Two years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Roch Carrier, a wonderful author who wrote a series of diverse works from La Guerre, Yes Sir to The Hockey Sweater to his latest novel Demain, j’écris un roman.
He also directed the Canada Council for the Arts in the early 1990s and became National Librarian of Canada in 1997.
Carrier became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1991 and also serves as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Most of our conversation focussed on The Hockey Sweater, which became a musical last winter in the latest of a multitude of diverse creations.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which took place in early 2017.
So I guess the first thing I would like to say is congratulations. It seems like you’re everywhere these days.
Yes there is a lot of things that are happening and I’m very lucky.
Is there a strategy about this? Did someone reach out to you?
No, there is no strategy around that story. The story is getting more and more popular because I don’t know why. It’s a good story. There was never a special strategy around that story. You know, it was just an anecdote that I turned into a story.
and they have been connecting for sometimes three generations.[00:02:13 I was in Calgary some days ago. And there were grandparents asking me to sign the book that they had when they were kids. The grandmother told me ‘oh I read that story when I was a little girl. I read it to my kids.’ [00:02:43] That’s amazing. There is no marketing that can do that. It just happens. [00:02:58] You captured I think the sentiment of a lot of people in that story
Yes you know when I go to schools by example and before reading, I ask the kids ‘did it happen to you that you had to wear something that you didn’t want to wear.[00:03:23] All of the hands raise, you know. [00:03:28] Everybody has had that type of experience. Maybe it’s because of that that this story is successful. [00:03:55]There’s the book, the NFB film, the play and the musical. It’s almost like every decade or so someone comes up with a new way to present it. [00:04:23] Yes. Every activity is like a gift to me.
I have this symphony thing that I’ve been doing now for five years. Abigail Richardson composed symphony music around the story. And it started very small I think.
So I was I received a phone call asking me ‘would you be free for one evening to read the story with the symphony orchestra.’ I answer yes because I like a challenge I like to do what I never did. I like to do anything that I’ve never done.[00:05:26] And then we were in Toronto. I think we gave 14 readings at the Roy Thompson Hall.
And I’m very happy because am going back to Toronto in two or three weeks from now.
When do you do that?
I would be doing the same thing again. Reading the Hockey Sweater Story with the symphony orchestra. I mean it’s wonderful. You know people come and they wear sweaters.
So for the musicians you know they put the sweaters over their outfits. It’s such a good mood you know. Not once was there tension. There are always multiple sweaters. Everyone has so much pleasure with this hockey mood at the symphony orchestra.
The music is great.[00:07:00] It’s amazing these. Just two weeks ago I was in Kingston, and I think the players in the symphony and so they were hockey boys and hockey girls too playing this music. And having fun and at the same time you know I heard them talking like musicians, between musicians, and talking about the quality of that music. It’s entertaining and at the same time, it’s good music.
For me, it’s a new experience because even if I listen to a lot of music and I know musicians, I don’t have a sense of rhythm. I have nothing as a musician. So for me to be to come into that universe is quite interesting.[00:08:10] Now the Segal will be doing a musical.
Before talking about that, I want to tell you a story. After reading in Calgary, after the Symphony was applauded and all that, somebody came on the stage and I was made a Member of the Order of the Black Hat, and I received a huge white cowboy hat. And I had to make some kind of statement about how I would wear this hat. It was explained that it was like giving this hat was like I was receiving the keys to the city. And I had to declare that Calgary was the Queen of the cow town.
I had an objection. But if I say that, and another city doesn’t agree with that, they can sue me! But all that was made with humour with laughter.
It is a very special project and it’s very exciting. I don’t know much yet about it. This morning, I just received the libretto, the text of the story.
But I told him that I didn’t want to get too involved you know because I want to keep a certain freshness if it’s a word around that story and I don’t want to turn it upside down. No. It’s there and it’s amazing to learn that.
Now it’s many years ago, over 35 years ago, when a publisher wanting to do a book and Sheldon Cohen, the artist would make the drawings and he was asking me a lot of question and I was very impressed by the way this at the time unilingual English speaking man would talk to my unilingual French-speaking mother. I was there with them and I could not talk to them. They were involved in something. I think they were discussing the curtains in my childhood room or something like that. It was a good encounter with Shelton.
And at the end what we were talking about the book and the drawings and I had two young daughters and they were playing a lot in the swimming pool and using another diving board. And so I said to Sheldon, this story is your diving board. And that’s what he did. And it’s just wonderful, inventive, fresh, a lot of action and a lot of humour.
So I decided to give the same advice and have the same attitude for Emil Sher’s project. I told Emil, I don’t want to be involved. I might give you information if you want, but I don’t want to be involved in the writing. Use it as your diving board.
So they can bring their own creativity to it.
I guess you would never have so many versions of The Hockey Sweater if you had tried to keep control over everything.
Yes exactly. Exactly. But again it wasn’t a strategy it was just what I was thinking at the moment I made a decision.
So it was just a happy strategy without knowing it, an unintentional strategy.
So you obviously enjoy working in new ways to present it.
In St. Justine, Quebec, the small village I come from, they decided—it is a very small village, there is 1,800 population but there is a lot of dynamism there. (Roch recorded his memories of his small town in an NFB film.)
There is a lot of creativity and a group of students and citizens got together and made a theatrical adaptation for the theatre of one of my books. In French, it is called Les Enfants de Bonhomme dans la lune.
It was translated in English as The Hockey Sweater and other stories. They will have a premiere, an opening Saturday. This Saturday. So I’m going to my small village and there will be this opening. There will be 12 actors on the stage. Oh my God, I think they have music all day. It’s supported by the Caisse Populaire and a big company called Rotobec. They do some mechanical arms. You know. Like an arm that could go to the forest clean the branches off the trees and put the tree in the back of the truck. So they are producing that. It’s an invention of a gentleman in the village you know. He started in his small garage, he was building cars and suddenly we have engineers there. We have designers.
I think it will be wonderful.
I’m very very very curious to see them. You know, they make things happen. They are not waiting for somebody else to save them. They do the job.
Oh my God, that’s wonderful. And have you been back there very often?
Yes. Most of the time, I go once a year. Now I must say that most of the people I grew up with disappeared. I think I’m one of the last ones that are surviving so there is less on people that I know. But I still have some family, a sister, a brother. So I go at least once a year.
How old are you?
I will be 80 in two months in May. OK. Well, I think it doesn’t matter.[00:18:22] Oh that’s good to know. It’s nice to be talking to somebody who is comfortable with their age and still have so many adventures. Almost like a new world. Now that leads back to the city. You’ve been living in Montreal for many years now?
Can you tell me a little bit about how you feel about the city and how it’s changed and how those changes have influenced you?
That’s a good question. Yes, the city changed.
My wife and I are big walkers, you know. Both of us, when we do our walking in the morning, sometimes we explore the city. It’s quite interesting to walk on Sherbrooke towards the east and we have to say that most of the buildings that we see now were not there when both of us arrived in Montreal. That’s quite something. You have new areas that are developed.
And there’s St. Henri. It’s an area that I know very well because sometimes I was working with a theatre company and we had our offices in St. Henri. So for three years, I was with that company in St. Henri so I know the place quite well and it’s amazing now to go back to the same streets and to see what happened…the changes that happened in terms of building, in terms of population. That’s really amazing.[00:20:21] And can you tell me how that affected you? Has it affected the projects you take on? What do you think about Montreal these days?
It’s a very pretty city. People are open-minded. There is a lot happening. We have a lot of freedom. I like Montreal.
We have to decide what we want to do. Even though there is a lot of dynamism, there is a feeling of what do we want to do? What do we want to do in ten years from now? And how do we want to reach that? For me, it’s missing.[00:21:31] It’s sort of an ad hoc place of many orange cones.
And when I see what’s happening today in Montreal, and in Quebec, I feel that there is something like that. It’s not a way of having substance.[00:22:39] Yes. We need a vision. [00:22:42] But having said that, Montreal and all of Quebec is enjoyable. We have our kids and they have access to affordable education. When I think that in the U.S. to go to university would cost $60,000 and more. To see the conditions, I think we should be happy and then say, I love those conditions and I’m saying we have to work. [00:24:03] Well you seem to be doing your part.
It was Duplessis time and during the election time, they were building roads.
Like they are now.
So I had my blue jeans. I had brown working boots. I had blisters on my hand. That was painful. I remember one of the workers was not really good to me because I missed my turn throwing my shovel of gravel in the truck. And he asked me what are you doing? Are you a man? Are you made of a mans’ dung? Yeah. So I was 14 years old and had blisters and dirty and all that.
And the boss of that they took that guy and told him that he was a huge big fat nothing with swearing and that.
And then the boss came to me and he said, look you’re working. Your job is to put gravel in the truck. If you can’t put the gravel in the truck, the gravel will not jump in the truck.
Since then, I’ve studied at university. I studied Latin and I studied Greek. But the principle that drove my life came from this one man. “If you don’t put the gravel in the truck, the gravel will not jump in the truck.”
I told that story last June. I received a doctor’s degree from the University of Vancouver and I was speaking to something like 200 students graduating with BA’s and sciences and doctors of sciences. And I told them that story and I got letters and e-mails saying thank you for this. And while many of those students were from Japan or China now you know and I was really amazed, because I was just saying an anecdote but it touched them.[00:27:49] Yeah but the principle of your life. You’re able to accomplish things because you always keep moving forward.
You were saying you were publishing a new book. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yes. It’s done. It’s in French. It’s not yet translated, but I think it will be. It’s called Demain matin, j’écris un roman. [Tomorrow, I write a novel.]
It’s about me that after having spent more than 30 years writing history, doing research, and checking documentation, checking history books. So I’ve finished with that and I’m going back to fiction. About what happens in the head, in the brain of a writer who’s going back to fiction and he’s enjoying so much his freedom.
And everything happens and a lot doesn’t happen too. And when something is not happening is happening you know it’s wonderful.
I was lucky enough to interview Shawn and Tereska on Valentine’s Day last month. They were a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
We began with each of them introducing themselves and describing what they care about most when it comes to their jobs.
[00:01:30] I love teaching people. So I guess that’s the thing that I like the best about her business is teaching. But more specifically, teaching people how to have a vegetable garden. Just teaching them that it’s okay to get your hands dirty and it’s okay to make mistakes, which is really what it’s all about.[00:02:05] It’s about having successes and failures just like everything in life.
[00:02:11] And it’s a great way to learn to take life a little bit less seriously and just kind of go with the flow and it doesn’t always work, but you try your best. And you have fun doing it. I find that that is my motto for everything in life and that gardening is really what got me there. Which is kind of weird. But, that’s the truth. That’s kind of who I am. And doing that more specifically in schools with kids is something that is so fun to do. It’s tiring, but it’s really very rewarding and I love doing that.
My proudest thing or favourite thing about what we’re doing is the growth. When we started back in 2010, nobody was talking about urban agriculture. It was just like a tiny little niche nobody was talking about. It has been really fun to get in on the ground floor of what is now a movement that has taken on a lot of steam and it’s very exciting.
And so through my work as the owner of Urban Seedling, I’m able to be involved in all sorts of other great urban agriculture movements like Cultiver Montreal and there’s a great urban agriculture project coming on the rooftop of a big parking lot in Verdun called Camp Éthel. And of course our wonderful Grand Potager Urban Agriculture Centre at the Verdun greenhouses. So what really gets me out of bed in the morning is that kind of larger scale planning and being able to grow the idea and the practice of urban agriculture on a municipal level.
[00:06:13] So this week, I was invited to take part in an evaluation of profession for the future profession of a horticulturalist specializing in sustainable landscaping. This was with the Ministry of Education. I was part of a panel for a group of 13 other specialist horticulturalists that are in specific areas of sustainable landscaping and I was there representing the edible landscaping kind of urban agriculture.[00:07:22] Between the 13 of us, we are essentially creating the curriculum to train the future generation of horticulturalists that want to then take the next step in their education.
[00:07:45] So it’s going to be offered as a specialization. After they graduate they’re DEC in ag in horticulture to become a specialist. As someone that is specializing in sustainable horticultural practice and so it was really really interesting. I got to meet some amazing people and learned a lot about a lot of different aspects of sustainable agriculture that I didn’t really know much about and I’m super excited to dive really deeper into a few of those areas and learn more about it and maybe incorporate some of those things into what we do at Urban Seedling because we always wanted…you know initially, our goal was to just to do urban agriculture and to teach people how to grow food. And as an entrepreneur, and wanting to be viable and not go bankrupt… by successful, that’s like a whole other ball game. We just want to survive until the next season.
You can only grow vegetables for so long in the season. You know. It’s a season within a season within a season that you can actually do work and make money and pay your bills and pay for your trucks and your employees and all your things.
And so we decided that it would be in our best interests to do a few more traditional services like landscaping. I have a background in that. My family are all entrepreneurs and all involved in different aspects of construction. And so I learned how to do a lot of that landscaping stuff when I was younger. and Trevor, our partner, that’s the aspect of our business that he has really helped to grow that side of it so that we can continue working and stay above board.
But that’s not what we initially intended it nor is it really part of what we want to be doing.[00:10:24] No I think you’re trying to say is that we’re really excited to take our business into it an even more sustainable future and to be able to really do better in the world in all parts of the business so that our success as entrepreneurs the more success we have, the better that the world is in a little way.
[00:10:46] And to be fair the sustainable landscaping movement is growing and so is the kind of thing that people are getting a lot more informed about and that’s all well we’re doing more yeah. [00:10:58] We are well-placed and we actually care about it, and we actually want to do it.[00:11:08] You know it’s not like someone who is approaching a big huge company and saying oh can you do this like a sustainable thing that I’ve heard about or that I’ve read about and the company be like oh you know we really do that but I don’t know let’s see maybe we can do a little something like that for you whereas I would like to position ourselves as being the experts in those specific fields.
And that’s what will set us apart and that’s what you know we we’ve strive for.
[00:12:04] I really want to continue to be a big part of developing the industry across the Greater Montreal region. Urban Seedling, right now, I believe is considered a leader in the industry. I want to continue to develop the market and to really push hard on adding more and more and more people who are interested in just rethinking the way that they view their garden and that they view their yard.
I want it to become mainstream to look at your yard and say ‘this should be an edible oasis.’ There should be pollinator gardens, and there should be a huge vegetable garden that’s super productive and there should be fruit trees and there should be a berry hedge instead of cedars.
[00:13:11] And really also think about maintaining a yard in an ecological way and that the default should not be traditional gardening. It should not automatically equal using pesticides and herbicides and planting plants that are not meant to be in our climate and then trying to manage them with all sorts of chemicals. I don’t want that to be the default anymore.
I want to work on getting people excited about biodiversity. Get them excited about indigenous plants. Get them excited about growing food. That’s really where I see our strength as a company. And so I think that in collaborating with others…
In small niches like ours, I honestly don’t believe in competition. I don’t think it’s real. I think it’s a fiction.
We have such a small kind of corner of the gardening market, that the more people that are out there practicing urban agriculture and knocking on doors and talking about vegetable gardens and talking about biodiversity, the better it is for everybody.
[00:14:22] And so I think in terms of growing our business well I hope anyway that the work that I’m doing outside of Urban Seedling to really push the development of the market for everybody, a high tide raising all ships. That where I see the growth potential for our businesses is making the market itself bigger.
[00:15:28] I only wish there was more time every day. Honestly that was the biggest challenge is the fact that we’re both so busy working and taking care of the kids and making allowances and doing this and the time they were so tired we don’t actually get to spend time together.[00:15:47] We don’t get to spend as much time together.
Where am I supposed to be. We do everything together but it’s always like passing the torch where it was supposed to be ok.[00:16:01] Okay where you lay all… [00:16:05] I’m calling the .
We do it. We communicate. We work through everything. We support each other. We help each other.
I try my best to do all those things.
We jumped into this adventure together without a lot of forethought and you’re right that it could have been really disastrous and we didn’t really consider that before starting the business together.
[00:17:39] We’re also landlords we have tenants and yet, fortunately, they’re wonderful.
I think the thing that has made it really easy is that Shawn and I are very different in our skill set. And so it’s really obvious who’s going to do what. Like there’s no kind of ambiguity there. There is no ‘you should have done this, you should have done that…
I have strengths in administration in the office and in kind of more a broader strategic planning and Shawn is really really skilled at going out and meeting with clients and doing sales and being out there on the ground every day doing the work.
So yeah I would agree 100 percent that the biggest struggle was starting a family and a business at the same time. That was another lack of forethought. Having three kids, and a start-up not recommended.
We just take it one day at a time. Cliché. Cliche all the cliches are true cliches because they’re true.[00:18:03] Is there. Do you have any hints for other couples who are thinking about doing this kind of thing like if you were to do it over again which you almost like a marriage course which you do have let’s start a business or a business together. I mean how do you deal with finances. People have a hard time discussing that in their home life and you guys have a home life and a business life and a rental property. [00:18:31] Division of labour. [00:18:33] I don’t deal with finances and my receipts like receipts you know I should do a better job. This year it will be every day. [00:18:52] Tereska will let me know when we need more money and I have another job so I will work more on my other job when I have to. I also manage a catering company and do some weddings and things like that so you know. But for the most part,
As far as like advice I would say to just you know obviously just like listen to the person and know what they want to hear.
Sometimes people when people complain about something it’s because they want to feel heard. Right.
So when they’re having a hard time. And that’s for everyone having a hard time too. And you might be bitchy and you might be you know annoyed and you might be not wanting to hear or deal with their stuff, but you just have to simply say “that sucks. I’m sorry that you feel that way’ and that’s it.
If you say like ‘well I’m having a shitty day too. Sorry I’m apologizing. I’m sorry. I’m Canadian. But sometimes you just need to you know to take a breath and listen and hear and say “that sucks” and that’s it. You don’t have to have the solution which is my weakness. Something I always try and come up with like oh you should do this or you should do that or why are you not doing this or why are you doing that. And this is how you’ll feel better.
That doesn’t help.[00:20:49] It will. It will turn into a. What do you think a man already doing. Oh I mean that sucks. [00:21:00] Thank you. That’s all I wanted to hear. Eventually that message gets through. Yes. [00:21:07] I hope do it sometimes too but I don’t know. Yeah.
But I could see maybe a challenge for couples who are already taking personally with each other that bad.[00:22:01] You know that being in business together just amplifies everything. [00:22:05] So if you have a couple who already fight like we don’t really fight very often.
[00:22:13] And so I think if you’re already before your question was you know before starting a business together, what should people consider. And I would say”
- Do we get along without fighting?
- Are we able to separate professional things from personal?
- Are we able to listen to each other?
If the answer to any of those things is no, then don’t start a business together.
I am a first generation immigrant. My parents emigrated from Poland.[00:00:04] Yes so I was born in Ontario. I’m I am the child of Polish immigrants. They met here so my family has been in Canada. You know my polish is terrible but also you know my grandparents came here with nothing.
And there you know I think this is common for a lot of immigrant families is that the goal is to become Canadian and being Canadian is a huge point of pride. And and I have always believed that.
I love this country and I think that it is the best place on earth to live.
You know we have really a lot going for us here in Canada.
So I definitely do consider myself Canadian and I think the most important thing for me when thinking about being Canadian is the freedom we have to disagree with each other.
And you know like if I think of other countries obviously that are oppressed or under dictatorship that’s an extreme example but even you know the United States everything’s super polarized or in Europe there’s a lot of kind of old world hangover notions about gender roles or other attitudes.
I just feel like here and, especially in Montreal, everyone is free to live their own life and colour it the way they want to colour it. And and we have a nice big and wide social safety net so that people like Shawn and I can go out on a limb and start a business and a family at the same time which I’m pretty sure we would not be able to do anywhere else.
It’s not really something that I’ve ever thought about to be perfectly honest. It’s all I know. I consider myself to be Canadian. I’ve always been a happy and proud Canadian.
As far as what it is in particular, I just love where I live. I grew up in Montreal. I never even really left Montreal until I was. You know I haven’t really traveled around that much. I’ve been around I know I’ve traveled a bit. But everywhere I go, I miss Montreal. I lived in L.A. for a while. I didn’t like it.
I mean it was nice and warm that was great. You know the weather was great.
Like I can’t complain about the weather that
That guy at the depaneur, the guy will say oh boy it’s cold out. Boy oh boy.
OK Jimmy Oh yeah. OK. And that’s I love that and I love I love you know that it is the city that we’re in here is a total a little melting pot and there are so many little different communities and seeing and interacting and more and more just.
I don’t know.
I think that it’s it’s a beautiful beautiful place to live.
The great people here are very very kind. Except when we’re driving in which case we’re less kind, but I love the fact that I can honk my horn and shake my fist and someone else will be like yeah shake it. And that’s OK and we’ll park and we’ll say hi there and they’ll say hi nice day or beautiful.
And I love hockey and I love beer and there you go.
It seems that you were in Belize recently. It looks like you had a great time. I saw some beach shots Oh wow.
[00:00:22] Yes I was in Belize in November of 2018. I went there specifically for the purpose of learning about the cacao trade and culture in Belize, because of course Belize has lots of Mayan people and the Mayan people are the ones who first were using cacao. So there’s quite an interesting subculture there. Belize is really a growing force in the world of chocolate and cacao.
Doreen also told me about travelling with a writer from Toronto to see some of the cacao producers, with a three-day side trip to the beach in Placencia.
The travellers spent most of their time in Punta Gorda, which is within Toledo District, the heart of cacao country.
[00:01:22] They’re called the Peini Cacao Consortium and they’re the ones who brought me in for this research trip. And so they took us to some of their cocoa farms. They showed us their processing plants and it’s very modern and high tech. Everything’s new. [00:01:44] There’s a lot of other smaller cacao cooperatives where they’re doing things in more of their traditional way. So I got to see both, which was quite neat. Quite interesting. [00:01:56] I’m looking at Belize as now being one of the top cacao destinations to visit.
Doreen says that most people think of modern European countries like Belgium and Switzerland when they think of chocolate. These countries use large equipment to systematically make large quantities of excellent chocolate.
That’s not what typically happens in the countries where the cacao grows.
[00:02:33] If you go to the countries where the cocoa is grown, most often, it is harvested in small batches by hand. And then, when it’s processed, it’s processed by hand. [00:02:46] Often they are still crushing the cocoa beans with a rolling pin. You know the old style Mayan rolling pin, which is out of stone. And so they’re crushing it, stone on stone. It’s wonderful because the aromas get emitted as that happens. [00:03:06] And then it is roasted in the sun. It’s also very pure and fresh. Such a completely different world…When you’re in the jungle and things are being done right with fresh beans that have just been harvested, it’s just a completely different and intoxicating experience.
Doreen evolved her business to specialize in chocolate travel ten years ago. Since then, her activities have expanded beyond writing about chocolate travel to include speaking at chocolate events around the world, including California, Grenada, Mexico and Costa Rica.
She also frequently organizes chocolate and wine tastings and mindfulness experiences featuring chocolate.
Her next expansion: sharing her knowledge on a tour specifically for chocolate lovers.
[00:04:02] Within a year, I’ll be leading my first overseas chocolate trip because I was trying to organize one a couple years ago with a couple of different tour companies and we just couldn’t somehow put it together. [00:04:17] I’ve been re-approached by one here in Toronto in Canada that I’m really very respectful of and so I think this time we’ll be able to make it work. And now I’ve done a number of other countries since we were talking with them. I think the way to make it work is to go to the jungle to something very pure and real as opposed to going to a more developed country.
After we spoke about her career evolution, we began speaking about some of the amazing chocolate artisans she’s met in this wonderful journey. One of the first is Christophe Morel, who lives not too far from me on the south shore near Montreal. I fell in love with Morel’s voyageur sculpture that Doreen shared in a newsletter to her fans.
[00:05:48] Christophe Morel is a real artisan. He works as a chocolate ambassador for Cacao Barry, which of course is out of Paris, and he’s originally from Paris.
Cacao Barry is really neat because they’ve helped create what you call a hybrid chocolate maker.
There are chocolatiers, who work with coverture, and so they are making chocolates their own creations, but they’re not working with the beans. They’re working with a finished product, which they then melt and then make their own chocolates from.
And then there are those chocolate makers who work directly with the beans.
Well, Cacao Barry has a chocolate lab just outside of Paris where chocolatiers can go and actually create their own customized coverture.
And so there’s a lot of chocolate makers now in Canada and throughout the world that are creating their own custom blend through Cacoa Barry and then they’re making their own bars, which are their signature bars.
Say for instance, in Quebec you’ve got Christophe Morel doing that.
And then in New Brunswick, there is Adorable Chocolat in Shediac;
and in Calgary there’s the Chocolate Lab
that is making fantastic chocolate from their own custom blend of couverture that was created by Cacoa Barry in France. It’s amazing.
After our discussion about hybrid chocolate makers, we began speaking about how difficult it can be to earn a living while writing in Canada. Doreen survived in the industry because she successfully created her own niche in the wider world of travel writing.
At first, she thought about focussing on wine.
“Then I discovered there had been so many books written about wine travel, but nobody had ever done a book on chocolate travel. So I have carved out my own niche. I love that.
But the thing that’s made it difficult though is I’m neither strictly travel and I’m not strictly chocolate so I sometimes fall through the cracks between those two camps. Chocolate companies think I’m writing just about travel and they don’t get that I’m immersed in chocolate. Then travel people or destinations think I’m just playing with chocolate, so they don’t really understand that I created this niche and that it’s now become my profession. I’m doing a series of books on it. I’m very serious about it.
Well, I’ve noticed some new players now in the world that are doing chocolate travel. When I started that, I came up with that catchphrase “chocolate travel.” There was actually one other writer in Florida who was trying to forge that path. But I think she gave up on it because it is hard.
Doreen got her start as a chocolate travel expert by crowdfunding her first Chocolatour book. She told me a bit about how that process went
I tell you doing that Indiegogo campaign was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life because it’s so against I think most of our natures to ask people for money. I was talking earlier about travel, but that’s different as opposed to asking people to make donations towards the publication of a book.
That’s what I was doing because in my first volume of Chocolatour, I had 61 colour photographs. I had to use coated paper to produce the book, and that was excessively expensive.
So I raised eight thousand dollars in 30 days, which I was quite proud of.
The eight thousand dollars pretty much covered all my costs for putting out that first volume: hiring a professional editor, Irene the professional designer and a very good quality printer.
I’m a very proud of the book. It won a Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Winner in 2014. So I was quite proud of that.
Then we spoke about the writing marketing mix, and how to succeed as an independent writer.
I’ve struggled with other writers sometimes because sometimes other writers think of writing as strictly being a creative endeavour. They don’t look at it as being a business, but I came to writing from the business world. I worked in corporate communications for a large entity here in Manitoba. And so I came from the business world, and prior to working in communications, I was in underwriting and whatnot.
So when I started my freelance business back in 1993, it was intended to be a business, not just a creative endeavour. And so that’s the way I’ve always looked at my writing as being a business. And it’s a very difficult path to take. But man it’s so fantastic. I love being my own boss. I love what I do. I love the creative process but I also love the people. It’s introduced me to people like you. Fellow writers that I love and adore, but also people in the world of chocolate and the farmers that are growing the cacao and all these wonderful destinations that have opened my eyes to such an amazing role.
I’m so grateful for all those opportunities.
Doreen mentioned that she began her writing career after leaving the insurance business. In fact, she got her first freelance job before even owning a computer.
Right away, I had to get a computer and then I had to learn how to use it because you know I had to start earning income. And since then it’s a very ongoing process, you can never sit back and relax and think hey I’ve got this because it’s constantly changing.
Then we got to talking about how difficult it is to learn so many new technologies when you’re older, and our favourite social media channels.
To begin, Doreen spoke about her newfound use of Pinterest.
[00:15:01] It’s become the second largest search engine in the world! I’m going through 10 years of blog posts to optimize images etc. I started that because I was at a TMAC conference (that’s the Travel Media Association of Canada) and the keynote speaker said to all of us there ‘you have to be on Twitter and you have to have a blog, or you’re nowhere.’ So I came away from that conference, and I did both.
I started the Twitter account right away, but then I started working on getting my blog up and running. And so that’s 10 years ago now. So I’m slowly going through all my posts and adding a pin properly. A properly-constructed pin. People have a Pinterest account they just pin anything. But you’ve got to have vertical images with great text across them explaining what they are so that people can find things easily and so that’s been my latest technology learning.
Doreen said that she started her first blog on Blogger and then moved to WordPress, where it remains.
Doreen has hired several professionals to make sure her online presence works, particularly her blog.
It’s quite sophisticated and it’s all thanks to Sheryl from behind the scenes. She’s really done a tremendous job for me making my site look professional and global.[00:18:00] And then I had a Montreal based designer. Her name is Jennifer Cooke. She has designed this beautiful chocolate globe as my logo. And I love it because it absolutely exemplifies what I do. The World of Chocolate glows. She’s so amazing. I love her.
Doreen says that she became quite serious about building her social media following over the past decade.
[00:19:53]Once in a while, I do like a sponsored post a page post on one of my blog posts where if I mention it on my author’s page on Facebook, I may have to pay 10 bucks or whatever to have some extra exposure on it. And I do that once in a while if it’s a really important post that I want more people to see. I will pay to play kind of thing.
But not normally I don’t, because I’ve got a personal Facebook page. An authors page. I’ve got Twitter, where I’ve got 13 and a half thousand followers. Then I’ve got Pinterest where I’m up to about an 82,000 in a reach. Not followers, because most people on Pinterest don’t follow, but they have this organic reach that happens when you post to group boards and that’s how I’ve met my range up to 82,000, which I’m very happy with. So again that’s a new thing that I have to learn and really massage and tweak till I found that it’s sort of starting to work for me. I envy the young people who are just coming in and all this just comes so easy to them whereas people like you and I’ve been around a lot longer.[00:21:10] It’s hard. I can really understand why older people shy away from this stuff because it’s mind-boggling. [00:21:22] They really do spend I’d say a couple of hours a day just on social media. It’s part of my business. It’s part of what I do. You know, I know that some people pay people to do social media postings and commenting for them, but I don’t believe in doing that because what I stand for is authenticity. And so in all my writing, it’s all experiential. It’s all about being authentic.
So I have no interest in paying somebody to represent me on social media. I don’t like that approach.
Nor do I use automated posting. I know some people do and maybe it works for them but I really believe in being real. So I’m real.
We then discussed a lot about how our approach to social media and marketing combine to create a brand for our fans.
[00:23:33] There are so many different ways you can tweak things. Whatever to “create your own authentic or whatever” online personality, it takes a lot of strategy and a lot of work to do that.
It’s been ten years now that I’ve really been actively creating my brand or author platform. I remember when I was trying to get a publisher or an agent 10 years ago, when I was starting Chocolatour. Everybody said oh you don’t have a big enough platform. You know you haven’t got any kind of brand recognition.
So I have spent the last ten years really quite actively working on that. That’s why I invested quite heavily in hiring, as we mentioned, Jennifer Cook to do a beautiful online presence for me. The logo and banner is consistent across all social media platforms so that people can recognize me easily. And I think that that’s really helped build my brand and I’m continuing to to do different things to get my name out there so that when my next book comes out, which will be this year, that will be a lot easier process than it was for the first one where I was quite an unknown entity even though that was my fourth book.
This will be my fifth, and I like it it’s you can never rest on our laurels.
Well, I’ve got a stick with Chocolatour because that is my brand. It will be the subtitle that will be a work in progress. I’ve got so many different subtitles that I’m throwing around in my mind and so I may ask my readers to vote on the top six.
You know what because I am my own boss and because I’m in full control of this book I’m not going to rush myself. I really intended to have it out last year and then my husband’s health took a really bad turn for the worse and we had to get into the public care system and that took so much out of me. And now he’s safe and he’s stable and now he can get back into my own work and my life. But I don’t want to push myself too much because it takes the fun out of it.[00:28:17] And you know chocolate has to be fun right. If there is no fun in chocolate then why bother so I’m not going to push myself. [00:28:24] I’m going to work it at my own speed and hopefully it will be out. By summer, I’m hoping to have the ebook out and the printed version by fall. That’s my goal and I hope I will be able to achieve it. [00:28:39] I am already working with a person who is very good at ebook conversions and we’re starting on the second volume already. She’s merging the A to Z guide for volume 1 with the new A-Z guide from volume 2 to create a mega A-Z guide which will be an integral part of volume two. So she’s working on that right now. A lot of what I’ve put on my blog will be migrated into the new book. You know the highlights and other information that I didn’t put on the blog. So I’ve got a lot of data already in progress and then I just got an update. Some chapters like the health benefits chapter will be updated because that’s such an important chapter. It will be a key chapter on sustainability and important issues like that. [00:29:28] But then also some of the fun stuff like chocolate spas, which are now an obsession of mine.
Lucky to be Canadian
[00:30:41] I am as Canadian as you can be. [00:30:58] I was born and raised in Winnipeg and I have lived just outside of Winnipeg my entire life. Well I mean I moved outside of the city in 1982 because I love to be connected with nature. And I found being in the city, it was just too much hustle and bustle. So I live an hour out of the city now and I absolutely love it and right by Lake Winnipeg. It’s a resort community but it just keeps me so connected with nature.
That’s what I really love about Canada is that we do have so much natural world out there and it’s not just filled with mega buildings and noise pollution.
I belong to Toastmasters. Toastmaster this week was talking about how bad the pollution in the big cities is. I don’t know if you heard this or not, but babies in Delhi India begin getting lung cancer the day they are born. And they are having many many people now, young people age 18 and whatnot, getting lung cancer in in some of these large cities like Delhi, Mexico City whatever. Because the babies are born were inhaling polluted air from the moment they touched this earth.[00:32:14] So how lucky we are to be in Canada, where we have clean air and I have my own well my own fresh water and I just feel so in control in my life because of that. I have clean air and clean water, And I’m so grateful to God that I help that at my disposal. That I have that to keep me safe and happy and in touch with people that care about each other and about nature and about the world.
[00:32:57] I have a modest home but I love it.
I work in my loft upstairs here; my artist loft. My writers’ haven here. With great big beautiful windows. And I just feel so connected to nature because I have a little deck of my office on the second floor here. If I ever just want to step out, I’ve got a screen door that I have open three seasons of the year. I just love it. I’m so grateful that I have this beautiful world to live in.
I live in Manitoba and I’m open to the world now, via my Web site, Chocolatour.
You can get a hold of me there. There’s a contact page there’s a couple of pages that talk about me as an individual and about Chocolatour the brand and they contain slideshows.
I encourage people to take some time to visit the about pages, especially the about page on Chocolatour has quite an extensive slideshow and the one about Doreen does as well, but a smaller one. They give you an insight as to my world of chocolate travel and the world of chocolate and cacao that I’m trying to share with the world.
I had fun interviewing professional genealogist Johanne Gervais for this week’s podcast. Here are some highlights from our conversation.Listen to Unapologetically Canadian Episode 19: Johanne Gervais Helps us Research our Ancestors
Our discussion began with the question “how did you become a genealogist?”
I became interested in genealogy while helping my husband who retired in 2008. He wanted to write a book about his mother’s family for his mother’s 90th birthday. So I was a little hesitant because he wanted me to do the research on his family. He knew nothing about his mother’s mother’s family past his grandmother. So I did all the research for him up to his third great grandparents including were searching for family stories finding the houses his ancestors lived in the actual establishments they worked in. His mom came from England, so researching his ancestors was a really a good excuse for us to take a trip to England. So we did some research there.
We went there to where his mom was born to the little villages where his ancestors lived. We actually knocked on the doors of these houses and asked for tours of the inside of the homes and the grounds outside. And these people were only too happy to show us around. So this type of research was fascinating. For me, it was like wow you know we can actually visit a home that his great grandparents lived in and see what they did.
After her husband retired, Johanne decided to retire too.
So I left the corporate world of information technology and dedicated myself to genealogical research.
Eventually, she founded a new non-profit entity.
My local Geological Society was about an hour’s drive from my home … So I would spend two hours driving. Combined with the time I spent at the society, it was a full day. So that was always a bit of a dilemma for me. And I thought well there must be a better way. The society wasn’t always open when I wanted to do research. So I’m sometimes an early bird and sometimes I like to work late at night. The more I studied my problem, the more I realized that I couldn’t possibly be the only one having difficulty getting into the local society.
Johanne described her theory of “can’ts, won’ts and wants” to describe the ideal clients for the association.
The “can’ts” are those who can’t visit their local society because maybe it is too far away or isn’t open when they’re available.
“Won’ts” are those who won’t visit a society because it’s not really their cup of tea or it doesn’t heir fit their lifestyle.
The “wants” are those who want more than what the physical society can offer them. They want to have their society open when they’re ready to do the research.
So began our discussion about how we might attract younger people to the world of genealogy.
I have four grandchildren, Tracey, and they are all teenagers. A couple of years ago, as I left to go into the to the society or to the archives downtown, my grandchildren would say “Nana why are you going to a library or the Archive Center? Can’t you just do that on your phone? Can’t you do the research through your iPad or your phone?”
This is the next generation that we want to share in our genealogical research. We want them to continue with that philosophy. No other problem was more clear in my mind. Hey wait a minute. There’s got to be a better way.
The Quebec Genealogical Esociety now has members from all over the world. They can access web sites and research their ancestors without leaving the comfort of their homes, and without having to spend hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars to hire a researcher to do it for them.
How many people belong to the Québec Genealogical eSociety and what do they get as members?
As of today, we have 212 members. And right now we have about 43 percent are French speaking. Tthe majority are Anglophone people who come mostly from the United States and from Ontario and the other provinces in Canada who wish to do their research and research on their Quebec ancestors.
I don’t want people to get the wrong impression here of why it created the society because people who live in the province of Quebec are so fortunate because we have such robust databases for birth records marriage records and death records. And most French-speaking communities have a local Geological Society. Almost every French-speaking community or community in the province of Quebec that I know of has a geological society in their community or very close by. So we are extremely fortunate in the province of Quebec. And my main focus was people living outside of the province of Quebec who could not get here because of travel and/or the language barrier.[00:25:21] So we will have a message board soon on our Web site where members can post their brick walls and ask questions to other members. So that’s we’re in the final testing stages right now with our software developer. That’s going to be up any day now hopefully by the end of February. So yeah it’s very exciting because I think for everyone who does genealogical research or our research and their ancestors all of us reach a brick wall somewhere sand they are always asking questions.
What kind of work do you do?
So when I first when I first retired it was like OK OK now what am I going to do? I really like to do geological research. So I applied to various geological large geological firms in them in the United States—Ancestry, Legacy Family Tree and Genealogist.com. Those three companies provide research facilities for people that want to hire them to do to research their families. So this was this was quite interesting because I received a lot of contracts
I still am working as a contractor for these firms but I really want to orient people towards doing their research themselves versus hiring a researcher. If they’re capable of doing the research themselves. So some people are not capable or are not that computer literate or are advanced in their in their senior years and don’t want to do it themselves.
But for the ones that are capable I really do encourage them instead of hiring me or that they’ll hire me for a couple of hours and else I’ll say here’s how you could do it yourself versus you know me spending 20 hours or more research in their tree for them.
We then discussed Johanne’s membership in the Association of Profesional Genealogists, an association that’s based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I joined that association when I first started in 2009 in the early years just so I can learn more about how to professionally and research for a client and how to do my sources and how to write research reports. So I’ve been to Salt Lake City multiple times for the Association of Professional Genealogists conferences to learn more about how to improve my research skills.
Johanne and some of the other members are in the process of creating a Canadian chapter for the Association of Professional Genealogists.
We really don’t have an umbrella group in Canada to help genealogist research or to answer questions. You know if people in the in Nova Scotia have questions about how to research in Nova Scotia or you know British Columbia we don’t have an umbrella organization that can help genealogists in various aspects doing research in different provinces or doing a state researching which is forensic genealogy. That kind of thing. So we’re hoping that we can create an umbrella group for all of Canada where genealogists can join and then we can share our expertise and say okay here in Quebec this is what we do and somebody in Saskatchewan will say well in Saskatchewan you know here’s what we do.
I think first and foremost I consider myself to be a Quebecker. I was born here in Quebec as were my two brothers. My parents were also born here but I haven’t lived in Quebec all my life because my dad was in the Canadian Armed Forces. So we grew up in various places across Canada. Recently my parents retired in Nova Scotia.
Truly I’m a Quebecker, but I do consider myself a Canadian.
Living in various towns across Canada really showed me the expanse of the country and how culturally diverse we are. We’re so open to different walks of life, from religions, politics and interests. Being in these different towns and going into different schools …I had to go to different schools and must have changed schools five or six times. People are so darned friendly to each other no matter what province or town we lived in.
In 2011 or 2012, the couple dedicated a 47-day journey to follow her husband’s father’s footsteps during World War II.
We started from Pier 21 in Halifax where my husband’s dad’s regiment left to go to Europe and he actually didn’t go to Europe right away. The ship went to Iceland. So we went to Iceland we followed. We had researched the regiment in detail as to where they went and we followed exactly where the regiment went all the way throughout World War II. So we went to Iceland we went to Scotland we went to England and France.
His father became a prisoner of war and he spent three years in prisoner of war camp. Johanne and her husband went to Germany and Poland where his father was incarcerated for three years to visit the locations of the prisoner of war camps.
And what I wanted to say here is that in every country we went to once people we met knew we were Canadians. They embraced us as if we were long lost members of their family. It was just so emotional. And by embracing, I mean you know they actually physically hugged us and kissed us and said ‘thank you thank you’ for the role that Canadians played during the war. And they would invite us to their homes. They would show us around their town … it was so very emotional. And I’ve never felt ever so proud to be a Canadian.
Johanne’s husband, Michael John Laekas, wrote a book about his father and his father’s life during World War II. The couple also produced a book about three brothers who served during World War I
Note: This episode was brought to you by Kobo. If you’re a Canadian reader, and you want to join Kobo, you can use my affiliate link and get $5 off while getting me a $10 credit on my account. You can also order Michael’s books via the links below and I’ll get a commission.
This week, I had the pleasure to speak with Joseph Pugliese, a LaSalle-based community activist.Listen to my conversation with Joseph Pugliese here
Here are some highlights.
I am the president and owner of Democratique.ca Incorporated. We’ve been operating since 2011. We started off being a community awareness website basically going back and forth to city hall and asking our elected officials to do certain things that would be better for our community.
Pugliese told me that on January 7, Democratique wrote to Quebec Premiere Francois Legault to ask him to release the 200-page closure report concerning Cintec Environment Inc., a landfill based in the LaSalle borough of Montreal.
Legault’s office told him that the file has been passed on to Environment Minister Benoit Charette.
“I am very relieved to see that we have professionals dealing with this case…we’re not putting into question the company’s ability to deal with this, but we are putting into question the amount of unknown toxins. We don’t know what’s there and this is something that should be addressed. The public should know what’s going on, with all due respect to Cintec Environment Incorporated.”
The materials in the landfill have been in question since prior to the site’s closure. Questions remain because no government has yet released the reports about what the site contains.
We also spoke about the contamination on the property of the LaSalle Legion on Bouvier.
“At this point, I’m hoping that something gets done [to clean up the land] eventually in the future. For the moment, I’m very happy that the Legion remains open because that was our main goal. I just hope that in the coming years someone will take care of that issue.”
Pugliese also wants Quebec to write off student loans that cannot be paid.
We have been dealing with the Quebec Student Loans and Bursaries case, which is us asking the Quebec government to follow Ottawa’s lead. In February 2018, Canada’s Student’s Loan program had taken the initiative to write off $200 million in unpaid student loans. Basically they did that to help low-income people to get out of debt and improve their lives…we are asking Quebec to follow Ottawa’s lead.
Pugliese has another VIP case underway as well. He’s been looking in the 375th Anniversary celebrations and he wants to know who the elected officials invited to various events.
This case was us asking the City of Montreal to disclose the complete and uncensored VIP lists for all of our elected officials and their distinguished guests that would be invited to any and all 375th celebrations. It’s been 2017 that we’ve been asking questions…unfortunately, a couple of days ago, we received a reply from the City of Montreal stating that they couldn’t disclose these lists due to private personal information that is in these lists. I could appreciate that certain information maybe that shouldn’t be released to the public private but I do believe that the names of the people at least that are in these parties should be public knowledge. It’s public money that’s used to fund these events and I think it’s natural that we should know who our elected officials are having fun with and having conversations with.
Pugliese considers himself Canadian.
I’m a very proud Canadian. I’m proud of my nation. I think we do great things. To me, being Canadian means being an honest straight-forward person doing the right thing and helping your neighbour out. That’s what Canadians do best. We’re a great people. We’re a great country. I think that we are one of the shining beacons of the world to peace, prosperity and everything that’s positive. So yes, I’m very proud to be Canadian and I’m happy to see that Canada is in a great position right now.
Notable Nonfiction has covered Joseph Pugliese’s work for years. Read more at: Pugliese awarded community cares award, Hearing into LaSalle VIPs, Legion buys a few months peace, and Clean-up underway at Allion.
Notable Nonfiction interviewed Serge Gariépy, the executive director of Cintec Environnement Inc. on August 28, 2009. At that time, Gariepy explained that the Cintec site includes two cells, one that was set up by the then City of LaSalle in the 1980’s to handle waste taken from the site on Bouvier Street and one created by Cintec themselves. Gariépy said that he was required to file an inventory annually, but none of those reports have ever been made public.
In addition, Gariépy spent quite a while explaining all the procedures he follows to make sure that no emissions or contaminated water escapes from a multi-level cell on his site, which looks like a giant hill.
The multilevel cell includes LaSalle’s original sealed cell at its base. A double membrane attached on either side of the base cell creates a significantly larger cell. Collector pipes run between the membranes to the original cell to pump out air and water that can be tested.
Gariépy said that technicians and/or engineers from Quebec’s ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs visit him regularly to verify reports about the vents on his property surrounding the cell and the censors.
If you understand French, listen to our conversation here.
Also see additional articles about this site: LaSalle Reacts: “There is no Toxic Waste in LaSalle,” Borough Says No Toxic Waste in LaSalle, and Is there toxic waste in LaSalle.
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