GOODBYE

THANKS FOR THE TALK

Our outgoing governor general reflects on what she’ll remember most

ADRIENNE CLARKSON October 17 2005
GOODBYE

THANKS FOR THE TALK

Our outgoing governor general reflects on what she’ll remember most

ADRIENNE CLARKSON October 17 2005

THANKS FOR THE TALK

Our outgoing governor general reflects on what she’ll remember most

ADRIENNE CLARKSON

GOODBYE

WHEN I BECAME governor general, I received a letter from the mayor of Minto, N.B. He told me that their village had been named for Lord Minto, governor general at the turn of the 20th century, and that he had promised to come to see them. As he had never come, the mayor asked if I could be their first governor general to visit. The gym was filled with the majority of the people in this place, which had a 17th-century coal mine and a Second World War internment camp. To them, the governor general had come and it mattered.

The most meaningful part of my work as governor general was to be with people in

every part of this country and abroad—from Prince George to Hopedale, from Walkerton to Chetwynd, from Sarajevo to Kabul, an investment of time that rewarded me with an understanding of our contradictions and an appreciation for our differences. You can’t get that unless you spend eight, 10 days in one province travelling by car across the most stunning landscape—in Saskatchewan, in the Nass valley, in the Gaspé. Taking more than a week for each trip allowed me the privilege of seeing people where they live. These visits were periods of high intensity, with typically six or seven different events a day— a homeless shelter, a meeting at an Aboriginal cultural and counselling centre, a raucous round table about citizen involvement, a ceremony to honour Caring Canadians. I always liked to pack as much into one day as possible because I was aware that the people of Moncton or Taber were willing to talk about their concerns, their apprehensions, to the person whose constitutional role is to witness and ensure that Canadian democracy, its manifestation of responsible government, is maintained. Not that I think the people who came to the many levees we held in places like the armouries in Regina, or the school gym in Iqaluit, thought this consciously. They turned out, sometimes 1,500 at a time, to meet us and by their presence let us know that they exist, to remind us that wherever people are in the country, they have their problems, their lives. In Biggar, Sask., I chatted with 16-year-olds about the future of family farming; only two of them thought they would ever take over their family farm. At our ceilidh in Sydney, the widow of a coal miner presented me with her husband’s identification tag.

Everywhere my husband, John Ralston

Saul, and I went, we had what we came to call “safe conversations.” We discovered how, normally, people don’t talk to each other except in a confrontational manner, or when there is a problem and interest groups decide to duke it out verbally. We found we helped them to find what they had in common, not what separated them.

The lesson of these six years for me is that we need more of these conversations. We need to pay attention to each other. As we went from Moose Jaw to Baildon to Eastend to Taber to Medicine Hat to Fort Macleod, the love of the land, the beauty of the land, rolled out before us. We stood with Sharon and Peter Butala in the Cypress Hills, looking at land that has never been broken by the plough. All Canadians should see this, as they should see the North, the white desert of Taloyoak and Kuujuaq. We must travel in our own country. We must value it as something real, not an abstract idea. We need to link all the parts together, to feel that this is a real and united place.

My great predecessor Vincent Massey said that the role of the governor general is constitutionally conceived and culturally lived. Going to all parts of the country for extended periods is part of living our country culturally.

It is what lies in our unconscious that can be brought to the surface in order to make space for our real dreams as a country. Our land is not a rhetorical idea, it is a reality.

The people I have met across this country in our 300 community visits love their part of the whole which is Canada. Fundamentally Canada offers land, water and sky. We have come to inhabit this land not only by settling in it, but also through our imaginations.

So the moments and the people who have moved me have often been outside the grand ceremonies. The governor general is not a moving object regarded in a distant way; the office, and those who inhabit it, must understand, interpret and represent, in a true sense, everything we are. It runs the whole gamut, from being with the most marginalized to receiving presidents and kings. As governor general my mantra came from Margaret Laurence, who felt there was “no wisdom except the passionate plea of caring... Try to feel in your heart’s core, the reality of others.” Living among all Canadians has made me even more aware that we need to feel that way toward each other, across the huge land that separates us physically but gives us our being spiritually.