Here in the Great White North it is the celebration of creating a nation. The official launch of the experiment called Canada was launched: July 1st, 1867.
Now the reality is nations don’t just arise from spontaneous birth. One day nothing – and the next day BOOM – “look honey it’s a baby country. She will be awesome when she grows up!”
No. Political unions arise out of planned negotiations and random choices. This land was here before it was called the “Dominion of Canada’. This land was here before human’s even existed. This land has a history that begins before those of us who are living ever breathed the air of planet earth; before humans battled each other to lay down a set of values, laws, and government.
This land does not belong to any human, first and foremost it belongs to itself as part of Mother Earth.
I ended up here by accident. My parents fleeing the turmoil of 1956 Hungary, where refugees seeking shelter. Refugees looking for a place where they could top looking over their shoulders. A new home where they could stop worrying that the wrong sentence would get them arrested, imprisoned. Killed.
They had no idea where they were headed when they bundled up their two young children – a daughter about to have her 5th birthday, and their son not even 6-months old. They packed one small suitcase and walked across a frozen river into what was Yugoslavia (now Croatia). They became homeless.
The next 6 months they lived in refugee camps, while other governments made offers for a permanent home. My parents had talked about Belgium, and then the Canadian government offered them a home in Canada. They arrived by ship, landing in Quebec City, Canada in July 1957.
They became sharecroppers on tobacco farms near Barrie, Ontario. Investing in the planting, working the fields, maintaining the buildings and equipment. Learning English from the other immigrants and refugees around them. The promise of an autumn reward making them work hard in the summer heat. Eventually my parents realized there was no pot of gold at the end of the tobacco crop rainbow.
Somewhere in there another son was born. Then I was born on Canadian soil.
My father had always been handy with tools and fixing things. He began working as a handyman, and then as a carpenter. Eventually, in 1964, my parents saved enough to buy a small run-down farm from a local farmer and landowner – Mr. Smalley. He held the mortgage because no bank would give my parents a mortgage back in those days.
My father had a love for the land and tried to be a farmer – raising pigs, chickens, and geese. And it never really worked out. There would a good few years, followed by a horrible year. He had to keep working as a carpenter. He was a good carpenter, and so he became a site foreman for a small construction company. He earned a good wage, but ne was never wealthy. He never had a new car, and our clothes were mostly bought from thrift shops.
My mother stayed home with her 5 children, running the household. Keeping the livestock thriving. Planting massive vegetable gardens that feed us well through the summer, and throughout the winter. She canned the bounty, so that the pantry was always filled with pickles, relish, and canned fruit. I loved her pickled beets, and I have never been able to duplicate the flavour of the ones she made from the beets she grew.
So what is my point? Nothing really. Just a reflection on what it means for me to be here in Canada. This is a nation built on compromise and acceptance. It is a vast and complex thriving community of distinct cultures. This is a country based on a ideal of “peace, order, and good government.”
Mostly that basic vision has been maintained. Yet nothing is ever made; and no lives are ever lived without making some stupid choices. Along the way there were some horrible choices made. There is nothing that can remove the past; it is our choice to be bound by that past. We are here now and we must do better. And we will do better. It just takes time.
This nation is an experiment that is always being refined. What we value today may not be valued tomorrow.
My father taught me that you always do your best with what you have on hand to make things better. My mother taught me that you can only make choices based on what you know today. If you didn’t know something yesterday that you now know today – then admit it. You cannot change yesterday. You cannot guarantee tomorrow. All you can do is be the best you for today.
Happy Dominion Day Canada. You are not a perfect country by any measure. Yet the only truth I know is the world could use more Canada in it. Today was good. Tomorrow can be even better.
(Yes I am recycling. This is a copy of my Good Friday post from 3 years ago. I liked it so I am sharing all over again!)
This day seems to be the forgotten holiday of the year. There is no lead-up to Good Friday. No frenzied fanfare of festivity. No elaborate feasts to plan and prepare. That is probably why I like this holiday the best.
Good Friday really is a day off from the bustle and hustle of the consumer world. No sales. Just time to contemplate the world. I am sitting here this morning with a second cup of coffee, watching the sun peak over the horizon. There is a slight mist on the roofs of the houses as the day slips from springtime chill to springtime warmth.
I have time to think. Let my brain play with words. Roofs. Rooves. I remember learning in school that the plural of roof was rooves. But now we use the american “roofs”. When did that change? The rule I learned was if it ends in ‘f’ or ‘fe’ then to make the plural you drop the “f” sound and writes “ves”.
dwarf to dwarves
elf to elves
hoof to hooves
knife to knives
leaf to leaves
life to lives
self to selves
wolf to wolves
Of course then there are words that ignore the rule anyway – like the plural of beef is not beeves. And the plural of proof is not prooves.
Ah English the language of rules, and long lists of exceptions to the rules! This is why English is such an exceptional language.
As you can see Good Friday is for getting diverted and contemplative. Mindless musing. The above was simply pointless stream of consciousness. A raw slice of my brain straight up. I am full of trivia. Or full of something.
My favourite memory of Good Friday is from many many many years ago. I was in my early twenties. I was with some friends driving up to Midland, Ontario to find a very specific restaurant that served Lake Huron whitefish. Our friend and driver had heard the fish was incredibly fresh and delicious.
Now I don’t remember the restaurant name but I do think it was Henry’s Fish Restaurant. I’ve been back a few times so my memory may be muddled. And the fish is still worth the long drive!
But this memory isn’t about the destination. It is about the journey. That day was a foggy Good Friday. Dense white cotton fog slowing us down to well below the speed-limit. The trees and posts shadowy dark flickers flashing by us. The road shiny black and slick. There was no-one else on the road. Just us – some friends on a journey. Cocooned in our own reality.
In the back of the car was a book – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and for me it was an incredible find. At that moment, in that space, that book and the message inside clicked with me. There are concepts in that book that I had no idea could actually exist! My friend – the driver of the car – saw me thumbing through the book and gave it to me.
From where I sit today I can see that same book looking at me from my shelves. It is bedraggled and stained and dog-eared. The book has survived the years – my friend the driver did not. He died later that year from leukemia. But on that Good Friday there was no leukemia darkening our thoughts. On that day we were full of life twenty-somethings on a road trip. Our driver was a big robust man full of life and zest – and by the fall of that year he was an anemic husk gasping for air in a hospital bed. He was much too young to die.
That Good Friday held no hint of the sadness waiting in our future. We laughed, we talked. The restaurant wasn’t open we arrived, so we walked the waterfront. We drank early morning beers (cans in bags – oh we were so clever!) by the lake, while we discussed philosophy and how we would change the world. By the time we had finished our exploration of Midland – the sun had burned away the morning fog.
The fish was indeed wonderful, and we promised that next year we would repeat the road-trip. We promised that this would become our Easter weekend ritual. I’ve been back since then – but the ritual never blossomed. It withered and died.
In the mid-afternoon sunshine we drove back the way we had come. No hurry to get anywhere, we stopped at used bookshops and curio stores along the way looking for old National Geographic magazines. And books on World War II history. Our own version of an Easter Egg hunt for those that no longer believed in the Easter Bunny.
Good Friday: A good day to remember how we have arrived at this moment in time. And to remember those who we loved and left behind.
It happened again. That funny question that irks and tweaks the underbelly of self-identity. “What are you?”
The snark rises and I stutter, “Ahh…huu..man?”
The smirk flashes annoyance, “No I mean like where are you from?”
“Oh I am Canadian – born in Ontario. Not far from here…”
Interruption arises, eyebrows raised, “No I mean your people where are they from?”
“My parents were refugees, fleeing tyranny. And…”
A spark dawns and interjects before I can finish, “Oh you are Middle-eastern. Turkish?”
Now I am annoyed, and I can feel the emotions brush across my face and furrow my brow.
“How about I finish. They came from Europe. 1956. The failed Hungarian Revolution made my father realize he couldn’t stay because he would be arrested and tortured again. And my mother had just had a baby. So when the river froze in December of 1956 they walked across the ice to what is now Croatia.”
A nod. I see they are listening.
“My mother’s brother was in Toronto, so he sponsored them to come to Canada. And in July of 1957 they arrived in Quebec on a refugee ship. And…”
I can see the question coming before it becomes sound, “So you are European – cause you don’t really look white. Kinda Asian actually. Your almost black hair, and skin with a hint of colour and your eyes are almond which is why I said Turkish…”
My turn to speak up and over, “Yeah. Hungarian-Croatian. Well actually Croatian-Hungarian is more accurate. The village was mostly Croatian, but in the Hungarian side of the border. That part of Europe is a mix of people spilling between tribes and blending. I hear there is some Gypsy – Roma – ancestry in my genetic makeup. And some of the tribes that settled in the area had Asian and Middle-eastern origins.”
The other listens, and nods. And summarized my label, “So you are white then..huh. So hard to tell.”
I sigh, and reply, “Nope I am not white, but I’ve been mistaken for one before. I am human. And while my skin has a lighter-tone, my attitude is universal. The place of my birth, and the colour of my skin has nothing to do with how I have experienced the world, or how I think. My advice to you is top labelling people based on outward appearances. You cannot judge a book by its cover; Nor can you see the human inside the body if all you see are the shape and colour that they wear. Yes indeed we are each unique individuals; but close your eyes and open your ears! And you will be surprised to learn that we are all more alike, than we are different.”
I can see my words have offended, as they turn and move away. Truly they meant no harm in asking such an innocent question. Yet it wasn’t innocent at all, merely unthinking and presumptive. As I watch them leave, I can hear my mother’s voice in my head, “This is why you can’t have nice things – you always break them.”
Yes Mom, I do break them. Because I expect them to be better than that to begin with…
It is strange how we create a routine out of the obligations of life. A pattern is shaped from necessity and reluctantly overlaid. Eight years ago my father died, and my mom asked me to come see her more often. At first it was every other week. Somewhere in there it became a weekly visit. Usually on a Saturday, I’d be up by 6am and on my way. The 2-hour drive a quiet pleasant meditation through lovely Ontario country-side. A stop for a coffee. Sometimes a pause for walk on a trail.