Category Archives: Canada


After the horrific Nova Scotia rampage that killed twenty- two people, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 kinds of assault weapons.  His decision hasn’t been overwhelmingly popular. Some say the ban infringes on the freedom of Canadians and will be ineffective at preventing incidents like the Nova Scotia one. Others say the ban doesn’t go far enough. Some Canadians want laws like those in Japan which prohibit the ownership of almost all guns.

75% of households in Canada don’t have guns, but we’ve all had personal experiences with guns. They colour our views.

Some of my family stories about guns come from my grandfather. Grandpa told us about being forced to serve as a wagon driver for bandits occupying his Mennonite village in Ukraine during the Russian Revolution.  Once Grandpa was driving the bandits to a neighbouring village when they stopped a priest walking by, shot him and trampled his body to pieces.  Another time, Grandpa was sent to pick up the body of a fellow driver, a friend, after the bandits shot him through the head. 

grandpa peters in army uniform

Grandpa in his military uniform

When three different armies marched through his village, Grandpa’s family had little control over their lives. “We were always at the mercy of their guns,” Grandpa said in an interview about his teenage years in Ukraine.  Grandpa was forced into the Communist army. He was thrown into a military prison for refusing to take part in weapons training because of his Mennonite pacifist beliefs.

My father only went hunting once. We had just moved to Steinbach and a colleague invited him to go deer hunting. When Dad pulled onto our driveway after returning from his hunting expedition, we heard a loud bang.  Dad’s gun had gone off accidentally. The bullet went right through the car door. My brother remembers touching the bullet hole and it was still hot.

I was very involved in a movement called Parenting For Peace and Justice during the years I was raising my own sons.  The organization advocated not allowing children to play with guns at all. They believed it was wrong to associate something so deadly with fun, that letting kids play with guns desensitized them to the violence guns create and allowed them to think that killing people was something normal. My sons took my instructions about this seriously. They remember returning guns they were given as gifts because they knew I wouldn’t let them keep them.

I lived and worked in Hong Kong where it is illegal for private citizens to own guns. There were sizeable fines and prison sentences for possession. My American colleagues in Hong Kong said they felt much safer living there than in their own country.

soldier with gun at the Mount of Olives

Armed soldier on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

I did a blog post about gun ownership in Israel. During my visit to the country, it seemed to me that there were people carrying guns everywhere.  I saw teachers carrying guns on field trips with their students.  I asked a gentleman at an outdoor restaurant to move his gun so I could sit in the chair next to him which was the only one available.   I felt uncomfortable and scared because so many people had guns. My blog post about guns in Israel got the most views of any I’ve ever published. People’s opinions were strong.  Some made comments that were frightening, threatening and crass. I deleted most of the comments and removed the blog post for a time. 

If I was being honest and idealistic, I would say that I’d like to live in a world without guns of any kind.  I know however this is an emotional issue for the three million Canadians who are gun owners. Hopefully sharing our diverse opinions and our personal experiences can foster a civil discussion that helps us move forward as we all strive to make our country safer.

Other posts………..

Stalking, Lunch and No Guns

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

Generation Lockdown



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Good News- Part 14

Northern Lights in the Forest- my second attempt at a water-colour

Did you know that Canada will soon have the largest protected boreal forest in the world? An agreement between the government of Alberta and the Tall Cree First Nation will preserve a remote area north of Fort McMurray that is home to some 65 animal species in need of conservation.  No logging or oil and gas exploration can take place in the 4 million-acre area.  You can read more about it here. 

Other Good News Posts

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Looking For The Positive in Canada’s 2019 Election

I am a regular columnist for a regional Manitoba newspaper called The Carillon.  Several weeks ago a fellow writer for the paper penned his entire column about why Canadians should definitely not cast their vote for Justin Trudeau in the upcoming election. That column inspired me to attempt something different. Despite my own clear and established political preferences could I look at the major candidates and parties and find something positive to say about each of them? Canadians have consistently rated Elizabeth May of the Green Party the most ethical and trusted party leader in the country. She wants to bring more civility and collegiality across party lines to the House of Commons. I am so glad a woman is running for prime minister. It is high time Canada had an elected female prime minister especially in 2019 when every provincial leader is male. No other party takes climate change as seriously as the Greens, but they also have concrete plans for improving the lives of Canadians in areas like housing, LGBTQ rights, justice, and health care. Elizabeth May has a theology degree and the United Nations has named her one of the world’s leading environmentalists for her work as a politician, author, and environmental lawyer.
Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party has a wealth of political experience. He was elected to the House of Commons in 2006, 2008 and 2011. He was the Speaker of the House for four years. Scheer’s party has promised $1.5 billion to buy more MRI and CT machines for medical facilities. This is important to many Canadians. As someone who rides the bus almost daily, I appreciate the Conservative initiative to provide a tax credit for folks who buy passes for public transportation. Before he entered politics Andrew Scheer worked as a waiter. I waitressed my way through university so I know few professions teach you as much about human nature. That knowledge would serve a prime minister well.

According to a recent article in the Atlantic magazine Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party has kept 92% of his 2015 campaign promises, the most by any Canadian government in 35 years. He has instituted a carbon tax, a strategy more than 3000 economists have endorsed as an effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Under Justin Trudeau’s leadership in 2018, Canada settled more refugees than any other country in the world. Statistics Canada reports that the child poverty rate in our country has declined thanks to the child benefit instituted by the Liberal government in 2016. Justin Trudeau appointed the first gender-equal cabinet in Canada and presently the jobless rate in our country is the lowest it has been since 1976. It sounds like in many ways Justin Trudeau has done a very good job.
Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party has detailed plans for instituting national pharmacare, childcare, and dental care programs. These are vital services. One has to admire the poised professional way Mr. Singh responded to racist comments he received recently while campaigning in Montreal. Mr. Singh’s autobiography Love and Courage describes how he rose above a challenging childhood to become a respected criminal lawyer and member of the Ontario legislature. In a CBC interview, Jagmeet Singh gave many examples of older male House of Commons representatives in the New Democratic Party stepping aside to allow young women to run for office and then lending these new candidates their support. This kind of change is of great importance in Canadian politics. 

Although we all have our own convictions about which leader and party would be best for Canada I think it is helpful to acknowledge that all our leaders have some positive qualities and each party has some plans and promises we can applaud. In a campaign that has sometimes been far too negative, we might do well to think of something positive we could say about each person who has made the sacrifices needed and had the strong convictions required, to run for political office. 


Filed under Canada, Politics

15 Reasons I Am Thankful to Live in Canada

I am thankful to live in a country where………….

women get the vote quebed

Posing with statues of  female suffragettes in Quebec City

I can vote to elect my leaders

I don’t have to worry about health care costs

pride parade (1)

Marching in the Pride Parade in Steinbach. Photo credit- Grant Burr

People are free to marry the person they love

There hasn’t been a war in my lifetime

Diversity is celebrated

Window at my church

 I have the freedom to worship as I please

Women have the right to make the choice about what happens to their bodies

Capital punishment has been abolished


Waterfall in Cox’s Cove Newfoundland

There is a wealth of natural resources 

There is a good education system

prairie grasses red river bank

Prairie grasses in the park at the end of my street

There is gorgeous scenery 

We have world-renowned writers, musicians, artists and actors

We have sensible gun laws

We give parents leave to stay home with their newborns

We allow people to die with dignity

Sitting in the speaker’s chair in the House of Commons Canada

On Thanksgiving Day I am thankful to live in Canada. 

Other posts………

Thanksgiving and the Kitchen Table

Pumpkins For Sale

Giving Thanks

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The Dionne Quintuplets

I remember my mother telling me she had played with Dionne quintuplet paper dolls when she was a little girl and so when I saw the book The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood I thought it would be a good way to find out more about the set of famous Canadian quintuplets who were media stars in my mother’s time.

I waited until I had finished reading the novel before I looked online to discover what had eventually happened to the famous Dionne quintuplets. The Quintland Sisters is historical fiction and chronicles the first five years of the little girls’ lives through the eyes of a young midwife’s assistant named Emma.

The Dionne quintuplets with Dr. Dafoe who delivered them

The quintuplets were born in 1934 in rural Ontario and are believed to be the first set complete of quintuplets to ever survive infancy. The girls became wards of the government and were kept in isolation in an institution built especially for them.  Millions of people came to see them through a one-way glass as they played outside each day. They were studied by all kinds of medical experts.  Movie stars and politicians visited them.  They even met the king and queen.

The quintuplets at age 4

A bevy of commercial deals and three Hollywood movies brought in millions of dollars for the Canadian government, the quintuplets’ parents, and Dr. Dafoe, the physician who delivered them and was appointed to supervise their care.  Eventually, their parents won the right to take them back into their own home and join their other eight siblings. The novel suggests that experience was less than ideal.

Reading stories about the surviving quints online one discovers that their parents physically and sexually abused them. They left home at eighteen and broke off all contact with their parents. The five sisters had rather tragic lives. In a CBC documentary, they admit their dysfunctional childhoods did not equip them for adult life and that resulted in unhappy marriages and troubling relationships with their own children. Only two of the five quintuplets still survive. 

The book The Quintland Sisters is fictional but contains many actual newspaper articles about the quintuplets so you can read the historical information on which the book is based.

I really liked Emma, the main character in the novel, who cares for the quintuplets in their early years. You can see how she develops as a person and an artist.  But I wasn’t happy with the ending of the book where the author uses a series of letters to tie up all the loose ends from the plot.  I felt cheated out of hearing the actual story of Emma’s life after she leaves her job caring for the quintuplets.  

The two surviving quintuplets Cecile and Annette

The Quintland Sisters is an interesting read and provides another perspective on the history making story of the Dionne quintuplets. 

Other posts……….

Wushu Twins



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Edna May Brower- The Other Mrs. Diefenbaker

Last week a columnist, Michael Zwaagstra, who writes for the same newspaper I do, described the unforgettable legacy of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. I have no doubt, as Mr. Zwaagstra contends, that John Diefenbaker made some important contributions to our country. However, he remains an unforgettable character to me for two very different reasons.

My younger brother had a difficult time pronouncing the Prime Minister’s name, so when we were children he always called him Mr. Beef and Bacon. In our family that’s how we came to refer to Mr. Diefenbaker.  Mr. Beef and Bacon is still the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name of Canada’s thirteenth Prime Minister. The second reason Mr. Diefenbaker is unforgettable for me is because in 1986 I read a book written by Simma Holt called The Other Mrs. Diefenbaker.  It was the biography of John Diefenbaker’s first wife Edna May Brower.  John married her in 1929 and Edna died of leukemia in 1951.

John Diefenbaker and his second wife Olive with American President John Kennedy and his wife Jackie.

In 1953 John got married for a second time to Olive Diefenbaker and never mentioned his first wife again. Author Simma Holt claims that when Diefenbaker wrote his memoirs he did not even record his twenty-two-year marriage to Edna May. He only added a statement about it at the urging of his advisors who said his autobiography would lack authenticity if he did not.

Edna May is buried with John’s parents and brother

John did not pay for a cemetery plot for Edna but buried her with his mother and father. According to many sources, Edna and John’s mother did not get along at all.

Why did John act this way towards his first wife after she had died?   Did he just miss her so desperately that he dared not speak of her? Did he want his second wife to be absolutely certain of his devotion to her? He had briefly dated his second wife Olive a few years before he met Edna.

The first Mrs. Diefenbaker, Edna May Brower was born in Wawanesa, Manitoba.  She was vivacious and outgoing and worked as a schoolteacher in Saskatoon before her marriage.  John had run for political office unsuccessfully many times but with the friendly and personable Edna May at his side, he finally won a seat in Parliament. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says that Edna May offset John’s rather dour presence with her warmth and spontaneity.

Edna threw herself into advancing her husband’s political career, editing his speeches, acting as his chauffeur and helping him overcome his shyness. She would visit towns on the campaign trail in advance of her husband to gather valuable information before he arrived. She had a regular seat in the House of Commons’ Visitors Gallery and facilitated a warm relationship between her husband and the press.

Edna suffered from some mental health issues for a number of years.  Author Simma Holt suggests this was as a result of Edna discovering that her husband had been unfaithful to her. In the last decade or so two men have come forward claiming to be John Diefenbaker’s illegitimate sons. Despite Edna’s protests, John had Edna institutionalized and authorized electric shock treatments for her. During Edna’s terminal battle with cancer, John remained faithfully at her side. Several Members of Parliament rose to pay tribute to Edna’s contributions to the country after her death in 1951. This was an unprecedented honor for a Canadian who was not an official member of the House.

Learning about John Diefenbaker’s intelligent and gifted first wife and his intriguing relationship with her, is part of what has made him an unforgettable historical figure for me.

Other posts………..

Why Are Most Canadian Prime Ministers Old White Men? 

Agnes McDonald’s Railroad Adventure

I Sat in the Speaker’s Chair

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Filed under Canada, History

An Ancient Sacred Site- Do You Know What Petroforms Are?

We spent Saturday night at our friends’ Jan and Mitch’s cottage at Jessica Lake. Sunday morning we headed out to Bannock Point with them to take a guided tour of a petroform site estimated to be around two thousand years old. We were surprised when our friends from church Carol and Vern and Marge and John showed up. They have a cottage at a nearby Brereton Lake and Marge was the one who told me about the Bannock Point tour. Our guide Adam said the Anishinabe people still consider the site a sacred one and continue to hold ceremonies there. He asked that we treat the site with the same kind of respect we would afford any place of worship. Our first stop was at a rock where people leave offerings of shells, bundles of tobacco, sweetgrass and many other things as a way to pay tribute to the spirits while coming and going from the site. Adam had brought along some tobacco for us to sprinkle on the offering rock if we wanted to. We saw many prayer ties in the trees. Adam told us the colorful pieces of material tied to the branches represented people’s prayers.  At the end of the season, an Anishinabe elder collects them and burns them sending the prayers they represent to the creator spirit.  

Petroforms are features formed by the careful placement of stones to create the outlines of figures or shapes.  The first kind of form we looked at was called a power line. Adam suggested it might represent a story or a song with each stone a chapter or verse.  It might also symbolize a person’s life with each stone representing an important event in that life. Our next stop was at a turtle formation.  Adam told us the familiar Anishinabe creation story about Turtle Island but he also said the turtle formation served a practical purpose since the head of the turtle pointed to the nearest lake.  Following the head of this turtle formation would lead you straight to Heart Lake. Snake formations, like this one, provide directions to rivers and this one’s head points to the Whiteshell River which would have been the route people used to visit this site before the highways into the Whiteshell were built as a ‘make work’ project for unemployed men during the Great Depression. This formation is a woman giving birth to a child. Adam told us that sometimes the stones in a formation can be moved by animals or weather elements and also by vandals who might visit the site. Anishinabe elders are consulted about whether to replace the rocks in their original positions or not. Ceremonies are still held regularly at the Bannock Point site including ceremonies for murdered and missing indigenous women.  This red dress has become a symbol of the movement which tries to find a measure of justice and peace for the families who have experienced this grief. Although Adam had told us not to touch the rocks he said we could touch this Grandmother Rock. Many people come to this rock to pray. Adam also showed us some of the newer petroforms like this medicine wheel with arms pointing in all four directions. Our last stop was this more secluded spot. Adam said there are those who believe ‘little people’ live here. They come out at night to fix any of the petroforms that may have been disturbed.“Those granite rocks are billions of years old,” Adam told my friend Marge as she posed atop one of them. 

I was so glad Marge had told me about this interesting site, a great place to learn more about the religion and culture of the Anishinabe people who came to the Whiteshell long before we cottagers and vacationers discovered it.  

Other posts………..

Zion National Park- A Place of Worship

Aboriginal Spirituality

Giants Elves and Jules Verne



Filed under Canada, Nature, Religion