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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I have an older client by the name of Paul. He has a wonderful story to tell. I need to share it and I hope that he doesn’t mind.

Paul has an absolute positive outlook on life. He is retired from a rewarding career and now travels each year to Europe to photograph trains, waterfalls and interesting architecture. During the warmer months he tries to spend as many days as he can on the Toronto Islands. This summer of course has been so rudely interrupted by the strike. Paul, just like so many other fixed income individuals and families has been adversely affected by this selfish act. Normally, a few times a week Paul would take the Yonge Street subway line to the Island ferry and then spend the day on Centre Island and Ward’s Island.

Paul’s journey started before most of us were born. In 1938, at the age of thirteen, Paul and his older sister moved to England. His father foolishly believed the wave sweeping over Germany and eastern Europe would subside and Paul’s family would soon be reunited. Paul never saw or heard from his mom and dad again.

A year and a few months later the UK Declared war on Germany. Paul and the other teenage boys in his foster home awaited daily for death notices from their homeland. Many arrived, but Paul never received one. His mom and dad simply vanished, never to be seen again. But Paul strived on.

Paul was later to become a British Subject. He has since considered himself to be English and not German. And as a young man he converted to Christianity. Since then an active member in his church.

But Paul never forgot his roots. And he never missed a chance to help and support someone who had suffered the same losses he had. He met others who had been fortunate enough to escape the Nazis and Stalin but had lost family. And those that needed strength he encouraged.

Unfortunately Paul’s sister was never able to overcome the trauma that engulfed her life when her parents became victims of Europe’s anti-Semitism. Later in life she was admitted to psychiatric hospitals because of this trauma. She was never able to overcome the pain inflicted upon her by the devastation in eastern Europe.

Paul has overcome though. He still lives with the memory of his family destroyed by the Nazis. His mom and dad never heard from after 1938 and his sister who died still traumatized by that loss. Yet he is positive.

In my conversation with him last week he told me that we can all get on with our lives no matter what happens. All we need is faith and a positive attitude.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Waste, garbage, refuse...

Toronto is in the midst of a civic workers’ strike. We won’t discus here who are to blame or where responsibility for this work stoppage lie, but many people do seem to be suffering. I’m not, I’m simply inconvenienced. But I’ve also learnt a few things from it.

There hasn’t been garbage pick-up in over four weeks. That’s what has caused my inconvenience. We’re double bagging, we’re storing our recycle goods and I’m trying to compost more. And it’s made me think. It’s made me look at my lifestyle and come to some uncomfortable realizations.

We have become a wasteful, over-consuming, uncomfortably high densely populated society.

We take no responsibility for the waste we create, for our over-indulgences or our excessive consumerism. What if there never was, ever again a garbage pick up in this city? What would we do with the excess of packaging we accumulate? The food we cook and do not eat? Or for that matter, the food we allow to partially rot in our fridges before tossing away?

Three generations ago we would never have even considered these questions. We would have simply disposed of our own refuse, garbage and waste. But where and how? In the street, the local park or ice rink? NO, on our own property: our back yards, our gardens; where we grew our vegetables and raised our livestock.

We no longer grow or raise our own food. But as consumers we create a greater amount of waste. And we don’t take responsibility for it. And now we are complaining that those we employ to, have neglected their responsibility. A job we, as tax payers, employ them to do; pay them.

As I have before, and will again, let’s separate the politics from this situation. Let’s not lay blame but look at ourselves. There is garbage to dispose of. And as individuals we should be capable of disposing of our own waste.

We should waste less; purchase only that which we are able to consume, and be capable of disposing of all our over indulgences.

Waste not, want not.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lament For Confederation

I made a promise to myself and the sensitive in my community that I would do my best to be as apolitical as I could be when posting my blogs. I'm opinionated, I'm dogmatic and some might say a slight bit arrogant. But this posting is not about me. I've been asked to post a link to the Chief's soliloquy "Lament for Confederation". Instead of a link, here it is, word for word. Read it, savour the words, and take a part of it with you wherever you travel in Canada, and anywhere indigenous people strive to preserve their culture.

Lament for Confederation

How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.

For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said 'come, come and eat of my abundance.' I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.

But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man's strange customs, which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.

When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.

My nation was ignored in your history textbooks - they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk - very, very drunk. And I forgot.

Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what's past and gone.

Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.

Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man's success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.

Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass. I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land.

So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.

Chief Dan George, July 1st, 1967.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

During the middle of the nineteenth century, the art and science of photography took a hold on the world. It is impossible to live a day now and not somehow be affected by a photographic image. Photography allows us to capture a moment-in-time, create an image and show it to the world. What would we do without it? Or better yet, what did we do without it?

Once upon a time man used oils, pigments, charcoals; he reproduce the visions he had of the world. He reproduced peoples’ faces: scenes of combat, scenes of beauty: landscapes and cityscapes: urban and rural.

With the advent of photography, the reproduction of life as we saw it became obsolete: at least to the painter. Because of this the age of Impressionism happened.

The age of Impressionism gave us Monet and Renoir. We were shown the talent of Alfred Sisley and Mary Cassatt. There are the beautiful scenes of harvest by Pissarro and the harbor scenes by Morisot.

But what of the greatest Impressionist of all time? A Canadian. Tom Thomson.

Tom was born August the fifth 1877, and he died in his fortieth year of unknown causes.

But he died doing what he loved and in the land he chose to recreate for the world to see: on canvas and in oil.

On that day he set forth in his canoe with his paints and fishing gear. His body wasn’t discovered for many days later. But the treasures he left Canadians are there for all to discover.

Each time that I wander into the bush, whether with my camera, fishing rod or rifle, I’m looking for that same scene that Tom Thomson saw when he gave us Jack Pines.

Tom Thomson recorded for us a Canada that all Canadians should have a great appreciation for. He gave us the Birches, Jack Pine and the Pool. Tom saw Canada as we all should. As beauty, serenity and as proof that God exists. Because Canada does.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How many Canadians can boast of an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, a Golden Laurel Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award? All in the same year and all for portraying the same historical figure on film. And at the wise age of 72!

He was born Tes-Wah-No, and as a young boy was known as Dan Slaholt. Upon entering boarding school he took his father’s first name as his last, because speaking his tribal tongue was forbidden as were native Canadian names. After leaving school he worked as a longshoreman, a logger and a construction worker. His first acting role was not until he was in his mid sixties. But his most important job, and the name we all know him by came about in 1951.

In 1951 Tes-Wah-No became Chief Dan George. By the mid sixties he was a household name in North America. And in 1967 he gave the speech that would bring him to the fore front of the native rights movement.

The speech was entitled Lament For Confederation. He delivered it before 35,000 people on July first, Canada Day, 1967: Canada’s 100th anniversary. He delivered this speech in the hopes it would boost the self-esteem of his fellow natives, showing and imploring them that anyone could succeed as he had, anyone from a disadvantaged background: anyone, even if their government had suppressed them and denied them their true identity.

All true Canadians, new and old, should read Chief Dan George’s soliloquy Lament for Confederation. There’s a lesson in it for all of us. Chief Dan George would be happy to know his words had not fallen on deaf ears and were being heard 42 years later.

Hail to and respect the Chief.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I love boats. Maybe it’s a good thing they’re called “shes”. There have been a few in my life, and I’m sure there will be a few more. I’ve had long term relationships with some, adored a few from afar, other relationships have been fleeting, no pun intended. And of course others I’ve loved unconditionally. The first boat I fell for was the “Persephone”.

Nick Adonidas was the Persephone’s captain. Nick and his partner Jesse Jim plied the waters of British Columbia in search of loose lumber. Nick was an upstanding member of the community. He helped the widowed and orphaned. He was best friends with members of the First Nations community and the local RCMP officers. Nick was an immigrant, a new Canadian who embraced Canada, his community and the culture he had adopted, the community which had adopted him.

Nick Adonidas was a fictitious character. But, he was played by a man that was just as large and gregarious as Nick himself.

Bruno Gerussi was born of Greek immigrants in May of 1928. Between 1972 and 1991 Bruno portrayed Nick Adonidas. He could have moved south as many have and worked for greater amounts of money playing character and bit parts in Hollywood. But instead he opted for the captain of the Persephone. And later the host of Celebrity Cooks.

Bruno Gerussi, a first generation Canadian, portrayed a new Canadian who was proud to be Canadian. He befriended First Nations Canadians, new Canadians and those who’s lineage goes back generations.

We all need to do a bit of beach combing. Some of us need to pick up a few new items washed up upon the shore. And some of us need to collect some items from the past. Items that give us a closer link to our community. And it doesn’t matter if we’re new to that community or have been in it for generations.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In Hastings England, on the grounds of the William Parker School, formerly the Hastings Grammar School, grows a Canadian Red Maple. A number of blocks from the school is plaque of commemoration. Four miles to the east, at the Hastings Park ranger station, there is another commemorative plaque. And back in town, at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery there is a life size replica of a log cabin which once sat at a lake side in the Canadian wilderness.

The plaque commemorates Archibald Belaney. Otherwise known as Grey Owl.

Here’s a man that has greater recognition from, and status in, the country he left and denied any physical link to. Archibald became Grey Owl. A man with a history as Canadian as one could ever imagine. But there is more dedication to his existence by the community that he left and denied any common history with.

Grey Owl is the grandfather of the conservation/environmental movement in Canada: maybe the world. And if it weren’t for Grey Owl the beaver would not be one of our national symbols. If it weren’t for Grey Owl the beaver just might be extinct! Has anyone looked at a nickel lately?

Every Canadian should know who Jellyroll and Rawhide were. If they don’t they need to find out.

Every Canadian needs to understand what it means to uproot one’s self from a culture and become part of another. Then become Canadian. And then to contribute to that culture.

Archibald became Canadian. We all need to become Grey Owl.