As many people know, I like to use libraries. I take out books for a few weeks, and read through them as quickly as I can. (And yes, that usually means “weeks”; I’m not a great speed reader.) I was reading my current choice a few weeks ago: “1967: Canada’s Turning Point” by Pierre Burton. It is about the centennial year of Canada’s independence, when the city of Montreal hosted Expo ’67 and the entire nation was gripped with a mood of excitement and anticipation for the future. The book was originally titled “1967: The Last Good Year”. I remember it vaguely: I would have been four years old, and my family drove that year to Ottawa, the nation’s capital, to take in some of the festivities.
The book covers many different topics, some of which I might write about in subsequent posts. It is interesting to read from a vantage point of almost 50 years later: many things have changed, a number have not, and some have reversed themselves. I thought it ironic, for instance, that Burton quoted Jack Battern in Maclean’s magazine when speaking of Vancouver: “in a city that records more suicides, more heroin addicts, and more Grey Cup riots than any other in Canada, the hippies are emerging as the prime civil menace.” (Burton, 195) The “hippies” never achieved the social peace and economic relaxation that they intended, and they have long since faded into the footnotes of twentieth century history. But the riots are the same: though this year it was the Stanley Cup (Toronto Sun, 2011)
However, the point of this post: one of the stories related was about a young woman who joined the Company of Young Canadians in 1967 to try to work out some of her social concerns in the world around her. The book describes her experience quite well, including the lack of organization and diversified autonomy that ultimately lead to the program’s downfall. “The story of Barbara Hall… is instructive… [she] had never known anybody who wasn’t white.” The book described how difficult the summer was in a cross-racial situation when, as the representative of this program, she was often afraid, lonely and confused. She visited a psychiatrist at one point because of her difficulties, and I expected the story to describe how she had degenerated since that summer. Instead I read a few pages later on: “Three decade later, in the mayor’s office in Toronto, she looked back on those days as a painful but perhaps necessary learning process.” My first thought was one of congratulations, pleased that she had grown out of the difficult experience. And my second, immediately afterwards, was that I had met her.
We had been at the Fourth Anniversary of the OPS Pride Network: a group internal to the Ontario Public Service intended to help with the growth, encouragement and resourcing of LGBT employees. She had been an honoured guest; she had been one of the first mayors to walk in Pride Toronto. (Our current mayor was the first in years to refuse.) I had been the photographer. The worst part of such an afternoon for me was that I’ve not been back in Canada nor part of the Public Service very long: and I have a hard time connecting faces with names. So one of my friends started pointing out individuals who I should get pictures of, and introducing me as much as she could. One of the first was Barbara Hall, now Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). We chatted and I got a couple of pictures, then moved on.
So I thought this was a humorous story and described it to, Louise, one of the co-chairs of the Pride Network. She also thought it was “cute”: and I never thought I’d think of it again. A few days later, we were walking in the Toronto Pride Parade of 2011… right behind the Ontario Human Rights Commission. And there was Ms. Hall. Louise laughed and convinced me to tell her my story. So I did, and Barbara also thought it was funny. I got my picture taken with her, and it was an enjoyable experience. I found myself glad to be fitting in to Toronto life and making connections, but it is a slow process.