You Don't Know What You Got
There's a song that says "you don't know what you got till its gone". I was born and raised in Edmonton and frankly couldn't wait to graduate with my professional degree so I could leave for Vancouver to work in one of its big firms. It was living there that taught me how I didn't know what I had been missing in Edmonton.
Vancouver is a vibrant, beautiful city. I'd always enjoyed visiting it. But the shine wore off fast as I discovered that the qualities of a wonderful vacation destination don't always make for a good home town. Vancouver is expensive, "mortgage for 50 years" expensive. I was at one of the oldest, biggest, most prestigious firms in Vancouver ... and most of its partners had to commute to work because THEY couldn't afford to live in Vancouver. I was working 60 to 80 hours a week just to try to pay rent; it was dark when I went to work and dark when I left for home, so I couldn't even see the scenery that had enticed me in the first place. Now, I don't want to be misunderstood as knocking Vancouver: it's a great city. But I had just learned the lesson that to enjoy living in the world's great cities, you have to be rich.
I returned to Edmonton and joined a small firm. Less than a year later, I bought a house. I can afford to live here. But it wasn't just Edmonton's affordability that I had started to see as I felt stranded on the coast and for the first time longed for Edmonton. I started to reflect on many things that I had never before given a second thought.
I had never before thought of Edmonton's varied immigrant community. Sure, Vancouver has lots of immigrants, but a lot of them are from Big Money. Edmonton's immigrants are just ordinary people - my kind of people - who left their distant homelands to make a better life. Every year I get to celebrate their success with them at Heritage Days, where they share their heritage with Edmonton, where Hindus, Jews, Muslims and peoples of all the world's great faiths come together.
I had never appreciated the beauty of our landscape: the plethora of colourful farmers' fields surrounding the city, fields that feed the world, and through which cut the cool waters of the North Saskatchewan River that flows from the Rockies into our wild river valley that brings coyotes and deer and various other wonderful creatures into the heart of our city, reminding us of our intimate connection to this land, and our responsibility to it.
This is sometimes a hard land of ice and snow and it still takes pioneer spirit to make homes here. This is not a city of imported wealth: this is a city that works to earn its place in the world by the effort and ingenuity of its people. This city is built on land that was pioneered, and every day its people make their living by their pioneering spirit. That's what I had failed to see growing up here, that's what I discovered only when I moved away. This is a pioneering land and we are still a pioneering people. Edmonton is not a land of leisure; it's a land where courageous people build lives for themselves and a future for all of us. Thank you, Edmonton.