Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Labyrinth provides solace during winter solstice

— iPhone photos by Heather Conn

The candle glow in circles fell, arcing row upon row, in lines of light, stillness in the dark.

This week,  I walked the indoor labyrinth, created temporarily to mark the winter solstice, at the Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver, BC. It was one of five such labyrinths installed at community centres across the city by the Secret Lantern Society.

I was the first one to walk the labyrinth, after sitting in the dark room for a half-hour, listening to a recorded chant of Om that filled the room. (I had sneaked in early, watching a photography class set up their tripod shots.) I walked in my stocking feet to gain a greater sense of connectedness to the floor and earth. Several young children behind me, clutching handmade paper lanterns with candles inside, whispered in the darkness. I beckoned them to pass me along the circular route.

A man in a wheelchair moved parallel to me in a different row. Some people walked slowly, as if contemplating every step.

A woman sat on the floor, eliciting melodic tones from large white crystal bowls by running her hand repeatedly around their top surface. These higher sounds joined the low drones of the recorded Om, which continued to waft throughout the room.

It was wonderful to join in such a meditative flow within an urban place, surrounded by dozens of others. We all respected each other’s space and distance, each managing to find solo walking time within a group event. One of the organizers ensured that only a small number of people entered the labyrinth at a time, to prevent crowding.

As I walked, I focused on what I wanted to draw to me within the coming year, feeling open and centred, ready to let go of the darkness of the year and make way for light. What a great way to celebrate the shortest day of the year, the ebb and flow of light and life.

Drawn to mandalas and spirals as ancient symbols, I seek out labyrinths wherever I go and walk them in gratitude. I was married in an outdoor labyrinth and have co-facilitated workshops on labyrinths and SoulCollage. For more information, see my website Sunshine Coast SoulCollage.


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December 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm Comment (1)

The Northern Gateway Project: Which conversation of “facts” will you join?

This week, The Vancouver Sun ran in multiple papers a three-quarter-page ad from Enbridge, the U.S. corporation behind the Northern Gateway project. Enbridge plans to build 1,200 kilometres of pipeline across northern B.C. from Alberta’s Tar Sands project to Kitimat on the coast. This would end British Columbia’s current moratorium on related tanker traffic and open up a vast, pristine area, including the Great Bear Rainforest, to more than 200 oil tankers a year.

(For more background on this project, see my archived post “No oil tankers on B.C. coast,” Dec. 1, 2009 under Environment on this blog.)

These ads are a prelude to the public hearings about the Northern Gateway project, to be held from January to March 2012 in some of the northern communities situated along the suggested pipeline route.

I wrote a letter to The Sun in response to these ads, which I didn’t really expect them to publish, since it criticizes an advertiser. Here’s what I said:

“I wanted to point out how your repeat ad from Enbridge executive vice-president Janet Holder is a wonderful example of doublespeak. The most telling line is the following: ‘We fully accept the responsibility of earning your trust and confidence regarding the high standards and expectations of this project.’ This phrase implies that the go-ahead for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline is already a fait accompli. Therefore, the invitation to ‘join the conversation’ is really just another way of saying: ‘We want you to see it our way.’


“I applaud the initiative to host public hearings and have open dialogue. However, this so-called open letter by no means gives the impression that if enough people speak out against the Northern Gateway project at the hearings, Enbridge will not move forward with it. Sure, the company might have ‘a long tradition of listening to all opinions,’ but how many of those opinions made them stop their actions? Such use of language would make even Orwell blush, if he was still around. In response, I offer a simple saying learned in the schoolyard: ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say.’


The letter by Holder says: “I invite you to engage in the conversation based on informed, knowledge-based opinions, which are grounded in balanced facts and realities.” This means “facts” like those presented on the Northern Gateway Facts website, facts like “the chances of a marine mishap are very unlikely.”


Is that less or more unlikely than the Michigan oil spill caused by Enbridge  in July 2010? The rupture of a 30-inch piece of pipeline released 819,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River and carried oil 30 miles downstream this Lake Michigan tributary.


For real facts on the Northern Gateway project, I recommend the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk and any of his related articles. To learn more about the impact of this pipeline project on marine life, fragile waterways, and First Nations livelihoods, please see the website for Pacific Wild.

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December 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm Comments (0)

Oil and asbestos: Canada’s stance a global embarrassment

Canada is an environmental embarrassment now that it’s become the first country to renounce the Kyoto Protocol against global warming. As comedian Stephen Colbert said recently, our country will soon be known as “the Great Grey North.” And why? Because prime minister Stephen Harper, an entrenched lover of Canadian crude, is determined to expand Alberta’s tar sands and extend their reach via pipelines within and beyond our borders.


The tar sands currently produce 1.5 million barrels a day – the third-highest rate after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. (To see how the tar sands’ tailing ponds are damaging nearby waters, lands, and the livelihood of First Nations communities downriver, see the documentary White Water, Black Gold.)


Canada is the number one producer of oil to the United States. Despite the spectre of peak-oil predictions, Canada expects to more than double its oil production by 2025. The Canadian government shows no concern about not meeting its targets for greenhouse gas emissions, as defined by the Kyoto Accord; it faced $14 billion in penalties under this agreement.


Canada’s stance on asbestos is equally disgraceful. Harper’s government refuses to list asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention. Yet, exposure to asbestos has been proven to be the the single largest contributor to work-related cancers (100,000 to 140,000 deaths annually worldwide). The World Health Organization estimates that between 5 and 10 million people will die from asbestos-related diseases, according to grassroots media site The Dominion.

The world health community has denounced Canada for taking its position regarding asbestos. Yet, its production and related cancers continue. That’s the human cost of operating the country’s only asbestos mine in – where else? – Asbestos, Quebec.

What can we do? Speak out. Educate yourself on the issues. Write a letter to Stephen Harper and your local MP. Be aware of how your life choices affect greenhouse gas emissions. Make a commitment to reduce your carbon footprint, using a specific percentage and a target date. Join an environmental group that strives to prevent the expansion of the tar sands and the construction of oil pipelines. Donate to these groups.

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December 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm Comments (2)

Grace, meet Gracie: A surprise encounter

A white-haired woman in her eighties looked up from her magazine, smiled, and returned to her reading when I walked into a Vancouver, BC waiting room this week before my dental surgery. She was stylishly dressed in a black-and-grey ensemble with a curlicue-shaped white scarf.

“Are you who I think you are?” I asked her.

“Grace,” she replied, seated across from me. “Grace McCarthy.”

Immediately, I thought of “Gracie’s finger,” that election scandal when she was a B.C. Social Credit cabinet minister. (She was suspected in 1982 of interfering in the redrawing of electoral boundaries in her Little Mountain constituency to include a sliver of the wealthy Arbutus Street corridor. This change, which became known as “Gracie’s finger” due to its long, narrow shape, helped ensure her electoral victory.)

I thought of the white lights that glitter at night on the Lions Gate Bridge (their addition was her idea) and the repainting of Vancouver’s SeaBus catamarans from orange, recommended for safety on the water, to red, white, and blue, her preference.

I thought of McCarthy at the 1986 Socred party convention in Whistler, where Bill Vander Zalm won the nomination. I covered that event as a freelancer, writing a feature with a Wizard of Oz theme for the prairie magazine NeWest Review. I’ll leave you to guess to which character I likened Gracie (and it wasn’t Dorothy).

With these associations rushing through my head, all I did was seize the opportunity for some schmaltzy self-promotion.

“I’ve written a book for kids and the main character’s name is Gracie,” I told her.

“That’s lovely,” she said, reaching into her purse to pull something out. It wasn’t a revolver, but a packaged mint. It fell onto a nearby chair, but she didn’t notice.

“You dropped something,” I said and pointed to the mint.

She looked around, surprised, and picked it up. “Do you want it?”

Nonplussed, I nodded and took it from her.

“What are you up to these days?” I asked. McCarthy mentioned that she had started a charity for children with Crohn’s disease.

“I didn’t even know that kids could get Crohn’s disease,” I said.

“Oh yes, and it’s terrible.” When her granddaughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, McCarthy co-founded the C.H.I.L.D. (Children with Intestinal and Liver Disorders) Foundation in 1995 to raise funds for children suffering from these ailments. She is now the volunteer chair of the organization.

McCarthy’s warmth and graciousness surprised me and left me unnerved. I thought of her former nickname “Amazing Grace.” Regardless of her past politics and activities, I applaud her current charity initiative and continued drive at age eighty-four. I hope that I have such purpose, direction, and energy when I’m her age.

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December 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm Comment (1)