Olympic ceremony and Canada’s Big Story

We joined a group of friends last night, to watch the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Half were born in Canada. The rest of us hail from Australia, South Africa, England, and the U.S. But last night every one of us felt deeply proud of the land in which we find ourselves.

What we were seeing on the screen was mythic, the history of a land and its peoples played out in a spectacular sound and light show. Canadians aren’t known for noisy patriotism, but the crowd in B.C. Place and the thousands watching on flickering screens couldn’t help but be stirred.

I’m sure we all had our own, personal highlights, the moments when we gasped or cheered or shed a tear. I loved the indigenous dancers moving to the rhythm of the pulsing, virtual drum, right through the long entrances of the athletes. The fiddlers and dancers, the Northern Lights, the virtual whales, the dancers all thrilled me.

What we were watching was not just entertainment. It was the Big Story of Canada. It was the shaping of the land and of the water that runs through and around it. It was the sorry history of colonization and the rich tapestry of cultures brought by waves of immigrants.

I don’t remember poetry’s being included in previous Olympic openings, but slam poet Shane Koyczan got it right with his smoothly delivered, “We Are More”. So many lines resonated for Canadians: “…we are cultures strung together / then woven into a tapestry / and the design / is what makes us more / than the sum total of our history…” I’ll drop in a link to his 2007 video of the poem.

The human and virtual tableaux couldn’t tell the whole, complex history of course. But as a short course in Canada’s story, it worked.

Even the lighting of the Olympic flame was thoroughly Canadian. We’d all been speculating on which of the country’s sports heroes would have that honour. Instead of one, it was five.

Rick Hansen carried the flame into the stadium, attached to his wheelchair. He lit the torch carried by speedskater Catriona LeMay Doan. She passed the flame on to basketball star Steve Nash, who lit skier Nancy Greene’s torch, who held her flame to the torch of hockey Hall of Fame star Wayne Gretzky. That the inside torch was only symbolic and that Gretzky alone lighted the official cauldron—and even that a jammed pillar kept Doan from adding her flame—didn’t change the Canadian-ness of the symbol.

The one thing that did mar the opening was the death of a young Georgian, killed in a tragic training accident on the luge course. Seeing flags at half mast, the Georgian team with black armbands and scarves, and a crowd of 60,000 observing a moment of silence, no one could forget the grieving family and friends of Nodar Kumaritashvili.

In comparison with the spectacular opening of the Bejing Olympics, Canada’s may seem modest, but it was Canadian to the core. Vancouver Sun columnist Shelley Fralic expressed it well: “This, then, is the Canada we want the world to see, magical and beautiful, and talented.”

Now if only it would snow.

©2010 Cathryn Wellner

If you missed the ceremony, here are some highlights:

And here’s Nikki Yanofsky singing the Vancouver Olympics theme song, whose lyrics seem very Canadian: “I believe together we’ll fly. I believe in the power of you and I.”

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janis thompson - February 20, 2010

agree absolutely with the above. I had tears, goosebumps, laughter – the works. Well done Canada!

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