Category Archives: Letters from Lynn

A Letter from Lynn: Attending The Squamish Nation Pow Wow

When I was a kid here on the North Shore, my dad would take me to the Pow Wow down on the reserve. It was always fun and full of activity, and the drumming seemed to go from the air to the ground, up through my feet and right to my soul. We would eat bannock and smoked salmon, and Dad would talk to the elders—many of whom he knew quite well. For many years, he owned a small watch repair shop on Lower Lonsdale, and after awhile he began to buy local crafts and carvings from the artists on the reserve. This meant long chats over cups of coffee. Dad was well liked; he gave a fair price and often told an artist to charge more! Some of these treasures he sold, but many he kept and he left them to me when he died.

Years later, when I was living in Northern Ontario, I’d go to the annual Pow Wow, which was held in September. The Anishinabek Pow Wow grounds on Lake Nipissing (just outside North Bay, Ontario) is a beautiful treed sanctuary. It’s been a peaceful and protected space for a very long time, and when it’s transformed into this annual celebration, it is a colourful, welcoming and exciting place to be. When I left the area, I knew it was a place and a tradition I was going to miss.

Last week, I saw a notice for the local Squamish Nation Pow Wow, and I thought it would be a good idea to take my 5 year old granddaughter. She loves to dance and sing, and if my dad had been here, he’d have said it was time.

The North Vancouver Pow Wow is held in an open field not far from the base of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. On one side of the field, there is a long, wooden lodge building and several large totem poles stand nearby. The Pow Wow was to last 3 days. I chose to take Laura on Saturday, and we arrived at 6:00pm in time to grab a burger and look around before the dancers’ grand entrance at 7:00. I told Laura to look for something special as we walked around the many craft tables set in a large circle around the field. I also wanted to go where the dancers were sitting, so I could meet them and have an up close look at their regalia. When they are in motion, they are a whirling flash of colour and it’s hard to appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship that goes into each outfit. I also like to watch the drummers as they hit the drums hard and sing in unison.

At the Squamish Pow WowLaura found a beaded hair ornament in one of the craft tents, and after some more looking around, we decided to go back and buy it. The man in the tent was dressed in an outstanding traditional robe of wolf skin—the head of which was mounted over his own. His face was painted, and in any other encounter, he would have looked quite fierce, but he smiled at Laura, told her the hair ornament would be two dollars and handed it to her with a grandfatherly gesture that made us both smile.

With some fanfare, the grand entrance was announced. Dancers of all ages and in all manner of traditional dress lined up at the entrance and prepared to parade into the centre of the field. The drumming and singing began, and Laura wanted to get into a place where she could best see what was going on. Elders were introduced followed by mothers and children. Then warriors and visitors whirled in a mass of colour into the centre of the field. Some of the dancers were from Ontario, and I wondered if I’d recognize anyone I knew. There were women and girls in jingle dresses, grass dancers, ribbon dresses, amazingly ornate beaded robes, and the some of the most spectacular and colourful feathered regalia I have ever seen. After elders had spoken and announcements were made, the dancing truly began.

I wondered how long Laura would want to stay and watch the festivities. I could watch all night! After awhile, I asked if she’d like to get down from the stands and see if we could get a closer look. People were kind and we made our way to the side of the circle where we could see the dancers up close as they moved clockwise to the drums. Laura began to sway with the rhythm, and when it was announced that anyone who wanted to join the dancers was welcome to do so, Laura’s eyes lit up. Like someone preparing to jump into skipping ropes, I watched her get up her courage, set her pace and go. She ran right to the man in the wolf robe and danced along with him. Laura whirled around the circle twice, and when the drums paused, she ran back to me happy, smiling and completely out of breath. “I know some of the kids!” she said, “they go to my school!” At Ridgeway Elementary School, First Nations teachers talk to the children about history and drumming and traditional dress. Laura is learning about hunting, fishing, healing plants and some of the things that happened when the settlers came. She has even learned a little about residential schools. Taking her to the Pow Wow wasn’t an introduction, it was adding to something about which she already knew. Maybe my dad has returned in the spirit of my granddaughter. It’s possible! He certainly resides in me.

If there is a Pow Wow in your area, treat yourself. It’s a wonderful experience.

Edited to add:

One of the people I met at the Pow Wow in North Vancouver was William Burnstick. The regalia he was wearing exemplifies the intricate and colourful bead and feather work seen at these annual celebrations. To see his work, go to www.WilliamBurnstick.com  His artistry is outstanding!

A Letter from Lynn: A Strange Encounter

I called up my friend, Steve, last night. He’s a successful musician, and has been a close friend of my son, Aaron, since they were three years old. We got to talking about the “old days”, and he reminded me of a story I thought might be fun to pass on:

Steve had moved to Nanaimo, British Columbia from Ontario, and since Aaron was living in Vancouver, it was easier than ever for them to stay in touch. One day, Aaron was visiting when Steve, searching the very new internet, found a site dedicated to For Better or for Worse. It was a really nice site. He saw some interesting comments and some respectful criticism, and he thought he’d get in touch with the guys who were writing it. He sent a pleasant note to say he was a friend of mine, he liked the site, and would they mind if he sent a link on to me.

The response was amazing. The guys who ran the site sent back a tirade of crude and ugly insults, saying there was no way Steve could know me, and to just #*&%%%#! – off!! Steve was astounded. Aaron decided to up the ante, so he wrote them a note of his own.”Hi”, he said, “You just got a message from Steve who is a friend of mine. He does know Lynn Johnston and so do I – I’m her son!” The response from the “fan” site was even more disgusting! They swore, and insulted him, and had a fine time with this piece of news.

“If you are truly Lynn’s son,” they said, “who was in panel three of the Sunday strip which ran on August somethingorother, and what was the punchline?” Aaron wrote back; “Darned if I know!” After all, he was my kid! He rarely read the work on my desk, and didn’t read the books until he had moved away from home! Both witty and wickedly creative, Aaron and Steve happily bantered with the “appreciation guys” until it got boring. They laughed about this for days.

Steve said he never went back to the site, and wondered what had happened to the two fans who had started it. If only they had believed Steve and Aaron!

Lynn J.

Lynn Went to Whitehorse

Here’s a new travel journal from Lynn! Last month, she took off on an adventure to Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory.

Flying to Whitehorse

On November 18, I boarded the Air North flight from Vancouver to Whitehorse, YT. It’s a two-hour flight, and if the sky is clear, it’s one of the most spectacular trips in the country. From take-off over the North Shore, you see the Rockies tumble and crest like waves—one massive white-capped peak after another. You see glaciers grinding their way through the rocks and canyons scored by rivers; the silted arteries, which lured gold rush pioneers into the heart of northern British Columbia. Few roads are visible, yet thousands of people travelled inland risking their lives hoping to strike it rich. On horseback, by mule, dogsled, and on foot they explored every inch of this impossible terrain. I prefer to fly!

The Whitehorse River

The Whitehorse River

Air North is a surprise in this day of “pack ‘em in, get ‘em off,” bottom line expediency. Not only do you get two cups of coffee, included is a hot sandwich and a fresh, still warm cookie—something the regular commuters always look forward to. Added to this excellent treatment was the assurance that personal belongings left on board would be returned to you. I found this out when my seatmates and I were called to a desk while waiting for our luggage. A book had been found in the seat pocket in front of us and the staff didn’t want it to be lost. How extraordinary.

Traveling with Musicians

I’d been looking forward to this trip for several weeks. All year, my friend Paul Lucas and his trio had been performing in Northern BC, the NWT, and several places in Alaska. This time, they were working with a wonderful singer and preparing for a concert in Whitehorse, which I wanted to attend. Paul plays jazz guitar and is well known for his talent, his originality and his great sense of humour.

Yukon Comic Culture Society

Since I’d be spending a good ten days in the city, I thought it would be fun to meet some of the local artists. I asked Paul to connect me with some of the folks there so I could ask about doing a workshop or two. As it turns out, there is a comic art society in Whitehorse (the Yukon Comic Culture Society), and in no time, two workshops, a school talk and a book signing were organized. I was going to be busy!

Paul and I set ourselves up in the High Country Inn, the same place William and Kate stayed last summer. The giant carved wooden Mountie at the front entrance makes it easily recognizable. Unlike the statue of David, which has a large head (reported to have been purposefully done in order to give the figure correct proportion when viewed from below), the High Country Mountie has an extremely small head. I thought about this every time I went into the building: the word “High” —perhaps a significant tool in the artists’ method and design.

The small-headed Mountie.

The small-headed Mountie.

Exploring Whitehorse

It didn’t take long for me to find my way around. Whitehorse reminded me of North Bay, Ontario and Lynn Lake, Manitoba combined. With its northern location and a neat population of residents, I immediately felt at home. What impressed me most was the level of creativity and the emphasis everywhere on art and culture. Live music, galleries, theatre and dance are encouraged all year ‘round. I was told that there were more kids enrolled in dance than in hockey. Where else in Canada does that happen?! The Christmas craft fairs were in full swing. Coloured lights were being wrapped around trees in the parks, along the streets and everywhere. With fresh snow on the ground, the place was joyously festive and alive. It made me laugh to know that people in the south ask why anyone would want to go to the Yukon in winter. Having lived in small northern towns, I know why people go north and why they stay there.

The old Whitehorse train station.

The old Whitehorse train station.

Mac’s Fireweed Books

Mac’s Fireweed Books is the city’s delightful independent bookstore. On the 22nd, they hosted a book signing, and for an hour or two, I met and chatted with folks from the area and beyond. One couple was from Los Angeles. They were newlyweds and had decided to go somewhere exciting for their honeymoon. Now, there’s a marriage with a great start!

Mac's Fireweed Books

Mac’s Fireweed Books

Teaching Workshops

The two workshops were held on the 24th in a central gallery located in the basement of a large sporting goods shop, and appropriately called “Arts Underground.” My first crew of 10 were ages 8 to 11 or so…all of whom had talent and enthusiasm. In the evening, my second class of 10 were all women—all accomplished artists and all welcoming and encouraging. Afterwards, I felt as though I’d known these ladies for much longer than two hours. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and promised to get together again sometime. Wow!

Golden Horn Elementary

On the 25th, I visited Golden Horn Elementary School. The first thing I noticed were the racks of skis and snowshoes at the entrance; just one of the things which made this school exceptional.

Skis and Snowshoes for the kids.

Skis and Snowshoes for the kids.

Everywhere I looked, I saw great ideas; drawings of “worry monsters” (the things which occupy your mind when you’re worried), a handmade fishing net filled with paper fish, a tank with salmon eggs waiting to hatch, handwritten original poetry, superb art projects, and so much more. I kept wishing I was a kid again and was a student there. My talk was an hour long and the kids were wonderful. When they aren’t in a rush to leave, you know you’ve hit home!

A Private House Concert

I had brought several small paintings to finish while I was there and I also had a good book. I had little time for these. Paul rehearsed often and then the concert was on! The venue was a spacious private home and it was a sold out crowd. Couches and chairs were set up to face a “stage.” Two tables of munchies and a BYOB bar made this show a great big party. I think there were 55 people there—all ready to enjoy live music and an evening of fun. Brazilian jazz began the first set, followed by some Rhythm and Blues. People were dancing in the halls and the band got several standing (or trying to stand) ovations. What a great way to stage a show: in a private home, with the musicians so close you can touch them!

Heading Home Again

The following day, we had breakfast with friends, packed, and planned our flight home. It’s hard to believe that something I looked forward to and the band rehearsed for for so long, was over so fast. Still, that’s the way it goes with good times; looking forward is almost as exciting as the event itself … and then, you’re looking back! So, here’s to looking forward again, and to all the good times and all the great memories yet to come! Have a happy December.

ship

The Klondike, moored in the river.

Lynn J.

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Lynn Visits Atlin, British Columbia

In another life, my dad must have been a prospector. As a jeweller, he was interested in gemstones and minerals, but he was also captivated by stories of the gold rush and read extensively about the people who pioneered their way through the interior of British Columbia. I often went with him to gold pan on the Coquihalla River and to check out sandbars on the fast flowing Fraser. He had a sixth sense for finding gold-bearing quartz and for jade good enough for carving. One summer, he took the family on a road trip to Barkerville, a town built by the gold rush and still standing thanks to a small tourism industry. On the way, we camped on the property of a friend of his—a man who had staked a claim and was busily digging his own mine, but that’s a story for another time!

Even with my dad’s focus on our provincial history, I had never heard of Atlin, B.C. Accessible by road through Whitehorse in the Yukon, it remains one of the few gold rush towns (still active) still inhabited by people whose family histories date back to the late 1800s. I have just returned from Atlin and I have to tell you about this experience while it’s still fresh in my mind.

My friend, Paul Lucas, a talented musician, has had a cabin in Atlin for over 40 years. During the late 70s, he travelled to the Yukon with other artists and musicians looking for freedom, space, adventure and the possibility of owning a small piece of property. Atlin, a two-hour drive southeast of Whitehorse and just over the BC border, offered all of that. Paul’s life and his music have revolved around this part of the country, and despite extensive travel and another life in Phoenix Arizona, his roots are set firmly in Atlin. Continue reading

Lynn’s Notes: Canada Day on the Quay

Here’s a note from Lynn about the Canada Day festivities she enjoyed, near her home in Vancouver:

I live a 15 walk from the waterfront, where the Sea Bus comes in to the Quay. There are family parks are on all sides.

I walked down with my daughter and her family, to see the Canada Day spectacle. There were tents set up everywhere with the usual buskers, crafts, and balloon animals…but the food trucks are the big draw. There are dishes from everywhere: Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, China, India, Persia, the Caribbean, Greece, Germany…and then you have Québecois poutine, English pot pies, and the Canadian grilled cheese sandwich vendor (with the best mac’n’cheese anywhere), whose stuff is so good he had to get a second truck.

People-watching is the best here. WASPS are in the minority, and even if you do run into a European family, you can’t expect them to speak English. You hear Russian, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish…it’s a real melting pot, with couples of all colours going hand in hand. My mother used to say "We should all intermarry, then the population would all be the same colour. There would be no racial differences, everyone would get along." So, I said "Mom, you’d be happy if I married a Japanese man?" She looked shocked, and said sharply in her British best, "Not US, dear!!" Well, Mom. The day has come. There is mixing and matching, and it’s all working out just fine.

We stayed most of the day. Large tugboats came up to the wharf, and did what they called the "tugboat ballet". These things have monstrous engines and side thrusters, which allow them to be maneuvered in every direction. Four of them, polished and new, did movements in unison, facing each other in square dance fashion, lining up side to side, then swirling as fast as they could in place…the way they whipped the water up looked like a frothing storm—everyone on the jetty was sprayed, and the kids were mesmerised. None of us will ever watch the tugboats now without thinking about the day they danced at the Quay!

We stayed until 3:00, just in time to walk up to the movie theatre and take in a show. It was quite a day. We then went back to Kate and Lane’s. We were all full from the food trucks, so my granddaughter, Laura, and I had painting time in the basement studio. I’ve been working on a rather goofy cartoon painting of a dog, and Laura puttered about with watercolours. What’s good about her being there when I’m painting, is that I’m too focused on what I’m doing to watch her closely. I can’t answer her questions the way I normally would, and she can only break my concentration if she needs clean water or has an accident. This means she has become independently creative. She’s doing lovely abstract designs, learning to mix colours, and is enjoying the freedom to see whatever materializes from her hands.

When he’s in the mood, my grandson, Ryan, is also fascinated by colours and paper, crayons and clay. I think we have more artists in the family.

So, I have given you our version of Canada Day!  We celebrated our wonderful mixed nationality with food, music, and fireworks. And in the end, it really was a great way to express our joy and relief. To be able to live in freedom and harmony is not something one can take for granted!