December 11, 2021

“For a moment, I wonder if she had something to do with it...”

 An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque 

At lunch time, I call the children in to eat.  Melvin comes with Timmy, his Jack Russell, and a bird in his hands.  “Look what I have!”  The children gather around him.  Gloria finds a box, puts a towel at the bottom and Melvin places the bird gently in the box on the counter top.  “I was shooting spit balls at the tree with my slingshot when I heard Timmy bark.  This bird must have fallen from a tree in the neighbour’s yard and their cat looked like it was going to pounce on it.  Timmy dug a hole under the fence, picked up the robin, and brought it to me.”

“Is that bird going to chirp so loud all day and night?” asked Evelyn.

“We will have to find worms to feed it.  It’s chirping because it’s hungry,” says Melvin.

I tell Melvin that I have a syringe we can use to give it water.

“What are we going to call him?” asks Gloria.

“Birdie, we can call him Birdie,” says Alvin.

“Well I’m not going to feed it.  It’s very annoying with its chirping all day.  I want nothing to do with it.  We should leave it outside to fend for itself.  Let nature take its course,” Evelyn protests and walks out the door.

All day the other children look for worms in the back yard.  Every time anyone walks past Birdie, its beak is wide open and he chirps loudly to get fed.  Timmy sleeps at the foot of the counter, guarding the baby bird.  Every day after school, the children take Birdie outside on the porch.

One morning we find the bird dead with its neck broken.  We have a little ceremony in the backyard and bury it.  Evelyn says, “I’m glad I won’t hear that incessant chirping.  It was driving me nuts.”

For a moment, I wonder if she had something to do with it...I have crazy thoughts sometimes.  She would not do that.  Would she?

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

November 10, 2021

Billy Barker: Unsung Canadian Hero of the First World War


Today, I want to introduce you to an unsung Canadian hero of the First World War.

How many of you have heard of Billy Bishop?

And how many of you have heard of Billy Barker?

The two of them were friends, but one of the two was a Canadian fighter pilot in World War One and is the most decorated war hero in Canadian history.  Can you guess which one?

If you guessed Billy Barker, you are correct!

William George Barker was born on November 3rd, 1894, in Dauphin, Manitoba.  Barker was the eldest son of a farmer who was also a blacksmith and sawmill operator.  Barker grew up on the frontier in Manitoba where he became proficient at riding horses and shooting.  While Barker was certainly a good student, he was often required to miss school in order to work at the family farm.

Early on, Barker demonstrated intellectual independence, intense focus, and kinesthetic capabilities.  Furthermore, after having seen “flying machines” at agricultural fairs, he developed an early interest in becoming a pilot.  As fate would have it, these interests and capabilities were combined in 1914, when Barker enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and left to fight in World War One.

After enlisting, Barker joined the 1st Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and trained as a machine gunner.  He sailed to England with his unit in June 1915, and served in the Ypres salient in Belgium that fall and winter.

Barker found service in the muddy trenches to be cold, wet, and discouraging.  As a result, in early 1916, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, where he became an Observer and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.  After his transfer, he quickly gained combat experience, performing artillery spotting and photographic reconnaissance as well as acting as a gunner.  For example, on July 21st, Barker claimed one plane “driven down” with his observer’s gun, and in August claimed a second Roland, this time in flames.  On August 27th, Barker officially became qualified as an Observer and worked with Canadian troops for the first time on September 15th, including his old regiment.

In November, Barker performed reconnaissance in France during the First Battle of the Somme.  There, flying very low over the Ancre River on November 15th, Barker and his pilot spotted a large concentration of some 4,000 German infantry massing for a counter-attack on Beaumont-Hamel.  After sending an emergency Zone Call, all available artillery was fired upon the German troops, effectively breaking up the pending attack.  For this action, Barker earned the first of the numerous awards he would eventually receive—in this case, the Military Cross for “an act of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land.”

In January 1917, after spending Christmas on leave in London, Barker commenced pilot training and began flying solo after only 55 minutes of dual instruction.  Thereafter, he received ground and flying training, completing all requirements in only four weeks.  Then finally, Barker would return to fight in the Western Front in February, this time in his dream position as a pilot.

While flying a Reconnaissance Experimental, Barker was awarded a bar for his Military Cross, promoted to the rank of Captain, and appointed as a flight commander.  After sustaining a head wound from anti-aircraft fire in August, he was then assigned to duty as a flying instructor in England.  However, Barker had no desire to teach and frequently requested to be reassigned to front-line service.  In fact, during this time, he performed an unauthorized aerobatic display over Piccadilly Circus in London and was consequently reassigned to combat as a fighter pilot in October 1917.  On October 8th, 1917, Barker downed an enemy Albatros on his first patrol in France, later claiming another on October 20th and two more on October 27th.

After hearing of the numerous planes he shot down, you must be thinking: Barker must have been an excellent pilot!  However, believe it or not, he was not known for his flying skill, suffering several flying accidents during his career.  Rather, he excelled as a highly accurate marksman with physical poise, emotional intensity, and aggression in action.

One of the most successful but controversial raids Barker performed was On December 25th, 1917.  That day, he caught the Germans off guard and shot up an air field, setting fire to one hangar and damaging four German aircraft.  With a flair for dramatic acts, it’s not surprising that he also dropped a placard wishing his opponents a Happy Christmas before he left.

After having claimed one Jasta 1, three observation balloons, five Albatros fighters, and two two-seaters from January to March, Barker sought to fill a vacancy as Commanding Officer of 28 Squadron.  However, due to his tendency to ignore orders by flying many unofficial patrols, he was passed over for the position.  Dissatisfied, he then applied for a posting at 66 Squadron in April 1918 and later became Squadron Commander of RAF 139 Squadron.  As Squadron Commander, Barker continued to use his Sopwith Camel to fly fighter operations.  From April to mid-July, Barker would go on to claim an additional 16 kills, and during the night of August 9th, he even flew an enemy plane to land a spy behind enemy lines.

At this point, you might be thinking: Barker sure took down a lot of enemy planes.  He must have made some records!  And if that’s what you were thinking, you were right.  Due to his efforts from September 1917 to September 1918, Barker’s personal Sopwith airplane had become the most successful fighter aircraft in the history of the RAF.  Over 404 operational flying hours, Barker and his plane managed to shoot down a total of 46 aircraft and balloons and he had the highest destroyed ratio of any RAF pilot during the First World War.

In September 1918, after having flown more than 900 combat hours in two and a half years, Barker was transferred back to command the fighter training school in the UK.  After persuading his superiors he needed to get up to date on the latest combat techniques, he was granted a 10-day roving commission in France that October.  While there, he inadvertently crossed enemy lines, took down an enemy Rumpler, and ran into a formation of 15 or more enemy machines.  During the dogfight, Barker was severely wounded and force-landed inside Allied lines.  Thankfully, he was quickly transported to a field dressing station and his life was saved, but he struggled to stay alive at a French hospital until mid-January 1919.  For his actions on the day he was shot down, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour "in the presence of the enemy" on March 1st, 1919.

After the war, Barker formed a business partnership, Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes Limited, with fellow Victoria Cross recipient and Canadian ace Billy Bishop.  This partnership lasted for approximately three years.  Thereafter, in 1922, he rejoined the fledgling Canadian Air Force at the rank of Wing Commander and served as the Station Commander of Camp Borden until 1924.

After his retirement, Barker faced long-term effects from the wounds he suffered in 1918.  In particular, his legs were permanently damaged and he had severely limited movement in his left arm.  Furthermore, he also struggled with alcoholism in the final years of his life.  In 1930, at age 35, Barker died when he lost control of his biplane during a demonstration flight for the RCAF at Air Station Rockcliffe, near Ottawa.  At the time, he was President and General Manager of Fairchild Aircraft in Montreal.  He was survived by his wife, Jean Kilbourn, and daughter, Jean Antoinette.

When Barker had returned to Canada back in May 1919, he was the most decorated Canadian of the First World War.  During his years of service, Barker managed to receive the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Military Cross and two Bars, two Italian Silver Medals for Military Valour, and the French Croix de guerre.  Moreover, with a remarkable 12 awards for valour in total, he’s described on a plaque in his tomb at the mausoleum of Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery as "the most decorated war hero in the history of Canada, the British Empire, and the Commonwealth of Nations."

My husband and I visited Barker’s memorial last year to pay homage to the Canadian hero.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, only a dozen people were in attendance.  However, if that gets you down, you should know that Barker’s funeral in 1930 was much different.  Then, on the Saturday after his accident, more than 50,000 people lined the route of his funeral cortege and his service was attended by an honour guard of 2,000 Canadian soldiers.  Included in the attendees were the Chief of the General Staff and his senior officers, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Mayor of Toronto, three federal government cabinet ministers, six other Victoria Cross recipients, and even an honour guard provided by the United States Army.  Combined, the total attendees at Barker’s funeral made it the largest national state event in Toronto's history.

I am honoured to have been able to share William George Barker’s story with you today.

- Johanne Levesque

October 08, 2021

“The faces of men who are being tried beyond human endurance…”

An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque 

I go for a leisurely walk to deliver my letter.  I see furniture on the side of the road covered with an orange plastic tarp.  I wonder if it is moving day for these people or eviction day.  I make sure not to walk under a ladder.  There is enough bad luck going around these days.

I stop for a moment and lean on a telegraph pole to remove my rounded toe shoe with wide thick heels.  I rub my aching foot as a fine looking police officer rides past me on his beautiful horse.  Eugene says he cannot justify spending the seven cent street car fare just to post a letter.

As I resume my walk I can see the lavish Toronto skyline, the domed building of the Royal York Hotel, the tall skyscraper that is the Bank of Commerce Building, and the tower clock of City Hall.  Their grandeur is such a contrast with the flood of hopelessness I witness as a horde of down and out men in hats and long overcoats of sombre colours such as maroon, black, brown, and navy stand at the Yonge Street Mission food line that stretches around the street corner.  I observe the men’s hats; they distinguish between those who used to have and those who had not.  Hats won’t matter anymore.  What protection from the bitter cold will a fedora afford this winter?

I read the menu on the board for today: Rice pudding, soup, tea, and bread.  This is an unfortunate time.  I see the appalling conditions of starvation and physical anguish prevailing in the faces of the men who are being tried beyond human endurance.

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

September 10, 2021

“I am distracted with thoughts of a visitor who is coming for Sunday dinner…”

An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque

During communion, I walk to the front, and I am distracted with thoughts of a visitor who is coming for Sunday dinner.

The priest says, “The body of Christ,” his hand suspended at eye level, immobile.

I can see he is waiting for me.

“Have you received before?” he asks.


“Your response is ‘Amen,’” he adds.

I blush and say, “Amen.”

Many Sundays, Warren Burrell, Eugene’s business partner, visits for dinner.  He is always impeccably dressed with charming manners, and he is a thoroughly delightful gentleman.  In all my thirty-five years, I have never found any man even remotely as attractive.  I catch myself looking at Warren’s fiery red hair and admiring his looks several times when he visits.  I have a secret crush on him.  I often wonder why this thirty-year-old bachelor has not yet found a wife.  He would be such a great catch.  Owning properties with Eugene is only a past-time for him.  He made his fortune on the wholesale of tea.  He has clients all over the world, in Ceylon, India and the Dutch East Indies.

In the evening, we sit down to eat turkey with roasted potatoes, Eugene’s favourite meal.  We hold hands while I say, “Bless us Lord for these gifts we are about to receive.  We thank you for the food on our table.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.”  I have trouble concentrating on the prayer as I feel Warren’s hand in mine.

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

August 13, 2021

“No response, except for a grunt.”

  An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque

The sequence of events is pretty predictable on Sunday mornings.  The floor creaks upstairs.  That should be Evelyn; she’s always the first child to get up.  I will know when Alvin is up by the sound of a violin.  The smell of food always wakes up Melvin; he is always hungry that boy.  Pretty soon Gloria will wake up and join me in the kitchen.

Evelyn comes down the stairs in her blue flannel pyjamas as if in a race.  I spread marmalade on her toast to occupy her during the dreaded chore of hair-brushing.  I pick my skinny girl up, place her on my lap and hug her.  It is a stolen hug as Evelyn never wants to be hugged.  I start to brush Evelyn’s unruly red hair and smile as I look up at the crooked multi-coloured glazed clay ashtray that Alvin made in his kindergarten class for his dad’s birthday.  It was so misshapen that I couldn’t tell what it was when he first brought it home.  I have asked many times for Eugene to make use of the gift for Alvin’s sake, but Eugene says it couldn’t hold the ashes on a calm windless day.  Beside the ashtray stands the statue of the Virgin Mary.  Above the mantel, a crucifix is the centrepiece surrounded with family portraits.  Some are yellowed like the picture of my mother and father on their wedding day.  Some are more recent like the picture of Evelyn beside the Bishop on the day of her confirmation.  Evelyn, my freckled face girl, is flailing and screaming in protest on my knee acting like she is being tortured while I comb her waist long hair.  I hate it when she whines and complains.

“Evelyn, do you want me to cut your hair?”  I ask her.

“No Mother, please don’t!”

“Then sit still and let me finish combing it.”

“Yes, Mother,” she says as she sucks her thumb.

When I’m done, I put Evelyn down, pat her on the head and tell her to get ready for church.  She starts to whine because I messed up her hair.  She can see I don’t have the patience for it this early in the morning.  She zooms upstairs.  Most likely she will come down with a mismatched outfit, but I won’t say anything; Evelyn is so contrary that I pick only the important battles.

Alvin is dressed impeccably and does not have to be prompted to get ready early, as he is proud of his duty as an altar boy.  There is a knock at the door and Alvin picks up his toast and runs off with Peter, the boy next door.

Gloria and Melvin are already wearing their Sunday best.  While they eat, I shoot upstairs to wake Eugene.  I shake his shoulder gently.  He slaps my hand away.  “How many times do I have to tell you not to wake me up, woman?”

“Time to go to church,” I say as I quietly get dressed and join the children downstairs.

Eugene is last to arrive.  “Good morning, Dad,” the children say in unison.

No response, except for a grunt.

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

July 09, 2021

“We all sit down at the card table...”

 An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque

Friday, December 12th, 1930 (Bridge day)

I love Fridays.  Today happens to be an unseasonably mild day in December and I take advantage of it.  I hang the rugs over the clothesline to beat the dust out of them.  Friday is the day that I tidy up the house.  I rush to do so before 10 a.m. as it’s also the day I host the bridge game.  It’s an easy day for me as I never cook dinner; I always get fish and chips from a local restaurant.

            I place a dark blue linen cloth on the kitchen table.  For a centrepiece, I choose a flat mirror plateau holding green grapes and tawny pears.

            Wilma is the first guest to arrive.  She has short, deeply set wavy red hair worn to the chin and a fair complexion spotted with freckles.  I hug Wilma’s diminutive body then I take her coat and the tiny sandwiches she has brought.  We sit on the edge of the sofa sipping tea.

            “You haven’t cleared your sidewalk.  Lawrence says that the city will charge you two cents per food front if it’s not cleared,” she says as she twirls her hair like a little girl.  She talks like a little girl too.  Everything she says is regurgitated from what her husband told her.  Sometimes I would like to shake her and ask her what she really thinks, but I fear she would have nothing to say…

            “I know, but Eugene has been so busy lately.  To tell you the truth I’m glad.  If the city charges us, it gives work to the unemployed.  I think it’s a great idea.  Eugene doesn’t agree of course, but it’s up to him.”

            Phyllis is the next one to arrive.  Her dress is slim, simple and elegant, the hemline well below the knee.  She looks and acts like a pillar of virtue.  I personally find her quite boring.  Her long hair is wrapped in a bun at the base of her neck, which accentuates her impeccable posture.  She has brought chocolate cake.

            Wilma looks at her watch, then looks at me with those beautiful, penetrating green eyes of hers.  “Eleanor always arrives late.  It’s very insensitive of her,” she says as she twirls her hair.

            It is uncharacteristic of Wilma to complain.  She is usually so very calm and composed, but some things bother her and tardiness is one of them.  In fact, Eleanor has many faults that Wilma cannot tolerate—especially her lack of tact and her poor choice of language, but she is willing to overlook each one of them when they play bridge because Eleanor is her partner and she always outwits the opposing team.

            After we drink a second cup of tea, Eleanor finally arrives wearing an azure blue silk velvet turban with a rhinestone pin in the front and a matching blue dress.  Her eyebrows are plucked to a fine line and drawn in with a pencil.  She’s the only woman in the group who colours her hair.  She always looks immaculately groomed and elegant.  She’s also the only woman in the group with no children.

            She is a woman of leisure who has travelled the world over.  Her calendar is full of hair appointments, manicures, massages and lunches.  Gerald is a very successful lawyer, and she came into the marriage with a hefty inheritance.

            Her face is flushed, “Sorry I’m late, ladies.  Gerald is such a dimwit, he forgot today’s Friday and I had to call him to come pick me up.”  She gives me a bottle of sherry.  “For you, my dear,” she says as she kisses the air by my cheeks, so as not to mess up her makeup.

            She never brings homemade goodies.  She told Gerald when she married him, “If you think you have wed a cook, you are quite wrong.  Our wedding, my dear, only means more business for the delicatessen.”

            I thank her as I hang up her coat.  We all sit down at the card table…

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

June 12, 2021

“I sympathize with this woman, whose meagre life is little but hardship.”

An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque


            Walking home from the grocer, I am ever so careful not to step on any cracks.  I pass a store front with a sign on the window saying, “For rent for any kind of business.”  A ragged blind man sits on the Yonge Street sidewalk playing an old accordion.  I reach into my purse and drop my last nickel into his cup.

            I walk by my poorest fellow citizens sleeping on park benches, denied work and a place to sleep.  They will be facing another cruel winter without employment and without the prospect of it.  What will become of them?  The other day Eugene told me that twenty-four men were arrested for sleeping in C.P.R. passenger coaches behind the old Union Station on charges of trespassing and vagrancy.  He said, “It serves them right, the lazy bastards.  Why don’t they pull themselves by their own bootstraps and get a job!”

            What a disgrace that human beings are reduced to this condition in a city full of empty churches, parish halls and Sunday school buildings.  Why even cattle have a roof over their heads.  I find it hard to sleep comfortably in my bed, knowing of the unfortunate plight of these men sleeping in the open, on the cold earth covered with newspapers.

            I walk home and wonder who will be the deserving one today.  I soon spot her, sitting on the sidewalk, her shoulders bowed too soon with worry, hugging her two children, the young woman with the dishevelled brown hair, deep brown circles under her eyes and a gaunt pale face.  She has the typical exhausted face of a homeless woman of twenty-five, who looks forty, but her expression is the most desolate and hopeless I have seen so far.

            I know her!  She is the one who came by for stew the other day.  The poor lady’s husband committed suicide last year, and she can no longer afford the rent for the apartment in Eugene’s building.  I can’t believe Eugene evicted her.  I squat in front of the children.  The blue lipped girls shiver in their mismatched scarves and hats and threadbare jackets with missing buttons.  The dear little kiddies have shoes but no socks.  Two pale faces peer over their mother’s shoulder with an attitude of wide-eyed appeal.  I can’t help thinking that their plight was brought on by my husband.

            I smile at the children and say hello to them.

            They hug their mother tighter.  The woman looks up at me with desperation in her eyes as I pull a loaf of bread out of my bag and offer it to her.

            “God bless you.  You are a beautiful human being!” says the mother as she quickly breaks a piece for each of her children.

            Eugene would be horrified if he knew my secret little hobby.

            A loaf of bread is only nine cents; he’ll never miss it.

            I walk on feeling guilty.  I sympathize with this woman, whose meagre life is little but hardship.

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

May 07, 2021

"Why did I choose to marry a man who has so little time for me?"

An excerpt from “Trouble and Strife,” by Johanne Levesque

Tuesday, October 21st, 1930

After my morning ritual of getting the children ready for school, I watch them leave from the living room window.  Every day I notice more and more children poorly shod and thinly clad, wan faced and ill-nourished, right here in Rosedale.

            What a pity.

            I take the handle off the iron and rest it on the kitchen stove to heat.  While it heats, I prepare a pot of stew and then return to my ironing.  I spray water lightly on Eugene’s shirt.  I take my time ironing each shirt because Eugene likes them just so.  If they do not look the way he wants them, I have to do them over again.

            The house is so empty now that the children have returned to school.  Ever since Alvin is no longer home with me, I feel lost like I’ve just been fired from a job.  I had a sense of purpose before, now all I do is wait for them to come back home.  I fill my days with laundry, sewing and tidying.  Somehow this is not the life I imagined when I married Eugene.

            By the time we married, he was already independently wealthy and I thought my life would be filled with trips around the world and exciting galas.  I thought he would be such a great companion.

            I started to date Eugene when I was sixteen.  He was employed by my father at the time, pumping gas at my parent’s general store.  Even then he was thrifty and worked long hours and I spent more time with other boys than I did with him.  If I knew then what I know now, who knows where I would be.  If I knew that I would spend the rest of my life alone with children, waiting for a grumpy husband that never stops working, I might have paid better attention to the boys who playfully flirted with me.  I don’t remember the last time Eugene smiled at me.  I feel so lonely here in this house.  I wish I had a life companion who couldn’t wait to spend time with me, who enjoyed my company.  Not a money producing machine.  His money means nothing to me, and it makes me careless.  Why did I choose to marry a man who has so little time for me?

If you liked this excerpt from Trouble and Strife, you can buy the book at any of the following links:

Austin Macauley Publishers™ (my publisher)
Barnes & Noble

April 09, 2021

My Experience With the Rotary Club Of Alliston Tsunami Relief Committee

On December 26, 2004, I was glued to the television as I watched videos of the Indian Ocean tsunami.  I was horrified by the enormous amounts of water that sent shockwaves in all directions; to me, it was like watching the region get hit by an atomic bomb.

The 9.1 magnitude earthquake was the largest in 40 years, so everyone was taken by surprise.  The tsunami arrived with such force as to kill more than 230,000 people across 14 different countries and do billions of dollars in damage.  If you didn’t already know, it was one of the deadliest disasters ever recorded.

While watching what was happening, I cried for all of the people who were affected and thought of what I could do to help.  As a member of the Rotary Club of Alliston at the time, some members and I decided to start a Tsunami Relief Project to help rebuild some of the destruction.  We chose a village called Ban Tatchachai, located in Phuket, Thailand, to focus our efforts on.

After more time than we would have liked, on Saturday, May 13, 2006, we were finally able to host a Thai Gala Dinner in order to fundraise for the village.  It was hosted at the Nottawasaga Inn Resort in Alliston, Ontario.  As part of the event, we ate Thai food and saw traditional Thai dancing, Thai boxing, fruit carving, and umbrella painting.  What was especially exciting was having the Thai Ambassador to Canada attend as our speaker.  In the end, the event was a hit and our audience was very generous to the cause.

Soon after the event, I received the following thank-you note from the Tsunami Relief Committee for my involvement:

“On behalf of the Rotary Club of Alliston Tsunami Relief Committee, I wish to thank you for your dedication and invaluable contributions to our committee. Your quiet encouragement and support made the dinner a great success. We persevered and got the dinner to spring into reality.”

Altogether, we managed to raise enough money from the event to build an elementary school.  This multi-purpose building also included a library, was used for occupational training for the residents so they would have the same opportunities as people living in the city, and served as a meeting place for the villagers.  In preparation for the event, I had learned that in Thailand, a school is just like a Buddhist temple—it’s an important center of the population’s lives.

Later in 2006, another gala was held, this time raising $14,000 that would contribute to providing clean drinking water for 1,500 people.  And in 2010, I was invited to the Gibson Center in Alliston, Ontario, for a reception to show appreciation for all of those who had contributed to Thailand’s magnificent road to recovery.  It was great to be a part of the Rotary Club of Alliston’s vision to do things to help the less fortunate and to be recognized for my efforts, but the best part was that we were successful at making a difference.

When was a time you made a difference in a community (locally, nationally, or internationally)?  Let me know on Facebook or in the comment section below!

- Johanne Levesque

March 12, 2021

Facing My Fear of Heights: Rappelling Down a Tower


When I was 40, I was a Life Insurance Salesperson and a member of the Alliston Chamber of Commerce.  That year, the Chamber organized an event for the members that took place in Base Borden, Ontario, and included activities like riding in Army tanks and shooting rifles at the target range.  But, as a former Infantry Soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve, all of this was old news to me.  Instead, the most exhilarating activity that I participated in was getting to rappel down a tower.

I’ll tell you right now: I’m absolutely terrified of heights.  I’m not sure how tall the tower was, but it certainly wasn’t small.  That and I happened to choose the tallest one of the options I was given.  Nonetheless, fear had never stopped me from accomplishing a goal, and I wanted to start off my 40th year with a bang.

The activity began with the soldiers showing us how to strap ourselves in safely.  As I was trying my best to pay attention, the terror slowly built up inside me, bit by bit.  I was sure that an anxiety attack would come at any moment.

The soldiers gave us the choice of hooking ourselves in or having one of them do it for us.  Out of an abundance of caution, and rightfully so, I opted to get help.  As the soldier explained what he was doing, all I could think of were the worst-case scenarios.

I held my breath as I put on the gloves that he gave me.  It gave me a lump in my throat and I coughed nervously to try to make it go away.  I also had a horrible pain in the pit of my stomach.  As I thought of death and dismemberment, the alarm bells of my fight or flight system were screaming for me to run.  But, I had to keep it together.  I had to face my fear.

After I leaned back and slowly started to go down the tower, the anxiety started to subside.  Every foot felt smoother and smoother, and I began to build confidence.  As I got nearer to the ground, I could honestly say that I was having fun!  I could do it; no, I was doing it!

As soon as my feet hit the ground, I had decided that I wanted to do it again, but this time, I would rappel down the second tallest tower.  During the attempt, I made a point not to get too carried away and took my time to avoid any chance of injury.

Finally, after my second success, I decided that I would further challenge myself and face the tallest tower once again.  Now, having gained some experience, I faced this challenge full of confidence.  In fact, I was so confident that I made my way to the bottom much faster.

With my feet safely on the ground and three rappels under my belt, I could honestly say to myself that I had not only faced my fear of heights, but completely conquered it.  I thought: If I can rappel down a tower, I can do anything!  It gave me a real confidence boost that is hard to describe.  You could say it was a sort of fear busting skill that I had acquired.  And not only that, but the confidence remained with me for the following years.  The experience was truly empowering.

Was there a time when you faced one of your biggest fears?  What did you do and how did it go?  Let me know on Facebook or in the comment section below!

- Johanne Levesque

February 12, 2021

From Unimportant to Integral: Lessons in Leadership From Dragon Boat Racing


After transferring from Montreal to Toronto when I was working as a Team Lead for one of the major Canadian banks, I decided to join the company’s dragon boat racing team.  If you’re not familiar with dragon boat racing, it’s a human powered watercraft activity that originates from China and can accommodate people from all walks of life, regardless of one’s fitness level, age, or size.  Anyway, my plan was to join the team to get to know some people around the office and have some fun in the process.  However, I quickly found out that the dragon boat team I would be on took their competitions very seriously.

January 09, 2021

First Tanzania Trip Journal: 2011

I met Shamila in 2009 when we worked together at the bank of Montreal.  While training her, we got to know each other very well.  I learned that she was born in Tanzania and that her aunt runs an orphanage there in Tanga.

After learning about the orphanage, my husband (Rory) and I started by sending clothes for the kids.  Then, in 2010, we sent money for school tuition and did this as often as we could.

In 2011, we decided that for Rory’s 50th birthday, we would go to meet the orphans.  Before our trip, we held a big birthday party at a local pub and raised $1,700 for the orphans’ school-related needs.  Then, that December, we were on our way.

It was the trip of a lifetime.

Day One: December 25, 2011

We arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s financial and political hub which translates to “abode of peace” in English, at 4:00 AM with no one there to greet us.  We found a taxi and gave the driver the address of our final destination: Shamila’s mother’s house.  As we rode along, we quickly discovered that the driver had absolutely no idea where he was going as he stopped several times to ask for directions—directions from men who were often sleeping in cardboard boxes on sidewalks.