Funny how small things trigger memories. A few days ago there was a news story about the prime minister weighing in on the importance of Canada continuing to mine, refine and produce asbestos to ship around the world, despite the assumed health risks related to asbestos in any of its forms.
I suspect that, in addition to the economic benefits of mining the product, Mr. Harper was also contemplating the potential favourable voter support of the Quebec community where the asbestos is located.
Health, politics, economic contributions and other potential pluses or minuses, however, had absolutely nothing to do with the memory jogging that the story inspired.
What did get my overstuffed-with-trivia mind going back in time was the name of the community: Thetford Mines. That was, I suddenly recalled, one of the many towns that were revealed during a newspaper contest back when I was a kid.
I don’t remember what the weekly quizzes were exactly, but I think they related to lists of towns across Canada in which the letters were all jumbled up and you had to decipher the names and locate where the communities were.
It was interesting, and my father and I looked forward each week to the Saturday paper that contained a new list of names from across the country.
How else would I always remember such relative inconsequentials as Kapuskasing, Temiskaming and Timmins. Or Goose Bay, Gander and Guelph.
The contest made me think about Canada, and fostered a huge interest in geography . . . good thing since it was one of the few subjects in high school that provided me with better than passing grades.
What seemed trivial then, and in some respects continues to be, since within this country I have never been east of Calgary save as a small child. Lots of other places on this continent and across the waters have felt my footfalls, but most of Canada is to me an unexplored landscape, its towns and cites, beauty and blight, known only from those quizzes long ago or from TV, film and magazines.
And I regret that greatly. I would love to take a driving tour to explore this great land from sea to sea, to see Newfoundland and Labrador first hand, to explore the tundra and the waving wheat fields along our southern border; to battle mosquitoes in northern Ontario and sit at a sidewalk table in Quebec City.
But time and money have never seemed to arrive with appropriate togetherness, and over the years commitments have conspired to generally keep me within the confines, wonderful though they are, of British Columbia.
While we always figured out the names of the jumbled cities and towns across the nation, and weekly mailed off our successes, I don’t ever recall there being a material prize for all the correct answers. The real gift however, was an abiding interest in, and future acquired knowledge of, the diversity of geography of this vast nation.
And developed from that was a admiration of country to the point that a Canadian flag always flies at my home and, through passing on that patriotism, flags also fly at the homes of my children.
Thus, on Friday, when we annually recognize the birth of our nation I am able to travel, at least in my mind’s eye, to all those places that newspaper competition instilled forever in the memory banks.
Though the opportunity for a national tour has not yet arrived, there is still an atlas in the bookcase, and looking through it demonstrates the enormity and potential strength we have in Canada.
Remember, on July 1, that we are much more than hockey fans, rioters or scoffers of anywhere other than, as our previous premier used to say, “The Best Place on Earth”. We are part of the Best Nation on Earth.
Be proud on Friday, and in your own way salute all we are, and all we have become, warts and all.