Category Archives: Canada

BOOK REVIEW: “Rose’s Run,” by Dawn Dumont


I’ve been reading a lot of material about Canadian First Nations people over the past few months–including the two books my reviews of which have comprised the past two posts in this blog. All of this material has consisted of non-fiction. I wanted to try some First Nations fiction for a change. First Nations fiction is something I haven’t yet explored and, given that I’d heard several reports of excellent work in this area having been produced in recent years, it seemed about time.

So when I was down at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library a couple of weeks ago, I hit the “New Fiction” section, looking for something, anything really, since I then didn’t have any authors’ names to go by, that could serve as my starting point for exploring this new terrain. Dawn Dumont’s 2014 novel, “Rose’s Run,” published by Saskatoon’s Thistledown Press and the winner of the 2014 City of Regina Book Award for Fiction, flew off the shelf into my eager hands. I say ‘flew’ off because there is a prominent silhouette of an in-flight raven against a bright red background on the cover that made the book readily identifiable to me as First Nations literature. (I commend whoever thought up, and executed, this cover image. It not only fits the story but also works well in attracting newcomers like me interested in a good First Nations read, probably as well as those more experienced with this genre.)

After reading “Rose’s Run” and, immediately after, her earlier book of biographical essays, “Nobody Cries at Bingo”–and watching an episode of the APTN show “Fish out of Water” that she co-hosts–DAWN DUMONT is a name I won’t be forgetting any time soon. The caliber of Dumont’s writing combined with her TV hosting duties and involvement with theatre (she’s written some plays I haven’t yet read), and her sense of humour, bring to mind another Canadian author/broadcaster who is much better known, at least in my circles: Ann-Marie MacDonald. I suspect that, if Dumont were White, although she’s still only in her mid- to late-30s, she’d already be at least as well-known across Canada as MacDonald–and maybe she eventually will be.

“Rose’s Run” combines a very contemporary story of female resistance against male repression and female redemption, set on a rural Saskatchewan reservation, with supernatural elements taken from plains Cree mythology. The first part of the story takes place mainly in the ‘normal’ world; but once the central character, Rose, a mother of three now abandoned by her husband, takes up long-distance running to reclaim her self-respect and to serve as a role model to her kids, strange, otherworldly, things start to happen. After she trips and bumps her head on one of her training runs, the otherworldly elements amp up, until the final chapter of the book, when Rose participates in the big marathon race that has been her goal since taking up running and things get back, at least superficially, to ‘normal’.

The combination of the the ‘normal’ and the supernatural works extremely well in this book, especially through Dumont linking supernatural elements to long-distance running. In reading this book, I was reminded of the “magic realism” of certain South American writers, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but with the supernatural elements taken from Cree culture, set in a contemporary Canadian context.

Dawn Dumont’s “Rose’s Run” provided me with an excellent introduction to Canadian First Nations fiction and I’m looking forward to reading many more such books, by her and by other Canadian First Nations authors. Dumont has set the bar high with “Rose’s Run,” so I hope I won’t be disappointed when reading other books of this genre.

As a final point here, after reading both of Dumont’s books set in in Saskatchewan (the novel and her biographical essays) and published by a Saskatoon publisher, as well as reading some interesting non-fiction books published by the University of Regina press in the past few months (including not only the two I’ve reviewed in this blog), I’ve become much more interested in Saskatchewan as a possible place to spend some time in the future. Many interesting things seem to be going on culturally now in Saskatchewan, related especially to the strong First Nations presence in that province. (My only previous personal experience of Saskatchewan was taking the Greyhound through the province heading back to Vancouver when I was a student at McGill, and stopping over for a couple of hours at the bus depot in Saskatoon. Seems there’s a lot more to the province than wheatfields and that depressing bus depot.)

BOOK REVIEW: “The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir”, by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir

I awoke the morning after finishing reading this book the evening before, just before I went to sleep, with a very poignant, and powerful, scene being acted out on the movie screen of my waking mind. I saw a drunk and disheveled old Native guy, someone I hadn’t previously met, sitting alone on a bench in a city park. Normally, if I’d come across a guy like that, I would have just let him be, and gone on my way. But that’s not what happened this time.

I observed him for a while, realizing, oddly (we hadn’t previously met), that this was a guy who had many interesting stories to tell, and who was a good story-teller, and I wanted to hear those stories. I also knew that, due to the drink, and his age, and a possible desire to preserve his dignity, I shouldn’t expect that his stories would be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But I wanted to hear his stories anyway, and to share a park bench with him and savour his warmth and gentle humour, so I went over to join him. I sat down, and we started to talk. Then I got up … up out of bed, that is, only because it was a workday and I had to get to work.

Critically-minded readers who read “The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir” looking for just further evidence of the indignities and abuse suffered by residential school students are likely to find this book disappointing–at least initially. Augie Merasty, a survivor of nine years at the St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing, whose handwritten stories of his experiences at the school written over several years comprise the basis of this book, is not, as I think any reasonable person would acknowledge, an entirely reliable narrator.

Age, drink, and the fact that, at least when he began his project of recording stories from his days at St. Therese, he was likely to have been aware that he stood to gain financially by presenting a dark picture, all lend suspicion to his account. (Augie began to record his stories in the late 1990s as evidence to be used by lawyers in the first stage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that led to a 1.9 billion federal government settlement package, implemented in 2007, for survivors of the residential schools.)

A further, related, problem, is that, although Augie is still alive, he apparently is now too sick (from cancer) to do television interviews and other kinds of personal appearances that could lend credibility to his case. We’re unable to watch Augie, and to listen to his actual voice, as he relates his stories–unlike when we watched, and listened to, selected survivors of the residential schools presenting their videotaped testimonies as part of the wrap-up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on June 2, and knew, with certainly, that they were telling the truth and, furthermore, knew, with certainty, what a devastating experience this had been for them.

In addition to these problems related to Augie himself, there are problems related to how this book was put together. A professional writer, David Carpenter, formerly a teacher in the English Department at the University of Saskatchewan, considerably helped Augie in bringing to fruition his dream of publishing his memoir as a book. As Carpenter reveals in the relatively lengthly introduction to this slim volume (about a third of which consists of the Introduction), he had to do a great deal of editing to corral the various prose passages and letters that Augie provided, over a period of several years, into a coherent, publishable, book. A question arises, as it inevitably does with this kind of collaboration, regarding who actually contributed what to the finished work.

Often, in the main section of the book that is supposed to be Augie’s memoir, the language is jarring, not at all in keeping with how a Native guy who did learn how to read and write at St. Therese’s but who spent most of his working life as a fisherman and trapper would be expected to communicate. For example, would Augie really have referred to himself and his pals at school as “me and my fellow reprobates?” Or would he really have said of a particularly sadistic nun at St. Therese, “I cannot say enough to vilify her name”? Problems like this with the language used to relate Augie’s experiences dilute the credibility of the experiences themselves.
But, of course, if Carpenter hadn’t done a great deal of work on Augie’s ‘manuscript’ to make it publishable, including sometimes interjecting his own vocabulary, and sensibilities, this book would never have been published.

Despite these ‘weaknesses’, assuming that readers come to this book with the usual preconceptions and expectations–that its publishers, unfortunately, haven’t made an effort to discourage–I believe this book is worth reading. It’s the images that occur after finishing the book, when one’s guard is down, and the power that these images may have in helping achieve reconciliation between Native and non-Native Canadians, that may be this book’s greatest strength. Images like that of an old, drunk, Native guy sitting on a park bench, grinning warmly as you draw near …

BOOK REVIEW: “Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People” by Michel Hogue

I came to this book with an academic background not in history but, rather, in issues associated with philosophical change in Canadian postsecondary education. One of my interests is implications for humanities research, including historical research, of postmodernism. I’ve also had a longstanding interest in Canada’s First Nations people, but mainly in the present context. (I worked for a few years for CESO on a Native youth employment program that gave me the opportunity to visit several reserves in northern Quebec and BC. The experience left a very strong impression.)

Frankly, I’m generally wary of the work of academic historians. So much of such work buys into, if not explicitly then implicitly, the binary logic that has held sway in Western universities since their inception. This system of logic no longer generally prevails in modern democracies like Canada so, at best, such work is merely outdated. Often, such work is not only outdated but also conceivably could do harm. (I could say more about how such harm may occur, but this isn’t the place for another one of my screeds about academic humanities research.)

Although Michel Hogue is a professor in the History Department at Carleton University and “Metis and the Medicine Line” is published, in Canada, by the University of Regina Press (it originally was published in the US by the University of North Carolina Press), I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian Metis history and culture and/or the history of the Canada-US border–even to those skeptical of academe. I also would recommend it to any culturally responsible Canadian whose knowledge of plains history is, like mine was before I read this book, basically confined to compulsory high-school history classes and watching “Dancing With Wolves,” who should know more–even if they don’t yet know it. (I saw “Dancing With Wolves” a second time, on APTN, after reading this book, and the movie was more interesting the second time around.) I also would recommend it to academic historians, regardless of their areas of specialization, as a model of how academic historical work can remain relevant, and be beneficial, in the current era.

Because of its rich detail, “Metis and the Medicine Line” sometimes can be tough reading, even for academically trained readers. But getting through the book’s densely packed pages is worth the effort. (To be fair, there are several interesting historical photographs interspersed throughout the book.) These details are included not merely to illustrate particular points but also themselves effectively comprise two central points of the book.

The first is that Metis history is much more rich and complex than has traditionally been portrayed. As Hogue recounts, when the North American plains were first being colonized, the Metis people crossed many of the conceptual ‘borders’ that the White colonists, who themselves thought in binary terms, tried to impose on them: these include ‘borders’ relating to race, culture and nationality. The second is that the development of the physical border between Canada and the United States in western North America was a more complex, and more conflict-ridden, process than is usually understood, owing in large measure to the cross-border travel in pursuit of buffalo, and cross-border shenanigans, of migratory plains people, most notably the Metis. (The meaning of “the medicine line” in the title of the book is related to some of these shenanigans. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the book.)

A stylistic device that Hogue employs throughout this book that helps to organize, and to bring resonance to, details he provides about Metis life and culture and Canada-US border creation issues is to follow a single Metis family, the family of the peripatetic trader Antoine Ouellette and his wife Angelique Bottineau, through the period covered in the book. It’s a very clever, very elegant, device that draws readers back in when the details may be starting to wear them down. It worked that way for me, anyway.

Because I’m not a historian specializing in Metis culture and/or Canada-US border development, I don’t know if and, if so, to what extent, Michel Hogue’s book, and his related academic work, is precedent setting. I’m curious to know. I would suggest that with “Metis and the Medicine Line”, Hogue not only has written an important book about a people that crossed racial, cultural and national borders, but also has done some significant border-crossing himself, bringing a fresh, non-traditional, non-binary, perspective to this subject. He is to be commended–as are his publishers.

A relatively minor shortcoming of this book, in my view, is that I wish that Hogue had said a little more about himself in his book, and what led him to write it. The combination of his first and last names suggests his family backgound is culturally mixed, including some French or French-Canadian. In a book like this, I think he owes it to his readers to let them know at least if he is, or isn’t, Metis. . . . Actual Metis, that is, and not just any old border-crossing, contemporary, Canadian who identifies with these border-crossing people.

Reclaiming Our Stories: Another View of Residential Schools

For a couple of years, when I was in my late teens, my family was entirely dysfunctional. Right after my mother and father separated, there was some financial hardship and the trauma of moving from a small town to the big city so my mother could go back to work as a secretary. But that was nothing compared to when my mother hooked up with an abusive, violent, alcoholic, fertilizer salesman (really), who moved in with my mother and we four girls when I was 17. Things then got completely out of control–or, should I say, the fertilizer really flew.

As the eldest of the brood, with only two years left in high-school, immediately after which I hightailed it out of there, I got off relatively easy. But I do know a thing or two about growing up in poverty with an alcoholic parent, or surrogate parent, and how this can affect kids. The kids who are especially vulnerable, because they’re the youngest, or smallest, or least developed intellectually or emotionally, are likely to be left deeply scarred, with very low esteem. As adults, unless they recognize their problems and get professionally help, or somehow work out their problems themselves, they are likely to perpetuate the pattern of abuse.

And, oh yes, I’m White. Bad stuff sometimes happens in White families, too.

I mention this aspect of my background here–that I haven’t previously publicly divulged–because it’s relevant to my concerns about dominant narratives in Canada concerning First Nations residential schools.

I personally know not just one, but two, White Canadian writers, both of whom come from, in my view, very privileged backgrounds and both of whom are strong proponents of the now-dominant view in Canada, shared by Whites and Aboriginals alike, that Canadian First Nations residential schools were basically hellholes. Although it’s not indicated in any of their published writings of which I’m aware, both received at least their secondary educations (and maybe their elementary educations, too) in private Christian boarding schools. Schools for rich kids.  (At least some of my readers probably will want to know these writers’ names. I’m sorry, but I won’t be providing that information here. You’ll have to take my word for it.)

I don’t personally know anyone who attended a residential school. However, the comments of a Native audience member, who had family members who had attended such schools, at a talk I attended in Toronto about the residential schools, back when I was a student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, support my suspicions.

This Native audience member, a teacher herself, took exception to the overall condemnation of residential schools by the speaker, a White university professor. She pointed out that her aunt generally had enjoyed her experiences. Among the things she enjoyed, according to her niece, were that there were three meals a day and clean sheets on her bed once a week–things she wasn’t able to take for granted at home. Also, she developed a love for learning, that she shared with her niece, who went on to university and became a teacher.

I don’t mean to suggest that the residential schools were entirely without problems. But I do suspect that the very dark picture of them that currently prevails in Canada is due at least in large measure to certain influential, privileged, White folks projecting dark memories of their own boarding school experiences onto residential schools and their First Nations students. If one comes from a financially and emotionally stable family background, boarding-school life may indeed seem wretched compared to family life; but if one isn’t so lucky, while school may not be paradise, it’s likely to be more tolerable.

As for emotional scars having been left on former generations of Canada’s Aboriginal people by the residential schools, and these scars being the root cause of problems such as alcoholism and domestic abuse among succeeding generations, there are other ways that one, whether Native or White, can become emotionally scarred. Only approximately 30% of Canada’s Aboriginal children attended residential schools during the period that they were primarily active (between 1876, following the passage of the Indian Act, until the late 20th Century). It would be interesting to know which group, those who did or those who didn’t attend residential school, ended up better off.

Poverty, associated with the breakdown of traditional cultures, was rampant among Canada’s First Nations people during most of the period of the residential schools, and continues to be common among many of our First Nations people. To escape poverty, education is key.  Also, through education, we  can achieve greater control over our stories–stories told about us by others and stories about us we tell ourselves.

**In doing some basic research for this piece, I came across an interesting article published in The National Post newspaper last year, “Could it be that residential schools weren’t so bad?“, in which the author, Paul Russell, debunks various common conceptions about residential schools. While the issue of privileged White people possibly projecting their own narratives onto Aboriginal people isn’t addressed in this article, issues such as the ‘high’ rate of fatalities in the residential schools from tuberculosis and smallpox and the ‘abusive’ disciplinary practices of teachers are addressed. For anyone interested in the residential schools, I believe this article is worth a read.

Picturing Canadian Multi-Multiculturalism . . . or Fun With Flags

IMG_3107-0

Various ideas I’ve put forward in this blog regarding Canadian post-secondary education are born of my recognition that Canada is officially a multicultural country and my belief that certain educational practices are more consistent with multiculturalism than are others. Until recently, I took it for granted all Canadians possessed a very similar understanding of what was meant by ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’; but it seems that’s not actually the case. For example, as was pointed out by Douglas Todd in his Vancouver Sun article of March 13th, ‘A blank slate, with no culture,’ some recent immigrants to Canada are under the impression that, because Canada is officially a multicultural country, in this country all cultures have the same basic status and Canada has no real culture of its own. As someone born and bred in Canada, of English and Scottish stock, that certainly never was my understanding of ‘multicultural’. Then too, as I further considered this subject prompted by Todd’s article, I realized my own understanding of ‘multicultural’ had evolved over the years.

To grasp the various possible understandings of ‘multicultural’, and ‘multiculturalism’, I find it helpful to organize the various options in graphic terms. I’ve taken some liberties with our Canadian flag (and availed myself of the nifty iPad app Brushstroke for palette inspiration) to help me better understand the options myself and, since I’m incorporating these pictures in this blog post, to perhaps help convey to my readers various possible meanings of ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’ in the present Canadian context.  As I’m more than willing to admit, this scheme is, in some respects, very simplistic, and for some of my choices (especially colour choices), I do take artistic liberties. Nevertheless, it seems helpful–to a point.

A ‘GEOGRAPHICAL-CULTURAL’ CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM (WITH POSTE DE LA BALEINE/GREAT WHALE RIVER/WHAPMAGOOSTUI/KUUJJUARAPIK AT THE GEOGRAPHIC CENTRE)

IMG_3086

When multiculturalism first became enshrined as Canadian federal policy in October of 1971, supporters of this policy had essentially only two groups in mind: French-speaking Canadians, who predominated in southern Quebec, and English-speaking Canadians, who predominated in the southern portion of the rest of Canada. The policy basically was intended to appease Quebec francophones. Since the education system of Quebec had the same European roots as did that of English-speaking Canada, this conception of ‘multiculturalism’ did not, nor does it today, dramatically affect Canadian post-secondary education.  (Certain changes, like a greater emphasis across the country on attaining bilingualism, would be expected.)

At least since the time that I worked in Quebec’s far north immediately after graduating from McGill in the late 1970s, my own version of multiculturalism also has incorporated First Nations cultures–that seem to have increasingly gained entry into the conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ of most Canadians through this decade. After working in a unique village on the Hudson Bay that included both Cree and Inuit people as well as French-speaking Quebecois and English-speaking Canadians from across Canada (and that is known by the four different names I’ve indicated above), my conception of Canada’s First Nations people has included two main groups, like Canadian anglophones and francophones tied largely to Canadian geography: the Inuit, who predominate in a very substantial part of northern Canada and who have a very distinctive culture among Canadian First Nations, and all of the other, more southern-dwelling, First Nations.  (I realize the latter group actually includes a panoply of culturally, linguistically and geographically distinct sub-groups.)

Thus, my basic, underlying, conception of multiculturalism, at least since the late 1970s, has incorporated four main groups, that may be thought of as Canada’s four founding cultures, each of which has laid claim to a significant geographic expanse in this country for a significant period of time. These four groups can be divided into two main pairs–hence the mainly two-colour colour scheme of the above group of four ‘flags’, representing, in total, one picture of ‘multiculturalism.’

Getting back to multiculturalism in relation to post-secondary education, this conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that incorporates certain non-European cultures and values and, thus, opens the door to postmodernism, does have very significant implications for Canadian post-secondary education in general; however, it isn’t the only possible version of ‘multiculturalism’ that may have such implications.

A CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM THAT STARTS WITH FOUNDING CULTURES & INCORPORATES RECENT IMMIGRANTS

IMG_3085

Back in the south of Canada, where I’ve lived since my relatively brief foray into Canada’s far north, it’s easy to forget how distinctive Canada’s Inuit people are, even among Canada’s diverse First Nations people.  Among we ‘southerners’–including even those of us who should know better–at least for the purpose of thinking about Canadian multiculturalism, it’s common to lump together all First Nations people, including the Inuit. The above picture thus incorporates three flags whose upper portion is Canadian red, two of which are almost identical (they share a blue lower portion) and represent Canada’s anglophone and francophone cultures, and the third of which (with earth tones at the bottom) can be seen as representing Canada’s First Nations cultures, considered collectively.

The fourth flag in this picture, the green (and blue) one, represents recent immigrants to Canada. Although recent immigrants to Canada weren’t a major consideration when Canadian multiculturalism was first conceived, ‘multiculturalism’ has increasingly come to refer to the entire range of cultures and linguistic groups from which Canadians now come. In this particular conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that is respectful of Canada’s historical origins and founding peoples, all recent immigrants, regardless of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, are considered collectively. (This is not to say that, at other levels, distinctions would not be made.  Even in some of the following pictures, some rudimentary distinctions are made.)

AN EXAMPLE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL JUGGLING MULTIPLE CONCEPTIONS OF MULTICULTURALISM

IMG_3098

This third picture in the four-quadrant series of pictures in this post was produced simply by overlaying the first two above pictures–which is an easy process with digital graphics tools. I’ve included it here to suggest that it’s possible to hold at least two different conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ at one time–or at least to fluctuate in one’s views.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY & WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE OF DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

This variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is intended to suggest long-time Canadians (represented by the lower left, mostly red, quadrant) and a large number of immigrants from diverse cultural and linguistic groups (represented by the other three quadrants) living side by side, as is the case now in Canada’s urban centres like Vancouver.  (The fact that, in this picture, there are only three ‘flags’ representing these other groups is only because I’ve wanted this picture, as a whole, to basically match preceding pictures in this blog post.  I can imagine another graphic representation of this kind of ‘multiculturalism’ with dozens of such ‘flags’.)

The graphic variation in the three quadrants other than the lower-left quadrant is meant to suggest cultural variation as well as that there is variation in how these groups integrate into Canadian culture. For example, in the upper left quadrant, the maple leaf seems to be midway in a process of turning from newbie green to Canadian red.

Because of the widespread acceptance of a distinctive, central, Canadian culture, this variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is harmonious.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY, WITH DIVIDED VIEWS ABOUT DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

IMG_3099-0

This picture, that involves the same basic configuration as that of the preceding picture, but that is a lot messier, and generally more washed out, may be seen as illustrating a situation where some, especially certain recent immigrants to Canada, believe that all cultures represented in Canada are equal and that Canada has no real culture of its own while others believe that Canada does indeed possess its own distinctive culture.

Although messy, it’s also hopeful, with a strong Canadian foundation still holding it all together.

A GRAY FUTURE?

IMG_3096

Taken by itself, I kind of like this picture. However, if we follow the logic of the colours and shapes their interrelationships that I introduced earlier in this piece, it actually illustrates a sad state of affairs, with very little left of an indigenous Canadian culture–with this dearth represented by gray maple leaves with only a bit of red in one quadrant.

It suggests to me a time in the future–that apparently already is here for some of us–when a view of ‘multiculturalism’ involving all cultures in Canada being entirely equal and Canada having no culture of its own wins the day, and even long-time Canadians believe that Canada has no culture of its own.

CONCLUSION

IMG_3077

In the past, when I’ve thought of Canada as a multicultural country, I’ve thought of it having essentially just one kind of multiculturalism.  But maybe this is now not merely a country of various cultures but also of various multiculturalisms–in other words, a multi-multicultural society.

I realize now it’s essential for arguments I’ve been making, and will continue to make, in this blog about Canadian post-secondary education that, when I discuss multiculturalism, I’m clearer about what I mean by this term.

OCAD University vs Emily Carr University: Toronto Complaining vs Vancouver Complaisance

Does anyone else find it odd that there has been so much overt controversy surrounding Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design since it was granted university status, yet so little surrounding its Vancouver close counterpart, Emily Carr University?

There have been loud complaints from OCAD staff members, alumni, and potential employers of OCAD grads since it was first decided twelve years ago to convert Toronto’s venerable old art college into a university. In a Globe and Mail newspaper article published on February 13, it was claimed that OCAD also is now experiencing serious financial problems, a declining enrollment, a relatively low program completion rate among its undergraduate students, and a great deal of internal strife. According to this article, there is even speculation that OCAD University may soon be swallowed by the University of Toronto or merged with George Brown, the downtown community college.

In the same week that the Globe and Mail article was published, it was announced by the BC government that a contract had been signed to begin construction on a new and expanded campus for Emily Carr University, with the BC provincial government investing up to $101.65 million. There hasn’t been any public complaining of which I’m aware about Emily Carr University by staff, alumni, potential employers of graduates, or by BC taxpayers in general, prior to or even after this announcement.  (Some students and ex-students have commented negatively, about which I shall say more later.)  Indeed, the BC government paints Emily Carr’s current situation, and future prospects, as extremely rosy. But this is not to say that problems don’t exist, and that the expansion and relocation of Emily Carr University may be an even bigger mistake than deciding in the first place, about seven years ago, to follow the OCAD example and turn Emily Carr into a university. It seems quite possible that similar problems now exist at Emily Carr University as those that exist at OCAD University yet, due to several significant differences between Vancouver and Toronto, the problems at Emily Carr are not being openly discussed here in Vancouver.

As a key example, faculty grumblings are less likely in the Vancouver context because there are far fewer good jobs in Vancouver in the arts and cultural sectors than there are in Toronto, so anyone working at Emily Carr now who wants to stay in Vancouver is likely to keep any misgivings they may have to themselves.  The same goes for those who don’t work there now but who may wish to work there in the future. From my own experience, I considered Emily Carr a possible employer when I first moved back to Vancouver, my hometown, after doing a Ph.D. in Higher Education at Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. This was around this time that plans were in the works to turn Emily Carr into a university and, despite my concerns, I held back because I thought speaking out could jeopardize my chances of one day working at the school.  By now, I’ve given up any hope of ever working at Emily Carr, so I’ll say what I please.

There’s also the issue of Canada’s mainstream media being concentrated in Toronto.  For example, the Globe and Mail is officially a national Canadian newspaper, yet it is based in Toronto. Toronto issues naturally get more coverage in this newspaper than Vancouver issues, or issues of special relevance to other Canadian regions.  Yes, we have local newspapers here in Vancouver; but, in my view, these newspapers tend to be extremely conservative with respect to most post-secondary education issues. The Internet does provide opportunities for voices other than those directly associated with, or otherwise authorized by, the big media outlets to enter into public debate–including through blogs like this one.  On the Internet, I have come across various complaints by students and recent ex-students of Emily Carr University relating to the transition from a college to a university.  But, of course, we must ask who is actually listening to these other, non-mainstream, voices–including, for that matter, my own.

Then there’s the issue of weather. Most of Canada, including Toronto, is still being wracked by an uncommonly cold and snowy winter. Yet, here in Vancouver, we’re already bewitched by crocuses and cherry blossoms.  Vancouver is such a pretty, pretty, city–especially this time of year. Although I wouldn’t want Toronto’s weather, especially this winter, at least in that city there is a vigorous public debate about issues such as OCAD University–and, occasionally, the debate even leads to positive change.

* * * * * * * * *

As my Twitter followers already may be aware, the basic reason I haven’t published any new material here in recent months is that my mother had a major health crisis shortly after I published my last blog post, back in November, that put her in hospital for six weeks. Besides dealing with Mum’s health problems, both during her hospital stay and since she returned home (I live with her), I’ve been dealing with strong division among family members about what is best for Mum. That’s all I can say about these issues here, other than to point out that they have preoccupied me in recent months, so that the only writing I’ve done during this period, apart from a few Tweets, has been emails to family members. It’s wonderful to have a subject sufficiently engage me that I can get away from family problems for a few hours. Also, Mum is by now almost back to her old self.

 

HMMPH: The Humanities Without the ‘U’, on CBC TV . . . if There is Still Any CBC TV

20140714-163454-59694160.jpg

Originally, this post was going to be simply another in my series of “Hmm . . . ” posts, or the “Humanities Without the ‘U'” posts (get it?), concerning Canadian organizations that could play a greater role in humanities education to make up for the declining enrollment in the humanities programs of Canadian universities and colleges.  This one was going to be about the increased role that could be played by Canadian public television–including the television division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC.  Especially after it was announced in early June that, in response to the recent large loss of revenue for the CBC, CBC-TV’s new general manager of programming, Sally Catto, was going to put more Arts programming in CBC’s television schedule, I was optimistic CBC-TV could play an important role in this area. (This loss of revenue comes from a combination of a reduction in federal government funding and projected TV advertising losses now that a private network will be airing NHL hockey games instead of the CBC, that long held the Canadian TV broadcasting rights.)

That was my original plan. However, a more recent announcement about how the CBC is going to address its shrunken budget has me very worried about CBC television–including its earlier announced greater emphasis on Arts programming.  My “HMM . . .” post turned into a grumpy “HMMPH” post, partly about the increased role Canadian public television could play in humanities education (I’ve already said most of what I’ll be saying in that regard) and a good measure of HMPHing.

Now they’re telling us that much of the money and other resources formerly allocated to television will be allocated to the Internet.  On June 26, CBC president and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, announced the CBC is shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  To quote Lacroix, “We used to lead with television and radio. Web came and then mobility came. We are reversing, we are inverting the priorities that we have. We’re going to lead now with mobility, we’re going to lead with whatever widget you use.”  I can understand now putting more resources into mobility and less into television and radio; but to lead with mobility is taking things too far.

In a 19-page report issued by the CBC that accompanied Lacroix’ announcement, ironically titled “A Space for Us All,” to justify the CBC’s reverse of priorities, statistics are provided indicating changes from 2000 to now in how Canadian consume media.  Some of these statistics seem to me misleading.  For example 77% of Canadians are said to now watch internet video (including Netflix) for 6.5 hours/week.  What percentage of that 77% watch work-related video at work, or education-related video at school, for at least much of that 6.5 hours and, in their personal lives, watch only snippets of video on their smartphones and tablets and, perhaps, an occasional episode they’ve missed of a favourite show, and only when they have access to free Wi-Fi–as do I? Also, what percentage of that 77% has over-reported their internet video viewership to researchers to appear ‘cool’?  Another statistic I question is that 24% of Canadians now watch Netflix for 7.4 hours per week. I’d be very interested in seeing a breakdown of Netflix usage for different  regions of Canada.  For example, I think the figure is probably far higher in Toronto than it is in Vancouver, largely because, in Toronto, you can get many more channels on TV without subscribing to cable than is possible in Vancouver.  Most Vancouverites have cable and, thus, Netflix may be an unnecessary frill, and too expensive in combination with the cost of cable.  24% might be right for populous Toronto, but I suspect it’s much too high for Vancouver, and for other regions in Canada.

I thought the CBC was supposed to be for all Canadians. Until the day we all get internet service for free–which is not going to happen–it seems this newly conceived CBC will be mainly for a relatively wealthy elite, who can afford large internet bills and all the paraphernalia associated with watching ‘television’ on line, and the rest of us will be left with only scraps for our cultural nourishment. I wish they would prove me wrong, but I am worried.

Incidentally,  I’m liking CBC Vancouver’s “Musical Nooners”–a noon-hour outdoor concert series held through the summer on the plaza of the CBC Vancouver building–a lot less now that we know how strapped for funds the CBC is. Is this really a priority for the CBC?  I like the idea of a few free concerts, but this is a six-week, daily series (if you don’t believe me, here’s the schedule), and each of the concerts is attended by a couple of hundred people at most.  (Vancouver’s CBC building is very near where I work, so I can see what goes on there every day.) Even if the concerts are taped to be incorporated in some of the CBC’s radio shows, I can’t see how the cost is justified.  (If taping is a key reason for this concert series, couldn’t these acts be taped when they are playing at other venues, including Canada Day celebrations, where many of these acts also performed?) If the CBC was financially healthy, yes. But it’s not.

20140714-190732-68852918.jpg

And, yet another HMPH . . . What about streaming music for free, that puts the CBC in direct competition with companies that provide the same service? I would think that television, just regular TV, that is accessible to all Canadians, preferable with a good amount of Canadian Arts and other humanities-related programming, is a far higher priority.