Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Doors Open Aurora – Swans and Freedom Fighters

By Matt Maddocks. Recently I attended two of the many Doors Open Aurora events.

I went to visit Harry Lumsden’s home/trumpeter swan sanctuary/Eden in Aurora. Mr. Lumsden, a Member of the Order of Canada and more recently a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Lifetime Achievement, was a wonderful host. I found him to be an engaging, humble, intelligent man. The “trumps”, as Mr. Lumsden calls them, had been extinct in Ontario since 1886, so in 1982, he set to work towards reviving the species at his sanctuary. Today, through his efforts they now total over 1000. He spent decades working with, feeding, healing, and caring for his swans.  “But”, he said, “I still learn something new about them every day.”

I find the truly knowledgeable are the ones who never assume they know it all.

Spending an hour walking around his 6-acre property, an idyllic mix of ponds, woods, and trails, was inspiring and pacific. I look forward to returning soon.

I also attended Doors Open Aurora at the Aurora Public Library. The APL was buzzing with activity. Library staff were all on hand providing information on the facility, and of the many services and programs available. A table full of cold drinks and cookies was set out for all guests to enjoy. One woman, making her first visit to the library laughed and asked staff, “wow, is it like this every day?” There certainly were a lot of folks enjoying themselves. But given the APL’s truly welcoming environment, I’m never really surprised to see so many people there who love being a part of the library.

While there, I took part in the APL’s “Human Book” event. Five different authors were in attendance to be “checked out”; a 20-minute one-on-one chat with the author of your choosing. I chose to speak with Marina Nemat, Aurora resident and author of “Prisoner of Tehran”. Born and raised in Tehran, Marina was arrested in 1982 at the age of 16, and was sent to Evin prison where she was tortured and sentenced to death. Her crime was that she spoke out against the Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy in 1979. Marina attended demonstrations and wrote anti-revolutionary articles in a student newspaper. As she was being led to face her firing squad, a guard with connections spoke up for her and had her sentence commuted to life in prison. He then forced her to convert to Islam and marry him. His assassination two years later allowed Marina to secretly marry the man she loved, and together they escaped to Canada in 1991.

“Silent for many years following her escape, she said she now seeks out injustice wherever it lurks. Wherever there is someone whose voice is silenced, she will speak out.”

I asked Marina about her current views on the right to free speech and the right to criticize the government, given the horror she faced as a young woman in Tehran but now living in a free democratic society. Her response was one of pure passion, as she described her defence of free speech as manic. Silent for many years following her escape, she said she now seeks out injustice wherever it lurks. Wherever there is someone whose voice is silenced, she will speak out. She discussed with me examples she’s personally encountered, and stories she’s heard from around the world at freedom conferences and rallies. “Attacks against free speech” she said, “don’t start by showing themselves out in the open. They lurk in the small corners, and will grow when no one speaks out for fear of reprisal.” And as for the belief that it is only those smaller oppressed nations who become victims of these attacks, she said this was simply not the case. “Hitler was able to slowly and eventually exercise complete control over a very advanced civilized nation,” she explained.  “Once our voices are silenced, every other right we have as free citizens will fall.”

I was both chilled and strengthened by her words. I remained in the library for some time after our chat, taking in the world of knowledge and power surrounding me. The wealth of information available within the walls of the Aurora Public Library is something I will never take for granted. I’ve come to believe that the library, much like our right to free speech, is often overlooked while we are free to make use of it. But threaten that use, or make any mention of closure or censorship, and the outcry is overwhelming. The recent demonstrations involving the Toronto Public Library are a clear example of the passion and deep connection our society places in these community institutions.

“In all the years that I have lived in this town, I have never before encountered such a deep level of divisiveness as what I see now.”

Right here in Aurora, the free speech battle continues as we recently witnessed another chapter in a dark portion of Aurora’s history. This past week two Aurora citizens faced a former mayor once again to fight against the censorship of our free-born right to criticize the government and its servants. The lawsuit against them now dropped, they fight now to gain back some of the financial losses they incurred in their defence. But what of the deeper loss, the loss of Aurora’s voice? In all the years that I have lived in this town, I have never before encountered such a deep level of divisiveness as what I see now. To the best of my knowledge, there was never before in Aurora such a bitter “us vs. them” mentality prior to the Morris administration taking control. But we can change that. We must all continue to fight. We must shine a light into those dark corners and expose those who would seek to silence us.

Marina Nemat showed me what a true freedom fighter is.

Marina Nemat showed me what a true freedom fighter is. There’s a saying that goes “freedom is not free.” True enough, as the actions of the former mayor may have cost this town some of its freedom fighters. But I wonder how many of us are still out there…

Matt Maddocks
Aurora, ON 

[1] Doors Open Aurora, July 14, 2012 – Aurora Public Library Human Book Event, Marina Nemat, Freedom Fighter.


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