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J.D.M. Stewart: ‘An occasion and a country worth celebrating’: The Queen was a proud participant in Canada’s growth

Commentary

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, takes her final resting place today at Windsor Castle. This is no ordinary funeral. It honours a woman who was not only this country’s head of state for 70 years, but also who—through both longevity and purpose—was inextricably woven into the fabric of Canadian history. 

A look at the life of Her Majesty is to take an enviable ride in a time machine to some of this great Dominion’s most important moments. Whether it was signing a proclamation to establish a new flag for Canada in 1965, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, or signing the 1982 Constitution Act, Queen Elizabeth II was a steadfast and proud participant in our past—something not lost on our late monarch.

“During my lifetime, I have been a witness to this country for more than half its history since Confederation,” the Queen said on July 1, 2010, in Ottawa. “I have watched with enormous admiration how Canada has grown and matured while remaining true to its history, its distinctive character, and its values.”

She certainly knew Canada’s history, character, and values. At the rededication ceremony for the Vimy National War Memorial in 2007, she stood in front of Walter Allward’s masterpiece and remarked that “In any national story there are moments and places, sometimes far from home, which in retrospect can be seen as fixed points about which the course of history turns, moments which distinguish that nation forever. Those who seek the foundations of Canada’s distinction would do well to begin here at Vimy.”

The Queen was also present during the difficult few years after the 1990 collapse of the Meech Lake accord. On July 1, 1992, the 125th anniversary of Confederation, Canada was in a muddle, but Her Majesty reminded us that “we have an occasion and a country worth celebrating.” 

Noting the ongoing constitutional squabbles, Her Majesty gently warned politicians gathered on Parliament Hill that, “It is, perhaps, worth reminding those striving for constitutional success that the real Constitution is not cast immutably on the printed page but in the hearts of the Canadian people.”

Her relationships with her Canadian prime ministers were superb. From Louis St. Laurent to Justin Trudeau, the Queen impressed them all. “Her Majesty proved to be among the wisest persons I was destined to encounter in public life,” wrote Brian Mulroney in his 2015 memoir. “Considering that she began with Winston Churchill as her prime minister, this should surprise no one. I was able to draw upon this experience when I sought her advice in the years that lay ahead, and I remain grateful to this day for the thoughtful counsel she provided.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed those sentiments in the House of Commons last Thursday when he said, “She embraced her role as Queen of Canada, our Queen, our head of state. Her conversations with me were always candid. We talked about anything and everything. She gave her best advice on a range of issues. She was always curious, engaged, and thoughtful. Canadians can be forever grateful for her counsel.”

It is possible that some of the prime minister’s reverence for Her Majesty is due to his father’s admiration for the Queen. It may surprise people to discover that Pierre Trudeau was very fond of her, and the two developed a warm relationship, despite the PM’s antipathy for the British Empire. 

The comfort of the friendship once emboldened the prime minister to tell the monarch over dinner the story of his aunt who said it was okay to pick up a chicken drumstick with one’s hands. “The Queen does it,” his aunt said in defence when someone raised an eyebrow. As John English notes in his Trudeau biography, the two looked at each other and the Queen only replied, “Hmm.” 

“I imagine she wouldn’t do it,” the prime minister surmised later when he told the story. 

There are many lessons to draw from Queen Elizabeth II’s interactions with Canada during the past 70 years. She never lost sight of the limitless possibilities of this country. Above the political fray, she remained positive and consistently reminded us of what we have. 

“As Queen of Canada, I have had the privilege of speaking to you on numerous occasions since my first visit in 1951,” she said from Edmonton 17 years ago. 

“In doing so, I have attempted to convey the admiration and optimism I feel for this land and her diverse people. Your enduring ties to the Crown stand not only for a respect for heritage but also for the principles of peace, order, and good government developed by the Fathers of Confederation who envisaged and worked so diligently to make this country a reality.” 

During Her Majesty’s reign, we have occasionally lost the plot about what Canada stands for. But God bless her for being there to remind us of what we have. Maybe that will be her lasting legacy here. 

Jerry Amernic: We can still learn a lot from that determined young man with one good leg

Commentary

I come in from my latest training run and it’s a short one. Four kilometres. I slip off the shoes — I had been using this pair only for running — and notice that the bottom of one of the soles was coming unglued. Then I check the other shoe. Same thing. In fact, my old footwear was in bad shape and should have been replaced long ago.

I bought them the year I turned 50 because that year I had set a goal to run a marathon and joined a running club. However, like many things in life that didn’t turn out as planned. Because of one injury after another I lost a lot of time and wound up doing a half-marathon, but it was still an accomplishment.

I’m not a religious runner by any means, but every year just about now I take part in this 10K run that requires training. But suddenly I found myself in need of a new pair of shoes so off I went to The Running Room to make a purchase. What is it that possesses a grandfather of four to do this sort of thing? That’s easy.

Terry Fox.

I don’t know if I ever encountered another human being who affected me and inspired me the way Terry Fox did. Here was this young guy from B.C. who had lost his leg to cancer and decided to run across Canada — on one good leg — to raise money for cancer research. Everyone said he was crazy, that it couldn’t be done, but he ignored them and persisted and went off to do his training. When he was ready he headed out to the east coast of Newfoundland and dipped his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean. Then he started running west and planned — just as I had once planned to run a marathon — to do that same distance only he would do it every day.

People said he was crazy.

He ran all the way across Newfoundland and then through Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. He made it into Quebec and then got to Ottawa where he met the prime minister but it was only in Southern Ontario when the media really picked up on what this remarkable Canadian was actually doing — running across Canada on one good leg to raise money for cancer research.

However, in Thunder Bay he took ill only to learn that the cancer had returned to his lungs. The thing about Terry Fox and the reason he is so inspirational is that there was no quit in him. None. But he had taken ill once again and had to stop his Marathon of Hope, his daily marathon, which he had persisted with for 143 days. He ran 5,373 kilometres or 3,339 miles — more than halfway across the country — and today there is a statue of him in Thunder Bay.

He said he wanted to raise $1 for every Canadian and he did. But on June 28, 1981 he died. It was one month short of his 23rd birthday. He was the youngest person to be named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He also won the Lou Marsh Award as the country’s top sportsman, was Canada’s Newsmaker of the Year for 1981, and today there are schools, theatres and even a mountain in the Rockies with his name attached to it.

I don’t know how many times I’ve done this run. At least thirty and probably more. My favourite 10K route winds through a beautiful river valley and goes all the way down to Lake Ontario and then across the shoreline. You can ask any runner but no sport or physical activity is as soothing for the soul as this. Indeed, running has a tendency to put one’s mind at ease and bring a sense of peace and comfort, not to mention time to reflect.

In February, my wife lost one of her favourite people, her Aunt Mary, to cancer. Only four months later Mary’s husband of 59 years, Andy, would also pass away. My wife and I were married in their garden. In April my son lost his mother-in-law to cancer and we know of other people, including those very close to us, who are wrestling with this horrible disease as we speak.

Like all diseases it is without prejudice. It affects the old. The young. The rich. The poor. And those of every colour, ethnic group, and religion. Cancer does not choose sides but affects people indiscriminately and maybe that’s why over the past 40 years the annual Terry Fox Run has raised more than $850 million for cancer research and takes place all over the world.

People run in Hong Kong. India. Malaysia. Dubai. Ireland. The United Kingdom. They run in Sydney, Australia and Santa Monica, California and Sapporo, Japan. They all run for Terry Fox.

I have a black-and-white picture of him on my office wall and when I do the Terry Fox run through that river valley there will be an image of him posted at every kilometre along the way. The image of a determined young man with one good leg.

No doubt, he would be overjoyed knowing that so much money has been raised for cancer research in his name. Some $850 million. The irony is that the world spends far more than that on armaments every single day. Yes that’s right. You know, I think we can all learn a lot from Terry Fox and you don’t even have to be a runner.