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Construction Corner: Canada’s 150th a time to celebrate diversity

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by Korky Koroluk

It’s a funny place, this place we call home.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

Canada can be generous; it can be cruel. It can make you laugh; it can make you cry. But it's home.

I grew up in the Prairie West, living for a while in a tiny village called Heinsburg, in the east-central part of the province, near Frog Lake.

There is a First Nations community there, although when I was a kid it was called a reserve and the people who lived on the reserve were called Indians, not aboriginals.

My father was from Ukraine and a fiercely proud Canadian. My mother was from England. But she was Canadian first. That mixture — Ukrainian and English — makes me, I guess, a pretty typical Canadian.

We didn't have many friends in Heinsburg. Sometimes having a Ukrainian surname didn't help you make friends. Maybe that's why most of our friends were on the reserve, just north of the village.

My two best friends were Jimmy Faithful, a Woodland Cree from the reserve; and Sidney Katz, whose father, Benny, ran a general store in Heinsburg.

I remember one year when the Katz family invited Jimmy, myself and our families to join them for their Seder, the ritual feast held at the opening of Passover.

And we three boys sat by the fire and listened while Benny read the Passover text from the Haggadah. It was my introduction to Jewish history and customs, and led to a lifelong respect for the Jewish faith and those who follow it.

It was Sam Faithful, Jimmy's grandfather, who taught we three playmates how to set a snare to catch a rabbit, how to clean a fish and the meanings behind the annual Sun Dance. We were invited to the Sun Dance every year, along with the Katz family, the only "white" people invited.

We left Heinsburg after a few years, and as the village slowly died, the Katz family also moved on.

We kept in touch with the Faithfuls for quite a while, but when old Sam Faithful died everything changed and I never had occasion to visit the reserve again.

After we moved I endured a year in a one-room country school where the teacher never called me anything but "Hunky" because of my Ukrainian surname. Finally we moved to Vermilion, a decent-sized town nearby, where I went to high school.

During my first year at university in Edmonton, I was crossing the campus one day when someone called my name. It was Sidney.

We had a few wonderful months on campus, doing what kids on campus always do —smoking a little pot, drinking too much wine and talking. Just talking. About everything.

But Sidney began to get splitting headaches and had to drop out.

A year later, he was dead. Brain tumor.

About 35 years ago, my son and I visited Heinsburg. There wasn't much left to see.

The trains had stopped running years before and the tracks had been torn up. The building where the Katz family lived and ran their store was gone.

We drove up to the reserve. There were a few people in the general store there, so we asked if they knew Jimmy Faithful. None did, although one said he'd heard tales about Sam, his grandfather.

So on this, Canada's 150th, I find myself thinking of Jimmy's family and mine, gathered at the Katz family Seder, hearing the Passover story and enjoying every moment.

Jimmy, if he's still alive, is an old man, perhaps with grandchildren of his own.

I find myself wondering where everything went wrong, where all the hate came from.

For hate seems to have become a political doctrine.

Hate for Syrian refugees.

Hate for Black people.

Hate for Jews.

So set that aside, even if it is just for a day or two, and reflect upon what we've built in this country. Together.

Happy birthday, Canada.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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