The 85

fish eating fish

Oh, Tea Party help me. Oh, my right wing, Republican and Conservative friends, please… stage and intervention. Set me straight, for I am about to write something incredibly naive.

You know that Oxfam report? The one that said 85 people alive in the world today are worth as much as 3.6 billion people at the other end of the curve?

That’s something, eh? Eighty-five people have shown so much initiative and get up and go; so much resourcefulness and ingenuity; so much pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps that their efforts in this world balance the efforts of 3.6 billion other people.

Good on them, I thought when I read that report.

Then, in a weak, lefty moment, I thought something different:

Suppose, just suppose, those 85 people decided to distribute their fortunes among the 3.6 billion. Suddenly, more than half the world would wake up twice as well off as they were the night before.

Nice windfall.

Some of them would squander it, for sure. They’d drink or gamble it away — just like some people at the other end of the curve have done.

But I like to think others might use that windfall to fix (or get) a roof over their heads. They might use it to get an actual address they can proudly write on a job application. They might buy more nutritious food so they have the energy to go out and perform effectively at that job — or even create a job for themselves.

Maybe they’ll put their money together and get a water system in their community so their young girls can go to school instead of spending much of their waking hours fetching water.

Maybe some of them will purchase material goods with their money — things that will improve their lives, like lights and stoves and computers — and that money will trickle up and start replenishing the recently depleted coffers of those 85.

Oh, yes, you don’t have to worry about those 85. They’ve still got all the ingenuity and resourcefulness that took them to the top in the first place. They’ll get back on their feet in no time. But just in case, we could let them keep a million each. Hell, let them keep 10 million each. The 3.6 billion will hardly miss it. That’s a drop in the bucket.

 

I’ve heard the arguments. The 85 are willing to risk a lot to get where they are. They are willing to put in the hours. To work hard, to work above and beyond.

But I wonder… do they risk more than the Bangladesh clothing factory workers who get trapped in fires or crushed in collapsing buildings in order to earn about 30 bucks a month? Do they work longer hours than a farmer, or a good teacher or a dedicated doctor?

 

Say we live in a pond. We are fish. Bugs fall in the water, wriggly things hatch, algae blooms. There is enough food so that all us fish can live reasonably happy, healthy, well-fed lives.

Pond paradise.

But then, one fish lucks out. He stumbles upon a whole big swarm of wriggly things. He could call his fishy friends over to share, but that’s not really fish-like. He makes sure no one is watching and gorges himself. He gets a little bigger than his piscine pals. A little faster. He gets to the next swarm a little quicker than everyone else. And he gorges again. After a while, he’s eating more than half of the food in the entire pond.

He gets so big, those other fish barely look like fish to him anymore. They get so weak, all they can do is scrounge after the crumbs that aren’t good enough for the big fish anymore.

One day, without even realizing he’s doing anything wrong, the big fish gulps down some of the other fishes’ smaller, scrawnier offspring. And nobody says anything because they’re all just grateful for the crumbs.

I am a poor one to preach. I’m not among the 85, or even the one per cent. But I’m probably in the top 10 per cent in worldwide terms. I’ve got a great life. I don’t want to give any of it up. I’d even like a little more. There are homeless people I encounter during my walks around the city among whom I distribute my crumbs.

Life is not fair. But I would like to find a way to make it fairer.

 

No, we can’t just take the riches away from those 85. That would take a revolution, and nobody wants a revolution. They can be pretty disruptive. But how about a slow revolution? How about we start by nurturing our innate sense of fairness? How about we stand up to injustice in the places where we see it? How about we reject politicians who pander to the greedy and resist laws that favour the greedy?

And especially, how about we stop measuring a person’s worth by their greediness?

We are not here to strive to be among the 85. We are here to be better than the 85.

 

 

Idiocy, meet ideology

rapist

There is no conclusive proof as yet, but there are clear signs that the world is going crazy — and most of us are too polite to say anything.

 

A woman and her daughter walk into a trampoline park. She signs a waiver that she and presumably her daughter understand that trampolines, while fun, can also be dangerous if used improperly. By her signature, she signals her understanding that serious injury and even death can result if trampolinists attempt to do something above their skill level.

 

The mother shells out her money, and her daughter bounces happily for a while and then decides she is ready to do a flip.

 

Of course she hurts herself. She breaks a limb.

 

So her mother sues. “They didn’t warn us sufficiently about the risk,” she says. “How were we to know that people could hurt themselves on these things?” She decides to take her story to the newspapers. People need to be told, she says.

 

When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, my parents used to take me camping. Camping was OK. We’d sit around a campfire (which I knew, without even signing a waiver, was hot enough to burn me badly.) The greatest thrill was jumping in the car and going to Martin’s Fun House on a Saturday night. There, you could play pinball and eat penny candy and jump on a trampoline for a quarter per quarter hour. Martin didn’t make us sign any waivers. It was pretty obvious that doing something stupid on a trampoline could result in some serious pain.

 

I somehow managed not to break any bones or sprain anything. But if I had, my parents wouldn’t have sued. They wouldn’t have gone to any newspapers. They would have just said (and I paraphrase, as my mother would never use such crude language), “Why were you such a dumb ass? Maybe next time you will be more careful.”

 

People are dumb asses for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of ignorance. Sometimes it’s because of ego or entitlement or maybe even some more sinister reason.

 

When I was learning to drive, I’d tramp on the gas as soon as the light turned green.

 

“What are you doing,” my dad would ask.

 

“I’m going. It’s my turn.”

 

“How do you know the other guy is going to stop?”

 

“Because it’s my turn to go. It’s my right to go.”

 

“So what do you want to be, dead right?”

 

My dad didn’t call me a dumb ass. It was implied, though.

 

So now, I look left, I look right, I check for true dumb ass drivers, and then I go.

 

Same thing at crosswalks. A crosswalk is supposed to be a place where I can cross the road safely, right? Drivers have to stop. It’s a law, written down somewhere. It is my right, as a pedestrian, to push that button, step out into the road, and get to the other side in the same number of pieces I started with.

 

I shouldn’t have to check to my left to make sure that guy looks up from his smartphone in time to come to a complete stop. Drivers are supposed to stop.

 

I still check, though. I don’t want to be dead right.

 

There once was a time when being a dumb ass was something you tried to shed as you grew up. Now it has become something to cherish and fight for and sue for. It has become a right. An ideology, even.

 

There is a university campus in British Columbia where several women have been attacked by a sexual predator while walking alone on campus at night.

 

Police have swarmed the campus. University officials have improved the lighting.

 

They’re working hard to catch the pervert. But until they do, they have suggested that women try to stay on well lighted sidewalks and walk in groups at night whenever possible, just to be on the safe side.

 

Uh, oh. Shouldn’t have said that. That’s blaming the victim. That’s excusing the attacker. And saying such things is oppressive and demeaning to women. It’s infringing upon a woman’s right to walk wherever, and with whomever, she pleases.

 

(It’s really very much the same as telling me I have to check to make sure cars are stopping before stepping out into the crosswalk, but I digress.)

 

Remember Slutwalk? It was meant to strike a blow for women’s right to walk wherever they want AND dress in whatever they want without being attacked, raped, groped, catcalled or labelled. A person does have the right not to be subjected to those things, obviously. So, when the call went out, some women (and men) dusted off their leather corsets and fishnet stockings and hit the street. Others went out in their sweats. One Winnipeg women just put strips of hockey tape over her breasts.

 

The Slutwalkers formed into a large group, joined up with a police escort, and walked along a designated, traffic-controlled route in broad daylight. They got their pictures taken for TV and the papers.

 

They made a point.

 

It was an annual event, for a couple of years.

 

But this year, there was no Slutwalk in my city. There were sharing circles and panel discussions. But no walk. Organizers had decided it was time to move on.

 

Why? I don’t know. I didn’t get the memo. But I’ve got a theory.

 

I think somebody realized Slutwalk was essentially a meaningless gesture. Yeah, look at us, we’re doing this, guys. But only in a large group. Only in daylight. Only with a friendly police person nearby. And the Slutwalkers were drawing a lot of attention, some of it unwanted — exactly the conditions that the whole Slutwalk movement was protesting.

 

The only way to make Slutwalk meaningful would be for each woman, however she is dressed, to go out alone at a time of her own choosing on a street of her own choosing — even that dark back lane behind the seedy motel.

 

That would be a meaningful gesture. And it would probably be OK. I know I’m not going to to anything inappropriate if I see somebody doing that. A majority of guys won’t either. But I can’t vouch for everyone.

 

 

 

Maybe the world isn’t going too idiotic — it’s going too ideologic. And ideology can be complicated and nuanced and hard to argue against unless you have a competing ideology of your own. So most of us just bite our tongues until the ideology starts to feel normal.

 

Until we end up with a situation in which ideologues get all righteously indignant when police officers ask women to avoid walking alone on darkened sidewalks until they catch a rapist who is known to lurk there.

 

They are ideologues. They’ve got an agenda to push when they are in the public spotlight. But let’s hope they tell their daughters and friends in private: “Don’t be a dumb ass.”

 

 

 

Be here now

lily-bw

I didn’t really notice him until we were about to pass each other on the sidewalk. Tall, skinny, straight blond hair. Wearing a windbreaker with a logo for some trucking company. A ball cap. Jeans. Sneakers.

It’s a uniform in some parts of this city. Many parts, actually. Winnipeg is a strange place. White collar, blue collar. Rich, poor. Refined, rejected. We’re all mashed together by history and geography and extreme climate.

He was already behind me when I heard him say something.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Can you spare a dollar?” he repeated.

I reached into my pocket. I just do it. It’s easier that way.

“Or maybe two dollars? You can’t buy much for a dollar.”

He wasn’t aggressive. He was just asking.

I pulled out a handful of change, mostly quarters and dimes.

While I did so, he looked me up and down.

“I guess you don’t have to worry about money.”

I was wearing a Jets T-shirt. A grey hoodie. Jeans. Not much different from his uniform.

How did he know?

“Everybody worries about money,” I told him. I looked at my handful of change. There might have been two dollars there. Certainly not much more. Certainly nothing for me to worry about. I handed it to him.

“If I see you again…” he started to say. He was trying to tell me he would pay me back. If he could.

“It’s alright,” I said. Then I went my way. He went his.

I don’t have to worry about money? No, I guess I don’t. I’m not gonna starve. I’ve got a nice house.

And yet I do.

I worry about money way more now than when I was young; when I had very little.

I worry about other things, too. What I’ve done. What I’ve not done. What I should have done. It all clatters around me like tin cans on a string.

Right after university, I took a job driving a Coke truck while I looked for the job I really wanted to do. All I needed to do was get a job with a newspaper and everything would be great. It would be amazing.

When that finally happened, it was amazing. So I thought.

But then, a few years in, a person I’d been developing a friendship with said, “If I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say first?”

“I’d say I’m a journalist.”

“I thought so,” she said. “I find that kind of sad.”

I didn’t think it was so sad at the time. I was a little bit offended.

Now, when my journalism career is on the endangered list, I see what she meant.

So lately, when people say, “tell me about yourself,” I try to come up with a different answer.

It’s funny. The jobs I had before I started my so-called career? My interim jobs? I think that is when I was happiest. An orderly in a hospital during university. A Coke truck driver after grad. Because those jobs weren’t me.

Back then a friend, a different friend, wanted me to read a book called Be Here Now. It was written by Western-born yogi Ram Das.

I took it, but I was never going to read it. It was a self-help kind of book. I don’t like self-help books.

The title stuck with me, though, because lately I find myself repeating it.

Be here now.

I repeat it as I walk to my car to go to my endangered journalism job. Bicycles are chained to signposts. Grit is piled up beside the curb. Last fall’s Tim Hortons cups are still waiting to be put in a recycling bin. Some leaves have popped out on the scrawny downtown trees between last walk and this one. The smell of Brazilian barbecue wafts from one direction, the smell of Dumpsters behind a condo conversion wafts from another.

Be here now.

I repeat it as I stand on my balcony and feel the wind. From the north. From the south. From the north and south all at once. It’s warmer than it was yesterday. The sun won’t shine today, but that’s OK. The rain will clean things up a bit.

Be here now.

The river is a little lower than it was last week, but my favourite path is still submerged. Ducks paddle there.

Be here now.

That’s what I am trying to do.

What does this have to do with the guy I met on the sidewalk?

I don’t know. But sometimes I wonder why I’m the guy who has a pocketful of change, and he’s the guy who wants some.

I’m not religious, but I’ve heard this text: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.”

It’s from Matthew, Chapter 6, if you are wondering. I Googled it.

I’m not entirely sure what it means. It could be seen as a justification for the status quo. There are the haves. There are the have nots. If you’re a lily, you’re lucky. If not… too bad.

It could be saying that all of man’s striving is futile and meaningless.

Or maybe it’s saying who we are is more important than what we do. Or what we have. Or what we want. Or what we worry about.

It’s something to think about.

A friend, yet another friend, posted on Facebook a quote by Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

That’s something to think about, too.

I remind myself to make sure I have change in my pocket in case I see that guy again.

What’s two bucks? Not much to me.

Probably a whole lot to him — even if he does just use it to buy a beer.

A broken Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg in 2009.

Leonard Cohen at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg in 2009.

We were leaving a Winnipeg Fringe Festival performance in Augustine United Church. Two tenors, who were really quite talented singers, had put on a show parodying the whole ‘tenors’ musical genre.

The showstopper was a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that, the tenors promised, would reveal what the song is really about.

Not that Cohen’s song beats around the bush. Consider this verse:

 

There was a time when you let me know

What’s really going on below

But now you never show it to me, do you?

And remember when I moved in you

The holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

 

Pretty clear what’s going on there, right?

But a lot of people just hear the Hallelujah.

 

So, we were on the way out after the show and the audience was talking about the song, and my companion and I couldn’t help but hear the conversation between two women behind us.

“I love that song.”

“I love it, too. Their version was pretty funny, though.”

“It was.”

“My sister-in-law would have hated it.”

“Why?”

“She refuses to listen to that song.”

“Why?”

“Somebody told her it is not about… something holy… you know? It’s about having sex. Like those guys just sang it. So she went home and read the lyrics and saw that was true. It is about sex. She was so shocked. She won’t listen to it anymore. And she used to love that song so much.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. ‘You shouldn’t write songs about that,’ she told me.”

The woman went on to say that her poor sister-in-law was at the folk festival when k.d. lang sang Hallelujah, and she got up and went to the back until it was over.

 

Hallelujah is about sex? I was shocked, too. I thought it was about so much more than that.

Yeah. Of course it’s about sex. That story about David watching Bathsheba bathing on the roof that Cohen references early on is pretty sexy. And it’s straight from the Bible. So’s the story about Samson and Delilah. It’s about the things we do for sex. Sometimes bad things. Sometimes things that doom us.

But it’s also a song about how the “Oh, oh, oh God, oh God, OH GOD!” rapture of sex is a mere practice run for the Hallelujah of spiritual rapture.

And I am pretty sure it is about a whole lot more than that.

Probably even Leonard Cohen doesn’t know the full extent of what the song is about, because creative rapture rides the same bus as sexual rapture and spiritual rapture, and all three of those things are pretty irrational.

You say you listened to the lyrics, sister-in-law? Did you really listen to them? Then you must have caught this:

 

You say I took the name in vain

I don’t even know the name

But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?

There’s a blaze of light in every word

It doesn’t matter which you heard

The holy or the broken Hallelujah

 

Here on Earth, we’ve got lots of broken Hallelujahs. Earth is a broken Hallelujah. But each broken Hallelujah can take us closer to the holy one.

Hallelujah is about everything. War and peace and love and hate and holy and profane and creation and destruction.  And everything between those things.

And sex.

It’s about life, sister-in-law.

Why on Earth would you want to shut yourself off from that?

 

The icicles

Prisoner of winter

They are gone in the morning, when the sun rises above the cottonwoods and poplars along the river.

The drops splatter on the rail and make little rainbow bursts. Whole universes are born and die in a second.

The sun’s arc is a little higher in the sky than it was the day before, but still not high enough.

By early afternoon, they’re back.

The slippery fingers of winter.

We’re prisoners. We should have made our getaway when we had the chance.

We thought we had more time.

There are so many things that are out to imprison us.

Old age. Prejudices. Doubts. Fears.

Old habits.

Winter. Real and metaphorical.

Maybe tomorrow the fingers won’t come back.

So what will come in their place?

 

(Photo taken March 25, 2013, on my 61st birthday. I don’t like birthdays as much as I used to. Too many drops have hit the rail.

But having a birthday is certainly better than the alternative.)

 

Watch your back

One of the dozens of snow sculptures at the Festival du Voyageur. This one, done by a team from Italy, is called Watch Your Back! That's good advice for any generation.

One of the dozens of snow sculptures at the Festival du Voyageur. This one, done by a team from Italy, is called Watch Your Back! That’s good advice for any generation.

When you read — and write — historical fiction, there is one thing that you learn pretty quickly: people just don’t learn.

Yes, we know more. Or perhaps I should amend that to read we have access to more knowledge. When a high proportion of graduate students (even those living on the east coast) can’t even identify the Atlantic Ocean on a map without the help of Google, one could make a strong argument that many of us haven’t accumulated all that much knowledge along the way, either.

So, we live in a world where we can land spaceships on asteroids and close in on the Higgs bosun and discover the origins of the universe… and many of us don’t know where we live.

Before I continue, I must say something here in the interest of full disclosure. I am 60 years old.

So, here we go… another rant against the younger generations, right?

Wrong. This post was inspired by the fact that I am tired of rants against the younger generation. I have had to listen to them my entire life.

When I was a teenager, I had to listen to rants about how my peers and I had no respect for authority, didn’t know the meaning of hard work, our hair was stupid and our idols, The Beatles, were just an overrated flash in the pan.

And boy, were we in for a rude awakening.

When I was in my 20s, I had to listen to rants about how my politics were stupid and my idealism was too idealistic and we were playing into the hands of the stupid Communists. And my music? Well, I have to admit, they were right, there. Much of it was pretty stupid during that particular era.

And boy, were we in for a rude awakening.

When I was in my 30s, I was busy raising a family, so I’m a little fuzzy on what the younger generation rants were then. Stupid shoes? Stupid big hair? Stupid big hair bands? Stupid nihilists?

And now… now that I am an old guy, I’m still having to listen to rants — and I am even expected to participate in them.

Stupid teenage girls constantly texting. Stupid self-indulgent social media. Stupid geographically challenged university students. Stupid gamers. Stupid sense of entitlement.

“Get your heads out of your smartphones. Take a look at the real world around you.”

Well, guess what? They’re doing it.

I saw them.

I spent the day at Winnipeg’s winter party, the Festival du Voyageur. It was full of the younger generation. Dancing jigs. Chowing down on tourtière. Posing for goofy pictures with the ice sculptures. Jumping up and down to keep warm around fires. Rolling up frozen maple syrup on a stick.

These teenagers and young adults were very much aware that there was a real world around them — even if this one happened to be a re-enactment of a world that existed many, many generations ago.

The fiddle player I happened to hear while I was there was a slender, handsome guy in his 20s. His fingers moved over the strings like he had been playing for hundreds of years. Some of the songs he played were hundreds of years old.

He’d be a hell of a gamer, being able to control his fingers so well.

Maybe he is a hell of a gamer.

We’re basically just talking about tools here. My generation learned to use the tools of more accessible university education and easy travel and upward mobility.

This generation is learning to use the tools of instant communication and instant knowledge and instant gratification.

There are stumbles along the way. There are excesses and dead ends. But they’ll figure it out. Just like we did.

So, some things we do learn, I guess. But the big things? Not so much. We’ve learned it is not politically correct to hate races, religions, ethnic groups and certain lifestyles.

But does that mean there is less hate in the world?

No, it is just more spread out now. We are equal opportunity haters. Read the comments on the average online newspaper article to get a sense of that.

Humans are still greedy and selfish and dishonest. We still prefer to blame other people or places or things for our own shortcomings and unhappiness.

We still can’t see ourselves as others see us.

We still feel an overpowering urge to chop down the tallest poppy.

And despite all this, sometimes we sparkle.

Often we sparkle.

Maybe we should rant about that once in a while.

 

Why Winnipeg?

Esplanade RielDoes where you live have an effect on who you are?

Of course, it is going to affect your wardrobe, and, to some extent, it will affect your activities.

Hawaiians probably go to the beach much more often than, say, North Dakotans.

Does that make Hawaiians different from North Dakotans?

Well, consider these words spoken by George Clooney as the character Matt King in The Descendants:

“My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?

“Paradise? Paradise can go @#$% itself.”

Of course, Clooney said those words while wearing a colourful Hawaiian shirt and sporting a tan — a couple of things you don’t see much of in Fargo this time of year.

But his sentiment is clear: Your life can be shit wherever you happen to live.

You are who you are.

One’s geographical location is something Winnipeggers may ponder more than most. This is because, when you meet up with an old friend or relative who you haven’t seen for a while, and you are catching up with each other, one of the questions they will almost invariably ask is, “Why Winnipeg?”

There is a whole big world out there.

There’s The Rockies. There’s Sonoma Valley. There’s the Blue Mountains of North Carolina. There’s the hipitude of Portland Ore. (or Maine, for that matter). There’s the music of Nashville. There’s Montreal.

And that’s just one continent. There are six more.

Meanwhile, back in Winnipeg, it’s cold. It’s flat. It’s prone to flooding. It’s in the middle of nowhere. A city of this size has no right to be here and probably wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the world’s penchant for beaver felt hats a few hundred years ago and tough Scottish and Ukrainian immigrants who were sold a bill of goods.

So, why Winnipeg?

Right off the bat, we’ve found a definite effect that geographical location can have on an individual: Living in Winnipeg means you have to answer a lot of questions.

This makes some Winnipeggers defensive.

“Yeah, well, we have…” What? The Winnipeg Folk Festival? An orchestra? Grand Beach (for the four months the ice is gone and it is actually warm enough to swim there)? Wheat? The home of the Guess Who?

Right. That will convince them.

It makes other Winnipeggers aggressive.

“Yeah, well at least we’re not (insert name of place you despise here).

And it makes a few Winnipeggers bitter. It the depths of winter it sometimes seems like there is a disproportionate number of people here who spend their whole lives wishing they were elsewhere.

A recent commenter on a Free Press story remarked, “my favourite view of Winnipeg is in my rear-view mirror.”

But he, or she, is still here.

Perhaps it’s fear.

What if he, or she, put Winnipeg in their rear-view mirror and kept driving all the way to their perceived paradise.

And then, what if, in a few years, they found themselves, like George Clooney, saying, “Paradise can go @#$% itself.”

Then what?

 

So, my best answer to “Why Winnipeg” is this: It is because it is where I am at the moment.

What Winnipeg has is a bunch of people who find themselves here for whatever reason trying to make the best of it.

It’s got diehards. Diehard artists. Diehard musicians. Diehard entrepreneurs. Diehard workers. Diehard complainers.

That’s got to be worth something.

 

PS: For what it’s worth, Winnipeg also has its own diehard world-renowned ballet company. I just thought you should know.

Water marks

Robert got to know the Girl in the Boots, Elizabeth Ingham, on one of these benches in the summer of 2008. It was swept away in the Red River flood of 2009.

Robert got to know the Girl in the Boots, Elizabeth Ingham, on one of these benches in the summer of 2008. It was swept away in the Red River flood of 2009.

 

Cracked mud on the banks of the Red River in front of Robert's condo tells the story of the Red River Settlement: Flood, drought and the beauty that emerges in the struggle for survival.

Cracked mud on the banks of the Red River in front of Robert’s condo tells the story of the Red River Settlement: Flood, drought and the beauty that emerges in the struggle for survival.

 

This is a photo of my favourite walking trail. It was taken on the 22nd of June, 2009. That year was a flood year. My trail didn’t emerge until early June. The waves from the flooded river left a pattern in the Red River gumbo that remained throughout the summer.

Floods have always left their imprint on the Red River settlement, and later, on Winnipeg.

Alexander Ross described the flood of 1826 in his book, The Red River Settlement. A house he was building on the very land where these photos were taken was swept away.

Hardly a house or building of any kind was left standing in the colony. Many of the buildings drifted along whole and entire; and in some were seen dogs, howling dismally, and cats, that jumped frantically from side to side of their precarious abodes. The most singular spectacle was a house in flames, drifting along in the night, its one half immersed in water, and the remainder furiously burning.

The flood of 1997 would have been as catastrophic for Winnipeg had it not been for the floodway, which was built after the flood of 1950.

Same with the flood of 2009. It did sweep away the park bench where Robert had gotten to know The Girl in the Boots, though. Their relationship eventually got swept away, too.

Sarah McLeod

 

No photos exist of Sarah Ballenden (McLeod), but her daughter, Annie, was said to be almost as beautiful as her mother. This photo of her was taken in Red River in front of a painted backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.

No photos exist of Sarah Ballenden (McLeod), but her daughter, Annie, was said to be almost as beautiful as her mother. This photo of her was taken in Red River in front of a painted backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.

Her father was a Scottish fur trader. Her mother was a member of the Blackfoot tribe. Theirs was a marriage à la façon du pays. These were unions not blessed in any church. Some of them endured. Others were merely for the convenience of the man, and easily disposable.

When Sarah McLeod was 13, her father put her on a canoe on the Columbia River bound for the Red River Settlement (modern day Winnipeg), a distance of several thousand kilometres. A school had been started there to train the wild daughters of the fur traders to be  Victorian ladies.

It was 1832.

Sarah’s transformation was a spectacular success. She was soon the toast of the colony. She married Hudson’s Bay Company bigwig John Ballenden.

Sadly, there are always those who cannot stand to see another rise above.

Robert, a modern-day Winnipegger, uncovers her story — and some eerie connections — in The Girl in the Boots, a novel now available in ebook form at Amazon.

Now available at Amazon

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The Girl in the Boots is now available for $3.99 at Amazon as an e-book. Click here

If you like it, please write a review — and tell your friends. And be sure to keep coming back to girlinboots.com for more posts on the story behind the novel.

Thanks for  your support. For my American friends or those in other countries… this link puts you on the Canadian Amazon store. You will probably have to simply search for The Girl in the Boots on your own country’s Amazon store.

 

David Connors