I make my formal declaration: I am an Experimental Farm nationalist I decided a few years ago that I am an Experimental Farm nationalist. This decision to pledge myself to fight for a piece of land, if necessary, even if it is only 1,100 acres, has come late in life, and has superceded my earlier disenchantment with your ordinary, ho-hum, garden-variety nationalisms.
The first nationalism I renounced was that of my natal country,
New Zealand. Growing up young and radical in that temple of smugness and self-satisfaction, I decided at an early age not to stand for the national anthem at the movies, and thus grossly embarrassed my poor mother. I had been too young to be conscripted as cannon fodder for the Second World War, and I have to confess, on reflection, that my brave movie-house stand when all that was over, required something less than manly courage.
Still, it got me off, as they say, on the right foot in regard to nationalisms. And when, ten years or so later, I wound up in Canada, my first impression was of a country which really had something to unite against — the mighty United States — an opportunity that Canadians seemed not at all bothered about. In fact, the feebleness of the Canadian nationalist response to the fact that America was buying up the country seemed to me to be scandalous. On the other hand, I liked many of the results of this feebleness — I liked that Canada did not have an anthem, nor a flag, and I liked that no one bugged me about becoming a Canadian, something I did not do until 26 years after becoming eligible.
Canadian nationalism, vis-à-vis the United States, seemed like a cause that might engage one’s attention, and even enthusiasm, but in view of the disinterest of Canadians, why should a mere immigrant even bother? As Prof. George Grant remarked in his book, Lament for a Nation, every nationalist sally by Canadian politicians had met with ferocious, united opposition from the nation’s business elite, and this has remained the pattern of behaviour ever since. Obviously Canadian nationalism, short of the rise of a Castro-like leader, was a dead issue from the beginning. (Is it typical of Canada that, having opposed and vilified even Trudeau’s mild nationalist sallies in the seventies, they later revered him as a political saint?) And so, having flirted with and abandoned the greater nationalisms, as it were,
I come to the Central Experimental Farm, 1,100 acres established in 1886 by the federal government, and run as an experimental research station in Ottawa ever since. Originally it was on the outskirts of the city, but now it is bang in the middle, and any one who, like me, has walked and cycled almost daily over the farm during the non-winter ff months, must revere it as perhaps the finest urban space of its kind in the world, Not only I think so: thousands | of others use its revivifying openness just to take exercise, to breathe, and to have their wedding pictures taken be- . side some of its beautiful trees. At the moment it is a picture of green, almost every one of its many fields bearing newly sprouted seeds planted in orderly rows. Of course, I don’t approve of the research that is being done there, in support of the federal government’s backward high-tech agricultural policy that is stripping our nation of its top soil, and pouring its chemicals into our water tables. My nationalism is directed towards its utility as an urban space, an irreplaceable urban place, whose acres stand as a constant reproach and challenge in the eye of our developers and capitalist entrepreneurs.
Ever since I came to Ottawa in 1977, these developers have had their eyes on the Experimental Farm: they would love nothing better than to cover its wonderful, breathing acres with tightly-packed houses and office buildings. They have succeeded in doing this on the far western reaches of the farm. But opposition has grown to further such encroachments, and that opposition has recently led to the Farm being given some kind of heritage designation.
So, along with thousands of others, I take my place, holding aloft the non-existent banner of Experimental Farm nationalism, defying the entrepreneurs to do their worst.
Over our dead bodies! We cry.
At last I have found my nationalism.
note: Boyce Richardson’s website is at: www.magma.ca/ -brich/index.html