Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Gran Via

The music starts before the doors close as we embark at Diego de Leon, heading for the Gran Via metro stop. The guitarist, a muscular guy in a tight back T-shirt, has a karaoke machine strapped to a wheeled cart. He's playing "My Way" with more passion than skill. His eyes close and he's really into it.

Across from me is an elderly man in an Espana ball cap. He shakes his head in disapproval. Two middle aged guys travelling with their wives each other a look that says "this shouldn't be allowed." But the guitarist plays on, oblivious. No one looks at him. But slowly, people begin to smile.

A blind man gets on the train at the next stop. The elderly man offers him his seat. He says no, he is getting off at the next stop.

The musician ends "My Way" awkwardly before beginning his second song. The middle aged couples are still smiling. The old guy looks grumpy.

The musician finishes his song and passes around his tin cup. The middle aged guys, the old man, some women, and my husband-who had had his headphones on all along-dig out some change.  His cup filled, the musician bows his thanks and exits the train.

The Gran Via.

The great road we all travel.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

When it's Sunday in Madrid

When it's Sunday in Madrid you sleep in.
You make espresso.
You eat bread.
You join Madrilenos as they enjoy their morning.
With churros and chocolate and cortado.
With church bells and family and friends and street musicians.
The elegant ladies with their matching shoes and handbags.
The young men with their long hair.
The Real Madrid fans awaiting tonight's game.

When it's Sunday in Madrid you think about how you live your life and how others live their lives and what makes a life.
You think about how you're alike and how you differ and why any of it matters.

When it's Sunday in Madrid.











Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Little Bits of Paper

My parents moved half a dozen times in the fifty years of their married life. 

A basement suite in Victoria, a small house in Trail, unique houses they designed and built in Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge. Every time they moved, stuff went with them. Furniture. Clothes. Household effects. Works of art. Mementos. 

And little bits of paper. So many little bits of paper, following them from place to place, packed, unpacked, looked at, put back in the box. Once or twice I have made a stab at going through these papers with an eye to discarding them. I look at these little pieces of paper, saved and stored over the years. I haven't had the heart to throw them out. 

Not yet.

Maybe today will be the day as I ponder my own possible next move.


Here, I find the lengthy correspondence detailing why the grandfather I never knew did not have his original birth certificate. Here, my mother's original teaching certificate. Her report cards. Diplomas. Awards. Newspaper clippings. The "Ritual Calling of the Engineer", inscribed with Dad's name from 1948. Blood donor records. The obituary of the navigator on Dad's aircrew. The death certificate of Dad's sister Muriel who died when she was three. Postcards. My father's Sunday School attendance records from 1937. Love letters. A newspaper article announcing my maternal grandfather's promotion to bank manager in the Highlands. My baptism certificate. Poems written by my brother. My great aunt's expired passport. Dad's letter announcing his resignation from his teaching career. "Dear Mr. Parslow: While my affection for young people as not diminished, my enthusiasm for entering the arena on a daily basis has..."

So many pieces of paper, sorted, packed, moved, unpacked, read and re-read. Added to and deleted from over decades of life.

Some make me smile like the Christmas card from my brother "Bobby" and the first thing I ever published in the Edmonton Journal and an article I wrote for the ATA News called "Nice Swim Doug". A photo of my four year old sister from the Peace River Block News. Emails sent by my junior high daughter, printed off and stored away. 

Some make me wonder. Why this one Mothers' Day card with the cute kitties? Then I read  inside. "The world needs more mothers like you. One more anyway." A card sent to my mom from my cousin just a few months after her own mom had died.

Each piece saved for a reason. But what reason? Who were they saving it for? Each other? Their kids and grandchildren?

Decades of their life story in bits and pieces. 

The housekeeper in me wants to throw it away. The archivist in me wants to curate it. The librarian in me wants to organize it. The writer in me dreams of telling their story. 

But the daughter in me puts it back in the box. 
Little bits of paper. 
Your journey is not over yet.



Top Ten Reasons Jason Kenney is Touring Alberta in a Pickup

Today Jason Kenney began a truck tour of Alberta to drum up support for his bid to become leader of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives and "Unite Alberta" in the way only a guy in a Dodge Ram can do.

Kenney will tour the province in a truck the colour of the Alberta flag, bunking in with friends he hasn't met yet so he can get to know the "real" Alberta, apparently including the non-existent town of "Whitelock" which he announced he would visit early in his tour.




Mr. Kenney currently sits as an elected Conservative MP for the riding of Calgary-Midnapore with a yearly salary of more than $170,000. Generally, elected officials in Canada use the time when the legislature is not sitting to visit their constituencies and serve the people who elected them. Not so the former Liberal-turned-Reform-turned Conservative Mr. Kenney who apparently feels the time is right to capitalize on his knowledge of government misspending obtained during his tenure as first executive director of the Alberta Taxpayers Association, an organization to which very few Alberta taxpayers belong.

Why is Kenney touring the province in a pickup? My top ten list.
  1. Wants to find out the correct place names of Alberta towns. Which he never learned due to the "social engineering" rampant in our school system.
  2. Gotta have a gun rack, bro
  3. Mom never let him drive a truck when he was a kid 
  4. Needs to fit in with the guys in the parking lot when his buds are watching the peelers
  5. How else will he haul the quad?
  6. Wants to take advantage of the cheap cost of fuel before Notley's carbon tax kicks in.
  7. Chicks dig a guy with a truck
  8. Looking for places where he won't even see a niqab.
  9. Prius don't run so good in wintertime.
  10. Truck nuts don't fit on the Taurus

Seriously. 

Jason Kenney.
You haven't lived in Alberta for nearly 20 years. 
You wear a suit every day.
You listen to Gregorian chants on your Ipod.

And you're couch surfing Alberta in a pickup?


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Make Whiteness Great Again



"We Want Our Country Back!" says UKIP.



"Make America Great Again," says Donald Trump.


You want your country back, Leave voters?

Back from whom? From the immigrants of the nations you colonized? From the people who do the jobs the white people didn't want to do? From refugees of nations traumatized by western interference and the lack thereof? From the highly skilled researchers from all over the world who work at your universities and start-ups? 



Or is it just the people of colour you don't want?

And America? Take "your" country back? From whom? The indigenous people whose land you stole?  Those of African descent who were shipped to your country like cattle ? The Latin American immigrants who take care of your children and your gardens and your homes and your farms? You want a wall to keep them out?  Or do you want to take your country back from those from all over the world searching for a better life, your land which you widely advertise as "home of the free"? 

Or maybe, just maybe, you want to take it back from the capitalist profiteers who shipped jobs out of country for shareholder profits?  Or the financiers who retained obscene profits while others lost everything?

 No?  Didn't think that was it.

Conservatives hearken back to the glories of the past. But what glories were these?

The glories of an empire on which the sun never set, an empire built on the resources of the new world and the labour of countless millions of Asians and Africans in colonial times? The moral superiority of a nation that took over entire continents while rejecting the inherent rights of the inhabitants, attempting to break and rebuild children by "killing the Indian in the child" ? Splendid "developed" nations where human rights advocates are assassinated? A free nation where people were refused the ability to drink from water fountains because of the colour of their skin?  A nation whose isolationist policies prolonged world war, leading to the needless death of tens of thousands while war profiteers lined their pockets? 

These past "glories" are nothing to revel in.


Words of UK MP Jo Cox, who was tragically killed prior to the Brexit vote
Look, I'm white. I'm as white as a person could be. My great grandfather was so white it is said he glowed in the dark. I'm not ashamed of being white. I enjoy all the things white people are said to like Christian Lander wrote in his book Stuff White People Like. But I'm also realistic. This stuff I like-the myriad advantages I have-these things do not come from the inherently superior nature of my DNA. They do not come from generations of my ancestors being morally superior, harder working, more intelligent or more deserving than those who have more melanin than I do. I have them because of a set of circumstances including the audacity of my forefathers. 

So UKIP, #Brexit fans and supporters of Donald Trump; French members of the National Front and German members of the "Alternative für Deutschland".

Ban Muslims.
Build walls.
Drive out people of colour.
Return to isolationism.
You will not go back in time. 

You will not stop the clock.
You will not stop the 21st Century.

The future lies before us. It will include people of all colours in a world where the majority of people are neither white nor Christian. The world of the future must include collaboration and understanding and tolerance. And yes, it must include government.

Stop pining for a past that never was. Embrace the future that will be.

And if you don't want to do that, at least watch Stewart Lee. 







Thursday, 23 June 2016

This Guy

The first real class this guy taught was at Deninoo School, Fort Resolution.

His class of 19 grade 2-3 students had four teachers the year before he arrived. There were fights almost every day for the first two weeks. Kids would run home at the first sign of conflict. They would tell him "Only my mom can tell me what to do." He had one hour duty free at lunch and walked home too exhausted to eat. One recess there was a scuffle across the street and a man went flying over the porch railing. It was the dad of one of his students. The kid raced over screaming.

This guy had 12 students with IPPs in that class. Two girls went with their parents onto the trap line every year.  They lived in a beautiful log cabin on the shores of Great Slave Lake. They were fascinated by the running water in the school bathroom and would sometimes disappear for a long time, playing with the taps. One sweet young fellow in grade 3 had never learned to read due to chronic absenteeism. But whatever this guy was doing with that class was working and with a 98% attendance rate, that kid went from being illiterate to reading at grade level in just a few months.  One Saturday, a spunky grade 2 girl from his class showed up at our house. She had "found" money in her house. We knew the people she lived with were on a month long bender and had sold their skidoo for alcohol. We took her to the Northern Store and she bought some craft supplies.

When the assistant superintendent came for an inspection, his class was making butter by rolling a jar of cream back and forth. He got the school to buy cross country skis and taught his kids to ski. He ordered school jackets. He read stories out loud while kids made amazingly detailed snowmobiles out of construction paper and dragged them around the room on pieces of string. His principal wondered why so much of the supply budget seemed to be going to buy tape. His class performed a play, "Santa and his Snowmobile." At Christmas they asked him if he would come back.  Because where they lived, teachers didn't come back.

He organized a field trip to Edmonton. For the kids, the highlight was seeing cows and going up to the top floor of the Manulife Building. For us, it was helping them see that the world beyond their experience was not such a scary place.

The next year he taught grade 8 and 9. It was the first class to complete junior high in years.

This guy went on to be a guidance counsellor at a K-12 school in central Alberta and then senior high guidance counsellor in a northern town. He taught Ethics and Media and English and Health and Social Studies. He provided counselling for kids with family issues, relationship issues, mental health concerns,  addictions,  teacher conflicts, issues with not knowing who they were or where they were going. He organized the school scholarship programme which grew from 4 to 14 locally awarded scholarships under his administration. Until his jurisdiction decided high schools didn't need teachers as guidance counsellors, he worked with kids who are now engineers and nurses and electricians and instrumentation  techs and doctors and politicians and business owners and artists and teachers and computer programmers and brewers and welders and mechanics and chefs and journalists.If you go out somewhere with this guy, you'll meet former students who are excited to tell him what they are doing now.

He's coached badminton and basketball and facilitated the school yearbook and organized the 30 hour famine and taken kids overseas. He's published articles and presented at conventions. He's written distance ed course materials and marked diploma exams and brought the internet to his school. He started the RAP programme and built his school website. For a few years it was a Christmas tradition for students to give him autographed posters from whatever peeler was working at the bar. For awhile, Father's Day cards were given.

During the Slave Lake fires, he offered his services to his students who phoned and texted and emailed and came into the temporary office space provided by ADLC. It was a place where kids could debrief and just be kids. One day that office was full and he sat in his car across the street poaching the ADLC internet on his laptop, looking up student records and calling teachers and helping kids figure out a path. Later that summer, when Alberta Ed "forgot" they were exempting students from diploma exams, students phoned in a panic when their university entrance was denied. He spent hours on the phone with Alberta Ed, the U of A, and Grant MacEwan getting those kids re-instated.

This guy will never boast about anything he's done. I don't think he even believes there is anything to be proud of. That's not how I see it.

Today, this guy is retiring from his teaching career.

This guy.



















Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Signing of Treaty Eight

In my last post  I wrote about the early history of the Lesser Slave Lake area leading up to the signing of Treaty Eight. 

A hundred and seventeen years ago on this date, Treaty Eight was signed at Willow Point on the shores of Lesser Slave Lake.

For weeks people had gathered at Willow Point. They had come from near and far, some travelling for weeks, to arrive at this spot where Treaty was to be made. But the Treaty Commission was not there. They were supposed to arrive on June 8 but they were delayed by bad weather.


Moostos, headman of Sucker Creek
Luckily Treaty Commissioner Ross had gone ahead on horseback. He assured the people at Willow Point that the treaty party was still coming. He told them each band would need to select a representative.They did not have chiefs so each group met to select a leader. 

Kinoosayo "the Fish" of Driftpile was chosen as chief of all the bands. He also went by the name Arthur Willier and his descendants live throughout the area. He was a wise man and an excellent, passionate speaker. 

His older brother Moostoos “the Bull" was also an excellent orator. He was a healer and medicine man and had a reputation as a great hunter and trapper. He was selected as headman of Sucker Creek. 


Felix Giroux and Kinoosayo
Astatchikun, also called Felix Giroux, was the adopted brother of Kinoosayoo and Moostoos. He was selected as headman of Swan River. In later years, Felix was known for protecting his band's reserve lands from being given up to white settlers.  Weecheewaysis was selected as headman of Driftpile, and Charles Neesuetasis "the Twin" was named headman of Sawridge (modern day Slave Lake).  An elder known as “the Captain” came from Sturgeon Lake to observe.

The Treaty Commission and the Metis Scrip Commission, a party of 28 men and women including commissioners, secretaries, missionaries, interpreters, translators, cooks and others came from the south. They left Edmonton and travelled by cart to Athabasca. They waited for the promised crew of boatmen to arrive but they didn't show up. It rained incessantly.

Trackers at work
Eventually the Northwest Mounted Police agreed to act as trackers. They were ill-prepared for this work that required brute strength and agility but Peokus, an old Blackfoot man who had been captured and adopted by the Cree in his youth, agreed to train them. The "trackers" would pull the York Boats, heavily laden with tents and typewriters and food and treaty provisions, up the Athabasca River to the Lesser Slave River. This involved walking along the shore in the water or on paths along the high river banks. It was a brutal task because the path was wet and covered by "prostrate trunks and "fire-blasted rampikes" as diarist Charles Mair reported. Rain continued to slow the journey. From time to time they would see dejected Klondike prospectors coming the other way, having failed to make their fortunes in the Yukon.

Eventually they arrived at the lake at which point sails were rigged to the York boats and they sailed to Dog Island. Then a storm hit and they headed straight to the south shore of the lake where Charles Mair reported seeing the most spectacular sunset of his life.  The treaty commission was impressed with the land they saw.

The whole country has a fresh and attractive look, and one could not desire a finer location than can be had almost anywhere along its streams and within its delightful and healthy borders.
Eventually the commission reached Willow Point, 26 days after setting out from Edmonton. The minute their boats touched land, they were greeted with enthusiasm. They set to work setting up their huge white canvas tents and a tent village sprung up around them with cooking tents, craft vendors and the like. Mair and the other commissioners reported being very surprised at how modern the people of the area seemed. They must have been expecting a poor and backwards place but that is not what they found.
The place, in fact, surprised me. No end of buggies, buckboards and saddles, and brightly dressed women, after a not altogether antique fashion; the men, too, orderly, civil, and obliging. Infants were generally tucked into the comfortable moss-bag, babies fat and generally good-looking. The whole community seemed well fed, and were certainly well clad ~ some girls extravagantly so, the love of finery being the ruling trait here as elsewhere. One lost, indeed, all sense of remoteness, there was such a well-to-do, familiar air about the scene, and such a bustle of clean-looking people.
Races for the kids
There were running races for the kids and enormous tents. I imagine a North Country Fair type atmosphere and indeed, it was the time of the solstice when the treaty negotiations began. The local paper reported “Everything is in a whirl out here, excitement and fun galore. This is the first and perhaps the biggest blowout this section will see in our time.”

On June 20 a canvas awning was set up with a massive Union Jack behind the commissioners. The large police presence frightened many children according to stories told afterwards. Tobacco was given to the men. The crowd sat at the feet of the commission. 

Treaty Commissioner David Laird spoke  for an hour.

Unrolling a large document with fancy handwriting, he pointed to the great red seal.
Red Brothers! we have come here today, sent by the Great Mother to treat with you. This is the paper she has given to us, and is her Commission to us signed with her Seal, to show we have authority to treat with you. 
Some of you were told that if you make treaty, you will become slaves but you will be just as free as you are now. The treaty is a free offer; take it or not, just as you please… Indians across the country have already benefited from treaty.
The white men are coming in to settle the country. The Queen wishes the Indians to have lands of their own, so we will give one square mile, or 640 acres, to each family of five; but we will not force you to go onto a reserve. That is your choice. We will give schools to teach your children to read and write. And you will be free to hunt and fish as you now are. 
In return for this the Government expects you will not interfere with any miner, traveller or settler. We expect you to be good friends with every-one, and shake hands with all you meet. If any whites do you harm, shoot your dogs or horses, or cause you trouble, report the matter to the police, and they will see that justice is done. 
Commissioners are here for the half-breeds, who may be entitled to scrip. Half-breeds have Indian blood in their veins, and have claims on that account. The Government does not make treaty with them, it gives them scrip to settle their claims. Half-breeds living like Indians have the chance to take the treaty instead. If there is no treaty made, scrip cannot be given. After the treaty is signed, the Commissioners will take up half-breed claims.
Kinoosayo then spoke and everyone listened attentively. His speech was long and passionate and the interpreter could only grasp part of what he said.  
From Provincial Archives of Alberta
You say we are brothers. I cannot understand how. I live differently from you. I can only understand that Indians will benefit in a very small degree from your offer. You have told us you come in the Queen's name. We surely have also a right to say what we want. Do you not allow the Indians to make their own conditions, so that they may benefit as much as possible? The Indian loves his way of living and his free life. Up to the present I have never seen the time when I could not work for the Queen, and also make my own living.
Moostoos then spoke, ““Our country is getting broken up. I see the White man coming in, and I want to be friends. I see what he does, but it is best that we should be friends.”

Weecheewaysis added “I want to tell the Commissioners there are two ways, the long and the short. I want to take the way that will last longest.”

Laird told them that the white man was coming and they needed to make an agreement. He told them they had lived until now with no help from the white man and that they would do even better when more white men came to buy their furs and hire them as boatmen and bring in better cattle. He told them they were not being forced to accept the terms but it was a good deal and if they signed the treaty it would be forever and the white men would keep their promises.

“Indians are fond of a free life, and we do not wish to interfere with it,” he concluded.

Then Father Lacombe, who was known and respected by the people, spoke “Knowing you as I do, I have been officially attached to the Commission as adviser. To-day is a great day for you, a day of long remembrance, and your children hereafter will learn from your lips the events of to-day. I am here because I think it is a good thing for you to take the Treaty. Your forest and river life will not be changed by the Treaty, and you will have your annuities, as long as the sun shines and the earth remains. Accept!"

Kinoosayo spoke again to his people, “Have you all heard? Do you wish to accept? All who wish to accept, stand up! Are the terms good forever? As long as the sun shines on us? We want a written treaty, one copy to be given to us, so we shall know what we sign for.” The crowd stood in agreement.

Treaty Commission
On the evening of June 20 there was celebrating and visiting. People gathered to discuss the pros and cons of the treaty. Concern for their children and the generations to come was foremost on their minds and they wanted to be sure the treaty was in their best interests.The treaty commissioners met in their tent to write up the treaty.

On June 21  the commission gathered again. Laird presented the written treaty. Kinoosayo and Moostos stand to accept the treaty. Suddenly there was grumbling from the crowd. The chiefs talked urgently with their people. They were concerned that they would not be free to hunt, fish and trap as they had done for generations. They were worried that they would be forced to stay on the reserve lands.  They were assured that they had been promised they could live their way of life as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow. Kinoosayo stood. They agreed to the terms. They signed the treaty with their mark, and medals were handed out.

The treaty commission moved forward from one community to the next for the remainder of the summer.  By the end of September, over 2000 people had signed Treaty and more than 1200 had taken Metis scrip. Again the next summer a similar process played out and the headmen of each of the following communities signed adhesions: Peace River Landing, Fort Vermilion, Fort Chipewyan, Dunvegan, Smith’s Landing, Fond du Lac,  Fort MacMurray, Wabasca, Fort St John, Lesser Slave Lake, and Fort Resolution. Most of the north had been given up in exchange for treaty rights, an area larger than France and Great Britain combined. All but Lubicon Lake which was somehow forgotten in the proceedings and is unceded to this day.

Thanks to the following sources:

Treaty 8 Centennial
The Making of Treaty Eight  Alberta Online Encyclopedia
The Diaries of Charles Mair, Reproduced online by Albert Burger of Faust
A History of Slave Lake by Geoff Sawyer, Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta
Treaty 8  Archived by Library and Archives Canada
Interview with Frederick Prince whose father Albert Prince acted as translator at signing
The people of Sucker Creek for help with photo identification
Glenbow Museum

Thursday, 16 June 2016

History is where you stand

I've lived in Treaty 8 territory for most of my life, growing up in Dawson Creek, working in Sexsmith and Fort Resolution, and for the past 26 years, in Slave Lake. I never thought much about the treaty until now. I certainly never learned anything about it in school. For the past few months I have been researching the spirit and intent of treaties in Alberta. I started with Treaty 8 because it is where I live. I am unraveling a fascinating story.  What follows is what I have uncovered to date. I am sure there are some errors and some missing pieces. If you spot any errors or have information I could add, please let me know.

Archaeological evidence found in Northshore Day Use area of Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, Wagner where the creek runs into the lake, Canyon Creek and Grouard all point to human habitation going back 5,000-12,000 years.

In those early days, the Beaver and possibly the Slavey lived in our region.They gathered along the lake in summer and built wooden houses further into the forest in winter. In the 1600s, the Woodland Cree moved west from around Hudson's Bay, driving the Beaver and Slavey away. Equipped with guns from the fur trade, the Cree came close to decimating the Beaver, who were known to be peaceful and honest as well as gallant and fierce fighters. Just as the Cree were about to deliver a final blow to the Beaver in 1780 the Beaver got guns and at the same time, a smallpox epidemic almost wiped out the Cree. Eventually they made peace at a place along the river that they called "Unchagah" or "Peace" River in honour of that agreement. Today, the Woodland Cree live along Lesser Slave Lake and the Beaver live mostly in the Peace River area.

White explorers and fur traders came this way establishing forts and trading posts. By 1802, there were two forts, one on either side of the Lesser Slave River where it flows out of the lake-one owned by the Hudson's Bay Company and one owned by the North West Company. There were similar forts at Buffalo Bay, Shaw's Point and Mirror Landing near modern-day Smith, where the Lesser Slave River flows into the Athabasca. 
Hudson's Bay Fort at Lesser Slave Lake, circa 1905
South Peace Archives
The Cree people in northern Canada established themselves as the preferred tribe for the white explorers and traders.  Apparently they sometimes told the newcomers that other tribes were fierce and uncivilized so they would not trade with them. They were known as a peaceful people who helped the early traders survive the tough winters. In exchange, they obtained rifles and metal knives and axes as well as tobacco and other goods. The women of the Woodland Cree were described by explorer Alexander Mackenzie as being the most beautiful of all the indigenous women in Canada. That's not really to the point, but maybe it is one reason why the French and British men settled permanently around the forts, marrying local women, building houses, planting crops and setting up businesses. 

At first it was a good relationship. As things became more established, the trading companies supplied food and medicine to the trappers and their families when times were tough. Then the BNA Act established the Dominion of Canada. The trading companies lost their exclusive rights to trade. They stopped helping the people in times of trouble. 

The government knew it needed to sign nation to nation agreements with the First Nations people of western Canada as they had done in the east, going back to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Or at least they should have known. The Cree wrote letters asking for Treaty. The factor of the Hudson's Bay company asked for Treaty. Missionaries asked for Treaty. The government had no interest in signing. They apparently believed no one would ever want to move to the north despite the fact that more and more settlers were moving north. Treaty 6 and 7 were signed in central and southern Alberta in 1876 and 1877. But nothing for the north.
York Boats sail Lesser Slave Lake
Glenbow Archives
There was a severe famine in the north in 1887-88. There was so little food that people resorted to eating their horses out of desperation. Still no help came. 

On January 1 of 1890, the chiefs of the area met. Chief Kinoosayo of Lesser Slave Lake reported that only a very few were against the treaty and a very large majority were in favour of it.

The government sent geological surveys north. The surveyors reported that there was excellent farmland in the north. Oil was discovered. Minerals were found. Then, there was the Klondike Gold Rush. The government pushed for a Canadian route and an overland route was created from Edmonton to Athabasca, then via the Athabasca River to the Lesser Slave River to Lesser Slave Lake, then across the lake under sail, then overland along the old warparty trail to Peace River and then by river north to the Klondike. At least 800 people traversed this trail including many Americans. Some of these people stayed behind to make their fortune off the prospectors.
Cree and Metis trackers pulling a York boat up the Athabasca River.
Peel's Prairie Provinces Postcard Collection.
The Klondike Gold Rush led to hardship for the First Nations along the route. Reports state that the American prospectors in particular were lawless and disrespectful. They over-hunted the area and took the best horses from the First Nations people. Food was in short supply. The indigenous people could see their way of life being destroyed in front of their eyes.  The situation came to a head near Fort St John when the Cree people of the area pushed the prospector's carts over the high river banks into the Peace and later blockaded the road. Finally, faced with unrest and a possible disruption to a growing economy, the government decided to act. They began to plan for Treaty. 

Treaty Eight, a nation to nation legal agreement between her majesty Queen Victoria and representatives of First Nations would cover a vast area of Canada including most of northern Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. That agreement gave the Dominion of Canada the legal right to sell land to European immigrants and established Treaty rights for the indigenous peoples of our area.


The story of the treaty signing will be the subject of my next post. Followed by some opinions of which I have no shortage.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

What do you do when you stop?

What do you do when you stop being a teacher?

Years ago I wrote a piece called "50 Ways to Leave your Classroom." In my mind it would be sung to the tune of  Paul Simon's "50 ways to leave your lover."

You just slip out the back, Zack.
Stop being a slave, Dave.
You can set yourself loose, Bruce.

There won't be another quiz, Liz
When you set yourself free.

Maybe it wasn't all that funny. Unless you were a teacher trying to get out. Certainly the ATA News didn't care for it and they are basically the only people who have ever paid me for anything I've ever written.

And now I am getting close to that point myself. Getting close to finding my own way to leave. Granted, my "classroom" is a virtual place, but it is real to me.
On his bike in Shanghai, 1984

My husband will retire this June. He says he might just get on his bike and start riding. He's wanted to do that for years.

Some of our friends left and then came back.
Others have found alternate careers.

My father-in-law built an extension to the family cottage, researched family history, organized the family photos, and produced books of his wife's poetry.

Our friend Dan is building a house.

My parents and my aunt became obsessive volunteers. Arts and culture, local history, advocating for a seniors complex, organizing events, gardening and writing newspaper columns.
Walter and Gerry

My former teachers Walter Schoen and Gerry Clare became archivists and developed an incredible collection of images and memories at the South Peace Archives.

My great aunts, both teachers, were inspirational in retirement. Well into their 80s they explored the backwoods, bought wilderness land, pursued their artistic interests in painting, pottery and photography, and taught urbanites how to ride horseback. In fact Aunt Betty got her nose broken after being bucked off a horse she was trying to train when she was in her 90s.

What do you do when you stop teaching? 

What do you do when the world lies before you and you can do anything? 

What happens when you set yourself free?



I can't wait to find out.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Trajectory

June 6, 1944.

D-Day.

A fateful day.

The weather was bad in France that day, or so they say. The phases of the moon, the rise and fall of the tides, and the time of day- all had to be taken into account.
So despite the weather, June 6 was the day.
Operation Overlord, code name for the Battle of Normandy that was preceded by the assault of 1200 aircraft that attacked coastal defenses so that 5000 ships and almost 160,000 British, Canadian and American troops could storm the beaches and begin to drive back the Germans.
The assault that turned the tide.
The assault that determined the course of history.
The liberation of Europe.
The Allied victory on the Western Front.
The end of the war in Europe less than a year later.
All part of the trajectory of war.

If the allies hadn't succeeded, how much longer would World War II have lasted?
How many more lives would have been lost?
How much more of the world would have been decimated?
How many more of Hitler's victims would have died?
Without D-Day, the war would have followed an alternate trajectory.
The history of the world would have taken a different path.
Lancaster bombers, D-Day

Just as that day changed the course of history, the results of that day determined the course of my history.

My dad's log book shows three entries as part of Operation Overlord when he and his loyal crew, his good friends Doug Johnston, Burns Foster, Sig Teit, Johnny Knox, were tasked with softening the defenses.  June 4 "OPS Calais. Fair Trip,Gun Emplacements." June 5 "OPS Merville. Good Trip. Gun emplacements." June 6, "OPS Coutances, Good Trip. Excellent Nav, Bridge and Highway, Diverted Colerne."

As my father's Lancaster "S for Smitty" followed its path from Middleton St. George to Caen to Colerne and back,  as his plane moved through space and time, did he know the scope of the mission? Did he know that the fate of Europe hung in the balance? Or, like so many brave young Canadians, did he simply follow orders, trusting his superiors to chart his course? Or did he trust in fate or trust in God?  Or did the crew start that mission, like their 29 other missions, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice?



The odds of survival for bomber command were slim. Their first 17 missions were flown in a Halifax. In 1943 and early 1944, when my dad's crew were stationed with #419 Moose Squadron, the survival rate of a Halifax Crew surviving the 30 missions of a tour of duty were 16%, Overall, the odds of survival ran under 50%.  Did Dad and his crew know what those odds were at the time? Would it have mattered?  Reading his log book, in typical Dad fashion, he minimized the dangers and emphasized the good work of his crew.  The simple phrase, in tiny writing, "hundreds of SL/S...holes in kite" surely downplayed an exciting trip. His entry of July 18, "coned by SL/S ...Hit by flak" is described in the Moose Squadron website in a far more dramatic fashion.

I only remember him telling us two stories of his time in the air.  On one trip the crew witnessed one plane after another going down ahead of them. Defying orders, Dad veered off, surely saving himself and his crew.  In another, a malfunction prevented the plane from dropping its load of bombs. But the plane, with a full tank of fuel and a full load of bombs, was too heavy to land. So they flew out over the ocean, "reduced weight" as the log puts it, and then landed safely at base with a full load of bombs. Moments that defined my Dad.

I wonder if the fact Dad and his crew survived against so many odds influenced how they lived. Did they feel lucky? Did they feel blessed? Did they feel powerful? Did they feel, on some level, that they were saved for a reason? Did they think about how the war made them into the men they would become?

If my father's plane had been shot down, he wouldn't have married my mom. I wouldn't be here. My children would never have been born.There would have been an alternate version of history. One without me in it.

How many stories begin, "It was a fateful day?"  While the phases of the moon and the rise and fall of the tides may influence our trajectory, so too does every act and every accident.  I think of the history of my country, the choices made by my ancestors. The acts, big and small, that influenced history. The small things we say that influence our children and our students in ways we may never know. The flick of a switch. The thrust of a throttle. Who you sat next to on a bus. A car accident. A letter. A relative stranger telling you "You're good at that." A fire.  Day by fateful day, over the course of history, the course of each of our lives, one defining moment after another.  Defining moments that shape you, that make you who you are.  Yet it all could have taken a very different path.

Every day is a fateful day.

My dad and his grandson