I love people, and generally speaking I want people to do well in life, and I want them to overcome obstacles in their path. I admire people who do courageous things like move to foreign countries and learn new languages and do profoundly uncomfortable things in order to grow as people. I want to help these people. I want people who are new to Canada to feel comfortable and at home. Today, an opportunity presented itself for me to do that. Here’s what happened.
A young man came into the Starbucks where I work late in the afternoon. His English was broken and he seemed a little overwhelmed trying to decipher the myriad information on our menu boards. I don’t know if he is an immigrant, or a tourist, or a student, but he was clearly a recent arrival. My coworkers got him set up with a tasty drink. A few minutes later, while I was cleaning the cafe, he approached me and asked:
“Excuse me sir, but why is today a holiday? What do you celebrate on this day?”
I saw that he wanted to understand Canadian culture better. My heart sank as I realized that my answer could only worsen any feelings of culture shock the man was experiencing. My explanation went like this:
I think it’s a holiday today just because otherwise there wouldn’t be any holidays in August. Actually, it’s not even a real, legal holiday, although everyone seems to have the day off except me. The banks are closed. I don’t really know why that is. They don’t have to be.
In Ontario, we used to call today’s holiday Simcoe Day. Toronto still does, or so I hear. Other cities near here call it all sorts of things, name it after all sorts of people. Simcoe Day was named after John Graves Simcoe, who was the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Hundreds of years ago, when Canada was much smaller, it was split into Upper and Lower Canada. On the map, Lower Canada is above Upper Canada and I do not know the reason for this either. So I don’t know why today is a holiday, honestly, all I know is that I’m not getting holiday pay.
“Oh. Thank you.” was all he said. I hope the rest of his time here makes more sense than our conversation did.