When BC schools are named for people “close to home and heart”

September 27, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Make no mistake, naming new schools is political and at times controversial. There was great public outcry earlier this year, when residents petitioned to name a new elementary school in Vancouver’s Yaletown after Chinese-Canadian pioneer and advocate, Won Alexander Cumyow and the request was turned down in favour of the bland “Crosstown.”

A debate erupted two years ago when Sir William Macdonald Elementary on Vancouver’s east side was threatened with closure. Protesters succeeded in a temporary reprieve, and got a promise to rename the school to reflect its unique Aboriginal program.

When John Robson Elementary was torn down and replaced by a new middle school in New Westminster three years ago, trustees engaged in a renaming discussion because the late-nineteenth century BC Premier John Robson had a poor record on race relations. The result was Fraser River Middle School.

As more community members are invited to consult on the naming of new schools, a shift is occurring. Instead of reflecting colonial ties and a male-dominated elite, more schools are named for “ordinary” men and women of diverse backgrounds who have made valuable contributions. The local landscape is enriched when our public schools are named for people who displayed heroism, generosity, and talent. Students can be motivated and inspired by their school’s namesake too. Allowing more local input in the process of selecting names gives school communities a greater sense of pride and belonging.

Consider these stories behind the names…

Few argued against the renaming of Port Coquitlam Senior Secondary in 1986 to Terry Fox Secondary. Fox was a beloved alumni, and his personal battle against cancer and his selfless Marathon of Hope inspired the nation.

Japanese-Canadian pioneer and human rights advocate Tomekichi Homma had an elementary school named after him by Richmond trustees in 1990.

Jessie Wowk Elementary in Richmond was named for a humanitarian Ukrainian immigrant who helped people standing in bread lines during the 1930s depression.

Educators have been getting their dues too. In Surrey, Earl Marriott Secondary opened in 1972, named after its first principal, who went on to become the district superintendent.

It seems fitting to have more schools named for female educators, considering women have dominated the profession. In 1989 Martha Jane Norris Elementary was named for Surrey’s first school teacher, and a Yaletown elementary school was named after educator Elsie Roy in 2004. Norma Rose Point Elementary opened in 2017 on the UBC campus, honouring an Aboriginal educator and member of the nearby Musqueam Band.

A middle school in Kelowna was named for constable Neil Bruce in 1965. He was shot in the line of duty while attempting to rescue a young woman.

Mar Jok, a Chinese-Canadian resident who served as a court interpreter and operated the Star Cafe on Water Street, has his name on an elementary school in West Kelowna.

Dr. Kearney Middle School, built in 1985 in Fort St. John, is named for a pioneer doctor and early advocate of Medicare who successfully guided a life-saving operation on a man, via radio, in 1939.

Margaret “Ma” Murray Elementary in Fort St. John was named for the town’s colourful newspaper owner in 2016.

Charles Hays Secondary in Prince Rupert was established in 1992 and named after a local businessman who met his fate on the Titanic.

Myrtle Phillip Elementary in Whistler opened in 1976, named for a woman who built Rainbow Lodge with her husband Alex, in 1913. She was also a school trustee, and frequently visited her namesake school until her death in 1986.

In the Kootenays, Hume Elementary, over a century old, is named after an early hotel owner, J. Fred Hume. Now both the Nelson hotel and school have heritage value.

Reprinted from BC Teacher magazine, September-October issue, 2017.

 

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After Pearl Harbor – authors talk at Kogawa House

August 26, 2017

“After Pearl Harbour” and The 1942 Hughes Gang Murder of Yoshi Uno

The January 1942 slaying of Yoshiyuki Uno was largely forgotten until writer and historian Stewart Muir brought this tragic story back to life with new findings, published in a Vancouver Sun series in 2013 titled Merciful Injustice. Janet Nicol subsequently provided another perspective in her article “After Pearl Harbor” (BC History, 2014). Join Stewart and Janet as they discuss their research with author Susan Aihoshi, as she embarks on a book-length treatment of the Uno story. This event is for people interested in the city’s hidden histories as well as those who may have additional perspectives that could aid Susan in developing her project.

Please join us!

Thursday, September 14, 7:30 to 9:00pm
RSVP at info@kogawahouse.com

About the Kogawa House, according to the website: Located in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, Historic Joy Kogawa House was once the childhood home of acclaimed author Joy Kogawa and her family. Today, the property is a unique live/work space for writers, a space for public events, and an ongoing symbol of the racial discrimination experienced by Japanese Canadians as a consequence of the Second World War.

BC Ghosts and Mysteries – book reviews

August 22, 2017

Victoria’s Most Haunted: Ghost Stories from BC’s Historic Capital City, by Ian Gibbs. Touchwood Editions, Victoria, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Prepare to be thoroughly entertained and perhaps even frightened by this collection of ghost stories set in Victoria, BC. Few Canadian cities provide such a haunting atmosphere as the island capital, with its rich history and “Victorian gothic” buildings. Ian Gibbs, a resident and “Ghostly Walks” tour guide, has gathered new and well-worn tales for this book, spinning concise, lively and well-written ghost stories.

The full book review is in BC History magazine, Fall, 2017.

Blood, Sweat and Fear: The Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s First Forensic Investigator, by Eve Lazarus. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Following Eve Lazarus’ last true crime book, Cold Case Vancouver, the author once again delivers a riveting account, this time featuring the criminal cases of an unheralded pioneer in police forensics. Inspector John F.C.B. Vance began his career as an ‘analyst’ with the Vancouver police department in 1907 and over the ensuing years, established a reputation as Canada’s “Sherlock Holmes.” Newspapers and magazines applauded his scientifically-based work, but when Vance retired in 1949, he faded from public view. That is until Lazarus came across old newspaper articles about this intriguing man. With the co-operation of Vance’s heirs, the author gained access to files he kept after retirement, along with photographs and pieces of evidence.

The full book review is in BC History magazine, Fall, 2017..

Pnina’s three lives – book review

June 30, 2017

Light Within the Shadows: An Artist’s Memoir, by Pnina Granirer
Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Pnina Granirer was creative from an early age, but she didn’t come in to her own artistically until the “third act” of her life journey. This memoir reveals why this is so as the author recounts her beginnings in Romania, followed by immigration to Israel when she was fifteen and then to North America in 1962.

When Granirer eventually settled on Vancouver’s west side with her husband Edmond (“Eddy”) Granirer, a University of British Columbia math professor, she began exhibiting art and building an international reputation while raising two sons.

Granirer has spent most of her life in Canada, yet it is her “back story” — her life in Romania and Israel — which informs these later experiences and consumes two-thirds of Light Within the Shadows.

The full review is available at The Ormsby Review, an on-line journal –

http://bcbooklook.com/2017/06/29/pninas-three-lives/

How Deep is the Lake – a book review

June 7, 2017

How Deep is the Lake: A Century at Chilliwack Lake, by Shelley O’Callaghan (Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2017).

Author Shelley O’Callaghan shares stories about four generations of family life at her summer cottage on Chilliwack Lake, a two-hour drive east of Vancouver–but she also delivers much more. A retired environmental lawyer and first time author, her descriptions of summers spent fishing, swimming, and hiking at the turquoise-colored lake set among mountains, include profiles of other settlers and Indigenous people who have populated the area over time. Researching many hours at the Chilliwack archives, reading extensively about local First Nations people and reaching out to interview others with ties to the lake, she achieves a multi-layered memoir.

So begins my review of this book, published in the Summer 2017 issue of BC History.

Women’s Union Video, Fight For $15 & Retail Action Network

May 27, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Watch for my labour notes in the upcoming spring issue of Our Times magazine on…..

a short history video about women’s participation in the BC Government Employees’ Union. The video is available on youtube and has been energizing female members to become more involved in their union.

Also in the notes is an update on the ‘fight for $15’ – an initiative by the BC Federation of Labour to raise the minimum wage so non-union workers can cope with the high cost of living.

Tied with this campaign is the advocacy work of the Retail Action Network on behalf of non-union workers in Victoria.

If anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Canada…..

May 5, 2017

How can we fight it?

by Janet Nicol

With the rise of anti-immigration attitudes in the United States and Europe, where does Canada stand? It’s an important question, given recent polls showing Canadians are less tolerant than we like to think.

A survey by VanCity Credit Union revealed 82 per cent of visible minorities in Vancouver said they have experienced some form of discrimination. And 11 per cent said these experiences were traumatic enough to prompt thoughts of moving to a new location.

To read the full article, which includes a look at anti-racism campaigns in Surrey, BC and Ontario, check on the print issue of Canadian Immigrant magazine, available at no cost at public places around Vancouver. The article is also on line at –

http://canadianimmigrant.ca/community/integration/if-anti-immigrant-sentiment-is-on-the-rise-in-canada-too-how-can-we-fight-it

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/

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.