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Governor General of Canada / Gouverneur général du Canadaa




Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson Governor General of Canada - Installation Speech

The Senate
Thursday, October 7, 1999
Prime Minister,

You have expressed to me the affection, loyalty and esteem of the Canadian people, which it will be my honour to convey to our gracious sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. I am pleased to accept the responsibility of being Her Majesty's representative in Canada, with all that entails, through our history and our custom. Knowing better than anyone my own shortcomings, I undertake this task with humility and ask you all, as Canadians, to help me.

I take on the responsibility of becoming Canada's 26th Governor General since Confederation, fully conscious of the deep roots of this office, stretching back, to the Governors of New France and to the first of them, Samuel de Champlain. In our beloved Georgian Bay, which lies on the great water route he took from the French River to Huronia, there is a cairn, placed on a small island, between a tennis court and Champlain's Gas Bar & Marina, which commemorates his passage and quotes from his journal:

Samuel de Champlain
by canoe

"As for me, I labour always to prepare a way for those willing to follow".

Those willing to follow have embodied the institution of the Governor General in ways which have demonstrated the evolution and constant reaffirmation of this country. Canada's institutions have never been static. They are organic - evolving and growing in ways that surprise and even startle us. In a mere 30 years, between 1952 and 1982, we repatriated the Governor Generalship and our Constitution. We adopted our flag, we formalized our understanding of Rights and we strengthened and expanded the bilingual nature of our country. The Governor General is one skein in the woven fabric of what Eugene Forsey characterised as our "independent sovereign democracy".

Champlain's successors have had many activists among them. Lord Elgin, who helped Baldwin and LaFontaine to anchor the Canadian model of democracy in 1848, stands out as somebody who appreciated the originality of a country which would promote such a project. He loved to wander about our few small cities, on foot, glorying in snowstorms, eschewing the formality of his office and speaking of his admiration for "this glorious country" and "its perfectly independent inhabitants". He also said, that in order to have insight into the future of all nations, it was necessary to come here.

Vincent Massey, our first Canadian Governor General, laid the groundwork for practically all of our modern cultural institutions - the Canada Council, the National Arts Centre, the Order of Canada, among others. And my predecessor, Roméo LeBlanc, reinforced the central fact of French Canada across this country, culminating in the success of last month's Summit that put New Brunswick and Acadia at the centre of the map of francophone reality. This was only fifty years after the great painter, Paul-Emile Borduas, had exhorted Quebec, and by implication, all of us, to abandon "the smooth and slippery walls of fear" by refusing "to act knowingly (or consciously) ... beneath (our) psychic and physical possibilities."

Allow me a moment of personal reflection. The Poy family, arriving here as refugees, in 1942, was made up of my parents, my brother and myself. Three of us are in this Chamber today. We did not arrive as part of a regular immigration procedure. There was no such thing for a Chinese family at that time in Canadian history.

My mother's intense and abiding love is here in spirit today. My brother, Dr. Neville Poy, was seven when we arrived. And my father, Bill Poy, is here - extraordinary, in his 92nd year. Lance-Corporal Poy, dispatch rider with the Hong Kong Volunteer Corps, received the Military Medal for his bravery during the battle of Hong Kong. Like many soldiers, he never speaks of those actions, but it is his bravery, which is the underpinning of his children's lives. To have been brought up by courageous and loving parents, was a gift that made up for all we had lost.

As I have said before, the city of Ottawa, then, was small and white - like most of Canada. Much of its psyche was characterised by what Mavis Gallant has called "the dark bloom of the Old Country – the mistrust of pity, the contempt for weakness, the fear of the open heart". But it was also the place where our family was befriended by the Molots, who owned the local drugstore, the Marcottes and the Proulx, among whom we lived in Lower Town, and our guardian angels, the Potters.

Because my father had a job with the Department of Trade and Commerce and because we lived among French Canadians, I became fixated, from the age of five, with the idea of learning French. I remember the day when I was dressed up in my patent leather shoes and pink smocked dress, and was taken up the street by my parents to the convent of Ste. Jeanne d'Arc, where I was interviewed by a kindly woman wearing white all around her face, while a dim crucifix glowed in the background. Walking home, I sensed that there was dejection in the air and disappointment. It had been explained to my parents that it was not possible for a Protestant to receive French language education in Ottawa. In my lifetime, this has changed to such a radical degree that I don't even need to comment on it. But that early sense of something being impossible, which actually was nonsensical, put steel into me.

Farley Mowat has pointed out that a little adversity in childhood is a very good thing for animals - including human ones. Our family, like many others, had lost a great deal but we had also gained an enormous amount: a country with lakes, with small mouth bass and with free public education. We became addicted to the wilderness because, as Pierre Morency says, "Le nord n'est pas dans la boussole; il est ici". ["The North is not on the compass. It is right here."]

As John Ralston Saul has written, the central quality of the Canadian state is its complexity. It is a strength and not a weakness that we are a "permanently incomplete experiment built on a triangular foundation – aboriginal, francophone and anglophone". What we continue to create, today, began 450 years ago as a political project, when the French first met with the aboriginal people. It is an old experiment, complex and, in worldly terms, largely successful. Stumbling through darkness and racing through light, we have persisted in the creation of a Canadian civilization.

We are constructing something different here. As Jean-Guy Pilon describes in one of his poems:

« Racines tordues à vaincre le feu
À cracher au visage des étoiles.
C'est ici que respirent, grandissent
les constructeurs ».

"Tormented roots that defy the flames
Spitting in the face of stars.
Here the builders breathe, and grow." (Translation)

We have the opportunity to leave behind the useless blood calls of generations, now that we are in the new land that stretches to infinity. Wilfrid Laurier understood this clearly: "We have made a conquest greater and more glorious than that of any territory", he said, "we have conquered our liberties".

There seem to be two kinds of societies in the world today. Perhaps there have always been only two kinds – punishing societies and forgiving societies. A society like Canada's, with its four centuries of give-and-take, compromise and acceptance, wrong-doing and redress, is basically a forgiving society. We try – we must try – to forgive what is past. The punishing society never forgets the wrongs of the past. The forgiving society works towards the actions of the future. The forgiving society enables people to behave well toward one another, to begin again, to build a society in hope and with love.

We know, that in joining Canadian society, we will be able to accept the invitation, offered, in 1970, by Grand Chief John Kelly: "As the years go by, the circle of the Ojibway gets bigger and bigger. Canadians of all colours and religions are entering that circle. You might feel that you have roots somewhere else, but in reality, you are right here with us." That the aboriginal circle enlarges to include all of us - native and immigrant - arriving by boat and plane to a vast and beautiful land, has been characterised by Michael Ondaatje, as a "vision of nature beyond the human ego". This is a place, he said, "fixated by the preoccupying image of figures permanently travelling or portaging their past one-quarter we are all still arriving. From the Filles du Roy to Dionne Brand's new Canadians is a miniscule step".

We must not forget that this complexity is whole. To be complex does not mean to be fragmented. This is the paradox and the genius of our Canadian civilization.

In the contemplation of our wholeness, lies the symbolic importance of the Governor General: the identification of this post with inclusiveness – the inclusiveness that lies at the core of Canadian society, at its best. This is the essence of our notorious decency, our infamous desire to do good. And it is important to recall that with the great waves of immigration, there has been, since the beginning, an underlying motif: the lost, the rejected, and those who dreamed of another life would come here and would make a contribution to the whole.

In a 1913 photograph, a group of Scandinavian immigrants in Larchmont, Ontario is huddled around a blackboard on which is written:

Duties of the Citizen
  1. Understand our government.
  2. Take an active part in politics.
  3. Assist all good causes.
  4. Lessen intemperance.
  5. Work for others.

It would be easy to focus obsessively on all the pitfalls and prejudices that undoubtedly landmined this path of good intentions. But in examining the intent, you see the underlying central assumption. It was expected that the immigrant, along with everyone else, would join in the social process, which was democratic, co-operative and other-directed. The fact that it would take another 50 years for this kind of inclusiveness to become colour blind, means, simply, that it took another 50 years. Too long, of course. Far too long. But in other countries, it would take a hundred. In some, it has never come.

The essence of inclusiveness is that we are part of a society in which language, colour, education, sex and money need not, should not divide us, but can make us more aware and sensitive to difference.

I learned to be a Canadian through a series of eternally virginal public school teachers, who treated me only as bright - and not bright yellow. They were mostly small-town Ontario women who, given some of our history might have been narrow-minded; but without exception they had the ability to reach out and understood, instinctively, the need for compassion and the stirring of imaginative curiosity.

I believe that my parents, like so many other immigrants, dreamed their children into being as Canadians. And, as the explorers pushed, every day, beyond the limits of their knowledge, what were Cavelier de la Salle, La Verendrye, Hearne and Mackenzie doing, if not imagining themselves spanning this astonishing space. Luckily, all of us came to a land where the aboriginal peoples have always dreamed life into being.

It is customary to talk about how hard immigrants work and how ambitious they are, but those of us who have lived that process, know that it is mainly the dream that counts.

I'm not talking here of fantasy. I am talking of the true dream that is caught in the web of the past as it meets the wind of the future. All of us have this, even if we do not express it. This is what gives a nation, such as ours, its resonance, its depth and its strength.

The dream pulls us on and transforms us into Canadians. The dream gives us the strength to avoid being stereotyped by the past or limited by the expectations of others. The dream brings openness, adventure and, of course, pain and confusion. But, as Leonard Cohen observes, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in".

Through the light that is in us, we have created a place of dynamic innovation. Innovation in political structures. New approaches toward social relationships, towards citizenship. Military innovation in peace keeping. Economic innovation in cutting edge industries, from the railway of 150 years ago to aeronautics, today.

We must not see ourselves as a small country of 30 million people, floundering in a large land mass. We are among the healthiest, best-educated people in the world, with great natural riches. We have two of the world's great languages.

We must not see ourselves as people who simply react to trends but as people who can initiate them.

We must not see ourselves as people to whom things are done but as people who do things.

Our history demonstrates that we have the self -confidence to act and to act successfully. We can – when we trust ourselves – seize hold of the positive energy, flowing out of the choice we have made to be here and to continue what remains an unprecedented experiment.

The streetcar our family often took on Sunday afternoons to Rockliffe Park, used to pass the closed gates of Rideau Hall. I'm so glad that has changed. I'm delighted that crowds of people now come through the grounds and the Visitor Centre. I look forward to continuing the tradition of welcoming Canadians to what is, in effect, your national house.

But we will not always be in Ottawa. John and I intend to travel and re-travel this whole country by plane, train, car, canoe and kayak. We are initiating the holding of a public levee in each province and territory we visit. You are all invited. In ten days we will be in Alberta for our first official provincial trip. Our first levee will be held on Saturday, October 16th at 4 p.m. at the Museum of the Regiments in Calgary. In November, we will be in British Columbia and our levee will be on Sunday, November 21st in Vancouver.

We want to meet as many of you as we can, not only on special occasions at Rideau Hall and at La Citadelle in Quebec City, but where you live and make your lives.

We bring to this new work, a deep commitment to the relationship between francophone and anglophone, which is the essential and central fact of our political history. We have already long-established, personal interests in French immersion schooling, shelter for the fragile in our society and human rights. And I am committed, as I have always been, to affirming and furthering the full expression of that more than half of society to which I belong – a group which modestly calls itself women. We also have a history of deep involvement in and love for the arts. Beauty and excellence are not the property of a select group. They are the means by which we most profoundly express our society and they belong to every one of us.

As I take up this task, I ask you to embark on a journey with me. Together, I hope that we will be able to do it with the Inuit quality of isuma, which is defined as an intelligence that includes knowledge of one's responsibility towards society. The Inuit believe that it can only grow in its own time; it grows because it is nurtured. I pray that with God's help, we, as Canadians, will trace with our own lives, what Stan Rogers called "one warm line through this land, so wild and savage".

And in the footsteps of Samuel de Champlain, I am willing to follow.

Updated: 1999-10-07
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