Not a day at the Beaches

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By Amy Carmicheal

I must be the whitest, WASPiest thing the roots and culture section has ever seen. If you go back far enough, my roots are Scottish, but I didn’t even know this until I was seven.

So what do I have to say about culture? I’ve been asking myself this question for many years. Growing up, I tried really hard to identify with my Scottish heritage. Being Canadian doesn’t tell anyone about my culture. I felt I needed more of a cultural foundation. I started wearing kilts and wool knee socks but they were itchy and drafty in the winter. The big pin seemed to find its way through my skin at the most inopportune moments, like when I wore snow pants or during the moment of silence on Remembrance Day.

For a while, I also wanted to learn Gaelic. But I gave it more thought when I noted I still couldn’t even hold a simple conversation in French after five years of studying the damn language. I didn’t want to work that hard to be Scottish.

When I found out there was no vegetarian version of haggis, it was all over. I don’t live in Scotland. I’m not Scottish, I’m Canadian — whatever that means.

Growing up in the Beaches didn’t exactly aid my quest for Canadian culture. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Beaches is one of the last white communities in the city. It must have the highest concentration of white people in the known universe. Aside from the Filipino nannies, minorities walking down the street stick out like UFOs.

At the local Beaches high school, Malvern Collegiate Institute, you can count the number of ethnic minorities on your fingers. In grade nine, I remember being told by and older student that Malvern was a really safe school. According to this wise and knowledgeable student, there were no fights or outbreaks of violence because everyone there was white.

Eventually, the government caught up with the principal and let him know in no uncertain terms that this concept of equal employment was not a joke. From that point on there were lots of minorities on staff. Obviously bitter, I think he was trying to make a point by hiring English teachers who didn’t speak English.

I’m afraid the Beaches has been the biggest cultural influence in my life. When you’re white and live in the Beaches, you end up with a pretty narrow view of Canadian culture. If you’ve always wondered how WASPs live and what we do, you’re talking to the right girl from the right community. We eat a lot of Kraft dinner and drink a lot of milk when we’re young. Later in life, we often dabble in anorexia, followed by vegetarianism and sun dried tomatoes. We swim, row, windsurf and go to horse back riding camp. We tend to be a lot more reserved than other nationalities. Think yuppies and Little House on the Prairie smeared together. That’s a WASP.

Now that religion is dead, Sundays in the Beaches are a day to don a cosy sweatshirt with the word BEACH emblazoned across the front, and toddle on up to Queen Street with the family for a light brunch. Afterwards, it is time to leash up the dog, strap on the roller blades, plunk the baby in the carriage and become part of the menagerie of colourful kites, bikes, screaming children, hot sun, hot coffee and folded newspapers that is Sunday in the Beaches.

I’m sure when many people picture an all-white community in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the “R” word may subtly creep up — along with the idea that residents are hiding KKK hats in the back of the minivan. So I’d better clarify: Beachers are not wildly ignorant and racist. In fact, they are grossly PC (not that I am implying that political correctness is bad — see what I mean?). They must be infusing political correctness into our water or something. Everyone else gets fluoride, we get political correctness. Everyone here is very careful. With so many white people living in one area, being careful is of the essence.

My view of Canadian culture, (eating Kraft dinner and watching what I say, lest it be seen as racist,) is certainly not mainstream in this multicultural city. The influx of immigrants into Canadian cities such as Toronto has introduced so many strong and colourful cultures that what few traditions we consider our own have gotten lost in the shuffle.

It’s not like this everywhere. Not all WASPs are preoccupied with culture. Outside the cities, in quaint rural towns, it is still predominantly white. Out there, people feel comfortable with their own small town culture of beer and deer and hockey and Tim Hortons.

The rest of use are just a bunch of culture mongers, wanting a piece of the cultural pie. It’s hard not to feel left out. I know I’m not the only one. How many of you white boys out there have Scottish flags over your bed, or an ancient map with all the clans printed onto it in a desperate attempt at attining roots?

Isolation has also kept the Beaches a predominantly white community and in some ways I don’t think this is a coincidence but an attempt to forge some kind of identity in a city we feel we are losing touch with. Over the years, the Beaches has created its own tentative culture and history. The local paper, “The Beach Metro News” recently ran a contest to design a Beaches flag — the winning creation features our historic lifeguard stand on the Beach, with crashing waves and windsurfers in the background.

Somehow, the US manages to forge a culture of their own. Something uniquely American that they can all share. Just like Canada, the US is part of the New World and populated by many different cultures, but a unifying code of guns, money, attitude and apple pie has emerged out of this mix. Canada has all the people, but I guess we lack the attitude. Maybe we can eventually create something that is ours to share.

 

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