A B.C. Literacy Council Discussion with Dr. Rob Tierney

B.C. Literacy Council Leadership Meeting

It was SO exciting to have the first face-to-face British Columbia Literacy Council Leadership Meeting since pre-COVID times.  The best part about membership in the International Literacy Association and provincial council, the British Columbia Literacy Council, is the conversation.   Last Tuesday night at the Sylvia Hotel was not a disappointment.  

Rob Tierney arrived prepared to talk about his current role as the immediate past president of the International Literacy Association.   He has a broad range of participation in ILA and background experiences in education throughout the world, including Australia, the U.S., China, and recently Nigeria.  Although he began as a classroom teacher in Australia, many of the people in the room embrace him as “Canadian” due to his work at The University of British Columbia, including but not limited to Dean emeritus and professor emeritus of Language and Literacy Education.   His research in reading, reading-writing connections, assessment, and global perspective held promise.

The spark of magic for the night came from the diversity of the people in the room.   Traditionally the B.C. Literacy Council (BCLCILA) and the Lower Mainland Council of the International Reading Association (LOMCIRA) before it, framed Leadership Meetings as working committees of the executive committee with feedback from ILA executive members.  The focus was on developing strategic plans to move forward as a council.  However even prior to COVID, there has been a step away from volunteerism and participation in professional organizations.   Part of this came from the focus on newer teachers striving to create some work-life balance and part of it came from the stronghold lock of some of the developed organizations to step away from the refrain “But we’ve always done it this way” and embrace new ideas and new ways of doing things.  The opening up Post Covid is the perfect time to embrace new ways of approaching our work.  The people attending this Leadership Meeting included long time ILA members, recent members,  and people from different roles as educators in private and public institutions.  

Many of the people in the room shared the experience and passion for developing partnerships to address local literacy needs with educators in different countries along with Dr. Tierney.  Sabine Maiberger brought her experience of starting a school in China.  Lulu Wang brought her perspective of attending school China and her efforts to meet the expectations of Chinese parents while providing stimulating experiences through iGeneration Education programs.   My experiences teaching at The Fuyang Bureau of Education and Sandy Murray’s experiences bringing SongWorks to China and Japan made for some interesting conversation.   Dr. Tierney was able to share interesting experiences in Nigeria and the importance of adopting the stance of the learner in these interactions.  Susan Ruzic was able to incorporate the social justice work that she has been doing at The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (B.C.T.F.).  The conversation teased out how much we have to learn from working collaboratively and learning from what other countries have to offer.   The work towards reconciliation in Canada has helped to move this conversation forward.  It has allowed us to step away from the notion that Western Culture is not responsible for helping people to adopt our educational paradigms but called us to create space for other cultures to show us what they need from us to be supported in their work.  The question pursued was how do we develop the INTERNATIONAL in the ILA.

This conversation had many common elements with the conversation of the Science of Reading. Some teachers in the room were looking for the ways to support children coming into the classroom with many needs and often few supports. Others were very concerned with what looks like a top-down trend in the United States to impose a very simplistic view of reading that discards much of what we have learned since the 80’s. Ruth Hodgins brought her experience with Reading Recovery and a thorough knowledge of the research and success stories that have come from implementation. Sandy Murray brought the perspective of a music educator and classroom teacher using song to joyfully develop literacy concepts. You would not find anyone in the room who discards the importance of phonics instruction. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about the many ways we have done this in the classroom. The Writing Process was celebrated as away that children are given the tools to communicate through through phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. The reciprocal relationship between reading and writing is seamless. There was deep discussion about reading-writing connections and how researchers such as David Booth and Lucy Calkins provided transformational support to educators.

Dr. Tierney thorough knowledge of existing research at his fingertips was helpful in focusing the conversation.  There was frustration in the room about the reading noise in the Twittersphere referencing decontextualized research that points a finger to easy answers.  The research on literacy instruction tells us is that it is anything but easy.  This is not something that Coastco can market in a workbook.  Reading, writing, listening and speaking are interwoven with amazing complexity.  The learner sitting in front of us at any time will require four cueing systems in order to unravel the mysteries of reading.  In order to provide what that learner needs, the teacher will need to unlock the complexities and subtleties pertinent to the learner.  It will require an educator that has access to the plethora of literacy research, professional development, and the autonomy to decide on how best to meet the learner’s needs.  Well informed educators are able to determine and build on background knowledge and ascertain the pathway to create a reader that experiences the power of making new discoveries and the joy of expanding their world through literacy.  

Dr. Tierney underlines what the International Literacy Association provides for us.  The access to literacy research helps educators to make decisions about how they will reach their learners.  Local and provincial councils are not simply volunteer activities but professional organizations that facilitate important conversations between literacy educators.  We hope you will join the conversation.  This link takes you to the International Literacy Association membership tab.  If you live in British Columbia, you automatically become a member of The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) when you join ILA.  

Thanks so much to the following people for attending the B.C. Literacy Council of The International Literacy Association Leadership Meeting and for providing your perspectives in the discussion:  

Dr. Rob Tierney – speaker

B.C. Literacy Council Members:

Dr. Karen Addie, Darlene Archer, Larkyn Froese, Linda Klassen, Sabine Maiberger, Donna McCormick, 

Tricia Stobbe, Executive Director, Christian Educators of B.C.

Sandy Murray,  SongWorks Educators Association

Susan Ruzic – BCTF Social Justice Committee 

Lulu Wang, founder and CEO of iGeneration Education Group

Ruth Hodgins- Consultant

We very much hope you will extend the invitation to your networks to join the conversation about literacy learning.  

Reading Wars as Diversion

We have a wealth of educational research to assist us in the thoughtful planning and implementation of reading, writing, listening, speaking activities and programs in schools, at enrichment centres, and at home. The prevalent message is that literacy development is a multi-faceted process that takes place over time. That being said, the “Reading Wars” battleground, south of the border, has re-opened the quest for easy answers by cherry picking the research on reading and writing.

I recently coordinated a literacy program for young children. In talking to parents, I found myself doing something that I haven’t done for years. I poured sand into an empty glass vase to demonstrate this is NOT how children learn. More than ever, educators need to pause and move forward based on what they know about working with children and what comprehensive research tells us. It is not a simple process. It is a complex process impacted by the developmental level of the child, the mindset, as well as exposure to books and reading. Background experiences with reading are also paramount. I refer to this one as the “joy factor” and do profess to have any definitive scientific data to cite on this one, however I strongly adhere to the notion that children and adults who don’t like reading have never learned to read for different purposes or just not “met” the right books. Never underestimate an effective librarian, teacher who is a lover of books, or employee at Vancouver Kidsbooks in helping with this process!

Anyone who has worked extensively with teaching reading has experienced a child who flawlessly decodes the text and gives you a completely blank look when you ask about the meaning. Or perhaps heard the groan when you mention reading together. Understanding that authors have messages to convey is part of the process of reading Helping a child to make reading an enjoyable interaction between the child and the author is another important part of the instructional process.

Now, as always, there are four cueing systems in language development that are essential for communication. All four of these systems are used simultaneously as we speak, listen, read and write.

  1. Grapho-phonemic System –  the awareness of the sound system of the language represented by letters or combinations of letters.
  • Phonemes – the 44 sounds in English
  • We see this work when young children are writing their journal entries. They are connecting the sounds of the words they are saying with the letters they are writing on the page.
  • Graphemes  – the sounds represented by one or more letters
  • Phonological Awareness – understanding the sound structure of words including syllables, rimes and onsets
  • Sn– a-ck (Onset / rime)

Phonemic Awareness – to be able to combine phonemes to decode words.

h-o-t = hot

p-o-t = pot 

c-o-t = cot 

You can make a trip to Costco on any given day and pick up a workbook that includes pages and pages of repetitive exercises claiming to assist your child in mastering these skills. The reality is that many workbook activities can be completed by replicating a pattern instead of reading.

Word play, word building with magnetic letter, rhyming games, skipping songs, nursery rhymes, action games and song experience games, repeated readings of predictable pattern text can be more engaging ways to focus attention on the relationship between letters and sounds.  

2. Syntactic System – The roles of the structure and grammar of sentences.  

Modelling correct grammar and changing word endings (suffixes) or beginnings (prefixes) to change the meaning of words falls into this category.  Editing written work during the Writer’s Workshop is an excellent way to focus attention on this task.  I learned grammar in Grade 10 when I started to tutor. I could apply correct grammar in my writing before that point in time but I had not memorized all of the grammatical structures. The process of labelling grammatical structures made both me and my tutee better at parsing sentences. Actually helping him finish his assignments with questions and prompts as required made him a better writers.

Lessons about synonyms, antonyms, homonym and vocabulary development would fall into this category.

3. The Semantic System – Meaning Makers

In high school, a cousin I adored came to live with my Mum and I.  She decreed that we needed to improve our vocabulary.  Since she was two years older, I complied.  Every week a new word went on the fridge door.  Our task was to use it correctly as many times as possible during the week.  It became a fun game that I took with me into the classroom when I started to teach.  

Three noteworthy things came out of that game. One I my principals that he had never talked to kindergarten students with such good vocabularies. During one standardized test, my Gr. 3 students crossed out words and replaced them with better word choices. When my own children were in high school, both of them were tested and labelled “gifted”. My son’s analysis was that it was no more than an exercise in demonstrating a good vocabulary. His comment: “Not like we had a choice if we wanted to know what was going on.” The vocabulary development came out of a desire to communicate rather than a memory exercise.

4. The Pragmatic System –   This involves use of appropriate communication in social situations.   

The formality of the language used will likely change if you are talking to a boss, a principal in a hierarchical system, or a friend or close family member. Awareness of this fact will make a difference in how you are perceived in conversations. This is an example of pragmatics.

Lessons developing conversational skills, nonverbal communication (raising hand), adhering to social norms (personal space, volumes of conversation), empathy, active listening, and using humour appropriately fall under this area.  

How do you find the right term to describe literacy instruction that recognizes the complexity of the task, the importance of all of the component parts, and the role of a trained teacher in facilitating the instructional process?  

Whole language and balanced literacy were never terms or practices intended to exclude the grapho-phonemic system as an important aspect of reading instruction but efforts to acknowledge the synchronicity of all four cuing systems.   A focus on a “Reading War” seems to be a diversions from well established practices based on research that have brought solid results in places like Canada, Finland, Ireland, and Estonia.   Now is the time to step away from the battle for black or white answers, and work collaboratively to find the best answer to meet the needs of the younger learner sitting in front of you. There will never be one guaranteed quick and easy answer but we have learned enough to find a strategy that works for that child. The process may look different. It may take different amounts of time. It may require intervention by teachers trained with specialized skills. Yet, the OECD documents that it is happening all over the world due to the expertise we have developed based on comprehensive educational research practices.

WILD ABOUT Ways to GetINvolved in Outdoor Learning

Wild About Birding at Lost Lagoon

“Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity, joy, caring, and learning.”

Wild About Outdoor Learning Society was registered as a non-profit in British Columbia on August 4th, 2022. It evolved into a provincial non-profit due to the success of the grassroots movement Wild About Vancouver. WAV began hosting the annual Tidal WAV Outdoor Festival in 2015. It garnered the support of educators, outdoor learning groups, and environmental organizations as well as hundreds of participants. This led us to expand our mandate to all of British Columbia with the goal to providing a structure for local communities throughout BC to come together to improve physical and mental health, learning and engagement in environmental activism.

The Tidal WAV event will be happening in Stanley Park again on May 27, 2023.  We hope to attract our usual crowd, represent the diversity of our city in activities, events and participation, and provide training for how to host a Wild About Outdoor Festival in additional B.C. communities throughout the month of June.  We will continue to develop a website and blog posts with ideas for how to participate and come together outdoors.   

Ruby Best and David Cook have provided the first two blog posts sharing how they started groups to facilitate outdoor enjoyment, learning and appreciation in their communities. Ruby’s blog post, Photos, Friends and Nature as a Way of Life, outlines how she started a birding group that has morphed into a Nature Photography Group in the wetlands, parks, and forested areas in the Tri-Cities and the Fraser Valley. David’s blog, A Walk with a Biologist, details how he has shared out his background knowledge as a scientist with eager participants in the forest areas of North Vancouver.

Wild About Society is inviting people to share how they went about bringing together informal local groups interested in being out in nature for a variety of purposes. In the short term, the goal is to include the posts on the Wild About website and on our social media channels. Wild About’s wants to provide support for people wanting to create similar groups in communities, schools, or organizations throughout British Columbia. Long term, perhaps we will compile ideas into a book to continue our work in encouraging participation in outdoor activity and learning for physical and mental health, enjoyment, and environmental conservation in BC. We dream big😊

If you are interested in sharing your ideas of how to start an outdoor learning group or activity, please follow the format below. Check out Ruby and David’s posts to see how they approached the task. All bloggers will be credited as guest contributors. Please send blog posts for review and direct questions to wildaboutsociety@gmail.com.

Wild About Wednesday posts are about focusing on all the ways to #getOUTdoors ad #getINvolved for your health, enjoyment, appreciation and commitment to preserving the environment.  

Wild About Outdoor Learning Society Celebrates

Hopefully the holiday season has been good to you and yours.

Happy New Year!

The weather has been tumultuous throughout British Columbia.  Some great possibilities for outdoor activity but not so conducive to anything involving an airport!  Living in British Columbia, we are home to incredible biodiversity and terrain conducive to outdoor physical activity during all seasons of the year.  Hopefully you have found lots of opportunities to #getOUTdoors #getINvolved and celebrate the place where we live.

This is our first year to celebrate as a non-profit society in British Columbia.  The Wild About Outdoor Learning Society has grown out of the success of the grassroots movement, Wild About Vancouver, that formed in 2015.  The flagship event, the Tidal WAV (pronounced “wave”) Outdoor Festival provided Wild About Society with a structure to share ways for Vancouverites to get involved in outdoor activity, experiential learning, and environmentalism in their city.   It also served as a way for groups to network and engage in collaborative action.  

Wild About Society has expanded its mandate to include all people in the Province of British Columbia with opportunities to improve their physical health, mental health, and actions to improve the environment.  It also strives to support towns and cities in B.C. in building community through networking with like-minded groups with the common interest of getting people outdoors and involved in community outdoor activities, experiential learning, opportunities, and actions to improve their local environment. 

Our New Year’s Resolutions for 2023

  1. To provide information and opportunities for the people of British Columbia of all ages to get involved in outdoor physical activity, experiential learning, and environmentalism in their city or town through social media, publications, and the hosting of Wild About Outdoor Learning Festivals throughout the province.  
  • To work in collaboration with indigenous people to highlight, acknowledge and celebrate the importance of place and indigenous ways of knowing in outdoor activity and experiential learning.
  • To work collaboratively with local communities to plan inclusive Wild About Outdoor Learning Festivals where all members of the local community can see themselves represented.
  • To develop tools to facilitate the organization of outdoor possibilities and the planning of Wild About Outdoor Learning Festivals to increase participation in outdoor physical activity, experiential learning, and environmentalism by local community members.  

We would love for you to join us through volunteering, hosting a Wild About Outdoor Learning Festival in your community, donating merchandise for prizes at the Tidal WAV, and/or making a financial contribution.   

Go to http://www.wildabout.ca for more information.

Happy New Year Literacy Leaders

The promise of a new year is before us.  A time for brand new resolutions for 2023 or to jump start resolutions that have been pledged in years gone by and forgotten by the end of January.  For the British Columbia Literacy Council, our resolutions each year for many years have been consistent.


  1. Look for ways to support the literacy goals of the International Literacy Association within in British Columbia.
  2. To provide the leadership opportunities for educators to network and support each other in the task of supporting the literacy development of their students, school community and the larger literacy community.

I am honoured to have been invited to be a part of the Nominating Committee for the International Literacy Association as one of the international members.  It is inspiring to see the commitment to improving opportunities and literacy practices worldwide continues undaunted by the impact of COVID.  

Working in a COVID context has been an uphill challenge, to say the very least.  It has come with wins and losses as educators in British Columbia and the rest of the world, have been taxed with their own personal challenges at home, as well as the fear, frustration, and stresses of their school community.  Medals are warranted!  We have certainly learned that online meetings do not come close to the support, collaboration and inspiration of face-to-face meetings and professional development.

I just recently completed a pilot project providing 3 weeks of daily literacy sessions for 3- and 4-year-old children.  In talking to parents, I went back to the demonstration of Matthew Arnold’s notion of the “empty vessel”.  As I poured sand into the jar and explained that learning does not happen this way, it was as if I was presenting newly discovered information.  Online programs, tutoring for young children, workbooks and programs promising immediate results gained leverage in a COVID world.  More than ever, educators are needed to support parents in understanding that listening, speaking, reading, and writing are communicative processes that develop over time rather than memorization exercises that can be quickly mastered and checked off a list.  We have our work cut out for us.

BC Literacy Council has plans for 2023

Upcoming February Leadership Workshop:

We are excited that Rob Tierney will be joining us for our BC Lit Council leadership conference. Dr. Tierney is an international educator whose passion is for developing research partnerships to address local literacy needs with educators in different countries. He began his career as a classroom teacher in Australia, then proceeded to work in the United States, Canada, and China. He is most familiar to us from his publications and time as dean emeritus and professor emeritus of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. Stay tuned for more information.

New Members Book Club:

Our vice-president, Larkyn Froese, is in the process of organizing a book club of some of our newer BCLCILA members to inspire some good conversation with a social twist.  

BC Lit Council Booth at Tidal WAV – The Wild About Outdoor Learning Festival 

Due to the big success of the BC Lit Council scavenger hunts and book give away at the Tidal WAV (Wild About Vancouver) in Stanley Park last spring, we will again be part of this Outdoor Learning Festival on Saturday, May 27th.  Larkyn Froese is chairing the committee that will be exploring ideas to promote literacy and indigenous ways of knowing in an outdoor context.  Despite the torrential rain last year, it was a fun event that brought out over 400 participants.  

Join Us

The Executive Council of BC Literacy Council values new ideas and new members.  We aspire for our council to mirror the population we serve.  Participation in the BC Literacy Council means different things to different people.  It looks good on a resume.  The volunteerism ends in some purposeful programs and projects.   However, throughout my career I have most valued the space to step back and reflect on my work as a literacy educator with other people interested in doing the same thing.  Those conversations started at meetings but continued in hot tubs, coffee shops, restaurants, beaches, and parks.  Please consider joining us and bring colleagues interested in building a literacy network and continuing down a rich and purposeful path.  

Please reach out for any more information or input into future directions.  

All the very best for the coming year!

Carrie Froese

President – BC Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association

“Look to the Mountain” – Human Rights 2022

“Look to the Mountain” a call excellence in our path to reconciliation

The Declaration of Human Right and Freedoms was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 and enshrined the rights and freedoms of all human beings. It was to be the gold standard of social justice that countries of the world would acknowledge, sign and function in accordance with the principles.  Coming on the heels of World War II certainly, it provided a path to sanity and a better way of living.  December 10th would become the day to celebrate this more civilized way of life.

Another Human Rights Day on December 10th has passed.  What is immediately apparent is not a consolidated respect for human rights but the overt examples of a complete lack.  And yet I take heart in the fact that subsequent human and civil rights law have codified many of these basic rights in Canada.  And the United Nations has continued to build on the work to move the human rights agenda forward, even in the face of powerful resistance.

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted on September 13, 2007.  The voices of 370 million indigenous persons over the world had been heard and the call for self-determination, rights to own and control their lands, territories and resources, and right to free, prior and informed consent, among others.  The power in this was not just those countries who embraced this declaration but those who did not.  It unearthed the hidden biases, the not so hidden biases, and the financial interests vying for political support.  

Despite our Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada with all of its resolutions, despite a seemingly honest move to embrace and come to terms with the truth of our history, Canada did not sign on to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until June 21, 2022.  And yet… it has signed. And adopted it.   The signature creates a path forward to codify this work, guarantee its application, and a path forward towards reconciliation.  

Years ago, I attended Dr. Gregory A. Cajete’s talk at the University of British Columbia:  Indigenous Community in a 21st Century World: The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Community Education.  I have been a fan of Dr. Cajete (Tewa author and professor from Santa Clara, New Mexico), since I read Look To The Mountain (1994).  Cajete grew up surrounded by four sacred mountains.  In Cajete’s own words, “the Elders of the community would often admonish youngsters to “Look to the Mountain” and this metaphor has come to reflect his contemporary philosophy for indigenous education.  Elders prompted younger people to “take their thinking to a higher level-as if on top of a mountain.”  

The indigenous community has been a human process constructed to provide a perception of belonging that supports a sense of identity in context.   In turn, it supports individual acceptance, agreement on core values, respect, accountability, reciprocity, efficacy and a move towards or away from function.  Dr. Cajete uses the metaphor of “all kernels of the same corn cob” to describe the essence of unity and diversity within the building of community.  The tragedy of colonization was the breakdown of community, dehumanization, isolation, and the subsequent political and spiritual fragmentation.  His advice in the recreation of the cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm necessitates:

  •             Learning history
  •             Research into principles of Indigenous ways of sustainability
  •             Collaboration and cooperation
  •             Ecological integrity
  •             Sustainable orientation
  •             Revitalization of a vision and purpose
  •             Cultural integration
  •             Respect for all
  •             Engaging participation in community

Cajete emphasizes that building community requires work and facilitates the perpetuation of Aboriginal people.  There is an exciting indigeneous revitalization in visual art and dance relationships and a beginning of science relationships.  Cahete’s background as a biologist stimulated an interest in reclaiming traditional forms of science and building processes of revitalization to recreate sustainable, indigenous communities.  This is supported by botanist and Citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer.  I highly recommend both of her very popular books, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults (2022).  Cajete advocates adhering to the Iroquois maxim by thinking seven generations ahead and implementing the traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain through generations of living within a distinct bioregion.  Evolving indigenous methodologies include deep dialogue, deep listening and deep reflective conversation built on the tradition of the talking stick.  Indigenous people explored questions, problems and issues that were important in this way and they were witnessed by community to ensure accountability.  Indigenous teachings and ways of being can help us recreate respectful and vibrant communities that are inclusive.  We require learning and teaching to create the pathway toward environmental sustainability and integrated, supportive communities.    The The UN Declaration of Right and Freedoms and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been adopted t maintain our accountability. Future revitalization will require we “Look to the Mountain” on the path to reconciliation.  We have work to do!

Inspiration of Robert Davidson

“The art became the vehicle for cultural knowledge to become part of us.”

Robert Davidson (2007-2020 – personal conversations)

Robert Davidson – a leading figure in the renaissance of Haifa art and culture – Wyatt 2022

I am not a grand fan of notifications that flip across my computer screen and distract me from the task at hand.  But sometimes, just sometimes, these notices are perfectly timed flashes of brilliance. A notice flashed across the screen announcing additional tickets were being offered for the book launch of Echoes of the Supernatural:  The Graphic Art of Robert Davidson and a dialogue between Guud san glans Robert Davidson and the Richard Hill, a curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I jumped.  

My first year of university at UBC, many moons ago as my mother would say, I was attending Ryerson United Church in Kerrisdale.  I traveled to the Haida Gwaii, still called the Queen Charlotte Islands, to learn about the Haida and make connections.  All of the other people on the church tour had white hair. And had time on their hands.   I suppose I was selected and paid for because I was representing “youth”.  We traveled up the inside passage via B.C. Ferries and were hosted by people on the Skidegate Reserve and in the town beside it.  I remember being disappointed that I was staying in town.   I remember three things very clearly from that experience.  Actually four, but the married crew member anxious to cheat on his wife is a story for another time.  

Even in the small community of Skidegate, cultural dividing lines existed.   People were friendly with one another but not actually friends.  One night we were invited to “a mixer” at the Skidegate reserve for dinner, a performance of traditional dance, and stories.  After dinner and the dancing with amazing masks, regalia, drumming, and singing, I had lots of questions.  So I got up from my table, coffee in hand, and walked over to a guy that I thought looked like he’d know the answers.

“Well, aren’t you the brave one.  Have a seat.” He gestured with his hand across from him.

“Thanks.  You mean I’m brave to go on a trip with all these old people?” I said with a smile.

“Well, maybe that too.  No, I mean you crossed into Indian territory.”  He glanced at the other side of the room.

At that moment that I understood what he was talking about.  There was a white side and brown side.  

“Well, it’s just that I was wondering…”

And I went on to ask my questions.  People from both sides of the great divide joined us and we laughed and talked for the rest of the night.  All it took was a healthy dose of curiosity and willingness to venture into the unfamiliar.

The second thing I noticed were more eagles than I’d even seen in my life.  In those days, eagles were not as plentiful in the lower mainland of Vancouver.  The eagles were big and powerful and radiated intelligence.  They came close enough that I could imagine them scooping up a person and continuing up into the clouds.  All the legends I was familiar with seemed more like possibilities than imagination.  I would go to the beach early in the morning and stare up in awe as the eagles hunted until the mud threatened to swallow me whole.  I experienced the fear of being alone at the beach and unable to lift my boots with my legs.  I took a big rock.  A big stick and the willingness to sacrifice my boots.  I was surrounded by forces much stronger than I.  

The other thing I noticed was the quantity and the diversity of the art in Skidegate and Old Masset.  Sometimes it was a long house.  Sometimes there would be a half-fallen pole alive with faces making its way back into the forest.  I wondered if preserving it or leaving it was the right thing to do.  Everywhere we went there were carvings, poles, jewelry made from precious metals and argillite, prints, and paintings.  I had recently returned from a 6-week trip to Europe as a high school graduation present from my father.  I had been exposed to lots of classical art.  This art was different and for the first time, I realized how much Indigenous art I was surround with growing up in Vancouver.  Art that was put in a lesser category than European art of even the art of Emily Carr or the Group of Seven.  The Indigenous art was different but the quest to communicate inspiration was the same.  It was art with secrets.  That trip included many visits to studios and makeshift stores.  My big splurge was a small carved argillite pendant.  I discovered the difference between the cool stone on my neck and the black synthetic poles sold to tourists in Stanley Park.  The carving was intricate.  And there was a story.

By that time Bill Reid, and then Robert Davidson were well on their ways to personal discoveries and skill development that would rock not only the art world but society’s perception of what it is to be Indigenous.  Robert Davidson was raising his first pole in Old Masset in 1969 and credited with being “a leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture”(2022).  His work has been prolific and crosses mediums.  Renown totem poles and masks.  Ceremonial and fine art pieces.  Sculpted wood, argillite and jewelry in precious metals.  Bronze and aluminum sculpture.  Complex 2D painted design known as formline.  Being present at a discussion with Robert Davidson provides the opportunity for us to stand on the shoulder of a giant.  As an educator, I have engaged in experiences and done reading to present important ideas to my students in public school and at Simon Fraser University.  Yet, nothing compares to that face-to-face interaction with someone with well-developed background knowledge.  On Monday night, Robert Davidson likened the bending a stick until just the point before if breaks, being like the tension of the bending line in the ovid in Northwest Coast art.  A significant form in the Northwest Coast alphabet of art.  I’ve read these words before but this time he used his hands and body to show the bending of the stick.  I could see the tension in his hands, his shoulders, and the tension in the imaginary stick.  I know that point of just before the stick snaps.  I’ve lived that experience.  My eureka moment.  The intersection of knowing information and understanding meaning.  The title for the recent exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “A Line that Bends but Does Not Break”.  It’s perfect.

As well as the talk, Robert Davidson was also signing the recently released book,  Echoes of the Supernatural.  The Graphic Art of Robert Davidson by Garry Wyatt with Robert Davidson (2022).  All of us in the line had to tell him our connection to him.  The Haida Gwaii.  Relatives or friends.  Past Interactions.  Inspirations.  He listens.  Smiles. Sits with all the patience in the world in his now iconic “brightly coloured shirt” and takes care to spell names correctly.  His continued desire to push and expand his understanding of the art form is mirrored with our desire to come with him on the journey.  

Robert Davidson talks about the importance of studying the Old Masters and copying their work to learn.  Just as in any art course, the basics must be practiced until the learning flows fluidly into your own work.  He has been able to communicate that the Old Masters were not just inspired by nature but in relationship with nature.  This has allowed his work to ask important questions.  His daughter Sarah Florence Davidson articulates this eloquently and I will continue to search for the quote.  She points to the looming question of what kind of environment will be there for our children if we continue on the same trajectory.   Robert Davidson’s work provides a call to both #getOUTdoors and #getINvolved to better understand the art, perhaps create art, but also to better understand our place and perhaps our role in our environment.  I’m so grateful I got that ticket!



A Wild About Wednesday post – Wild About Outdoor Learning Society is a non-profit committed to supporting the people of British Columbia to #getOUTdoors and #getINvolved.

WA Wed – A Walk with a Biologist

David Cook using his skills

David Cook is “Wild About” science and being outdoors. In retirement he has had the time and willingness to share his extensive background knowledge about plants, animals, and environmental concerns. He has actively engaged in doing interpretive walks throughout the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia. His walks are designed to be learning experiences rather than hikes. Many of the adults who attend his walks are familiar with his reputation as a scientist and appreciate that walks are accessible to people with diverse range of physical abilities and knowledge of science. The type of walk offered depends on the group requesting David’s support and the choices David makes to keep things fresh and interesting. He does not like doing repeat sessions that are the same. Therefore, participants can expect variety. I was on the Bear Hunt when he bent down, scooped up the bear scat and ran it through his fingers to assess what the bear had been eating. Apparently, that was another of his many studies, reporting on the diet of local bears through analysis of their poop. For the non-biologists in the group, he added an element of surprise that had us delighted and riveted to what he was saying. He provides a model of how senior citizens can #getOUTdoors, #getINvolved in learning that benefits their fitness and sense of belonging for free.

David Cook continues to be active in his North Shore Community.  He is on the board of the Light House Park Preservation Society, the Old Growth Conservancy Society, was  on the board of the Friends of Cypress Park Society.  He was on the board of Nature Vancouver and ran the Botany Section of Nature Vancouver for ten years and still runs the Geology Section of that society.   He has recently completed a seven-year study of 54 hectares of old-growth forest in West Vancouver and previously completed similar reports on two old-growth forests in the District of North Vancouver.This has resulted in many opportunities to share his background knowledge.

David was born and raised in Perth. He graduated from the University of Western Australia with a double major in zoology and geology with extra courses in botany. Rather than following his father’s footsteps into banking, his insatiable curiosity took him into work as a science reporter with a Western Australian newspaper, a job as an entomologist for the Department of Agriculture in Australia and Port Moresby. This came to an abrupt end when he was offered a transfer to Rabaul, the capital of New Britain, while working as an Entomologist for the Administration of Papua New Guinea. Rabaul was a town built in the crater of a volcano and nobody wanted to work there. Predictably, a few years later the town was wiped off the map by a volcanic eruption. David had been on expeditions into the Star Mountains and up the Sepik and Ramu Rivers of Papua New Guinea, and after leaving New Guinea, caving expeditions to New Caledonia and the adjacent islands of the New Hebrides. Then began a three-year world trip that almost achieved circumnavigation of the globe; Japan , South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Laos (the Vietnam war), Cambodia (Angkor Wat), India, the Middle East, France and finally Canada where, tiring of travel, he took a job in one of his fields, Geology

David earned a living as a geologist with Union Carbide Exploration. Eventually he was transferred to Vancouver and stayed put. He never lost his love for botany and was able to focus his attention on this love once he retired. He worked with a well-known botanist named Terry Taylor, from whom he learnt the local species, and by co-leading interpretive walks.

He has developed a good reputation and demonstrated a willingness to share his knowledge. The following are some of the groups that he has hosted walks for:

North Shore Black Bear Society.

Old Growth Conservancy Society.

Lighthouse Park Preservation Society.

Nature Vancouver (formerly Vancouver Natural History Society)

Salmonberry Days (Dunbar Residents Association).

Cordilleran Section of the Geological Association of Canada.

Friends of Cypress Provincial Park.

Elders Council for Parks.

Elder College.

Stanley Park Ecology Society.

Pacific Spirit Park Society.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

West Vancouver Museum & Archives.

Young Naturalists Club.

Chilliwack Naturalists.

The Land Conservancy.

Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre.

False Creek Watershed Society.

Suzuki Elders.

Private tours.

School group tours.

He has also hosted geology tours with prearranged stopping points in Lynn Canyon Park, Caulfeild Park, Stanley Park, Kitsilano Beach, Fraser Valley to Hope, and the Sea to Sky Highway. 

Organization of the Interpretive Walks:

  1.  The society or group sponsoring the interpretive walk publicizes the interpretive walk to their members, sends out email invitations to register and generates interest through social media.
  2. Having notified members of the society or group, David shut up sends out emails to his own list that has grown to over 1000 . This includes people who have previously attended walks or communicated interest over time.
  3. Confirmations are sent out to people once they are registered.
Hello Carrie
You are registered for the Bear Walk on Thursday Sept 8th. at 10 am. The meeting location is the parking area on Lillooet Road just before the yellow gate which is the entrance gate to the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve and just after Capilano University and then the cemetery. There is alternative pay parking at Capilano University, a 15 minutes walk away. Allow for this eventuality.
Most of the walk is open to the sky, so wear a hat if it is a sunny day. Bring water and a snack. The closest toilets are at Capilano University.
I have attached a map with the meeting location shown by a red cross.
4. Usually the society for which the walk is being conducted will have a Release of Liability form to be filled out by each participant.

Of the over 1000 people notified about a walk, about 20 people usually respond. Although, since Covid, people were desperate to get out and I have had a significant increase in numbers to about double that figure. In that case I place the excess number on a wait list. Of the 20 that achieve registration, about half will cancel, particularly if the weather changes, leaving me with the ideal number of about 10.

David is aware of other programs to facilitate registration processes, but he remains with what is tried, tested, and works for him.

There is lots of room for others wanting to share their expertise. David’s preference is to have a group of about 10 people which usually ends up at about 10 as some almost always cancel. He finds this small number lends itself to more questions, conversation, and active engagement. The fact that David frequently sends out messages stating the session is full, shows that people are receptive to this kind of learning outdoors in nature. He is hoping others reach out to offer these kinds of opportunities and learn about their crucial role in ensuring that good decisions are being made with respect to the environment.

This Wild About Outdoor Learning Wednesday post is based on input and an interview with Dr. David Cook.

Wild About Friday Fun Fact #1

by Anabelle Lee

Anabelle Wee submitted photos to the Wildife-in-Focus Contest and her seagull photo is now being featured on a T-shirt for sale on the BCSPCA website. She belongs to an informally formed group in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver with a fascination for all things wildlife, but especially birds!

Never a Gull Moment by Anabelle Wee

Way to go, Anabelle!

Photos, Friends and Nature as a Way of Life

Ruby Best doing what she is “Wild About”. Photo by Anabelle Wee

The Wild About Outdoor Learning Society will be highlighting a number of ways that you can #getOUTdoors and #getINvolved in your community.  Vancouver, British Columbia offers access to a wide range of outdoor experiences.  Unfortunately some of these experiences come at a high cost and are inaccessible for some people to participate on a regular basis.  Ruby Best has come up with a way to get out in nature regularly and staying active with a group of like-minded people for the cost of the camera that you select.   

Ruby has always been interested in photography. In the past, she photographed mostly people and places.   This changed due to a friendship with an artist who photographed birds as studies for her paintings. The two of them would go out once a week to find birds to photograph.  They started off with backyard birds common the Vancouver Lower Mainland such as chickadees, juncos, robins, sparrows, and hummingbirds. The day Ruby saw a photo of a barred owl, that changed. She was in love.  She was determined to “catch” a barred owl on her camera. This process led her into an owl inquiry and a fascination with “all things raptor”! 

When her friend became ill and could no longer go out birding, Ruby felt vulnerable going into desolate areas by herself.   Her desire to continue to develop her nature photography skills and seek out raptors led her to consider her options. Many years working as an Administrative Assistant at the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation left her with well-developed organizational skills and strong people skills.  

Ruby set out to find a like-minded person to go birding with her.  The process she followed evolved over time. Now it provides a great model for other people wanting to form interest based groups to pursue their learning, make friends and get out into nature for both physical fitness and mental health.  She has been able to share some great ideas about how she got started and things to consider when organizing a group.  

Social media has played a key role for Ruby’s formation of her group.  She joined a Facebook Birding Group Page when she first got interested in birds.  Another person who had been a professional photographer in India, posted that he was interested in a birdwatching partner.  Ruby responded to his inquiry on this page and Mann became Ruby’s new birding buddy.  The common interest in birds and photography was a bonus and fed both of their enthusiasm.  Mann has  won awards in National Geographic for some of his nature shots.  He also developed his photography skills doing professional portraits of pregnant woman and action shots of children in India.   His photography expertise helped Ruby to hone her photography skills.  Ruby’s background knowledge about local birds and the places to find them was helpful for Mann.  

Nextdoor, is a social networking APP to support community building in neighbourhoods. Some people sell their couches or share information about local businesses. Ruby formed a special interest group called “Wildlife Photography” and invited people to post their photographs of B.C. wildlife. By this time her and Mann’s interests had expanded to include other local wildlife in their photography expeditions, like the bear and deer in Minnekhada Park. Ruby invited members of this group to join her and Mann on their ventures. Forty people joined the Nextdoor special interest group. Two recently retired, novice photographers signed up to go birding with Ruby and Mann.

At that point, the group started to grow via word of mouth.  Another friend and colleague of Ruby’s from the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation joined the group to be out in nature.  She didn’t bring along a camera, but she did bring along her enthusiasm, then her granddaughter, and then another friend to join the group. 

Ruby monitored e-bird, a free resource to select good places to see interesting birds and the times to site them. Many others birders do the same thing. Ruby’s group frequently show up at spots where other photographers have gathered looking for a specific bird. Ruby learned that there are many types of birders. Some are committed to being silent observers in the bird’s habitat and strive to be unobtrusive while taking their photos. Some people like her buddy Don, prefer to go birding alone but are generous about sharing information about sightings. Ruby keeps in touch with him and he shares rare bird and owl sightings frequently. Some birders are reluctant to share information about bird sightings until they know you better. This is partially because large groups of photographers scare the birds away. Also, some birders will be very disruptive in the birds’ habitat to get the best photographs. Ruby reports having seen people shake trees to wake up owls or shine flashlights on them. This is perceived as not only intrusive but unethical in birding circles.

Many faces have become familiar. Photographers gravitate to Ruby’s group. They are attracted by the friendly demeanor of the group members who are often willing to share finds and engage in conversations about birds and photography.  Some of these people have expressed interest in joining the group.  

Participating in this group has also opened other possibilities for the photographers. A few of the group members joined a photography group at a Community Centre in East Vancouver. Ruby and Colin are now submitting their own photos to competitions through the Lion’s Gate Photo Club. Mann continues to submit and win competitions internationally. Anabelle submitted several photos to the Wildife-in-Focus Contest and BCSPCA selected her seagull photo to featured on a T-shirt for sale on the BCSPCA website.

Photo by Annabelle Wee

At this point the group has grown to ten people and the group has decided this is the maximum size. When new members were accepted into the group, they were added to a What’s App Group. Meeting spots and times are posted. Photos and sightings are shared. People choose to show up at a designated spot at a particular time, or not. Some people are interested in participating once a week, others attend several times per week, and others daily. Some days the groups are bigger and sometimes two people venture off to make a new discovery.

In Ruby’s words:  

“Birding is addictive. Just when you think you’ve seen them all, another rare bird or raptor shows up. Birding keeps us moving which is better than being sedentary, and it keeps our minds alert. Being out in the fresh air amongst the trees, rivers, oceans, lakes, and seeing different types of wildlife has a very therapeutic effect. I always thought I would have a difficult time making new friends when I retired but since birding, I’ve made so many new like-minded friends. 

Together we have seen great-horned owls, barred owls, saw-whet owls, barn owls, long-eared owls, and snowy owls. I never knew that there were so many different owls here and there are still some that I have not seen. We have gone all the way to Chilliwack in search of the elusive pygmy owl.  We’ve seen rare birds to this area such as the scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, snow buntings, Tropical King birds, acorn woodpeckers, and leucistic/albino barred owl.   We’ve gotten out of bed up at 5:30 am in the middle of winter to search for snowy owls in Iona and nearly froze our butts off. We’ve waited at dusk on the Boundary Bay dykes to see the barn owls and short-eared owls hunt for voles in the marsh. We are no longer just photographing birds and raptors but also other wildlife such as marmots, bears, and bobcats.  

I’m learning to be a better wildlife photographer too, through seeing photos taken by the more experienced photographers.  My first camera was a Nikon point and shoot but once I got into taking photos of birds, but I needed a bigger zoom lens so I could watch birds from a distance and not scare them away.  I have now graduated to a Nikon P1000 with a 3000 mm zoom lens that is perfect for taking snap shots of birds a great distance away.  My full-frame Nikon D850 with a Nikkor 200-500 mm lens has allowed me to further develop my camera skills and win some prizes.   Of course, the skilled photographers in the group have taught me that amazing photos are a result of the talent and skill of the person behind the camera.  

Through birding I have also learned to observe and appreciate BC’s diverse wildlife from a distance without causing harm or disturbing them. I also have more interest now in preserving the habitat of endangered species such as the spotted owl.”

Ruby has some recommendations for you to consider when starting a group like this.

  1. Think about the purpose and size of group you would like to form. 
  2. Consider the kind of ethical behaviour you want to see on the birding trail and invite like-minded people to attend.
  3. Include a list of reminders for people.

            For example:   

  • Don’t forget a water bottle and packed lunch.  
  • Don’t wear red or other bright colours because it scares away the birds.
  • Be very clear if there are specific requirements for being part of the group.  For example:  Well behaved dogs are welcome to attend the group with the owner if our destination allows dogs onsite.  For example, Reifel Bird Sanctuary does not allow dogs onsite, whereas North 49 doubles as a dog walking park.  

This group has some obvious benefits.  The people in the group are retired and available during the day.  They are regularly outdoors walking, stopping to notice nature around them, developing their interests, honing their skills, and developing a friendship group.   All of these are positives in terms of physical health, mental health, and investment in preservation of nature.  They #getOUTdoors and #getINvolved regularly.   They are all Wild About Outdoor Learning!

This Wild About Outdoor Learning Wednesday post is based on input and an interview with Ruby Best.

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