Memories bubble up when revisiting a place or space. Some help shape and define us. Such are my memories of Canadian Tire.
This summer’s mother-daughter road trip from our farm to St. John’s, Newfoundland was ripe with memories. My daughter Sarah, now 28, is pursuing an interest in music as a cultural practice and starting a Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology at Memorial University. Her new direction builds on a career that already includes several years in corporate communications.
As we chatted away our time together, I reflected on my own journey at her age. For me, it has been 28 years since visiting many of the communities defining our trip. Then, I was a year into a newly created role at Canadian Tire, accountable for taking the idea of a national community investment program and making it real. Corporate philanthropy and cause-related marketing were emerging practices still in their infancy. I spent a year travelling across the country inviting associate dealers to invest in this vision of a shared initiative. Many were already heavily invested in their own communities.
I was driven and determined to prove myself. I was also young and naïve. I had yet to understand the shame felt when your wings are publicly clipped for being too much or not enough.
The company was early into an agreement with Stay Alert…Stay Safe, Canada’s first and only national street proofing program created by Lesley Parrott and her colleagues at J. Walter Thompson. This empowering program encouraged kids to “keep their radar working and listen to their instincts.” (Does anyone remember Bert and Gert? I found a sampling of public service announcements that aired on YTV here).
That partnership would eventually be complemented with the creation of Canadian Tire’s own foundation; a national bicycle helmet program called Cycle Safe; a partnership with the National Fire Protection Association bringing Learn Not to Burn® curriculum to Canadian schools; and other programming with a focus on childhood injury prevention.
As Sarah and I drove across the top of Newfoundland starting in Port o Basque and ending in St. John’s, I remembered this particular group of stores hosting Stay Alert..Stay Safe days and bicycle rodeos. One story involving a young boy from Corner Brook, Newfoundland was particularly memorable. His family had purchased his bicycle helmet through the Cycle Safe program. This helmet saved him from serious head injury after a bad fall. (After our lunch stop in Corner Brook, I fully understand how this could happen as the city is perched on a very steep hill). His mother wrote me a letter to share his particular experience and thank the company for its program.
A few years later, the company created a national television commercial to highlight the work of the then Canadian Tire Child Protection Foundation. It was the first commercial in its history focusing solely on its community investment programming, featuring three children who benefited from wearing a bicycle helmet including the young boy from Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
Both he and his mom had never been beyond Corner Brook. They flew to British Columbia with us. Witnessing their excitement as they shared this experience was a gift, including the moment when feet were placed in the Pacific Ocean to honour the significance of the moment. This memory still prompts a smile. As Sarah and I drove through Corner Brook, I wondered where that young man and his mom were now.
Sometimes you have to look back with a different perspective to find new meaning in an old experience. When I left the organization in 1997, the initial seed of an idea had grown to include community investment initiatives and cause-related marketing programs receiving significant recognition that included the presentation of awards for excellence in community relations: two International Association of Business Communicators’ Gold Quills, Playback Strategy National Cause-related Marketing Award, IABC Toronto Award of Excellence, The Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse Distinguished Service Award, National Fire Protection Association’s Partners in Public Education Award, The Hamilton-Wentworth Police Services Board Award of Merit, Ontario Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Award, International Society of Fire Protection Engineers Person of the Year, and Ontario Safety League Community Relations Award.
Now I appreciate the memories defining that time and the people who shaped them. Today the Canadian Tire supported Jumpstart® program is a long way from the early days of bike rodeos. Jumpstart® benefits from a level of endorsement and infrastructure that was unimaginable in 1990. But when I see a Jumpstart® logo on the exterior of a Canadian Tire store, I also have a personal appreciation for what it took to get it there. (Note to H. Campbell – that’s something I will share with my grandchildren).
Author’s Note: The statements, opinions, viewpoints made or expressed by the writer do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of Canadian Tire Corporation, its Associate Dealers or affiliates.
About the Author: Jennifer Garland is the Owner/Program Director of The Mane Intent, offering Health and Wellness Workshops and Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching. Jennifer’s intent is to bring horses, donkeys and humans together to explore new possibilities, getting you out of your comfort zone and giving clarity of voice to your leader within.
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