“Four more years! Four more years!”
It was 2004 and George W. Bush was running for a second term as U.S. president. Mike, my least favourite of several new housemates, had just learned that I was not a fan.
Our first attempt at a political discussion, if you could call it a discussion, had just gone up in flames. I was slumped on the couch, fighting back tears. Mike was pumping his fist, laughing and chanting.
I could barely believe I’d be stuck with this jerk for the next nine months. It would certainly feel like four more years.
Like reality TV, without the TV
Mike and I had both been selected to participate in Katimavik, Canada’s largest national youth volunteer program at the time.
We were among hundreds of young Canadians randomly sorted into groups of 11, then sent to live and work in three communities for three months each. The youngest among us was 17; the oldest 21.
Fast facts about Katimavik
- Katmavik, one of Canada’s oldest volunteer programs, was founded exactly 40 years ago on Jan. 26, 1977. It has an estimated 35,000 alumni.
- In 2012, Katimavik’s budget was slashed by $14 million, reducing the program to a small environmental project in Quebec.
- The scaled-down organization now hopes to reinstate the national program, with a focus on indigenous reconciliation, in time for Canada Day 2017 — a major milestone for the country.
In those days, each “Katimagroup” reflected the regional diversity of Canada, including both English- and French-speaking youth from big cities and small towns.
The project was meant to break us all out of our respective Canadian bubbles and make us more engaged, caring and capable citizens.
I assumed only lovey-dovey lefty types would be interested in Katimavik, not self-described alpha males like Mike. (Turns out his mother had filled out his forms and told him he was going on a “camping trip.”)
He certainly stood out in our little house of stereotypes.
There was a funky vegan from Victoria, a friendly Manitoban from St. Boniface, a smiley hippy from Peterborough, Ont., a handy tomboy from Woodstock, Ont., a punk anarchist from Montreal, a pretty boy from Quebec City, a clean-cut jock from Ottawa, a quirky introvert from L’Assumption, Q.C., an earnest island boy from Lunenburg, N.S. — and Mike. I dismissively filed him under gym nut from Langley, B.C.
Trying not to play the part of snobby Torontonian, I pretended I’d heard of the smaller towns (I hadn’t), was totally fine with one shared computer and no television (I wasn’t), and could speak enough French to fully understand the francophones (I couldn’t).
I was eager to bond with everyone else in the house and quietly hoped Mike would do something dumb and get sent home. I felt I could really enjoy our first town — Leduc, Alta. — so long as I stayed far away from Mike.
Our group attempts to spell Katimavik. I’m the “T” and Mike is the second “I”. (Sebastien Ouellette)