Tag Archives: Canada

Sound like you’ve never experienced it


I went to a talk last night by a young guy from Montreal named Adam Basanta. He describes himself as a sound artist, composer and performer of experimental music and he has an installation in New West’s New Media Gallery on the third floor of Anvil Centre.

I read the other day in the local community newspaper, The Royal City Record, that the curators of this new space in Anvil Centre actually used to work at the Tate Modern. Wow! Talk about having the crème de la crème of experience.

It was a small turnout, maybe 35 people, and Basanta, who is one of four sound artists in the exhibit, began to speak about his work related to experimental sound with a particular emphasis in his piece on feedback, but not in the way we’re all used to; not that unexpected siren from a microphone that rises like a banshee in a deafening way.

BasantaexhibitHis installation is part of OTIC: Systems of Sound. His emphasis on feedback had to do with space and tones and how humans’ presence in a space can change feedback and how he played with feedback to bring to our attention our experience in the world and of the sounds around us.

He had this really cool project, Positive Vibes, in Finland where he used a recorded voice of women saying “I love you all very, very much.” He tied that to a bunch of helium balloons and then floated it near people in public spaces and watched as they reacted to this disembodied recording telling them they were loved. I love weird projects like that.

As he spoke I was both challenged by the topic in terms of its weirdness and a foreign way of thinking about sound, and then I was really heartened that in Canada, there’s still some money, apparently, to be found to encourage those who are approaching the arts in a way that calls on all their courage and expertise to interpret and reinterpret and challenge their own boundaries in order to challenge that of any audience.

It’s worth the exercise to be open enough to expose yourselves to others’ far out ways of approaching their passions.

I realized as I was listening to him,  my own personal resistance to weirdness, to foreign and difficult approaches, was rising. Being able to be aware of that, acknowledge it, and then let it wash over me and feel it lessen, is perhaps really getting closer to the essence of the kind of curiosity required to accept others’ interpretation of all the shared worlds that exist on the planet.

The exhibit, which will undoubtedly be richer if you have someone to interpret it as we did last night, runs at Anvil Centre to March 20, 2016.

Word Vancouver: From Comics to Kids Lit


This year at Word Vancouver, I decided I’d go to sessions that I might not typically be drawn to, especially comic books and Kids Lit.

First stop was a panel of children’s authors. One of the authors walked us through the steps she takes to create an animal character as the subject of a rhyming poem.  I really enjoyed that. Four authors spoke about how much going into the schools and reading to kids is an integral part of what’s required of children’s authors. That sounds like a fun thing. And as always happens, which is why it’s important to attend events such as this if you write, my own ideas came bubbling up as background all throughout the talks. Think of it as creative mind mapping, silently but stealthily, a running commentary of possibilities mingled. Creative thought begets creative thought.

I listened to Caroline Woodward, who had worked in the publishing industry for 30 years. She was speaking about living at the Lennard Island Lighthouse at the entrance to Clayoquot Sound near Tofino. Being one half of a lighthouse keeper has enabled her to get back to her first love, writing. Her latest book, Light Years, is about her time at the various light stations where she and her husband, Jeff George, started as relief lightkeepers. George’s photographs in slideshow format were a nice touch. Woodward’s favourite lighthouse is Nootka because of its history and its natural beauty.

I didn’t even know there were still people working at lighthouses anymore. Apparently seven of the 23 people who are stationed at lighthouses in B.C. are couples.

I listened to John Vaillant whom, of course, I’d heard about but had never seen in person or read before. He gave a compelling  intro to his book  The Jaguar’s Children and the life and death crossing into the USA of an illegal immigrant.  His reading and the prose was so precise that it was a clear lesson in how a compelling presence mixed with vivid language does indeed go a long way towards selling books. He said a teenage boy’s voice came to him clear as day one day while he was working on something else. He felt compelled to carry that voice onto the page.  This happened while he spent nine months living in Oaxaca with his wife who is a potter. Perhaps the spirits visited him. Perhaps they knew he was someone who could do their story justice.

It was cool to hear the journey of The Flour Peddler by brothers Chris and Josh Hergesheimer. Their original focus on local grains and farmers’ markets in B.C. (starting in Roberts Creek) eventually took them on a global journey to South Sudan. Their bicycle-powered flour mill is adding efficiency to small farmers there. Chris is now in Ecuador doing Ph.D. work through UBC’s Land and Food Systems faculty.

I found it kind of sad to hear the trials of cartoonist David Boswell and the trajectory of his comic, Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. What began as just a one-off, one pager for The Georgia Straight back in the day, developed a small cult-like following with a script eventually optioned for a movie at Warner Brothers Pictures only to be quashed at the 11th hour by the executives who just didn’t get the humour.  That’s funny actually! The script remains locked in the vault there, stuck in limbo, history.  Boswell showed a movie that one of his nephews made about him with guest appearances by Matt Groening and others who sang his praises and the genius of the character, Reid Fleming.

The last session I attended was by Michael Kluckner. The local artist and heritage advocate has put together a graphic novel, a love story, called Toshiko.  I was surprised to learn that not all Japanese families were interned during WWII. Some lived independently, specifically up in Tappen, B.C., and Squilax near Salmon Arm where they worked on a farm called Calhoun’s.

I really tried not to buy but resistance is futile when it comes to books. I have to laugh at my purchases though which are more a reflection of proximity and mood than a strategic plan since I didn’t actually end up buying The Jaguar’s Children. I bought The Flour Peddler, Toshiko and Amber Dawn’s How Poetry Saved My Life.  Boswell was selling his comic book, a signed copy for a Toonie, so I got one of those as well. Go figure?

Did you go to Word this year? What stood out for you?

Ron Holcroft’s Walker’s Hook stage


Ronald S. Holcroft   

November 15, 1916 – August 4, 2015

When I lived on Salt Spring and in the North End after my third move in same number of years to the property of Marjorie Martin, I lived in the sturdy cottage that her father had built with her grandfather more than 50 years earlier.  Most days I’d take a stroll down what I consider to be one of the most beautiful roads on the island: Walker’s Hook Road.

My walk would extend from Hedger Road from where my little cabin was located, down Walker’s Hook to the Fernwood Road Café.

My jaunt always included a trip down to the end of the Fernwood dock to check for otters, inhale the sea air, see if anyone was crabbing, chat with visitors who I might happen upon (and often did) and look to the south to see if I might spot a ferry crossing in the distance towards Swartz Bay. It often included a meander along the beach to take photos of shells and whatever intrigued me.

It was such a breath of fresh air, literally, given that the road parallels narrow Trincomali Channel that separates Salt Spring from Galiano and named after a great sailing ship, the HCS Trincomali, built, if you can believe it, shortly after the Napoleanic wars, and now a restored ship in Hartlepool England if Wikipedia has it right.

One day as I was walking back, I saw a man coming towards me in the distance, looking as if he’d just stepped off a stage in Stratford, or perhaps to use an even more Canadian example, as if he was one of the characters in Stephen Leacock’s famous town of Mariposa.

He was elderly and he was dapper. He walked slowly but purposefully and his cane tapped the road and steadied him. He had on the kind of ascot cap that my own father used to wear on his daily walks, the kind many males from “the old country” don. He was wearing a tie and jacket. He seemed unusually put together for island life. But what really stood out was his mustache and his eyebrows both adorning his face (and hiding it) by impressive  lengthy wisps of white hair. His blue eyes were watery with age. He was the perfect subject for a watercolour painting. His feet sported black brogues, the kind my own grandfather, who lived to be 99, wore every day of his life.

I said hello, chatted about nothing for a bit, and then before he could get away, so taken by his appearance I was, I asked him if he’d mind if I took his photo. “You have such a great face,” I said. How could he resist?  Our interaction must have been no more than five minutes but he stuck with me as those who seem a bit extraordinary do.

A year later or thereabouts, I moved off Salt Spring. I put his photo in my online portfolio. I didn’t think much of it but I would look at that face from time to time and smile, and remember our short meeting.

A few years ago, his daughter, Anne Weerstra, contacted me for the photo. I forget how she came upon it or why specifically she wanted it. And then on August 4, 2015, I got an e-mail from her again, late that evening.

Hello Gayle,

A while ago I contacted you to ask for a copy of the photo of my father, Ron Holcroft “94 years strong”, and very much appreciated the positive response. I’m sorry to tell you now that my dad died this morning, almost 3 months shy of his 99th birthday. Your photo shows him as so many would remember him. I wondered if you would let us use it in the obituary…

Of course my answer was yes.

I’m looking forward to reading that obituary. I want to know a little more about the long life Ron Holcroft lived.

Not even David Suzuki knows for sure


I went and listened to David Suzuki speak at Firehall Arts Centre as part of the Powell Street Festival. He was promoting his new book, Letters to my Grandchildren.  He’s 79 years old now and in what he calls “the death zone” or the zone that’s headed most predictably in death’s direction, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him.

Of course there were references to what you would expect in a 30 minute talk from Canada’s most notable environmentalist: the elevation of the economy to God at the expense of humankind’s future via clean air, clean water, and Prime Minister Harper’s dedicated contribution to that on behalf of Canada in oh so many election losing (we can only hope) ways. A paraphrasing with me taking tons of liberties in that last line.

Because Suzuki was there to soft sell his new book, and in keeping with the book’s focus, his talk centred more on relationships than environmental issues.  He shared his experiences of his mother and father. He talked about his grandchildren. He referred to a long ago retort to his mother that to this day still fills him with regret, and choked him up during the talk.

His mother was the one who toiled day and night behind the scenes in her quiet ways of servitude so common in Japanese woman of that era while his father was the gregarious guy who got the attention.  One day, while chatting with his mother as she was doing the washing, she looked at David and made some reference to hoping that he’d be able to help out his parents in the future. His retort, the retort that could have come from any 14-year-old was, “I didn’t ask to be born…”  He let us know that he did come through for them.

David Suzuki emphasized the insanity of being constantly focused on the economy when in fact, without clean air, without potable water, there can be no life. He spoke about the impossibility of the economy’s ability to continue to grow ad infinitum and at some point, having to accept stasis and turning the money and commitment that now goes into degradation of the planet as a result of our total reliance on oil and gas into innovation around clean energy to build on humans’ legacy of innovation.

The economy is there to support what matters to us, not the other way around: relationships, sacred spaces on earth, ability to live and learn and direct that to the betterment of ourselves and others and other species, not stuck on the treadmill of an economic model that appears to be the recipe of our eventual demise.

It must have struck you by now that there IS nothing new left to say about climate change and our lack of change.

At the end of the talk, when someone asked, “Do you have any hope left?” He used the return of the sockeye run in 2009 as a hopeful example. “In 2009, based on the low numbers of sockeye, their extinction appeared imminent. Then the very next year saw the largest sockeye run in history and with no explanation for it.”

“We don’t know enough to know what’s going to happen for sure,” he said, and that, strangely enough – the ignorance of humankind – did actually leave me with a bit of hope for a change.

In the next breath, he referred to Guy MacPherson, an academic and author from Arizona, and MacPherson’s belief that we won’t even be here in about 20 years because of some catastrophic methane explosion.  A belief that Suzuki said put him into a funk for days.

“This is the first year, said MacPherson in an online interview, that we could have an ice-free arctic by September and it will be the first time in human history.” Again, nobody knows precisely what’s going to happen,” he said.

I couldn’t help but think that it’s the kind of plot that blockbuster films make millions on, except, according to this, we won’t be around to scarf popcorn and marvel at the amazing and tragic destiny of all species on the planet.

PS: That brings me to ideas about my next blog post. After seeing David Suzuki and Taylor Swift in less than a 24 hour span, I feel the need to write about legacy next.

Ghomeshi: Canada’s Shakespearean Tragedy


tragedyOne thing is certain. Whenever there is a “he said/she said” situation as we have seen in the Ghomeshi nightmare, the shit has hit the fan and somebody’s version of the truth has taken a detour into some nebulous land of denial or outright lying to themselves and/or to others.

When I was much younger, I found myself in two separate “he said/she said” situations. I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe it says I was particularly attractive then even though I didn’t realize it, then, to the degree of the reality. Maybe it says I was particularly lonely and desperate, my vulnerability practically flashing neon. Maybe it says boys will be boys except it’s an excuse that’s no longer acceptable and you will get smacked down, rightly so, if you use it as your pitiful defense in the 21st century.

One of my “he said/she said” situations ended up in a labour arbitration which, in hindsight, was absolutely the wrong venue for any kind of real honest to goodness dialogue to occur. I was the key witness as a client of the therapist who was denying what I had to say about his actions in the form of a complaint letter. The labour arbitration had nothing to do with me except my letter had initiated the chain of events. The arbitration was between a union and a hospital. I had nothing to gain, except the inner strength that builds from speaking my truth in front of others in much the same way the Truth and Reconciliation hearings may have been powerful for some residential school victims/survivors.

The person I was complaining about – a counsellor in a small town – was fired. He grieved. When I wrote the complaint letter, I didn’t realize he was in a union.  My personal journals were subpoenaed. I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression and confusion and years of being focused on something that I could never come to terms with. In a 50-page decision, issued almost two years after the arbitration, the arbitrator upheld this person’s firing. He did not get his job back and the ineffectual rules related to counselling in B.C. did not prevent him from counselling others via self employment.

All these years later, I’m glad that the arbitrator made the right decision and fired him. The more I truly understand the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client, the more I recognize his actions as beyond comprehension and the more I recognize how unethical and inexplicable (read stupid) his actions were.  He crossed a boundary that’s there for all the right reasons. He may have been a good counsellor (for other people). He also made the biggest mistake (we can only hope) of his career, and then, even worse,  he had the audacity to lie about it to try and save face and his livelihood.  Apparently he was a bad liar.

I found out later that during the arbitration, this person had a long list of character witnesses. That part was laughable to me. Needing a lot of character witnesses has to be a sure sign of needing to cover your ass.

But here’s the thing. Why do people who have never been in these types of scenarios have such trouble understanding that human beings are complex? They can be president and still be ruled by their biological urges. They can be a fantastic dad and have feelings for someone that make them act in ways that are beyond stupid and damaging – to themselves and to others. Why are we so quickly willing to forget Jung’s shadow side, a side that lurks in all of us, in some, darker and more evil than most of the rest of us can comprehend?

I completely understand why these women did not come forward. I see all the outdated male/female power dynamics that continue to support the context for this type of scenario to greater and lesser degrees.

But I am left with the questions of why?

Why would this fabulously talented man, Jian Ghomeshi, allegedly act in this way towards women? Our overwhelming blame on social media, without any curiosity seems too Lord of the Flies like. I think curiosity would be so much more interesting. Why does that creepy teddy bear reference immediately make me picture him as a child? What do we know about his childhood? Did something happen to him as a child? Was he abused? I do not believe that anyone acts the way these women have described for no reason, even if that reason is invisible and socially unacceptable, and having just written that, I am in no way defending him.

But I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I am wondering about his mental state at this point in time having plunged from his perch of fame to what surely must be the depths of private hell in this most Shakespearean of ways.

Or is he just ranting, privately ensconced somewhere, unable to take one ounce of responsibility? I wonder.

It would appear that he needs some major psychiatric help.

These women need accountability.

I hope they all get what they need.

Fishing for Steveston’s Abstracts

I was out wandering on a stunning day last week in Steveston which gave me the chance to snap a few pics of my favourite subject: reflections. Like many people, I love what happens to reflections in water.  I think my favourite is this first one. It could look great blown up really big in a bright space on a dark wall.



This was taken looking back at the beautiful walkway that runs along the waterfront from the village to the re-created Japanese Heritage fishing village.




A bunch of Asian fishermen were casting their lines off the dock that this ramp leads down to. I don’t think they caught anything but in the spirit of all those Japanese fishermen who fished out of here, lived here, and worked so hard in the past, it was nice to see the tradition continuing.


This gull enjoying the sunshine like the rest of us.








This is frozen water. The red comes from the red house on the shore that sits above it. I love the texture of this and the way the light hits it emphasizing the patterns.






This reflection, underneath, is once again picking up what’s on the shoreline and the condo developments reflecting into the water. I think the colours work really well in this one. Its the inspiration for a new Tartan perhaps, urban style.



I like the softness of these plants (wish I knew what they were called) against the backdrop of the blue/sandy-coloured water. netsinStevestonOf course, it’s not a fishing village, no matter how far it has come from those original roots, without some nets.

Meet Pauline Johnson through City Opera Vancouver

He called her and she said sure she’d do it. That’s what Charles Barber said about asking Margaret Atwood if she would be interested in working on a chamber opera  about Pauline Johnson with Vancouver composer Tobin Stokes. There was no hesitation said Barber, describing Atwood as easy to work with and so incredibly smart, way smarter than you might even imagine.

Well, no, I thought. I think we all think she’s pretty smart.

220px-Tekahionwake_ca_1895image from Wikipedia

The event was part of the  Heart of the City festival in Vancouver’s downtown east side hosted at the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives (which I didn’t even know existed), just around the corner from the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens. The festival runs to Sunday, November 3.

As we’d discover, each of the four people seated at the front of the room  have been working together on a new chamber opera (that means a smaller, more intimate opera) for City Opera Vancouver about the late great E. Pauline Johnson or Pauline Johnson to most of us. The “E” stands for Emily, which was her mother’s name.

If you’re Canadian, you, at the very least, are familiar with the name. Pauline Johnson. Poet. Performer. Mohawk chief as a father. English immigrant mother. She travelled around Canada, the U.S., and Britain entertaining, reciting her lyric poetry, playing up her half blood ancestry. She was an independent woman, way ahead of her time, travelling on her own when women just didn’t do that and living between 1861 and 1913.

She paddled her canoe in the waters between Coal Harbour and Lost Lagoon. Born in Brantford, Ontario. Lived a comfortable life as a child in a large house on the Grand River called Chiefswood that she spent the rest of her life missing and romanticizing. Never married (rumour has it her heart was broken)  but she had many suitors as they would say back then, and one special one whose photo she kept in a locket that she never removed.

She died penniless in a rooming house on Howe Street, looked after in her last days (when she was suffering the horrors of breast cancer at a time when there was no treatment) by the women of IODE. She is the only person to be officially buried in Stanley Park, with a monument north of the Teahouse or Sequoia Grill. You’ll find it if you really want to.

You can read the definitive biography, Flint & Feather by Charlotte Gray.

We met the opera company’s artistic director, Charles Barber, the director of Pauline, Norman Armour, who is the director of Vancouver’s Push Festival. We heard from the composer, Tobin Stokes, and the young opera singer, Rose Ellen Nichols who is to be Pauline Johnson on stage.

Nichols hails from Sechelt and the Sechelt Band and grew up fishing and hunting with her family. She couldn’t really explain how it is that she went from a simple rural childhood to moving to the city at 17 and then getting involved in Opera at UBC but she did say that like Johnson, she has always felt that she has felt torn between two lives – one back at home and the one she now lives in the city.

It was fascinating to be able to sit and hear Barber talk about what it takes to develop and stage this new opera (budget: $300,000), for five nights in May 2014. The event will take place in the York Theatre,  the newest addition to  The Cultch.

The group had just spent the day workshopping with Margaret Atwood in attendance.

It was interesting that Barber knew so many of the people in attendance on a first name basis; people who live in the downtown east side and who have probably attended other events at Carnegie Community Centre.

The premiere of  Pauline is set for May 15th and run for five days. But here’s the thing. There’s a performance (no costumes) set to run at Carnegie Centre on November 29th from 7-9 pm. It’s open to the public. The goal is to get feedback from an audience.

Are you in?