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Book Review: Mothering Sunday

August 29, 2016 10:33 am
Book Review: Mothering Sunday

Graham Swift’s latest novel explores the mystery of a woman discovering herself

The premise of Graham Swift’s slim, new novel Mothering Sunday is familiar: the arc of a human life is sometimes altered by the most innocuous and unexpected of developments.

It’s March 1924 and Jane Fairchild is a maid living in Berkshire, England. Jane and her lover Paul are sharing their last day together before Paul marries another woman. It’s Mothering Sunday. Paul’s family and their servants are out of the house and Jane has been given the day off by her employer, Mr. Nivens. Their late morning liaison in Paul’s home must be of short duration. Paul has a luncheon to attend with his and his fiancé’s family. As it turns out, he will allow himself to run late, but not so late as to cast doubt in his fiancé’s mind about his desire to marry her. Everything Paul does on this day is carefully calibrated.  There is a small window of opportunity and both he and Jane seize it.

So too does Swift himself. His prose is masterful: it’s at once spare, concise, layered and sensual. This is the novel’s greatest attribute. The scene in question is straightforward enough: two lovers languorously passing a morning in bed on an atypically warm day in March. Nevertheless the reader is not sure of the nature of their connection. Is it inspired by love or convenience? Is it their contrasting places in the social order – he the son of an aristocrat, she a maid in the service of another aristocrat – that prevents them from making public their union? Or is Paul, like so many aristocrats before him, merely exploiting his privilege to satisfy his sexual needs? Paul maintains a measured distance even as they’re lying naked together, but Jane is seemingly at ease with their arrangement. Her expectations of Paul do not seem to exceed what he’s in a position to give.

29BOOK-facebookJumboPaul does not want Jane to rush off on account of his leaving. She has no intention of doing so. It’s her day off and, not having a mother, Jane has no one with whom to celebrate the special day. Besides, she’s not ready for this opportunity to bask in the afterglow of lovemaking to be over. She does not need to be back at her own home until much later in the afternoon. The best moments in the novel feature Jane walking around a large, empty house she’s in for the first and last time completely naked. She’s taking a big risk in doing so. What if someone living at the house was to suddenly return? What if Paul’s fiancé arrives at the house looking for him? What would she think as she approached and saw an unfamiliar bicycle parked out front? In more ways than one, Jane is exposed.

In various respects, Mothering Sunday is a novel about modernity. The Great War was, of course, the most brutal manifestation of this ushering in of something new. That four year exercise in barbarism casts a long shadow over the wealthy aristocrats in particular. Sons have been lost to fighting. Their grief renders them numb to changes swirling in the air, changes characterized by the gradual erosion of seemingly rigid hierarchies. As a maid Jane was aware of her place, not only in the Niven’s household but in the wider society. Swift crafts wonderfully revealing sentences highlighting the contradictory expectations employers had of their maids: to be at once present but invisible, knowledgeable but discreet. Everything they do is in the service of their employers. A maid’s inferior social standing by definition means she is intellectually inferior as well. But Jane has stirrings, emotional, physical and intellectual. She will eventually shatter the social expectations surrounding herself.

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Author Graham Swift

Swift’s novel, however, is as much about chance as it is about modernity.  The afternoon spent first making love and then walking naked and alone in someone else’s house was not an experience Jane could have expected to have when she woke up that morning. Yet it initiates a process of self transformation and discovery that ultimately alters the trajectory of her life. For a time that afternoon she becomes like a ghost, at once familiar and unfamiliar to herself. At one moment she looks at herself in a large mirror, as if for the first time. She knows it’s her, but senses dimensions that she hitherto didn’t know she possessed. What she also senses is the prospect of liberty: in those moments spent gazing at her naked reflection she perceives the possibility of being something other than what she believed she’s destined to be. The prospect is at once exhilarating and terrifying. It’s hard to imagine that the same sort of transformation would have occurred had there never been this sort of detour in the familiar path of her everyday existence.

Related: An Imperfect Offering

Through Jane, Swift has struck a tone of optimism and possibility. She defies odds. However, Swift doesn’t pretend to render her life in its entirety. Nor is Jane’s transcendence merely attributable to modernity or chance. Her good fortune also flows, in a real sense, from other people’s shared tragedy. In the end, Swift seems to be suggesting there is a deeper mystery to  the direction a life takes. Mothering Sunday doesn’t so much explain the mystery as celebrate it.

Building Krumpers Solar Blinds

9:10 am
Building Krumpers Solar Blinds

Photo by Paul Couvrette. Hair & makeup by Klava Z. 

Diana Livshits knew she had found something special the moment she discovered the technology for Krumpers Solar Blinds. Livshits discovered the technology by sheer accident while visiting a friend in Windsor, Ontario. Livshits mentioned a problem that she and her husband were having in their home. The back of their house was west facing, making their living room’s temperature a warm 20°C in the summer, while their bedroom’s temperature was a fiery 30°C. The house had the opposite problem in the winter. From awnings to window film treatments, a frustrated Livshits and her husband had tried everything they could think of to help prevent the problem.

Along came a neighbour to her Windsor friend’s home and offered her a sample of his solar blind creation. Livshits sent the blind to her husband, and ten days later the couple had acquired the rights to the technology. The rest, as they say, is history.

Livshits comes from a family of innovators. Her mother was a doctor and her father had a Ph.D. in technology and fiber optics. Born in Latvia, Livshits and her family moved to Toronto in 1975. A decade later, Livshits’ father was offered a position at Nortel. The family packed their bags once more and moved to Ottawa.

Livshits herself attended the University of Ottawa, worked for Nortel, is a huge technology enthusiast and a keen businesswoman.

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Because the blinds are two-sided, both thermal gain and thermal loss is addressed allowing for year round temperature control.

For the past eight years, the success of Krumpers Blinds has soared while in her hands. These blinds are extraordinary. They are green, award winning and the first of their kind. The accolades keep pouring in. Krumpers has won HomeStars Best Blinds award for the past six years, and the company recently received the prestigious 2015 Scotia Bank EcoLiving Award. Winning the EcoLiving award has allowed the company to enjoy national exposure. Krumpers recently won another prestigious award this year: the Bank of Montreal and Air Miles Award for Innovation of the Year. Along with endless positive testimonials from businesses and customers alike (Livshits says she has over 400 testimonials tucked away in a folder in her office), the proof of Krumpers’ success is in its unique technology.

Krumpers Blinds aren’t your typical, simple paper or plastic window blind. Made from a thin layer of aluminium, a layer of nano-carbon-graphite, as well as non-toxic food-grade PVC, Krumpers Blinds are transparent and two-sided. One side of the blind is used during the summer. The blind’s metallic fabric offers solar protection from heat, UV damage and glare, and reflects heat outside by using a unique angular perforation. The other side of the blind is used during the winter. This graphite side acts as a passive solar collector, helping to reflect heat back into the home and a still air barrier helps to retain the warmth. The blinds are spring loaded, making them easy turn around in less than ten seconds once the seasons change.

“They work instantly. In any piece of real estate, we look for light, we look for the view. People are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get them. When climatic conditions (are) either too hot or too cold, we cover the windows and obstruct the view. With this product, you are covering the window, but you are retaining that beautiful view,” Livshits explains. “And because the blinds are two-sided, you’re addressing both thermal issues: the thermal gain through the sun, and the thermal loss in the winter time.”

Krumpers has provided blinds to large projects, including the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa and a government site in the Northwest Territories. Recently, Krumpers outfitted the KI Offices in Pembroke, Ontario. KI is a leading manufacturer of office furniture, as well as a leader in sustainability and green practices. The blinds are a part of the green sustainability program at KI. “We call it the ‘toothache effect.’ People have a problem and we solve it,” Livshits says. “That’s the simplicity of our product. It’s there, doing its job quietly in the background and clients reap the reward on a monthly basis because utility consumption goes away down. The blinds help save energy consumption up to 40 per cent year-round.” Krumpers Blinds are currently the only product on the market that has independent lab results that support its results. “There’s nothing comparable on the market.”

Creating a green product has been important to Livshits, especially as the mother of a 13-year-old boy. Krumpers has even installed blinds inside her son’s school. “I think for people to be environmentally friendly, there has to be products on the market that present in such a way that people don’t even need to think about it.

By the end of the year, Livshits says the company is hoping to have a showroom in Toronto. Krumpers manufactures its blinds right here in Ottawa, and Livshits is incredibly proud of the company’s made-by-Canadians, made-for-Canadians status. “Canada has given my family a lot… When my parents came (to Canada), they came from the former Soviet Union. They were stateless. Canada accepted my parents, and my parents were able to build a very good life for themselves. In some small way, I would love to pay it forward.”

Find out more at: krumperssolarsolutions.ca

Klava Z. can be reached at: (613) 804-0742

Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 2

August 28, 2016 8:04 pm
Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 2

Champney West (1 of 26) (14)Bonavista Roadtrip (69 of 73)

All photos by Andre Gagne.

“D’ya’ know what da’ hardest thing about a dolphin race is?” Todd asks, checking his rear-view mirror again despite my having not seen another car on this stretch of road for at least an hour.

“No. What?” I reply, eyes scanning the woodlands we kept passing for possible moose sightings.

“Getting the saddles on ‘em, b’y!”

One grin, a short chuckle and a laughter eruption later I realize, while usually I am working to control a stomach attempting to learn the tango with my spleen on long car rides, I’ve spent a lot of this one smiling. Thus was the drive to Trinity with master storyteller Todd Shirran, owner of the taxi service that shares his last name. He does the 4 hour run from St. John’s to Bonavista daily, often logging twelve hours on the road shuttling tourists and the occasional islander visiting friends and relatives further up to coast in vans fueled by buckets of used vegetable oil he collects from area restaurants.

Related: Chips Off the Rock: Random Musings From a Come From Away – Part 1

He’s the kind of encyclopedic local you want to do this ride with as he’s an attic-full of information and history. You can read it on his face. This guy loves his homeland. He’ll tell you about how hard his town was hit by the closing of the fish plant in Bonavista, hold in no emotion as he speaks of what the controversial seal hunt means to area and, with a sly smirk, chortle out the tale of the lady who called back in the mid-90’s wanting to see the actual iceberg that hit the Titanic. Who knows if that one’s true?He admits that sometimes he does have his fun with the tourists spinning yarns like the dolphin race story or the whale graveyards out by Trinity. That just happened to be my current destination though not to pay my respects to the fallen in the great Minke War of ‘77.

Skerwink Trail 3 (10 of 25)Trinity East (32 of 33)Trinity East (13 of 33)Trinity (18 of 39)

I had come to Newfoundland to escape the city life and despite St. John’s being not your typical hustle and rush atmosphere it does still have seven Starbucks. Trinity, on the other hand, is a fishing town first used by ships in the 16th century, shaped by the sea, and still maintains much of its natural beauty. No logos, billboards or buildings larger than a church steeple. Current population: 191. That sounded perfect to this traveler looking to make it 192, at least for a few days.

Trinity (12 of 39)My escape-it-all hostel was across the bay in Trinity East which, I would learn the hard way, was actually a bit of a slog from Trinity itself if you didn’t have a boat, wheels or wings. Pondering how to get to my bedroom bunk was firmly rested on the mental backburner, however, with Trinity providing so many distractions in the form of historic homes, walking paths and at least one amusing road sign. “Deaf Dog NO VEHICLE TRAFFIC”, the sign warned. This is not only a wonderful courtesy for the hearing impaired canine but also good name for a gangsta’ rapper and his first posthumous release.

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Sarah Rochacewich and some tasty treats.

“We first came to Newfoundland for a friend’s wedding and kept coming back for vacation after that. We quickly fell in love with the province and while on a holiday we decided to step away from our corporate careers and open our own business,” says Come From Away now Trinity resident and business owner Sarah Rochacewich in her shop surrounded by chocolate.

Aunt Sarah’s Chocolate has been in business since 1980 and is some of the best chocolate that will ever pass between your lips. Seriously, popping a Butter Crisp or Trinity Lemon Loop Truffle onto your tongue is like tasting artwork. While it’s not a wise choice to attempt to lick the Mona Lisa, I highly endorse snagging a few bags of these delights to munch on while taking in a production at the nearing Rising Tide Theatre.

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Rising Tide Theatre.

Formed in 1978, the red barn-like theatre on the Trinity Bay shore is one of the longest running in the province and its annual Trinity Pageant has become an institution for the town.

Actors in period costume step outside the theatre and will tour you around in story and song.

Think of it as what would happen if you took a play, a Trinity history book, a guided walk, traditional music and a lot of heart and knitted them together to pull over you like a nice, warm sweater.

Trinity (35 of 39)

I was fortunate enough to experience the dinner theatre where, along with your cod au gratin or roast beef, you will be entertained by the various talents in the company via short skits and, of course, more music that will mist you up as much as it makes you want to jig. Founder Donna Butt is a member of the Order of Canada and also directs some of the season’s productions. Also, if you’re like me and stranded in Trinity after a play, she may even give you a lift right up to your hostel door before scooting back to setup the next production. The kindness of Newfoundlanders never ceases to astound me though, by this point, it really shouldn’t.

Like everything else in Trinity, the marvelously blue Skerwink Hostel feels warm and welcoming even when you’re standing on the Rocky Hill Road looking up the driveway. The path leading to the door is flanked by a small garden with little signs reading beets, thyme and kale and the quaint painted labels above the bedroom doorways not only evoke a comfortable night’s rest but also stir up thoughts of the nearing villages like Sweet Bay and Heart’s Content. There’s a guitar near the front entrance as area residents like to visit the hostel from time to time and play for the guests. Of course they do! There’s a table made out of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and, in the corner, a vintage radio one of the owners rigged up to some computer speakers.

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Gavin and Martha fire up the barbecue.

The hostel is run by Martha Nelson and her partner Gavin Clark, both Scottish Come From Aways that were seeking an escape of their own. Martha fell in love with the area, as most people with any working senses will when coming to Trinity Bay, and found that the house had been lying vacant for the last ten years. It had been built by a local crab fisherman who relocated his family to Alberta after the moratorium that saw so many fishers leave the island life.

“The most memorable thing about starting this business to me has been the reception from the community,” says Martha. “We were nervous to begin with as to how we would be received because we didn’t know anyone here, but everyone was so welcoming and encouraging.”

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Skerwink Trail steps.

They named the hostel after the nearing Skerwink Trail which is named after a local seabird though that seabird is actually called a Haigdown. Still with me? Some also say the name could have migrated with the English settlers who found the area coastline reminded them of home. What they saw remains. The Skerwink Trail is a checklist of natural beauty: beaches, cliffs, the scent of ocean and woodland, views to sporadically dislocate your jaw and wildlife close enough to touch like that bald eagle that swooped just a little too close to my head as I rounded one cliff-side turn. Then there are the moose that periodically cross the path blocking hikers from a return to civilization.

Skerwink Trail (10 of 17)

Though out of breath and sweaty from the climb, standing on one of the hills overlooking the bright homes resting on Trinity Bay as the sunset kisses them in a glow that makes you instantly want to take up painting, you wonder why you would want to return to the hustle for the bus, the office cubical clacking and cacophony of continuous city-life construction, anyway.

“Kind of makes you want to just live here doesn’t it?” asks fellow hiker James, reading my mind.

The current Torontonian from Alaska had been traveling around Newfoundland with his wife when their camper broke down near the trail. It was just another excuse to explore, something that’s not necessarily easy for him as he’s had all of his toes amputated. Climbing the steep jaunt to catch that Trinity sunset next to a dude with no toes is inspiring motivation to stifle any gripes and grievances my legs may have wanted to file.

Beach Feet

The ocean tide comes in.

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Skerwink Trail moose crossing.

The trail provides ample rewards like the peaceful beach that meets you at the end, bonfire wood already in place and a sky full of constellations above. Tilt your head just right and you can hear the ocean whispering you in for a swim. Mine lasted about three glorious minutes in the frigid night water but, the next day, sitting atop the trail outlook, I found myself transfixed by a moose crossing a lake, a tiny brown ink drop in motion. I could have watched him for hours.

Despite the claim that one could also see whales from this vantage point, my squinting and cup-eyed peering at the ocean for any type of black speck yielded no results. That’s where Mitch and Yannick came in. Traveling tends to produce a lot of happy coincidences if you do it enough. These two whale obsessed guys sharing my room were from Ottawa and just happened to be going up the coast and back again to places this none-driver would have missed. Faster than I could blink my camera and I were welcomed on as passengers to Bonavista where we’d stop along the way to see puffins, lighthouses and the curiously named Dungeon guarded by bewildered cattle. Oh, and whales, lots of whales!

Coast (3 of 4)Mitch and Yannick were full of tips on how to spot one of them from the shoreline. Look for the water on the surface to turn turquoise, for example, or be ready to see spouts from a distance out of your peripheral vision. Of course, doing this sometimes means glancing away from the views offered by the Bonavista Peninsula. The first time you see a tail flip out of the ocean as a humpback dives to feed is something you won’t soon forget, though. The coastline isn’t going anywhere. The whales are. Thankfully, however, this year there were always at least three more behind the last one you saw.

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Elliston puffin colony.

After our whale-overload, we headed to Elliston where one of the closest land views of the official Newfoundland bird awaited us. You kind of feel sorry for the puffin as you watch them vigorously flapping their little wings next to the gulls swooping in effortlessly on the strong, ocean winds. It’s like placing a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk chopper next to a pinwheel. Well, like the pinwheel, these little birds are colourful and they abundantly fill the grassy cliffs and rocks here between May and September. Elliston is also the Root Cellar Capital of the World, a claim, I have to believe, which has never been contested mainly because, let’s be honest, most people are here for the birds.

Bonavista Roadtrip (44 of 73)What has been questioned by historians, however, is the town of Bonavista’s assertion that Genoese navigator John Cabot landed there in 1497 becoming the second European (after Columbus) to discover North America.

500 years later both the Canadian and British governments decided to accept this as fact despite there being no proof of it having transpired, Todd Shirran had told me on the drive up.

By that rational, I thought, I could decree that Magellan once docked in my linen closet, sit back, and await the steady stream of tourists to knock on my door.

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After a stop at the area coffee shop, Two Whales, we returned to the hostel where Gavin and Martha were holding a barbecue supper for the volunteers and guests. I don’t know what you all believe heaven to be like but there, on the porch of the Skerwink, a warm plate of food in my lap and another sunset painting the sky above to bay, I had to believe that this was pretty damn close.

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Trinity East swimming hole.

One of the other’s told me that there was a lot more to discover away from the trail and, the next day, I found myself lost –no easy feat in such a small area– looking for a waterfall cascading into what was said to be a wonderful swimming hole. Sure, I thought to myself, I can still remember the up, down, up, down, left, right, left, right pattern that began the code for Contra but directions given to me roughly ten minutes beforehand needed an accompanying map.

Trinity East 2 (5 of 15)It was later sketched out and the little escape within the escape was well worth the journey off the beaten path. On the way you can collect shells and still see some of the aftermath of 2010’s Hurricane Igor that decimated some of the bridges and homes closer to the shoreline.

An email from Martha would pull me out of the water for a quick change and sprint back to the hostel. The Champney West cardboard boat races were about to begin! I had no clue what that actually meant but it seemed too interesting to pass up. On the ride, it was explained to me that the towns in the area all have their festivals on different weekends so as not to overlap and each have a little something unique to offer.

The town of Champney West, though, gets extra points for creative lunacy.

Champney's West Cardboard Boat Race (11 of 43)Paint, duct tape and cardboard are the only tools in your arsenal when it comes to building what you hope to be a vessel mighty enough to set sail off the shores of town and make it just far enough out of port to round a buoy before trying to return. That’s the easy part. Keeping afloat? Not so much. Most boats, sporting colourful names like What the Duck? and Piece of Ship, don’t get very far before venturing down in a southward splash much to the amusement of the gathered crowd which, on this day, could have been the entire town with the amount of people filling the pier.

Champney's West Cardboard Boat Race (35 of 43)“There they go, b’y, there they go,” shouted a man beside me as though he were watching the first few seconds of the Kentucky Derby and not some wittily named pieces of cardboard being wildly paddled by locals for unknown glory, a year of fame and, mainly, the sheer fun of it.

Champney West (1 of 26) (24)Later, Gavin led a few others from the Skerwink and I around English Harbour to a place called Horse Chops. He’d been told the whales were returning to the area in abundance. Standing there on the edge of another cliff as the group pointed out whale after whale breaching the surface, I smiled. It was one of those moments where the world sort of fades out around you leaving you with this euphoric sense of calmness. I thought of the friendly people I’d met and the beauty I’d seen in on this trip far to short a trip.

Newfoundland has a way of making you feel at home even if you weren’t born there and your citizenship status was obtained by way of making out with a dead cod. Now, back in Ottawa, typing this I can almost feel the wind on that cliff, smell the ocean, and, like the whales, I could easily see myself returning there every year. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true because, in all actuality, I don’t feel it would take many returns to make the choice the Gavins, Marthas and Sarahs did before me and this Come From Away becomes just another Here Now to Stay.

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Canada Remembers Colonel Atilla Altikat

August 26, 2016 12:29 pm
Canada Remembers Colonel Atilla Altikat

More than 30 years ago, a husband and father of two got up in the morning and got in his car to go to work. When he stopped at a red light at the corner of Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and Island Park Drive in Ottawa, he was shot and killed at point blank range by an Armenian terrorist. Colonel Atilla Altikat was the Turkish military attaché to Canada and the victim of a rare assassination in Canada’s capital. Aug. 27th marks the 34th anniversary of his death. Altikat is the only victim of international terrorism on Canadian soil to date, and his killer(s) have never been found.

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Colonel Atilla Altikat.

Such an event seems out of place for the relatively small and sleepy capital of Canada, but the killing showed that Canada is not immune to global terrorism. According to 2011 Census data, amongst all the G8 countries, Canada has the highest number of foreign-born citizens. In fact, one in five Canadians were born abroad. The significance of this diversity means that a lot of Canadian citizens have varying global ties, and yet, the country rests in relative peace. One reason for this may be that many people immigrate to Canada to escape the violence, prejudice and injustice they’ve experienced in their country of origin. Another is that many people want to live in a free and democratic, secular society that provides equal rights for all regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Canada offers this possibility.

In hindsight, the story of Altikat’s murder, tragic and unjust as it was, is less about the threat of terrorism, and has more to do about the consequences of wounds bred from unresolved conflicts.

It’s important to mention that not long after Altikat’s death, on March 12, 1985, gunmen attacked the Turkish embassy in Ottawa. This incident resulted in the death of a Canadian security guard named Claude Brûlé, and injuries to the Turkish ambassador who threw himself through a window to escape the assault.  The Armenian Revolutionary Army took credit for the attack.

Armenian groups claimed the violent attacks were retaliation for the Turkish government’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide, that they claim was committed by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. While the Turkish government vehemently denies there was genocide, the Armenians have been successful in having the genocide recognized by many countries, including Canada.

In 2006, Stephen Harper officially recognized the loss of 1.5 million Armenians as the first genocide of the 20th century, a label the Turkish government has not accepted. Canada has a significant diaspora of both Armenians and people of Turkish descent and this historical conflict has simmered here for decades.

Canada has done its duty in remembering the fallen on each side, and commemorating their losses. The Canadian government commemorated the loss of Colonel Altikat on the 30th Anniversary of his death by erecting the Fallen Diplomats Monument at the Corner of Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and Island Park Drive.

As Harper said when acknowledging the Armenian genocide, “We must never forget the lessons of history, nor should we allow the enmities of history to divide us.”

Some level of division is inevitable in a country made up many diverse faces, cultures, religions, points of views and histories, but it is in striving to see the difference of others not as an affront to one’s personal identity that, in some ways, allows Canada to work as a multicultural nation. Of course Canada is imperfect, but while other countries are closing their borders, afraid of the dangers of difference, Canada has welcomed those differences with open arms, and invites those who choose to live here to hold onto their past, not in anger, but in wisdom.

On the 34th anniversary of Colonel Altikat’s death, on Saturday Aug. 27, there will be a remembrance ceremony held at 2 p.m. at the very spot that Altikat’s life was taken, at the Fallen Diplomats Monument. The Council of Turkish Canadians invites “all peace-loving” people to come commemorate that loss along with them.

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