March 28, 2013
The other night I attended James Burchill’s Business-in-Burlington’s much hyped March 21st event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Over 500 small and mid-business types milled about, chatting up old and new contacts.
Truth be told though, regardless of the very pleasant surroundings, free hors d’oeuvres and engaging exhibitor displays, it was hard work if one was coming in cold. I noticed a few shy wall-flowers clinging to the perimeters not quite sure when or where to ‘dive in’. Those familiar with other BiB events had a decided advantage. Most of those merrily schmoozed with other familiar faces. All in all, the place was rocking.
Even so, one moment stood out. The entire event came to a stand still when Burlington’s Mayor, Rick Goldring, took to the podium. He spoke for a few minutes to welcome the guests and congratulate them on their assorted start-ups and on-going ventures. When he stepped down, there was a decided lull in the conversation as his ‘tone’ set in, and then, all intensified their busy chatter.
What struck me most about the Mayor’s short presentation was his ‘delivery’. He spoke confidently, combining a deft interweaving of chummy casualness with polite formality respectful of his civic station. His voice was clear, warm and, to all listening, encouraging. He spoke very well. It was a crystalline rosy moment that made all listeners feel a part of one big happy family. And, as such, he did a very good job of it.
I started to wonder what specific attribute made this happen. Looks? Can’t hurt. Personal attire? Made an impression for sure. Nice tie? Sure. A title? It definitely helps, especially when infused with passion and vision. So, Passion and Vision? Yes, both. But personal passion or an invigorating vision won’t get a Leader anywhere without one underlying capability.
Earlier, I had seen the Mayor stand alone in the wings quietly glancing at some notes. He was obviously preparing before he spoke, and, on cue, he delivered.
His brief speech was, in sum, an insightful lesson about the on-going art and craft of public speaking.
Can anyone learn this skill?
Yes. But leadership cannot be learned in a day. It takes practice.
In Burlington, one of our best unsung resources for honing this necessary leadership capability is Mansion Toastmasters.
This eclectic group is the local club of Toastmasters International, founded in Santa Ana California in 1924 by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley. (It was he who conceived and developed a simple framework to help others speak more effectively.)
Mansion Toastmasters of Burlington’s mission is “to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment, in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which, in turn, foster self-confidence and personal growth.”
From their website, “A company’s success depends on communication. How well they communicate can determine whether a company quickly grows into an industry leader or joins thousands of other businesses mired in mediocrity.”
So, what actually happens at one of these meetings? “A typical toastmaster evening provides a variety of presentation and speaking challenges. These are varied in length and complexity and are assigned in direct relation to the Toastmasters’ expertise. Toastmasters learn by a) seeing good work presented and evaluated, and b) imitating successful techniques. Toastmasters meetings are spiced with laughter, creativity and camaraderie. We have fun! “
I went to my first Toastmasters meeting on Wednesday night and had a blast. It really was fun, as well as emotionally engaging and intellectually challenging. I watched and listened as everyone struggled with various levels of fear, shyness and “nerves” to be both ‘present’ and ‘public’. It was an inspiring introduction to the artful craft of being a ‘public persona’. Everyone, myself included, had to ‘stand and deliver’. The pace was fast with a short five minute break half way through the proceedings.
Some spoke better then others, but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t so much a competition as an opportunity for everyone to better their presentation skills. At all times members and newcomers were encouraged with on-going positive reinforcement through enthusiastic hand-clapping by the entire group. Sounds silly, but it works. A Timekeeper made sure everyone stayed on track. Sort of. At times it did appear a bit chaotic and seemed to fall into an impromptu ‘free-for-all’. But the mentors, or more seasoned members of the group, were quick to re-focus those with jittery ‘nerves’. Evaluators judged the Speakers, and they, in turn, were judged by the General Evaluator. Time just flew past.
Also from their website: “Using the speaking and leadership skills developed at Toastmasters, people become more active in business, churches, service and charity organizations. Toastmaster members are able to organize activities, conduct meetings, and speak in public as their organization’s representative. Some even become active in local, state or national government.”
Most would agree that Burlington’s Mayor, Rick Goldring, has become a much better public speaker after a few short years of practice. Know this: you can do it too.
Every Wednesday night throughout the year, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm, guests can join this small engaging group of 20 to 30 people (over the age of 18) when they get together at the Paletta Mansion on Lakeshore Road in the Cumis Room. Learn to refine your listening and speaking skills. Guests can attend for three ‘free’ visits. After that, membership, at $250 per year, is required. Based on what I experienced in those two very short hours, that expense is well worth the price of admission.
(Guest Post) Author’s Bio: Margaret Lindsay Holton is an award-winning author & artist from the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario, Canada. She generally speaks when spoken to.
January 23, 2013
Ever since I can remember, I have had a writing box. Most writers do.
This box is a compost heap of peripatetic ideas and sideswiped observations. Something will catch a writer’s fancy and it will get jotted down, then, later, tossed into the box. Stubby pencil bit scratches on found paper or full-length manuscripts of fluttering folios, half composed computer compositions or verdant wet pen epistles: all go into the box. There, the ideas will sit for a time to germinate. Two days or two decades per item is not an uncommon gestation period for these ‘seeds’. Ideas vary.
When I return later to view my young shoots, I frequently find that some have not taken root (pithy but pointless), or that others must be zealously weeded out (verbose ravings). Often I see the formation of a healthy new bud (a single word reverberates). There may well be new growth struggling on an old growth idea (polite licking aka poli-ticking.) Then I will feverishly prune-edit, cultivate-rewrite and otherwise happily tend to my quixotic word garden.
The stories and poems that follow are all items from the box. They cover a period of over thirty years and reflect the interests and critical obsessions of a maturing young woman who now stands as a mid-career artist in Southern Ontario, Canada, at the start of the twenty-first century.
Some tales began long ago (and far away) and have only recently come to final fruition. Some have grafted onto others creating startling new hybreds. And some, I know, to a seasoned and urban urbane editor, may still need some heavy pruning. However, I have included a few of these scraggly ‘wild ones’ because they radiate an exploratory and experimental ‘colour‘. I find they have their own rare merit and honest beauty.
They are, I hope, as much a delight to your senses in their singularity as they are to me. You will see certain features repeated in pattern. You will hear certain words repeated in different contexts. You may wonder why-on-earth I choose a particular tale to share with you. I can only say to you that my writing box is a living ‘words-in-progress’: one thought or idea shapes and pollinates another.
The stories you read today will be gone tomorrow. They will certainly have grown into something else overnight. Soon, I know, you will artfully re-arrange them amongst your own personal perceptions and muddy memories.
My final hope is that you may pluck a tale or two that has some pressing and passionate zing for you. Perhaps you will then cross-pollinate, re-cultivate and find again the sweet joy of a few of these wonderfully warbling words.
So, let’s start at the beginning. In my late teens, circa 1970, when thrust from the gentle rural countryside of South-western Ontario into the heady cosmopolitan environment of the University of Toronto, I was instantly beguiled by the rhetorical possibilities of language. I had always known there was emotive logic and persuasive argument, but to learn that ‘rhetoric’ was a studied and applied linguistic ‘science’ was both eye-opening and liberating. I desired to truly understand what differentiates the written words of lawyers, say, from those of journalists, or writers of fiction, or playwrights and poets. It seemed that politics and commerce constantly erupted in all these arenas and subsequently shaped the tone of language. I discovered that words often have a different shade of meaning according to their different roots of usage. Playing with language became an obsessive preoccupation.
Integral to these musings was an emerging sexual persona of multiple dimensions. I increasingly understood that men and women do see the world very differently, and that they use different ‘language’ to express these views. I wanted to explore these ‘voices’ too.
After graduating with a four year Lit & Philosophy degree in the mid-70′s, and dusty too from several continental sojourns, I settled down to the onerous task of ‘working for a living from dawn to dusk’. I naturally gravitated towards entry level jobs that dealt with words. Most positions allowed me to perceive, enter and evaluate what I increasingly considered to be a loosely federated Advertising Empire that dominated North America, physically and psychically. Within this web, we think and become what we watch and consume. The connecting link is ‘sales’ generated by advertising writing. Punchy slogans and riveting sound bites seduce even the most wary, wry and witty.
During the frantic decade of the 80′s, my mind was ever racing forward to find that which endures beyond the hype. I hit many walls, bounced back, bruised but brighter.
Suddenly the 90′s were upon us and all seemed intensely focused on the emerging cyber mania and its electric and electrifying McLuhan offspring: the internet. Writing, and even reading, took on new dimensions as the lines increasingly blurred between the Real and the Un-Real. Television and Photography increasingly replaced the Word. Vision dominated. Language, especially the written word, became the cheap side-kick. Spit as needed. Speed and the surreal (surly real?) became gods. We, in North America, still wanted everything – our body urges and our emotional needs – instantaneously gratified with no thought to consequence, personally or globally.
In the middle of the 90′s, the explosive Bre-X gold fraud scandal was one of many that had severe economic repercussions around the world. Canada fell from grace in the global business community. Ordinary investors lost faith and trust. Dot and telecom technology stocks soon followed, collapsing overnight. Insider trading scandals and continued corporate accounting fraud rattled the cages of commerce. Enron became a household word.
And then Dolly, the sheep, was cloned.
Yet, it seemed to me, that even then, underlining this hurly-burly consumption and destruction were certain immutable Truths.
The Earth revolves around the Sun. This fact is unlikely to change anytime soon.
I found towards the end of the 90′s I was exploring and writing like a psychic geologist – looking for noteworthy nuggets to pass along.
Something marvelous seemed to occur when we tipped into the twenty-first century. All the dilapidated debris of the previous millenium momentarily disappeared and there was this unexpected gush of fresh expectation, a sincere feeling of hope for our global future. We seemed to be on the right path, moving in the right direction.
And yet, today, only at the beginning of the eighth year of this bold and now very bloody decade, we seem to have lost not only our footing but our moral centre. World war, and the unpredictable and continuous threat of ‘terrorism’, hang over us like a noxious threatening nuclear cloud. Outrageous atrocities – man’s inhumanity to man – unimagined a year ago – are now routinely reported in the mass media. We watch global events unfold on television. Men fight territorial squabbles over precious natural resources. All are shoving, pushing and grabbing. Camps of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are everywhere. And yet – are these the real stories? The enduring stories?
As a woman on the planet, I don’t think so. We don’t need to self-destruct.
Words of real power are needed now. We must rediscover the precious preciseness of words, and then use these ‘word tools’ wisely, honestly, carefully.
To that end, to ‘sharpen my pen and strengthen my voice’, I entered the Humber School of Writers Graduate Program in the spring of 2004, and, for the next six months, was most fortunate to understudy with the two-time Giller Prize winner, M.G.Vassanji: a seasoned, worldly writer. We worked slowly back and forth through many of these evolving stories. Some he liked, some he didn’t. His periodic question marks – ‘???’ - in the columns of my manuscript made me re-think my structures, my use of styles and my expostulatory intentions. His attentive and thoughtful reading has helped me to refine my essential reason for writing. He has also helped me further define my future responsibility as a writing artist.
This can probably best be summed up in this way: I am a Caretaker.
In many ways, it is the oldest story in the book.
Today, it seems this story must be told again and again, in every language, in every medium and with every voice. We are all Caretakers.
As a writing artist, I have bent down and planted my thoughts in a variety of different ‘voices’ to reflect these times. I pass them on to you – wherever you may be – on this, our gorgeous ancient planet.
Cross-pollinate, re-cultivate, find again the sweet joy of words.
And then, please, care take …
First published, here, in 2008.
January 4, 2013
Wonderful winter walk reveals early visitors … twelve wild turkeys.
Great way to start the New Year …
December 4, 2012
( Author’s Note: I am re-cycling this story AGAIN, and wish you all – A very Merry Christmas. Originally conceived as a tale ‘in the style of’ Alistair MacLeod, the intention was to touch on recurring ‘structural memes’ that Macleod uses to solicit ‘sentimental empathy’ … Enjoy! )
The black ice was treacherous and they were lost. Annabelle clung to Lachlin’s little hand and tried to reassure him, “Don’t worry Lory, we’ll be home soon”. The wind howled and the snow was blinding. Lachlin’s tear-soaked face was contorted with fear and Annabelle knew that if they didn’t find land soon they would be goners for sure. The howling drew nearer. She pushed on against that wretched wind dragging her little brother behind her.
She had been wrong, she would now admit, though at the time she was convinced that she had been right. Her step-father had entered the kitchen with his butcher knife. Her mother was beside the stove. He had said that there was no work in town and that it was time to cut their losses and move on. He put the knife down on the table and went towards the fire. Her mother was silent as she continued to stir the soup. Finally she turned to him and said, “You know we can’t go, Daniel. The children are settled, and we must make a life for them here. To go again would only make things worse.” He pulled off his wet boots and then his wet socks. His bare wrinkled feet were turned towards the hearth. “There is nothing here Helen. Nothing that a man can do, nothing that a man can become. I’m finished.” She sighed and came over to him, placing her hand on his shoulder. “We will manage. You will find something.” He took her hand in his and said, “You are a good wife, but it’s not enough. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m just too tired.” She slowly returned to the stove, “Here, have some soup, you’ll feel better.” As she lay out the soup bowls she turned to Annabelle, “Go get your brother, Bella, we’ll eat now.” Annabelle left that sorry rustic kitchen and went up the back stairs to Lachlin’s room.
He was sprawled across the bed reading a book about wolves.
“Listen to this, Annabelle, ‘a wolf can smell fear from another animal up to a mile away’. Imagine that!”
“Come on Lory, supper’s ready. Daniel is in a bad mood, so be careful what you say.” Lachlin made a face and slid off the bed in his floppy socks. He shimmied across the wood floor to the closet and pulled out his worn slippers. “What are we having tonight? Soup and bread again?”
“Sshh. Don’t say that. You know there is no money. We have to eat what we can get.”
“I should work. I could deliver the Flamborough Review again. I fixed the flat on my bicycle.”
“Don’t be stupid. It’s the middle of winter. How could you manage snowdrifts and ice on your dumb bike?”
“Well, I could do it. I could be the man of this house.”
“Lory, don’t worry, I will work. I will go to Uncle Charlie’s store and see if I can do the check-out.”
“How are you going to get there? Do you want to use my bike?”
“I’ll walk. Come on silly, let’s go eat.”
During the meal Annabelle kept looking at her mother. The older woman was worn out and listless. The air in the kitchen was filled with foreboding and despair. Annabelle knew she had to get the job. She was convinced that she was right about that.
The next morning she told her mother she would walk to Uncle Charlie’s store to get some work. Her mother looked at her long and hard, then said, “It’s too far in this weather to walk. Over 5 miles. It’s too far.” Annabelle said she could manage. She put on her toque and scarf and wrapped her warm overcoat around her. Her boots were dry and warm. Her hands well-covered and cozy. “See? Snug as a bug in a rug.” Her mother said, “I will come with you.” Annabelle shook her head, comforting her, “I’ll be there in no time, you’ll just slow me down. I’ll be back before dusk.” With that, Bella opened the kitchen door and stepped out into the mid-morning frozen day.
The air was crisp and bright. Not a cloud in the sky. She began the long crunchy march down the country lane towards the store. She hadn’t gone more than half a mile when she heard Lachlin yelling from behind. “Annabelle, Annabelle, Wait for me, I’m coming too. Daniel said it’s okay.” She stopped and turned around. Lachlin was storming up to her with his scarf flying behind, his mitts dangling from their strings. His head was uncovered and his coat was unzipped. “We aren’t going anywhere with you dressed like that. Come here and let me straighten you out.” Annabelle slipped off her mittens, tucked his scarf around his neck and gingerly zipped up his coat. She pulled up the hood of his jacket. “There, now maybe you’ll make it.” He slipped his hand into hers, “Let’s go this way! I know a short cut!” He pulled her towards the marked trail on the side of the road, “If we cross McCormick’s Pond we’ll be closer to Uncle Charlie’s.” “No, Lachlin,” she pulled her hand away from his. “Not the pond. It’s too big and I don’t know my way around in the woods.” “I do, it’s easy, follow me.” “No, Lachlin, we’re going by the road.” So, on they went.
It took them just over two hours to get there. By the time they entered the store premises, their ears were near frostbit and their noses were dribbling goop into their mouths. Their eyes too were streaming from the bitter cold. The wind had started to come up. Uncle Charlie gave them cups of hot chocolate and listened quietly to Annabelle’s plea for work. When she had finished, he stood and went into the back room, returning with a large twelve pound frozen goose. “Here, Bella, take this home to your mother. Say it is a Christmas present from me. And you can start work here in the New Year.” Annabelle hugged her uncle while Lachlin jumped with joy at the prospect of real food on their table. Uncle Charlie said, “Now off you go. Get yourselves home before this wind really starts blowing. The wolves are out and we don’t want to lose one of you to the pack!” Lachlin howled for fun and then barked like a dog. Annabelle cuffed him playfully on the back of the head as Uncle Charlie put the frozen goose into a burlap bag. He handed it to Annabelle. “Can you manage this Annabelle? It’s not too heavy?” Annabelle took the sack, “I can manage.”
The children left the store around noon.
They had only walked about two miles down the road when the wind whipped up out of nowhere. At the first gust poor Lachlin was almost hurled to the other side of the road. He quickly rebounded and clung to the side of Annabelle’s flapping coat , “It’s too much, we should get out of the wind into the woods,” he said. Annabelle looked down at his torn jacket, the zipper had broken open. “Oh alright, but stick with me, no playing around.”
They stepped down from the road and cut into the sparse woods in the direction of the pond. The wind played tricks with the snow. First it was coming from this direction then from that. Annabelle had trouble seeing her way ahead. Lachlin started whining, “My feet are cold.” She put the burlap bag in the crook of her other arm and took his hand again, “Come on Lory, we’ll be home soon.” They had reached the pond’s edge.
Annabelle knew that if they kept bearing towards the old willow on the far shore they would be close enough to the house. The old willow kept appearing and disappearing between the snow squalls. She had to keep a straight line. They started the march across.
And that’s when they heard them. At first she thought it was only the wind, but there was no mistaking the murderous yap-yap of the on-coming pack. They were close and closing. Annabelle frantically yanked Lachlin’s hand, “Come On!” They began crossing at a run and were two thirds of the way across when the ice cracked, trembled, then banged, like a gun shot. The surface split open two inches to reveal the freezing black water beneath. They skidded to a stop and tried to listen to the ice through the whistling of the wind and the swirling of the snow. Lachlin began to cry. “I heard the wolves. They’re coming. They’re going to eat us!” Annabelle snapped at him, “Stop it. They aren’t interested in us. They want the goose. Just follow me.” She took a step over the large crack and then another step forward and waited. She could see the old willow ahead on the far shore. She took another step. Then waited. And another. She listened to the ice. Lachlin stepped gingerly into her windswept boot prints. They made another twenty yards in this way when the ice shot and cracked again. Annabelle froze in fear. Lachlin whimpered behind her, “Hurry up! They’re coming! They’re coming!” She dropped down onto her hands and knees and pushed the goose sack out far in front of her. “Follow me, Lachlin.” She crawled towards the sack. She shoved the sack ahead again across the patchy black ice, then crawled towards it. “Lachlin, do what I do! Do exactly what I do!” She shoved the sack and crawled slowly forward. She could feel Lachlin push into her boot from behind. The snow blinded her vision. She pushed on. She shoved the sack again then crawled towards it. She put her hand out again to shove. But the sack was gone. Gone. She inched forward slowly sweeping the ice with her damp mitten. The ice was wet. She groped at the air. The sack was gone. Tears filled her eyes.
Daniel bent down and lifted them both up from the blinding white-out. He quickly slid Annabelle around onto his back and clutched little Lachlin tightly in his right arm. The burlap sack with the frozen goose hung from his other hand. Turning back to the willow tree, he trudged slowly home – towards the hearth, and Helen.
(To learn more about Alistair MacLeod, link ‘here’ for a NFB film about the author and his life; and from Wikipedia – which in truth, seems to have the best representative coverage on this author at the moment – link ‘here’.)
November 27, 2012
Hee. Apparently Psy’s hugely successful & catchy ‘Gangnam Style’ music video has outperformed Justin Beibers 2010 ‘Baby’ video on Youtube. Both now have over 800 million ‘views’ … One enterprising couple from Texas have done their own inventive interpretation of the massive global hit.
‘Christmas Lights: ‘Gangnam Style’ – VIDEO HERE.
… only in America, gotta love it …
November 24, 2012
As a general rule I haven’t been overly impressed by HDR as a ‘manipulation’ in photography. But recently I stumbled on this series of Chateau de Noisy in Belgium, as shot by several veteran ‘urban explorers‘ …. HDR certainly works with this subject. The following set takes you were you need to go to get the full feel for this exotic and intriguing ‘ruin’ … enjoy.
Link thru to Chateau Noisy HDR slideshow here.
And enjoy multiple shots of this exotic place via Google images.
June 15, 2012
On May 24th, 2012, as part of the RBG Speakers Series, Archaeologist David G. Smith examined how pre-contact cultures lived off the land at Cootes Paradise at the tip of Lake Ontario, in Canada.
How did pre-historic cultures live off the land and produce food for their communities? This timely topic was the subject of a recent lecture by David G.Smith, presented at the Royal Botanical Gardens near Hamilton Ontario. “Timely????” you may ask. Yes, indeedy, timely.
Today, in North America, we primarily exist with the parameters of a highly urbanized monoculture industrial complex. We drive everywhere, plug into our energy-sucking gadgets, and allow ourselves to be bombarded by media from a thousand different sources. We buy food produced several continents away, consume medications that were packaged overseas and purchase products that are manufactured by factories offshore. All told, this large scale corporate globalization of our lives has increasingly encroached on our personal day-to-day resilience and individual capacity to survive. As a result, the whole idea of pioneering ‘self-sufficiency’, in the truest sense of the word, is now considered at best ‘quaint’, at worst, ‘backward’.
Yet, REALITY STRIKES. Most everyone knows that our collective home, the planet, as a result of our unrelenting excesses, is ‘stressed-out’. We take, we take, we take – with very little thought of the short or long term consequences. Climate change, power outages, (let alone nuclear fallout), hang over our heads like menacing death scepters. Overall, as a species, we have collectively ‘lost our way’. More then ever it seems, we do need a sustainable ‘return to our earth roots’. We need to re-establish our immediate LOCAL connection to the land, air, and water that daily sustains us.
So, yes indeedy, timely. In order to move forward, we really must take a good hard look back … Consider this short illustrated video to put our current situation in perspective: ‘300 years of Fossil Fuels in 300 seconds’
Now, IMAGINE an unnamed verdant marshland flush with freshwater fish, turtle, muskrat, beaver and wild fowl, an adjacent land mass redolent with wildlife like squirrel, rabbit, deer and bear. Imagine the seasonal cycles of nature that nurtured and recycled all these species. Imagine the wind, the rain, the cold, the heat, the sun, the cycles of birth, decay and death. Now imagine small families of humans gathered on the shoreline of this marsh. Here, they camp. Here, they hunted. Here, they gathered food substances from the marsh to nourish their growing children. Small groups, mobile and totally self-sufficient, they survived. Their survival was based on an intimate knowledge and appreciate of how the land, waters and skies worked in concert. They learned and applied generational skills that allowed them to responsibly interact with these natural processes. They knew Nature and, moreover, RESPECTED it. Lesson No. 1.
Lesson No. 2. They planted seeds.
Enter Professor David G. Smith, an archaeologist specializing in pre-historic cultures of northeastern North America. Much that follows, and much of what he spoke of during his lecture of pre-contact’ culture at the RBG, has been extracted and paraphrased from a previously published lecture that he co-authored with Helen Haines in 2011. (*)
In summation: The Princess Point promontory in Cootes Paradise,(one of the most biologically diverse areas in Canada), represents one of the earliest known human settlements in the North Eastern quarter of the continent. This site was frequented over a period of time starting approximately 9,000 B.C. until A.D. 1650, with the heaviest period of occupation occurring during the ‘Early ‘Late Woodland’ Period from 500 to A.D. 1500. This period is now referred to as the ‘Princess Point Culture’. (Evolution Graph / Credit: Supplied by David G. Smith)
As a bit of background for the unfamiliar: Cootes Paradise Marsh is located at the extreme west end of Lake Ontario, adjacent to Burlington Bay (an inner bay from Hamilton Harbour). The wetland was named after Lieutenant, later, Captain, Thomas Coote, a British military officer who frequently hunted waterfowl in the marsh. Cootes Paradise is at the nexus of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence biome and the Carolinian forest zone. It is a deciduous forest zone that, prior to European clearing, consisted of large stands of beech and maple trees. The larger area encompasses a distinctive range of Carolinian flora and fauna, and the wetlands are an important staging habitat for a wide variety of migratory birds. Princess Point was named after the current Queen Elizabeth II, and is now situated in world famous, Royal Botanical Gardens. http://www.rbg.ca/
Wild rice was a dominant wetland plant species in the marsh from at least 2,000 years ago until about 800 years ago. Wild rice was a grain commonly foraged by early hunter-gatherers. After that time, wild rice in the marsh declined while cattails increased, as evidenced by the quantity of pollen deposited in the peat that underlies the marsh. This layering shows up in ‘core’ samples.
Although the Cootes Paradise Marsh and the Princess Point promontory have been a part of the European-colonized landscape since the late eighteenth century, it was only in the latter part of the twentieth century that archaeological excavations began. Prior to the twentieth century the marsh was considered a separate “little lake” as recorded by LaSalle’s scouting party when he first visited the area in 1669. A hundred & seven years later, in 1776, Lady Simcoe described the area as a “marshy tract of land” that attracted a wide variety of wildlife. – A paradise, indeed, for hunting humans.
Post molds, fire pits & refuse-heap earth holes (called ‘(middens’) of broken pottery, turtle bone & fish debris confirm that Princess Point was a frequent native encampment. Other sites in Cootes Paradise include Bull’s Point, Sassafras Point, Rat’s Island and Nursery Point.
At present, there are two theories about how people came to plant corn there. The first suggests a migratory invasion by the maize cultivating Iroquois over the earlier Algonquin speaking hunter-gathers. And the second – more popular – theory, suggests a more gradual ‘in situ’ development that emerged through a growing trading knowledge of seeds. Harvested maize kernels eventually replaced wild rice as a food stable. Corn is easier to harvest, offers more diverse food-making options and has longer lasting storage qualities. Princess Point has the unique distinction of revealing, through carbon dating, the oldest known maize kernels found in all of the Northeast of America. These round pellets, a direct descendent of maize originally cultivated in Mexico 5000 years ago, eventually evolved into ‘Northern Flint’ maize, the precursor of what we now know as local ‘corn’ today.
Archeological evidence in the form of maize kernels and pottery shards confirm that by A.D. 500, natives were growing & storing maize as a supplement to their existing regime of foraged resources. Over the next six hundred years it appears “the Princess Point cultivator-hunter-gatherers made the transition from low-level food producers to semi-sedentary, village-dwelling Early Ontario Iroquoian horticulturalists.” With their growing know-how, these Iroquoian ‘farmers’ gradually moved further inland (10 km) establishing more permanent village settlements.
It is clear that the Iroquoian continued to return to this wildlife abundant marsh to both fish and hunt long before the full-on European invasion of the 1700’s.
Iroquois Village Settlements around Cootes Paradise, at the tip of Lake Ontario. Image supplied by D.G.Smith
After Euro-Settlement, Cootes Paradise marsh continued as a favored local ‘hunting ground’. As late as the 1950’s poached muskrat furs were confiscated and sold to fund 24 hour poaching patrols.
Fast forward to today, well, almost. Clearly we are not going to revert to bows & arrows, muskrat stew or feverishly pound down our own corn meal. How then do we proceed?
Lesson No. 3. We must agree, as a ‘local tribe’, to embrace the necessary transition to a better balanced relationship with planet Earth. Consider this recent English initiative, InTransition, founded by Rob Hopkins http://www.transitionnetwork.org/transition-2 .
We too can transform ourselves to ‘re-connect’ to the natural world that daily sustains us. For starters, we can plant our own veggies as our ancestors, native & non-native, once did. For the uninitiated, there really is nothing like dirt under your fingernails to make you feel a part of Nature, not apart from it. Pulling a fresh sun-warmed tomato from the vine is primal and authentic in a way that a supermarket forage never can be. At the very least we can once again support local food growers by buying their fresh produce from local farmer’s markets. We can walk or cycle to our destinations in the downtown core, and simply stop to talk in person for more then a minute with our friendly neighbours and curious colleagues. Enjoying these timeless simple daily pleasures, re-discovering our ‘local roots’ in this convivial social way, will help lead the NEXT generation to a better future then our own.
IMAGINE how much better ALL life on the planet would be if we celebrated ‘Earth Day Every Day’ instead of just once a year for an hour or two.
So, yes indeedy, timely …
*For additional information about the necessity of our timely transition,consider LINKS & REFERENCE MATERIAL supplied in Part 2.