150 Words for 150 Years – Winners and Runners-Up

O THE MAPLE LEAF by Cindy Zhang

The maple leaf trembles on the tip of its branch, the beginnings of a summer breeze in the air. It’s not autumn yet, not time to fall, but this particular leaf is barely hanging on. It won’t fall yet – it has a sense of dramatic timing, and with all the symbolic significance it knows it has in its tiny leaf body, it’s decided that it has to fall for something important. Perhaps on top of a passing flag, since celebrations are in motion. Or, maybe, on the prime minister himself! It’s interrupted in its daydreaming by a kerfuffle nearby – some drunk people are shouting at a young woman and questioning her citizenship. The leaf isn’t very savvy about the political climate, but it knows one thing: this is it. It detaches from its branch, performs a beautiful twirl in the wind, and falls gently into the folds of her hijab.

I AM CANADIAN by Adia Sové

Maple leaves. Brown, yellow, red. Holes bitten unevenly by bugs, sunlight shining through to the dewy grass. The air is crisp. The scent of pine accompanies it. Deer nibble slowly at a leafy bush, calm and at ease. The rasp of a moose scraping its antlers against bark fills the air. Softly, a loon calls for its flock. High above, a dozen geese soar in formation. The simultaneous flapping of their wings carry them across the sky. A single leaf gently falls, twisting and twirling like a ribbon before landing on my head. I am home. I am free. I am Canadian.

STANDING ON GUARD by Claudine Paed

I will stand on guard for thee.

I will stand on guard as I watch our true north rise to its highest glory, as it rises in the glowering face of adversity. I will stand on guard with the glorious strength of my sisters born near and far and wide. I will stand on guard and I will know in my glowing heart that no matter where my ancestors were born, no matter who I love, no matter the values I practice, you will embrace me.

You will push me to rise, you will encourage my strength, and you will stand on guard for me.

A COLD NIGHT’S JOURNEY by Jared Schellenberg

It was a cold night’s journey in 1931. Even though the stars could not speak, they reached out their voices and spoke of safety to us as we trudged through the snow.

A mere hour ago there had been silence; no soul dared to make a sound except a beloved baby, who was quickly hushed by a cloth, snuffing out her life. Our escape from Soviet Russian lands had successfully been endured by the few who still traveled with us.

Now we had nothing but our clothes and small trinkets that we could sell. Fifteen years passed until we began to make our way across the vast, unforgiving land to the Shanghai harbour. The land we left behind had struggles, oppression, and suffering, but we sailed towards a land with opportunity, support and freedom, a place in which possibilities were endless, but success was not easy.

We sailed for Canada.

A LINE HOME by Mark Paterson

New in school and friendless, Corey was drawn to the payphone in the foyer, to create the illusion he had something to do during the long, lonely lunch hour.
That’s how he saw the sticker.
1-AREA CODE-555-1212

He dialed, using his old area code. “Quel nom? What name?” The operator’s Quebecois accent transported Corey out of Sacramento, to the other side of the continent, back to where he wished to be.
Corey spoke his grandfather’s name. Hearing the familiar telephone number, he pictured his grandparents’ house so vividly he thought he was there. Next, Corey asked for his best friend John’s number. It was like visiting. He asked for the Perrette depanneur in his old neighbourhood. He could taste the barbecue corn chips, the grape Sip-Sac.

The school bell rang. Corey hung up. Exhaled. The homesickness returned. But the payphone would still be there the next day.


I don’t know my birth date but I’m aware of my provenance. Crafted in Italy, I played from Trieste to Tallinn. A century later, bombs were falling. I was smuggled onto a crowded train beneath a long coat. I was seized, sold and resold. That’s why I’m called the refugee instrument.

One night on the black market, I’m traded to a young student for a kilo of coffee. The student carries me aboard a ship. We descend together in Halifax, me in my velvet-lined case, him in the worn suit with $30 in his breast pocket. We ride the train to Montreal.

The student finds work schlepping stones in a quarry. Nights, he tucks me under his chin. After so much silence, how my strings sing beneath his bow! Music knows no borders, it’s true, but I must feel safe to create.
HERE AND THERE by Heather Macdougall

Twenty years old now and they’ve always been together. Barely ever left the island, let alone flown in an airplane. Not world travellers, so, fine. They like it here. But you know how the story goes: jobs are scarce, there’s no money, you can’t stay where there’s nothing for you.

He decides to do what all the boys are doing. Goes west. She does what the girls are doing. Stays.

Is it harder to leave or be left behind? It’s a stupid question, a trick. They’re both hard. It’s not a contest.

He’s miserable there. The people are nice enough, but it’s not home. She’s miserable here. Home isn’t home when she’s alone. But they separately, secretly, pretend they’re fine.

They separately, secretly, save enough pennies for a one-way flight.

Then one morning, a thousand miles apart, they separately, secretly, board a plane, each excited to surprise the other.

LIZZIE AND ME by Carolyn Marie Souaid

Some say your ancestors arrived from the Bering land bridge 4000 years ago, followed the caribou herds. Mine arrived here by boat from Lebanon in the early twentieth century. You and me: two very different tribes. I joke about it now, the snow and sand intersecting on a map of Canada. I help you navigate your way through school in the South. Teach you the modern economy and grammar and Alice Munro. You share your bannock recipe. At night we meet on Facebook. I study your posts of the sprawling tundra. You miss your family. Paingupaa, you write with an emoji heart. You text me a private message: Can I see you tomorrow in your office? I have a paper due. Teach me your language, I reply. How to say, “I love you.” Nalligivagit, you write. I repeat it. It is a beautiful sounding word.


Dogs bounding, swiping at snowflakes
Little mouths upwards, catching fat falling snowflakes
Snowflakes settling gently on our eyelids
Steamy mittens on the heater
Tongues stuck to brass door handles
Snow banks and drifts and forts and castles
Snowmen, snow angels
Cars buried in snow, shovellers liberating cars
Evergreen trees
Ancient etchings of sailing ships, frozen in the northern ice
Adam Gopnik’s Winter
Hockey broadcasters lulling babies to sleep
Snow ploughs roaring, car engines groaning
Snow blower hypnosis
Bunting bags, snowsuits, amautiit and mukluks
Toques and scarves and earmuffs
New boots
New skates, new skis, toboggans and snowboards
Red noses, red cheeks
Icicles and frost, stinging sleet, breath-catching air
The scrunch of fresh-fallen snow underfoot
Frozen fingers, prickly toes beginning to thaw
Porridge and stew, cocoa and toddies
Holiday lights, winter concerts
Dark nights, dark mornings
The thump of boots in a doorway . . . loved ones safely home.


We are Mi’kmaq.

Great-grandma White had nineteen babies. Where on earth did they sleep? When we visit her with our cousins, we barely fit.

We are Mi’kmaq.

Great-grandfather White hunted for food, wasted nothing. Moose stew. Moosehide moccasins. Moose-bone knife handles. Use everything you take. Take only what you need.

We are Mi’kmaq.

Uncle Charlie plays the accordion, sings us memories. He knows the stories of our people.

We are Mi’kmaq.

Port au Mal
We climb the mountain behind Aunt Noreen’s house. I drink water straight from the brook. Newfoundland’s beauty spans the pure periwinkle sky. The white sun burns through the breezy air. Untouched green for miles. No horizon. No end.

We are Mi’kmaq.

Tenacity. Integrity. Courage.

They call us jackatar.
They deny our blood status.
They cannot drain our veins.

We are Mi’kmaq.


History records another place called Canada.

It existed in the living hell known as Auschwitz-Birkenau and was the ironic nomenclature given to the vast warehouse in which possessions were stored once the victims had been herded into the chambers of death.

Why was it called Canada?

To find the answer, we must first acknowledge that what our vast land most represents to the billions beyond is an aspiration, a very human hybrid of wishing and longing; and although this may add up to little more than perception, it’s real enough to the dispossessed who, even today, risk everything just to arrive within our borders.

This too is our heritage – and if we should ever doubt it, we need only recall that the emaciated souls behind that infamous barbed wire gave us the poignant compliment of bestowing our name on the richest place they knew.

They called it Canada.

GIRLS ON ICE by Deborah Van Slet

Skates scraping ice
sharp crack of a stick
the ping of a puck off the post

The soundtrack of my small town 1970s childhood in Quebec.

I want hockey equipment one year for Christmas.
“Aren’t you ever going to be a girl?” sighs my mom.

On the neighbourhood rink one afternoon, I almost cut a kid’s face with the spiky picks on the toe of my figure skates. So, the next time out my dad lets me wear my brother’s hockey skates.
Maybe the older boys will invite me to play now.
I step on the ice, and try to propel myself forward with picks that are not there.
I fall on my knees. And then again.
Do not cry.

My dad comes to help.
It hadn’t occurred to him just how different the experience would be. He’d never been in my skates.
The blade, the angle.
I’ll get it.

GRANDPA by Joanne Carnegie

An ocean voyage. Travelling unthinkable miles inland to build a sod hut and live through a winter the likes of which he’d never seen. Proving up the land in a climate as fierce as Siberia, wrestling the wind and infernal cold and somehow, coaxing life up out of the barrenness.

My grandfather, born in Scotland in 1875 – the year of the Riel Rebellion – was eighteen when his elderly father came home with a gaudy pamphlet and said, Let’s go to Canada!

It was not what they expected.

My father talks about Grandpa finding arrowheads on his land. Hundreds of them. They’d heave up to the surface after a harsh winter. He kept them in a cardboard box under his bed.

Must have been a kind of highway, he said.

I see him cupping the arrowheads in his hands, looking up to the surrounding hills, wondering.


1912. My grandparents, six days married, board the Lusitania bound for Canada.

They arrive in Rouleau, SK on a chilly October day. The house promised them is not ready. And all their luggage has gone missing.

They are shown to a one-room sod house.

What does a nicely brought up young lady who’s used to wearing white gloves and reading a freshly ironed newspaper in the morning do in such circumstances? Pull her copper kettle and its wrought-iron stand out of her handbag, light the burner beneath it, and brew a nice cup of tea!

1998. Montreal, January. The third night of the ice storm. It’s too cold to sleep. I do the only thing possible: in flickering candlelight I fill my grandmother’s copper kettle and brew a mug of tea. And wonder for the umpteenth time: why would a young lady have a kettle in her handbag?

CLATTER by Abigail Schafer

The wind, unforgiving, cuts through my thinly knit sweater as my nose tingles, and my ears begin going numb. My fingers are encased in stiffened leather, gripping onto my wooden stick for balance as I attempt walking the next fifty yards on the tips of newly sharpened blades. My first confident step is taken directly onto the snow-dusted ice, and with a swift familiarity I burst into movement, each stride pushing me farther and faster until my eyes sting and my vision blurs. I am acutely aware of each player circling around me, the wind in my long brown hair, the sounds of knives cutting ice and the occasional thunder of the puck. Voices shout to each other in a variety of languages, at least three of which I don’t understand, and as teams are created the clatter of sticks on ice calls to everyone – this language we share.

KIMMEL BREAD AND BAGELS by Anna Fuerstenberg

My mother rented an apartment on Hutchison then took in boarders. Our home was alive with chatter in French, German, Yiddish, Polish and English. It was my chore to go to the Workman`s Circle Bakery to pick up bread. There was a law against day-old bread, and a fine for bakeries which did not comply.

After school, I walked from Bancroft to St. Joseph and St. Laurent, then up the alley in the back. From the loading dock Leon, a friend of my parents, passed down to me the paper bag of baked delight. The coins were in my mittened hand until I reached up to grab the bag of day-old goodies. Often the coins fell into the chest-high snow, and I had to dig around for hours to retrieve them.

At ten I finally tasted heavenly fresh bread.

Canada by Abdulhameed Asif

Canada is a beautiful country. In the sun the air is buzzing with life, big and small. Squirrels run around collecting nuts for the winter. Birds chirp overhead in the trees and in the sky.

In the winter nothing but the pines stand up against it. The roads are so white they make paper look grey. The quiet stillness brings peace to your mind and all others around you.

Canada is especially known for its maple trees. In fact, the leaf on our flag is the maple leaf. Canada is proud to be the only country in the world to produce maple syrup.