Reflections on Spur

At the end of May I had the pleasure of attending Spur, “a festival of politics, art and ideas,” as a RBC scholar. Spur is an annual event held in 5 different cities, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. Each event includes discussions, readings and panels that focus on local, national and international themes. While the topics of each event varied there was a central theme that tied them all together. This year’s theme was Silence and Noise.

What I found striking throughout the event was the commonalities between many of talks regardless of their diverse content. One of the themes that I found most compelling was the concept of Identity.

As a community builder I’ve always viewed identity as integral to a strong community. One theory of community building is that it isn’t until people know themselves that they can give themselves to the community. Many of the SPUR talks and the discussions that followed, touched on different aspects of identity including how we define who we are, how we see ourselves in relation to our city and how we want to present our identity to others.

Spur opened with a discussion of what needs to be done to make Vancouver the greenest city by 2020. It was clear from the panelists and audience that being a ‘green city’ is key to the identity of most Vancouverites. That being said there was also a clear focus on how unaffordable Vancouver is becoming for my generation. How can you build ownership of a city in an individual if that person knows that they could never afford to live in that city? This was another thread that was felt throughout many of the talks – how could Vancouver keep its creative young adults? One of the comments that has continued to swirl in my head since hearing it is – where is Vancouver’s Brooklyn? Where is our accessible, affordable, funky neighbourhood?

In Taras Grescoe’s talk on Movement of People, in which he discussed being a car free resident of Montreal, the themes of identity and unaffordability appeared again. Taras himself had moved out of Vancouver knowing he couldn’t afford to raise his family here. He self identified as someone who does not own a car, which he pointed out was made easier by Montreal’s metro and bike-sharing systems. A laugh was shared when Vancouver’s own bike-sharing system, or lack thereof, was brought up. Vancouver’s stringent helmet laws are standing in the way and solutions such as bike helmet washing stations have been floated. How can Vancouver aim to build sustainability into our identities if the residents do not have the tools?

Other talks that highlighted the theme of identity included a panel discussion on punk rock. Many of the panelists stated that it was punk rock that gave them ability to feel comfortable with their own identity. A discussion on quantifying culture swirled around the ideas of how much do we want our online identity to say about ourselves and what right do we have to that information once it's online.

Shanti MooToo spoke about her new book Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab which features a transgender character. The discussion on identity in this talk was very compelling. One question from the audience spurred great discussion on the issue of language, on not knowing what to say or how to say it. Often while people want to say ‘the right thing’ it’s difficult to know exactly what that 'right thing' is. I found that I left the discussion with a real sense of hope; even if you don’t know the exact words to use it’s so important to get these conversations going. While Vancouver may be unaffordable it is clear from this discussion that it is trying to be a welcoming community for all.

Identity is all about being able to find yourself and, if desired, give that self to your community. Spur gave it's attendants a perfect opportunity to reflect on what it is that makes us who we are and what we need from our city to helps us be who we want to be.

Tin can crafts in Papua New Guinea

Aunt Bette and Lucy tin canning

Aunt Bette and Lucy tin canning

Yesterday we talked about using what you have. Here is a great example of that. Family friends Bette and Ron lived in Papua New Guinea and send me a story about using an available resource to build capacity in their community. Bette taught the local women to use tin cans to create crafts they could sell at the local market. She talks about creating their own tools, sharing resources and some roadblocks. Be prepared to be inspired!

Here is her story:

North Americans tend to spend money and use resources for hobbies, but tin craft is one hobby that recycles and can still produce some interesting folk art and ornaments.

When we were in PNG (many moons ago) I thought it might be interesting to teach some of the local ladies how to create things like candle holders, picture frames, little chairs, etc. These could be sold in the local market as a local product. They would be recycling the many tin cans left lying around and it would act as a source of revenue as well. (Pity I could not think of any use for the millions of plastic bags that blew around Port Moresby).

Books and tools for tin canning

Books and tools for tin canning

To do tin craft you need a pair of metal shears and some tin curling devices as shown in the picture. There was no getting around the sheers, they had to be purchased. The curling tools however can be home made by driving a nail into a stick, cutting off the head and using a hack saw to cut a groove in the end of the nail. We were able to make them locally and show them how it was done. Different sized nails give you different sized tools. Cost of tools is a big thing there as they just do not have the money to start with and if they did, convincing them to spend it on inedible tools that might make them more money is a pretty hard sell. So the more tools you can make locally the better. One set of shears can serve a group. You only need it for the initial cutting and all the curling is done with the home made tools. A pair of needle nose pliers is handy but not essential. Again, a shared item.

The beauty of this type of crafting is that no soldering or associated expensive equipment is required. You make your own connecting clamps. Once they got going on their own, one of my biggest concerns was getting them to wash the cans out cleanly as tourists are fussy about things like “tin mit” (Tinned meat) stuck in the corner of a picture frame.

One has to be careful, most tin can crafters cut their fingers and nick them a bit. I was invited to meet with the local leprosy group with the intent of getting them started on a means of revenue as well. I met with them, however many had little feeling in their fingers, and with leprosy your cuts don't heal well. Once it became apparent that they would end up with cuts and scratches, we had to cancel the program because the last thing we wanted was to make things worse. I felt bad, as I was looking forward to working with them but in this case tin craft was definitely not the answer. Just a cautionary note.

Annie, a good friend of Bette

Annie, a good friend of Bette

I still cherish many great memories of sitting under the cool of the house or on the shaded steps working with my neighbours. I am including a picture of Lucy and I doing tin can work and one of Annie, my friend and tutor from next door who taught me far more than I ever taught them. She is not specific to the tin craft, but a dear friend who helped me integrate. I thought I had a lot more pictures of us working, and some of the products laid out, but I am darned if I can find them now. It has been so long.

An interesting side note, I had an American tourist lady show up at my door one day wanting to meet “Aunty Bette” as the girls in the market had told her where they learned the craft and where I lived. She was noticeably disappointed that I was a Canadian and not a local – but hey, you cant win them all.

Mushroom Hunting and Chanterelle Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This weekend we took advantage of a break in the Vancouver fog to go mushroom hunting in Pacific Spirit Park.  


We couldn't believe all the varieties of fungi that had popped up everywhere you look. Having a huge park this close to the city is amazing, we felt like we were out in the country. The park was full of hikers, runners, dog walkers and bikers. Our dog Whisky made a ton of friends although she was unimpressed with the mushrooms.


Being around all those mushrooms made us start thinking about what to make for dinner. One of Zach's favorite pastimes is pretending to eat wild mushrooms to freak me out. I am usually pretty convinced they're all poisonous so I wasn't about to grab a few to cook up.  Anyways the park prohibits mushroom picking, probably to avoid all those dead hikers confident in their mushroom identification, so we had to do some modern foraging.


We settled on Chanterelle stuffed chicken breasts using wild B.C. Chanterelles. It was a delicious meal accompanied by some roasted acorn squash dusted with Berber spices. Please excuse the quality of the photo - it was taken at very low light with my phone. It tasted far better than it looks below.


Chanterelle Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Serves 2

  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup – 1 ½ cup chopped Chanterelle mushroom, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • A splash of white wine (optional)
  • 2 chicken breasts

In a small saucepan heat butter over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and let soften and sweat for a few minutes. Add mushrooms let soften 5 minutes then add splash of wine, if you have a bottle open, and thyme. Reduce and let the mushroom mixture cool. 

Butterfly each chicken breast and fill with the mushroom filling. Fold the chicken over the filling and secure with metal turkey lacing pins or whatever you have handy.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.