Category Archives: Canada

Empathy and Kindness Personified

Photo from the film’s Facebook Page.

Kímmapiiyipitssini The Meaning of Empathy is the name of a documentary film we saw last night that tells the story of the opioid crisis ravaging the Kainai First Nation in Alberta. The film was made by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers a young woman who comes from a Kainai community.

Kímmapiiyipitssini is the word for a Blackfoot teaching that says empathy and kindness are the keys to survival. And no one embodies that empathy and kindness more than Esther Tailfeathers who is a doctor on the Kainai First Nation. She is at the very heart of the film and will stop at nothing to help people deal with their deadly addictions. Her aim is to reduce harm to addicts in whatever way she can.

Esther listens to people tell their stories of addiction without any trace of judgment. She is literally empathy and kindness personified. Esther always remains encouraging and positive with her patients.

She collaborates with others in the community to train people to use naloxone kits. Naloxone is an antidote for fentanyl overdoses. Next, she introduces opioid replacement therapy despite the community’s resistance. Then Dr. Tailfeathers is instrumental in building a detox center that houses and supports a steady stream of addicts. In the film, we are given a window into the lives of some of these addicts who share their stories openly and honestly.

Image from the movie’s Facebook page.

I admired Esther Tailfeathers and the way she could connect with seniors living with the effects of their years at residential school, middle-aged folks who’d had traumatic experiences in foster homes as children, new mothers trying to kick their habit to get their babies back, and young men who had succumbed to peer pressure and started using drugs.

I admit that the in-depth look at the opioid epidemic in the film gave me a pretty bleak view of the chances for a healthy future for the Kainai First Nation but……. I was also left with a sliver of hope because with an amazing woman like Dr. Esther Tailfeathers as their champion a more positive outcome does seem possible for the Kainai.

Other posts……….

My Grandsons Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

Acknowledgments are Important

Clean Water

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Filed under Canada, Health

Fine Free Libraries

When I visited the main branch of the Calgary Library recently I saw this sign announcing that their city libraries are now fine-free. This means patrons will no longer be charged late fees for not bringing back items in a timely manner. Winnipeg libraries have had a similar policy since January of 2021.

One of the reasons libraries have implemented this policy is that once families owed money to a library in late fees they simply stopped coming and that meant their children no longer had access to library books. In Calgary, they figured some 19,000 children had stopped coming to the library because of late fees.

Studies have shown children from low-income families are the ones most impacted. Their families can’t afford to pay their fines so they stop coming to the library even though these are exactly the same families who might not be able to afford to buy books for their children to read at home. Libraries should be places of equitable access and late fees undermined that.

Photo by Pixabay on

Surprisingly research shows that when libraries eliminate late fees there is actually a higher return of books, circulation increases, as does library use. In most libraries that have eliminated late fees, 95% of the materials checked out are still returned. Of course, eliminating late fees does not mean eliminating all responsibility. If people lose books or damage them beyond repair, or never return them, they are still charged a replacement fee.

Patrons in a sitting area at the Calgary Library

A CBC report in February of this year indicated some 300 library systems in Canada have eliminated late fees. Some started doing this during the pandemic for obvious reasons and then decided not to reinstitute the fees when services returned to normal. Although eliminating late fees does represent a loss of revenue for libraries, usually about 1% of their budgets, most have found creative ways to balance those losses.

Late fees may soon be a thing of the past at all libraries. I think that’s a good thing.

Other posts……….

A Waterfall on the Library

What A Library!

My Childhood Reading Heaven

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Filed under Books, Canada, Education, Family

Granny Stories

One of the reasons I wrote my novel Lost on the Prairie was because I wanted to leave my grandchildren a story based on their family’s history. I wanted them to know a little more about what life was like for their Mennonite ancestors.

Helena Penner Hiebert-1902

Another woman who did something similar around 1960 was Helena Penner Hiebert. Helena was the daughter of a very wealthy family who came to Canada from Ukraine just before she was born in 1874. Her father established a hardware empire in Manitoba.

Helena furthest to the left as a university student. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

His good fortune meant Helena could study with a private tutor, graduate from the University of Winnipeg and become a faculty member there.

Helena Penner Hiebert as a young woman- Photo purchased from The Mennonite Heritage Archives

Helena married Dr. Gerhard Hiebert in 1902 and her husband became a surgeon at the Winnipeg General Hospital and a teacher at Manitoba’s Medical College.  Helena and Gerhard had three daughters. Gerhard died in 1934.  After living many years in Winnipeg and serving her community as a school trustee Helena moved to Quebec to live with her daughter Catherine Brown and she died there in 1970 at age 95. 

During her retirement, Helena decided to write stories for her grandchildren. She called them The Granny Stories. Those stories which John Dyck highlights in a 1997 Preservings article provide an intimate look at Helena’s childhood. 

Helena describes a diphtheria epidemic during which she lost three siblings.

 She talks about the neighbor girl who was her best friend and a local farmer who froze in a blizzard.  

There’s a story about the day her father stopped a turkey from attacking her by cutting off its’ head and the day she burned herself on a hot stove.  

She and her siblings learned why their mother had warned them to stay away from the bog near their property when one of the family’s cows nearly drowned in it.

There is a charming story about a blind fiddler who gets everyone dancing when he comes to Helena’s village.

Helena provides a detailed description of her older sister’s wedding.

Helena with her daughter in 1928 – Photo purchased from the Mennonite Heritage Archives

She tells her readers how her mother faithfully put a candle in her window at night to guide wanderers.  Often people caught in a blizzard or having nowhere else to go would find shelter for the night in Helena’s parents’ home. Her mother never let them leave in the morning without first serving them a good breakfast. 

Helena’s Granny Stories was a way for her to record the past for the next generation of her family. She is an inspiration.

I have written a longer biographical piece about Helena called Finding Helena.

For those who are interested in reading the original copy of Helena’s family stories you can download the document here.

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Filed under Canada, People

Lest We Forget in Winnipeg

Lest we forget young men who lost their futures.

Read about the statue of Andrew Mynarski in Vimy Ridge Park in Winnipeg

Lest we forget young women who lost their lives.

Read about the statue of Canadian servicewomen on Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg Manitoba.

Lest we forget civilians who were the victims of war.

Read about the sculpture tribute to Holocaust victims on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature

Other posts………

A German Prisoner of War Camp in Manitoba

Canadian Soldiers in Hong Kong

Remembrance Day Through My Camera Lens

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Filed under Canada, History, Reflections

Dave Considers Becoming A Dog Walker

We began our second day here in beautiful Canmore with a long walk in the chilly morning air. When you are staying in a household with two dogs getting them outdoors for some exercise is the top priority. After breakfast, we hit the trails gorgeous with autumn colours to take Archer and Josie the two dogs that belong to our niece and her fiancé for a walk.

Dave decided to try his hand at walking the dogs, first with Archer the puppy and then with Josie the older dog as well.

The dogs really responded well to him and he managed to keep them on course even though both have a tendency to want to venture off the path to chase squirrels and rabbits and birds and could get a little excited when we met other dogs.

Even when we spotted a herd of elk on a neighbourhood soccer field Dave kept the dogs in hand.

Our niece told Dave dogwalkers typically make twenty dollars an hour. Since Dave lost his job as a driver for a car dealership during the pandemic, he has been thinking about trying a different sort of part-time employment. He may have found it.

Other posts………

Coop the Great- A Book That Isn’t Just For Dog Lovers

Fifteen Dogs and Writing Poetry

Ten Thoughts About the Movie Call of the Wild

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Filed under Canada, Retirement, Western Canada Travels

Welcome to Canmore

Going for an autumn walk in Canmore Alberta

We arrived in Canmore yesterday afternoon. We are staying at the home of our niece Olivia and her fiancé Miche.

Olivia and Miche share their home with two dogs Archer and Josie

The view from their home is spectacular and they took us for a walk near sunset to explore some of the trails that begin just at the end of their street.

By the Bow River in Canmore Alberta

We hiked along the Bow River which begins in the Rocky Mountains, winds through Alberta, joins the Oldman River, then the South Saskatchewan River, then the Nelson River, and eventually flows into Hudson Bay. Quite a journey!

In the distance behind Dave, you can see The Three Sisters

On our walk, we could see The Three Sisters, a trio of mountains initially dubbed The Three Nuns in 1883 by someone who saw the three mountains capped with snow and thought they resembled nuns in white veils.

George Dawson, a Canadian geologist, and surveyor renamed them The Three Sisters in 1886. They are individually known as Big Sister (2,936 meters), Middle Sister (2,769 meters), and Little Sister (2,694 meters). Dawson also referred to them as Faith, Hope, and Charitya Biblical reference about the three most important things in life found in 1 Corinthians 13.

The people of the Stoney Nakoda call the peaks The Three Sisters in their language but that name comes from a story about an old man who would promise three sisters in marriage whenever he was in trouble.

We walked by this old railway bridge. Coal mining began in Canmore in 1887 and by the time of World War I the mines in the area were producing 5 million tons of coal annually. Gradually the industry waned and the last local coal mine closed in 1979. There are still ongoing efforts to repair the environmental damage the mines caused to the area.

The railroad bridge was built in the 1890s to link the Canmore mining area to the main Canadian Pacific line.

Our walk worked up our appetites for the delicious lasagna supper Olivia had made. Tomorrow night we hear Miche is cooking. Our niece and her fiancé are both professional chefs. How lucky can we be to have them as our hosts in Canmore?

Other posts………

The Rehearsal Dinner- A Culinary Masterpiece

The Amazing Race Driedger Style

My Dad Was A Train Porter in the 1950s

I Love Autumn

A Wedding That Was Too Exciting

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Filed under Canada, Family, Travel

My Grandsons Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

We arrived in Saskatoon on September 30th the day Canada celebrated its first National Reconciliation Day. It’s a new federal statutory holiday honoring Indigenous children who were part of the residential school system.

We are staying with our children and grandchildren in Saskatoon and my grandsons told me all about the way the new holiday was marked at their school.

They had a whole school assembly on the playground. Their music teacher sang O Canada in Cree to start the assembly and then a grade three class told the story of Phyllis Webstad who is from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation.

Phyllis Webstad has shared her story in two children’s picture books. She also has told it many times in person to different groups. You can learn more on the Orange Shirt website.

In 1973 six-year-old Phyllis was excited about her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. Her grandmother had bought her a new, bright orange shirt for the occasion. But when she arrived at the school, the staff cut her hair and she was forced to change into different clothes. Her new shirt was taken away, and she never got it back.

I must admit I had never heard Phyllis’ story before and didn’t realize that’s why orange shirts are worn to commemorate what happened to Indigenous children at residential schools. My nine-year-old grandson did an excellent job of relaying the story to me and then told me that after they heard the story in their assembly the whole school sang a song in Cree that their music teacher had taught to every class.

Each child in the school was given a stone to paint. My older grandson said he painted a feather on his stone and printed the words Every Child Matters. My younger grandson who is just five and in kindergarten said he made a big red heart on his stone. The stones were placed under the school’s friendship bench.

The Friendship Bench Project is a Canadian initiative. You learn more about it on their website.

I hadn’t heard of friendship benches but my grandsons explained it is a special bench on their school playground where kids can go if they are feeling lonely or sad. They sit on the bench and then other kids will come over to talk or invite them to play.

Stolen Words is written by Melanie Florence and has gorgeous illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard

My younger grandson told me after the school assembly his kindergarten teacher read them a special book called Stolen Words. My grandson related the entire story to me in great detail. It is about a little girl who helps her grandfather reclaim the Cree words he lost at residential school when he wasn’t allowed to speak his own language. Later I found nearly a dozen read-aloud versions of the book on YouTube. I had never heard the story before but want to buy my own copy of the book now.

Hiking the Meewasin Trail near Saskatoon with our grandchildren. Meewasin means ‘beautiful’ in Cree.

I didn’t learn anything about Indigenous culture or history, or the need for reconciliation when I was in elementary school. I am glad my grandchildren are having a very different experience. I think it is wonderful they are passing on their knowledge to those of us in the older generation who need to learn the same lessons but didn’t have the opportunity to do so as children.

Other posts……….

10 Things About Kent Monkman’s The Scream

The First Thing I Love About Canada’s New Governor-General

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

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Filed under Canada, Education

Mom’s First Day of School in 1931

My mother Dorothy Schmidt is to the left in this photo

Today is the first day of school for many children in Canada and it reminds me of this photo of my mother and her sister Viola on the first day of school in 1931. Mom was six years old. Someone has penciled on the back of the photo Dorothy’s first day of school.

I love looking at all the details in the photo. My Mom has a book under her arm which I think might be her Book 1 Canadian reader. Mom told me that for each grade in school they had a different reading book with poetry and fiction and stories about nature and history.

Check out the rather battered black lunch kit my mother’s sister is carrying. My grandmother always sewed her daughters’ dresses and from the material sticking out of both the girl’s sleeves I’m guessing the dresses were matching.

I just love the girl’s wool hats and woolen stockings. I think their grandmother made them.

My great grandmother Marie Jantz

My mother’s grandmother lived with her family till Mom was sixteen and her grandmother died. There were few nursing homes for the elderly in the 1930s. Mom said her grandmother was constantly knitting things for her family.

This is the one-room school near Drake Saskatchewan that my mother attended in 1931. Check out the kids coming to school by horse and buggy.
When it was very cold in winter my Mom said her Dad might take them to school in a horse-drawn caboose. Here the caboose is outside their farmhouse ready to leave. The kids would have hot bricks their Mom heated on the wood stove under their feet to keep warm.
The Kansas School in Drake Saskatchewan

The Kansas School had grades 1-8 and Mom thought up to 50 kids attended at a time. It was called the Kansas School because most of the children who attended it were from families who had immigrated to Canada from Kansas or other mid-western American states at the turn of the century.

My Mom with her grade one class. Mom is third from the right.

Mom’s teacher in grade one was Miss Agnes Regier and Mom really liked her. At the end of her first school year her class put on a little musical on the porch of Miss Regier’s house and all their parents came to watch. Mom also remembers how they used to chant their spelling words out loud together letter by letter. 

At recess, they liked to skip in pairs and they had skipping rhymes to chant as they did so. Mom said they also played lots of cricket using the tree stumps on the schoolyard as wickets. In winter they made a slide on the schoolyard with boxes and boards. Their stockings would be soaked when they came in and they had to take turns standing by the register to dry them.

The children at the Kansas School in the 1930s with their teacher Hans Dyck. My Mom is in the second row just to the right of Mr. Dyck’s shoulder.

In grades 3-8 Mom had a teacher at the Kansas School named Hans Dyck. He was quite strict but an excellent musician who taught his students to sing in four-part harmony and entered them in music festivals where they always took first place.

Mr. Dyck introduced them to world geography and they learned the names of the countries of the world and their capitals and even made topography maps from paste and plaster. They did science experiments and learned about masterpieces by famous artists. Mom’s favorite time of day was right after lunch when Mr. Dyck read aloud to them.

Today many parents will be snapping photos of their children as they set off to begin a new school year, just like my grandparents did in 1931 when their daughters headed off to class.

Other posts……….

They Wore Masks Too

My Father-in-Law Was Born in a School for the Deaf

Don’t Speak German


Filed under Canada, Education, Family, History

Disappointed in the Liberal Party

Disappointed would be the word I’d use to describe my feelings about Canada’s Liberal Party as we approach the federal election.  

I am disappointed the Prime Minister would call an election in the middle of a pandemic when key initiatives he proposed during the first two years of his current mandate hadn’t run into major Parliamentary roadblocks. Most legislation the Liberals tabled to provide support to Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis passed in the House of Commons with cooperation from other political parties. Why call an election in hopes of getting a majority government when your minority government is advancing your agenda fairly smoothly?

I am also disappointed Justin Trudeau has broken so many promises he made.  I was excited in 2015 when he assured us this would be the last first past the post-election. A new system would help make every Canadian feel their vote counted. Trudeau has abandoned that promise. 

Elders from the Lhoosk’uz Dené community tasting water from their new water treatment system (Photo source)

 In 2015 the Liberal government promised to end all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations by March 2021.  That date has come and gone and there are still long-term advisories in thirty-two First Nations. I realize solutions to this problem are beset by challenges but also know in some communities, innovative scientists and engineers have pushed through roadblocks by working in partnership with Indigenous citizens. 

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action in 2015 Justin Trudeau promised an immediate and unreserved commitment to their implementation. Six years later only 14 calls to action have been completed and 23 are in observable progress. That means two-thirds of the tasks remain undone.  Not a great track record. 

Justin Trudeau made headlines by appointing the first Canadian cabinet that had gender equityPhoto from The Guardian

I was excited when Justin Trudeau was first elected and created a cabinet with gender equity. His commitment hasn’t wavered. His current cabinet contains 18 women and 19 men.  I am disappointed however Mr. Trudeau couldn’t find a way to work things out with two of his most powerful and competent female ministers Jody Wilson- Raybould and Jane Philpott who were both removed from the Liberal caucus in 2019 over their differences with the prime minister. 

A woman covers her face as she walks past a child care center that’s closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on April 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

I will be incredibly disappointed if the decision to have an election, results in the new childcare legislation the Liberals just introduced being shelved because the Conservatives win. This already happened in 2006 when the Liberals had an ambitious childcare initiative underway that Stephen Harper kiboshed when elected.  The current Conservatives have a plan to help families with childcare, but it doesn’t include measures to improve the quality and number of daycare spaces rendering it almost useless to parents strapped to find spots for their kids. Justin Trudeau’s election call is putting this vital program in jeopardy. 

 I am not saying the Liberals haven’t done good things during their recent years in office. The vaccines they procured have made it possible for 67 % of our total population to be fully vaccinated, one of the best records in the world. As vaccines for children become available, hopefully before Christmas, that admirable percentage will continue to rise. The Liberals also unmuzzled the scientists Stephen Harper had silenced, returned the Old Age Security benefit eligibility to 65, reinstated the important long-form census, signed the Paris Accord on climate, and took steps to reform the Senate. 

But in the last few years, their ethical missteps among other things have left me disappointed.  

Leading up to the election I am writing about each of the major three political parties in my newspaper columns and assigning a word to each one. My previous column was about the Conservatives and how they arouse suspicion. In my next column, I will look at the New Democratic Party. 

Other posts………

The Conservative Party Makes Me Suspicious

Clean Water

Universal Childcare- A Wise Investment For Canada


Filed under Canada, Politics

Shin Pads and Toilet Paper

Yesterday a friend discovered this 1976 Eaton’s catalog in the Winnipeg Thrift Store where we both work as volunteers. 1976 was the last year Eaton’s published a catalog. They published the first one in 1884.

My Mom and her sisters with their dolls from the Eaton’s catalogue in the late 1920s.

I remember my Mom telling me how in the 1920s she and her sisters combed through the Eatons catalogue picking out dolls they hoped to receive. Especially coveted was the Eaton’s Beauty Doll.

My sister and I with our dolls from the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue

My sister and I did the same thing in the 1950s looking through the Eatons catalogue for dolls and other toys we wanted for Christmas.

My mother always sewed my dresses but for my first day of school in 1958 she let me order a dress from the catalogue.

My husband in the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto

Once when we were touring the Eatons Centre in Toronto a guide told us that decades ago Canadians had used the Eatons Catalogue for three purposes besides finding things they would like to order.

Hockey on the pond by Richard Brodeur

Apparently when kids couldn’t afford shin pads for playing hockey they used catalogues instead strapped to their legs with canning jar rings.

In this painting done by William Kurelek in 1976, we see the Eaton’s catalogue hanging on the wall of the outhouse

Old catalogues were also used instead of toilet paper in outhouses before bathrooms were common in homes.

Page of bathing suits in the 1949 Eatons catalogue

And before the advent of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or Playboy magazine, the lingerie or swimsuit section of the Eatons catalogue was popular alternate viewing. 

Other posts………

Rubbing Mr Eaton’s Foot

Happy Halloween

I Live in a Piece of Winnipeg History


Filed under Canada