by Don Buchanan from Coldstream, BC
Nov 9, 13
It was the summer of 1967 – a summer of excitement and pride across Canada – and there were few more exciting places to work than at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
I had the privilege of having been selected to be part of the Canadian Pavilion for the duration of the World Fair. I was to be a mounted rider with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Opening day began with exploding mortars and low level fly-pasts by the Golden Centennaires aerobatic team. The plan called for us to be isolated from the public. Our horse stand was in a large elevated sandbox. The horses, however, quickly let it be known that the perch was not to their liking; so authorities hurriedly decided to bring us down into the plaza. This created a new problem. Because there was no separation from the public we had to ensure no toes were stepped on, and that our horses didn’t spook. To do that, we had to constantly decide when it was safe to let people close to us, and when it was not.
One afternoon I noticed a boy, maybe 10 or 12 years old, sitting quietly in a wheelchair outside the throng that was surrounding my horse. I carefully moved toward the boy, watching for clues from his parents in case I was getting too close.
I asked if their son would like to touch the animal. They nodded. My horse lowered his head and began gently nibbling the boy’s fingers. The broad smile on his face turned to uncontrollable, hearty laughter. I allowed it to continue for longer than normal before I turned to greet others. As I did I felt a pang of concern, because I saw both parents weeping as they moved away.
A couple of hours later I rode behind the pavilion to give my horse a chance to get a drink and stretch its back. I had dismounted and was beginning my chores when I saw the boy and his family coming toward me. Both parents were still noticeably emotional.
To my astonishment they told me that that moment in the plaza was the first time they had ever seen their son laugh.
They told me they were incredibly thankful to have discovered what could bring him joy.
Well, treats for horses were reserved for special occasions. I figured none could be more special than this. And I dug out some horse treats and we all shared the boy’s delight as my horse gingerly picked them off the palm of his outstretched hand. I confess that I required a couple of minutes to regain my own composure before going back out front. I had learned an important lesson that day. I had learned about the impact seemingly insignificant gestures can have on the lives of others.