Local museum curator panelist in book debate

Pam Hawley, curator of the Fort Frances Museum, is sharpening her argumentative skills for the end of March, when she will be a panelist in CBC Radio’s third-annual “Northwestern Ontario Reads” debate.
Hawley will be one of five people to participate in the regional debate, which is slated for Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m. (EST) at the Waverley Resource Library in Thunder Bay.
She also is the only participant who resides outside of Thunder Bay.
The debate is held to help promote Canadian literature, challenging each panelist to not only argue the merits of their favourite book, but also to make some tough final calls on which of the five books will win the debate.
The four other panelists (and their books) include Esteban Figueroa, who nominated “No Great Mischief” by Alistair McLeod, Melanie Goodchild-Southwind, who nominated “Chee Chee: A study of aboriginal suicide” by Al Evans, David Peerla, who chose “Water Inc.” by Varda Burstyn, and Pat Lang, who chose “Die Laughing” by Don S. Cochrane.
Hawley’s favourite book, “Walk to New York” by Charles Wilkins, reminded her of “home.”
“I wanted to pick a book that was written by someone from Northwestern Ontario and a book that also was representative of Northwestern Ontario,” she noted last week.
Wilkins lives in Thunder Bay and his book, “Walk to New York: A Journey Out of the Wilds of Canada,” is about his walk from Thunder Bay to New York City in 2002.
Prior to the debate, each panelist must read the books chosen by their counterparts. Hawley is well on her way.
“I have perused most of the books, and I think I’m on book three—but I still think mine is the best,” she chuckled.
“I’ve got little stickies and pages marked in my book where I thought, ‘Oh, this is good,’” she added. “I’ll have to go back over all the books, though, because [the debate is] still a month-and-a-half away.”
Heather McLeod, co-host of “Voyage North” on CBC Radio One out of Thunder Bay, spearheaded “Northwestern Ontario Reads” and chose the panelists.
She also will moderate the debate, which is held in front of a live audience.
“I wanted ‘good talks’—people who can get into the spirit of things, and Pam Hawley was my first choice. She is a great chat,” McLeod said from her office at CBC Thunder Bay last week.
“Once I got her, then I needed [panelists] with different perspectives,” she added.
McLeod certainly got her wish.
Chilean-born Figueroa is a mining engineer in Northern Ontario and an accomplished musician with “Flamenco Caravan.”
Goodchild-Southwind is the co-ordinator for Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Decade for Youth and Development, and works in suicide prevention. David Peerla, also with NAN, is its director for mining exploration and resources.
In his younger days, Peerla was an environmental activist with Greenpeace.
“I also wanted to have someone with perhaps a higher profile. That’s why I chose Pat Lang,” noted McLeod, referring to the president of Confederation College in Thunder Bay.
“We have a pretty broad mix of books, from a light and sunny memoir to a book that deals with the aboriginal suicide rate,” McLeod added.
“This debate is important because in Northwestern Ontario, I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for our perspective,” McLeod argued, noting the book debate also raises awareness to societal and environmental issues important to the region.
After participating in the “Northwestern Ontario Reads” debate, Hawley plans to donate her copies of the five books to the Fort Frances Library.
Segments of the debate will air on CBC Radio One from Thunder Bay in the afternoon of Saturday, March 25.