Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, when I look around this chamber and see other senators virtually participating in this inquiry about Lillian Dyck, and seeing your accomplishments in what you have done in your professional and personal lives: How many of us have had themselves portrayed in a play? Imagine the story of your life on a stage. This is a story of Lillian Eva Dyck.
It was the summer of 2017 when many of us rushed off to the National Arts Centre to see Café Daughter. We were excited because this was the story of our colleague, Senator Dyck, the storyline of a bright student working up in a small Saskatchewan town. It was the 1950s, and the landscape in this prairie environment, like the landscape in all parts of the country, was one of racism and it wasn’t hidden. For the daughter of a Chinese father and a Cree mother, barriers were everywhere. Her mother asked her to hide her Cree heritage.
Honourable senators, I was moved by the play, and it reminded me of growing up in Campbellton, New Brunswick in the 1950s. My new friend was Kit Wong; he had just arrived from Hong Kong. His uncle owned the Glory Café. Across the river was the Indian reserve. I have memories as a child of Kit and Indigenous young children facing community bullies.
Lillian’s dad owned the Victory Café, like Kit in my hometown. She was very bright and it was her strength of intellect and personality which broke down barrier after barrier.
She became connected to her Cree heritage, and that was transformative. Instead of being shameful to be, as she said, an Indian, she found another level of strength. Here is what she said:
In fact, I have to laugh when I think of what a residential school survivor told me, who was a real character, and said you have to learn to man up. Stand your ground and not let it defeat you.
Well, as history has shown, the neuroscientist Dr. Lillian Dyck has more than manned up. As the song goes, she did it her way. Lillian Dyck has fought the good fight. Her voice at every level has been heard, from the university, to the Senate, to the Highway of Tears which is Highway 16 in British Columbia, where many Indigenous women were murdered.
By the way, the Highway of Tears, honourable senators, is a recent book by author Jessica McDiarmid. It’s a must read. I recommend it.
Here in the Senate, we have witnessed Lillian’s leadership, her passion and compassion. I sit behind her. I always had a box of Kleenex. I knew when she would be overcome by emotion. The issues she dealt with were personal. When someone hurt, she hurt. But she had a lighter side, and I liked to make her laugh. That’s the Lillian Dyck I will remember.
Shortly after she retired, we had a telephone chat. For one day she said she missed this place and even watched the proceedings. But the next day she returned to her favourite place. Somewhere out in the prairie she is bird watching, and she is watching whooping cranes. She was excited to tell me about her secret hiding place, a place where you can find peace of mind and a piece of time to reflect on where you have been and where you are.
Senator Lillian Dyck has always lived in the moment. In her words, “You don’t just live for yourself. You live for those around you.”
Thank you, Lillian, for spending time on your life’s journey with us. The Senate is better for it, the country is better for it, your province is better for it. As a Café Daughter, you have served and served well. Thank you.
Please click here to read more tributes to the Honourable Lillian Eva Dyck.