Category Archives: Canada

James Bond is From Winnipeg

On Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg, you can see this statue of William Stephenson. 

Ian Fleming the author of the James Bond novels once said, “James Bond is a highly romanticized version of a true spy. The real thing is … William Stephenson.”  

Ian Fleming went to a training school for World War II spies operated by William Stephenson.

Fleming said he used about 15 different spies as models for his character James Bond, but William Stephenson was definitely one of them.  Apparently, Bond’s love of martinis, magnetic personality and skill at hand to hand combat were characteristics the literary hero inherited from William Stephenson. 

Stephenson was a Winnipeg native, born in the Point Douglas area. He taught math and science at the University of Manitoba and before he died he bequeathed $100,000 to the University of Winnipeg to fund scholarships for outstanding students.

Winnipeg has an official fan club for Stephenson called The Intrepid Society. As part of their agenda, they’ve not only erected the statue on Memorial Boulevard, they have also successfully lobbied to have a street in Winnipeg named after their hero and a statue of him installed in CIA headquarters in Washington. DC. A public library in Winnipeg also bears his name.  

As this plaque on his sculpture indicates, William’s code name was Intrepid when he worked for British intelligence in New York during World War II. A book about his life titled A Man Called Intrepid was a best seller and later was turned into a TV mini-series starring David Niven and Barbara Hershey. 

William Stephenson as a young man

Orphaned as a young child and then adopted, William was fascinated with Morse code as a teenager and was good at boxing.  He served as a pilot during World War I and was shot down and captured by the Germans. He managed to escape after three months and won several medals for bravery. Stephenson went on to study at Oxford University. 

A 1954 photo of Sir William Stephenson. (AP Photo).

William accomplished many significant and impressive things in the next couple of decades. After teaching at the University of Manitoba he moved to Britain where he invented the process for sending photographs over the wire electronically, purchased a radio manufacturing company that made him a millionaire before he was thirty and then diversified into film, coal and oil refining, the steel industry, television and aircraft production. He helped to found the British Broadcasting Corporation. (BBC).  

Thanks to his broad base of industrial contacts in Europe by as early as April 1936, William began voluntarily passing confidential information to Winston Churchill about how Adolf Hitler was building up his armed forces while hiding his military expenditures. 

 In 1940 Churchill asked him to become the head of British security in New York coordinating counter-espionage efforts together with the Americans. William hired hundreds of people to work for him, many of them Canadians and he paid for their salaries out of his own pocket. He set up a school in Whitby Ontario that trained more than 2000 covert operators including Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books.  

The sculpture of William Stephenson on Memorial Boulevard was created by renowned Winnipeg sculptor Leo Mol and was unveiled by Princess Anne in 1999.  

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Indigenous Canadians and Mennonite Canadians

I was struck by a comment recently that echoes others I’ve frequently heard in the past, something like…….. “We Mennonites managed to survive the horrors of our history and flourish.  Why can’t Indigenous people do the same?”    

The gist of these comments is that the Mennonites who came to Canada during the 1920s from Ukraine had suffered through famine, war, tremendous economic loss, and family tragedy yet they managed to rise above all that and build a successful life for themselves in a new country. Why can’t Indigenous people do the same thing?

Ovide Mercredi at Thunderbird House – photo University of Manitoba website

Whenever I hear people talking in that vein, I remember a presentation I heard Ovide Mercredi give at Thunderbird House.  Mr Mercredi, a lawyer, and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations was speaking at a program organized by Mennonite Church Manitoba and Mennonite Church Canada, as part of their mission to build mutually beneficial relationships with Canada’s Indigenous community. The theme of Mr Mercredi’s talk was how Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people are the same.

Mr Mercredi said both Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people know what it means to be oppressed. Mennonites left Ukraine where they had been for about 250 years and fled to Canada to be free from oppression. Mr Mercredi noted that unlike Mennonites, Canada’s Indigenous people couldn’t flee from oppression because it was happening to them right in the place where they had lived for more than 6000 years. 

My grandparents on their farmland west of the Red River which they acquired after immigrating to Canada from Ukraine. It was once the homeland of Indigenous people although I doubt my grandparents knew that at the time they began farming their land. 

Upon their arrival in Manitoba, the Mennonites were given two large reserves of land both east and west of the Red River, land which had been the traditional homeland of Indigenous people for over six hundred generations.  Manitoba’s Indigenous people were also given reserves of land by the government. Mennonites were given prime agricultural land, while Indigenous people were given mostly muskeg.

Children at the Brandon Residential School

Mr Mercredi explained that another thing his people and Mennonites have in common is strong religious beliefs and abiding faith in the Creator. The Canadian government allowed Mennonites to practice their faith freely and even granted them special dispensation to remain true to their religious belief in pacifism, exempting them from military service.  Indigenous people, on the other hand, had their spiritual practices outlawed by the Indian Act and the government tried to convert their children to Christianity by forcing them to attend residential schools.

Although Ovide Mercredi had said he was going to talk about how Mennonites and Canada’s Indigenous people were the same, he essentially talked about how vastly more privileged and entitled Mennonites have been. 

Mennonite Central Committee has a program called Indigenous Neighbours that provides opportunities for people to learn about Indigenous history and rights. It works towards building respectful partnerships with the Indigenous community and collaborates with Indigenous partners to ignite positive social change. 

Tomorrow is the day for the We Are All Treaty People celebration in Manitoba co-sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee.  You can read about what has happened at the celebration in the past.  This year the celebration has taken to the airwaves and will be broadcast on the University of Manitoba radio station at 3 pm. 

Other posts………

Doctrine of Discovery

Starvation- Kent Monkman Style

We Will Stand Up

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Universal Child Care-A Wise Investment For Canada

This was my Carillon newspaper column this week.

My Member of Parliament Leah Gazan recently asked me to sign a petition calling for the establishment of a universal childcare program in Canada. I not only signed the petition I also agreed to make regular donations to help see universal childcare become a reality. It is something I have long believed is a wise investment for our country. It would make Canada a better place for everyone.

Photo by Naomi Shi on Pexels.com

Ms Gazan who is the families, children and social development critic for the NDP party is adamant the Liberal government needs to invest 2.5 billion dollars for universal childcare and an early learning system in Canada. The pandemic has only served to highlight the reasons why a universal childcare program would be good for Canada.


First of all, we need parents in the workforce. According to Statistics Canada data, daycare closures due to COVID-19 have created a significant exodus of parents from the ranks of the employed. This has impacted women more than men. A recent article in the Financial Post provides clear evidence that making it possible for parents to return to their jobs is vital to the recovery of the Canadian economy and providing childcare plays a vital role in that happening. 

Photo  on Pexels.com

Women are most highly represented in essential service jobs and in the health and education sectors of the economy. Canada needs them. 2019 reports from Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Public Service Alliance suggest that providing quality daycare to every family in Canada could boost the country’s GDP by between 8 billion and 13 billion dollars. It could help raise many families out of poverty and off of welfare.

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Secondly, a universal childcare program would make childcare accessibility more equitable. The current hodgepodge of provincial childcare programs in Canada disproportionately impacts poor families, indigenous families, families where parents do shift work and in particular those living in rural or northern communities.

Affordable, quality childcare services should be uniformly available across Canada. For some children whose home situations are in crisis for a variety of reasons, daycare provides them with the support and early learning that are so important to their future health and wellbeing.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Writing in the Calgary Herald last week Catherine Ford said it is incumbent on wealthier parents who can afford private childcare arrangements or afford to have one parent remain at home, to fight for quality care for all children because it helps create a healthier society. In many cases, the pandemic has placed wealthier parents in a situation where perhaps for the first time they are able to see how difficult it can be for lower-income families to try to balance work and parenting. Hopefully, they have come to realize that universal childcare is not a luxury or convenience but an absolute requirement.

Our son with two of the child care workers in the Headstart program in Kykostmovi Arizona where we lived for a year

As a young mother with a busy career as an educator in the 1980s, I relied on a variety of childcare arrangements for my two sons, but both spent at least one of their pre-school years in daycare. My grandchildren have also benefitted from the services of childcare facilities. I know firsthand the importance of universal daycare.


The value of quality, affordable childcare for Canadian families was the topic of a letter to the editor of The Carillon I wrote in 1985. It led to me being hired as a regular columnist for this paper. Sadly, thirty- five years later it is still a topic I need to write about.

Other posts………..

Paternity Leave- A Winning Scenario

The Work My Mother Does

I’ve Been A Newspaper Columnist For Decades

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Filed under Canada, Childhood, COVID-19 Diary, Education

Check Before You Write the Cheque

I was introduced to a young woman last week who works for a Manitoba based NGO (non-government organization) that addresses a pressing and important social issue.  The woman was intelligent, articulate and had an exciting resume in her line of work. She gave me some great insight and information about the social issue that is the focus of her NGO.   I was really interested and thought I might write a story for my newspaper column about her work.    

Canadians donate to charity generously

So I did a little digging on the Charities and Giving website maintained by the government of Canada.  You can go there and type in the name of any organization in Canada with charitable tax status.    Turns out the NGO the woman I met works for, only spends 17% of the funds it takes in on actual charitable work. The other 83% goes for overhead, administration, expenses and fundraising efforts.  

I did a little more research and found out the Better Business Bureau suggests healthy charitable organizations should spend between 25- 35% of the money they take in on administration and fundraising.

I donate my time to a Thrift store that supports Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba

Then I looked up Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba, an organization to which I donate my time and money.  It gives 85% of the money it receives away and only uses 15% for administrative costs.  Almost the exact opposite of the other Manitoba based NGO.   

I did read an article that suggests charitable organizations shouldn’t just be judged on how much money they invest in overhead. You can spend too little money on administration.  

You need to have stable leadership, solid financial planning, evaluation tools in place to determine the impact and effectiveness of your charity’s work, and a vibrant media and publicity outreach if you want to maintain a healthy, worthwhile and viable charity. Establishing those things takes money.  I agree. 

But I think there should be a balance between donations spent on overhead and money actually given to a charity’s work and beneficiaries. Before you donate to a charity it is worth checking out exactly what that balance is. 

Other posts…………..

Is Service Always a Good Thing? 

Monk Chat

Are You A Performance Ally?

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From the Ashes, Smoke Show and Getting Fired

From the Ashes Jesse ThistleFrom the Ashes is a hard, hard autobiography to read because the life experiences of its Metis- Cree author Jesse Thistle are so dark and devastating.  His parents weren’t really capable of raising little Jesse and his two brothers. The children were horribly neglected.  Eventually, they are sent to live with their grandparents who are well-meaning and provide structure and security but don’t really know how to deal with their deeply troubled grandchildren. Jesse drops out of high school, starts using drugs and ends up as an addict living on the streets.

jesse thistle

Jesse Thistle

Today Jesse is a professor at York University in Toronto and is a highly respected advisor on homelessness to governments and medical professionals. You will have to read From the Ashes to find out how he turns his life around.  His book contains some moving poetry and is beautifully written in short chapters.  I was grateful for that because I often had to take a break after a chapter to process what I’d read.  These days Jesse is dedicated to helping Canadians understand why such a large percentage of the homeless population in our country is indigenous. Jesse has high hopes we can change that by treating people with respect, hospitality and love. 

From The Ashes was one of the books nominated for the Canada Reads contest this year which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19.  From the Ashes is an eye-opener for anyone concerned about homelessness, racism, addictions and poverty in our country.

What is a smoke show?  A man I know posted an Instagram photo of him and his wife celebrating their anniversary.  He wrote, “Happy Anniversary to this smoke show.”  What was a smoke show? I looked it up. I found out smoke show is slang for “an extremely physically attractive person.” By calling his wife a smoke show the man who posted their anniversary picture was telling us how beautiful he thought his wife was. He didn’t only praise her physical attributes however, he also said she was the glue that held their family together.  Apparently, the term smoke show comes from an older phrase ‘smoking hot’ that was used to describe someone who was extremely good looking.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the new words being added to our cultural vocabularies on an almost daily basis. 

group of people walking on street with flag

Photo by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels.com

The firing of LGBTQ employees was the central issue of a landmark case decided by the United States Supreme Court yesterday.  It ruled 6-3 that is was illegal for employers to fire their employees simply on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender choice. What really surprised many people is that Neal Gorsuch, a justice who was appointed by President Trump, broke from his conservative colleagues and authored the landmark ruling that affirmed an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the American Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This Supreme Court decison in favour of protection for LGBTQ citizens was announced just days after President Trump had removed regulations that protected LGBTQ people with regards to health care and health insurance. 

Other posts……….

Steinbach Pride- Homecoming, Forgiveness and Hope

Born a Crime

New Words and Animal Drawings

Hot Wives and Christian Leaders

 

 

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Filed under Books, Canada

Guns

After the horrific Nova Scotia rampage in April of 2020 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. A new 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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Filed under Canada, israel

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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Filed under Canada, Holidays

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. 

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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 who fought for twenty years to get women the right to vote in their province 

I can vote to elect my leaders

I don’t have to worry about health care costs

pride parade (1)

Marching in the first Pride Parade ever held in my hometown of Steinbach, Manitoba. 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

Signboard at my church in Winnipeg

 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-cornerbrook-drive

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

The scenery is gorgeous

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 Acrostic

Different Kinds of Daily Bread

Why I Go To Church

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Filed under Canada, Holidays

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

Siblings

Sisters

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