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Happy Canada Day

July 1, 2012
by

Bonne fête du Canada!

When Canada Day comes around every year, I always think about this country and how fortunate I am to be born here in this beautiful and special place.

In Canada I feel we share a human commitment to each other- respecting each other and our shared democratic rights, personal freedom and peace. We embrace our ethnic diversity and I proudly feel that this is how it can and is being done here; where the rest of the world’s nations appear culturally homogeneous, we have a clearly unique and open culture.

We are striving toward better, always, but what a true gift it is for us to ‘start’ from here: our past tells our story of believing in these core Canadian values and fighting for them. We are lucky that the brutality we read about in far away places is not in our own cities, lakes and parks, and sadly we do lose Canadians fighting abroad every year and I feel for their families here.

Canada Day is a truly special day- it’s ours to champion and to thank, to love and cherish.

The first of July is also my late grand-mother’s birthday and so I always think about her on this day especially.

I miss her and she comes into my thoughts often: I think about her smile, her remarkable life, progressive mentality and generosity to everyone around her- I know she was really one-of-a-kind. Antoinette had an ability to connect with anyone and everyone who came across her- you could not bypass loving my grand-mother!- which meant for an extensive life-long circle of friends, acquaintances and family defined by love and respect over generations. I always felt privileged to be her grand-daughter and while she was not a natural mother to my own, she really was far more than that. Antoinette was a mother to all.

Grand-maman was born July 1, 1911, and she was more modern than many people I meet today. She was deeply religious and would recite the rosary with her friends during the day, I’d hear the hum of voices down the hallway, and think of how many rosaries she had and had given me (including a glow-in-the-dark one which I loved to look at under the covers) and Jesus figurines, blessed items and the holy water we respected and crispy cut-outs my sister and I loved to play church with.

But Jesus and religion were mitigated by her independence of thought and decision-making: Antoinette would say that she was happy to hear about so-and-so shacking up before getting married- “They should get to know each other first.” Like many people in the Lac St Jean pocket of Quebec, she had never seen a person of a different ethnicity or encountered sushi, but my grand-mother was definitely not back woods: Antoinette was known for embracing freedom of choice and each’s pursuit of happiness.

And did I mention that she had style! Grand-maman is the first and original fashionista and she had that reputation, too. All her life she loved to dress up, change outfits mid-day, get her hair done and change her polish to coordinate with her dress, wore beautiful shoes and matching hand bags. She was always in dresses and skirts, so elegant and proud. And she accessorised like it’s nobody’s business: grand-maman adored shiny things and always wore beautiful brooches, necklaces and rings, much of it given to her by those in her life who fed her jewelry habit. My mom would shop for her and always send her a cardi for Christmas with either pearls sewn on, crystals or sequins. And she loved to wear these and appreciated them so much- there just aren’t shops that sell fancy things in St. Thomas Didyme and nearby Normandin where she lived for many years, too.

For Antoinette’s birthday we would bring her a lighter garment and jewelry, too. I loved helping shop for her, and our summers with her in Quebec were endless fashion shows and adventures in the countryside returning home to cook our catch, bake with local berries and spread jams given to her by neighbours and friends.

Antoinette was one of the last grande dames of this country.

She was a model Canadian and lived for much of this past century, with clarity of thought, memory and sound advice buoyed by a warm heart and happy appetite for living life to the fullest. She could easily tell me the names of people in faded photos from any moment in her history- she knew and told me the stories of men who were bûcherons (lumberjacks) alongside my grand-father in Lac St. Jean in the ’30s- and I can barely remember the people I worked with in university. I loved hearing her refer to cars as “machines” and yet could easily operate modern technology, and hear stories about her growing up with 22 siblings (the two youngest are still alive!- she was the third-youngest) and I wondered about it all, and where to begin. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a lens on the 20th century like hers, on a life that to me seems so back-breaking back then but to her was always happy and filled with new friends. I know how much she gave to others despite having so little material wealth and wanted nothing in return; her daily life was bountiful with gifts of food and help, but what she cherished most was the constant stream of visits and phone calls by everyone touched by her.

She was with us for 94 years and she is so very missed and dearly loved.

Happy Canada Day to you and your family, et bon anniversaire grand-maman xxxxx

Johanne

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