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The power of story

However you choose to celebrate Canada’s 150th – with a cake parade, fireworks, or a camping trip – look for the stories.

The power of story

There’s much ado about Canada’s 150th celebration, marking the initial federation of four provinces coming together in 1867. In the past, our family has attended the Canada Day party in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in particular to enjoy the cake parade. Yes, the town builds a gigantic cake, and soldiers from Fort George escort it down Queen Street. The parade ends in Simcoe Park with the singing of our national anthem and cake-eating.

Lately, I am hearing much about CBC’s national storytelling project, What’s Your Story? Listeners are encouraged to share their experiences as Canadians with the national audience. These stories are relayed as part of a virtual verbal quilt that, when told, will hopefully represent the diversity and beauty of Canada.

The power of story cannot be denied; everyone loves a good story. Storytelling has a way of conquering the fear of the unfamiliar that otherwise often threatens to divide us. Stories told become our collective and collaborative history. Yet the stories of Canadians aren’t all filled with happy endings.

In 1867, Canada officially formed a federation. Shortly after Canada also officially formed residential schools for “Indians” and asylums for the “insane.” Aside from canoes, mountains, and maple syrup, Canada’s history also includes the darker stories of cultural (mis)appropriation and eugenics. Residential schools, insane asylums and internment camps are stories that also need to be told. Are we ready to hear those too?

If you want to find grace in a culture that is constantly devouring itself alive, if you want to live in hope and not fear, you have to tell the truth and declare your fragility.
– Ian Brown, Canadian author and journalist

Ten years ago, Ryerson University created an exhibit that told through various artifacts, journals and collections the history of disability in Canada. Out From Under sought to display and tell the hidden stories of disability in Canada.

Parts of this display include pictures of “feeble-minded” girls from Canada’s Mental Hygiene campaign from 1924 and a suitcase from a seven year old named James who was sent to live in an institution. It’s a compelling exhibit that is available online.

It’s hard to hear those stories. Who likes to hear a story that makes them feel uncomfortable? I was struck with this question when I spoke at the Disability Concerns conference earlier this year. People in our churches and in our communities carry some difficult stories that need to be told, but there’s not always a receptive audience.

I love hearing the Old Testament story of how the Israelites were instructed to set up stones as a reminder to share the testimony of God’s faithfulness. The stones were to serve as visible prompts. Certainly, the story of God’s faithfulness with the Israelites was filled with both wonder and sorrow. Are we telling our collective story of God’s faithfulness through our personal and corporate histories of failure and success? Do we give each other space to share the painful pieces?

Rachel and Janneke, with all their complex needs and disabilities have created chapters of incredible grit and growth in our family. The girls are also evidence of a slowly changing national perspective on disability. When I watch Rachel interact with her peers at Beacon Christian, I don’t take for granted that she is alongside her typically developing peers. When I talk with staff at Niagara Children’s Centre School about Janneke’s abilities, I don’t take for granted their love and determination that demonstrates a vision of Janneke some day participating with her typically developing peers.

However you choose to celebrate Canada’s 150th – with a cake parade, fireworks, or a camping trip – look for the stories.

Together, we can testify to both the growth and grit that has shaped us collectively, and we have the potential to experience a sweeter and stronger collaborative community.

We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help.
– Jean Vanier, Canadian author, philosopher and passionate advocate for humanity and truth

About the Author
The power of story


Sara Pot is a new columnist with CC. She lives in St. Catharines, Ont. with her husband, four daughters and their golden doodle; she welcomes conversation and feedback to