Speaking of Trains

By , May 27, 2023 8:52 pm

A train weekend: we went to Doors Open Toronto at TTC McCowan Yard. We took the Scarborough RT. It was kind of sad since it’s slated to cease operations in November.

We also finished watching Tripping: Train 185 on TVO. It’s the 480-km journey of the flag stop VIA train from Sudbury to White River, Ontario. It is a beautiful trip through the boreal forest. I don’t want to take it though: I’m not into fishing camps.


Stars on Ice 2023

By , May 12, 2023 9:23 pm

On May 5 my mom and I returned to Stars on Ice after taking the pandemic off. We had a wonderful time. So I’m sharing some of my photos. Our seats were pretty darn good and I think I did a pretty good job of capturing some nice moments.

I was really surprised how much I enjoyed watching Alexa Knierem and Brandon Frazier. It wasn’t just that they were the only pairs team. They had a lot of spark and power. I hadn’t seen their free program many times during the skating season; here, I thought it was a fantastic fit for their athletic style.

I have been a fan of Madison Chock and Evan Bates only for about two or three years. I was SO excited to see them in person. And they did not disappoint – so captivating. Moved beautifully.

Jason Brown: what an exciting moment to see Jason live. He is so brilliant, committed to his art. Passionate. But fun-loving and clearly excited to be performing in Toronto where he trained for years. I am so lucky to have finally seen him live. His career has impacted figure-skating and reminded us all that it is not just a sport. It is sport and art. Combined.

Though he doesn’t have the same finesse as Jason, Keegan has the same passion. And speed. Even on the small show ice, he zoomed around. This was also my first time seeing Keegan live – finally.

I’ve seen Patrick skate more times than I can count. He’s not on top of his jumps anymore, clearly. But there is still NO ONE who can glide across the ice like Patrick. He still has that. And that is still well worth watching.

I’ve also seen Piper and Paul live before. I’ve enjoyed their clear happiness at being in Stars on Ice. Same thing this time. In retrospect, I feel lucky to have seen them as Piper revealed a few days ago that she had had ovarian cancer.

Finally to Kurt! Kurt’s 30th Stars on Ice, and I’ve seen almost all of them. Kurt has been my favourite skater for a very long time. No one will ever replace Kurt’s dynamism, comedy, and unique style. What has always impressed me most about Kurt is his chameleon-like ability to do any style. His “duet” with Elvis was fantastic tongue-in-cheek. I don’t think his other pieces were choreographic masterpieces, but they were heart-felt. He did a lot of skating in this event. The James Bond group number was wonderful.

Kurt was clearly very emotional skating for his adopted hometown. His family and friends must have been sitting there along the side on the ice. I loved seeing that truly authentic emotion.

We had an amazing night. We’ll be back next year. Another post to come as there are MORE pics.

Saitama Worlds

By , April 9, 2023 4:53 pm

I wish I could have gone to the World Figure Skating Championships in Japan. Maybe next year in Montreal.

It has been an interesting year for figure skating fans. Personally, I did not miss the Russians (banned due to the war against Ukraine) at all. After the drama of the last Olympics, I was happy to have that angle eliminated from the entire season. I do not care at all who is doing how many quads at what young age. There is such a thing as longevity and health.

Instead we got perhaps less stellar skating but a much more friendly environment. The Japanese fans are legendary: kind to every single skater, clapping along to the beat at the drop of a hat, and always PRESENT. Particularly at Canadian skating events, the crowds have been sparse this year. To see the Japanese fans go absolutely bonkers for Kaori Sakamoto, Ryuichi Kihara and Riku Miura (pairs), and Daisuke Takahashi and Kana Muramoto (dance) was incredible. I love their passion for the sport. And they love a lot of skaters that I love, too: Piper and Paul, Jason Brown, Keegan Messing, to name a few.

The Worlds did give me some concerns though, particularly with the scoring of the dance event. This leaves me wondering, what do you do when the sport you love is an unsavoury institution? Apparently, even though Russian skaters were banned, Russian coaches were there (sort of understandable) as were Russian ISU officials (how is that possibly allowed???). That is just wrong. How does the international skating union look itself in the mirror?

Yes, ice dance – my favourite – is notoriously the most ‘fixed’ discipline within figure skating. All Canadians probably had extremely high hopes for Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier to bring home the gold. Unfortunately, Piper had an appendectomy and they sat out nationals. To my extreme pleasure, they skated great at Worlds, if maybe a bit slower than usual. The Evita program played really well. They didn’t tinker with it like they did with last year’s Long and Winding Road. Why then were they third in both the short and free dance scoring? I have enjoyed Madison Chock and Evan Bates ever since their Olympic alien routine. I give them huge credit for sticking with this year’s weird theme as well. But they made a huge error (albeit not on an element) in the free dance that should have lowered their overall program component scores to a maximum of 9.5. But apparently that rule was just ignored. As for the Italians who finished with the silver. Good effort. That’s all I’m going to say. Yes, I am a fickle Canadian fan.

I’ve always been a sports fan. These days my sporting tastes are much more limited. I have no regrets that I continue to invest my time and tears into figure skating.

Piper & Paul and Evita: A dance a decade in the making - Team Canada -  Official Olympic Team Website
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Evita free dance


By , April 9, 2023 4:30 pm

We had an amazing time this week at Hamilton! The play, that is, not the city.

Having studied American history at University of Toronto, I was surprised when Lin-Manuel Miranda turned the story of Alexander Hamilton into an incredibly successful Broadway play. I had watched some scenes on PBS when it initially came out, but I had never seen the whole play. I knew it had hip hop connections. I know almost nothing about hip hop. I knew about Hamilton, generally.

So I went in pretty blind, except for the history part. Back at U of T I took a number of courses about the time period, particularly my favourite ever course from my undergrad years: The History of the American Revolution with professor David Wilson. That course included pretty much the same cast as the musical: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton. Who knew though that Aaron Burr would play such a big role!

Review: 'Hamilton' is back in Toronto and it really is that good | The Star

Needless to say, we loved it! The music is incredible. The choreography is interestingly engaging. The audience (quite a mix of ages – unusual for a play audience in Toronto) was very into it, especially for King George’s campy scenes (“you’ll be back”) and Thomas Jefferson’s rap battle.

I could sit here and describe the play but that has been done a million times over. I’d rather comment on its approach to history.

The first thing I did after coming home from Hamilton was look up criticism of it. I wanted to know what people think, good or bad. Historically, I thought it was relatively accurate, though not entirely, about Hamilton’s life and work. Whether it’s accurate about Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, is a pending question. As the second act roles toward its end she becomes the big focus. I have not had a chance to check out the accuracy yet of her portrayal. I’m not into heroism in history. I don’t like this angle on Hamilton.

In a way Hamilton is a story about historiography. The last song is all about ‘who tells your story’, referring to Eliza supposedly continuing Hamilton’s legacy. This focus on historiography is interesting given the play’s context: the American Revolution. The script is all about liberty and yet there is almost total non-inclusion of enslaved Americans as part of the story save for a few tiny references.

Much has been made of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s use of a representational cast . Today, years after its debut, I find it quite ironic to see the almost all Black cast (in the case of the Toronto production) make little mention of the millions of enslaved Americans. I would assume irony was not the original intent. However, circumstances change and audiences make their own interpretations. From that standpoint, I think it’s creative but still has a big hole in it.

It would have been a lot easier, to include more reality in the play. Or maybe that was the point: the slavers didn’t give a damn at the time. The scene towards the end where Washington supposedly bows his head in recognition that he didn’t end slavery when American independence took hold is historical revisionism if you ask me.

I will reserve judgement on the overall historical accuracy of Miranda’s script until I read the book upon which he based the play, Ron Chernow’s biography, “Alexander Hamilton.” Then I will judge the book. And only then will I be able to finally judge the play’s use or abuse of history.

Other than that though, it was such a great night out.

History teacher out.

March Break Painting

By , March 15, 2023 4:35 pm

I don’t claim to be artistic, but I certainly love painting. It’s one of those pandemic hobbies that stuck around. I feel very grateful to have some time off to enjoy it.

Flowers are hard to paint, I find. But they are common subjects. I’m really proud of this one. Of course I don’t design my own. I follow along with the Art Sherpa on YouTube. After I tried this one I tried a version on my own, making my own colour choices. It didn’t turn out to be something I’d want to post. Live and learn.

I love to repurpose old art. This was a piece of black media paper that had a bunch of colours on it just randomly scratched on. I turned it into grumpy owl, also following along with the Art Sherpa on YouTube. Val made fun of me for playing along with the background. It was originally yellow, green, white and blue. I just slapped on some white (as you can see by how uncarefully it was done) to make it less distracting. There was an annoying yellow arrow sticking out of the owl’s head. He didn’t deserve that.

I re-did the background on these hummingbirds numerous times and still don’t love it. The Art Sherpa’s was a lovely blueish grey. Mine was always on the purple side. But eventually I had to stop tinkering. This was also an old canvas that I gessoed and turned into a new one. I try not to notice how unsharp the beaks are and how the eye is in the wrong place for the birdie on the left. Oh well.

New Devilishly Good Book Review

By , February 5, 2023 10:20 pm
Mairi Cowan, author of The Possession of Barbe Hallay

Readers familiar with my book reviews know that I like to email authors after I finish their books. I did it again, but this time I was not emailing a stranger. Mairi Cowan, amazing author and history professor at UTM, is a friend I met through a colleague.

Her new book, The Possession of Barbe Hallay: Diabolical Arts and Daily Life in Early Canada, was an amazing read. It tells the story of a young woman who migrated to Quebec from France in the mid 1600s and experienced some kind of “infestation” by devilish forces. But really it is a book about how to approach a historical mystery or story. I would have read Mairi’s new book no matter what, but I especially love its devilish connection. Ever since I learned about Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches, 1486), I have been interested in the topic of women and witchcraft. Luckily, as Mairi points out, by the time of Barbe Hallay, Europeans (or in this case Canadian settlers) religious officials didn’t get quite so worked up and no major panic ensued like in Salem, Massachusetts a few decades later to the south.

I love how didactic this book is. I mean that in the most complimentary way. In fact, I am reading “Barbe” again with a highlighter in hand – yes, on the subway. Out of this I intend to create some new content for my grade 12 world history course; I’ve already adjusted a few things based on things I was reminded of while reading about 17th century Quebec.

I even told my grade 12 history class, on the first day of the semester, that I felt guilty for not including Canada in world history for the last 20+ years of teaching this course. Of course Canada fits in with all the negative themes of colonization, empire, genocide, conversion. It just doesn’t get mentioned very often – my fault.

Since I haven’t taken a university level history course since 2002 (I took Roman history in the summer after my fourth year of teaching), I’ve lost touch with some trends in the discipline. Mairi’s book connected me with microhistory. In her introduction she quotes Edward Muir on the purpose of microhistory: “to elucidate historical causation on the level of small groups where most of real life takes place and to open history to peoples who would be left out by other methods.” Love it, especially Mairi Cowan’s inclusion of the story of watermelon making its way around the world into the hands of a French nun in 17th century Quebec.

She also quotes historian Johan Huizinga: “‘the mainspring of all historical knowledge” is “our perpetual astonishment that the past was once a living reality.'” I suppose that is akin to the saying, “the past is a foreign country.” It’s a good quote to help students understand the importance of context. And perhaps it also helps explain why I like history. I can never answer that big “why” question when students ask. You’d think I’d have one by now, 25 years into my history teaching career.

This book has prompted me to add some Quebec-based figures into my unit one culminating activity, the Global Gathering. It also got me thinking about ways to add more Indigenous content into my course. I’ve done so with some topics in unit two related to the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the Royal Proclamation, and some Indigenous figures I never learned about during my education.

Learning is growing.

Take a listen to Mairi Cowan on CBC’s Ideas.

Next up, Val and I are reading David Javerbaum’s The Book of Pslams. NO, that is not a spelling error. Yes, we are reading it together because it is so hysterical. I’ll be sure to give it a puritanically glowing review.

It Has To Be Said

By , December 31, 2022 7:39 pm

I Hate Brands

By , December 25, 2022 10:40 am

But heck, here’s my new one for the new year!

CHW3M World History Culminating

By , December 10, 2022 9:03 am

PD @ York U SWSH Conference, Dec. 13, 2022


I hope to see you on Feb. 17, 2023 at York Mills CI for the SWSH PD Conference.

I’ll be sharing my grade 11 World History culminating activity.

Last 3 Books

By , December 4, 2022 6:09 pm

It has been a while since I’ve reported on recently read books. Taking the TTC still allows me lots of time to read, mostly in the mornings when service is more reliable. It’s hard to read standing up on the way home.

Val recommended this book to me after he read it. Val and I don’t always enjoy the same kinds of books, however, we both enjoyed this one.

I had never heard of Elamin Abdelmahmoud even though I’m a CBC person. He’s a CBC host, apparently, but his field is popular culture so I would never have known about him. I’m rather an outsider when it comes to popular culture. His book, in a nutshell, is about immigrating to Canada at a young age from Sudan. The glitch: he moved to Kingston, Ontario, where he came to learn he was seen as Black in Canada. He writes about this with humour and sensitivity. It was a great book for a white person such as me who has had no life experience of having to fit in.

Elamin definitely has an interesting personality. His writing is sweet and quirky and metaphorical. Highway 401, seen on the cover, emerges as the dominant metaphor in his life as he travels up and down, from his restricted life at home in Kingston with his family to his new and more freeing opportunities down the road in Toronto and beyond.

Elamin came to love wrestling, particularly writing fantasy wrestling scenarios. Who had ever heard of this? It got him into writing. He became very methodical about it. And thankfully so for he has written a great gem.

Since I had enjoyed Val’s recommendation of “Son of Elsewhere” so much, I asked him to suggest another book for me as I had nothing lined up. The previous two books I had read were kind of fast moving so I wanted something longer. He went with Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow.” Wow, what a different kind of book. Very heavy and academic, but also really well written, funny at times.

The last time I read a book with a section on economics was in a biography of Karl Marx. The chapter on his economic views for Das Kapital put me to sleep. I hardly ever skim over a chapter when reading. This time I made it through an entire 400-page book by an economist – well, he’s actually a psychologist. That’s mostly because he is a very entertaining writer. I loved it when he totally dissed people who pick stocks. It’s just the law of averages, he says. More so than the material, I enjoyed Kahneman’s descriptions of the life of a professor. Interesting life. His wife, it turns out as revealed in the post-script, is also a great writer. She wrote short summaries at the end of each chapter that made the complex psychological concepts much more digestible.

The major theme of the book is that our brain has two systems: one that think quickly and without deep consideration; the other that considers and analyzes. If we can learn more about these systems, we can make better decisions and become more aware of when we’re not making decisions at all. I find a lot of this applicable to my job as a teacher. However, most likely I’ll forget it because it’s so complex. That is the current state of my brain (my memory).

Last year I attended an equity workshop that mentioned this book by Beverly Tatum, originally published in 1997. When I saw this 20th anniversary edition in my local bookstore I jumped at it. And that was not a mistake.

The first chapter, a prologue written in 2017 after the Obama years and just as Trump was elected, was a highly depressing summary of the history of the last 20 years in the US replete with police shootings and entrenched white supremacy.

The premise of this beautifully written, personal and heartfelt book is that all children and teenagers, regardless of race, develop their racial/ethnic/cultural identities in their social contexts, whether that’s in situations where they’re in the majority or the minority.

Even though the book is American, I found it really helpful for prompting me to consider my students’ identity development processes. I sincerely hope that the Canadian context is different the American one, though this may be inherently naïve. Like all equity materials I have read over the past few years, it reminds me that racism is best understood as institutional, systemic.

One resource that Tatum relies on often is comments from students in her past university seminars on racial awareness. I found these the best parts of the book, honestly addressing the challenges of all kinds of students in living in a rapidly changing world. I loved reading their words, first person. Tatum is an optimistic – some might say slightly naïve, person who feels change is possible through hard work and deliberate interactions between people of different backgrounds overcoming their fears, ignorance, and lack of past experience.

This line really got my attention on the subway: “Institutional policies and practices are created and carried out by individuals, and when those individuals have homogeneous social networks, they too often lack empathy for those whose lives are outside their own frame of reference. I believe opening social networks and closing the empathy gap is a step toward bringing about positive change (Tatum, 345-46).”

I don’t have a next book. This one was really hard to top.

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