Category Archives: Canada

Vision and Voice

Arthur Slade, David Robertson, and Miriam Körner are some of the most successful children’s writers in Canada right now.  Between them, they have published a raft of books and have won all kinds of awards.  I listened to them last night as they shared their vision and voice in a discussion at a Saskatoon conference for children’s writers. Their exchange of ideas was led by Alice Kuipers a children’s writer who helped to organize the conference. 

Arthur and David listen as Miriam talks about her writing motivation

It was interesting to note what motivates each writer. Miriam is passionate about Canada’s north and loves sled dogs and sled dog racing.  In her books, she is trying to share that passion with others.  

Arthur told us his latest book Crimson was written especially for his daughter who he and his wife adopted from China in 2010. He wanted to create an authentic story for her.

David talked about trying to be an example for young indigenous writers. He wants them to feel that they too have powerful stories they can share. 

As you can see the discussion wasn’t all serious. Alice and her panelists were having a good time.

When Alice asked each writer to talk about how they present themselves to the world Miriam laughed and said she would rather not have to think about presenting herself to the public.  She wishes her books would speak for themselves and she could just spend all her time in her cabin in the bush in La Ronge Saskatchewan with her husband and sixteen sled dogs.  

Arthur talked about the persona he needs to maintain on social media and how it is hard to balance the work that involves, with his need to find space and time for writing.

David shared his thoughts about wanting to present himself as an indigenous writer. He hasn’t always embraced that role but realizes there are many things Canadians need to know about his culture.

Why does each author choose to write for young people rather than adults?

Miriam writes books for young teens because she thinks that is such a crucial time in their lives when everything begins to change for them and the world they had taken for granted suddenly looks so different. Many young people believe they can change the world and Miriam wants to capture those youthful voices in her writing.

Arthur told us he fell into writing for kids accidentally.  He was writing adult novels and someone evaluating one of his manuscripts told him it would be a great teen or young adult novel.

David says he writes for kids because he wants to have some input into shaping the children who will be our leaders of tomorrow.  He thinks about what he wants young people to carry with them so they can create a different reality for our country and the world. What will his books teach them?

The Vision and Voice panel was a great way to kick off the conference and really got attendees thinking about their own motivations, public persona and why they have chosen to write for young people.  

Other posts……….

Reading Pictures

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Speaker

Writers All Around

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Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

Pro- Life or Anti-Woman?

“It’s not a right!”  Those scary words are what I kept thinking about last week as American state legislatures passed draconian measures to criminalize abortion.  On May 9, 2018, Member of Parliament Ted Falk shouted “It’s not a right” across the House of Commons after the prime minister had made a statement saying, “We will always be unequivocal in standing up for a woman’s right to choose.”

Mr. Falk was technically correct.  We do not have a law in Canada giving women the right to have an abortion, but abortion has been legal in our country since 1988 when the Supreme Court struck down laws against it.

I have a feeling however Mr. Falk was not concerned about legal technicalities when he voiced his bold interruption.  His presence at a March For Life rally exactly a year later, May 9, 2019, along with some dozen other members of the Conservative caucus, indicates his support for the organization’s clearly stated mandate to have legislation passed that recriminalizes abortion.

Abortion rights are essential if we believe in the equality of women. Most women have abortions because they are in untenable, vulnerable or challenging situations. How can threatening them with criminal charges possibly be the best way to help them? It makes me shudder to think we may elect a prime minister again who personally believes women do not have a right to control their own bodies, as the current Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer does. Do we really want to take a chance on going back to a time of back alley abortions and women being second -class citizens?

Billboard created by a woman’s rights group in the Niagara area of Ontario

I wish the label pro-life had not become attached to the movement to recriminalize abortion.  I think of myself as pro-life even though I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I’ve written before about my frustration with people who focus their efforts on trying to recriminalize abortion. If they were truly serious about reducing the number of abortions, they would be advocating for more effective changes. The research is clear. The criminalization of abortion doesn’t stop it.  But there are things that could dramatically reduce abortion rates.

On May 9, the very day Mr. Falk and his colleagues were participating in the March for Life rally in Ottawa, the Canadian Paediatric Society released its official position on the accessibility of birth control. They’ve compiled a list of reasons why it would be in the best interest of Canadian society as a whole, to provide confidential access to free birth control to everyone under the age of twenty-five. This would help to reduce the estimated 58,000 unplanned pregnancies in that age group each year, including 21,000 that end in abortion.  Could Mr. Falk and his colleagues turn their attention from trying to make desperate women into criminals, and instead, focus their energies on making sure the pediatricians’ well-researched proposal to effectively reduce abortions becomes a reality?

There are so many other things we know will lower abortion rates. Since women primarily have abortions for economic reasons free daycare, lower post-secondary tuition costs, a guaranteed minimum income, and more affordable housing would decrease abortion rates, as would comprehensive mandatory sex education in schools, that introduces young people to many kinds of birth control, not just abstinence.             

These would truly be pro-life initiatives and far more effective ones than recriminalizing abortion as some American states have decided to do. I have the utmost respect for people who are serious about lowering the abortion rate in Canada.  That’s what I would like to see too.  But as far as I’m concerned if you want to make abortion a crime you are anti-woman, not pro-life.

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Filed under Canada, Health

Why Are Most Canadian Prime Ministers Old White Men?

prime ministers of canada

Poster of Canada’s Prime Ministers available from Teacher Tools.

In a grade five and six class I have been visiting the last couple of weeks the kids and their teacher have worked out a kind of rap with actions to learn the names of all of Canada’s prime ministers.  

For Sir John A. MacDonald they hold up one finger since he was Canada’s first prime minister.  They make a sun over their heads for Wilfred Laurier because his catch phrase was  ‘sunny ways’.  They make the peace sign for Lester Pearson because he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

They make a curly French moustache for Pierre Trudeau because he was responsible for making French the official second language of Canada.  While they say the names of the prime ministers and do the actions the kids look at a poster that pictures all the prime ministers. One day the student teacher I was supervising asked the students what questions they had about the prime ministers of our country.  Here are some of the things they wanted to know.  

  1.  What makes a good prime minister?  
  2. What makes a bad prime minister? 
  3. Why are most of Canada’s prime minister’s old white men? 
  4. Why was Kim Campbell only the prime minister for such a short time? 
  5. How did Justin Trudeau get so popular? 
  6. How old do you have to be to be a prime minister? 
  7. What does a prime minister do anyway?
  8. Which prime minister made the first law? 
  9. Do you have to be rich to be the prime minister? 
  10. What does a prime minister do when they aren’t the prime minister anymore? 

I thought these were great questions!  I’d like some of them answered myself!  

Other posts. ……

Who Should Be Prime Minister? 

I Sat in the Speaker’s Chair

The Famous Five

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Filed under Canada, Education

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

I cried often during the movie The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. It’s the story of Dr. Anne Dagg, a Canadian who went to Africa in 1956 to study giraffes for a year. She observed them for ten to twelve hours a day making copious notes, keeping charts, filming and photographing them. Anne was 23, just out of university, and had been in love with giraffes ever since seeing them in the zoo as a child.  Anne went to Africa before Jane Goodall had begun her research with primates and so there was no precedent for a young woman doing such a daring thing.  But Anne’s mother encouraged Anne to go and follow her dream.

Anne came back to Canada after her time in Africa. She married and had a family.  But she was determined to return to Africa to further study her beloved giraffes. The only way to do that was to become a tenured professor and get a research grant.  So while raising her three children she obtained a PHD in animal behaviour.

Some of Anne’s books about giraffes

She wrote a textbook about giraffes and had dozens of articles printed in prestigious science periodicals.  But when in 1972 after a very successful teaching stint she applied at Guelph, Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier universities for a tenured position she was rejected despite her numerous academic awards and ground breaking research, because she was a woman. One university told her she should be looking after her husband and children, not teaching science.

Her dream to go back to Africa and study giraffes seemed doomed but Anne, appalled by the way she had been treated because of her gender, became an activist, writer, speaker and advocate for women’s equality in academia.

Almost unbeknownst to Anne her books and articles continued to be the ‘bible’ for scientists interested in studying giraffes. In 2010 Amy Phelps, the giraffe keeper at the San Francisco Zoo decided she was going to track Anne down and invite her to a conference for giraffe care professionals.  At the conference Anne was thrilled to be the first recipient of an award for giraffe research named in her honour. Anne started communicating with other scientists and was delighted to be making new connections with giraffe devotees all over the world. 

Director Alison Reid wanted to write and produce a movie about Anne’s life so arrangements were made to film Anne in Africa visiting her beloved giraffes once again.  Anne was in her 80s but her dream to revisit Africa was finally realized. While in Africa Anne was saddened to learn how the giraffe population has been reduced by 70% since her first visit in the 1950s.  The future of the giraffe is bleak. So Anne has begun another crusade- speaking, writing and fundraising to save the giraffe. 

Anne’s story moved me to tears. I loved her independence and passion. I loved the way her mother supported her.  I loved it that she fought for herself and that she used her experience as inspiration to fight for other women.   Mostly I loved that in her eighties her contributions were recognized, her dreams realized, and she had the courage to tackle new challenges.  It makes someone like me who is in her sixties realize that many good and exciting things might still await me on life’s journey. 

In February of 2019 the University of Guelph hosted a screening of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. They invited Anne and gave a public apology to her for the way the university had treated her.  They also announced they were establishing a Dr. Anne Dagg Scholarship for research to be awarded annually.  Way to go Anne!

 Other posts……….. 

Animal Wisdom

Finding the Elusive Quetzel in Costa Rica

The Matilda Effect

 

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Filed under Canada, Nature

Making Peace With the Past- The Canada Reads Nominees

All five Canada Reads nominees this year tell stories that were written at least in part because the authors wanted to make peace with their past.  I’ve already blogged about the first two books Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung, and Brother by David Chariandy. The other three are……..

In his Holocaust memoir By Chance Alone Max Eisen relates his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.  He  was from Czechoslovakia and lost his entire immediate family to the gas chambers.  Eisen had dreams while he was writing his book that helped him remember details about the past which his subconscious had suppressed. He was surprised how cathartic the writing experience was.

In Suzanne author Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette tells the story of her grandmother’s life.  Her grandmother left her husband and children to go to the United States and Europe to carve out an independent future of her own as an artist, writer and political activist.  Lavalette has researched the personal history of this grandmother she never really knew in the hopes that she might be able to understand her grandmother’s choice to abandon her children.

None of the Canada Reads nominees stands out for me. All are incredibly sad.  All are either true stories or were inspired by real life events and experiences. All address multiple issues of importance- racism, war, the role of women, mental illness, immigration, anti – Semitism, single parenting, and poverty. Each ends with a glimmer of hope.

I am only a few chapters in to The Woo Woo, by Lindsay Wong, the fifth nominee but have yet to gain a real appreciation for its kind of humour or feel an affinity for the narrator, although I can certainly relate to some aspects of the Chinese culture it portrays having lived in China for six years.  

Brother is the most well written book in my estimation.  Suzanne was the hardest to read because I couldn’t bring myself to make a connection with the protagonist or feel sympathy for her.  By Chance Alone covers territory I have become familiar with from the many other Holocaust stories I’ve read. Homes has the truest voice. Woo Woo is the strangest. 

An article in the March 20th issue of the Globe and Mail suggests that the Canada Reads books chosen this year emphasize sending a message or teaching a lesson over good imaginative writing and engaging stories. I think I tend to agree. 

Unlike other years when I have the book I’d like to see win Canada Reads clearly chosen ahead of time I really don’t have a favorite this year. I’ll be curious to see what happens when Canada Reads begins today.

Other posts……..

Hero’s Walk

The Illegal

Bone and Bread

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Filed under Books, Canada

Things Are Changing

sent to residential school

Part of the heritage mural at the Upper Fort Garry Park in downtown Winnipeg that shows indigenous children being taken away from their parents to residential school.

Just over a decade ago I was teaching grade ten and eleven English at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School.  For one reading assignment I gave my students some memoirs written by residential school survivors.  For most of them this was their first introduction to this shameful part of Canadian history. Many of my students were shocked.  “Did this really happen?”  they asked me in disbelief. 

insurgence:resurgenceI led tours for more than a hundred teens during the recent seven months long Insurgence Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  It featured indigenous artists from across Canada.  The nature of some of the art pieces on display led me to ask the junior and senior high students if they had heard of residential schools.  Without exception they all had, and most could tell me about their devastating legacy.  The young people on my tours knew far more about indigenous history and culture then I ever would have growing up in Canada in the 1950s and 60s and far more than teens knew even a decade ago.  

I realize we have a long way to go to achieve real truth and reconciliation but things are changing.

Other posts………..

Bold and Beautiful

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History

So Disappointed

 

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Filed under Art, Canada, History, Winnipeg

Happy Birthday Canada

I am so thankful my great grandparents had the courage and foresight to immigrate to Canada. My Schmidt and Janz great grandparents from the United States in 1907 and my Sawatsky and Peters great grandparents from Ukraine in 1929 and……. I am forever grateful to you Canada for taking them in. My great grandparents chose a wonderfully diverse country for their new home and I have been so fortunate to explore it from sea to shining sea. With my cousin Lynne on Signal Hill in St. John’s Newfoundland.On a walk on a crisp autumn day in Quebec City Quebec.In the doorway of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s House in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. With my daughter-in-law and her sister and two of Canada’s famous five suffragettes in Ottawa, Ontario. With my husband Dave tubing at Moose Lake Manitoba. With Dave in St. Johns New Brunswick. Eating lobster in Halifax Nova Scotia. On a birthing stone at Ancient Echoes Interpretative Center in Hershel Saskatchewan. With my family on a skip trip in Banff, Alberta. With Dave (we are second and third from the right) on a kayaking trip in Johnstone Strait in British Columbia.

Other posts……..

Canada Day in Leamington

Canada Day At the Forks

On the Eastern Edge of Canada

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Filed under Canada, Travel