Canada – A Nation Built by (Extra) Ordinary People

In a previous post, I spoke about my involvement with Canada 150 and also the Canada C3 signature project. The latter is an epic journey divided into 15 “Legs”, on a former Canadian Coast Guard Ice Breaker vessel (the MV Polar Prince, ca 1958) refitted to sail from coast to coast to coast for 150 days, and provide an ideal platform for connections and conversations. As a participant, I can only say I was profoundly changed, inspired, enlightened and mobilized by my time.

At our 150th birthday in 2017, Canada is at a crossroads as it strives to outgrow its colonial past, to find its rôle and place in a new world order and to respond to the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on the mis-treatment of our Indigenous Peoples in Residential Schools.

Compared to the celebration of our history that was the focus of Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Canada C3 responded directly to such challenges and sought to contribute to a new sense of nation building in our country. The ambitious goal was to engage over 20 million Canadians and contribute to a Legacy for our nation as it looks forward to our bicentennial in 2067 and beyond.

Accordingly, the key themes for Canada C3 were crafted to help in this nation building:

  • Reconciliation with our Indigenous People, namely First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
  • Environment: and in particular the challenges of climate change as well as specific challenges facing our coastline and northern regions. A little known fact is that Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world. Issues include species loss, micro plastics in our oceans, effects of higher sea levels and much more. See my post here: “Environmental Awakening Fusing of Science, The Arts and Sea Ice”
  • Diversity and Inclusion: Canada’s cultural mosaic includes people from all over the world which is a reflection of Canada’s admirable openness and welcoming nature. Although we have always been a country of newcomers. our society still has a way to go to be completely inclusive to: visible minorities, women, LGBT and those with disabilities.
  • Youth Engagement: As a baby boomer who was a teenager in 1967, I feel that my generation has proactively shaped the Canada we know today. Our generation has achieved much that is good but there are many areas to address. This is always a work in progress. Similarly, today’s youth must lead our quest for the Canada of 2067 and Canada C3 provided a great vehicle from them to learn,
    share, contribute and ultimately act to help us build a future civil society that is just and open.

I was honoured and privileged to be a Participant on Leg 7 of Canada C3, from Iqaluit to Qikiqtarjuaq on the east coast of Baffin Island in our newest Territory. Note that I will write posts on most, if not all, of the above four themes through my eyes always amplified by and learning from the amazing people onboard and in the local communities. As I’ve learned, in any human endeavour, it is extraordinary people who shape Canada, and ignite me with a huge optimism about our future. The expedition organizers did an wonderful job in curating a massively diverse group of exceptional people, some of whom might too modestly consider themselves ordinary. In this post, and the following ones, I will try to share my thoughts as shaped by these extraordinary Canadians. I have also learned that, simply by convening conversations, powerful and transformative change can be unleassed.

To illustrate this, the ship had about 60 people onboard at any one time, as follows:

  • 14 crew – from the amazing Captain Stephan Guy who also made the best bread I’ve had in a long time, and a group of hard working marine experts who worked hard 24/7 to ensure we progressed safely and on time,
  • 20 staff – The staff was led by the world’s most innovative outdoor educator, Geoff Green, CM, expedition leader. The staff complement included onboard scientists conducting 25 experiments along the coast of Canada, Zodiac drivers and interpreters; bear guard[ians]; hospitality and cooking; onboard physician; and a Hollywood grade “comms” team of six (2 nationally leading photographers, a videographer, a drone operator and two prolific video and content editors who seemed to work around the clock), and
  • 24 participants, for each of the 15 Legs or 360 for the entire expedition, selected in myriad ways, from invitation, partnership and application, including:
    • journalists from across Canada
    • a chef – each leg had one chef, part of Food Day Canada that celebrates food and food sustainability across Canada from coast to coast to coast
    • a visual artist, one per leg, chosen by a Canada Council adjudicated jury
    • a writer – ours was an Order of Canada poet who is a national treasure
    • musician
    • educators – who could take the conversations back to our schools
    • indigenous people – Leg 7 had 2 Inuit leaders and a youth ambassador from our First Nations
    • youth ambassadors – we had 3 young people, already showing tremendous leadership and passion. I believe that, at their young age, this journey will be most transformational for them,
    • partners, including from Canada Council, Apathy is Boring, etc
    • business people,
    • and many, many more.

Through my posts, pictures, and videos, you will meet some of the above people, but my focus for this post will be in the communities we visited on our journey. Since it was impossible for each and every Canadian to participate, I hope these posts can help people share and savour even a small portion of what I experienced.

While the backdrop of our journey, the east coast of Baffin Island, represents some of the most spectacular scenery on our planet, it only provided the context for our discussions and learning. Make no mistake, for those who are connoisseurs of art from the Arctic, the sense of lighting and colours seems alien to our more southern eyes, yet addictively beautiful. Compare the colours and textures of the iconic Inuit Artist Jessie Ooonark, Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, and a Brit bewitched by the north Ted Harrison to the real thing:

© Jessie Oonark
© Lawren Harris [Fair Use]
© Ted Harrison

In posts that will follow, I will focus more on the people onboardCanada C3. For this post, I thought I’d talk about people encounters in the two main communities we visited, first Iqaluit, and our terminus in Qikiqtarjuaq.

Jenna in Iqaluit

Our first activity as a group was lunch and a hike in Sylvia Grinnel Territorial Park, which introduced us to the unique foliage north of the tree line. The park also contains archaeological sites of the ancient Dorset and Thule peoples.  While there, we met a very engaging young Inuk named Jenna, shown here hamming it up for the camera. She was with her family fishing near Sylvia Grinnel Falls.

I was chatting with fellow participant, Lorna Crozierwhen Jenna approached us and offered to sing a song

Lorna Crozier in Fjord

I soon learned that this friendly engagement, even with strangers, is a common part of Inuit culture. When, expecting to learn about some local singer celebrity, I asked her what her favourite singer was, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that she answered “Katie Perry”.

Later our group toured the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museumin the former Hudson’s Bay Company store, travelling there by our trusty yellow school bus.

There I saw a man whole seemed interested in our group, so I stopped and chatted with him. The video below explains why the talented artist was in Iqaluit. Jenna, riding her bike, was in the background of this interview, but got removed in editing. Charlie “C5” Johnston was definitely worth interviewing and, was it synchronicity for a person who brands himself “C5” to meet and interact with the “C3” group?

Later in Iqaluit, we got to meet many local people, including the scientists at Nunavut Research Institute, local artists, and kayak building at the local high school.

Days later, at the end of Leg 7 in Qikiqtarjuaq, most of our group climbed the hill overlooking the hamlet and the Canada C3 vessel, and we had a number of amazing encounters.

Initially I was surprised that the girl, shown above with her sister, had such a pro camera. Later, I learned that a journal and fellow participant Caroline G Murphy, had sportingly lent her camera. For more background on this budding young photographer, read Caroline’s article in Le Journal de Montréal J’ai Prêté ma Caméra a une Jeune Inuite de 9 Ans …

Jim Kyte

And, for those unable to read in French, our discussions on Diversity and Inclusion did encompass the original “Two Solitudes” in Canada, namely French and English. While Google can do a great job translating the article, the photos with the eye of a precocious 9 year old totally transcend traditional cultural divides.

David Lawson

Our final community encounter during Leg 7 was at a ceremony in Qikiqtarjuaq where we gave hockey sticks to the local children, who seem to have a passion for hockey that transcends even southern Canada’s hockey crazy intensity. Leading the presentation was Jim Kytefellow participant and the first legally deaf NHL hockey player. Jim is an inspirational leader I was happy to get to know who has overcome challenges that most would shy away from. Today he serves as Dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism at Algonquin College in Ottawa.

Jim was joined by last minute participant, David Lawson, an Inuk leader who just resigned after 15 years serving his community in the RCMP. I am sure we will hear much more from David who just started a law degree in order to better advocate for his people. For example, he is Board President of Embrace Life Council, an Iqaluit-based suicide prevention organization. In a separate post, I will write more about my journey of learning about the Inuit people and their journey to become a vital part of the fabric of our Canadian nation.

Canada C3 made for some wonderful encounters and conversations. I can only wish that every Canadian was able to share my experiences with the wonderful diversity that is Canada. Even I took a long time to process this life changing experience. In the end, I had my understanding of my own country transformed both by the special world that is Canada’s Arctic regions, but even more so by people who now have a life long bond that will lead to action. These conversations were far from superficial and already, many of us are taking action. As we enter 2018, you will start to learn more about the Canada C3 Legacy Programs which will keep the torch of this remarkable nation building alive and further spreading that light in the form of action and education.