Rather than mark Remembrance Day with an official service, as most were cancelled by Covid, Tim Cain wanted his young sons to understand their immense privilege and good fortune.
Her name was Minerva Gillis.
In the western part of Minerva’s home island, Prince Edward Island, the pandemic did not grab hold with an iron fist, not in the way it did in much of the world. But for 28-year-old Minerva, the grip was all too tight.
Minerva left behind a husband, four young children, and a community devastated by the loss of a woman who spent the early days of the pandemic caring for those who were succumbing to the virus.
November 11 was an unusual Remembrance Day in Canada this year. The weather on PEI was summery; the usual ceremonies were either cancelled or limited in scope.
Rather than mark the end of World War I at an official service – while also remembering those who have served and sacrificed in other foreign fields – I wanted my sons to mark the day with some form of remembrance.
I wanted them to know how the world has changed. I wanted them to understand, even during the depths of a pandemic, their immense privilege and good fortune.
In the lap of luxury in a 2021 Mazda CX-9 Kuro, my sons and I headed west on Prince Edward Island to pay our respects
We drove westward in a 2021 Mazda CX-9 Kuro to Lot 14 and the Belmont Presbyterian Church’s cemetery. There lies Minerva Gillis, maternal great-great-grandmother to my children, who died 102 years ago in the 1918 flu pandemic, known for a century as the Spanish flu.
And yes, the CX-9 is part of the story. Forget a century’s worth of change (Mazda is, incidentally, a century old) and consider Mazda’s changes over just the last couple of decades.
My children are spending their time on heated Garnet Red leather second-row seats. The distinctly pre-owned Mazdas of the late 80s and early 90s in which I spent some of my formative years didn’t always like to heat up on winter mornings.
My children are supported by adjustable armrests in the second row captain’s chairs – the 1988 Mazda 626 in which my brother drove me to school had auto-adjusting headlights. Sometimes they dimmed, sometimes they didn’t, nobody knew why.
Life on Prince Edward Island is good, despite a global pandemic. But is it too good?
My children are listening to Kids Place Live on satellite radio through a 12-speaker Bose audio system that uses “Centerpoint 2 surround technology and AudioPilot 2 noise compensation technology and SurroundStage signal processing.” The 1992 Mazda Protege in which I first learned how to run out of gas could run an MP3 player through a cassette adapter.
For these boys, life is good.
As 2020 complicates life across the country, the continent, and the globe, Prince Edward Island ended Remembrance Day by announcing a fourth active case.
In a province of roughly 150,000 people, there have been 68 cases to date and zero hospitalizations. Schools are open. Kids can play hockey with their friends, sit down in restaurants, and consider spending their savings on wind-up ATVs at the dollar store.
Yes, for these boys, life is good. But is it… well, is it too good? Or at the very least, could their privilege (luck, blessing, fortune, or whatever you want to call it) be creating a bizarre perception of normal?
This drive to the Richmond area from central PEI is designed to teach them a lesson.
It’s a drive well-suited to the last Mazda I owned, a 2004 Miata I shouldn’t have sold. Highway sections are interrupted by tight roundabouts until we finally veer off in Miscouche to follow the shoreline toward Grand River.
2021 Mazda CX-9 shows finesse and some MX-5 spirit on the off-the-beaten path roads of PEI
Of course, Mazda says the MX-5 spirit lives in every Mazda vehicle, and there is some evidence of that fact even in this, the company’s largest vehicle.
Relative to mainstream rivals, the CX-9’s centre of gravity feels decidedly low, its steering feels distinctly weighty, and its balance both fore and aft as well as side to side definitely feels as though it was prioritized during development.
Sure, there’s too much heft for the CX-9 to enjoy being driven in anger, but there is an unmistakable layer of finesse in the big Mazda that’s missing from virtually every volume competitor.
Off the line at a Summerside intersection, the 250-horsepower 2.5-litre turbo (less power on regular fuel, we must note) doesn’t feel like 250. But when overtaking less-hurried drivers on Route 12, the CX-9’s 320 lb-ft feels more like 350. There’s welcome urge in the mid-range matched to a growl that sometimes seems a tad unrefined at lower revs.
Once we’re off the Trans-Canada, we make quick time through one last roundabout in Grand River. (“The rural roundabouts we have designed are to accommodate larger farm machineries,” the province says. “They’re a lot cheaper to build.”) Route 12 then takes us through Bayside to Birch Hill and Port Hill.
We took a detour to Low Point to see if we could eyeball our location without a map: Lennox Island First Nation is to our north, Courtin Island is to the south, Cabot Park is far off to the east on the other side of Malpeque Bay, and there’s a strip of dunes beyond Bird Island to the northeast that stretches for what must be nearly a dozen spectacular kilometres.
But it’s back in Birch Hill where my father-in-law and I try to teach two of my boys about his grandmother, Minerva.
In the Summerside Journal on November 20, 102 years ago, she was referred to as, “one of Richmond’s most highly esteemed ladies.”
The H1N1 Pandemic of 1918 ravaged a world that had already lived through the greatest war the world had ever known
Demographically, Minerva was right in the crosshairs of H1N1, which followed a war in which tens of thousands of young men were killed by yet again attacking those who were in the prime of life. So unknown were the details of the raging pandemic that people simply didn’t know how to mourn. Schools and churches were closed; funerals were not allowed.
Minerva’s widower, Nathan, brought her casket past the window so her little ones could see their mother one last time. The children remembered standing inside the bitterly cold house in their bare feet.
Their father, not knowing how to move forward, soon separated the children and sent them to live with different families before eventually reuniting the oldest three, years later.
I’m quite sure my young children didn’t grasp the gravity of the cemetery, the story of Minerva, or the potential seriousness of a pandemic as they hopped back into the CX-9 and promptly asked for a snack.
My mind goes to how many crumbs I’m willing to vacuum out of the CX-9 at the end of the week. And then my mind wonders just how much four little kids in Richmond had to eat 102 years ago when their mother disappeared from their lives.
We’re spoiled by our modern heating systems and our full refrigerators and our Atlantic Bubble and our modern health system’s rapid advances. We’re definitely spoiled by our cars, including a Mazda CX-9 that expertly isolates the cabin from road and wind and tire noise while heating the steering wheel and performing all manner of tasks that were until recently the driver’s responsibility. But spoiled has such a negative context.
Instead, let us be thankful.
So many of our perks were fought and died for by young men, peers of Minerva, more than 100 years ago. Then again, less than three decades later.
I can look at my children and wonder how they unwittingly grasp so little of the conveniences and comforts in their lives: the hands-free power tailgates and LED courtesy lighting and the wireless Apple CarPlay. Or I can look at them and be thankful, because none of this would matter if they weren’t safe and healthy.
This November 11th, despite the world’s upheaval, they are indeed safe and healthy. We remember those who’ve made it so, and we thank them.