Category Archives: Canada

50 Years Ago

Mr. Melvin Toews (father of noted Canadian writer Miriam Toews) was my grade seven teacher at Woodlawn School in Steinbach during the 1966- 1967 school year.  Canada was celebrating its 100th birthday.  In the fall of 1966 Mr. Toews decided to put together a magazine called The Woodlawn Journal.  Each student was asked to contribute a piece of writing about Canada or write a report about how different areas of the country were preparing to commemorate the centennial.  

The journal opened with a poem about Canada by my friend Audrey. On the second page was my essay entitled This Land of Ours. Mr. Toews printed up many copies of our journal, probably at his own expense, and we all felt great about being published authors with our work available for others to read. 

Here’s how my essay started………..

Canada is a rough vast land nestled between two foaming masses of water. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean where the lonely wails of fishing schooners fill the air to the Pacific Ocean where you can hear the harsh blasts of ocean liners as they chug out of Vancouver’s harbor. It reaches northward to the snowy land of polar bears and reindeer and south to the blue waters of the Great Lakes. 

Pretty poetic wasn’t I? 

As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday it is kind of neat to look back at the journal my classmates and I created fifty years ago for another milestone in Canadian history. 

Staff picture Elmdale School 1976-1977 I am second from the right in the back row. Mr. Toews is sitting to the far left.

By the way I didn’t save my copy of the Woodlawn Journal but a decade after I was in Mr. Toews’ grade seven class I got a job at Elmdale School where Mr. Toews was on staff as this photo attests. On my first day on the job I walked into Mr. Toews’ class to say hello and he went straight to his filing cabinet, pulled out a copy of the journal and opened it to the page with my essay.  He gave me the copy to keep. Thanks Mr. Toews. 

Other posts……….

O Canada

On the Eastern Edge of Canada

An Interesting Interview



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Filed under Canada, Education

An Award Winner Inspires Teens

strength warrior woman series shelly niro

Brave, determined, nothing stops her, fierce, fights for what’s right, she persisted 

A group of highschool students were inspired to write that poem after looking at the black and white image above created by Shelley Niro. Shelley is one of the winners of the 2017 Governor General’s award for art achievement. Her work is currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery along with that of the other Governor General’s winners.  shelley niro resting with warriorsAs students view Shelley’s woodcut series called Resting With Warriors they are invited to dress up in moccasins and sashes similar to the ones worn by the women in Shelley’s artwork.  Then students write words or phrases to describe each woman. Later they get into groups to arrange those words into a poem like the one that starts this blog post.

resting with warriors shelley niroShelley’s art is very much influenced by the bead, birchbark and carving work she saw being created around her while growing up on the Mohawk Nation near Brantford Ontario. She is dedicated to producing art that contributes to aboriginal identity in Canada. In a film interview she says she particularly likes seeing the way young girls react to her work. She wants to provide them with an alternate image of aboriginal women, one not usually seen in the mass media. Shelley is an artist adept at film making, painting, beadwork, photography and sculpture. 

final moments thinking of you shelley niroIf you visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery right now you can also see another installation by Shelley Niro called Final Moments Thinking of You.   A tour group of high school students I had in the gallery last week told me the title could mean two things.  One is that the world is in its final moments because of climate change and environmental damage so the photos are a way to say good-bye to the elements of earth, water, fire and air. Another interpretation was that these are images a person is seeing just before they die.  They loved nature so these are the things they would see in their final moments.  

I am looking forward to seeing what other creative ideas Shelley’s work will inspire with the students who are privileged to see her work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Other posts………

Getting to know Oviloo Tunille

Falling in Love with Elisapee Ishulutaq

Creation of the World by Daphne Odjig



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Filed under Art, Canada

Getting To Know Emma Donoghue in Person

Emma was interviewed at McNally Robinson Booksellers by Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival Director Charlene Diehl

Emma Donoghue’s latest book is set in a Toronto mansion with thirty- two rooms. The house is inhabited by two sets of gay parents, seven children named after trees, a frightened cat, inquisitive rat, crippled parrot and three-legged dog.

You might know Emma as the author of Room. She also wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for the movie based on the novel. I had the pleasure of hearing her interviewed at Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson Book Sellers last week.

Emma, the author of several successful adult novels is currently promoting a new project, a book for children called The Lotterys Plus One. Emma wants to show readers just how diverse families can be and The Lotterys Plus One certainly does that. The four parents in the novel come from India, Jamaica, Scotland and the Mohawk Nation. Many of the seven children are adopted. One has attention deficit disorder, another a physical disability, and a third gender identity issues.

Striking illustrations like this one by Caroline Hadilaksono help readers sort out all the characters in The Lotterys Plus One. 

The children are all home schooled and the parents don’t work because long ago they found a winning lottery ticket that left them financially set for life. Things are ticking along as normally as can be expected in this unusual household until a grandfather moves in because he is suffering from dementia. How will the family cope with this cantankerous newcomer?

We learned quite a bit about Emma’s personal and family life from her talk with Charlene Diehl

Author Emma Donoghue grew up in a large Catholic family in Dublin Ireland but now lives in London, Ontario where she parents two children with her partner Chris. Emma told us she used some of her own parenting experiences in The Lotterys Plus One. For example the children in the novel get head lice, something that has happened several times to Emma’s children. Emma says when her children do something funny or interesting she will ask them, “Can I use that for one of my book characters?”

I was curious how Emma had found the switch from writing for adults to writing for children. She says writing for children is much harder. It took her six years to write The Lotterys Plus One. She is a busy woman with as many as ten writing projects on the go at once, short stories, poetry, novels, screenplays and children’s books. She collects ideas for all ten projects in separate files on her phone. She finds inspiration everywhere and making notes in her phone is the handiest way to keep a record of things as soon as she sees or experiences them. Later she transfers these files to her computer.

Emma answers questions from the audience

After Emma’s interview the audience had a chance to ask her questions. One young girl said she wanted her mother to write books too and asked Emma if she could teach her Mom how to write a book. Emma said, “Everyone has a book in them. Your Mom does too. She just needs the time and space to write it.”

Another audience member said she had never seen the movie Room because there was no way it could compare to the book. Emma said she loves the movie version of Room. She thinks the director did a marvelous job with her story.

I asked her what books she had read as a child and she said pretty much anything but did mention Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. She said she had loved fairy tales.

My friend Wendy getting her copy The Lotterys Plus One signed by Emma Donoghue

Her new book is a bit of a modern fairy tale and I think Emma knows that, but she also hopes the diverse family in The Lotterys Plus One will help her readers realize it can be enriching and positive to have an open mind about what  we consider to be “ideal” when it comes to family life.

Other posts………

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

Writer or Palaeontologist?

Chocogasm Course at McNally Robinson Booksellers

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Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

Standing Up For Children

children of war pixabay no copyrightChildren do not choose to be refugees or immigrants. They accompany their families seeking shelter, freedom from persecution, and opportunities to contribute to society. Before leaving their home country, many children and their families experience violence, hunger, separation and other atrocities that may have long-lasting effects on their health and development. Children must be offered protection, care and support to live healthy, meaningful lives.

That’s the first paragraph in a very timely and important statement issued on Monday by the Canadian Paediatric Society. I am proud to say my daughter-in-law serves on their Board of Directors. The stand these Canadian doctors have taken is admirable. In light of the American president’s recent executive order they are calling on the Canadian government to………

  • Increase the number of refugees who will be accepted to Canada in 2017.
  • Increase the number of privately-sponsored refugees from Iraq and Syria who can come to Canada in 2017.
  • Continue to ensure that Canadians with dual citizenship from one of the seven countries affected by the U.S. ban are able to cross the U.S. border with a valid Canadian passport.
  • Suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, so that refugees refused entry into the United States can come to Canada.
  • Lead a global response to refugee resettlement.      

You can read the entire statement here. 

Other posts……

Thoughts on Refugees

Supporting Refugees

Brave Shepherds



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Filed under Canada, Childhood, Politics

Flunky Jim and Gopher Tails with Grandpa

gopherFlunky Jim was one of the pieces featured in a Winnipeg Singers concert I attended on June 30 in Gimli.  The lyrics of the Western Canadian folk song talk about a man called Flunky Jim whose wardrobe is in tatters.  His hat has no brim.  He wears shabby overalls and doesn’t own any shirts. But the song says this will all change in the fall when he sells his gopher tails and buys new clothes.  

The song is referring to the fact that starting in the 1920s the government gave people a bounty payment when they turned in the tails of gophers they had killed.  There were so many gophers on the prairies they were destroying millions of bushels of grain a year and the government wanted to provide an incentive to get rid of them so they rewarded people for killing them. This continued for decades. 

grandpa and meThe song struck a personal note with me.  I remember as a child going gopher shooting with my grandfather in the village of Gnadenthal, Manitoba.   He would give me the tails of the gophers we shot and I could get seven cents for each one at the village store. If I had several I could buy a bottle of pop and a chocolate bar. Like the Flunky Jim of the song the gopher tails were a kind of currency for me courtesy of the provincial government. 

I am the flunky of the house, they call me flunky Jim,
You’ll find me knockin’ around the yard, me hat without a brim.
Me overalls are shabby, and I have no shirt at all,
But I’m goin’ to get a new outfit with me gopher tails this fall.

Other posts……..

On My Grandparents’ Farm

A Unique Discovery Along the Banks of the South Saskatchewan

Rural Roots



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Filed under Canada, History, Music

Steinbach Pride- Homecoming, Forgiveness and Hope

At the Pride Parade in Steinbach I was walking with my brother. My brother grew up in Steinbach and experienced some of  the same kind of discrimination and bullying speaker Chris Plett described in his moving address to the crowd. Having the opportunity to march proudly in his hometown with his family and his same sex marriage partner meant a great deal to my brother.  

At the parade I met other members of the LGBTQ community who grew up in Steinbach and had returned, some from quite a distance just for the occasion. The opportunity to walk through their childhood home in support of something so integral to their identity was very significant and a kind of coming full circle sort of experience. 

Some comments in the media say the crowd at the Steinbach Pride Parade consisted mostly of people who live outside of Steinbach, and while that may be partly true, I would say that a large percentage of the people at the parade had some connection to Steinbach.  Every time I turned around I saw people I knew who either live in Steinbach now or have lived in the Steinbach area in the past. It was a day of homecoming for many. 

Speakers Chris Plett and Tyrone Hofer particularly impressed me.  As they described their experience of being gay, they firmly stated how strong their religious faith remained and clearly demonstrated what forgiving attitudes they had. They were willing to give the people in their faith communities another chance even after they had been treated so badly. They had hope for change in their churches and in the city of Steinbach.  

I think marching in the parade was a way to extend, ask for, and receive forgiveness for many. One woman I met said she had gone to high school with my brother and she wanted him to know that if she had ever said or done anything to hurt him during that time she apologized. And if I am honest marching in the parade was a way to ask my brother for forgiveness too, because while I have always accepted and affirmed his sexual orientation in a private family setting, there were many years when I did not do so in a public way out of fear of what people would think. I am sorry for that.

It made me feel so hopeful to see all the children in the crowd. I noticed many families represented as mine was, with three different generations. I dreamed as I walked that there would be a time in the future when there would be no need to have Pride Parades anymore because everyone in Canada would feel safe and secure in publicly sharing their gender identity and sexual orientation. 

The Facebook post of Phil Campbell- Enns my Winnipeg pastor, who grew up in Steinbach, reflects well the spirit of the parade for many. I share it here with his permission.

Today all were loved, and all were safe.
Honest words were spoken.
Stories of pain and resilience were shared.
Optimism and joy filled the air.
Politicians and educators were called to look after everyone.
The church was challenged, and faith was declared.
What a great day for my home town!
So glad I was there to celebrate.

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

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

I’m glad I was there to celebrate too!

Other posts…….

Pride in Steinbach Isn’t Something New

Responding to Changing Understandings of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Take Time to Listen


Filed under Canada, Politics, Religion

Pride in Steinbach Isn’t Something New

I grew up in Steinbach. It is where I spent most of my working life and raised my own family. Although I no longer live there I still have many friends in Steinbach. So the recent negative media coverage characterizing Steinbach people as ‘narrow-minded’ when it comes to equality for members of the LGBTQ community doesn’t seem entirely fair.

 Two hundred people showed up for the vigil Steinbach held for the victims of the Orlando massacre. CBC news reported three hundred came to the Winnipeg vigil at the legislature. Given the population differences Steinbach citizens actually demonstrated greater support.

 The Carillon, the local paper, has consistently published editorials that support the LGBTQ community and while some letters to the editor express moral and religious outrage about LGBTQ issues, others convey support, among them letters from Steinbach lawyers, pastors and professors at a nearby Christian college.

The Hanover school board has not responded in a supportive way to petitions to make local schools safer places for LGBTQ teens and children from families with same sex parents. But it is important to note there are two school board members who have been publicly empathetic and supportive. That can’t be easy for them and their courage deserves recognition.

 I taught at the SRSS over a decade ago but already then there were teachers openly accepting of LGBTQ community members and quick to shut down any derisive comments students made about them. A Steinbach parent told me recently that division policy aside there are many educators in area schools who are willing to listen to LGBTQ kids in a caring and confidential way. Thanks to the efforts of Evan Wiens the SRSS does have a Gay Straight Alliance group. In an interview with CBC, Wiens stated that while he experienced a negative backlash because of his public stance, it was outweighed by the positive support he received from many in the community.

 I have plenty of Facebook friends from Steinbach, former students and colleagues, fellow church members and friends, and the majority of them publish or share posts that show support of the LGBTQ community.

While Steinbach city council will not officially endorse the Pride Parade one councilor has done so personally, and was even willing to give a statement to Macleans magazine regarding her position.

People may not be aware there is an organized group in Steinbach called Neighbours for Community whose stated goal on their website is to seek better understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people. One of their projects was bringing a drama to Steinbach about a father learning to be accepting of his son who was gay.

There could be thousands from outside Steinbach coming to march in the Pride Parade tomorrow to show support. But support is what they should offer, support for those in the area who have already been doing a great deal to make Steinbach and surrounding communities more accepting of LGBTQ neighbors. Steinbach has many caring citizens who have been proactively trying to bring about change and will continue their efforts long after the masses from other places have marched away. These local people’s contributions should be recognized, commended, appreciated, and supported, not overshadowed or compromised by the participation of those from outside the community or forgotten in sweeping condemnations of ‘narrow minded’ Steinbach.

I will be at the parade on Saturday as a person who still thinks of Steinbach as her hometown and to show support to the people living there who should be proud of their efforts to make their community a place where everyone feels safe and welcome.

Note: This was my column in this week’s Carillon.  I am happy to see that the final line up of speakers at City Hall for the parade includes a good representation of local people so they will have a clear voice. 

Other posts……..

Some Mennonites But Not All of Them

Can Spirituality and Sexuality Dance Together?

Teaching Kids About Family Diversity

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Filed under Canada, Politics