News·CANADA 150

What Peter Mansbridge's passports have taught him about being Canadian

The Chief Correspondent of CBC News says his passports define Canada for him, because he's learned so much about being Canadian when reporting from other countries.

Chief Correspondent of CBC News has covered events around the world

Peter Mansbridge shows his stamps from China in his passport (Craig Cooper/CBC)

What defines Canada to me?

My passport. It's taken me around the world many times because it's welcomed around the world. 

It constantly reminds me just how lucky we are to live in a country that has so much and is envied by so many.

As a result, I collect my passports.

Whenever I go to the passport office to get what I consider to be my ticket to the world renewed, I ask to keep the one I'm replacing. My little pile of hole-punched passports tells the story of my five-decade-long career. 

From my first major overseas assignment to what was then a very secretive China to dozens of other countries and almost all the continents — I've seen a lot.

And while that little blue and gold document has allowed me to travel the world and learn about other societies and cultures, it's also allowed me to learn about Canada as well.

By seeing and hearing how others see us.

In the Netherlands

I've stood in the rain on a street corner in the Netherlands watching tens of thousands of Dutch cheering Canadian veterans returning one more time to the country they helped liberate from the Nazis in 1945.

I listened to a young mother explain that she'd brought her four-year-old son to witness the vets because she "wanted him to know what a Canadian was."

(Amanda Burt/CBC)

A local mayor told me, "You have to have been occupied to understand what freedom is. And when you do, you never forget who helped you get it."

In Sri Lanka

I've stood in the Sri Lankan rubble of the 2004 tsunami and watched a young girl point to a Canadian flag and say, in broken English, "Canada good."

Why? Because a Canadian nurse had just given her a needle. A needle to keep her healthy in a region where the aftermath of a natural disaster suddenly threatened the health care of young and old alike. 

The nurse was with two colleagues who had flown from Canada on their own hook and their own time — because they wanted to help.

At Vimy Ridge

I've stood in a 100-year-old tunnel 10 metres below the surface of Vimy Ridge. 

A tunnel that had been a temporary home to young Canadian lads from communities across our country preparing an assault against German lines early the next morning.

They wrote their names on the chalk-like walls, along with the name of their hometowns. 

I could only imagine what they must have been thinking, standing there just hours before they'd leap into a battle that would kill thousands.

In Afghanistan

And I've stood in a room in Afghanistan watching a young Canadian woman talk about her work helping young Afghan women understand their rights under the country's new constitution.

Why was that special? Because the Canadian was born in Afghanistan, and came to Canada as a refugee. 

Along with her family, she became a Canadian citizen, but then returned to Afghanistan because she wanted to tell her old country about her new country and how it had proven to her that real freedom does exist.

Four stories about Canada as a caring nation. 

Four stories that made me understand who we are and what we stand for.  

Four stories about Canada that my passport helped me see.

Peter Mansbridge will be hosting a live Q&A on Facebook at 9:30 a.m. ET on Friday. He'll answer your Canada-themed questions, live from Parliament Hill.

Then, Peter will host CBC's Canada Day special starting at 11 a.m. ET on the main CBC network, repeating at 4 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.


Peter Mansbridge

Former Chief Correspondent CBC News

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.