Out of Cataclysm
This book is about people like me. When I published Heart Matters, in 2006, many people told me they thought it was a great story and that it showed how unusual my path had been in Canada. Even close friends went out of their way to say that they thought my story was different from anything anyone else had experienced in Canada. My immediate reaction was to disagree. All of my life, I've met people who have lived trajectories not exactly like mine but in their own way, just as remarkable. Like me, the people in this book came out of cataclysm and catastrophe not of their own making and found themselves almost thrown into Canada. And what did Canada do? Canada took us in, and our real lives began. I told my story because I wanted people to identify with it and realize that they, too, had come a long way. I wanted to show that the goals they may never have thought possible, proved attainable because they were Canadian.
The people I write about were almost surprised by the way their lives turned out. They had worked hard to succeed and they are a very accomplished group, but what happened to them could only have happened because of their being uprooted and forcibly transplanted to another place. That this place was Canada was very fortuitous. People in every society—whether it is France, which I know well, or Britain, or the United States—can succeed. But there is something particular about Canada, with its atmosphere of benevolent neglect, of letting people alone, that makes it possible for those who arrive with nothing to sense that they can belong and be part of something they can help to construct.
What follows is a simple account of immigrant experiences at the beginning of the twenty-fi rst century, of people who would have died or suffered terribly, and certainly never would have come to the true fullness of their development, had they not been taken in by Canada. These people are immigrants like me. Some of them are refugees like me. All of them depended very much on the kindness of strangers to be taken in and allowed to make their way.
These are stories not just of survival, but of people who had very little choice and had to make the best of what was offered. Whether this meant being picked up in an airplane in Hong Kong and landing in Edmonton in the middle of winter, or being flown from Santiago to Vancouver after a military coup, or fetching up in Montreal as a deserter from the U.S. Army—all of them, like me, were driven here by forces that were out of their control.
Heart Matters was my story—the story of how our family came to Canada with one suitcase each, having been chosen almost at random to board a ship that was part of the Red Cross exchange of civilians on the two sides of the Pacifi c War. We came to Ottawa and made our way thanks to my father getting a job in the Canadian government. But we really made our way thanks to the people we met by chance and thanks to my parents' enormous strength of character—my father's humour, resilience, and intelligence, and my mother's sensitivity, perfectionism, and struggle against depression. With that guidance and their terrifi c alertness to all of their surroundings, they sacrifi ced and saved so that my brother and I could go to university—in his case McGill, to become a doctor, and in mine, Trinity College at the University of Toronto, which led to a career that began in television. Canada did not set up any insurmountable barriers for me. I went to a very good high school, Lisgar Collegiate, in Ottawa, and at Trinity I was able to make friends and penetrate (I think that is the right word) the heart of Canadian life, which I have inhabited ever since. The close friends I made then, at the age of eighteen...
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