Becoming Canadian: A Vermonter's Experience With Two Cultures

Mar 12, 2015

Rebecca Grenier is an American citizen. She was born and grew up in Vermont, but in 2009, a law change made by the Canadian government suddenly gave her and her father citizenship of a country to which she’s been connected for a long time. She joined Vermont Edition to explain her newfound citizenship.

In 2009, the Canadian government declared that parents were not allowed to forfeit the citizenship of Canadian minors. Grenier's father had immigrated to the US when he was just 8 months old. And, at the time, his family had to give up their Canadian citizenship in order to become Americans. But this law change meant that her father retained his citizenship since he had never revoked it himself. That meant Grenier, as the child of a Canadian citizen, was Canadian too. “I sent away for [my father’s] birth certificate to prove he was born in Canada, then sent away for his Canadian citizenship certificate and my own,” she says.

Her mother wasn’t able to receive automatic citizenship in 2009, even though she was also born in Canada. “When she turned 18, she thought she had to go to some office and re-declare her citizenship. So she did this. She didn’t have to … and so she ended up giving up her Canadian citizenship as an adult. So when the law reversed, it didn’t apply to her,” Grenier explains. Is her mother sad she's not an official Canadian? "A little bit," Grenier says. 

Both her mother and father’s families immigrated to Barre because of the booming granite industry. Her parents met through her grandmothers, who were longtime friends. “They were both part of the huge French Canadian community in Barre and worked in the Berlin Hospital cafeteria together,” Grenier explains. “They were always known as ‘the French ladies.’ So they were very happy when their two children fell in love and joined these two great French families."

"When I was little, I thought, because I didn't know a single old person who could speak good English, I thought you lost the ability to speak English when you get old." - Rebecca Grenier

Grenier says she has meat pie on every holiday, on both sides, and that her French Canadian roots are so strong she was somewhat confused by language as a child. “When I was little, I thought, because I didn’t know a single old person who could speak good English, I thought you lost the ability to speak English when you get old,” she says, laughing.

So why become an official Canadian? Grenier says there were several reasons. “Well, it has a big part of my heritage. Both my parents were born in Canada and my family is 100 percent Canadian,” she says. She also explains that as a software developer, it made sense to keep her options open for work in Canada. Also, Grenier’s twin sister lives in Vancouver and has obtained Canadian citizenship through the naturalization process.

"My family's Canadian. It's part of why I am who I am, and why my family is who they are."

Grenier says she has always felt Canadian. “My family’s Canadian. It’s part of why I am who I am, and why my family is who they are,” she explains. Now that it’s official, she says she feels different. “I always used to say, ‘I’m a Canadian, I just don’t have evidence of that,’” she says.

How Canadian is she? Vermont Edition put her to the test by asking her to choose between several Canadian/American options. Grenier admits that she roots for the U.S. at the Olympics and chooses the eagle over the beaver for the national animal. When it comes to beer, although she would rather have a Switchback, she chooses Labatt over Budweiser. And for hockey teams: Canadiens or Bruins? “Canadiens,” she says. “I was raised to be a Canadiens fan by my father.”

Grenier also loves poutine, but admits that she doesn’t like all of the variations that have been added in recent years. “I’m a purist,” she says.

"My family has always followed the immigrant Vermont tradition of mispronouncing our last name, so Grenier is pronounced [Gren-ee-er]."

Another part of her is very American as well: the pronunciation of her last name, Grenier. “My family has always followed the immigrant Vermont tradition of mispronouncing our last name, so Grenier is pronounced [Gren-ee-er],” she says.  

After her sister relocated to Vancouver, she got so much grief for the way she pronounced her name, that she eventually started pronouncing it the French way. “Which we pick on her about,” Grenier says.