- Posted September 16, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Lac Megantic: One Month After a Tragedy and the City That Canada Forgot.
Canadians are reportedly the nicest people in the world, and we pride ourselves on that reputation. We will give the shirt off our backs to a stranger if it is needed. We will pull out the last blue stained $5 dollar bill from our pockets or wallets when it is called for if we discover that someone else needs it more. Mind you, we won't hand out those blue stained bills to just anybody, because you just never know who is going to be the next con.
Some people even say, if you're not lucky enough to actually BE a Canadian, just put a maple leaf on your back pack when you are overseas and you will receive better service. That's how good our reputation is. And sometimes we even deserve it. But the truth is, right now we should be ashamed of ourselves.
We sing, "Oh Canada, our true North strong and free." But are we really?
As most of our children echo the words of the great John Diefenbaker and our thirteenth Prime Minister every morning at school they pledge every day to be free to speak without fear in this great country, free to stand up for what is right, and free to oppose what they believe to be wrong. Our children, as we did, also promise to uphold that.
Right now we are not as "indivisible, with freedom and justice for all" as some other countries pledge to be every single day. We are not the United anything at all.
Oh but, we have an exceptional reputation. We've worked very hard to make sure the world sees us that way. Most of it is authentic. Being nice to people is what we do. And we will take care of our own before we take care of anyone else in the world.
That is, it seems, we will take care of our own that don't live in that little section of the country that is sandwiched East of the Ontario border and West of the Maritimes. That section is a section that most of Canada would be happy to forget.
Why? Because for as long as most Canadians can remember, Quebec has been trying to separate. And for as long as most Quebecers can remember, the rest of Canada has been doing everything they can to push them out.
And now, Quebec is bleeding. A gaping wound that amounts to the loss of 47 Canadians. Not, 47 Quebecers. 47 Canadians. 47 Canadians ranging in age from a 93-year-old woman to a 4-year-old little girl. Somebody's little girl.
It happened on July 6, 2013. The town of Lac Megantic, Quebec suffered a tragedy that has been reported by Maclean's Magazine as the fourth most devastating train tragedy in Canadian history. At approximately 1:15 A.M. E.S.T., an unattended train carrying more than 70 cars of crude oil went off its track and barrelled into the Musi-Café, a summer time hangout for the locals in Lac Megantic.
44-year-old Bernard Theberge who was close enough to the scene at the time to receive second degree burns gave an account of what he saw to Reuters in an article titled "Lac Megantic Didn't Have to Happen". He described the scene using terms like "big explosion" and "wall of fire".
What Reuters didn't publish about this eyewitness account is what it must have sounded like to hear almost 50 people burn to death right in front of you.
Reuters was however quick to publish on his behalf, his only consolation during this life altering experience. "It all happened so fast. In the space of a minute."
In the space time continuum, if you think that minute seems long when you are running late as your wait for your morning coffee at Starbucks, think how long that minute must feel when you are watching a burning catastrophe barrel into a building filled with people. And you are close enough to escape with only second degree burns while your mind scrambles at the thought of who you know that might be in there. There's no time to call anybody. You only have a minute yourself, and you don't even know that at the time.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
That's half a minute, and only if you read the whole thing.
In Lac Megantic today, there is a memorial site that is the hallmark of the place where those 47 Canadians lost their lives, and where 6,000 people had to evacuate immediately on that fatal July day. Scores upon scores upon scores of memorials, cards, heart shaped post it notes, candles, flowers, and all of the usual monikers of grief and support that appear after a tragedy adorn the fence that separates the normal part of town, from the part of the town that has been incinerated.
By the looks of it, Canada is rallying for Lac Megantic big time. But that stream of consciousness will fade into black, just as the screams did that afternoon, as you get closer to the memorials.
All of these notes, wishes, condolences, and sympathies, are all in French. Not one English speaking person has come to this place to leave their respect. Not one. There must be thousands of notes of support there. English notes of support?
Not. Even. One.
The church that sits, ironically enough, just across the street from the site of devastation is no different. Inside those walls, the same walls that Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited when he paid his respects on behalf of Canada, is more of the same. Memorial wall after memorial wall. As you get up to the front of the church, you will meet the faces of the people that burned to death.
That's when, if it hasn't already from the smell of burning oil still lingering in the air, it just got real.
That is of course, if you even bother to get down to the site to see it for yourself. Most English speaking Canadians haven't, and won't, and will get downright uptight if you even suggest some of the obvious, but never spoken about, reasons why they can't be bothered.
The sad truth is, every Canadian knows why nobody is rushing down to Lac Megantic right now. And that's precisely why they need to be ashamed of themselves.
A visit to the memorial wall on the opposite end of what used to be the downtown core is a solemn reminder of how deeply this town is hurting, and how much they need help and support right now. What you see at first glance is a pile of ashes, debris, and big trucks and cranes moving out the trash. What you won't see is the unspoken but poignant reminder lingering in the air of who isn't helping Quebec right now.
And the smell, you ask? Hard to say. It could just be standard industrial odours coming from a standard industrial town. But that is unlikely since you only ever experience that burning scent in that specific location in Lac Megantic. You can't smell that smell even if you are standing right beside one of the wood processing factories that is keeping this town flush. It could be anything, from the remnants of oil still burning from the accident to the remnants of somebody's charred sister that have never been recovered.
The Montreal Gazette recently reported that it could be years before all of the bodies, 5 still unaccounted for, have been identified. That translates into five families whose daily living will embody a burning inferno in hell until they receive that call.
If they ever do.
You have to be creative and go around the city to get to the location itself, because it is still a crime scene and the police have barricaded it off. But if you think that will only give you the perfect excuse to turn around and say you did your time, don't. You can still get there with some strategic mapping skills. And once you do, visit the church. Which one? You'll know. Visit the church, and even if you can't read French, read the notes anyway.
"Courage, courage, courage" are words you will see in almost every note. This is one of those words that almost means the same thing in English as it does in French. It's everywhere in Lac Megantic now.
Walk right up to the front of that church at the alter where you will meet the faces of your brothers and sisters who woke up one day planning their summer, and then died screaming through their worst nightmare just hours later through no fault of their own. Then step outside the church. Here you'll meet Jesus. Who, ironically, is staring right down at the pit of devastation with his arms outstretched for his children.
Just across from Jesus, look way across, stands an old rugged cross looking down on the city of Lac Megantic. An emblem of suffering and shame. An old rugged cross where just below, the dearest and best of Lac Megantic were slain. That town that is home to that old rugged cross, through no fault of its own, is despised by the world.
And now, it is stained with the blood of, not just of Jesus, but 47 divine residents of Lac Megantic, whose souls look down from the stars and weep for their people they left behind. The 93-year-old grandmother looking down trying to find a way to tell her people that they will be okay because she taught them to be strong. Or the 4-year-old little one whispering through tears, "Maman, je suis ok." Mommy, I'm ok.
The people that are left behind from this horrible tragedy, at least one mother that we know of but we know there are more, catch those tears in their own heart wrenching sobs as they try to recover and move on with their lives.
And there is not one person in Canada, outside of this despised province, doing much about it.
Kindness is what we do. Or is it? Or is it only something that we only have time to talk about. Right now, it's only something that we talk about. We aren't doing anything for our brothers and sisters right now.
America is. The Globe and Mail, along with every other national newspaper recently reported that the state of Maine is launching a state wide effort to recover books for the library that was destroyed in the fires from the train tragedy. So far, over 60,000 books have been collected to donate to the city of Lac Megantic to restore their library. And this continues. Libraries all over the state of Maine have bins left at their circulation desks for people that want to donate books to the city of Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada.
America, one. Canada, zip.
Montreal is too. On August 13 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, a benefit concert was held for the people of the small town. The Mayor of Lac Megantic, Claudette Roy-Laroche, received a standing ovation when she accepted a check from the benefit that was the result of 10,000 people attending at $50 bucks a pop.
America, one. Montreal, one. The rest of Canada, zip.
The international swimming federation appeared in Lac Megantic in early August for their annual swim competition that annually attracts up to 25,000 competitors from all over the world. And this year was no different. As soon as the water was declared safe, the international federation told everybody, let's go and give these folks a hand. Let's show some support to these poor people who need to know that they haven't been forgotten, and that they are just as strong as ever. And so they did come from all over the world to help the good people at Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, begin the recovery process.
America, one. Montreal, one. The international world, one. Canada, zip.
According to CBC News on July 13, 2013, exactly one week after the tragedy, only 33 bodies of the now 47 victims had been recovered. Only 9 of them had been identified. 14 others remained missing and presumed dead. That means that 38 families had spent the previous week wondering and waiting when they would get the "official word", and what that word would be. 14 families still clung on to shreds of hope that at any moment the phone would ring, or a text would buzz through that said, "Maman, je suis ok."
Those texts would never come.
And amidst the whispers of corporate blame and rumors of executives with the blood of the slain on their hands, the vigils began. But they had to begin privately, and one even had to be cancelled due to "security concerns" over this highly emotionally charged event, within the most despised province of them all. They couldn't even mourn for their own publicly, and together, because things were a little "too political" right then.
If ever there was a time when Quebec needed a little backup, it might have been then.
Or it might have been three weeks later. When 1,000 people, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, packed into that very same church to attend the memorial services for the now 47 known dead. The parish priest that opened the service said, "What happened here in our town, in Lac Megantic? An unheard of tragedy that brought us incomparable suffering."
Stephen Harper could not leave without saying, "It's very difficult to absorb this when you see all of the families affected." The CBC News reported that the Prime Minister was there to represent the "solidarity of Canada".
Upon return to Canada shortly after her visit to Lac Megantic, this reporter asked a Canadian friend who lives in Toronto, "What do you think about Lac Megantic?"
She replied, "What's that, a new restaurant or something?"
But Stephen Harper was there, to represent, the solidarity of this country.
If this event had occurred in Toronto, they would still be holding vigils and memorials, fundraisers and galas, to help our fellow countrymen. And publicly, so that we could support and love each other through our darkest hours. And the reasons that we are not doing this for the people of Lac Megantic right now have nothing to do with who speaks English and who doesn't. That is just the convenient excuse that so many make so they don't have to "deal with it".
If we want to keep that reputation alive that we pride ourselves on so deeply, we are going to have to get our hands dirty and dig deep to help a brother out in a time of need. Because talk is really cheap, regardless of what is your language of choice.
Courage, courage, courage. These are the words plastered all over the walls of the memorial site, inside the church, and linger in unspoken vibrations in the air at the disaster zone. You don't need to speak French to know what those words of encouragement mean. You don't need to speak French to know what these people need.
Showing up, reaching out, lending a hand, dropping a coin, just…sending love. These are not French or English things. You could show up in the Syrian refugee camps without saying a single word and make the same point. These are not French or English things. These are human things.
Oh Canada, from East to Western sea. Our own beloved native land, our true North strong and free. All across the country, from East to Western sea, our children sing words to this anthem every single day and then follow that with the pledge.
The one where they, for the sheer fact of being Canadian, celebrate being free to speak without fear. Free to worship in their own way. Free to stand for what they think is right, and free to oppose what they believe is wrong. And free to choose who governs this great land. And they celebrate these heritages and freedoms and honour the men and women that died for their right to do so by pledging to uphold those freedoms not just for themselves, no that would not be very Canadian…..but for all mankind.
That's why the international community likes us so much, because we're just that nice.
To all mankind.
Really, Canada? The term "third world war" has become a part of our every day vernacular. If ever there was a time to put our true North where our mouth is, it's now. It is time to show Lac Megantic that we will not forget, ever again.
[The author is not seeking or accepting compensation for this piece. Please forward all donations to the Lac Megantic Red Cross Support Fund: http://www.redcross.ca/donate/donate-online/donate-to-lac-megantic-support-fund]
Photo Credit: NationalPost.ca