Magnanimity: The Cardinal Virtue of Canadians

Taking a break from posts on music, we wanted to share this essay on Canada Day for some inspiration.

On September 11, 2001, a pair of off-duty buddy firefighters in Ontario, their personal gear stashed in the trunk, were out for a drive with the radio on. An announcement came on, stating that planes had struck the twin towers in New York creating a double towering inferno. There were a number of typical things the Canadian firefighters did not utter in response. They did not say, “There are lots of firefighters in New York; let them deal with it.” They did not say, “Well, we’re off duty, and we don’t work for free.” They did not say, “Hey, we’ve got our own concerns.”

In short, there was no pettiness in their reaction. There was no hesitation. They turned the car around and gunned the vehicle south, crossing the border and heading straight to New York to lend a hand. It was an instant response.

This is very Canadian. And there is a word in the English language to describe such behaviour: it is called magnanimity.

During their so-called 9-11 crisis, the United States closed all airports as a security measure. Planes were left stranded in the air. Canadians agreed to allow these flights to land in their airports and to accommodate passengers in their own homes. Did they say, “I don’t want any strangers staying in my house – they could be crooks”? No. It was an immediate, welcoming response, one genuine and with open arms.

Magnanimity means showing a great, noble generosity that rises above petty concerns. And it is very Canadian. Whenever there is a group of people that are in desperate need, Canadians are often the first to respond to render assistance.

This was the case in 1979. The king of Iran, known as the Shah, was booted out of the country during their Islamic Revolution. The new regime decided to target religious minority groups as scapegoats, blaming all the country’s problems on them. Their number one target was the Bahá’í community. They began burning down their homes (after looting them), imprisoning them, torturing and executing them. Canada was the first country to admit refugees from the Asian nation.

Going back even further, the severe winter conditions of 1944–1945 had The Netherlands is a state of doom. Some 30,000 died of starvation. Holland was occupied by the Nazis and the in-exile Dutch government, in anticipation of a German collapse, ordered a general railway strike. In response, the Germans cut off all food and fuel to the western provinces. Hunger and disease brought on by the lack of heating began to set in. Canadians could not bear it, could not stand hearing about the demise of their Dutch brethren. Risking their lives, they flew over the country and dropped thousands of large bundles of food and blankets and then made it their personal mission to free the Dutch from Nazi occupation. The Dutch people have never forgotten this and love Canadians above everyone else even to today.

Canada’s magnanimity is also demonstrated in its willingness to redress past injustices within the nation. The Canadian government has offered official apologies and compensation to past injustices slapped upon Chinese Canadians. It performed it despite the court’s declaration after review that such practices were lawful at the time.

This magnanimity has historically risen above materialistic concerns. If Canadians had adhered to the petty arguments of financial viability, their country would never have established a system of universal health care, built the Canadian Pacific Railway, adopted a policy of multiculturalism, and maintained bilingualism. When it comes to a choice between what is profitable and what is right, Canadians have shown a noble preference for the latter.

Canada faces a number of current challenges that will put its intrinsic magnanimity to the test. The most glaring among them perhaps is finding a fitting way to deal with past atrocities meted out to Aboriginal Peoples. At the present time, all we can do is cling to hope.

In a planet of nearly 200 nations, each has a role to play, a contribution to make for the good of the whole. This is ours.

—Shawn PT