Governor General David Johnston Wows Them in the Hammer!

I can’t end the week without a few reflections on our historic visit by Governor General David Johnston to Hamilton, hosted by HCF on Wednesday. The day started in the McQuesten neighbourhood where I had the privilege of welcoming His Excellency along with neighbourhood leader Pat Reid. A greeting party of pre-school kids had prepared a poster and scrapbook and they lined up eagerly to meet the GG outside the community centre. After warmly greeting Pat and I, the Governor General proceeded to get down on a knee and shake hands with every child while asking them about every page in their scrapbook. We then took a picture of all the children and the GG standing proudly in front of their large poster festooned with Canadian flags. It was a memorable moment that actually brought a tear to my eye. As the GG headed into our community roundtable meeting, he left the kids with “see ya later, alligator”. We were all captivated and the kids were obviously amazed.

Our McQuesten roundtable was closed to the media to encourage a frank and comfortable dialogue in which neighbourhood leaders could tell the GG about their hopes, dreams, accomplishments and challenges of trying to improve life in the inner city. It was a fascinating, multi-lingual discussion expertly facilitated by community development worker and neighbourhood champion David Derbyshire. The GG was curious, thoughtful, funny and gracious, and the residents were charmed and moved by his genuine interest and affection. The 90-minute dialogue ended with a group picture that is guaranteed to be an important keepsake for all those residents who were lucky enough to meet David Johnston.

I then had the good fortune to be able to accompany the GG in his motorcade through the city. Again, he was well briefed, interested and very self-deprecating. I got to play tour guide as we travelled along Burlington Street and talked about the challenges facing the manufacturing sector and steelmaking in particular. The GG and I then compared notes on our experiences working summers as students in the steel mills, he at Algoma and me at #2 Rod Mill at Stelco.

We continued south on Wentworth Street and I told him about the wonderful work that Don MacVicar and Larry Paikin had done to build hope and opportunity at the Eva Rothwell community centre, including the new Habitat for Humanity Homes and Ron Foxcroft’s gift of Raptor Basketball hoops for the gym.

We travelled west on Wilson Street and I told the GG the story of the wonderful City/School Board/HCF partnership that facilitated the building of the Beasley Community Centre and Dr. Davey School. He was moved by the story of the anonymous $1M gift to HCF to support programming in that challenged neighbourhood, and we talked about the importance of “quiet” philanthropy.

We turned north on James Street and I told the GG about the transformation of James North led by our vibrant arts community, including last week’s remarkable art crawl. As we arrived at LIUNA Station, His Excellency talked about the station’s history. I told him about Joe Mancinelli’s passion for Hamilton and architecture and about LIUNA’s great leadership in rebuilding both the station and the Lister Block.

Upon arrival, the GG was greeted warmly by Mayor Bratina, MP David Sweet and he warmly hugged his old friend, Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling, before entering the station and shaking hands with many of the guests on hand.

At our private lunch for community volunteers, the GG spoke briefly but passionately about volunteerism and the positive work that he had witnessed at McQuesten in the morning. He then surprised us by neglecting his lunch and proceeding to visit tables to introduce himself and have pictures taken with nearly everybody in the room. His Excellency’s warmth and approachability clearly touched everyone that he met.

The program moved promptly into the large ballroom, where a standing room only crowd of about 750 waited eagerly for the GG to enter the room. As the M.C., I asked the room to stand for the Governor General’s arrival and they burst into applause as he took his seat. As the Hamilton Children’s Choir sang the national anthem, I found myself moved by the wonderful moment that was happening.

The remainder of the day was a blur. David Johnston delivered a tour de force speech calling on all Canadians to do more to build a smart and caring nation, and he saluted Hamilton and HCF for the great work we are doing to builder stronger neighbourhoods and families. To witness the GG’s magic directly, you can check out the speech here:

HCF Board Chair Dr. Gary Warner (Order of Canada)  then thanked the GG following his speech with thoughtful and wise words.

Before leaving, the Governor General took the time to meet and have pictures taken with literally hundreds of guests who were universally impressed by his wit and wisdom.

As I shook the Governor General’s hand and said goodbye as he got into the car at the end of the day, it occurred to me that I had been so lucky to have spent time with a truly remarkable Canadian. We are fortunate as a nation for Governor General David Johnston’s life and his service to Canada. We at the Hamilton Community Foundation are profoundly grateful to have been able to facilitate such a memorable event in the life and history of Hamilton.