Spirit Quest


Spirit Quest

'When I came to Canada there were three cities: one French

one English, and one Ukrainian — the most important one'

Winnipeg was where the Eaton's Catalogue was mailed

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

It being Canada Day I feel I should write something about what became my home and native land.

Canada was discovered by Leif the unLucky long ago, but he didn’t stay. The motel at l’Anse aux Medeau was ill equipped for people wearing horns on their heads. Giovanmi Caboto (1450 - 1499) was an Italian, known as John Cabot by the English for whom he worked, and also in our Canadian history books. He came again and again and claimed this country for the British crown.

I discovered Canada in 1939 on my 10th birthday. On that day I was shown a map of North America with a huge land mass sitting atop of the USA. On the east it was bounded by an ocean, on the west it was bordered by mountains, on the south were the Niagara Falls and on the north was, well, nothing.

I discovered that this land had two seasons: winter, and I experienced snowstorms in early May and late August, and the season of Flies, mostly mosquitoes, blood thirsty little buzzards on relentless attack for my European hemoglobin. I soon discovered a third season, the In-between Season. It was quite useless for anything, too wet to farm, and you better have your harvest in before it came again.

The Canada I came to know had three cities: Montreal, which was French, Toronto, which was English, and Winnipeg, which was Ukrainian. The latter was very important inasmuch as it was the address of the mail order department of the T Eaton Company. The Winnipeg Man was Mr. Eaton, the most important man in Canada who twice a year sent us a thick and glossy magazine with description and pictures of everything from the latest in horse harnesses to ladies unmentionables. It thus was a very important learning manual for teenage boys.

I soon learned more and so did much of the world as it made its way to these shores. My family came to escape Hitler’s conquest of Europe. Buffered by an ocean we came to feel relatively safe. So did many others.

Unlike European countries, which strove to remain German or French, Italian or Spanish, Canada became multicultural and multilingual and was proud of it, well mostly. This influx has made vast improvements in our style of living. We now have indoor toilets and outdoor restaurants, the latter unknown until the 60s where they serve delicious dishes from all around the world.

Canadians did not stay at home but learned to love to travel the world. They went abroad to fight and shop and spoke English like our southern neighbours, well sort of.

But Canada has changed. Once upon a time and not so long ago our country was admired for its openness, generosity and peace-loving nature. Our youth travelled the world; glad to identify themselves as Canadians on jackets and backpacks and ball caps, and seniors on their luggage. We took great care to distinguish ourselves from our brash cousins of the south.

Unfortunately our reputation has changed, suffered, shall I say. The world is confused about Canadian intentions. The spirit of Pearson as peacemaker is remembered but long gone. The spirit of Tommy Douglas has been dissipated by political and economic reservations. The bold and spirited leadership of Trudeau has been replaced by cautious, regressive Conservatives. Harper staunchly supports Israel’s policy of settlements in Palestine, after all we did the same thing here. We along with Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have now built a firewall with asbestos to protect our industry from the rest of the world. Our business community is more interested in selling raw materials than manufacturing the things we need.  At Copenhagen we managed to scuttle efforts to pass measures to deal with global warming. I am sure you can add to this list, which isn’t anywhere near complete.

We have become known for riots on ice and on the streets. In many ways our American neighbours are more progressive than we. Many states are closing their prisons while we build more. We are buying fighter jets at an unknown but enormous price for purposes hard to define. We celebrate this weekend the visit of those royal newlyweds who their country is finding more and more difficult to afford.

As a child, a newcomer to this country, I truly thought it had been empty, at least by European standards. But North America was anything but. Canada was a multilingual and multicultural country long before the white man came. They have since been crowded into reserves. In her closing remarks the departing auditor general, Sheila Fraser, chided government for neglecting our aboriginal people. Unfortunately they have remained the low men on the totem pole.

O Canada, I sing our national anthem enthusiastically but prefer the words of the second verse:

O Canada, where pines and maples grow,

Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.

How dear to us this broad domain,

From East to Western sea

This land of hope for all who toil,

The True North Strong and Free.

I recall shortly after arriving in this country, the teacher in that one room public school in northern Saskatchewan insisted that we learn to sing that verse. At the time I had only the vaguest notion of Canada as a land of lordly rivers. They were but thick black lines on a map. Though our school was called Pine Ridge those trees were scarce. As for maples their beautiful colours would have to wait until we migrated east to be discovered.

But for those who had come to escape the wars and economic hardships this was a land of hope. Unfortunately it took a war to end the Great Depression and to provide jobs for those who were unafraid to toil. That depression was caused by capitalist greed that has not abated. Left uncontrolled it wreaked havoc in the US a couple of years ago and still threatens the viability of the world’s most powerful nation.

For me this Canada is still the True North and a spirit of strength and freedom flows in our veins and greets me every day.

O Canada, our home and native land!


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