Category Archives: 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

O Canada

On Canada Day I thought I’d celebrate the fun I’ve had in so many different places in this great country. 

with dave in st. john new brunswickAttending the national fastball championships in St. John, New Brunswick with my husband who was on the Manitoba team.

dressing up at the museum in quebec cityDressing up in the musee place de royale in Quebec City, Quebec.

family ski trip to banffSkiing with my family in Banff, Alberta. 


Skating on the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

joel and marylou on trainHaving dinner and seeing a show at the Station Arts House in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. lucy maude montgomery house

Visiting Lucy Maude Montgomery’s house in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. royal ontario museum

Checking out interesting artifacts at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario. 

eating lobster in nova scotiaEating lobster in Halifax, Nova Scotia. kayaking tripGoing on a week long kayaking whale watching trip in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia

The only province I haven’t had fun in yet is Newfoundland.  And it’s on my bucket list!

Happy Canada Day!

Other posts……..

Biking in Toronto

Celebrating my Birthday in Quebec City

Skating on the Red River


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Filed under Canada, Travel

An Inclusive O Canada

canada flag public domain

“Thousands of little girls are being told they are not important every time they stand up to sing it.”   I used that quote in my newspaper column in The Carillon in March of 2002. I was advocating for a change to more inclusive language in Canada’s national anthem.

My column came at a time when Vivienne Poy had introduced a motion in Canada’s senate to have the words of the anthem ‘in all our sons command’ changed to ‘in all of us command.’ Her motion was defeated. Now fourteen years later the Senator’s suggested change will become a reality thanks to Mauril Belanger, a longtime Liberal Member of Parliament who drafted the legislation that will make the words of our national anthem include all citizens. Parliament passed Belanger’s bill on June 15. After the legislation receives approval from the Senate it will become law.

My 2002 column recognized the work being done by a Steinbach woman Sybil Shaw Hamm. She had started a petition supporting the proposed changes to the anthem. In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press Sybil said she was trying to garner as many signatures as possible for her petition before sending it off to Senator Poy. Sybil wanted the senator to know there were people in Manitoba who supported her move to have the lyrics of the anthem altered. It was Sybil who gave me the quote that begins this column. Sybil went on to say she wanted her granddaughters not to feel left out when they sang the national anthem. In a wonderful piece she wrote for CBC radio Sybil speculated how people might respond if the anthem’s lyrics were changed to ‘in all our daughters’ command.’

In last week’s Carillon newspaper, columnist Michael Zwaagstra, the former President of the Provencher Conservative Association, stated that public hearings needed to be held before changes were made to the anthem. One has to wonder why public consultation on inclusive anthem language is required, when during the last election Zwaagstra’s party felt another important feminist social issue; that of murdered and missing aboriginal women, needed no further public inquiry.

O Canada in English, French and Inuktutuk

O Canada in English, French and Inuktutuk

Zwaagstra’s other opposition to the anthem change is the way it will alter the poetic cadence of the song. That didn’t seem to bother Robert Stanley Weir who while writing the original English version of O Canada in 1908 actually used the phrase ‘thou dost in us command.’ He only changed it to ‘in all thy sons’ command in 1914. An article in the Canadian Encyclopedia suggests this change may have been made as a way to counteract the growing strength of an increasingly vocal group of suffragettes lobbying for women to be given the right to vote.

The famous five women who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada

A statue on the Manitoba Legislature grounds of the famous five who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada

Patty Hajdu, Canada’s minister for the status of women in our nation’s first gender balanced cabinet, has said changing the words to the anthem is a symbol of our country’s strong commitment to gender equality. I agree. I think it is very fitting we are changing the words to our national anthem in the same year we are marking the one hundredth anniversary of women getting the right to vote in Canada. It is one way to honor the work of those who fought valiantly to obtain suffrage for women. It also honors the contributions of millions of skilled and creative Canadian women who have contributed to our country in a myriad of important ways thus displaying their true patriot love. Altering the words of the anthem is a small but significant change that will show new generations of Canadian girls they too are important to the future of their country.

Other posts……..

The Famous Five

Inequality at the Wailing Wall

From Pale and Weak to Platoon Commander


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Filed under Canada