Truth and Reconciliation Bicycle Tour

Yesterday was Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and their impact on the indigenous peoples. I decided to join a couple of formal events and then ride out to a site in Pointe Gatineau I had read about. It seemed especially appropriate to do everything by bike today, to leave a light footprint on the land.

My tour started at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, where we did a short walk to the graves of four people connected to residential schools. Then I rode downtown for another walking tour of sites mostly connected to Dr. Bryce, the man who first reported on the conditions at residential schools over a century ago. Both tours were led by young indigenous people, mostly Anishnabe (Algonquin) from Kitiganzibi and Pikwanigan.

An indigenous man holding an eagle feather leads a tour, surrounded by people wearing orange shirts. Orange shirts recall a girl whose orange shirt was taken from her on the first day of residential school and never returned, so they are a symbol of forced assimilation.

This was the first time I had heard about an indigenous burial ground downstream from the waterfalls in the Ottawa River, very near the Canadian Museum of History. So, across the river I went. I couldn’t identify the spot, but I did find a plaque about the history of the Anishnaabe who have lived and traded in the Ottawa area for thousands of years, plus a statue of Chief Tessouat, who was party to the first major alliance between Europeans and the First Nations, 400 years ago.

A metal statue of an indigenous man in traditional clothing, with the Ottawa River in the background.

I continued along the Voyageurs Trail, a 30 km route, towards Pointe Gatineau. There were more plaques with bits of history, and I stopped to read them all. I am a bit of a plaque nerd.

The next spot of interest was near a bridge I had never noticed before. Called Mawandoseg (land where our people once gathered), there is also a statue in the form of a stone point, to recall the artifacts found here that show the site had been used for millennia.

The back of a statue in the form of a stone spear or arrow point.

My next stop was in Pointe Gatineau, at Place Abinan (the people were here), a little park near the water. When excavated, this area had proven use dating back 7,000 years, with people traveling or trading widely. From just a few metres away, it was possible to see the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers, waterways that made this such an important site for trade.

In the foreground is the Gatineau River as it joins the Ottawa River. On the far side, in the centre, you can just make out the Rideau Falls, where the Rideau empties into the Ottawa.

Looking across the river, I remembered the Chief Pimisi portage route around the falls, so that’s where I cycled to next. I rode through Rockcliffe Park but decided not to tackle walking down to the water, since there was no place to lock my bike. I did get a selfie looking back towards Pointe Gatineau.

Me in a turquoise and white sweater and bicycle helmet, with an orange shirt pin. In the background are trees just beginning to turn yellow and orange. place Abinan is barely visible in the far distance near my left ear.

Finally, it was time to head home. It ended up being my longest ride in years, somewhere between 27 and 28 km. Since I wasn’t wearing proper riding gear, I was grateful for all the breaks along the way. But even in proper gear, I think this was a good way for me to do a longer ride. It allowed me to combine my love of history and social justice issues with a fitness activity.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.


Oh, hockey. Why are you so bad at this?

As someone asked on Twitter, “Is this really the best that you can do to try to make the sport attractive to girls?”

Image description: A young white girl with blonde hair wearing a bright pink hockey jersey is apply pink lip gloss.
Look good. Feel good. Play good.

Some responses:

Others said:

There’s so much to celebrate for girls and women’s hockey. This doesn’t help.

Wowwwwww. How about a pic of her playing hockey? Way to continue to push a stigma around appearances.

Are you suuuuuuure that’s the way you want to grow the game?

What do you think?

covid19 · family

Mourning the Optimism of March and Staying Active with Kids in May (Guest Post)

by Jennifer Szende

Today, I am mourning the optimism of March 11. The last ‘normal’ thing I did before the pandemic shattered so many parts of our home life was to sign my kids up for summer camps. In a moment of inspiration, I also signed my 5.5 year old up for a ‘learn to ride a bike’ course. I was focused on the future. On planning. On aspirations. I look wistfully back at that day, and I miss the part of me that was able to plan so coherently. Any future orientation is difficult at the moment. 

On March 12, school closures were announced for our jurisdiction. The day after that, parks and recreation programs were shut down. The day after that, most private and indoor recreation spaces chose to shut down (the climbing gyms, the trampoline park, the pools). A couple of days after that, even the playgrounds and most outdoor recreation spaces were covered in caution tape. 

Our family is very active, and also very activity oriented. My kids are 3 and 5 1/2, and in ‘the before times’ we went to the climbing gym as a family every week. Our kids were always in swimming classes. The kids had yoga at school, and physical education every few days. We have the kids in skating classes and circus camp, and our kids are fearless at every playground play structure within a 3km radius of our house. The kids had unstructured outdoor time more than once per day.

Any one of those options feels unfathomable right now. 

The first phase of the pandemic shut down hit us hard. Many of our activities were in spaces that could not be modified to accommodate physical distancing. The kids had a number of birthday parties cancelled, their climbing classes were cancelled, their daycare was closed, and many of their friends disappeared from the neighbourhood. Some friends left the city to help with physical distancing from their front line worker parents, and most others retreated to backyards and indoors. 

Our initial coping mechanism was to head out on long walks and bike rides. Big parks, long trails, and stay away from the main roads. As more and more businesses succeeded in shutting down or moving online, the trails and sidewalks became too crowded. We now tend to prefer alley ways, because they are wide enough to accommodate physical distancing. 5.5 and her dad initially headed out on a 5km bike circuit with her training wheels still on her bike. They did this most days for a week, while the 3 year old and I would head out with a balance bike and a jogging stroller, and would combo bike/walk and push until everyone had received their requisite vitamin D. 

Within 2 weeks, we started to work on removing the training wheels for 5.5. My partner removed both pedals AND training wheels, and turned the bike into a balance bike. After about 3 days, we put the pedals back on the bike. We pushed the bike up to the school yard (by this point, there was caution tape on all of the playground equipment, and plastic bags covering the basketball nets, but the open concrete space remained open). My partner turned his back on 5.5 while he put his jacket down on the school steps, and he turned around to see the kid pedalling past him. She had figured it out without the requisite parent running along behind the bike, and no one could suppress a smile. 

So much for the ‘learn to ride a bike’ course.

All things considered, we are doing great. We get to spend time with the kids when they would normally be cared for by other people. We get to witness the firsts, and be part of the excitement. They are growing up in tangible and exciting ways. My 3 year old is much more confident on a balance bike and scooter, and my 5.5 year old is working on tricks with her bike. The kids have learned to play together. They are working on throwing balls and chasing butterflies. They are excited to look for weeds in the garden. They re-draw the chalk obstacle course in the driveway after every rainfall. They climb fences, and chase bubbles as is appropriate to their age. Yesterday, they got absolutely soaked through jumping in puddles in the rain – and proclaimed it “The best day ever”. We try to get out every day, and encourage dancing along with any and every viewing of Frozen II. 

Thanks to a recent New York Times article, I now know that the recommendation for kids ages 3 to 5 is 3 hours per day of physical activity. That is a lot, for an age group who sleeps about 12 hours and eats about 6 times per day. I suspect that we make it occasionally, but I doubt that we hit the target more than 3 times per week. But for now, we are doing just fine.

Yesterday, on May 15, the city announced the official cancellation of all summer camps. I am still mourning the optimism of March 11. The future filled with Nature Camp and Learning to Ride a Bike and sending my 3 year old to swimming lessons without a parent in the pool. We are doing okay in this new world where we are forced to live in the moment. I barely look at the forecast these days, because what would be the point? I’m not looking forward to the future, and I am okay with focusing on today. But I play over March 11 in my mind on a regular basis, and grieve the future that was but will not be.

A child, but not Jenny’s child, riding a bike up a grass hill.
Photo from Unsplash.

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto. 


Run and read and repeat

I recently posted a story on our Facebook page about a school that had kids running a short distance each day. I had mixed feelings but readers of our Facebook page weren’t fans. I reminded them that I was sharing things of interest, not necessarily things we’d all agree about, and also that it’s unlikely we’d all agree about everything anyway. The blog and our Facebook page promote “big tent” feminism. Yes, play nicely but we don’t all need to agree about all things fitness and feminism related.

I blogged about the controversy.

I put it behind me until the other morning when I was attending a university community outreach breakfast. At 7 am, because it’s the sort of things deans do, I found myself eating croissants and fruit salad and drinking coffee with local politicians and school board leaders.

Here’s three deans in polka dots:

There was a panel discussion of the university’s impact on the local community and one of the speakers thanked our students for work they do in the schools. She talked about program that I’d never heard about before, a running and reading club.

You can read about it here

The Running & Reading Club Program takes place directly within local schools, and runs for two hours one day per week from October to June. The program culminates in the Start2Finish 5K Running & Reading Challenge and an awards ceremony recognizing each child’s achievement at the end of the school year.

What I like best about the run and read program is the combination. When I was in elementary school my identity was ‘bookworm.’ The local bookmobile librarians brought books especially for me. They joked about running out of books.

There was a running club but it never occurred to me that it was for me. I was an academic overachiever. I loved school. I loved books. I might have also loved running but in my day you were either sporty or you were smart. I was definitely committed to the latter. And I missed out.

By the time I got to high school there were high achieving school athletes. But by then another divide had emerged. The kids who did school sports and who excelled academically were wealthy. They didn’t work. I was thrilled to have a secure part time job. It didn’t even occur to me that if I didn’t I might be able to fit school sports or the running club in.

Anyway, I’m inclined to like the idea of run and read.

What do you think? Were you a smartie person, a sporty person, or both?


Our kids are failing at fitness: Why? (Sam has some ideas)

The news seems to be the same each year, another bad grade for Canadian children and fitness. See “Canada’s kids receive a D+ for overall physical activity levels. Find out how we can improve the grade in the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card at”

What’s the issue? Over the years we’ve been thinking and writing about this we’ve had some ideas and suggestions. Here’s six of them:

First, we should think in terms of everyday movement, not exercise.

Second, we shouldn’t police gender and kids sports.

Third, we should stop protecting children and allow them to take risks.

Fourth, we shouldn’t assume that because kids do sports that they get enough activity in their lives.

Fifth, we should let girls do active things like ride bikes.

Six, we should think about physical activity broadly, not just running, but also playing outside.

A silhouette of children playing. Photo by Rene Bernal on Unsplash


Running, walking, or just plain playing

On our Facebook page, sharing doesn’t equal endorsement. In fact, some of the liveliest discussions have been about areas of disagreement. I say, when asked, that I post items of interest to people who approach fitness from a feminist perspective. But it’s “big tent” feminism. We don’t agree about everything.

I usually browse through a number of news sites in the morning looking for things of interest to those who follow our page. The blog is Tracy and me but the Facebook page is pretty much (with occasional posts from Catherine, Cate, Nat, and Tracy) just me. Tracy is Twitter and I’m Facebook.

Mostly I love our Facebook page but sometimes I can’t take the criticism over the selection of items I post. It’s as in people thought it were a fulltime job curating our Facebook page rather than something I cram in between showering and breakfast!

It was in the spirit of “interesting idea but I’m not sure what I think of it?” that I shared this story about a Scottish school that gets kids out to run a mile each day.

Many of our page followers objected to framing this in terms of the “war on childhood obesity.” Agreed. I hate that kind of talk too.

Others hated that it was about running. Aren’t there other kinds of exercise? Agreed. Of course.

Finally, some people thought it shouldn’t even be about exercise at all. What happened to childhood play? Can’t kids have both?

I’ve written about this before on other blogs. See Let’s stop talking about childhood exercise over the Impact Ethics blog.

I know at my kids’ school pretty much all games that involved running around were ruled out for fears of contact and violence. No tag, no football or rugby, and in some schools no gymnastic moves. See No cartwheels for you! Just soccer remained. People who research children’s physical inactivity sometimes call this the “protection paradox.” We want to keep children safe so we make them sit down and stay still but that behavior has its own serious long term health risks. We’re not really protecting them at all.

When young my kids often exercised indoors at their desks. My son’s teacher had them dancing at least to fun songs like “New York, New York” as their QDPA (he told me). What’s QDPA, you ask. Quality Daily Physical Activity. Now, I’m not knocking dancing or show tunes. He wasn’t either. But it seemed odd to that we even needed the category of QPDA.

The next year my son’s new teacher introduced daily running for QDPA and he sent home notes saying he was shocked to discover that only a few of the kids could run 2 km. Most of them walked. But I am not sure what we expect if we keep children inside and then force them to run as a deliberate exercise rather than as part of play or a game.

Apologies to Facebook page readers who thought I was endorsing joyless daily running as part of the war on childhood obesity. That’s not my style.

family · fitness

Let’s stop talking about children and exercise (reblog from Impact Ethics)

I wrote a piece for Impact Ethics on the dangers of focusing just on sports for kids and neglecting everyday exercise (walking and biking to school, for example). I agree with all the commentators who recommend that children be left alone to play unsupervised (kids are more physically active when playing without adult supervision) but I wanted to focus on active lifestyles as well.

family · fitness

The quantified life: Children’s fitness trackers and the spectre of parental surveillance

In a world in which you can buy a device for your preschooler to wear that tracks their every movement and allows you to listen to all of their conversations, it’s no surprise that personal sports gadget manufacturers have developed versions of the FitBit, and other FitBit like things, for kids. Of course they have. You could see this one coming a mile away.

See this story on wearable tech for kids.

On the one hand, I can see children really enjoying making a game of physical activity and movement. And that’s great. We all think children should move more and have fun doing it.

On the other hand, I’m a philosopher and one who thinks about childhood and its value, children’s rights, child well being, and family justice. With that hat on, I see shades of Foucault, discipline and punishment and Bentham’s panopticon. I wonder and worry about tracking devices in the hands of controlling parents.

I’m not worried about the alienation of children from free play. I’m not worried about the gamification, as they say, of play for kids. They’re kids. Everything is already a game.

But I am worried about this technology in the hands of parents. It’s the spectre of FitBit as surveillance tool. Not enough steps today? No dessert for you. Or walk your way to television hours. Time to use computers and watch TV must be earned in physical activity. Some experts on child inactivity think that parental over policing of childhood play is part of the problem. Outdoor play, in particular, is seen as dangerous and risky.

And those are the reasonable parents. In this time of heightened fear about the obesity crisis it’s hard to be a reasonable parent. Almost every parent I know is worried about their kids getting fat. Children are on the  front lines of the war against obesity. As we realize how hard is to change adult body weight, the focus of policy makers shifts to the young. The thought is that if we can stop obesity either before it develops or in its early stages, we can avoid the health problems associated with overweight and obesity.

Parental anxiety about the pediatric weigh in looms large. I’ve written about the fear of having fat pets. Worse again if they are your kids, rather than your Bassett hounds, for example.. You’re a bad mother or father, though more likely the former. Dads rarely get blamed.

Consider that a number of families have been split up over obesity and you can see where the fear comes from. In Canada, the United States, and England (other places too probably) obese children have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

Here’s one woman’s account of having strangers comment on her right to parent based on the size of her child.

“If you let her keep getting fatter, they are going to take her away from you.” Stunned, I turned to the woman who said this to me. I struggled to find words to respond as she pushed past me, out of the restaurant, and into a waiting car. Having just finished a late meal after our children’s choir concert, I did not expect to find myself explaining to my daughter what this woman had meant when she suggested that my daughter could be “taken away” from me because she is fat (though not remarkably so) and perhaps more to the woman’s point, because I am remarkably fat.”


So another tool for parents to monitor and control their kids movements, in this context, makes a lot of sense. Parents can tell the judge they were doing something. “Look, I bought a FitBit for my chubby child.”

It might not just be the parents. Schools might also get involved given that they’ve been issuing BMI report cards. In a Staten Island schools Gwendolyn Williams, 4’1 and 66 pounds found out she was overweight by peeling back the sticker on top of the BMI number. See This kid is fat.

The spectre of FitBitted teens also put me in mind of Corey Doctorow’s young adult novels. Haven’t read Little Brother? Download it from here. I loved the scene where the young teens fool their school’s security biosensors by putting rocks in their shoes so they’d walk differently. Imagine teen hackers having fun with their FitBits. Yes, of course, I ran a marathon today mom, now hand over that pizza and the Xbox.

There are a slew of reasons to be in favour of children moving more. Mental health and emotional well-being, to be sure, but even improved body composition, regardless of weight. See Fit Kids Have Better Body-Fat Distribution, Study Finds.

So to be clear, I’m not opposed to FitBits for kids. Kids love computers, games, and measuring things. And that’s great. But parents and teachers, let’s leave the kids alone and let them play. I suspect it will all work out better that way.

See this Business Insider story on turning exercise into video games.