As I get set to head to Saskatchewan (still my favourite Province to visit!) to meet with the Minister of Health and other political leaders about a family requiring access to therapy, I thought I would re-post an old entry I wrote from Saskatoon, at one of the most peaceful spots I visited on my journey.
I wrote this as I was making my first decision to enter the world of politics, as I sat by the grave of the great John Dieffenbaker in Saskatoon and wrote back and forth to Stuart Mclean, a friend of mine and a great Canadian in his own right. I posted this in May of 2009 and wrote about my passion and excitement to help shape Canada for the better, feelings I continue to hold today, though in a different light. I take my role in the world of Rare Diseases very seriously, and will do everything I can to protect our kids who desperately need our help, who desperately need access to treatments we’ve already approved here in Canada. I owe it to my own son to continue fighting for our kids, and I’ll do so until we find the cure we’ve been searching for all these years.
I am currently sitting at one of my favourite places in Canada, beside the tombstone of John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th Prime Minister. I first fell in love with this spot at this time last year, when I travelled to Saskatchewan on a class trip with my grade 8 class. The week had been a long one, and a busy one, and I managed to escape here for lunch and some respite on my final day in town.
I sat here, in the very spot that I am typing from now, and wrote a journal entry to a friend of mine back in Ontario. He has a radio show on CBC called The Vinyl Cafe. At the time, entering public life was an idea that had been pulling at me for some time, since before my son Isaac got sick. I think the atmosphere here inspired me and I just had to put down on paper…er…email what was going through my mind. Here’s what I wrote…
After a long and arduous week, I have finally arrived at the Diefenbaker centre at the University of Saskatchewan. I had two things that I wanted to see while I was away; the vast expanse of prairie farmland and the final resting place of the enigmatic Chief himself.
Being locked up in paperwork forced me to miss our two-day trip through the countryside and down to Moose Jaw, hence removing the chance for me to see the land that W.O Mitchell so elequently wrote about in his masterpiece, Who Has Seen The Wind. But I was determined to get here today and get a glimpse of the life that was John Diefenbaker.
As I type, I am laying in the grass beside the tombstone and final resting place of the great man himself. A gopher is watching my every move as the prairie sun beats down upon me. Diefenbaker must have selected this resting place for himself, knowing that those visiting his grave would have to look over and about the land he loved so much.
As I aspire for a life in public office, I’m inspired by the man whose grave I’m quietly visiting. I love that I am here and being reminded that he never gave up his dream of serving the people, never lost his drive to fight for what he believed in, and always remembered his roots.
This exchange has brought me a full week in Kingston, where I was able to teach our kids about how incredible John A. was for our city and country. Now I get a true glimpse at what the Chief meant to the people in the West. I see who he fought for; the disadvantaged, the minorities, the real people that have built our great nation, and I’m proud that he is recognized with this museum, and I’m proud that people still stop by here to pay him homage.
I will come back here sometime, in the near future or a long way down the road, if only to keep my inspiration for a life of service in politics at the forefront of my mind.
See you when I see you,
Stuart emailed me back almost immediately, and included a journal entry that he had written from the grave side of Sir John A. MacDonald who was, of course, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Here’s what HE wrote…
Thanks for the picture. I visited his house in Prince Albert a couple of months ago. A couple of years ago I spent a few hours one afternoon by Macdonald’s grave in Kingston, Ontario and wrote a script for the show.
I am writing these words in a child’s scribbler sitting under a pine tree that is growing by the gravesite of Sir John A Macdonald. I have come here by train along the same railbed perhaps that he once rode, maybe even gazing at the same fields, the same farms, perhaps the very same trees, on the two hour morning run in from Toronto.
It took less than five minutes and costs less than five dollars to get here by taxi from the train station. And now sitting here with my coat spread on the grass beneath me a spider working its jerky way across my right knee I can hear the whistle of trains as they shunt through the station below me.
This grave that I have meant to visit for years is marked by a simple stone cross, no more than three feet high. The government sign marks his grave as a Canadian Prime Minister. But the sign also says the grave sight was fixed up in 1982 — which is when the black wrought iron fence was run around it, I decide.
And the stone cross that I have come to see seems too polished to have weathered many Canadian winters. And I am thinking, as I sit here in 2002, 111 years since he died, in a world that is often too shiny for my taste, that I never got the impression he fretted over heavy weather or would be offended by the work of the wind.
I would like to tell him as I sit under this tree and feel the warmth of the June sun on my face, that I was glad to be born in this corner of the world that he coaxed into being. That we are still here and that we know ourselves to be among the lucky.
But mostly I would like to tell him that I travel by train whenever I can, and that he could still travel by train if he wanted; still all the way to the pacific, and on the way over the prairie where
I would like to tell him, if he wanted he might still, if the conductor was feeling good, ride between the cars and throw the top half of the door open so he could stick his head out and feel the wind on his face and count the ducks in the ponds as he went by.
And I would like to tell him that just last weekend I found myself walking by railroad tracks with a young man, a boy still in school who turned to me and said, “I like the smell of trains.” I would like to tell him that.
But mostly I would like to tell him that I wasn’t the only person sitting here on this June afternoon on this pleasant hillside by his grave thinking these things.
Our exchange made me smile and capped off one of those moments in life when things come clearly into perspective.
It felt good to be here then, and it feels good to be here once more. I hadn’t realized that I would have the opportunity get back here so soon. It’s another beautiful day on the Prairies, and the “Land of the Living Skies” is truly living up to its name. To my left, I can see downtown Saskatoon on the horizon, and to my right, nothing but trees and nature. I am sitting with two friends and we are all just taking in the serenity of this spot beside Dief’s grave.
I am touched by the amount of people that walk by and then stop for a moment of silence at the final resting place of John Diefenbaker. I watched the first few people stop and then continue along on their walk through the campus. But I wanted to know why they were here, and from where, so I started to engage them in conversation. The first man that I spoke with, as I sat in the grass with my laptop, was from Toronto, simply visiting Saskatoon for a few days until he reached Regina and his business meeting. He had a video camera and a digitial camera with him and he was filming the walk up to Dief’s grave. He paused for a moment and took in the atmosphere, the warm Prairie sun, and the sound of the wind rushing through the trees. He seemed almost awe-struck, and told me that he just had to get to this spot before he headed south.
The next group that I talked to was an elderly couple with their two friends. They came up to visit from the south of the province, almost as far south as the border. The one gentleman told me that he came here as a student many years ago, when there were only 2500 people registered at the University. His daughter was a retired professor from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the city that I’m visiting here from with my grade 8 class. His daughter would have taught my wife in the Faculty of Nursing, a fact that pleased both him and his wife.
Canada is a small country once you start talking to people. Don told me that Diefenbaker once came to his father’s house for coffee, simply because his dad had invited him to. And he told me that Dief would do that often, visit people in their homes, because he was just a regular person, just like everybody else. As Don stated, “he had his problems too, but that’s also just like everybody else.”
I think this is why I admire Diefenbaker as much as I do. There are those out there that would object to Dief’s name being printed on this blog site, the blog of a hopeful candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada. But what made Dief great wasn’t the fact that he was Conservative, nor was it the fact that he was even the Prime Minister. To me, Dief was great because he worked hard to represent the people that he cared for most; the people that needed it the most. Dief was a politician for the people, something we don’t see enough of in today’s rough and tumble world of politics. Dief cared about the “ordinary Canadian”, the people that had struggles but were relentless in their determination to persevere. Dief was a community politician, and he turned his difficult upbringing into a passion and penchant for helping those who needed guidance.
History has, and always will, allow us to look at our heroes in a different light, away from the glare of public scrutiny, and the pressure to step in line with the status quo. I hope there will be a day when people can look back at the things that Diefenbaker accomplished for our country and can appreciate that he always had the betterment of the nation as his goal. Dief looked out for us, and provided countless citizens with a sense of hope for their future without ever asking for anything in return. THIS should be the everlasting quality that we seek from our politicians today, for it’s this quality that will help us to grow and evolve as a nation.
Stuart wrote of the people that were sitting at MacDonald’s grave with him and his longing for MacDonald to know that they were there for him. I too have been touched by the people that have stopped by for a few moments with Dief, a final acknowledgement that he made a difference in our world, and a thank you for giving himself to those who needed it most.
I hope I can give back to my community someday and have the opportunity to work hard to help our country get back to community representation and a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
I’m about to open up Obama’s “Audacity of Hope”, and I can’t think of a better place to read it than here by the graveside of one, John Diefenbaker.
So long from Saskatoon.