When I was visiting my brother in Victoria he and I were recalling the way our paternal grandfather showed his affection for us. We both remembered how he would rub his scruffy beard against our cheeks in a playful way. It hurt a bit and made our cheeks red but we didn’t protest.
On our trip home, I was reading Carla Funk’s memoir Mennonite Valley Girl. It is a collection of essays about the author’s teenage years in Vanderhoof, British Columbia. Carla is a poet and that shows in her detailed and descriptive writing. I was surprised to find in an essay titled Holding the Flame that Carla’s Dad used to show his affection for her in the same way my grandfather expressed his for us. Here’s how Carla puts it…..…
He clamped my shoulders in a soft bear hug. He smelled like he always smelled in the evenings: sweat, smoke, and whiskey. His stubble chafed against the side of my face, like it did when I was small and he would pull me close and say, “What you need is a good whisker-rub,” then scrape his cheek against my own until my skin burned and pinkened and I begged him to stop.
I wonder if anyone else had a grandparent or Dad who showed their affection in that way? Was it a Mennonite thing?
It felt a bit like a ghost town. We spent a couple of hours walking through downtown Calgary earlier this week. I had read a recent article in The Globe and Mail about Calgary’s hollowed-out city center where some 13.5 million square feet of office space sits empty thanks to the pandemic and a downturn in the oil and gas industry.
And that’s what we found. Not only empty office buildings, but empty stores and restaurants and streets and public transportationeven though it was around noon on what should have been a busy business day. Sadly the plight of the homeless and those struggling with addictions were also evident everywhere we turned in downtown Calgary.
The skyline is stunning and many of the buildings we saw are real architecturalwonders. The city already is planning how they might fill them, by changing them to cultural centers, or entertainment venues, or apartments or office space for industries that pivot away from oil and gas. Hopefully, in a few years, the Calgary city center will be a thriving place again.
Our evening in Calgary by contrast was full of life and fun. We got together with my cousin Tim and his wife Jackie for supper at The Toolshed, a brewery, and barbeque establishment. Our waitress Niki who also works as a flight attendant was just delightful and filled us in on The Toolshed history as well as the origin of the names of the various beers they had on tap. During our conversation, we discovered she was a huge fan of our son’s music group Royal Canoe and she was excited about meeting the parents of one of the band members.
It had been many years since we’d had a chance for a good visit with Tim and Jackie. It was great to catch up and we spent a delightful evening with them.
Calgary is no different than any city in having some problems they need to address. But like every city we have visited in Canada it also has plenty of warm and friendly people.
I had heard the Calgary Library was something really special and so I wanted to pay a visit. The outside design of the building is certainly unique.
and the architecture inside is no less spectacular.
There are four floors full of light and space. Nothing felt crowded, except perhaps the playground in the children’s section which was filled with kids having a wonderful time. For privacy considerations, I didn’t take photos but it was clear the area is very popular.
I loved these colorful theme-specific book carts in the children’s area.
There are so many beautiful and unique kinds of areas to sit and read you’d have to visit the library dozens of times to try them all out.
And the views of the Calgary skyline through the library windows are fantastic.
There are art pieces throughout the library almost all of them from the Indigenous community. This piece, a bison made from alphabet letters was called Education is the New Buffalo.
There are special sections in the library for every agewith unique features designed especially for that group in mind.
The Calgary Library is a special place, no doubt about it and……… something that made it extra special for me………. was discovering they have three copies of my book Lost on the Prairie in their catalog. How great is that?
I just learned all about the Indian expulsion from Uganda instituted by Idi Amin in 1972 and….. how the Inuit community in Churchill Manitoba is preserving the tradition of dogsledding and…… what life was like for a poverty-stricken young girl in London at the end of the 19th century.
I discovered all that fascinating information in the most engaging way. I read three well-written and thoroughly enjoyable middle-grade books. Not many people realize what a valuable source of information middle-grade books can be for adults. They can provide an accessible way to learn about a whole host of topicsfrom writers who are masters of their craft.
Orange For The Sunsets by Tina Athaide takes us back to 1972 in Entebbe, Uganda. Edi Amin has just declared that all citizens of Indian descent must leave the country in 100 days. This includes a young girl from a wealthy family named Asha. She narrates the story alternately with Yesofu her best friend. His African parents work as servants in Asha’s household. Yesofu and Asha are complex and interesting characters and Tina Athaide keeps events moving at a heady pace with plenty of suspense. Through the eyes of the two children, we receive a balanced understanding of a challenging political situation.
Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and although she grew up in England brings the knowledge of her rich family history to the story.
Qaqavii by Miriam Körner is the story of a teenager named Kitty who moves to Churchill, Manitoba with her single Mom. There are things about their past her Mom won’t discuss and Kitty is feeling angry, confused, and rebellious. She finds solace in a friendship with an Inuit boy named Barnabas whose grandparents take her into their circle of care and affection. The family keeps sled dogs and races them. Kitty develops a special relationship with one of the dogs named Qaqavii.
I hope to make a trip to Churchill someday and this book helped me get to know the community and also provided added insight into Inuit history and culture. Author Miriam Körner and her husband live in northern Saskatchewan with a brood of racing sled dogs and Miriam brings that rich expertise to her award-winning novel.
The Ghost at the Window by Elyssa Warkentin takes us into the world of the great private eye Sherlock Holmes and helps us explore the darker, more desperate side of London at the end of the 19th century through the eyes of a young girl named Janey who has only a little education and lives in abject poverty with her mother. Janey has spunk, bravado, curiosity, and a warm and direct way with people that comes to her aid when Dr. Watson and the great Sherlock hire her to do some detective work for them.
Like the movie Enola Holmes which provided a young female perspective on the Sherlock Holmes character in The Ghost at the Window, we gain new insight into the great detective’s personality. Dr. Watson declares at one point that the book’s hero Janey and the great Sherlock are “two peas in a pod.“
If you think middle-grade books are only for kids I’d invite you to give one of these novels a try. Well-written, interesting and informative, they will help you understand why books for kids can be books for adults too.
It was such a privilege to be able to visit with Heritage House editorial director Lara Kordic while I was in Victoria. I had communicated with Lara so often but had never talked with her in person. Lara offered me the publishing contract for my novel Lost on the Prairie. I was so pleased Lara took the time from her busy schedule to share a drink and a late lunch with me.
She answered all my curious questions about how the decision was made to publish my book and filled me in on possible future sales plans for the novel. I found out a little about her family background and we discussed some other manuscripts I have been working on. I was glad I was able to personally thank Lara for publishing my book and tell her how much I appreciated the help of her staff- editor Nandini Thaker, marketing and publicity coordinator Monica Miller, and designer Jacqui Thomas. How fortunate I’ve been to have my first novel published with the help of such a great team.
A big thank you to Kari Tanaka the assistant manager of the University of Lethbridge Bookstore for this lovely tweet about Lost on the Prairie.
My friend Patty sent me this sketch her grandson did while she was reading him my book. It brings to life in such detail the chapter in the novel where my hero Peter almost drowns. Thanks so much for your picture, Ben. I LOVE it!
Did you know I’m a local BC author? I noticed recently my book Lost on the Prairie was part of a promotion called Fascinating Fiction From BC.
I loved the introduction to the piece…..
There is nothing quite like the feeling of being so completely absorbed in a story that all sense of time is lost. Whether it keeps you up past midnight or demands to be read on the bus, here are some truly gripping fiction books from BC’s masters of storytelling.
They had included a nice description of my book and a link to BC bookshops where it was available. The tweet they did about Lost on the Prairie said it was full of cliffhangers.
My publisher Heritage House is located in Victoria British Columbia so my book really is a BC book. But it just so happened that on October 19th, when the article was published about my book I was holidaying in British Columbia. So right at that moment, I suppose I was a BC authoror at the very least ………. an author in BC.
I am very thankful for the publicity for my novel.
A former teaching colleague sent this photo of her granddaughter’s happy face when she opened a gift from her Grandma, a copy of my novel. Thanks so much for the photo Lorraine and for buying my book.
I was just thrilled to be the featured author on the blog of historical children’s writer Caroline Starr Rose. She interviewed me about my writing and research process. It was a great opportunity for me to think more about how I wrote my book and all the background material I needed to collect over the years I worked on it. Thanks so much, Caroline.
Yesterday we left Vancouver Island but there are some memorable things that happened there I don’t want to forget and haven’t posted about yet.
I had a lovely long lunch in Tofino with a former teaching colleague from Elmdale School in Steinbach. Joanne and I taught together more than thirty-five years ago but we both have fond memories of our years at Elmdale when we were just beginning our teaching careers. Joanne lives in Whistler BC now where she recently retired from teaching. Through social media, we realized we would both be in Tofino at the same time. It was so great to visit and reconnect and talk about our life journeys.
Although it was chilly and rainy for much of our time on the island we did have a warm and gorgeous autumn afternoon on a golf course in Qualicum Beach where we played nine holes with a friendly local couple about our age.
There are lots of sea mammals one can spot on the Vancouver Island coast. We saw three. On an afternoon hike along the breakwater in Victoria, we stopped to enjoy the antics of a seal. On our way to Tofino, we had lunch in Cowichan Bay and then spent a delightful half-hour or so marveling at the sounds of a sea lion choir.
The sea lions were all different shapes and colors and sang at various pitches, making a myriad of crazy sounds, seemingly doing a kind of call and response with one another. It got incredibly loud at times.
Then our first morning in Tofino we walked down to the water and spent a long time watching a sea otter dive to catch shellfish, flip over on its back and crack them open to eat. There was a gull swimming nearby making sure it could feast on the remnants of the shellfish.
Although I said I wouldn’t write anymore about Dave’s beer brewing research we did visit a brewery in Tofino where he continued to explore the world of British Columbia beer.
There is a giant wooden canoe in the rotunda when you walk into the Legislative Buildings in Victoria. It was carved by Steven L. Point the first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The canoe is called Shxwtitosel which in the Halq’eméylem language means a safe place to cross the river. It represents the idea of building bridges between all the different people in BC.
I saw thisunique tribute on the steps of the BC Legislature in Victoria in memory of all the Indigenous children found in unmarked graves in Canadian residential school burial grounds. There were hundreds of orange shirts each with a cross and a stone on them.
I discovered that the Victoria Art Gallery is partially housed in a beautiful heritage home.
On our drive back to Victoria from Tofino, we stopped for soup and cornbread at a country market cafe in Coombs called Goats on the Roof.The place was built by a family from Norway in the 1950s who decided to give it a sod roof like many traditional homes in Norway. In the 1980s the grass on the roof had become too tall and to spruce it up for the local county fair the family borrowed some goats to eat the grass. It turned their business into a tourist hotspot that now attracts more than a million visitors a year.
Probably other bits of Vancouver Island will find their way into posts I do in the future, but for now, we have said goodbye to the island. We had a great time there.
What has helped to make you resilient during the pandemic? Think about it. Draw it. Share it.
Those were the instructions for an interesting activity I participated in at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria. The gallery displays the masterpieces of renowned Canadian artist Robert Bateman but also highlights the work done by the Bateman Foundation. The Foundation is funded by proceeds from Robert Bateman’s art sales. It sponsors art therapy programming for children and adults. In the art therapy room at the gallery, visitors were invited to take part in a community art activity.
We were asked to create a self-portrait and write about the things that had kept us resilient during the pandemic. Then we were invited to illustrate a mask with pictures of those things.
I said my writing, the ability to learn new things, and the love of my family and friends helped me stay resilient during the pandemic.
I drew my four grandchildren and a copy of my novel Lost on the Prairie on my mask to illustrate my sources of resilience.
If you are interested in trying this activity you can download it on the Bateman Gallery website.
“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.” ― Sharon Salzberg
One of the reasons I was excited about visiting Victoria was because I knew it was the home of artist Emily Carr. I am a big fan of hers and have taught many different ages of children about Emily both in my school classrooms and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when I worked there as a guidebefore the pandemic.
There is a statue of Emily Carr at the heart of the city of Victoria. Created by artist Barbara Patterson in 2010 it is called Our Emily. The accompanying plaque recognizes Emily Carr as British Columbia’s most famous artist.
One place you can learn about Emily is the Victoria Art Gallery. Their current exhibit about her is called Seeing and Being Seen. You can look at Emily Carr’s work and then look at the work other artists had done about heror did because they were inspired by her.
BC Forest by Emily Carr -1939 and The Hornby Suite Homage to Emily Carr- 1971– Jack Shadbolt
One of the items in the exhibit was this porcelain version of Emily Carr’s childhood home.
Later we visited Emily Carr’s childhood homewhich is now a museum.
It is on Government Street but as this sign tells us when Emily lived there as a child the street was named after her family because their home was probably the only one on it in 1863 when it was built.
Although Emily studied art in Europe and spent some time living in San Francisco she often came back to the house in Victoria which her oldersister Edith inherited after their father died.
Eventually, Emily would own a boarding house nearby on Simcoe Street but she gave art lessons in her childhood home.
I have read Emily’s books, which made her famous before her art did, and I have studied her biography fairly thoroughly for the lessons and tours I have given about her. So it was really interesting to discuss various questions about her personal life and art with our guide at Carr House, a history graduate named Pascale. We talked about the way Emily shunned convention, her individualism and eccentricities, and her paintings of the villages of the Indigenous people of BC which some say are controversial since Emily wasn’t Indigenous.
We talked about Emily’s personal life, the way she shunned marriage in order to concentrate on her art, her group of female friends and the way her family discouraged her art. They thought it worthless and sometimes threw away the artwork she made for them as gifts. We speculated how they would react now when Emily’s paintings are selling for over 3 million dollars.
From Pascale I learned how Member of Parliament David Groos bought the Carr house in 1964, mortgaging his own home to do so, much to the consternation of his wife. Eventually,the Government of British Columbia bought the home from Mr Groos.
Just after we left the house we walked by the James Bay Inn where Emily died on March 3, 1945. At the time the inn was St. Mary’s Priory, a convalescent nursing home.
There are other things I could do and sites I could visit in Victoria and on Vancouver Island that would help me learn more about Emily’s life and legacy but I will have to save those for a second visit. Emily was such a complex and interesting person that there will always be new things to learn about her.
I am well aware I look like some kind of tree monster in this photo. All I can say is, “My brother made me do it!”
A couple of days ago we were hiking a trail at the base of the Kinsol Trestle Bridge in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley and my brother Ken got the bright idea that if I stuck my head through a hole in this fallen tree it would make an interesting photo. He was right.
This is how the tree looked before I got involved.
The trail we were hiking was full of gorgeous treesand was at the base of this enormous trestle bridge.
The Kinsol Trestle is one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world.
It is 187 meters in length and towers 44 meters above the salmon-bearing Koksilah River. I have to admit leaning over the railing to take this photo of the river from that high up was a little scary.
Perhaps if I had seen this view of the bridge first I would have been too fearful to walk over it.
The rail bridge was constructed in 1920 and provided a way for trains hauling lumber out of the area to cross the river.
The bridge gets its name Kinsol because it is a short way of saying King Solomon which was the name of a nearby mining venture which was never that successful.
The railroad shut down in the 1980s but the bridge was still basically sound and so was rebuilt for cyclists and walkers. The refurbished bridge opened to the public in 2011.
Beneath the bridge leading off in several directions are beautiful walking trails and we explored one of them.
The colors of autumn were out in full force and it was a wonderful way to spend a golden October afternoon.