By Matthew Clark
My paternal grandfather was born in modest circumstances, and would spend much of his life in that state. His father was a commercial fisherman on the great lakes, harboured on Georgian Bay's south shore. My grandfather, the seven of nine children, and youngest of five boy's, would be employed much of his life in the resource sector, the lumber industry, to be specific. Late in his life he became involved in tourism (renting out cabins to vacationers). At best he earned a livable income, at worst there were times of financial bankruptcy. Nevertheless he had extraordinary experiences in his life, with some outright adventures!
How? He participated in civic life. Three of those endeavors are of particular note. As the proprietor of a (failing) lumbermill on the East side of Algonquin Park, during the post WWII era, he participated in an employment program which included concentration camp survivors. They were mostly Polish, many of course, being Jewish. Having incredibly survived the Holocaust, these men fell into the state of introspection so common to individuals who persevered through the experience of death's constant presence. Always putting in a productive days work, these men, over time, progressed to a condition where they engaged in the hope of everyday life that was then so common to North Americans, that it was taken for granted. My grandfather, and his family, were able to witness these people's Canadian segment of their journey. Along the way my grandfather, my dad, and his siblings, were able to take valuable lessons from what they witnessed.
During WWII grandad became involved with what would now be classified as an NGO. This organization was trying to assist the Chinese Nationalist cause versus Japan. China's diaspora in Canada was quite tiny back then. Nevertheless my grandfather raised a substantial amount of cash to support the cause!
After WWII ended China fell back into the civil war which had been her state before, and even during, the Japanese invasion of the country. This contest was between the Communists and Nationalists. Grandads NGO requested he go to China to investigate on whether the money they sent in aid to the Nationalist Forces was being properly spent. So in 1947 he took time away from his lumbermill duties, to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
By 1966, after years of sitting on town council, grandad made a run for township Reeve, the highest position on council. He won the election, with the result that during Canada's centennial (1967) my grandfathers was a major participant in the townships celebrations of the nation's 100th anniversary. During his three years as Reeve he met almost everyone of note in the township, as well as those of adjoining jurisdictions. Grandad participated in community decisions with the Algonquin band leaders who resided on the lakeshore opposite to his. Finally he successfully campaigned to prevent the proposed demolition of the old town schoolhouse, which to this day serves as the community postal station.
Getting involved in civic life is an effective tactic to prevent the rot which has turned modern political life so banal in North America. More participation by everyday folks would/will force our politicians to focus policy on the interests of citizens, rather than the 'select few.' An added benefit for engaging in civic life is to enjoy the experiences grandad had. In short, his civic experiences made his life more interesting!