Carey Price, Canada’s outstanding 26-year old gold-medalist goalie at Sochi, hails from Anahim Lake, British Columbia. Anahim Lake is a tiny village of 150 people, nestled in the remote alpine ranch country of central British Columbia, between the mountain ranges of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park to the west and the vast interior plateau to the east. When interviewed about the games, he spoke about the “Team Canada” effect, the chance to get to know athletes from diverse sports from all over the country, and for all of them to pull together. What a high that must have been!
It strikes me that getting our young people together from all across the country should be a national priority. Team sports is one way to do that. Interprovincial and national competitions bring players together, even from communities as remote as Yukon and the Northwest Territories. One needn’t be an expert to compete, but often participation will depend on residence, and young people who live in more remote areas may paradoxically have more opportunities to travel than those living in big cities.
Chances to encounter Canada are available to non-athletes, but one has to seek them out. As a lowly undergraduate at UBC, I remember applying for one of nine positions representing the university at a national student conference in Quebec City in 1965. When I applied, I didn’t think there would be any chance that I would be chosen. Lo and behold, they didn’t have enough interested applicants and before I knew it, I was on my way to Quebec City, all expenses paid. The conference topic was “the quiet revolution in Quebec.” The speakers included all the leaders of that movement, and prominent journalist and Quebec Liberal politician Pierre Laporte spoke at the banquet held at the Chateau Frontenac. When he was later kidnapped and assassinated by the FLQ in 1970, his loss was a personal one, for me. My lifelong affinity for Quebec dates from that early student conference and has never wavered (until today, perhaps).
Our son had a similar experience as a grade ten student in a large downtown Toronto collegiate. One day, he discovered a brochure describing the Encounters With Canada program held at the Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa every year. He decided to apply, approached his school for their support and, within days, was selected to participate. All his expenses were covered. The courier delivery of his travel documents was very exciting, a first which he was proud to share, and he was off to Ottawa for a week on his own. He returned absolutely ecstatic, having had what he considered the best experience of his life. I has occurred to me that his choice of a career in the Canadian military may have been encouraged by his EWC experience.
I am pleased to learn that this Encounters With Canada program continues. Initiated by the Canadian Unity Council in 1982 and now operated as a program of the Historica-Dominion Institute, it has been in existence for over 31 years and has over 95,000 alumni. It offers one-week modules on different themes: Arts and Culture, Canada Remembers, Ecology and the Environment, International Affairs, Journalism and Communications, Law, Medicine and Health, Politics in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Science and Technology. Every young person in Canada, 14 – 17 years of age, who is enrolled in an educational institution recognized by a Ministry of Education is eligible to participate for one week. All travel expenses are covered. The registration fee of $675 per participant covers lodging, meals, planned activities and local transportation. Subsidies may be available.
The unique characteristic of the program is that 120 – 138 teens are brought together each week during the school year. They come to Ottawa from all across the country to learn about Canada’s heritage and institutions. The objective is to promote diversity and inclusivity, so that young people of all abilities, origins and regions will get to know each other. This need for diversity creates opportunities. One never knows whether there are vacancies for a particular week, or whether or not a particular area or region may have other available applicants. I suspect that, more often than not, spaces are available and young people like our son can have a life-changing experience merely by applying. Promoting this program should be a priority for schools, parents, and anyone else with young people in their lives. Tax-deductible donations to support the program can be made to Historica Canada by using the Canada Helps button on the EWC webpage. I cannot imagine a cause more important to our country.