Despite the fear and evil that threatens the usual joy and hope of Easter and Passover celebrations, Kingstonians are finding ways big and small to remind us all of goodness and love in the world.
Well-known fellow citizens Alicia Gordon and Lubomyr Luciuk are just two examples.
I’ve known Alicia for many years. She is a powerhouse of energy and tireless supporter of good causes, having helped raise millions of dollars for local charitable organizations. In addition to her volunteerism, she enjoys a successful career and is a former winner of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year award.
Right now, she is with relatives in Poland, which is under siege trying to cope with many of the millions of refugees trying to escape the bloodbath in neighbouring Ukraine.
Did I mention that Alicia is of proud Polish heritage? Just this past week I found her sitting on a bench on Princess Street wolfing back a king-size sandwich between business commitments and getting packed for her trip.
Like so many of us, Alicia has been overwhelmed by the unending Russian massacre on Ukraine and frustrated by the West’s weak-kneed response to the genocide and destruction.
Alicia is not known to mince words or hide her emotions. Just ask anyone who has sat near her at a Queen’s football game when her son was on the field or at a political event when she disagreed with the speaker.
She was close to tears as we discussed the devastation in Ukraine and she described similar conditions her Polish mother suffered during the Second World War.
The rest of us despair about what we can do. Alicia Gordon packed her bags and got on a plane, admitting she was “too big a chicken” to serve on the front lines but was morally bound to do whatever she could do to help her family at this time of great need.
Her first report appeared on her Facebook page this week:
“I flew from Frankfurt to Krakow with a young man from California who was part of a Catholic Youth group. He had two suitcases full of medicine and blankets and was heading to the border. I gave him some cash and asked him to buy what he felt was needed once there. He thanked me and I thanked him for coming so far to help out. He was such a lovely young man in his twenties that wanted to talk to me the entire hour and a half rather than be on his phone.”
Well, that says a lot about the kind of goodwill that exists for those who are fighting for the freedom to live in peace in their own country.
Alicia’s fellow traveler will probably never forget his Ukrainian mission and his encounter with this interesting woman with the big voice and big heart from Kingston, Canada. My bet is she gave him her card and he could show up at the Gordons’ Barriefield home for perogies one day when Ukrainians are finally free of the murderous Putin and his henchmen.
As songstress Vera Lynn would say, just you wait and see.
Meanwhile, Lubomyr Luciuk has written an insightful account for The Whig Standard about some of the contributions of other Kingstonians to provide encouragement and help to Ukrainians.
Lubomyr is among the 1.4 million Canadians whose roots are in Ukraine. In fact, the diaspora here represents the third largest community of Ukrainians in the world. (Russia is second.) As long as I can remember, he has been a committed spokesperson and is president of the Ukrainian Canadian Club of Kingston.
In his day job, he’s a professor of political geography at the Royal Military College here.
Lubomyr cites the numerous well-attended rallies Kingstonians have held in support of Ukraine and the money raised for Ukrainian students studying at Queen’s and St. Lawrence College—often now isolated from family and support back home.
City Council voted to unfurl a Ukrainian flag over City Hall, local citizens have paid to help bring young cancer patients to Canada and efforts are underway to help refugees resettle in Kingston, just as Lubomyr’s parents were given asylum here 73 years ago.
He brings to public attention a little known anecdote involving the large, black iron lion that has been a Kingston landmark since before most of us were born.
Generations have climbed on its back for photographs but its history is unknown to many.
This king of beasts was originally a symbol of imperial power and the British Empire and sat on the Clergy Street lawn of Captain John Gaskin who was, in Lubomyr’s words, “not only a devout Orangeman, that is an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-Jesuit bigot, Gaskin was also a long-serving alderman, businessman and even elected Kingston’s mayor.”
When Gaskin died in 1908, his lion was given to the city and has since then resided in what is still, at least until further notice, called Macdonald Park after our first Prime Minister and founder of our country.
Herein comes the interesting part. Time took its toll on the lion and in 2010 to mark the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Kingston, the local Ukrainian community had it repaired and nearby plaques put in place in English, French, Ukrainian and braille tell the story.
Recently, unidentified persons decorated the lion with flowers and stones in the now famous blue and yellow colours of Ukraine’s flag and Lubomyr looks forward to showing off the lion and its history to Ukrainians who make it here safely to live freely in Canada.
As for Gaskin’s own history—which reflected the views and affiliations of many if not most public figures in his day—Lubomyr says, “He (Gaskin) was here, he believed what he did and we know what he was—amen. Instead of censuring unpalatable bits of history, we’d rather contribute to Kingston’s evolving story, shaping our shared future instead of wallowing in, much less wailing on about, an unalterable past.”
Lubomyr Luciuk obviously shares some of those courageous, practical and independent genes that characterize the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose incredible leadership and bravery have won him the free world’s sincere respect, admiration and gratitude.
Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue was removed from City Park by a 12-! vote of our City Council to appease wailing and wallowing protesters and remains---probably in perpetuity--- hidden in a crate on a slab in a rundown, old building.
Travelers on Highway 401 will notice that Sir John A.’s picture has been removed from giant welcome signs at several of the main entrances to Kingston.
Truth to tell, several of our downtown streets bear the names of imperfect people if anyone bothers to do the research.
But thanks to our local Ukrainian community, the so-called “Gaskin Lion” is restored and on view to locals and visitors alike to study and reach their own conclusions about its imperfect heritage.
Meanwhile, suffice it to say that Ukrainians don’t need any lessons when it comes to recognizing the importance and being willing to pay the price of freedom.