What Being Canadian Means to me; Building a Better Community, Country and World - A Guest Piece by Karl Subban

23 Jul 2021 10:32 AM | Anonymous

What Being Canadian Means to me

Building a Better Community, Country and World

by Karl Subban

(District 16 City of Toronto)

To answer the question “What does it mean to be Canadian?” I go directly to a quote by the great Canadian and musician Gordon Lightfoot: “You just get the vibes of your  surroundings and it rubs off on you.” The people I’ve met, the sport of hockey and the vibes from my many life experiences  have shaped my Canadian identity. 

First, I think of Mr. and Mrs. Gray when I think about  what it means to be Canadian. My mom, Fay, worked with  Mrs. Gray at the Sudbury Steam Laundry. One day, Mrs. Gray  overheard her talking about her upcoming trip to Toronto International Airport to meet her three sons, who were  arriving from Jamaica. My mom had no idea how she  would make the five-hour trip by herself: My dad, Sylvester,  was scheduled to work and could not afford to miss his  shift. Missing work would mean less money for clothes, food  and a roof over our heads.  

So Mr. and Mrs. Gray volunteered to drive my mother to Toronto to meet my brothers and me. I was 12 years old,  Patrick was 10 and Markel was 8. The Grays even refused to take money for gas.  

On the trip to my new home in Sudbury, Ont., I ate a hot dog for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Gray’s treat. The food filled my  stomach. Their kindness and service filled my heart. Their  helping, giving and welcoming spirit influenced my sense of what being Canadian means — we help ourselves by helping  others, I learned. 

Our family moved into the upstairs apartment of a two storey building on 293 Peter Street. I looked out the window and told my parents I was never going outside — it did not look like Jamaica. My parents did not know what to say to me.  

I looked outdoors another day, saw kids who did not look like me and told my parents I was never going out there. They both  looked at me and, again, did not know what to say.  

I heard the kids playing and speaking a language I had never heard and didn’t understand. My parents told me they were speaking French. I told them that the kids didn’t look like  me, talk like me or want to play with me, so I was never leaving  my apartment.

Left to right: Professional hockey players Jordan, Malcolm and P.K. Subban with their dad, Karl.

My world had no door until I went to school. 

When the cold weather came, the hockey players came out  to play street hockey. My life changed the moment the kids  invited me to play with them. I used my landlord’s son’s hockey  stick to tend goal. I knew how to catch, block and kick out the  ball. I made a few saves and some new friends. I learned a new  game and had a few laughs.  

I even had a new dream: to be Ken Dryden of the Montreal  Canadiens. How I looked or spoke did not matter to my  teammates or to me. The only thing that mattered was that I  was in the game and on a team. That is the Canadian way.  

The francophone kids on Peter Street could have turned on  me, or turned their backs and made fun of me, but instead they  invited me to play with them and to be like them. I became a  hockey player and a Montreal Canadiens fan because of the  kids on Peter Street. And kids like them can be found all over  this great land. 

I became a Canadian citizen in 1975. I cried tears of joy  while I sang O Canada. The vibes, those good feelings  generated in the moment, took hold of me and became the  light shining on my path as I moved forward in a big country  with a big heart. 

Becoming a Canadian was not an event but rather a process  shaped by the positive vibrations of my surroundings. I thank  Mr. and Mrs. Gray and the kids on Peter Street for giving me  Canadian vibes, and a positive feeling about what it means to  be Canadian. It’s about bringing people together to make a  better community, country and world.  

I lived it, and now I am sharing it.  

Originally Published in RTOERO's Renaissance Magazine Summer 2021


  • 23 Jul 2021 5:35 PM | Anonymous
    At the moment, Canada seem to be in such turmoil with Covid, vaccines, diverse cultural groups wanting attention, demands, apologies and the list goes on. I have been having a hard time being positive about our country until I came across the following article. This first person piece from the perspective of a “new” Canadian shows what it can mean to be a Canadian and to be proud of it.
    Link  •  Reply

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