Multicultural Stories

In the last 100 years, much has happened to Canada and to Canadians.
For each of us the story is different.


In 1994, Glass Co. Inc. produced Our Stories, a series of thirteen half-hour biographies featuring Canadians from a variety of experiences and heritages. The series was televised on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's public broadcaster, to critical acclaim. The series is now available in whole or in part for both broadcast and non-broadcast purposes.

We invite you to learn more about the series and to meet the people profiled:

  • Johnny Johns - a member of the Tlingit First Nation in the Yukon;
  • Tsuneko (Koko) Kokubo - a third generation Canadian stranded in Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbour;
  • Connie Matthews - a gracious reminder of a class structure now vanished;
  • Delmore W. (Buddy) Daye - Canada's first black Sergeant-at-Arms in the Nova Scotia Legislature;
  • Mike Nolan - Newfoundland's one-of-a-kind conservationist, known as 'the caribou man';
  • Jeanne Maranda - a feminist rebelling against the mores of the 1940's;
  • Donatien Gaudet - a passionate Acadian and former priest, politician and teacher;
  • Simma Holt - an accomplished journalist and crusader on behalf of the underdog;
  • Nellie Pawlik - a woman determined to pass on the legacy of her Ukrainian heritage;
  • Lila Fahlman - a various times, a dress-maker, a teacher, a political activist and a mother but always a Muslim;
  • Jim Hong - a man willing to do anything for his home town of Cluny, Alberta;
  • Doug Thompson - spent his life working the Saskatchewan land his father first laid claim to in 1905; and
  • Elio and Jackie Rosati - active members of Toronto's Italian community for over 44 years.

1997 © Glass Co. Inc.

Photo of Johnny Johns

His Story
Johnny Johns was born somewhere in the Yukon bush during the Klondike Goldrush at the end of the nineteenth century. He lived in two societies - the Tlinglit Indian to which he belonged and the White which often surrounded him.

In 1902, Johnny and his two younger sisters went to a Mission School near Carcross, Yukon, as ordered by the Canadian government. After one year, Johnny's sister had died, and many of his classmates were malnourished or had tuberculosis. So Johnny's father took them out of school and Johnny went back to hunting, trapping and fishing.

At 13 he had the responsibility of caring for his family and, at 19 he was running his own business. Johnny grew up to be one of the world's most successful hunting guides and outfitters. The tourists took home the trophies, and the meat fed Johnny's extended families.

In 1942, he was hired to lead thousands of American soldiers in building the Alaska Highway. He knew the land and picked the path to lay the road, conveniently winding by his favourite fishing places.

Johnny passed away in 1988.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: July 5, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Koko Kokubo
Koko Kokubo
Her Story
Koko Kokubo's grandfather immigrated to Canada in 1896. Her father was born in British Columbia as was Koko.

Having been taken on holiday to Japan by her grandparents just before the Pearl Harbour was bombed in 1941, four year-old Koko became stranded there during World War II. Back in Canada, her parents and younger sister, all Canadian citizens, were stripped of their rights and possessions, and interned in separate prison camps. Koko and her parents would remain on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean until after the war.

Koko was 15 before returning to Vancouver, and had to re-learn English as she tried to adapt to newly strange Canadian ways. She went to art school and married a non-Japanese man, both against her parents wishes.

Now an artist and theatre performer, Koko still feels that she is to some extent suspended between cultures.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: September 13, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Connie Matthews
Connie Matthews
Her Story
Imagine how you would feel if you inherited a Lake Simcoe estate and its seventeen servants on your wedding day. Chances are, you'd probably love it. That's how young Constance Greenings Matthews felt when she moved in at the age of 28.

Connie was born in 1895 in Hamilton, Ontario. Shortly after her father, a tea merchant, moved the family to Toronto, Connie's mother died. Ethel, Connie's older sister by 18 years, who was wife of the Commander of the Romanian Navy and lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Romania, took her to Europe at the age of fourteen. At the age of 16 she fell in love with Florence, Italy, and started a lifelong passion for art.

Widowed at 44, with three children and an estate to run, Connie still continued to travel. Her passions would remain art and gardening.

The thoroughly likable and eminently gracious Connie Matthews, the quintessential English Canadian of inherited means, chronicles a class structure and style of living found only in our past.

Video ClipConnie talks about "coming out". View it in Real Player 5.0 or Quicktime (20s, 500k).

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: Newsworld. September 27, 1994 on CBC Television

Photos of Buddy Daye
Buddy Daye
His Story
Buddy Daye was the first Black Sergeant-at-Arms in Canada when he joined the Nova Scotia Provincial Legislature. He was also a former Canadian Junior Lightweight Boxing Champion (1964-66) and co-founder of Nova Scotia's Black United Front.

Away at sea at the age of fourteen, a seasoned merchant marine by nineteen and a young boxer at twenty-three in a world where blacks just didn't win the big titles, Buddy made a name for himself as a boxer and used that reputation to fight for equal rights.

For years, Buddy worked in Halifax's North End fighting against the impact of poverty, racism and for better housing, more jobs and some community centres for the kids. He joined the fight to save the community of Africville, but had to watch it destroyed by an unyielding Halifax City Council.

Buddy believed in the ongoing need for Black Canadians to fight for recognition, and respect.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: June 21, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Mike Nolan
Mike Nolan
His Story
Mike Nolan is one of those Newfoundlanders you rarely hear about - a man with a passion for the land not the sea.

Mike was born in the St. Mary's Bay community of Mussel Pond, now called O'Donnells, 34 years before Newfoundland became a part of Canada. In the summer, people fished for their food. In the winter Mike's family would hunt for furs or birds, or work in the lumber yard. Mike was 12 when he began fishing full-time.

At 20, Mike started trapping part-time and doing some carpentry work when it came his way. When World War II came along, Mike's brothers went to war.

In 1957, the caribou herd on the Avalon Peninsula (the southern tip of Newfoundland) was down to 60 animals. Mike was enlisted by the Provincial Wildlife Department to do what he could to save the herd.

He worked as a one man team, travelling alone for as long as three weeks at a time. To deter the poachers who would surely kill off the caribou, he left supplies and notes in cabins for imaginary fellow officers, and often talked to people in the settlements about his "colleagues'" activities.

As the caribou herd grew, Mike was soon joined by real fellow officers and helicopters. Mike and his team fought hard to get an 850 square kilometer area in the middle of the Avalon declared a reserve. Enforcing it meant burning and cutting down a few cabins that owners wouldn't remove themselves. No littering either.

His accomplishments are unknown to most Canadians, but are heralded as the single-handed most successful conservation effort in North America.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: September 20, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Jeanne Maranda
Jeanne Maranda
Her Story
Jeanne Maranda's French Canadian ancestors can be traced back 400 years and there is no doubt she inherited their pioneering spirit. A feminist by instinct, Jeanne has worked hard for equal rights and the respectful portrayal of women in the media.

In the 1940's, Jeanne defied her parents wishes that she become a full-time housewife and took up a career in nursing. Born in Windsor, Ontario and raised in Ottawa, she moved to Montreal and did her post-graduate studies in neurosurgery at the Montreal Neurological Institute. After she married, she continued to work as a public health nurse until she became pregnant and was forced to quit. She remained at home with her four children.

When her husband was killed in a car accident at the age of 42, Jeanne re-entered the workforce employed by a variety of television stations and took feminist studies at Concordia University.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: June 28, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Donatien Gaudet
Donatien Gaudet
His Story
Donatien Gaudet, a New Brunswicker of Acadian descent, knew from a young age he wanted to teach. But to become a teacher, he had to become a priest. Donatien was ordained in the Chapel of the former St. Joseph's College in 1948. He would spent thirty years there both as a student and a teacher.

In 1966, the College merged with the University of Moncton, a lay institution. Priests who had been teachers were out. Donatien threw himself wholeheartedly into the promotion of Acadian language and culture. He also left the priesthood and married Nilda, a Filipino, who he met through correspondence.

Passionately attached to his Acadian roots, Gaudet is an ardent advocate of national bilingualism and teaches 'home school' parents, as well as their children, and immigrants, including his wife, to speak French.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: August 9, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Simma Holt
Simma Holt
Her Story
Simma Milner Holt has probably packed more living into her lifetime, than most people pack into three.

Born in Vegreville, Alberta, in 1922, to orthodox Jewish immigrant parents, Simma enjoyed a smalltown childhood largely free of racism or sectarianism. In 1939, Simma headed for the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and started working on the student newspaper. She never looked back.

Starting her newspaper job in an era when women were relegated to the fashion section, she was assigned to the waterfront and skid row. During her 40 years as a newspaper reporter for the Vancouver Sun, and as an author, Simma saved three men from the gallows, and won countless awards for her articles and books.

She became the first female Jewish Member of Parliament in 1974, was the first female vice-chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, and served on the Parole Board.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: August 30, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Nellie Pawlik
Nellie Pawlik
Her Story
Born in rural Saskatchewan, the oldest of seven, Nellie Ortensky and her siblings lived an early life not far removed from that of her forebears. They helped with housework and on the farm; learned to cook; and looked after the younger children. Ukrainian was the language of the household, and old country culture predominated.

At 13, she was sent to attend high school in Camsack, 11 miles away, and went on to study at the Mohyla Institute in Saskatoon. There she met her husband, Andrew Pawlik, rector of the school.

In her adult years, married and living in Winnipeg, she started the local branch of the Ukrainian Women's Association of Canada.

At 81 years of age, Canadian-born Nellie Pawlik still works to preserve the heritage of her Ukrainian ancestors and their experiences in Western Canada. Between caring for her family and her prize-winning garden, Nellie mobilizes hundreds of volunteers for a bi-monthly perogie bake sale that raises funds for the Winnipeg Ukrainian Museum.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: July 26, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Lila Fahlman
Lila Fahlman
Her Story
To Edmonton's Lila Fahlman, education and culture go hand in hand - you need one to learn about, and preserve the other. Although retired now, at various times in her life, Dr. Fahlman has been a dress-maker, teacher, political activist, and mother - but she's always been a Muslim.

Born as Lila Ganam in Limmerick, Saskatchewan, her father was a Lebanese immigrant who travelled across North America peddling wholesale wares until her met Lila's mother, a Methodist from Nebraska. She was sixteen, he was forty-three. Her father said no. They eloped in 1910.

While the family was living in Regina, Lila fell in love with, and met a young entertainer named Al Fahlman, a.k.a. 'Saskatchewan's Roving Cowboy'. She heard him on the radio and got to know him when he came to her father for instruction in the Muslim faith. She was fourteen, he was in his twenties.

With the encouragement of her children and husband, Lila pursued graduate degrees - a master in Educational Administration and Psychology in 1976 and her Ph.D. in 1984. She also ran for public office in a couple of municipal and provincial elections.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: July 12, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Jim Hong
Jim Hong
His Story
Sixty-six year old Jim Hong is a quintessential small town Albertan - laid-back, hard-working - a man who will do anything for the town of Cluny where he has lived the majority of his life. He was elected as mayor in 1970 and has been the fire chief, a school trustee, and a town councillor.

Jim's father, Louie, was recruited to work on the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1908. Like many other Chinese workers at the time, he had to pay a $500 head tax for the privilege of being in Canada. He quit the railroad and, in 1913, set up The Hong General Store in Cluny. People gathered daily to exchange news and have a coffee, and it became an essential part of the Canadian prairie landscape, a monument that stood in Cluny for over 70 years.

But when the TransCanada highway was built, it bypassed Cluny by three miles. The town began to die and finally in 1987, Jim was forced to close the store. It made headlines in Alberta. He has stayed on in Cluny serving as their postmaster.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: August 23, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Doug Thompson
Doug Thompson
His Story
At 81 years of age, with two hip replacements and a touch of angina, Doug Thompson averages two rural meetings a week, puts four hundred hours a year on his tractor, and remains the patriarch for 5,200 acres of farmland in southern Saskatchewan.

One of five boys growing up on the prairie, Doug started farming in 1929, at the age of sixteen, but the 30's were bad years on the Prairies and it was 1940 before he got his first crop. Despite the rough start, Doug and his wife, Pat, managed to start their best crop, their children, on that land and the farm continued to grow. Doug became involved in the community of Vantage until it vanished in 1967.

In 1977, Pat and Doug left their son on the farm and moved to near-by town of Assiniboia. But unable to stray too far from the farm, he turned down an offer to become an MLA.

In April, 1994, Doug received the Order of Canada for his contributions to rural life as a councilor, a reeve, a member of the Hail Insurance Board, and for his volunteer work with the young and old.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: September 6, 1994 on CBC Television

Photo of Elio and Jackie Rosati
Elio and Jackie Rosati
Their Story
Elio Rosati, along with his wife Jackie, has been working behind the scenes in Toronto's Italian community for 44 years. They are intrepid fund raisers, passionate and reliable doers - the kind of people you'd love to have as friends and, most certainly, hosting the next dinner party.

Their parents were part of the first wave of Italian immigrants to arrive in Canada at the turn of the century. Elio's dad arrived in Canada in 1910. One of his first jobs was laying track for Toronto's new streetcar system. It was the beginning of a long career with the Toronto transit system that included working as a conductor and a motorman. It was a steady job during the Depression.

Elio and Jackie grew up in a predominantly WASP Toronto. Italians were stereotyped as gangsters or illiterate labourers. Both of their fathers taught them to ignore that attitude and to focus on their education which they did. Jackie became a nurse and Elio ran a successful construction business.

During World War II, when many Italian Canadians were interned, Elio joined the Canadian Air Force, flying submarine patrol over the Atlantic and fighting the Japanese in Burma. When the war ended, Elio stayed in Europe working for the missing research inquiry service, locating the bodies of missing airmen.

After the war, Elio and Jackie became involved in Toronto's Italian community and, in 1976, helped to open the beautiful Columbus Centre and Villa Columbo - a community centre and seniors residence complex.

Length: 23:44
Original Format: Video
Originally Broadcast: July 19, 1994 on CBC Television