Canada has a unique heritage. They are pastimes our people have enjoyed since time immemorial. I tell colleagues who come to me and say, ‘I’m all stressed out’: don’t bother taking medication. Get in a boat with a fishing rod, or stand on the banks of a stream, and you will find your troubles melt away. My most relaxing moments are when I’m in the woods stalking white-tailed deer or angling for bass.
I was raised in the Upper Ottawa Valley, and still hunt out of a pole camp in a Crown forest not sixty kilometres from Parliament Hill. This has been our way of life in the Valley for centuries.
Growing up here, it was a treasured ritual that many boys who turned 16 would head to Scott’s Hardware to buy a firearm. The same family still runs that store. We’d buy a box of bullets and hunt rabbits and partridge. Nobody thought anything of it at the time. Can you imagine it today? In my view that’s a great loss to our culture. Now we look for the worst in each other when it comes to firearms or hunting or fishing. We’re losing our Canadian way of life.
Some of my grandmother’s people were Algonquin. My grandfather, Narcisse Vien, was born in Aylmer, Que., and fished and trapped to feed his family in Depression winters. I am the eldest of six children, and have vivid memories of listening to Grandfather at the kitchen table. Family lore is part of our heritage, too.
Grandfather would tell us of the time he was tracked by wolves across an icebound lake, alone but for his dog and a pistol. Grandfather was confident a pack of wolves would not attack a man, but each time he stopped in his snowshoes, the wolves would loop around, closing the circle a little more each time. Suddenly the dog bolted into the bush, and in an instant the wolves gave chase. Grandfather returned to camp, but it was the last he ever saw of his dog.
I recall another story Grandfather would call “The Horse’s Revenge”: he worked in a lumber camp with a cook who mistreated his horse. The horse grew to hate Cookie and would kick him at feeding time. Finally Cookie tied the animal to a tree and fastened a stick of dynamite to him – but when the fuse was lit, the horse bounded, broke the rope and ran into a barn. The barn was destroyed; Cookie was fired.
People of the Ottawa Valley have an attachment to the country. Just drive on the township roads and you will see the signs: “Government Keep Off Our Land”. These are families who have cut down their section of bush for generations. How many Canadians live on the same land, engaged in the same pastimes, as their grandparents did?
Hunters, fishers and trappers are the greatest conservationists. These are people who want to ensure that wildlife, waterways and forests are preserved not only for today, but for future generations.
This is our heritage. This is why we are who we are. This is a Canadian reality, and I don’t want it to die.
(Editor’s note: the author is retired Conservative MP for Northumberland-Quinte West, Ont., and sponsor of Bill C-501 An Act Respecting A National Hunting, Trapping And Fishing Heritage Day, to be observed this September 19)