Sunday, July 01, 2012

My Canada

Today is the 145th Birthday of Canada.  In my 34 years, I have been fortunate enough to have lived in, or traveled to (or through) 8 of our 10 provinces, & came damn close to making it to one of our 3 territories. 

Both of my parents are from Newfoundland, & I was born in Scarborough, Ontario.  I spent my first few years there, before my family moved to Edmonton, Alberta.  By the time I was 3, I had seen the majestic Rocky Mountains (while wearing a Newfoundland shirt!), & some really short shorts on a guy.

Also, a Mountain Goat.

When I was 5, we moved to the US, where we lived in Pennsylvania & Delaware for the next 5 years.  The clearest memory I have of my early childhood is loudly proclaiming "I'm Canadian" when my Kindergarten teacher would say something like, "As Americans, we..."

The first time I learned that life isn't fair was when I got kicked out of my Grade 1 Spelling Bee.  Not because I spelled something wrong - because I spelled "blaze" with a "zed" & not a "zee".  My teacher insisted "zed" wasn't a real letter & I went home in tears.  I'm still bitter about it.

We moved back to Canada in 1988.  Now, it is well documented that most Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border.  We moved closer to a different border...the border of Manitoba & what is now Nunavet, but at the time was part of the Northwest Territories.

My Father, an engineer, had been transferred to Sundance, Manitoba to work on the Limestone Dam on the Nelson River.  Sundance was north of Gillam, along the Nelson River; it was built for the workers & their families, next to Bird, Reserve Land for the Fox Lake Cree Nation.  It was comprised of trailers, an elementary school (made of trailers), a recreation complex, a small post office, grocer, & not much else.

Snowman building outside of our home.  May, 1988.
The view down our street after we moved into our Double-Wide.  Hells yeah.

Sundance had extreme weather conditions.  It was freezing for 10 months straight, then immediately scorching & overrun with flies for the other 2.  I say "was" because Sundance is now not only a ghost town - there are hardly any traces of it left.  Sundance was meant to last only for the duration of the Dam project; Once it was completed, the town was dismantled.  It's terribly sad, & quite surreal to see that only a footprint of this once lively community still exists. 

Sundance, Manitoba - Google Earth Image

Two very happy years of my life were spent in Sundance, despite the tragedy of my cancelled 10th Birthday Party due to a blizzard (on June 29th).  I had good friends.  I sang in my first choir.  There were forests to explore, with weekly spottings of Arctic Foxes & Ptarmigans.  One day, recess was cancelled because a bear was scratching its back on a tree outside (maybe those forest explorations were ill-advised).  Our class never had a field trip to a zoo; We traveled to Churchill to see Polar Bears in the wild.  I learned more about Canada`s Native history & community in my 2 years there then I did in all my Canadian History classes.  I learned how to make bannock, & tried rabbit stew, & caribou meat.  And the can't even imagine the stars.  I walked with traditional snowshoes, tobogganed at The Pits, & participated in the Bike Rodeo & watched River Raft Races (which I now recognize as a dangerous combination of homemade rafts & beer).

And now it stands still.  I can see the route where I rode my bike faster than I ever had, to escape the onslaught of black flies. I can see the path I took through waist-high snow to go to school.  I can clearly see Park Road & Tamarack Bay, the 2 streets we lived on - I know which lots were ours.  I almost wish this Google Earth image had been taken when Sundance was covered in snow so it wouldn't be quite so heartbreaking.

One thing that makes me happy is this post I found a few weeks back: the Sundance Recreation Centre had been purchased by the Southern Manitoba town of Pilot Mound.  It has since been refurbished & is now home to a hockey arena, curling rink & daycare...not unlike its days in Sundance, where I learned to figure skate & play arcade games.

A small piece of Sundance lives on.

In 1989, we moved from Sundance to a town outside of Toronto, Ontario.  My family has been here ever since.  This province has its own majesty.  Niagara Falls & the surrounding wine country.  Muskoka.  The gorgeous cobblestone streets & Parliament buildings in Ottawa.  Toronto: the enormous city I'm happy to be only 30 minutes away from.  World-class theatre, music, art, sports, food...I am lucky. 

View of the downtown core from a rooftop patio in Toronto...just beautiful.

There is but one other place in this beautiful country where I truly feel like I'm home: Newfoundland.  My parents both hail from this island, so we would make a trip "home" once every 2 or 3 years.  I have many family members living there, in the St. John's area, & in a small bay town, St. Alban's.

Traveling to Newfoundland was always an ordeal - my Mother is no fan of flying, so we would drive through Quebec, New Brunswick, & Nova Scotia, crossing on a ferry.  It took several days, depending on where we were coming from, but it was beautiful.  Stopping in a francophone New Brunswick town, watching the landscape of Nova Scotia as I listened to early R.E.M. on my Sony Walkman, & somehow it fit.  We would inevitably arrive tired, smelly & cranky.  Yet, we were greeted with such warmth & hospitality that I just knew this was my family, even if I hadn't seen them in years.  I think this is the feeling everyone gets from Newfoundlanders - I'm just lucky enough to actually be related.

The long road trips?  They were worth it.

The scenery is stunning, the people & memories, more so.

Happy Birthday, Canada.  My home & native land.


Linds said...

What a beautiful post...does it make me a loser that I'm sitting in my living room all by myself, choking up with teary eyes as I read this!? And happy belated birthday!!

Lisa Ferreira said...

Aw, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well written. Brings back memories of the rec center. From a freckles heckler.