Archive for March, 2021

I cannot stop thinking of Sarah Everard. 

She deserves her own sentence, standing alone above this paragraph, to suit the gravitas of what’s happened to her, because she ought not to be forgotten. To have been a woman walking, just someone on her way home, and then to have been killed by a man, a police officer at that, is simply horrific. On March 3, she was walking home from a friend’s house. She never got home. She was just 33 years old. 

She did everything right. She wore bright clothes and running shoes. She took a well-lit and busy route through a London park, and was speaking to her boyfriend on her cell phone as she walked. She was careful. And still she was kidnapped and murdered. Her boyfriend reported her missing the next day, when he and members of her family didn’t hear from her when they expected to. She had disappeared. On March 10, her remains were found in Ashford, Kent, and a 48 year old police officer was taken into custody and charged with her kidnapping and murder. (I want Sarah Everard’s name remembered, and not his, so I’m purposefully choosing not to use his name here in this blog entry.) 

Charlie Mackesy’s tribute to Sarah Everard.

Gender based violence happens around the world. We know that. Women especially know that. Here, in Canada, over 67% of Canadians know of a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse. In Canada, Indigenous women are more likely to be killed at six times the rate of non-Indigenous women. Every night, across this nation, approximately 6,000 women and children stay in shelters because it isn’t safe for them to be at home anymore. Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. These are facts. You can read more about gender based violence at the Canadian Women’s Foundation website. Avoiding the issue doesn’t make it go away. This week, for instance, a 17-year old, Jenny Winkler, was stabbed to death by a 19- year old boy, in Alberta. Gender based violence is everywhere—from London to Alberta, to Atlanta, to Sudbury. 

I want to talk about walking and what it means to me, as a human, but as a writer, and as a woman. We are all ‘wholes’ made up of ‘parts.’ I have always walked, for as long as I can remember. It is something that helps me to deal with any challenges I may encounter—mentally, creatively, and spiritually—and it helps me to open myself to new ideas in my writing. When I get stuck on something I’m writing, I either walk or dance. I do both rather forcefully. I’m not a ‘stroller’ when I walk, and I’m a bit wild when I dance. (The dog, sadly, is not always impressed by either thing happening…but he’s 13 now, so that’s to be expected…) Physical movement, for me, is a part of a healthy, balanced life.

I walk before dawn, so that I can see the sun rise over Lake Ramsey—my favourite lake for all of my life now—which is in the centre of Sudbury. Part of the reason behind why I bought my house here, just a few blocks from the lake, was so that I could walk along its shores in the very early mornings. I’m not a sunset person. I’m into sunrises. 

These walks have brought me some beautiful memories, but have also had me encountering some very scary men. One of my friends bought some pepper spray last year, and gave me an extra little canister. She also walks through our neighbourhood and up under the Bridge of Nations, and then loops through Bell Park and back up onto Paris. I have written a short story that’s based on an encounter I had with a man a few years ago, down on the boardwalk. There aren’t enough ways to say that—when you walk alone as a woman—how a single man along your route can strike fear into you unlike any other sort of fear you may have felt in your lifetime. You feel it in your whole body. It’s a visceral sort of fear, one that grabs you from the inside out. Seeing a man coming towards you on a dawn walk—when he seems to have dead, shark-like eyes—can make you want to throw up. It can. I know. 

While I was living in Kingsville, I often hiked by myself at Point Pelee Provincial Park, as well as at a number of excellent conservation areas. There’s still one encounter that I had with a man at Maidstone Conservation Area–an oak-hickory wood with beautiful Carolinian trees–that had me nervous and wary about walking and hiking alone for a long time afterwards. That was in March 2018, and I still remember it vividly. I don’t like to recall it, but I do…to remind myself to be careful. Always.

These days, thanks to my friend, Jan, I walk with pepper spray and I keep my cell phone ready in my jacket pocket. A friend who’s a photographer has his studio a couple of blocks from the park, so he gave me his number to text or call if ever I feel at risk. But…still…Sarah Everard was careful. She was smart. And she is still gone now. That we live in a world where women need to be hyper-aware of their surroundings seems something that has always been part of life, but it feels even more nerve wracking this week. It doesn’t matter that Sarah Everard lived in London, and that I live here in Northern Ontario. Women live everywhere, and—the thing is—there aren’t many places that feel safe at all anymore. This is especially true if you’ve experienced sexual harassment or assault, or trauma, that has been inflicted on you by men. Given the scope and sequence of the ‘Me Too’ movement a few years ago, and by the number of us who spoke up, there are very few women who haven’t been harassed by men. Now, on Twitter, there are posts that are tagged with #iamsarah and #letwomenbreathe. Globally, Sarah Everard’s death has made women weep for her loss, and rage at what has happened.

I walk along streets that I have known and loved since I was a girl. They are like a blessed and beautiful litany in my head: McNaughton, Wembley, Marion, St. Brendan, St. Nicholas, Hyland, Winchester, Kingsmount, Roxborough, O’Connor, Laura, Homewood, Edinburgh, Front, Worthington, Ramsey, John, Elizabeth, and Paris. (Not necessarily in that order. My length and the pathways and routes of my walks depend on a variety of variables: the weather, my mood, the time of day, how stuck I am on something I’m writing, the way the light is working in and on the sky, the dog…and the music I choose to listen to as I go.) I grew up playing behind my great-aunts’ house on Kingsmount, exploring through the bush and running down to the path that ran along Junction Creek. Now it has a name. It’s ‘The Roxborough Greenbelt,’ but when I was a little girl, it was just a wild, creative space. The same can be said of the time I spent exploring Dead Man’s Canyon as a child. It brings me great joy now, still, as an adult. In all of these spaces, I find my feet, but I can also find my breath and my heart.

I walk along streets that I will always know and love, staring longingly at houses I have told myself stories about since I was small. I imagine their ‘insides’ and wonder about how the light comes through a bit of stained glass, or how the wood floors might gleam in later afternoon sunlight, or how a lilac will smell with rain dripping from its blooms in late May or early June. 

The other morning, I felt a frisson of fear run through me. A shadowed man, in pre-dawn light, and me walking with my small dog, down near the long road that skirts the rail yard. This is not an unfamiliar route for me. I have walked it for decades. The shadow of the figure of a man, though, means that you begin to think self-defensively. You can’t afford not to, especially if you’re a single woman without a male partner to walk alongside. So. I put my hand around the pepper spray, I tugged the dog along a bit more quickly, and I pretended to be speaking to someone on my cell phone. Absolutely imagined conversations about a work meeting that would happen at 8:30 that morning, and talk of how the person on the other end of the line should put the washing into the dryer. A mention of where I was walking and when I would be home. These…fictions…are the ways in which you can fashion a bubble of imagined safety for yourself as you walk, as a woman in an urban setting. It worked. It usually does. He could hear I was having a conversation and that was a ‘fourth wall’ that I purposefully created. I kept on my way, thinking of Sarah Everard’s walk, and was determined not to let fear or nervousness stop me from doing a thing I really love to do each and every day. 

My friend Tanis MacDonald’s poetry collection, Mobile, is one I really love because she writes of what it’s like to be a woman who walks every day. I often think of her poem, “Elegy 2,” when I walk past my favourite historic houses in the very early mornings. In it, she writes of what it feels like to be a woman who walks, of how we must be hyper-vigilant. She writes:  

so don’t mistake me
for a girl who doesn’t
know don’t
think I am not
alive and counting
who died
walking home
from the store
or their part-time job
in the winter dark

We women who walk know and recognize one another by our hearts, by our feet, and by our obstinance in just the act of keeping on walking—even when we’re a bit nervous or fearful. To not do so, to not continue walking, would mean giving up the space that we’ve fought so hard to carve out. So many women have come before me, have come before all of us, to ensure that we have spaces we can inhabit in the world. In earlier centuries, independent women who walk, or who speak up, might have been deemed to be threatening. Now, we own the space that’s been carved out by previous women who have gone before. Head up, chest out, shoulders back. Certain, even—sometimes—when you don’t feel that way. 

This week, in London, police officers knocked on doors and warned women to stay home. Trevor Noah has a brilliant bit on YouTube about this, pondering why police are asking women to stay home—especially when some of those women are in abusive relationships where domestic violence means that ‘home’ isn’t safe, either. Noah poses the pointed and timely question of why the members of the London Metropolitan Police—of whom the accused murderer was one—aren’t being more thoughtful of how this murder has affected women in London. Too, he points out the way in which police officers behaved during a weekend vigil held at Clapham Common for Sarah Everard. Why, he wonders out loud, on camera, would the members of the police force not think more carefully about optics in a time when women are peacefully marking the life of someone who was killed while walking home from a friend’s house? 

Sarah Everard’s friends and family say she wouldn’t want her death to become a political movement. She was, as they have told the press this week, “bright and beautiful – a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable. She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour. She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.” They thanked the police for their work in helping to gather information for the case against the accused. 

On my pre-dawn and dawn walks this week, I have been thinking of Sarah. We are all—all of us who walk on our own—so like her. We take our precautions, we mind ourselves carefully, and we try to be brave and not fearful. We want to be in the world, to take up our rightful space. It isn’t that easy, though. I want to know that I can walk safely, and I can’t be given that assurance as a woman in western society today. That makes me sad inside. But I’m more sad that a young woman has lost her life, and I’m angry that women are still so often victims of gender-based violence. People will say ‘take a self-defense course,’ and yes, I’m sure that would help. People will say that you should just not walk at certain times of the day, but that will just not work. That argument is as archaic as the ones that say you ‘deserve’ to be sexually assaulted if you dress a certain way, or if you drink too much at a dinner party one night. People will say that you should have a walking partner, but that isn’t always in the cards for some of us in the middle of a pandemic. 

The thing is, you see, we should walk just as forcefully as we have walked before now. We should walk with our shoulders back and our heart moving forward. Heart forward, head back. Standing tall. We should walk for Sarah…and for ourselves. 

Sarah Everard

I cannot stop thinking of Sarah Everard. And I cannot stop thinking of her family, friends, and boyfriend.

From where I sit, writing this, I can hear the trains down in the rail yard, and I know that those streets, and the paths that lead through the park, are the places where I love to walk…and where I’ll continue to walk.

She would have loved her walks, too, I imagine…and she had the right to have walked safely home that night. That that right was so horrifically taken from her is a fierce injustice of the highest order.



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How long have I loved Kenojuak Ashevak’s work? I can’t even begin to tell you. She’s just been part of my frame of reference for the longest time, and I’m grateful for her presence in my life. Born in 1927, on Baffin Island, she died in 2013. If you don’t know her name or her work, I hope you come to her through this blog, and that’s because I think she’s just one of the most amazing Inuit artists. You’ll most likely know her through her distinctive owls, ravens, and fish. She was considered ‘the bird artist’ of Cape Dorset, so I’m guessing that’s why I’ve always been drawn to her work…because…if you know me, you know I have a ‘thing’ for birds (and also trees). Someone once asked her about those lovely owls of hers, and she said that “every time she sat down to draw, an owl always seemed to come”(Boyd 15). Ashevak understood how life was connected, and to wander into the Art Gallery of Sudbury these days is to find yourself being still with her work, to feel gathered into her world.

I love the photos of her face…because she has a beautiful, welcoming, and evocative face that tells a story. Some people’s faces are closed up and stoic, or are hard to read. Hers isn’t…wasn’t. I use present tense because she means that much to me. I don’t think she’s really gone…because she lives on in her work. (I think of all artists and writers this way. They don’t really ‘die’ in my mind. They go–from this physical plane–but their work is still alive, full of their creative energy and spirit.) When I see photos of her, I think that Ashevak’s face is so lovely–so very alive, spirited, and full of kindness. Sitting up in Gallery 2 this afternoon, after getting wonderfully drenched with rain on the way into the Art Gallery of Sudbury (AGS), I took a breath in and thought ‘oh, I would have had questions to ask you about your birds…and your mystical women…but instead I’ll just sit here and let them speak to me.’

An old friend of mine has an original Ashevak drawing in her house and, when I used to visit her before the pandemic began, I would try not to stand for too long a time in front of that owl. I didn’t want to seem too moved or overwhelmed by its beauty, but I was. My friend had been up to Cape Dorset for work, and had bought an original drawing. You can linger too long in front of a piece of original art, in a friend’s house, with a glass of white wine in your right hand, and you can find yourself falling into the colours of the owl’s wings and feathers, transported into a place where you find beauty. I do, anyway. Often. I hope people don’t notice me getting all dreamy eyed, but I’m sure that stalking a Kenojuak owl is not a cool thing to do. (Doesn’t matter…because I’ve always been a bit dorky.)

If you take Canadian art history courses, which I did in my undergraduate time at university, you’ll learn about the importance of Cape Dorset to Inuit art. I think I first came to Ashevak at Laurentian University, to be honest, which is one more reason I need to thank the university–and the late Dr. Henry Best in particular–for introducing me to her work. Rather than me babble about it, it’s best to let her speak. This clip is strongest. There are other snippets to find on the internet, including a strange 1963 National Film Board documentary titled–rather archaically–“Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak.” You can look that up on YouTube if you want. It’s interesting, historically, but it’s not my cup of tea. I will always prefer to hear her use her own voice.

Ashevak’s talent in drawing came to the notice of Alma and James Houston–the couple who are mentioned as having started the first craft centre in Cape Dorset back in 1956. She worked on some sealskin designs, but Alma Houston soon encouraged her to try drawing. Then, men were mostly the ones who drew in the community, and Ashevak was the first woman to join them.

She began to gain prominence in the late 1960s, and she was awarded the Medal of Service of the Order of Canada in November 1967. By 2012, she was named to the Order of Nunavut, the territory’s greatest honour. That’s quite a set of ‘bookends’ to a vibrant and full career as an artist, to be sure, but her work…I think…is the real beauty.

I always say, when I write these reviews of exhibits at the AGS, that I’m not an art historian. It’s my attempt at a disclaimer. I just really love to be with (and in close proximity to) original art. I love beauty, and I cultivate it in how I curate my own home with art. (A childhood friend who lives in Montreal calls me a ‘voluptuary.’ For a while, I had trouble with accepting that definition…but then I thought about it some more…and I think I’m in there somehow. I like scents, tastes, colours, and touching textures and fabrics, so I guess that friend knows me more than I know myself. She’s watched me grope historic houses over the decades, too, so I’ll give her that. Maybe ‘voluptuary’ works.) All this is to say, my blogs about art exhibitions at the gallery are…more about how the art makes me feel than think about it in a critical or cerebral fashion. I just really want to slip into the art. That’s all…really…

Find yourself a seat when you go. My favourite place to sit is in the middle of Gallery 2. You need to book ahead for these visits because of Covid, but it’s kind of lovely to have a whole art gallery to yourself for an hour. It gives you the space to sit and think, to be with yourself, and to be with Ashevak’s beauty.

Take a look at her mystical women, with Wisdom of the Elders (2009), and Eternal Spirit (2011). Think about how those women are at the centre of things–as heartbeats, lighthouses, observers, caregivers, lovers, mothers, sisters, and daughters. She knew how to ‘speak’ about how the world was woven, and that’s what I love about her. I don’t have the fancy schmancy, super technical, academic art historian language to tell you why, but I can tell you that I feel it in my body–when I breathe, when I listen to my heartbeat, and when I root my feet down to the ground to stand tall and walk forward. Ashevak feels strong to me when I sit in the presence of her work. Powerful.

Wisdom of the Elders (2009), ink and coloured pencil

I am, though, as I’ve said, drawn to her birds most of all. That means the owls, of course, and the ravens. Black birds–crows, ravens, red-winged blackbirds, and my little magpies–have always entranced me. In Irish tradition, The Morrigan is a figure I’m drawn to. She’s transformative and mythic. The Morrigu, as she’s also sometimes called, is linked symbolically to war and battle, and can shapeshift into the form of a bird. She’s about endings and beginnings, about death and rebirth, about despair and hope. That’s what I like about her: she isn’t easily defined or boxed up or in. So. Put me amongst the birds, feathered or painted, out in the bush, and I’m a very happy woman.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the current AGS show:

Dancing Ravens (2003), ink and coloured pencil

Spectacular Ravens (2003), ink and coloured pencil

Owls Enveloped (2004), ink

Please don’t forget to see the fish in Gallery 1. I grew up fishing with my dad on the Narrows of Lake Nipissing, so I’m fond of fish drawings, too. Take my word for it: go right up to those three beautiful fish drawings to the left of the entrance of Gallery 1 and just choose one fish drawing. Go up to it. Lean in close (but don’t touch it because that’s not allowed and might be illegal!) and look right into the fish’s eye. Then, look over the body of your chosen fish. See how Kenojuak Ashevak has used the ink and coloured pencils to create the sense of scales. Look at the work. Closely. Carefully. Breathe it in. Close your eyes. Open them again. And look again….even more closely.

This exhibition, Kenojuak Ashevak–Life & Legacy, is on loan from the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative Limited, in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. We’re lucky to have it coming here to Greater Sudbury. It runs until the end of May. You just need to call the Gallery at 705-675-4871 to book your hour. You can visit with people who are in your immediate bubble. Bring your mask. Sanitize your hands. Do the covid stuff. To be honest, though, maybe go twice…because that’s what I’m going to do. Be sure to go once on your own…so you can sit with Ashevak and her beauty and breathe into it all. It’s soul stuff, this one, and it’s lovely…especially on a rainy day in March.



(*You can buy a copy of a beautiful book that accompanies the exhibit, published by Pomegranate Press, so be sure to bring some pocket money. It’s $25 and well worth the investment if you love art.)

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