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RI President Jennifer Jones crosses Canada from coast to coast to coast

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Jennifer Jones began her term as Rotary International’s 2022-23 president in the midst of her Imagine Rotary Canada Tour, traveling coast to coast to coast to draw attention to the positive and lasting impact that Rotary clubs have in their communities.

"The Canada tour was awesome because it brought together different demographics," she said. "Every stop was representative of all ages, all cultures. The Rotary family was so excited to be together, to be in person, and showcase what they were doing. There were incredible, incredible things that people planned."

Organized around several hubs, the tour started on 17 June with an excursion through Yukon and the Northwest Territories, brushing up against the Beaufort Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean and one of Canada's three coasts. From there, it visited Jones' home city of Windsor, Ontario, and then the nation's capital, Ottawa. It next moved to St. John's on the Atlantic Ocean before heading west through Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver before reaching Victoria on the Pacific Ocean.

A few hiccups prevented Jones and her husband, Nick Krayacich, from linking up with the tour for its first few days. Luckily, past RI Vice President Valarie Wafer and her husband, Mark, as well as past RI Director Bryn Styles, and his wife, Randy, were able to step in.

"The thing you never forget is how people make you feel — and we were treated so well as we traveled across the country," Mark Wafer said.

Mark Wafer said being able to celebrate Canada's National Indigenous Peoples Day in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, was the highlight of the trip. Jones also talked about how meaningful it was, later in the trip, to hear how clubs are involved in the effort to build and revitalize relationships among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

"Engaging with First Nations and Indigenous people was an element of every one of the stops," Jones said, recalling an encounter with Bruce Starlight, a Tsuut'ina elder, in Calgary. "To be able to sit and learn from each other, to talk, to ask questions. That was a big part for me personally: the ability to learn how Rotary fits in and what clubs are doing to move forward with truth and reconciliation."

In Windsor, Jones got to see members of her home club, the Rotary Club of Windsor-Roseland, as well as the new Imagine Rotary Trail with its 40 freshly planted magnolia trees. From there, the tour progressed to Ottawa, Canada's capital. It was there that on 1 July — which is also the Canada Day holiday — Jones fittingly began her tenure as RI president. Here and at other stops, Jones met with elected officials.

"Tons of government people came out along the way," Jones recalled. "We met senators and lieutenant governors and [members of Parliament]. It was an opportunity to thank our country for supporting Rotary's polio eradication efforts."

The next stop brought Jones to the Atlantic coast and St. John's, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, where she met with members of the newly created District 7815 and the tour members put their feet in the Atlantic.

In Quebec City, Jones greeted Rotary members from seven districts in Canada, the United States, and Africa at an evening reception.

A whirlwind of events in Toronto showcased the combined efforts of four districts. The day began with a watershed cleanup in the middle of a torrential downpour.

"We were not only cleaning up the beach, but cleaning off ourselves in the rain," said hub chair Michele Guy.

Rotary members in Winnipeg featured projects underway in their city and throughout District 5500 via social media and a 67-minute online video.

In Calgary, where the tour participants met with First Nations leaders, there were also comic moments. In the middle of the Calgary Stampede parade, Jones' white convertible broke down and the occupants got out to push the car.

"Twenty seconds later it started up again, but the picture on the TV news that night was us pushing the car," said Jones. "Which kind of looked like maybe it was supposed to happen. We'll go with that."

In Edmonton, events unfolded around Fort Edmonton Park, a legacy project of four Rotary clubs that was launched nearly 50 years ago. Attendees planted trees, participated in an Indigenous Peoples Experience, and later joined hands and took part in a singalong of John Lennon's "Imagine." The unofficial song of Jones' presidential year was this time dedicated to the people of Ukraine. The following day brought a visit to a peace garden in Vancouver, a beach cleanup a few miles north of the U.S.-Canada border, and a reading event at the Aboriginal Mother Centre.

Finally, on 11 July in Victoria, Jones and her group dipped their toes in the Pacific.

For Jones, the moment recalled the journey of Terry Fox, a Canadian athlete who had cancer. He set off from St. John's in 1980 intending to run all the way to Victoria. He couldn't complete the journey, but monuments to his effort stand in both St. John's and Victoria.

"It was one of the most poignant moments of the tour," Jones said, "with everyone talking about what his run signified and the hope he gave to people."

For more stories and photos from the Imagine Rotary Canada Tour, visit the tour's Facebook page.