Trevor Herriot, Towards a Prairie Atonement

Writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot says settlers have much to learn from First Peoples about living in harmony with the land and with one another.
Trevor Herriot speaks in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending.

In April,  I was invited by the Canadian Council of Churches to interview the well-known writer, naturalist and activist Trevor Herriot. Members of the CCC’s Commission on Justice and Peace were meeting in Ottawa and asked Trevor to address them during an all-day meeting. They believe, correctly, that Trevor has much to say about living sustainably and with justice in our environment. Continue reading Trevor Herriot, Towards a Prairie Atonement

Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life

Released by:

Kingsley Publishers (October 2011)

A provocative expose of the competition between religious progressives and conservatives for power and influence in Canadian politics. Gruending follows this contest between from Parliament Hill to the church basements, synagogues, temples and  universities of the nation and abroad.

Available from the author: dennis.gruending

Tel: 613-730-6902

Readers™ Comments:

Dennis Gruending brings both insight and hands-on experience to that fraught crossroads where faith and politics intersect, helping to trace not only the rise of a Canadian religious right but also the first stirrings of a reawakened religious left.“ Marci McDonald, journalist and author of The Armageddon Factor

“well informed observations on the role of faith in politics, and the politics of faith, an insightful guide to the current political landscape.” Rev. Bill Blaikie, former MP.

“focused like a laser on the analytical heart of today’s burning issues.“ Joe Gunn, executive director, Citizens for Public Justice.


Over the past few years I have been struck by the growing competition between religious progressives and conservatives for power and influence in Canadian politics. This is an historic rivalry and one that will become even more pronounced now that Stephen Harper has won a majority government in 2011, partly through the efforts of religious conservatives. Their political agenda is anchored in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, publicly funded childcare, a dislike of many social programs, and a general suspicion of government. Since its inception in 2006, the Harper government has courted conservative evangelicals, along with some Catholic and Jewish voters, to join a political coalition that would change Canada into a leaner and meaner state, albeit it one with more prisons and a larger military.

I will look closely at their political ideology and tactics in these pages, but that is only half the story. I will also report on efforts by religious progressives who are struggling to have their voices heard on issues of equality, justice, human rights, and peace. This is an effort that plays out on Parliament Hill, as well in church basements, synagogues and temples. It is not merely a topic of casual interest; the consequences for our future are potentially dramatic. Religious faith informs political decisions about the division of wealth in our society, education and race relations, immigration, respect for democracy, foreign policy, and environmental issues, to name just a few.

The following pages also examine religiously inspired ideas and events elsewhere that are having an impact in Canada. We cherish our reputation as a peaceable kingdom, but we are not immune to religious fundamentalism, even extremism. The bombing of Air-India Flight 182 bound from Toronto to New Delhi in 1985 killed 331 people, making it the most widely felt terrorist attack in Canadian history. It was planned and executed by Sikh religious extremists living in Canada. There are no tranquil islands in an increasingly globalized world of ubiquitous jet travel, round-the-clock news feeds, and secured Internet chat rooms.

There is a fine body of research and writing in the United States and elsewhere about the importance of understanding the motivation and tactics of religious groups involved in public life. Far less attention has been devoted to the topic in Canada. I am determined that Pulpit and Politics will help to fill this gap.


Truth to Power: The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk

Kingsley Publishing (2010)

This book, introduced and edited by Dennis Gruending, presents the best from twenty years of provocative journalism by Father Andrew Britz, a Benedictine monk at St. Peter’s Abbey in the hinterland of rural Saskatchewan, far from the centres of ecclesiastical and political influence. Britz was editor of the Prairie Messenger, a prophetic Catholic weekly news journal that has been published by the monks since 1904. He was fearless in speaking truth to the powerful in church and society — to popes and prime ministers, capitalists and clerics. The book confronts honestly and with clarity the issues that confront us: The papacy, the bishops, laypeople, women in the church, social justice, economic development, the environment, abortion, birth control, ecumenism, fundamentalism, Christmas, Easter, the mass, Vatican II.

Available from The Prairie Messenger or from the author at 613-730-6902

Reviewer Comments

How refreshing it is to discover this collection of editorials skillfully assembled by the journalist and biographer Dennis Gruending with accompanying essays/reflections by a Benedictine writer (Joan Chittister), a social activist (Mary Jo Leddy) and a sociologist (John Thompson). It all makes for an engaging review of the trends, challenges, crises and personalities of the last two decades as they pertain to the Catholic sensibility – social justice teaching, medical ethics, spirituality and theology. —  Michael W. Higgins, Telegraph-Journal newspaper, New Brunswick

Excerpt from Dennis Gruending’s Introduction

Andrew appeared as comfortable talking about church councils in AD 400 as he was about contemporary debates on euthanasia or American farm subsidies. His earlier studies in theology and philosophy, as well as in liturgy and church history, gave him an impressive breadth and depth. One former associate says, This was a continuation of his life as a teacher, except in this position he was teaching the faithful. In fact, this book will be a useful reader or textbook for students in university, seminary, or even high school.

Andrew was driven by the idea that the post-council church must be at the service of the world, particularly those whom he called the “little people– the poor, the oppressed, the defenceless — indeed, all the marginalized. A former colleague says that Andrew “was unafraid to confront the church’s flaws but was enthusiastic in celebrating its richness and diversity. He had his detractors, particularly among those who believed that in challenging the church and the hierarchy he was being disloyal.

Andrew writes in one of his editorials about the “hate mail” he received, mainly from those who believed he was not taking a strong enough stand against abortion. He responded by adopting from Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago the image of a seamless garment, in which all questions of respect for life are woven into one mental and spiritual fabric. According to this ethic, any abuse of the defenceless is unacceptable in war, prisons, hospitals, workplaces, and, as Andrew believes, in the womb. He was stung by the direct attacks on him and of those made against him to the bishops, to Rome, and often to his abbot, but the abbots held firm in their support.

Emmett Hall: Establishment Radical

Fitzhenry & Whiteside (2005)

A revised and updated version of Dennis’ 1985 biography of Emmett Hall, a Supreme Court Justice and father of medicare. Introduction by the Honourable Roy Romanow.

Toll-free order: 1-800-387-9776 Toll-free fax: 1-800-260-9777. Email orders:

Reviewer Comments

Dennis Gruending’s book compellingly documents Emmett Hall’s failings and strengths, and above all his lasting accomplishments for our society.“ – The Honourable Roy J. Romanow.

“… a fascinating story about a father of medicare and a libertarian judge who insisted that the law must be an instrument of justice and not simply a bulwark of the status quo.” – The Canadian Bar Review.



A number of crucial factors have gone into making Canada the nation that it is today: the Rockies, the St. Lawrence River — and Emmett Hall.– Journalist Walter Stewart, 1985

It was a truly remarkable career and as the late journalist Walter Stewart has so aptly described, [Emmett Hall] became the rock on which much of modern Canada has been built. It is almost 50 years since he was appointed to the bench, but his judgments and his royal commissions have a strong contemporary resonance.

It was his royal commission in the 1960s that recommended publicly financed health care for Canada, and he is justly hailed as a father of medicare. Canadians remain firmly attached to their health care system and see embedded in it the values of caring and compassion — as Roy Romanow, another health care commissioner discovered in 2001-02.

Original Edition (1985)

Hall stood alone against eight fellow Supreme Court judges in 1967, when he insisted that young Steven Truscott had not received a fair murder trial and should be awarded a new one. Truscott served his time, and after living quietly and anonymously for many years, he has emerged to demand exoneration. . .

It was Hall’s powerful dissenting Supreme Court judgment in the 1973 Nisga’a case that set the stage for all future negotiations on aboriginal land claims. He insisted that aboriginal people had title to land in Canada by dint of occupying it since time immemorial, and that Canadian governments must negotiate with them for its use. Hall’s minority judgment didn’t carry the court but his view soon came to prevail, and was ultimately responsible for the Nisga’a treaty in the year 2000 and a growing number of land and self-government agreements between the Canadian and First Nations governments.

Emmett Hall accomplished more after the age of retirement than most people do in a lifetime. He was a man of intense ambition who relished public recognition, but one who used his position and power for the public good rather than private gains. This book describes how a poor boy from Saskatchewan made it to law school, graduated with John Diefenbaker, and became a skilled lawyer, then a formidable judge and royal commissioner. The story contained here goes well beyond the public record, searching for motivation and clues to the character of a man whose long service has had a profound impact on Canada.

Great Canadian Speeches

Fitzhenry & Whiteside (2004)

A thought-provoking collection of the finest speeches in Canadian history. The great orators are all here, from Joseph Howe in 1835 to Stephen Lewis in 2002. Dennis provides historical context, but also probes the content and technique to find out what makes these speeches great. A Canadian best seller.

Available in bookstores, or toll-free order: 1-800-387-9776 Toll-free fax: 1-800-260-9777. Email

Reviewer Comments

The book is really a history of Canada as seen from the podium.” Ottawa Citizen

“for anyone with an interest in Canada’s heritage, [this book] is a delight to dip into and

savour.” – Quill & Quire


Speech by Agnes Macphail, 1925

I want for myself what I want for other women, absolute equality

Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons, and she took her seat early in 1922. She was quick, blunt, and at times sharply humourous, and almost always spoke without using prepared notes. She was best known for her commitment to full equality for women. Here she speaks in the House in a 1925 debate to modify the conditions for divorce, which until that time had been tilted entirely toward husbands.

It is a fact that all women contribute more to marriage than men; for the most part they have to change their place of living, their method of work, a great many women today changing their occupation entirely on marriage; and they must even change their name. They then work continuously for many years until death happily releases them, and that without wages at all. They work without pay. No one can claim that a married woman is economically independent, for she is not; apart from some very rare exceptions, married women are dependent economically, and that is the last possible remaining bond on women. Women have struggled for ages now, and today they are ably championed in our country by the honourable member for West Calgary (Mr. Shaw) and his friends who in this House are demanding further rights for them.

When I hear men talk about woman being the angel of the home I always, mentally at least, shrug my shoulders in doubt. I do not want to be the angel of any home; I want for myself what I want for other women — absolute equality. After that is secured, then men and women can take turns at being angels. I stress that angel part, because I remember that last year an honourable member who spoke from the opposite benches called a woman an angel and in the next breath said that men were superior. They must therefore be gods . . .

The Middle of Nowhere: Rediscovering Saskatchewan

Fifth House (1996)

A collection of non-fiction writing about Saskatchewan, from the fur trade to the 1990s. Includes vivid recollections by aboriginal people, excerpts from fur trade diaries, accounts of mounties, explorers, and settlers, as well as stories of protest politics, booze, dust, the Depression, war and the environment.

Toll-free order: 1-800-387-9776 Toll-free fax: 1-800-260-9777. Email orders:

Reviewer Comments

“a splendid collection of non-fiction pieces on Saskatchewan.“ The Toronto Globe and Mail.


The Last Buffalo Hunter

These descriptions of buffalo hunts were told to Mary Weekes by Norbert Welsh when he was eighty-six years old and blind. Welsh, a Metis, had been a buffalo hunter and a trader on the plains and in the valleys of the Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers since the 1860s.

I could see buffalo all over. There were thousands and thousands of them travelling in the direction in which I had seen the bull. There was not one herd, but many. Our Chief decided that we would have breakfast before we did anything. He went from tent to tent and gathered up all the food. We had a good breakfast, and by ten o’clock were ready to chase the buffalo.

Two or three men took a herd. That afternoon twenty-five men shot three hundred buffalo. Buffalo never came very dose to camp. They would smell us, bunch together, and move away. They seldom came nearer than two or three miles.

The next day we went after the buffalo again and killed four hundred. All around us, as far as we could see, the plains were black with buffalo. The prairie seemed to be moving.

There was one thing that I did not like about that hunt. I saw hundreds of buffalo, during that week, slaughtered for their hides. The whole carcass was left to rot on the plains. One time I saw three fine fat buffalo cows lying dead, side-by-side. I jumped off my horse, cut out their tongues, tied them to my saddle, and took them home. Buffalo tongue was very choice.

There were many bands of hunters on the plains beside ours. In all my years of buffalo hunting, I never destroyed buffalo for their pelts alone. I always took the whole carcass, except the head, home.

My wife had once said that since we were going to make a living hunting buffalo, she did not want me to kill more than we could dry and pack. She told me that if I brought in an extra hide without the carcass, she would not dress it. One day my brother-in-law and I were travelling on the prairie, and we sighted a little herd of buffalo. I let fly and killed a cow. We skinned it, and took a little of the fattest part of the animal. When we reached our tent, I threw the hide and saddle down. My wife smiled, and lightly kicked the hide away. She meant what she said. I gave the hide to my mother-in-law . . .

We camped there for a week. We had a hundred people in our brigade, and they were all loaded the carts followed the hunters. It took us four days to get home. All around us the buffalo travelled. When we got back to Round Plain [near Dundurn], we found the buffalo there too. We had a good time that winter. Plenty of buffalo.

Promises to Keep

Western Producer Prairie Books (1990)

A political biography describing how Allan Blakeney defeated the Liberal government of Ross Thatcher in Saskatchewan, and how as premier Blakeney stunned the continent by taking over half the province’s potash industry; how he broke with many in his own party over the issue of uranium development; and how he fought Pierre Trudeau in the constitutional wars of the early 1980s.

Out of print. Available from the author. Tel: 613-730-6902

Reviewer Comments

Gruending’s book is more than just Allan Blakeney’s story. It’s also the story of well over a decade of Saskatchewan history. The two are inseparable.“ Saskatoon Star Phoenix



When Allan Blakeney swept to power in June 1971 he had promises to keep-about 140 of them. They had been printed months before in a slim blue-on-white booklet called New Deal for People. Someone in a Prince Albert constituency office had wanted a promotional matchbook with the letters “NDP” on the cover. It seemed clever. Provincial office picked it up, and it became the campaign slogan . . .

As premier, he was immediately in his preferred element – building, fine tuning, and running a government, dealing brilliantly with a broad spectrum of issues and a constantly shifting mass of detail. He performed those tasks with a range and discipline which was quite remarkable, but which, in the best Saskatchewan tradition, he was careful not to flaunt. Asked by a reporter how he would like to be remembered, he said, “People can say about us, ‘They run a pretty good shop’.” He was the ultimate civil servant.

The people side of politics did not come easily to Blakeney. He had to work at it. He showed great determination in applying himself to the task. Early on he attempted to downplay the inevitable comparisons between himself and Tommy Douglas. He liked to tell reporters that, although he was premier, he was really only a “retreaded” civil servant. In that description he was being honest, if typically understated . . .

Blakeney gained a national reputation as a pan-Canadian statesman who cared about the integrity of the federation and the aspirations of Quebec, and at the same time demanding a new deal for the West and the Maritimes. During the constitutional negotiations, he remained the point of contact between anti-Trudeau hardliners like Lougheed and Lyon, and the pro-federal forces led by Bill Davis. He was supple, always ready to negotiate, to make a deal. Trudeau was wary of him; he thought Blakeney was indecisive at best, disingenuous at worst. There was respect between them, but also bad blood. Their contact brought out the pride and competitiveness in each.

In the early 1980s, as interest rates soared and recession loomed, the immediate benefits of Blakeney’s state capitalism were not always apparent. He and his senior ministers were looking over their shoulders at the emerging Conservatives, aware that society was changing but not knowing quite what to do about it. In 1982 the Tory deluge came. Blakeney was not only defeated, but routed, by Grant Devine, whose government spent the following years pursuing their New Right agenda-a shredding of government services and the wholesale sell-off of Crown Corporations . . .

Blakeney observes the fracas from a distance. He stepped down as leader in 1987. He has made a gracious transition from public figure to private citizen. He appears comfortable, and at peace with himself. But his life is by no means over, and, as this book will indicate, he has missed no detail in recent political debates.

Gringo: Poems and Journals

Fron Latin America – Coteau (1982)

In the late 1970s Dennis Gruending traveled alone for nine months in Latin America. Gringo is a journey of discovery, told with the reporter’s careful eye for detail and a poet’s feeling for the nuances of the heart.

Out of print. Available from the author
at 613-730-6902

Reviewer Comments

Gruending’s language is vivid but restrained. The poems are accessible and powerful; the journal entries are self-mocking and informed by an eye for irony.“ Vancouver Province.


Introductory Diary Entry

For years Latin America had beckoned. A teacher from my boarding school went to Brazil as a missionary, and I recall how we clustered around his car, a hundred boys tense with excitement as he left. Later he sent me letters saying that South America might become the next Viet Nam.

While modern colonizers levelled Amazon forests and leaned from airplanes to shoot Indians, I went to university in a prairie city and later made the obligatory trip to Europe. I returned, graduated, took a job, fell in love, took a better job, bought a house. Seldom did I think about the love and torture being committed in the south.

My mother and father began to die. I was filled with grief and became a stranger to everyone I knew. Then suddenly it was over. My parents dead. A near marriage of five years lost. An empty house. A stumbling man being helped by friends he had neglected. I felt compelled to break with the past; to do something dramatic; to place myself at risk.

I had begun to write poetry. I began to read it again: Unborn Things, Patrick Lane’s book about Latin America; Earle Birney’s poems about the “sunflowering women” of Tehuantepec; Eli Mandel’s description of Intihuana, the “hitching post of the sun,” where the Incas tried to stop the sun in its solstice so it would not leave them in darkness.

I found Neruda in translation, his treasurehouse of detail and imagination about Chile and all of Latin America. I became acquainted with Chileans who arrived in Canada after the coup that killed Allende and destroyed the country. I felt close to them in a politically instinctive way, but knew little in detail about the continent which Eduardo Galeano calls the “region of open veins.”

I gave notice at work and packed my bags.


You Send Feathers

You send feathers from Canada
tell me
to ride dreams like white-backed gulls
listen to what birds say
read the flowers.

I see high stone walls
topped with hedges of blue bougainvillaea
and chunks of broken glass in concrete
to protect the parrot
complaining in his cage.

My nights are bruised
by the din of dogs fighting over cans
in dark alleys where stones
break the ground like teeth.
There are boys in heavy black boots
who ride the backs of trucks
and point guns at the sky.

I dream blue mountains leaning over us
morning streets, hands patting the corn flour
children snug in rebozos, women braiding hair
and men carrying machetes to a harvest of flowers.