John Parry

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Canada 1970-present

I settled first in Montreal, where I soon discovered that not all Canadians were bilingual.  I will forever treasure my interview with the Francophone immigration officer who talked with me I his native tongue; when I finally produced my passport he exclaimed “Ah, monsieur, j’ai pens√© que vous √©tiez Belge!” 


Making friends quickly, some of whom are still friends today, I started downhill skiing in my first winter, and hosted my closest cousin my first Christmas, when my Christmas pudding served 55 people at a church potluck.  Within a year I as elected first vice-president of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Hostelling Association.  However, frustrated with my status at work, and with McGill University's disdain for its own evening students, I left for the University of Western Ontario to take my M.B.A.


In the summer prior to going to London, Ontario I delivered a station wagon to Calgary, led a CHA cycle trip in the Rockies, stayed with my twin great-aunts in Osoyoos, B.C. and served as a volunteer deck hand on the United Church’s mission ship, the Thomas Crosby V.  We visited several coastal fishing villages, which sparked my later interest in working with aboriginal people.


In the summer of 1973, I worked in Bearskin Lake, Ontario as the community’s business advisor – at times I was the only ‘outsider’ there.  On graduation I joined a contracted group serving the entire area – about the size of Great Britain.  In 1975, I resigned my position and settled in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, where I had been ‘based’ about one week in four.  I ran for Council and lost; but made enough of an impact that I was elected two years later.


At Easter in 1976, I met Rosanna Chu-Fai Jen, a teacher in Weagamow Lake, originally from Hong Kong and then Ponteix, Saskatchewan. 


Three dates, over a hundred letters and four months later we were married, and she joined me in a one-bedroom house in Sioux Lookout from which we also ran my nascent  accounting business.  My brief and spectacular career as a bar waiter soon ended as we attained economic stability.  In 1978 we bought the house of my then-assistant, and late that year I was elected Mayor.  My service from 1978 to 1984 was the most emotionally rewarding part of my political career.


In spring 1979, I ran for the NDP in Kenora – Rainy River, losing then and again in February 1980.  The two ‘adventures in electoral politics’ cost me a large part of my business, which I never really rebuilt; as later that year I joined ‘Indian’ Affairs as District Director.


This however was very much overshadowed by the arrival of Esther May-Yuen the month before; she joined us in our third house, a ‘heritage’ home with about a thousand tons of stone in the basement and first level.


In May of 1982, frustrated by restrictions that I felt impaired my ability to serve the native people of the area, I left the Federal Public Service and with three partners set up a management consultancy.  In August 1982 Ann Wu-Lai joined us as our second daughter to complete our family.


In September 1984 I was elected to Parliament at the third attempt; unseating a former Cabinet Minister.  I became the first non-Liberal to represent the constituency since Confederation.  Although I could cope with the strenuous lifestyle, extensive travelling, emotional pressures and constant triviality of the position, it deprived us in some ways as it rewarded us in others. In 1988 the voters thanked me for my services and we found ourselves living in Minahico, Ontario (population 32 after we arrived).  Rosanna had taken a position as teacher-principal at the local Big Grassy Reserve, and we lived there happily for almost a year despite the isolation and the coldest winter we have ever experienced.


In 1989 we moved to Dryden, Ontario where Rosanna had a position as a Math teacher.  The move was marred by me reversing the rented moving truck- by far the largest vehicle I have ever driven- into the house at the end of a 900 km drive.  After a while I found work there making training videos, but the recession claimed my position.  Then I competed on a position in Ottawa and to my surprise was hired as a management consultant.  I drove my motorcycle 2000km to Ottawa and started work, living with my brother and sister-in-law.  Their observations and prompt action saved my life soon afterwards, when I suffered a stroke that saw me hospitalized, diagnosed and operated on in a matter of 12 hours overnight.  Next day Rosanna was by my side, and two days later she also saved my life, by hitting the panic button as I suffered a second stroke.  This time my heart stopped and I was revived by a team of some 20 staff, who arrived in 90 seconds, each with their assigned task.  My ruptured repair was re-stitched by an intern from Iran, sitting on the floor and operating on the back of my upper neck.  Like many in a similar position, I still feel I have no clear idea of why I was saved, but I do know that my recovery was marked by steadfast and heartfelt prayer and love. In two months I was back at work, and a month later my vision returned to normal.


Shortly after my agency decided it should offer service from Winnipeg; it took me only seconds to realize that if I moved, I could commute back to Dryden every weekend.


This I did, and in summer 1993 we were re-united as a family in a large and comfortable home between two parks.  My work went well at first, but gradually I realized that the colleagues I should have served preferred to deal in Ottawa – where their next promotion would come from.  I kept my position in 1995 by working in six provinces, half the time in French.  This and my time as M.P. have enabled me to say that I have visited every Canadian Province, all three Territories, and have done paid work in all except P.E.I.


Eventually, I was laid off and so commenced a frustrating period in my life, of un- and under-employment.  The late 1990’s in Winnipeg were actually a depression for those who had not gone to school there and developed a strong network.  My ‘upsides’ were some firm friendships I developed during that time, my volunteer commitments, and seeing our daughters grow up.  I also had the opportunity to visit my parents several times in their declining years.  During the ‘90’s we also bade farewell to Rosanna’s father and her brother Ed, who both succumbed to cancer.


Another Winnipeg highlight was improved breathing, owing to a change in medication.  On my 55th birthday a crowd of 300 paid $20 each to hear me sing Handel’s ‘Messiah’.  There were also 5 other soloists, a 20-piece orchestra and a 55-strong choir which I’m sure really helped.  I also found that my performance in swimming improved.


In the new millennium I also ran twice for the NDP in St. Boniface.  My late friend Paul would say “come on John, the party needs a bilingual candidate” and I would be flattered into the role.  I was trounced once by Ron Duhamel who I much admired; and then drubbed by his successor after he died from cancer.  I spent half that campaign very sick with the flu, although I have not missed an injection since I had the stroke.