Our Canadian Fabric – by Lesley Apelbaum

November 7, 2015

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“Our new Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers have been sworn in. As Mr. Trudeau said, it’s “A Cabinet that looks like Canada”.

Mr. Harper’s divisive politics contributed to his defeat. His classification of Canadians into “Old Stock”, “new” and “existing” Canadians, his ban on niqabs at the citizenship ceremony and his challenges of the Supreme Court rulings did not resonate. The majority of Canadians proudly identify as Canadian, regardless of heritage.

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Last week, the New York Times published a book review of Frank Gehry’s new biography. He was born to Jewish immigrant parents. The book describes his childhood in Toronto; his visits to the AGO; his grandparents’ influence; his early curiosity with design and construction, building imaginary cities with wood and metal scraps.

Today he’s known as one of the most important, influential architects of our time. His vision for “socially responsible architecture” has clearly resonated, as evidenced by the success and critical acclaim of his structures. There’s no question this Toronto boy has left a lasting international legacy.

A month ago, I went to the book launch for “’Membering”, Austin Clarke’s latest memoir… Here we have a black Canadian immigrant who has also left an international legacy like Gehry.

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Clarke was absent due to health reasons, but the bar was packed anyways. There was a full line-up of people giving speeches, including the Consul-General of Barbados. We celebrated his writings, social advocacy, mentorship and teachings. Clarke has left a remarkable imprint on our current social fabric, as I witnessed by the international speakers and their memories.

In his memoir, he writes about the black community coming together with the Jewish community in the 1960’s civil rights protests to address the common inequality that Canadian minorities face. With their different cultures/upbringings, Clarke and Gehry came out of economic hardship and racial discrimination. They worked within the fabric of Canadian society to improve. They both cultivated who they are here, in Canada, their hopes, dreams and ambitions. And they’ve soared on the international stage.

Clarke and Gehry are just two examples of the many “New Stock” Canadians who have moved forward this way, making contributions locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. They include 1/3 of our Nobel Prize winners, 2/3 of our Man Booker Prize recipients, nearly half of the Group of Seven and countless others.

We are all Canadians regardless of how far back our heritage goes. So here’s to a new chapter of Canadian hope, unity and progress.

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