St. Benedict, Sask., Treasured memories

Dennis Gruending in St. Benedict, Saskatchewan, 1996

I grew up in a small rural village in Saskatchewan called St. Benedict, which in the 1950s and early 60s would have had a population of 200 or more. There are now about 80 people living there. Twenty years ago, in August 1993, our village held a homecoming event. People who once lived in the area came from far and near to attend and the Saturday evening barbeque was served to almost 1,200.  St. Benedict and nearby community of Reynaud (where no one lives any more) also published a community history. They called it Treasured Memories and asked me to write a Foreword. This article is adapted from it.

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Lac Mégantic rail disaster

Lac-Mégantic, Que. in flames. Sûreté du Québec photo

There is an important public policy backdrop to the disaster that befell the good people in Lac Mégantic, Quebec in July, when a freight train — with five locomotives and 72 tanker cars — jumped the tracks. The crude oil leaked and then exploded, killing at least 47 people, destroying much of the town, and contaminating the soil and a nearby lake.

The core responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from harm when at all possible. The question here is whether Ottawa has met its responsibility to safely regulate railway transportation. I was surprised to learn, for example, that there was but one engineer for the train. That driver had reached the limit of how many hours he could drive on that day and he left the train, unattended, on the tracks uphill from Lac Megantic while he went to a hotel to rest. In his absence, there was no one else attending the train.

Transport Canada allowed Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. to operate in this way. The company, preposterously, has defended the one-engineer practice, saying that it is safer to have only one driver because that creates fewer distractions. I must say that I have always felt safer in a jetliner with a co-pilot aboard than I would if there were but one pilot.

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Reconsidering liberal Christianity

Rev. J.S. WoodsworthLiberal Protestantism revisited

I read in the New York Times recently about an increasing attention being paid by American academic researchers to the history of liberal Christianity. The article says that in the U.S. the dominant story for decades has been about the rise of evangelical Christians. The Times reports that decades ago evangelicals “began asserting their power and identity, ultimately routing their more liberal mainline Protestant counterparts in the pews, on the offering plate and at the ballot box.”

The Times says, however, that now “a growing cadre of historians of religion are reconsidering the legacy of those faded establishment Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, tracing their enduring influence on the movements for human rights and racial justice, the growing ‘spiritual but not religious’ demographic and even the shaded moral realism of Barack Obama — a liberal Protestant par excellence, some of these academics say.” The Times describes this as a “mainline moment.”

Liberal religion

Historical books with the following titles are making their way onto reading lists: Matthew S. Hedstrom’s Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the 20th Century; Jill K. Gill’s Embattled Ecumenism: The National Council of Churches, the Vietnam War and the Trials of the Protestant Left; and Leigh E. Schmidt’s The Rise of Liberal Religion. This is significant because sooner or later historical research usually finds its way into popular consciousness.

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New Brunswick arrests in fracking standoff

Dallas, Susan McQuarrie, non-violent resistance in New Brunswick

Those of you who read the Comments posted to this blog will be familiar with the name of Dallas McQuarrie, who frequently responds to what I have written or what others have to say in their Comments. Dallas and his wife Susan are at this moment involved in an intense and profound non-violent action in New Brunswick, where they live. Dallas writes about it below.
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Rogersville, New Brunswick is 90 kilometers north of Moncton on Highway 126 and is home to about 1200 people. Nearby are two Trappist monasteries, noted for their silent retreats, and major tourist attractions like Kouchibouguac National Park and the world-famous Miramichi salmon fishery. This year, in what has become a summer of anger and frustration in rural New Brunswick, it’s not tourist traffic on Highway 126 people are seeing on the supper news, but swarms of RCMP officers hauling people protesting shale gas development off to jail.

People are protesting against the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) that is occurring in their region. Fracking in the quest to extract shale gas has had catastrophic environmental consequences elsewhere, and many of us want no part of it here. Television images of contaminated tap water bursting into flame and other environmental horrors haven’t helped shale gas promoters.

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Boycotting the NHL and hockey violence

Hockey in happier days

The truncated NHL season has, mercifully, come to an end. Late in June, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins to win the Stanley Cup. This year they did it without me in the television audience. I …

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Hugo Gruending, a time to plant

Hugo Gruending, a time for planting

I want you to meet Hugo Gruending, my father’s younger brother and always my favourite uncle. Unfortunately, neither he nor my dad is with us any longer. I came across this black and …

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Proud to protect refugees

Proud to Protect Refugees

My wife Martha has been involved for many years in church groups sponsoring refugees and assisting them to settle into new lives in Canada. I have acted as an occasional helper, enough for me to hear some of the heart rending stories about the wars, famines and oppression that have driven people from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia or Iran. I have found through personal contact that most of these new Canadians are hard-working, decent and well-meaning. But in 2012, the federal government introduced changes that make it harder for refugees to get here, and more difficult for them once they arrive. Groups of people in Canada remain committed to welcoming the stranger but, ironically, they are finding that in a world with an estimated 15 million refugees and a wait time of years in the camps, they now have no one to welcome.

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