Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Park At the End of the Bridge

At the end of the Provencher Bridge here in my downtown Winnipeg neighborhood is the Joseph Royal Park. It has become known as a place where homeless people hang out. In fact, there was a brutal beating incident reported in the news in this park in June of 2010. Today however it was covered in sparkling white snow and the only creatures hanging out there were some birds.


A plaque behind the giant stone arch describes the man the park was named after. 

Joseph Royal was born in Quebec in 1837 one of eight children of Edouard and Marcelin, a poor, illiterate and devout Catholic couple. Joseph was clever and quick-witted and so a priest, seeing his promise, paid for his schooling at a Jesuit College in Montreal.  

Joseph Royal

He became a journalist and worked for six different French Canadian newspapers as an editor. He married Agnes Bruyere and they had seven children. He also found time to article with famed lawyer George Cartier and was called to the Quebec bar in 1864. 

While editor of the newspaper Le Nouveau Monde he published more articles and letters than any other Canadian newspaper in favor of Louis Riel, a Metis who was leading a resistance movement against the Canadian government in Manitoba.

In 1870 his news instincts made him decide to get the real story on what was happening in Manitoba and so he went there on a fact-finding mission. He met Louis Riel and became convinced the cause of Metis land possession was a just one. He felt God was calling him to a special mission in Manitoba and moved there to start a newspaper called Le Metis. He couldn’t afford to move his family from Montreal and he went into huge debt to set up his printing press in Manitoba.

He also practiced law in Manitoba and defended Lepin and Nault– two men associated with Louis Riel who were accused of ordering the execution of Thomas Scott, a member of the anglophone group that opposed Riel and promoted joining Red River to Canada. Later Joseph Royal argued for complete amnesty and a stay of execution for Louis Riel.

Joseph Royal had a distinguished career as a civil servant and politician. He was elected to the Manitoba Legislature and served as the Speaker of the House and the Attorney General. He was also elected to the federal House of Commons. He was the first mayor of St. Boniface, the first education Superintendent in Manitoba and was appointed the lieutenant governor of the North West Territories. 

Although I’m sure Joseph Royal would be happy to know Winnipeg has a park named after him, he was hoping for a little more lucrative and honorable recognition. He wanted to be appointed a senator at the end of his political career. But he was not. There were no big pensions for civil servants and politicians in those days, so Joseph had to move back to Montreal and take a newspaper job. He ended his life a poor man financially, living in a boarding house and dying after a lengthy illness in 1902. 

Joseph Royal Park is a scenic resting place. It has a fountain surrounded by benches at its center. 

The park also contains a statue that pays tribute to St. Boniface writer Gabrielle Roy and a plaque with a quote from one of her novels. 

There are two other historical markers in the park. One describes the Provencher Bridge which I have done a post about in the past. The other describes the St. Boniface Woolen Mills which used to be located nearby. 

Across the street from the park is Place Joseph Royal a building of high-end condominiums. We looked at condos in that building before buying ours in the Ashdown Warehouse. They are handsomely appointed and pricey. How ironic that a man who died a pauper in a rooming house now has a ritzy condominium complex named after him. 

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Filed under History, Nature, Winnipeg

Would I Get A Tattoo?

I noticed when we attended a couple NBA basketball games in Phoenix, Arizona that many of the players had tattoos.

Some of the movie stars at the Oscars on Sunday night were sporting tattoos as well and a movie about a woman with a dragon tattoo was nominated for quite a number of Academy Awards.

Tattoos are everywhere. Waitresses, hairdressers and electricians sport them. I see a nice variety displayed every morning at the gym when I’m working out.

I found out recently Winston Churchill had a tattoo. He had an anchor inked onto his arm. 

It all leads me to think about whether or not I would get a tattoo.  The Mayo Clinic does not recommend tattoos. They outline the possible health related problems that can occur by breaching the skin with permanent ink. They claim some of the risks are blood borne diseases, infections, allergic reactions, scarring and skin disorders. Doesn’t sound like a tattoo would be worth the risk. None of the methods they describe for removing a tattoo – sanding, cutting or intense heat sounded particularly appealing either.
Cost is certainly another factor. A good tattoo artist will probably charge several hundred dollars for his or her services. One website warns people not to argue with a tattoo designer about price. Since they are injecting needles into your skin you want to stay on their good side.

Deciding what I would want for a tattoo would just be too hard.  Apparently names of lovers or spouses are dicey choices since they can change. After being married for nearly 40 years I don’t plan to enter any new romantic relationships so my husband’s name might be an option. After all, during a foray into cattle ranching many years ago my husband in a burst of romance branded the buttocks of all his cows with my initials. I might return the favor by putting his monogram on the same area of my own body.

The names of my children would be other options. In a flea market in Mesa, Arizona I met  a mother whose daughter died and she had the young woman’s name tattooed on her ankle as a lasting reminder of her child. Since my sons are still living however I have plenty of opportunity to let them know I love them in other ways. Getting their names tattooed on my body isn’t really necessary.

I think that probably I would answer in a similar way to President Barak Obama when he was asked in an interview, “If you had a tattoo, what would it be, and where would you put it?” The President of the United States answered quite emphatically…… “I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would get a tattoo.”


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Filed under Art, Reflections

The Street Where I Live

Seven months ago I moved into a condo on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. Today while I was reading an essay by Ed Rea about Winnipeg called Prairie Metropolis: A Personal View I came across the name A.G.Bannatyne.

I knew Bannatyne Avenue had been made famous by the Winnipeg singing sensation The Guess Who when they named their second album So Long Bannatyne. The record has a song on it called So Long Bannatyne. 

But could Bannatyne Avenue also be named after someone who had been important to the history of Winnipeg?A.G.  Bannatyne aka Andrew Graham Bannatyne who was born in the Orkney Islands in 1829 and began working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Norway House in 1846. 

In 1850 Andrew fell in love with this young woman named Annie McDermot, one of 15 children of Andrew McDermot and Sarah McNab.  Annie was highly educated. Her Dad was a wealthy Red River merchant. Unfortunately the Hudson’s Bay Company did not look kindly on its junior clerks getting married so in order to wed the fair Annie, Andrew had to quit his job. 

Andrew decided to start a merchant firm in Red River with a partner and soon it was a large and flourishing business. The Hudson’s Bay Company must have been a little upset with Andrew for leaving them since they accused him of illegal trading in 1847. Apparently he weathered that storm nicely because he was appointed a Red River magistrate in 1861.

In 1868 when Louis Riel led a rebellion against the government of Canada and set up his own provisional government in Manitoba, Andrew Bannatyne  tried to serve as a mediator between the two warring factions.  This didn’t necessarily make him very popular. However despite this he was appointed the first postmaster of Winnipeg in 1871 and helped to found the first Free Masons lodge in the province of Manitoba.

By now he and Annie had three children. Annie had given birth ten times but seven children had died. Annie was not only devoted to her family but gave lots of her time to various Winnipeg charities, in particular the Winnipeg General Hospital which the two Andrews in her life–her father and husband,  had helped to found at her request and with her encouragement. Annie is known as one of Winnipeg’s first philanthropists. Annie,  a Metis, was outspoken and opinionated.  She was incensed when a Winnipeg writer named Charles Mair wrote an article for the Toronto Globe in which he made derogatory comments about the women of mixed blood in the Red River Settlement. 

Annie knew that Mair came into her husband’s store every Saturday to collect his mail and she told the store clerk that as soon as Mair arrived she wanted to know. The clerk dutifully informed Annie of Mair’s arrival and she burst into the store brandishing a horse whip. Grabbing Mair by the nose she gave him a half-dozen licks with the whip and shouted, “That’s how the women of Red River treat those who insult them.” Mair to his credit did not retaliate and left the store in humiliation. Luckily a priest named George Dugas was in the store at the time and wrote about the debacle he had witnessed in his journal. Later Louis Riel would write a humourous poem about the encounter between Mr. Mair and Mrs. Bannatyne. 

During the 1870’s Andrew Bannatyne did several noteworthy things that might have merited naming a street after him. He helped found the Winnipeg Board of Trade and the Manitoba Historical Society. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1875 and……….he played in Winnipeg’s first ever curling match in December of 1876. 

Unfortunately Andrew Bannatyne’s business did not fair well in the 1880’s and he lost all his wealth and land. He retired from politics in 1878 and died in 1889.

They say that Bannatyne Avenue was named after Andrew Bannatyne but I’d like to think it was named after his wife Annie too. Her feisty compassionate personality makes her every bit as colorful a historical figure as her husband. 


Filed under History, Winnipeg

Monsieur Lazhar- Personal Connections

I am disappointed that the Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar did not win the Academy Award tonight for best foreign film. I just saw the movie this afternoon and thought it was very good. Set in Montreal this French movie with English subtitles tells the story of an Algerian refugee who gets a job as a substitute teacher for a class of grade six students whose teacher has just committed suicide. 

I connected with the film in many ways. The movie makes it clear that the relationship between a teacher and his or her students is the most important factor in effective education. The substitute teacher Monsieur Lazhar uses old-fashioned teaching techniques, makes the kids sit in rows and gives them difficult dictations, but because they come to like him and appreciate him, they learn and grow in his classroom.

I was well into my career before I realized that dozens of activities, elaborate classroom decorations and creative teaching methods weren’t what made the biggest impression on kids. Spending time getting to know them and building relationships with them was the key both to their academic progress and classroom management. I realized as well that my relationship with my students was the most rewarding and memorable thing about my job. 


The movie Monsieur Lazhar also teaches us how important it is to talk to our kids candidly about things like death and illness. Children need to feel free to express their own anger and grief honestly.  This is something I have learned both as a teacher and a parent. Children are very perceptive. They know when something is wrong and if we aren’t honest they will become more anxious and worried then they need to be. They need caring adults with whom they can discuss how they are feeling. 

I really liked the things Monsieur Lazhar had to say to his students about the classroom being a community, a place of friendship, a space devoted to learning, where everyone has something to contribute. 

I realized this more and more during my career. The teacher wasn’t the only source of knowledge in the classroom. We were a community of learners who each had important things to share. I learned so much from my students and came to understand that my job was to create a safe, friendly place where we could all learn from each other. 

The film also addresses the way the zero tolerance rules for teachers touching students can be problematic. Sometimes teachers are hampered from doing what is best for kids because they feel like their every action is under close scrutiny.  

I know as a teacher I found that sometimes what a student needed was an arm around their shoulder, a hand to wipe away their tears, a reassuring pat on the back and yes sometimes even a hug. It is too bad if teachers feel they are no longer free to provide that kind of physical reassurance. 

The movie Monsieur Lazhar is a well acted, beautifully understated, moving look at the relationship between teachers and students. I was crying freely at its end. Too bad it didn’t win an Academy Award tonight.


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Filed under Education, Movies

Marriage Statistics and Bible Verses

Statistics have become the modern-day equivalent of Bible verses. Both statistics and Bible verses are handy for proving almost any point. There are people who have a barrage of Scripture passages on the tip of their tongues ready to provide substantiation of any viewpoint. Quotations from the Bible have been used to defend all kinds of opinions including……..the earth is flat not round, human beings never walked on the moon, women should be silent and education is bad.

The New York Times had a story about an American pastor using Scripture to justify his advice to administer corporal punishment to six month old babies. 

Statistics are often used like Bible verses. Pick a cause or an idea and you will probably be able to find a statistic to back up your opinion of it. It can be confusing for people of faith to realize selected Biblical quotations can be used to defend radically different ideas. Statistics can be equally confusing.  

Take marriage for example. A Canadian statistical study on marriage looked at what factors lead to divorce and which indicators give couples a better chance to have a lasting relationship. Looking at them I can’t figure out whether my marriage has a good chance or not. 

My husband and I did not live together before we were married. This is in our favor since 35% of Canadian couples who cohabitate before marriage get divorced compare to only 19% of those who don’t live together. 

I got married at the tender age of 19.  My husband was 20. According to statistics this makes it three times more likely we will end up in a divorce court compared to if we had waited until we were over 30 to marry. 

We attend church regularly and this is a statistic in our favor since it improves a couple’s chances of staying married. 

Another statistic would suggest shaky ground for my marriage. Women who work outside the home, as I have always done, have a higher rate of divorce. 

So which statistics should I take seriously, the ones that say my marriage has a good chance of surviving or others that say it doesn’t?  Who knows? I won’t be using Scripture either to predict the success of my marriage. 

“Those who marry will face many troubles” says Saint Paul in the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. “It is not good for a man (woman) to live alone”, says the narrator in the second chapter of Genesis. 

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Filed under Family, Religion

Tom Lamb-“Mr. North”

Every morning on my way to the gym to do my work out I pass by this statue of Tom Lamb on the main floor at the Lombard Place entrance of the Richardson Building. Many people rest their belongings on the statue’s base now in winter to give themselves free hands to secure their scarves and hats before stepping out into the snowy cold air. I’ve done it myself. Today I took time to read the plaque on the statue that told me who the pilot in the statue was, and why he merited a bronze likeness by the famed Canadian sculptor Leo Mol.   I was curious to learn more about Tom Lamb.  I found out he’d been born in 1898 in Grand Rapids Manitoba. His British father and mother were Anglican missionaries in the north. His Dad did many different jobs but was primarily a school teacher. He  moved his family to Moose Lake in 1900. 

Although Tom would later be awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Manitoba his formal education ended at grade three. In 1935 he  bought an airplane and learned to fly it so he could go fly fishing in the north. Four years later he had founded Lambair.

The airline hauled fish and furs, trappers and fishermen. They transported Inuit families and equipment for oil rigs. They handled emergency and medical evacuations. The motto of the airline was “Don’t ask us where we fly! Tell us where you want to go.”

Tom, also known as the “Babe Ruth of bush pilots” married Jennie and they had nine children.  The Lamb kids all started flying by sitting behind the steering wheel of a plane on their Dad’s lap in the cockpit. 

Their six sons all became career pilots as well and went into business with their Dad. By 1959 Lambair had logged more than 1,500,000 air miles, owned twenty planes and employed 40 pilots. In 1960 Tom, who by now had earned the nickname “Mr. North” let his sons take over most of the airline business since he still had his fur trading operation to run, a 7,240 acre cattle ranch to maintain and 24 grandchildren to keep him busy. 
Tom Lamb died in 1969 and his sons kept running the business till 1981. A 1981 Free Press article notes that Lambair is bankrupt and Calm Air is trying to buy the company. Only one of Tom’s  grandchildren, a granddaughter Tracy took up flying. Tom’s son Jack has told the family’s story in his book My Life in the North. 

 Although the Leo Mol statue in the Richardson Building bears the date 1991, the original piece was poured in 1971. There is another copy of  the Tom Lamb statue in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Assiniboine Park. A fibre glass version sits in the airport at The Pas and there is another copy in the Canadian embassy in Washington DC. 

Leo Mol said he wanted to show Tom Lamb as a young pilot and he made the propeller in his hands look a bit like a clock because he wanted the statue to take people back in time to the era when Mr. Lamb helped open up the north as an aviation pioneer.

In September of 1977 at a ceremony where Tom Lamb was posthumously admitted to the Honor Roll of the Aviation Council he was lauded as an individualist, humanitarian, multi-skilled, community minded businessman.


Filed under Art, Canada, History, People, Winnipeg

Michelangelo’s David

Two years ago in February we were in Florence Italy and I wrote this piece about seeing Michelangelo’s David. 

michelangelos-david-wiki-art-public-domain“He’d a make a great basketball player. Look at those big hands.” That was my husband Dave’s  first comment as we walked up to the statue of Michelangelo’s David in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. The white marble statue is 17 feet high and shows David ready to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant. David’s hands do look big, but Michelangelo made them that way because initially David was created to stand outside a palace, rather than in an art gallery.

Michelangelo thought people would be viewing David from far away. He wanted them to be able to see all the details of his statue, including David’s hands. Although some people think the 29-year-old Michelangelo made a mistake when he carved David’s large hands, experts agree their size was deliberate. At age 24 Michelangelo began visiting morgues. He would cut up unclaimed corpses and study their anatomy. He was as well-trained as any physician in the body’s structure. He wouldn’t have made a mistake with David’s hands. He wanted them to be larger than life and powerful.

Two other artists had rejected the piece of marble Michelangelo used for David, because they claimed it lacked perfection. Michelangelo was able to create something beautiful despite the flawed material he had been given.

We visited the statue of David on a February day along with a few other hardy souls who were braving Florence at the coldest time of the year. The absence of the crowds that usually mill around David made it possible for us to spend about 40 minutes examining him from every side. 

David has a determined, focused look in his eye. You can see the veins in his hands and the clear outline of his rib cage. His elbows appear calloused and rough and his feet are crusty and cracked. His cheeks are smooth and his upper lip is just a little bigger than the lower one. His nostrils are slightly flared, his brow mildly furrowed and his hair classically curly. Besides noticing David’s big hands my husband also noted that the nude David wasn’t circumcised, as all Jewish boys would have been. I did a little research and discovered the ancient Jewish method of circumcision only involved a small tip snip and not the more extensive operation common in the modern-day. If you look closely, the figure of David is indeed circumcised in the traditional way.

It is interesting that four other statues also carved by Michelangelo, have been placed along the long hallway leading up to the statue of David. Each of the four shows a prisoner trying to break free of his bonds. They are said to represent the efforts of humans to liberate themselves from whatever oppresses them. This is most fitting since Michelangelo has captured an image of David just as he is about to free his people from the oppression of the Philistines.

My husband Dave is right. Michelangelo’s David does have big hands. He also has a big heart, one filled with enough courage, confidence and youthful enthusiasm to try the impossible and succeed. Just the way his creator Michelangelo succeeded when he took an imperfect piece of marble and turned it into something that has become one of the most universally recognized pieces of art in the world.

If you liked this post you might also like…….

Galileo’s Grocery List

A Bizarre Museum in Florence Italy



Filed under Art, Culture, Italy, Travel