thistle painting
I will admit to spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about identity. My academic interest, since my Master’s has been about how people of British origin Canada saw themselves, and expressed their identity through the public and religious lives. This has resulted in a great deal of self-reflection. If they said/did this to express themselves as Irish, English, etc. in the nineteenth-century, how do I relate this to how I, in my own life, express my various identities?

I am like everybody else, in that I have a large collection of identities which I pull out according to various situations. I am a Canadian, raised in Canada, in a predominantly culturally Canadian household. I was educated in Canadian schools. As a child I was able to watch Canadian television (at a time before Canadian content became a problem for Canadian broadcasters). I tend to think that my Canadian-ness underlies and informs all of my expressions of identity/

But I am also English. If the household was Canadian, it was also English, as my mother was English. Thanksgiving and Halloween were celebrated alongside Guy Fawkes. Christmas dinners had trifle, mince meat pies with the turkey and the yams. Wayne and Shuster and Second City’s airtime were joined by the Two Ronnies and Monty Python. And of course there were visits to family in England, and English family visits to Canada. There is a great familiarity and comfort with aspects of English culture, which make me feel very English.

But then, I am also Irish and Scottish by extraction. These identities don’t come specifically from growing up surrounded by Irish or Scottish culture, but rather an awareness nourished by my father that my paternal family was Irish and Scottish. The Irish culture was closest because Dad’s grandmother was irish , raised in an Irish-Montreal household, and who had lived for a time in Ireland after her marriage. The food, the music, the culture of Ireland was close to Dad, and this was passed on to his children. His Scottish heritage was more a touchstone, as that line had left Scotland 6 generations prior, but it was still important.

Since becoming an adult, and a historian, I have explored the history of my family, traced our journeys across from Scotland, Ireland and England, and have come to appreciate the places where they came from, the culture that they understood, and the immigration to the new world which changed their lives. I have also had the pleasure of living in Scotland for almost a year. I have connected to these aspects of my history, and embrace the identity of these peoples and places.

Each of these identities are a part of me, and on days like St Patrick’s Day I feel Irish, and honour my Irish-ness with a bit of green, on St Andrew’s Day I am Scottish, and eat haggis, and listen to bagpipes, on Guy Fawkes I light sparklers and recite the poem my Mother taught me, and on Canada Day I wave my flag enthusiastically and feel pride. I am all these identities at once, and singularly, depending on the day, on the place, on circumstances.

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