Archive for April, 2017

Feminism needs mentioning

April 28, 2017

by Janet Nicol

In this opinion piece for the April 27 2017 issue of the Jewish Independent newspaper, I critique the state of the world through a feminist lens, inspired by a lively panel discussion April 9 at Vancouver’s Peretz Centre entitled “Israel, Canada and Me in the Age of Trump.”

Print copies of the issue are available at certain cafes and public spaces around Vancouver and by subscription and on-line at – http://www.jewishindependent.ca/feminism-needs-mentioning/

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BC Schools Project: Day of Mourning

April 27, 2017

By Janet Nicol

Teaching the next generation of workers how to be safe on the job is becoming an annual event in BC high schools, through the Day of Mourning BC Schools Project. Launched last year, the safety campaign aimed at young people originated with John Decaire, a social studies teacher at Cariboo Hill Secondary, in Burnaby.

“I was struck by the number of people who die or are injured on the job in Canada,” Decaire says, referring to the more than 1,000 work-related deaths in Canada each year. He was also struck by how it is workers under 25 who make up one-third of those who sustain workplace injuries.

Decaire realized many students work at part-time, precarious, non-union jobs, and so receive inadequate training, supervision, or instruction about their rights — including the right to refuse unsafe work. “Our society places much importance on Remembrance Day,” Decaire says, “but more people die on the job in Canada.”

To see the full article on line at “Our Times” magazine. The link is
http://ourtimes.ca/Talking/article_529.php

Fire Walkers – a review

April 25, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Fire Walkers, a memoir by Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes. Mawenzi House Publishers, Toronto, 2016.

Fire Walkers, a memoir by Bethlehem (“Beth”) Gebreyohannes, provides a valuable female viewpoint of an Ethiopian-Canadian’s refugee experience. The author recounts fifteen months of her life in vivid and heart-felt detail, beginning in 1980 when she was 14 years old. Beth’s father and step-mother reluctantly organized their family’s secret escape out of war-ridden Addis Ababa and across the Ethiopian border to the port city of Djibouti. Realizing they were not on a family holiday, Beth and her two older brothers, Yared and Asrat expressed shock, confusion and anger at their parents. Still, the family remained united as they endured several days traversing the Danakil Desert on foot, wary of roving soldiers, scattered land mines and unpredictable terrain.

Dangers and hardships also included long days enduring the hottest desert in the world. Beth’s step-mother Meskeram, especially agonized over temporarily leaving her baby daughter behind in the care of others. The family encountered strangers who were both unscrupulous and amazingly generous. They coped with theft, sickness, sexual predators and separation, underscoring their vulnerability—and stoicism.

The landscape and people of the east African region are otherworldly, as the author depicts: “The camels’ gurgling sound woke me up from the sheet of sand I slept on,” and on another morning: “….I saw that everything blended together in the desert—the camels, the shrubs, and even the sky.”

Beth’s family were Christians, descended from Ethiopian royalty but encountered diverse peoples, including Somalians, nomadic Afar tribesmen and Djiboutians who spoke French, Afar, Somali and Arabic. Men chewed the stimulant known as qat, one of the author’s many fascinating observations. She shares many other cultural experiences ranging from dining on sweet tea and goat stew in the desert to the joy of swimming in Djibouti’s Red Sea.

When Beth and her brother initially arrived at a refugee camp in Dikhil ahead of other family members, the reader glimpses the harsh life and prejudices refugees experience. Beth’s family however, found sanctuary for several months in a home offered by a woman who worked in the home a wealthy man. As the author noted: “The kindness we received from strangers had made all the troubles, wars, homelessness, statelessness, and hunger more bearable.”

Family bonds were valued above all else. When Beth is reunited with her father—for whom she dedicates this memoir—she writes, “I fell into his arms, smelt the scent of his cigarette on his white shirt. If only I could be around my father all the time.”

In the afterward and acknowledgements the reader learns the fate of Beth and other family members since re-settlement in Canada. Many individuals and writers’ classes inspired the author to tell her powerful story, resulting in this vividly written and insightful contribution to memoir literature.

Canadian fiction reviews – short stories & a psychological thriller

April 4, 2017

The Old World and Other Stories by Cary Fagan

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Inspired by discarded photographs from the past, prolific Toronto-based author Cary Fagan has crafted a remarkable collection of “snapshots,”—that is to say, very short stories. Prepare for a roller coaster ride of intuitively grasped portraits and unpredictable plots ranging from the sublime to the grotesque, based on 35 “orphaned” images.

The full review is available on-line at the Canadian Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan

An intriguing sixth novel from Toronto-based writer Nicole Lundrigan, this psychological thriller will resonate with readers long after the last page is read. Two plot lines unfold in alternating chapters, one told by an anonymous narrator, the other from the point of view of substitute teacher Warren Botts. The reader can safely assume the unnamed narrator is an adolescent, otherwise the identity and connection to Warren’s story is unknown until the final chapter.

The full review is available on line at the Canadian Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

Link at – http://www.mtls.ca/issue22/fiction-and-nonfiction-reviews-janet-nicol/

Killarney Secondary and Community History

April 3, 2017


School life & the community in the 1970s and 1980s – An Excerpt

By 1970, the population had increased so much, the school had to add ten portables until additional wings were built. It was the “disco” era. The Electric Crow Disco Dance was the name of a student dance. Girls had long straight hair. They also started wearing pants to school. Lots of students had haircuts with bangs. The P.E. strip was black shorts and white tops.

Students had a club for golf, bowling, wrestling and juvenile soccer, as well as a ski, scuba and cycling club and a hair cut club! There were exciting indoor track meets. Yearbook photos included the students’ phone numbers and addresses! Students liked to doodle and some had their thumbprints with their autographs in yearbooks. Advertisements for food and car repair helped pay for publishing costs. The yearbooks also show photographs of “student couples” walking around the school.

Students walked to school usually because they lived nearby (unlike today) and there was limited public transit. Langara Community College, which started in 1965, moved to its current location on 49th Avenue in 1970. Many Killarney grads have attended Langara. In 1973, Champlain Mall opened with 32 stores, including Kinney Shoes, Kits Cameras and Glenn’s Records and Tapes. The Chilean Housing Co-op at School and Tyne was built to house political refugees after Chile experienced a bloody political coup against its democratically elected government on September 11, 1973.
Killarney teachers who were students here in the 1970s and 1980s said they enjoyed going to Killarney and had lots of friends. They remember having classmates who became famous too.

Ms. Mohan is one of these teachers. She was anxious when she first went to Killarney and remembers some students played tricks in the hallway.
She also remembers the school was not as diverse as it is now. The sense of community has stayed the same, she believes, and Killarney makes you feel like you have a place to belong. Ms. Mohan remembers lots of fun activities like dancing, skiing, tackle football and live bands.

According to another Killarney teacher, Ms. Schwab, who was also a student here in the 1970s, boys got into more physical fights. Also students had to work much harder than they do today to get an “A.” There were not too many “second chances” for students who broke the rules either. It was a blue-collar neighbourhood back then, Ms. Schwab says, and housing was much more affordable. She recalls different classmates who went on to become a heart surgeon, accountant and engineer.

By the 1980s, more students were enrolling in the school who came from diverse racial backgrounds. Many Vietnamese refugees, escaping decades of war, came here. Known as the “boat people,” they have many businesses in shops along Kingsway. There were more extra-curricular activities and the music and drama departments were very active. The Wizard of Oz was performed one year. Judy Wright was Killarney’s very own super swimmer. There was boxing at school—even though the boxing gloves were in bad condition. There was a broadcasting and rope-climbing club too.

Here’s what teachers who went to Killarney back in the 1980s and 90s have to say: Ms. Semail remembers there were lots of sports clubs when she went to Killarney—and a great school spirit. Mr. Chen Henry “loved” Killarney and his favourite teacher was Mr. Wood, who taught math. He says Killarney is always welcoming every student. Ms. Wong said her school days were a “good experience.” She said the school spirit was strong, especially in sports.

Ms. Nijad says lots of things have stayed the same, like the sports, music and drama programs. To her the tradition of Killarney is its diversity. Ms. Mahovlich enjoyed her time at Killarney as a student too. “It was really a good opportunity to meet lots of different people,” she says. She notices students are still passionate about learning and volunteering. Mr. Kachmar remembers school was fun and says he made lots of friends. He says the school has always been a welcoming place.

This is a collective research and writing project of students in my Social Studies classes at Killarney Secondary, 2016-17. Watch for a permanent site on the school website. Students and teachers–past and present–are invited to build on these stories on the Facebook History page at – https://www.facebook.com/cougarhistory/

Killarney Secondary and Community History

April 3, 2017

In the beginning…..the Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam people 

The Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam people lived on the land around Killarney Secondary school in south Vancouver for generations. They were in the Fraser canyon region for 8000 years and in the area of Vancouver for about 3000 years, living in temporary villages along the Fraser River and ocean inlets.

The aboriginal people hunted bear, deer and cougars in the thick forests and fished for salmon in the sea, river and streams. They traveled by large dugout canoes and walked on forest trails. Each Nation had its own culture and language and had complex economies, which included trade and potlatches with other First Nation groups.

The aboriginal people encountered Spanish explorers for the first time in 1791 and the English in 1792. The mainland of what is now British Columbia became a colony of Britain in 1866 and joined Canada five years later. In 1886 the city of Vancouver was incorporated and a year later, the first train from eastern Canada arrived, bringing even more immigrants to the city.

The forest trail used for generations by the Coast Salish people (ancestors of the Musqueam) stretches through New Westminster to 7th and Main Streets in Vancouver. This ancient route became a major road known as “Kingsway” in 1913.

Today, there are more than 70 Killarney students who identify as having First Nations ancestry. The school also has a First Nations enhancement counsellor on staff.

At the entrance to the Killarney Community Centre (next door to the school) is a glass and metal sculpture called “Bright Futures.” It was created by Brent Sparrow, an artist from the Musqueam band, and installed when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The symbolic images engraved on the glass are of a large “face” in the shape of the sun, surrounded by eight small “faces.” The sculpture is intended to welcome visitors and athletes “with warmth and open arms” now—and in the future, according to the artist’s statement. It is also a reminder that the First Nations people lived here for thousands of years. The artist acknowledges his ancestral ties to this part of British Columbia and writes: “I hope that the people’s hard work pay off and the bright futures goes on.”

This is a collective research and writing project by my Killarney Secondary social studies students, 2016-2017. Teachers and students–past and present–are invited to build on the histories we have written. The permanent site will be available soon through a link on the school home page. The Facebook link is at https://www.facebook.com/cougarhistory/