New trail signs to honour value of old-growth forest and shíshálh heritage

I am delighted to have worked as an editor on a new series of interpretive signs for the Community Health Trail on Mt. Elphinstone on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. As part of an initiative by Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF), the signs highlight the importance of old-growth forests and their flora and fauna. With himus (Calvin Craigan), a shíshálh Nation knowledge-keeper as consultant, we included shíshálh words on each sign and the First Nations medicinal use of various plants and trees.

I learned a lot on this project, which reinforced how the shíshálh Nation, for many centuries, has lived in harmony with these forests, making full use of bark, berries, trees, and plants to sustain their lives and culture, while today’s non-Indigenous industries seem bent on destroying these lands.

This four-kilometre stretch of trail, designated by ELF, traverses a low-elevation, emerging old-growth forest on the slopes of Mt. Elphinstone. It connects two isolated parcels of Mt. Elphinstone Provincial Park and ELF hopes that the park will expand around it. These small areas face possible destruction by adjacent development and logging.

Métis, Indigenous, and Inuit lives profiled

Did you know that some residents of Churchill, Manitoba consider Thanadelthur, an early 1700s Chipewyan guide and peace negotiator, the founder of their town? That is one of the many fascinating historical facts I learned while writing profiles of accomplished Métis, Indigenous, and Inuit people for Canadian Encyclopedia.

I discovered the many achievements of politicians like Romeo Saganash, Quebec’s first Indigenous MP, and Jody Wilson-Reybauld, Canada’s former attorney-general, and the struggles behind precedent-setting Métis laws. I learned that Louis Riel’s sister, Sara, worked as a mediator between conflicting groups in the late 1800s in the Red River Colony (later Manitoba).

What struck me repeatedly while researching these fascinating lives is that these notable Canadians excelled despite phenomenal racism, setbacks, and government neglect or indifference. I kept thinking that their resilience and successes should have made them household names in this country, but due to systemic racism, many remain unknown or little known in our nation’s history.

Read my roughly three dozen Canadian Encyclopedia profiles here.

New hospice video to screen Oct. 5

Photo 8 Rosemary award with Heather and Karen

(From left): Heather Blackwood and Rosemary Hoare, SCHS’s first two volunteer coordinators with long-time volunteer Karen Falk



Want to know what hospice has done on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast for the past 30 years? Come to an Oct. 5 event in Sechelt and see the video that I wrote, produced, and directed called “Legacy of Love: 30 Years of Compassionate Care on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, 1987 – 2017.”

The seven-minute documentary includes two poignant stories and an overview, by decade, of the achievements of the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society (SCHS). You’ll see historic pix and meet some of the founders of hospice plus board members, donors, a patient and more.

The video is part of a project commissioned to celebrate the 30th anniversary of SCHS.It will be screened at a special event to honour current and past hospice volunteers and donors. The event starts at 6:45 pm on Thursday, Oct. 5 at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt.

Besides making the video, shot and edited by Arthur Le and Jordan Williams, I researched and wrote a lot of original content for the 30th anniversary: a detailed chronology, and nine web features with interviews and photos that reveal key highlights of local hospice history.


Havana weeks before Fidel died: Mafia history still looms


Author Heather Conn (centre) with friend Merrily Corder and Orlando in Santa Lucia, Cuba




Few people realize how much the Mafia shaped the economy of Havana for more than 30 years. While visiting Cuba’s capital in October-November 2016, I relished the chance to learn more about the country’s illegal past.

My December 9, 2016 travel feature Havana Travel article 2016 (Coast Reporter) reveals some tidbits of Havana’s Mafia history, along with some shocking environmental realities.

Register now for my new Oct. 5 course on writing historical nonfiction

Have you always wanted to write a family history but felt overwhelmed? Thought of writing a memoir but didn’t know how to start? Would you like to document the highlights of your organization’s past?

I’ll be sharing both practical and inspirational tips — and how to avoid research pitfalls — in my new Vancouver School of Writing workshop Writing History: Passions, Pitfalls & the Process (Non-Fiction).

This is a 90-minute to 2-hour LIVE and LIVE VIRTUAL course so you can be in class or have access to it anywhere and ask the instructor questions. Can’t make the date? All Vancouver School of Writing workshops are recorded; you can receive a link to view the course later, or access it in a few weeks in our archive of courses.

Here’s just some of what you’ll learn:
• Posing questions you don’t have the answers to
• Researching: where and how
• Getting beyond myths and stereotypes
• Handling conflicting opinions and sensitivities
• Making smart choices for structuring
• Discovering the hidden stories

The class begins at 6:30 PST in downtown Vancouver. Cost is $59 + GST.

To register and for more information, see Vancouver School of Writing.

RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS: A new book rewrites Sir John A. Macdonald’s role in Canada’s history

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Most Canadians consider Sir John A. Macdonald, the nation’s first prime minister, as “the Father of Confederation.” But this crusty politician, an ancestor of mine on my mother’s side, might well be called “father of residential schools.”

Constance & Larry with op ed piece

Co-authors Constance Brissenden and Larry Loyie, a residential school survivor, display my Edmonton Journal opinion piece.


Want to learn how his policies launched aboriginal children into decades of forced assimilation and abuse? Read my opinion piece “Macdonald’s legacy not entirely golden,” published Feb. 20, 2015 in the Edmonton Journal. It addresses the new book Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors, by  Larry Loyie and Constance Brissenden, which I edited.

Here is how the piece reads in the Edmonton Journal: Residential Schools op ed piece Edmonton Journal.

This article also appears on my blog, with readers’ comments, under the title “Bicentennial Redux: Sir John A. Macdonald Father of Residential Schools.”

Click here to read. 

The Making of Tetrahedron Park: how the conservation movement started on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast

Raincoast Chronicles cover
“The Making of Tetrahedron Park” (my 3,000-word feature, with photos): A group of dedicated volunteers lobbied hard to save 6,000 hectares on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, protecting old-growth forest and habitat for diverse species. This helped launch the conservation movement on the Sunshine Coast.

In the summer and fall of 1987, 240 volunteers built four wilderness cabins in the Tetrahedron region, named after Tet Peak (1,737 metres) . . .

The complete story, with historic photos, appears in Raincoast Chronicles 22, published by Harbour Publishing in the fall of 2013.

First Japanese-Canadian to open sole law practice in B.C. faced discrimination and early hardships

Escaping the 1942 detainment of Japanese in Vancouver, BC, Thomas Hara, QC and his family fled to Kamloops, where they lived in an abandoned log cabin without water.

After enduring decades of discrimination, Hara graduated from law at the University of B.C. in the early 1960s and was the first Japanese-Canadian to open his own law practice in the province.

His success inspired his brother Glenn and son Bradley to enter law at UBC and pursue the same profession.

Click this Thomas Hara feature link to read my article in the fall 2011 issue of UBC Law Alumni magazine about this three-generation law family.

Three-generation UBC law families: women and Aboriginals share their legacies

UBC Law cover fall 2011 low-res



Kwawkgewlth Chief Bill Wilson (UBC Law ’73) helped draft the first and only amendment to Canada’s Constitution and has fought for Aboriginal rights for decades. But he’s probably better known on the University of B.C.’s campus as co-founder of the law students’ annual tricycle race in the early 1970s.

Since then, he’s inspired two daughters to graduate from UBC Law and both are active leaders in Aboriginal rights issues.

Click this First Nations law family link to read my feature in the fall 2011 issue of UBC’s Law Alumni magazine.

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After serving a year in the Second World War, Valerie Taggart (UBC Law ’49) graduated from the second-ever law class at the University of British Columbia. She went on to become a lawyer and provincial court judge, inspiring both her daughter and granddaughter to follow in her career footsteps.

Click this Three-generation lawyers0001 link to read my feature in UBC Law Alumni magazine.

A father’s legacy: Law is all in the family for B.C. attorney general Suzanne Anton

Before she became B.C.’s attorney general, Vancouver city councillor Suzanne Anton fondly recalls her father’s passion for law, which helped set a career choice for both her and her brother Jonathon.

Suzanne’s son Robert, meanwhile, is enrolled in law at the University of B.C., calling the profession “a noble calling.”

Click on this Suzanne Anton story link to read my related feature in the fall 2011 issue of UBC Law Alumni magazine.