Last week I arrived back in Toronto from a trip to the US. As I made my way through the terminal at Pearson International Airport, I was greeted by this image.
As you can see, it’s a large series of photographs that hangs high above the escalators as you go down to customs. It’s meant, I suppose, to share some of the quintessential Canadian things with arriving visitors, and citizens – both potential and current.
You’ll notice there is kayaking, the rodeo, Terry Fox, a farmer, an astronaut, an Olympic athlete, skiing, an RCMP officer (female, nice touch), an old black and white photo of men going to war, the parliament building, Niagara Falls, Quebec Carnival, and a lighthouse.
Someone chose these to represent the country: a mixture of places and people. It’s interesting to note what was chosen: some famous things (Niagara Falls), some quintessential Canadian things (wheat?). And it seems that the images go from West to East across the country. I wonder what the debate was like during the selection process, and what other images didn’t make the cut – and why.
But what strikes me every time I see it, is the lack of visible cultural diversity represented in a land that prides itself on the multicultural mosaic we have created.
Some of the images are hard to make out, but only two of the people represented that are clearly visible are not white: I’m assuming one is an Inuit elder and the other is a Chinese child (who’s face we only see to just under her nose. I’m assuming she is a girl because of the hairstyle).
Imagine that I’m coming to Canada for the first time, and this is what I see as the representation of the country I am visiting or may be calling home. It’s in stark contrast to the line up I will encounter in customs in just under a minute.
Welcome to Canada.
Our home, and Native land – although the only Indigenous person on the image is Inuit. And there are no brown or Black people represented in the image at all. With images like this, is it any wonder that people still ask their non-White fellow Canadians “where are you from?” – and keep digging until they get an answer that explains the amount of melanin in our skin, if in fact we (or our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents) were born here?