Saturday, April 14, 2007

June Callwood: My Beautiful Canadian Queen

I see Quebecers don't like the idea of inviting the Queen to Quebec City's 400th birthday party.

And who can blame them? Why should we have English Queen? If we're going to have a Queen why can't we have a Canadian one?

But then until this sad morning, we actually did have a real but uncrowned Queen of Canada. And her name was June Callwood.

Callwood blazed trails for women's rights, gay rights and the rights of the underprivileged with a history of activism dating back to the 1960s.

The author of 30 books, she was also the founder of a breast-cancer support centre, Nellie's Hostel for abused women, Jessie's Centre for teenage mothers and the AIDS hospice Casey House.

June Callwood did a lot of amazing things in her awesome life. She helped a lot of people. She spoke out against injustice until the very last days.

“If you see an injustice being committed, you aren't an observer, you are a participant.” That didn't mean you had to intervene, she explained, but you couldn't pretend that you weren't a part of what was happening in front of you.

And having delivered her activist mantra, Ms. Callwood, breathing heavily because of cancer's inexorable devastation, left the stage for the final time....

She touched so many people, so many Canadians have so many reasons to be grateful. But as a gay guy what touched me the most was what she did for us. Supporting our struggle for equality...and of course founding Casey House.

The sad but beautiful place where so many gay men with AIDS spent the last days of their life. Free from discrimination at last.

Surrounded by the love many of them never had in their short lives.

Love for them and love and support for those who loved them...

I haven't had many brushes with greatness in my life. But June Callwood was one them. I only met her about three or four times through a friend who does work for the hospice. So I the last time I saw her I was amazed that she even remembered my name.

I had just dropped off my friend at some fundraising event when she came down to the drive way. She stared at my sputtering vintage motorbike with a look of mock horror, covered her ears and said "Simon, Simon,Simon, when are you going to get rid of that noisy old thing?"

I was afraid she might hate motorbikes because her son Casey was killed on one when he was only twenty. But then she started laughing, and asked me a lot of questions about it so I guess she didn't.

And besides I read today that she loved sporty cars, so I think that maybe she really liked my bike and I'm only sorry that I didn't offer to take her for a spin. Something tells me she would have enjoyed it. Although I suppose if she had I would have had to keep the old Triumph forever... many other bloggers have written about June Callwood today and paid tribute to her amazing life..

So I just want to say that although she was a secular saint .......she was also a fun person. And although I'm very sad....and know she was an atheist just like I am....

I'm having fun thinking of her tonight somewhere in the spirit world sitting on the back of Casey's motorbike saying something like this:

"Casey my beloved long lost boy. Now that we can't be hurt anymore. Now that we can't suffer anymore. Now that we know we've done everything we possibly could to try to make the world a better place. Now that we're together again. Why don't you show me how fast this old bike can go?"

"Ok mum. Hang on! Here we go...Woohoo!

Vroom...Vroom ....Vroom....

Thank you June Callwood for a life well lived. For being so gentle and so strong. And for never giving up.

We gay boys who continue your fight against injustice and oppression will miss you terribly, but will never forget you.

My beautiful Canadian Queen.....


  1. What a beautiful tribute, Simon. She really had a lot of people that loved her. The world is a little emptier for her passing.

    Other topic - You had a triumph? Aren't they the greatest? My first bike was a '69 bonny 650 that I stroked up to 750 with a morgo kit. It was a beauty, and zoom! it flew.

  2. Yes indeed, a great lady.

  3. Anonymous4:46 PM

    Simon, you are so fortunate to have met such an extraordinary human being. Canada has lost one of the truly great humanitarians. She will be sadly missed.

  4. Hi everyone!! yeah I guess people like June are the kind of Canadian I'd like to try to be. But of course could never be because...One..I'm more of a devil than a saint...and's too exhausting..But you know what I mean...gentle but strong.
    as for the motorbike it was a
    74 750 Tiger...dark blue with yellow racing stripes. It was a hand me down from my big brother...but I loved her like she was my own. But she died...on a wet and slippery evening...hugging a humungous concrete poll...on the outskirts of the City of the Dammned aka Orangeville...and I almost did too :)
    Now all I've got is a dirt bike but it'll do for now...