Canadian Conversations

Yup.

Yup.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have had a number of conversations with Unplugd participants Tom Fullerton, Andy Forgrave and Stephen Hurley, as well as #ds106radio folks like @drgarcia and @easegill about the nature of the Canadian experience or identity. Spurred on by the inspiration of attending the first “uniquely Canadian educational summit,” the discussion of just what it means to live in Canada, how the landscape influences our national character, and how the immensity of our country factors into the dreaming and expression of its artists, thinkers, and politicians, has continued to fill my thinking. In advance of our author panel coming up this Thursday evening, I thought I would attempt to synthesize some of this thinking and delve into some of my own piece of the Canadian narrative.

Let me debunk an American myth: I take my life in my hands.

Gord Downie

Canada is a big place. And the creation of that mythological Canadian character, that supreme individual in whom resides the imagination of the country is as immense as the space between our scattered cities.

Margaret Atwood has characterized the chief concern of Canadian literature as Survival, and the breadth of citizens living out this central theme in our national life has ranged from the colonists of Susanna Moodie, to artists such as Tom Thompson, and athletes like Sidney Crosby.

Terry Fox.

Gordon Downie.

Iceage Leftover

Erratic Behaviour

These are people with a vision expansive enough to see the whole country, and channel the exaltation of a people bound to one another and their local communities by distance, weather, mountains, plains, and the scattered tribes of NHL franchises, hometown heroes, and brief flirtations with international notoriety. But for the fringes of ‘civilization’ freckled across the 49th parallel, the True North of long nights and longer winters, of hockey played on backyard ponds, and of an intimate awareness of our cohabitation with a visceral wilderness are the everyday experience in the great wide open that separates us all, in our cities or outside of them. And it is against this sparsely populated landscape that the characters and authors of our national narratives lived and recorded their lives in monuments of necessity and invention, art and social artifact.

There exist in great abundance across the country these ‘soul homes,’ where in the unmolested forests from Haida Gwaii or Gros Morne we can touch, and see, and breathe the dawn of not only our Canadian story, but modern human society, and the birthmarks of the very Earth itself. To experience a sunrise against a mountainside bearing the scars of the most ‘recent’ ice age (10,000+ years ago), or swim in a lake scoured into the surface of a two billion year old rock, is to immerse oneself in the immensity of the Canadian experience and imagination. We are greeted daily with the reality that the Edge – of the province, country, ocean or time itself – (if there even is an edge) is well beyond our ability to conceive of it. Oceans rise and fall. Mountains collide, erupt, and crumble. The glaciers come with regularity, and over time our mammalian cousins evolve to live in the sea, then upon land, only to return eventually to the oceans. Life in Canada, from cedar trees, to orca whales and Prime Ministers, is waged against the unavoidable landscape of immeasurable time.

August 2004

Echoes in a Timeless Battle

And despite the fact that North America’s First Peoples had managed in this tidal cycle of ice and evolution to live productively – if not in many cases quite comfortably – from coast to coast and north of Hudson’s Bay across the arctic barrens, the European settlers who would write the initial passages in our young nation had left a native landscape that had been subdued by the hands of men and machines for centuries. From landed nobility to indentured servants, Canada’s first settlers had little reason to expect that land, even in the ‘untamed’ New World, would do anything but surrender to the development of crops and the sweep of human progress 1

It is into this terse relationship with the land that Susanna Moodie, and later Tom Thompson, wandered out into their own North Woods and created, in paint and prose, artifact and expression of the energy and life force of the very land itself. And while many did, and many still do cling to the cities 2, there have always been Alexander MacKenzies, and Emily Carrs, and Terry Foxes, individuals who have pursued in themselves a relationship – a conflict, really: survival, waged against the country’s wilderness, and the limits of understanding our country’s character.

In line with the focus of my #Unplugd11 essay and anecdote, I continue to write the story of our country’s/countries’ unfolding narrative with these individual thoughts, and the perspectives of my friends and colleagues. I am able to continue forward from the summit replenished and inspired by time spent talking, telling stories, singing songs, and forging meaning in the ways people of this place have for millennium: beside lakes and campfires, in canoes, and surrounded by residents of a landscape that has shaped each of us.

  1. Of course, they may have also been terrified, scared witless as you or I would be setting out to colonize Mars. But I like to imagine proper French and English gentlefolk encountering the north woods of Ontario with formal-wear and tea sets.
  2. Whose character and value I don’t begrudge or discount, but aren’t the aspect of the Canadian experience I’m after here.

Adventure Trip Photos

“We who the sign might justly be considered ‘odd’ by the world; yes, even crazy, and dangerous. We were aware, or in the process of becoming aware, and our striving was directed at achieving a more and more complete state of awareness, while the striving of others was a quest aimed at binding their opinions, ideals, duties, their lives and fortunes more and more closely to those of the herd. There, too, was striving, there, too, were power and greatness. But whereas we who were marked believed that we represented the will of Nature  to something new, to the individualism of the future, the others sought to perpetuate the status quo.

“Humanity – which they loved as we did – was for them something complete that must be maintained and protected. For us, humanity was a distant goal toward which all [people] were moving, whose image no one knew, whose laws were nowhere written down.”

Hermann Hesse

Saskatchewan Street Poetry

My sister saw this poem scrawled on a wall in Saskatoon in the summer of 2010, and shared it with us when she got back. I copied it down and carried it around in a journal for a few months before turning it into this song:

Graffiti

Grafitti by Bryanjack

This American Life

Sitting down to recast an updated listing of the RSS feeds, Twitter favourites, and podcasts I make a habit of perusing on a daily weekly monthly basis, I would be remiss to not isolate one of these sources of infotainment above the others — the unparallelled public radio institution that in all honesty, I cannot praise highly enough: This American Life.

My love for public radio goes back to a few consecutive summers I spent living in the woods at the Gus Blass Scout Reservation in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Outside our tents on Saturday afternoons, furiously packing our things for a weekly twenty-hour furlough into neighbouring Conway, or Little Rock, the Saturday broadcasts of NPR would accompany us into cars and down the dusty road leading back to civilization and the comforts of home.

Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered and Morning Becomes Eclectic quickly became a part of my weekend routines. Doing laundry, drying moulding sleeping bags and pillows, and catching up on massive debts of sleep accrued in the sweltering wilds of Camp Rockefeller, I was kept ample company by the likes of Diane Rehm, Robert Siegal, Mr. Keillor, and others. And even now I am never far from a host of disembodied voices that accompany me (in podcasts) on road trips, insomniac nights in bed, runs around the inlet trail in Port Moody, in headphones, car speakers, and the tiny drone of my iPhone’s audio output.

These days, there is an unequivocal champion in garnering my listening attention. His name is Ira Glass, and he hosts a little show called This American Life. Part gonzo journalism, part contemporary American fiction, part living history, This American Life is many things to many people, and difficult to describe. The long and the short of it, as Mr. Glass prefaces every episode, is that “Every week we choose a theme and then bring you a number of stories on that theme.” Where each show goes from there, well…

We view the show as an experiment. We try things. There was the show where we taped for 24 hours in an all-night restaurant. And the show where we put a band together from musicians’ classified ads. And the show where we followed a group of swing voters for months, recording their reactions to everything that happened in the campaign, right up through their final decision. And the show where we had a story for each of the Ten Commmandments. Or the one where our producers all collected stories for a weekend at the same rest stop. We also occasionally do our own versions of stories that are in the news, including award winning economics coveragePlanet Money. that spawned another entire program called We think of the show as journalism. One of the people who helped start the program, Paul Tough, says that what we’re doing is applying the tools of journalism to everyday lives, personal lives. Which is true. It’s also true that the journalism we do tends to use a lot of the techniques of fiction: scenes and characters and narrative threads. Meanwhile, the fiction we have on the show functions like journalism: it’s fiction that describes what it’s like to be here, now, in America. What we like are stories that are both funny and sad. Personal and sort of epic at the same time. We sometimes think of our program as a documentary show for people who normally hate documentaries. A public radio show for people who don’t necessarily care for public radio.
About our Radio Show This American Life

To get started, or to even see if This American Life might provide an introduction or addition to your podcast, or talk-radio listening, subscribe through iTunes, or check out the website’s Favourites Page. You can also browse through more than ten years of the award-winning program in their archives (which is handy, as downloading old episodes on iTunes costs 99 cents). It is honestly difficult to find an episode not worth your time.

Some of my recent favourites:

  • Notes on CampFittingly, this episode tells the “Stories of summer camp. People who love camp say that non-camp people simply don’t understand what’s so amazing about camp. In this program, we attempt to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between camp people and non-camp people.”
  • The Georgia RamblerThe This American Life team heads to Georgia to retrace the steps of 1970s “reporter Charles Salter [who] wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal called “Georgia Rambler.” He’d get into his car, head out to some small town, and ask around until he found a story. This week, nine of us go to Georgia to try it out for ourselves, in small towns all over the state.”
  • Origin StoryAn eclectic collection of “little-known and surprising stories of how all sorts of institutions—from a controversial legal precedent to a Hollywood teen dance flick—began. In one story, a man tries to set the record straight about his life’s achievements, which he says include inventing thumb wrestling and popularizing the eating of shrimp in the New York area. And the story of a seven-year-old old boy trying to figure out where he comes from.”

And if I’ve yet to see you thus far, even the Simpsons know how cool Ira Glass and his little program are (though I would probably skip the Condiments episode):

A Summer in Pictures

As a means of dusting off the blog after a long summer’s nap, I’ve embedded a collection of my Flickr photos from the last few months spent kayaking, concert-going, camping, hiking, and otherwise enjoying the peaks of a Pacific Coast summer. Above you’ll find the fruits of trips paddling in Port Moody’s Burrard Inlet, camping on Vancouver Island’s Sombrio Beach, Pemberton’s Blowdown Pass, and the Columbia River Valley for a Kings of Leon concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

Field Trip: Urban Geography & the Canadian Identity

Rising From The RubbleOur students are faced with planning cultural outings over the course of the year that occasionally turn into full-fledged field trips. While other events are attended by handfuls of students – it is expected that each TALONS class member attends three cultural events – others take on such a pertinent range of learning opportunities, as tomorrow’s excursion downtown does, that we arrange our two blocks of study around a trip for all to benefit from.

Saskia has organized tomorrow’s adventure around catching the Vancouver Art Gallery‘s exhibit on the early painting and photography (1860 – 1918) of the North American landscape, as well as the sketched collection of Canada’s Group of Seven, whom we have already studied as creators, and communicators of the Canadian identity.

On our way to the art gallery, we will also be visiting Vancouver’s Chinatown, and otherwise undertaking the journey from our suburb into the heart of downtown on foot and public transit, taking the bus and SkyTrain, arriving between the Olympic venues of BC and GM Place, and walking through the heart of the 2010 village.

Covering English, history, and science, our class spends a lot of time investigating, exploring and discussing our local environments and their influence on our individual and collective identities. And while the inspiration for these discussions is often the natural world – as our forays into the local woods, islands, inlets and otherwise bring about a sense of belonging in a place inhabited for some ten thousand years that cannot help but build one’s affinity – adopted or otherwise – with a sense of home, there is a strange energy that comes with our visits to The City.

In the fall, we make an annual research venture to the Vancouver Public Library and the downtown core’s independent booksellers to gather material for the initial stages of the Eminent Person Study. For many of our grade nine students, the trip is an introduction to Hastings Street, and the truly urban environment of western Canada’s temperate capital is capable of overwhelming many in the way that Manhattan must astound the youngsters of Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.False Creek Transit

Tomorrow though, these very same students head into the city with a vague sense of what to expect. Our intentions are to experience the city’s diverse culture, transit, people and public collection of art which is indisputably a national treasure. The benefits of such additions to one’s education are invaluable, as these glimpses of our urban center balance the culture of our wild places with a potency of vibrant life, architecture and identity that is unique to Vancouver. With the Olympics set to begin a month from today, we are irretrievably on the verge of the city never being the same again, and I look forward to seeing and sharing the trip with 27 sets of the youthful eyes that will take up the creation of our local, provincial and national identity in the Games’ impeding wake.

As a means of focusing the trip, and beginning the artistic creation of our collective identity beginning tomorrow (and continuing, really, every day), I will be asking the students to identify and report on a moment of experienced, realized, or witnessed Canadiana on their blogs. Whether this ends up as a blog post with a cell-phone video shot street side, or a reflection, description or meditation on a local landmark, character, or painting, I am not bothering to prescribe. But to live out the intentions of Goethe‘s quotation that “A person sees in the world what they carry in their heart,” I look forward to the expressions that tomorrow afternoon yields.

As ever, I will be quick to share the postings as they come in.

Access and Interviews (a story & some tips)

NinstintsTime and again I have confirmed my assumptions that asking kindly generally grants one access to opportunities normally beyond their reach. Stating my intentions clearly, and declaring myself a passionate and self-directed person, I have found repeatedly that people are willing to help out if the request is framed appropriately.

An example: A few years ago – after reading this book – my sister and I decided that we needed to go to the Queen Charlotte Islands. But after completing preliminary research we found that many areas of the islands we finswould want to visit – UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hotsprings Island, Tanu, Skedans and a host of other former village sites – were all but inaccessable without boats (either kayaks or greater, and a good deal more ocean knowledge than either of us possessed). Signing up for guided expeditions could cost thousands of dollars (as would the required kayak-purchases and requisite certifications), and yet we remained undeterred. I spent an afternoon on Google finding the email addresses of nearly every guiding outfit operating in the islands, and sent them all this email with our resumes attached:

Greetings,

I have sent you this email in inquiry of volunteer positions with your expedition(s) this summer. Based in Coquitlam, British Columbia, my sister – Melissa, 22 – and I – Bryan, 26 – plan to spend much of August in Haida Gwaii, and would be interested in exploring with you if such an opportunity might exist. I have attached our resumes and enclose these words of introduction on our behalf in the hope that they might deem us worthy additions to your group’s experience in the Charlottes.

At present I am a teacher in the Coquitlam School District (#43), where in my first year I am teaching grade four (social studies and art), as well as music, to students grades kindergarten to five. My journey toward education in this present capacity was born out of experience in the outdoors of the American South, volunteering and then working at a Boy Scouts of America summer camp in the Arkansan Ozark Mountains. For two summers I served as certified aquatics director, overseeing activities in our reservation’s pool complex and at the lakefront; my duties included managing a staff of ten and teaching canoeing, sailing and rowing, as well as swimming and lifesaving skills to approximately thousand Scouts in three years.

During my first year as aquatics director at the Gus Blass Scout Reservation (now Camp Rockefeller), Melissa joined our staff as a volunteer assistant director. A long-certified lifeguard in British Columbia, my sister’s experience in education stems from her work as a diving coach with our local swim club. At Simon Fraser University, she has studied Biology and will complete her degree this spring. Melissa’s focus has been marine biology and botany, which she supplemented with a 2006 summer semester at Vancouver Island’s Bamfield Marine Sciences Research Center. A recent interest has been sparked in her study of ethnobotany, and the relationship between our province’s first peoples and its indigenous plants, specifically traditional ecological knowledge.

At the end of our term at the summer camp, Melissa and I flew to Toronto and began a cross-country road trip that has set the tone for our summer activities since. We have enjoyed outdoor experiences that have led us to our present stations, and will inevitably be headed to the Queen Charlotte’s this summer in the vein of past August on the Sunshine Coast’s Nelson Island and in the forests of the island’s west coast. (To view the exploits of these adventures, see the various albums of this Flickr page: www.flickr.com/photos/bryanjackson/.) We are seeking an experience this summer in British Columbia’s holiest of places, and wish to lend any services, be they culinary or first aid (we could both become certified at our own cost if need be) in nature.

It is our sincere wish and hope that whatever we might do to aid in your group’s experience in the magical reaches of Gwaii Haanas would be appreciated in the most heartfelt manner, and we would invite further conversations about how this might come to pass if it should suit you. We are each outgoing young people with a flare for teamwork and adventure, and our credentials I hope speak to our ability to act as competent, valuable volunteers.

In addition to my email address, we can be reached at the following: 604 555-0000, or Melissa’s email: ______________

It would be a great pleasure to hear from you, Sincerely yours, Bryan Jackson

A great many of these email met replies which very apologetically outlined a variety of reasons they couldn’t help us out. But one company did reply, bluntly stating:

You can work for us and go along on some trips if you would like. Call us when you are here. Heron.

Driving PollyI had already read about Heron in Ian Gill and David Nunuk’s photojournalistic book Haida Gwaii: Journeys through the Queen Charlotte Islands. Raised in Rose Harbour (and on Hornby Island) Heron Weir is something of an emblem of the islands – his mother still lives at Rose Harbour year-round, easily one of the most remote places in coastal BC – and runs the still-locally-owned Moresby Explorers, on whose behalf he extended his brief invitation to Melissa and me. Lo, Our Ride Arrives

And sure enough, when we arrived, Moresby Explorers gave us food to eat, a roof over our heads, and – in exchange for our services doing dishes, making lunches for tours, and tagging along as extra hands on day-trips to refuel vehicles, pick up guests at the airport and ferry and other odd jobs as they crept up – passage aboard zodiac, kayak and float plane through, across and over the expanses of Gwaii Hanaas National Park Reserve and into some of the world’s most revered places.

Murchison Island SlumberAll of which would have cost a lot, you know, unless we asked. So it’s a good thing we did.

I’ve brought this up, as I generally do in class, to introduce students to the idea (and the ease, really) of calling, or emailing strangers in the hopes of obtaining an interview, a mentorship, or a favour with regards to their upcoming Eminent Person Study. Historically a hurdle for students in our program, it cannot be overstated the authenticity contacting a ‘real life’ expert lends to this type of research, less so for the information obtained, and more for the lesson that such requests, when worded correctly, are often granted.

With that, here is the advice I am including in the handout outlining the interviewing aspect of the upcoming project. As ever, feel free to add your own means of contacting expert assistance, or help clarify what I’m getting at here via the comments.

Find out who it is you need to speak to

Universities (and their web pages’ staff directory) are a good place to start, if your Eminent Person was involved in academic pursuits, or left their stamp on world history. In other fields, Wikipedia articles are often cited extensively (look at the bottom of the article), providing original source material for information: locate the authors – professors, journalists, etc – and see if they can provide insight (either becoming the interviewee themselves or pointing you towards your eventual subject). Also, if your person’s namesake or field of work is represented by a non-profit organization, such as a foundation or charity, seek out its director of communications, or public relations: they are literally paid to handle requests such as yours.

Show yourself to be serious, prepared and grateful for the help

  • State the purpose of your contact up front: I am _______________ and I am doing a research project on the life of ______________.
  • But avoid being blunt The above should take more than one sentence, and can include information you have already found on the person, or the field, a summary of how you found the person, or some background on the rationale behind your choice of Eminent Person or the project itself.
  • Humble yourself Be accommodating in setting up the interview, such that all the person must reasonably consent to is answering a few already-prepared questions. Acknowledge clearly – repeatedly – that your interviewee is going beyond the call by granting you some insight. Thank them for their time, even if they can only help by providing you with more phone numbers, emails and people to contact in their stead. Politeness (and here we will include grammar, spelling and formal language) will go a long way here.

Synthesize the results

What did you learn? What perspective or angle did your interviewee provide on your Eminent Person? How does this ‘stack up’ with the rest of your research? What do you need to know next? How will this information find its way into your project?

And of course: You should contact your prospective interviewee well in advance of needing the information. This will allow you to not be pushy in arranging a time to meet, talk on the phone, or receive an email.

 

The Long Way Home

Highway

As a means of solidifying many photographs and words written long ago (2002), I will be posting subsequent chapters to this initial endeavor here.

The summer I graduated from University, my younger sister and I worked at a Boy Scout summer camp in the Ozark Mountains, where I had interned the previous year. With the stowed paychecks of six weeks work in our backpacks, we went to Toronto and bought a car, took the train to Montreal, and visited Niagara Falls’ misty fury before heading west. Having taken root in the heart of the South for five years, the trip across our country was a fitting homecoming and definitive personal culmination of many things. This is the record of that voyage, and what I thought it meant at the time.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Canada Day & Our Country's Parks

Last week I received an early-morning phone call

informing me that a friend of a friend had passed away over the weekend along the lengths of the Yellowhead Highway’s western flank, in Smithers, BC. Weary of the drive through the Fraser’s canyon and the sheer distance involved in traversing the province’s northern shoulder – some two thousand kilometers in all – I offered to provide vehicle and pilot to the expedition (this is where it can help to have vacationing teachers as friends) so long as we could round out the trip by cycling through the northern edges of the Rockies on the return trip. And at 11pm on the last day of June – last Tuesday – we resolved to leave the next morning for Smithers, and the funeral slated for Friday. The next morning, Canada Day, we stopped at Canadian Tire for a stove and several propane canisters, and lit out for the north.

In Chilliwack, we stopped at the Provincial Information Center by the Trans Canada, and procured nearly the entirety of the resources required for a 2500km road trip over five days: BC Parks & Road map, Camp Free BC guidebook, and regional parks descriptions for the Caribou, the Skeena, the Rockies, the North (yeah, simply, the North), as well as Lower Mainland and Coast. Aside from spending a night in Smithers in a hotel (whose drapes helped us sleep through a night that saw a mere three hours of night), we would live out of the car, making living rooms in campsites around the province.

I have made such voyages before, but never on such short notice. My sister and I have driven the country from Toronto to Vancouver, and spent a month in the wilds of Haida Gwaii, and yet even on a smaller scale, the ease our provincial parks put such explorations of our country’s natural beauty before our fingertips is a remarkable testament to that which we hold to be self-evident: that,

“as a public trust, [our parks] protect representative and special natural places within the Province’s Protected Areas System for world class conservation, outdoor recreation, education and scientific study.”

A. and I left for our trip on Canada Day, our national holiday, and set up tent, fire, sunset and the Tragically Hip on a perch above the Trans Canada Highway and Lac Le Hache. Far from a wilderness venture, our site was raked gravel, and came with sturdy picnic table, fire pit (and achingly dry pine that split and burned too easily), and also included waterfront view at $15 a night. From past experience, I knew that in driving aroundacross our country, the use of a Parks Road map will point out such overnight accommodations at two-to-three hundred kilometer intervals along Highway 1, but also many ulterior routes. But I had not truly contemplated how easy, how reachable, and how inexpensive such experiences could be, and realized that it showed an incredible amount of foresight for our legislators had written it into law that such plots, freckled across our highways and the natural expanses they lead to, be set aside to put future generations in touch with who they are, as citizens of Canada. To enjoy our parks is to view the country’s natural and human history in the spirit of the adventurous present, we thought that night, retiring to a sleep rock-a-byed by the rumbling of 18-wheelers on their night drives, winding through the capillaries of the Caribou.

The next morning we set our sights on the western reaches of the Yellowhead, to Smithers and the head of the Skeena Valley. With 700km to travel, and a date with a hotel that evening, we spanned our day around highway rest stops and campgrounds for meals and swims across the high country. Two years ago my sister and I followed the Yellowhead to its termination in Naikoon Provincial Park, on the Queen Charlotte Islands. But we misread the date of our sailing from Prince Rupert, and spent four days exploring the valley of the Seven Sisters, and the lakes along the Pacific Trunk Railway. Though not as awe inspiring as other corners of the Province, it felt on both trips as though I were exercising some patriotic duty to see and experience as much of my home as possible. Thoreau alluded to traveling in one’s home as important to that accomplished abroad, and while I don’t believe he imagined a sense of home reaching the lengths of BC’s farthest borders, I feel like these excursions make manifest this purpose.

With the funeral behind us on Friday afternoon we drove away from the afternoon sun, bound for Beaumont Provincial Park near Vanderhoof (the Geographical Center of British Columbia). But with the sun still high and the promise of the Rockies not far off, we drove through the northern capital of Prince George and found a Campsite Full sign outside Lake Pruden. Cause for momentary panic – as the long twilight had begun and Mt. Robson was more than an hour’s drive to our next such lodgings – we found that “overflow campers” had been diverted to the picnic area behind the beach. At the same cost ($15), we found ourselves baffled in the July moonrise accompanied by crying loons and the North’s trademark mosquitoes, black flies and noseeums, and retired to an early rest.

The next morning, still in the sun, the eastern border of the province barreled on toward us, opening the highway up into its cursive-writing dive into Mount Robson and the western Rockies. Mount Terry Fox reared up, bald and rounded at the edge of the highway, striking that chord that Douglas Coupland has spent a while tuning in each of our appreciation of the quintessential Canadian Hero. Looking up through the free steel binoculars in the rest area, I remembered standing at the foot of the man-made monument to Terry at the western tip of Lake Superior, and the furthest point reached during his Marathon of Hope. As a graduate of Coquitlam’s schools (just like Terry Fox), I didn’t feel myself a stranger to the mythology of the young man’s courage, inspiration, and the call to rise above, beyond and to become a symbol. But to be twenty two at the time and to see my young countryman in marble looking out at the greatest of the lakes was a Canadian moment rivaling any I have yet experienced.

Some few thousand miles west, into the promised land which Terry traveled as a picture of heroism which defies description, I looked up at the mountain bearing his name and thought about the land between these honoured points, and that it is the fabric of our country, our home, and diverse as the people who live upon it. But each of us is bound to this sense of distance,  and the immensity of our separation. In distance we are yet close.

At Mount Robson, we stayed in the spray of the Fraser headwaters as they begin their teeming glare out of the belly of the province to spill the land’s sediment into the Pacific. Here begins the highway that the Northwest Company would utilize in its efforts to reach the ocean; how much hope welled within those earliest explorers – Alexander MacKenzie, Simon Fraser & David Thompson, among others – when they sensed that these streams were to be the culmination of a continent, the end of the future? I waded into the freezing waters on Sunday morning, waited for the numbness to take my feet and shins (though in the meantime worried I would throw up from the pain of doing so) and submerged myself in the broiling eddy of the main current, stumbling and rolling against the riverbed before coming up.Later in the day, A. and I would each swim in the Thompson before stopping for a final night on the shores of Lac Le Jeune.

It may only be a Canadian ritual 1  to ceremonially immerse oneself in the waters of the various regions of one’s country, or in the least is exclusive to countries – where through frigid temperatures, dangerous currents or predatory animals – where rivers, lakes and the seas command human respect. Where the opportunity presents itself, I keep a tally in my mind of the local bodies of water I have swum in: from the Adriadic, Atlantic and Pacifics, to the Frasers, Thompsons Rivers, Cultas and Pure Lakes, among a host of others. I was raised a water child, swimming before I could walk, and to emerge from these waterways is to become a citizen of these places.

“I have been for a long period among the Rocky Mountains, but have never seen any thing equal to this country, for I cannot find words to describe our situation at times. We had to pass where no human being should venture. Yet in those places there is a regular footpath impressed, or rather indented, by frequent travelling upon the very rocks. And besides this, steps which are formed like a ladder, or the shrouds of a ship, by poles hangining onto one another anc crossed at certain distances with twigs and withes (tree boughts) suspended from the top to the foot of the precipices, and fastened at both ends to stones and trees furnished a safe and convenient passage to the Natives – but we, who had not the advantages of their experence, were often in imminent danger, when obliged to follow their example.”

Simon Fraser

Having journeyed north through Cache Creek and the Fraser Canyon, winding through Hell’s Gate and what must have seemed the apocalypse to Simon Fraser and his band of Norwesters, we spent Sunday passing through Valemount, Barrierre, Clearwater and the country north of Kamloops where Fraser first came south, along the Thompson. With the ghosts of the high country fading, we discarded the relics of the north en route back to life, civilization, and pavement.

We made it through Kamloops, filling up on what would be our trip’s final tank of gas, and stopped at Lac Le Jeune on the Coquillhalla Highway for our final night in the tent. RVs rumbled through the afternoon taking up sites, and

the moon rose on a cloudless, bugless night. We lit an early fire with a surplus of wood, and listened to a large family playing Wolf and the Townspeople up the hill from our site. Our fifth night out, we slept soundly amidst crickets in the surrounding grass.

Civilization came calling early the next morning however, with an industrial weed-whacker tackling deep swaths of the cricket-grass before the sounding of the dawn’s first rustling birds. Yawns and bed-headed tenters emerged quickly – checking watches, craning their necks to the overcast sky – and by 7:30 the camp was fully stirring, as the weed-whacking parks employee had continued his rounds through each of the campsite’s four concentric rings of sites. Our dusty wares were stowed and we stopped for coffees before arriving in Port Moody in the rain, 2512km under our tires in five days.


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  1. I say that this could be a Canadian phenomena based on two experiences: When my sister and I found ourselves within a stone’s throw of the St. Lawrence, in Montreal, grasping the history that had sailed that canal in the preceding four hundred years: as Canadians, something of us is born in rivers and lakes, as they meant the birth of our country. In BC, we are witness to not only the proximity to European and Native interaction with the land, but the millenia which have sculpted salmon’s relationship to the land within its waters. Such is this impulse in British Columbians that on a recent trip to Copenhagen with a large group of Canadians, several were instinctively drawn to diving from the corner of a busy downtown intersection into the channels of the Copenhagen River, yielding many inquisitive stares from the uninitiated European observers.