I’ve been asked dozens of times since I started a story-a-day publishing journey: why on Earth did you take on such a big task?
It was the beginning of 2017 and people — at least in my social media feeds — were in a funk. He Who Must Not Be Named had been elected President in the U.S., a sharp and depressing contrast to the “Sunny Ways” promised from the Canadian federal election the previous year. “Let’s all post something positive!” went out the rallying cry. “We need to balance all this negativity!”
Around the same time, I read that the 150-day countdown to Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017 began February 1. Photos of Canada, I thought. I’ll pull out all those pictures of my journeys in Canada and post those one a day on Twitter. The fact that a store in my Toronto neighbourhood had a promotion to scan old photographs at a bargain price sealed the deal.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the digital photos: I realized many of these photos needed context. There were stories behind them.
And so it came to pass that I decided, instead, to write 150 reflections about My Canada, accompanied by photos, and to publish those daily for 150 days. As the project progressed, hosted on my website Teahen Tales and published through social media, many readers wrote that, woven together, these reflections would make a terrific book. Cision Canada took notice and deemed it one of the top seven Canada150 projects on Twitter.
For many years, I wrote a weekly column for the London Free Press and, for a couple years, was a full-time, thrice-weekly columnist. I work now as a communications consultant and have discovered I’ve missed writing about my own themes and interests.
The project also pushed me to sharpen my photography skills to get images for topics where I didn’t have a photo in stock. Friends and family members also contributed their talents: A special thank you to Ted Balant, Jeff Breithaupt, Joan Di Poce, Patti Gower, Martin Keenan, Morris Lamont, John Lederman, Mark Mooney, Kyle Nash, Pamela Post, Ann Stuart, and Adrain Taylor for allowing me to use your wonderful images.
Thanks, too, to the professionals and organizations that allowed me to draw from their media galleries: Canadian Opera Company and Video Cabaret for use of the Michael Cooper images, Canadian Stage, Choir! Choir! Choir!, Creative Mornings Toronto, Equinox Gallery Vancouver, Dr. Mike Evans, Halifax Public Library, Karen Schuessler Singers, Anne Lederman, McCord Museum, National Film Board, Nihilist Spasm Band, Ottawa Tourism, Perimeter Institute, Don Ross, Saint Amour, Toronto Star, University of Waterloo, Vancouver Public Library, City of Windsor, Withrow Park Farmers’ Market, and the Young Centre. And when all else failed, Wikicommons came to the rescue to find an image of fiddleheads for a post on foraging, and Ottawa’s Famous Five statue for a post on feminism in Canada.
Richest thanks go to my partner, Chris Moorehead: he put up with me getting up at 6 a.m. to finish a post, he proofread the columns, and went along with my many suggestions to do something, or eat something, because “I need pictures of it for Canada150.” He also provided many photos of places and experiences we’ve shared.
When I published these stories one by one, I began with the key defining geographic elements of Canada — water and our northern climate — and then developed many themes to explore what defines Canada, for me, from our unique businesses to the history of immigration, from favourite recipes to sociological movements, from art to industry.
Sometimes, I interrupted a theme to match a particular post to an event or date: my story on chocolate-makers on Canada came out on Valentine’s Day in 2017, even though chocolate should have found its home in the stories about food; or maybe it belonged in the section on my favourite Canadian business brands.
These are personal reflections. I have written about what I have known, and experienced. You have met (or will meet, if you have yet to read the collection of posts) people I know, and people I admire, who have shaped this country. You will learn all sorts of weird and wonderful facts you might not have known. And I hope you will gain a new appreciation for the complexity of a country that, against many odds, has become a beacon of civilization in our modern times.
Happy Canada150, dear readers. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
Main photo: Fireworks on the Avon River in Stratford Ontario; photo by John Lederman.