What Does It Mean to Be a British Columbian?

by Nathan Giede

February 18, 2021

2021 is a big year for British Columbians: this summer marks 150 years since we joined Canada. We celebrate this on BC Day, with camping trips, family BBQs, and locally crafted beverages. But due to the pandemic, it is unlikely our 150th birthday will be properly saluted. Perhaps that’s just as well because even 150 years later, answers to the questions “what does it mean to be a British Columbian” and “is confederation still good for us,” have zero consistency.

Imagine for a moment that we went back to normal just in time to plan for our 150th birthday and suppose that you have been appointed the chairman of the provincial planning committee: you are in charge of picking from the nominees put forward across the province for your team, and after the team has assembled, you will be in charge of helping them plan all BC wide events as well as develop the pageantry, branding, mascot, official coins and medals, etc.

Who’s on your team? Our provincial government declares there are 8 distinct regions in BC, but within those there are over 150 municipalities, and 200 Indian Bands. More than half of our population lives in a 100 mile radius, yet within that population are distinct peoples that each have a unique story, not to mention that the rest of the province often feels overpowered by said cosmopolitans. How many seats does each stakeholder have a right to on your committee?

Even if perfect representation is achieved, now the committee must begin the huge job of picking what aspects of BC ought to be highlighted. There are models for this already - the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Canada’s sesquicentennial offer homegrown examples. But this isn’t an outward display to the world for the most part - our 150th would be an all but private party, the vast majority of viewers and partakers being residents of “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth.”

Well, save for that slogan, which is only ever denied ironically, where would there be any consensus on British Columbia’s story and therefore the values as well as ideas that ought to be represented in the decorations, symbols, and pageantry for our 150th? Whichever way you turn, there is a disagreement regarding our past, present, and future, our heritage as well as culture, our place in Canadian confederation, even our current name throughout all of British Columbia.

First contact, explorers of BC’s interior, gold in the cariboo, the union of the colonies, the building of the CPR, John A., Amor de Cosmos, the Childcotin Boys and Judge Begbie are just a few historical events and persons that earn drastically different reactions and readings from us based on our background and beliefs. Attempts to focus only on material achievements will also raise objections about the legacy of oligarchs versus labour that runs throughout our history.

Even our present triumphs over logistical challenges presented by our difficult terrain via roads, dams, or pipelines inspire awe as well as disgust. And what if your team attempts to look to the future for symbols to celebrate today? Social progress means different things in West Van and Vanderhoof; at least three generations are deeply divided on how rising costs of living will be mitigated; and development versus preservation is an endless discussion amongst our citizens.

You might be wondering what’s the point of this thought experiment? Simply to show that because of regional, cultural, historical, and political divides, let alone many others, a monolithic, single clear narrative about what it means to be a British Columbian is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Thus, the fundamental question of our identity, and therefore, where we ought to go as a province with regards to confederation, cannot be properly answered at the present time.

I’m guessing you wouldn’t wish the chairmanship, committee, and task I’ve described on your worst enemy. But the truth is we’re all on this team in some capacity. And in the 150th year since we became a province of Canada, we owe ourselves a sense of identity and direction.

:: Show link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GYPwUqsxy8

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