From Forest to Farm (and tomorrow’s heroes).

November 22nd 2012

Forest to Farm is the name of a fascinating book. It describes how new Canadians, in the early 1800’s arrived from England, Scotland, Ireland and some regions of Europe into Upper Canada to start a new life. They were given 50 acre parcels of land, mostly dense old growth forest. Handed a pick and shovel, when they cleared those 50 acres, they were given 50 more to clear. They cared for their new home that cared for them.

This story was repeated all across Canada.

Last week driving across Canada in November, minus 30 degree temperatures and 40 cm of snow on the prairies closed the Trans Canada Highway. Looking out the motel window I could only wonder what it was these pioneers were leaving, what was it that made them to come to this frozen land, to see this as a better place, a brighter future?

The answer of course is mixed. Some were leaving debt, many more were leaving conflict, famine, poverty, religious and other persecution. It was freedom they sought, a better life for their children, the chance for security from their hard efforts.

Have things changed? Have we?

In a recent clinic we treated Priya, a pregnant patient and her family from South Asia. There, the family was threatened with death because they changed religions. The children were threatened with kidnapping and death. Other children in their neighbourhood have been kidnapped, and never seen again.

So, they did what our heroes from the 1800’s did. They left their unsafe country and came to Canada, seeking the same safety. They have effective IFH medical coverage until their refugee hearing. Priya has diabetes and needs help with the pregnancy. Many doctors turned them down because they had IFH. This discrimination is all too common. It is worse since June 30th 2012. Others ignored the IFH and never even made the inquiry to determine if they were covered.  Several physicians demanded up front money before seeing them. One doctor, a specialist, a very special doctor took them in and cared for them, then referred them to us for ongoing care.

Canadians often look back fondly, and with reverence on those earlier newcomers to Canada from the 1800’s. We regard them as heros who left their homelands and enriched and built  ours. They braved the elements. We are all connected to somewhere else.

Priya, her husband and two children were hard not to like as they waited patiently in the clinic with their two young children. It was late before we could get to them. Both girls waited quietly at their parents side. Their father has already taken under the table work – not clearing 50 acres of land and then another 50, but clearing 50 dirty dishes and washing them, and then clearing 50 more. He was an engineer back home. Just like in the 1800s, he is doing the work we won’t.

How different then is he, his family from those earlier hero pioneers we reminisce on? When his wife needs a doctor for her pregnancy, why won’t many of us accept Priya for care?

She is tomorrow’s hero.



  1. Zarmina

    It is Very sad to hear that our government is doing this to the world’s most vulnerable people. It is clear that they have not thought through the real impact of the change that the federal has made. It was moral responsibility of immigration minister to do some critical reflection on its consequences on poor refugees and general public.

  2. Cheyan

    If you can’t afford an extra $50.00 for a physician visit, it makes it sound like you are not in a financial situation where you should keep adding to your family maybe you should practice birth control.

    • Thank you for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. While I disagree strongly with their mean spirited nature, you are not the first to take such an insensitive and judgmental position. Perhaps it is time for a discussion?

      The patient in this story became pregnant in her homeland, where they operated a small business. That was until someone tried to kidnap their young child because of the family’s religious beliefs. Other members of their faith had children kidnapped, and killed. Pakistan can be a dangerous place. It is not Canada. The family had no intention of coming to Canada, and asking for asylum, prior to the kidnapping and death threats.

      The cost of the delivery will be between $3000 to $8,000. It will not be a $50 physician visit. The family is working to pay back the bill as they earn their way here. This is not unusual for our new arrivals. This reality does not warrant the response you have provided.

      Finally, birth control is not a solution here. Hopefully you realize it only works before one is pregnant, not after.

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