As a writer/photographer I always try to find inspiration for stories by interacting with individuals, learning more about their experiences, observing the world from a distance, maybe even capturing it in an image. The opportunity to engage with people and then write their stories has enriched my life immensely. Those individuals I’ve interviewed in the past all have a common thread: perseverance, passion, survival, dedication, humility, community and true Canadian spirit. Recently, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is our Canadian anthem and specifically, its words “O Canada, our home and native land”. That line certainly evokes a warm comfortable emotion reminding us that in Canada, we are not strangers and our anthem pays homage to the fact that our “home” is one of the greatest places to live.
Some years ago, I had the privelegde of interacting with a group of young middle school students on a YMCA Youth Exchange trip between Mississauga, Ontario and Arviat, Nunavut.
You can read the article here: Riverside/Netsilik YMCA Youth Exchange
It was very interesting to hear the perspective from both sets of students but in the end it was evident that no matter where you live in Canada, there is a strong sense of community and an enthusiasm to share stories and traditions. I felt the same sentiment on visits to Manitoulin Island; a place that has a very calm and spiritual vibe. One particular visit, I attended a traditional Pow Wow – derived for the word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader” – but it now refers to a social gathering to sing, dance and celebrate First Nations traditions. The energy from the rhythmic beating of ceremonial drums complemented by the colorful Native headdresses and costumes, filled the arena and everyone was welcome to partake and learn about the ceremonies, food and legends from far and away native lands.
Another line in our anthem, “with glowing hearts, we see thee rise” reminds me of my article about pastor Hien The Chu, one of the Vietnamese boat people. His is a story of survival and perseverance, as it was for many immigrant families who have shaped and continue to shape Canada into the culturally rich, diverse country it is today.
An excerpt from the article – “Pastor Hien endured several failed attempts to escape his country. He explained how many people, from sheer desperation had no other choice but to set out in boats in search of a better life. When Hien arrived at the refugee camp in Palawan, he volunteered for the United Nations as an interpreter. He lived at the camp for two years and was then sponsored by his brother, who had escaped to Canada and eventually settled in Mississauga. I asked pastor Hien, what inspired him to keep focused as he endured his hardships and he replied – “I realized that in my life, there were so many things I could not control but in order to overcome this I had to have a very strong sense of self and to trust my inner voice.”
(Photo courtesy of pastor Hien The Chu)
I don’t doubt that along with trusting that everything would work out also came a feeling of relief and freedom once on Canadian soil. My family knows that sentiment all too well. We are also immigrants who left a home and family behind, running from fear due to a Civil War, and in search of a new home and a new opportunity to rebuild a fulfilling life. Our family stories are told and re-told as a reminder to appreciate each day in a free land. Such was the climate of fear “back-home” as each day brought fresh accounts of madness and terror and my mother tells me, “fear becomes a real part of you and you soon treat it as a friend, it is the only certainty in a world gone mad. You nurse it, you tend it, you calm it, you hide it…it is your constant companion.” I can appreciate the fact that when you finally shed that fear because you feel safe, then only can you feel the glow of freedom. This brings me to the line in our anthem – “keep our land, glorious and free”.
In two separate articles, I was honored to interview: Able Seaman Andrew Irwin, a World War II Veteran and Reservists, Captain Scott Moody and Petty Officer First Class Roy Adamson. Their stories were intriguing, admirable and speak of sacrifice, dedication and humility. On the world stage, Canada has always been known for its humanitarian efforts and the men and women who served and continue to serve our country are the caretakers of Canada’s freedom. Captain Scott Moody said it best – “When you are representing your country, whether at home or overseas, for the benefit of all humanity, you have to believe strongly that what you are doing will make a difference in the end.” These certainly are valuable qualities to hand down to future generations.
(Photo credit John Cicci)
After revisiting these articles and thinking about all the inspiring individuals I’ve interviewed, I can honestly feel what having true Canadian spirit is all about. Every time I hear our Canadian anthem being played at the start of Hockey Night in Canada or at an elementary school Remembrance Day ceremony, I have an overwhelming sense of emotion, pride and gratitude to be living in such an interesting country that is safe and free. When you look around at the voices proudly singing our anthem, they are voices from all walks of life – young generations looking up to older generations, all in unison; singing loud and proud. This land of such a diverse and rich melange of cultures, this land that is not my native land, but this is the land that I’m happy to call home, and it is because of this that it makes me proud to be Canadian.
© Ann Ivy Male 2015