Wednesday, 5 July 2017




With summer in full swing, I'm going to indulge in a somewhat laissez-faire attitude and cheat a little bit with the concept of this column. It's still going to feature an iconic part of Toronto, but one that isn't technically within the confines of the city. This place was a big part of my childhood summers, and one of the first places that my friends and I explored without total parental supervision. It was also the first place I had a massive stomach ache from combining too many forms of junk food, most notably funnel cake. I'm referring, of course, to Canada's Wonderland.

Canada 150 celebrations have saturated the media this year, and will most likely continue to do so in the near future because various artistic and cultural projects funded by special sesquicentennial grants have yet to premiere. Politically, I have seen many Canada 150 articles juxtaposed with "This is not my America" rhetoric. It was my impression that the federal government was exploiting a divided America in order to create an artificial sense of unity among Canadians, no doubt in part to ensure that the money poured into Canada 150 was money well spent. But obviously, as with literally every country on the planet, there is no such thing as a completely unified sense of national identity. I tend to be much more patriotic than many Canadians, but I also deeply empathized with friends and colleagues who did not approve of the overt colonial undertones present this year, and I was disturbed to say the least at the backlash they endured for expressing that.

Wonderland is an interesting lens through which we can digest this ambivalence. From its inception it was Canadian without being too on the nose about it, which I think makes it more Canadian. There is a fun little article blogTO wrote about when the park first opened that highlighted the balance of CanCon and international worldliness present in the original iteration of the park. Check out this aerial view near the back of Wonder Mountain:

I love that photo because the park looks a bit like an old-school carnival, but one that loves pseudo-Medieval architecture mixed with professional landscaping and a dash of Hanna-Barbera. The cartoon themed kid's area was a big part of my Wonderland, but is long forgotten, sometimes even by people my age. There is not always a clear path to change and innovation. As is the case with Union Station, Canada's Wonderland still exists and has never been replaced with anything else. Yet I hesitate to even call it by the same name because large parts of the park are unrecognizable to me, and I'm sure my Wonderland is very specific and different from everyone else's. My Wonderland as it exists inside my memories most likely never truly existed in the first place. I visited the park a lot for about a decade, and it changed a lot during my childhood. My nostalgic vision is probably a strange mish-mash of attractions all lumped together that never necessarily coexisted.

The same logic can be applied to nationalism. My Canada is mine, and when I examine it outside of my own perception it dissolves. However, I'm fully confident that my concept of home is real. I get terribly homesick when I leave the country for too long, and my sense of where and how I want to live my life has always revolved around the idea of Canada. There is something there that exists outside of rational deconstruction and irrational sentimentality. I cannot put it into words, but I know it when I feel it. Home is a real place I can visit, which makes me and all Canadians incredibly lucky. We can visit old haunts like Wonderland and complain about how much better it was back in the day (which it totally was), and nothing too substantial is lost or gained.

Two summers ago I went back to Wonderland with some friends. The most frequent topic of discussion was the past and present iterations of the park; but even so, I was never lost. There were even a few fleeting moments where I turned a corner and suddenly became a past version of myself. That's the power of large sections of real land. Concepts of ownership aside, when you walk in a certain place over and over, it becomes imprinted inside you. We don't know what we truly know until we retrace our steps.    

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