Panel Discussion on Volunteerism and Presentation of the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award (Thunder Bay)
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Tuesday, March 29, 2016
You know how they say, “It takes a village to raise a child”?
Well, I was that child.
I’ve been to Thunder Bay many times, but I grew up in an exotic, faraway place you may have heard of: Sault Ste. Marie!
Only in Canada could two cities on the same lake be 700 kilometres apart!
One of the many things I’ve learned as governor general is just how big this country is.
And I’ve learned something else, too:
How caring it is.
That’s what I want to talk about today: how caring Thunder Bay is, how caring your communities across northern and northwestern Ontario are, how caring you are.
My briefing material for this visit included a list of your volunteer organizations.
You’re dedicated to health, homelessness, youth, public safety, the arts, heritage, diversity and sports, to name just a few.
It’s wonderful to see all of you here today. You’re good people who care.
And I want to say: thank you.
Let me encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, and go further.
It may be thankless, it may be hard work, it may seem like you’re getting nowhere.
But it’s so important.
I would know, because as I said, I was raised with the help of my village.
I grew up in a modest household—a house not unlike many here in Thunder Bay.
Maybe some of you have lived or live in that kind of household, too.
I took my first job at age 9, as a paperboy.
When I was 10, I got a job at a drugstore, unpacking merchandise.
At 11, I started working in a garage, where I learned to type and order car parts.
Don’t tell anyone, but I also learned to drive that year—it was only around the lot!
Meanwhile, I was taking part in extracurricular activities: playing hockey, baseball and football, mostly.
And of course, I was going to school!
I was lucky. People were generous to me. I worked hard, but people were happy to help a young guy trying to make his way in life—to let me work flexible hours, for example, so I could balance school, work and play.
Sometimes, people showed me kindness I’ll never forget.
Let me tell you a story about that.
As you may know, I love playing hockey. And one day, back when I was a kid in the Soo, I learned that a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be watching my team play.
Back then, I had never owned a new piece of hockey equipment. But when word got around that a scout for the Leafs was in town, the owner of a local sporting goods store came to me and said, “I have something for you.”
He wasn’t a man of great wealth. He was of modest means, too.
Guess what he gave me.
It was a brand new pair of skates.
Well, I scored three goals that night.
A hat trick on brand new skates in front of a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Can you imagine how good that felt to a kid from northern Ontario?!
Let me tell you: it felt pretty good!
And while I didn’t quite make it to the NHL, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve reflected upon his act of kindness.
And I believe this:
As much as those new skates helped, it was that man’s faith in my abilities that inspired me on the ice that night.
You could call it a kind of home-ice advantage.
All of you are creating home-ice advantage for people in your communities.
You’re doing it every time you volunteer an hour at a homeless shelter or hospice.
Every time you give some food to a neighbour, or money to a good cause.
Every time you mentor a young kid, or tutor a refugee in their new language.
You’re doing incredible, important work—work that makes Canada so special.
That’s why we’re presenting the Caring Canadian Award today, to recognize your extraordinary efforts.
First though, I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the discussion that follows.
Because something else I’ve learned in this job is that in a country as vast as Canada—and you know all about this in northwestern Ontario—there are no cookie-cutter solutions.
I want to hear about the unique challenges you face, and how we can rise to meet them.
So let’s have a frank and open discussion among friends.
Thank you all for being here today.
Thank you for being people who care.