Category Archives: Uncategorized

Political Apprenticeship 101: Losing to Learn

Ned Taylor 1

Ned Taylor, candidate for Saanich City Council

Ned Taylor is eighteen years old, a recent high school graduate, a veteran political campaigner and (with a bow to Leonard Cohen) a beautiful loser. How does this all fit into his grand plan to become a politician? Very nicely, I’d say, and as someone who’s been following Ned’s progress since he was a sixteen-year-old political novice just beginning to volunteer on campaigns, I’d venture to predict that it’s one of the first chapters in a political success story!

Ned is an issues-driven politico, and when he jumped into the Saanich municipal election of September 23, 2017 as a candidate, he focused on issues rather than personality: housing affordability, reducing waste, fighting climate change, expanding car-free transportation. Ned even took the opportunity to get some animal related issues, and his own views on them, into the conversation.

Should Saanich deal with the deer overpopulation that causes car accidents and ruined gardens? Ned strongly opposes culling deer, one common suggestion. “We have to co-exist with wildlife,” he insists. “Culling them simply isn’t effective.” Instead, he proposes long-term population reduction such as sterilization. “Deer never wanted to be around humans, but they have now become comfortable in our environment.”

Ned Taylor 2

Ned also proposed some unique ideas to tackle the housing crisis in Saanich. One of these was to allow ‘garden suites,’ detached backyard rental suites. “They would provide more affordable housing for students at our universities, and even accommodate seniors looking to downsize,” he claims. Others include ‘tiny house communities’ and more student housing at Saanich’s university campuses.

Much greater than Ned’s position on these issues, however, is how he used the election as a learning curve for his future political goals. His campaign was shorter than most of the other candidates – a mere two months versus five months. His budget was also strikingly leaner, yet he translated that modest sum into lawn signs and enough pamphlets for a daily campaign of knocking on doors, the time-honoured way to run a successful political campaign. He also paid for Facebook boost payments and a robocall.

Ned’s youth also paid off in terms of his familiarity with social media. He was very active on Facebook, and was able to reach a large audience. He has since gained a presence on Twitter and Reddit and is planning to launch on other platforms which have significant numbers of followers.

Ned Taylor 3

“I was pretty sure I wouldn’t win,” Ned explains, “but I wanted to make a difference and do  well. I knew I’d be running again in October 2018, and I wanted to be ready for that. I wanted to have an impact on this election, and make my issues and ideas heard. r. I had a full platform, available on my website, as testimony to my seriousness.” Ned Taylor was “that young kid running,” but he was also much more than that young kid.

Ned didn’t win the election. He placed fifth in a field of ten. But in terms of his political career, it was a victory, because it was a strong showing and an intense learning experience, a political apprenticeship that’s just beginning.

What’s his next step? Impressively, it’s a “gap year” that will be spent in Australia volunteering in the office of Shane Rattenbury, a Green Party Minister who holds the balance of power in a state government.. Ned has some distant connections with the Australian Green Party, a family he will live with in Canberra, and a cousin who is a Green Party city councillor in Sydney and whose campaign he will observe so that he can bring ideas back to Saanich. He’s also served a brief apprenticeship with Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May, spending a week at her office in Ottawa.

Ned and Elizabeth May

Ned’s political passion is currently directed at the municipal level. If he’s elected after two or three terms, he can see himself in provincial or federal politics. “But,” he says, “right now, I can’t keep my mind off Saanich!”

So let’s see. Ned is eighteen now, and by the time he’s in his mid-twenties, he should be a seasoned politician. He’s already a committed advocate, and an ethical young man willing to compromise on strategy but not fundamental principles. From the perspective of this animal activist, Ned Taylor’s political ambitions can only be seen as a bright light in the fight to give Canada’s environment, animals, and people, something better.

Today in the Legislature I introduced Ned Taylor

Dr. Andrew Weaver, MLA, introduces Ned Taylor (photographed to the right with Vicki Huntington) who started a petition to ban battery cages in British Columbia. Weaver subsequently tabled his petition in the legislature.

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Who could have guessed that gawking at a pig emptying her bladder would be the highlight of my recent visit to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary? My Toronto Vegetarian Association travel companions and I had been warned that we might not even glimpse Esther, the so-called Wonder Pig who shares the Sanctuary’s comfortable house with her dads, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, and her dog buddies, Shelby and Reuben.

“Esther is unpredictable,” we were told. “Sometimes she comes outside when we have visitors. Other times, she just feels like lounging around inside the house all day.”

Esther’s story is well known, shared in documentaries and television interviews and a truly beautiful book, Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time. In 2012, when Steve succumbed to a friend’s plea to adopt a four-pound micro-piglet, he had no inkling that little Esther would gain several hundred pounds, the genetic fate she shares with millions of other pigs raised in factory farms and destined for slaughterhouses.


Long before she reached her present weight of six hundred and fifty pounds, it was too late. Steve and Derek had made a lifelong commitment to care for their huge, loving and deeply loved pig. That commitment extended far beyond Esther, to all farmed animals. In 2015, Derek and Steve left their suburban lives behind and moved into Cedar Row Farm, now home to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary.

And so, on that sunniest of Sunday mornings, as the majestic pig ambled down into the garden, I joined the throng lining the fence, gazing at her. Esther paid us scant attention. She took a few careful steps forward and then, standing stock still, began to release a deluge of liquid. As the minutes passed, she turned by slow inches in a semi-circle, her rear hoofs tap-dancing up and down as she moved.

We were astounded at the seemingly inexhaustible volume of urine she was pumping out. “Esther would shame a gang of boys lined up in a pissing contest! If she weren’t housetrained, the furniture would be floating around the living room!”

“But she is housetrained,” Steve Jenkins assured us. “She goes outside whenever she needs to. She can even open the door to let herself in and out.”

Esther and watermelon

Finally, the flow trickled off, the slow motion tap-dance ended. Now Esther was focused on the mini-watermelon Steve held out for her and which she quickly dispatched, leaving only one red-fleshed rind for her best friend Shelby, who shares her love for melons. As the old dog ripped off the juicy fruit, Esther made her way back up onto the deck and into the house.

Oh no! Was that it? Won’t we get to see her again?

“Not to worry. She just wants a smoothie.” And Steve disappeared behind his pig, and soon reappeared carrying a large stainless steel container. Esther followed, nimbly picking her way down the rubber-covered deck stairs and over to the giant smoothie, which she proceeded to slurp up until there was more froth on her snout than in the dish. Then, casting a sly sideways glance at her admiring audience, she began to walk around the backyard toward her bathing pool, which consists of four swimming pools inserted one on top of the other to provide this hefty pig enough strength and stability.

Esther and smoothie

We were in for a treat! Esther tromped into her pool with all four hooves, sank heavily down onto her side, and had a lovely, watery lie-down. Another messy, splashy turnaround, and she plunked herself down on her other side. Finally, with all but her mid-back soaked and dripping, Esther laboriously heaved herself up and out of the pool, shook herself mightily, and made her way back up to the house.

Esther in her pool

Suddenly we heard a crashing sound, and Steve and Derek, who had just arrived, exchanged shocked looks and then raced into the house. They emerged a minute later, laughing. Uh, what had caused that concerning noise? Was everyone and everything still alright?

Derek chuckled and explained. Esther knows her status here, and so when she went inside and found Shelby and Reuben sleeping in her bed, she asked them to move. But Shelby, sixteen years old and hard of hearing, slept on. Reuben, too, did not stir. Esther was not pleased, and took action, ramming her bulk into a chair and slamming it onto the ground. Esther's Shelby doesn't hear well.jpg

Success! Shelby and Reuben woke up and scrambled out of Esther’s bed, freeing it for their bossy sister to flop down into.

Relationships! That was the underlying theme of our visit to the Happily Forever Esther Sanctuary, Esther’s with her canine siblings and human dads first and foremost, but not her only ones. How does Esther relate to the pigs, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, rabbits and fowl who live nearby in barns and coops in her Sanctuary?

Mostly, Esther pays no attention to animals other than the dogs she was raised with, and the humans who did the raising. The main exception is pigs, whom she dislikes and perhaps even fears. If curious pigs come over to the fence to investigate this beautiful, familiar creature strolling around the Sanctuary, Esther runs away and has zero interest in greeting them.

Does she think she is a dog like Shelby and Reuben? Quite possibly, Steve and Derek concur. What is certain is that she loves them, and they love her.

We snap photos, ask questions, take notes. Will Esther make another appearance? Not likely. She’s fast asleep in her bed, dreaming of watermelons and smoothies and hanging out with Shelby and Reuben. And we can’t linger, our bus is waiting to return us to the big city. So sleep soundly, Esther and friends, and we’ll see you soon, because this is surely just the first of our many visits to your wonderful Sanctuary.

Esther's farm motto.jpg

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I met future politician Ned Taylor just after Canada’s 2015 federal elections, in which I stood as a candidate for the Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party (thankfully now renamed the Animal Protection Party)! Ned, then sixteen-years-old, wanted my help in promoting his petition to “Ban Battery Cages in Canada,” fighting against the brutal treatment of factory-farmed chickens in the egg industry.


Ned’s petition exposed the reality that more than ninety percent of Canada’s egg-laying hens are trapped in cramped wire “battery cages” for their entire lives, forced to exist in spaces smaller than an 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper. It was a stellar document that I enthusiastically supported and promoted.

Canadian chicken factory farm

But I was also struck by its author, this fresh-faced, engaging and energetic youngster who was spending so much time researching and crafting his petition, and then guiding it through the rule-bound, paper-strewn path that is the only route to changing Canadian laws. And Ned’s eagerness to learn was real, and he listened to the more experienced animal advocates he sought out to help him. Clearly he was a caring, compassionate and effective politician still in embryo stage!

Ned Taylor, budding Green Party politician

And I assumed that his passion about drastically improving the lives of the farmed chickens whose intelligence and sensitivity he admire meant that he must also be vegan, the logical consequence of his heartfelt opinions.

But when we spoke on the telephone and I mentioned our shared veganism, Ned quickly set me straight.

“Oh, I’m not vegan,” he said. “We humans are animals, too, and animals have been eating other animals for centuries. I believe that if we treat them right and they live a full life, then there’s nothing wrong with eating them.”

And so do humans have the right to kill healthy, usually very young animals at will, as they currently do? I demanded. And what about food culture that avoids all killing and cruelty? In other words, what about veganism?

“I completely support and understand it,” Ned responded. “In fact, I’m considering it. Not promising to do it, just considering it right now.”  By the time our conversation ended, he had committed to one meatless day a week.

Ned’s meatless experiment has gone well. Almost a year later, he is a steadfast vegetarian. It’s a great start! And, Ned adds cheerfully, “It’s incredibly easy now.”  He is mindful of how his food is sourced, what kind of oil is used in fried dishes,  if animal-derived gelatin is used, and he has even abstained from fur and leather  – “I really don’t mind the little details,” he says. His family, always supportive, has also become much more veggie-friendly, and his dad encourages him to eat more healthful nuts and beans. “My mom thought my vegetarianism was a phrase,” Ned says. “But now she realizes it’s forever.”

Ned Taylor’s Vegetarian Year!

Forever! That’s my kind of vegetarian (with vegan flourishes), and I renewed my efforts to recruit Ned for the Animal Protection Party. But Ned’s loyalty to the Green Party is unshakeable, and for compelling reasons. “Animal welfare issues are hugely important to me, and always will be” Ned explains, “especially the environmental issues such as climate change that directly relate to animals and meat consumption. People often don’t make that connection, and that’s what I want to focus on. I want to bring that awareness into the Green Party.”

How could anyone argue with that?  And I’ve longed for years to see that awareness in the Green Party.  With Ned and some of his cohorts, that will likely happen, with animals huge beneficiaries.

Ned has already caught Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s attention and, at her invitation, he spent a week in Ottawa volunteering, which reinforced his conviction that this is where he is meant to be.

But it’s not a loss for the Animal Protection Party, it’s a win for animals, as Ned and several of his friends transition to vegetarianism or veganism. “Kids and teens are now more receptive to vegetarians and vegetarian food,” Ned says, “and even friends who were previously pescetarian are ditching fish. My co-workers at Starbucks also notice that lots of customers order soy or other non-dairy drinks, and they make sure it’s available.” In other words, among young people, a slow and steady food revolution is unfolding, one squash soup and soy latte at a time!


Ned has given me an assignment: to calculate how many animals he saves on an annual basis by not eating them. That’ll be my next blog about the contributions to animal advocacy of this up-and-coming Green Party politician, B.C.’s Ned Taylor.

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Toronto’s First Black Councillor and Deputy Mayor Honored

William Peyton Hubbard, the son of American slaves who in 1837 fled Virginia via the Underground Railroad to take up farming in Canada, was Toronto’s first Black elected City Councillor, representing one of the city’s wealthiest and whitest wards and often presiding over Council as Acting Mayor. Today, as dignitaries including Mayor John Tory, Dub Poet Lillian Allen and Hubbard’s descendants gathered to honor him by naming an elegant park in his honor, the strongest message was that Hubbard’s most enduring legacy was not that he broke the color bar but that he used his status to fight for public ownership of Toronto`s water and hydroelectricity services, and advocated for wronged citizens, whatever their ethnicity.

William Peyton Hubbard, Toronto City Councillor

    William Peyton Hubbard

In 1842, Hubbard was born in a cabin close to Toronto, where a small Black community lived peaceably but not equally, with some public facilities such as hotels and restaurants refusing to admit them. W.P., as he was known, attended the non-segregated Toronto Normal School but became a professional baker and not a teacher. Later, to accommodate the needs of his business, he invented and patented a portable, ‘practically fire-proof’ and much smaller commercial oven to replace the massive brick ovens used in large establishments. The oven was a hit, and sold throughout Canada and the U.S.

Now married to his childhood sweetheart, Julia Luckett, and inspired by his father`s mantra of ‘self-improvement,’ Hubbard earned his living baking cakes and was an astute businessman. He changed careers sixteen years later, after his uncle pleaded with him to join his livery business because it was so difficult to find sober drivers. One day, as he manoeuvred his hansom along a treacherous winter road, Hubbard spotted an overturned cab and a man in need of assistance near the icy Don River. He leapt down to help, a charitable act that would transform his life and set him on the trajectory to public office.

The man he had rescued was the renowned George Brown, a Father of Confederation and a founding member of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, whose members had helped fugitives using the Underground Railroad to reach Canada. Brown was also a passionate reformist politician and owner-editor of the powerful Globe and Mail newspaper. Brown was so struck by Hubbard`s reformist beliefs, intelligence and energy that he urged him to run for political office.

In 1893, aged 51, Hubbard took the plunge and ran in the municipal elections for Ward 4, an enclave of fine homes and mansions, and lost by a mere seven votes. Encouraged, he ran again in 1894 and won the first of 15 elections to Toronto City Council. His elite constituents had just elected Toronto`s first Black politician.

Hubbard, however, celebrated his election less as a victory for Black progress than as an opportunity to press for the causes he had long espoused. “I have always felt that I am a representative of a race hitherto despised, but if given a fair opportunity would be able to command esteem,” he confided to his best friend, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Canada`s first Black physician, whose daughter married his son, Frederick Langdon Hubbard.

And command esteem he did, impressing his fellow Councillors with his impeccable research and eloquence, and his fearless attacks on corruption. Thanks to his association with George Brown, Hubbard also understood the value of enlisting the press to help further his political goals.

Even with his family, who speak wryly about his interminable ‘speechifying’ at the dinner table, Hubbard did not refer to himself as a champion of Black rights. His measure of a good society was equality and fairness, and he sought to shape Toronto in that image. He supported the House of Industry and Social Improvements, modeled on humane principles quite unlike the poverty-punishing Victorian workhouses it replaced. Hubbard advocated for Jews, demanding that “steps be taken to prohibit attacks being made on the Jewish religion,” and he rallied to help Chinese small laundry owners facing the vitriol and vengeance of more powerful commercial interests.


Hubbard’s legislative legacy includes 100 initiatives for improving city services and infrastructure, including acquiring land for parks, but his most significant and far-reaching accomplishment was to champion a policy of public ownership of Toronto’s water and hydro facilities. The cost of these services in the hands of private companies was prohibitive, he argued, though this stance cost him more than one election because his constituents strongly supported and in some cases were owners or associates of those private companies.

Hubbard persisted. He used his appointment to the Toronto Board of Control, the city’s executive, to campaign to make it an elective body. He then won subsequent Board elections and was named its vice-chairman. And in the city where such posh venues as the Royal York Hotel still rejected Black guests, Hubbard presided as Acting Mayor when the mayor was absent.


W.P. Hubbard House, 660 Broadview Ave.


In his personal life, Hubbard was a devout Anglican, and a member of Black community groups such as the Home Service Association and the Musical and Literary Society of Toronto. In politics, he forged strategic alliances, notably with Adam Beck, Mayor of London, Ontario and a Member of the Provincial Legislature, because Beck shared his vision of publicly-owned utilities. Together Hubbard and Beck succeeded in creating the Toronto Hydro-Electric System and the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. For this and other endeavors, Beck was knighted. Hubbard, whose work on behalf of fairer consumer pricing had cost him several elections, was named a Justice of the Peace for York County.

In 1913 Hubbard, then 71, was re-elected to Council but soon retired to care for his ailing wife. He remained in their home, a splendid brick house very near Hubbard Park, until his death in 1935, when at 93 he was Toronto’s ‘Grand Old Man’ and its documented oldest native-born citizen, and so admired that public buildings flew their flags at half-mast in mourning. Eight decades later, William Peyton Hubbard’s legacy has again been honored in the city he did so much to improve, and that Dub Poet Lillian Allen described as “an experiment gone grand.”


W.P. Hubbard at 89

                                        W.P. Hubbard at 89

Hubbard family at ribbon-cutting ceremony

            Hubbard family at ribbon-cutting ceremony


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Judging Compassion: the Criminal Trial of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Krajnc

Judging Compassion: the Criminal Trial of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Krajnc

The young pig at the outer edge of the immobile transport truck bearing him to slaughter was so terrified and parched that his mouth was foaming. But when the truck stopped at a traffic light and animal activist Anita Krajnc thrust an open water bottle through a ventilation opening, he raised his snout and slurped until the traffic light turned green and the truck revved up and veered around toward Burlington, Ontario’s Fearman’s Pork Inc., the slaughterhouse across the road.

Pig en route to slaughter foaming at mouth from terror and thirst

Pig en route to slaughter foaming at mouth from terror and thirst

This happens often during Toronto Pig Save slaughterhouse vigils, and other activists also tip water bottles into the gasping mouths of frantic pigs. Twice, I have been one of them, holding out my water bottle and crooning through tears the mantra that encapsulates our mission as well as our despair: “We see you. We’re trying. We’re sorry. We love you.”

What was different and unexpected on the June 22, 2015 vigil was that the truck driver, Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf, stepped down and, in a heated exchange captured by a Toronto Pig’s Save videographer, asked Krajnc to stop giving water to the pigs he was transporting to their death. Krajnc refused with a biblical reference to giving water to the thirsty. “Have some compassion!” she urged.

Veldjesgraaf snapped, “You know what, these are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad,” and later added, “You do it again and I’ll slap it out of your hands.”

But in face of Krajnc’s defiance to his threat to “call the cops” – “Call Jesus!” she retorted – Veldjesgraaf climbed back inside the truck and hauled his cargo of hundreds of pigs to slaughter at Fearman’s.

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs en route to slaughter

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs en route to slaughter

The next day, the pigs’ owner, Eric van Boekel of Van Boekel Holdings Inc., filed a complaint against Krajnc and on September 9, 2015, she was charged with criminal mischief. Her trial began a year later, in Burlington’s Courthouse, with van Boekel and Veldjesgraaf’s testifying. On October 3rd, the proceedings were devoted to Krajnc. The courtroom was so packed that the judge invited journalists to move into the empty Prisoners’ Dock, which he said he’d temporarily dub the ‘Press Dock,’ and when every seat was filled, permitted people still waiting to enter his courtroom to sit on the floor to accommodate the overflow crowd that included Ingrid Newkirk,  President of PETA, the world’s largest animal rights organization.

In her testimony, Krajnc confirmed the accuracy of the prosecution’s description of what happened on June 22, 2015. Then, in response to her lawyer James Silver’s questions, she gave detailed accounts of Toronto Pig Save, which she co-founded in 2010, and of the burgeoning Save movement it spawned, that now numbers more than fifty groups in Canada, the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

Krajnc could not save the young pig who sipped her water, but she transformed her legal defense into a powerful platform to not only justify her small act of mercy but also to elaborate on Toronto Pig Save’s mission. She identified herself as the group’s full-time organizer and defined its three goals: to promote a non-violent vegan world, to promote activism, and to promote a cultural shift so that everyone who sees suffering of any sort bears witness, thereby helping animals, people and the planet.

Culturally savvy, the Save Movement uses social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, websites, Vimeo and YouTube – to show the realities of animals going to slaughter and to connect supporters. A Save Response Team is mandated with finding homes for animals who fall off slaughter trucks and are reprieved. There are a plethora of related groups: vegan outreach, poster and postcard campaigns, climate/vegan groups, an SOS squad that issues placards and distributes PETA and vegan starter kits, and a program that pays students $10 each to watch the documentary Earthlings. Dozens of virtual headsets, recently purchased, are being distributed worldwide to render the viewing experience more authentic and compelling.

And, at the heart of the Save Movement are slaughterhouse vigils where supporters bear witness to the terrible suffering of doomed animals being trucked away into local slaughterhouses. At Fearman’s Pork Inc., Krajnc testified, ten thousand pigs are slaughtered daily, and videos of pigs being slaughtered by the same methods used at Fearman’s and elsewhere were entered into the trial records as Exhibits relevant to her defense.

Pigs comfort each other as they await slaughter

Pigs comfort each other as they await slaughter

“We want everyone to see what we see,” Krajnc said. “As Leo Tolstoy said, “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her.”

The Save Movement is also guided by the reasoned non-violence of Mohatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. These two icons also strove to change the system that permits the violence afflicted on other creatures, and to go to the darkest sites of injustice and to bear witness there.

Kindness to sheep on cattle train - 1870

  Kindness to sheep on cattle train – 1870

In 1870, popular American author Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) described with words and illustration how two young girls offered buckets of water and freshly picked clover to distressed and panting sheep on a cattle railroad car, an act of compassion that deeply touched her. A century and a half later, in Canada, Anita Krajnc risks jail time for performing that same act of compassion.

The trial continues on Nov. 1st.

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Re-Percussions! The Steel Drum Beat Goes On … to Africa!


Trinidad Steel Band

           Trinidad Steel Band

Re-Percussions: Our African Odyssey, award-winning Trinidadian film-maker Kim Johnson’s contribution to this year’s Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Toronto, is a documentary masterpiece focused on Nigerian Chief Bowie Sonnie Bowei’s journey to introduce and popularize steel drum, the musical instrument known as Pan, throughout his native Nigeria and across the African continent.

That journey includes Chief Bowei’s pained acknowledgement that African chiefs participated in the slave trade that forced millions of Africans into the sugar fields of the New World, the nucleus of the great Diaspora that has produced the music he has dedicated his life to. In one extraordinary scene, Bowei visits an historic barracoon, once a slave barracks, where his guide underscores the fact that slaves’ lives were so grotesquely undervalued that one umbrella was worth forty slaves, one bottle of gin ten slaves.

Slave ship

              Slave ship

“Sometimes I am overwhelmed by anger and shame,” Bowei confesses. He also wonders aloud: Do any African chiefs feel at least some slight guilt about what their ancestors did?

In Trinidad, where slaves improvised drums to play remembered music and alleviate their misery, their white overlords condemned drumming as noisy, monotonous and perhaps even demonic. And, because they also feared it as a potential tool to inspire rebellion, they outlawed it. But the slaves refused to relinquish the rhythms that gave them “the physical and psychic strength to endure,“ and made music however and wherever they could.

Chief Bowei visits the North West Laventille Drummers, who perform their understanding of "African" songs

Chief Bowei visits the North West Laventille Drummers, who perform their understanding of “African” songs

In 1877, an official commission banned the use of street drums in processions. Ever inventive, the revellers scrounged to find whatever they could use to beat – scrap metal and dust bins were popular – and before long, steel drumming was born. That, Bowei learns, is true Creole art – improvisation. And that improvisation eventually led from dustbins to 55-gallon steel drums used in Trinidad’s – and Nigeria’s – oil industry.

But steel can be used for more than drumming and Pan, as it is known, is a musical instrument capable of artistry as complex as any other modern music. As well, in Trinidad it is also a life form or movement that embraces politics as well as culture. These features, and its origins as the African Diaspora’s special instrument, has inspired Chief Bowei’s mission to bring Trinidad’s unique contribution back to the ancestral homeland.

“I feel destined to carry out the Pan movement in Africa, not just Nigeria,” he declares.

Bowei’s introduction to Pan had more a prosaic origin: as a young soldier in the Nigerian Army’s steel band, which played old-style tunes on unimproved old pans. “Soldiers follow orders, and that’s how we played in the Nigerian Army Steel Band,” he explains. From 1977 to 2001, the Nigerian Army Steel Band was also Nigeria’s only one, with stale musical offerings that inspired no one.

Nigerian steel band

For Bowei, however, the story does not end there. By following Pan to Trinidad, he sees at firsthand the enormous possibilities, beginning with bands of 120 pannists who produced music of a grandeur and intensity entirely lacking in Nigeria’s nine-man outfit. Bowei is also impressed by what Trinidadian professor Rawle Gibbons’s describes as “the rooted links between Africa and Trinidad as far as Pan goes.”

But at first, Pan is a hard sell. Young people, whom Bowei targets as the likeliest group as both performers and audience, expect guitars, pianos, drums, and recoil at the sight of the huge steel drums they are accustomed to use for water storage. How on earth could these bulky steel drums be musical instruments?

Some of Re-Percussions’ most amusing segments document the learning process of these reluctant students, girls and boys together, as they practice beating Pan and, encouraged by Bowei, realize that with skill and patience, they can reproduce their own kind of music, hip hop as well as folk songs. Costumed in traditional garb, exuberant and confident, they travel into the huge, unfamiliar city of Lagos where they perform so brilliantly that they win several categories in a music festival.

But Bowei is keenly aware that the African steel drums he provides lack the rich and nuanced tones of Trinidadian Pans, specifically partial notes, and so he returns to Port-of-Spain to seek help from the world’s best Pan tuners. One of these, Gabriel “Doyle” Robley, complains that Bowei is too hasty and does not take the time to truly understand how to tune a Pan.

Tuning pan

                             Tuning pan

Bowei, for his part, is deeply satisfied with his education, and lavishes praise on his tutor for his generosity in sharing even treasured nuggets of information about tuning Pans to perfection.

Back in Nigeria, he is determined to succeed in his mission to popularize Pan as a musical instrument, and to attract large numbers of young men and women into joining bands that offer music, camaraderie and a link back to the centuries-old Diaspora.

“The Middle Passage [the part of the slave trade where Africans were shipped across the Atlantic to the West Indies] tore off a piece of our living flesh,” he says. Now the young Nigerian steel bands are bonded with the Diaspora and are full-fledged members of the international steel band community. “This is my steel band, my music, my song,” Bowei murmurs in a moving finale.

Re-Percussions is a visual and auditory feast, illustrated with historical and vintage images and a a scintillating background of music ranging from calypso to African “talking drums” to full-scale steel bands in full regalia.

Film-maker Kim Johnson with Chief Bowei, on location

Film-maker Kim Johnson with Chief Bowei, on location

Bowei, Nigeria’s foremost Pan entrepreneur and aficionado, is the perfect match for Trinidadian scholar/film-maker Kim Johnson, Pan’s foremost historian, author of Tinpan to TASPO: Origins of the Steelband Movement 1939-1951 and The Illustrated Story of Pan, and the award-winning 2013 film, Pan: Our Music Odyssey.


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Ned Taylor

What better way to begin 2016 than to veganize Ned Taylor, a sixteen-year-old from Victoria, BC? In December’s MEATLESS ANYDAY AND A TEENAGER’S PLEDGE TO HELP CHICKENS, I blogged about promoting Ned’s petition – “Ban Battery Cages in Canada,” – urging the government to ban battery cages for chickens. Yet despite his deep concern for chickens and other animals, Ned still ate them.

But he was already considering veganism, and when I challenged him, he committed to one vegan day a week. A few days later, Ned shared his notes about Day 1, which was vegetarian, kind of a warm-up, and Day 2, which was out-and-out vegan.

Day 1 (Vegetarian)

Breakfast: I had scrambled eggs (free-range of course) and hash-browns.

Lunch: I had three grilled cheese sandwiches.

Dinner: I had mashed potatoes, baked green bean and french fried onion mixture, stuffing and carrots.

Thoughts: It was pretty easy going just without meat. For breakfast my family ate bacon, eggs and hash-browns and all I had to do was remove the bacon. I could definitely see myself doing this more often. It’s healthy, good for the environment and super easy!

Day 2 (Vegan)

Breakfast: Hash-browns and 2 pieces of toast and peanut butter.

Lunch: Beans on toast

Dinner: I had a butternut squash soup with garlic bread (recipe below). Also after dinner I went to a movie and got popcorn. Thankfully my mum reminded me to get margarine instead of butter so I didn’t spoil it at the end!

Recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:  


Thoughts: This was definitely trickier than going vegetarian but overall it wasn’t too hard. The main obstacle was avoiding dairy products (like the popcorn butter issue). Also the butternut squash soup was delicious! I definitely want to have that more often.

Well, well, well! What was I to say about this menu? The Day 1 vegetarian dinner looked like a typical meat-based meal with the meat omitted, almost identical to meals I’ve consumed as a guest of non-vegans. Its main virtue was that it required no extra preparation and was, from Ned’s perspective, “pretty easy.” No wonder he could see himself doing it more often.

But I couldn’t help commenting about his lunch of three grilled cheese sandwiches” Isn’t that … um … a lot of sandwiches?” “Oh, my mom also asks me if I really need three,” Ned said cheerily. “The thing is, I do, because I’m really hungry. But I work out a lot so I can afford to eat a lot without gaining any weight.”

I chuckled and reminded myself that Ned is just sixteen, and super fit. I won’t worry about the quantity of food he consumes. I’ll just stick with doing what I’ve agreed to: guiding and documenting his progress on his weekly vegan days, when he abstains from animal products altogether: no eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

When Ned plunged into his vegan day, it helped that both his parents were very supportive, and that it was a Sunday, when he had the time to “find stuff I could cook myself” to avoid expecting his mom to prepare special meals for him. Breakfast and lunch were simple and toasty, and he probably enlivened them with a glass of something to drink and a fruit or two. Lastly, Ned’s dinner of Butternut Squash Soup from One Green Planet constituted a brilliant ending to his first vegan day! (Except, of course, that unbuttered movie theatre popcorn, a pop cultural indulgence shared by millions, including me.)


Squash or pumpkin soup is a mainstay of Caribbean cooking, and when I lived in Haiti we had it every Sunday. It’s delicious, nutritious and filling; it’s also versatile, perfectly happy to be spicy or blander, and always willing to soak up and integrate a stray vegetable or two.

Ned ended his first vegan day resolved to repeat it. “Dairy was the hardest to avoid,” he mused, “but I’d much rather eat vegan things.” Ned’s an environmentalist and a compassionate animal advocate who is already lobbying politicians against factory farming. So far, our modest little experiment is working, because Ned is determined that it will. But it’s clear that I should offer more encouragement in the form of that most basic of assistance: recipes, simple, clearly-described and most of all, appealing to this extraordinary teenager who is so eager to rescue and restore the world to pristine nature.

I’m going to start with pizza, arguably the most popular fast food in North America, and heavily consumed by male teenagers. If Ned tries some of these delicious recipes, he won’t be the odd man out at the table. Without even trying, he’ll have introduced his family members to the delights of good vegan food, and in a single sitting, spared at least a few animals!


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Filed under Animal Alliance/Environment Voters Party, Battery cages, Ned Taylor, factory farming. veganism, Uncategorized, Vegan recipes