Day 350 - Matthew

Day 350 - Matthew (2nd person I approached)

December 16, 2014 - Yesterday’s chat with Sid had me chilling, literally as we sat on the cold metal of an outdoor bench. Today, I was able to take bit more comfort from my experience of yesterday. 


I saw Matthew sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a tree. He had a medium sized duffle bag, two notebooks and a hat on the ground in front of him. I crouched down to talk to him about my project. I told him that I didn’t have any money to give, and wondered if he’d be willing to chat with me. He said the cash didn’t matter and that he’d be happy to chat. Matthew was sitting on a plastic bag. I went to sit on the cold concrete sidewalk to chat with Matthew, but this time, I sat on my leather gloves. Necessity IS the mother of invention; the ground was wet, and I didn’t want to be.


Matthew was born in Pembroke, Ontario. He has two younger half brothers, and a younger half sister. 

“Both of my parents got remarried and had other kids. They were all a part of my life. Over the years, I definitely babysat, and helped look after them. When my parents separated, I stayed with my mother. We moved almost every year,” he said. 

“I went to live with my father when I was six years old. It was difficult for my mother being a single parent. I knew then and I know now, that it was tough for her to make that decision. I cried and didn’t want to go. My father lived in Alberta, and was in the military. It was a completely different environment. He was the stricter of the two,” Matthew said 

“My father had remarried and had two more kids. We moved around a bit, but settled in Calgary, (Alberta),” he said. 


“I was very quiet kid. I went to a Roman Catholic high-school, where they tried to indoctrinate me with religion. All that did was send me in the other direction. It pushed me more toward the darkness. I had been a spiritual kind of person, but that shut down for the most part. I had lots of friends and did okay in school, but I was mostly a quiet kid. I had my own ideas about things,” he said. 

“I graduated from high-school. My father helped me to understand the importance of education. I knew that I might not use everything I learned in school, later in life. It was important to my father that I graduate, and through him, it became important to me as well. I worked really hard to make sure I would graduate,” he said.


Matthew started working when he was fourteen years old. 

“I had a part-time job in a pizza place. I was building pies, answering the phone, dealing with cash, and serving customers. It was a good way to learn. After graduation, I worked in a few kitchens and got promoted in every one that I worked in. That allowed me to move on to other restaurants,” he said.


A woman approached us as we chatted. She had her wallet in her hand. She smiled and apologized for interrupting our conversation. 

“I don’t know if your hat is out there for collecting or if the hat is just there, but I wanted to give you some change,” she said. 

“Is that okay?” Matthew smiled and said thank you. The lady bent down and placed some money in his hat. Matthew said thank you again. 

“Have a nice day,” she said, and walked away. We both smiled at her, and then at each other.


“In 2011, the Occupy movement came into being. I read about it in Adbusters Magazine. I was becoming interested in activism. I got involved in the Calgary Occupy camp. I went to the camp practically everyday. I had an apartment, but I slept there at the camp most nights,” he told me. Matthew spent most of his time either working or at the Occupy camp. 

“I met some incredible people, and learned a lot about others, and about myself.” He started to rediscover his own spirituality. 

“There were some amazing people involved in Occupy. The connection, the unity and the spirit of oneness in the people that were there, inspired me. It reignited me,” he said. 

“My boss was starting to get upset with me, though. He felt I was spending too much time with other interests and Occupy.” 


The Calgary Occupy camp was in full effect until mid December of 2011. Matthew, along with a few of his friends that he met during the three-month-long protest, planned to join another group. There was a plan to re-create the ‘On to Ottawa Trek’ of the 1930’s. (*Fact Check - see links below.) 

“People from all across Canada were going to join in a walk to Ottawa as a way of protest. The first group left from Victoria (British Columbia, Canada). I sold almost everything I owned, and met up with them in Osoyoos (BC). We would pick up people as we went along, and some would drop out as well. Some preferred to hitch-hike and would meet us in the next town. The idea was to walk there. We spent about three months on the road getting to Ottawa. We’d sleep in tents, or in forests. We’d be given food and meals sometimes, other times we’d panhandle for funds,” he told me. Matthew stayed in Ottawa for about a month. 


“My hometown of Pembroke wasn’t that far away, so I went back to see friends and family. I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle. It was good to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen in almost ten years. When it was time for me to head back to Calgary, my Grandfather bought me a bus ticket. My aunt made me some food for the bus ride, and they came to see me off,” he said. His family all supported what Matthew was doing, for himself. 

“My father understood and was proud of me, for standing up for what I believe in. Even though we have different approaches. It was like the military, all together, but without the violence.”


The next winter he spent in Edmonton, with his mother and sister. 

“My mother was dealing with some family difficulties. I worked part-time that winter in a restaurant kitchen. It was good to be able to be there for my mother, to give her support through that time,” Matthew said.


As we sat on the sidewalk, at the edge of the busy street, a group of five teenagers, maybe seventeen or there about, were walking toward us. One of them stopped, some twenty feet away. He lifted a camera that was around his neck, and took a picture of Matthew and I sitting on the sidewalk. I watched as he continued walking towards us, and then, as he walked by. He made no eye contact and looked right past Matthew and me. My experience was that somehow, we were worthy of taking a picture, but not worthy of acknowledging.


We continued chatting. The following spring, Matthew made his way to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. 

“I reconnected with a few of the people I had met through Occupy. I travelled between Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island (one of the Gulf Islands located between mainland BC and Vancouver Island). I built a shelter in the forest, and I also did some Wwoofing on Salt Spring,” he said. (**Fact Check - see links below). 

"It was easier to sleep in the forest than on the street in Victoria. I got harassed a lot by the police. They were always moving me along. They’d say you can’t sleep here, and then they’d watch were I went to next and follow me, only to move me along from there. Some nights they’d stand nearby just to see if I fell asleep, to then wake me up and tell me I wasn’t allowed to sleep on the street. I was never any trouble and didn’t bother other people,” he said, slightly exasperated.


Matthew has been in Vancouver now for two weeks. 

“It’s my first time being in the city. I’ve got some friends here, and I hooked-up with them. I’ve found a place that’s under some shelter to sleep at, it’s protected from the rain. I’m just glad that it’s not minus thirty outside, like it can be in Edmonton,” he said, smiling. We talked about Matthew’s decision to not work. 

“I could get a job anytime I wanted. With ten years working in kitchens, it would be easy. But I don’t want to work for someone else. I don’t want to make someone rich. The life I’m living right now, is the life I choose to live. I don’t need material possessions. It can be rough. Some days, I don’t have a single human being speak to me,” he said. I truly understood that Matthew is living by his own convictions. 


I thanked Matthew for sharing his story with me, and took his picture. As I gathered my gloves and my bag, Matthew asked me why I was doing what I’m doing. I told him it was about connection for me. I explained a little bit about my motivation, and my interest in other people’s stories, and how I had learned that everyone wants to be heard. 

“It’s funny,” he said. 

“I was sitting here before you came over to talk, and I was wondering if anyone would speak to me, or even look at me today. Or if I’d be completely ignored all day long. You made my day, thank you for sitting down with me and talking. It’s helped me to be focussed on what it is that I’m doing. Thank you very much, brother.” #notastranger

*Fact Check -

**Fact Check -