Monthly Archives: October 2011

James Bond is From Winnipeg

Ian Fleming the author of the James Bond novels once said,”James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.” Walking down Memorial Boulevard this week I photographed this statue of William Stephenson and when I got home I did a little research. I was surprised to find that Stephenson was a Winnipeg native, born right here in the Point Douglas area where I live. He taught math and science at the University of Manitoba and before he died  he bequeathed $100,000 to the University of Winnipeg to fund scholarships for outstanding students. Winnipeg has an official fan club for Stephenson called The Intrepid Society. As part of their agenda they’ve successfully lobbied to have a street in Winnipeg named after their hero and a statue of him installed in CIA headquarters in Washington. DC. A public library in Winnipeg also bears his name.  

As this plaque on his sculpture indicates, William’s code name was Intrepid when he worked for British intelligence in New York during World War II. A book about his life titled A Man Called Intrepid was a best seller and later was turned into  a TV mini-series starring David Niven and Barbara Hershey. 

Orphaned as a young child and then adopted, William was fascinated with Morse code as a teenager and was good at boxing.  He served as a pilot during World War I and was shot down and captured by the Germans. He managed to escape after three months and won several medals for bravery. Stephenson went on to study at Oxford University. 

William accomplished many significant and impressive things in the next couple decades. After teaching at the University of Manitoba he moved to Britain where he invented the process for sending photographs over the wire electronically, purchased a radio manufacturing company that made him a millionaire before he was thirty, and then diversified into film, coal and oil refining, the steel industry, television and aircraft production. He helped to found the British Broadcasting Corporation. (BBC)

He obviously wasn’t looking for a job when Winston Churchill asked him to become the head of British security in New York coordinating counter-espionage efforts together with the Americans. He hired hundreds of people to work for him, many of them Canadians and he paid for their salaries out of his own pocket. He set up a school in Whitby Ontario that trained more than 2000 covert operators including Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books. 

The sculpture of William Stephenson on Memorial Boulevard, was created by renowned Winnipeg sculptor Leo Mol and was unveiled by Princess Anne in 1999.

What next? I found a clip from the film version of The Man Called Intrepid on You Tube. I’d like to get a copy of the entire thing and watch it. I had no idea the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond came from Winnipeg.


Filed under Art, Books, Canada, History, People, Winnipeg


housework2According to an article in London’s Telegraph it will 2050 before men and women do equal amounts of housework. Women still do 70% of housework.

 I’m doing my own house cleaning for the first time in thirty years. I’ve always been a full-time teacher and initially, I managed to do that job as well as maintain some semblance of order in my house. However, once my children arrived, I just couldn’t keep up with everything. After one particularly frustrating week when the demands of a toddler, teaching and toilet cleaning had me in tears, my husband Dave volunteered to help out with my routine Saturday clean up of our home.  I ‘d suggested previously we hire a housekeeper but he thought it was too expensive. One Saturday of vacuuming, dusting and scrubbing shower tiles had him singing a different tune. “Let’s hire a housekeeper,” he said.

So we found someone to come in once a week and spend four hours cleaning our home. It was so nice to open the front door after work and find everything looking pristine and orderly. I’d just stand there for a minute inhaling deep whiffs of the fresh, clean smell of our house. I got an extra job writing a weekly newspaper column and that kept me in enough money to pay for my housekeeper. I always said I’d rather spend a couple of hours Saturday morning writing a column, than cleaning my stove or washing floors.

The downside of having someone do your housework is that you get out of practice doing it yourself. My husband Dave and I both retired this year and as we planned for living on a pension, at a substantially reduced income, we discussed ways to economize. I suggested we do our own housework. So for three months now, I’ve been doing my own house cleaning.

The 70% statistic about male/female involvement in housework would hold true for our household. This is not to say that Dave doesn’t do any work for our family. He handles all our finances, does our income tax returns and pays all our bills. He takes care of car maintenance and does all the driving on long-distance trips. He fixes things around the house. He does lots of grocery shopping and his fair share of cooking. He is our travel agent, and in the last six years, that’s been lots of work, because we’ve usually made at least a half a dozen major trips a year. He books flights, car rentals, accommodations and tours. He is our social coordinator, planning most of our movie dates, supper outings, dinner parties and get-togethers with friends. He helps shop for furniture and other household goods and buys presents for our children.  He just doesn’t clean toilets, do laundry or wash floors.

Last Saturday we were expecting guests and so I spent hours scrubbing, dusting, and cleaning glass. I only got through it by playing loud lively music to keep me motivated. Frankly, it wasn’t much fun.

They say by 2050 men will do an equal share of housework. That may help my granddaughters but it’s not going to ease my housecleaning burden. I think I might need to find a part-time job, so I can afford a housekeeper again.  

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Filed under Family, Retirement

Occupy Winnipeg

Yesterday on my walk I went down Memorial Boulevard and saw all these tents set up in the park. I started taking some pictures and realized when I zoomed in for this shot and saw the sign, that the encampment was part of the “Occupy” movement spreading across the world inspired by the Wall Street demonstrations that started on September 17th.

According to an article in the Winnipeg Sun, Trevor Semotok, a spokesperson for the group says they are protesting the growing disparity between the rich and poor in Canada and promoting the idea that “people should come before profits.”  The sign here says “Canada owes $800 billion to private banks.”  Chad Lozinkski another spokesperson for the Winnipeg group gave a less specific motivation for the protest when he was interviewed by the Metro News. He says “our strength is that we have no specific message. We are providing a venue to speak up about any issue. ” This kind of all-encompassing agenda is true of the group who is staging a similar protest in Toronto. A Globe and Mail reporter spotted a variety of signs in the Toronto camp including pleas to protect the environment, provide better services for the disabled, a warning about exploiting aboriginal people and a call to end poverty in Canada. 

The Manitoba protest started on October 15th with 400 people participating in a march that originated at the Manitoba Legislature. According to Metro News there are only about 20 protesters left at the site. I think that is a bit of an under-estimation. I saw more than 20 people there yesterday. The National Post says that the mayors of most Canadian cities are hoping for a peaceful resolution of the protests. They think the cold Canadian winter will eventually drive the protesters inside, although the Winnipeg group has installed a fire pit and an insulated kitchen in hopes they can carry on the protest at least till Christmas.

A 13-year-old girl at the site with her mother told the Winnipeg Sun she is protesting the fact that the wealthy who comprise 1% of the population, control 99% of the country’s wealth. The middle class is rapidly disappearing as the gap between the rich and poor widens. The teenager’s mother said it is a shame that there are people in our country still living in third world conditions. 

 While I was taking photos of the “Occupy Winnipeg” site these workers who were installing windows in a building across the street from the protest  said to me, “Why don’t you take a picture of us? We have jobs. We are working to make our country better. We aren’t slackers like those guys over there.”

The gentlemen made their opinion of the protest perfectly clear. It got me thinking about my own opinions about the occupy movement. Certainly, as a child of the sixties, I know how effective protest can be in changing things. I was a teen in the era of Martin Luther King and the anti-Vietnam War protests. One thing that is different is that those protesters put a lot on the line to defend their issues. People like Gandhi and King went to prison for their anti-establishment ideas.  According to the National Post, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson speaks for most civic leaders, when he says physical force and legal action will not be taken against Canadian protestors. I guess I also have to wonder if this kind of protest is as effective in changing things as taking some kind of concrete action to address the needs of the disenfranchised might be. 

However one cannot dispute the fact that the Occupy movements are drawing attention and inciting lots of discussion.  Last night,  Diane Sawyer did a piece on ABC News about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States .  She talked about the wealthy 1% of the population whose income has grown by 240% in the last few years.

The protests are having the desired effect. People and the media are talking about the economic inequities in North America, and here I am writing a blog post about it. What next? Maybe I need to go down to the Occupy Winnipeg site and engage the protesters in a conversation about what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe I need to think about what concrete things I can do to try to ease the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” in my community. 


Filed under Canada, Media, People, Politics, Reflections, Winnipeg

Dying Well

My mother-in-law, Anne Driedger, died in the palliative care room at the Mennonite Home in Leamington, Ontario. It was such a comfortable, peaceful place for us to walk with Mom through the last 72 hours of her life. Soft music played in the background and big sunny windows let the ‘outside in’. There was a long leather couch with pillows and an afghan.  Both ends of the couch reclined and the room also had an additional reclining chair, so family members could pass the nights in relative ease as they kept vigil. Appropriate reading material had been provided and the staff kept hot tea and coffee, water, juice and pop in constant supply for us. A gathering room right across the hall was the site for family meals and snacks brought in by relatives or delivered from local eating establishments. One night the nursing home staff even made sandwiches for us. We had family photo albums in the room and looked through them, reminiscing about happy times from the past. 

As Mom made her end of life journey, from Tuesday morning to Friday morning, a continuous stream of family and friends filled her room. Her children were there almost all the time, and her grandchildren popped in, on their way to and from work–Hannah in her paramedics uniform, Rachel just finished her shift at the greenhouse, Tim, leaving his accounting office early, so he could stop to pick up his son Bryson from school, and bring him to see Oma before hockey practice, Michael in his city maintenance crew bright orange blazer and hard hat.  Stephanie, Michael’s wife, rocked her baby daughter Chloe to sleep in the room, and Oma’s great-granddaughter Isabella sang Oma nursery rhymes and laid a flower she had picked for her on her pillow. Her great-grandson Nash engaged anyone in the room who was interested, in his own version of the card game Go Fish, complete with rules that guaranteed his victory. One or two of us were almost always holding Mom’s hands, talking to her, or rubbing her feet– because we knew she loved that. Her sons and grandsons discussed the ALCS baseball finals around her bed. The family’s favorite team, the Detroit Tigers, were in the play-offs.  It is exactly what she would have expected from her ‘baseball- crazy’ family. Before she lost consciousness every one of her grandchildren had phoned her from various places in Canada, to say good-bye and to tell her how much they loved her. Her granddaughter Olivia, who inherited her grandmother’s baking expertise and is a chef at the Fairmont Hotel in Banff, told Oma she was baking pies. “Save a piece for me”, Oma said. 

We sang Mom and Dad’s favorite hymns, and told Mom we loved her many times. We cried and our tears sometimes dripped onto her blankets. Her friends visited briefly, long enough to give her a kiss and tell her what a good friend she had been to them. Her sister and sisters-in-law came too, to take her hand, gently touch her forehead, and tell her how much she had meant to them. The nurses and health care aides, were infinitely polite about not interfering with family moments, and consulting and informing us about Mom’s care. After adjusting her nightgown, giving her an injection, swabbing her mouth with cool water, or changing her bedding, they whispered words of affection and encouragement to her. 

The Mennonite Home chaplain paid a visit as did Mom and Dad’s church pastor, who read her favorite passage of Scripture, Psalm 121 which begins with the words,” I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Members of the Mennonite Home office staff came to sing the German and English hymns Mom loved to her.  The pastor, the chaplain, and our 90-year-old Dad, who is a retired pastor and chaplain, prayed with us and Mom. 

Brenda, the personal care director at the home, came by many times, to encourage us, answer our questions and give us helpful advice.  She was with us at Mom’s bedside, providing guidance, support, and quiet coaching during the moments when Mom opened her eyes wide and took her final breath. Linda, the nursing home administrator, also stopped by frequently to let us know her staff was ready and willing to be of assistance in any way they could. Linda arranged for a special service at the nursing home the morning of Mom’s funeral,  so her friends there could say good-bye to her as well. 

The Mennonite Home has a meaningful ritual after a resident has died. Women from the home’s auxiliary have made an exquisite quilt with a cross, a dove and a sheaf of wheat in its center– the wheat symbolizing the rural farm background of many of the nursing home residents, the cross their Christian  faith, and the dove the strong Mennonite belief in peace. The words Good-bye and Auf Wiedersehen are also stitched prominently into the quilt. Many of the home’s residents, including Mom and Dad, count German as their first langauge. 

After Mom died, and we were waiting for the funeral directors to come, the nursing home staff covered Mom with that quilt, which had been hanging on the wall of the palliative care room. When the funeral directors arrived, they placed Mom on a gurney, and then they too covered her with that special quilt. As a family we lined up two by two behind the gurney, and holding each others hands, followed the funeral directors who slowly pushed Mom down the nursing home hallway, through the spacious lobby and out the front doors. Some family members stood with Dad inside watching through the big front windows, while a number of us went outside along with Mom as they transferred her into the waiting hearse. The funeral directors then took the quilt off Mom, folded it ceremoniously, much like they fold a flag at a military funeral, and returned it to the Mennonite Home staff. We stood in the cool autumn morning, whispering  good-bye and waving farewell, many of us with tears streaking down our faces, as Mom left her last home for the last time. 

I had heard the phrase ‘dying well’ before, but last week I think I learned what it meant. 


Filed under Family, Reflections, Retirement

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun?

grey nunThe Grey Nuns are a Canadian order of  Catholic sisters founded in 1738 in Montreal. Four women from this order came to Manitoba in 1844 to provide educational and medical services to the fledgeling Red River Settlement, which would later become the city of Winnipeg. Could I have been one of them? I don’t think so. They were brave and courageous women, compassionate and daring, overcoming extreme hardship to carry out their divine mission of caring for those in need.
IMG_2795On Sunday I was out for a walk and went by the St. Boniface Museum. I noticed it was open and decided to go in and pay a visit. St. Boniface is a French suburb of Winnipeg.

The museum which tells the story of the Grey Nuns is located in their former convent, built in 1847. It is the oldest building in the city of Winnipeg. 

489px-youvilleYou might wonder why they were called Grey Nuns when their habits are clearly brown and black. Apparently, originally the sisters did wear grey habits but their name comes from another association. The order was founded by this woman Marguerite d’Youville. She was a young widow. Her deceased husband, an abusive liar, who left his wife and two young children in debt when he died, had sold bootleg liquor for a living. Because of this, Marguerite and the three other women who helped start the order were called “les grises” – a phrase meaning both “the grey women” and “the drunken women”. The first description came from the colour of their cloth habits, but the second, because Marguerite d’ Youville, the order’s founder, had been married to a man who sold illegal alcohol. 

 Sisters Valade, Lagrave, Coutlee and Lafrance were the four nuns who volunteered to come to Manitoba from Montreal.  They left on April 24 in a canoe and their trip was no picnic. In their journals, they talk about walking through the endless bush as they portaged from one body of water to another. They describe the snakes in their camps, which scared them so much they could hardly sleep. They had to climb steep hills and it rained almost every day. Sister Emily Lafrance twisted her foot and the voyageurs who were paddling the canoes wanted to leave her behind. She soldiered on and walked with a limp the rest of her life. 

statue grey nun's chapelSister Emily was very artistic. I took a photo of this paper mache’ Virgin Mary she made for the Grey Nuns’ first chapel. She also painted frescoes on the chapel ceiling and spun and wove beautiful altar cloths. 

The nuns travelled around to Indian and Metis settlements providing medical care and teaching the children. Metis is a cultural group in Manitoba. They are the children of First Nations women and French voyageur men. 

louis riel at grey nun's museum

Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the St. Boniface Museum

This statue of Louis Riel, Manitoba’s most famous Metis stands outside the Grey Nun’s convent. Many people say he was the founder of our province. Louis was one of the Grey Nuns’ students. When Sister Valade made a trip back to the order’s convent in Montreal she took Louis along and enrolled him in a college where he studied for seven years.

IMG_2814Sister Teresa McDonnell was a Grey Nun who came to Manitoba in 1855 and won the hearts of the Metis because her herbal remedies cured many of their illnesses. She travelled anywhere, in any kind of weather if someone needed her help. She was affectionately called ‘Sister Doctor’. In 1859 she was to go back east to the central convent but the Metis actually kidnapped her and kept her in Manitoba.  An article on the Manitoba Historical Society website says Sister Teresa was the founder of Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, and St. Mary’s Academy, a well-known girls’ school. 

st. boniface hospitalI have several personal connections with the St. Boniface Hospital. I lived on the hospital campus for a year when I was six years old because my father was a medical resident there. There was a special apartment building near the hospital for residents and their families. My sister Kaaren was the chief nursing officer at the St. Boniface Hospital from 1997-2007.  Now I visit the hospital regularly because it is where my mother has received dialysis three mornings a week for the last four years. 

IMG_2817I asked the attendant at the museum if the Grey Nuns’ order was still active. She said there are a few Grey Nuns left but the youngest is 65.  The government has taken over most of the hospitals and care homes that were founded by the Grey Nuns. There is a plan underway to bring in young nuns from an African order to carry on the Grey Nuns’ legacy. Apparently, there just aren’t enough North American women willing to dedicate themselves to a nun’s life anymore. 

Could I have been a Grey Nun? I’m not sure I could have lived the isolated, selfless life they did, ignoring physical discomfort to bring hope, literacy and healing to so many people. 

I am glad however that I visited the St. Boniface Museum and learned all about the Grey Nuns and the important contribution they made to Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. 

Other posts about St. Boniface……

A Controversial Statue

Entre chien et loup

The Promenade


Filed under Canada, History, Religion, Winnipeg

Apartments For The Dead

Last night we had dinner guests, and perhaps because Dave and I had just returned from attending a funeral, the conversation over dessert and coffee turned to planning for funerals and burial. We were surprised to learn that one of the couples, who are even younger than we are, had purchased burial plots in a local cemetery. They did this after one of their own parents had died, and arranging for a place of burial had been just one added difficulty to deal with as they made funeral arrangements. Several of our dinner guests said they wanted to be cremated, but weren’t sure if they wanted their ashes spread out somewhere or buried. I told them that in Hong Kong, the government provides cremation services at public crematoriums and although it is still possible to have coffin burials, in public cemeteries they may only be for six years, after which the remains must be exhumed and cremated. If the family doesn’t arrange for it themselves the government will do so. 


Most people in Hong Kong are buried in columbaria, a kind of high-rise apartment for the dead, which have been built in cemeteries throughout the city. Here families can purchase a niche in the wall and place their loved ones ashes within. Each niche is covered with a marble plaque that features a picture of the deceased person and gold engravings detailing their name, date of birth and death, and the site of their ancestral home. Each also has a ring in which you can place flowers. Columbaria can be up to nine stories high and contain as many as 20,000 separate niches for ashes.

The government, which is facing a crisis when it comes to having enough land on which to build cemetaries,  has been urging people to use columbaria since the 1960’s and so most people do, primarily because, according to an article in Time magazine,  a permanent burial space in Hong Kong, in a private cemetary runs around US $30,000. Our dinner guests last night had paid only $700 for their plot here in Canada. 

One of the things we talked about last night, was that for families it is nice to have a certain site to go and visit after someone dies. If you are cremated and your ashes spread out, rather than buried, there is no such site where family can go and pay their respects. I remember at a family reunion many years ago, our large clan went to the graveyard where my grandparents are buried, and we spread out blankets near their burial plots, for all their great-grandchildren to sit on. One of my aunts told the children stories about their great-grandparents. It was very meaningful. 

In Hong Kong there are spring and summer festival days called Qingming and Chongyang when schools and businesses are closed so families can visit their ancestors’ graves. These are called grave sweeping holidays because traditionally the family brought brooms to sweep the grave clean of leaves and other debris. Now they place flowers at the site and sometimes buy paper money from vendors near the cemetery. They burn it in small fires on the tomb or on the floor of the columbaria. It is believed the smoke carries the money to heaven so the deceased may use it to buy things they need in the after life. In order for these kind of traditional rituals to carry on it is important to have an actual burial site, even for ashes. 

Writing about it this morning, our dinner party conversation about burial plots last night seems strange and even a bit morbid, but I guess as you enter retirement and ponder what’s next, perhaps giving some thought to your end of life arrangements is prudent and natural. 

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Filed under Hong Kong, Reflections, Retirement

Why Do People Collect Things?

My mother-in-law Anne, who passed away last week collected Royal Doulton china figurines. She loved beautiful things and she had a curio cabinet in her livingroom where she kept her Royal Doultons.  Each woman in our family received one after her funeral. In this picture Mom is holding a figurine called Fair Lady which she received as a Christmas gift.  It was the one I inherited as a keepsake. 

Many people collect things. On a trip to Mexico we visited a woman who collected seashells and items connected with seashells. One room in her house was designated exclusively for her seashell collection.There were seashells from all over the world everywhere. The room was furnished with couches and chairs with a seashell pattern on the upholstery.There were lamps with shades covered with shells. Sculptures made of shells and books about seashells sat on the tables. Family photos in seashell- encrusted frames lined the shelves. Even the business card the woman gave me was decorated with a photo of a large shell.

People have a natural tendency to collect things. Seashells may not be their passion but whether its coins, stamps, postcards, spoons, or more bizarre things like teabags, chocolate bar wrappers or traffic signs we human beings seem inclined to be collectors. Dr. Steve Anderson, a neurologist at the University of Iowa says our need to collect may harken back to an earlier point in our evolution, since many animals hoard things, especially food.

According to Susan Pearce, author of the book Interpreting Objects and Collections one in three North Americans collects something. There are many different kinds of collections and collectors.

Some collections are souvenirs or mementos of a place. I collected earrings from almost all of the forty countries Dave and I visited in our six years of traveling. My sister and her husband have a collection of traditional painted masks from many of the countries where they have traveled. 

Some collections are gifts. For years my brother gave my mother a china plate every Mother’s Day with a message or saying about mothers on it. He hunted through antique stores and curio shops, often for weeks, until he found a plate and a design that he hadn’t already purchased. I’m sure my mother has more than twenty of these plates in her collection.  

Some collections are of practical use. A couple we taught with in Hong Kong who are world travelers, collect Starbucks coffee mugs from every place they visit. There are Starbucks franchises in fifty-five countries. Our friends don’t have fifty-five different mugs but certainly enough for a fairly large group of coffee drinking guests.

The desire to learn new things can also be the impetus behind a collection. Dave and I have a friend who collects military artifacts from the World Wars. He has uniforms, machinery, vehicles, sheet music, maps, books, flags and photographs. His collection has helped him learn a great deal about military history. He came to see us in Hong Kong and visited military museums and graveyards there. 

Some people collect things because of their monetary value. I used to work with a woman who collected Barbie Dolls. She assured me someday she would sell her collection and make a mint of money.

Susan Pearce says there are some collections which she terms ‘magic’. There is no rhyme or reason for collecting them but they have a certain appeal or attraction for the collector. I imagine this might apply to my brother’s collection of snow globes or a friend’s large collection of Superman memorabilia

Collections can remind us of positive experiences and important people in our lives. They can help us learn new things. They can be practical or magical. Collections can enrich our lives.

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Obsolete Things

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Filed under Culture, Reflections