Oh Canada

by Colette Arnal from Ottawa, ON

This story took place at the beginning of my public service career , some 25 years ago.. I was working in Calgary, for the federal government, interviewing immigrants who were applying for Canadian citizenship. It was a job that reminded me, every day, how lucky I was to be born in this great country. During my four years at it, I met many courageous people from around the world who had sacrificed so much to come to Canada.

There is one family , in particular, that I think of often. In the early ‘80s, many of the ‘boat people’ from Vietnam had spent enough time in Canada to qualify for citizenship. One day, I interviewed a young Vietnamese woman who wanted help for her father. He was in hospital - he was dying – and he did not want to die stateless and be buried as a refugee , He did not want to doe with out a country to call home. Time was short. Could we help? Well, I am proud to say that we did. We pulled out all the stops to get the paperwork processed quickly and we arranged to go to the hospital to give this man the gift of belonging.

When we arrived at the cancer ward at the Foothills Hospital, we were greeted by a nurse who told us that our soon-to-be citizen was a very proud man. He was not about to become a Canadian while lying in bed. He had struggled into a wheel chair and was in the lounge waiting for us. Well, that was not all that was waiting for us. The nurses had decorated the lounge in red and white – streamers, balloons, flags. Patients from the ward all dressed in hospital garb were crowded into the room. The citizenship judge said a few words, administered the oath of citizenship and presented the much cherished certificate.

And then, a young man standing in the back – bald from chemo and hanging on to his IV pole – started to sing O Canada. One by one the people in the room joined in . By the second verse, everyone in the room was belting out our national anthem. 

I often take for granted the life that I have here in Canada. I complain about the smallest things. When I catch myself doing that, I think back to that man in the hospital and the hundreds of other people that I had the privilege to meet, and I thank my lucky stars.