IN Memory

IN Memory
The Women of Montreal

Friday, December 9, 2016

Gwen O'Reilly Writes About December 6, 1989. The Montreal Massacre

The Memorial at Minto Park Montreal
(article by Gwen O'Reilly first published in

December 6th, 1989. I remember the day when 14 young women were murdered by Marc Lepin because he thought of them as feminists.   The Women’s Centre had held its annual meeting that very night.  We sat in our tiny feminist enclave discussing the dry administrative details of non-profit governance, unaware of the traumatic event unfolding in Montreal.  There were no cell phones, texts or twitter then – none of us would hear the events of the day until we returned home and turned on the radio or TV.  That event both galvanized and vilified feminists and anti-violence activists for years afterward.

We still hold vigils to remember those 14 women and the significance of gender based and racialized violence, but the details have faded, and for many are no longer in living memory. And there are so many others to remember and mourn, especially Indigenous women, who have been murdered or are missing.

The aftermath of the Montreal Massacre, as it was dubbed at the time, took the form of a vitriolic argument between women’s groups and the status quo. Was Marc Lepin motivated by misogyny or by mental illness? Was it hatred of women, or simply a random act of unpreventable violence? It seems so naive now. At that time, there was no gun registry, very little anti-violence policy anywhere and concerns about missing and murdered Indigenous women were not even on the public agenda.

In 2016, the question is moot, evidenced by the results of the recent election in the USA. It seems when times are uncertain, people (women included) want daddy to protect them and tell them what to do. His personal dysfunction or political position does not matter as long as he is a big, strong man.  Is this starting to sound familiar?? Trump and his trolls lie, but they don’t dissemble – we know exactly where they stand.  They are proud and loud about their prejudice, and have given perpetrators of gendered and racialized violence a big green light.  The combination of entitlement and power is a volatile mix that will cause a lot of collateral damage, and US women are bracing for a significant loss of rights and access to justice and reproductive freedom.

So what to do about all this apocalypse in the air? The problem is patriarchal, colonialist and imperialist – and who is better equipped to understand this stuff than feminists?  The world needs feminists and feminisms more than ever.  And considering the gravity of the situation, we might need a few feminist superheroes to help us out. And I’m not talking about Justin Trudeau.  And not Wonder Woman, either. (Sorry, United Nations!)

We need someone who can leap over Trump Tower and other tall entitlements in a single bound! Someone with a magic cloak of visibility to make unequal power obvious…. or the ability to turn mansplainers into stone.  Someone with super de-con-structive powers who can unpack oppressive structures with one X-ray glance….. A superhero with super decolonizing powers, to boldly stop messing with other people’s cultures and livelihoods, or maybe the power to warp time and prevent colonization in the first place.  We could really use someone with a laser lasso of love, so that all encircled by her rope could see only what unites them, and forget the things that divide them.  Also, a shape/sex/social location shifter who can transcend gender, race, class would come in handy.  And, of course we will be needing someone with super redistribution of wealth power, some kind of economic metamorphoser, as well as an ecological empath who can sink her feminist fungal hyphae into the earth and connect us all telepathically to the health of the planet.  Last, but not least, we need a being with a nuclear compassion reactor that can radiate love through every fence and fortification.

Yes, we could really use some super powers in these times, other than the double edged sword of the Internet. But seriously, the actual feminist superhero is YOU.  So iron up your cape, dust off your boots and get out there – the world needs you like never before.

A Poem about Mothers to End the Year by Siohban Farrell


They gather like a tribe of warriors with
painted faces and sharpened nails endlessly
circling the fire fanning flames with scented
boughs, searching for wood checking for signs
from the universe in bear scat , in the warm
nests of their smooth cheeked children,
sprinkling clear untroubled waters into

gardens sprouting butterflies bathed in
moonlight, chasing off virtual bullies,
telemarketers, checking ID’s of drunks
wearing Armani suits, picking up dirty
needles, shucking bullets, scaring TV zealots
or robots crashing firewalls crossing lines,
knitting merino wool socks, sharing ancient
recipes to calm oceans halting sharp
rocks tumbling down mountainsides.

Misreading the signs, they sometimes covet
their children too long needing reminders
that their work is done, to open a link in the
chain, widening the circle making it stronger,
blessed by sage, rose petals  and juniper berries,
nourishing the earth where they dance through
wind and rain, through seasons of hate and
bloodshed, clasping their fingers in love
and light, holding the world together.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Shine Bright - the theme of the last reading of the year.

Sarah Mendek-Walker reads an excerpt from her fantasy novel Harrow Rose.

Good reads at Brodie Library last night, December 6, the last reading of the year. The theme was "Shine Bright", just in time for Christmas.

Dave Belrose read a piece called "Kam Winter,"which describes the natural world seen in a beautiful area around Thunder Bay

Bonnie Ferrante described how she created visuals for her many children's books including the award winning Amida Tree. In spite of Parkinson's disease which limits her ability to draw, she is able to create marvellous illustrations. 

Many thanks to the other readers and to all faithful readers of this blog: "May your Christmas be merry and bright!"

Night lights describes three strange phenomena I have seen. I hoped members of the audience would share similar sightings but no one had experienced similar events. However, Jane Crossman described glow worms of New Zealand which light up the trees. That must be a marvellous sight. I would love to see it. 

Night Lights

By Joan M. Baril

Here are three tales of strange lights.

Part 1. I sit atop the sand dune beside the Gulf of Mexico with a couple of dozen other campers and watch the so-called sunset. I do not tell my new American friends that the typical ten-minute Florida sunset is a pitiful squib compared to the two-hour razzle-dazzle produced at the end of the average Northern Ontario day.  But here at St. George State Park in the Florida Panhandle, the sun, a small red ball, hovers above the ocean and then flops into the watery horizon accompanied by a few anemic pink clouds. Everyone claps.  Twilight lasts all of three minutes.  Then darkness.

 My camper is well-tucked into the palms and live oaks. I stand on the back step breathing in the warm air and wondering, as always, why Florida has no scent and, for a minute, I miss the pine, balsam resin, grass and water scents you snuffle up with such pleasure in the boreal forest.

No moon is showing and only a few insignificant Florida stars flicker in the blackness.  But then, as I turn, I encounter a natural phenomenon that I have read about but never seen.

Behind my camp is a large salt-water pond.  That morning, I’d walked around it looking at the birds. But now, in the velvet Florida night, the surface of the water is slowly becoming visible out of the darkness. The pond is brightening before my eyes, as if someone in the depths has just turned on a florescent bulb.  The light quickly spreads across to the far margin creating a large luminous circle.  The water, a ghostly silver-white emanates a faint greenish tinge. Just then, a breeze undulates the surface creating bands of silver wrinkles. The light does not radiate or illuminate the ground around; the brushy edges of the pond are still unseen. The pond, a silver disk, hovers in darkness before me.

I understand I am looking at what is known as phosphorescence, probably caused by sea creatures in the water.  I know that my campsite is the only one backing on the pond so it is unlikely anyone else in the camp ground can see it.  I walk to the very edge of the water and stare at what looks like wrinkled foil covering the surface. I start to walk the path but hesitate because I know that alligators live in this pond and alligators feed at night.  Rather than blunder in the darkness and get tangled in the bushes, I run around to the road where it borders the edge to see the water from a different angle.  This takes a minute, but, when I get there—nothing.  

The luminosity is gone.  I run back to the camp site and all is dark. 

 The show is over

Part 2. I am camping in Patterson State Park in Wisconsin and it is hot, hot, hot.  My camp site is very large and remote and surrounded by a deciduous forest of oak, poplar, basswood and locust trees.  By midnight, I feel I’ve been clamped into a sweat box. I cannot sleep. I get up and open the door to see if there’s any breeze at all.  The back of the camper is only a few feet from the edge of the woods and, when the door swings back, I see a startling sight.

Fairy lights shine in the forest before me. The leaves on the lower branches are emitting beams as if from tiny little lanterns. Outside, a full moon floods the entire open area, softy illuminating grass, the picnic table and the fire pit. But, somehow, in the forest, it has set many of the leaves, especially the lower leaves, alight. 

I walk back and forth looking from all angles. The camper lights are off and no artificial light is in view. The leaf light does not cover the leaves but splotches them as if Jackson Pollock had tossed luminous paint here and there. On the other hand, no light spots shine from the ground or the trunks of the trees. I reach in and touch a lighted blotch and it moves but my hand does not light up. Perhaps there’s water on the leaves reflecting the moon, yet the leaves are not wet. My brain addles about searching for an explanation but at last I go inside and, for security’s sake, I must close the door of the camper before heading to my sweaty bed. The fairies and elves now have the woods to themselves.

 Ball Lightning
Part 3. It is pouring as it can only pour on a summer night in northern Ontario. Thunder crashes, lightening flashes and rain splashes as if a waterfall has been diverted from the river and sent flowing over my log house. I sit at the bay window and watch the water streaming across the meadow illuminated by constant crooked shards and sheets of light. The thunder is constant, moving from rumble to rumble like a long train going by. After fifteen minutes, the ground can no longer absorb the rain and, by the light from the house, I see a layer of water forming in the grass.

 My teen-age daughters, along with a couple of their girl-friends on a sleep-over, are watching from an upstairs window. I can hear shouting “wow” at every fancy fork of lightening. The dog, Pippen, is cowering under the couch and I know she won’t come out for hours.

 About two hundred feet away, where the road curves down from a small hill, I see a bright flash and then a roll of light moving across the field on the far side. Foolishly, I think “fireflies’ but then shake my head to clear it. No normal-sized firefly could be visible at two hundred feet; and, furthermore, no sensible firefly would be out in such a downpour.  As I watch, a ball of fire, like a child’s ball set alight, rolls across the sodden field and disappears. I lean into the dark pane trying to see beyond the streams of water on the glass. Another ball of fire appears farther off, across the road, moves along and dies. A third and then a forth roll by and then nothing.

Eventually, the thunder muffles down, the lightening stops and the rain settles into a regular heavy beat.

A few days later, I look up St. Elmo’s fire on line but learn St. Elmo’s fire is a blue glow that appears around ships and tall buildings. What I saw is called “ball lightning”.

According to Wikipedia, scientific data on ball lightning is scarce due to its infrequency and unpredictability. The presumption of its existence is based on reported sightings from the public. Until recently, ball lightning was regarded as a fantasy. Reports of the phenomenon were dismissed. However, several photos and videos now exist taken by people who claim to have seen ball lightning.

And I am one of these lucky few.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Winter is a-Comin’ In
by Joan M. Baril
This  article was previously published in Thunder Bay Seniors.
“Get your mind on winter time,” sings Bob Dylan and, at the end of October, Northern gardeners do just that. Perennial flower gardeners have a secret prayer. Please weather gods, give me snow, lots of snow, not wet or icy snow but soft downy stuff to cover my perennials, my shrubs, my roses, and my bulbs and so insulate them well. And also, weather gods, send no bitter ten below-zero cold before that snow gets here!
            After I empty the pots of annuals, and empty and scrub the bird baths, I get down on my hands and knees, not to pray so much as to creep around the plants looking for weeds. For sure I’ll find them.
Then I move the bird feeders closer to the house so that I can see them from the windows. Two feeders hang on tall metal stakes with hooks on the ends. These get pulled up and moved closer. The third swings from a peg on the fence. With the feeders close to the back door, I do not have to put on my snowshoes to fill them up.
I move the bird food into the house too. It is important to make sure the seed is kept in covered metal containers or cans. Mice can nibble plastic containers overnight and then, happy to have found paradise, they may settle in for the winter.
At one time I despaired of finding covered metal containers until one Christmas I decided to purchase the large tins holding popcorn or candy available at dollar stores. These tins were the best buy I have ever made.
Next I plant any bulbs I forgot about. One November day, I used boiling water to soften the soil and then dug below the ice layer to plant three big packages of those wonderful small but indomitable bulbs: scilla, dwarf hyacinths and choinodoxa. All popped up obligingly in the spring.
Most of my perennials are Thunder Bay toughies, which have withstood many winters: peonies, phlox, pink bleeding heart, sedums, monarda, day lilies, delphiniums both tall and medium, monk’s hood, allium gigantium, lamium, Shasta daisy, arabis, species clematis, Siberian iris, a few bearded iris, hostas, Preston and French lilacs, Morden roses, Explorer roses, a Hansa rose, and a few other hardy roses such as Winnipeg Parks, Pink Grootendorst and the unknown rose which was labeled Harison Yellow when I bought it; but, which blooms a lovely pink.
Even though we are in Zone 3, I have had weak moments when I’ve bought Zone 4 plants. I even tried Austin and tea roses, carrying them through the winter with rose cones and mounded leaves. Once, after reading some southern Ontario garden magazine, I followed the instructions and dug a big hole and buried the tender roses. Yes, all survived but I could tell they were not happy. Spindly droopy things with few blooms straggled through the summer. Mostly they gave up after a third winter. And so did I.
Some Thunder Bay gardens are warmer than others. And within a garden are warmer spots perhaps protected from those north-west storms. I have a friend who has a lovely variegated daphne bush (zone 4) which blooms happily in a sunny corner. I bought mine when she bought hers. Mine succumbed the first winter; hers has bloomed for six years. 
As for the garden beds, I leave them alone. With a few exceptions such as clematis, I do not prune the dead stalks. Contrary to accepted belief, this autumn scalping does not help the plants. However, I know some people must have a neat look until the snow covers all. I do not want a neat look. I clean up in the spring. In winter, the garden stays its jungle self.
Why do I do this?
First, the plant stalks hold the snow and a good snow cover is the north’s greatest gift to perennials. I seldom lose a perennial.
Secondly, the unscalped garden attracts the birds that eat the plant seeds plus the weeds seeds on the snow, on the patio or on bare patches of ground. They are much more efficient at weeding than I am. And, they provide a shot of winter joy when it’s too cold to go outside.
Thirdly, the dried stalks impart their own winter beauty to the garden. A straight palette of white is monotonous but to see a chickadee hanging off a sunflower head, to see siskins scarfing up the black-eyed Susan seeds, watch the finches and red pols checking out the stock, to observe a flock of cedar or bohemian waxwings working the crab apple trees, is a gift, the gift of a fourth garden season. Blue shadows dance on the snow during the short winter days, a reminder of spring to come. The mountain ash berries glow red under our bright blue winter skies.

There are enough chores to do in the fall. Let the garden clean up wait until spring.