Alan Twigg’s tribute to Rudolf Vrba

Rudolf Vrba, who escaped Auschwitz and co-authored a report saving 200,000 lives, remains unrecognized in Vancouver despite his significant historical impact. Alan Twigg (l.) seeks to change this.” FULL STORY


#179 Katherine Gordon

March 28th, 2016

LOCATION: Mt. Tarawera, north island of New Zealand, site of an 1886 volcanic eruption that buried many Maori villages.

In November of 2015 Katherine Palmer Gordon accepted an offer to return to New Zealand to participate as Crown Chief Negotiator for the government of New Zealand on the Treaty Of Waitangi settlement negotiations with Maori, helping bring to a close some of the long-standing Treaty grievances. During negotiations she was taken to the peak of Mt. Tarawera, a volcano of special significance to the Ngati Rangitihi people with whom she is negotiating.

Katherine Gordon (centre), at the peak of Mt. Tarawera

Since 1995, Katherine Gordon has worked in Aboriginal treaty negotiations, first in New Zealand and then from Victoria, B.C., before she moved to Gabriola Island in 2003. Gordon was one of the three Chief Negotiators for the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement, a tri-partite treaty between Canada, British Columbia, and Tsawwassen First Nation that legalized a transfer of land and self-government jurisdiction to Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN), effective as of April 3, 2009, enabling TFN to once more become a self-governing First Nation. Tsawwassen First Nation was the first in B.C. to achieve a treaty under the BC treaty process.

Katherine Gordon was awarded the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for her book, Made to Measure: A History of Land Surveying in British Columbia, at the BC Book Prizes in 2007. Made to Measure (Sono Nis, 2006) provides an overview of mapmakers and land surveyors and their roles in British Columbia history, from David Thompson onwards, including Joseph Despard Pemberton, the first surveyor at Fort Victoria.

The Slocan: A Portrait of a Valley (Sono Nis, 2004) was shortlisted for the 2005 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Award. It was followed by That Garden That You Are (Sono Nis, 2007), a study of eight gardeners within a square mile of each other in the Slocan Valley. Gordon has also contributed to Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids (Touchwood, 2006), also shortlisted for the 2007 BC Book Prizes, and to Sense of Place (Anvil 2008), a collection of essays by BC authors about their sense of connection to a part of the province. A feature article she wrote about climate change, “A Sinking Feeling,” published in BC Business Magazine in July 2005, earned National Magazine Award recognition. She has written for Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, Canadian Homes and Cottages, NZ Geographic, Focus Magazine, British Columbia magazine, North & South, Action Asia, BC Business and other publications.

Born as Katherine Palmer in England in 1963, Katherine Gordon has been described as a globe-trotting half-French, half-English expatriate Kiwi and a former lawyer and Aboriginal land claims negotiator. She began travelling the world at the age of three months with her civil-engineer father and the rest of her family. Settling for a time in New Zealand, she completed a law degree at Canterbury University. She worked in commercial law for several years before travelling again, including a stint in volunteer community development work in Costa Rica.

In her fifth book, We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us, Gordon makes use of the dozens of interviews she’s held over the years with various First Nations to compile a collection of sixteen stories. [See extensive review of the book BELOW.]

Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
The Slocan: Portrait of a Valley
We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us: Lives and Stories of First Nations People in British Columbia


A Curious Life: The Biography of Princess Peggy Abkhazi (Sono Nis, 2002).

The Slocan: A Portrait of a Valley (Sono Nis, 2004).

Made to Measure: A History of Land Surveying in British Columbia (Sono Nis, 2006).

The Garden That You Are (Sono Nis, 2007). Photography by Rod Currie and Quinton Gordon.

We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us: Lives and Stories of First Nations People in British Columbia (Harbour 2013) $24.95 978-1-55017-618-6

[BCBW 2016] “Local History”

A Curious Life: The Biography of Princess Peggy Abkhazi (Sono Nis $22.95)

A Curious Life: The Biography of Princess Peggy Abkhazi describes how upheavals during Peggy Abkhazi’s early life in Shanghai led her to create an oasis of peace and beauty in the city of Victoria. She was born to English parents in Shanghai in 1902, orphaned soon after her birth, placed with a mean and impoverished foster-mother, and finally adopted by a rich, childless couple. Peggy’s early life reads like a collage of many magical stories—The Secret Garden, Harry Potter, Cinderella and Snow White. When her adoptive mother was widowed, the idyll of Peggy’s childhood ended, for her mother became so possessive that she cramped her daughter’s life. The two traveled the world restlessly, unfortunately choosing to return to Shanghai as the events leading up to Pearl Harbour unfolded. By the end of World War II, Peggy had lost her mother and spent two years in a prison camp. (Her memoir called A Curious Cage: Life in a Japanese Internment Camp 1943-1945 was published in 1981; and was republished in 2002 by Sono Nis Press.) When she was liberated from the camp Peggy was 43, and an independent woman in possession of a fortune.

Uncertain of where to settle, she paid an extended visit to a friend who lived in Victoria. While there, she frequented a vacant lot at 1964 Fairfield Road, pausing on her walks to perch on the rocks and admire the panoramic view. Before long, she had acquired the land, and engaged the Victoria architect John Wade to design a summerhouse for it. He later designed the house on the property. Around the same time, Peggy went to New York to meet an old family friend she had met years earlier in Paris. A fictional counterpart would be a novel by Henry James in which an heiress from the New World marries a titled, but penniless aristocrat from the Old World: Prince Nicholas Abkhazi was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, and like many Russian émigrés made his home in Paris. He too had suffered internment and hardship during the war, and was experiencing a sense of displacement afterwards. The two old friends returned together to Victoria, where they were married in 1946. For the remainder of their lives, they devoted themselves to perfecting the garden, which became their enduring legacy.

In late 1999, when both the Abkhazis had died, neighbours were horrified to learn that a developer planned to bulldoze the garden. However, the Land Conservancy of B.C. came to the rescue and, with volunteers, raised the money to fund the purchase. The work of restoring the garden began in 2000 and will continue for many years. The garden is open on five afternoons a week, March-September. 1-55039-124

–By Joan Givner(2003)

[Spring 2003 BCBW]

The Slocan: Portrait of a Valley (Sono Nis $24.95)

from BCBW Summer 2004
The Greyhound Bus Company originated in the scenic Slocan Valley—where David Suzuki was interned as a child at Lemon Creek, where silver mines generated fabulous fortunes and where Doukhobors long strived for independence. Katherine Gordon outlines the ‘hippie Nirvana of sorts’ in The Slocan: Portrait of a Valley (Sono Nis $24.95). With Euro-American settlement dating back less than 130 years, the Slocan nonetheless boasts the oldest continuously running hydroelectric plant in North America, at Sandon. 1-55039-145-3

The Garden That You Are
Review (2008)

By Mark Forsythe

One never stops learning when in the garden. Just ask any gardener plotting the next season. All that layering of compost and working of soil can teach you a little about yourself, too.

That’s the case for eight Slocan Valley gardeners, living within a couple of square kilometres of each other, who are featured in Katherine Gordon’s The Garden That You Are (Sono Nis $28.95).

The title tumbled out of a conversation Gordon had with Brenda Elder, who has been working the soil and coaxing plants along for 30 years. “You know, you work with your garden, your land, and what it is makes the garden and who you are,” she said.


Located between the Valhalla and Slocan mountain ranges in eastern B.C., the Slocan Valley is a fertile trough with a moderate climate and long, warm summers. Gordon describes it as “The garden hard by heaven.”

Aboriginal people thrived in this 100-km-long valley for thousands of years; Europeans arrived in the 1890s with dreams of striking it rich in veins of silver at places like New Denver, Slocan City and Sandon (now a ghost town).

Next came the masters of self-sufficiency, Russian Doukhobors fleeing persecution; then came the British invasion. Gordon writes, “Naïve young pioneers from England and Scotland were lured to the valley by enticing advertisements: “Grow apples and grow rich!” They found uncleared land thick with towering trees and mosquitoes.”

Fruit trees abandoned so long ago still bloom. Some Japanese families interned in Slocan camps during WW II stayed after the war. A wave of American Vietnam War resisters and Canadian back-to-the-landers (some of whom formed communes) added another layer of history. Or is that another layer of compost? Gordon believes unique gardens have grown from this eclectic mix of local history, cultures and relationships.

“Those social structures, if one is a gardener, are inextricably intertwined with why, what, where and how we garden. Everything that happens in our lives influences those choices in some fashion… In turn, that piece of land that we have chosen to work with (or which, in some cases, has chosen us) will in some way influence who we are, our relationships, and the events in our lives, each and every day.”


The eight gardeners featured in The Garden That You Are all come from somewhere else, each bringing something different to their garden. Edda West is an immigrant from Estonia, by way of Toronto, whose grandmother “imbued her with passion for the earth.” She gardens on ten riverside acres and plucks plants from the wild, some for medicinal teas, tinctures, salves and creams.

In the spring, Edda West gathers dandelions (“the queen of beta carotene!”), nettles and lambs quarters. Chickweed is another spring staple, rich in minerals and excellent in salads. For her, the garden provides nourishment for body and soul. She “feels sorry for children who never get to experience working with the earth.”

And if she could grow only one flower, it would be Calendula. “It is edible, medicinal, and incredibly hardy, and is the last flower to keep blooming in the late fall.”

Brenda Elder and her husband Gail are transplants from Surrey, drawn to the Slocan in search of self-sufficiency in 1972. This proved more daunting than imagined, and Gail was forced to return to teaching. Brenda grew organic food for their family, and later developed a business around organic bedding plants. Now retired from teaching, Gail is back in the fields every day, tending 13 varieties of organic potatoes. The Elders consider their land part of a larger ecosystem and, as a result, large tracts remain wild for birds, turtles, deer and bears.

Victoria Carleton and Steve Mounteer landed in the Slocan from Ohio and Oregon respectively. She spent almost five years homesteading in the Nass Valley in northwestern B.C, displaying a gardening prowess that won her a Harrowsmith gardening contest in 1985. After buying property in 1990, they got to work creating their own gardens on forty acres.

Some plants are connected with special people in their lives. Wilda’s Columbine is from her grandmother’s seeds; and a rose bush from a neighbour honours that neighbour’s deceased daughter. “It’s not just about a patch of dirt,” says Mounteer, “it’s about people, about everyone they know and love.”

Rabi’a first homesteaded on the B.C./Yukon border near Telegraph Creek. In the Slocan, she’s created a garden based on permaculture, where one uses as little land as possible, and works with the land. An artist, she weaves her creations into the garden. By putting stones at the base of her corn, this captures more heat, producing a crop twice as high.


The Garden That You Are includes numerous sidebars on herbal medicinals, Japanese gardening, permaculture, the humble potato (a super-food that kept the Irish alive for centuries and became a campaign nightmare for Dan Quayle), biodynamics (the land as a living whole) and even the benefits of swallow boxes (think mosquitoes).

Gordon also offers tips on tools, building up the soil and composting; a garden reading list; and a smattering of recipes. With its mixture of practical advice and inspirational personalities, The Garden That You Are just might kick a few non-gardeners out the back door to get a start on some local food production of their own, or else make more people want to move to the Slocan Valley.

The photographs by Rod Currie and Quinton Gordon capture the Slocan in the sweetest light. All that time spent outdoors serves these gardeners well: they’re all sun-baked, remarkably fit, and vibrant, content to be up to their elbows in compost.

Mark Forsythe is the well-read and well-travelled host of CBC Almanac.


[BCBW 2008]

We are Born with the Songs Inside Us
Review (2013)

from Caroline Woodward

We are Born with the Songs Inside Us: Lives and Stories of First Nations People in British Columbia by Katherine Palmer Gordon (Harbour Publishing $24.95)

“First Nations are the fastest growing population in the country. There are thousands upon thousands of young
First Nations people growing up today who, together with the kind of individuals whose stories are told in this book, represent a future for this country that is brighter than it has been for a long, long time.”

—Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, from the Foreword

In 2004, when Katherine Palmer Gordon was in terviewing Shawn Atleo for a BC Business magazine article, their discussion turned to the relentlessly negative portrayal of aboriginal Canadians in the mainstream press. Where were all the amazing people they both knew existed?
Gordon’s sixteen profiles in We are Born with the Songs Inside Us have risen from that conversation. Stunning black and white portraits underscore one of several resonant themes: People are finally seeing us now.

Gordon introduces articulate, self-assured young First Nations people from B.C. who talk about their personal journeys as artists and business innovators, doctors and treaty negotiators, educators and athletes, community organizers and stand-up comedians, lawyers and marine biologists, gay and straight, proud parents, devoted sons and daughters. The commentaries of visionary mentors like Sophie Pierre of the East Kootenay Ktunaxa First Nation and Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Band alone are worth the price of the book.

The pressures of community expectations have developed many strong shoulders and level heads. Atleo, Vancouver Canucks fan favourite Gino Odjick and medical doctor/actor/playwright Evan Tlesla Adams are widely-known in society while others are well-known in their own community and professional circles.

While not diminishing the harsh reality that many First Nations face daily, this book profiles just some of the many determined and skilled people on the frontlines of change. Readers with little exposure to B.C.’s indigenous peoples are in for a wake-up call. They will read about social workers like William Yoachim of the Snuneymuxw Nation near Nanaimo, who is facing the legacy of depression, addiction and abuse left by the residential school experience on previous generations.
Along the way they will begin to comprehend the great loss to an entire community when Ucluelet band councillor and surfer Evan Touchie died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-three.

Others will learn the pros and cons of living in isolated rural or hemmed-in urban reserves, or living and working off-reserve entirely.
Here we meet remarkable educators, such as Governor-General’s award winning history teacher and program co-ordinator Anne Tenning in Penticton. Readers will also be introduced to Renée Sampson and Kendra Underwood from the Tsartlip First Nation near Brentwood Bay, dedicated to the preservation and passing on of SENCOTEN, one of thirty-two remaining indigenous languages in B.C..

While the book is structured around the individual profiles and elder/mentor commentaries, there are useful sections written by Gordon that provide additional historical and political ballast.

The historic Tsawwassen Treaty, negotiated by profile subject, Kim Baird and her dedicated team, is summarized and Gordon profiles Gino Odjick, who now runs several successful businesses and lives with his family on the Musqueam First Nation reserve.

After quitting the NHL in 2002, Odjick, a keen golfer, took on a management role at the Musqueam Golf and Learning Academy at Musqueam’s Eaglequest Golf Club. “In 2010, Musqueam was voted the most female-friendly course in Canada,” he told journalist Jef Choy. “We have a woman general manager and assistant general manager, and our head pro is also a woman. It’s the secret to our success. The women are the ones who have brought the life into this business. I’ve learned to just stay out of the way and let them do their thing!”

He told Gordon, “I know what a huge difference it makes to a community to have good businesses up and running and employment for their people, especially the young people. It just changes the whole life of that community for the better. It gives them hope…

“There’s this sign in a band office I saw once, and now it’s my mantra: First Nations People Have Always Worked for a Living. The world needs to realize that. The world needs to understand that we will look after Mother Earth properly and keep it safe, but that if we see business opportunities as being consistent with that and good for us we know what to do. We’ll do it in the best way, the most environmentally sound way, but we’ll use the opportunity to our best.”

Odjick is a lifelong reader and spends many hours annually talking to students. His friend, fellow pro hockey player, champion amateur boxer and businessperson, Peter Leech, is a post-secondary business education teacher.

But if there is one indisputable link amongst each of the individuals in this book, it begins with the song that was born and nurtured inside each one, their early exposure to their own languages and ways of being and thinking which are culturally specific to their people, the land they are standing on and the water beside them. Invariably indigenous mentors recognized their talents, shared old ways and new strategies and encouraged them to brighter futures.

Mike Willy of Port Hardy, the Cultural Preservation and Revitalization Co-ordinator for the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw K-7 School, still vividly recalls his childhood in isolated Kingcome Inlet where he sang, spoke and drummed with elders and how the “song inside us”—the vital connections to language and culture—kept him grounded when he was sent off to attend a Victoria school from Grade 7 and beyond. In high school, he’d skip classes to go to the provincial archives in order to transcribe tapes of his own language.

In a landmark 2007 study cited by Gordon, it was discovered that “suicide rates dropped to zero in communities in which at least half the members reported a conversational knowledge of their language … In contrast, where there was little or no connection to language, the suicide rate rose to six times higher than the national average.”

Everyone in We are Born with the Songs Inside Us has mastered the subtleties of communicating between generations, with parents from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds and with non-indigenous corporate and indigenous business clients.

Tewanee Joseph is a “lacrosse fanatic,” musician, key 2010 Olympics organizer and businessperson with a Squamish/Maori heritage. Beverley O’Neil is a marathon runner, stand-up comic and president of her own communications company, of Ktunaxa and Irish descent. Trudy Warner grew up in Grappler Creek, a community of four houses, and took a daily speedboat to attend school in Bamfield. She discovered her skill in communications when she began an entry level job in the Port Alberni treaty office, earning the respect of many during the long process.

Lisa Webster-Gibson, of Mohawk-Delaware-Scottish heritage, works as an environmental assessment technician. She also exhibits as a mixed-media artist and is a spoken word performer. Merle Alexander, with familial ties to the north coast village of Klemtu and a law practice in North Vancouver, is an accomplished, urban professional. Troy Sebastian, of the Ktunaxa First Nation, already a seasoned political candidate, is finishing his law degree at UVic.

For Penny White, marine biologist and photographer, a life-changing co-op program at Vancouver Island University reconnected her to Klemtu, the village of her grandparents. She is applying indigenous practices of ecosystem management, working with coastal First Nations, to harvest red seaweed commercially.

Lyana Patrick came to Vancouver from Fraser Lake to excel in sciences on her way to med school. Honoured with Fullbright and Vanier scholarships, she is now a filmmaker earning a Ph.D. in planning and mental health.

Internationally-exhibited Chemainus/Ladysmith carver
John Qap’u’luq Marston and Sliammon/Powell River’s Evan Tlesla Adams have always applied physical and mental discipline to their great talent. “You can just be okay at what you do,” says Adams, “or you can be the kind of person who says, ‘Until the end of my days I will fight for the absolute best in myself and truly make a difference.’”

Given the momentum of the Idle No More movement, this is a timely anthology. Yes, there are grim problems; too many children living in poverty, children born with foetal alcohol syndrome who will not achieve the professional heights of the subjects of this
But this book belongs in every public library and high school library, where the indigenous student drop-out rate is nearly 60%. And it belongs in college and university libraries to reaffirm the dreams and sense of purpose of students and their teachers, indigenous and otherwise. 978-1550176186

Caroline Woodward writes and works as a lighthouse keeper near Tofino where she is a big fan of Long Beach Radio’s Nuu-chah-nulth ‘Word of the Day’ and APTN TV.

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