Considering the canoe

Last Thursday morning, a small group convened in a boardroom in downtown Toronto for a brainstorming session.

There were two boxes of Tim Hortons doughnuts on the table, and sandwiches ordered for afterward.

The agenda: talk about canoes; ponder reconciliation; maybe save Canada.

Consider the canoe

Lofty goals – but there was no shortage of lofty thinking in the room. Here’s who showed up in the boardroom of The Walrus that morning, for the record:

Shelagh Rogers, CBC Radio Host and convener of the session
Mike DeGagne, Executive Director, Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
Justice Harry LaForme, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
John Summers, General Manager, The Canadian Canoe Museum
James Raffan, author, and Executive Director, The Canadian Canoe Museum
Ian Tamblyn, folk singer, playwright and outdoorsman
Bill Buxton, Microsoft Researcher, historian, Canadian New Media Award winner
Noah Richler, author, editor and documentarian
John Agnew, Managing Director, CBC North
Matthew Swan, Adventure Canada
David Newland, Director of Social Media at, and your reporter

This was not an official gathering. There were no speeches; not even formal introductions. It was not a representative cross-section of Canada around the table, but a group of loosely connected thinkers who were able to clear their schedules that morning to speak and to think in blue-sky fashion. There was nothing on the agenda but conversation. And, after 2 hours of deep, direct and at times difficult discussion, not much was concluded.

But we all agreed on a few things, which may be worth considering, as this and other Conversations about Reconciliation occur across the country:

1. The canoe is central to the history and the identity of Canada, from prehistory to the present.
2. We have not properly told all the stories that must make up the Canadian myth.
3. The canoe’s central place in our history makes it the ideal vehicle to carry our stories.
4. The current relationship of First Nations and Inuit people to Canada via the Indian Act creates inequality under the law that is antithetical to Canadian values.
5. This is the first story we must begin to tell.

Two telling photographs and these recollections are all that documents this extraordinary meeting. As is so often the case, our future and our past nestle together closely, yet uneasily here.

Consider the Canoe

It may be worth noting that the doughnuts went uneaten.

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