On the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, we invited the award-winning team of Mark Stevens & Sharon Matthews-Stevens to share some of their impressions … Happy birthday Canada!
Shortly after dawn the rising sun clears the Midnight Dome, a mountain standing guard over Dawson City, Yukon.
It climbs the sky, its rays revealing like a theatre curtain the Klondike River flowing into the Yukon River, mountains marching into the distance and creeks that gave birth to the Klondike Gold Rush, highlight of our history.
There’s gold in these here hills.
At the apex of this photogenic wilderness, partly hidden by a stand of trees, you discover a pioneer cemetery, a Jewish pioneer cemetery and a graveyard dedicated to the RCMP and its forerunners.
When you begin to climb down the hill you see the buildings of Dawson City far below, seemingly unchanged in the last twelve decades.
Snapshot of the True North. Strong and Free.
Now you magically travel to Ontario, to a July afternoon on the shore of the Grand River where members of the Six Nations celebrate their culture. Powwow costumes glitter, feathers and hues like preening pheasants. Dancers move in stately agreement with the drum circles that are heartbeat of a people, accompanied by singing that’s both haunting and moving.
Later on you stop for lunch. Corn soup and fry bread: traditional fare surrounded by vendor tents boasting traditional crafts.
You’ve stopped here in tribute and humility but this is hardly your only option. There’s a powwow in Calgary, another near Orillia, one on Manitoulin Island. Nearly thirty powwows nationwide.
Our home and native land.
Part of that native land is Manitoulin itself – world’s biggest freshwater island. To its First Nations inhabitants it is God’s Island. To those who nowadays ply the waters in Manitoulin’s lee it is a Group of Seven painting where you drop your anchor in a bay cradled by pink granite punctuated by wind-crippled pines.
Or maybe that granite is not sufficient rock for you.
So head to Newfoundland – AKA “The Rock” – and hike beside the world’s oldest rock formations at Gros Morne National Park where the earth’s mantle actually reaches the surface.
March along the base of cliffs three hundred metres high in a real-life fjord, or book a boat ride for a glimpse of breeching whales.
More rock: scale the tallest mountain in North America, then fly over the ice fields of Kluane National Park. Maybe see a grizzly. Maybe do Banff and shush down the slopes of Sunshine Mountain, straddling both BC and Alberta. Rock and snow in equal doses.
Travel here: far and wide.
Stroll the streets of history – a cobblestone walkway where “Canadians” have walked for nigh on half a millennium. Don a tri-corn hat or a hoop-skirted dress and celebrate both history and joie de vivre at Quebec City’s New France Festival. Dine like royalty and drink like coureurs de bois on Petit Champlain.
Chase the sun to the Magdalen Islands; watch it paint rust-coloured cliffs sheltering secret beaches blushing rose. Then dance the evening away to an Acadian band featuring fiddle and “bones.”
Or dance along the shores of Cape Breton – where Acadian jigs meld into Celtic reels, where a melting pot of cultures boils like the lobsters on its beaches. Where people come together…
From far and wide.
Explore the furthest reaches of wilderness. Trudge through a winter forest at Algonquin; recline in a meadow between the overpowering sky and the undulating valley of the Qu’Appelle River in Saskatchewan.
Then stop and meditate at Winnipeg’s Museum of Human Rights. Ensure we continue glorious and free by considering our legacy and our responsibilities.
Make Canada’s heritage your heritage: go mushing in Alberta or Quebec or Ontario or cheer on more intrepid mushers on a thousand-mile dogsled race in the Yukon, canoe a river once plied by fur traders and First Nations’ hosts.
Follow that river east – or even greater rivers. Stand high above the canyon beside Ontario’s Kakabeka Falls, cooled by mist, awestruck by a silvered ribbon of water flowing to Superior, lake of song and legend.
Or make friends with that greatest of rivers.
Take in a Gananoque play on the shores of the St. Lawrence. Arise at dawn on one of a Thousand Islands: mix nature and nurture, doing a forest hike then exploring a nineteenth-century fortification.
Follow that river past a city that’s a little Europe, a city that stands on guard with fortress and hostelry alike – Chateau Frontenac and Citadel. Here does Quebec stand on guard for thee.
Or stand on guard yourself on the bastions of the Citadel at Halifax, where history comes alive in this Maritime centerpiece, on the ramparts of Fort George at Niagara, where battle was waged in the War of 1812.
For we all stand on guard for thee.
Then mayhap end your voyage – pilgrimage and homage both – on an early summer evening where Atlantic waters lap the docks beside a stone fortress.
Here at Louisburg a woman in a bonnet herds her geese to market, a French colonial guard stands sentinel at the entrance to a barracks that shows like it did when this land was playground of empire. Here a day might end with a concatenation of fireworks over stone palisades that are the very stuff of history.
We too are the stuff of history.
Visit an indoor turn-of-the-century town in Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum. In Yarmouth take a self-guided tour to a congregation of Sea Captains’ houses. Cruise the Rideau and stop at Merrickville, a village boasting more than thirty historic buildings.
Then follow the Rideau to Ottawa, where it all comes together, where a neo-Gothic chateau stands high above the river beside another neo-Gothic chateau. But stop a moment here to remember those who stood on guard for thee but never came home to reap the benefits. Remember at a lonely tomb; remember at the War Museum.
Now climb the sky-reaching mountains of British Columbia, listen to the hills come alive with the sound of music in the Laurentians. Soak up culture and cuisine among the man-made sky-reaching structures of Toronto, of Montreal, of Vancouver.
Then find your own patch of paradise, your place and chance to become one with this land glorious and free.
Maybe it’s a fishing village where the tides of Fundy twice daily assail then flee from the shores of New Brunswick; maybe it’s a solitary sunset over Northumberland Strait, waters burnished golden just for you. A gentle vista on a gentle island – PEI where the first lines of this epic tale were writ.
Then wait for the passing of the sun: watch with glowing hearts the glowing skies of Aurora Borealis over Yellowknife, hearken to the sound of muskets, bathed in the lightning flash of cannon at Stoney Creek, where they re-enact a seminal battle on the very spot where patriots bled and died.
And listen to the lament of a lone piper, standing on guard high atop the limestone walls of Kingston’s Old Fort Henry, where the last sounds of the evening are the strains of “O Canada,” echoing through the corridors of this fortress, dying in the twilight of just one more special night in a special place that holds dominion from sea unto sea unto sea.