Canada 150 Guest Post: My Life and My Home, in Perspective (Oliver Rossier)

Our history isn't simple, but our country is now heading in the right direction

Oliver Rossier - 20 July 2017

In recognition of Canada's 150th birthday, we asked members of the Arts community to share their thoughts on what Canada 150 means to them, personally and professionally. Watch over the next few weeks to see what they had to say.

It has always been fairly easy for me to remember how old I am because I was born in Canada's centennial year, 1967. So this year, while we acknowledge Canada's 150th, I'm in my 50th year. One of my projects this year has been to look back through my life and think about the key people and organizations that have helped me become who I am.

The University of Alberta is deeply woven into the fabric of my life. I have a BA in history with a minor in political science, and I'm working on my MA in Communications and Technology through the Faculty of Extension. I've worked in seven different units on campus over the past 17 years, and I currently have the privilege of working with an amazing group of centres and institutes in the Faculty of Arts.

Looking back at my mentors over the years, I'm very grateful for the advice and guidance of many professors, supervisors and colleagues. Professors like Brian Evans (History and Classics) and Saleem Qureshi (Political Science) helped me to get a sense of how Canadians could play important roles in global spheres. At the same time, I learned to look more closely at the nuances of situations, particularly when there might be multiple perspectives to consider.

Now when I think about Canada's 150th, I think about issues like colonialism, the legacies of settlement and the complexities of multiculturalism. These kinds of things are very complicated to navigate - even from my privileged perspective as a middle-aged white male. Like many Canadians, my parents were immigrants. My mother came from war-torn Germany, where she was once abandoned near a bomb in the chaos of people scrambling for shelter. My father came from Switzerland, where he survived working as a child labourer in an abusive orphanage. Canada was a new frontier for my parents. A place to try to heal and help each other make a home and raise a family with more space and opportunity.

It is complicated to think back now on my childhood - the beginning of Canada's second century - and about the waves of immigrants who essentially came to till the soil and chop the forests of the first peoples who had lived here for so many centuries. In hindsight, while some Canadians were able to find healthy spaces, some others were being relegated to spaces as abusive as the one my father was leaving behind. Sometimes the truth is painful, but we can't stay silent and expect to have any progress in reconciliation processes.

Oliver at work with Geoffrey Rockwell (left) and Adam Dombovari (right) from the Kule Institute for Advanced Study, a member of the Arts Collaboration Enterprise

Perspective can help. Having just returned from a visit to our southern neighbours, I am incredibly grateful to be here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Having leaders like Mayor Iveson, Premier Notley and Prime Minister Trudeau gives me hope that we can address complex issues as a fairly well-functioning, civil society.

For many years the humorous way to define Canada was to say that we weren't American. While the Canadian political system has its issues, in the US, dark clouds of racism and attempts to restrict movement of people from certain countries has created an immediate boost in the number of talented international applicants to study at UAlberta and other Canadian institutions. Frankly, if we are in the Information Age, I'd rather be in a country like Canada where leaders might be fallible, but they aren't actively cultivating alternative facts and walking out of global climate change agreements.

On a much more positive note, there is an interesting parallel between multiculturalism in Canada and interdisciplinarity at UAlberta. Diversity brings strength and resilience in both countries and organizations. Periodically over the year, I have the opportunity to help give orientations to visitors from US Fulbright professors, to representatives from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, to keynote speakers from Japan or Ukraine. Time permitting, I like to take visitors on a walk through the Science, Engineering, Native Studies and Education spaces to give them a first-hand experience of what our campus can offer. Students and scholars come to the University of Alberta because of the strength of our programs, but these programs are themselves enriched by the tapestry of people coming from around the world to study and teach here.

Canada's motto is "from sea to sea"; if we're going to seek Whatsoever Things Are True over the next 50 years, we should at least amend Canada's motto to add the Arctic Ocean, particularly with all the climate change happening around us. Laurier said that the 19th century would be Canada's, and I'm willing to bet five dollars that the next half century will be. Check in with me when Canada turns 200 and I'm half that age!

The views and opinions expressed within WOA guest posts are solely those of the authors.

Photo: Oliver (middle) in his childhood years, with his family.

Oliver is the senior officer of the Arts Collaboration Enterprise (ACE). He has more than 19 years of post-secondary administrative experience including department management, human resources, finance and research grants administration. He served on the University of Alberta Board of Governors and Senate, as well as several major search committees. Oliver also co-chairs the Faculty of Arts Centres and Institutes Network (ACIN). Before joining the University of Alberta, he worked at the Banff Centre as Operations Assistant in the Media and Visual Arts Department. He has been actively involved in a variety of community building activities on campuses throughout his career. In the broader Edmonton community, Oliver has volunteered for several community organizations including the Nina Haggerty Centre, Parkallen Community League and MileZero Dance.

For almost as long as there's been a Canada, there's been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary, we're proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.