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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 08.13.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

This land is my land, or how do you make a Nippising?

There is a serious crisis in the maintenance of public washroom hand dryers in Northern Ontario.

That's one of the small conclusions I made on the first leg of our trip to British Columbia: Too many broken promises of hygienically dried hands, which are often the sole hope in restrooms that make me thank the Great God of Y Chromosomes that I'm not a woman.

But those aren't the conclusions I seek on this trip, traveling across the country by car with Deb, my eldest daughter Emily, and our youngest, Abby. I don't want glib insights or pithy observations but true, deep, profound, cross-Canada truths.

Like this one: Canada is big. Really, really big. Ridiculously, unimaginably big. "I can't believe we've spent three days in a car and we're only at Thunder Bay" big.

"Are we West yet?" Abby asked when there were still hours and hours of Ontario to get through. "No," I felt like saying, "because someone put these stupid lakes in the middle of the country. Great Lakes? More like Great Big Pain in the Butt."

"Oh, Ontario," people warned us. "It never ends," as if it weren't so much a province as a penance. "Just rocks and trees and more rocks and more trees."

But I liked it. And not just the rocks and trees and the place names that were like setups waiting for a punchline. ("How do you get to Petawawa?" "Ask nicely.") I liked the unfathomable vastness of it, knowing that, relatively speaking, we were traveling just a small portion of the country. And it made me wonder: How can anyone claim to know this country? Better yet, how could anyone claim this country, period.

I imagine Cartier, Champlain, and the other explorers claiming this land, as sparsely populated then as the wilderness we were driving through. They claimed it. Just like that. "I claim this land." A-a-a-a-ll of this, we now call ours.

Sorry, First Nations peoples, with your hilarious place names. This was the time of empires dancing, and it took a lot of imperial balls, if you will, to make such a claim. But these claims became property and property became society, which begat government and eventually what the citizens occupying that land called Canada.

But who can claim to really know it?

Musicians, I thought. Professional musicians could know it, traveling from bar to bar, town to town, drinking in the landscape and getting to know the people and their insatiable desire to hear "Taking Care of Business." Blue Rodeo for Prime Minister, I say!

And sure enough, overlooking Lake Superior, on the window of a gas station in Marathon (hand-dryer status: critical), a poster for an upcoming concert by Fred Eaglesmith. Fred Eaglesmith for Governor-General, I say!

Terry Fox probably knew this country, the parts he managed to cover, at least. Pulling off at his memorial outside Thunder Bay, where his run for cancer research ended, I imagined him running the route I had just traveled, day after day, in the spring, trucks whizzing by him on those winding hills. His story has always moved me in ways I can't quite explain and now even more so, having witnessed the torturous route he traveled. Marathon of Hope? Marathon of Madness. And I complain about a cramped tush after six hours of driving...

All along this route there are small piles of stones purposely piled on outcrops of rocks and edges of waterfalls, Inukshuks, little stone men that say, "I am here. This is my claim."

Did that go through Terry Fox's head as he ran-hopped through this wilderness, like the explorers of centuries ago? "I am here. I am here. This is my claim. I am here."

Later at Kakabeka Falls (honestly!), I stood on a small rock and declared, "I claim this land in the name of me!" Why not, right? This land is my land. First order of business: fix the damned hand dryers!

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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