15 September 2019

BIFHSGO History: 2002 Conference

As I wasn't able to be at Susan Davis's presentation 25 Years of Storytelling at Saturday's BIFHSGO meeting I don't know whether she mentioned what is possibly the most quirky event in BIFHSGO history which happened at the 2002 conference. Many may not remember or have been involved in the Society at the time. Here's the way it was reported in The Citizen of 22 September 2002.

First, the writers tried to steal some of the genealogists’ cheese slices. Then, the genealogists grabbed handfuls of the writers’ Timbits. The war is not over.
The unusual food fight is taking place this weekend at 395 Wellington St.
That is the home of the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada and considerable confusion.
The 6th annual Ottawa International Writers Festival had booked meeting room space this weekend with the National Library. The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa had booked meeting room space this weekend with the National Archives.
The problem is the library and archives share the same meeting room spaces. And as every neophyte physics student knows, two bodies can not occupy the same space at the same time. The genealogists and the writers are, however, trying. But with mixed success.
The only near casualty came Friday evening when, according to witnesses, a 10-year-old girl attending the writers festival reached for a genealogical cheese slice. Someone the writers nicknamed “the catering Nazi” was reported to have almost slapped the child. But cooler heads prevailed.
A sort of uneasy truce has been called between the two groups as they both try to salvage their respective gatherings from disaster. Arrangements were made so some competing events of each group would be held in hallways and foyers as well as the official meeting rooms.
That meant that yesterday afternoon, for example, a writers festival discussion on gay marriage in the foyer of the auditorium was invaded by scores of genealogists moving into the auditorium. Most of the invading genealogists tried to be quiet as they tiptoed toward the auditorium, making detours to hit the Timbits. But some were extremely noisy.
“Holy (expletive deleted)!” Sean Wilson, the writers festival’s artistic director, exclaimed at one point when a group of elderly British descendants, with extremely healthy vocal chords, stood on the sidelines interrupting the gay marriage discussion.
Mr. Wilson stood up, grimaced and made a beeline for the British descendants. They retreated down a hallway.
Mr. Wilson used such adjectives as “disruptive,” “disheartening” and “frustrating” to explain his festival’s dilemma.
His language was stronger than that used by a panel of high-profile international writers yesterday afternoon, discussing everything from the bombing of “Palestine” to China’s persecution of Falun Gong. Egyptian writer Mohammed Salmawy criticized the bombing. Chinese writer Jiang Zilong defended the persecution on the grounds Falun Gong practitioners have become “too political.”
Some of the history society people interviewed said they were coping well with the double booking, but unanimously added, with just a hint of venom: “We booked this place a year ago.”
The writers festival booked several months ago and, Mr. Wilson said, checked three times since then with the archives to ensure the space was not double booked. Festival organizers were worried about such an eventuality because it happened to them last April, when author Rohinton Mistry was scheduled to give a reading at the National Library and the National Archives booked the same space for the same time. Mr. Mistry and hundreds of fans were forced into the foyer. Mr. Mistry was not pleased.
Actually, anyone who is a regular attendee at library-archives events knows this is a problem that has existed for several years. It’s always blamed on a computer glitch. Apparently, no one at 395 Wellington has figured out all you need to avoid confusion is a calendar and a pen. When someone calls to book, you write down the name on the calendar. End of confusion, as long as there is only one calendar.
The writers festival was given the space from the National Library for free, so organizers can’t demand a refund. All previous writers festivals were held at the National Arts Centre without this kind of glitch. The National Library was expected to become the new festival home for many years. That, Mr. Wilson says, is now in doubt.
The confusion at 395 Wellington should be over by tomorrow. The British descendants wrap up their gathering today. The writers continue until next Saturday.

Two riled BIFHSGO members wrote to the Citizen about the article.

Food-fight article ignored compromise and common sense
Re: Food fight erupts as two festivals collide, Sept. 22.
The article by Paul Gessell was an opportunity missed. In line with the Law of Parsimony — report only what is supported by the facts — the following are the facts:
1. Neither the Ottawa International Writers Festival (OIWF) nor the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO), nor the National Archives of Canada (NAC) was informed of the double-booked spaces by the National Library until two weeks before the events.
2. I was informed by a number of members who are writers and were planning to attend both events.
3. When informed, BÎFHSGO was told there was no problem except for one room (154) — we were asked by the NAC to use room 129 — a compromise that we accepted.
4. When we set up our exhibitors’ space in the auditorium foyer (as we have done for the past three years), we found out from the organizers of OIWF that it had events planned for that space and the auditorium.
5. Neil Wilson, director of the OIWF and his organizing staff, Gabrielle Blais, the NAC director-general of client services and her staff, myself and the BIFHSGO conference planning group worked out a number of practical options, supported by Ian Wilson, the national archivist.
6.     These compromises, by both OIWF and BIFHSGO. with the support of NAC staff and the
commissionaires on duty, resulted in few complaints by attendees of both events, except for a few small incidents when members of both groups were unaware of the compromise arrangements.
And what did Mr. Gessell focus on? An attention-getting headline in, if you will pardon the pun, poor taste. What an opportunity missed. Instead of the negative journalism, he could have emphasized the common sense, co-operation and compromise which both organizations practised when a difficult situation was thrust upon them. At no point was I approached for my reaction as the “other offended party.” And I was on site all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I would also note that the Citizen, along with other media, is going to have to search for better descriptions of those over the age of 65 than “elderly British descendants” — an offensive adjective for an active, growing part of the community.
Gerry Glavin, Ottawa, Co-ordinator, BIFHSGO conference 2002

Negative focus
As a member of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, I attended our annual fall conference where we shared space with the Ottawa International Writers Association. Hundreds of writers and genealogists behaved with grace and co-operation in the difficult situation of being required to share space and relocate events at short notice, through no fault of their own. The National Archives and National Library staff did everything possible to remedy the booking error and accommodate everyone’s needs.
The writers’ association invited the genealogists to attend its events at the price designated for its own members, and our society was very happy to sign up a new member from the writers’ group. Good humour and goodwill predominated through the stress of the space sharing. That was the important news, and it was completely ignored in your reporter’s negative and mean-spirited article which focused on a greatly exaggerated and isolated incident.
Ruth Kirk, Ottawa

Google the Citizen journalist's name and you'll find that Paul Gessell "For the last three decades while based in the Ottawa area, he has focused on the collision of art and politics."


Anonymous said...

Thank you, John, for starting my day off with giggles and chuckles. Having lived through similar experiences in my working life, I know that it is only with hindsight that the humour emerges, and while Mr. Gessell's piece may have been about collision, a vivid imagination could visualize both the conflict and the cooperation this incident engendered.

Anonymous said...

Thanks John. This was a HOOT! Cheers, BT