Calgary has a rich heritage. This is probably an audacious thing to say when you consider that before Inspector Ephrem Brisebois of the North West Mounted Police decided to stick some timbers in the ground and built a fort here in 1875, the lands the city currently occupies had no man-made monuments—only prairie grassland and open sky. Yet, consider a visit to the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre. Walk inside and there’s this amazing vaulted ceiling consisting of ornately hand painted tiles of dragons, phoenixes and Chinese symbols. It took months to build, with artisans flown in from Beijing to paint the decorative details. As much as it could be, it’s authentically Chinese. So what does this have to do with Calgary, even Canadian heritage? Well think about where it is.
Consider another example. Back in 1990, a Sikh-Canadian, Baltej Singh Dhillon, successfully won the right to wear a turban as part of the RCMP uniform in lieu of the usual wide brim hat. My reaction at the time was probably not dissimilar from some others—I thought it was a shame to alter one of the few longstanding traditional symbols of Canada. But I came to recognize the more important, more relevant part of the whole thing was that Dhillon was willing to wear the red serge uniform to begin with—and take on all that it meant. He was willing to call himself a Canadian peace officer and work to protect our children, enforce our laws, even lay his life on the line if necessary.
That, to me, is the Canadian identity. Not stone monuments or a venerable historical catalogue of events. It’s the people who come here with open hearts, embracing their new home, all the while bringing with them values and traditions from their diverse homelands. It’s a nation that takes the best part of these and makes them its own. We have the luck, the great fortune, to have not only a history, but a history of histories: embodied in the pride and ancestry of the people who live here.
At the Cultural Centre’s dedication in 1992, local businessman Dr. Henry Fok gave a speech where he said:
The Chinese have an expression: “Like the sea being a gathering place of hundreds of rivers regardless of their sources, broadmindedness commands immense tolerance to different ideas and thoughts regardless of their origin.” The primary reason for an outstanding culture to be able to endure thousands of years without losing its vitality is due to its ability to incorporate different ideas and philosophies from other cultures into its own.
He might have been talking about the Chinese. But I think he was describing Canada.—Andrew Mah