Initially unemployed on my arrival in Colombo in October, 2009, I was casting about for things to do when I began to hear some extraordinary stories about ties – historical and current – between Canada and Sri Lanka. Some were well known, such as the Canadian locomotives gifted under the Colombo Plan more than half a century ago and still pulling trains all over Sri Lanka*. Or the saga of Squadron Leader Len Birchall, called the “Saviour of Ceylon” by none other than Winston Churchill. Others were lower profile, such as Saskatchewan’s Evan Hardy, who is credited with training a generation of engineers in Ampara who went on to play formative roles in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development. Or Paul Hogan, a Canadian artist who used the transformative power of art as therapy for children traumatised by war. How about Dr. Mary Rutnam, an immigrant to Sri Lanka from small town Ontario and a feminist long before the word existed?
I decided to try to ensure that these stories and others were remembered. This small book represents the culmination of several months of research, including field trips and interviews in Sri Lanka. It is the book I wish someone had passed to me on arrival in Sri Lanka. While pleased to present the results, I already know that the book is in one sense a failure because I could not hope to be aware of or relate all of the stories that have made the Canada-Sri Lanka relationship so special. My apologies to those that space or time (my unemployment was not long enough, alas!) did not allow me to include. I dare to hope that someone else will tackle Volume Two!
My warmest gratitude goes to all of those who offered enthusiastic support and suggestions. And a special thank you to Lindsay Morency for volunteering her time to design this book.
Colombo, August 2012
*I have used the term Sri Lanka for consistency sake even when referring to a period of time before 1972 when the country was known as Ceylon. Ceylon is used only when it is a direct quotation or formal title.