Thursday, August 5, 2021


  Mr. John Ellis. 

Creative non fiction

By Joan M. Baril

Is it over?” I asked my father when he walked in the house after work. 

It wasApril 23, 1953 and I was 18 years old, teaching Grade 2 at Oliver Road School and living at home.

Shh,” my mother whispered to me. “Be quiet. Of course, it’s over. It was on the radio.”

My father’s face was grey as he closed the front door. The first thing he did was remove the lead truncheon and the handcuffs from the pockets of his dark blue mackinaw, setting them, as usual, on the seat of the chair near the door. Next, he took off the mackinaw and carefully placed it over the back of the chair, and after unbuttoning his navy-blue police tunic, added it to the pile. His peaked hat usually topped the lot but after he set it in place, it slid to the floor. He didn’t seem to notice, so I picked it up, brushed the flat top, and put it in the usual spot.

I couldn’t silence my questions. “Did you meet him?” I asked. For some macabre reason, I was interested in this strange man whose real name was Camille

Branchard but who always used the pseudonym John Ellis when he came to town for a hanging.

My father took the cup of tea handed to him by my mother and settled into his favourite arm chair, placing the cup and saucer on the end table beside him. Not really,” he said. My job was just to stand by as witness, and afterwards, see poor dead Mr. Hlady bundled up and taken off to the cemetery. This cup of tea is the best thing that has happened to me all day. I hope to God I never have to go through that again.

“Would you take a bit of dinner?” My mother said. “It’s fish and scalloped potatoes.”

My father shook his head as I knew he would. My mother had told me that after my father had witnessed a hanging a few years back, he couldn’t eat for two days. She went into the kitchen and I took the opportunity to ask some questions.

Was it really horrible?
It was fast, Janet. John Ellis does a quick job that’s one thing. Ten seconds

and it’s over. He carries his own rope in a suitcase when he comes to town. Weighs the man so he can get the right length.”

“Why a certain length?

“If it’s too long it takes too long and if it’s too short it can rip the head right off the fellow.”

A mental picture flashed through my mind and for the first time, I felt the reality, the ghastly reality, of what we were talking about.

My father was going on. You know Janet, Mr. Ellis is proud of what he does, believes he’s doing the right thing, upholding the law and so on.He sighed and shook his head, if he could not understand it.

Does Mr. Ellis really wear a hood when he walks to the scaffold with the condemned man?

“Nay, Janet. That’s for the movies.”
But the judge who sentenced him wore a black cap,I said
Since you’re of an age and so interested,” said my dad, “I’ll tell you that

judges in Canada do not wear black caps. The only person who wore a hood was poor Mr. Hlady himself, so no one could see his face as he stood on the trap. It’s as if hes not a real person then, hooded like that, like some kind of animal.

Did he have any last words?I said undeterred.

Not that I heard, but me and Sergeant McQueen were standing well back from the gallows.

I opened my mouth to ask another question. I wanted to know what it was like afterwards when, as a witness, my father had to look at the unhooded face, but he held up his hand before I could speak. “I’ll only tell you this. It’s wrong, Janet. Wrong to kill a man no matter what he’s done. I hope to God this is the last

hanging in Port Arthur. You’re young and maybe you’ll see the law changed because, in the name of God, it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

After that I said nothing.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The Last Post

 Dear Readers: This is the last post for this blog. Over the past weeks I have worked hard to use the new format mandated by the Google blog people and tried to make it work for a literary blog but no go. I have tried out many many ideas and suggestions but all were complicated, time consuming and close to useless. Google has closed the comments (complaints) about their new format and no longer takes questions. 

Many strange formatting decisions make it impossible to post longish posts such as essays, book reviews and short stories. One can no longer post submissions that come in as a word document. They will only arrive as a picture.  Trying to turn the "picture"into readable prose is a nightmare. Formatting glitches abound. Double spaced text turns to single spaced text with no way to correct the problem.

I never did envision this blog as only a notice board for local events. I always wanted to publish people's stories, poems, photos, and essays. 

Enough. I had fun with this blog and hope some day to start another. Many thanks to readers all over the world who have followed the events in Thunder Bay. Special apology to Jackie D'Acre who sent in a last submission, a nifty essay about God. I tried and tried to get it into the new format but short of retyping it myself, I could not post it into the blog as a readable document. Many thanks to the poets and writers who have graced these pages. Good luck to you all. 

Eventually, I may still find a way out of the formatting maze but for now, I am folding. 

Joan M. Baril

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A letter from Mckenzie Fisk of Mischievous Press.  Behind every great story on Canadian Shorts II is a fantastic author. We'd like you to meet them. 

Friday, October 16, 2020



What are You Reading?  I would love to know. Email me at  

What am I reading? Here is the usual eclectic list running from mysteries to poetry to a deep dark memoir from a British spy in the Russian Revolution.

Books I have enjoyed lately.

  1. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. In 1940, the relentless Nazi bombing of England killed 45,000 people. Everyone expected the invasion any day. At the centre of this horror, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, a man of almost child-like energy, easily led from one half-cocked enthusiasm to another, an aristocrat who never shed his aristocrat habits, was, at the same time a man of such eloquence, courage, and perseverance  that he was able to bind the country together and convince then they would survive and win. The book also centres on Churchill’s family, friends, and the “Secret Circle” who advised him and kept him level and focused. Well written and well paced.
  2. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman gives up four peppy seniors living in an English retirement village. Their hobby is solving murders and they are good at it. An English cozy with lots of fun, wit and laughs even though lots of dirty work is happening at the crossroads.
  3. Memoirs of a British Agent by Bruce Lockhart. He was in Russia in 1917 when the first revolution broke out. In 1918 He was head of the British Mission to the Bolsheviks. The Revolution is over and the chaos, the killings and reprisals, the Civil War, the famine, the plots and counter plots are in full swing. Not to mention the terrible toll of Russian deaths as Germany conquers eastward. Lockhart has to deal with Lenin, Trotsky and other revolutionaries. He has to figure it all out, get the information back to London, run several spies but, at the same time, stay alive, while leading a busy social life with his mistresses. Although he does a stint in the notorious Loubianka prison, he is not shot as he expected. With the help of his mistress, he makes it home and lives to write this book. A riveting memoir.
  4. Collected Poems of Bronwen Wallace If I were a poet, and I’m not, this is the kind of poetry that I would like to write. Straightforward, strong, and feminist with wise observations and rhythmic lines that reveal to me a new slant on women’s lives. An excerpt from , “A Simple Poem For Virginia Woolf” will give you an idea.

This started out as a simple poem

for Virginia Woolf

it wasn’t going to mention history

or choices or women’s lives

the complexities of women’s friendships

or the countless gritty details

of an ordinary woman’s life

        that never appear in poems at all

yet even as I write these words

those ordinary details intervene

between the poem I meant to write

and this one    where the delicate faces

of my children    faces of friends

of women I have never seen

glow on the blank pages

and deeper than any silence

press around me

waiting their turn

Bronwen Wallace

The Free World by David Bezmozgis One of Canada's greatest writers had me joining the Krasnansky family, three generations of Russian Jews, now in Italy, who are working, scheming, and hustling to get the precious visas to the West and the Free World. Bezmozgis' characters are ice sharp. Each carries the dislocation of immigrants but also the burning ambition to settle, to settle at last. 

David Bezmozgis

Wednesday, October 14, 2020



How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The authors named to the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist are:

  • Gil Adamson, for her novel Ridgerunner, published by House of Anansi Press
  • David Bergen, for his short story collection Here The Dark, published by Biblioasis
  • Shani Mootoo, for her novel Polar Vortex, published by Book*hug Press
  • Emily St. John Mandel, for her novel The Glass Hotel, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • Souvankham Thammavongsa, for her short story collection How To Pronounce Knife, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada
This year’s jury, comprising of Canadian authors Mark Sakamoto (jury chair), Eden Robinson and David Chariandy, Canadian British novelist Tom Rachman and literary critic for The Guardian, Claire Armitstead, narrowed down the 118 submitted works to 14 to create the longlist and on October 5 announced the five shortlisted authors.

Watch the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize broadcast on Monday, November 9, at 9 p.m. ET (11:30 AT/12 midnight NT) on CBC and the free CBC Gemstreaming service, where the winner will be announced. A livestream will begin at 9 p.m. ET on CBC Books, and a broadcast special will air on CBC Radio One and the free CBC Listen App at 9 p.m. (10 AT/10:30 NT).

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Autumn Poems from the Chinese, by Li Hai-Ku, Qing Dynasty


Autumn (photo Marion Agnew)

AUTUMN by Li Hai-Ku, Qing Dynasty

Hoar frost is falling
And the water of the river runs clear.
The moon has not yet risen,
But there are many stars.

I hear the watch dogs 
In the near-by village.
On the opposite bank
Autumn lamps are burning in the windows.

I am sick,
Sick with all the illnesses there are.
I can bear this cold no longer.


The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

How Cool Is This?


My Canadian Shorts II sweat shirt. Love the Moose. 


NW Ontario publisher encourages authors to defy chaos ..... 

and deliver excellence in Canadian Shorts II, a Collection of Short Stories.

In the midst of a global pandemic, Mischievous Books, owned by author-publisher Brenda Fisk of Atikokan, has gathered compelling stories from across the country for Canadian Shorts II, a collection of short stories from established and emerging Canadian authors.

Featured NOWW members include John Pringle of Atikokan, Joan Baril and Jack Shedden, both from Thunder Bay, and Stacey O’Sullivan, of Atikokan, who penned the Foreword. Fisk’s own story, NOWW’s 2018 first place winner for nonfiction, also appears in the collection.

From Literary Fiction to SciFi to Prairie Gothic, Canadian Shorts II unites some of our country’s diverse writing talent to defy 2020’s year of upheaval. From the depths of social isolation and societal upheaval, sixteen authors offer compelling stories of hope, failure, love, and sheer wonder at the workings of the world - with Bigfoot and a little alien abduction for fun.

RELEASE DATE: October 15, 2020

​​​​​​​Canadian Shorts II is a specially selected collection of short stories by established and emerging Canadian authors. Showcasing Canada’s diverse writing talent, there is a story for every reader, from Literary Fiction to SciFi Fantasy to Prairie Gothic to Romance-Thriller. 

This book is dedicated to Emergency Medical Dispatchers, the first, First Responders, with Foreword written by Stacey O’Sullivan, retired Paramedic.

AVAILABLE at online retailers in paperback, large print, ebook and audiobook

 Not Dead Yet

For the past month or so I have been working and cursing, unable to post a Word doc on this blog.  This is crucial because submissions (poetry, fiction etc) come to me via Word and I paste them into the blog.  When I write my own posts, I use Word with its many sophisticated features. I am a bit dyslexic but I can often catch my mistakes by checking my document with the talk feature.

For some reason, the blogger Brains decided on a new format, a bloggy make-over, and voila! Word docs only come into the blog as pictures. (I know this sounds crazy but there you are.) This is the world of computers; but I wish those computer Brains who keep changing things would get out more.

Finally, after many complaints from Bloggers, the Brains decided to delete their outraged comments and end the discussion. 

I will not bore you with all the ways I tried to unpicture the picture and turn it into readable text. I also tried myriad ways of saving my Word document  only to be defeated. 

So now I have found  a way. I write my posts in Mail and paste them into the blog. Double Voila!! There are other solutions out there and I will try them all. But Literary Thunder Bay is not dead. Yet.  

Please email me your stories, poems, essays and memoir pieces. Put your submission in the body of the e mail and send to Tell me about your Covid reading. I love to hear from people of all ages - kids included. 

Joan M. Baril

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Giller Prize Short List

 I am trying to read or at least sample, as many of these as possible. So far I was impressed with  the first story in David Bergan's collection called Here the Dark. Many familiar names here,  all excellent writer such as Thomas King, Lynn Coady, Emma Donoghue, Annabel Lyon and Seth. Many names are new to me and I look forward to making their acquaintance. 

The fourteen titles below were chosen from a field of 118 books submitted by Canadian Publishers.

Gil Adamson for Ridgerunner

David Bergen for Here the Dark

Lynn Coady for Watching You Without Me

Eva Crocker for All I Ask

Emma Donoghue for The Pull of the Stars

Francesca Ekwuyasi for Butter Honey Pig Bread

Michelle Good for Five for Little Indians

Kaie Kellough for Dominoes at the Crossroads

Thomas King for Indians on Vacation

Annabel Lyon for Consent

Shani Mootoo for Polar Vertex

Emily St. John Mandel for The Glass Hotel

Seth for Clyde Fans (graphic novel)

Souvankham Thammavongsa for How to Pronounce Knife.

Watch for the announcement of the Short List October 5.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Susan Olding - Author Reading and Workshops Zooming In!

Meet NOWW’s 2020 eWriter: Susan Olding. The evening will include readings by Susan and several NOWW members who participated in this year's eWriter program.

Susan Olding is the author of Pathologies: A Life in Essays, winner of the Creative Nonfiction Collective's Readers' Choice Award, and selected by 49th Shelf and as one of 100 Canadian books to read in a lifetime.

Thursday, September 10 - Zoom - 7 pm


Two Paths to a Draft: with Susan Olding 

Finding form through your material/ Finding your material through form 

In this two-part online workshop, we’ll analyze sample texts, review the strengths and pitfalls of different approaches to structuring a piece of writing, and consider the importance of form and structure across the genres. 

You’ll go away with resources and suggestions for further reading, writing, and reflection. This workshop should be useful for writers at all levels, working in all genres.

Dates - Part 1 Saturday, September 12. Part 2 - Saturday, September 26 

Time - 1 pm to 2:30 pm/

Cost 25$ for NOWW members for both workshops. Register on line at

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Short Story Writers - Take Note and Weep

 I am reading the memoir of Fanny Hurst, a popular novelist and short story writer who was published in many magazines from the twenties to the fifties. She writes: “ At that time, (1920’s) The Post was paying me twelve hundred dollars for a short story, The Metropolitan fourteen hundred, and Ray Long (Cosmopolitan Magazine) topped them both, advancing in due time to five thousand and still later, on and on.” (multiply by five to get approximate value today).

Fanny Hurst

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

NOWW : Flash Fiction Contest.

Dear Joan,

 Announcing our 3rd Annual NOWW Flash Fiction Writing Contest! It’s a great way to kick off the fall – and to get you back into writing mode again after a long, hot summer. 

 What: Short-short story – 500 words max

When: Deadline is September 20, 2020

Who: NOWW members (though new members are welcome to join, so forward this email to any friends who may be interested)

 New stories only please, and limit of one submission. For more information including complete contest details, please visit:

Then, get writing...


Good luck!

Don Parsons
NOWW Administrator

Box 425, 1100 Memorial Ave.,
Thunder Bay, ON
P7B 4A3

A letter to members of Northwest Ontario Writers' Workshop (or NOWW)

 Dear  NOWW Members,

Our fall season will be starting soon.  We will have readings starting in September.  Due to the ongoing pandemic we will be hosting readings via the online platform ZOOM until otherwise notified.

The first Reading is appropriately themed: The Virus, Yesterday, Today and, Tomorrow.  

We need readers.  So if you are interested in reading from the comfort of your home please contact me at the email address below my signature. 

Additionally, if you want to be a member of the readings audience please stay tuned to your emails and to our website and Social Media pages.  

Remember that the theme is always a loose suggestion.  

Best regards,


Don Parsons
NOWW Administrator

Box 425, 1100 Memorial Ave.,
Thunder Bay, ON
P7B 4A3