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This land is our land

By Paul Knowles

The eight of us came from almost every part of this country – one from Nova Scotia, two from Quebec, three from Ontario, one from Alberta, and one from B.C. When we compared notes about our hometowns, the settings were very different, from proximity to lighthouses to proximity to mountains. And the languages we speak at home are different – six spoke English, two, French.

 

But at the moment, we had at least two things in common – we were sporting huge, very wet, very salty smiles; and we shared a deep affection for our country.

The wet, salty smiles were the result of a zodiac excursion on the St. Lawrence on a rainy and windy day. We were wet and salty for very obvious reasons; we were smiling because we were watching whales – minke and beluga whales, plenty of them, in the waters where the  Saguenay Fjord meets the St. Lawrence. One of the most beautiful places in this country, in my newly-minted opinion.

The eight of us included six travel writers and our terrific hosts – Suzie and Etienne – from Le Québec Maritime. We watched whales, we hiked, we drove ATVs to the top of the fjord, we stood on the rocks at Cap-de-Bon-Désir and – right from the shore – saw yet another whale passing leisurely by. It was spellbinding.

I was also attacked by domestic pigs, but that’s another, and embarrassing, story.

Then we joined 200 colleagues at a four-day conference in Québec City, perhaps the most beautiful and certainly one of the most interesting cities in Canada.

There was scarcely a moment when I was not feeling grateful that my country includes all its provinces and territories with their unique cultures and environments.

I was in the queue for the funicular, in Old Québec, heading back to the Chateau Frontenac, when I got into a conversation with two high school teachers from the state of Virginia. They were having a terrific time – at least, in the hours they weren’t actually chaperoning teenagers.

They were very impressed with the welcome they felt in Québec, and with the fact that almost everyone they met in that city was fluent in both English and French.

I admitted that most of us in English-speaking Canada cannot make the same claim, but I am proud to say I managed a number of conversations in French. Perhaps my favourite was in Tadoussac, on the Saguenay Fjord, where our waitress spoke English about as well as I speak French – so we kept it simple, she in English and me in French, and both in great amusement.

The guys from Virginia were right. Our stereotypical reputation for being polite and friendly is rooted in reality. Sure, we can always improve. But we have a good foundation.

And that foundation is built on a multitude of cultures, chief among them French, English, and native Canadians. One of my pleasures at the conference was time with Jason Picard-Binet, a member of the Wendake branch of the Huron Nation, and an agent with Québec Aboriginal Tourism. Suffice it to say that I learned that I knew nothing. I know a bit more, now, thanks to Jason.

I can’t think of a more enriching way to celebrate this country’s 150th anniversary than spending a week in Québec with people from every part of this country.

This land is our land.