Night Lights of Thunder Bay at Brodie

Night Lights of Thunder Bay at Brodie
Readings at 7 pm, Brodie Library, December 6

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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Do you have the urge to Direct? Join us for 'The Director's Toolkit', on Dec 17, 2016 at the Waverley Library Auditorium. The Director's Toolkit is geared towards emerging Directors.  All Welcome

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Club Bonanza

Hello  Joan 
We have added some more new titles to our Book Club in a Bag collection. A big thank you to the clubs that donated books. These donations help to keep the list of titles fresh and diverse, and helps to stretch our budget. As always, if you are interested in reserving any of these titles, please email or call Helen Cimone at the Mary J. Black Library.
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything - her family, reputation and life—in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
In a split second, Jenna Gray's world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.
The Necklace by Cheryl JarvisThe true story of thirteen women who took a risk on an expensive diamond necklace and, in the process, changed not only themselves but a community.
A House Without Windows by Nadia HashimiA vivid, unforgettable story of an unlikely sisterhood—an emotionally powerful and haunting story of friendship that illuminates the plight of women in a traditional culture, from the author of the bestselling The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and When the Moon Is Low.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline donated by the Happy Bookers Book Club
A captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain donated by the Wordy Dozen Book Club in memory of Eija Leinonen
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie donated by Nipigon Public Library
In Johannesburg prosperous whites live in gated communities; when they exit their cars to open the gates, car-jackings are common. But seldom is the victim killed, much less shot twice, like Annette Botha. Piet Botha, the husband of the wealthy woman, is the primary suspect in his wife's murder. 
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill  donated by the 3M Book Club
All Keita has ever wanted to do is to run. Running means respect and wealth at home. His native Zantoroland, a fictionalized country whose tyrants are eerily familiar, turns out the fastest marathoners on earth. But after his journalist father is killed for his outspoken political views, Keita must flee to the wealthy nation of Freedom State—a country engaged in a crackdown on all undocumented people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Abraxas Books on Denman Island

Some Travelling Books.

In October I spent three weeks in British Columbia and, with the help of two excellent bookshops, Abraxas on Denman Island and Munro’s in Victoria, found great books to keep me company.

Here are the books, all highly recommended.

Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed. By Alan Bradley. A fine mystery with a humorous set of characters and a crackling detective, 14 year-old Flavia deLuce. All is told in her voice, childish, funny, clever. I often find the final chapter of mystery novels tedious because someone, usually the detective, gives a long and confusing soliloquy in order to explain all the loose ends in the plot. I’m afraid I often skip these tedious bits. Not so here. The ending is excellent, with an interesting full scale explanation, an encounter with the dangerous villain and a final  chapter tidying up the life of Flavia.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad.  This quirky, funny novel, which was short listed for the Giller, presents the reader with an original voice, that of the shape-shifting Beth/Elizabeth/ Betty who struggles with friendship, love, family and her life inside her skin.

Under Majordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt  A hilarious book which takes place somewhere mountainous, poor and far away.  The conversations between characters are laugh out loud. The hero, Lucy, is the kind of guy nobody misses when he leaves home to take a job as an under majordomo in a castle. The castle houses a creepy maniacal Baron who mourns the fact that the Baroness has left him. Lucy finds love and solace in the nearby village while the Baron, happy at the return of the Baroness, engages her and her friends in wild sexual games. But Lucy’s girl friend has another lover, a handsome soldier who loves war. Marvellously funny with a twist on every page.

Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood. A theatre director gets fired by his deputy who stages a coup to take over the theatre. The bitter man spends years plotting revenge. After he takes a job directing Shakespeare in a prison, he learns his enemy, now a civil servant, will pay a visit of inspection. I am all set for a dramatic revenge. The book is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Memories – From Moscow to The Black Sea – by Teffi Teffi was one of the most famous Russian writers at the turn of the century. Her prose is so clear and simple it shines. Teffi wrote memoir, often in short vignettes. This book describes her attempt to flee Russia during the revolution. She describes the general craziness of people in flight, the many characters she meets on the road, old friends who turn up and others who disappear, the hardships, the wild turns of events and the constant search for a place to stay. When she finally gets on a ship to Turkey, it does not move but sits in port day after day.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett Marriages break up, families intertwine, children are born, grow up and they have children. Anne Patchett follows connected families through the generations into a commonwealth of linked people who each carry their personal memories but also share a collective memory.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Jane Crossman, president of NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers' Workshop) and board member Jodene Wylie at Chapters at a NOWW information table.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 20 -23, 2016
 By Joan M. Baril
How to describe my experience at a writers’ conference? It’s like being whirled in a blender for four days and then spit out with head spinning and hands clutching pages of notes which you hope will be legible when you get time to look at them again.
The Surrey Writers’ Conference has been going for twenty-four years. Its rep is solid gold. It is sometimes described as the best writers’ conference on the continent.
Joan and Jack Whyte
A phalanx of volunteers, a hoard of workshop presenters and literary agents, five hundred participants, nine 90-minute workshops for every time slot all day long starting at 10 in the morning, meals with guest speakers, a cocktail party, book tables, contests, silent auction, vendors, great food and Jack Whyte singing his hippopotamus song which starts “Mud, mud, glorious mud.”
But wait! There’s more! A costume party, theatre, music, wonderful food, a chance to pitch your novel to an agent, master classes, a blue pencil critique opportunity, and above all great conversation where I picked up interesting tips from the attendees, many of whom are published writers.

Joan and Karen X Tulchinshi, at the workshop on memoir.

All this happens in a comfortable hotel where it is a snap to get from venue to venue.
At the end of four days, my brain was happily reeling with new inspiration while, at the same time, the hippopotamus song had colonized a section of it and is still there. Curse you, Jack Whyte!
Although the advance information stated the conference is geared for all genres, it strongly leans toward genre fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, historical, thriller and the various sub-sets and combinations thereof.

Key Note speaker Larry Brooks, a writer about writing. Check out story

I had a tough time choosing my workshops. Can I turn down Diana Gabaldon in favour of a workshop on memoir, my next project? Should I skip the much praised presentation by Hallie Ephron to take the workshop on combining writing and travel, an intriguing idea since I travel a lot. Hair pulling time.
It is difficult to decide which workshop was best.  I was hit by so many new ideas, new techniques and new ways of looking at novels and the writing of same, that I had a hard time staying in tune with the presenter because, at the same time, my brain was processing this information in relation to my own work. It was as if I was thinking double all the time. I was working on two tracks, one examining the new idea while the second track was considering how to use this information in the novel I am currently revising.
Very energizing. After a workshop by Karen X. Tulchinsky on the topic of family stories and memoir, I went to my room and wrote a memoir piece about an incident in my past that I had almost forgotten.

(photo left Diana Gabaldon)

Donald Maas of the Maass Literary Agency in New York gave the final keynote. He spoke about the irrational anger which has recently seized the world and then he spoke about the crazy joy of writing. He urged each person to compose a single sentence describing why they write and suggested they post this sentence by the computer screen. 
Another neat idea to end a sparkling time.

Dana Ramstedt at her craft table. For years she collected ink bottles. And she has ducks, pheasants and peacocks etc. at her farm. So she collected feathers, sharpened and pointed them, put them together with the ink bottles for a neat writer's collectible reminiscent of the days of the quill pen.  (see bottom right in photo). When I talked to her, we were interrupted by customers handing her money. These feathers in ink bottles were flying off the table. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016



Celebrate the Scotiabank Giller Prize at Thunder Bay's Prince Arthur hotel in the heart of downtown. Amazing raffle prizes and fantastic cuisine.
Funds raised at the event support Frontier College Canada’s original literacy organization.
Join members of the community to celebrate Canadian literature and watch the live awards broadcast! The inaugural Scotiabank Giller Light Bash in Thunder Bay will kick off with delicious eats and cocktails and the Guess the Giller contest!  Place your bet on which book will win the Scotiabank Giller Prize!
Tickets are $25 in advance and at the door.

Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel & Suites

17 North Cumberland Street

7PM to 11PM


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Madeleine Thein, winner of 2016 Governor General's Award for fiction for the novel, Do Not Say We  Have Nothing. This novel is also short listed for the Booker and for the Giller Prizes. Congratulations Madeleine and all the winners.
The English-language winners of this year's awards are:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Invitation from Edgar Lavoie

Dear Joan.
 55 Plus Harvest Craft Market - Hope you can make it . . . Pass this on to your friends.  Later, I will also be attending the Vanderwees Christmas Craft Sales and December Dreams.  (You may have received this already.  In that case, sorry!)

Writer Edgar Lavoie

BOOK TABLE THIS SUNDAY - 55 Plus Harvest Craft Market, River Street, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Sixty vendors.  Fellow author Marianne Jones & I will offer our wares in Craft Room #2.  I am also publicizing the upcoming anniversary of a major historical event in Northern Ontario, the completion of the first Trans-Canada Canada.  Will have info & maps on hand.  Also, I am offering for sale my latest book, just released: Bush Histories I - Gold-Seekers in Greenstone & Beyond.

Monday, October 17, 2016

by Karl Goodwin

A cold wind off Lake Superior slices through Fort William’s grain elevators and across the railway station platform. The sun surrenders little warmth. It is maybe twenty years ago.
            Fourteen of us await a passenger train coming in from the east and it’s 10 a.m.
            A phone call to the farm the previous night has informed us the train will be making a brief stop.
            Natives from the Queen Charlottes out in B.C. are returning home by train from Ottawa. They’ve been pleading with the Feds for a park…trying to limit logging in their territory out there…Train station…Ya….tomorrow morning….stopping only for a short time, no more than twenty minutes or so. I’d be nice to show ‘em some support when they arrive. Depot will be closed. But bring hot coffee when you want to…Ya. Ten sharp.
            I’ve brought my son Adam. He is about seven and somewhere in a space between sleepy and cold from the trip into the city. He huddles close to me in the lee of the station.
            10 a.m. No train.
            10:20 a.m. No train.
            We repeatedly look round the end of the station and up the track. I fantasize about kneeling down and placing my ear to the track to listen for train vibration—like the Indians did. Or was it the cowboys? What if my ear were to freeze to the track? 10:30—despite the depot sign saying “WESTBOUND – ON TIME.”
            Adam shivers and I retie the drawstrings on his coat and get him to wipe his nose. I ask him if he wants to leave. I ask him if he “has to go.” He decides we should stay “a little while longer.”
            Adam fidgets. I think of the CPR, the two glistening steel rails. Riel. The Metis. Sir John A. Lives lost and fortunes made “to tie the nation together.” Gordon Lightfoot’s Railroad Trilogy.
10:45 a.m.
Eventually the train pulls into sight, coming to a long slow squealing halt as a conductor steps off, footstool in hand. Four coaches down a dozen “not-so-native-looking” train-weary passengers disembark.
Finally the Haida. First a tall male elder with a small skin-covered drum, then two Haida women who step to the platform and unfurl a hand painted banner beside the train as the drummer beats the drum and sings a Haida song. He concludes by speaking in Haida as the wind whips the banner and the red and black button blankets of the visitors.
On the far side of the platform those of us greeting the arrivals and “offering our support” stand transfixed. No one has been delegated to speak for us. We do not know what constitutes an appropriate response! Does one clap for a drum song?
We stand our ground stationside. Trainside, the Haida stand their ground. One minute. Two minutes. They eye us. We eye them. We are “as deer caught in the headlights.
Adam confidently moves away from me, strides across the station platform.
            He gives the drummer a full hug. With the “ice now broken,” the rest of us follow Adam’s lead and cross the platform to greet out visitors. We chat all too briefly.
            “ALL ABOARD.’
The Haida fold their banner, climb onto the train, and they’re gone.
Experiencing Adam’s spontaneity on that day will forever remain one of my proudest memories. I understand that part of Gwaii Haanas is now protected. I have never been there.
Adam died in the North on January 9, 1999.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.