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

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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/

Book reviews – Ootsa Lake pioneers & Mazie Baker

March 2, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel—A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed, by Jay Sherwood. Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, 2016.

This biographical account of the Seels, a German-Canadian family who lived in BC’s central interior, offers fascinating details about pioneer life, settlers’ interactions with First Nations people and resource-based development. Maps, photographs and most remarkably, the poetry and diary entries of Else Seel, compliment the narrative.

The full review is available in the spring, 2017 issue of BC History.

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The Amazing Mazie Baker: The Squamish Nation’s Warrior Elder,
by Kay Johnston. Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, BC, 2016.

Moses and Sarah Antone named their daughter “Velma Doreen” when she was born in 1931 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, but everyone called her ‘Mazie.’ A strong advocate for First Nations people, Mazie spent her early childhood on the Capilano Reserve in North Vancouver. Her family was part of the Squamish Nation and their shoreline home was on land where the Lion’s Gate Bridge and Park Royal Shopping Mall stand today. Mazie was an elder when she agreed to share her remarkable life story to author Kay Johnston. The result is an important and revealing biography of an aboriginal woman’s life and fight for justice—made more powerful and intimate by several paragraphs throughout the account in Mazie’s own words.

The full review is available in the spring, 2017 issue of BC History.

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BC teachers’ Supreme Court win

March 2, 2017

by Janet Nicol

After more than a decade of arguments in three different courts and thousands of dollars in legal costs, the determination of 41,000 unionized teachers in British Columbia finally paid off when Canada’s highest court ruled in November that the provincial government’s contract stripping in 2002 was unconstitutional.

So begins one of several global news stories loyal New Internationalist readers can feel good about, as the magazine celebrates its 500th issue this March, 2017. I interview BC Teachers’ Federation President Glen Hansman about the impact the win has on teachers, education and all working people.

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Historic Photos of the North

February 28, 2017

When Geraldine Moodie created a 1906 portrait of several Inuit mothers with their offspring, including two naked babies, her camera captured an atmosphere of maternal ease and warmth. “Inuit women and children at summer camp, Fullerton Harbour, Nunavut,” like many of her other images, reflects her affinity for northern women.

Like her subjects, Moodie, who lived from 1854 to 1945, raised a family in isolated communities. Once her six children were grown, she and her husband, Douglas, a senior officer in the North-West Mounted Police, travelled to the Far North in 1903, where they documented the way of life in settler and Inuit communities for the following seven years.

Now, the work of this talented and adventurous couple is the subject of an exhibition, Historic Photographs of the Canadian North, on view at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum from Feb. 18 to Sept. 10.

See my full review in Galleries West digital at –

http://www.gallerieswest.ca/artists/previews/historic-photos-of-the-north/

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Measuring Peace in a Dangerous World

December 31, 2016

by Janet Nicol

Is the world becoming more dangerous? The answer is ‘yes’—a qualified ‘yes’, according to research results of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a non-profit think tank based in Australia.

“The world is getting less peaceful,” explains IEP Director Michelle Breslauer in a Skype interview from a New York office, “but that’s based on the time period we have been measuring. Since 2008 we have seen a decline in peace—not throughout history. That’s an important qualification to make.”

The Institute established an annual Global Peace Index (GPI) ten years ago, measuring negative peace in countries around the world using 23 indicators related to levels of militarization, societal safety and security and on-going conflicts. “Those 23 indicators are really looking at fear or direct violence,” Breslauer says.

According to the 2016 report, Iceland is ranked as the most peaceful country among 163 independent states and territories and Syria, the least. Canada is in eighth place.

More of my interview with Breslauer is available in Peace magazine, January-March 2017 issue, available on news stands and at http://www.peacemagazine.org

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Lost Neighbourhood Walking Tour – Jan. 16

December 30, 2016

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Until 1942, the vibrant Japanese-Canadian neighbourhood some called Kawamuko revolved around a Methodist church and school, now gone, at 6th and Columbia in Vancouver. The Uno family’s nearby confectionary store at 4th and Alberta had long served local residents with basic needs. On the night of January 16, 1942 a tragic crime with racist undertones shattered Kawamuko forever. In the months that followed, families were broken apart and the entire neighbourhood came to be erased. Now, for the first time, on the 75th anniversary of the tragedy, rediscover the sad lost story of Kawamuko on this walking tour led by historians Stewart Muir and myself.

The tour is on Monday, January 16 at 6pm.
We are meeting at 4th and Alberta Streets.

Learn more at the event Facebook page.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lost-neighbourhood-walking-tour-kawamuko-tickets-30722669331

Also check out “After Pearl Harbor,” an article I wrote about the crime in BC History magazine, Winter 2014, from the point of view of two mothers.

The article begins:

“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 Harbor on December 7, 1941, these two women became known to each other through circumstances neither would have predicted or desired.”