The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ottawa Citizen Article

In honour of Canada Day, I wanted to share this timely article that was in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen. Thanks, Em (and Tim), for bringing it to my attention. Enjoy!

One Sunday afternoon in 1965, Ottawa high school teacher Norm Sheahan woke from a nap with an ambitious Centennial project in mind: He would write to the country’s political leaders, asking them to explain why they were proud to be Canadian.
The father of four young boys wasn’t sure Canada’s then prime minister or the provinces’ premiers would respond. But when they did — some, including Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, with moving, personal letters — Sheahan had a memorable gift for his children on July 1, 1967. With Canada approaching its 150th birthday, Sheahan has reprised the project. He has again written to the country’s leaders, asking them why they’re proud of the nation; his cover letter included a photo of the current Sheahan family, which now boasts 10 grandchildren.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General MichaĆ«lle Jean and eight premiers have responded to the overture. Norm Sheahan, 75, and his wife, Diane, hope the latest letters will offer inspiration to a new generation. “We’re very proud to be Canadians and we’re trying to pass that on to our grandchildren,” he says. Only the premiers of Quebec and Alberta have yet to reply. Sheahan’s favourite new letter undoubtedly comes from Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams. The combative Williams, who once ordered all Canadian flags removed from provincial buildings during a dispute with the federal government over equalization, sent a thoughtful, heartfelt letter in which he compares the country to a family. Like the Sheahan family itself, Williams says, Canada is composed of members with their own strengths and dreams — individuals made stronger by their ties to one another. The country is one family, he says, united by its shared experience, good and bad. “In all families, there are times when you don’t see eye-to-eye and you challenge each other,” Williams writes in the letter, addressed to the Sheahan grandchildren, “but those are times when you can work out wonderful solutions that help you grow — solutions that provide opportunities to celebrate the kind of co-operation that binds families closer together than ever. Some members of the family are older, some are bigger, some are smaller — but all of you are equally part of the one family. This is how it is with Canada. We are one federation — one family.” Williams’ letter is the longest in the collection and stretches to two full pages, single-spaced. He invites the Sheahans to visit his province: “The stories we tell are so vivid, the ocean so blue, the whales and icebergs so huge, the music so lively and the people so eager to invite you in that you cannot help feeling a strong sense of family when you come here.”
Williams wrote the letter less than two months before travelling to the U.S. for heart surgery.
The letter brought tears to Sheahan’s eyes. “It’s just what we wanted to tell our grandchildren,” he says.
Diane Sheahan was equally moved: “It was beautiful, the whole thing,” she says.
The letter-writing exercise has given the Sheahans newfound respect for the the country’s oft-maligned politicians, particularly those like Williams who took the time to offer a meaningful response.
Sheahan, who spent 35 years as a science teacher and guidance counsellor in Ottawa-area high schools, calls his two sets of love letters to Canada a “treasure.”
He shared the first set with the Citizen in 1992 as the country faced a national unity crisis. He’s sharing the latest in response to the Citizen’s published request for readers’ stories about their Canada Day memories. Sheahan describes himself as a proud Canadian. He has travelled with his family to every province during summer camping trips.
“The people of Canada are very special and the country is magnificent,” he says. “We’ve gone to a lot of countries and I don’t think you’ll find any landscape better than Canada’s.”
In early July, the Sheahans will hold their annual reunion in Kingston where each family member will receive a bound copy of the letter collection.
I have been fortunate enough to travel the breadth of our vast country, and have witnessed firsthand the magnificence of our geography, the strength and the ingenuity of our diverse population, and the richness of our abundant natural resources … Each time I return from travels abroad, I am reminded of how truly blessed I am to live in Canada, a model of freedom, harmony and prosperity.”
Prime Minister
Stephen Harper
“I realize that this letter may be put away as a keepsake for a few years until a future Premier is asked to answer this important question for a new generation of Sheahans. Perhaps another 50 years will pass, or more. Just as the Sheahan family will endure, so too Canada will endure and Canadians will prosper as we continue to work together in the spirit of family.”
and Labrador Premier Danny Williams
As Canadians, we have many cherished values, but it is our collective belief in tolerance, respect and understanding that I see as one of the true cornerstones of our society. By embracing these values, we send a clear message to the world that we are a nation that is committed to protecting the rights and dignity of every citizen in every community.”
Ontario Premier
Dalton McGuinty
We do have a lot to celebrate. From the evolution of the automobile, telephones, keyboards and coffee shops, the creation of the Canadarm and technological advances, we all have stories to tell and memories to share. The celebration will be a great time to stop and say, ‘Wow, we have come a long way!’”
B.C. Premier
Gordon Campbell
In comparison with many other countries, particularly those of Europe and Asia, our own country is young, yet it has quickly become a great nation. Providence gave us a great and beautiful land blessed with vast natural resources. These assets are a guarantee to a tremendous future, provided, of course, that all Canadians do the best they possibly can for that future by working together in mutual understanding and respect.”
Prime Minister
Lester B. Pearson
In my opinion, the greatest single lesson which our Canadian history teaches is the need for tolerance and mutual understanding ... Each one of us must try to understand his fellow citizens of whatever race, language or creed they may be, respect them, love them and help them.”
Quebec Premier
Jean Lesage
Sixteen years ago, after thorough consideration, we chose to become Canadians. There has not been a day in all the years since then that we have not been given another reason to be proud of our new country.”
Newfoundland Premier Joey Smallwood
Love your parents, love your country and be proud that you are Canadians, free citizens of a free country under God!”
Saskatchewan Premier Ross Thatcher
My conviction in Canada’s future rests on the growing recognition on the part of government and the people of Canada that the education of our youth is of the highest priority. With an educated citizenry, and possessing the natural resources which Canada has, from coast to coast, there is no question that this is the country of the future.”
Ontario Premier
John Robarts

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't it be lovely if the politicians acted on their beautiful written thoughts? Then we'd really have something to be proud of...


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