Mockingbird Flies South

Canadian Mockingbird is written, the manuscript, providing tremendous relief. It was beginning to feel like the revisions would never end. Three editors who worked on its development shared some thoughts on its relevance and quality, and I’m fairly certain their comments weren’t just because they were being paid. Their reputations are on the line as well, right? The cover is complete, as is the proofing and indexing. The interior is ninety-five percent formatted. The book is copyrighted in Canada and the United States, and the collateral is materializing. The web site is in development. My commitment to the book throughout has been to make sure a professional is involved at each stage. This will be the case for marketing. But we’re taking a break.

          NY Cover Designer David Ter-Avanesyan of Ter33Design took me through the process of discovering elements to visually and quickly convey the Canadian Mockingbird story.

The project has taken a toll with everything else going on—a move back to Toronto, the pandemic, getting setup in Florida as a snowbird, starting a business, and a few deaths in the family. An academic who advised Canadian Mockingbird, an established and talented writer, warned that “not everyone makes it.” I thought that was an odd comment at the time. And then the anxiety hit. Publication has been delayed several times, adding stress. My fiancé convinced me it’s time to slow down. The hard part is over. At the same time, I want to explain the reasons for my rush at least for my friends, family and colleagues to read when they’re able to take their feet off the accelerators.


In Canadian English, Collins 2011, the adjective “fantastic” has three meanings; 1 informal very good, 2 unrealistic and 3 absurd strange or difficult to believe. My life has encompassed all three. Parts have been very good while others parts tragic. In that sense there’s been a balance. Being born in North America was a blessing for someone like me. That’s the greater environment. English North America is an extremely wealthy place per capita because its two largest states dominate and take from the Indigenous societies who preceded it and from the rest of the world. If you want a fighting chance, try to be born here. Even if your parents are angry, sort of nuts, even if they repeatedly abandon you, you’ll have an opportunity to succeed. Admittedly this was truer if you were born in the 1970s like I was. Why? Again, it’s about resources.

I was born to Canadian parents of African and Irish descent. You might call me Black Irish, unconventionally. But it’s more complex than that. Going back one more generation on my dad’s side I have an Afro-American grandfather originally from North Carolina and an Afro-Canadian grandmother born in the most Northern terminus of the Underground Railroad in Owen Sound, Ontario. The slavers it seems were English, Scottish and Portuguese. But there’s more to it. Grandpa’s dad was an engineering professor. Over the course of my grandparents’ relationship, they lived in upstate New York and Owen Sound. My maternal grandfather was born to an Irish Catholic family on Vancouver Island and my grandmother to the “British kind of Irish” in Capreol, Northern Ontario. I know more about my Black history because my father’s family took more of an interest. My Italian in-laws, from what were once the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, were also consequential to my upbringing.

A few years ago my first cousin, my dad’s niece, purchased a 23andme profile. She shared it with me so I got to look at the genetic roots of a deeper past. This is critical for North American people of African ancestry to understand the past, to get beyond that period when their histories and cultures were wiped by slavery. My closest African ties are to areas now known as Nigeria, Angola, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m also fascinated by my Irish past, am making it my business. I recently read Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White and was stunned to learn about themes both sides of my biological family tree share.

Why explain all these personal details? It’s not self obsession, honest. It’s just because I’m biased and so are you. You just can’t get away from it, even as an academic or intellectual, but you and your audience can be aware. Ontario public education curriculum didn’t explain any of this despite Black and Irish history extending back well beyond pre-Confederation, and the Irish being the historic majority. This skewing of history education by design is a major consideration for Canadian Mockingbird. Ontario didn’t so much as provide courses on the majority population’s historic mother tongue, Gaelic, in its schools despite offering ten other languages in addition to English.


The forthcoming book’s research began on a Friday night in 2007 as an Archives of Ontario project. The Archives Descriptive Database, since replaced by the Archives and Information Management System (AIMS), returned fonds of “rejected textbooks,” which upon investigation weren’t just rejected but censored. Not only were they censored but secretly censored. How wild is that for a librarian, I thought. Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, schooling nearly half of Canada’s English speakers and influencing textbook selection for every other province in the country. According to the helpful archivist who reviewed my FOIA request, FIPPA in Ontario, no one had researched these files.

At the time, I worked full-time, and was completing an MBA PT, I also regularly got sick for long periods requiring antibiotic rehabilitation in Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. At thirteen years of age, I had been diagnosed with a genetic noncommunicable disease (NCD) known as Cystic Fibrosis. Not only do I have CF, but the worst kind. I already knew about CF because of my status as a roaming latch key kid who read London Transit bus ads from the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, renamed Cystic Fibrosis Canada, that looked like horror movie advertisements.

In grade eight when a sweat test followed by a genetic test led to a CF diagnosis, my life changed dramatically. Can you say turned upside down? Doctors, including psychologists worked over me and my parents. They attempted to convince us that my life had to change. Back then I didn’t often get sick, even if my coughing worried and annoyed my parents. We must have all thought it was asthma, although that wasn’t diagnosed either until respirologists and allergists took me as their ongoing patient.

Not only was I immediately supposed to start taking a bunch of pills with meals, endure long sessions of inhaled medications twice a day, and receive physiotherapy when I could have been outside having fun and being athletic, I was already a year older than Julia. The indoctrination started right away. Going to die in my twenties. I became Julia in a sense. In London’s Victoria Hospital for two weeks straight. See that look in her eyes? Julia wasn’t a child actor. But I resisted. As best as I could, I said “fuck off” and “go away,” because I continued to deserve a life especially if it was going to be short. As one of my longtime pharmacists, who I recently bumped into on a street downtown in Toronto reminded me, don’t let them put you in a box. I’m not sure if she meant category or coffin. My resistance led to challenging disagreements with my parents and doctors. I also wouldn’t be here today without their efforts. Eventually my health declined. At least there were no further hospitalizations until my mid twenties.

Undergraduate studies were finished in a rushed three years, and then I spent a year working full-time in Toronto before attending the University of Toronto for a Masters of Information Studies (MISt). Halfway through, I got a stunning offer to be AT&T Canada’s Corporate Librarian. For me and where I came from, I thought this was an absurdly unrealistic offer, like a greater force was looking out for me. The benefits package made my eyes bug out. The secretary for AT&T’s VP of Strategy relayed the opportunity to the CEO’s secretary at the industry association I was then working for part-time. Up to then getting jobs in Toronto had been challenging but possible. I didn’t know when an opportunity like that would come along again so I leaped at the chance, finishing the second half of the librarian degree part time over the next two years. It was a good move. I presume it was the computer studies background that did it. I had also taken anthropology, and worked for Trent University’s Anthropology Faculty, designing the department’s first webpage, cleaning skeletons and building syllabi. Bay Street didn’t care.

I had an intense and fun ten years with ATTC and MTS Allstream [Zayo Canada and Bell MTS today] at Strategy & Corporate Development, Investor Relations, and then Human Resources answering wide ranging reference questions from across the company and assisting acquisitions, before declining lung function and increasing inability to shake lung infections forced me to take LTD for a second time. The first time I had returned to work against my doctor’s recommendation. The experiences were too rich to resist. Finally, the second time the suggestion was made, in 2010, I gave in. My coughing seemed to make some of my colleagues nervous. This was before COVID-19 obviously but after 9/11 and SARS. People were on edge, but less so. I didn’t like making colleagues uncomfortable. The vibes disrupted my work and theirs. Studying textbook selection and censorship was something to undertake alone that kept my mind active and felt relevant.

There was no running from it. That was a time in my life when I needed to slow down. Like now. I look forward to building an audience and to describing the program to secretly hide hundreds of textbooks from Ontario and Canada’s public education despite their majority, sometimes unanimous, recommendation. This will require two years at least.1 It’s the most critical project I’ve undertaken. Canada is owed an explanation.



  1. I’m taking my time and make mistakes. When I find blog errors, my posts are revised. When it’s significant and I’ve learned something, it may be noted. That’s because Internet posts can be revised unlike Twitter posts. If you err like I did tweeting about this blog post, the tweet can’t be revised only replaced. If mistakes cause embarrassment, you don’t employ editors to review and rewrite your tweets before tweeting, or are perfect, you’ll rush to replace tweets if your style is to appear perfect. Facebook is more forgiving in that sense.