Category Archives for Writing

How journalists can help us agree to disagree respectfully

I just read a captivating article.  In Complicating the Narratives, Amanda Ripley explains that journalists can learn about behavioural science to ask better questions and help us to agree to disagree respectfully.

She published her work in The Solutions Journalism Network a year ago June. I only saw it this week when a journalist friend posted it in an electronic chat discussion.

This article showcases important concepts from leaders in behavioural economics thinking. It also explains how mediation experts use their understanding of these concepts to ask questions that de-escalate conflict.

…I spent the past three months interviewing people who know conflict intimately and have developed creative ways of navigating it. I met psychologists, mediators, lawyers, rabbis and other people who know how to disrupt toxic narratives and get people to reveal deeper truths. They do it every day — with livid spouses, feuding business partners, spiteful neighbors. They have learned how to get people to open up to new ideas, rather than closing down in judgment and indignation.

Good writing technique

I love how Ripley used notable nonfiction techniques to tell this story. Notice that she began her article with an anecdote from an event that would probably interest most people.

The anecdote makes readers care about an issue that many hadn’t considered. Then she takes us into her personal investigation into mediation. Then she widens again to explain how her lessons could be applied in her profession. She widens even further to explain how anyone can use what she learned in their own lives.

She suggests journalists ask questions to show that those they interview have conflicting ideas about issues. We should emphasize emotional connections if they take place. We also need to listen carefully and repeat our understanding of ideas in our own words back to the person, something that mediators call “looping.” If we do this when interviewing people, we can demonstrate how issues we are trying to explore are more complex than anyone generally believes.

Political Divisions

Ripley outlines how research from social psychologist Jonathan Haidt applies to political division, such as that experienced in the United States, and to a lesser extent, here in Canada.

Haidt identifies six moral foundations that form the basis of political thought: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. These are the golden tickets to the human condition…If journalists want to broaden their audiences, they need to speak to all six moral foundations. If any of us want to understand what’s underneath someone’s political rage, we need to follow stories to these moral roots — just like mediators.

Rather than harping on diverse opinions, Ripley suggests that commentators explore why people believe what they do so that underlying values and experiences can be understood. She says that when this takes place, people don’t necessarily change their minds. Instead, they become more open to hearing what someone else believes, even when they disagree.

As Canada heads into a federal election this autumn, I think this is very good advice for all of us. Our politicians are going to try to convince us that they know what should be done to run this country.

I doubt anyone has all the answers. It’s more likely that each of us has insight into a few of the things that need to be done. Perhaps we can talk about that for a change.

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Original Arial Family of Western Canada

They sat and stood calmly for the formal portrait. No one smiled.

An accompanying photocopy with names scrawled on each person identifies the people. Four chairs in the middle hold Remi, Sophie, Joseph Gabriel and Pete. Billy, Augusta, Joe, Sophie, Aldous, Lucy and Eddy stand behind the chairs. Jean-Baptiste sits in front.

Notes from my grandmother cram the back, including her title “the original Arial family of Western Canada.”

These notes are useful, but they don’t include some of the basic things Grandma knew, so I’m flailing around trying to understand what she meant.

I’ve always known that Gabriel and Sophie Arial were my great great grandfather and grandmother, for instance, but it took me a while to discover that I’m also the great grandchild of “Pete.”

Combining the notes with an analysis of our family tree led to many other questions too. If these are the first Arial’s who migrated to Western Canada, why did they go? Did they fit within a trend? Were their lives difficult? What made my branch of the family move back east? How did Great Grandpa Pete die when he was only 46 years old?

Perhaps they were homesteaders?

Since I know that most of my ancestors were farmers, my assumption is that the formal portrait includes people who moved west to take advantage of homesteading land grants offered in Alberta under the Dominion Lands Act after 1870. This program surveyed Crown land to make it available for settlement. According to the Alberta Genealogical Society

…individuals could apply to homestead a quarter section (160 acres) of their choice. Then, after paying a $10 filing fee and ‘proving up’ their homestead claim (occupying the land for at least three years and performing certain improvements, including building a house and barn, fencing, breaking and cropping a portion of the land), the homesteader could apply for patent (title) to the land.[1]

Records exist for three Arials: Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B, so those are the next documents I plan to check out.

Hopefully the Gabriel Arial in the homestead records matches the older Joseph Gabriel on my photo. He and his wife Sophie pioneered Western Canadian for my family. He came from St. Roch, Quebec and Sophie came from St. Paul, Minnesota. Everyone else’s birth took place in St. Boniface, Alberta.

Given my families’ predilection for confusing nicknames, however, Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B. Arial could be just about anyone.

Multiple Nicknames

My great grandfather legally went by the name “Joseph Gabriel Antoine Remi Arial.” Only after I read the notes about his burial on the Ariaill family website did I discover his nickname “Pete.” The same notation led to his death certificate, which includes the name “Pete Arial” and the names “Joseph Gabrial Arial” and “Joseph Gabriel Arial.”

Now I know that there are two Joseph Gabriel’s in the photo: great great grandpa in the centre and great grandpa Pete to his left. There are two Sophies also, although the elder sitting woman’s legally went by Marie Sophie.

A source note on the back tells me when and how my grandma got the photo.

This picture was given to Marguerite and Joe (Gabe) Arial on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, April 6, 1992 by Happy and Dot Arial.”

I knew Happy growing up and he made the best barbecue spices I’ve ever tasted. I don’t remember asking about his nickname. He’s probably the fellow called Billy in the formal portrait. Billy legally went by the name of Wilfred, although one of the documents I have also shows a William, which would definitely explain how Wilfred became Billy.

I’m pretty sure Eddy is Edgar, but maybe not.

There’s no hint about when the photograph was taken either. I suspect it was in the early 1930s. Great grandpa Pete seems to be in his forties in the shot, and his birth took place on May 5, 1888 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. He died of acute myocarditis (heart failure) on January 30, 1935[2], so it’s definitely prior to that.

Death Certificate Hints

Pete’s death certificate says he caught rheumatic fever in 1931. Since he’s sitting in a chair in the photograph, I suspect the photo dates from sometime between then and Joseph’s death on December 7, 1933.

When rheumatic fever becomes acute, it not only causes heart valve damage, but it can also lead to skin rashes, swollen joints especially around the knees and ankles, lumps under the skin, a shortness of breath, chest discomfort and uncontrollable muscle spasms. No wonder the poor man needed to sit in a chair!

Rheumatic fever hardly makes the news in developed countries these days. That’s because penicillin and other antibiotics prevent scarlet fever and strep throat (streptococcal) infections from turning into rheumatic fever. All three of these diseases used to kill thousands in Canada every year, however, and a 2005 source shows 15 million, 244,000 deaths around the world. [3]

Dr. W.W. Eadie signed the death certificate placing Pete’s death in Spedden, Alberta. In another pen, someone else wrote that Pete regularly resided at 9632-107a Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta. His race was French. His father came from Quebec and his mother from St. Paul, Minnesota. Connelly and McKinley buried Pete in the R.C. Edmonton cemetery. He had been a bar tender and house painter before he contracted the disease. A third writer crossed out the words bartender next to last occupation and the address Spedden next to the length of time in the town or district where death occurred. That person wrote in “contractor” next to last occupation and specified that Pete had been in Spedden for “1 month” prior to his death.

School Picnic

The only other info I’ve found about my great grandfather’s life dates from a short newspaper article about a school picnic on the front page of the Medicine Hat News on Thursday, July 1896.

That brief mentions that Pete Arial won an “under 12” race at a Gleichen school picnic. He would have been 8 years old at the time. The reporter also listed Aldos, Sophie and Joe Arial winning prizes from other races the same day. Joe won both the three-legged and donkey races.[4]

Arial is an uncommon name. The chances another family with similar names lived in small-town Gleichen is unlikely.

Pete married Leonore Doucet on November 24, 1908, when he was 20 and she was only 16 years old. They had their first child, my grandfather Joseph Isidore Alfred Gabriel, four years minus a week later.

After that, I can find no more traces of Pete until he died.

Grandma’s Notes

Pete’s not mentioned at all in the tiny squished notes grandma made on the back of that formal photo, although her family tree shows him dying in Spedden, Cold Lake, Alberta.

She does identify Billy, Joe, Aldous and Remi as interior decorators, by which I think she meant contractor. Eddy had status as “a maintenance man, interior decorator, etc.”

She identified women by the people they married. “Augusta married Charles Turgeon,” she wrote. “Sophie married Brasseau, then he died and she married Auger.” “Lucy married James or Gibson.”

Only the elder Sophie had a personal identity of her own: “Grandma Arial was a Metis from the USA.”

The notes about Joseph Gabriel contain the most information.

Grampa Arial had a hotel in Saint Boniface where he had many meetings with Louis Riel in the basement in his hotel and in later years, he own the Palace Hotel in Gleichan, Alberta. After his hotel burned, they moved to Edmonton, Alberta.”

There’s no room for anything more.

I recently found the Find-a-Grave memorial page[5] for Pete’s burial place. He was buried with his father in Saint Joachims Cemetery in Edmonton on February 2, 1935. Less than 11 months later, his mother died too. Thanks to Alison for photographing their joint tombstone.

Sources

[1] https://www.abgenealogy.ca/1870-1930-homestead-project?mid=1155

[2] Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, form 6, February 28, 1935.

[3] Carapetis JR, Steer A, Mulholland E, et al. The global burden of group A streptococcal diseases. Lancet Infect Dis 2005;5:685-94

[4] Medicine Hat News, Thursday, July 1896, p1, https://medicinehatnews.newspaperarchive.com/medicine-hat-news/1896-07-09/, accessed May 21, 2019.

[5] Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Find A Grave, digital images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156782821/joseph-gabriel_antoine-arial  : accessed May 21, 2019), memorial number 156782821.

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Charlotte and Arthur’s War-Time Wedding

I never asked my great granny Charlotte about her wedding, but the records I’ve found hint at lots of intrigue.

Did they plan a summer wedding and then rush things to avoid conscription? Had they initially hoped to marry in the church next to her home but lost the opportunity due to community infighting?

Probably, but not yet proven.

What I do know is that my great grandparents—then 23-year-old groom Arthur Johnson and his 22-year-old bride Charlotte Charbonneau—chose to marry on Friday, February 9, 1917 in an unfinished church basement blocks away from her home instead of in the church right next door.

The direct information I have about that day appears in an affidavit filled out by Arthur on January 22, signed by the witnesses and solemniser, and turned in to the Registrar on February 17.[1]

When looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering two things: why then and why there?

Why February?

She wasn’t pregnant—their first son wouldn’t be born for another two years.

Money would be tight later, but at that point both had jobs. Arthur worked as a machinist and Charlotte served as a fore-lady, probably supervising women at a factory producing something for the war.

Did the impetus to marry early in 2017 have something to do with federal government musings about conscription at that time? Prime Minister Robert Borden promised publicly that he’d send 500,000 Canadian soldiers to Europe by the end of 1916. Only 300,000 men volunteered by December 2016, and numbers dwindled as horrific details about the Battle of the Somme reached Canada.

Borden passed conscription in August the summer after Arthur and Charlotte wed. Had they married after July 6, 2017, Arthur might have been conscripted. I might not exist.

I’m not sure why Arthur didn’t serve. He certainly had close ties with Europe having immigrated to Canada from Lancashire England ten years earlier. He came to Canada with his brother Albert and his parents, Mary Young and William Johnson.

Neither Arthur nor Albert volunteered for the Armed Forces and the family remained close. Albert and his wife Amie served as witnesses at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding.

I also wonder how they selected the location of their marriage.

Both families worshipped in the Presbyterian faith. At the time, Charlotte still lived with her parents on Cross Street in Weston, right next to a Presbyterian Church called the Old Kirk at 11 Cross Street.

Why didn’t the couple get married in the Old Kirk?

Turns out that the building couldn’t offer a legally-sanctioned marriage between March 2013 and June 2017, despite more than 200 of the 247 congregation members working hard to keep the place open.

The problem began in March 2013, when fewer than 38 people voted to close the facilities and sell the Cross Street building. Given that the snow kept 209 people at home that day, I suspect that the meeting in question took place in the Main Street building purchased for Sunday School services a year earlier.

The sordid affair appears in a wonderful history of the Church in Weston called “From Then to Now.”

At a congregational meeting in March 1913, bad weather kept attendance to 38 out of 245 members. A majority of the 38 voted to hold all future services at the new facility and to sell the Cross Street site. Westminster Presbyterian Church was then fully established on the new site and the Cross Street site was sold.

The church on Cross Street was then re-purchased by some of the old members and services resumed on January 18th, 1914. Presbytery refused to recognize this congregation though, so it operated as an independent Presbyterian Church known as The Old Kirk The group continued to worship steadfastly and endured three failed petitions to Toronto Presbytery asking to be recognized as a second Presbyterian congregation in Weston (one petition was signed by 259 members). They appealed to the General Assembly, held in Montreal in June 1917, and the appeal was sustained. The church was then named The Old Presbyterian Church. From June 1917 to 1925 there were two official Presbyterian Churches in Weston.

In 1925 Westminster Presbyterian voted for church union and The Old Presbyterian Church opted to remain Presbyterian. It was then named Weston Presbyterian Church and Westminster became Westminster United Church. [2]

I haven’t yet found definitive proof that Charlotte and her family took part in the purchase or petitions of the Cross Street building. Given that Arthur and Charlotte married within a completely different congregation, however, it’s likely that they did.

Perhaps the couple hoped to be the first marriage in the renewed building, but then chose to wed rapidly so Arthur could avoid conscription. They needed a legally-sanctioned marriage.

They Chose St. David’s Church in Toronto

Arthur’s affidavit provides the address. It indicates that Reverend Charles A. Mustard presided over Charlotte and Arthur’s wedding ceremony at 38 Harvie Avenue, a building at the corner of St. Clair Avenue.

Information contained within a Presbyterian Museum article[3] about the Church after it was torn down in 1999 gives context. The St. David’s Church congregation purchasing the Harvie site in 1911. They began operations by moving an original frame church from the south side of St. Clair Avenue opposite McRoberts to the new site. That building opened in 1912.

The community grew rapidly. By 1914, they hired Toronto architect Herbert George Paul to incorporate their original wood frame structure into a new larger building. He finished constructing only the basement, however, when the bank pulled the Church loan due to World War I.

A speech by John Barron in June 1918 describes what happened.

In the year 1911 the present site was secured. Seventy-two feet of the frontage being presented by Westminster Church, to which the Church building was moved and alterations made. This building was opened on Nov. 12, 1912.

The congregation outgrew this accommodation, and in the year 1914 plans were prepared and the present building was commenced, but owing to conditions brought about by the war, the basement only was finished and used for services to the present time.

So, instead of getting married in a perfectly good building on Charlotte’s street, community infighting and a war forced the couple to wed in an unfinished basement in St. David’s Presbyterian Church.

[1] Johnson, Arthur. Affadavid, 022461, loose paper, Office of the Registar General Ontario. Rec. Date: Jan 22, 2019. Ontario Canada Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario. Toronto. MS932, Reel 440, Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Ancestry. www.ancestry.ca : 2010.

[2] From Then to Now, 1847 to 2007, a history by the Weston Presbyterian Congregation, http://westonpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WestonPCHistory.pdf

[3] http://presbyterianmuseum.ca/files/2014/09/PCC-National-Presbyterian-Museum-Museum-Musings-St-Davids-cornerstone_revised.pdf

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Harvesting Dandelions

It’s dandelion harvesting time again! Whoo hoo.

Normally, by the time I begin harvesting dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) the flower buds are already on the plants. Not this year. The leaves don’t taste quite so bitter when I pick the plants before the flowers bud, so I’m making a special effort to get them early this year. I’m going on the prowl for these little babies beginning today.

Thinking about the task as a harvest—and actually eating the leaves I pick—makes the task slighter more rewarding than it would be if the idea were simply to make my lawn look nicer. Most years, I begin the task on a rainy day. Again, not this year! Yippee!

The key to enjoying this activity during this time of the year is to have a great recipe.

For some ideas about ways to eat them, consult Euell Gibbons’  1962 book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” The classic would make an ideal mothers’ day gift for a gardening mom. See my link below if you want to order it!

Stalking the Wild AsparagusGibbons recommends six different ways to eat the plant.

  • This year, I’m hoping to finally try Gibbons’ dandelion crown salad and
  • boiled unopened flower heads recipes. I’ve never been able to try them before because they both require a much earlier harvest than I usually manage.
  • Roasted ground roots made into a coffee-like beverage has never appealed to me, because I don’t like coffee much, but I might try it anyway just for the heck of it.
  • I’ve also never bothered either to harvest the roots and peel them to serve boiled or
  • fried as a vegetable and that’s not likely to change, since the plants I harvest are usually too small.
  • I’ve never bothered to gather the bright flowers and make wine either, although that’s also something that appeals to me. We’ll see.

My definite favourite recipe is wilted greens fried with garlic and bacon with a mustard sauce. This was recommended by my PWAC colleague and buddy, Steve Pitt, who posted the recipe on a list serve a few years ago. I’ve revised it slightly, and it still tastes great. It’s also very good if you replace the bacon grease with vegabutter and a whole jar of capers for my vegan friends.

Hope you like it as much as I do.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Bacon

  • 6 strips bacon—cut into pieces (or a tablespoon of vegebutter and a whole jar of capers if you don’t eat meat)
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cups dandelion greens, rinsed and dried
  • 3 oz feta cheese
  • ½ cup green olives

Fry the bacon until crisp. Put it into a steel salad bowl.

Pour off extra bacon fat, leaving just enough to cook the greens in.

Pour in the vinegar and heat to scrape the pan.

(Or if you prefer, just heat the pan and add a full tablespoon of vegabutter.)

Add Dijon, honey and olive oil to make a sauce.

Add the greens and cook until they wilt. Toss everything together and serve.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus Book Cover Stalking the Wild Asparagus
Euell Gibbons, John McPhee,
Cooking
Alan C Hood & Company
January 1, 1962
303

An imaginative approach to cooking, offering numerous recipes for main dishes and accompaniments made from wild berries, roots, nuts, and leaves

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Somewhere in the Middle with Michele Burard

Interview

Had a wonderful conversation with Somewhere in the Middle host Michele Burard that was posted Friday night.

Michele’s podcast features conversations with wellness experts, coaches, entrepreneurs, politicians and writers. Her goal is to create a:

 safe place where we can learn and grow together. We discuss a variety of topics, ranging from love to politics to money and business and beyond, because the human experience is wide and varied.”

We spent an hour talking about creative entrepreneurship, spirituality, family history and working hard to profile real people in a way that helps us understand the present.

Michele was born in the deep south so we talked a lot about colonization, democracy and the differences between living in a hot climate and surviving in what Michèle calls the “frozen north.”

Hope you enjoy our conversation.

 

 

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