Canadians are known worldwide for their unwavering generosity and kindness.
The Huron Carole , founded by actor and musician Tom Jackson in 1987, exemplifies that generosity and the desire to help others.
With food-bank usage on the rise nationally, The Huron Carole ‘s mission is to help ensure that area food banks have the necessary resources to assist those who come looking for help.
This year’s edition of The Huron Carole features Jackson performing a mix of holiday music and stories alongside fellow Canadian musicians Sarah Slean and Susan Aglukark.
‘It is estimated that 900,000 people use food banks each month,’ Jackson tells The Times & Transcript. ‘Hunger is a silent disease; the fact that your neighbour doesn’t have food is not something they would be likely to share with you. You just never know where life will take you.’
The seeds for what would become The Huron Carole were planted by an incident that Tom experienced while he was living in Toronto.
‘I was around 38 years old, living on the streets of Toronto,’ Tom says ‘I was basically living in a crawl space at the time, but one night, I ended up coming across a guy who was worse off than me. It was 2:00 a.m. and he was just lying on the sidewalk. His eyes were open so I approached him and asked if he was OK. He was looking back at me but couldn’t respond so I went to a bar on the corner and had the staff call emergency services for him. I spent the next few days thinking about that. It really scared the wits out of me. All I could think about was what if that was me? What if I was the one lying on the sidewalk with people walking by and no one doing anything to help me? It was singlehandedly one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I then realized that wasn’t a homeless guy I encountered on the street that night – it was an angel. My life was forever changed by that moment.’
Determined to help his fellow man, Tom set about volunteering his time at Toronto-area soup kitchens and food banks. Much to his surprise and his chagrin, he discovered that food banks had encountered numerous shortages the year before. He then enlisted some friends to perfor m a benefit show to help raise money for the food banks. By his own admission, the first benefit show he organized didn’t raise much money, but perhaps more importantly, raised awareness of the issue.
Understandably, The Huron Carole became a regional, annual event in Western Canada before it had expanded to the national event that it is now. This year’s Huron Carole boasts perhaps the most extensive number of shows undertaken in its 25-year history with a total of 23 shows from coast to coast.
Citing Jackson as not only an influence but also a role model, Susan Aglukark says her involvement in The Huron Carole is pretty much a no-brainer. Acknowledging the dire situation of many food banks across the country, Susan says that the food shortage is often even worse in aboriginal communities. ‘Many aboriginal and northern communities are often in food crisis,’ she says. ‘The cost of living in most of these communities is such that their reality often centres around whether they are having one or two meals on any given day. Do they choose to pay rent or have an extra three meals? These are the kinds of decisions that people have to make all too frequently.’
Toronto’s Sarah Slean cites Jackson’s spirit of generosity and community as her reasons for having signed on to be a part of The Huron Carole .
‘I believe that for so many reasons, Tom has come to exemplify what it is to be a Canadian,’ Sarah says. ‘He has been successful in his career and now wants to be sure that he is giving back. It is refreshing to be a part of The Huron Carole as opposed to doing a series of shows on my own. There is something incredibly fun and really simple about singing Christmas carols, sharing this music and the experience with others.’
Acknowledging that there is a sense of pride that goes into The Huron Carole , Tom says that organizing the shows is more a labour of love at this point in his career.
He says that The Huron Carole has become the successful event it is thanks to the support that they receive from the general public.
‘The work that we must do can only be done if we have partners,’ Tom says. ‘It is not something that we can do alone. Pulling off a tour of this scale would be very difficult if we didn’t have people supporting the cause.
‘Last year, we conducted an event like The Huron Carole on a Friday night and the following Sunday, I received an email from a volunteer who said that his granddaughter asked him what a food bank was after he had told her he was in attendance at the show. After he explained to her what it is that a food bank does, she came up with the idea to sell hot chocolate and brownies to people attending their city’s Santa Claus parade the following weekend and donate the money to their local food bank.
‘It is hearing stories like his that really lights my fire these days. Passing the torch on to a new generation of people and to see the effect that the show has on them and the ideas they come up with to lend a hand is very inspirational to me.’
Article published in the November 19, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript