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Governor General of Canada / Gouverneur général du Canadaa




Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Address to the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto

Toronto, Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I am grateful to the Empire and Canadian Clubs, among other things, for this head table. Its members reflect many stages of my professional career and I am extremely touched to see all of them. All those stages were important to my life and to my becoming Governor General in 1999. We have estimated that I have rolled to my feet to speak about 130 times a year. It is always a pleasure because it means I have direct contact with people, and the chance that a real human connection can be made.

I'm very happy to be here among the combined memberships of the Empire and Canadian Clubs. Both have been part of the foundation of Canada, the Canada we are building still. I am delighted join the company of eminent Canadian and international leaders who have spoken to your two organizations, especially since, together with my speech next week at an Armed Forces tribute parade, it is my chance to give a major address on what I've seen during my mandate. I thank you for that.

I won't wait until the end of my speech to spring my surprise, since you've likely read or heard about it by now. I will be offering "The Clarkson Cup" for women's hockey. The Cup has evolved in the most wonderful and meaningful way since February, when I suggested giving the Stanley Cup to a women's team, if no men were going to get it! It seemed to me perfectly logical. Lord Stanley hadn't thought of women, although he might have – we have a wonderful picture of Isabelle, his daughter, playing a pretty mean game on the skating rink at Rideau Hall, which since 1878 has been the oldest outdoor skating rink in continual use in the world.

The Cup will be a personal gift from me. I'm going to have it done in silver by Inuit artists at Arctic College. Their work is getting scooped up by people south of the border, but I would love to see more of this Inuit silver remain here, along with the carvings and the prints that we know so well. When the silver Clarkson Cup is out there, I'm happy to think that the explosive growth and the excellence of Canadian women's hockey will be befittingly recognized. It's a little like Kinsella wrote about baseball: "If you build it, they will come."

When I was asked last June to title the speech, I was at a bit of a loss. But then I thought, "Well, I'll just say what I've seen." It has been a fun reason to reflect, and it's something that maybe you might not hear otherwise. Being Governor General has given me a unique perspective. I promised, in my installation speech, that I would visit Canadians in every part of the country by every means of transport, including kayak. Six years later, I am overjoyed to say that we have been able to do just that. I used to feel that I knew Canada pretty well because of my work for the CBC, going from coast to coast and dealing with people's lives and problems, and not what one TV executive called "happy problems".

Now, I have experienced a marvellous new view. John Ralston Saul and I have visited over 300 communities during my mandate, attending hundreds of separate events and travelling well over 100,000 kilometres each year. We all know that we live in a big country, but not many have the privilege of seeing at first hand, as we have, how enormous and various Canada really is. To link it up in our minds, to have it feel like a real and united place, we must find ways to interact and to understand each other. This is why we're so good at transportation, one of our essential links. We became highly skilled in all aspects of communication because of our huge land mass. And as a small country, in terms of population, we have found ways to understand distant people and foreign lands.

My great predecessor Vincent Massey, the first Canadian Governor General, said that the role of Governor General was constitutionally conceived but must be lived culturally. I have tried my best to fill that framework as well as he did. As far as the constitutional part, a minority government does have a wonderfully clarifying effect on the mind, not only of the Governor General but of the whole population! Many countries, including most of the European ones, have minority governments as a matter of course – it's built into their systems – but we only have them ever 25 years or so.

You might be interested and surprised to know that I am glad to have participated in one of those cycles. My constitutional role has lain in what are called "reserve powers": making sure that there is a Prime Minister and a government in place, exercising the right "to encourage, advise and warn", in Bagehot's clear formulation. Without revealing any secrets, I can tell you that I have done all three. And as for living it culturally, the autonomy of our system was established in 1947 when the Letters Patent were transferred to Canada from Britain, and it has been strengthened with each successive appointment of a Canadian as Governor General. We are a constitutional monarchy, but we have evolved a distinctly Canadian one.

There's no way to truly know our country without travelling it widely. Many Canadians go south, of course, to avoid what I think of as one of our glories, our winter. And many people go to Australia or Europe to "find themselves". But why not refresh and find ourselves right here in this incredible landscape? Canada has an Arctic desert, an unparalleled range of mountains, three oceans and thousands upon thousands – perhaps millions – of lakes. Canadians should discover the rolling grasslands of southeastern Alberta that have never passed under the plough, and the salt lake in the middle of Saskatchewan – Lake Manitou – that is saltier even than the Dead Sea. They should see the tides in the Bay of Fundy which nearly make visible the movements of the earth and the heavens. They should know Table Rock Mountain in Newfoundland, and the salmon run up New Brunswick's Saint Marguerite River. All this fantastically diverse geography belongs to each and every one of us.

This is what Canada has meant forever to its Aboriginal peoples, what has always attracted its many waves of immigrants. Of course, we offer political and religious freedoms, economic opportunities and useful civic structures. But at the most fundamental level, Canada offers land and water and sky. We have come to inhabit this land, not only through different patterns of population density, but also through our imaginations.

We have inherited a tradition from our Aboriginal peoples, who believed that their ancestors dreamed this land into existence. Those great travellers invited us to share the land with them, and they knew the territory of their wandering in ways we still strive to appreciate. They knew what one poet called "the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky and...everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes..." I believe that kind of knowing remains available to us, and can help all of us to face the same horizon, to tread the sharp stones and soft leaves of the same path.

The moments and the people that have moved me often occurred outside the grand ceremonies of our culture. As Governor General, it's wonderful to preside over these essential rituals, but the truth of this office has come to me through direct personal contacts and from watching other people engage in them. These are conversations built not on self-interest but on self-revelation. We have found the warmth of this human connection everywhere we have gone, but nowhere more movingly than in the North. This has been one of the greatest privileges for John Ralston Saul and me, two southerners who fell in love with the North in the early 1970s.

As we prepared to move into Rideau Hall, we were determined that we would visit as many of Canada's most remote communities as we could. We managed to get to 50 Northern settlements, and will continue to do more in private life. Some places, like Grise Fjord, drew us back several times. Grise is a fascinating place, the northern-most village in the world and it belongs to us. I will never forget its purple penumbra of sunset, its gigantic icebergs which you can walk to and chip bits off to make your tea.

In the elders' centre in Iqaluit, we played a sort of ring toss with round spinal bones that we aimed at sharpened ones. After the games, over tea and cookies, the elders presented each of us with a leather medallion on a string. Mine was numbered E201. These were the identification tags that the Canadian government gave to the Inuit, the number giving them access to certain services but also becoming their official identity. For this people, contact with whites came relatively late, and the upheaval of their way of life was catastrophic. To us, these leather tags summed up a whole period in the history of the Inuit people. Only now are we understanding the value and the accumulated wisdom in their traditional ways, and marvelling at their ability to sustain it for so long. Though they now live in houses and communities instead of roaming the land, their heritage is giving them strength in a very painful time of change.

Laplanders, whom we met in Finland, have certain similarities with the Inuit and have had very useful exchanges with them. All around the Arctic Ocean, the circumpolar nations share a shore and a horizon. We feel like those northerners. As Russia's President Putin said to me, this arctic water and ice are merely a large and salty lake, and our countries are the neighbours that surround it. But while the white desert of northern Canada is breathtakingly beautiful, it is astonishing how the Inuit have survived and thrived in this extreme environment. Alongside many other reasons, it should be precious to us simply because it is precious to them.

Now they deal with computers, video games and iceberg lettuce. Their society came very close to destruction, but they have pulled themselves away from the brink. Those problems that remain are not only theirs to face, but Canada's. They welcomed us into their circle, and now they are part of ours. This sharing is what Canada is all about. We will be in great danger as a country if we forget our origins as sharers. Exploring Europeans would have been lost without the generosity of the Aboriginal peoples: their knowledge of a seemingly intractable wilderness, their techniques for survival and transportation. The enormous land over which they roamed and hunted belonged to all, and its bounty could sustain everyone.

Canada's bounty still can. When I meet with immigrants and refugees, what is most stunningly clear is an instinctive sense of the humanity of the other. This history of sharing is a subconscious thing but it comes to the surface. We see it in the adaptation – often tentative, understandably anxious – of their ways and lives to the reality of Canada, and in the welcome given by Canadians who may have arrived five years or five generations earlier. New arrivals, if our hearts are open, prompt the same warm impulse as when long-lost relatives come to our door.

I return again and again to the words of Margaret Laurence, who felt there was "no wisdom except the passionate plea of caring....Try to feel," she said, "in your heart's core, the reality of others. This is the most painful thing in the world, probably, and the most necessary." In Canada, we do this by welcoming a quarter of a million people every year, intending that they will become citizens who will share our land, our customs, our prosperity, and our history. They will share the country that we are still dreaming into existence.

A group of landed immigrants and new citizens in Red Deer told me that they wouldn't want to be anywhere but there. In a small city like that, they felt that they could get to know their fellow citizens. They felt that even if somebody made a nasty remark about them, the close ties of the town would lead someone else to say, "Come on, cut it out. My kid goes to school with his. He's a good guy." Whether they were from Croatia, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines, or Iran, they were all going to be part of Red Deer. And the people helping them, originally a church group in that city and in Lacombe, were determined to make them and their families feel at home.

We began two years ago to link citizenship ceremonies to our Caring Canadian Award presentations. Putting those two groups together, and holding roundtable discussions with them, allows new citizens to meet people who have spent 20, 30, even 50 years giving to others without asking anything in return. It has been magical, a direct way of dealing with the gap between new Canadians and the main stream of public life. We want everybody in this country to be able to swim in that stream. This is what our country has been able to do, but we mustn't be careless about it. We have opened the door to people and communities who have been rejected or persecuted in other places, but let's always remember that we don't have some magic immunity to this sickness. Let me give you one of my favourite examples.

Baildon is a Hutterite community near Moose Jaw that I have visited twice. I love their a cappella singing, their chicken soup with dumplings and their home-cured hams. Every kind of social organization is fascinating and this communal one is particularly so. Up to 120 people are supported on a 10,000-acre tract of land, and when they grow beyond this number, they start a new colony. It was deeply poignant to sit in their chapel and hear the 15th-century German dialect still spoken by these once-persecuted followers of Jacob Hutter. They wear plain and dark clothing. They chat and they read one sermon a day from Hutter's writings. I asked the elder with whom I was sitting whether they paid taxes. He grinned from ear to ear and said, "Yes, we do." Asked why he seemed so happy about it, he said, "Because when we pay our taxes, we know that we've been successful, that we've made a lot of money."

They are highly successful farmers using the most modern equipment. Every child above the age of 6 works on the farm as well as going to school in the nearby village. That way of life is not appreciated by some, because it so strongly emphasizes the collective, the common good of all, rather than exalting the individual as our society tends to do. But the feeling of being among them stays with me; when we left, everybody gathered to wave goodbye, with pink balloons they had bought especially for the contrast with their clothing, and with several two-quart jars of the best dill pickles on earth!

The Hutterites also remind us of our agricultural foundations. Though most of us live in cities now, we must remember the importance of farming to our history and to a proper contemporary understanding. The city of Ottawa has preserved, just south of the city's downtown, a large greenbelt containing the Central Experimental Farm. A century and more ago, strains of wheat were developed there that enabled our wide plains to feed not only Canadians but the world, and to accommodate Ukrainian, Russian and other settlers who opened and developed the West.

At a reception I had for the Museum Directors of Canada, I met a woman who worked at the Moose Jaw Art Gallery. When I told her we were coming to Moose Jaw, she had an invitation for me, and not to the Gallery, which she knew I would visit anyway. "Why don't you come out to our farm?" Run by her husband and his three brothers, the farm has 10,000 acres and $2 million worth of equipment. They had ploughed everything into chick peas that year. We went at harvest time and rode on their combines. They held a potluck supper for us in the barn, and 100 neighbours came.

This spring, we were back in Moose Jaw. (And as an aside, did you know that Moose Jaw has superb hot springs and spas?) We invited the families to join us for lunch. We found out that those chick peas are still being stored because the prices had plummeted. They can no longer live on their family farm. The wives all work in town, and the men commute to the farm to run this huge and risky agricultural business. We talked about how difficult it is to be a farmer today, which unfortunately was not news to me. The year before, we had had a roundtable discussion with a 4-H club, 16-year-olds in and around Biggar, Saskatchewan. There were 15 of them, and 14 saw no future in agriculture. They said that they would not take over their family's farm, with its million-dollar debts and the sacrifices which they saw their parents making every day. They all expected that their future lay in Alberta, probably Calgary.

In the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, the equivalent of one bus load of young people leaves every week to look for work in Montreal. There is no more pulp and paper, so how will communities survive? This is a dilemma shared by young people who can no longer fish off Newfoundland, or work in coal or steel on Cape Breton, or farm in Ontario. Though much is made of the hard times here or the boom times there, there is no question that people love their own region, and would prefer to live in it if only they could make a living there.

Everywhere in Canada, I have seen the fierce affection that people have for their own part of the country. More than anything, people just want others to understand and respect this love of place, and perhaps even share it a bit. That's what a family does. Because, I must tell you, not all of human life happens in Toronto!

Here's another curious thing I've seen, or rather heard. We still speak of Canada as a "young country". Our potential is enormous and exciting, yes, but we're not an immature society. We are a country which has been inhabited for aeons by Aboriginal peoples, and for centuries by European "newcomers". We know about John Cabot, Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, but do you know that there are Moravian settlements dating back 250 years on the Labrador coast? In places like Hopedale, huge clapboard buildings have an elegance and charm which must be seen to be understood. They enclose ancient Bibles written in fading ink on parchment. Further south at Red Bay, the Basques came in the 15th century to hunt whale. They had a settlement where they rendered the whale oil, and then sent it back in the bowels of the ships which had brought the red tiles for their roofs –hence the name Red Bay. Traces of those tiles are still there on the beach, and they remind us that the Canadian experiment is far from new.

Our heritage is deep and important, perhaps especially to communities whose history has been ignored or suppressed. Blacks in Nova Scotia are rallying around the Black History Society, which records the arrival of 3,000 of them as United Empire Loyalists right after the American Revolution. They had their freedom and they were promised 100 acres of land, which turned out to be rather less fertile and well-located than the plots given to white Loyalists. Nevertheless, they stayed and flourished and made Nova Scotia their home.  

The President of Shelburne's Black History Society showed me proudly the pictures of himself and his brothers, all of whom enlisted and went overseas with our Armed Forces in 1939. They served six years, and took part in the brutal but victorious campaigns in Italy and Holland. When they got back to Canada, they went back to Africville, where they had lived and grown up. They came into Halifax, dressed in their new suits. They were feeling pretty good, and went to the coffee shop on the main street. They were busily talking to each other and they realized that nobody had come to serve them. These heroic Canadian veterans asked the waitress for coffee, and were told, "We don't serve people like you."

Our deep Canadian history, as we all know, has its shadows. We must remember it, not in order to dwell on suffering or wrack ourselves with guilt, but simply because the very act of remembering is in itself a very good thing. We are responsible for all our history, the times when Canadians have treated others badly as well as all the countless ways, large and small, that our people have behaved with the greatest humanity and compassion.

Memory, especially of the characteristic decency that fills our cities and towns and countryside, strengthens the young men and women of the Canadian Forces who are overseas trying to make peace. Every year, over the Christmas holidays, John and I have been to visit our troops – in Kosovo, Bosnia, the Arabian Gulf, and twice to Kabul in Afghanistan. Each time, we are struck by how terrific our soldiers are, how calm and ordered and civic-minded they are.

They start Boy Scout troupes and soccer teams. They mingle with the population in a direct way, looking them in the eye and treating them like human beings. In the midst of often-dangerous work and the possibility of pitched battle, they maintain this demeanour of decency. It is the way we do it, and you would be proud of these young people. We have seen them up close in their camps, where we stay with them and help to serve them holiday meals. There is music and dancing and even a little champagne on New Year's. John went out for night patrol on foot with a platoon of soldiers during the last two New Year's Eves while I, I must confess, sang and danced. It was all very sweet and good. We are there to share whatever feeling of warmth we can bring to service men and women who are far from their homes. Each time, we come away encouraged by the sight of Canada working for the common good on a global scale.

In those faces, but also in the faces of families grieving those lost in battle, I have seen that we are doing the right things. In Ramstein, Germany, we met the plane bringing back the four young men killed under "friendly fire". The peace we are helping to make in the world has its cost, and we are paying it, just as we paid it in two World Wars and in the Korean conflict. I wish I could say that we will no longer have to bear that cost, but I can't.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are a few of the things I have seen. All of these intriguing circumstances, all of these Canadians and their stories, are linked together, and I don't mean because I have been part of them. To bring together and honour and represent Canadians has been my privilege over the past six years. I have seen how mightily important it is to incorporate our vision of the North with our perspective on Canada and what it can do and be. I believe all the more strongly in the significance of our history and the hopeful spirit in which we are building upon it. I know how critical it is for all of us to exchange friendliness and support from one community to the next, from all parts of the country to all the others. I have seen how important it is to create leadership, and I am pleased to see here today some of the 450 young leaders with whom I've worked at the Governor General's Leadership Conferences in 2000 and 2005.

 I am convinced that any country that cannot do these things is not really much of a country, and I firmly reject that possibility. I have always loved Canada, and all that I have seen in these six years has only reinforced my feelings and strengthened my hopes.

I don't think Saint Augustine ever made it to Canada – even in a vision – but one of his statements makes it sound as if he did. Of course, we must travel and see this country which is overflowing with wonders, but Saint Augustine has one caution for us. He wrote, "People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering." My fellow Canadians, do not ever forget how wonderful we all are. Thank you.

Updated: 2005-09-16
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