Archives for posts with tag: Canada 150

As a mini-series within my summer series of Canadiana blogs, I want to write about some “sacred places” in Canada. What makes a place sacred? In some ways I believe there is no such thing as one place on earth that is any more sacred than the rest. Divine encounter transcends political boundaries, religious temples, and geographical barriers. The ancient people of Israel learned this in their wilderness wanderings and even “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The mission of Jesus, God incarnate, was to bring together heaven and earth for whomever and whenever and wherever. Yet sometimes places become sacred because of repeated divine encounters there. In the Bible a pile of stones was often set up to mark a divine encounter and so the place itself took on spiritual significance—it became a holy place. More recently, the ancient Celts believed that there were “thin places” where the line between things of earth and things of heaven was a bit “thinner” than elsewhere. One of these places that I have visited is the Isle of Iona; and indeed, I experienced it as a thin place where I encountered God in a new way. Is it perhaps that it is remote, stark, barren, and away from the distractions of centres of power and commerce?

In a world of rapid mobility and human displacement, there is new interest in the importance of place [See Leonard Hjalmarson’s No Home Like Place]. Perhaps this is especially true for Europeans who are known for global exploration and colonialization, and even truer for my ancestors, the Dutch Mennonites, who moved from the northwestern lowlands of Europe to the Danzig delta of Poland to the steppes of Ukraine to the plains of North America. What is a sacred place for people on the move? We are learning the importance of place from the indigenous people of North America who became displaced due to the occupation of their land by European conquerors and settlers.

Are there sacred places in Canada? My blogs will focus primarily on places that have become sacred for me because of my experience there but often my experience is only one layer of many spiritual experiences of generations before me. I was reminded of that this summer as we celebrated 100 years of my wife’s family farming the same piece of land in the Red River Valley. The place has fed and sheltered—with the planting of trees—five generations of Penner families. It has become sacred space for them as they have depended on God and the weather for their sustenance: from the first Penner who lost his wife at 46 and farmed the land as a widower with ten children to the present generation who face huge debts in uncertain economic times. Yet it was sacred space long before it was divided into English style section, township, and range which now define the farm. It is Treaty 1 territory, the home of Dakota and Ojibway nations who hunted bison here for thousands of years before a European plow carved up the land. They also depended on the land for food—and also had to shelter themselves from the cruel winds of a prairie winter.

In the spirit of this connection to the land, to place, and to the recognition of God’s often mysterious work in those places, I will present most of my blogs in the form of poetry written while at a place, about a place, and experiencing God in that place—a geography of the Canadian soul, so to speak. After all, poetry is heart language; it is language that uses metaphor: something that is known, tangible, and sensual to speak about something that is less known, intangible, and often mysterious.



John A. Macdonald is known as one of the fathers of confederation in 1867, the first prime minister of Canada, and the primary political motivator behind the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1885. Why not honour him on this sesquicentennial? I have read a copy of the first volume of the “Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future.” I believe this report highlights why John A. Macdonald is not a Canadian hero even if he was the primary architect of Canadian confederation.

All Canadians of European origin have something in common with our first prime minister—we are settlers on this continent. All settlers in Canada have been beneficiaries of government policies which can best be described as “cultural genocide” of indigenous people. The establishment of residential schools for Aboriginal children were a central element of this policy. These schools were not in existence to educate children, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity. In justifying the government’s residential school policy, John A. Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1883:

“When the school is on the reserve the child lives with his parent, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

Instead of distancing ourselves from quotes and policies such as this let us acknowledge the truth of this sad chapter in Canadian history. Although the British colonialists were the primary culprits, all “white men” like myself have benefitted from these cruel policies for the past 150 years. This sad chapter only closed in 1996 and we now have the opportunity to write the next chapter. Guilt on behalf of our ancestors might be our first response but I’m not sure it is particularly helpful. I think our first response should be to hear and understand the truth—this is one of the reasons I went to the commission for a day when it was held in Vancouver a few years ago and one of the reasons I read the report. Even though I feel I am reasonably educated, I am finding I still have a lot to learn before I know the whole truth. I am also finding that it is not always a pleasant truth to hear about but perhaps necessary for genuine reconciliation. Only then can we move on to the many steps of respectful reconciliation with our indigenous hosts and neighbours.

I am thankful for the privilege of living in this country where the indigenous people have welcomed settlers and refugees—including my ancestors—for hundreds of years. On this 150th birthday of our confederation I recognize that it is they who need to be honoured as fathers and mothers of our nation.


2017 is a special year. It is the 150th birthday of Canada as a nation. It is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation; on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. One of my hobbies is various types of Canadiana: stories of Canadian history, Canadian popular music and literature. I teach a course about the Anabaptist movement, the radical wing of the Reformation in the 16th century.

Of personal significance, it is my 7th year of blogging. Spiritual disciplines are very important to me and to follow the biblical pattern of resting on the seventh day or year I am declaring this a year of Sabbath for my blog. This does not mean I will not be posting—that would be the death of any blog, not that mine has ever been particularly alive—but that my posts will be limited to the above two topics. As I have posted various Canadiana posts as well as Reformation related posts in the past six years I will repost some that continue to be relevant and/or reflect on them for the present; and, I will have some new book and music reviews of Canadian artists that will be posted.

I welcome new followers interested in these topics and I hope that present followers will hang on and enjoy these special anniversary blogs. I know that I find personal fulfillment in writing short reflections so I would write even if no one would ever read. If someone reads and appreciates, that is a bonus.