Featured post re: Effective School Councils

Leave a comment

I haven’t seen much written about Ontario about school councils lately (although I am not paying as much attention to the topic anymore).  Today I appreciated reading a post, Effective School Councils, by an education superintendent from Alberta, Chris Smeaton.  I have followed Chris (@cdsmeaton) on Twitter for many years.  Although he writes for the Alberta context, I thought his insights and list of discussion questions would be useful to Ontario’s school councils as well.  I thought I would post here to keep it handy.

Chris mentions a workshop presented by their provincial school council association,

The presentation reminded me of the important work that should be done by this group but often gets lost because of well -intentioned volunteerism. I don’t believe that staffs will ever say no to the work that many of our parents do in schools today but, the true essence of their role is far more reaching than simple involvement.”

He describes the realities and challenges of engaging school councils and parents in school planning and improvement discussions but offers some good suggestions on how to improve these opportunities and make them more parent-friendly.  He also provides list of possible discussion questions for the school council table.  Please read his full post.  What would you add to the list he has started?  Have Ontario school councils made any significant shifts in roles lately?


Fixing or Fighting Public Education?


I have become more selective in what I read about public education lately and I also pay less attention to the issues now that my own children are out of the K – 12 system.  I spent years trying to be informed of the issues and advocating where I could.  I didn’t always feel effective then, but even more so now.  When I was more involved in education advocacy, I would always wish that the general public would also keep informed and care about education, but I get now how easy it is to drift from the issues and feel powerless to make a difference.

As I stated to Doug Peterson, I only read this article about fixing public education in Ontario because he wrote a response to it on his blog, here.  The author of the article is a former president of an education advocacy organization.  She discusses 7 areas to address in order to “fix” public education in Ontario, and claims that 6 out of the 7 recommendations will save money.  She also states in the article’s subtitle, “It won’t be easy to implement any of these recommendations. The educational establishment will fight every step of the way.”

I thought Doug did well in addressing each of the 7 areas with his insights and thoughts (Non-Government Tuition Subsidies; Teacher Training; Curriculum; Textbooks; School Boards: Ont. College of Teachers; Provincial Testing).  I am only going to share some thoughts on one area/recommendation.

Given that I have thought and written a fair bit about school boards, that section jumped out at me. From the article,

The school board trustees, who theoretically represent the voters, are basically powerless: I have yet to hear of a parent who successfully sought help from his elected trustee. The trustees’ representational responsibilities would be better relocated to democratically-elected and influential school councils in each school.”

and with that,

Recommendation #5: Abolish the school boards”

Doug states a good case in his post,

This has long been a controversial issue but the fact that school districts exist ensure that local priorities can be addressed.  The notion of a High School Major is a perfect example.  The careful design plays to the importance of certain fields to the local community.  What works in a downtown community may not be appropriate to a rural location.  Having said that, within a community, there can be so much duplication of services with four school districts in operation.  Since they all teach in Ontario, there may well be significant savings by rethinking this way of organization and addressing the duplication of efforts.”

My thoughts:

As a parent, I received good help from some elected trustees — others, not so much.  Trustees have their limitations in power too.  Am I the only one who “successfully sought help”.  As for school councils being the better representational structure because they are “democratically elected and influential”, when has that been the case in any consistent and supported way across the entire province? (A post I wrote about representation here) I highly doubt that the abolishment of school boards would lead directly to improved functioning, representation, or influence of school councils.  Careful what you wish for?  What do others think?

I agree, the education system is hard to change.  There is also much disagreement on what change should look like.  I see the comments and exchanges are adding up on the original article though.  When I skimmed, most were about public vs. private schools.  Opinions are abundant, but no straight path to change.  I wonder if big shifts will occur anytime soon in Ontario.

Here is a podcast I hope to listen to soon, but if anyone else would like to beat me to it:

When Public Isn’t Public: Education in Alberta

All in a day’s drive in NW Ontario

Leave a comment

I get asked from time to time, “What’s the drive like from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg?”.  Often my first thought is, “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”  But then I do try to give the best advice and safety tips, especially for those about to take the trip for the first time.  Many people have to drive it — for work, medical treatment, family support, etc.  And soon there might be no another choice with cuts to the Greyhound bus service and routes.  Sometimes I get a surprised look when I mention that it will take about 8 hours.  One could drive from Thunder Bay to Minneapolis in about the same time.  Or one could head south from Thunder Bay and be in the beautiful area of Grand Marais, MN, within an hour and a half.  But that means crossing the border….

After a recent road trip this past summer, I thought it might be fun to write a blog post about this familiar (to me) stretch of Highway 17 — maybe it will also be useful to someone. (a link/pdf of a map of this part of NWO here via Ministry of Transportation)  It is not a trip I like to take very often, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without some positives.  Our family avoids driving it in the winter, but each summer we usually take at least one vacation trip as far as Kenora, ON — that 6 hour drive (approx.) is close to my limit in a car for one day.  We might take the trip into Winnipeg from Kenora on a separate day, as one could do the 2 hour drive there and back to Kenora on the same day.

When we head west out of Thunder Bay, we don’t usually stop at Kakabeka Falls (about a half hour out), but other first time travellers on this stretch might wish to do so.

There aren’t many rest stops between Thunder Bay and Kenora that are reliable and always open for gas and washroom breaks.  However, I would recommend stopping at a few no matter what.  You will be thankful if you get held up by road construction or an accident that shuts down the highway for an indefinite time.

After we enter the Central Time Zone, we make our first “pit stop” about 1 1/2 hours out at a little town called Upsula.  We stop at “Xtra” (not much else open anymore).  Although the signs inside remind that the washrooms are for their “valued customers”, I doubt anyone would be denied.  We still feel obliged to purchase something, and one can’t go wrong choosing from the bakery there (I suggest a slice of pie, or the whole pie, made on site with various flavours/fruits).  The stop also has every candy or chocolate bar you could want.  It is the only place I can find licorice “Nibs” in black.  Yum!  Some chewy candy can be a good thing for the long drive.

I always have a chuckle at the well-supported/reinforced hydro poles along this stretch:

Next stop/town is another hour and a bit — Ignace.  There are a few more choices of rest stops and stores there.  We usually choose the tourist centre, as by that time, we don’t need any more coffee or food and we can use the facilities guilt-free and stretch our legs by a nice water fountain and picnic/playground area.  It is our “half-way” mark if we are going to Kenora.

With a sense of good progress, we head onward for Dryden, which also means another hour and a bit to the first Tim Horton’s since Thunder Bay.  There are plenty of more options for food and shopping there and I would highly recommend a driving break in Dryden — the highway changes dramatically shortly past there and the next small town, Vermillion Bay.  The winding, hilly, and narrow single lane highway needs fresh eyes for both safety and the beauty as one heads on towards Kenora.  The high rock cuts close to the highway will always intimidate me.  Don’t get too distracted by the beautiful lakes and views!  Try to avoid this stretch at night and as the sun is going down.  The semi-trailers need to be contended with always, but there are plenty of passing lanes.  Be patient!

If you are continuing on to Winnipeg, you could easily take the “Kenora By-pass”, but then you would miss one of the prettiest small cities (especially in the summer) that you will see before crossing the Ontario-Manitoba border.  Kenora is situated on the north side of the Lake of the Woods area in “Sunset Country” and it has got to be one of NW Ontario’s best kept secrets.  But it is not a secret to camping enthusiasts and cottage owners from Manitoba and the U.S.  Pull into any parking lot in the summer and you will question if you are still in Ontario as you spot the many (if not the majority) of license plates from Manitoba and various northern and southern states.  If you are into fishing, boating, camping, etc, there may not be a need to continue to Winnipeg.  But if you want to explore a large city (the only big city in MB) with many attractions and shopping options, you won’t be disappointed!  West of Kenora, the mostly flat, straight drive with a divided highway most of the way to Winnipeg is a breeze!

I have taken the Greyhound Bus service fairly often in the past between Thunder Bay and Kenora or Winnipeg.  There are certainly pros and cons, but it concerns me that the option may not be available anymore come this fall.

Greyhound axes Northwestern Ontario bus service

Greyhound cancels most of its routes in Western Canada

It has been many decades since there has been railway service direct to Kenora or Winnipeg from Thunder Bay, but that interest has come up again.

Pressure grows for Via Rail return to Thunder Bay, Ont.

It is funny what we come to expect from modes of travel.  My father-in-law often told the story about dirt roads and the slow cars back in his day, not to mention clearing brush out of the way.  A trip between Kenora and Winnipeg would take a full day.  The story certainly stopped any complaining about getting somewhere faster (or nowhere fast).

Do you have a story about this stretch of Highway 17?  Have you vacationed near the Lake of the Woods?  Will you be affected by the cancellation of the Greyhound bus service?  Please share!

More silly photos from a recent stay in Kenora:

A storm had just passed through, so no boats docked for grocery shopping in Kenora just yet:


The “round hotel” will always be “The Inn” to me:

I thought the beach sand around Kenora’s sidewalks and street edges had a quaintness to it.  Leftover from winter sanding?:


History Refresher: About A Border

Leave a comment

When I noticed that the War of 1812 was trending on Twitter this past week because of a dialogue between President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau, it caused me to refresh my understanding!  Having taught Canadian citizenship classes for adult newcomers a number of times in the past, I went directly to my teaching resources and reviewed the information on Canadian history, which includes the War of 1812.  I taught the material provided for newcomers in the Discover Canada study guide developed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  This is section on the War of 1812 (plain text below as well):

In plain text:

The War of 1812: The Fight for Canada

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Royal Navy ruled the waves. The British Empire, which included Canada, fought to resist Bonaparte’s bid to dominate Europe. This led to American resentment at British interference with their shipping. Believing it would be easy to conquer Canada, the United States launched an invasion in June 1812. The Americans were mistaken. Canadian volunteers and First Nations, including Shawnee led by Chief Tecumseh, supported British soldiers in Canada’s defence. In July, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock captured Detroit but was killed while defending against an American attack at Queenston Heights, near Niagara Falls, a battle the Americans lost. In 1813, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Salaberry and 460 soldiers, mostly French Canadiens, turned back 4,000 American invaders at Châteauguay, south of Montreal. In 1813 the Americans burned Government House and the Parliament Buildings in York (now Toronto). In retaliation in 1814, Major-General Robert Ross led an expedition from Nova Scotia that burned down the White House and other public buildings in Washington, D.C. Ross died in battle soon afterwards and was buried in Halifax with full military honours.

By 1814, the American attempt to conquer Canada had failed. The British paid for a costly Canadian defence system, including the Citadels at Halifax and Québec City, the naval drydock at Halifax and Fort Henry at Kingston—today popular historic sites. The present-day Canada-U.S.A. border is partly an outcome of the War of 1812, which ensured that Canada would remain independent of the United States.

The history chapter can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers to Canada.  To prepare them for writing the citizenship test, I would highlight a few things, including the support that the British got from people already in Canada (volunteers and First Nations) during the War of 1812.  They learn that the name of Canada became official in 1791 (The Constitutional Act of 1791), but they also learn that it wasn’t an official country until 1867 (Confederation).  I also highlight the war’s outcomes regarding the border and Canada’s independence from the United States as mentioned in the study guide.

If all the above details from the study guide are correct, the “Americans burned Government House and the Parliament Buildings in York (now Toronto)”, and in retaliation Major-General Robert Ross (a British Army officer) led an expedition from Nova Scotia that burned down the White House and other public buildings in Washington”.

But I don’t mean to be petty 🙂

I try not to let the uninformed and flippant things that politicians say get to me, but sometimes… well, sigh.

Cookbook Attachment

Leave a comment

I saw a post from Gastro Obscura calling out for submissions:  “Tell us about your most unusual cookbook”.  I didn’t plan to submit one, but I remained somewhat curious.  It prompted me to see if Doug Peterson wanted the topic of cookbooks for his “Whatever Happened to…?” series on his blog.  His readers had some fun interacting with Doug’s take on the topic and his questions here.  Nothing like food and cooking to start up a conversation and spark some memories!

Eventually I returned to the Gastro Obscura website to check out what came together.  There are some interesting and unusual cookbook examples featured for sure in that follow-up post.

In my (long) comment on Doug’s post, I mentioned that I should probably write my own post on the topic.  I have noticed that the topic of cookbooks often brings up stories of “first cookbooks” and stories about when cooking becomes cooking for two (remember the old saying, “The best way to a man’s heart…”, but let’s move on…).  I enjoy stories about favourite go-to cookbooks and recipes that get passed down and shared amongst family members.  It can be a such a strong connection to our past and our loved ones.

I have a very old cookbook meant for kids called Kitchen Fun.  It was my mother’s.  I am not sure how long she had it, but she still used it at times when she cooked for our family.  Most of our suppers would include a meat dish, but sometimes she would pull out that cookbook and make “Yummy Eggs”.  I found it to be a great treat.  Those beaten eggs (with butter) cooked in a “double boiler” were so tasty and fluffy!  I had forgotten that the recipe was from that kids’ cookbook until I received it after my mom’s passing.  The hard cover is worn and stained, as are many of the pages.  I was thrilled to find information about it online since — it was published in 1932 and one can still get a copy or a revised edition through Amazon or eBay (at the time I searched for it).  I also found some blog posts about it!

This blog post has a few good pictures and some interesting details about it.  I had a good giggle at this part,

I have a friend who was a pioneering food writer, and she told me she made the recipe for “Yummy Eggs” from Kitchen Fun on her honeymoon.”

Another blog post shows a few of the vintage cookbook’s pages — I always loved the graphic symbols of ingredients and the measurements required to help young cooks.  This post also mentions “Yummy Eggs”!  Both posts claim that it is a great cookbook for children to use.  (Is it “cookbook” or “cook book”?)

If you were to ask my adult children about “Yummy Eggs”, they would likely tell you that it is a dish their mom made for a quick supper on Halloween night to make sure they had some protein before going out… 😀

I am pleased to see that my adult daughters are developing skills and a good interest in cooking.  I would hope that I would have the same expectations if I had sons.  At times I hear that young adults are not interested in cooking and it gives me some concern.  I hope that is not the general case!  I know it can get very boring and tedious at times, but don’t complain to me unless you have been cooking for over 20 years 🙂

Is there a good “recipe” to keep children and young adults interested in cooking?  Is it still important?  Share your thoughts, or a good story!

And if you wish to try Yummy Eggs… I also have the easy recipe written out on a recipe card:



The Cover Debate


I thought this tweet was both funny and engaging (and the numbers reveal…):

I had a scroll through the responses a few times out of curiosity.  It was Matthew Oldridge’s tweet that led me down initially…

I am not certain if the debate was settled, but I can easily think of covers that I like better than the original.  I might be biased if a cover is by a favourite musician though.  I am sure most people will have a listen to anything a favourite singer or band puts together.  It is likely a very subjective thing.  For example (from responses to the tweet):  The Man Who Sold the World — Bowie or Nirvana?

While there are many songs that I think could not be covered better than the artist’s original version (e.g.  Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, many songs by the Beatles…), there are many covers of songs that I appreciate and some that I only began to enjoy as a cover.

I thought of a few “oldies”:  I didn’t really care for the song Young Folks (by Peter, Bjorn and John) until I heard (sorry) James Blunt’s cover.  Bob Dylan was before my time and I am not really drawn to his voice, but I am glad that many covers of his songs by others have helped me appreciate his talent.  I didn’t care much for Mick Jagger’s Ruby Tuesday and Jigsaw Puzzle, but I love Melanie’s covers of each.  (If you wish to compare.. here and here).  I equally love James Taylor’s original of Carolina In My Mind and Melanie’s cover of the same.  (Thanks to Denise for the reminder of that beautiful “JT” one!)

Some songs get so many covers, for example, Something Just Like This by the Chainsmokers and Coldplay.  I find the original both catchy and annoying, but then I stumbled upon this cover and it appealed to me.  It would be difficult not to appreciate the effort and talent in that cover.  Someone else also commented on the video, “Better than the original..”

I love discovering new music to enjoy and I also like it when good stuff gets attention again through covers.

Please share a favourite cover, or your thoughts on covers!

I have also posted a few times in the past on this blog related to covers:

Dancing in the Dark — Then and Now

Behind Blue Eyes – Then and Now

Pass the jam

Poetry, man.



45 — As in vinyl… rpm.

World news is distressing lately… I thought I would write a geeky, fun nostalgic post!  Or maybe Doug Peterson’s fun and informative Sunday series of “Whatever Happened to… ” blog posts have rubbed off on me.  I don’t see “45s” in his list of topics here 🙂

I still have a collection of “45s” that I can’t seem to toss.  Besides, they are still in this cute “denim” box that I stored them in since I was a tween 🙂

I was probably 10 when I started buying 45s.  It was a big deal to use my allowance to buy one.  I still have memories of the rows in the record store and trying to make a decision.

I must have been proud of my growing collection.  Each purchase was “catalogued” on the index card that came with the storage box and each vinyl was labelled with the corresponding numbered sticker.  I got all the way to 43 on the index card that went up to 50. 🙂  Must have been a sappy stage…

While my last purchase was a song by Squeeze (loved that one!), my first purchase was Brand New Key by Melanie Safka.  Although this is the hit song that many people associate with Melanie, I preferred the song on the “B side” — Some Say.

The rest of my collection is really quite an eclectic sample of the 70s.  I was likely influenced by the tastes of my older siblings as well.

I still have one of those plastic yellow centre/insert thingys, but I doubt I will ever play a 45 even though we have a turntable.  I have looked up a few of the tunes on Youtube just for fun.  Yes, I even found the De Franco Family one! (Oh my… wow, haha!)

In my curiosity, I came across this interesting blog post about the history of 45s.  It is from a few years back but I enjoyed it and I think I will trust the author’s facts and trivia!  If you would like a test or to research for yourself first before finding the answers in the post:

When was the world’s first commercial 45 released? Can you guess the song/artist?  What colour was it?

Longest playing song on a side of a 45?  (There seems to be a debate…)

How many different sizes of the hole in the middle?

How long did the “45” era last?

Does anyone still have a “78”?  (I recall a few of those around in my childhood home.)

A cool bit mentioned about Elton John’s 45s on the post,

Most of the B-sides of Elton John’s 45s had songs recorded just for them, as Elton John felt it gave his fans better value for their money. And they did. Most of them are collector’s items and many were never released to CD.”

So what do I do with this little box of memories and a piece of my past?  Does anyone else have a collection or a single 45 they can’t part with?

Never mind my LP collection… but I have started weeding some of those out.  Cassettes were much easier to deal with and toss!  Yesterday I saw a local antique store announcing they had a case of “vintage” 8-tracks available!  No thanks!

Older Entries