Address to the Ottawa Valley Service Clubs and Volunteers
Pembroke, Ontario, Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be in Pembroke and to be making my first visit as governor general to the beautiful and historic Ottawa Valley.
It was just east of here, on Morrison Island, in fact, that Samuel de Champlain—Canada’s first governor in all but name—met with members of the local Algonquin nation at a tabagie, or large feast and gathering.
That meeting took place in 1613—exactly 400 years ago!
Our history is so often instructive and inspiring. I say this because it was through such gatherings that Champlain made many important alliances with the Algonquin peoples during his explorations of this area.
As David Hackett Fischer explains in his book, Champlain’s Dream, they were alliances of mutual benefit, and they are an early example of what would become a constant theme in the Ottawa Valley.
For this reason, I think it very fitting to visit this region during National Volunteer Week, when we take the time to express our appreciation of our volunteers, who give so much of themselves.
To all the volunteers and service club members in this audience, and to those helping out right across Canada, I offer my most heartfelt thanks.
I know the spirit of partnership and co-operation is alive and well in this region. And indeed in this room.
Together, you represent the generosity and dedication to helping others that is so important to our social fabric. In your lives as students, as professionals, as volunteers and service club members, you are doing your part for the greater good.
Your energy and optimism remind me of a story from my student days in England, where I had the good fortune of studying law thanks to a fellowship from the Rotary Foundation of Canada.
One of my happy responsibilities during my fellowship was to visit Rotary Clubs across England to talk about Canada. I used to end those speeches with an old song from Newfoundland and Labrador, the chorus of which went:
When I first came to this land
I was not a wealthy man
But the land was sweet and good
And I did what I could.
The land was sweet and good / And I did what I could. These lines could be applied equally to those hardy folk who settled the Ottawa Valley, and indeed to each one of you who works so hard to make this a better place to live.
When I was installed as governor general, I entitled my remarks, “A Smart and Caring Nation: A Call to Service,” in the hope of elevating the importance of serving others.
I made this call to service because, despite the challenges we face, I believe we are incredibly fortunate to have inherited and to live in this country. And I hope to encourage all Canadians to give back in some way, according to their wishes and abilities.
We must give back, because the need in our communities is real, and it is growing.
We must give, because this widening gap—the gap between what is needed and what can be provided—threatens the most vulnerable among us.
And we must give, because this gap threatens one of our most cherished values as Canadians: equality of opportunity.
As governor general and as a father and grandfather, I dream of a smart, caring nation that recognizes that we all have something to give—be it time, talent, financial help or simply a generosity of spirit that strives to see the best in others.
And I dream of a Canada that recognizes the wonderful reciprocity of giving—how we often get back what we give in wonderful and surprising ways.
Anyone who has achieved any measure of success in their lives will tell you that they did not do so alone, but rather with the help of others—sometimes with a great deal of help.
That is certainly true in my case. I have had countless mentors, teachers and supporters in my life, each of whom has helped me on my path.
Let me share with you a story about this from my youth—one which has always stayed with me.
As you may know, I have a great love of hockey. I’ve been passionate about hockey ever since my childhood growing up in northern Ontario, in the city of Sault Ste. Marie. And I remember one winter’s day, my teammates and I learned that a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be coming to watch us play.
To the Senators fans in the audience: I ask that you please bear with me!
Back in those days, I had never owned a new piece of hockey equipment. But when word got around that a scout for the Leafs was in town, a local sporting goods store owner—not a man of great wealth—came to me and said, “I have something for you.”
It was a brand new pair of skates.
I scored three goals that night, and while I didn’t quite make it to the NHL, scarcely a day has gone by that I haven’t reflected upon his act of kindness.
Over the years, I have come to believe that, as much as those new skates propelled me, it was the confidence that man had in my abilities that gave me extra inspiration on the ice that night.
You could call it a form of home-ice advantage.
I still remember that wonderful feeling of support and encouragement from the members of my community. That feeling has since hardened into a conviction that whatever success we achieve in this world begins at home—whether “home” is your family and friends, your community in the Ottawa Valley, or your country called Canada.
Last summer, I shared this story with some of our Olympians in London during the opening days of the Summer Games. And I’m happy to say that our greatest athletes agree: success in this world begins at home—in communities such as this one right across Canada.
Home is where the heart is, in more ways than one.
That is what makes your volunteer efforts, your service clubs and initiatives so essential. Not just to the people of the Ottawa Valley, but also to the entire country. Certainly your acts of kindness and caring are having an impact in the present day, but who knows what effect they will have in the future?
Who will tell a story about your generosity and goodwill decades from now, and of how you helped shape a life for the better?
Of course, we don’t volunteer our time and energy just to be remembered or to receive recognition. But our actions do resonate through time. They resonate in peoples’ hearts and memories, and in the strengthened quality and character of the communities in which we live.
Your impact is not always easy to measure, but it is no less real for that.
In so many ways, Canadian volunteers are answering the call to service and giving back to their communities. This is certainly true for each of you and for the many volunteers who are helping out in this region.
And that is why I am delighted to have this opportunity to thank you in person.
When I became governor general a few years ago, I chose as my motto the Latin saying CONTEMPLARE MELIORA, which simply means: To envisage a better world.
I know that each of you likewise imagines a better world. As fortunate as we are to call this place home, you know how much work needs to be done to make Canada more fair and just.
Keep going. Don’t give up. Keep working together and innovating to make your communities smarter and more caring. The people of this region—and of Canada—need you.
On behalf of all Canadians, thank you.