Category Archives: Canada

Where Was It Made?

Where was it made?  Not in Canada!  I was visiting a highschool class where they were learning about Canada’s place in the global community.  In order to get the kids thinking about Canada’s economic relationship to other countries the teacher had them examine each item of their clothing and look at the tags to see where they came from.  Not a single kid in the class was wearing something made in Canada.  All their clothes came from Asian countries.  That got me curious.  I went home and checked out my closet.  Guess what?  My closet is full of stuff from Asia too.  My bathing suit was made in India.  My shorts in Vietnam.  I have shoes from Thailand.  Most of my T- shirts come from Cambodia.  The majority of my clothes were manufactured in China, even my winter faux fur coat. My winter boots were made in Vietnam.  I could find only one thing in my closet that was made in Canada.  A pair of moccasins I inherited from my mother.  I love to wear them around the house because they remind me of her.  But they appear to be the only thing I own that was made in Canada or even North America.  I decided to do a little research. I read it is more likely your clothes were made ethically if they were made in North America and from what I read about clothing workers in a variety of Asian countries they make disgracefully low wages and many work in awful conditions.  I am going to try to be more conscious when I shop to look for things made in Canada. I wonder how many I will be able to find and how much more expensive they will be.

Other posts……..

Wash Day Tragedies

Obsolete Things

Almost Touching Justin Bieber’s Shoes

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What a Sash!

Shooting the Rapids 1879 by Frances Anne Hopkins

I learned so much about voyageur sashes when the Winnipeg Art Gallery education guides toured the St. Boniface Museum recently.  Voyageurs were French workers employed to transport furs for the Hudsons Bay Company. 

sash fringe st. boniface musuemOur guide Bailey told us the sashes could be up to three meters long and were used for many purposes including providing support to prevent voyageurs from getting hernias when they lifted the one hundred pound bales of furs Bailey is standing beside in the photo. 

sashes st. boniface musuemThe sashes made of brightly colored wool could also be used……. for carrying belongings, lashing a canoe to your head during portages, tucking objects like a knife behind when the sash was around your waist.  It could serve as…….. a torniquet for broken bones, a belt, a scarf, a wash cloth, a towel, a saddle blanket or as a tumpline worn on the head to help carry heavy objects.  The fringes on the end might have important keys tied to them or be used for mending clothes.  

louis riel's sash

Louis Riel’s sash

The Metis, a people with both a French and aboriginal heritage, adopted these sashes from the voyageurs and called them ‘un ceinture fleche’ or ‘arrowed belts.’  Nowadays the sash is worn by members of the Metis nation as a symbol of pride.  The sash in the photo above belonged to the founder of Manitoba Louis Riel, a Metis man who was certainly proud of his heritage and his people. In this statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature you can clearly see his sash tied around his waist. 

Other posts……..

An Award Winner Inspires Teens

Eating Bannock Voyageur Style

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Recipe for a Terrorist

Although I was very sad to see The Marrow Thieves voted off Canada Reads yesterday the fact that American War by Omar El Akkad remained a contender means I can write about it while it is still in play as a possible winner.  We have heard so much talk from politicians about terrorists, and how we need to protect ourselves from terrorists, and this book tells us how we can do that………create more equality between the haves and have nots of this world and stop wars.  Wars and their aftermath create terrorists out of young people with promise and potential.  

american warSarat the protagonist of American War is a child living in a time when the United States has become a third world country because of climate change and a divisive civil war.  The war means Sarat is deprived of her father, proper schooling, medical care, adequate food, clothing and shelter. She is suspectible then to a mentor who can provide her with some of those things and most importantly give her life a sense of purpose.  She is easy prey for terrorist recruiters. 

This is a dark, dark book.  I started out liking Sarat.  My affection turned to overwhelming sadness and anger for what Sarat became. What a waste!  American War puts a human face on terrorism and helps us understand that the recipe for creating terrorists is failing to address economic disparty and deciding to solve differences with war.  Violence and poverty create fertile ground for terrorism to flourish. 

American War is just way too depressing and hopeless a book for me to want it to win Canada Reads. Since my first pick The Boat People and my second pick The Marrow Thieves have both been eliminated from the show I will have to cheer for Forgiveness to win today even though it was my number three pick.  

Other posts……

Is the Solution to Ending Terrorism Really This Simple? 

I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel

The Shady Area  Between Violence and Non-Violence

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Canada Reads Day 2

Well at least things righted themselves a little in the Canada Reads contest yesterday.  Precious Cargo which I wanted voted off the first day is gone now and The Marrow Thieves which I championed yesterday has remained.  My blog readers responding to yesterday’s column were vocal on Facebook about The Boat People’s elimination. One said it was an absolute travesty and another felt the panel members were sadly lacking when it came to being connoisseurs of good literature.   

My third place pick for 2018 would be Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto. The first part of the book completely captivated me.  Mark tells the World War II story of his maternal grandfather who was from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and served as soldier stationed in Hong Kong during the war.  The Japanese take him as a prisoner. I felt such a strong connection to this story because the history of Hong Kong was part of the curriculum I taught at an international school in Hong Kong and I visited all the places where Mark’s grandfather’s story unfolds with my students as we learned about what happened when the Japanese attacked and occupied Hong Kong during World War II. 

The Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong where many Canadians are buried

 The cemetery where all the Canadian soldiers are buried in Hong Kong was my very favorite place in the city.  Woven in with this narrative is the story of Mark’s paternal grandmother, born in Canada, whose Japanese family was living a good and prosperous life in Vancouver when World War II broke out. They lost everything when the Canadian government forced them to move inland.  Mark’s grandmother’s family ends up working like slaves on a sugar beet farm in Alberta and living in a chicken coop.     

Mark Sakamoto made me really love his grandparents and so I was sorry that during the second part of the book we hardly heard about them. The latter part of the book is all about Mark’s mother and her fight with alcoholism and addictions and how those impacted her son. There are brief references to his grandparents in this section but I wanted to know so much more about how they related to their grandson and to his parents as they walked through so much grief. How did they feel about their children’s divorce?  What was happening in the grandparents’ lives during this time?  The story about Mark’s mother is a riveting one but I agree with some of the Canada Reads panelists who felt Mark should have written two books, one about his grandparents and another about his mother. 

I hope Forgiveness doesn’t get eliminated today.  We will see if my hopes are realized.  I have one more book to blog about and that’s American War. I am having a birthday lunch with my niece today and she LOVED the book so that should give me additional perspective when I blog about it tonight. 

Other posts………..

Remembering Hiroshima

A Riveting Read

Questions After Watching the film Silence



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So Disappointed!

I can’t believe it!  They eliminated by far the best book!  I can only think of one reason the Canada Reads panelists removed the wonderful book The Boat People on their first day of debating and that is because they were being protective of their own books.  They knew Sharon Bala’s novel was the best and so they decided getting rid of it would give their books a better chance. 

the marrow thievesSo…………now I have to pick another winner and I’m going to choose The Marrow Thieves.  This is a story set in a future when global warming has devastated much of the earth.  Most people no longer have dreams but indigenous people still do and so they are being hunted by ‘recruiters’ who want to harvest their bone marrow thinking it holds the key to recovering the ability to dream.  The story centers around a strong group of indigenous people unrelated to one another and from different First Nations who have banded together and become a family as they flee from the recruiters.  I really think this book should win because ……………

  1. Although the main character is a young sixteen year old boy named Frenchie there are some wonderfully strong female characters in the book like the old woman Minerva -full of courage and tradition, the little girl RiRi full of curiosity and liveliness and the young woman Rose full of rebellion and independence. 
  2. The book ably covers two issues very important to Canadian society- climate change and reconciliation with our First Nations. 
  3. This is a young adult novel and I want it to win because more people need to discover that books labeled young adult can be great adult reading too. 
  4. Unlike American War, the other Canada Reads novel set in a dark future The Marrow Thieves actually leaves one with some semblance of hope for our world and has likeable characters you can cheer for. 
  5. We are constantly rethinking just exactly how the word ‘family’ should be defined and have come to realize families can each look very different.  The Marrow Thieves really makes us think about what it means to be part of a family and not just your biological family. 

I am almost scared to pick a new book to win Canada Reads when my initial choice was eliminated on the first day.  I hope The Marrow Thieves fares better today.  Whatever the outcome I’ll blog again tomorrow about one of the other books. 

Other posts…….

The Boat People

Canada Reads Starts Today


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Canada Reads Starts Today!

During our time in Portugal I managed to read all the books nominated for the upcoming Canada Reads competition. The first was The Boat People by Sharon Bala. I’ve already reviewed it in a blog post and after reading all the other contenders Boat People remains in top spot on my list!   It a good story, very well written, offered the viewpoints of three different narrators, two of them women, and it truly address this year’s theme of  A Book To Open Your Eyes by offering interesting insight into Canada’s immigration system. So I really hope it doesn’t get voted off on the show today. 

I also know which book I hope does gets voted off today.  Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson really lured me in initially.  It is autobiographical and the way Craig describes his dysfunctional personal situation at the start of the book literally had me laughing out loud. Craig’s life is changed during the year he drives a school bus for special needs kids.    As a teacher who has worked with many children with special challenges Craig’s  description of his relationship with these terrific kids warmed my heart and rang very true.   But……………. he also includes excerpts from a novel he tried to write about the same experience and these excerpts just didn’t fit or make sense to me and took me out of the narrative.  And………he tacks on this whole section at the end of the book reflecting on his experience and trying to explain what it meant to him and what it should mean to us.  It was completely unnecessary.  The story of his year with those children and how they captured his heart speaks for itself and I didn’t need to be told what to think of it. 

I plan to follow Canada Reads closely and will be doing further blog posts about the remaining three nominees.  Stay tuned!

Other posts……….

They Remembered the Books

A New Book Set Right Here in Winnipeg

Great Aunt Marie’s Books

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Proud of the New Words to Canada’s National Anthem

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  (Photo by Vincent Ethier/COC)

Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue are household names to Canadians who watched coverage of the Olympic games in South Korea. The figure skating duo jointly carried Canada’s flag as our athletes marched into the Pyeongchang Stadium for the opening ceremonies.

They also won their second gold medal in the ice dance competition eight years after claiming their first gold at the Vancouver Olympics. The pair set a record for the highest score ever for their sport and became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. Canadians can be rightly proud of these two outstanding Olympians for their athletic achievements. But I’m proud of them for another reason as well.

 In a Toronto Star interview Tessa and Scott talked about how happy they were to sing the new lyrics to O Canada when the anthem was played after their gold medal win. Scott said, “It was important for us to set a tone by belting out the new lyrics after our victory. We are so proud of Canada for making this change. It’s 2018. It’s about time.” Scott thought the fact a man and a woman jointly carried our flag at the opening ceremonies, illustrated the recent change to one line of Canada’s anthem from “in all thy sons’ command” to “in all of us command”.

 I have long advocated for this change and have now published four newspaper columns on the topic.  I first wrote about it in 2002 when I was inspired by the vision of a Steinbach woman Sybil Shaw Hamm. She was collecting signatures for a petition to send to Ottawa in support of Senator Vivian Poy who had introduced a Senate motion to change the word ‘sons’ in O Canada.

“Thousands of little girls are being told they are not important every time they stand to sing the anthem” said Sybil in a media interview. Ultimately Senator Poy’s motion to change the wording was defeated.

O Canada the former version in English, French and Inuktutuk

I wrote about the topic again in 2016 after the House of Commons passed a bill sponsored by the late member of Parliament Mauril Belanger to change the sexist line of the anthem to its present gender- neutral alternative. This time I was responding to my fellow newspaper columnist Michael Zwaagstra who advocated for a national referendum on the change. I pointed out the words of the anthem had been changed many times in the past without a referendum. In fact, the currently contentious line had only had the word ‘sons’ added in 1914, as a way to counteract the influence of a vocal group of suffragettes lobbying for women’s right to vote.

I wrote about the topic again in 2017 when local senator Don Plett introduced an amendment to the bill as a way to try to stymie its passage in the Senate. He didn’t want to change the words because they were “an important reminder of the past.” I said the word ‘sons’ did reflect a past when women weren’t persons in Canada. They were their husbands’ and fathers’ property. They couldn’t vote and their contributions went largely unrecognized. Thankfully times had changed and so should the words of our anthem.

Of course I am overjoyed that despite Mr. Plett’s efforts the bill did pass the Senate. The changes to the anthem became law on February 7 just in time for the new version to be used at the Winter Olympics.

Language is a very powerful thing. I am proud that on the international stage our now inclusive national anthem reflected the fact that our Olympic athletes come from a country where both the contributions of men and women are recognized and respected.

Thing 2–  One of the eight things I do each day here in Portugal is work on a piece of writing I know will be published or I would like to have published.  This newspaper column was one of them.  It was published yesterday in the Carillon.   Other publishing projects I’ve worked on besides writing my regular columns include spending time rewriting some meditations that will be published this summer and doing publicity forms for another Chicken Soup story of mine that will be published in a book in spring.  I am also working on edits to the first draft of a manuscript for a middle grade novel I want to submit to an editor when I get home, and I am writing more submission letters for a picture book I have finished and am hoping to get published. In addition I am working on another picture book manuscript and adding more short stories to a collection I’m writing about growing up in the 50s and 60s.  

Other posts……..

The Famous Five

Are You This Determined to Vote?

From Pale and Weak to Platoon Commander


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