‘This is a very happy place to be day in, day out’: readers on life in Canada

To mark Canada Day on 1 July we asked readers what its really like living in the country, how Canada is perceived from the outside and what improvements could still be made

I appreciate more about Canada the more I travel elsewhere – Julienne Isaacs, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Theres always an exception to the rule, but most Canadians are genuinely kind, open to difference and welcoming to strangers. We remember our roots and value the diversity of our communities.

In Winnipeg, we may have extremely cold weather in the winter, but there are so many ways to embrace it – skating on the frozen river under the stars, cross-country skiing, or attending the French-Canadian Festival du Voyageur in February, where you can admire world-class ice sculpture. And dont get me started about the summers, which are hot and beautiful. Exploring Manitobas many lakes on canoe trips or while staying at a cabin for a weekend is the closest youll ever get to pure happiness.

I think its a bit funny sometimes how little a conception of Canadas vastness people seem to have. Its not very feasible for most Canadians to travel across the country, much less take skiing holidays at Banff all the time. Theres a big disconnect between the tourists version of Canada and the local communities most of us live in.

Winnipeg skyline with Canadian Museum for Human Rights and Esplanade Riel Bridge Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

This is a very happy place to be day in, day outGavin Schofield, Banff, Alberta

Living in Banff National Park and working as a bartender is something quite special. I will never tire of being surrounded by the jagged Rocky Mountains. There also seems to be a great acceptance of different cultures and that instills a real sense of community which enforces this friendly identity that Canadians are labelled with.A lot depends on the individual, but this is a very happy place to be day in and day out.

Id like to see more positive changes in the near future stemming from the government in terms of the climate change and free movement debates. However, not a great deal needs or can be done to make Canada a more appealing place to live.

Skoki Cabin at Banff National Park Photograph: Jerry Kobalenko/Alamy

The first thing I do when I return home is lose myself in the nearest woods – Jennie Wright, Ontario

There are two Canadas -one is the one-hundred-mile-wide strip on the southern border where 75% of the population lives, and the other is everywhere else. A couple of hours drive brings southern Canadians into the vast areas so sparsely populated by the other 25%. Once out of that southern fringe, we can hike, canoe, snowshoe, snowmobile and ride through the rest of wild Canada without ever relying on motorways and public footpaths. I love travelling to the UK, but must admit that the fact that most land is privately owned makes me feel claustrophobic. The first thing I do when I return home is lose myself in the nearest woods.

But Canada has its fare share of problems too. The dismantling of a national housing program has resulted in skyrocketing homelessness. The proportion of the population relying on food banks and other forms of social assistance continues to climb. Grants for post-secondary education were abolished long ago and many students face poor job prospects and crippling debt. The aboriginal population continues to face discrimination and exploitation. Our armed forces have been redirected from peacekeeping missions to often misguided combat missions.

On the other hand, LGBTQ rights are among the strongest in the world. We can drive, cycle, and canoe from sea to sea. Our schools consistently rank as world-class, our cities are clean, and were getting better at urban transportation and green technology. Many Canadians are bilingual or trilingual, and our culture is vibrant and dynamic.

As an elementary teacherin southern Ontario I always wish for more investment in public education. Public education, especially for special needs students, continues to come under attack across Canada. In Ontario most specialised elementary teaching positions like librarians, music and PE teachers were removed in the nineties. I would like to see our schools adequately funded and grants available again to low-income students who wish to pursue secondary studies.

Moose Lake, Ontario Photograph: Derek Bernat/GuardianWitness

There is always a place where anyone can feel at home – Peter McClure, Edmonton, Alberta

It seems as if Canada is one of the few countries in then world that has consistently been accepting of new immigrants. Perhaps its just because we have so much space, but I think that speaks to a feeling of live and let live and a rather relaxed, tolerant, and humanistic approach to life, that doesnt seem to be shared elsewhere in quite the same way. It might also be that we have so many environments within our country that we assume there is always a place where anyone can feel at home. Anyone who isnt content where they are can easily move to a place they find more exciting, or more peaceful, or more scenic.

Spotting some bald eagles on BCs coast, Tofino, a wonder secluded end of the road town Photograph: David Cook/GuardianWitness

It may be that some of that tolerance comes from the fact that the country was formed originally by combining two different cultures. There will always be a few who complain about how Quebec has too many rights, or how the English are taking over French culture, but at least no one starts panicking if they hear someone speaking another language.

The wilderness is all around and within easy reach. There are few Canadians who havent been camping, and it is even said that a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe. One thing that makes us unique is our familiarity with the outdoors, and it is certainly part of our national character.

Unfortunately, we are all too prone to identify ourselves in a negative way by comparing ourselves to our southern neighbour. It is too easy to say that At least we dont carry guns or Thank goodness we dont have to worry about getting sick. We are continuously bombarded by American media, and that means we often know more about their country than our own

I believe it is crucial that Canada take a good, long look at who we are and what we want to become as a country. Like the mouse who sleeps beside the elephant, we are at risk of having our culture accidentally crushed. It is the sheer ubiquity of American culture that threatens to overwhelm us, and while having the United States on hand as a role model to be rejected helps us understand how different we are, there is a growing tendency to believe that we are really just Americans, but with healthcare instead of guns.

Here I have space to think and breathe – Dr. Beth Green, Hamilton

Beth Green Photograph: Beth Green

I left a stressful academic job in the UK. Here I have space to think and breathe and start over working as a researcher. The grass always looks greener on the other side. Ive been here just over a year and the first year was a massive adventure, the reality of the big move is bound to settle in come year two.

I do think Canada needs a better language to speak about immigration. Although it prides itself on welcoming immigrants, Im conscious that its easier for people like me who are white and educated. I think the immigration system her is under unprecedented strain and the cracks are beginning to show.

Canadas geography is both a blessing and a challenge – Lucas Kilravey, Toronto, Ontario

While most other countries are ambivalent at best, Canada has largely embraced this dynamic of constantly changing pluralism as part of its identity. Canada is very unusual in the world in its relaxed, even positive, attitude toward very large numbers of immigrants. It seems that Canada is casually moving toward a very advanced stage of cosmopolitanism while much of the world is increasingly riven by nationalism. That seems, to me, rather unique. But as our population and economy grow, and our democracy matures in a unique direction, we need to more willing to lead by example instead of leaving the complicated problems to other countries.

Canada enjoys many benefits, both in terms of economics and security, by being so close to the United States. We benefit greatly from fluid access to the wealth and innovation of Americas rather remarkable market and society.

Canadas geography is both a blessing and a challenge. Our low population over such a large territory gives rise to some quite objectionable provincialism. We must manage this by making internal travel more accessible and affordable. Internal airfares are such that, when I go on vacation, it is often cheaper to go to Europe than to fly to Vancouver. We also need to invest in high speed rail across the country. I hope PM Trudeaus infrastructure funding will be visionary in this regard.

Canada must address the legacy of genocide against the Aboriginal people. It is absolutely necessary to address the dissonance between the things about Canada that we value and the brutal way the Aboriginal people have been treated.

Sunset over Downtown Vancouver Photograph: ulyworkman/GuardianWitness

Canada is basically uninterested in nationalism, and that seems to make it much easier to work together Dan Donaldson, Elora, Ontario

Dan Donaldson, a 58 year old illustrator living in Elora, Ontario

Canada is the place where a truly multicultural society manages to feel completely normal. Europe is afflicted with a kind of uncomfortable accommodation that seems to be stuck at the point where they can start to question the dominance of traditional national groups. Canada is basically uninterested in nationalism, and that seems to make it much easier to work together in a way that minimises the sense of native-born privilege. And that in turn has made it easier to address the terrible failings in these areas, and in how brutally weve treated first nations people. We are deeply flawed, and have a history that we cant ignore, but I think we lack anxiety about opening that up for examination.

Politically Canada has committed to so many economically terrible policies over the past decade or two, and extricating ourselves is going to be a lot more complex than the glibness Justin Trudeau suggests. On the other hand, Canada is in many ways what it seems to be civil, concerned with social good, the environment and minority rights. But we need to sort out our failed relationship with the environment. The fossil fuel energy sector has to go. Weve shamed ourselves so terribly, but it has brought into focus how important the perspective of those who have remained connected to the land.

Early morning at Jasper Park Lodge. Canada is a wild, vast and incredibly beautiful country Photograph: glenabbeyjoe42/GuardianWitness

As an Indigenous person, I have a different view of Canada than many – Ursa Minor, Winnipeg

I agree that Canada is a nice place given how much land there is and how scattered the people are across that vast landscape. But as an Indigenous person, I have a different view of Canada than many. More than 75 per cent of Canadians live within 100 kilometres of the USA border. The country uses Indigenous communities to hold on to much of its land, while begrudging the existence and cost of those communities. Nobody says that English people practicing English language and law in England equals special status. However, many Canadians insist First Nations request for our traditional languages and laws in our communities represents special status.

I believe one of the challenges ahead for Canada is improving the lives of Indigenous people and giving them access to their land. There are a number of places in Canada where Indigenous communities still do not have basic infrastructure. Canada needs to bring provide this for every community within its borders.

In love with Ottawa Photograph: TaymazValley/GuardianWitness

Being able to explore untamed wilderness is a tremendous gift – Heather, Kingston, Ontario

We are a pretty easy going country most of the time. I think that shows to the outside world. Canadians have amazing access to wild places. Living in Ontario I can drive 3 hours from my house and be on a lake in a huge protected wilderness area with no one in sight. I can hear wolves howling from my tent and come across moose and bears from the relative safety of my canoe. Being able to camp and explore untamed wilderness is a tremendous gift and a huge part of Canadian life for me.

Id like to see some thought and effort towards planning multi-generational cities and communities. We have allowed a huge amount of urban sprawl in Ontario, with great swaths of land taken over by car-accessed suburbs with single family homes. I think we just always believed that the space could handle it, but its been a mistake. I would love to see more high density housing, where communities all coexist.

We have our own thing happening now – Claire Cameron, Toronto

Claire Cameron is a writer from Toronto

Toronto is an ugly city in many ways. Its a patchwork of converted houses, glass sky scrapers, overhead wires, and construction sites. There is so much building going, its often said that Toronto has more high-rise buildings under construction than any other city in North America. I often dont recognise a corner that I stood on just a month before.

And that is also exactly why Toronto is successful. The architecture bends and buckles under the demands of the people who are here. We regularly smash down iconic places that have outlived their usefulness. While we lack any true visual coherence, we gain flexibility and a willingness to change.

I grew up in Toronto the 1970s and 80s when it wasnt such a diverse city. Now 47 % of us have a mother tongue in a language other than English or French, 47 % report themselves as being part of a visible minority, and half of the population was born outside of Canada. The changes are thrilling. This is a vibrant and growing city that feels completely alive because of all the people with different tastes, wants, and ideas who have chosen to come.

My only criticism of Canada is that we could cut our mental colonial ties and stop trying to be like the US or the UK. We have our own thing happening now!

From Monday 4 July, Guardian Cities is devoting a week to exploring all things Canada. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook to get involved

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/01/canada-day-photographs-life

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