an immigrant’s first christmas: thérèse writes home from california

“It’s been seven days since I last cried. I’m resigned to my fate. If they keep me, I stay. If they let me go, I leave.” Click here for the full article

10 avril 1964 – Thérèse moves to California and writes home about it

You can read the letter in French and my shoddy English translation by clicking on this link.

On a bright Friday afternoon in April, probably right after lunch, my mother waited for me to come home from Kindergarten at Palmyra School.

To pass the time and to reach out to those she left in Québec, Thérèse sat down and wrote this letter in the backyard of 340 Olive Street, a house built in 1923, which still stands in the City of Orange, California. She sat writing in the sun while Céline Corriveau, her sister, ironed clothes.

I was five about to turn six; Marc, my brother, had just turned two in January. My father was turning 40 in December. We had all just driven from Montréal Èst to Orange on Route 66.

Thérèse passed away earlier this year just a few miles from where we first settled, from the backyard where she wrote this letter.

Thérèse’s handwriting is precise, almost technical, Tektonish. She was naturally left-handed, and like so many others, was forced to be right-handed by nuns. This probably explains her professional-grade manual dexterity, a must for pediatric nursing. She was resourceful, quick on her feet, and had the amazing ability to keep her head while all around were losing theirs.

As a Registered Nurse, she was . . . Click here for the full article

Song to wake up to: The Battle from Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Center of the Earth

Whenever I think of a journey I’m about to take, or your standard epic battle between epic sea monsters, like Mac v. Windows, Canadiens v. Leaf Blowers, Gore v. Bush, or Obama v. Romney, Obama v. McCain, or even Trudeau v. Harper, I think of this snippet they used to wake us up with at St. John’s.

When we paddled or snowshoed, it was without music. There were no headsets we could plug into to stave off the boredom, repetition, and pain of paddling or snowshoeing miles in lead-filled snowshoes so what set the tone in the morning at wake up set the tone (and tune) for the day.

Wakeman is a little Wagnerian, not that I know the difference. There is a little bit of Ride of Valkyries in the Battle. So this song is one I remember above them all, except the Strawbs Hangman and the Papist (only because I was the Papist).


Father Pierre-Célestin (aka Achille Therrien)

Note: The following history was taken from an Assumptionist website, featuring short biographies of some of their most notable brothers. You can access the Assumptionist link here.

You can read about Achille’s letter he wrote to his sister Emérentienne here.

First Canadian Assumptionist

Achille Therrien was born January 3, 1898, in Saint-Adrien d’Irlande, Quebec, Canada.  He received his elementary education with the Sisters of Saint-Louis de France in Saint Adrien.  After his secondary education with the Brothers of Christian Schools in Thetford Mines and at the Petit Seminaire de Quebec (1914-19), he entered the Assumptionist novitiate in Saint Gérard, Belgium, where he received the religious habit on November 4, 1921, under the name of Brother Pierre-Célestin.  At the time, there was no Assumptionist novitiate in North America.  Annually professed March 19, 1923, he was sent to the house of studies in Louvain for theology (1923-27).  Perpetually professed in Louvain June 24, 1926, he was ordained a priest July 24, 1927, thus becoming the first Canadian-born priest in the Congregation.


Upon his return to North America, Fr. Pierre-Célestin was assigned to Assumption College in Worcester (USA) as a teacher.  In 1930, he was appointed to the important position of Dean of Discipline. Equal to the task, he knew how to combine strength with esteem, as . . . Click here for the full article

The Beaver Bus and the Phantom of the Paradise

It’s been a long week and I have a few hours to kill before getting home after seven days spent on the road, meeting, greeting, and selling concept in two different venues in the same week, running from airport to hotel to airport. I’ve known many forms of transportation in my insignificant life – Sante Fe Super Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago, CP Rail and Canadian National (CN) across Canada, EuroStar under the Chunnel, Pan Am from Los Angeles to Bangkok, Greyhound from San Diego to Winnipeg to Montreal and back, a 1963 four-door Rambler from Montreal to Orange, California, but none of these journeys compare to my rides on the Beaver Bus from Winnipeg to Selkirk.

The concept of the Beaver Bus never challenged the intellectual capacity of my fifteen-year-old self, it was the bus itself that issued weekly challenges. It got me from here to there; here was the hell of St. John’s or heaven was the all-you-eat restaurant in downtown Winnipeg. I first boarded her early in September 1973, somewhere near Portage and Main at the Winnipeg Bus Station and she took me into the bowels of Selkirk, depositing me right at Howard’s Lunch Bar with enough time to suck down fries and gravy before the green van from school came to pick me . . . Click here for the full article

Oldie but goodie

Never get tired of this thing, especially since I’m in it! Hung out with Rob Keegan the other week. He’s the bowsman in the canoe that I’m bailing near the end of the trip. By that point, we had been out for a very cold, wet, windblown, and dark two weeks. I can’t remember being more wet, and not in a good way. After we dumped the canoe, I walked too close to the drying fire and lost head and facial hair in one big swoosh. Didn’t matter. No one cared.

I had my socks sucked off my feet by muck while traversing what seemed like a mile through a swamp.

Again. Didn’t matter. No one cared.

Scare your kid and show him this documentary from 1973.

The New Boys by John N. Smith, National Film Board of Canada

Me, the University of California, and Nelson Mandela

mandelamandelaThe world today owes a huge debt to this man and his name will resound and be remembered forever. The world in the 1970’s was a bizarre place. Some of us lived through those times.

In 1978, I was studying in Poitiers, France as part of the University of California’s Education Abroad Program when we heard one of our overpaid and underworked regents (sorry – the UC tends to get top heavy) were swinging by on a European tour.

Within a week, a few of us organized a petition, asking the UC system to divest investments in any company doing business with an apartheid regime. As I remember, every UC student studying in Poitiers signed the petition after much spirited discussion. Some of us actually thought we might get expelled for expressing the view. We presented the petition and I’m pretty sure nothing happened. But the movement grew, and eventually Mandela was freed.

When I think of what South Africa used to be like, I think of District 9, the movie. Many of the scenes seem like what happened on the streets . . . Click here for the full article

If you can read this, you’ve got it good

If you can read this article, you are probably much better off than the women and girls who sewed the underwear you are wearing (or not). I found this article and video to be very inspiring. A Toronto Star reporter, Raveena Aulakh worked in a Bangladesh sweatshop for a week. Her boss was a girl who was only nine.  Kudos to her.

I picked grapes for three weeks in the Beaujolais region in France when I was 16. It was not glorious. It was not romantic. It was hard, backbreaking work, but I knew it was only for three weeks – not for a lifetime. Great series by the Toronto Star and very well done.

I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year-old boss | Toronto Star.

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