The March to Ballantyne Pier

June 15, 2015

by Janet Mary Nicol

It’s a story that defined Vancouver in the 1930s–a city divided by class as 900 longshoremen living on the east and south side of Vancouver fought for basic rights–to gain back a union and not a company association, as well as fair hiring practises. Their strike had only just started when on June 18, 1935, a march to protest the use of strikebreakers at Ballantyne Pier led to an all-out three hour waterfront/city street battle between police and the strikers.

Look for the full story at the BC Labour Heritage Centre website –


Indian Pop Star Jasmine Bharucha finds a new voice in Canada

June 6, 2015

by Janet Nicol

Once a pop star in India, Jasmine Bharucha has made a new life for herself as a realtor and children’s book author in Canada, spreading the message of mindfulness–and she still sings too.

Check out this cover story about Bharucha in the Vancouver-based June, 2015 issue of Canadian Immigrant magazine, available on-line at


Photograph by Sandra Minarik

A hat-trick of reviews on war, student soldiers & canoes

June 3, 2015

by Janet Nicol

Check out the summer issue of BC History for lots of great stories. In the book review section, I have a hat-trick of reviews on BC’s role in the First World War – “From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War” written by Greg Dickson and Mark Forsythe as well as “From Classroom to Battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War by Barry Gough and on a more peaceful topic- “Canoe Crossings: Understanding the Craft that Helped Shape British Columbia, by Sanford Osler.

All are great reads by BC authors.

For more information on how to subscribe to BC History or purchase an individual copy, go to –


An Open Wound

May 25, 2015

by Janet Nicol

If you visit any of the communities along the lonely stretch of highway in northern British Columbia, you will eventually hear about the chilling fate of several missing and murdered women—most indigenous—over the past two decades.

These stories motivated Matt Smiley, a Hollywood-based filmmaker with family ties in a northern BC town, to make an award-winning documentary, “Highway of Tears”— as the notorious Highway 16 has become known.

I interview Smiley about his documentary–now touring North America and the impact this story has had on people who come to watch the film and discuss the issues raised.

The full article is available in NI483_Fundamentalism.indd

New Internationalist magazine, June 2015.

The Jesus Year/Notes & Dispatches: Essays

May 18, 2015

The Jesus Year,
by Jani Krulc
London, ON: Insomniac, 2013
144 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Prepare to be quickly immersed as you read seven short stories by Calgary-based author, Jani Krulc. “The Jesus Year,” after which the collection is entitled, features 32-year-old Erica and covers a painful year in her life. Each brief and precisely worded scene provides clues to the story’s finale—Erica’s 33rd birthday dinner party. During Erica’s past year, her brother has died in an accident. The ensuing emotional disconnect Erica experiences with her spouse and friends widens, its destructive effect finally surfacing at her birthday dinner.

The collection’s central characters are typically young women navigating relationships, early marriage and family dynamics. Actions, not words, provide insights in to these protagonists’ emotional world, demanding the reader stay mindful of telling details. Sheila of “A Guide to Decorating” is dealing with her aging parents, for instance, and though her husband Hank is physically by her side, she dwells alone in the dark shadow of grief. Distractions—such as home decorating—provide respite but still can’t push back the darkness.

The reader will proceed with caution if holidaying on Canada’s “wild” Pacific coast after reading “The Evaluators.” Olivia and Henry are innocent travellers to Tofino on Vancouver Island’s isolated west coast for a romantic getaway. Yet another plot climax in this collection sneaks up on the reader.

Marcella is prepared to leave home and marry though still in her teens, as she deals with recurring anorexia in “Familia.” It’s a story line where the heroine’s feelings are central to whether she will live—or die. Flashbacks to Marcella’s childhood and a game-changing scene with her fiancé culminate in an ambiguous ending, providing a dash of hope.

“I didn’t have time to change,” Pastor Mike explains about his attire to Maya and Finn as they visit his rural church in Alberta to plan their wedding. In this story, “Going to Market,” the author sets the scene with a description of the Pastor: “He wore jeans ripped at the left thigh, black staining both knees.” The Pastor further explains: “It’s harvest” and Maya answers, “Oh, we love the market.” Therein lies the story’s tension—the gritty life of a rural man in contrast to Maya and her husband’s convenient—and thus naive— urban experiences.

The writing of all these stories is sharp and sparse and the author’s imagined worlds ultimately unsettling. Krulc provides the reader with glimpses of small shimmering truths through seemingly ordinary episodes experienced by ‘every day’ women.



Notes and Dispatches: Essays
by rob mclennan,
London, ON: Insomniac, 2014
317pp, $19.95 paperback

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

This collection of literary essays from prolific Ottawa-based poet and writer rob mclennan provides an appreciation of several authors, their work critiqued with enthusiasm and curiosity. mclennan’s own talents and biographic anecdotes also weave throughout the 36 pieces. Each have been previously published in diverse journals, including Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

In the first essay mclennan re-visits Don McKay’s poem, Long Sault (1975), revealing the impact of the post-war construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, an almost-forgotten event occurring in central Canada and altering the natural surroundings and peoples’ lives. The reader learns “Long Sault” has been out of print for decades, though rescued from potential obscurity through publication in an anthology. mclennan admirably recovers the poem once again, for readers to consider and value. As a voracious reader, mclennan is in the habit of making such recoveries, as some of his other essays attest.

On a contemporary note, mclennan has followed, with a sense of awe, the writing of Sarah Manguso. Despite Manguso’s hardships while still in her twenties, mclennan observes “…what amazes is just how aware and clear-headed she is of her own situation, especially through the passages when she claims she is neither.” But suffering teaches us to pay attention, he learns from reading Manguso’s novel, “The Two Kinds of Decay.” She further suggests—and mclennan clearly agrees—that to pay attention is “to love everything.”
Douglas Barbour is admired as both a writer and critic of poetry but mclennan wonders if this modest prairie poet has been unfairly overlooked. mclennan never pronounces, but does conclude many of his essays with provocative questions for the reader to consider. David Thompson, the explorer who mapped Canada’s west centuries ago, is the subject of poems by Robert Kroetsch, another prairie writer mclennan praises. He comments on Kroetsch’s unconventional but convincing choice of ‘storyteller’ in his Thompson poems—the explorer’s wife.

In a playful essay about New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel, mclennan riffs on how this particular building has fascinated Canadian writers over the years. He briefly describes his own pilgrimage to the Chelsea Hotel, inspiring a poem which he duly shares in the essay. mclennan also shares several enlightening teaching moments with students during his writing workshops. In fact, techniques, methods and ideas to nurture the writing practise appear throughout this collection. mclennan encourages the practise of writing poems in response to other writer’s poems, for instance, and in one piece, chronicles a student’s success using this exercise. In “Notes on writing, writing” mclennan poses questions about literature, draws from other writers’ thoughts and is self-reflective. One such question he asks is “how far away does culture and identity still hold, still compel?” mclennan’s sure sense of identity, with Scottish immigrant roots in rural Ontario, provides his own answer which he more fully explores in another essay, “….on ‘compiling genealogies on Stormant and Glengarry.’

mclennan in the interviewee in one piece, discussing his own writing. As well, mclennan as interviewer to writers John Lavery and Michael Blouin are also included. “Collaborating with Lea Graham” is an insightful essay on what happens when creative sparks fly between mclennan and an American poet.
mclennan’s richly varied essays serve both the aspiring writer and the discerning reader. While the Canadian poetry scene is a primary focus, literary and geographic boundaries are occasionally crossed. Much more frequently, mclennan pays attention to the diction, form and motivation of a distinct nation of writers and this inevitably includes his own valuable contributions.

Re-published from Maple Tree Literary Supplement, an on-line journal, May-June issue, (#19), 2015.

Lethbridge’s Galt Museum explores life of early artist

May 7, 2015


by Janet Nicol

“She sought adventure and she had courage,” says Wendy Aikens, who organized an exhibition about early English-Canadian watercolorist Edith Fanny Kirk at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, June 6 to October 12.  Watch for the full article in summer, 2015 issue of Galleries West magazine.

Watercolor painting above by Edith Fanny Kirk is entitled “Banff at November,” 1947.

Serpent Slayer – A Lawyer Without a Ticket

January 15, 2015


How a Squamish leader beat systemic discrimination to become one of Canada’s top legal experts on First Nations issues

by Janet Nicol

Despite his lack of a law degree, Squamish leader Andrew Paull (1892–1959) was remarkably successful in defending clients in British Columbia’s courts of law in the early part of the twentieth century.

Paull had received legal training but refused to be called to the bar because at the time it would have meant giving up his Aboriginal status.

So he worked as an unofficial lawyer, as well as a land claims lobbyist, longshoreman, community organizer, and lacrosse coach.

He was also the secretary of Mission Reserve No. 1 at Burrard Inlet, North Vancouver, and formed the North American Indian Brotherhood in the late 1940s.

It was Paull’s performance in the courtroom that impressed his contemporaries. He was able to cite chapter and verse and memorize long portions of documents.

According to his colleague Maisie Hurley, “He was considered the greatest authority on this continent on Indian aspects of the law. He would have been one of the country’s most brilliant criminal lawyers if he’d had a degree. He had dignity, drama. He was superb.”

When handling murder cases, Paull was often successful in getting the charges reduced. He also argued for Aboriginal land rights and opposed laws that were discriminatory towards Native people.

You can read my story on Andrew Paull in the February-March 2015 issue of Canada’s History magazine. See more on-line at

Picket line lessons

November 18, 2014

by Janet Nicol

BC teachers went on strike for five weeks in 2014. I interviewed four teachers and a parent. Find out more in Our Times.    ourtimes

After Pearl Harbour

November 18, 2014

by Janet Nicol

Jessie Hughes and Oiyo Uno lived in separate worlds during the war years, though their homes were in the same Vancouver neighbourhood. In the tense winter days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, these two women became known to each other through circumstances neither would have predicted or desired.

So begins a story centred on a hold up and murder and told from the perspective of two mothers.

Published in BC History, Winter, 2014


Social Justice 12 students take action against poverty at city-wide conference

October 11, 2014

by Janet Nicol

Last February 2014, Vancouver secondary students in Social Justice 12 courses around the city came together to learn more about local and global issues of concern. Participants agreed to continue to meet to plan a way to connect with people living in extreme poverty in Vancouver. Their action plan concluded a day of guest speakers and thoughtful discussions. See the full article at

Many thanks to the BC Teachers’ Federation for their support through an “Ed May Social Responsibility Education” grant.


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