jobs they had and the communities they were a part of. He knew that the economy in New Brunswick was not as good as it was here in Calgary, but they just found it hard to raise their family with their relatives 4400 km away.
What I am most enamored by is how this man and his wife chose to settle in my home city, become productive, contributing members of their local communities and start a family. I prayed for him a safe journey and a welcomed invitation if he and his family ever felt a westward calling.
This is the real Alberta way of doing things.
It stems from the fact that most parts of Western Canada are extremely difficult places to live.
Independence and self-sufficiency are virtues almost all true Westerners espouse to. However the ability to form close, interconnected relationships and communities is the only way life in Western Canada becomes bearable.
Owing to the austere nature of our provinces, Western Canada is not for the feint of heart, the weak of mind, or the nomadic loner. You cannot be a hermit, living in complete isolation in Western Canada and expect to last long (except, to some degree, in Vancouver).
The Calgary to Edmonton corridor highlights what is possible in such an environment. The simple existence of these cities is a testament to the tenacity, forethought, and perseverance of all the individual communities that came together to build up what should be impossible.
Speaking to my home town of Calgary, the only way this city exists is because we have built an economy and community strong and sensible enough to be able to import the staples of life either:
- 1000 km with a 1600 m (at peak) elevation gain to the west, or
- 4000 km with a 1000 m elevation gain to the east.
(Talk about a carbon footprint!)
That is not an accomplishment that happens by accident.
It happens because Albertans (and Western Canadians in general) are intentional to make it happen.
From Hope, British Columbia eastwards through to about Brandon and Neepawa, Manitoba, geography and climate make it very challenging to sustain life.
Everything is literally an uphill battle, much more challenging than almost everywhere else in Canada.
Herein is the reason why Western Separatism is inevitable.
Everywhere outside of Western Canada, there are intrinsic advantages that make life easier for the inhabitants.
These advantages create fundamentally different cultures, especially in the East. In particular, easy access and close proximity to navigable waterways, the United States, and the traditionally established Canadian political, cultural and economic base (the Toronto/Montreal corridor). These create maritime transport, hydroelectric power, and the ability to become deeply interconnected with the American economic and cultural engines – all of which provide a natural hedge against the consequences of poor decisions.
This creates a true culture of isolationism (especially in Eastern Canada) that is diametrically opposed to Western Canada’s culture of necessity based inclusion.
Most of Western Canada do not have the luxuries that the rest of Canada does and our culture reflects it. The only luxury we have in Western Canada is each other – including and especially those who are not originally from here but make the intentional choice to be here.
To that end, when Western Canada separates – we will not become North Korea. We will not shut our borders, build a wall, shun those from a far, or alienate and antagonize everyone who is different from us.
We will not survive if we do.
We might pull a Ralph Klein and “kick ass” when we see an obvious pattern of thieves, muggers and riff-raff undermining our community cohesion. When we do it will not be because we want to be isolationists – hating everyone and everything that is foreign.
It will be because we want to build up and offer the best community for people like that family originally from New Brunswick. We want people like that to be proud to call Western Canada their home.
A home they are welcomed to, anytime.