December 03, 2017

Festival of Lights at VanDusen Garden

Another year has gone and again we find ourselves the day before the official opening of the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Garden.

The light show really begins on December 1st but we come just before closing on November 30th to see the lights come on for a "dress rehearsal."

After a record setting month of rain, our time was spent under only a gentle mist.

At one time pink was for boys, and water bottles were just that.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

November 08, 2017

Earle Peach receives Mayor's Arts Award

It was a gala October evening to celebrate Vancouver's artists who enrich the city's culture through creativity and dialogue. It was the annual Mayor's Arts Awards, and a highlight was celebrating Sherry's friend and colleague, and new honouree, Earle Peach.

Earle received the award in the Community Engaged Art category. He leads four choirs: the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir; the Highs and Lows Choir; the Gathering Place choir; and InChoiring Minds. Earle also heads the delightful Illiteratty, and he is one half of Songtree with Barbara Jackson.

When the mayor and Earle were posing for the official photograph, the photographer asked the two men to turn into each other. Earle looked at the Mayor and said, "Frankly, I'd rather you turn into me."

Earle's acceptance speech was gentle and without ego. It spoke to the need to repair the world, to reconcile, to be accountable, and to raise up voices rarely heard, like those in the Highs and Lows.

Among a number of other projects, Earle is currently working with playwright Sherry MacDonald on a musical about the Battle of Ballantyne Pier.

Earle Peach is a gifted composer and songwriter, a dedicated political activist, and highly deserving of a Mayor's Art Award in 2017.

Now, if only our mayor could turn into someone more like Earle.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

November 03, 2017

Bread & Honey Food Company ~ Parksville

What started as a simple get-together brunch after the-wedding-the-night-before, turned into a discovery of an amazing breakfast and lunch place. In Parksville.

Bread and Honey Food Company is small. It's located in a strip mall in Parksville. It actually doesn't look like much, but don't let any of that deceive you. In many ways, Bread and Honey reminds us of the original Locals in Courtenay, which also started in a strip mall. It's unfortunate, but once Locals expanded to a bigger and better location a few blocks away, it lost some of its special magic. Bread and Honey is all magic.

Bread and Honey Food Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The food is excellent in so many ways. It's not complicated, and not necessarily fancy but flavourful far beyond regular restaurant fare, because the ingredients are obviously chosen with care and attention to detail. Then, what Chef Michael does with these ingredients, is nothing short of incredible. Service is warm, inviting and exemplary.

Bread and Honey existed before, and apparently was good in that incarnation too. This version, same location, opened in late June with new owners, Angela Sproul and her husband, Chef Michael Sproul. Open Wednesdays through Sundays for breakfast and lunch, and brunch on weekends. From our brief encounter, reservations are highly recommended.

Wonderful. Magical. When in Parksville, come and be amazed.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

Milano Coffee in Comox

While on Vancouver Island this autumn we noticed a relatively new coffee shop on Comox Avenue, in Comox of all places.

It's Vancouver's own Milano Coffee and this one opened about a year ago. It's Milano's fifth café, with three others in the home town, and one in Toronto. Of all places.

The Comox café is actually a licensed operation, but it's all in the family as Robin and Vickie Henry of Comox, are related to the Milano owners, Brian and Linda Turko. (Linda established the much-loved Turk's Coffee Bar on Commercial Drive in Vancouver in the latter part of the last century.)

The café in Comox has a simple, Winnipeg-style about it. Casual and spartan. Comfortable environment, but hard chairs. The espresso is simply excellent, and very much in the Milano tradition. Probably too much milk and foam in the macchiato, but these things happen. 

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

October 10, 2017

St. Michael's Residential School in Alert Bay

After visiting the U'Mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, a moving tribute to the Kwakwak'wakw people and the Potlatch, we stepped out into the sunlight and viewed a vacant lot adjacent to the

This was the site of St. Michael's Indian Residential School, sometimes referred to as the Alert Bay Residential School, and often as "St. Mike's." It was built in 1929 as a regional school for Aboriginal children from North Vancouver Island and the province's north coast, including children from Bella Bella, Bella Coola, the Nisga’a territories and Haida Gwaii.

In fact, these children were forcibly taken from their parents, prohibited from speaking their own languages, kept away from their families for years and inculcated with Anglo-European beliefs. That the school was largely self-sufficient with its own farm, cattle, water and electric plant, was largely due to the free labour pool at its disposal.

"Almighty God for what has been accomplished: for a race of people brought in the shortest period of time known in history from the most debasing savagery to citizenship both in the Kingdom of our God and in his God-blessed Dominion of Canada."
Published in 1934 
by the Indian Residential School Commission 
of the Missionary Society of the Church of English, in thanks and appreciation for  St. Michael's in Alert Bay

Thankfully, St. Michael's closed in 1975. The 'Namgis First Nation was given control of the building and it was used for several purposes. In February of 2015, First Nations, church leaders, former students and politicians attended a healing ceremony hosted by the 'Namgis First Nation to mark the demolition of the building. In May of the same year, 'Namgis had a blessing of the Land ceremony.

There's something strange about standing here, to think about fifty years and more of an "education" system designed to destroy a people. It was such a large building, with classrooms, offices and quarters for 200 students. It was a structure that dominated the town itself, again perhaps part of the design to eliminate an entire culture.

This empty lot isn't empty at all; it's full of stories of pain, fear and anger, that continues to cross generations to this day.

Empty lot photo by Jeem (others: archival photos). 
Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 26, 2017

U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay

U'mista Cultural Centre is one of the longest-operating and most successful First Nations cultural facilities in BC. It was established in 1980 as a project to house potlatch artifacts which had been stolen by government during an earlier period of cultural repression. Canada banned the potlatch from 1884 to 1951.

The return of the potlatch artifacts not only provided U'mista's name (the return of something important), it initiated a trend toward repatriation of First Nations' cultural artifacts.

U'mista now operates a modern museum and cultural education facility in Alert Bay. Operations include the museum, an art gallery and gift shop, group tours, and various presentations.

The potlatch maintained community solidarity and hierarchical relations within, and between, individual bands and nations. It was always a celebration for the entire community and a sharing of food and goods for a special occasion: a birth, marriage or death. Perhaps subversively in the eyes of the government, the potlatch was also a means of economic redistribution of wealth within the community. The celebratory family was expected to share its good fortune widely and freely.

The last major potlatch in Canada, and it was illegal at the time, was held in 1921 in Alert Bay. All the goods were confiscated by agents of the Indian Department and charges were laid. The artifacts, including ceremonial regalia, coppers, masks and more, were distributed to museums and private collections throughout Canada and the US.

An impressive gift shop

One of the few areas where one can actually touch and feel...

U'mista Cultural Centre has seen considerable success in its efforts to repatriate artifacts that rightly belong to the people, and many of those artifacts are here in Alert Bay. The work continues.

... the children's interpretive room.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 25, 2017

More than taking the knee ~ 50 years ago

Taking the knee wasn't an option fifty years ago and it took great courage to stand up to racism, militarism and capitalism in America.

"My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.... and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."

Fifty years ago at a US Armed Forces station in Houston, Texas, a twenty-five year old stood beside twenty-five other young men called to the draft. When his slave name of Cassius Clay was called out, he refused to respond. He said no to the American War in Vietnam, was sentenced to five years in prison and deprived of his livelihood. He was Muhammad Ali.

At the time, all those years ago, he had few friends indeed. Ridiculed and vilified by people in power, in the media and in the government, Ali went on to speak out against war, racism, poverty and injustice. In plain language and without regard for the consequence.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs? . . . If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me. I'd join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. We've been in jail for four hundred years."

Fifty years later and not much has changed in the US. Take the knee. Take to the streets. Remember the courage of Muhammad Ali.  And when the time comes, and in the Excited States that time will come: "Just take me to jail."

Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

Duchess' Bannock & Desserts in Alert Bay ~ fantastic!

Along the main drag, down from the ferry terminal, is a little spot that can't be missed on any trip to Alert Bay.

It's the Duchess' Bannock & Desserts place and it is amazing.

The Duchess is a real person and that's her name. Warm and friendly and creator of some of the finest bannock we've ever tasted.

Open everyday, except when Duchess decides to close of course, which happens in Alert Bay from time to time.

This place is a delight: homemade soups, amazing bannock dishes and .... a hot dog, with the necessary toppings, cooked within the bannock. While we didn't get to try this wonderful creation, all reports from the locals, would suggest this is something not to be missed. We did get to try the bannock and berries!

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 24, 2017

Totem Poles of Alert Bay

During our brief stay in Alert Bay we walked through the town, and around Cormorant Island. It's an easy walk and highly enjoyable. People are friendly and happy to share their stories and the stories of their community, and one of those stories is that of the totem poles of Alert Bay.

Totem poles are visual representations about the people who erect them, their ceremonial privileges and identity. The erection of a totem pole is usually celebrated with a potlatch.

In Alert Bay some totem poles are fairly new and others are very old. The Kwakwaka'wakw people believe that nothing lasts forever. When a totem pole is damaged, or falls to earth, it has served its purpose and it is time to let it go. Totem poles are not maintained nor re-painted. Often, recorded information about the totem pole is scant and only the pole's owner, and its carver, can truly describe the significance of the symbols.

The totem pole located near the traditional Big House is considered the world's tallest. Carved during the 1960s, it was raised in 1973. At the time it was an impressive 53 metres in height, but in November of 2007 the top of the totem pole fell to the ground during a Nimpkish wind. Apart from its height, it is unique in that unlike most totem poles, which are specific to a particular family, its figures represent some of of the tribes of the Kwakwaka'wakw.

The traditional burial grounds, and the current 'Namgis burial grounds, where many of the totem poles are located, are not open for tromping about. There's nothing to prevent people from wandering in, but respectfully, we are all asked to honour both the totem poles and the land. The totem poles are easily viewed from the roadside at both locations.

In the village cemetery, the combination of Christian and Indigenous symbols is, at first, confusing, and then... captivating.    

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.