Spirit Quest

Spirit Quest

Ottawa has transformed in the past 10 years

'We are not the same but we are One'

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

28 January 2011 — It is now ten years since we purchased our home in Ottawa. Long distance house shopping is not an easy task. We had lived in the city of Owen Sound on beautiful Georgian Bay for eleven years. However it is a good six to seven hours drive from where our family lives and as I jokingly say: we wanted to be a more present problem to our children.

Along with death and marriage, moving is considered to be one of the greatest stress producers in life. Downsizing our former home, from three bedrooms, a den and full basement, a garage with all its storage space, to a two bedroom condo unit is no easy task. It required a full inventory of our possessions. Decisions of what to take and what to donate is painful in itself.

Besides the physical move there is also the separation from friends and the leaving behind of a familiar and beautiful environment.

We are no strangers to moving. Being a clergyman entails relocations. Before coming to Owen Sound we had been 21 years in Toronto but in two different locations, and before that had lived in Almonte, Kingston and Halifax after our marriage. Each move had been a wrenching experience. I have had enough of moves and vow that a funeral home will be my next mover.

In my ministry I have discovered some who have lived all their lives in one place, even one home. I recall a woman who was born and died in the same house.  I always wondered whether I envied or pitied them. On the one hand they enjoyed a sense of permanence and belonging, but on the other hand they were deprived of new experiences.

We live in a world that is on the move. Historians refer to Voelkerwanderung, one of those wonderful hybrid words Germans are famous for.  From earliest times people have moved seeking new and fresh environment for their live stock, or fled from an approaching enemy. Everywhere  people swept across continents and oceans to find new homes. Homo Sapiens are an itinerant species.

I arrived in Canada in the spring of 1939 as refugees from the Nazi threat.  At that time our cities were quite monochromatic , but since the end of World War II  the population has changed drastically. First it was Europeans, then all the world. Riding our public transport in Toronto, but also in Ottawa, can be a fascinating experience  as you rub shoulders  with people of every tongue and colour.  We are exposed to a babble of languages. Different cultures expose us to different foods, music and customs. It is a rich environment.

Our neighbours to the south have also changed. While they strove to be a melting pot, Canada made efforts to be more like a mosaic. In other words we do not want to be the same, but add our differences to a glorious mixture.

In spite of the constant commercial and cultural pressure from our southern neighbour we have remained apart. Our border with the United States was hailed as the longest undefended border in the world, but no more as US Homeland Security makes evident.  There has always been a moment known as Continentalism, aiming to bring the North American countries, Canada, Mexico and the United States under one roof.  Some day it might happen but in the meantime we value being Canadians, members of the True North.

For ten years now we have lived in Ottawa. We have come to enjoy the bilingualism and multicultural nature of this city. Ottawa has changed remarkably since the 60s when we lived in nearby Almonte. We think it  is a rich, more colourful community than we remember.

Wrenching as our move had been we are glad to have made the transition. We sense a Spirit in this city, a growing vibrancy even from when we came in the year 2001. Watch the skaters on the canal, the shoppers in the markets, the children in our schools, the people with whom we share the sidewalk and the roads. We are not the same but we are One.