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The meaning of ‘Canadian’

By David Wilson

One afternoon last April, University of Waterloo student Ariana Cuvin was cramming for final exams when the telephone rang. She assumed it was a telemarketer and was tempted to ignore it but decided she could use a distraction. She picked up the phone.

Several months earlier, Cuvin, who’s studying global business and digital design, had stumbled on a Department of Canadian Heritage contest encouraging post-secondary students to design a logo for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. She figured that entering the contest would polish her professional skills, so she did some brainstorming and came up with a design that she submitted just before the deadline.

Her entry uses 13 diamond shapes to create a stylized maple leaf. Four diamonds make up the base of the leaf, while nine others expand outward, symbolizing the first four partners in Confederation and the provinces and territories that followed. Multiple colours suggest diversity, while red-hued diamonds at the centre of the leaf signify unity. The 13 pieces fit together perfectly.

The phone call last April turned out to be from the Canada 150 Secretariat, informing Cuvin that her design had been chosen as the winner from a field of 300 other entries. She would receive a cash prize of $5,000, and her logo would appear on dozens of government products commemorating the event.

In the blink of an eye, she found herself in the national spotlight — and at the centre of a controversy: professional designers were furious that Ottawa had limited the competition to students. They claimed the government was exploiting young designers by offering a prize that was a fraction of what the fee for designing a government logo would normally command — and which presumably one of their own would have pocketed.

Largely overlooked amid the commotion was the fact that Ariana Cuvin is an immigrant. Her Filipino family moved to Canada from Hong Kong in 2002, when Cuvin was seven. She’s been here just 13 years, but her winning design reveals a finely tuned Canadian sensibility.

During the recent federal election campaign, there was no end of ballyhooing about Canadian values: what are the attributes that define “Canadian,” and how much should we insist that new Canadians embrace them? That there was any ruckus at all surely missed the point. With one in five Canadians born outside the country and over 200 languages spoken within our borders, it is the absence of rigid attributes — save respect for the law and each other — that defines us. This country is at its best when it gives recent arrivals room to be themselves, to develop their gifts and, with a little luck and hard work, flourish. Ariana Cuvin is a case in point.

Today, Cuvin, now 20, is mostly focused on her school work. She acknowledges that winning the logo contest may open doors for her after she graduates, but she’s remarkably low-key about what she has accomplished already, this new Canadian, barely out of her teens, who designed a national symbol. Her modesty is, well, very Canadian.

New Canadians figure prominently in this month’s issue. For our cover package this month, we asked six recent (and not-so-recent) arrivals to recall their first Christmas here, hoping that fresh eyes might give us all a new perspective on the season. These are stories of separation and loneliness tinged with goodwill and hope. They remind us, this nation of immigrants, that we not only give but receive when we welcome strangers through our doors.

When I spoke to Cuvin this fall, I asked her what she recalled about her first Christmas here. “The snow,” she replied. “It was fun . . . at first.” That, too, is very Canadian. 

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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