Now that was a summer! I can hardly believe we’re heading into October because it seems like June was just last week. It was a busy one for sure. In late June, I was in Judique, Cape Breton, as Inverness County lauched “Canada’s Musical Coast”, a great initiative that highlights Cape Breton’s rich musical heritage. On Canada Day, in my role as a Canada 150 Ambassador, I introduced Lenny Gallant for his evening performance in Charlottetown along with Natalie McMaster. On July 7th, Heather and I headed to Parry Sound Ontario to meet up with Bev and Marci at a golf tournament at The Ridge at Manitou in support of CMHA-Parry Sound-Muskoka district. It was the first time the three of us had appeared ‘in public’ since the end of Canada AM, and it was a weekend to remember. We even got Marci to golf, something she had never done before! ( Bev is an ‘old pro’ when it comes to golf, or at least she clearly knows how to ‘look’ like a golfer!) The event raised about 25 thousand dollars for the organization, money that will stay in the area to help fund much needed programs. I was back just two days before heading to St. John’s Newfoundland to take part in ‘Leg 5’ of the Canada C3 voyage, and I’ll have more on that in just a bit. I did 11 of 12 scheduled days on C3, but had to bail a day early to make it back to PEI in time for Heather and I to go on our Scenic Tours Rhine River cruise, with 160 Canada AM fans. ( I had to take six flights in one day to get from Hopedale Labrador to Halifax, and then drove three more hours to get home!) We left on July 24th for the cruise, which was fantastic and I’ll have more on that in a later blog. We got back from the cruise on August 2nd, and my daughter Sarah, and son-in-law Pete, were already at the house with my granddaughter Paisley. They left on the 5th of August, and on the 7th I headed to Radium Hot Springs BC for a week of smoke filled golf. When I returned, my daughter Lindsay and grandkids Spencer and Charlotte were at the house, and they stayed until Friday the 18th. A quick breather, and I left August 22nd for Mattawa and a charity golf tournament there, and on the 24th, Heather flew in from PEI and we went to a friend’s cottage near Kingston Ontario. In September, we moved my stepson Connor to Moncton for school on the Labour Day weekend, and we spent the night at the Casino there, and were surprised at just how much fun we had. Then on September 8th Heather and I were back at our favourite stomping grounds, Cabot Links, in Inverness Cape Breton. The following Wednesday, September 13th, I was off to Kitchener for another charity golf tourament, and then another weekend of golf with some former CTV colleagues in Huntsville. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Heather is a saint! And yes, I was a bit over extended this summer, and I’ll have to manage things a bit better in the future! (Heather, I promise!!)
I hope you’ve heard, and have been following, the Canada C3. This former Coast Guard ice-breaker, known as the Polar Prince, was rebranded ‘Canada C3’ ( meaning coast to coast to coast) and left Toronto on June 1st for a 150 day voyage to Victoria BC, via the Northwest Passage. It’s a signature Canada 150 project. As I write this, they are on the west coast in the Prince Rupert area and there are still 3 more ‘legs’ to go. It’s a voyage of discovey with four main themes. Diversity and inclusion, Reconciliation, youth engagement and the environment. This was not a luxury cruise, far from it. It was roommates, bunk beds and cramped living quarters for all..but that didn’t matter. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in St. Johns on July 11th. I knew where we were going, and why we were there. The object was to connect with Canadians, to learn, to explore and to engage and share those experiences with others.
Each ‘leg’ of the journey featured a wide assortment of Canadians. There were scientists, (there is a science lab on board), musicians, ( we had the great Fred Penner and New Brunswicks’s Patrick Murray) athletes, (we had Olympic gold medalist Adam Van Koeverden),chefs ( ours was Quebec’s Anne Desjardins), Indigenous leaders, ( Valerie Courtois is the director of Canada’s Indigenous Leadership Initiative) and the list goes on to include teachers, like my roomate, Sherwin Solomon, principal of York Steet Public School in Ottawa, and Susan Knight, chancellor at Memorial University, and, Newfoundland and Labrador walking encyclopedia, youth ambassadors, community leaders, and journalists.
It was clear early on one of the main themes that had emerged in the first four legs of the voyage was reconciliation. Each day, all on board would gather in the ships ‘hanger’ at the back (in its Coast Guard days, a helicopter occupied the space) and just talk. Many times, these discussions were very emotional as participants talked about the days’ events, and more importantly, learned things about other peoples lives, culture and traditions. I can tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I had my eyes opened when it came to reconciliation and the plight of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Being in the media for 40 years, I always thought I had a ‘working knowledge’ of the struggles of Canada’s First Nations, but it turns out I only had a working knowledge of the issues that made the headlines. In terms of how the voyage ‘affected’ me, two things stick with me to this day, and will for a long, long time.
On our first day in St. John’s, we were invited to meet the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Frank Fagan and his wife Patricia, at Government House. We arrived and were checked in and waited in the lobby, which was adorned by many paintings. We had our meet and greet, and, it turns out the Fagans’ were huge Canada AM fans, so I had a bit of explaining to do there!
Later in the night, as we gathered in the hanger, we were talking about the visit to Government House and Valerie said it wasn’t her house. She said she was talking with one of the aids, and asked where the works of art from Newfoundland’s Aboriginal artists were. The aid ‘thought’ there was one at the back. Valerie’s line that ‘it wasn’t her house’ stuck and resonated with me. She felt she wasn’t being represented at Government House, and she was right.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is home to four peoples of Aboriginal ancestry, yet you wouldn’t know it by walking into the ‘peoples’ house of Newfoundland and Labrador. Aborginal people date back thousands and thousands and thousands of years in the province.
By the end of the voyage, and after many thought provoking discussions, I wondered how I could be 63 years old and not be aware of much of the history of the Indigenous people and their culture and traditions in this country. The answer is it wasn’t taught in school. Sure we learned about the French and English battles that eventually led to colonization, and the founding of Canada 150 years ago. But what about the 5-10 thousand years prior to that? I was stunned to leard there are 600 First Nations bands in Canada and more than 3100 reserves in this country. Why didn’t I know that? Almost 2 million Canadians are of Aboriginal ancestry. I didn’t know that. But now I know why I didn’t know. It was never taught to me in school. It was never in the school curriculum, but it should have been then and it should be now. Of our many discussions, those were the two things that grabbed me the most.
So, we also did A LOT of hiking and visiting and engaging with those who lived in various coastal communities. We set sail in St. John’s, stopped at Terra Nova National Park, where I almost passed out from exhaustion climbing Mount Stamford.( keep in mind I had hiked up to Signal Hill from the Harbour in St.John’s the day before!) Next up was Fogo Island where we captured all the deserved beauty of the Fogo Island Inn, and yes, hiked again. Then it was on to L’anse aux Meadows, where the Vikings landed a thousand years ago, and over to Red Bay, another UNESCO World Heritage Site for it’s connection to Basque Whalers, and up the south Labrador Coast to Battle Harbour. Then to the Wonderstrand, a 45 kilometre strip of beach that was once used as a landmark by the Vikings, and our 28 degree day there didn’t hurt! After that we made it to Rigolet, Hopedale, where I departed, and the rest of the gang got off in Nain the next day. This wasn’t a bucket list trip, this was a thousand bucket list trip!
The day we went hiking in Joe Batts Arm on Fogo Island, a group of us, including Fred Penner, set out on the Joe Batts Arm Trial to find the Auk at the end. An Auk is a bird that unfortunately has been extinct since the mid-1800’s, and there was a 2 metre high Auk at the end of this trail overlooking the Funk Islands, a place Auks’ apparently called home. A short way into the hike, Fred and Patrick dropped out, and sat on rocks, enjoyed the scenery, relaxed, and worked on composing songs. They were in a perfect place for it. I carried on with several others and we finally came upon the Auk statue as seen above. I thought ‘is this it?’, and it was. We walked back, and I ran into Fred in the parking lot and was grabbing a ride back to the ship with Patrick and him. I casually said to Fred, thinking of how underwhelmed I was by the Auk, “it doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Auk”
Upon hearing that, Fred piped up..” It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Auk”!! He put a little beat to it and Patrick joined in. In the car, on the way back to the ship, we came up with this little ditty, that we performed at a little show the ship presented to the people of Joe Batts Arm later that night.
“It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Auk
It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Auk
When you’re out on Fogo Island and you’re going for a walk
It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Auk.”
It became a bit of a theme. There was a giant Viking statue at L’anse aux Meadows and when Fred saw it, he turned to me and said..
“It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t see the Viking…”
Just add “L’anse aux Meadowns” and “hiking” and you’ve got yourself another hit!
Here’s the Canada C3 website and I encourage you to check it out..