When we visited Ukraine our guide Victor Penner helped me find the gravestone of my great-great–grandfather Daniel Paul Peters in a Mennonite cemetery in Nikolaipol.
In this photo, you can see Daniel (1844-1905) with his wife Agenetha Friesen (1848-1919)and three of their thirteen children. The boy to his father’s right is my great grandfather Paul Daniel Peters.
My great-greatgrandfather’s tombstone says he rests in God and was born August 31, 1844, and died on September 17, 1905.Then at the top of the tombstone is an anchor, something I saw on many Mennonite gravestones in Ukraine.
I always buy a pair of earrings or a necklace as a souvenir when I travel, and to remember my trip to Ukraine, I chose a pair of anchor earrings because they reminded me of the anchor on my great-great grandfather’s gravestone.
I wasn’t sure however why the anchor symbol was chosen but I found out yesterday when John Longhurst wrote an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about a Mennonite memorial that has just been built in Zaporizhzhia Ukraine.
The new memorial contains fifteen Mennonite gravestones and many of them also have an anchor on them.
And right in the very centre of the memorial is a large anchor. Werner Toews, who spearheaded the memorial project, suggests in the Winnipeg Free Press article that the anchor on gravestones symbolizes the idea that your life has been anchored in your religious faith.
So now I know why there was an anchor on my great great grandfather’s tombstone and what it meant.
As many of you know I have made friends with four trees in my neighbourhood and I am learning more about each one and recording how the trees grow and change over time. In this post, I thought I’d tell you something about an object near each of my trees.
My lilac trees are located on either side of a piece of colourful psychedelic art called Grain is King by Jordan Van Sewell.
Sheaves of grain are cut into the artwork’s body and the plaque on the sculpture’s base says, “Grain has built this town and has driven the economy of Winnipeg for many years.”
There is a plaque right beside my cottonwood tree that is actually an explanation for a statue just across the street from the tree.
The plaque near my cottonwood explains that the statue called The Exiles is of a family leaving Scotland to immigrate to Winnipeg in the late 1700s. The statue was created by Gerald Laing. Most of these new Winnipeg settlers had been chased out of their homes in Scotland and had their houses burned by rich landowners who wanted their land for their animals to graze on. A man named Lord Selkirk arranged for these homeless folks to have passage to Canada hence their name.
My aspen tree is in a little grove right in front of a building.
The building is home to National Bank Financial a company founded in 1902 that employs some 800 financial advisors across the country.
My crabapple tree isin the woonerf on John Hirsch Way. Woonerf, is a Dutch word for a living street. A woonerf is an urban design that changes streets from being car prioritized to being shared spaces for all kinds of transportation including pedestrians.
I’ll do another post in ten days or so. I wonder what new things I will observe about my trees then.
Last night was the book launch for my novel Lost on the Prairie. When I first realized the pandemic was going to mean that I wouldn’t be able to have a launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers the way I’d always dreamed, I was disappointed, but last night I understood the silver lining was having so many people at my launch who never could have attended otherwise.
There were friends and family and former students and colleagues of mine from Victoria and Saskatoon and Toronto and Chicago and so many other places. There was even someone from Cornerbrook Newfoundlandwhosigned in for the launch. I belong to a professional organization called CANSCAIP (The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) and was so pleased with how many members from across the country had joined the launch. Thank you to CANSCAIP for all the publicity you did for my launch.
John Toews from McNally Robinson Booksellers began the evening with a treaty acknowledgement and told everyone about all the different ways they could order or buy Lost on the Prairie from their store. John along with my marketing manager from Heritage House Monica Miller organized the whole evening and I was so appreciative of the way they handled all the technical and logistic aspects so I didn’t have to worry about them at all. John introduced Harriet Zaidman who was hosting my launch.
Harriet did such a great job of introducing me, interviewing me, and fielding questions from viewers. Harriet had supplied me with her great questions ahead of time. I loved the way they made me think about my book in new ways.
I read a short section from the book where Peter almost drowns and then I showed a few photos of me with my grandfather Peter Schmidt whose immigration journey to Canada provided inspiration for my book, some photosof my grandparents together and then a photo of my Great Aunt Alma whose note in her memoir about my grandfather’s lost train car set me off writing this book in the first place.
After I’d answered some interesting questions from viewers we did a round of thank- yous and the launch was over.
My sister had dropped off a bottle of champagne earlier so Dave popped the cork while I tried to respond to all the texts and e-mails and social media messages from people who had tuned in for the launch. It was so great to hear from everyone and at one point when I had read a particularly moving message from Tara, one of my former students, followed by another one from my niece Hannah, I just started to cry because I realized how incredibly blessed I was to have such a ‘village’ of people who cared about me and my book.
I found it hard to concentrate all day leading up to the launch, so I cleaned my stove which I hadn’t done for months and months and that was a big hard job that required lots of elbow grease and left little room for anxious thoughts.
This morning at 8:30 I have a dental appointment to start working on a crown I need, and then I will go and visit my Dad in his personal care home, and in the evening my writers’ group meets online. So life will be back to normal.
I am really looking forward to the next phase of spreading the word about my book. I have already received expressions of interest from seniors homes, schools, libraries, museums and book clubs to come and have conversations and do presentations about the book. I will thoroughly enjoy that and just hope that pandemic restrictions will lift enough so I can do those kinds of visits in person.
One thing that I am hearing from people who were at the launch that makes me very happy is how Lost on the Prairie is becoming an intergenerational book and not just one for kids. Two people responding to my launch told me they were reading the book aloud to their parents who are in nursing homes. Many grandparents told me how they were reading the book to their grandchildren and parents told me how they were enjoying the book just as much as their children. I absolutely LOVE that.
I saw this graph on social media yesterday. It was from an Abacus Data survey and illustrated Canadians’ knowledge about residential schools.
The fact that only 34% of Canadians were fairly familiar with the residential school system seemed very low to me. Before the pandemic, I worked in Winnipeg schools as a supervisor for university education students and I had a second job as a guide at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I found the children I encountered in both these situations to be fairly knowledgeable about residential schools.
Teachers I observedwere talking about this tragic but important part of Canadian history, reading books about it and planning lessons and assignments related to it.
We have many works at the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Indigenous artists. If I would mention to a group of students I was taking on a tour that an artist like Norval Morrisseau for example, had been sent to residential school, most students had an understanding of why that experience was a negative one for him.
If I showed them Kent Monkman’s compelling painting The Scream most recognized without me telling them, that it was depicting the way Indigenous children were rounded up to go to residential school.
From my personal experience with young people ages 8-18 here in Manitoba, I would have said at least 75% of them are fairly familiar with what residential schools were all about.
I would venture to guess that the vast majority of educators in the province have been to professional development sessions to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation document and its implications for education. More and more resources are being put in place all the time to help teachers talk to their students about residential schools.
I decided to explore the graph above further and sure enough, all the respondents had been 18 years of age or over.
“They should have asked the kids”, I thought. I think the results would have been different if they had.
I realize we have a long way to go before Canadians are as educated as they need to be about what happened at residential schools, but I think the younger generation of Canadians give us hope that we are headed in the right direction.
Recently I was walking by Laura Secord School where I attended kindergarten in 1958-1959 and I saw a sign erected in honour of Lillian Beynon Thomas. I had never heard of Lillian. I was curious. Who was she?
I discovered Lillian was one of Winnipeg’s first newspaperwomen and the page she was responsible for in the Winnipeg Free Press at the turn of the century was called Home Loving Hearts. Many of her readers were prairie farmwives who wrote to her about their lonely and often isolated lives. Some of them had been abused or abandoned by their husbands and many had no right to inherit their family homesteads if their husbands died. Lillian started advocating for them in the paper interspersing her opinions among the recipes, homemaking hints and fashion tips she featured on her page.
Lillian Beynon was a school teacher in Morden Manitoba in 1906 when John Dafoe the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press travelled through town. Lillian boldly asked him for a job. He gave her one writing a woman’s page for the paper.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Lilly Kate’ by her family, Lillian Beynon was born in 1874 in the city of Mississauga Ontario. When she was five years old she developed tuberculosis and it left her with a damaged hip which would make walking difficult for her for the rest of her life. Ten years later her family moved from Mississauga to a farm near Hartney, Manitoba.
Lillian went to Toronto to finish high school because with her weak hip she couldn’t have walked to the school in Hartney. She came back to Manitoba when her family settled in Winnipeg and Lillian became one of the first women to get a BA from the University of Manitoba.
In 1911 Lillian married Alfred Thomas who also wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press. He encouraged Lillian to become a part of the Manitoba Political Equality League in 1912 as they fought to get women the right to vote in Manitoba through a variety of tactics including a satirical play called A Women’s Parliament which was staged at theWalker Theatre in 1914. It was Lillian’s idea to stage the play and she had a role in the drama which helped achieve voting rights for Manitoba women in 1916.
Friendly and with a warm personality Lillian also started a literary club in Winnipeg and was an active member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club. When World War I broke out her husband Alfred was fired from the Winnipeg Free Press because he refused to support the conscription effort. The two of them moved to New York where Lillian did charity work and took writing courses.
Alfred got a job at the Winnipeg Tribune in 1922 so they moved back to Winnipeg and Lillian kept on writing this time successful plays and novels. She won a short story prize sponsored by Macleans Magazine for a piece she wrote called Five Cents for Luck. In 1961 when she died at age 86 she was trying her hand at writing episodes for television dramas.
I was happy I had made the effort to get to know Lillian Beynon Thomas. I was inspired by how she overcame the physical challenges she faced from the time she was a child to become a pioneer as a newspaperwoman and a suffragette and then as an author and playwright. She was always ready to try new things. What a legacy!
I’m glad Lillian Beynon Thomas is recognized on the grounds of the very first school I attended. I can only dream of leaving the kind of legacy she did!
Dave and I just finished watching the five-episode television series Bear Town based on a novel of the same name by Fredrik Backman. We had both read the book a few years ago and it was excellent. We were glad we had read the novel before seeing the series.
Just a warning that at the heart of the story is a very graphically portrayed and troubling event. It was hard to read about in the book and is even harder to watch in the television series. But for anyone who has been involved in the world of hockey either as a player, a coach, a fan or a parent the story and message in Bear Town is an important one to consider.
The book and series illustrate that hockey can be a great experience for kids. Hockey teams can help community pride flourish. Hockey can bring people together.
Playing hockey can also be an awful experience for kids. It can batter civic pride. It can divide people. Bear Town looks at both the negative and positive sides of hockey.
The story is set in Sweden but could happen in any place where people love the game of hockey. One thing I appreciated about seeing Bear Town compared to just reading the book is how the deep cold, wintry landscape of Sweden so hauntingly and artistically filmed for the series adds ambience to the chilling truths that unfold in the story.
Both our sons played hockey for a time and there were many good things about that experience for them. They learned responsibility, organization and teamwork, quick thinking and the importance of physical conditioning. They had some coaches who were excellent role models.
They also had coaches who were not good role models and we had to navigate some crazy hockey politics. There were attitudes and behaviours accepted in the dressing room that definitely were not in keeping with our family values. Hockey was expensive and time-consuming so if you weren’t careful it could become an almost obsessive focus of your family’s lifein winter that didn’t leave much room for other important things.
In Bear Town hockey gives an immigrant kid a place to belong, helps a boy without a Dad find a father figure, gives meaning and purpose to the life of an old man, provides camaraderie for a hockey phenom whose parents don’t have time for him, and inspires hope in a dying community.
But also in Bear Town hockey creates a culture that entitles young men to think they can treat others violently. Hockey inspires vandalism and blackmail and fosters a locker room mentality that isn’t respectful of diversity. Hockey tears families apart and makes people feel hopeless.
Bear Town is suspenseful. It tells a story that will engage you but may trouble you deeply as well. If hockey has ever played a role in your life Bear Town will make you think about that experience in new ways.
Check out these photos of me with different folks and see if you notice what is the same about my attire in all of them.
Did you notice how I always wear a T-shirt and some sort of sweater? How I always have a necklace on and a pair of earrings?
I hadn’t really recognized this monotony in my fashion style till a well-meaning person pointed it out and suggested I might want to try mixing up my ‘look’ a little bit. And that got me thinking about how in the world I’d become so stuck in my fashion ways.
I think I can blame it all on the six years we lived in Hong Kong. The weather there for much of the year was very hot and humid. So you always need a short-sleeved shirt to wear. But…………the air conditioning in stores and schools and on public transportation was always cranked up to the hilt so having a sweater with you was a must. When I was living in Hong Kong it was simplest just to have a bunch of T-shirts in my drawer and a bunch of sweaters in my closet.
It was also while we lived in HongKong that I started wearing necklaces and earrings all the time. We travelled A LOT during the six years we were overseas and on the first few trips I bought all kinds of souvenirs. I soon realized however that you only have so much room to display and keep mementoes from holidays and our Hong Kong apartment was tiny. So…..I started buying necklaces or earrings at every destination we visited because jewellery took up hardly any room. My jewellery collection which had always been small suddenly grew exponentially and I decided I needed to start wearing all those necklaces and earrings.
Even though we moved back to Canada a decade ago my fashion style hasn’t changed much. I know I should maybe try a different ‘look’ but this one is comfortable for me and makes shopping trips quick and easyand getting dressed in the morning a breeze.
My word for the year is acceptance so I think I’ll just accept that this is the best style for me.
Why would a 50-year-old Canadian artist with a successful career and many lucrative portrait commissions go to Europe and spend six years creating paintings of abandoned World War I battlefields?
That is exactly what Mary Riter Hamilton did.
Mary was born in Ontario but moved to Clearwater Manitoba as a teenager and found herself an apprenticeship in a millinery shop. When the millinery owner moved to Port Arthur Ontario Mary went with her and it was there she met Charles Hamilton who owned a successful dry goods business. They married in 1889 but four years later Charles was dead and Mary, his heir was suddenly a wealthy woman.
She moved to Winnipeg, opened an art studio and gave lessons teaching women how to paint china. Later she studied art in Europe where her work was displayed in the Paris Salon, quite a feat for a woman.
In 1906 Mary returned from Europe briefly for a Winnipeg exhibition. Journalists used Mary’s work as an example of how the arts might enrich citizens’ lives and exhorted readers to consider opening a city art gallery.
Mary mounted another Winnipeg exhibit in 1912 and in press interviews insisted it was high time Winnipeg had an art gallery. In December of 1912, the Winnipeg Art Gallery opened. Many think Mary deserves some of the credit for that happening.
Mary moved to Victoria, British Columbia. She did very well in the next eight years, teaching, exhibiting, making connections with influential people, and garnering lucrative financial remuneration for painting portraits. She was awarded impressive commissions.
Then in 1919 at age 50, Mary decided to go back to Europe this time to paint abandoned World War I battlefields. She lived in deplorable conditions as she painted the scarred and decimated landscapes of Belgium and France which the armies had left behind. She had no official status or income which was only granted to male artists.
She lived in a tin hut and painted outside in all kinds of weather, surrounded by unexploded artillery shells and collapsing trenches. She even survived an attack by bounty hunters. She grew gravely ill and often went hungry but she persevered. Mary would create some 350 artworks in Belgium and France during the next six years.
Mary returned to Canada in 1925 and faced many obstacles trying to get her war paintings exhibited. In 1926 she donated them all to the Canadian Archives. The last twenty- five years of Mary’s life were marked by lost friendships, time spent in and out of psychiatric hospitals and financial instability. She died in Vancouver in 1954.
What drove Mary to leave her safe comfortable life and thriving career to do war paintings and endure the hardships of post-war battlegrounds? I have read many different biographies of Mary and no one really seems to be able to say for sure. When asked, she said it was her duty and honour to commemorate the places where her brave countrymen had fought.
Dave and I were enjoying some ice cream at Sargent Sundae last night when my phone dinged. John Toews the events coordinator for McNally Robinson Booksellers had sent an e-mail with the bestseller list that would appear on Saturday in the Winnipeg Free Press.
My novel Lost on the Prairie has been in the number two or three spot on the list for the last month and the fact that he was sending me a notice meant my book was still on the list. I was happy about that but………..I could not believe it when I opened the attachment John had sent. For the first time Lost on the Prairie was number one on the bestseller list of books for kids.
Lost on the Prairie was a project I worked on for six years and to see its story resonating now with so many people is incredibly rewarding. I received an e-mail this week from a grandmother who had read the book and then bought copies for all of her grandchildren. So many grandparents have contacted me to say they have either bought the book for their grandchildren or are reading the book together with them. Grandparents were certainly not my target market for the novel, but I think their enthusiasm for Lost on the Prairie is what’s motivating many children to read it and enjoy it.
Two grandparents who are well-established Canadian authors have written endorsements for the book and I am so grateful.
Lost on the Prairie had my attention from the first line to the last. I loved the plot, the characters, the quick pace, the details incorporated that made the time period come alive, the rich language and clever phrases that often made me chuckle… In short, I loved everything about the book. Kids and teachers are going to love it, too. and I hope the book has a long and happy life on the bestseller list where it surely belongs.
–Larry Verstraete’s seventeen books for children have garnered many awards. His latest novel Coop the Great was a 2020 honour book for the Young People’s Choice Award in Manitoba and will soon be available in Germany with Merlin Verlag Publishers.
Lost on the Prairie is a terrific read and full of great adventures. The author really lets you get inside the hero Peter’s head. I was holding my breath in so many places in the book including when Peter almost missed the train in Winnipeg. I really admired the research that was done to make the story authentic. I loved that Mark Twain is in the book as a real person. I also liked the combination of fiction and real-life and the family photos that were included. I look forward to the author’s next book.
–Beryl Young is the award-winning author of novels, picture books and biographies for children. Her latest book Show Us Where You Live Humpback was just released in May 2021 by Greystone Kids.
I am loving the fact that so many people are sending me photos of the book in different places and spaces. Randy read my book on a canoe trip.
Pam used battery-powered LED lights to finish reading the book when the power went off in Steinbach last weekend.
Perry read the book in his garden in Halifax.
I mentioned in my last post that my brother Ken was buying copies of Lost on the Prairie in Victoria and putting them into Little Free Libraries there. Now he has hired a book elf in Winnipeg to do the same thing.
My friend Debbie sent a photo of the book on the shelves at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach. I am so happy that copies of the novel are now for sale in my hometown.
Erin Unger was kind enough to do one of her famous author interview sessions with me on her blog mennotoba.
Nicolien Klassen- Wiebe did a lovely piece on Lost on thePrairie inThe Canadian Mennonite.
John Longhurst from the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed me and his article about my book should be in the paper before my upcoming launch.
On WednesdayI was excited to share news about my book with nearly a hundred other children’s artists and illustrators at the June meeting of CANSCAIP a professional organization for Canadian children’s authors which I have belonged to for many years. I was thrilled when Kathy Stinson a well-known children’s author put a comment in the chat that my book sounded like a good one.
Of course,with pandemic restrictions in effect, I can’t take a photo of my book on the shelves at the Winnipeg Public Library but I did note their copies of the book have 13 holds on them so that’s encouraging.
This afternoon I will be doing a dress rehearsal for the official launch of my book online with McNally Robinson Booksellers which will be happening on Wednesday June 16th at 7 pm. I hope to see you there. You can join the event through the link on the McNally Robinson website.
I will do another post about my book in about ten days. If you want to keep up with my latest book news till then you can check out my author website maryloudriedger.com.
You can read all my posts about Lost on the Prairie here.
Many people on social media are expressing their outrage over a Winnipeg Sun article written by Brian Giesbrecht, a retired Canadian judge. In his opinion piece on June 4th, he says we need to put the issue of residential schools to rest. He claims the topic has been exhaustively explored and the large number of children who died in residential schools only represents the era in which those deaths happened, a time in history when a lack of medical knowledge and medical services in Canada meant young children everywhere died in large numbers.
To make his point Giesbrecht comparesIndigenous children sent to residential schools to the home children taken from their impoverished parents in England and sent to Canada between 1869 and 1922 to work as free farm labourers.
Giesbrecht claims the home children’s fate was similar to that of residential school students.Many of the home children’s stories are indeed tragic but there are three big differences between the two groups that Giesbrecht conveniently neglects to mention.
We have a documented paper record of what happened to the home children. Library and Archives Canada, state they hold unique, detailed and extensive files about them. This is not the case for the Indigenous children sent to residential schools since according to a CTV News report the Catholic Church has refused to release records related to residential schools and the Canadian government has destroyed 15 tons of paper documents related to the residential school system between 1936 and 1944, including 200,000 Indian Affairs files.
2.For the most part, home children were sent to live in situations where they were allowed to speak their own language. They lived with families who shared their Christian faith and practised many of the cultural and social mores that were familiar to them. Indigenous children on the other hand were forbidden to speak their birth languages, were forced to practice a foreign religion and heard their traditional spirituality severely criticized. They were punished for engaging in the cultural practices of their families.
3. Home children were sent to farms where most did not experience the crowded unsanitary living conditions that caused so many deaths in residential schools. In the early 1900s, Dr Peter Bryce repeatedly warned the Department of Indian Affairs that tuberculosis was running rampant in residential schools. After visiting dozens of schools in the Western provinces he wrote about the lack of ventilation, poor health practices, fire-prone buildings and unsanitary conditions that he said was creating an alarming mortality rate among Indigenous children attending the schools at that time. Nothing was done to correct these conditions.
According to an article published by the BBC as late as 1945, the death rate for children at residential schools was nearly five times higher than that of other Canadian schoolchildren. In the 1960s, the rate was still double that of the general student population.
The story of the home children sent from Britain to Canada has tragic aspects we need to acknowledge and learn more about, but Mr Giesbrecht is being decidedly unfair when he compares what happened to them to what happened to Indigenous children sent to residential schools.