I just finished watching, as did millions of folks around the world, the Opening Ceremonies of the XXI Winter Olympiad. At Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s organizers put on one hell of a show, heavy on earthen and natural themes with a nice tinge of patriotic Canadian display. The day was marred by the death of Georgian lugeist…luger…uh, athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death on the luge track at Whistler earlier that day, but his absence was noticed and remembered by the IOC, the organizers, and the first class crowd at CH Place.
The musical acts were a who’s who of Canadian superpower singers, from francophone artist Garou, to international superstar Bryan Adams; slam poetry artist Shane Koyczan of the Northwest Terrtories recited an amazing poem about being Canadian, and Nova Scotian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac participated in one of the acts, happily with underpants. Diversity was the name of the day, with a beautiful opening act by Canada’s First Nations groups, through famous lesbian singer k.d. lang’s utterly gorgeous rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The only famous Canadian act missing was Rush.
But I’d like to draw attention to the flag bearers and how carefully these people were chosen. A little was said during the ceremonies, but let’s talk a little more.
Betty Fox was probably the least famous person there, but certainly someone about whom every Canadian has heard. Her son was Terry Fox, the young man who lost his leg to cancer and decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research, making it halfway before succumbing to a relapse of cancer. Her inclusion was a nod to one of the greatest stories in Canadian history, and an allusion to the great sacrifice that every athlete endures.
Jacques Villeneuve is probably better known in Europe than in his own country. Villeneuve is the only Canadian Formula 1 racing champion, and also won the Indianapolis 500, placing him in a bracket with Mario Andretti for one of the most successful racing drivers in stock and Formula 1 car racing. He’s an internationally recognized figure and a Quebecois hero, and one of the most famous Canadians abroad.
Julie Payette flew twice in space, once on Discovery and once on Endeavour. Now she’s the Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency, and has contributed to Canada’s commitment to the International Space Station – in person. She represents our scientific achievement, as well as reminding us where our next frontier must be.
Barbara Ann Scott was a gold medalist in figure skating in 1948, and probably would have done so in 1944 if there wasn’t a war. She’s a member of the Order of Canada and reminds us of the powerful sporting tradition of Canada’s past. She is from Ottawa, the nation’s capital, where she ran with the torch in December.
Anne Murray, from Nova Scotia, is a famous pop & folk singer. Her hits include “Snowbird”, the first Canadian female to hit #1 on the US charts, and she has put out a huge body of work over the years. She’s now semi-retired, but remains an internationally recognized face of Canadian music.
Donald Sutherland is another culture icon. A completely famous movie actor, Sutherland has starred in films like MASH, Animal House, Kelly’s Heroes, and probably a billion more. His son, Kiefer, is Jack Bauer on 24, so if you like the show, you’re welcome. Sutherland was the narrator for Canada’s games, and his distinctive voice is recognized by Canadians everywhere. He’s from New Brunswick.
Bobby Orr should need no introduction, but yet he’ll get one anyway. Bobby Orr is often considered the greatest hockey player to lace up his skates, if not the most prolific. For a decade he ruled the ice for the Boston Bruins, becoming the only NHL defenseman to lead the league in scoring, and winning 8 consecutive Norris Trophies for the best defender. Bobby Orr led Boston to their last 2 Stanley Cups, and Canada to victory in the 1976 Canada cup. If he had been blessed with good knees, we would have seen much more from him, but regardless, he is one of the true greats.
Finally, Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire represents the valued and treasured men and women of the Canadian Forces, over three thousand of which are currently deployed in Afghanistan and around the world. General Dallaire was in charge of the disasterous UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, and was tragically affected by the massacres there. He blamed himself, and tried to commit suicide. Since recovering from that episode, he’s become a leader for statesmanship and for standing up against genocide and war crimes. Of all the people chosen to bear the flag, I can hardly think of someone more appropriate.
These eight people represent the best of Canada – from all over the country, speaking both official languages. People experienced in sport, in culture, in heroism, and in tragedy. People who rose above the conditions given them to clutch something great – be it the Stanley Cup or the tragically heroic end of the Marathon of Hope; a certified Gold record or an Olympic Gold Medal. People who have seen the earth through a window and the fragile destruction of a diaspora; people who have sped along at 250 kph in front of thousands, and people who have performed on the silver screen before millions.
To the world: welcome to Canada, and enjoy the show!