Category Archives for Canada

Exploring Community Design with Douglas Jack

Community design, edible landscaping and a human resource catalogue are among the subjects that Douglas Jack and I speak about in Episode 27 of the Unapologetically Canadian Podcast.

Listen to Episode 27 of Unapologetically Canadian

Jack also serves as the president of a local non-profit organization called the Sustainable Development Association, which specializes in green design and produced Montreal’s first green map in 1998. (I still use my copy of this map quite often.)

I visited Doug last spring. During our interview, Doug and I spoke about his community design ideas and his plans for a digital community directory. We also toured his property to discover how he uses food and leaf composting to grow fruit, nuts and vegetables that he consumes year-round.

Anyone interested in a seasonal diet in Montreal would benefit from learning about using butternuts and sumac flowers the way Doug does. It’s also inspiring to learn how many fruit trees and vines can fit into a relatively small urban space.

Here’s the transcript of our discussion.

LaSalle Heights Community

Tracey [00:00:01] Here we are we are at Douglas Jack’s home.

Tracey [00:00:06] We are at the edge of a community near Bergevin and Jean Milot in LaSalle, which is a wonderful community. It used to be called LaSalle Heights and then it was Les Jardins LaSalle. And I don’t know what they’re calling it now. What are they calling it now?

Douglas [00:00:25] I think I should look on my lease or something like that. It just gives the address.

Tracey [00:00:35] Yeah I think they’ve changed it completely. It doesn’t have an entity anymore. Anyway.

[00:00:36] And we’re talking about permaculture gardening and some of his passions and the neighborhood and the community that he’s organizing here. So do you want to introduce yourself and talk about what you’re hoping to do.

Douglas [00:00:49] Great. So I’m Doug and I live in this 815 housing units on 40 acres in two properties. One is 33 acres with Turret Realties Inc. The other is a seven-acre HLM—habitations à loyer modique [low income housing].

I’ve been here for 30 years.  And my partner here Rebecca, well we’re ex, but we live close by and we have a son who’s 18 years old, Adrian. So this morning I was waking up Adrian at his window.

Douglas [00:01:36] So what’s really nice about this community is there’s about 40 extended families. And so that means that people are connected through grandmothers, grandchildren and just the whole mixture that’s here. And so promoting that connectedness that’s already here is important.

Plans for a Digital Community Directory

So what we’re doing is a software project which is a community economy software. The way we’re going about it is to on our Web site, we’ll put the software which has a human resource catalog. People go onto the catalog they put on their pictures, their talents, their goods or services, a description of who they are, or maybe their dreams. Then from there, people know about each other a little bit. And, out of curiosity or who lives next door to me. And then they then if they need a babysitter, or they need an electrician, or they need a doctor or they need whatever they’ve got, they’re able to find each other and they’re able to join together.

We figured that a lot of economy will be about bringing together the babysitters and the woodworkers and other people who can share tools and knowledge. We figured that’s the biggest challenge. It’s just that people know each other. We called the project “do we know who we are.”

Tracey [00:03:03] So this is like one of those old-time directories like what they used to have in the 40s and 50s for neighborhoods? Like Lovell’s or some of the other directories? They used these to make sure people actually know each other.

Garden City Community

Douglas [00:03:17] Yeah. Oh I didn’t even know about that Lovell’s. But this community here was designed. The CMHC was one of the chief financers and it brought in the architects and engineers. They designed it as a garden city based on Frederick Olmsted’s work. Not by him but based on his work.

What they’ve done is that the roads are peripheral. I’m on the corner of Bergevin and Jean Milot but Bergevin kind of goes in an arc around the community. Normally where there would be lanes between the buildings there aren’t. It’s open green space instead.

But none of Frederick Olmsted’s projects—including Park Mont Royal in Montreal nor Central Park in New York City—were really realized as garden cities.

Cement Board Composter

Tracey [00:04:15] So we’re going to just take a little bit of a tour around outside. Please excuse the wind. We’re not going to be doing this very long.

OK so now we’re just outside and we are next to a cement composter which I’ve been hearing about for a very long time because Doug and I do all sorts of local community stuff together. So tell me what you’re doing here.

Douglas [00:04:42] OK. A lot of fear of composting has to do with rats and mice and a fear of feeding them. So many people don’t compost partially because those populations can grow.

So this is cement board composter. Cement board came out about 30, 40 or 50 years ago and it’s very durable. This one is nine years old and it has no sign of degradation whereas the regular wooden ones that they’re building—and some cities are using—they last about six years before they are unusable. So this one is in perfect condition and it probably could last 60 years or maybe even 100 years.

I’m a designer I’ve worked in design for 50 years and so I thought oh let’s bring together cement board with composting. This one has the aeration on the corners and so it works quite well. I can get three or four harvests out of here a year.

Because it’s cement board, it can handle dampness. I bring out my dishwater and I just pour it in and it cleans the bucket at the same time and it wets down the material. Wet material will decompose three to four times faster than dry materials.

Regular use of Leaf Mulch

[00:06:07] And here we’ve got mulching. Every year I’ve been putting in about 400 garbage bags full of leaves and grass clippings and wood chips. And so I’ve got a lot of plants underneath here including those are roses, and plums and cherry.

[00:06:37] What the leaves do is they insulate the roots so that it’s a busy all winter. Three months ago I dug down and the worms were crawling around.

Tracey [00:06:48] Wow.

Douglas [00:06:49] Then in the morning there were about five kind of robins in here and they were they were picking at all the worms. Wildlife are working for us. They’re doing lots of jobs.

This compost has branches on the to hold the leaves. And I’ve done that pretty much all around and against the house because that’s insulating the basement in the wintertime.

[00:07:24] So the leaves next to the basement wall are doing two functions they’re decomposing and they’re insulating the base and then over here and so do you remove them in the spring like now or very shortly from now from the side of the house so you leave them there.

[00:07:38] I believe I’ll leave those ones there because those are my grape vines there. So the grapes need they need it. They can use some really deep soils.

[00:07:48] This here is just a leaf compost. This leaf compost, I put about 60 bags into there and it doesn’t look like it because it gets really big. The kids come in and they jump on here like a trampoline and they pack it down for me.

Using Trees for Fruit and Syrup

[00:08:17] This will be added to the garden. This is an apple tree right here. And these are cherries.

Tracey [00:08:23] And do you get a lot of fruit?

Douglas We get wonderful fruit. Really it’s really been abundant this year. I’m still eating dried apples from the garden and Sumac that we grow.

[00:08:39] Now it’s come to the end of the season and we’ve been harvesting sap from the maple tree maple. We’ve had about three weeks of maple sap now.

[00:08:52] The last day was yesterday. And you can see it’s not dripping now anymore but I’ve done the method I’ve used for the first time is a wedge method rather than a drill method.

Tracey [00:09:07] I noticed that that’s interesting now what did you get them in?

Douglas [00:09:15] Well I took an axe and I tapped it in and I don’t know the method exactly but it’s the First Nation method when the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka here, were people of the flint. They were named that mostly because their primary products were maple taps made in the form of wedges going into the tree. OK. The main advantage of the me of the wedge method is that when I take out these from the slit, it will heal within a few weeks.

[00:09:53] Whereas I’ve got I could show you on here.

[00:09:57] I’m not focusing right now but some holes that I made with the old method and they never heal. Right. And so it damages the trees year after year after year. Whereas the wedge method still I’m still learning about it working it out OK but that’s it that’s with the First Nations approach with which there’s many things that we never learned.

[00:10:22] How are we doing for time?

Tracey We’re just about finished the outdoor portion but we only have to do one little section so these are.

Douglas So here we have pears, and cherries and apples.

Tracey Currents are nitrogen fixers so that’s also very good for everything growing around.

Douglas [00:10:47] Here are some sumacs.

Tracey [00:10:48] Yeah. I’m surprised you don’t have sumacs everywhere because sumacs usually spread.

Douglas I eat the sprouts.

Tracey Oh, you do with the sprouts like I do with dandelions. So basically harvest them instead of taking them out.

Douglas [00:11:05] So yeah. So things are coming up here. Different plants will come up here and Himalayan balsam and this is this is a wonderful cherry tree and it does really well. It looks good. You can see how strong it’s doing.

Tracey [00:11:19] What kind of cherry?

Douglas It’s a sour. I like the sour.

Tracey Sour cherries are lovely. They make great pie too.

Douglas Yeah good. So now we can go around to the back.

[00:11:38] Under here of course, I’ve insulated. You know that’s part of the basement. I take all the leaves I can get.

Tracey [00:11:47] All right. So we’re finished the outdoor portion and now we’re just going to go back inside.

Douglas OK good.

Tracey So so now we’re back inside so that’s the sound quality is a little bit better.

[00:11:58] And now we can actually talk about your history and where even what you’re what you’re trying to accomplish could get so.

Community Diversity

Douglas [00:12:08] So we’ve taken the digital approach to community development.

[00:12:12] We have two software programmers both have their masters. One in information technology, the other one in communications. And the approach we’re taking is that the human resource catalog will be on the web. Today people are even though I think more disconnected than previously. But through the web, they can get to know each other and find a reason for saying hello and find a reason for using each other’s goods and services.

So in a local walkable community like here—which 40 acres so it means that people can walk from one side to the other typically in two minutes. So getting those economic relations going. Now some people here we have 500 Slavs. I mean that means Russian Polish Ukrainian Yugosalvian. And then there then we have about 500 Arabic speakers and we have about 500 Spanish speakers. Most of the guys working on the grounds here are Spanish speakers. But each one of them bring their incredible traditions. And often these are very indigenous traditions that they’re bringing from different places.

Gardening and Pesticide Use

Douglas We have a community garden here that’s 700 meters by 30 meters wide. That community garden, there’s there’s hundreds of people eating off of that garden every year now. So there will be surpluses there that they could trade with each other.

The composting would really help, because the number one ingredient of recycling is composting. Once the compost is taken out nothing else smells. Everything else is clean. So we’ve been trying to get the eco quartier into the program. They’re very interested, but you know they’re on a very low low budget, and most of their budget is around education in the schools. So Lucas Gonzales, he wants to get the compost started here.

So here we have a private corporation that owns a property. I think that they do a pretty good job, except for when they spray Roundup or there’s some things that they’re just not. We’ve had a real problem with them around pesticides and actually we took them to court before Montreal and Quebec passed the no cosmetic pesticides use.

[00:15:03] So in the end we won, but we didn’t win in the court case. because the judge of course is up at their college using their pesticides and not believing that there’s anything wrong. So we showed it to them. They’re still using Roundup which is shown to be a carcinogen. Someone just won a 170 million dollar lawsuit that was reduced down to 70 million dollars as a groundskeeper working in a school.

Human Resource Catalogue

Douglas [00:15:36] So here we are we’re with the do we know who we are project, the concept is that people know each other they trade locally they can earn some of their living. Eventually when it’s well organized that means more and more and more people are involved in knowing each other and more of the local economy can be done locally.

[00:15:59] I mean people who are traveling two hours to work you know to go and clean houses or something can do it locally.

[00:16:10] So saving four hours a day of traveling is a big lifesaver.

Tracey Yeah it’s a big huge life saver.

Douglas [00:16:18] So our approach to community development is not ideal so much as livelihood based. So how do we make sure that people are earning a living that they’re enjoying to do. And so the catalog helps people to present themselves and present what they like to do. And then as much as possible help people get the jobs that they like to do and to grow spiritually and economically.

Tracey [00:16:49] Right now you’ve created an organization. It’s not actually a nonprofit. [00:16:54] It’s a different kind of work innovation to get some of these together. What kind of organization is it and how many people are involved?

Douglas [00:17:00] Well we are. I’m the president of the Sustainable Development Association which is a Canadian non-profit since 1994. We’re a Canadian corporation. And we have a subgroup called indigene community. So indigene is an old English word but it’s also French and Spanish and Italian and German and most of Europe uses the term indigene instead of indigenous.

[00:17:33] And what we’re doing is I’ve been working with First Nations for 55 years and on different projects and been living in and across Canada and different places with First Nations.

Learning Indigene Ways

Douglas [00:17:48] And so my understanding is that indigenous law, the economic laws that they use, the accounting methods, the governance methods that they used in their communities in their multi- home buildings could be a huge service to people today. Now we didn’t learn those because we came in violently and we immediately replaced what was here with the failure that we brought from Europe. So we were coming as failures. We were coming as refugees from a bad system that had failed. Now the oligarchs paid for our trip to get rid of us. But they had us impose their failure on this new territory because they wanted to milk it for money just like they milk every other place. And so here we are promoting failure in a place that was very successful in terms of ecological abundance and working with rivers and water and trees and plants.

[00:19:05] Our goal is to is that we’re all indigenous we’re all originally indigenous from all around the world and the poly-culture orchards of Europe and Africa and Asia and Australia kept these lands humid and productive for thousands of species of animals and huge abundance in food, materials, energy, water etc.

Tracey [00:19:35] So that’s what you’re working on. Are you working on aid projects across Canada with any groups at the moment?

Douglas [00:19:39] We’ll get in touch with old friends from British Columbia where I lived for seven years and then I have First Nation friends from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

[00:19:57] And so we’re corresponding and working in that way.

Tracey [00:20:11] And then I guess those are the questions that I really wanted to talk to you about. Was there anything that you were hoping to mention before I get to my last question.

Douglas [00:20:20] Well, our website which is Indigenecommunity.info has had close to 20,000 different people come and visit it and 25,000 visits and they’ve read 39,500 pages.

[00:20:47] So there we have 77 web sections on the website of different questions that people might ask about food production, about governance, about accounting, about all forms of living and so that people might find it useful.

Tracey [00:21:08] Yeah I link to that in show-notes. I know that when I was reading that I mean this is managing abundance for sure. There are several decades of information on that website. So it’s definitely the kind of thing where you need to take your time and just go through it slowly and can you tell me maybe your favorite article on there that you think people should definitely read?

Trees as the Basis of a Food Ecosystem

Douglas [00:21:32] Well one of the things I found out from living amongst First Nations and being in First Nation areas and seeing the ancient poly-culture orchards that they grew. So when the Europeans came over they were looking for low plants. So corn made sense to them and beans made sense and squash and potatoes made sense to them.

But way way up 30, 40, 50 meters up in the sky were these trees that were producing huge amounts of nuts and fruit and greens.

And the trees changed the climate. Every tree is a heat pump. If you have a Montreal island with half a billion heat pumps, guess what happens to the climate? It gets warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

So with tree production, the roots are going down tens of metres and pumping water and mining minerals and developing nutrient colonies deep into the ground. The canopy of the tree is photosynthesizing. It’s a combination. When you look at photosynthesis of solar rays and also heat absorption, it’s clear that poly-culture orchards were using 92 to 98 per cent of the solar energy that was shining down in that area.

Tracey [00:23:04] S did they a planting system with trees like the systems that we just talked you the corn and bean and squash. Did they have a typical planting?

Douglas [00:23:13] Yeah, but the oak is core.

Right across the northern hemisphere—even in the southern hemisphere—the oak is a primary human food and it’s one that people don’t develop allergies to. It’s very nutritious. It has the old oak tree roots because they are the roots or are mining minerals they’re putting the foods are very mineralized means that we’re getting the minerals are really key for protein and starches and incorporation into the body and the use of all the cells really need that mineral component.

Tracey So what do you eat off oak?

Douglas The acorn. And so you see, Montreal was known for the wild acorn, the white acorn. You can actually eat it. The red and brown and black acorns, you have to soak those in water. But the white acorn you can eat directly.

Tracey OK so you eat it like a chestnut or something like it.

Douglas Like a nut, it can be cooked. It’s used a lot in Lebanese cooking. The flours are made so they make the pancakes.

[00:24:31] So like we harvested 110 kilograms of butternuts last year from a local tree.

[00:24:39] And that that came down to just 12 kilograms of nuts in the shell because people would eat the nuts as just nuts and making flour out of that. Yeah. So you can make flour or things but generally very highly nutritious protein and oils oils are excellent. The enzymes are just rich rich foods and so we have jars upon jars of butternuts. A butternut is a walnut. It’s a type of walnut. It’s called the white walnut.

Poly-culture Orchards versus Fields of Wheat

Douglas OK. And so poly-culture orchards are more abundant than other systems.

[00:25:26] I’ve done the comparisons. If you had an area the size of this the bottom floor of this townhouse say it’s 50 square meters.

[00:25:41] If it was just a little bit longer so that would be about seven metres by seven metres and that could support say one tree and the 150 year old trees that used to be the average age of the oak could produce up to 10 ton of acorns in one mast year. Typically about 2 or 3 tons, but say 10 tons in a mast year. The same area. I also worked in agriculture. So I worked in wheat production. The same area of wheat could only produce 3 kilograms. Well compare three tons or ten tons in a mast year, say once every 7 years. Three kilograms compared to three tons.

Tracey [00:26:32] Now that’s what are you doing with that? That’s not for flour.

Douglas That’s the nut

Tracey With the wheat, we’re producing flour out of it.

Douglas Yeah.

Tracey And so what are you producing? Like when you’re saying three times is it just the nut itself three times or what would you produce out of it?

Douglas [00:26:47] Yeah. So the nut would have to be de-husked and the shell taken off but it’s nice because the tree is drying it so it’s a bit drier than the wheat that we’ve got.

[00:27:01] The wheat has to be dried to be processed too. It has to be de-husked too. So both of them are being reduced down from the original harvest. But with butternut acorns, say the 3 tons of acorns coming off those old trees. Now you have to feed the tree because you can’t just take from nature. You have to give back.

Tracey So you’re producing a lot of compost pretty much all the stuff you’d take off of that.

Douglas That’s right. So whether you use your husks or the garden waste or kitchen cuttings or whatever you’ve got, you’re feeding that tree and it’s processing materials for you.

So we use the ratio of 100-fold that the poly-culture orchards in the same space, the same ground space, will produce about 100 times more. They will water themselves, they will fertilize themselves. They will handle everything so that there’s no work.

Tracey [00:28:19] Well there’s work to harvest to harvest and to actually produce something out of the nut. Now they like the Black walnut in that they’re really tough to open too. Or are they more like a chestnut where you can just put a hole in it and cook it and then it releases more easily.

Douglas [00:28:36] Yeah it’s more like the. The butternut that I’ve got can be very big and it can be easy, but that’s a matter of breeding and feeding.

[00:28:47] So the the butternuts that my Russian neighbours give me from Moldova are rich and succulent and big and fat and actually fatter than our walnuts in the store. That’s because they’ve bred them over a thousand years say or 2000 years.

So all of these nuts whether it’s the Russian ones or the ones that I’ve got here, it would take a culture of people working with them too but they’re certainly delicious in the meantime. They are a little bit harder like the black walnut so it’s more more difficult to open. OK but the black walnut as well can be bred and fed to and serve it just in terms of like that.

Cracking Nuts with Vice-grips

Tracey [00:29:38] So you’re not selling the jars of walnuts or anything like that. What are you doing with the actual food?

Douglas [00:29:45] Oh I’m cracking them open with my vice-grips.

Tracey and then just eating them that way.

Douglas Yeah just eating them that way. I just consider it well you know…

Tracey I had to use a sledge hammer on my last black walnut. It was so impossible.

Douglas Vice-grips would be a bit easier.

Tracey I’ll have to try it. The vice-grip might be a bit easier.

Douglas [00:30:10] The problem is that the food from our grocery store is empty. It has practically no minerals.

Tracey Well these were black walnuts from a family farm.

Douglas Yeah yeah. No I mean what to explain why we work with what we’ve got that’s wild. It’s because when we go and buy green vegetables or things from the store, they have very very little to offer us in terms of vitamins, minerals, enzymes. They’re just empty foods. I mean there’s certainly more than packaged fast foods, but there they have very little in them compared with getting plants. Now we can work with those, and get both from them but we will we have to become a responsible people again.

Tracey [00:31:00] Well and that’s what we’re working towards. I know that at Eco2fest, there was an interesting company working on a little machine or a little tool that you could use to open black walnuts. [00:31:12] I’m really hoping that that works. That was really awesome.

All right so the poly-culture orchard that’s the one.

Douglas [00:31:26] You know we put it under orchard food production efficiencies. We’re comparing we’re using it as a comparative place of comparison with agriculture. The word agriculture comes from the Latin adjure. Adjure means field.

[00:31:43] So from the Latin. So what we’ve got agriculture and what’s strange is that you know I’ve known many profs from McGill and they just throw up their hands because the agro business has so much control over McDonald College.

[00:31:59] They’ve been there for decades and they can’t make a change in teaching. Well, they teach what they know. But all of the marking and all is according to what agribusiness is telling them to do.

Tracey [00:32:18] Well I guess people are looking for jobs too. So it’s those are the ones that are available.

Douglas [00:32:23] So even though even though the poly culture orchards would be 100 times more productive in inherent in any area including in the cities where they grow vertically next to her buildings right. That’s really important if we want to bring food security to to our our city areas are down.

Tracey [00:32:43] So we I was looking for recipes because if you have one recipe that people really want to have then they’re willing to get they’re willing to do a lot. Like for I know many people no longer eat currents but at our market when currents are available there’s a couple of people who come in because they’re making the jam that their grandmother has passed through the family and so just finding a good recipe. So if you have a good recipe for oak in particular or one or the other nuts, let me know and I’ll look specifically to that because I think that’s important.

Douglas [00:33:15] Yeah we can do it we can do that.

[00:33:17] Before you go, I’ll crack open a couple of the white butternuts. You’ll see how easy it is with the vice-grips.

Tracey [00:33:31] Perfect. Actually I’ll take a video of you and we can put that in there shown us as well. Yeah awesome. All right. And now you know we get to the last question which I gave you ahead of time so you’ll be able to think about it do you consider yourself a Canadian? [00:33:42] And if so what does that mean to you?

Canadian as “Person of the Village”

Douglas [00:33:44] Well the word Canada comes from the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka people of the flint and the word Kaná:ta means village.

[00:34:04] When Jacques Cartier came and he asked “what’s the name of this country” and they said, maybe not understanding the European concept of states and countries, said well this is Kaná:ta. So “we are people of the village.”

[00:34:32] All our indigenous ancestors were whether they were Celtic people from Europe, from Africa, from Australia. from Asia. This was an international system. They were all using string-shell and living in villages. They were all living in hundred-person multi-home dwelling complexes because they considered that the intergenerational interaction between the grandparents and the children and the aunts and uncles and the different families having a critical mass and economies of scale.

[00:35:09] What’s interesting today is that 70 per cent of our population’s live in multi-home dwellings. That’s the size that all our indigenous ancestors were looking for. Actually 100 people represents about 32 units. It turns out that the average size of our multi-home buildings is 32 units. So it’s just a very efficient unit. Even capitalism has rebuilt on that model.

So Kaná:ta. I’m a Kaná:tien, which means that I believe in redeveloping these fractals because we’re so dependent on the top so the trillionaire oligarchs at the top who control the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—they captured control of the top.

[00:36:13] We don’t have that. So they’re just commanding and controlling whole populations. In fact they think that there’s probably about 10 times too many people on earth because they don’t know how to appreciate nature.

If every person just collected their poo and bio-digested their poo in a methonization chamber, we would have gas, we would have fertilizer, we would our trees would grow bigger, our butternuts would grow bigger.

[00:36:45] Are all of our food would be very very easy just as it was.

Working One Hour a Day

Douglas You know people, researchers like Peter Kropotkin back in the 19th century, and Tolstoy and others, when they were looking at indigenous people they were describing that these people were working one hour per day.

[00:37:05] Indigenous people worldwide were working one hour per day instead of ten hours per day.

Tracey [00:37:10] So that’s basically even better than Tim Ferris’ four-hour workweek.

Douglas [00:37:15] It’s based on nature and also human association.

Tracey So getting back to Canada you’re a person of the village

Douglas Yeah.

Tracey So what does that mean to you?

Douglas [00:37:28] Well we already live, 70% of us live in village complexes. Some kind of architecture that’s clustered where we’re sharing walls, ceilings, floors but we don’t know how to live together. And so the ancient string-shell, which was time-based accounting, that included the domestic, industrial and commercial work.

Today’s economy only accounts for commercial and industrial and doesn’t account for the domestic. So people who are doing the most important work of taking care of children and elders and looking after our very well-being, their work isn’t accounted for. It’s mostly in women but also some men too. And so redeveloping these economies right where we live already. We don’t have to move to some perfect community just where we are. So the software is designed that people will know each other. Will be able to associate with each other and trade with each other. Everything is accounted for just like it was with the string-shell.

So there were two aspects to indigenous life were the multi home and within the multi home they had the string-shell. The string-shell meant that everything was accounted for. All contributions were recognized. So celebrated and all. And then in time, when issues came up whether positive or negative they had council process so that people would sit down together and within the circle. So the circle was kind of like a recording device, a feedback machine and people would talk with each other with each given equal time according to the traditions. So bringing these two aspects together so that people can live together and work together again.

Tracey [00:39:27] All right well thank you very much I really appreciate your time. Great interview.

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Books that gave us hope

Journalists who write for the Tyee recommend a fascinating list of 13 non-fiction books published in the last decade to give us hope for the future. I've put all these books on my reading list for 2020, but I don't think they will leave me hopeful. Most of the authors who recommend them don't seem to have the same definition of hope as I do. Geoff Dembicki certainly doesn't. His argument in favour of P. E. Moskowitz's 2017 book about the machinations behind gentrification stems makes it clear that he appreciates the book for its clear reasoning around what can be done now.

How to Kill a City is not optimistic in the traditional sense, but by revealing in precise detail the true drivers of gentrification, it allowed me to feel a sense of agency about an issue that has always stirred in me feelings of guilt — and these days I’m willing to call that hope."
At least I think that's what he means by "sense of agency," although I won't be sure until I read it too. My community certainly is facing gentrification now, so perhaps it's worth looking at this book to see what's next. Part of me resists reading it because of that, however. I'm not sure that anything can be done or that I can have a hand in doing it. Thanks to Dembicki's high praise, however, my curiosity has been aroused. Most of the other books describe climate change, residential schools, sexual abuse, the fall of civilization, murder, war, colonization and despair. Only people who believe deeply in the power of transparency and truth could find hope in stories about these topics. Luckily, I don't need to read them for hope. For me, it's enough that I'm curious about the issues described within this list of books. Their appearance on a list of best nonfiction in a decade shows that they're well-written too. Reading stories by people who have studied important issues in an in-depth way is worth doing. If one or two helps me better understand the reality we live in so that I can be part of a consensus that will create the change we need moving forward, that will be awesome, but not at all necessary. That said, I suspect I'll read two of the most hopeful stories first. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things Are Better Than You Think By Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund and The Global Forest By Diana Beresford-Kroeger. How about you? Which of these stories have you read? Which ones do you want to read next?

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Honouring Fred Christie

One-time Verdun resident Fred Christie took on racial injustice in Canada in 1936. The crusader is in the news again this week thanks to Jonathan Montpetit, from the CBC. Montpetit’s article features the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) campaign for wider recognition for Christie.

He chose to take the owner of the York Tavern to court after he refused to serve him.

Christie initially won $25, but he lost on appeal. The case took three years to get to the Supreme Court of Canada. There, Christie lost again.

The Supreme Court decision was rendered on December 9th, 1939 and published in 1940. It said in part:

the general principle of the law of Quebec is that of complete freedom of commerce.” Specifying further, the judgment states that “any merchant is free to deal as he may choose with any individual member of the public […] the only restriction to this general principle would be the existence of a specific law, or, in the carrying out of the principle, the adoption of a rule contrary to good morals or public order.”

After losing his case, Christie left Montreal.

His efforts initiated a series of events that eventually led to the 1975 Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.


Notes

According to Kristian Gravenor in Coolopolis, Christie lived at 716 Galt.

For more information about Christie, refer to Eric Adam’s article in the Canadian Encyclopedia or the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal page.

Rachel Décoste wrote about Christie in the Huffington Post in 2014.

The NFB included Christie in their Journey to Justice film. (The Christie segment begins at minute 9.46.)

On February 4, 2016, the borough of Verdun and the official committee for Black History Month in Montreal paid hommage to Mr. Christie and set up a page in his honour. That page has since been removed. The borough’s overview about that evening and an article in the Suburban both mention that event.

*Please note: a previous version of this post included a photo of activist Hugh Burnett instead of Christie. Apologies for this error.

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