Where Was I? During History in the Making

Women’s March –  Jan. 21, 2017
This  peaceful protest march caught like a firestorm with over 160 sister city marches across the world.  I didn’t join our local city march which attracted over 4,000 people.  Instead I was having a hair cut.

The massive  march was galvanized first, by American women in protest of their newly sworn-in President Trump, known for his thoughtless  and attention-grabbing sexist, inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mexicans (building a wall to protect U.S.), etc.  Washington DC attracted up to 500,000 marchers which were visibly more than the inaugural celebrations the day before.

It was heartening for Calgary to have a strong presence — given  reality of a local economic slump and a time when people needed to be encouraged into positive action for the broader community.

Womens' March Jan. 21, 2017. Washington DC. From Washington Post. In protest to newly elected President Trump and in broader support of equity rights.
Womens’ March Jan. 21, 2017. Washington DC. From Washington Post. In protest of newly elected President Trump and in broader support of equity rights and peace.

Peaceful protest marches are necessary to wake up complacency, inspire a few fence-sitters to action after the march and inject collective support for the few lonely advocates, who work tirelessly long in their jobs or volunteer efforts for the abused, misunderstood, immigrants and anyone who needs a hand, an extra voice to express needs to improve their daily life and well-being.

Would I have gone if I knew several days earlier?  While watching  fiery tv  speeches call to action, I couldn’t help but reflect on my 10 years of volunteer work in Toronto in race relations and immigrant services, then later in cycling advocacy for women to  provide skills for personal independence and more mobility choices.  Sometimes just being one of a few advocates, you get lost in a sea of majority.  Also there were times of volunteer burn-out.  I would be re-energized by  other volunteers who were incredibly multi-talented and some who became friends beyond the  common cause.

Guess Who Came to Stampede Pancake Breakfast:  Prime Minister of Canada – Justin Trudeau.  Jul. 2016
I had no clue when I lined up with others, for free pancakes, sausage and coffee, outside a community centre organized by  local Liberal member of Parliament, Kent Hehr.   Sometimes  local politicians offer  free pancakes during the annual event for their constituents or whoever wants food and chat

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau just speaking after at a local pancake breakfast. Calgary AB Jul. 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau just speaking after at a local pancake breakfast. Calgary AB Jul. 2016. Photo by J.Chong

with anyone at their table.  I like Hehr  –he’s so accessible as a politician while buzzing along in his electric scooter on the street and in my local grocery stores.   Prior to politics, he was a lawyer who became quadriplegic awhile ago in an accident.

Inside the community centre, I found it puzzling there was a phalanx of tv camera tripods blocking  view of a local country ‘n western band. Then suddenly PM Trudeau, strode into the room with his white cowboy hat.  I stood on top of a table to take my photos before I trailed out behind to catch him shaking hands with crowds lined at the LRT station.

Calgary’s Flood of 2013
This flood evacuated up to 100,000 people in the region. I was one of the

Child's painting of Calgary river flood that evacuated 100,000 people and some zoo animals. Calgary Zoo did include severe damage and panicked animals. Calgary AB. Photo by J.Chong
Child’s painting of Calgary river flood that evacuated 100,000 people and some zoo animals. Calgary Zoo did include severe damage and panicked animals. Calgary AB. Photo by J.Chong

evacuees who took off to Vancouver at 4:00 am, where already I had booked a vacation flight 3 months prior to the disaster.  By luck, I fled at the right time.  In less than 5 hrs., after I landed in Vancouver, the electrical power was cut off in our Calgary neighbourhood for a week because  it was too dangerous for the rising flood waters.

My office building’s underground parkade with over 6 levels, was flooded with fish floating around. We lost close to 1 million dollars worth of computer equipment stored in the basement.

Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot – Jun.  2011
I woke up in Calgary and read on the Internet, several stores were smashed by angry rioters in downtown Vancouver. This  was surreal  and inexplicable (to me) since property destruction was over the Canucks’ hockey final game loss to the Boston Bruins team — only a year after the euphoric high of Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  The riot was just 5 blocks away from Vancouver home.

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

Free fireworks in our neighbourhood during 2010 Winter Olympics every night. Vancouver BC. Photo by J.Chong
Free fireworks in our neighbourhood during 2010 Winter Olympics every night. Vancouver BC. Photo by J.Chong

I was living in Vancouver, just 1-2 blocks away from major venues.  Here in Cycle Write, there’s several blog posts about prior and during the Olympics.

Needless to say, being part of a host city means a whack of different things as locals  –spiralling costs in addition patience because of extra volumes of visitors and celebrants. But I can’t complain about free fireworks every evening close to  home.

Air Terrorist Attacks. New York City. Sept. 11, 2001
I was living and working in downtown Toronto for a major global accounting firm.  Shortly after I settled into my desk in the office at 9:00 am, another staffer rushed into the library in a panic.  While riding the elevator to our 29th floor, she saw on the tiny elevator tv, the World Trade Centre in New York City, collapse after  2 planes rammed through the two skyscrapers.  We heard bits throughout

Downtown Toronto by Union subway station entrance. On Sept. 11, 2001 several office buildings were evacuated in this heart of Canada's financial district.
Downtown Toronto by Union subway station entrance. On Sept. 11, 2001 several office buildings were evacuated in this heart of Canada’s financial district.

the grapevine for next few hours. However we didn’t want to look as if we weren’t working by surfing the Internet for news.  We had heard someone had plugged in a tv somewhere for some staff to watch.  This was before the days of Netflix and YouTube.

The whole morning was tight with tension in the workplace.   We phoned our U.S. company departmental equivalent  in New York City. She was somewhere else in the city, not close to the Twin Towers which had collapsed before horrified locals.  Our whole 40-storey building was evacuated at noon.  An emergency precaution, since we were located in  Canada’s heart of its national financial hub. Queen’s Park, the provincial Ontario legislature, was also evacuated around the same time as building.   Union subway and Go commuter train stations were jammed with people anxious to go home.

Later we learned we lost 3 U.S. employees in the terrorist attacks  -2 in the Word Trade Centre and 1 on flight that rammed into the Pentagon. For first few weeks, our U.S. headquarters imposed business travel bans to several countries.

Vietnamese Boat Refugee Crisis- 1979
I was in my second year of university in Waterloo, Ontario which coincided with the flood of incoming Vietnamese refugees entering Canada and the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.  Coincidentally  one of my courses was on history of Canadian ethnic groups, was taught at a Mennonite church college, one of several small colleges on a large university campus.  Mennonites have practiced pacificism and fled war conflicted countries.  Not surprisingly, several local citizen groups sponsored several refugee families.  While studying history of Canada’s track record on refugees and immigration, history was happening right then and inspired the professor  in his lectures.  Meanwhile I was curious in the public sentiment on the sudden influx of many Asian-looking immigrants.

Canada took in 12, 000 refugees from Vietnam that year which increased to well over 50,000 refugees over several years.  It was an enormous leap of faith.  As Canadians we were reminded of this act of generosity when later, Canada accepted 30,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 to Feb. 2016.

Neil Armstrong’s Walk on the Moon – 1969
I was 10 years old when I joined my younger siblings to watch American astronaut, take his first step on the moon.  It was around 1:00 am in the Ontario with our eyes glued to the fuzzy black and white tv images.  We couldn’t afford a colour tv at the time.

collection-1967-memorbilia
World Expo 1967 Montreal, Quebec memorabilia. Special exhibit on unusual personal collections. Vancouver Museum 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Canada’s Centennial Birthday Year – 1967
Both the Canadian federal government and Ontario provincial government did a great job on my impressionable mind along with many other school children on stoking our national pride.  We learned to sing the banner songs that celebrated Canada’s 100 years as a country. I sung joyfully the national birthday ditty that began:  O Canada, 1-2-3 Canadians, we love thee!  We  belted out the Ontario provincial song:  Give us a place to stand —Ontariarioh!  A place to grow….  

That year, I learned about Canada’s geography  — our provinces, territories and capital cities. There was even a Canadian Pacific Rail train car converted into a mobile educational exhibit with information and posters inside for the general public.   I caught the national fever of optimism, a country with possibilities.

Bookending 50 Years of Memories – 1967 and 2017
I now remember all these events, in light of this year 2017,  when Canada celebrates 150 years as a country.  Optimism is still there, but accentuated against darker political developments in the U.S. with its new president.   But even back in 1967, the U.S. civil rights movement of desegregation of blacks and whites, was still hobbling along forward.

Looking back, it’s incredible to have lived through major social, political and technological revolutions.  And I haven’t even touched upon when I remembered seeing  Martin Luther King fire off his speech, “I Have a Dream” in 1963 or Vietnam War news tv images.   Those moments both great and awful, shall light my memories and awareness for events elsewhere in our world that touch our lives.

Capturing final steps of cross-Canada Olympic relay torch journey on opening day of 2010 Winter Olympics. Downtown Vancouver, BC. Photo by J. Chong. Torch was taken by volunteers via different modes of travel across Canada --jogging, cycling, skiing, skating, kayaking, rowing, etc. Over 8,000 km. across Canada.
Capturing history moment of final steps for Olympic relay torch journey on opening day, 2010 Winter Olympics. Robson St. Downtown Vancouver, BC. Photo by J. Chong. Torch was taken by volunteers via different modes of travel across Canada –jogging, cycling, skiing, skating, kayaking, rowing, etc. Over 8,000 km. across Canada, including to the Arctic.

This blog post is in memory of long-time friend, Madeline  – history graduate and fan with a heart in social justice. She passed away last month.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Mabel Kwong says:

    Loved reading your memories about where you were during moments in history. “you get lost in a sea of majority.” I think that is so true. When you band together for a cause, sometimes it is hard to get anywhere because who would hear you. And if people heard you, there would be other voices shouting the same message too. Nevertheless, coming together for a cause can make a small difference which can snowball into something bigger.

    All the events you described have one common theme – they brought people together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Let’s all hope events bring together people for good things..eventually. Canada is next door to the U.S. so we have interest what’s happening right now in the U.S. Most Americans don’t realize Canada is the U.S.’s biggest trading partners. So Aussies might be protected abit ..longer.

      Like

      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        I don’t know if Australia can avoid all that is happening in the States. Australia’s politicians don’t seem to pleased with the new president. Will be interesting to see if things do go even faster downhill now.

        Like

        1. Jean says:

          What is not pleasant is that the U.S. is a powerful player in the global stage and hence, other countries tend to react, not always proactive.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great way you’ve approached this, Jean. Much of this reminds me of my youth in the turbulent 1960’s – but the age range and diversity of the protesters is much greater than that time period, which is exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It can be an exciting, if not also a little nail-biting time. It’s great to hear from you, composer.

      Like

  3. livelytwist says:

    What a catalogue of events to have lived through in one lifetime. I remember September 11, watching the events at home on TV, horrified. If only memories of the past served to help us make better choices in future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      We sure we make better choices in the future -even if only at a personal life. I’m certain you’ve lived through enough yourself, lively. Educate us!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thedumplingmama says:

    Great post Jean! I didn’t march either. I’ve chosen the path of advocating, volunteering with my children for causes I believe will help during these changing times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Changing times for certain people in the U.S. is a diplomatic way of expressing it. Let’s hope for ongoing peace, rule of law for equity, etc. Have you seen the movie, “Hidden Figures”? About the 3 black female mathmaticians doing calculations for NASA. Go see it. It will inspire you and not surprisingly, it’s doing really well. Probably people need inspiration about equity, social justice and where U.S. was at.

      Like

  5. Having lived through such major events, many of which you witnessed first-hand and your experience in community service, do you ever feel as if progress is being made or that everything is cyclical?

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Progress has been slow or standing still, not moving very far. Cyclical is not the best adjective, more certain events jolt us out of stasis / complacency or willful denial.What is ongoing the importance of conveying to younger generations the “progress” that they cannot quite see yet, is the result of decades hard work of activists, people following their dreams to fully realize their natural strengths and natural skills. So it’s waves of teaching, showing to the next generations thereafter. Or at least they simply learn by falling down and picking themselves up, hopefully not forget somewhere in history, someone took a similar wrong decision, path and paid very dearly for it. Meaning war, death or severing a community.

      If you don’t mind me asking, are you based in North America?

      Like

  6. TinLizzie72 says:

    Good idea for a blog post! I was at the March in DC, although I can’t say exactly where I was for other momentous historical events. I do remember where I was when the news broke that Princess Diana had died. Although it’s not the major political event that the March was, it still had a huge impact on me. I don’t even know what to say about the current trajectory of the US; I am deeply concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      On the day the world news broke on Princess Diana’s death, we were cycling near the edge of Ottawa, Ontario during a vacation trip that was 10-day cycling trip into Quebec also. We saw a Canadian and British flag half-mast at a historic heritage home of a former Canadian Prime Minister and later, saw the news.

      It is disturbing that every day Trump says/his cabinet does something that causes massive turmoil among the U.S. public and worse, even within the White House administration itself. Trumpster is very sly and it’s tactic to distract masses from other critical things he wishes to achieve.

      Let me know if you do a similar blog post.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great reflections… Sort reminded me of Forrest Gump and all those huge events he was a part of! So sorry about Madeline. Hugs to you Jean…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hard to distillate major event reflections in one’s life so far. I didn’t even mention when the Internet first exploded world-wide for everyone –not just for geeky research scientists in academia.

      Liked by 1 person

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