Barenaked Ladies’ frontman Ed Robertson to the next generation: it’s all about community.

By Sarah Fox
Photography By Gilda Furgiuele

 

Songs from the Barenaked Ladies are strung throughout the childhood memories of many Canadians. There were sing-alongs on the school bus, the radio buzzing over house chatter and, if you were lucky enough, the night when you and a crowd of fans swayed to their music in a large outdoor venue.

Fast forward 21 years, after “If I Had a Million Dollars” first made radio waves, and it’s clear that the band’s founding member Ed Robertson doesn’t measure his success strictly through the charts, but through his ability to influence the next generation—as a musician, community member and father of three.

Born in Scarborough, Ontario, Ed is a lifelong Toronto resident, who gives back on a local and national level. At the core of his work are youth and a dedication to empowering them through organizations like Camp Oochigeas—a free summer camp for kids fighting cancer—and WE, as WE Day Family-goers know.

A firm believer in giving credit where credits due, Ed wants to see a spotlight on young Canadians—the individuals he praises for putting in the passion and legwork to build a stronger country. “I think it’s hogwash that we’re raising an entitled generation,” he says. “I’m seeing kids understand the impact of their compassion and commitment. I’m seeing kids help communities all over the world.”

Ed’s credence in the potential of the next generation is cemented by his daughter’s volunteer work. During the week—on top of finishing her last year of university—she assists a community member with unique challenges through Best Buddies (a student volunteer program established to help individuals with intellectual disabilities). On the weekends, she travels to a local reservation to tutor kids in math.

Aside from his paternal pride, Ed’s optimism is sustained by acts of kindness he sees all around him. Over the years—from the loyalty of his fans to the generosity of his friends and the compassion of strangers—he has witnessed the transformative power of being lifted up in times of need. He recalls the comfort a friend provided after a motorcycle accident, Ed says, “I was so grateful for that simple act of compassion and friendship.”

With a deep appreciation for the good small acts of compassion generate, Ed strives to pay it forward. Camp Oochigeas (more adoringly referred to as Camp Ooch) is a large part of that effort. To support children and their families battling cancer, Ed utilized his musical talents to lift spirits. The result was a specially tailored track for the camp that became the theme song of a fundraising campaign to aid expansion.

Using music is Ed’s outlet—professionally, personally and philanthropically. “I’m lucky that it’s easy for me to help, and I’m lucky that I get to help often,” he notes. “I show up and lend my talent—play a few songs and help raise money for various charities.”

The lesson he hopes others will take from his community work is simple: “everybody is capable of helping.”

Read on to learn why Ed believes embracing multiculturalism and practicing compassion is the key to Canada’s bright future.

Quote. We need to find the compassion and the commitment to heal. We need the compassion to see anybody's problem as everybody's problem. Unquote.

 

Q&A

Why is “we” stronger than “me?”

“We” is more than the people you can see around you, your family or even your friends—it’s about your community. It’s about how your community can have an effect on another community. In that way, “we” keeps expanding until it means everyone.

 

What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about the gesture touched you personally?

When I crashed my plane [nine] years ago, I was presented with a beautiful letter and talisman from a First Nations Elder who was a friend of a friend. He wrote me a note about the strength of my spirit and the good work I do to heal the world. He included a braided stalk of sagebrush for me to burn and a single eagle feather wrapped in a beautiful beaded leather pouch—he hoped it would help me find the courage to fly again. It was a remarkable act of support and kindness from a stranger to me. It helped me immensely; I realized I could go on.

 

Fill in the blank: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs more [blank] in order to build a caring and compassionate Canada.

Compassion.

We have major problems in First Nations communities, we have an influx of needy refugees, we have people struggling with mental illness and the list goes on and on. We need to find the compassion and the commitment to heal. We need the compassion to see anybody’s problems as everybody’s problems.

 

Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.

My ideal Canada has an understanding of itself as a nation of immigrants. It has a connection to the land and to the people, who were already here for nearly 10,000 years before we arrived. It has an ambition for intellectual progress. It has an understanding of the connectedness of the planet. My ideal Canada is Chris Hadfield, David Suzuki, Dudley Do-Right, Bonhomme de neige, Tanya Tagaq, and A Tribe Called Red—all rolled in to one Canadian superhero!

 

What small action have you taken in present day to help secure a brighter future for our country tomorrow?

I try to do as much charity work as I can, and I donate my time wherever possible. My work with Camp Ooch, Power to Be and WE Day is very important to me.

 

As we work to make Canada a better country, what is one action you would like people to take?

Realize that there are more important things than money. There is a way to have a strong and vital economy, while taking a longer term view. What good is a strong economy if we poison the land and the people that need this thriving economy? Be the change you want to be around you. If you do one thing, inform yourself and vote with compassion. Okay… that’s two things.

 

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