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Saturna Island: Downhome affable

Jack Knox Slightly Skewed They're almost ready for the legendary 61st annual Canada Day lamb barbecue on Saturna Island. Haggis Farm Bakery is making the buns.

Jack Knox

Slightly Skewed

They're almost ready for the legendary 61st annual Canada Day lamb barbecue on Saturna Island.

Haggis Farm Bakery is making the buns. Twenty-seven Saturna-raised lambs have been given their last rites down on the Campbell family farm where they first hosted this event in 1950. A bulletin board notice calls for volunteers to descend on the Winter Cove barbecue site: "Please bring work gloves, shovels, hammers, staple guns or anything else that may be useful."

Guess that leaves out me.

July 1 is a big deal on Saturna, pop. 350. They'll serve 1,200, maybe 1,400 meals, almost all of them to visitors who arrive by boat, eat, then bugger off, just like a good visitor should. The money -- $20, or $10 for those under 12 -- will keep the community club running for the year, which means keeping the library, the medical centre, the kids' Christmas party running, too.

They use Canada Day to build a better place to live.

Saturna is in the southern Gulf Islands, nudging up against the San Juans of Washington state. It's the kind of rural island idyll that city people dream of while slowly rotting to death in their grey office cubicles. Purple foxglove sways lazily in the wind. Only the tourists lock their car doors.

There is a disconcerting lack of litter, even up the back roads where the empties should be.

Over by the East Point lighthouse, someone has thoughtfully placed a padded chair inside the Telus phone booth. The world's oldest Mountie truck, a coal-fired Chevy, sits by the ferry dock, looking like it was last driven by Sam Steele, or perhaps the Maytag repairman. Birds walk, not fly, down the road, either nonchalant or suicidal. Perhaps they're depressed, but that seems unlikely, not on leafy, lovely Saturna.

All of which makes it hard not to compare the traditional July 1 activities on Saturna with the booze-fuelled barf fest that passes for a Canada Day "tradition" in Victoria where, for the past few years, the fireworks show has featured as many Technicolor explosions on the Inner Harbour pavement as in the air. Think Mardi Gras with maple leaves.

Victoria's Canada Day has more to do with hormones than heritage. Girls who couldn't find Montreal on a map parade around wearing nothing but Canadian flags fashioned in such a way as to barely conceal everything from northern Ontario to Saskatchewan.

The guys strut about as though they had just killed a lion, not a six-pack, displaying their patriotism by bellowing Canada effing rocks!" or "Effing Canada rocks!" or, when syntax fails them, "Effing rocks Canada!"

This is usually punctuated by thrusting an arm in the air and making the extended-index-and-pinky gesture most commonly associated with the Texas Longhorns, heavy metal bands or, apparently, John Diefenbaker.

"I haven't seen so many drunken kids in one place since I was a kid," one dad observed last year. True, but at least we had the good grace to chuck our cookies at a Nazareth concert, not the celebration of the national ideal. Gosh, I enjoy throwing up as much as the next fellow, but for the life of me I can't figure out how Victorians came to equate puking with patriotism.

Nowhere do the history books depict Sir John A. chugging a Lucky while wearing a T-shirt reading Virgins Converted While U Wait. (No, knowing him, it would have been scotch.) Get wasted if you want, but don't do it in the name of Canada Day.

Sarah Henry was getting congratulations every time I ran into her on Saturna this week. She has only lived on the island since October, yet everyone there knows her by name, knew that she had just received her Canadian citizenship the day before.

The native of Essex, England, was struck by something the judge said at the citizenship ceremony: "People should come to Canada with an open mind and be willing to dream big."

That made Henry, who is well-travelled, think of countries where people don't have that kind of option. A Canadian by choice, not chance, she is grateful for what we have.

Effing Canada rocks. Forget the barf. Pass the mint sauce.