Into the trash can with your culture

By George Patrick

In the little town in northern Scotland where I went to school fifty years ago there lived a man who had been a tea planter in India. He supplemented his income by boarding Indian boys who were the products of “mixed marriages” i.e. of British fathers and Indian women. The life of such people in Indian society, as you may know, was not an easy one. Rejected by Indians and looked down on by the snotty whites, these “Eurasians” lived in a twilight world of betwixt and between. Their schooldays in our town provided at least a few years of temporary relief from their (literally) outcaste world. It wasn’t perfect, for most Scots were racists then, as many are today. Scots, like all defeated and colonized peoples, have a huge chip on their collective shoulder, which they sometimes express in straight-from-the-shoulder racial epithets, starting with the English and working their way out around the globe. (On my last trip home, I was bemused by my family’s comments about “White Settlers.” It eventually dawned on me they were referring to English people who bought retirement homes in Scotland. As is often the case, behind the semi-jocular tone lurked something darker.)

Fifty years ago our town was lily white. The nearest to a non-white was my swarthy pal Lammy, who was part-Maori. To compound the error of his existence, Lammy was a (very bad) Catholic in a Calvinist community. As a result, he was something of an outsider, and I was the new boy in town who spoke with a funny accent, and was desperately shy. And so we gravitated towards each other, even though I knew that non-white people were inferior, with all kinds of deplorable moral defects that varied according to their precise ethnic origins. I knew this in the same way that I knew that “poofters” or “queers” were vile, that there was something wrong with Jews (although I had never actually met one and knew nothing about them), that divorced women were bad (but sexually “easy”), that a woman’s place was in the home, and that the male was inherently superior to the female. I held these truths to be self-evident. So although I liked Lammy a lot, I never quite forgot that he was not exactly, y’know, one of us.

The Anglo-Indian boys were very nice youngsters who seemed to mix well at school (much better than I) and appeared to be happy. Then Mr. MacTaggart, the retired tea planter, was persuaded by a Christian mission to take in two more boys. They were sea Dyaks from Sarawak who had been raised and educated by Christian missionaries. Now, I happen to believe that the human race would be much better off without all the god stuff and its multitude of absurd religions, but I must confess that if even a small fraction of Christians were as fine exemplars of their faith as those two young men I would be forced to re-examine my beliefs. I’ve never met any other people who gave off such an aura of sweetness, purity and goodness. I truly felt humbled in their presence. Strange to think that their own grandfathers had taken part in raids on other villages, killing the men, decapitating them and returning home to begin the long business of shrinking the heads to hang about their huts.

I’ve always considered Mr. (Pierre) Trudeau’s multicultural policy a classic example of murky Liberal thinking. It has that lovely warm fuzzy feeling that allows Liberals to think they really are, well, liberal! They get to hug themselves for being so gosh darn tolerant. And — most important — they get to mop up the ethnic vote during elections! The trouble is, the policy is hopelessly wrongheaded. Yes, in the great Canadian goulash of languages and cultures and religions, we should all be tolerant of each other. Few would argue with that. We’ve all learned from history that intolerance has killed more people than tuberculosis, malaria or bubonic plague. Live and let live makes very good sense.

However, encouraging tolerance towards other people and their way of life is one thing, propping up cultures with federal tax dollars is quite another thing. For the stark truth is, most, perhaps all of the cultures that have come down to us from the past are simply not worth preserving or sponsoring. Most of our cultures are rooted in, and many still reek of values that are abhorrent to us — racism, sexism, genocide, imperialism, and so on.

Which, for example, of the cultures from my youth do you think we should celebrate with federal tax dollars? Perhaps the Indian and British cultures that treated their own young as pariahs because they came of mixed races? What about the Dyak headhunting culture? Or maybe the culture that produced me — a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, vaguely anti-semitic young man? I suggest we should shrink from all of them in horror.

The Canadian society in which my children were raised remains, like all human endeavours, imperfect, but in its values it is superior to almost anything else one can find in the broad sweep of history. I am sometimes surprised, and encouraged, by the utter absence in most young Canadians of all the nasty little bigotries that made up the daily fabric of my early life. We are a fortunate people.      I believe the past should be studied for insights into the human condition. I don’t believe the past should be venerated. Most of our cultures are steeped in bloodshed, cruelty and injustice, and imbued with ideas repugnant to all except stupid and ugly minds. They serve only to remind us of what a bunch of schmucks we humans can be. We should cherish the values of our (generally) tolerant, just and decent society — and say good riddance to all that ugly, silly, musty baggage from the past.

Gen-Y-ers, boomers only sort of different

By Barbara Moses

When it comes to work motivation, much has been made in the past decade about how the newest generation of workers is so different from its boomer counterparts. For example, young workers are not cowed by authority, nor do they believe in their boss’s right to ask them to do things that don’t feel good. Their temerity throws many senior managers into a tailspin.

This should not come as a surprise to any boomer managers who have kids of their own. Gen Y-ers are a generation that has never experienced deprivation. They have come to expect comfort as their birthright from indulgent parents. Of course, they think they have as much to say as anyone else, that their feelings count, and that there is no reason to be automatically respectful of authority.

Many also see themselves as the abandoned kids of career-obsessed parents. They saw their parents worship at the corporate altar, only to be sacrificed on it. They have heard parents endlessly complain about what a jerk their boss or client is, and deride their ridiculous work overload. They have seen the price their parents paid for slavishly pursuing career goals. It’s not surprising they are ambivalent about work.

One key aspect of Gen Y-ers’ focus on lifestyle is the strength of their attachments and affinities outside the workplace, including greater allegiances to friends associated with their subculture — whether organized around ethnic background, lifestyle preferences or musical and fashion tastes. In defining their identities, this is as important to them, if not more so, than where they happen to work at the moment. They don’t park these identities at the corporate door.

For twentysomethings, the unwritten contract with their employer is understood at the most visceral level to be: “I rent you my skills, I don’t sell you my soul. In return for my contributions, I expect something back in addition to my paycheque — interesting development, and a work life that doesn’t encroach on my personal life.”

Clearly, managing this new generation presents its challenges. Boomers must recognize that young workers want many of the same things they do — it’s just that they’re more assertive about getting it.

Gen Y-ers may not believe in corporate loyalty, but organizations can leverage their strong peer attachments by fostering identification with colleagues who share similar interests. Consider, for example, the difference between the company seasonal party where top brass stand up and intone about year-end results and company goals, and enabling staff to create their own celebrations in line with personal preferences.

At the same time, organizations need to renew their commitment to work/life balance. Although this is a desire for everyone, Gen-Y workers will vote with their feet if they don’t get it.

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of  Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.  For more:

Will Harper put old grievances back on the table?

By Russell Wangersky


Perched high on Alberta’s Tunnel Mountain, I could look down and see the cloudy green melt-water of the Bow River in summer, see why it was called the Bow, and, climbing down the fossil-filled and up-thrust slabs of what had once been ocean floor, walk up to my ankles in June water so cold that it made the bones of my feet hurt.


It’s a feeling my bones are more than familiar with. Most of the time, I live in Newfoundland, where walking in the ocean at almost any time — along the sandy beach below Cape Pine, or almost anywhere else — makes you feel as if your marrow is fleeing the cold, and pulling painful away from the insides of your bones in the process.


It is a pain so intense that I can almost gather it up in memory, anticipate it, dread it.


Much like the feeling I get whenever anyone starts talking constitution, because, as soon as the words start, I can feel the dark pit opening up.


In late November, 2006, the House of Commons passed a motion proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to recognize the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada. It was one of those uniquely parliamentary parlour tricks. Harper was answering a motion by the Bloc Quebecois to recognize the Quebecois as a nation, the Bloc’s move itself a sort of follow-on to proposals within the federal Liberal leadership race.


Since that vote, Harper has gone out of his way to explain that the motion doesn’t confer any sort of additional powers to Quebecers. Fine — but it’s now just the kind of half-measure that has served to rile up everyone in both of Canada’s solitudes.


Those in Quebec felt pandered to, while those outside Quebec felt hard-done-by. And everyone will find a way to be engaged in picking away at old wounds.


I’ve been in the news business for 20 years, and I’ve watched what happens when someone decides we have to have to put old constitutional grievances back on the table. It quickly becomes an exercise in frustration, and the national equivalent of taking a shortcut across the train tracks without ever looking for the train.


I’ve lived for periods of time in five of Canada’s provinces – I know Nova Scotia and New Brunswick more than well, from the high grey maple stands behind Sussex, N.B. to the deep red flats of the Bay of Fundy. I’ve lived in the very heart of the manmade mountain terrain of downtown Toronto — the hard, three-dimensional concrete environment of King and Adelaide — and spent months in the snowy heights of the Rockies on Alberta’s side.


I’ve passed through or stayed briefly in every other province — from urbane downtown Montreal to wintery Winnipeg to the almost-empty flat prairie town of Chaplin, Sask., in the high simmering heat of summer — and there is no part of this country that I would view as anything but part of Canada.


I know we don’t understand each other and often have simplistic views about how others live — I also know that we can turn those views into hardened positions where no one thinks they can afford to back down safely, regardless of the damage we’re doing to our nation and our economy.


One day, I hope to get to Canada’s Territories. One day, as long as there are territories and a country left.


Standing on the barrens looking towards Newfoundland’s Hawke Hills, smelling the complicated mix of ground juniper and peat and Labrador tea, I don’t think of Canada as a bunch of separate nations. I don’t even see the need for declarations about nationhood from the House of Commons.  This is a bad place to be. I feel it in my bones.


*** First published in Nov. 2006

An office in your home

By Leslie Whatmough

If you work in an office environment, the term home office may suggest a lifetime of homework, but a well designed home office can be a liberating space that is both functional and inspiring.

To keep a healthy balance in life it is important to find time to work, love, laugh, and create. Having a space in the home that inspires you to unleash your creative side is as important as any other functional space.

So throw out your old ideas about a home office and reinvent it as a studio, a place to paint, sew, write or build things that make your heart sing.

Choosing a space that is large enough to accommodate both the creative and practical functions of the room is the primary concern. Treat this studio as a blank canvas whose primary function is to inspire, so paint the walls in colours that set the mood and hang posters of role models or write phrases to encourage action.

It is important to think of this studio as having two distinct functions so if possible do not try to use one surface for two purposes. A desk that functions as the place to write cheques may become buried in the associated paperwork and the effort required to clear it off may deter you from using the space for its creative function. Find separate solutions for each function in the room and ignore that voice from childhood that insists that the space be cleaned up every night. If necessary ensure that this space is not visible to the rest of the home. A work in progress will allow you the freedom to commit small chunks of time without wasting that time on repetitive set-up and will allow more time for creativity.

Organization is the key to a successful home office/ studio. Commit only the minimum of space necessary to those reality tasks and keep the larger room for the creative endeavors. Bill paying and menu planning can be organized into an accordion file and requires only a counter big enough to hold a laptop or keyboard. A traditional monitor can be wall mounted for space saving if necessary. For the creative centre, comfortable furniture should be a priority as creativity often requires us to slow down and give inspiration the opportunity to surface.

A home studio is not an indulgence, it is a necessity. Taking time to allow your souls expression is the secret to a long and happy life.

New Year’s Eve “Hoe-down”

By Joan Barton


It was five years before we spent New Year’s Eve in Haliburton County.  Not that we dreaded the very idea of it, but there really didn’t seem to be much going on up here, and I am by birth a city girl.  I liked to prove to myself annually that I could still walk in high heels and drink from a champagne flute without dribbling into my décolletage, so for New Year’s we invariably drove down to the city.


Last year though, between Christmas and New Years, we got 40 cm of snow in three days, and the radio promised more to come.   Not even a party girl ignores the local weather forecast in Haliburton County in December.  Mother Nature had grounded me.  New Year’s would be a cozy night wrapped up in front of the fire with the dog at my feet.  Just like the night before.  Just like the next ninety or so nights to come. Fabulous.


Since we were snowed in, we were at home when our neighbour called to let us know that everybody on our road would over at the Legion for New Year’s and did we want a lift in his truck?  So at 7:00 that night I was in my closet, looking for the right outfit for the kind of New Year’s Eve party you hitch a ride to in a pickup truck.


We got to the hall and found our places at our “road table” just as the Blackfly Boys were tuning up.  This local band has been together for quite a while.  Most of the crowd knew all of the Boys by name and, as the grey haired fiddler “Boy” arranged his seat in front of his microphone, several members of the audience voiced their approval of his good sense, planning ahead for that point in the evening when he wouldn’t be able to stand up.  Finally the rowdies among us were firmly quieted by the lead singer, a huge man with a salt and pepper mustache, and the ensemble struck up a loose but determined interpretation of  “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”


A few couples got up and shuffled on the dance floor, slowing down and speeding up as the musicians chugged through the song looking for 2nd gear. Most of us just sat at the tables, sending the menfolk for drinks from the bar and catching up on Christmas gossip.  I figured we were relaxed and settled in for the night.


Then the singer announced “We’ll be doing a square-dance next.”  Half of our table got up.  My husband and I, and some sheepish looking younger folk, were left gawking at a suddenly crowded dance floor.  The rest of our friends were up on their feet arranging themselves into squares and kidding with the band.


The first dance was St. Anne’s Reel, and they all knew how to do it!  The singer did the calling, the fiddle player bounced the tune along and our friends spun and daisy-chained, broke into squares and circles and joined together again and, frankly, blew my socks off.  It’s one thing to see square-dancing performed, say, up on a stage or as part of a festival: but it’s another thing entirely to realize that your buddy who picks up milk for you in town is really good at this.


The band packed the floor with three square-dances in every set, then played a few wavering pop tunes to give those of us who are square-dance-impaired a chance to stretch our legs.  I would have been happy to skip the rock and roll and watch square-dancing all night but, as my neighbour explained to me, “ It’s thirsty work.”  So square-dancers take restorative breaks from time to time and support their local Legion, or at least the Legion’s bar.


Finally midnight rolled around so we all took to the floor with paper hats and horns and raised a good ruckus when the balloons came down from the ceiling.  After that there was coffee and Legion Lady pie, then home again in the truck, threading between snow-banks, under the stars.


I’m going to give those high heels to the thrift shop.  I can’t dance in the things.

Just imagine

By  George Patrick

Imagine, if you can, a new and better Canada — a Canada free of those vices that cause so much havoc in our lives — a Canada free of alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs, and gambling.

Imagine a booze-free Canada where drunken drivers no longer slaughter innocents, leaving devastated families behind.

Think of a Canada where there is no tobacco addiction. Think of the enormous savings on healthcare if nobody smoked.

Imagine a Canada free of illegal drugs. No more pathetic addicts and the crimes they commit to feed their habits.
And imagine no gambling. No lives ruined, and no families destroyed, by the uncontrollable need to place one more bet, play one more slot, buy one more lottery ticket, back one more horse.

Can you imagine a Canada like that? As a nation, Canada would undoubtedly be much healthier and wealthier. Crime would go down, prisons would close, police forces shrink. In short, Canada would be a much better society. Who could not want that?

Of course, to bring about this new Canada, there would need to be a strong central government commanding support in all regions of the country, and unfortunately, that is rarely the case in Canada. Typically, the Liberals are weak in the West, the Conservatives are weak in Ontario. The government might need some outside support — some temporary back-up — in its laudable attempt to stamp out the terrible addictions that plague our society.

So let’s imagine once again. This time imagine a new, cutting edge international force — the New Addiction Transformation Organization (or NATO for short). At the behest of the United Nations, it intervenes in Canada to bolster the weak central government in its noble pursuit of a new improved, non-addictive Canada. It quickly sets about bulldozing casinos, smashing slot machines and liquor stores, turning Woodbine Racetrack into an organic farm, and spraying Agent Orange on BC marijuana fields.

Around the country many people resent this assault on their traditional way of life. Opposition grows. Angry citizens begin to purchase large amounts of ammo for their unregistered firearms. Increasingly, the NATO forces are seen as invaders trying to force their alien ways on the Canadian people. Illegal booze, cigarettes and weapons flood in from the USA.

The slaughter, destruction, chaos and terror seep into every corner of Canadian society. After seven years and thousands of deaths, NATO throws up its hands, declares victory and skedaddles.

Within 12 months, Canada is showing signs of recovery. Jack Daniels is once again plentiful; racetracks and casinos spring up again; more people than ever before are smoking; and junkies lie around with needles in their arms. Canada is Canada once again. And they all live happily ever after (sort of). The End.

OK, you’re right. This story isn’t really about Canada at all. It’s a fiendishly cunning literary device to make a point about our involvement in Afghanistan.

Chances are, nothing like my little fairy tale will ever happen here.  How strange then that people think we can intervene in utterly alien, primitive tribal societies and transform them in a few short years into some kind of liberal democracy.

Sooner or later, our intervention will fail; the people of Europe and Canada will demand the recall of NATO forces; the corrupt, ineffectual, and unpopular “democratic” government will fall; some Talibanish kind of theocracy will return; and the girls schools will become schools where boys will learn radical Islamicist propaganda. I wish it weren’t so, but that is almost certainly what is going to happen. Anyone who thinks this Afghan venture is going to have a happy ending is dreaming in technicolour, and unfortunately the dream is being paid for with Canadian blood.

 First published in Dec. 2006

Will 2015 bring extreme weather?



With the New Year fast approaching, we here at Women’s Post are wondering about what challenges mother nature has in store for 2015. Do you think global warming will bring more severe weather conditions than we have yet faced? Give us your answer and please share the poll on your social networks. Happy holidays!

[socialpoll id=”[socialpoll id=”2240261″]”]

Are we ready?

By Kirk LaPointe

The newspapers have asked readers that question regularly for months. Since the last Boxing Day tsunami, since FEMA’s fumbling on Katrina, since the feeble response to the Pakistan earthquake and since the seemingly ceaseless warnings of the pandemic or the swift and surreal avian flu, we have wondered if we’re prepared. The media has given people tips on assembling disaster kits and provided them with the best possible advice on how to endure the first few days without electricity, running water, evacuation routes or a civil society to shoulder the burden of rescuing and keeping the peace.

But there is one issue that isn’t discussed. It is the notion that our physical readiness is much less of a challenge than our emotional willingness.

When you see people elbowing each other for Halloween candy in the supermarket, or jumping the Starbucks queue, or practically tackling the rival bidders for the latest downtown condominium showcase, there’s reason to doubt our capacity to set aside enough thought to deal with the strain and perhaps permanent adjustment of our values to handle the aftermath of a major natural disaster.

I’ve watched and read admiringly of the Southeast Asians who have rebuilt, with much help from abroad. But I didn’t see the same common purpose in New Orleans. And, with only a whiff of threat, it was astonishing to watch the selfishness as Hurricane Rita approached shore.

It might be too much of a bromide to restate how conditioned we are to look after ourselves first and foremost, how we’ve established material comfort as a first principle in our lives, how we’ve forgotten our neighbours and limited our involvement in community. There’s a relevant promotional ad for a Comedy Network television series taped in Vancouver, Robson Arms, in which the lead actor says he doesn’t know his neighbours — after all, he’s only been in the building for two years. If it weren’t so true, it would be funnier.

I don’t think the social terrain is firm enough to deal with the shaky ground we’re standing on. I’m not sure our leaders would lead us, or that we would follow. I’m not sure our systems would serve us, or that we would wait to be served.

In other words, I doubt we’re ready.

I look at how school children are learning so few life skills to work together in a jam. I don’t know of an office that takes its fire drills seriously, and I can’t imagine the desks rattling and the floor cracking and anything other than pandemonium ensuing

Where we are is where we can’t be, and at the risk of sounding like one of those apocalyptic fogies I’ve always decried as seriously in need of shedding their tin-foil hats, I think the time is coming where we won’t be able to run away from the serious threats risking our health and safety. I’m thinking about the cyclical, seemingly inevitable influenza that appears nearly upon us. I’m thinking about the weird and unmanageable avian flu that jumps to the human race, the freakish health disaster for which we will scramble to subdue. I’m thinking about the Big One that turns my townhouse into a detached dwelling. I’m thinking about the broken glass everywhere underfoot, the tainted water in the pipes, the natural gas lines whistling in our district, the loss of the Internet, the destruction of people who might lead us in our disarray, the worrisome situation every time night falls and the nastiest among us see the opportunity for advantage. This is what happens in middle age, I suppose.

But I think it deserves the attention that we gave deficit reduction, or the blood scandal, or the infernal sponsorship debacle. Anything less leaves us to our own devices.

Now, unlike the character in Robson Arms, I happen to know my neighbours and I have great faith we’ll pull together. Do you know yours? Do you have that same confidence? Do you see what I mean?

First published in Nov 2005 in Women’s Post Magazine

Putting a crack in the mould

From Nov 2005 Women's Post archives

He Drown She in the Sea

Shani Mootoo

McClelland & Stewart

360 pages, $29.99


Reviewed by Desi Di Nardo


It is no wonder Alice Munro calls Shani Mootoo’s most recent book, He Drown She in the Sea, “a story of magical power.” As in her previous success, Cereus Blooms at Night, you find yourself immersed in and stimulated by arresting scenery, redolent of guava mangroves, squawking green parrots, verdant bamboo forests – and all things tropical and lush. Such a colourful palette resonates with fluid, figurative language, while vivid descriptions explode before the eye and tempt the sensory. We quickly acquire a taste for Mootoo’s fictional town of Guanagaspar – a wondrous, numinous land infused with fertile scents of marigolds, coconuts and exotic blossoms.

The reader gains panoramic access into Harry St. George’s life, first in British Columbia’s bristly, towering milieu, where “range beyond range of ice-capped mountains…bursts of lavender, clumps of mustard golden rod.”

The “Canada of postcards” is contrasted to his impoverished existence in Trinidad. Once a servant’s son, Harry recalls his love for Rose, the daughter of an affluent family for whom his mother worked as a laundress. The tale unfolds years later, with Madam Rose recounting her secret visit abroad to unite with Harry.

Their story is a hopeful, evocative one woven from two fine silk threads of past and present. Set during World War 2’s political unrest, Mootoo brings to light the war’s impact not only on blacks but also on Indians of varying skin tones.

The book reminds of the film Sideways, in which the subject of wine becomes an underlying metaphor for personal awakening. In He Drown She in the Sea, wine is what is used to distinguish caste, along with the “Munrovian” mention of linoleum three separate times to further stress class distinction as the narrator later points out Harry’s new terrazzo floor.

Mootoo also tackles the issue of gender inequality through the interactions between Harry and the women he encounters. When a spirited female teaches Harry to canoe, he questions whether his wine-tasting club has ever met a woman – or even a man – as adventurous. “She wasn’t in this moment physically appealing to him, yet such independence fascinated him.”

Afterwards, when Harry’s circumstances improve, his mother asserts their new status: “We living in town now, and I don’t work for nobody no more. I, Dolly Persad, have servant – manservant, to boot – now.” The writer tactically deploys characters to overstate gender inadequacies and illustrate potentially powerful woman, the sort men from Guanagaspar desire yet reverently fear.

Interestingly, by the end, it is Rose who takes the reader on a suspenseful ride. Readers nearing the conclusion must accept that they might be left dangling by a string, suspended in mid-air uncertainty. Actually, they should expect it. But wait: as Mootoo’s last chapter looms, readers can’t help but feel they are heading towards a languorous, wistful dream, and are wary more now than ever for Rose’s and Harry’s outcomes. And this, much like the ocean that begins to swell and rise above them in that very poignant moment, also reaffirms.

Desi Di Nardo is a writer in Toronto