Mon très cher Canada,
This is my love letter to you. But let me be honest: it was not love at first sight. It took me a while to figure out what was so special about you and what all the fuss was about. But once I did, it was true love forever. You have to understand and forgive me: growing up in a small town, Saint-Marc-des-Carrières, Que., I knew everything about reciting the great Vigneault or singing Paul Piché while celebrating la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, but very little about you.
All that changed when I made my first national team as a wheelchair racer. Not only did it give me the privilege of racing in the most amazing places around the world, it also made me know my country in a way I hadn’t before. For 20 years, I travelled across Canada from one place to another, for training and racing, and I represented the country at five Paralympic Games. On the road with my teammates from all corners of Canada, I began to understand what it is that makes this place so great.
“Diversity is not just our signature, it is our strength and we must never forget it.”
My racing roommate for years was a schoolteacher from Saskatchewan and we became friends for life, even if I never could share her passion for country music. My first love was from B.C., he opened my eyes to the west coast’s healthy lifestyle culture and turned me into a big Neil Young fan. One of my best friends on the circuit made me discoverevery little neighbourhood of Toronto in a way I never could have on my own. My coach was the reason I moved to Edmonton. During my three years there, away from all I knew, I met so many people who welcomed me and made the city feel like home—I will never forget that time and still like to call Edmonton home.
And so, throughout my travels, and with all the friends I made over the years, you really grew on me, Canada. I still couldn’t exactly point out why, but I was definitely falling for you, big time. Looking back, I realize I was amazed by the very rare balance of differences and shared values that we have in Canada. Diversity is not just our signature, it is our strength and we must never forget it.
In August 1996, in Atlanta, I won my first Paralympic Gold Medal in the 100-metre race. I will never forget standing on the highest step of the podium, watching the maple leaf flag being raised and listening to our national anthem being played. Tears came to my eyes: I was filled with joy and pride, and I was so grateful to be a part of that team, to be a part of this country. And that was it right there: the moment I knew I was hooked for life.
Happy 150th Canada, the best is yet to come!
Senator Chantal Petitclerc is a decorated wheelchair racer and has represented Canada in the Paralympic Games, the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. She was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2016.