Thanksgiving 2019

“Legacy is not what I did for myself, it’s what I’m doing for the next generations” – Vitor Belfort

Thanksgiving Day is upon us and one constant I hear every year is “why is the Canada Thanksgiving not held at the same time as the American one?”. For those that don’t know the reasons are very different but the driving force is the same. Briefly put Canadian Thanksgiving is an evolving process that, in Canada, can be tracked back to the arrival of Sir Martin Frobisher in 1578. It is a celebration to mark the safe arrival on the eastern shoreline of what is now Nunavut. The first European Thanksgiving like meal was salted beef, biscuits and mushy peas.

It grew from there and eventually incorporated the First Nations custom of celebrating the end of the harvest season. This came about, in part, when Samuel de Champlain, in 1606, introduced the practice of rotating feasts known as the “Order of Good Cheer” with the invitation to the local Mi’kmiq to attend the celebrations. The Mi’kmiq helped introduce the bounty of the harvest and the celebration moved away from the salted beef to more seasonal produce of the field and wild game (usually turkey due to the size of the bird).

The Order of Good Cheer began as a way to celebrate advancements and today is an award by the Government of Nova Scotia as a way to recognize individuals or groups who have advanced the province. The first “official” Thanksgiving was recognized as a national day happened on November 6, 1879. That date eventually began to conflict with “Armistice Day (now Remembrance Day) so in 1957 an act of Parliament designated the second Monday of October to become the official Thanksgiving and we are now where we are. Each year we celebrate those things which we are grateful for. This year, for me, I am paying homage to a group of young Calgarians quietly working away in their spare time to make Calgary a better city, the YYCShapers.

Picture of YYCShaper group compromised of Jane, Cassidee, Chelsea, Rachelle, Sajjad, Craig and myself
One “Hub” of the YYCShapers Jane, Cassidee, Chelsea, Rachelle, Sajjad, Craig and myself

I had the opportunity to “shepherd” a select group of YYCShapers around the community of Beltline. This organization, made up primarily of local Millennial professionals pick small challenges and create a project to affect that challenge. They are focused on improving the tapestry of our city, not reweaving a brand new tapestry. They approach challenges in small bites based on personal interests and timeliness of the challenge. The individuals that reached out to me have a particular interest on “accessibility” issues in the City. From a purely advisory perspective I took them on a tour of the Beltline to highlight some of the fine points, but often overlooked, aspects of access. To heighten the level of this experience I offered up my back-up wheelchair so they could actually experience the personal perspective.

A picture of one group member trying to keep up with me in my wheelchair being completely oblivious to the lag in distance between us.
The struggle to keep up to the more experience wheelchair user by Tomkins Park

We did about a four block traverse around the Tomkins Park area. Each of them had an opportunity to try out the chair. The first person to try the chair (besides Craig) was Jane. As she was sitting down and handing her purse off to Craig to carry for her I asked what she would do if she had no one to hand the purse off to. I think that was probably the first “light on” moment. We spoke briefly regarding wheelchair life, that it is not just access but a different way of planning.

There were also numerous “lights on” moments for myself. When you live it you tend to forget or take certain issues for granted. One of the most common observation was how the wheelchair “pulled” towards the road. Again something I never really notice anymore but every sidewalk is on a mild slant so water runs off the sidewalk to the curb that lead to storm drains. It is nor a major slant and one that goes unnoticed until you are fighting with your wheelchair to keep going in a straight line.

A picture with two of the tour members advising a third member in the wheelchair on how to manoeuvre an uneven curb cut
Sajjad getting advice on how to tackle an uneven curb-cut

One of the most common observation was that not all curb cuts are created equally, something a more seasons wheelchair user is well aware of. I was rather oblivious to some of the issues being faced by some trying the wheelchair. As I sauntered along the walk discussing certain issues with other members of the group I was a neglectful shepherd to some of the challenge being encountered by the inexperience wheelchair users. I turned around just in time to see Sajjad trying to go backwards off the curb-cut, a dangerous method even for the more experienced user. Fortunately two of the group were offering support for safety sake whereas I should have shown him how to “pull a small wheelie” to jump the asphalt lip that creates a sandwich effect to the actual curb-cut. However everyone survived and I believe an enjoyable evening was had by all with many teachable moments for all involved.

Picture of an older building with a one step entrance into a sidewalk business with a small portable ramp
Portable ramps used by small businesses

This is only the first step in their project to get ten businesses on board to try “portable” ramps that make small businesses along 17th Avenue more accessible. Their hopes are to partner with some local organizations while working outside the traditional “silo” approach to project development. Their hope is to have this ready to go with the opening of the summer tourist season of 2020. Lots of time to organize but also all types of little hurdles to overcome including a local regulatory system that is more of a barrier than a solution.

We ended the the evening over a warm drink in a new local grocery store. This also provided an opportunity to experience grocery shopping from a wheelchair. Aisles can look much narrower when you are sitting in a chair and those top shelf items might as well be on a mountain top. It was a pleasant evening and I believe a lot of things were accomplished from access to understanding wheelchair use while opening up generational lines of communication.

This year for Thanksgiving I am grateful knowing there is a new generation of future policy makers that are open to the issues faced by everybody. Thanks to YYCShapers…enjoy your turkey

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