Fertig’s new poems

“Poet, publisher and long-time supporter of the writing community, Salt Spring Island-based Mona Fertig (left) has released her first collection of poems in 14 years.” FULL STORY


On the path to reconciliation

June 25th, 2024

by George Melnyk

Sandra Hayes-Gardiner’s book, Crossing the River: An unsettling memoir (BixBooks, 2024) is a worthy addition to the memoir genre. The former BC-based author grew up in The Pas, northern Manitoba, which consists of two communities divided by the Saskatchewan River. On one side is the white town and on the other side is the First Nations reserve. The locale was visited in the mid-1700s by white men who built a trading post there. Since then First Nations people and settlers have co-existed to varying degrees. Hayes-Gardiner’s family owned the only funeral parlor in town, so they dealt with both communities, but she herself was isolated in the white world, ignorant of the other community close by. She begins with this stark statement: “Racism shaped my life; the getting into it and the getting out of it. And I am not yet out of it.”

After going to the University of Manitoba she became a social worker and spent some time in the interior of B.C. (based in Williams Lake) where she had a psychotherapy practice. There had been a residential school in the area so she had to deal with the trauma of residential school survivors. But first she had to deal with her own guilt as a social worker, who had in a previous life removed First Nations children from their parents. Her story parallels the blindness and ignorance of so many non-Aboriginal Canadians and the very gradual dawning of public awareness over the last thirty years. The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2007-2015) represented a sea change in consciousness in the wider society, as the stories of First Nations’ experiences came to the fore. Her individual story of gradual enlightenment about racism and its legacy, both across the country and in her own life, makes for sober reading.

In the early 2000s, she and her husband, now empty nesters, moved back to Manitoba from British Columbia, where she went into therapy due to depression. A key element in that depression was the widely reported murder of Betty Osborne, a Cree woman from The Pas area, by white youths. In 2012 Hays-Gardiner wrote and published One Life: Growing Up in The Pas, which was her first literary step in the process of reconciliation with her past as an employee of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (in operation from 1966-2019) during which she was responsible for removing First Nations children from their Indigenous homes.

The long emotional journey that Sandra Hayes-Gardiner has travelled makes her book a worthwhile read. Her memoir should be read for its truth-telling. In a language accessible to all, she provides the intimate details of a fractured life and a difficult journey to recovery with a voice that we can all appreciate and understand. She speaks courageously. 9781771360005


Book Event

Sandra Hayes-Gardiner will be presenting her book at the Williams Lake First Nation, hosted by Chief Willie Sellars.

PLACE: Williams Lake First Nation Admin Bldg., 2561 Quigli Drive, Williams Lake, BC

DATE & TIME: August 7, 7 pm


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