The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Jul4TueCelebrating my Canadian—and Salvationist—identity. July 4, 2017 by Major Ray Harris
I am a Canadian. I am a Salvationist. While there is much more that makes up my identity, these two realities impact me deeply. And they impact each other. Canada has shaped my life as a Salvationist; The Salvation Army has shaped my life as a Canadian. Let me explain.
- Filed Under:
The year was 1883. A small company of Salvationists met for an evening service in Kingston, Ont. As the meeting started, the door opened. They gasped. In walked Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He wanted to learn about the people who made up this new nation called Canada, so he came to The Salvation Army. A few years later, under William Booth’s “In Darkest England” plan, the Army helped individuals immigrate to Canada, among them my maternal grandmother’s family. Her first grandson was born in the Grace Haven Home in Hamilton, Ont.
Hamilton shaped my early understanding of Canada. Its east end formed my neighbourhood. Steel playground became the site for all things baseball, football and ball hockey, and clumsy attempts to smoke a cigarette. The neighbourhood grew as I delivered the Hamilton Spectator, attended Queen Mary Elementary School and then Delta Secondary School. I learned to define the city against Hogtown to the north of us. Toronto, that is. You see, some people affectionately called Hamilton “the armpit of southern Ontario.” We preferred to call it Steel Town, like the toughness of our local football team, the Tiger-Cats. After high school, I went to work at Westinghouse, a manufacturing company, and Stelco, one of Canada’s steel giants.
The city’s heavy industry and brand of football shaped me in more ways than one. The Salvation Army also impacted those early years. A trombone was put in my hands at an early age. I followed the Hamilton Temple Band as it marched up James Street to an open-air meeting near Gore Park; early on I learned that Christian faith is a public faith. Those early years in Hamilton formed me in many ways, but questions related to faith pushed me beyond Steel Town, and beyond Canada.
As Canada celebrated its centennial in 1967, I joined many others at Expo in Montreal. The same year saw me leave Canada for theological studies in the United States. Chicago became home for two years, and significant years they were. During my time there, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the city became an armed camp. Through the week I took my classes; on the weekends I joined other Canadian and American students, driving families to grocery stores because they feared walking the streets. I came to love Chicago, and Americans. But those years also sharpened my sense of Canadian identity. Often we come to understand who we are when we know who we are not; I was not an American. So I returned to Canada to teach in a Hamilton high school.
Eventually, my own sense of calling led me to the College for Officer Training with my wife, Cathie. Our various appointments took us to different parts of Canada. I remember our first drive over the top of the Great Lakes, and the majesty of Lake Superior. The prairies have never been boring; they possess their own beauty. And the sight of the Rockies for the first time was incredible. We learned to live in the Badlands of Alberta, the home of Tyrannosaurus rex. Cathie gave birth to our first child in Drumheller. The corps treasurer instructed these wimps from Ontario to make sure we took our son outdoors in the prairie winter. We did. Years later, Colin formed a not-for profit called “Take Me Outside,” and ran across Canada while speaking to 20,000 students about the need to get away from digital screens.
Our next appointment in Calgary introduced us to the famous Stampede and its parade. From there we went to Fort McMurray, Alta., to help begin The Salvation Army’s work in this booming oilsands city. I recognize the environmental concerns, but the city will always mean people for me. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Fort McMurray after the 2016 fires, he noticed a Salvation Army emergency vehicle and walked up to the divisional commander, Major Ron Cartmell: “You guys are everywhere!” He was saying more than he realized. The story of Canada is deeply linked to the story of The Salvation Army.
With each appointment, my understanding of Canada grew. I came to appreciate Toronto and joined the crowds celebrating the Blue Jays World Series victories. I first learned about Winnipeg during its disastrous flood in 1950, but eventually discovered its beauty as a corps officer. St. John’s, N.L., became our last home as active officers. As a “come from away” I learned to love its people, music and humour. Canada is a huge land, with 51/2 time zones, and I have only scratched its surface.
As a Canadian and as an officer, it has been my privilege to help harvest wheat in Alberta and join other Salvationists in fighting Manitoba’s 1997 flood of the century. It has also been my privilege to solemnly stand in the sands of Juno Beach at Normandy on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of D-Day; benefit from the health-care system put in place by Saskatchewan’s fiery Baptist, Tommy Douglas; admire the Magna Carta in the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights; and work with Winnipeg’s Jewish community and Salvationist colleagues to help Yazidi refugees find a welcome and home in Canada.
But I have also increasingly become aware of Canada’s dark side. We turned away the steamship Komagata Maru in 1914 with Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus on board; we rejected a shipload of Jewish refugees in 1939; in recent years we have become aware of the horror of our residential schools; and in this past year we have been shamed by the number of women whose experiences of sexual assault have been dismissed as “unfounded.” We are a nation as complex as our geography is great.
Many attempts have been made to portray this nation. I smile at Peter C. Newman’s quip: “Canada is the only nation in the world who would rather b e Clark Kent than Superman.” Canada’s Governor General David Johnston argues that “Canada has no pretensions of greatness.” I resonate with that. But as we celebrate our 150th anniversary, it’s very apparent we enter uncharted waters. Nations in our global community are turning inward, preoccupied with their own perceived greatness. Anger, if not rage, fuels voter responses.
Within these dynamic forces, I ask what it means to be engaged in a mission shaped by a Christian understanding of salvation. This “boundless salvation” is characterized by reconciliation, healing and welcome to the stranger. The salvation I have come to know and embrace looks beyond ourselves to others, because that is the nature of the triune God’s love for us. God’s love is not insular. I also ask what it means to be a Canadian who appreciates our parliamentary system with all its flaws. We live at a time when these institutions and convictions can no longer be taken for granted. Being Canadian and Salvationist has its tensions, and its immense blessings.
On July 1, we celebrate our 150th birthday as a nation. It’s time for fireworks and speeches on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. Let’s pray our anthem as we sing: “God keep our land, glorious and free….” But remember—Clark Kent, not Superman.
Happy birthday, Canada!
Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer. He attends Heritage Park Temple in Winnipeg.