Sunday, July 02, 2006

Best Canada Day Ever.

This is Mr. William "Willie" O'Ree. If you're Canadian, or a hockey fan, you probably know who he is. He is a real, true personal hero of mine, and has been for a long time. And on Canada Day, I got to meet him and get my picture taken with him.

Willie O'Ree was the first Black player to play in the NHL. He is also, possibly not coincidentally, the absolutely nicest human being and most gracious gentleman you will ever meet in your whole life. Anyone will tell you the same thing. He is a genuine Canadian sports hero; a documentary has been made of his story, his autobiography has been published, and today one of his roles is as Ambassador for the NHL's Diversity Task Force program, which encourages diversity in hockey and participation by minority youth. (That "Hockey is for Everyone" t-shirt he's wearing is related to the program.) When you see a picture like this, of Anson Carter celebrating scoring the goal that clinched the Olympic Gold Medal for his country, or this photo of Georges Laraque and Carter, well, that's because of Willie O'Ree.

And on Canada Day, Willie O'Ree got himself a big Canada Day cake and he went down to Mazzuca's Convenience Store - he's been best friends with the Mazzuca boys his whole life - and he sat on a park bench and gave away that cake. And if anyone recognized him - as we did - he acted like it was the biggest thrill of his life to have his picture taken with us.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Canada Day was hot (but not too hot) and sunny and simply gorgeous, and our municipal celebration (billed as "Canada's Biggest Block Party") started before noon. Officer's Square was simply jam-packed (that's a statue of Lord Beaverbrook in the background) and the celebration spilled all up and down the green that runs along the Saint John River.

The river is the site, after dusk on Canada Day, of the Parade of Lights, whence boat owners decorate their vessels colourfully and sail in a colourful line down the river. Decorate their vessels a little too colourfully, in some cases (ahem).

(She's a mannequin, thank goodness.)

A number of local dignitaries and celebrities were on hand to address the large crowd at Officer's Square, which is why Husband got to have his picture taken with Miss Canada International, Solange Tuyishime. I've known her family since they arrived from Rwanda some years ago and I have loved watching this articulate, poised, attractive and bright young woman represent my country - and rack up scholarships - through both pageants and through her work and studies in journalism and in the area of refugees and forced migration.

(No "Beauty and the Beast" jokes, please :) and before anyone asks, I don't know why Popeye Doyle, who appears in the background, was in Fredericton.)

At 4 pm the Parade started. I won't bore you with all the photos I took but some of the highlights for me were seeing the groups that represented the growth of my community, both in terms of community development... first-timers the Greyhound Rescue Group or FLAG (Fredericton Lesbians and Gays), who've been participating for a couple of years now...

...and culturally, in the participation of groups like...

...the new Filipino Association, the Chinese Cultural Association...

...the Korean Association, and...

...scattered around and disorganized as ever, the Multicultural Association of Fredericton :)

The music and celebration continued way into the evening and culminated with fireworks at eleven pm. We were home by then, concerned with comforting the cats, who don't appreciate fireworks at all. But it had been my best Canada Day ever; the weather, the ambience, the spirit of the day.

And I, I got to meet Willie O'Ree.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW! Willie O'Ree is one of my heroes too. I met him once at a charity hockey game and he was the nicest most polite man I ever met. He just carries himself with so much dignity and grace. they don't make athletes like that anymore. He reminds me a lot of Rocket Richard that way. I wish I had a picture of meeting him that time. Cool I'm glad you posted about it.

9:50 p.m.  

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