Jack Knox: We’re Canadians first, but Island pride shows in our survey of readers

To paraphrase the old beer commercial: We. Are. Canadian. But we also identify, solidly, as web-footed Vancouver Islanders.

At least, that’s how those of you who responded to my (decidedly unscientific) survey feel.

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I posed the question in a column a couple of weeks ago: Do you think of yourself primarily as a Canadian, Western Canadian, British Columbian or Vancouver Islander? Which one comes second?

The B.C. Day long weekend seemed a good time to go over the results. Here are the numbers:

Well over 400 readers responded. Of those who chose from the four options, 67 per cent saw themselves as primarily Canadian, while 14 per cent made it their second choice.

Island pride was evident: 26 per cent said they were Islanders first, and 50 per cent made it second choice.

Just four per cent saw themselves as mainly British Columbian, but 32 per cent identified that way secondly.

There wasn’t much sense of belonging to Western Canada at all: three per cent identified as Westerners first, and four per second made it second choice.

Among the keenest to identify as Canadians were those who had moved around the dominion. “As one who was born in Alberta, spent a couple of years in Nova Scotia, grew up in Montreal and a somewhat eagerly separatist Quebec, I’ll always be Canadian first,” said Deanna Mathewson. “But 26 years in, I’m definitely a Vancouver Islander as a very close second.”

“I confess that I’ve never thought of myself as anything other than a Canadian,” observed Nancy Greer. “Perhaps that’s because I was born in New Brunswick, grew up in Toronto and Montreal, went to university in New Brunswick and Ottawa and only came to the West Coast in 1973.”

Conversely, longtime Islanders were among the happiest to have a moat separating us from the rest of the country.

“When I hear of a new case of COVID on the Island, I automatically think that someone has had contact with the outside world, and want our Island to practise better distancing,” wrote Doug Kegler.

“I’ve lived here since 2001 and have been to the mainland once, for a doctor’s appointment,” one respondent proudly declared. Likewise, Merville humourist Harold Macy recalled being asked when he had last left our little patch of paradise.

“I think it was four or five years ago, could have been more,” he replied. “My life goal is to never, ever leave again.”

Macy was also one of a handful to lament the Island’s relatively low status within Confederation. “We squat on 32,000 square kilometres of the world and have nearly 900,000 inhabitants, far exceeding in land and people the eyebrow of sand called P.E.I., racking up a paltry 5,600 square kilometres and 158,000 souls, not counting feral lobsters and red potatoes, though they both have eyes but no feelings or voting strength. Neighbouring Nova Scotia boasts nearly double our area but just a tad more herring-chokers and cod jiggers. Provinces both, while we languish.”

While some of the most confirmed Islanders were transplants (a woman named Lori described herself as a “non-practising Albertan”) others felt like fish out of water here. “I’m an Ontario Canadian stuck on a left-wing island for the time being,” wrote a man named Jeff.

Prairie boy Geoff Sutcliffe said he loves the Island’s beauty and his friends here, but there are some bits — frou-frou beer, eating kale instead of steak as the good lord intended — that he can’t wrap his head around.

On the flip side, Sid Bennett wrote to say that while he now lives in Wild Rose Country, he still owns two Republic Of Vancouver Island T-shirts and often thinks of the Valdy lyric “I am an islander and an islander I’ll always be.” (BTW, among the replies to the survey were two — two! — from the Isle of Man.)

Several respondents made a point of drawing a distinction between the end of the Island where people get their hands dirty for a living, and the soft-handed south.

“I live on Vancouver Island North, not to be confused with the South Island, which is a totally different lifestyle,” wrote Verna Carlson.

Wes Cragg expanded on that division: The north Island leans Libertarian, he said, is full of people who “like to go off-road, hunt, fish, shoot and drink cheap beer called Lucky.” That’s in stark contrast to the socialist south, “which hates pretty much everything the north loves.”

Josh Casey was one of many to identify with the West Coast as a whole. “The rest of Canada has little to do with Island life, and the term Western Canada always includes Alberta, which is as different from B.C. (especially Vancouver Island) as you can get.”

Similarly, Alex Henri-Bhargava wrote: “As an Islander, I have more affinity for the Maritimes than the Prairies.”

“Canadian first, Vancouver Islander second, and I’d rather B.C. join with Washington and Oregon than Alberta,” chimed in Dayle Gaetz.

A few claimed fealty to Cascadia, the region spanning B.C. and the Pacific Northwest, though former U.S. resident Jen Jensen balked at that. “I don’t support Cascadia. I think people here would be surprised (appalled?) at how different our southern neighbours’ values are.”

Many were hyper-local in their loyalties. “I would and always will consider myself a Metchosinite,” declared Jenny Millar. “Islander would be secondary.”

“I am a Canadian first, Vancouver Islander second and Sookeite third,” said Mike Thomas. Two others placed Sooke first.

“I am Canadian first, Comox Valley second, Islander third,” weighed in Kathy McCartney.

“I am a Vancouver Islander first because I don’t have to own a snow shovel or air conditioner,” wrote Trix Boyd. “Plus I love the scenery, beaches, lakes and wildlife. I am a Canadian next, because I’ve traveled coast to coast and it’s enormous, multicultural, and kindness prevails. Plus we have a cool leader in Justin Trudeau.”

That put Boyd at odds with a woman called Wendy Johnson: “Too ashamed of our federal government’s crooked Liberal politicians fawning over an equally crooked leader of the country to call myself Canadian,” she wrote. She called herself an Islander first and British Columbian second.

Paul Williams chided me for driving wedges between countrymen. “I have spent 68 years of my 75 years of age on Vancouver island and absolutely do not consider myself an islander…. All of Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island is great…. You need to stop dividing Canadians.”

“Most of my life people have asked me what nationality I am,” wrote Keith White, whose background is half-Indigenous, half-Chinese. “My reply has always been I am Canadian. I am not Native or Chinese. I am Canadian and very proud of it.”

While putting Canada first, Carrol Parfitt noted that living on an island, and being occasionally cut off by weather, brings a sense of separation from not only the rest of B.C. but the entire country. “I wonder if Newfoundlanders feel the same way?”

Virginia Watson-Rouslin said she’s a Canadian, period. “Despite what Mayor Helps thinks, I thank the Goddess (again) for Sir John A. Macdonald, for we certainly would be Americans were it not for him.”

Some were just happy to have landed in the right place. Pat Meyer wrote: “As a military brat and then a military member, I was born in Ontario and lived in (in order of precedence) Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, France, Germany, back to Ontario, Nova Scotia, Haida Gwaii, back to Germany, then back to Ontario, then Vancouver Island, a second time in paradise in Haida Gwaii, back to Alberta and finally said to my husband, ‘What the hell are we doing?! We need to move back to Vancouver Island!’ We’ve been here for 12 years and won’t be leaving.”

Rod Johnson added: “Having served in the Canadian Foreign Service for 37 years, representing Canada’s interests at seven posts abroad, I came to be first and foremost a Canadian and proud of it. I was born and grew up in Alberta but after retirement we decided to settle on Vancouver Island and we love it here. I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering Albertan.”

Johnson had another reason to be happy. In a random draw, he claimed the prize that many survey participants professed themselves eager to win: a jar of my wife’s dill pickles.

There was decidedly less interest in winning the consolation prize, one of my books. (“I do hope I win first prize,” enthused Vern Miles. “With the toilet paper crisis behind us, second prize wouldn’t be of much use.”) As it turned out, the book went to Wayne Murphy. Sorry, Wayne.

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