Paddy Torsney, former MP reviews book written by former Governor General. Recommends it to everyone.

 

By Paddy Torsney

BURLINGTON, ON  November 11, 2011

It is fitting that I write this review of Room for All of Us by Adrienne Clarkson on November 11th.  Like many Canadians, I spent the morning at Remembrance Day ceremonies in my community. My parents are immigrants to Canada so we don’t have uncles, aunts and grandparents to remember. In fact, my parents came from Ireland, a country that remained neutral during the war and they did not serve in the two world wars.

This morning the Minister who spoke used the theme “I remember it well”, expanding the notion to remember the lost and injured soldiers and civilians, to experience through his stories the suffering of the times.

Mme Clarkson’s book encourages readers to do just that: remember it well.  Remember the stories of the individuals she presents to us and remember how their journey is similar to ours, or our ancestors, and that whether they came in 1999 or in 1799, the stories have similarities.  Though the distance, nationality and skin colours may be different, in our hearts we are all the same: courageous people who have chosen, or been driven to choose, Canada. Even more importantly, we need to remember that our nation is richer for each of the experiences.

Mme Clarkson chose ten Canadians to profile in her book. Their backgrounds are diverse and most of them faced diversity before choosing Canada.  Each and every one of the people she presents had an interesting story to tell.   Each and every one caused me to learn more about what Canada and the world was thinking at the time of their arrival – anti-Vietnam protests, Idi Amin’s expulsions, destitute boat people from Vietnam and Sri Lanka, the Holocaust.  Although the circumstances are different, there are many similarities to more recent migrations and migrations further in the past.

The book is well researched and the stories well woven with Clarkson`s experience coming to Canada as a young Chinese girl and settling in the Ottawa of the 1940’s.   This tapestry of stories and history allows readers to feel, and be inspired by, the wonderful nation building that is occurring with each arrival this year as some 250,000 new entrants join our country.

Former Governor General of Canada, Mme Clarkson’s legacy project is The Institute for Canadian Citizenship.   It’s a great project that ensures more Canadians will learn our country’s rich history, a history that comprises dynamic people and remarkable journeys. This book will help launch that Institute to many readers.

I can recommend this book to readers. While readers will be familiar with some of the public figures presented (Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan, former MLA Corky Evans, radio star Andy Barrie and Rogers Canada president Nadir Mohamed), there are other people many Canadians won’t know well (Holocaust survivor Fred Bild, film director John Tran or artist Tamara Toledo, author David Albahari).  With each story we learn more about the people and become interested in their journey and how their experiences have influenced careers and life choices.

Former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson has written a book consisting of profiles of people who chose Canada. For those of us who were born here, the book offers a view of our country that is both refreshing and rewarding.

The Blair family story presents another perspective on the decision to choose Canada.  The Blairs descend on both sides from ancestors who arrived in Canada in 1843.  After generations of life in Quebec City, the family moved to the UK for professional reasons but kept their children connected with Canada in stories and summer vacations.  After years abroad, all three children returned to live in Quebec City as bilingual citizens who care deeply about their country and have put enormous effort into preserving Quebec’s historical buildings. “The Blairs are now part of only two percent of the Quebec City population, whereas their ancestors (British) formed fifty percent.  But they have adapted.  They have done what they wished to do: live in the society of their ancestors and adapt to the changing conditions.”

The Blairs represent well the story of Canada: people coming to our shores and making and remaking our nation through the centuries. And we are all enriched by these experiences, whether or not they are part of our family.

Mme Clarkson presents the ten stories in a context which is interesting and informative.  Her emphasis on history made me long for more!  I think this book would be an interesting addition to the school curriculum.

I had a high school teacher who once told me Canadian history was boring. These stories and Ms Clarkson’s presentation of our history were engaging and important.  As she says at the end, “When Canada adopts you, you are part of the whole family, with its benefits and its dysfunctions, with its birthday celebrations and crazy Uncle Herb”.  And further, “If our presence is to have meaning in our chosen country, we must all of us accept all of our history.  Our history must be taught and absorbed; our experiences, bad and noble, must be shared.”

I know I’d like to give a copy of this book to one of my teachers (Mr. H) with an inscription inside the book – for you  Mr. H., Mme Clarkson’s book is inspiring, interesting  enjoyable and anything but boring.

 

Paddy Torsney is a member of the Privy Council and served as the Member of Parliament for Burlington.   Room for All of Us by Adrienne Clarkson is published by the Penguin Group in Canada and is available at The Different Drummer in Burlington.

Mme Clarkson will be reading from her book at a public event at the Royal Botanical Gardens at 2:00 pm on Sunday November 13th.

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