MaryLou Driedger lives in Winnipeg Manitoba where she works as free lance writer, a tour guide in the school programs department at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and a faculty supervisor for the University of Winnipeg's education department. She is a retired teacher who moved to Winnipeg after living and working in Hong Kong for six years.
One of the things that really impressed me about the South African Art Gallery in Cape Town is they had an entire room set up especially for kids.
The artworks were all installed at a height that would allow children to easily see them and study them without craning their necks to look up.
A special sign welcomed children and told them the room was just for them.
The artworks were chosen with kids in mind.
Some were portraits of children and animals.
As I looked at this piece of a child screaming I could just hear kids asking, “Why is she screaming?” “What made her so mad?”
There were paintings to intrigue. In this painting called The Story of the Money Pig a woman is telling two girls a story that may come from the book by her lap and the piggy bank on the sand obviously figures into the story. But how?
There were bright bold prints.
There were pieces with blank faces so the children could imagine themselves in the painting.
They had included photographs that reflected the children from various backgrounds who might be coming to visit the art gallery.
In order to stay viable in the future it is important for art galleries to attract children and young people as patrons.
I thought the children’s room at the South African gallery was a unique way to try and do that and one that other galleries might do well to emulate.
Friends invited us to a Crankie Concert on Friday night.
What’s a crankie? It’s an old way of telling stories. You start with a long illustrated paper that is wound onto two spools. The spools are loaded into a box with a viewing window. The paper is then hand-cranked while a story is told or a song is sung.
I remember once making a crankie for a project at school when I was a child.
The concert Friday night featured several music pieces that were accompanied by crankies. Perhaps the most moving was a song performed by an Indigenous singer and drummer named Ray CoCo Stevenson and a musician from Gimli Kael Sauerborn. The song they shared with us was Comes to Light.
The song Comes to Light is about the 215 children’s bodies that were found at the Kamloops Residential School in May of 2021. The lyrics recognize how tragic it must be for Indigenous families to learn about something like that. The song extends an offer of support and solidarity.
You can read the lyrics, listen to the song and see the crankie that goes with Comes to Lighthere.
A crankie can be a beautiful way to bring the lyrics of a song to life.
Since returning from Africa at the beginning of March I’ve had the privilege of visiting four different schools to connect with kids and teachers about my novel Lost on the Prairie. It’s been so much fun!
All these schools were participating in the Manitoba Young Readers Choice MYRCA program. My book is a nominee and I’m so appreciative of the way that has resulted in invitations to visit schoolswhere teachers have organized MYRCA clubsand meet weekly with kids to talk about the books they are reading.
The second week of March I went to Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach my home town. It was my first visit to this beautiful facility that opened in 2012. I was warmly greeted in the office by Vice Principal Candace Campbell who took me to the large and brightly lit library where I was welcomed by the librarian Arlene Baldwin who helps facilitate the school’s MYRCA club of some thirty students.
Teacher Alex Nikkel is the driving force behind the club. After I had spoken to the larger group I had a chance to chat with some individual students and sign copies of the book.
Watching Alex hurry into the library on her lunch hour to greet me and the students, reminded me of my own busy years of teaching and how the public often fails to realize all the extra things teachers do to help kids explore their interests and give them personal attention.
I was so appreciative of my husband Dave who acted as my chauffeurfor our trip out to Holland Elementary School in Holland Manitoba about a 90-minute drive south and west of Winnipeg.
Teacher Deanne Kuehn organized my visit. She had a special MYRCA bulletin board up in her classroom. I first spoke to all the grades 5-8 students. The younger students were about to begin Lost on the Prairie as a class read aloud.
The older students had already completed Lost on the Prairie as a class read-aloud and novel study so I spent some time with them separately since they had made a list of great questions they wanted to ask me about the book.
Since two of the characters in the book are inspired by my grandparents the kids really enjoyed looking at some of their personal effects I had brought along.
Next up was Ecole St. Avila in the Fort Richmond area of Winnipeg. Here my visit had been arranged by the librarian Paula Jasper Hall through the Thin Air Kids Festival which featured all the MYRCA nominees this year.
What a great bunch of kids in this thriving MYRCA club that meets over their lunch hour in the library. Their questions were fantastic. We talked right till the buzzer rang for class to start.
Paula had made them beautiful bookmarksthat featured all the MYRCA nominees and I was busy autographing them. I felt like a celebrity!
My last presentation was on Thursday at École Munroe Middle Schoolhere in Winnipeg. Teacher Librarian Sylvia Scott organized my lunch hour visit with her grade six MYRCA club.
The students were so attentive and interested and Sylvia is such an enthusiastic supporter of the MYRCA program! How lucky writers are to have an initiative like MYRCA begun by the Manitoba School Library Association and supported by volunteer teachers and librarians from across the province. They work each year to actively promote Canadian books with young readers.
I’ve loved all my visits to schools in the last three weeks. Connecting with young people who have read a book you’ve written is so rewarding and is definitely an inspiration to keep on writing! Thanks, MYRCA!
Miriam Rudolph has created a series of prints to tell a story of the Metis and Indigenous people of Manitoba and how it intersects with the story of her Mennonite ancestors. Miriam has called it Storied Land: Repmapping Winnipeg. It is part of the Headlines: The Art of the Newscycle exhibit currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Each print is accompanied by a collection of articles from local news sources including the Winnipeg Free Press which describe the subject of the print.
Miriam went to the Winnipeg archives to read old Winnipeg Free Press newspapers to find stories about Indigenous people. In older editions of the paper, which she photographed she found little mention of the Metis or First Nation People of the province.
Now there are many more stories about Indigenous people in the newspaper and the Free Press has Indigenous writers and columnists. Miriam illustrates this by having the Indigenous people with their ribbon skirts and drums appear prominently in this print.
Here Miriam shows the East and West Reserves in red ink- land near Steinbach and Winkler that was given to new Mennonite immigrants to Manitoba. But this was land that Metis families also claimed as their own.
The Metis were petitioning to have official rights to the land but the rights of the Mennonite immigrants were rewarded instead. See how the Mennonites are front and centre and the Metis family at the top is smaller and in the distance?
In 1881 a railroad was built right through Winnipeg. North of the tracks smaller cheaper houses were built for new immigrants coming to Canada from other countries and later for Indigenous families coming to Winnipeg from off their reserves.
Bigger fancier houses were built on the south side of the tracks for wealthier families. The railroad tracks continue to divide Winnipeg but some recent articles in the Winnipeg Free Press suggest that moving the rail tracks might be good for the city.
This is Miriam’s print of Rooster Town. It was a settlement of some sixty Metis families that was located where the Grant Park Shopping Mall is now situated. The people who lived there had jobs and were contributing citizens of the city but were treated very rudely and unkindly by other Winnipeg people. Their community came to be known as Rooster Town.
In 1959 the people who lived there were forced out of their homes. You can see the roosters, the Metis family and the small homes in Rooster Town compared to the larger homes of other Winnipeg residents.
Mennonite Settlement in the North Kildonan area of Winnipeg began in 1928 when a new wave of Mennonites immigrated to Canada from Ukraine. Some 20,000 arrived. Palliser Furniture is an example of a business that began in North Kildonan where one of the small houses became a woodworkingshop.
The land was gardening land and was valuable because properly cultivated it could provide a good supply of food to the city. It was offered to the Mennonites. People built homes and raised chickens. This print provides a contrast between the Mennonite settlement in North Kildonan to Rooster Town where people couldn’t purchase land or homes and where amenities like electricity and water weren’t provided.
In this print, we see the powerful politicians who decided a hundred years ago that an aqueduct should be built to bring water from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg. Aninishanabe people were living on a peninsula on Shoal Lake but in order to make the water flow properly to the city the peninsula was turned into an island making it difficult for the Indigenous people to get supplies.
In June 2019, an all-weather road was finally built to connect Shoal Lake to the Trans Canada Highway. Miriam shows the aqueduct in red. The road is called Freedom Road. You can see the Shoal Lake families in the bottom left-hand corner. Some Mennonite churches were vocal politically in advocating for the building of the road.
Miriam is heartened about the future of positive Indigenous-settler relations by the possibilities offered by the Naawi-Oodena land grant which makes the former Kapyong Barracks located in the Tuxedo and River Heights area of Winnipeg a large urban First Nation reserve.
The plan is to develop it into a community with homes, businesses, sports facilities, and schools. In her print, the Indigenous people are front and centre and the settler people are off to the side.
If you want to know more I suggest you watch the video of a lecture artist Miriam Rudolph gave at the Winnipeg Art Gallery about these prints. She links each one with many Winnipeg Free Press articles and pieces from other media sources including Mennonite ones that provide added insight into each of her prints. She explains them in much more detail than I have and it is just fascinating.
I am giving a tour at the art gallery this morning which will include these prints of Miriam Rudolph’s and writing this piece last night was a way for me to prepare. I hope you will enjoy learning about them too.
I’ve been checking out the competition in the last while.
As many of you know I was nominated for a Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice (MYRCA) award last May. Students in schools across the province have a year to read all ten books selected by the MYRCA panel and then in May of this year, they’ll vote for their favourites.
I decided it would be fun to check out some of the books that I’m competing againstso I’ve read most of them. Here are four of my competitors.
Taking the Iceby Lorna Schultz Nicholson is a story about a young boy named Aiden whose Dad, a professional hockey player has recently been killed in a car accident. Aiden loves hockey too but when his Mom decides to move back to her home town to care for Aiden’s grandfather, Aiden has to adjust to a new hockey team and prove himself worthy of being named the team captain.
I really appreciated the fact that Lorna included some of the problems facing the sport of hockey in Canada and that her hero exemplifies the best of the game. As the mother of two boys who played minor hockey for many years this novel really resonated with me.
I won’t lie. Birdspellby Valerie Sherrard was tough to read. The story about a grade six boy named Corbin is so heartbreaking. His mother has bipolar disorder and his father is largely absent so Corbin is left to essentially parent his motherand try to survive as best he can.
He tries really hard to handle all their problems himself but when his mother is hospitalized he is cared for by a kind adult friend, encouraged by his elderly neighbour, and shown a great deal of compassion by a classmate whose pet bird Corbin is keeping at his house. Corbin’s life at least for a time is more stableand there is hope for a better future.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and I was happy to see a village come together to help Corbin.
I know there are children who live with bipolar parents and this book will help them to feel less alone.
The story in Elvis, Me and Lemonade Standby Leslie Gentile takes place in 1978. Truly Clarice is twelve and lives in a trailer park with her Mom who struggles to manage her drinking and hold down a job. She leaves Truly to fend for herself while she dates a string of boyfriends.
Luckily for Truly, a grandmotherly neighbour provides her with safety, security and love. The other trailer court residents also offer Truly support in various ways. The title references a lemonade stand Truly sets up to raise money to go to Vancouver to try to reconnect with her Dad. Elvis, Me and the Lemonade StandSummer is a wonderful story and one I think adults born in the 70s will really appreciate too.
I just finished The Doll Houseand it’s a mystery tour through the past and the present in an old house that comes complete with an identical replica of itself in the attic – a handmade doll house. Alice has come to live in the house with her mother who is providing nursing care to the old woman that owns it. Alice is quickly swept up into a confusing world where she is no longer sure what is realand what isn’t.
There are ghosts and secret passageways and an element of creepiness and horror that aren’t usually my favourite in the books I read but I can see where kids will be drawn into the story and be dying to find out what is really going on.
I was in Steinbach recently to see the movie Women Talkingwith friends and we had only been standing in line to buy our tickets for about five minutes when a woman came up to me and said, “You’re Dr. Peters’ daughter aren’t you?”
I used to hate that! When I was growing up in Steinbach, Manitoba I was always first and foremost “Dr. Peters’ daughter.”
My father was a local physician and Steinbach wasn’t a big city like it is now. It only had a population of 3,700 people when we first moved to town in 1961. There weren’t that many doctors there either and my Dad was on the school board, a leader in his church and well-known throughout the community.
The first thing teachers and other kids and really anyone who met me always said was, “you’re Dr. Peters’ daughter aren’t you?” I hated that, especially as a teenager. I wanted to be my own person! I didn’t want to be first and foremost my Dad’s daughter. People seemed to have certain expectations of me because I was Dr. Peters’ daughter. That was frustrating!
And really I was my mother’s daughter so much more than my father’s since Dad was incredibly busy with his thriving medical practice and a multitude of church and community commitments. We only really spent extended periods of time with him on family trips.
Even in the summer, my Mom went off to the family cottage with us while Dad stayed home to work. Perhaps I secretly resented all those people and causes that kept my Dad apart from us so much.
Then I moved away from Steinbach to attend university. I got married and changed my last name from Peters to Driedger. I secured a teaching job in Winnipeg and lived there till I was in my mid-twenties.
My husband Dave and I did move back to Steinbach in 1977 but by that time I had a different last name and I began to establish a reputation apart from my Dad’s as an educator, a columnist for the local paper and as Dave Driedger’s wife.
My husband was involved in pretty much every sporting activity the community offered and his achievements as a coach and athlete were well-known. So I was often asked, “Are you Dave Driedger’s wife?”
I still heard “Oh you’re Dr. Peters’ daughter aren’t you?” but not nearly as often. And by then I didn’t hate it nearly as much when people referred to me that way because I was beginning to realize my Dad had made such important contributions to the community and that many folks admired and respected him.
Eventually, both my parents and my husband and I left Steinbach. My parents because of my Mom’s ongoing health problems which made the proximity to the Winnipeg hospital where she received care important and Dave and I to live abroad for years and then return to Canada and settle in Winnipeg.
Of course, we still went back to Steinbach frequently because we had so many friends there but the community had gotten so much bigger and there were lots of people who had no idea who my Dad was.
I rarely got asked any moreif I was Dr. Peters’ daughter and really by that time, I didn’t care at all if I did, because I was secure in who I was, and had made peace with the resentment I felt about his absence from our family during my childhood.
It turned out Dad had almost made up for his absence as a father in his role as a grandfather to my children and niece and nephews, by being much more present in their lives.
Now my Dad has advanced dementia and is in a nursing home. The staff all call him Dr. Peters because he likes that. To them, I am “Dr. Peters’ daughter.”
I see Dad several times a week, and my sister and I are often the only people he still recognizes. Dad and I spend lots of time together now, maybe more than we ever have.
In January and February, I went on a trip to Africa and I really wondered whether Dad would still recognize me when I returned after six weeks away.
When I walked into his care unit on my first day home he was just coming down the hallway with his walker. “Hi Dad,” I said waving my hand. He looked up and his face broke into a big smile. “My daughter! My daughter!” he called out excitedly.
At that moment I was happy. Happy to be Doctor Peters’ daughter.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am vehemently against any attempt to limit a woman’s control over her own body. Every woman should have free and easy access to an abortion if she feels she needs to have one. It is totally her own decision!
However, I would be very happy to see abortion rates in our province continue to fall as they have been for many years now. Since 2008 the number of abortions performed in clinics and hospitalsin Manitoba has almost been cut in half.
I was SO excited on Sunday when the provincial NDP promised that if they are elected in the fall they will provide free birth control to everyone in the province. More good news for both those in the pro-life and pro-choice camps who want to see a continued reduction in the number of abortions.
Research has shown that providing free and easy access to birth control can reduce abortion rates. A study was done in an area of Louisiana where free birth control was made available to residents. It reduced the abortion rate by 62%.
For six years beginning in 2009, Colorado provided teens and low-income women with free IUDs and implants. In four years the abortion rate had dropped by 40%.
The price tag of $11 million for the proposed program in Manitoba sounds expensive but a March 2022 article in the Winnipeg Free Press outlined the high costs to society of unwanted pregnancies. It cites an American study that showed for every dollar invested in providing free contraception a saving of $7 in future healthcare costs was realized.
NDP parties in both British Columbia and Alberta have made similar commitments to the one the Manitoba NDP just announced. Free birth control is something the Canadian Pediatric Society, The Canadian Medical Association and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada have been recommending since 2019.
There is a lot of dire news about abortion coming out of the United States where legislators are ignoring all the research and deciding that the most effective way to lower abortion rates is by making women who get them and doctors who provide them, criminals. It is good to see some Canadian provinces taking a much more progressive and positive approach.
Of course, we can’t be assured that free birth control for all Manitobans will become a reality until we know whether the NDP party will form the government after the fall election.
But for all those who want to see the abortion rates continue to decline in our province, the NDP plan for free contraception is one very good reason to vote for them.
I have to help my husband put on his socks every morning. He is waiting for hip surgery and he has had a sore shoulder of late so he just can’t bend over far enough to get his socks on. He is not happy about this. “I need a little help here MaryLou,” I will hear him call out in an irritated voice as he gets dressed to head off in the morning to one of his volunteer or sports commitments.
Often while I help get his socks on he grumbles and complains about the state of his ageing body and what the future might hold for it. I try and cheer him up by pointing out all the things his body can still do and what a good life he has.
In the midst of my helping him with his socks one day last week, he commented in a rather crotchety voice, “You sure were grumpy last night and now you are all cheerful and lah-de-dah.”
I just smiled. This has always been our pattern. I learned early on in our marriage not to take anything Dave said before 9 o’clock too seriously. It was not his best time.
In the evening, however, he is raring to go and can stay up late laughing at Stephen Colbert on television, completing a volunteer shift at a late-night concert at the West End Cultural Centre, or polishing off a New York Times crossword puzzle.
I on the other hand am my best self in the morning when I’m ready to take on the world and full of energy. I chatter excitedly about a school I’m visiting that day or a tour I’m giving at the art galleryor a lunch date I have with a friend.
In the evening, however, I wind down early and it’s my time to worry, feel overwhelmed by everything on my plate, sigh a lot, and get irritated easily.
I’ve sometimes wondered if Dave and I would be better offhaving the same emotional rhythm but I really think our alternate moods in the morning and evening are probably a good thing.
During the major part of the day, we are usually both in pretty good spirits, but at the time when one of us isn’t at our best, the other is.
It could just be one of the reasons we’ve managed to stay together for almost fifty years.
At the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town, I spent quite a bit of time in an exhibit about the life and work of Charles Darwin the British scientist well known for his contributions to our understanding of evolutionary biology.
I was surprised to learn from a family tree at the museum that Charles Darwin was married to Emma Wedgewood the granddaughter of the famous Josiah Wedgewood who made a fortune with the high-quality fine china business he established. I wanted to know more about Emma.
I discovered Emma was a talented pianist and a fine archer who had travelled abroad with her family. For years she had cared for her ailing mother and sister and had provided lessons in reading and writing to some 6o village children in Maer, Staffordshire where her family had their estate.
She married her cousin Charles at age 30.
Emma who was a staunch Unitarian church member knew about her future husband’s evolutionary theories before she married him and sometime later, Charles declared himself an agnostic. This put their individual religious beliefs at odds with each other.
Emma insisted that she and Charles have an ongoing discussion about faith and so the two of them read and discussed books about theology and read their family Bible together making notes about passages whose authenticity they doubted or thought should not be taken literally. For them, faith was something which required continual questioning and study.
Although Charles was good friends with his local vicar to be true to his beliefs he didn’t go to church. He would accompany his family there and then stroll through the village while they worshipped.
Charles and Emma displayed a wonderful openness and respect for one another’s differing views on matters of faith. Cassandra Farrin writes that Emma’s faith became a sounding board for Charles to think through how to present his controversial evolutionary theories to the world.It was to his wife that Charles entrusted his scientific papers for publication should he not live long enough to publish them himself.
So often today differences in religious beliefs are a cause of conflict and anger. We might do well to model a little of Emma and Charles Darwin’s open-mindedness and flexibility when it came to differences in matters of faith.
“Greed – if only we could get rid of greed. That is the only hope for humanity.”
On a walking tour called Apartheid to Freedom in Cape Town last month our young guide stopped in front of a government building and told us how he believed the corruption rife in the ruling African National Congress party was leading South Africa down a path to ruin.
I asked him if he had any hope for the future of his country. He replied, “I have hope for the future of humanity if only we can get rid of greed.”
In his opinion that was the problem all over the world, not just in South Africa. Greed. People who wanted more and more power and money and were willing to get it and hold onto it without thought of how that pursuit of power and money might impact others.
So many people we spoke to in South Africa talked about their disillusionment with the African National Congress, the party of Mandela and the first to be democratically elected in 1994.
The party may have started out with high ideals for making life better for everyone in South Africa but its leaders have become corrupt and now care only about lining their own pockets. All the young people we talked to said they would never vote for the African National Congress party again.
Our tour guide agreed. He was not afraid to openly criticize the greedy leaders of his country but was quick to point out that greed is at the root of all the problems humanity facesin every country.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since.