Fifty years on
by Conrad Boyce, “Wandering the Cosmos”
I understand that many other regular Cosmos writers will be contributing to the paper for Canada Day, and I’m confident that some of them will talk about how our country is so marvellously diverse in both its landscape and its people, how it is a land of opportunity and relative security in this turbulent world. And yes, Canada means all those things to me as well.
But whenever I see the phrase “Canada 150,” I have to confess that the first thing that comes to mind is that I am exactly five decades older than I was in Centennial Year. I was a kid then, I’m a senior now. Time flies when you’re having fun, they say, and that applies as much to our nation as it does to me.
I had the good fortune to be born exactly mid-century, 1950. So in ’67 I was 17, and in ’17 I’ll be 67. Catchy, but think about that for a moment. If you’re too young to have lived through the Sixties, you’ve no doubt heard legends. If you in fact did live through them, you know those legends are true. And in 1967, the quintessential Sixties year (though Woodstock was still a couple of summers away), I was a quintessential teenager, just graduated from high school, the world laid before my feet.
I had a job that summer, as a short order cook at the Bonnie Burger Bar at the south end of Edmonton’s Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre, for a whopping buck an hour (a 33% raise over my salary the previous summer, paging books at the Idylwylde Public Library, at the other end of Bonnie Doon). In case you’re wondering, yes, the developers in that part of Edmonton had an obsession with Sir Walter Scott.
Anyway, my bosses at the Burger Bar were a charming couple felicitously named Fred and Mabel Zurch. Fred and Mabel were indulgent of my limited skills at flipping burgers (though I made a mean pepperoni pizza), and they were also generous in giving me time off to visit the essential Centennial celebration – Expo ’67 in Montreal – not once but twice.
The first time was a tribute to my geekhood: I was chosen for my scholarly achievements, to attend a model United Nations General Assembly, where I represented Mali, that troubled West African nation. I remember not a lot about that experience, though I was able to gain valuable knowledge of the Expo landscape, so as to be a leader on my second voyage.
My second pilgrimage to Expo was totally different, as a member of the bass section in the all-Edmonton high school choir, the Centennial Singers. There were about 80 of us. We performed throughout the city the previous winter, garnering sufficient funds for a breathtaking cross-country train trip, and about a week singing all over the Expo site. It was a very warm week, so warm that some of the soprano divas (and even a tenor or two) occasionally fainted during our concerts.
We sang everywhere. We made sure to always take a balanced mini-choir to stand in Expo’s long lines, so we could sing our way to the front. Our very-smart blue blazers made us stand out among the crowds, and we all felt very grown up. We were proud of how we looked and sounded, excellent ambassadors of our city and our generation. And for many of us, I’m sure it was the first time we felt genuine pride in being Canadian; Expo ’67 was a remarkable achievement. Whatever happened to Expos, anyway?
Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that in my early teenage years, I was a bit of a bookish, inward-looking fellow. 1967 changed all that. I discovered theatre under the guidance of a remarkable teacher, playing Anne’s father in The Diary of Anne Frank. I discovered the opposite sex, actually inviting someone to my high school grad dance (I don’t think we called it a prom), and then falling for one of those devilish altos in the Centennial Singers. And, as discussed above, I discovered Canada, at least that part along the CN tracks, and on those magical islands in the St. Lawrence.
All those initial discoveries led to obsessions: too many hours in the rehearsal hall, too many romantic relationships, too many account-emptying trips to the far corners of the continent. Wouldn’t trade any of it…
So I’m afraid when I hear those words “Canada 150,” it’s a very personal reaction. Beyond blessing my very good fortune to be a citizen of this amazing country, I can’t help but recall a very important time in my own life, exactly 50 years ago this summer. I see a rather awkward young man, and I realize how much those two short months shaped the person he would become.
He didn’t turn out too badly.
Why I love Canada
by John Cavers, Photographer
Why celebrate Canada Day?
If you have ever travelled to other countries or talked with people from around the world, that would never be a question! There is a myriad of reasons why living in Canada is so special. The freedoms we enjoy cannot be found in any other country. We often complain about many things, but when it comes right down to it there is no place I would rather live! I have worked with individuals from over 55 different countries, journeyed right across our land, travelled to half of the United States and over to Europe (Germany), and therefore I have some basis to be grateful for what is available here.
No matter how many problems we may face in Canada, they pale in comparison to what people around the world have to endure.
Being a nature lover, in recent years I have been able to pursue my passion for photography in one of the world’s richest countries in terms of wild areas. Connecting with the natural world has given me a renewed appreciation for preserving our resources for future generations. By sharing what is in the environment, hopefully people will ,in due course, be mindful of their role in that process.
The freedom I have to come and go as I wish is something I do not take for granted. I have worked with many who have come here to experience just that, as it was not something they could do in their homeland.
Living in Uxbridge, one tends to be somewhat isolated from the world’s major issues, and for this I am most thankful! I know there aren’t many people across this land who would be able to say the same about their community!
I remember that I started teaching when Canada turned 100, and I am still involved in education as it turns 150! How thankful I am for having had the opportunity to work, raise a family and enjoy so many wonderful aspects of this, our Canada! Every day I get up and say how thankful I am to have been able to live my entire life in peace in Canada!
Photos by John Cavers, from various past Canada Day events in Uxbridge.
My Canada at 150
by Nancy Melcher, “The Nature Nut”
I was 11 years old and in public school when Canada turned 100. I remember our class trip to Expo ‘67. We were billeted in a high school gymnasium in triple-decker metal bunk beds. There must have been hundreds of us, but I only remember my close friends with me. My favourite exhibit was the Ontario pavilion, and it’s iconic film, Christopher Chapman’s “A Place To Stand.” We sang that theme song all over Montreal and the Expo site, as well as on the bus coming home: “a place to stand, a place to grow, Onta-ri-a-ri-a-ri-o!”
The breadth of our province, the vast wild, open spaces, bustling cities, soaring skyscrapers, booming industry, and wonderful scenery, all showcased by that beautiful movie, made a lasting impression on me. I wanted to see it for myself, explore the many places shown to us.
And I have! Indeed, I’ve visited a lot of this country: camping on The Rock, PEI’s red sandstone shores, Nova Scotia’s rocky coasts, New Brunswick’s vast forests, Quebec’s ski hills, Ontario – so much more than cottage country, Manitoba’s “Great Lake,” my personal family connection to Kindersley Saskatchewan, Alberta’s dinosaurs, British Columbia’s mountains, and the Northwest Territories untamed rivers. The Far North remains on my list, but I’ll visit the Yukon this summer, leaving just our newest territory, Nunavut, as the last to be investigated, including the Arctic Coast to be explored.
This spring, family milestones and visits have taken me to the East and West Coasts. Driving one way and flying the other, I’ve had time to reflect on what a very big place Canada is. Hearing locals converse in subtle dialects of French and English has helped me appreciate the different backgrounds of the first settlers. Visiting national historic sites (FREE admission for those run by Parks Canada this year!) has enhanced my understanding of some of the challenges they faced creating new communities, expanding those settlements and trade routes, and making their mark on Canada’s history.
Earlier this month I worked with my cousin, a surveyor in Nova Scotia, at Fort Point, the virtually unknown site of the first capital of New France – Fort Sainte Marie de Grace – established in 1632. It’s on a strategic peninsula surveyed by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. We used a magnetic locator to pinpoint potential artifact locations on a grid, and marked them for the archeologist to excavate later this summer. Learning about the tiny settlement was fascinating, and standing on the point overlooking the ocean, I could imagine how life might have been for them.
My experience caring for my elderly mother on Vancouver Island was quite different, as we learned to follow the turn of the tides planning our walks along the beach and watching migrating geese heading north. We’d visited nearby with my uncle a few years back and gathered oysters with him. The abundance of fish and fowl, the constantly changing shoreline, and eye-popping scenery made me appreciate this side of the country, too.
I was lucky to paddle the wild, rushing South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories with some of my best friends in the summer of 2002. Every bend of the river brought stunning views of soaring canyon walls and rugged mountains, and every campsite’s bear, moose and wolf tracks reminded us that we were the trespassers here. We saw other people on just three of the 21 days we were on the water, and experienced incredible isolation marred only by the occasional jet penciling its way across the sky. We dreamed of the early visitors hunting, searching for gold, and fishing in the cold, milky waters of the river and its crystal clear tributaries.
Recent travel beyond Canada’s boundaries, to Africa, Europe, South America and the USA has also enhanced my view of Canada when seen from a global perspective. It’s a land of plenty, a peaceful place with opportunity, and a well-deserved reputation for friendliness. It IS a place to stand, AND a place to grow, a land of lakes, and a land of snow, with hopes as high as the tallest tree, a place to live for you and me. Not just Ontari-a-ri-a-ri-o, but ALL of Canada. Happy 150th!
by Roger Varley, “Am I wrong?”
“What does Canada 150 mean to you, personally?” My editor has posed this question to her regular contributors as the basis for this edition of the Cosmos. And it’s not as easy to answer as it might seem at first glace.
The obvious answer, of course, is that I see Canada’s 150th birthday as a significant milestone in the nation’s progress, a chance to celebrate all that has been achieved by this still young country and to express hope for what its future holds. It’s an opportunity to marvel at the way people from around the world have come to its shores to work together to build a better life and to chase their dreams. It is a time to be thankful that we live in a country that stands apart from the rest of the world where turmoil, strife and suffering are almost the norm.
But in reality, those are platitudes which roll off the tongue as easily as water runs off a loon’s back.
For me, this sesquicentennial celebration is more a time for reflection. There have been times in our past when the future of this confederation was in doubt and the threat of it fracturing still remains in some small areas of the country. We always need, as the anthem says, to stand on guard. But being in a reflective mood, I realize that while we have much to celebrate, we also have much to be concerned about. I believe that the first 150 years have been all about “nation building.” However, while a lot more of that needs to be done, particularly in our sparsely populated northern regions, I think the coming years have to be more concerned with “society building.”
Yes, we have a health care system that, while flawed, is still the envy of many other countries and, yes, we have societal safety nets that, tattered as they might be, still provide security from a devastating fall. But being a Gloomy Gus by nature, I sense that there are serious divides between all those people who came here to work together, and those divisions are growing wider by the day. Racism and bigotry are very much alive in this country. Injustice, inequality and discrimination still thrive.
Canada’s political discourse has always been lively and robust – (witness the Diefenbaker-Pearson years) – but in recent years that discourse has become bitter: not as blatantly as in our neighbour to the south, but it seems headed in that direction. There appears to be little desire in our political leaders to work together to meet common goals or to solve common problems. Rather, those who are not in power use up most of their time attempting to tear down those who are, to the detriment of the people of Canada. It has been said that politics is the art of compromise, but one sees extremely little evidence of that among our political leaders at any level of government. And when the politicians are endlessly engaged in seeking to pummel their opponents, it is the people who get bruised.
In a land as rich and fruitful as ours, it is an obscenity that some of our citizens have to rely on food banks. In a land as generous and giving as ours, it is shameful that we have so many homeless people. In a land as wealthy and industrious as ours, it is unforgiveable that some are denied extended education because they cannot afford it. And in a land as diverse as ours, it is criminal that our First Nations people, the ones who were here first, are still treated the way they are today.
These problems will not go away simply by ignoring them and they cannot be solved by charities and volunteers alone. They must be addressed in a meaningful way by our political leaders, who should learn to put the politicking aside until there’s an election campaign. Unfortunately, these days political campaigning appears to have become a 24/365 phenomenon. I can almost guarantee that when the speeches are made on July 1, not one will mention the hungry, the homeless or the disadvantaged.
Only if our leaders begin building a society that truly includes all citizens, that treats all people fairly and with respect and recognizes that we all contribute in some way or another, will they really deserve the title “leaders.” And we, as citizens, should start demanding that they do it.
I hope your Canada 150 celebrations are happy and fun. But I also hope you’ll spare just a moment to think about the unfortunates among us.
Past, present, future
by Amy Hurlburt, “Aiming High”
Patriotism is a funny thing, when you consider it’s defined by a fierce loyalty to a country; and depending on your definition of ‘country,’ we’re all talking about different things when we discuss our patriotism, or lack thereof.
We live in a nation of absolutely breathtaking natural beauty – soaring mountains; vast oceans and lakes, and incredible forests. We live in a nation with many freedoms, and a desire for growth and accountability; where we can actively disagree with our politicians and engage in the process of shaping our nation.
Canadians have been responsible for a number of life-saving, life-improving, and otherwise useful inventions, including insulin, snowmobiles, sonar, ice hockey, AM radio, cardiac pacemakers, basketball, and so much more. We need to be willing to acknowledge, however, that we live in a nation where both brilliant accomplishments and complete horrors have occurred. Many evils have been permitted under the banner of ‘progress’ – residential schools being one of the worst of these. Beyond forcibly removing First Nations children from their parents, stripping them of their language, culture, traditions, and even names, remember other atrocities committed against them, including forced sterilization, extensive physical and sexual abuse, and even housing children with tuberculosis with healthy children (resulting in mortality rates as high as 60 per cent in some cases).
Maclean’s journalist Scott Gilmore wrote a deeply disturbing but completely necessary article in earlier this month about the First Nations communities entitled “The Canada most people don’t see,” discussing our First Nations communities and the struggles they continue to face. He offers statistics that ought to stop us in our tracks: pointing out that within Canada’s First Nations communities, there are 89 communities without safe drinking water, and many without working sewage systems. Some of these communities are dealing with TB at epidemic levels, and many deal with rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Medical facilities are scarce, and fire departments are nonexistent. The infant mortality rate is worse than in Russia, and a child who survives infancy is more likely to be sexually assaulted than to graduate high school. The murder rate is worse than Somalia’s, and the incarceration rate is the highest in the world. These are not statistics we should be brushing off. Frankly, personally, it is difficult to reconcile the Canada I know with the Canada he speaks of, but a number of the people I know who have been to some of these communities and witnessed these circumstances firsthand.
Our nation is not perfect, and its flaws should not be ignored or brushed over. Canada is also not without hope or things, places and people to take pride in. To focus solely on our successes or on our failures creates a false dichotomy that only serves to facilitate arguments and division, not progress and unity. If we truly want to see Canada improve, we need to individually seek out ways to make that happen. In my view, celebrating Canada is not about celebrating our past and every decision that has resulted in our nation today. Rather, we are celebrating the potential of the future. We are celebrating the beautiful land we live on and the people who live from coast to coast to coast of our nation. We should acknowledge our past for what it is – riddled with both beautiful and shameful moments. We should acknowledge our present – the points of progress, and highlight the accomplishments that have moved us forward and made the world a better place, as well as the points of concern and the issues that need to be addressed. We have a nation that is filled with natural beauty, but it needs to be protected. We have free healthcare, but we need to support our healthcare professionals and make improvement of the system a priority. At the end of the day, it’s each of us on an individual level, doing what we can, where we can, that will make a difference in shaping our future. We can adhere to those “Canadian values” of being kind, respectful, and generous. Even little acts like recycling or buying local can make an impact, or actively paying attention to the rest of our nation and our world. Not everyone is a politician, but many of us can vote, or write to our elected representatives. Complaining is easy – frankly, it’s not difficult to find fault in how our country runs. There are plenty of vulnerable people who need someone to come to their aid or help them find their own voices.
For the next 150 years, we don’t need to be constantly patting ourselves on the back nor indulging in constant self-flagellation. We need to build together. Our nation is beautiful and filled with opportunity– it’s just a matter of whether we’re willing to work together and actively engage in creating a Canada we can be proud of.
My speech, revised
by Lisha Van Nieuwenhove, “A Blonde Moment”
I was going to write lofty things in my Canada Day piece, but it would appear that my fellow columnists have said all I could possibly say. I will, therefore, reprise a column I prepared many years ago, when I thought I might be Prime Minister.
The following is to be read to loyal subjects with what could be considered a haughty Canadian accent. Not British, as that would defeat the purpose. Tone must be purposeful and firm.
My dear fellow Canadians: I stand before you today to inform you of the wonderous changes that I am going to effect on this great nation of ours, in order that it may become an even greater nation, both for itself and on the world stage. I believe strongly in the proverb “Charity begins at home,” and it is there that I shall be focusing our attentions.
I’m sorry, but my first act as your leader will be to take a hard stance against the funds that we currently send to other countries around the globe. While I do not deny that they need and welcome our financial assistance, I believe that the money would be better spent right here in Canada.
I’m sorry, but I will put this money towards creating housing and board for those who live on the streets, and towards programs that will help them redirect their lives, should they so choose, so that they can again become active members in society.
I’m sorry, but I simply have to put money towards our various First Nations communities, enabling them to truly become a part of Canada, rather than keeping them sequestered on the fringes of society. They, as the original inhabitants of this great land, deserve far more than they currently receive, and they have the right to enjoy this country along with the rest of us.
I’m very sorry, but I will be infusing our transportation industry with the means for every individual who drives to have an environmentally suitable vehicle. Our oil and gas suppliers will, naturally, be most upset with this, but they must realize that their resources will one day terminate. It is better that we make these changes today, so that our children, and their children will live in a society that is confident that its energy sources will not disappear. Our roads will be filled with vehicles that are comfortable, efficient, and kind to our Earth.
Canada is a great nation, but only one of many, and as such, cannot alter global economy on its own. Because of this, it is still necessary, in this day and age, for many families to have members that must go out an work, making child care a reality. I’m so sorry, but I will have to make sure that this child care is affordable and legitimate, and every parent or guardian can be sure that their little ones are being looked after by the best caregivers possible.
I will also ensure that the CBC continues in its operations. This national broadcaster is the true voice of Canada, and needs to be assured that its future is not in jeopardy. We would be lost if we did not have this icon of our society – we need its news, its information, its programming. Imagine our world without Q, As It Happens, or The National (a sad goodbye to Peter Mansbridge). Simply unthinkable. We need the CBC. I will make sure we have it.
With regards to the lifestyles that we embrace here in Canada, I want to see us all take a step in a different direction. We need to get away from the over-processed, chemical-laden rubbish that is trying to double as our food. When we truly begin to clean up what we put into our bodies, as well as clean up the air that surrounds us, then we will begin to reap the benefits. Our illness rates will go down. We will no longer need to direct our funds and resources to finding cures for all sorts of diseases, because we will be healthier. The money that will no longer need to go to these causes, because they no longer exist, will go towards the issues that I mentioned earlier.
While speaking of health and welfare, I promise to search out and find those who hold the cure for cancer. I am positive that the solution is out there, and has been found, but it is being held onto for various reasons, all of them political and economical. I guarantee that I will bring this cure out into the open so that not only Canadians but all the world can benefit from its existence. This, coupled with our healthier lifestyles, means that the found cure will only need be used for awhile, only until this insidious disease runs its course and finds no body in which to dwell any longer.
Lastly, and I am sorry, but I will see all forms of discrimination stop henceforth. Canada must set an example to the rest of the world that all human beings, without exception, are entitled to live and breathe in the world without fear of condemnation. We are individuals, yet we are one. We can live together peaceably, healthily, and financially stable. It can be done, but we must work together and not just speak about it, but truly believe it.
I may your leader, but I will not do this alone. Together we will make sure that all these things happen and put Canada on top of the world. We have learned much in 150 years. Let us venture forth. Oh, and did I say I was sorry?
Through other eyes
by John Foote, “Film with Foote”
Being Canadian is something that has its advantages. We are just treated better, it seems. Yet we take for granted those advantages and rights those just arriving here are experiencing for perhaps the first time in their lives.
As director of the Toronto Film School for 10 years, I encountered many young adults who left poverty- stricken countries or escaped war- torn countries. They struggled with the language, the culture, money and missing their homeland, but they stayed to make something of themselves. For the first time in their lives they were free.
I remember a sad-eyed young lady coming to my office asking for my lecture notes – I had spoken too fast in class for her to keep up. I recognized her from the lectures, and she did indeed struggle to keep up. She had a stack of books with her, including a translation dictionary I had seen her use in class. I happily gave her my notes, explaining that often I wrote just a single word and knew I had to cover the subject in depth, “Brando,” for instance. I recommended a dictaphone to tape the lectures, and she nodded, with a shy smile. On her upper arm was a burn, a nasty one, on her other arm was what looked like a bullet wound. I asked her from where she had come and she whispered back to me, with tears in her eyes, “Serbia.” The look on her face, the haunted look in her eyes told me whatever she had been through was more horrific than any film I had seen. She took the notes, came back every week for more and her work improved, as did her health, which had been suspect at best.
She worked hard, mastering the language, learning how to get her ideas across. She proved to have a keen eye for directing, and she understood the language of the cinema.
I kept watch on her progress and she did very well, her third term student short film was excellent. She went on to win the Best Director Award at our annual film festival, and her film was accepted into five festivals around the globe, including Raindance in England and the Montreal World Festival. I was there in Montreal when her film screened for critics from around the world.
On Graduation Day she stood in line and proudly shook the president’s hand as she accepted her diploma. I was at the end of the line, and when she got to me she did not shake my hand – instead she wrapped me in a fierce embrace and kissed my cheek.
“Thank you, Mr. John, for believing in me,” she wept, her entire body shaking as she cried.
I was stunned.
Later at the reception, she found me and introduced me to her parents; smiling, lovely people who presented me with a gift in broken but understandable English. The student asked me to open it and I did. It was a beautiful Bible in her native language, just stunning to look at. Her mother hugged me and her father shook my hand vigorously, smiling like only a supremely proud father can. We chatted for a few moments and had a photo taken before I was pulled away to speak with other students.
Before I moved off she said to me “Canada give me this chance, sir.” She was right. She had been hurt and traumatized at home, but here was free. She had food and drink each day, shelter, could freely shop, walk without concern of snipers, and forge a career.
She now works in the film industry full time, and each Christmas I receive a Facebook message from her. She sent a beautiful note when my wife died and was there at the funeral, as were many of my students. This country altered the course of her life, gave her a chance to live, to dream, to succeed.
This sad-eyed girl reminded me what it is to live in a country where we are free. I have seen Canada East, but not the West, not yet. She reminded me what it is to live in this country, to have what we have, to enjoy the freedoms we have each day, the freedoms we offer others coming here.
I count myself a proud Canadian, but it was an immigrant girl from Serbia that reminded me of why.