What a wonderful place to spend some treasured time as we reflect upon our Canadian roots. Join us and our prayer is that you will be blessed many times over as you listen and enjoy some of the marvelous works of our Angels.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then we will begin...
#6 Yukon Rituals
Marcia Lee Laycock
The thin slip of red mercury barely rose above its bulbous pool at the bottom of the thermometer. The Yukon was proving its myths to be true. The place is more than cold.
When I ventured out, the mystery of it made me stand still, watching, listening. I knew I risked frozen lungs if I removed my scarf, but I could breathe out heavily through its wool and hear my breath crackle. I listened to the chortling ravens, their raucous voices
punctuating the thin stillness with incongruities, tropical noises mocking the cold. I watched their movements, their black bodies slipping through ice fog, their ragged-edged wings pulsing like whispers from a nether-world. They seemed the only creatures able to survive with comfort and even pleasure, in the midst of these harshest of elements. The Huskies seemed only to tolerate the cold.
Sleeping it out, curled in their mass of fur, noses tucked under tails, the dogs’ only distraction was a curled-lipped gnawing at chunks of frozen fish and the ice caked between their paws. No other creatures stirred.
Each day I chopped wood. Choosing the biggest stumps gave me the illusion of strength. At –60, every molecule of water in wood is crystallized. The blow of my axe splintered the fibres instantly. Tossing the brittle pieces into a pile, I almost expected them to shatter, like bits of fragile glass. They fell, not with the thud of wood, but with the clack, clack, clack of castanets.
My husband worked as a carpenter that winter, or tried to. Mummified in layers of clothing, he would haul the battery from behind the stove and step out into –60, his red mustache and eyebrows soon defined by frost from his own breath. I would watch through the window as he pulled a tarp over the truck’s hood, lit the Saskatchewan block heater (a tobacco can holding a roll of toilet paper soaked in kerosene), and positioned it under the oil pan. He would wait, squatting
once or twice to check the flame, then burst back into the cabin, a cloud of cold issuing from his stomping feet. After two or three cups of coffee he would try the ignition. Sometimes it started on that first try, sometimes it took a few attempts. Most of the time the truck would only go back and forth in the driveway, the steering wheel too stiff to turn the frozen drive train. My husband would come back in, chuckling, agreeing that in the battle of man against nature, sixty below had once again proven invincible.
Our rituals of winter continued until the sun returned in early March. I was reading, my feet propped up on the window sill, when I became aware that it had happened. The sun lay, at that moment, only a promise on the rim of the opposite hill, like the sudden glow behind a cloud that has darkened the landscape for too long. All that day I watched it, and the day after, and the next. As it slowly grew down the hill and across the valley, I longed for that moment when the pale light would stream through the windows of our cabin. The day came when I thought it would, but the world itself seemed to stand still when the golden light stopped and began to retreat again, at the end of our driveway. My whole being moaned. But finally the sun did touch the house, pouring through the windows with its faint warmth, breaking the grip of winter.
Now the rituals would change. Breakup would come, the thick river ice would begin to move with the growling rumble of a freight train, releasing the Yukon and Klondike rivers. And that soon followed by twenty-four- hour daylight, by the rush to plant broccoli, cabbage and carrots and to ready the greenhouse for tomatoes. The salmon would run again and fish wheels would begin their relentless turning, tossing thirty and forty-pound fish into traps,
putting an end to their struggle up Yukon tributaries to their spawning grounds. Snow geese and swans would find their way back to their breeding grounds and the caribou would move across the barren land to the north. Tourists too would make their annual pilgrimage to the gold fields, exclaiming at the show of slivers of ‘colour’ in rented gold pans.
We would all tune our bodies and minds to the fast pace of the short summer. But always the awareness was there, the urgency just below the surface of every thought, every decision.
Get ready. Winter is coming.
#5 A Child Immigrant Comes to Canada
Rose McCormick Brandon
“I can never regret coming to Canada. I have had to work hard but I don’t mind that for I love to work.” Grace Griffin Galbraith, my grandmother, wrote these words in 1928. She was twenty-five and a perfect candidate for regret. She immigrated to Canada as an eight year-old with her sister, Lily. The two, and later their brother, Edward, arrived through a child immigration agreement between the United Kingdom and Canada. After their father’s death and their mother’s remarriage, Grace and her siblings were placed in the Annie MacPherson Home for Children in the east end of London, England. They remained there until their mother’s death, after which their paternal grandmother signed the Canada Clause giving the Home permission to send the children to Canada.
Thus, Grace became one of more than one hundred thousand children to immigrate to Canada between 1869 and 1939. She landed in Quebec on May 13, 1912.
Most child immigrants became indentured servants contracted to work as farm hands and mother’s helpers. Lily was sent to Toronto and Grace to a southern Ontario farm. At the end of her thirty-day trial period Grace was returned to MacPherson’s Canadian Home in Stratford because she “not wholly satisfactory.” This isn’t surprising since she had never been on a farm. Her next placement also ended after thirty days.
Grace’s third placement took her to Manitoulin Island. This home welcomed her at first but later reneged on their contractual responsibility to send Grace to school for at least three months each year. One day, a local minister, Rev. Munroe, arrived at the farm and found Grace in alarming condition. He immediately removed her and took her to live with a family that attended his church, the Gilpins. She stayed at this safe and kind home until her marriage at age seventeen.
One year after her marriage to James Galbraith, a farmer with Scottish roots, Grace received the sad news that Lily had died of tuberculosis. She wrote, “It was lonesome for me when Lily died. I missed her sisterly letters.”
Meanwhile, Grace’s brother, Edward, who had the good fortune to live with a couple who considered him a son and included him in their will, had returned to England where he visited relatives and contacted MacPherson’s for information about his sisters. On his return to Canada, he began a search for Grace. By the time he found her they had been separated for fourteen years.
Grace wrote, “I always have a longing to see some of my folks.” She also made the sad statement, “I can never remember seeing my mother.” How happy she must have been to reunite with her brother. Edward spent a lot of time on Manitoulin with Grace and then moved from Southern Ontario to Sudbury to be closer to her.
By 1928 when Grace wrote that she had no regrets about coming to Canada, she was married, had re-united with Edward and had four daughters. (A son arrived later.) Her difficult childhood days over, Grace’s writings reveal a full and happy life. “I have a good and loving husband and a good home. We have a 100 acre farm, a large barn and a fairly good house. Jim is very good to help me. He is very fond of children. We have our place paid for now and I must add that we have a 1918 model car but we intend dealing on a new one next spring.”
The Home Children were unprepared for the harshness and isolation of Canadian farm life. One boy expressed it this way: “When I landed on that farm, I looked up and said, ‘Oh God, where am I?’” Whereas most immigrants form communities in their adopted homelands, these children were scattered in ones and twos throughout Canada’s towns and farms. Like Grace, most had more than one placement making it difficult to put down roots.
As we celebrate Canada’s 150 anniversary, it’s estimated that the descendants of Canada’s child immigrants, the Home Children, make up ten percent of the population. This period in our history serves to remind us how much immigration practices have changed. Today, no serious consideration would be given to a program that sends children overseas to live with and work for strangers. What a debt our country owes these young ones who endured heartbreak and loneliness to become some of Canada’s hardiest and most dedicated citizens.
Grace might have become bitter. Instead, she, like most child immigrants, chose to find hope in her new land. Grace’s positive attitude is reflected in her statement - “I can never regret coming to Canada.”
Grace spent her last twelve years at The Lodge in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island where she passed away at age ninety-nine in 2003.
#4Adventure on the Halifax Wharf
We planned a bus tour of historic Halifax as the culmination of a ten-day Maritime holiday. Already we had seen so many things, taken rolls and rolls of film and made memories to last a lifetime. The day before, en route to our historic hotel, we discovered that navigating old Halifax with its labyrinth of streets whose names occasionally changed without a change in
direction, could prove difficult. That fear of getting lost again coupled with the excitement of the day ahead motivated us to finish breakfast early and head to the Halifax Wharf to catch our tour bus. After an uneventful drive we arrived with more than an hour to wait.
The sun shone in a cloudless sky, hinting at the warmth of the late summer day to come. My daughter and I wandered along an almost empty wharf while my husband went in search of a cup of coffee. With so few people enjoying this early Sunday morning hour, no one minded how often I stopped to take photos of the many types of boats anchored along the way. Nothing at home on the prairies could compare to the sights and sounds of the wharf.
Tall-masted ships, fun tour boats and older ships belonging to the Maritime museum bobbed side by side in the relatively calm water. Then we spied a full size version of Theodore Tugboat, the main character in a children's TV series that my grandchildren loved to watch. I snapped a few photos before we continued our walk. I couldn't wait for the grand-children's reaction to the photos.
As we continued exploring a group of photographers captured my attention. These gentlemen carried expensive cameras, tripods and light meters. Once in a while they passed close enough to allow me to hear snippets of their conversation. My curiosity was piqued when I heard words like “lighting”, “angles” and comments on scenes they planned to shoot. I wondered what they planned to film and when. Would we be able to watch a movie shoot? This would be a fantastic finish to a wonderful holiday.
I pushed these daydreams away as we walked back for a couple more photos of Theodore Tugboat. I positioned my daughter as close to the boat as possible. Just before I snapped the picture one of the men spoke to me.
"Why don't you let me take a picture of you and your daughter? I'm sure you'd like that."
As I turned to hand him my camera he added a few words that caused me to hesitate.
"I do have a condition. Well rather a two- part condition. First are you mother and daughter like we assume you are?" he added even as he pointed to the other men carrying all the fancy camera equipment. "Secondly would you be willing to be in a video we are shooting?"
My thoughts rushed through my mind. How much time until the bus leaves. I glanced up and down the wharf hoping to see my husband rush toward us. My face must have betrayed the confusion
He quickly added further explanation, "We're shooting a documentary about the life and times of Canadian and Maritime singer/songwriter Sarah McLaughlin. Right now we're doing some background shots using ordinary people instead of actors. This particular shot requires a mother and young adult daughter to walk along the wharf and across the little bridge just beyond the tugboat. This would portray Sarah meeting her birth mother at this spot."
Before I could reply he added, "You do know who Sarah McLaughlin is, don't you?"
"Yes I've heard of her." I replied.
Another quick glance at my watch revealed lots of time until the tour left, and since my husband had not returned from coffee. I thought to myself, "How hard could it be to continue our walk hand in hand before crossing that little wooden bridge at the end of the wharf for their video."
My daughter remained skeptical but I finally convinced her it wouldn't take too long. We should be finished well in time to still make it to our tour. Besides how hard could it be? I gave our consent to be filmed.
Four takes later, having finally slowed my daughter down from a power walk to a leisurely pace, we stopped mid-bridge, right at the mark the crew had placed for us. We gazed around at the buildings on one side, the water and ships on the other while deep
in conversation for a brief time. On a prearranged signal from the crew we continued across the rest of the bridge.
“It's a wrap.” the camera man said. “We have everything we need for this part of the video. Thanks so much.” With those words we were dismissed from service and they continued discussing further scenes.
What an unexpected adventure! What a story to tell about our fun, short- lived acting career on the wharf in Halifax. Our video shoot finished before my husband returned from finding a cup of coffee. In all the excitement of the morning I forgot to ask when the video would air or any other particulars about the photo shoot. I wondered if anyone would even believe my story. I decided right then and there it didn't really matter. I would always have the memory of an unplanned adventure one bright, sunny morning on the Halifax wharf.
(*Previously published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada c 2011)
#3 Flight AC7485
Elaine Ingalls Hogg
“Oh no!” I grumbled to myself. I was waiting at Pearson Airport in Toronto for a flight to Saint John, New Brunswick and after three jam-packed days of lectures, story-telling and late nights all I wanted to do was get on the plane, plunk myself in the seat by the window, close my eyes and grab a nap. But when I read the departure board, I knew things weren’t going to unfold in such a
timely manner for my plane, already scheduled to arrive home after midnight, was delayed for yet another hour.
Somewhere between thoughts of disappointment because of the unexpected delay and my longing to get home, I was reminded of the closing remarks Dr. Joel Freeman had made to the more than 200 authors and editors gathered at the Write! Canada Conference. “Look at travel delays and unexpected events as an opportunity to study people and perhaps discover something to write,” he had said but I was in no mood to follow his advice.
Sometime after midnight I boarded the plane and made my way down its narrow aisle. Perhaps I’m mistaken I thought as I searched the numbers overhead and matched them to the ones on my boarding pass. No, I’m right. Someone is in my seat.
“Excuse me, I think you’re in the wrong seat,” I said after I’d stuffed my backpack in the overhead bin. The occupant, a heavy set, middle-aged man, glared at me. I pointed to the number on my boarding pass, and the oversized man heaved a sigh. I always get the best nap on the plane when I’m by the window and by now I really felt the need of some sleep before I needed to drive for another hour after the plane landed.
With slow, deliberate movements, the gentleman moved to let me in. “Thank you,” I said, but didn’t acknowledge me. Instead, he fastened his belt, lowered the armrest between our seats and folded his arms across his chest. His attitude and body language seemed to confirm that he was a non talker. Good, I thought. Perhaps I really will be able to catch the nap my body craves.
As the plane took off and reached for the sky, my seatmate kept staring out the window. I turned away, pretending I hadn’t noticed him but before I could close my eyes, I heard him say, “It’s so beautiful!” The lights of the city dotted the night sky like the lights on the game of “Lite Brite*” my children played with when they were small.
“Yes, it is,” I agreed all the while keeping my head turned to the window.
“I don’t speak very well when I’m tired.”
“A long travel day?”I asked, turning to look at him.
“Twenty-five hours,” he said. “I’m so excited to go to Saint John.”
I was torn between wanting to know why he was excited and wanting to sleep. Conversation would be a challenge I decided because I could barely understand his words. I closed my eyes and was relieved when he settled back in his chair. Silence hung between us. The plane rose higher then I heard him say, “Like someone lined the lights up with a ruler.”
I hid the long sigh that threatened to escape my lips. There was no mistaking it, I was seated beside a talker, not just any talker but one who had such a heavy accent that I had to concentrate in order to understand what he was saying.
“Do you know New Brunswick?” he asked. “Would I be able to find work there? What is it like?” While the plane soared through the night sky, I answered his questions about the cost of housing, the weather, the Fundy tides, the schools and our health care system.
When a new set of lights, much smaller than those we’d seen at the beginning of our flight, I was amazed at how agitated my seatmate became. “Is that Saint John?”
“Yes, the lights of the runway are over there to the right.”
“I’m so excited.” And as the plane began its decent, he continued, “Could I find a quiet place for my family?”
Throughout our last moments of conversation he shared he was leaving a war-torn country, one where bombings were becoming a way of life.
The pilot brought the plane with a gentle landing. “O Canada,” I heard my seatmate say. “I can’t wait until tomorrow morning to see what my new country is really like.”
Three years ago at another Write! Canada Conference we had sung this verse of O Canada:
“Ruler supreme, who hears our humble prayer,
Hold our dominion within thy loving care;
Help us to find, O God, in thee
A lasting, rich reward,
As waiting for the Better Day,
We ever stand on guard.”
R. Stanley Weir
Tonight, as I saw again my great country through the eyes of my seatmate, a newcomer to Canada, I was reminded just what a wonderful nation I call home.
(*Previously published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada c 2011)
#2 Sometimes I Climb Mountains
Sometimes I climb mountains and stand on snow-covered peaks and watch a rolling panorama of clouds drift by all around me. Down in the valley the world sits, a miniature grid of rivers and roads and towns, people busy in an existence that doesn’t involve me as I stand in heaven detached from it all. I stretch my arms wide open into a clear blue sky and inhale deeply the pure bliss of it all.
. . . But it’s not home.
Sometimes I swim in aquamarine oceans, floating, bobbing gently over waves and watch a world of colour bubble below me. Coral in rainbow hues, shapes and sizes that stretch the imagination with brain-like humps, tree-like projections and wispy tendrils sway in the ocean current in oranges, pinks, blues, and purples. Fish, hundreds of them in every shade ever created, swim in undulating schools around me. Clams, lying on the ocean floor, display their neon-blue interiors to a watery world. Larger waving creatures swim lazily by, leaving dark shadows in the distance. I think I could float forever in this wondrous world of mystery and beauty.
. . . But it’s not home.
Sometimes I wander the Garden of Eden, a tropical world of scented flowers, twisting vines and tall palm trees. The sun warms me as I close my eyes and let its rays penetrate my bones. I am unencumbered with loose, flowing clothes; the gentle breezes cool and lift my spirit. This is a world of turquoise, lime and pink, pastel colours that soften the soul. There is no rushing here, no hastiness to complete a day. Just quiet and gentleness that soothes and comforts and says, “Breathe. Relax. Rest in this tranquillity.”
. . . But it’s not home.
Sometimes I walk cobblestone lanes lined with thatched roof cottages. Patchwork fields, edged in hedgerows and cows, stretch over rolling hills. Herds of bleating sheep compete for space as I wander down dusty roads and across fields of grass. Ancient stories reside here in monolithic rocks, rising in circles that speak of ritual and magic. Fairies dance in the morning dew and the dark forests hide secrets of beastly denizens. History is told over pints of foaming brew and pots of steeped tea as smiling faces invite me in to sit by the fire. I am welcome here.
. . . But it’s not home.
My home is maple trees running thick with sap in the spring. It is flowers bravely peeping up through melting snow in bright slashes of colour. In the summer, I can float in a cool, clear lake and watch schools of fresh-water fish swim deep through underwater canyons. Here I stand in awe of a red, orange and gold vista that stretches across a countryside in autumn glory.
Snowflakes fall gently on my hair and eyelashes, frozen icicles sparkle in the cool sun, blankets of purity coat a white world of winter wonder. Limestone escarpments, rushing waterfalls and towering pines compete with soaring skyscrapers and ribbons of highway that stretch from coast to coast. This is a big country, resplendent with natural wonders and a hard-working people comfortable in their own skins. This is where I belong, my birthplace. The cool waters run through my veins, granite and limestone form the bedrock of my soul. Canada.
This is home.
*(Dedicated to the land and people of Grey Highlands Municipality, a beautiful piece of Canadiana countryside.)
Our first feature this evening is a poem written by an 11-year-old dreamy-eyed, 'in love with Canada' lass. It was written on the occasion of Canada's 100th birthday!
Thank you so much to Linda Stauth, for sending me this poem as a 'kick-off' to our Oh Canada week. So touching, especially as we think of this written from the heart of a young girl as she pondered her existence as a Canadian!
Of all the places in this world,
I think I’d rather be,
Is Canada, this glorious land,
So bountiful and free.
Our streets, our roads, our highways,
For many years will stand.
You can travel them in comfort,
They’re the best in any land.
We have such lengthy waterways,
And lakes and streams untold.
You couldn’t buy their beauty,
With silver or with gold.
There are places in this land of ours,
Where foot has never trod.
It truly is a sight to see,
Made by the hand of God.
It’s a land that’s very beautiful,
And I’m proud it’s where I live.
That’s why I sing ‘Oh Canada’,
For it, my life, I’d give.
Published in 1967 (Canada’s 100th Birthday) in WINDSOR’S BUDDING POETS
By Linda Wessel (LD Stauth)-11 years old.