An immigrant and a refugee became our Governor General – talks at RBG of her experiences.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 13, 2011  For former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson there was no such thing as a short answer and if you were into great detail from an informed and knowledgeable speaker who was there right on the front lines, then you would have enjoyed the talk given by Clarkson at the Royal Botanical Gardens last Sunday afternoon.  Some 150 people were on hand to hear what she had to say about the ten people she wrote of in her most recent publication, Room for all of us, which is the story of ten people who immigrated to Canada and the contribution those ten have made to the welfare of the country.

Clarkson argues that we are a richer and at the same time more complex country because of our approach to immigration, which, she pointed out is, significantly different than that of other countries.  In Canada` she explained `we expect the people who arrive as landed immigrant to become citizens and some 80% of them do, which is the highest percentage in the world.  The Australians percentage is about 75%  while in the United States around 55% of those who arrive as immigrants eventually become citizens.

In Europe, added Clarkson, landed immigrants cannot become citizens.  They are in a country as workers and when they are no longer needed they are forced to return to the country of origin.  Clarkson told of a housekeeper she had in Paris where she served as Agent General for Ontario.   The woman had been in France for more than 30 years but could have been told to leave the country with just 24 hours’ notice.

The former host of CBC programs the Fifth Estate and Take 30 certainly knew her subject and she entertained her audience for well over an hour before she sat to autograph copies of her book.

Burlingtonians line up to have their books autographed by former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson.

Clarkson, whose  family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong and settled in Ottawa knew what it was to be an immigrant and told her audience of the less than honourable  past of Canada`s immigration policy `We were no better than many of the others when we interned our Japanese citizens during the Second World War or turned back a ship loaded with Jews during that time as well.

Clarkson at RBG book signing where she spoke of her immigrant experience and the contribution immigrants make to Canadian society.

Canada has changed significantly since that time and the waves of recent immigrants included men who did not want to serve in the Vietnam War and the thousands of Vietnamese Boat people who came to this country.  Tamils have come to this country as well, and each time a wave of immigrants arrives this county accepts them and they integrate and become a part of who we are today.  Clarkson believes we are a stronger and better country because of our immigration policies.

It was the story of these people that Clarkson wanted to tell.  Of the ten people in the book she knew five personally and two others were friends. Ì had to find the other three ‘explained Clarkson.

Clarkson passed on an interesting fact that few probably realized about the Boat People.  The federal government at the time agreed to admit 25,000 people and local church groups clamored to be able to bring in more.  The government agreed and said that if Canadians were prepared to sponsor more and put up $2500. per person then more could be admitted – and Canada eventually brought in 150, 000 boat people who quickly became part of the Canadian fabric.

Her audience learned more about what immigrants have done to and for Canada than most knew when they walked into the room.   In the very early 1900`s we brought in 20,000 new people and we know bring in 300,000 every year and they all eventually fit into the country and add to what we are.

Former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson spoke about her book at an RBG event on the weekend.

The Canada we are today explained Clarkson is much, much different than the Canada she came to in 1942.  Clarkson is the first immigrant and refugee to become Governor General of this country.  We have indeed come along way and after listening to Clarkson one can begin to realize, understand and appreciate the contribution immigrants have made to our country.

Upon leaving the Office of Governor General Clarkson, along with her husband formed the Institute for Canadian Citizenship that engages Canadians in citizenship through innovative programs, campaigns and partnerships designed to ensure new citizens are welcomed and included as equals, to create meaningful connections among all Canadian citizens, to foster a culture of active, engaged citizens and to celebrate what it means to be Canadian.

And that is exactly what Adrianne Clarkson was doing on a Saturday afternoon in Burlington at an event sponsored by A Different Drummer, a Burlington bookstore.




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Paddy Torsney, former MP reviews book written by former Governor General. Recommends it to everyone.


By Paddy Torsney

BURLINGTON, ON  November 11, 2011

It is fitting that I write this review of Room for All of Us by Adrienne Clarkson on November 11th.  Like many Canadians, I spent the morning at Remembrance Day ceremonies in my community. My parents are immigrants to Canada so we don’t have uncles, aunts and grandparents to remember. In fact, my parents came from Ireland, a country that remained neutral during the war and they did not serve in the two world wars.

This morning the Minister who spoke used the theme “I remember it well”, expanding the notion to remember the lost and injured soldiers and civilians, to experience through his stories the suffering of the times.

Mme Clarkson’s book encourages readers to do just that: remember it well.  Remember the stories of the individuals she presents to us and remember how their journey is similar to ours, or our ancestors, and that whether they came in 1999 or in 1799, the stories have similarities.  Though the distance, nationality and skin colours may be different, in our hearts we are all the same: courageous people who have chosen, or been driven to choose, Canada. Even more importantly, we need to remember that our nation is richer for each of the experiences.

Mme Clarkson chose ten Canadians to profile in her book. Their backgrounds are diverse and most of them faced diversity before choosing Canada.  Each and every one of the people she presents had an interesting story to tell.   Each and every one caused me to learn more about what Canada and the world was thinking at the time of their arrival – anti-Vietnam protests, Idi Amin’s expulsions, destitute boat people from Vietnam and Sri Lanka, the Holocaust.  Although the circumstances are different, there are many similarities to more recent migrations and migrations further in the past.

The book is well researched and the stories well woven with Clarkson`s experience coming to Canada as a young Chinese girl and settling in the Ottawa of the 1940’s.   This tapestry of stories and history allows readers to feel, and be inspired by, the wonderful nation building that is occurring with each arrival this year as some 250,000 new entrants join our country.

Former Governor General of Canada, Mme Clarkson’s legacy project is The Institute for Canadian Citizenship.   It’s a great project that ensures more Canadians will learn our country’s rich history, a history that comprises dynamic people and remarkable journeys. This book will help launch that Institute to many readers.

I can recommend this book to readers. While readers will be familiar with some of the public figures presented (Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan, former MLA Corky Evans, radio star Andy Barrie and Rogers Canada president Nadir Mohamed), there are other people many Canadians won’t know well (Holocaust survivor Fred Bild, film director John Tran or artist Tamara Toledo, author David Albahari).  With each story we learn more about the people and become interested in their journey and how their experiences have influenced careers and life choices.

Former Governor General Adrianne Clarkson has written a book consisting of profiles of people who chose Canada. For those of us who were born here, the book offers a view of our country that is both refreshing and rewarding.

The Blair family story presents another perspective on the decision to choose Canada.  The Blairs descend on both sides from ancestors who arrived in Canada in 1843.  After generations of life in Quebec City, the family moved to the UK for professional reasons but kept their children connected with Canada in stories and summer vacations.  After years abroad, all three children returned to live in Quebec City as bilingual citizens who care deeply about their country and have put enormous effort into preserving Quebec’s historical buildings. “The Blairs are now part of only two percent of the Quebec City population, whereas their ancestors (British) formed fifty percent.  But they have adapted.  They have done what they wished to do: live in the society of their ancestors and adapt to the changing conditions.”

The Blairs represent well the story of Canada: people coming to our shores and making and remaking our nation through the centuries. And we are all enriched by these experiences, whether or not they are part of our family.

Mme Clarkson presents the ten stories in a context which is interesting and informative.  Her emphasis on history made me long for more!  I think this book would be an interesting addition to the school curriculum.

I had a high school teacher who once told me Canadian history was boring. These stories and Ms Clarkson’s presentation of our history were engaging and important.  As she says at the end, “When Canada adopts you, you are part of the whole family, with its benefits and its dysfunctions, with its birthday celebrations and crazy Uncle Herb”.  And further, “If our presence is to have meaning in our chosen country, we must all of us accept all of our history.  Our history must be taught and absorbed; our experiences, bad and noble, must be shared.”

I know I’d like to give a copy of this book to one of my teachers (Mr. H) with an inscription inside the book – for you  Mr. H., Mme Clarkson’s book is inspiring, interesting  enjoyable and anything but boring.


Paddy Torsney is a member of the Privy Council and served as the Member of Parliament for Burlington.   Room for All of Us by Adrienne Clarkson is published by the Penguin Group in Canada and is available at The Different Drummer in Burlington.

Mme Clarkson will be reading from her book at a public event at the Royal Botanical Gardens at 2:00 pm on Sunday November 13th.

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