Happy Canada Day, all! It’s our nation’s 146th birthday, and my 46th blog post (I’d like to claim I’d planned that).
When I was an elementary school student, one of my favourite assignments was geographic research. I recall penning (penciling?) compositions on San Salvador, Florida and Rome, however the ones that gently squeezed my little Canuck heart were inevitably about Timmins, British Columbia and Toronto, among others. I remember happily flipping through encyclopedias in the school library, eager to gaze upon grainy 1970s photographs like this one:
In the years since, I have travelled to the West Coast numerous times, and have spent time in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Six out of ten ain’t bad, but I do palpably feel the absence of the midwestern provinces, and what I wouldn’t do to get to Nunavut, NWT and the Yukon.
One day, I whisper to myself, one day.
I have fundamentally Canadian images burned forever into my brain, that give me a little tingle every time they rise, unbidden. A photograph of a grain elevator in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Nighttime pub crawling in Montreal with my friend Andy. Sprinting down an eastern provincial park beach, tearing off my clothes (bathing suit conveniently underneath), and jumping into the salty Atlantic for the first time. Strolling through Stanley Park in Vancouver, on a warm yet soggy March day, almost having the place to myself, and spotting an immature eagle, perched majestically in a tree, watching me. Just missing my PEI friends as I arrived in Kensington, yet because of that, having the most beautiful night camping by the water. Listening in awe as my cousin in Moore’s Mills, New Brunswich spoke fluent French and English to her children. And, of course, years of memories from hometown Ontario, like watching the CN Tower being built (on my first visit I bought a pen, which had a picture of the tower and a little elevator that moved up and down as you tilted it).
Other memories from my Book Of Canadian Recollections include:
- Getting all excited about traversing the then 5-year-old Confederation Bridge spanning NB and PEI, almost 13 kilometers long (that’s 8 miles for Americans, y’all). Realizing immediately that they’ve built the barriers so that drivers can’t see over them and get distracted.
Experience rating: meh.
- Ordering a ‘Relic’ burger at Molly’s Reach restaurant in Gibson’s, British Columbia. Bruno Gerussi, FTW.
- Hearing Stan Rogers for the first time. ‘Nuff said.
- Buying a beautiful print of A.Y. Jackson’s Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from a woman who had originally purchased it because it brought to mind her days there as camp cook for a group of geologists. I sat contentedly for the next hour as she regaled me with stories.
- Heading to the Canadian National Exhibition every year with my father, whose commitment to procuring a Shopsy’s corned beef sandwich each and every visit bordered on the religious.
- Breaking down en route from Montreal to Lac-des-Seize-Îles in a torrential rainstorm, and proceeding to travel with the French CAA guy and his girlfriend, windows rolled up, them smoking cigarette after cigarette, as we communicated directions in Franglaise. Good times.
- Canada Vignettes. ‘Nuff said.
- Stepping into the narthex of Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal for the first time. Words cannot express.
- Living through ten (count ’em, ten) London, Ontario winters.
Snow. Oh God, the snow.
- Meeting fascinating people:
Gordie Tapp of Hee Haw fame in the waiting room of my optometrist’s office (circa 1978).
Bill Lawrence, former host of Tiny Talent Time, who became the perpetually cheery weather guy at CBC.
Guy Paul Morin (acquitted of murder in 1995), in a CBC elevator, where it took me about 30 seconds to connect the face to the name. Suddenly overcome with the enormity of what he must have gone through, feeling I had to say something, I turned and offered a simple ‘Congratulations,’ to which he humbly replied a quiet ‘Thank you.’
Ken Bell, WWII photographer, at his home in Gibson’s Landing. What an honour.
There are more, but I don’t want to make you jealous.
- Dating a Francophone separatist in the early 90s and realizing in my Ontarioan ignorance that we still have a long way to go in that department.
- Each and every summer from time immemorial, having at least one opportunity to float on my back in one of our beautiful fresh water lakes, my heart filled to overflowing with gratitude.
- Richard Condie. ‘Nuff said.
- 1992: The Tragically Hip releasing Looking For A Place To Happen, because any band that can somehow fit Jacques Cartier into a tune is well, the coolest ever.
- Having it slowly dawn on me that every other white clapboard Catholic church on the East Coast is named St. Peter’s.
- Standing under two-hundred-foot trees in Capilano, British Columbia, and being reminded of my smallness in the world.
The ties I have to this place are not the silken, tenuous kind; no, these are most surely comprised of diamond-encrusted titanium links. And though enormously strong, they are neither awkward nor heavy, and provide a centering and stability I can’t imagine getting from anything (or anywhere) else.
And with that, I will leave you with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s The Log Driver’s Waltz, 1979, Canada Vignettes.
Happy Birthday, Canada. I love you.