A Canada Day ode to the worth of working-class sensibilities

It may seem an eccentricity to link Canada Day with my four daughters-in-law. But read on.

It may seem an eccentricity to link Canada Day with my four daughters-in-law. But read on.

First, I reel backwards to a course I took last year at UBC: Canadian history since 1945. Of course, born 1934, I was the only one in the room who lived through this entire period – and with some experience as a hack newspaperman and brief government consultant in encountering events and prominent players of the day.

Which didn't delude me that I would ace the course. I was there to learn.

First-hand experience is tricky: many lived through the fall of the Roman Empire without realizing it had fallen.

I strongly emphasize that what follows in no way impugns the excellent, thoughtful lectures of our professor, Linda Quiney (very kindly concerned when I missed classes for cataract operations, possibly the only such student excuse in her career). Her expertise was the 1919 Paris peace talks and women's studies, and I suspect she inherited the course holus-bolus. Including the textbook.

This tome – Our Lives: Canada Since 1945, by Alvin Finkel – was a caricature of fair, balanced history. Finkel's "Who's Who" entry tells much: born 1949, North Winnipeg, "Activist, NDP," teaches at Athabaska University – an online institution you quite possibly never heard of.

Weirdly, Finkel interrupts the narrative – which largely pits a bigoted Canada against the grand enlightenment of his own 1960s-'70s-shaped generation – with a memoir of his semi-deprived childhood.

The "Red Scare" (always in quotation marks among leftists) in this course was implicitly a fiction got up by the reactionaries. He all but spits on private enterprise or anything "conservative."

In a May 2012 Postmedia story on Alberta's blue-collar workers, citing the average wage of oil and gas workers of $2,220 a week, Prof. Finkel is quoted: "They kind of get you by the nuts at 18. … They own your soul. … You go and buy all these man-toys and buy yourself a little cabin as well, and the banks own you."

Ah, nothing's too good for the workers – earning $115,000 a year – under capitalist "exploitation."

Why note this? Because the course – oddly, the time-frame ended in 1990, 23 years ago, before most students were born – was perhaps the only exposure to our immediate post-war story that many would encounter.

I got top marks for some papers, but what I consider a poor final grade. But I cherish an essay that cited many home truths and scorned Finkel-style leftist twaddle. It got a lousy 62. And it is the proudest I've ever written.

Here's irony. This course truly helped. It aroused my slumbering patriotism. Since 1945, millions of so-called ordinary Canadian families' fortunes, health and material comforts have soared. Canadians educated to Grade 8 lived to see their grandchildren receive degrees. Jimmy Pattison could be the poster child of many East Vancouverites – and also his top executive, former NDP premier Glen Clark – who hugely prospered in many fields, including (immigrants notably) philanthropy.

Now back to my four daughters-in-law. All have PhDs. And not from Southwest Alabama A&M, or Jacaranda U. in the Much Lesser Antilles. One Wisconsin plus Harvard Medical School. One Harvard (American-born, but long in Canada). One University of Toronto.

L., the fourth, is special. Her shy immigrant Chinese parents speak halting English. She vaulted through UBC to PhD Stanford. In one generation. In Canada. This is a nation's real history – people history. And I stress: in detail rarer, but not unlike the prospering of many Canadians.

Canada's warts? Next time. Today is for love and appreciation from a firmly working-class Canadian. •

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