Getting to know our nation’s soul

July 2, 2022

(Photo by Carla Froese)

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(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.

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July 2, 2022 • Posted in
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10 thoughts on “Getting to know our nation’s soul”

  1. Thank you, I was blessed to be a family that wanted to get to know Canada better also. We travelled all across Canada with a tent trailer, enjoying provincial parks and national parks. Cooking with our little Coleman camp stove. We just loved it. One summer from Ontario to BC, another summer from Ontario to PEI. In the ’60s the roads in Newfoundland where still gravel. Many years later, we took our daughter to Newfoundland, so we have seen all of our vast country of Canada. I would encourage families to keep it simple, and travel across our beautiful country.

  2. What a great read. You give us all a much needed perspective of our wonderful Canada. Thank you

  3. Debbie Dyment

    Thank you for this. It’s an encouragement to hear the positive about this land. The idea to travel is one that I talked about with others yesterday. I sometimes leave this country to travel. When I return, depending on where I’ve been, I either heave a sigh of relief and gratefulness that I am home or I have the urge to bend down and kiss the ground. This country is not perfect, but it is a good place. Let’s work to keep it good and make it better.

  4. Marilyn Meagher

    Thomas, sometimes it’s like you read my mind. We need to travel our own country more, get to know every corner and coast. We are incredibly blessed to be Canadians, most of us take it for granted and the apathy is becoming more and more widespread. I too voted Green due to a lack of faith in my chosen party. Sad state of affairs but until we can get some leadership that can actually lead we will be floundering along in a sea of mediocrity. Good for you for showing your children their beautiful country. In spite of the Indigenous plight and sadness I still choose to celebrate my country, I feel we still are worthy of greatness and can overcome our sins against each other. I’m travelling east this summer, five weeks on the east coast, Cape Breton, the home of my heart and birthplace of my parents, Newfoundland, glorious and beyond hospitable, our fourth trip there and Prince Edward Island. To recharge my batteries and replenish my soul and to be amongst Canadians who still know how to treat each other. To go where they will truly give you the shirt off of their backs and stand on the brakes to let you cross the street. To listen to homespun music and stories and see people who treasure family and friends above all. Who still have faith ..there is nothing like it. Consider it if you have not yet for the next 18-year-old’s journey. You won’t be sorry. Thank you as always for your insightfulness and honestly. I always appreciate reading your thoughts. Sincerely, Marilyn Meagher

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