A COUNTRY FOR THE FINDING © David Watts 26 August 2003
Some tried to by-pass the country, and get around it.
Their minds were set on someplace else: the far east, Cathay, a Passage to India—
To them the land showed rocky shores, forbidding ice floes and impenetrable forests.
When they found they couldn’t get beyond it, they landed to exchange trinkets with the people. The mapped the coast, searching for any opening that might lead them through.
The names they left reflected frustration, and failure to find what they were looking for:
“Disappointment,” “Lachine,” “The Land God gave to Cain.”
Today there are those who come and still see Canada as a staging point.
If you ask what they’ve found, they compare it to something else: Vancouver to Hong Kong, Alberta to Texas, Victoria to England, Quebec to Old Europe.
If they’re too far away they may judge it unfavourably: No theatre like London. No opera like Paris. No night life like Vegas.
They don’t know how to see a country for itself. So they leave without having seen it.
Others come for business, import or export. They see natives without the latest gadgets, natural resources to burn.
To them the land gave cod in buckets, furs for fancy hats, wheat and timber by the boatload, oil by the barrel.
If they stay, it’s only to winter over. Their minds are on supply and demand, shipping, yield, new sources, next year’s takings. They can’t imagine why anyone would live here:
If they see a forest, it’s board feet and stumpage. If they see a city, it’s a major market. If they see a field or mountain, it’s for the crop, the grazing or mineral wealth underneath.
Since what they see is what they get, they are full of measures, unsure of value. Is it going to be higher or lower next quarter? Intrinsic worth—what are you talking about?
Some come to build new homes. They may have dreamed of starting again before they set out. Perhaps they had to get out in a hurry. Or they came on spec and decided to stay.
To them the land gave farms and acreages, townhouses and subdivisions, private retreats and manufactured homes. The names they chose showed where their minds were:
Old World names like London and Paris, Sorrento and Stockholm, Lunenburg and Lund.
Patrons and benefactors like Victoria, St. Jerome, Kathryn, Hamilton, Halifax.
Some chose names from the setting: Trois Rivieres, Two Hills, Clearwater, Delta.
A few took names from first peoples. When they heard wrong, we got names like Nootka and The Pas. When they translated, we got names like Crowfoot and Wandering River.
Many were taken for their sound and music, whether we understood the meaning or not—
Names like Saskatoon and Illecillewaet, Winnipeg and Ontario, that roll and shimmer like the waters they describe. To adopt a name like this is to see the country another way.
That is the way of those who came simply to be here. To breathe in the boreal or Pacific rain forest.
To see the run of the salmon or caribou.
To stand in the immense open spaces of plains and tundra.
To feel the breath of the ice fields and the bracing chill of a glacial stream.
To hear the roar of a cataract thundering into a gorge.
To paddle and walk the waterways that crisscross the interior and gird our coasts.
An early entrepreneur said “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.” They’re still coming, but they’re more than tourists. They’re pilgrims to a cathedral.
On those who come for this, the land bestows the gift of her being: water and wind, trees and rocks, grasses and stars without limit or price.
An echo, a flash, a reflection of the vividness of Life itself.
The nine tenths of Canada we call uninhabited wilderness is a gateway to the spirit…
where water dances, Earth breathes, life celebrates, and we find ourselves in communion.
Whether we came to go by, barter or build, when we finally come to Be, we remember:
The Northwest Passage which is Canada is not a search for distant shores. It is a voyage of self-discovery, setting our sights on outer limits to find they lead us home to ourselves:
How then am I so different from the first ones through this way?
Like them, I led a settled life—I through it all away
To seek a northwest passage at the call of many men
To find there but the road back home again. Stan Rogers