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COVER STORY: Everyone's got a story to tell
Capitalizing on the boom in popularity of DIY storytelling nights like Vancouver’s Rain City Chronicles, the North Shore now has its own homegrown response in the aptly titled North Shore Stories.
The inaugural show will mark the first of its kind on the North Shore. But if all goes well enough, it won’t be the last.
With a lineup running the gamut from rookie raconteur and self-described “book nerd” Meghan Radomske to veteran yarn-spinner Mike McCardell of Global TV and bestselling-books fame, the topic is culture and the only real rule is to keep it under 10 minutes.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t have culture or heritage; I’m a boring white girl from North Vancouver,’” Radomske says, explaining the thinking that led to a new perspective on what North Shore culture means.
“I started thinking about how North Vancouverites are quite proud of our environment and I find that there’s all sorts of different cultures to do with skiing and biking and running.”
And while those cultures share a common ground, each tribe has its own specific social mores, cues, codes and dress that can leave even a native like Radomske feeling every bit the interloper.
“I didn’t know you’re not supposed to wear cotton when you go running. It’s little silly things like that where people look at you and they think you should know,” she says.
“Basically it’s sort of examining how I’ve morphed from this little book nerd and awful athlete into someone who’s trying to embrace those cultures and the challenges I’m running up against.”
For North Shore Stories organizer and North Van city librarian Heidi Schilller, it’s that diversity of not only cultures but interpretations of “culture,” that makes this storytelling night what it is. And one would be hard-pressed to cast a wider cultural net on the North Shore.
Joining Radomske and McCardell are Kucki Low, South Africa’s first female airline pilot and now author, Squamish Nation storyteller Vanessa Campbell, City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, Calgary-born broadcaster Barry Jakel and Moussame Price, a social anthropologist, writer and coordinator for the Canadian Iranian Foundation.
“I like the idea of the library being a place where the public can access not just published stories but also stories from just regular people in their community,” Schiller says, adding that she put the call out to a few storytellers she knew and interest spread from there. “I was sort of surprised by how enthusiastic people were about it.”
One of those interested was Michelle Dodds, executive director of the North Shore Women’s Centre and a new mom.
Without giving too much away, Dodds says her story is about having and raising a child in a same-sex relationship and how even the best intentions can sometimes backfire.
“Basically people kept telling me that I was going to have a boy, going to have a boy,” the longtime North Van resident says. “And even after she was born, somebody in the room said, ‘It’s a boy!’ And it wasn’t until a couple minutes later that it was actually realized she was a girl. So I just sort of talk about society’s need to set certain gender and sex stereotypes.
“But,” she stresses, “I’ll do it in kind of a humorous way, not a lecturing way.”
Like Radomske, Dodds says too often culture is assumed to mean what’s been formed in the past — our race, ethnicity or religion — while what goes on around us every day is ignored.
“So [my idea is] to take it a little bit in a different direction and look at a question of queer identity as a form of culture,” she says.
For many, the TED Talk-style speakers’ series events are a breath of fresh air from the daily disconnect of digital culture and computer screens. And the popularity of Rain City Chronicles and local PechaKucha events suggests people still crave the personal connection of oral storytelling.
“If the event is successful, I’d like to do more,” Schiller says. “I’d like to do sort of a Rain City Chronicles type of thing here and have the theme be different every time and have different speakers every time. I’ve heard from a lot of people that say, ‘Oh, what a great idea,’ and they go and start their own storytelling event at their local church or organization.”
It comes with the territory that Mayor Mussatto has done his share of public speaking, but never anything quite like this, he says.
So as a lifelong North Vancouverite, he’s keen to talk about the culture and heritage of the place that, he says, made him who he is today.
“I’m not the melting-pot kind of guy,” he tells The Outlook, preferring instead, he says, that North Shore newcomers celebrate their cultural heritage rather than hide it.
He tells the story of one of his earliest jobs as a teenager working at the Queensbury Market, a corner grocer at Queensbury Avenue and 7th Street, a couple blocks from where he grew up.
“The owners of the store were Chinese — had lived in China when they were younger, moved here and brought the Chinese culture with them,” he recalls. “They taught me the value of not judging people by their skin or their colour or their ethnicity, but by their actions.”
Mussatto credits the experience with not only giving him a “ big break in life” financially but also with teaching him about hard work, honesty and his first exposure to a foreign culture.
“In a small way, if we can show in our little city here that we can all get along and respect each other, I think the world can learn from that,” he says.
North Shore Stories begins at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 in the North Vancouver City Library’s Singh Room. Light refreshments and wine will be served at 6:30 p.m.