Hope is a powerful state of mind, important now as ever.
That’s the message Doug Chorney delivered to Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) staff in a speech Dec. 17.
At the time he was the CGC’s acting chief commissioner; Dec. 21 he was appointed chief.
“In 1903 my grandfather came to Canada from Poland as a new Canadian with his biggest asset being hope for the future,” Chorney said in an address praising CGC employees for their efforts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Soon after arriving he found work and began building a life in Canada. It wasn’t easy as he faced many barriers. Racism was alive and well for new Canadians trying to fit in. But they pressed on. Then in the winter of 1918 the pandemic called the Spanish flu hit his family hard. The history record says my grandfather was in a coma for six weeks.”
A prominent English family provided Chorney’s grandfather’s family with a nurse, food and firewood.
“My father, who would have been three years old at the time, survived, as did the entire family,” Chorney said. “Our family experienced the kindness of neighbours.
“Here we are in 2020 facing yet another pandemic and we are still finding racism in our society. While this is tragic on many levels, I continue to have the same hope for a better future.
“We have all made sacrifices during this global pandemic, but not many segments of the Canadian economy can claim to have surpassed the previous year’s performance,” Chorney told CGC staff. “However, we can and it is because we have worked hard with industry and farmers to deliver results. This took hard work, but also a great deal of self-discipline in your daily lives.
“We all have unique circumstances that make those we love vulnerable. I know we all do our best to manage that risk.
“I just want to thank you for the effort everyone has exhibited during this time. And please know the commissioners put your health and safety above anything else at all times.”
The racism Chorney’s grandfather faced was common as Canada was largely populated by those of Anglo-Saxon descent. Early in the 20th century most Canadians considered themselves British. On every school map Canada was coloured red, along with the rest of the British empire.
And chauvinism remained pervasive late into the last century.
“I never learned to speak Polish or Ukrainian — my dad spoke both — because of the fear that we would have a broken English accent,” Chorney said in an interview Dec. 21. “At the time, anyone in a workplace environment with that, they would call you a ‘DP’ (displaced person) and you would never be promoted to be a foreman. At the rolling mill in Selkirk they said you would never be promoted to be a ‘white hat’ (management) with a Ukrainian background. It was so bad some people changed their names. It was anglicized.”