Monday, 21 July 2014

Amerind Peoples

By no means am I an anthropologist nor an expert on ethnicity. I am merely a person who likes people and, therefore, a person who notices others - and I become upset when I witness incidents of bias.

I am the son of a man who was a 'hard worker' and who provided for his family as best as he could. However, there was one point upon which I disagreed with him - he thought that the local band of native people were lazy and shiftless because they continued to live in shacks along the river bank and always looked dirty and squalid.

I loved my Dad but I disagreed with him there. In all fairness, I had the good fortune to live close to First Nations people for a summer or two thereby getting a very different perspective.

When I was young I learned a jingle which went something like this:-

                 "In 1492
                  Christopher Columbus
                  Sailed the ocean blue..... and so on".

As we all know from our history lessons, the Geno-an citizen did sail from Spain across the Atlantic and finally sighted land in what is now known as the Caribbean Islands. There he was greeted by dark-skinned people and - since he knew that the people who lived around the Indian Ocean were dark-skinned - he assumed that the greeters were 'Indians'!

No - they were not. They were people of other nations with no known connection to the people of the Indian subcontinent. While being known as 'Indians' the people native to this continent have many different backgrounds. As we Caucasian people like to generalize we - unfortunately - look upon the first settlers of this continent as a homogeneous grouping. Actually - they most definitely were not!

Yes - at school - there were a few children who were 'Indians' but from the Asiatic sub-continent. Nor should they have been referred to as 'Indians' as some were Sikhs and the others Hindus. Now there are Tamils here as well which is yet another distinct grouping.

Growing up during the 1940s and '50s I saw many motion pictures in which 'Indians' were the bad guys - another error. When our Caucasian ancestors began to populate this land they encountered other people who were living here already. Naturally, there was conflict which became a bonanza for Hollywood - 'White Guys' (looked upon as the 'good people') in conflict with those who lived here before which became fodder for the Saturday afternoon matinees - the Indians ('the 'Bad Guys').

Anyway, I am digressing. I planned to write about the 'First Nation' people whom I have encountered and not digress into a historical rant on a topic about which I am merely an observer.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was about 13 or 14 years old. Dad liked to fish and - as we were a relatively impoverished family - he was hoping to provide some food for the table. We walked down to the Colony Farm (the Provincial Agricultural Station which was on the 'flats' below Essondale - the Provincial Mental Hospital). The eastern boundary of the farm is the small Coquitlam River. Along the bank of the stream was a tiny reservation for the Coquitlam First Nation  and we went there to rent a rowboat. That was the only time that I was there and, while I was still relatively young, I was appalled by the sight of the group of squalid huts in which a number of people seemed to be living. I understand that, when our Caucasian ancestors first settled the area, the Coquitlam people lived in shelters created from the wood available in the forest plus the hides of animals which had been slaughtered for food. Not shacks!

Also I remember the matriarch of that local community coming by our - and our neighbor's - homes asking for hand-me-down clothes for her people to wear. We were poor ourselves but Mom always had something to give.

About a half mile upstream from that tiny Indian community is Red Bridge which crosses the Coquitlam River. On the bank of the river below the bridge was a sandbank where we went for a swim on warm summer days. What we did not realize at that time was that the newest building in the  mental hospital complex (which had been erected on the west bank of the river) had its sewer overflow go directly into that little river. Therefore - those of us who were at 'Red Bridge' for a swim - as well as the inhabitants in the tiny Indian settlement - were in peril of contracting diseases! That danger has now been corrected - thank God!

Movies gave us a false image of our First Nation people as well. In the majority of the Hollywood movies the 'Noble Redskin' was usually the 'Bad Guy' with no attention being paid to their side of the story. Of course - the history of 'White' interaction with the Indians usually make the latter the 'Bad Guys' instead of showing them as the encroached upon. The first Caucasian settlers arrived on the East Coast from where they journeyed up the rivers and settled upon land belonging to those who were here first. The 'French/Indian' wars were the first and - when the French and the English settlers were at odds - the natives (Iroquois, Algonquin, Huron and numerous other groupings) were used as fodder for the guns of their enemies.

And - as Europeans settled further west - the 'bad guys' became the Cherokee, the Arapahoe and many other First Nations who objected to their lands and their hunting grounds being encroached upon by the 'Pale Face' settlers. Unfairly have they become the 'bad guys' while our Caucasian ancestors are looked upon as the heroes.

Up until I was in university my contact with Amerind people was mainly restricted to the Coquitlam - as well as the First Nation people who were seen lolling on the streets of Mission - who my elders described as being 'lazy and shiftless' and not being viewed as people who were forced off of their territories and forced to live in a way that was foreign to them. One summer between university years my 'summer job' was at a fish cannery up the B.C. Coast north of Vancouver Island. Most of the  employees at that cannery were First Nation people - mainly (but not exclusively) of the Bella Bella Nation. I wrote about living among them in the blog titled "Namu".

Since then I have met many people who are 'First Nation' and - except for the big bruiser of a drunk on the street - I have found them to be wonderful people. Believe you me - I have shared many a laugh with my First Nation brethren!

Now I look upon them with a great deal of respect and I hope that - when we encounter each other - they look upon me the same way.

Friday, 4 July 2014


I walked over to a florist shop on Church Street the other day looking for some fresh cat grass for Toby. On the sidewalk in front of the florist were three tables which were covered by books for sale. Obviously  the local library branch was culling its stacks!

I glanced at the books displayed and grabbed one that was in the back row. It is "The Last Tsar" (The Life and Death of Nicholas II) by Edvard Radzinsky. As I enjoy reading histories and biographies - and I am intrigued by what happened in Russia during the change of regimes near the end of World War I - I took it for the 'big sum' of $.50!

I understand that a number of biographies have been written about that family but I have never read one. I have read about 100 pages (of this book) so far and find the story to be fascinating (for instance, the chapter that I read last evening covered the involvement of Rasputin - a person who has long intrigued me).

As I put down the book and turned off the bed lamp I got to reminiscing about books and the importance of them in the life of my family.

If you have read my earliest blogs you will recall that we lived in the rural community of Ruskin until I was seven years old. During that time the Public Library in Mission had a bookmobile which was driven to the smaller communities and one of the stops was at the Ruskin General Store. Mom met it at every visit. Mom's love of reading - combined with her natural curiosity - led the librarian to set aside all of the new books so that Mom could read them and then give her 'report' before they were put on the shelves to be borrowed by other people.

Mom loved to read and did so all of her life - even after she lost her sight and had to rely upon 'talking books'. Then I would drive out to where she lived, sit at the kitchen table and read to her the blurbs sent out by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) describing the 'talking books' which were available to be borrowed.

Dad was less well educated than Mom was but he loved to read too. His favorite genre was novels set in the Old West - and especially the books written by Zane Grey.

When we had learned how to read, Alda and I joined Mom and Dad in that activity.

It is funny how incidents remain in ones mind seemingly forever! World War II ended in August, 1945 and there was a celebration in the arena in New Westminster. Mom and Dad decided to attend so they engaged the services of a local young woman to be in the house while they were away. Alda and I were upstairs in bed and - while I have no idea how Alda was spending her time - I was reading. The book that I was reading then was the last few chapters of "Huckleberry Finn". I find it odd that that little incident is inscribed so indelibly in my memory!  

Since then I have read many books and of most genres. However - I do not enjoy science fiction nor stories of the occult.

At one time I had a fairly extensive library but - when I left Victoria, B.C. in my little Honda Civic wagon - I had no room in the vehicle for my books so I sold them to some of the book dealers there. Here in Toronto I 'grew' another library but - being confined in a little apartment - I had to get rid of them as well. However - I kept the Harry Potter books. Instead of book lined shelves I now have 
shelves full of movies on DVD.

In the meantime Alda married and raised a family, Her  husband died in 2005 and she lives in an apartment in 100 Mile House, B.C. While she does get to go down to Kamloops where there is a branch of a national bookstore chain, she does not have access to many books. However - I live across the street from the 'flagship' store of that chain. I go over there to browse and to pick up some reading material. As soon as I have finished reading it I go to the sub-post office in the same building and send the book on to Alda.

Movies are great - but give me the book upon which the storyline in the film is based and I will read it!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

World Pride

As more and more countries/societies come to accept - and to acknowledge - sexual minorities, Gay Pride Festivals are cropping up in more and more communities (at least they are in Europe and North America). Now there are international celebrations in various cities. This year - 2014 - Toronto, Canada was chosen to be the host of World Pride and our local media carried/printed reports about the preparations.

The first official event each year is the raising of the Rainbow flag at City Hall. Usually there is a gathering of a few hundred people up by the flag pole which is on a raised level above the plaza  known as Nathan Phillip Square. Because of it being World Pride the ceremony was moved down to the square and thousands of people showed up to watch the ceremony (the crowd was so big that huge TV screens were mounted so that everybody present could watch and listen to the ceremony) It began with some of the Port Credit Indian Band ('First Nation') doing celebratory dances on a platform which was placed on top of the reflecting pool which lies near Queen Street on the south side of the plaza. So that all could watch, those of us away from the pool looked up at the huge TV monitors. Thanks to a summer spent in a First Nation community - on the B.C. coast and described in the blog titled 'Namu' - I am always moved while watching our First Nations peoples involved in their dances.    

During the following two weeks until Gay Pride Day I noticed more and more 'strangers' on Church Street in the 'Gay Village' celebrating with the rest of us. As Canada is one of the first nations to have legalized same gender marriages - while many other jurisdictions have not - couples who wished to be married to their partners registered and the mass wedding ceremony was carried out at Casa Loma (a castle like structure - which was erected during the 19th century - on the hillside northwest of the downtown area) on Thursday evening.

By Friday evening motor vehicle traffic along Church Street was blocked off and that route became a seven or eight block stroll. Some booths were already erected with the balance being raised on Saturday. Not only were these booths erected along Church but along all of the side streets - between  Church and Yonge Street (Toronto's main north/south thoroughfare) - as well.

The 'Gay Village' ends at Carlton Street. There are businesses on Carlton with a fair sized parking lot behind those near the northeast corner of Church and Carlton. In that parking lot a stage was erected and that is where the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto had the Sunday morning service which was well attended. I am posting a photo of myself - which was taken by a Jamaican friend - at that spot.


After the service there was a scramble for some brunch (at which a 'stranger' approached me while speaking my name - he had lived in Vancouver for a short while in the 1980s and attended the Sunday service at MCC Vancouver where I was the Pastor).  Indeed it is a 'small world'!

Now for the Parade!

Again I walked with PFLAG (Parents/Friends of Lesbians and Gays) covering the shirt which you see in the above photo with another which is dark purple in color and has the PFLAG/Toronto logo on the front).

The Parade was HUGE and took a few hours to pass by. The PFLAG unit was towards the back. The walk must have been about two miles (from Bloor Street East at Jarvis Street down to the Dundas Square which is across the street from the Eaton Center). There were thousands and thousands of spectators along the route. One of the women who walked with us had purchased bags and bags of candies - all wrapped in paper like toffees are - and I had some in my hands to pass out to some of the many many people who were watching us. Many of the folk watching us pass by gave the candies to children who were standing nearby but there were some greedy folk in the crowd who aggressively held out their hands over the heads of children and did not share but pocketed  the sweets. That always bugs me!  

As usual I was exhausted at the end of the parade but had to retrace nearly all of that distance to reach my home. I did stop at my favorite coffee shop while on my way and had a 'cup of java' as a 'pick-me-up'.

Tired but thrilled by the experience - as I am always!