Remembrance Day 2019

“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
John Diefenbaker

Picture of my father in his Legion dress coat proudly exhibiting the Legion crest, tie on and standing at the back of the SUV.  In the caption "Dad on his way to the Legions Remembrance Day celebration
Dad on his way to the Legions Remembrance Day celebration

This is Remembrance Day, that one day a year where we collectively commemorate and honour those who have fought or fallen for the great country of Canada. This year feels very different and it saddens me. I have heard many people this year tell me that the veterans are all dying off, as if age defines a veteran. The only thing age has a role in Remembrance Day is the acknowledgement of what conflict they fought in.

My dad and his peers fought in Europe during World War 2 but I know others who served in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 or the Libyan intervention in 2011. Age does not decide a veteran. A Canadian committed to all things Canadian does so even when it involves taking up arms for those unable to defend themselves. .

Many years ago people left the farm or the mining industry in Manitoba to stand up for the Canadian way. They left the wheat fields and potash mines of Saskatchewan to represent the ideals of Canadians. They left the logging and fishery industries of BC to take the diversity of Canada to stand against the rise of fascism in Europe. Teenagers were leaving the manufacturing lines and mining industries of Ontario bringing the diversity of Canada to help stranger from being slaughtered thousands of miles away. Thousands left good forestry jobs or the ranks of longshoreman from Quebec’s St. Lawrence Seaway to stand in unity and proudly display the compassion that the world know was Canadian. They left the fisheries and shipyards of the Maritimes as part of the diversity that has made Canada the pride of the world.

Many also left these diverse and fertile lands as peacekeepers. Canada had international attention as a strong contingent of blue beret clad peacekeepers. They helped maintain order during civil unrest in many parts of the world. Of just over 125,000 peacekeeper’s Canada has lost approximately 130 veterans. Even during times of peace the diversity and compassion of Canadians rose to the surface and stood out to help the world.

Jacob Wiens, military head stone with a vase of poppies with a small Canadian flag in front of it.  Captioned "RIP Dad"
RIP Dad

Canada has always been there for the world. Canada has always been diverse and compassionate. as a Canadian I am here, as was my father, for others. That is what Canada does, we extent a helping hand. Our strength is in our diversity and acceptance of others. The world knows that about us but it is being eroded.

I took the time in my life to live in other areas of our great country and build a better, more inclusive, understanding of exactly what Canada is. I was born in Manitoba, grew up in Alberta, lived and worked in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Before retiring I spend the last twenty years of my career living in BC but upon retirement I returned to Calgary. Calgary has always been home and I’m proud to be Calgarian. However with the hate and bigotry I see growing in Alberta it is becoming increasingly difficult to be proud.

We are a diverse nation and we should be proud of that. On today of all day’s we should be celebrating those brave individuals that went off to strange lands to defend a concept that was really alien to so many receiving the help. The world respected us and we respected ourselves. People like my father fought, worked and grew a family of proud Canadians.

We are proud Canadians because of the time and effort dad put into helping build this nation. He would never have used that energy to help grow those things he fought against, a nation intent on tearing itself apart. He was a proud vet who was there to help pick you up, not kick you down because you may have been marginalized in some way. He was there to extent a hand of friendship and provide assistance (he spend years as a scout master and that was his creed). It was never his intend to drag people down with the type of hateful rhetoric we see spewed today by so many self serving politicians.

I am proud to be Canadian and I am proud of our diversity. I know if my father were alive today he would be disgusted. The words “I didn’t fight for this” echo in my mind because I know that’s what he would be feeling. If you are truly a proud Canadian make everyday Remembrance Day and think about what got us here. To all of those vets out there, young or old, I salute you…AND LETS KEEP CANADA ALIVE!

The Western Migration

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

A couple of political events in Calgary and Alberta opened some curtains in the mist of some lost memories this week. That can be beneficial because it makes me think of how we got to where we are today, certain events on the development of Calgary and some of the irony generated by our past. The first was the issue over Calgary’s planned transit expansion, the Green Line and the second is the Alberta governments new labour law, Bill 9. Both of them stirred up childhood memories.

We are experiencing some elements in our current societal discourse regarding diversity and reacting like it’s something new. ALERT, it isn’t. My fathers legacy is buried deep in the world of the Mennonite faith. His ancestors had migrated to Canada in the late 18th century to avoid the religious persecution Mennonites were experiencing in many European countries of that time. With him came a diversity of faith. Large sectors of Mennonites settled to farm in what would eventually become Manitoba following Confederation.

Mennonites are pacifists and live almost communally. They are tight knit and dedicated to self sustainability. They were into environmental protection before anyone even knew what environmental threats were. This was reflected in their farming techniques, rotating crops, field left seasonally fallow and planting crops to meet the needs of the soil. This wasn’t a conscience plan, it was just common sense farming.

When WW2 came along many of my fathers generation of the Mennonite faith joined the Canadian military. They were young and they felt they owed the country that allowed their fore-fathers an opportunity to live a safe, unthreatened life. Unfortunately the price, as ideological pacifist, was excommunication from the Church. As the new generation of Mennonites, their belief in Canada as a nation, the very country that had offered them safe harbour, was a belief worth risking excommunication over. They left the farms, took up arms and the rest is history.

My father, upon on his return from the war, began dealing with war related health issues before beginning a new life off the farm. He began with my mother in a small rural Manitoba town and eventually found himself in Winnipeg driving street car. Electric vehicles driven on tracks and power through trolley wires. Again “electric” vehicles ahead of their time.

But the lure of the west was growing. For numerous reasons the need to move westward was decided over 60 years ago for my parents and the offer of a driving position with Calgary Transit just sweetened the deal. So started the transition to what became my home city, Calgary.

Calgary Transit circa 1960

Calgary, like dad’s family, was growing. A position with Calgary Transit was a “union” position which offered some security to my father. A security he needed with a growing family and a son (me) who was a polio survivor. The Alberta Children’s Hospital was offering services to polio kids so there was no hesitation when the opportunity arose. With the assurance of employment and health care for his son (this was long before universal healthcare) he packed up the family in the mid 50’s and made the westward move to Calgary. When we arrived Calgary was just shy of 200,000 and a good number of those were European immigrants displaced by the war. There was no doubt Calgary was diverse but far from the shining beacon of success it is recognized as it is now.

One of my first memories of Calgary was sitting on dads shoulders as he walked picket in 1958. The transit workers had taken strike action due to the City’s reticence in renewing a union contract (I now refer back to the current situation with the Alberta governments position over Bill 9). Part of the issue with the contract was the extension of transit routes. At that time the northern most point for transit service ended at Northmount Drive and 4th Street NW (Mount Pleasant/Killarney). The Thorncliff/Elbow Drive routed ended at Northmount Drive and Centre Street. Thorncliff was the northern most part of the City at the time. How boundaries have changed!

My point here is Calgary has a long history of being progressive and diverse. The diversity was mainly European and it existed. The Kensington area was Little Greek Town, Bridgeland was little Italy, Tuxedo was German Town and Thorncliff/Highwood was basically prairie farmers who had decided to move west. Calgary was the stopping point and the expansion began to happen. With the value of natural resources taking off in the mid 60’s the growth explosion happened. By 1980 Calgary had almost tripled in size (to almost 600,000) but the driving group-think was still the WW2 veterans. The Baby-boomers were just coming into their own.

Today I watched the City Council meeting listening to arguments and debates that mirrored many of the past issues this City has faced. We have had that “Green Line” transit argument in the past except it involved extending trolley lines for electric buses but resulted in gas powered vehicles because of the new found belief in the natural resource community. We have had that same argument over tax relief by cutting services, services that are crucial tools to quality of life issues. That same quality of life that brought thousands of immigrants to Calgary over the past fifty years.

Palliser Hotel downtown Calgary 1964

While some may think todays Council meetings are steps backwards (in my opinion they are) others frame it as protecting the future. I see it as a Council that either doesn’t recognize their history or have chosen to ignore it. Times are changing, again, and how politics works needs to change as well. What worked in the 60’s wasn’t so hot in the 80’s. At the same time we have also outgrown what was working in the 80’s. Time for a rethink over how we move forward and how we do business. Most of the people our politicians are playing to are dying off (myself included). It’s time to focus on the policy makers of tomorrow and what will work for them. Time for change…

Canada Day Celebration 2019 – what is it?

Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” – Marshall McLuhan


It is Canada Day and the country is celebrating. Large, joyous celebrations from coast to coast to coast. That day of the year dedicated to what it means to be Canadian and express our joy of being Canadian. For many new Canadians, this is the first experience enjoying a Canada Day celebration and welcome. Many more have celebrated back to the time it was still called Dominion Day and for those, to quote a great Canadian artist (Neil Young), “keep on rocking”.

What would Canada Day be without a bit of Canadian trivia, another contribution to the world, Trivial Pursuit? Today is “Canada Day”, originally called Dominion Day but changed to Canada Day when the British North American Act (BNA Act) repatriated to Canada in 1982. From that point forward the BNA basically ceased to exist and the Constitution Act, we we know it today, came into being as did Canada Day. “O Canada” was not proclaimed our official national anthem until July 1, 1980 but was sung for the first time in French 100 years ago. The Canadian flag became official February 15, 1965 leaving the Union Jack behind. We have been an evolving country for 152 years now. As long as new Canadians continue to arrive at our shores and families, regardless of what part of Canada they live in, we can look forward to another 150 years of celebrations.

Speaking to Inclusion and Diversity at a Canada Day celebration in 2014

In the 90’s I was very involved in an international exchange student program. I spoke with more international students (these were high school students) about where they would prefer to be placed. The program had volunteer host families (no families were paid but the student was expected to some of their own spending money). The importance of a “good fit” placement could not be understated.

This was planned this way with the expectation that the student would become part of the family and truly understand life as part of a Canadian family. In my mind it was a successful model. My wife and I hosted a young man from Japan the first year, a young fellow from Belgium the second and finally a young fellow from Germany. I am still in touch with all three of them almost 30 years later and they continue to be like family.

That is when I really began to think about Canadian “identity”, I needed some concepts to help frame it for these kids. The first time I heard my student from Japan phone his parents the call was over in about five minutes. He then shared with me the extent of the conversation and part of it was “Canadian”. I asked how he had cramped all of that info into such a short call including describing what a Canadian was. His was response was simple “Easy, I said you were Canadian”.

I have lived in Toronto and they would describe a Canadian very differently than some from Calgary. I have lived in Halifax and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Montreal. I have lived in Montreal and they would describe a Canadian very differently than someone from Vancouver. My experience has been to most of the world we are “Canadians” and identity is unimportant. Identity reminds too many of them of “class distinctions” which is what many immigrants were fleeing when they came to Canada. They just wanted to be “Canadian”. My point is Canada is diverse and regional, that has worked for 152 years now.

Marshall McLuhan made that statement over fifty years ago and it is true today as it was then. We don’t have an identity. We are simply Canadian. We are a country that has been build by immigrants escaping perceived “identities”. My roots go back generations however they began with one branch escaping persecution in Europe. We all started somewhere so it is always overwhelming for me on Canada Day to see the focus being put on what it means to be Canadian, diverse, accepting and open to compassion. We are Canadian not based on identity but based simply on being Canadian.

I can only hope that 150 years from now those grandchildren of this newest group of immigrants are sitting around in their lawn-chairs celebrating the way most are today. Right now I fear we are at a turning point where too many politicians are playing “identity politics” rather than continuing to build on the strength that is the commonwealth of Canada. We may have regional differences but at the core we are all CANADIAN.

Happy Canada Day…and in true Canadian fashion, let me close by saying “I’m sorry” if I’ve offended anyone (smiley face).