Sunday, 14 December 2014

End of the year reflections

I went shopping yesterday for the usual groceries and in the store they were playing Christmas music from an album by Maddy Prior, it is different from the usual mindless stuff found in stores nowadays, and it certainly got my attention. In Canadian groceries stores weights are officially in Kg but you still find a lot of things in lbs and it is very confusing to say the least. I needed to buy 3 lbs of chuck beef for stewing and I knew that in Kilograms it would be 1.36 Kg. The only thing was that they had packages of 0.380 Gr. To make it simple I simply asked the butcher if he could weigh it all for me.

I was also looking for a rubber ring which is the seal for our Moka coffee machine a Bialetti model. So I went to Luciano on Preston Street in Little Italy and sure enough they had, it no problem.

While shopping I suddenly started thinking about what a good year it had been all together, we travelled to Europe and Stratford, Ontario and we met friends, had many good times, I worked on a fantastic exhibit of paintings of the First World War by Otto Dix and AY Jackson and saw another great exhibit at the National Gallery on Gustave Doré.

We did one thing this past Summer which I found enriching and that was to work at the Shepherd of Good Hope, the big homeless shelter preparing and serving lunch to the hundreds of Homeless people in Ottawa. The poverty level in the Capital is far more serious and greater than one can imagine or than the media is letting on. Like all cities Ottawa has pockets of wealth and tony neighbourhoods but there are large areas of poverty and trouble. In the Lower Town on the fringe of the ByWard Market and below the University of Ottawa Campus where many shelters are located. I am not speaking of the ghettoes in Nepean or in the West of the City or around Heron road where mostly poor immigrant communities live, in such cases, Somali gangs exist and fight each other for drugs and territory. I am speaking of the working poor, those on minimum wage and the ordinary poor people and many native and Innu people you see around the downtown core, Bank street north of the Queensway and on Elgin Street or in the Market area or near King Edward and Rideau Street. They are just people who have a story, something happened to them and they were unable to return to a routine where they could support themselves. Some suffer from a handicap which makes them unable to work or suffer from mental illness. On that topic Ottawa is a singularly harsh city and the media feels no sympathy for anyone with mental issues. Recently a column in the Ottawa Citizen was openly suggesting that people with mental illness should be simply incarcerated forever on the basis that they could be dangerous to others.

During the Summer a friend of ours Denis S. asked us to help him at Shepherd of Good Hope during one of the long weekends, as a tradition he and his family volunteer on those long weekend holidays when most people leave town. Lunch still has to be served and a crowd will show up.

We went on July 1 and on August 1 to serve lunch. Arriving around 08:30am to start preparation, cutting meat, buttering bread, making sandwiches for the after lunch afternoon crowd etc...
I made 650 sandwiches one morning and then helped serve a hot lunch to 700 people, cleaning up afterwards. The manager told me that it was a slow day given that it was a holiday weekend. Usually they serve 1000 hot lunches. The food is quite good, if you wondered, and the desserts are very nice.
All of it is fresh and they have 2 cooks also volunteers who have been doing it for years. It is a humbling experience and brings home certain realities about life in the big city. If you are poor and homeless life can be very harsh and you die young. They have a small chapel at Shepherd and they will have services and prayers for those who die. It is shocking to see that mid-forties is the expected length of life while for the rest of us can reasonably expect to live in our mid-eighties.

I am grateful for Denis S. and his suggestion that we participate in helping out at Shepherd of Good Hope. This is one lesson of Life that I will remember when I think of 2014.

Further to this experience I met with the director of La Soupe Populaire in Gatineau, the City across the river from Ottawa on the Quebec side. This organisation is involved like Shepherd in feeding the poor on the Quebec side of the river where the needs are just as great. He told me a terrible story of people freezing to death in the National Capital Region during our winters, some 2 dozen in 2012, shocking. Again it is a topic you rarely hear about, the Media do not cover such topics it's not sexy enough and for sure would embarrass the Hipsters, Politicians and Suburbanites.

We are thankful at Thanksgiving in October and we should also be thankful at Christmas for all our blessings.



  1. You are a very fortunate man

  2. Sometimes it's easy to forget how fortunate many of us are simply to have a roof over our heads and food on our plates.

  3. It's important to give back. There are so many people in need.

    1. I agree and it also opens your eyes to what is going on around you in your own city.