When I was 12 I received a letter from the Right Honourable Kim Campbell who served as Prime Minister of Canada from 25 June 1993 until 4 Nov. 1993.
“It looks like you got something from Ottawa here,” said the man behind the Canada Post counter at a Nanaimo stationary shop.
“Oh wow, it’s from the prime minister!” I exclaimed.
“Ah, she’s probably after you for taxes!” he said with a chuckle.
I walked out of the store and across the parking lot without taking my eyes off of the sturdy white envelope which had the Canadian coat of arms and the words “prime minister- premiere minister” embossed in gold.
Here’s the letter which was dated 20 years ago today:
It was an exciting time to be Canadian and there seemed to be an emphatic push for all things “Canada” in many areas of popular culture. In the previous year the government had sponsored big public observances of the 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, and the Barenaked Ladies’ debut album “Gordon” hit number one on the Canadian Albums Chart.
Many adults in my life seemed fairly cynical about one aspect of Canada: the federal government. The Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was highly unpopular in British Columbia and as children we sang a parodied version of the Tiny Toons Adventures theme song that went: “We’re Tiny, we’re toony, we can’t afford a loonie all because of Brian Mulroney and his stupid G.S.T.”
The tone changed, however after Kim Campbell won the 1993 Progressive Conservative Leadership election becoming the first female prime minister and the first to be born in British Columbia. She had previously served in the federal cabinet, the B.C. legislature and the Vancouver School Board.
I recall watching news footage of her speaking to cheering crowds in B.C. schools with one newscaster describing her reception here to that of a popular rock star. And for a time she was. An August 1993 Gallup poll revealed she enjoyed an approval rating of 51 % – the highest of Canadian prime minister in 30 years.
The honeymoon was short lived and many Canadian best remember her in connection with the 1993 Canadian federal election which reduced the ruling Progressive Conservatives from 169 to two seats in the House of Commons.
But she is also known by many as an eminently accomplished Canadian with a strong Vancouver Island connection.
From 1992 until 1993 I lived in a foster home in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter. One of our neighbours who had lived in the same house her entire life told me that Kim Campbell’s grandmother Elizabeth Hill Gardiner used to live in a house one block away. Gardiner, who had been a teacher, married Carlyle Edward Cook in that same house in 1920.
Cook’s family had settled in Nanaimo in the early 1870s and lived in a large house down the hill on Wallace St. They had to delay their wedding, however, until he finished dental school as married women were not allowed to teach then.
Here is that house on Goolgle Streetview:
They both went on to live very rich lives and were a huge credit to their family, community and country.
It was affirming to know that the community where I grew up had played a role in the lives of the prime minister’s family and I like to think that Campbell’s Vancouver Island roots helped inform the person she is today.
I treasure this letter as a reminder of all the cool things that can and do happen in life.
Here’s an awesome video of her discussing American exceptionalism on Real Time with Bill Maher: