Archives for posts with tag: Victoria College

This fairy tale castle of a university has a text engraved over its entrance (left). Pretty vines at times obscure it but make a lasting picture to hang in a home to inspire kids.

A child made cozy with books from the earliest age will do well at school and live a good life. This is true and vital especially  in the midst of the electronic revolution. Here are six cues to help make old-fashioned happiness come to your young ones:

  1. Post a beautiful picture, not just a framed text, containing a good book quote that is meaningful to you on a prominent wall in your home.
  2. Tell a circle of children a classic story relevant to them. Then have them each draw a picture of it.
  3. Give them each a colorful sticker to decorate their work as a seal of approval so they’ll be proud of it.
  4. Read a story to a child at night so she or he relaxes and falls asleep peacefully. Do not allow electronic phones, i-pods, etc. in the bedroom.
  5. Build a bookcase out of  boards and bricks someone else is discarding if you have no other way of getting one. It adds color, can hold things and even divide areas.
  6. Fill it with enticing books bought cheaply at community sales. Let the books’ spines expose their titles and their cover graphics excite curiosity. If they are good books, they will find takers.

My Particular Story

What set me up to writing this blog post was news received on Palm Sunday that our church is headed for closure because of indebtedness. For me it is a loss of literature and I will fight not to let that happen. 

When our congregation started nearly two centuries ago, the one book that needed to be taught to a child as early as possible was the Bible. At age four in 1937 I recall emerging from Sunday nursery school into the spring air feeling happy and confident. My story picture had a singing robin on it. I too was one with nature. God saw the little sparrow fall and counted every hair on my head. We were both that important!

When I learned to read I made out the words, “The Truth Shall Make You Free”, not quite hidden by vines clinging around the imposing door of Victoria College at the University of Toronto in a picture hanging in our front hall. 

That pretty much explains the path my life took. God really went up in my estimation when I learned the text was biblical. He had nothing to fear from my intelligence, my curiosity, my independence, my desire to be free, read, study and write to my heart’s content. In fact, that’s what He wanted. Somehow I had no trouble growing into the habit of metaphorical thinking. The spirit of love and creation would always be the strength inside, ahead of, around and behind me — even if churches close and we have to regroup around family and more literary ways.


shalottavatarA spark of transformation is making a connection between writing creative non-fiction and becoming more empathetic and socially responsible. These ideas come from writer and professor Camilla Gibb. This blog post is based on an interview with her.

Here’s Her View

  • Literature holds a mirror up to us, revealing something of our interior selves
  • It transports us to other worlds where we recognize the parallels in our very basic human struggles to create meaning and attachment in our lives
  • It reminds us of our common humanity across time & space
  • Fiction offers an immersive experience, not just intellectual, but a visceral and emotional point of contact, both with our own lives and the lives of others
  • Through imaginary leaps, we access another point of view. Is this an empathic act? Or can it cultivate greater empathy?

Here’s Why

  • Studies suggest reading literary fiction increases our understanding of the feelings of others
  • Neuroscientist Jamil Zaki’s recent study found that college students’ self-reported empathy  has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the last 10 years
  • Greater social isolation seems one likely suspect. But so does the decline in reading
  • The number of American adults who read literature for pleasure has sunk below 50% for the first time ever
  • The decrease occurred most sharply among university-age adults
  • Zaki’s study conflicts with studies that suggest empthy is a fixed trait people are born with
  • If empathy is malleable, we should be able to encourage more of it

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Creative Non-fiction Students

  • She insists her students read as much as they write
  • They look at making sense of their experiences largely by constructing a story of themselves
  • The narrative provides cohesion and meaning
  • The memory is subjective and selective but there’s probably social and psychological value in this
  • If we didn’t impose order on our experiences, we’d have difficulty finding any thematic continuity and cohesion
  • We’d struggle to communicate our experiences to others, a critical basis upon which relationships and community are built

How to Connect Your Writing with Social Justice

  • Trauma is the disruption of the narrative or our lives. We are the storytelling animal
  • Narrative plays a therapeutic role in reconstructing events in order to make sense out of them
  • A political role might be played when these reconstructions are shared
  • Witness literature, or testimonials are a way to begin uncomfortable conversations for purposes of redressing human rights abuses

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Social Justice Students

  • She uses witness literature, testimonials and novels as a means of connecting them with events far removed in time and space from their own life experiences
  • She hopes to equip them with  history, framework and language for interpreting global conflicts that occur in their own lifetime.

Professor Camilla Gibb is the June Callwood Professor in Social Justice at Victoria College, University of Toronto. The above interview is based on an interview with her in Vic Report Winter 2016. She will be speaking on “When Fiction Fails a Novelist” on April 20.

This is #4 in my series on Writing Secrets from Reclusive Lady of Shalott.

A Role Model for All Mothers

“Margaret! We had the same mother!” a voice from behind declared recently when I was out shopping. It was the president of the local heritage association who had just finished reading my book. She was referring to a woman who lived almost three centuries ago — Susanna Annesley Wesley, the mother of John Wesley.

suwesleyShe did not have an easy life. Due to her husband’s absence and two house fires she was forced to place their eight (out of 19) surviving children in different homes for two years. She was dismayed at the poor care they got and the way they were neglected but managed to bring them back and do the job herself. Her huge sense of duty to God also led her to create a list of child-raising rules for all women to follow.

How Many of Annesley’s Common-sense Tips Ring a Bell with You?

  • Don’t allow eating between meals
  • Have the children in bed by 8 p.m.
  • Have them take medicine without complaining.
  • Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
  • Give them nothing they cry for or don’t ask for politely.
  • Prevent lying by not punishing a fault which is first confessed and repented
  • Always punish a sinful act
  • Never punish a child twice for a single offence
  • Comment on and reward good behavior.
  • Commend any attempt to please, even if poorly performed
  • Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
  • Strictly keep all promises.
  • Require no daughter to work before she can read well

Maybe Annesley’s way binds millions of us from successive generations together even today;

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, UofT 1955

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, U of T 1955

I found out about her legacy at Victoria College in the fifties when she was just a ghost of the past. We students were only dimly (if at all) aware of who she was. Here’s what I wrote a few years ago in my family history book about my last year at college:

“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the ‘Bastion of Virginity’. This home to sixty Vic co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother Susanna Annesley who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must

  • clean up their plates,
  • speak softly to the servants and
  • be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand.

She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’

Vic’s atmosphere espoused the Christian motto, ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’, the liberal values strengthened by victories in two world wars and science. Our job was to open our minds, broaden our intellects and reassess our world view on the basis of well established facts, learned views and experience. Times were good and we were forward-looking.


“All You Have to Do Is Love Them”

When I was expecting my first child, I had no idea what I was in for but I was lucky to get the best and simplest advice imaginable. It came from my boss at the Toronto YMCA, Ed Wybourn. He had kids and I thought he should know how to raise them, so I asked him.

  • All you have to do is love them,” he said reassuringly.

Phew! That sounded good to me because I knew I could do that! I would go all out with gifts of time and attention, putting my children first by being there, listening to them so they would see themselves as worthy human beings and talking to them so they could learn how to express themselves and think.

Is Annesley’s Subduing of Will ‘Smotherhood’?

What my friendly reader/heritage association president meant was that both of our mothers had a huge sense of duty which put distance instead of hugs between us. Because of religion, souls were nurtured at the price of egos. Finding one’s identity was terribly difficult. Mother and child did not share any joy in life, laughter or playfulness. Maybe this repression is the down side of Annesley’s severe, although perhaps correct, theory.

She says, “When the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies may be passed by. I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by reason and piety.”

What Did Her Son Think?

John Wesley wrote, “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life.” Yet perhaps he might envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “A kiss from my mother made me a painter.”

Two different views of how to raise children bring about success by two very different ways.,,,

This and many other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in Margaret’s family histories, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and its abridged e-book version Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

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