Stories from Our Land: Celebrating Canada’s 150

Fifty shades of maple

EDITOR’S NOTE: In conjunction with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017, members of the Manitoulin Writers’ Circle are crafting stories and poems to pay tribute to our country on this pivotal milestone birthday.

by Fay Becks

As I look out my window, I see two gracious, 50 year-old maple trees adorning the front lawn, providing shelter and shade, standing as sister sentinels, creating a barricade against the traffic on the highway in front of our house. “Traffic, on the Island?” you may query, with skeptically arched eyebrows. But yes, when these trees were planted in 1967 by my husband’s twin sisters as a 4-H project to celebrate Canada’s Centennial year, the idea of traffic driving past this homestead was laughable (except of course, on Providence Bay Fair weekend). In fact, it was commonly noted that if you wanted to know the population of Manitoulin Island, all you had to do was take a drive past people’s houses and count how many heads you saw in the window. In 1967, passing cars were something to stop and notice with eager curiosity. Fifty years later, when I have to look both ways before crossing the road to collect my mail after the May 24th weekend, I am continually reminded of the faster pace of life and the fact that Manitoulin is now on the radar of north bound urban dwellers. Summer visitors stream here from the cities to enjoy our local charm and the breathtaking scenery that people born and raised here, often take for granted.

These maples, commemorating Canada’s Centennial, are now middle aged. Like many of us in this age bracket, their trunks have gradually filled and they’ve thickened in the middle. It is no longer possible for passing cars to count the heads in our windows because the entwined maple tree limbs act as curtains, with a cedar hedge in front, for a valance. Thankfully, more accurate methods of documenting the population have been devised.

Like all of us who celebrated Canada’s Centennial and have been fortunate enough to witness another 50 shades of grey on our own heads, these trees have weathered many storms and adapted to countless social, and environmental changes.

Our current prime minister wasn’t even born in 1967, but his father, Pierre Eliott, then Minister of Justice, cut a dashing figure, wearing a top hat and a long black cape in a “film version” of Canada’s Centennial song, before the days of video. Children’s voices exuberantly rang out with ‘C-A-N-A-D-A we love you’… as he strategically swooped through the crowds with a flower in his lapel. Thanks to modern technology, you can check it out on YouTube now. A year later, Pierre Trudeau became the prime minster and was much applauded for his style and charisma. He knew the persuasive power of a well-placed photo. History tends to repeat itself in cycles, with our current ‘selfie’ loving PM.

The leaders who guided the Canarvan Township 4-H club in 1967, have left a living, growing tribute to Canada’s coming of age. In the years since the maples were planted, their branches have burst into vibrant green shoots during 50 seasons of spring. They modified the uncomfortable heat of summers and reminded us as their leaves turned gold, of encroaching winter. The sisters who planted the trees are now lovely, white haired grandmothers who gather their families around them to make and keep memories. There are many trees around the Island that were planted by students throughout the years to commemorate milestones and signify hope, with limbs that reach into the future and roots anchored to the past. As we look forward to another milestone for Canada, may we plant some shelter, beauty, and hope for the future.