Happy Canada Day 2015
(Editor’s Note: Pat Blythe shares a stirring speech from 1991 in Celebration of Canada Day 2015)
We, as a country, have our issues. Canada is not immune to political woes and embarrassments. We are not impervious to the stupidity of our politicians on either the local or international stage. We are not exempt from the ludicrous and foolish follies of our leaders or, sometime the downright unthinking cruelty of their decisions. But to many around the world we are still “Canada the good”, THE place to live, to settle, to raise families. ….and although sometimes we appear to roll over and play dead, don’t piss us off too much….there’s a lot more to us than meets the eye….
So, as I was sorting through some mail I had set aside for future reading I came across this story. I almost threw it out with barely a glance but something stopped me. I read it three times and found it to be both poignant and profound. A beautiful and unique way of looking was what it means to “be Canadian”. Although I did not write this, I felt compelled to share this story. To take a moment and think how proud we are, how fortunate we are, how extremely privileged we are to live in a country that is as bit and beautiful and diverse as Canada. It will touch something in all of you.
I have taken the liberty of adding some pictures and a few pieces of music. I hope you enjoy reading this as much I do in sharing it. — PB
The Cameron Family had been in Canada (at the time this article was printed) for 185 years. The following is a speech written by George Cameron Sloan and presented to the Descendants of Archibald Cameron. It is very much the story of every Canadian.
So much of the debate over what it is to be Canadian and about national unity has been about how we see this country now and in the future. George C. Sloan, a descendant of an old Canadian family provides an unusual and evocative perspective through the prism of the past.
That very first night, in the snow
Imagine that you are Donald Cameron, the first of the sons here, and his first wife Christian. It’s March 1, 1821. You’re weary from the months of travel and the weeks of walking. On the ground the snow is two feet deep. But at last you’re on your own land, 50 acres of forest with only a small natural clearing. As night falls, you build a fire, and with only blankets, each other and the fire, you lie down to spend your first night in the cold still blackness of home.
As you lay in that silent trench in the snow, did you imagine that almost a hundred years later, two of your grandsons would lift themselves out of another trench? Did the whine of the bullets, the artillery shells exploding startle you? Could you smell the biting scent of the cordite or the mustard gas? Did you feel the boys rise and surge forward to attack the enemy machine gun nests? Were you with Roy and Grover as they knocked out one, then two, and then themselves were felled? Did the quiet of the first night return with a slap, as silence did to them? You’d never heard of Flanders Field where both would come to rest, but perhaps your fingers could somehow feel the medals won, the Military Cross For Bravery, or your mind’s eye could see the red bloom of the poppies on the field.
And when the lone wolf howled that night, did you know that sound would follow two of your great-grandsons on a wild adventure up the might Mackenzie to Dawson City? Seventy-eight years after you lay in the snow, Willie and Rob would tempt the river’s winter fury, win, and rush up the Rat River to Dawson. Did you hear the clink of the picks, the grumble of the sluices as Rob and Willie moiled for gold? Were you comforted by the thought that they would find enough to establish homesteads in the Yukon Territories and raise families there.
1849 – Lighthouse
As the ground beneath you soaked up your warmth that night, could you see the crops that would burst eagerly from the rich soil to stand dancing in the breeze? Did you know that your second child would follow that breeze west, that only 30 years later she would stand on the prairies and admire the golden wheat fields sprung from virgin soil? As you huddled against the cold that night, did it warm you to know that the prairies would be opened up to feed the world by your children and theirs?
As you pulled the blanket around you that crystal cold night, did you know that many of your descendants, in every generation from your grandchildren on, would ensure that the blankets of the injured and ill, the sick, the dying, and the newly born would be snugly tucked in? Could you see the starched white uniforms of your granddaughters who turned to nursing? Could you hear the clack of the buckboard wheels, the whinny of the horses as your great-grandson Dan hurried from Kipling to Yorkton, the only doctor for a hundred miles around? Did you hear the growl of the jaguar, the yip of the monkeys as your great-grandson Colin doctored on in the jungles and plantations of Brazil? Did you see the lights dance beneath the Arctic ice as the Inuit explored the ice caves left accessible when the tide quits Grise Fjord where your thrice-great-granddaughter Daphne is doctor to the Arctic people?
Graduating class of nurses circa early 1900s
Dr. with horse drawn buggy 1894
When the great horned owl streaked silently over you that night, did you hear instead the hungry growl of engines clawing the air to throw planes into combat? When the owl circled higher, could you see your thrice great-grandson Richard give order to launch the jets from the aircraft carrier he captained? And when the owl hurled itself recklessly at the mouse in the snow, did you flinch as twice-great-grandson Cameron died while in the RCAF?
Sky Pilot – Eric Burdon & The Animals
When the owl alit on the ice-covered twigs, did the wind chime tinkle transform into the rhythmic tink-tink-tink of metal hitting concrete, half a planet away? It’s the beggar man with no legs. He sits on the curb outside the Canadian Embassy in a land called the Philippines. Your thrice-great-granddaughter Jennifer sees him every day. As the Ambassador’s wife, she must move among the people.
When your fire crackled and wheezed for more, did you hear the screams of your great-great-granddaughters Jennie and Jessie as they were consumed in the N.Y. Belmont Hotel fire of 1920? Did the screams echo on to your thrice-great-granddaughter Carolyn, murdered in Toronto, to your grandson Archie when he died in a gravel pit collapse, to your four times great-grandson John, shot dead by a burglar? Was it suddenly colder that night because you somehow knew that your great grandsons Elmer and Ronald would try to turn a live mortar shell into a bicycle headlamp and die oh so young for their folly, and there was nothing you could do to help any of them?
But no, it wasn’t a gripping cold because you had an abiding faith in God and took comfort in the certain knowledge that such tragedies are as much a part of life as the wolf, the snow, the fire.
’39 – Queen
And so you must have known that night there would follow from you some quite remarkable men and women, for whom love of God and fellow man would serve as beacons in lives of service. How wonderfully proud you must have felt that night to sense them. Your great-grandson Marshall who would serve his townsfolk for 11 years as an elected official and for a lifetime as friend and volunteer. Your thrice great-grandson Charles would serve as Treasure of Ontario. Your thrice great-grandson Alex would serve his community as a lawyer and we descendants as an ever faithful champions of our reunions.
And when the sun peaked over the horizon, when that first night ended and your first day on your land began, did you linger awhile before rising to savour the last fleeting images of what was to come?
Did the smells run together with the last of your fire; Heather’s newspaper, the ozone of Gary’s hydro lines, Gwynneth’s Burger King, Roland’s cattle? Did the sounds grow from the Queen’s whispered congratulations to Ruby, the only field nurse decorated for bravery, to the call to order of Alex’s courtroom, to the shouts of the baseball game and children’s play, to the sounds of our industry run together, June’s sewing machine, Bill and Jack’s printing presses, Bill’s newscasts, Lionel’s teaching, Sandra’s banking? Did it grow as tractors were turned on to till the fields, trains rumbled by carrying our products to market, planes roared to life to defend our liberty, and a child’s first cry thrilled a mother?
And when the sun was so high that it finally blurred your visions, when the birdsong stilled the engines’ roar, when your strange dream was over, when you stood at last to survey your future, did you smile to know that it was your future too? That Jeff and Jenny and John, Jeremy Darryl and Dawn, Christina, Cory and Candace and a thousand other young men and women, your 6th, 7th and 8th great grandchildren would be here 185 years later, to take the dream into space, under the sea, into the microscopic, into new ways of thinking, new forms of government, wherever being free might take them?
I’m sure you did smile. Your descendants smile still, knowing that each of us is special, that somehow we were there with you that night in the snow.
Printed in the Toronto Star, Canada Day, 1991
O Canada – National Anthem
Happy Birthday Canada!!
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!