Author Archives: Phil Paine

Image of the Month — Mogg Bay, 23 km south of Igloolik, Nunavut

FILMSAPRIL 2022

(Down­ie & Stephen­son 2016) The Secret Path
(Ding 2016) Addict­ed [上瘾; Shang Yin]: Ep.1
(Ding 2016) Addict­ed [上瘾; Shang Yin]: Ep.2
(Fer­gu­son 2021) Jon Batiste: Free­dom [music video]
(Ding 2016) Addict­ed [上瘾; Shang Yin]: Ep.3
(Forsyth 1983) Local Hero
(Jef­fries 1970) The Rail­way Children
(Vidor 1952) Hans Chris­t­ian Anderson
(Fran­cis 1966) The Dead­ly Bees [MST3K version]
(Mox­ie 1960) The City of the Dead [aka Hor­ror Hotel]
(Trelfer 2022) Dark Cor­ners Review: The City of the Dead
(Hitch­cock 1942) Saboteur

First-time listening for April 2022

26222. (Jon Batiste) Black­bird [sin­gle]
26223. (G‑Eazy) The Outsider
26224. (Jon Batiste) What a Won­der­ful World [Live at Mon­treux] [sin­gle]
26225. (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach) Fan­ta­sia in C Minor for Piano, Wq.63 #6, H.75
26226. (North­ern Cree Singers) Drums in the Pines ― Pow Wow Songs Record­ed Live in 
. . . . . Kesh­ena, 2022
26227. (Jon Batiste) We Are
26228. (Afghan Whigs) Up in It
26229. (Takashi Yoshi­mat­su) Sopra­no Sax­o­phone Con­cer­to “Albireo Mode”, Op.93
26230. (John Lennon & Yoko Ono) Unfin­ished Music, Vol.2 ― Life with the Lions
26231. (Jon Batiste & Stay Human) Social Music
26232. (John Dun­sta­ple) Descen­di in hor­tum meum [Ars Nova Sacra choral version]
26233. (Ry Cood­er) Boomer’s Story
26234. (Al Gromer Khan & Amelia Cuni) Mon­soon Point

READINGAPRIL 2022

24876. (Gary O. Rollef­son & Zei­dan Kafafi) The 1996 Sea­son at ‘Ayn Ghazāl: Preliminary 
. . . . . Report [arti­cle]
24877. (Alexan­der Ref­sum Jense­nius) Son­ic Microin­t­er­ac­tion in “the Air” [arti­cle]
24878. (Efem N. Ubi & Vin­cent Ibonye) Is Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy Fail­ing in Africa or Is Africa 
. . . . . Fail­ing under Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy? [arti­cle]
24879. (Kon­stan­ti­nos Kopa­nias & Gio­ta Bar­la­gian­ni) Unequal in Life but Equal in Death? 
. . . . . The Mor­tu­ary Evi­dence for Social Strat­i­fi­ca­tion in the Ubaid Poli­ties [arti­cle]
24880. (Seth Brew­ing­ton, et al) Islands of Change vs. Islands of Dis­as­ter: Man­ag­ing Pigs 
. . . . . and Birds in the Anthro­pocene of the North Atlantic [arti­cle]
24881. (Theodor Cim­peanu, et al) Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Devel­op­ment Races in 
. . . . . Het­ero­ge­neous Set­tings [arti­cle]
24882. (S. Fred­er­ick Starr) Lost Enlight­en­ment ― Cen­tral Asi­a’s Gold­en Age
24883. (James H. Bar­rett, et al) Wal­rus­es on the Dnieper: New Evi­dence for the 
. . . . . Inter­con­ti­nen­tal Trade of Green­landic Ivory in the Mid­dle Ages [arti­cle]
24884. (Joseph Grif­fith) Dark Psy­chol­o­gy Secret 
24885. (Davi­da Eisen­berg-Degen, Roy Galili & Steven A. Rosen) Before God: 
. . . . . Recon­struct­ing Rit­u­al in the Desert in Pro­to-His­toric Times [arti­cle]
24886. (K. N. Pan­di­ta) Ibn Sīnā [Avi­cen­na], A. D. 980‑1037, An Introduction
24887. (Richard Wilk) Poems on the Theme of “Glean­ing” [verse]
24888. (Steven Hart­man) The Rise of Amer­i­can Eco­l­it­er­a­ture [arti­cle]

Tuesday, April 19, 2022 — The Secret Path

I am for the wolf, pitch-black and yel­low eyes
This is the only place to be
For the raven arriv­ing first to get my eyes
This is the only place to be
And I’m for the poor sun, always against the mind­less night
This is the only place to be
And I’m for the wind, in the pale blue sky
This is the only place to be
On this earth-like world
It’s cold and real
And with a sun-like star
You can feel
I’ll just close my eyes
I’ll just catch my breath
This is the only place to be

[“The Only Place to Be” — 9th song from The Secret Path)]

I final­ly saw the film com­po­nent of The Secret Path. I heard all of the songs on Gord Down­ie’s album when it was released in Octo­ber of 2016, and liked them, but I did not see the film. Now I have. This would be some­thing that I would not have to explain to most Cana­di­ans, and some­thing that I would cer­tain­ly not need to explain to any­one from Canada’s First Nations. How­ev­er, the read­ers of my blog are inter­na­tion­al, and most are unfa­mil­iar with Canada’s pecu­liar low-pro­file cul­ture, so I will explain some things for their sake.

The Trag­i­cal­ly Hip are a rock band that was tremen­dous­ly pop­u­lar in Cana­da through­out its career, but apart from a cou­ple of briefly suc­cess­ful sin­gles nev­er broke out into the Amer­i­can or glob­al mar­kets. Not every­one in Cana­da likes the band, but every­one is aware of it. It’s not my favourite band, or even my favourite Cana­di­an band, but I lis­ten to it fair­ly often, when it suits my mood. But I can tell you from the expe­ri­ence of hitch-hik­ing across the coun­try that the peo­ple who were like­ly to give me a ride, when I stood for­lorn and mos­qui­to-bit­ten on the dusty shoul­der of the Trans-Cana­da High­way, like as not had a Hip cas­sette play­ing in their car or truck, and a bunch of them scat­tered on the front seat, which they hasti­ly gath­ered up to let me sit. The Hip began the usu­al way, a hand­ful of high school bud­dies start­ing a band and work­ing their way up play­ing local joints in the small city of Kingston, Ontario. The ear­ly songs were strik­ing, and well played, though not par­tic­u­lar­ly ambi­tious in their arrange­ments. An ear­ly hit, “Blow at High Dough”, has a pret­ty basic chord pat­tern and chug-along rhythm gui­tar and slide gui­tar, and depends most­ly on the pecu­liar­i­ty of Down­ie’s voice and his enig­mat­ic lyrics to hook the lis­ten­er. As time went on, gui­tarists Paul Lan­glois and Rob Bak­er, bassist Gord Sin­clair, and drum­mer John­ny Fay picked up greater and greater skill, and attempt­ed sub­tler and more ambi­tious tech­nique, while Gord Down­ie’s lyrics became more and more poet­ic. But the Hip always behaved and played like a real­ly good bar band. Their sub­ject mat­ter —- the world from the point of view of the small-town under­dog, had the pecu­liar mix­ture of con­cern for the envi­ron­ment, out­rage at social injus­tice, ghost­ly snatch­es of dream­like imagery, along with pick­up trucks, junior hock­ey and get­ting drunk at the town curl­ing rink that appealed to Cana­di­ans and felt Cana­di­an. For exam­ple, “Wheat Kings” was told from the point of view of David Mil­gaard, who served twen­ty years in a Man­i­to­ba prison, wrong­ful­ly con­vict­ed of murder:

There’s a dream he dreams where the high school’s dead and stark
It’s a muse­um and we’re all locked up in it after dark
The walls are lined all yel­low, grey and sinister
Hung with pic­tures of our par­ents’ prime ministers
Wheat kings and pret­ty things
Wait and see what tomor­row brings

and this theme is even stronger in “38 Years Old”, set in an Ontario prison:

Same pat­tern on the table, same clock on the wall
Been one seat emp­ty, eigh­teen years in all
Freez­ing slow time, away from the world
He’s thir­ty-eight years old, nev­er kissed a girl

If you’ve ever heard Neil Young’s “Help­less” or Joni Mitchel­l’s “Raised on Rob­bery”, for exam­ple, you can guess that this sort of thing has long formed the core of musi­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty in Cana­da. Nobody here sings about their lam­bergh­i­nis or design­er watch­es or what macho dudes they are. Cana­di­ans laugh at brag­garts. By the time Down­ie wrote “Ahead By a Cen­tu­ry” in 1996 , with its erot­ic dream of two teenagers climb­ing a tree togeth­er to make love and fig­ure out their des­tiny, the lyrics were way past the con­ven­tions of either pop song writ­ing or sto­ry­telling. But the song had been worked out from impromp­tu jam ses­sions done as ear­ly as when they first per­formed “New Orleans Is Sinking”.

Stare in the morn­ing shroud
And then the day began
I tilt­ed your cloud
You tilt­ed my hand
Rain falls in real time
And rain fell through the night
No dress rehearsal, this is our life
But that’s when the hor­net stung me
And I had a seri­ous dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoked them out

In 2012, after decades of sol­id suc­cess, The Hip played in Fort Albany, Ontario, pop­u­la­tion a smidge over 2,000 ― hard­ly a mon­ey-mak­ing venue ― shar­ing the stage with a local band. Fort Albany and Kashechewan First Nations live most­ly by tra­di­tion­al trap­ping, hunt­ing and fish­ing, and their small pop­u­la­tion var­i­ous­ly speaks Cree, Ojib­way, Eng­lish, French, and Oji-Cree (a sort of com­pro­mise between the first two). The town is acces­si­ble only by bush planes and, in mid-win­ter, by a long and dan­ger­ous ice road dri­vable only by spe­cial­ly trained truck dri­vers. It was here that Gord Down­ie learned the sto­ry of Chanie Wen­jack, a twelve-year-old boy from Ogo­ki Post, a tiny upstream First Nations vil­lage, who escaped from mis­treat­ment at one of the noto­ri­ous Res­i­den­tial Schools and died of hunger and expo­sure while attempt­ing to walk 600 kms back home. It also began a kind of spir­i­tu­al bond between The Hip and First Nations that would grow steadi­ly deeper.

In 2015, Down­ie was diag­nosed with a fatal brain can­cer, with the expectan­cy of soon and cer­tain death. The band was deter­mined to keep play­ing til the end, and their last con­cert, in their home town of Kingston, was broad­cast cross-plat­form and nation­wide to an esti­mat­ed audi­ence of one third of the coun­try’s entire pop­u­la­tion. This includ­ed every sin­gle liv­ing per­son in the town of Bob­cay­geon, the set­ting and title of one of their best songs. After thir­ty songs and three encore sets, they fin­ished with “Ahead By a Cen­tu­ry.” But Down­ie also had a spe­cial solo project in mind. This was The Secret Path, which was to be much more than the album of ten songs that Down­ie com­posed. It was pack­aged with a graph­ic nov­el which Down­ie wrote and was illus­trat­ed by cel­e­brat­ed DC and Mar­vel comics artist Jeff Lemire, an ani­mat­ed film ver­sion of the graph­ic nov­el direct­ed by Down­ie, and a suite of relat­ed instruc­tion­al mate­ri­als for pub­lic schools. These were pre­sent­ed togeth­er in con­cert at Roy Thomp­son Hall in Toron­to on Octo­ber 2016, with Chanie Wen­jack­’s sur­viv­ing sis­ters present. This was Gord Down­ie’s last pub­lic per­for­mance. He died on Octo­ber 17, 2017. The Prime Min­is­ter called a spe­cial press con­fer­ence, in which he announced the death of “our bud­dy Gord, who loved this coun­try with every­thing he had…”

As I said, I heard the album when it came out. I did not know what to expect, but I end­ed up watch­ing it with a friend and restrain­ing tears, because Secret Path is not only a fine piece of ani­ma­tion, but it touch­es on many parts of my life. The songs have a pecu­liar, repet­i­tive and almost dron­ing qual­i­ty, with no fan­cy licks or catchy tunes, and an odd absence of cadence. Now, hav­ing seen the film, I under­stand that these pecu­liar­i­ties are nec­es­sary com­po­nents of the music and the ani­ma­tion tak­en togeth­er. They cap­ture exact­ly the way young Chanie’s mind must have expe­ri­enced his des­per­ate jour­ney. I can tell you from expe­ri­ence that in pro­longed and over­whelm­ing dan­ger, your brain repeats words and phras­es like obses­sive tics. You become a rhyth­mic chant of help­less­ness and fear, and this is how the boy would have expe­ri­enced the events that he endured, the mem­o­ries that swamped him, and the hope­ful fan­tasies that kept him going.

I’ve known sev­er­al peo­ple who went through the same ordeals that Chanie went through at Cecil­ia Jef­frey Indi­an Res­i­den­tial School in Keno­ra, or in any of the 138 oth­er such schools in the coun­try. I’ve known an even greater num­ber of peo­ple who were the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion vic­tims, grow­ing up with par­ents strug­gling with severe psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems and alco­holism trace­able to their abuse in child­hood. This always put the less­er trou­bles of my own child­hood in per­spec­tive. I’ve been study­ing the issue most of my life, gath­er­ing up what doc­u­men­ta­tion I could get a hold of. There was not much avail­able at first, but in recent years much more objec­tive data and analy­sis has become avail­able. I am still in the mid­dle of read­ing mas­sive reports. Why has so much mate­r­i­al recent­ly become avail­able? Part­ly because of the dis­cov­ery of unmarked children’s graves on the sites of aban­doned Res­i­den­tial Schools, which has shocked the nation. But prob­a­bly more because of Gord’s music, graph­ic nov­el and film, and it’s accom­pa­ny­ing edu­ca­tion­al mate­r­i­al. These are now teach­ing aids in many Cana­di­an schools. The prof­it from them has been spent exclu­sive­ly on inde­pen­dent asso­ci­a­tions striv­ing to expose and doc­u­ment this injus­tice, and to heal the injuries it left behind it. And it cre­at­ed the psy­cho­log­i­cal break­through that forced the Cana­di­an pub­lic to face up to the truth.

In one part of the ani­mat­ed film, which I did not under­stand when I only heard the song, we see Chanie des­per­ate­ly using the match­es which his moth­er had giv­en him before he was sent away. This is the third song, “Sev­en Matches”.

She gave me matches
Sev­en wood­en matches
She put them into a small, slim glass jar
With a screw-top lid
I fin­gered that jar
I put it in my pocket
She said, ‘Can’t go into the woods with­out them’
I smiled at her and left
And I kept them dry
And as long as there were six
I’d be fine
As long as there were five
Match­es in that jar
Mile after mile
On the chick-chick chick-chick sound of the matches
On the mem­o­ry of her smile
I kept them dry
And as long as there were five
I’d be fine
As long as there were four
Match­es in a jar
With a screw-top lid
I know she did not mean to hurt my feelings
But that’s what she did
And I kept them dry
And as long as there were three
I’d be fine
As long as there were two
Match­es in that jar

Know­ing that his artis­tic cre­ation would have to be expe­ri­enced by young chil­dren, and used to teach in school, Down­ie did not direct­ly refer to the sex­u­al abuse that is known and noto­ri­ous. Instead, he just con­cen­trates on Chanie’s help­less­ness and fear expressed through ges­tures and oblique images. It is, after all, the help­less­less and fear that mat­ters, and chil­dren are per­fect­ly capa­ble of under­stand­ing this. 

In the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Canada’s pio­neer and wilder­ness soci­ety was meta­mor­phos­ing into some­thing more com­plex. Reform­ers strug­gled to estab­lish pub­lic edu­ca­tion. In the urban and agri­cul­tur­al south, Canada’s First Nations had long been an inte­gral part of its social fab­ric. Abo­rig­i­nal names resound­ed in the coun­try’s mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal his­to­ry. It was our Mohawk and Ojib­way gen­er­als who had repelled an Amer­i­can inva­sion and made the coun­try’s future pos­si­ble. Seneca and Mohawk farms were as good as, if not bet­ter than those of Euro­pean set­tlers, and First Nations com­mu­ni­ties sprout­ed busi­ness­men, cler­gy­men, ath­letes, schol­ars, writ­ers and poets. But in the north­ern wilder­ness, it was a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Abo­rig­i­nal life in the big emp­ty part of Cana­da (most of the coun­try) remained tra­di­tion­al, and com­mu­ni­ties were tiny, scat­tered, and remote. It seemed log­i­cal to bring edu­ca­tion to these com­mu­ni­ties by means of board­ing schools, which would mean remov­ing kids from their fam­i­lies. The reform­ers no doubt were mod­el­ling this enter­prise on the famed Mohawk Insti­tute, found­ed as ear­ly as 1831. It was also tak­en for grant­ed that the Church­es were both the nat­ur­al source of teach­ers and the unques­tion­able foun­tain­head of moral­i­ty. This was to turn what began as a move­ment of pro­gres­sive reform into a total­i­tar­i­an night­mare of abuse and tor­ment. The First Nations of the North were famil­iar with sym­pa­thet­ic mis­sion­ar­ies, who were usu­al­ly pious men who learned their lan­guages, defend­ed their inter­ests, and respect­ed their way of life. The peo­ple who ulti­mate­ly ran these Res­i­den­tial Schools were noth­ing like that. They were strict and fanat­i­cal ide­o­logues who saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to have total author­i­ty over help­less kids that they could mould as they wished into what­ev­er they wished. And the Gov­ern­ment would pay them to do it! Pay by the head. And the Gov­ern­ment would not make any effort to over­see or ques­tion them, since the moral pro­bity of the Angli­can, Catholic and Pres­by­ter­ian Church­es could not be ques­tioned. On top of that, the atti­tudes of Canada’s rul­ing elite under­went a not-so-sub­tle trans­for­ma­tion in the last quar­ter of the cen­tu­ry. With cheap trans-Atlantic steam­ers, it became pos­si­ble for Canada’s rich to send their kids to school in Britain, or even Con­ti­nen­tal Europe. Many returned stuffed with the “mod­ern” and “sci­en­tif­ic” ideas of racial and cul­tur­al supe­ri­or­i­ty and infe­ri­or­i­ty, which had pre­vi­ous­ly had lit­tle influ­ence in Canada’s egal­i­tar­i­an back­woods cul­ture. Even when Canada’s new elite were aware of the nasty things going on in the Res­i­den­tial Schools, they did not dis­ap­prove. This atti­tude would hold for a half a cen­tu­ry, with only a hand­ful of voic­es raised in oppo­si­tion. And as Cana­da became more urban and indus­tri­al, what­ev­er hap­pened in the north­ern hin­ter­lands seemed of lit­tle consequence.

For much of Canada’s old­er gen­er­a­tion, First Nations issues seem to be noth­ing but an end­less cycle of bick­er­ing over old treaties and occa­sion­al flair-ups where the peo­ple in some remote vil­lage in the bush block a log­ging road. The “tree hug­gers” and urban-based activists that ally with them often get most of the cov­er­age and do most of the talk­ing. Cana­da may nev­er have had “Indi­an Wars” like the U.S. or sys­tem­at­ic depor­ta­tions and geno­ci­dal slaugh­ters, but it has had legal dis­putes that last­ed cen­turies. For exam­ple, the legal sta­tus of an entire neigh­bour­hood in down­town Toron­to, based on the exact inter­pre­ta­tion of Toron­to Pur­chase Treaty 13 with the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Cred­it First Nation signed in 1805, was only sort­ed out in 2010. As you can imag­ine, the his­to­ry of such dis­putes is so long and com­plex that it will nev­er be com­pre­hen­si­ble to most peo­ple.* Despite the reg­u­lar use of the word “racism” in this con­text, it real­ly is not appro­pri­ate. Cana­di­ans are not brought up with any con­cept of First Nations as being a “race” in the sense that Amer­i­cans use the word, or to have any par­tic­u­lar hos­til­i­ty to them, or con­tempt for them, or fear of them, nor do they con­ceive of them as an alien “oth­er”. There are First Nations in every part of Cana­da, but since they are most promi­nent in remote non-urban places, and least promi­nent in the biggest cities, they are main­ly tucked into Cana­di­ans’ minds as iden­ti­fi­able minor back­ground char­ac­ters, along with rodeo cow­boys, lob­ster fish­er­men, high-steel con­struc­tion work­ers, and British Columbi­a’s weed-smok­ing snow-board­ing hip­sters (An irony is that First Nations have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in all four of the groups I just list­ed). It’s only in some spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ties where the eco­nom­ic inter­ests of a reserve and a near­by town con­flict, or where First Nations have a strong show­ing on skid row, that there is any overt prej­u­dice. And, while many First Nations com­mu­ni­ties are pros­per­ous, Canada’s wilder­ness is full of tiny reserves that seem to be in a con­stant state of finan­cial or envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. These reserves often stand on land wrapped up in those com­plex treaties, which were drawn up because Fed­er­al and Provin­cial gov­ern­ments thought the land was worth­less, but sub­se­quent­ly found out it was full of oil or dia­monds, or gold, or rich fish­ing grounds, or valu­able tim­ber. Keep­ing their inhab­i­tants from estab­lish­ing any sol­id title to these good­ies has always been a pri­or­i­ty, espe­cial­ly with the Provin­cial gov­ern­ments that are in thick with the rel­e­vant indus­tries. Every­where, gov­ern­ments present to the pub­lic the image that they are giv­ing “hand­outs”, gen­er­ous set­tle­ments and benev­o­lent char­i­ty to First Nations when they are actu­al­ly only ful­fill­ing the oblig­a­tions of the treaties that they signed long ago, and doing that grudg­ing­ly and stingi­ly at best. Most Cana­di­ans of the old­er gen­er­a­tion under­stand noth­ing of this, and per­ceive it as gov­ern­ments giv­ing unfair pref­er­ence to a sub­group of the nation because of some neb­u­lous wrong in the dis­tant past, which they acknowl­edge must have hap­pened, but don’t under­stand why they should be “pay­ing for” now. The facts that Cana­da has no his­to­ry of “Indi­an wars” or forced pop­u­la­tion removals like the U.S., that First Nations have always served dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly in our armed ser­vices with great dis­tinc­tion, and that many First Nations com­mu­ni­ties are pros­per­ous exem­plars of the mid­dle class makes the issues of the poor and besieged ones all the more baf­fling to them. 

But there are oth­er kinds of vio­lence and oppres­sion than wars or lynch­ings, and the most immoral of them are those that vic­tim­ize chil­dren. Steal­ing some­body’s land may piss them off, snob­bery and big­otry may make life a hard­ship, pover­ty is a drag, but steal­ing chil­dren from their fam­i­lies and ter­ror­iz­ing them is in anoth­er class of evil. It scars them in a way that cuts to their souls, not just their bank accounts. I grew up pret­ty poor, in an unhap­py fam­i­ly, and expe­ri­enced some nasty stuff well into my teenage years, but it’s just some expe­ri­ence under my belt. It does­n’t hurt me now, and I’m smarter and more empath­ic because of it. But most of the kids who were dragged away to Canada’s Res­i­den­tial Schools, where they were psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, phys­i­cal­ly and often sex­u­al­ly abused at the most ten­der and vul­ner­a­ble age were not able to just tuck it under their belts and write it off to expe­ri­ence. The Res­i­den­tial Schools left a whole gen­er­a­tion dam­aged, and in turn dam­aged the gen­er­a­tion that fol­lowed it. The Secret Path was meant to be more than just part of a heal­ing process. It was meant to give the next gen­er­a­tion in Cana­da an under­stand­ing of their past, and the most pre­cious gift of all, self-aware­ness and free­dom from delu­sion. If you are an Amer­i­can who is at this moment con­front­ed with the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s attempt to cen­sor and re-write Amer­i­can his­to­ry in the same way that the Com­mu­nist Par­ty or the Nazis did, then you hope­ful­ly know just how pre­cious is the gift of free­dom from delusion.

Gord’s project, which he pur­sued with pas­sion and unbe­liev­able hard work while he was actu­al­ly dying, was root­ed in the fact that he real­ized that he was an extra­or­di­nary lucky man. In fact, he pro­claimed this at his last con­cert: “I am the luck­i­est man in the world.” Not only had he been gift­ed with love and respect, but he got to know and deter­mine the style and dig­ni­ty of his own death. He also knew that these were pre­cise­ly the things that Chanie Wen­jack had been cheat­ed of. When that lit­tle boy fled the night­mare world he had been plunged into and ran des­per­ate­ly to get back home to the fam­i­ly that loved him, he was every hero of lit­er­a­ture that you should take seri­ous­ly. But unlike the heroes of art, there was no hap­py end­ing, no ren­di­tion of jus­tice, no dig­ni­fied exit.


* The 1805 treaty was almost cer­tain­ly bogus. In 1787, coun­cils of three groups of Mis­sis­saugas were con­vened at which trade goods were dis­trib­uted in recog­ni­tion of their loy­al­ty dur­ing the strug­gle with the Amer­i­cans, and guar­an­tee­ing “right of pas­sage” for new set­tlers across the area that would even­tu­al­ly become Toron­to. By the time of the 1805 treaty, this had been mag­i­cal­ly trans­formed into a “doc­u­ment of sale” and only much lat­er was it dis­cov­ered that the “deed” to Toron­to [which meant “car­ry­ing place” or “meet­ing place”] was com­plete­ly blank, with the marks of three Mis­sis­sauga chiefs on sep­a­rate scraps of paper sus­pi­cious­ly sand­wiched into it. This proved some­thing of an embar­rass­ment con­sid­er­ing the land that it cov­ered is now the third largest urban econ­o­my in North Amer­i­ca, hav­ing dis­placed Chica­go for this posi­tion in the last few years. One par­tic­u­lar­ly nag­ging con­flict that has gone on for lit­er­al­ly cen­turies in Cana­da and has come to the point of vio­lence sev­er­al times is a dis­pute over a small patch of land in the sub­urbs of Mon­tre­al that traces back to antag­o­nism between Catholics and Methodists over con­trol of a cemetery. 

Image of the Month

FILMSMARCH 2022

(Arm­strong 2000) Mid­Somer Mur­ders: Ep.13 — Beyond the Grave
(Simp­son 1987) A Dorothy L. Say­ers Mys­tery: Gaudy Night, Ep.1
(Simp­son 1987) A Dorothy L. Say­ers Mys­tery: Gaudy Night, Ep.2
(Simp­son 1987) A Dorothy L. Say­ers Mys­tery: Gaudy Night, Ep.3
(Hogan 1941) Ellery Queen and the Per­fect Crime
(Kako­gian­nos 1964) Zor­ba the Greek
(Leeds 1938) Island in the Sky
(Marks 1961) Per­ry Mason: Ep.109 ― The Case of the Res­olute Reformer
(Davies & Wharm­by 1980) Why Did­n’t They Ask Evans? [minis­eries]
(Paroli­ni 1977) Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century
(Trelfer 2017) Dark Cor­ners Review: Yeti — Giant of the 20th Century
(Trelfer 2022) Dark Cor­ners Review: The Lost Empire
(Tenold 2021) Bran­don’s Cult Movie Review: (260) Yeti
(David 1972) Lord Peter Wim­sey: Clouds of Wit­ness [minis­eries]
(West 1926) The Bat
(Iso 2022) The Orbital Chil­dren: ep.1 ― Extrater­res­tri­al Emissaries
(Levy 2022) The Adam Project
Read more »

First-time listening for March 2022

26313. (2 Chainz) B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time
26314. (Turkuaz) Ophid­io­pho­bia [sin­gle]
26315. (Jacopo Peri) Hor che gli augel­li for Sopra­no, Gui­tar & Harp
26316. (Zakir Hus­sain) Mak­ing Music [with Jan Gar­barek, John McLaugh­lin & Hariprasad
. . . . . Chaurasia]
26217. (Ahmad Adnan Say­gun) Piano Con­ter­to #2
26218. (Week­nd) The Zone [fea­tur­ing Drake] [sin­gle]
26219. (Dinosaur Jr.) Bug
26220. (Shapeshifters) House Grooves
26220. (Four Tet) Dialogue
26221. (Leoš Janáček) Káťa Kabanová [com­plete opera: d. Davis; Gustafson, Palmer,
. . . . . McCauley]

READINGMARCH 2022

24854. (Stephan G. Stephans­son) Select­ed Prose and Poet­ry [Úrval úr Verkum Stephans
. . . . . G. Stephanssonar] [Ice­landic & Eng­lish tr. by Krist­jana Gunnars]
24855. (A. A. Milne) Win­nie-the- Pooh
24856. (Jor­rit M. Kelder) Ear­ly Ships and the Spread of Indo-Euro­pean and Anatolian 
. . . . . Lan­guages [arti­cle]
24857. (Zita Laf­franchi, et al) Co-occur­rence of Malig­nant Neo­plasm and Hyper­os­to­sis
. . . . . Frontal­is Inter­na in an Iron Age Indi­vid­ual from Münsin­gen-Rain, Switzerland: 
. . . . . A Mul­ti-diag­nos­tic Study [arti­cle]
24858. (Phillis Wheat­ley) Mem­oirs and Poems of Phillis Wheat­ley [1773–76, 1838 edition]
24859. (Bert Groe­newoudt, Gijs Eij­gen­raam & Menne Kosian) Nieuw bos met oude 
. . . . . wor­tels: onder­zoek naar verd­we­nen bossen [arti­cle]
24860. (Rebekah Kof­fler) Putin’s Playbook
24861. (Mehmet Özdoğan) The Archae­ol­o­gy of Ear­ly Farm­ing in South­east Turkey 
. . . . . [arti­cle]
24862. (Peter Zei­han) The Acci­den­tal Superpower
24863. (Lar­ry N. Char­trand, Tri­cia E. Logan & Judy D. Daniels) Métis His­to­ry and 
. . . . . Expe­ri­ence and Res­i­den­tial Schools in Canada
24864. (Daniel S. Adler, et al) Dat­ing the Demise: Nean­derthal Extinc­tion and the 
. . . . . Estab­lish­ment of Mod­ern Humans in the South­ern Cau­ca­sus [arti­cle]
24865. (Anand Gopal) No Good Men Among the Liv­ing ― Amer­i­ca, the Tal­iban, and the 
. . . . . War Through Afghan Eyes
24866. (Bri­an G. Rich­mond, Neil T. Roach & Kel­ly R. Ostrof­sky) Evo­lu­tion of the Early 
. . . . . Hominin Hand [arti­cle]
24867. (Neil T. Roach & Daniel E. Lieber­man) Upper Body Con­tri­bu­tions to Power 
. . . . . Gen­er­a­tion Dur­ing Rapid, Over­hand Throw­ing in Humans [arti­cle]
24868. (Jere­my Black, Gra­ham Cun­ning­ham, Eleanor Rob­son & Gábor Zóly­o­mi) The 
. . . . . Lit­er­a­ture of Ancient Sumer
24869. (James M. Bar­rie) Mar­garet Ogilvy 
24870. (David Alt­man) Adjust­ing Democ­ra­cy Indices to the Age of Mass Migration:
. . . . . Vot­ing Rights of Denizens and Expats [arti­cle]
24871. (Mike Roth­schild) The Storm Is Upon Us ― How Qanon Became a Movement, 
. . . . . Cult, and Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry of Everything 
24872. (Tim­my Gam­bin) Mal­ta: Sub­merged Land­scapes and Ear­ly Nav­i­ga­tion [arti­cle]
24873. (Lloyd Kiva New) Chi­hu­ly Taos Pueblo [art book]
24874. (W. Ange­les Llan­char­ro Gutiérez & Prim­i­ti­va Bueno Ramírez) Car­tografian­do el 
. . . . . Arte Mue­ble Ibéri­co de la Pre­his­to­ria Reciente [arti­cle]
24875. (Robert Lebling) Leg­ends of the Fire Spir­its ― Jinn and Genies from Ara­bia to 
. . . . . Zanzibar

Saturday, March 12, 2022 — The Unquiet Spirit That Dreamed Best

I’ve always believed in the dig­ni­ty of “qui­et patri­o­tism”. The more some­one waves a flag or shouts slo­gans, the more sus­pi­cious I tend to be that their “patri­o­tism” is half-baked or fraudu­lant. I do not, for exam­ple, think that any Trump sup­port­er can claim to be a patri­ot­ic Amer­i­can, no mat­ter how much red-white-and-blue they paint on them­selves. They are trai­tors to their coun­try, plain and sim­ple. Sim­i­lar­ly, the spec­ta­cle of the fake “truck­ers” in the ludi­crous Karen Kar­a­van that ter­ror­ized Ottawa wrap­ping them­selves in Cana­di­an flags (along with their Nazi Swastikas and Con­fed­er­ate Bat­tle Flags) were the exact oppo­site of patri­ots. But now and then an inci­dent ― such as 14-year old Kiya Bruno singing “O Cana­da” in the Cree First Nations lan­guage at Blue Jays and Oil­ers games ― strikes me as a gen­uine and apt expres­sion of love of one’s coun­try. Some­times a poem, a paint­ing, a sym­pho­ny or a song will cap­ture the feel­ing. It’s hard to lis­ten to Neil Young’s “Help­less” or to look at a Tom Thomp­son can­vas with­out being touched by it. After all, I do feel that I am part of my coun­try, that I owe it some­thing, and that it’s part of my bones. And I’m well aware that one does not have to be born in Cana­da, or to aban­don or belit­tle one’s roots else­where to feel this way.

So I was delight­ed to find an exam­ple of “qui­et patri­o­tism” in a col­lec­tion of the poems of Stephan G. Stephans­son. He did not write in Eng­lish. He wrote poet­ry and prose in his native Ice­landic, but was for the bet­ter part of his life a Cana­di­an. He was born on a farm in the dis­trict of Sey­luyhrep­pur, Ska­gafjörður, Ice­land, in 1853. He moved with his fam­i­ly to Wis­con­sin in 1873, and after a stint as a lum­ber­jack he moved to Alber­ta in 1888, where he owned a small home­stead near present-day Mark­erville, Alber­ta until his death in 1927. This was a tiny Ice­landic com­mu­ni­ty about 1,250 kms west of the prin­ci­pal Ice­landic set­tle­ment at Gim­li in Man­i­to­ba. Now there are two things to remem­ber about this loca­tion. The first is that it is one of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world. His lit­tle farm was on the Cana­di­an Prairies just on the cusp of the foothills of the Rock­ies, and not far from this lit­tle bit of landscape:

These moun­tains appear con­stant­ly in his poems. The sec­ond is that this was no place for the faint of heart, or for seek­ers of lux­u­ry. Pio­neer­ing in the Cana­di­an West in the 1890s was hard­er work than any Cana­di­an is like­ly to expe­ri­ence today, a world where every triv­ial jour­ney was on horse­back, where the tem­per­a­ture can plum­met to ‑50C, and soar to +40C, where tor­na­does, hail­storms, ter­ri­fy­ing bliz­zards, and tor­ren­tial thun­der­storms abound, and where a drought or a rise in freight rates at the rail­head could quick­ly bank­rupt a farm or ranch. Elec­tric­i­ty did not arrive until long after Stephan died. The lit­tle Ice­landic set­tle­ment still exists, in the form of a “ham­let or des­ig­nat­ed place” with a pop­u­la­tion of 38. The dairy he helped found is still there. The Luther­an church, paint­ed a bril­liant white like most wood­en prairie church­es, is still kept up. And, the house he built by hand is still there, real­ly very charm­ing in design, for­tu­nate­ly now cared for as an Alber­ta Provin­cial His­tor­i­cal Site.

Stephan had com­plex and mixed feel­ings about Cana­da, as he did about Ice­land. I know the region he was born in, and it too is a land of nat­ur­al beau­ty with a harsh cli­mate. Those won­der­ful Ice­landic ponies, no doubt descend­ed from the one he loved as a child, roam about on grass­lands strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar to those of Alber­ta. But Ice­land was soul-crush­ing­ly poor when he was born there, espe­cial­ly in a remote cor­ner of the island like Ska­gafjörður. The coun­try is wealthy now, but the prim­i­tive lit­tle sod-huts, bare­ly dif­fer­ent from those of the Viking Sagas, remain scat­tered across the bar­ren land­scape to charm the tourists. Many Ice­landers chose to risk all to start a new life in Cana­da, con­fi­dent that their tough upbring­ing would fit them to take on any chal­lenge it could throw at them. In the end, it seems the hard but free life in Alber­ta suit­ed Stephan, and he found some peace and sat­is­fac­tion in the great blue skies and wind-blown grass that shim­mered on the foothills of the Rock­ies. This he cel­e­brat­ed in the poem “Kana­da”:

Menn trúðu því forðumm, um staum­barða strönd
þó stor­murinn heima við bryti,
að fjarst úti í vestrinu lægju þó lönd,
þar logn eða sól­skin ei þryti,
því þar hefði árgæzkan frið­land sér fest
og frel­sið og man­núðin ― allt sem er bezt.

It was for­mer­ly believed, on a sea-bat­tered shore
though the storm at home blasted,
that in the dis­tant west there still lay lands,
where calm and sun nev­er ended,
for there the good sea­son had found its retreat
and free­dom and com­pas­sion ― all that is best.

Þeim lét ekki sigling, en hug­suðu hátt;
við hafið þeir drey­man­di stóðu,
er sól hné að viði í vestriny lágt
í vorkveldsins bláköjjyrnóðu,
þá von manns og lan­ganir líða með blæ
út lognslét­tan, sól­gyll­tan, víð­fað­man sæ.

They set no sail, but thought high,
by the ocean they dream­ing stood,
as the sun slid into the low­est west
in the evening’s blue-mist­ed spring dusk,
then hope and desire glide out with the breeze
on the still-bank, sun-gilt, wide-armed sea.

Þó enn flæði höf, þau sem aðskil­du lönd, 
er auð­farin leið yfir sæinn.
Og Mark­land vort, Kana­da, hug sinn og hönd
þér heimurinn rét­ti yfir æginn.
En Hel­lenum aðeins í óð gaz­tu birzt ―
en íslen­zkum sæko­nung bauðs­tu þig fyrst.

Though oceans still food, that sep­a­rate lands,
the pas­sage across is effortless.
And our Mark­land, Cana­da, its genius and care
the world held out to you over the sea,
To the Greeks you could only appear in a poem ―
but to an Ice­landic sea king you gave your­self first.

Og enn ren­nir von man­na augunum þreytt
að aus­tan, um þig til að dreyma ―
þú góð reyn­dist öllum, sem unna þér heitt,
sem eiga hér munuð og heima.
Og allt á þér rætist og rót geti fest,
sem reiku­la mannsan­dann dreymt hefur bezt!

Still human hope turns its tired eyes
from the east, to dream about you ―
you proved good to all, who loved you fervently,
who pos­sess here rap­ture and home.
And all with you is ful­filled and able to root,
which the unqui­et spir­it has dreamed best.

Krist­jana Gun­nars has trans­lat­ed a selec­tion of Stephan’s poems that read very well in Eng­lish. I can sound out the Ice­landic from often hear­ing the lan­guage spo­ken, but of course, I have no idea what this poem sounds like to mod­ern a Ice­lander. Does it’s style seem quaint or old-fash­ioned? Does it betray in its style Stephan’s dis­tance from the Ice­landic writ­ers of his time? I would be delight­ed if some­one famil­iar with Ice­landic poet­ry would give me their opinion.