From the vault: Olympic fever hits Tri-Cities

This article was originally published on the front page of the Coquitlam Now on Feb. 12, 2010.

It starts with a rumble, a muted clamour in the distance.

The air becomes electric, animating all those around.

It’s coming. It’s coming.

Necks crane and hands stuff down into pockets to fish out cameras.

Those lined up by the red tape in Port Coquitlam’s Leigh Square shift their weight, make room for more children at the front who look back at their parents for confirmation.

It’s just after 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, and Shaughnessy Street is jam-packed with a jovial crowd that grows denser the closer you get toward City Hall.

The throngs of young and old look like they’ve been doused in red, and many carry flags. Despite the rain, they are all wearing smiles.

Thousands showed up in downtown Port Coquitlam Thursday morning to watch the Olympic torchbearer stride through town, meet his fellow torchbearer under the bandshell and pass the flame on.

Nancy Tremblay’s six-year-old son, Cameron, stared wide-eyed at the Leigh Square crowd.

Her son has been waiting for this moment for months, and the anticipation has only grown as his school does art projects like making crafty torches and Olympic rings or devoting days to the red and white.

Tremblay says there was no way Cameron and his sisters, nine-year-old Mackenzie and 13-year-old Destiny, would have missed watching the torch come to town.

“They had to come. They were very excited. We got up really early for this,” Tremblay says, chuckling. The Olympics have come to hold deep meaning in their PoCo household. “It means a great sense of pride for our country and the athletes. It’s something my children will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The roar grows and suddenly, hands are thrown in the air as a helicopter hovers nearby, the occupants looking down to see a sea of waving mittens and flags as the likes of Doug Alward, Terry Fox’s longtime friend, run the torch into the city.

Decked out in the now-famous white tracksuit and red mittens, Mark Stoklosa jogs the final 300 metres past school children and Olympic fans to where city councillors and staff cheer.

Stoklosa and Port Coquitlam’s David Kam come together, their torches meet and the flame ignites to the delight of everyone at Leigh Square, to thunderous applause and screams. And just as quickly as the flame arrived, it departs Leigh Square, Kam hoisting his torch through more streets lined with child and adult fans.

They see local athletes like Chris Rinke, a wrestler who competed at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and Brit Townsend, Simon Fraser University’s cross-country track and field coach, raise the torch aloft and move the Olympic dream along.

Commuters along Lougheed Highway witness preparations at Mackin Park beginning early, with stage and booth setup taking place long before daylight.

Rain falls gently on the heart of Maillardville, where scads of people dressed in red congregate for the Tri-Cities’ only community cauldron celebration.

Local politicians, fresh from the completion of early morning torch relays through Belcarra, Anmore and Port Moody, arrive at the park and jockey for position to watch entertainment on the stage. Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Iain Black says 2,000 people showed up to watch the torch run through Anmore, dwarfing the number of visitors recorded on even the busiest summer day.

Black is dancing beside the stage, and he is not alone. More than 10,000 people are moving to the beat of music blaring from the sound system and the palpable buzz in the air.

It’s coming. It’s coming.

As the clock comes closer to 9 a.m., dignitaries make their way to the stage.

Chris Wilson appears at the edge of the park an holds the torch aloft, beaming as he walks down the middle of the crowd toward the stage.

He pauses on stage to drink the moment in, and then tilts the torch to his left, where the community cauldron ignites, causing loud waves of sound to run through the crowd.

It’s here. It’s here.

“It’s amazing. I have never thought that I would ever see something like this,” he says, thanking the community for its support and enthusiasm.

The former wrestler, who competed at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, now chairs KidSport Tri-Cities, which helps youths take part in organized sports.

“I think it’s really important for kids to find that thing they’re passionate about, that they love doing. And then they should work their butt off for it,” Wilson says, adding that kids should be encouraged to try everything from sports to arts and pastimes in between. “Everyone’s got a talent for something.”

Wilson steps down off the stage and makes a beeline to his family nearby, one daughter with a sign saying “Go Dad Go.”

“It’s an amazing morning,” Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart says. “This is the biggest crowd ever assembled in Coquitlam, and I tip my hat to you.”

Dancers take to the stage, delighting the crowd with Scottish highland, Korean, Chinese and Russian dance, before assembling together for a multicultural encore.

They make way for 19 Grade 10 students from Dr. Charles Best Secondary, all clad in white tracksuits. Led by school counsellor Kristi Blakeway, the Best Buddies group is to carry the torch on so other communities can share in the dream.

The VANOC announcer declares Coquitlam an Olympic community as Blakeway’s torch is lit, and members of the school troupe descend the stairs and high-five the crowd as they wend their way out of Mackin Park.

The crowd, after offering its final hurrah, lets out a collective breath.

It’s gone. It’s gone.

And yet, it’s only the beginning.

Podcast interview about editing Finding Your Cape

As a writer, today is surreal. I’m usually quite happy to stay within the writing medium, comfortable hiding behind the words shown on a screen.

Mare McHale does have a way of pulling people out of their comfort zones, though.

The author of Finding Your Cape: How to Course Correct and Achieve Greatness When Things Don’t Go as Planned asked me to be a guest on her podcast, help her kick off the second season and dish a bit on the editing process. How could I say no?

So if you were ever curious about what my voice sounds like, feel free to listen to the snippet below. Check out the podcast episode link to our convo about editing and writing on a personal topic.

BIG featured in BC Bookworld

Well hello there! I don’t know about you, but I blinked and missed spring, summer and most of September. It’s proper fall now with chillier mornings – although there’s been no indulging in pumpkin spice everything… yet.

It feels like decades ago that BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies was released by Caitlin Press. An essay I wrote was published in that book, and it has been a pleasure to see it create waves in the publishing industry.

It has now been featured by BC Bookworld, one of the most venerable periodicals to profile and review books in the province. Editor Christina Myers makes for a stunning cover model, don’t you think?

Black lives matter: Decolonizing my book shelf

I have been quiet these last months, not due just to the pandemic. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery felt like a gut punch. The violence perpetrated on these people, and so many others, is overwhelming – and kick-started some deep self-reflection.

The reality of racism is now being live-streamed to everyone’s homes. The tragically prophetic words from Will Smith, shared on the Late Show in 2016 and circling yet again, have been haunting me for months: “Racism is not getting worse; it is getting filmed.”

We are shown these images of police violence against Black people, but why do the stories stop there? Where is the everyday life of BIPOC people – the artists, entrepreneurs, financiers, volunteers and family members? It doesn’t take much scrutiny to see how film, television and books falls short of truly representing the diverse world of humans around us – a key component of mutual understanding and respect.

I see this in my home, as well. Looking at my bookcase, it’s painfully clear what an undergraduate education in English literature will yield: hundreds of books by old white dudes.

I studied “the canon” in university: Chaucer, Dickens and Hardy. Shakespeare’s early work prior to 1601, and then plays onward. One class devoted the entire semester to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen – the longest poem in the English language at 1,053 pages. I somehow escaped the Hemingway trap, thank heavens.

The studies upheld European male writers, predominantly British, as the standard to which all others must be compared. They were “classics.”

Were all texts exclusively by white males? No, but the proportion of texts by female, Black, Indigenous, Métis, Inuit, people of colour, and LGBTQ2IA writers is far less. This is not acceptable.

Perusing current course offerings at my alma mater, it appears this is starting to change. Indigenous authors are among the study options now, although as an elective. There are some studies of modern works, which touch on racism – but, as is too often the case, focused on the American context and the civil rights movement in particular.

In the last few years, I have intentionally purchased writing by diverse authors, and intend to buy even more in the future. Each writer provides me greater insight into families, cultures and perspectives that, as a white person, I have not been privy to. By expanding my literary horizons, I have read more about racism in Canada during contemporary times in neighbourhoods like my own. Bias, violence, discriminatory legislation and wilful neglect of our duty of care: stories by diverse authors put a human face to systemic racism.

Children’s author Mo Willems once wrote that, “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” I offer this list of recommended books for white readers to leave the traditional English canon behind, and begin the process of decolonizing their bookshelves.

This is not an anti-racist reading list; these are not books by academic researchers designed to unlearn racism. As a white, middle-class woman, I don’t profess to be an expert in this field and I’m not suggesting the following is part of a “new canon” of BIPOC literature nor the only authors to read (I honestly struggled with limiting this list). These are stories – fictional and non-fiction accounts of human beings affected by the racist and colonial systems we find ourselves in today. I have an admitted bias toward Canadian authors (I will always love you #canlit). These are merely titles that diversified my reading, introduced new BIPOC voices and helped me understand complex struggles that marginalized characters face.

Polished Hoe book coverThe Polished Hoe, Austin Clarke

This 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning story is a literary masterpiece. They say writing an entire novel of dialogue is impossible, until the unforgettable Austin Clarke proves the declaration wrong. This story is heart-rending, and the tension between Mary-Mathilda and the police is tangible from the very first pages.

The Break by Katherena Vermette book coverThe Break, Katherena Vermette

Trauma touches generations like a drop in water: the ripples spread far and wide. Katherena Vermette’s novel follows a multigenerational Métis-Anishinaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime. The writing is also incredibly crafted, which has earned Vermette several awards.

Book cover of Brother by David ChariandyBrother, David Chariandy

Teenaged brothers navigate a world fraught with prejudice and poverty in suburban Ontario. This story of a new Canadian family is haunting in its tragic loss echoing, sadly, current events. David Chariandy claimed the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for this novel.

Book cover of Keeper N' Me by Richard WagameseKeeper N’ Me, Richard Wagamese

What is our identity without our people? Richard Wagamese’s novel follows Garnet Raven’s experience of being apprehended by social workers at the age of three and growing up in the foster care system. He finds relatives as a young adult, uncovering his family’s rich traditions and community. This lovely tale is shaped with two points of view, adding to the mysticism and relational connection.

Book cover of Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya TalagaSeven Fallen Feathers, Tanya Talaga

Sometimes truth is more horrifying than fiction. Tanya Talaga’s research is a scathing indictment on society’s blatant disregard for human life and human rights. Children from First Nations communities are having to travel hundreds of kilometres from home to access education, only to be denigrated, abused and, in some cases, killed when they arrive in the host communities. Talaga’s book covers 2000 to 2011, when seven Indigenous high school children died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Prepare to be chilled by the system’s response.

Roots, Alex Haley

Book cover of Roots by Alex HaleyIt has been made into a movie, mini-series, audiobook and a quandary for genealogists and historians. I read Roots: The Saga of an American Family at the age of 16, and I vividly remember wanting to rip my skin off as guilty penance for the sins of my ancestors. There has been much critique of Alex Haley’s research for the foundation of his book. But if you consider it historical fiction, the “could-be” story of how one person came to be in America, Roots unpacks a lot of baggage of what the characters’ ancestors may have endured.

And if you have gotten this far: consider purchasing a copy or two of these books and passing it along to friends. (All book cover images link to a national online book seller.) Buying books by BIPOC writers supports their work and encourages publishers to keep diverse stories coming.