(Photo by Carla Froese)
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, July 2, 2022)
One summer day my eldest and I took a selfie at the corner of Portage and Main. We were exploring. I’d already explored enough of Canada by myself. Once I took the train Toronto to Vancouver, before getting up to Tofino to stand in the Pacific with raised arms. As a dad, things are now different.
My girl, Liz, and I flew Hamilton to Edmonton, explored some of the Rockies, then drove east across the Prairies, eventually to Winnipeg and that famous intersection: Portage and Main, Canada’s crossroads, the centre (roughly) of our massive nation that stretches more than 9,000 km, sea to shining sea. My daughter had just turned 18. The trip was her birthday gift. And to thank Canada. Not everyone in the world, to state the obvious, is as fortunate.
Brian, a family friend in Uganda, recently wrote me. “I’m kindly requesting to get me to Canada. Please, sir, I’m begging. Please help.” It was that sort of note. Brian, a good young man, a remarkable soccer player, just wants a leg up in life. A university education. An escape from limits he’s been born into. He sent a photo of his Ugandan passport. “Mr. Thom. Please.”
This is the majority world. If our world of 8 billion people were a village of 100, how many would have a university education? Seven. Thirty would have access to the internet. Nine would live without safe water. Twenty would live in fear of kidnapping or rape or death by war or armed attack or landmines. One would be starving. This is our world. Uneven. Unfair. Often unbelievable.
To hold a Canadian passport, then? To sing “Oh Canada,” with your own unique voice? Good God, we’re in a good place. And despite Canada’s vastness – the world’s second largest nation by landmass – we’re a select few. You’d need about two global villages, about 200 people, to find just one Canadian.
It’s easy to think otherwise, that the wheels are now somehow falling off. Our shortcomings and differences get easy attention. And, sure, it’s been some year. That truckers protest in Ottawa? Now when some pick-up truck drives past with Canada’s flag flying on a hockey stick, we know that’s either for love of country, or a statement that Ottawa is surely harbouring Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. A young father recently explained to me why he and his family might leave for (good grief) the States. It’s Canada’s lack of freedoms, you see? P-u-h-lease. Go. Go travel. Get past your driveway. Start with visiting Brian.
Not that our government gets a free pass. I was so uninspired by the options in the last federal election, I voted Greens. In protest. Where are the Lauriers? The Diefenbakers? Where is the trust?
In either case, as a boy I did sometimes wonder if some unmarked government van might swing by the playground and pick me up. I’d be deported. Too much to explain here, but the day before my third birthday, my father and I met for the first time. As the story goes, with tempting sweets, he lured me from underneath a couch in my temporary home, in Bavaria, Germany. Soon after we flew to Canada. Dad Froese had acquired legal custody of me, but, apparently, without proper landing paperwork for me. Growing up Canadian, I was seemingly unknown, or illegal, or both.
Maybe it’s why I see Canada as a place that’s rather motherly. Robertson Davies put it well, writing, “I believe that Canada has a soul, and we should get to know it better.” It does. And we should.
Next up for the big Canada trip is my son, 18 next summer. The year after, I’ll take Child #3, the Ugandan-born girl. With any luck, long after I’m gone, these three kids will carry something promising into their own relationship with this nation. If they do – and I have confidence in them – they can say more.