Where I Come From

I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The 7th generation Canadian on my father’s paternal side, and the 3rd generation Canadian for the rest of my ancestors. My father’s family came from Britain, my mother’s father was Sámi-Swedish and her mother was Polish. My ancestors came to Canada for the promise of farmland and better opportunities for future generations. They moved from Upper Canada to Rupertsland, raising their children, helping in their communities, and living lives that they could be proud of.

Both of my grandfathers were fantastic storytellers. Many of the stories were fanciful. Others were grounded in the knowledge that your experiences are shaped by those who have come before. As such, I always knew about my great grandfather and how he embraced technology wholeheartedly. He was the first doctor in Winnipeg to have an x-ray machine and the first doctor to have a neon sign. I was also told the stories of how during the depression when patients gave him checks for services rendered, he would go to the bank and put in his own money. He did this to ensure that  his patients would have enough money to care for all of their health needs, including the ability pay their rent and buy food. This also helped ensure that the checks wouldn’t bounce. My great grandfather, Dr. Cooper, was known for his compassionate approach to care and community well-being.

My middle name is Joanne, after my paternal great aunt (Irene Ann) and my maternal grandmother (Josephine). When I was a girl, my great aunt would tell me stories about her time working for the World Health Organization. She worked in Egypt during the 1950’s and 1960’s as an expert in midwifery, helping improve healthcare systems and prevent maternal death. I was in awe of my aunt who seemed at times to be larger than life. I thought to myself, someday maybe I will be able to help people around the world too (and collect fun jewelry and art-work, just like she did). My maternal grandmother died of cancer before I was born. I was raised with the thought, had science been more advanced, maybe I would have met her. Everyone always said that she was a force to be reckoned with. When she was a young adult, my grandmother moved from a farm in Saskatchewan to Winnipeg in search of education and employment. At the University of Manitoba, she studied both business and law, hardly the standard disciplines for a woman during the mid-20th century.  My female ancestors continuously challenged the status quo, all while ensuring their families were cared for, loved, and supported.

My grandfather played an instrumental role in my childhood and adolescence. Living only a few minutes away, I saw him more often than not while growing up. My grandfather was a musician. We would play music, watch music on TV, and listen to music on the radio. We would read stories and visit. He always told me that the most important thing you could be is genuine. He told me that I should always remember the strong ancestors that I have and how they are a part of me. He told me I could do great things with my life, as long as I remembered that everyone is doing great things in their own unique way. My grandfather told me that, however old I got or far I roamed, if I remembered the stories and songs I knew, I would always be home. As an adult, I have learned that many of the lessons my grandfather instilled, including my leadership approach, the stories I was told, and songs from my childhood are specific to my Sámi heritage.

I carry these memories with me. They are part of who I am and all that I do as I try to emulate the example set by my family, that above all else comes honour, respect, and love.

© 2019 by Elizabeth Cooper.