Toughest Neighbourhood in Canada

nfb_logo_canadian_designIn 1978, the National Film Board of Canada made a short documentary about Point St. Charles, a neighbourhood they described as the “toughest in Canada.” Click here to watch the documentary.





SYNOPSIS – from the National Film Board:
This short documentary is a portrait of Point St. Charles, one of Montreal’s notoriously bleak neighbourhoods. Many of the residents are English-speaking and of Irish origin; many of them are also on welfare. Considered to be one of the toughest districts in all of Canada, Point St. Charles is poor in terms of community facilities, but still full of rich contrasts and high spirits – that is, most of the time.



“With a Closed Fist” now required reading!

With a Closed Fist

A high school in Montréal has made Kathy’s book With a Closed Fist, Growing Up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood required reading for its English class!

Kathy looks forward to another trip to Montreal soon to talk about her book with the students. Click here to read more about Kathy’s book.






Visiting Ingleside & Montréal

Kathy is coming to Ingleside and Montréal next week!


Ingleside Library, Ingleside ON.

Ingleside Library
Ingleside Library

Kathy will be at the Ingleside Library from 6:30-8:00 pm, talking about her book, “With A Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood” and other future writing projects.





Dawson College, Montréal

Dawson College
Dawson College

Kathy will be having a round table discussion with students in Dawson College’s Social Service Program.







McGill University, Montréal. 

McGill University (
McGill University (

Kathy will be at McGill’s School of Social Work discussing her book, With a Closed Fist, and the media’s representation of the poor.








Why Does Poverty Carry So Much Shame?

One of the unexpected bonuses of having my book published is that lots of readers have been getting in touch with me. I especially love it when someone not only reaches out to share their reaction to my book, but to also share a bit of their own story.

As a working journalist for the past 20 plus years, I already know that every person, no matter who they are, have their own stories to tell. I’ve met and interviewed a lot of fascinating people over the past 20 years, people with stories more interesting, more tragic, more touching, and much more important than any of my own will ever be.

And I remember them all.

Everyone has a history; everyone has a story. And I’m touched by those who take the time to not only offer me feedback on ‘my’ story: “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood,” but to also share some of the most intimate and private stories from their own childhoods.

Many readers have shared stories of incredible hardships, including early years filled with poverty and for some, growing up with the pain and shame of sexual and physical abuse. Many start off by writing, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” then go on to tell a story about some terrible secret or challenge they were forced to endure as a child, but have kept hidden for years. Sometimes even decades.

Many of these people aren’t even from Point St. Charles, the Montreal neighbourhood I wrote about in my book. Of course, that didn’t surprise me. Poverty isn’t unique to my old neighbourhood. Nor is it unique to that time in Canadian history, back in the late 60s and early 70s. Poverty continues to cripple millions of Canadians- the majority of which are children- across the country today.

It’s easier to believe that where I grew up was some sort of an anomaly. A rare event in our country’s history. It’s also easier to believe that physically and sexually abused women and children only live in those ‘tough’ parts of Canada, those really rough neighbourhoods with high unemployment and welfare rates.

But that’s a lie.

Women and children are sexually and physically abused in all social classes.  And Canadians of both genders and of all ages continue to live in poverty across the country today.  According to a study conducted last year by Angus Reid, one in 11 Canadians live in poverty. That’s three million Canadians.

The rough and tough neighbourhood I grew up in during the 60s and 70s was not the enemy. Poverty is. That, and the common misconception that poverty is somehow a choice.


Does Public Speaking Make Everyone Feel Nervous?

After speaking at the Montreal “Books and Breakfast,” an event I wrote about a few months ago, I thought I had mostly overcome my fear of public speaking.

A large audience, including many from the publishing industry, all gathered in a large ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel had their eyes trained on me for fifteen minutes straight while I babbled incoherently about my recently published book, With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.

Looking back, it was sort of like peeling the Band-Aid off all at once. With a machete. For someone with a fear of public speaking it was a ‘trial by fire crash course’ kind of scenario.

In the end, as I’ve previously wrote about here, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Sure, I didn’t exactly sound off-the-cuff with my crumpled-up cue cards scrunched between my sweaty, shaky palms. But I had been afraid that when I walked up to the podium, I’d forget how to speak, becoming temporarily blind, deaf, and mute.

I admit that, looking back, anticipating it was much worse than actually doing it. (Okay, that’s not actually true. Doing it was much worse than anticipating it. I just say this to make myself feel better.)

After the Books and Breakfast event, I figured I’d be up for anything. I was now a war-hardened, veteran public speaker. Compared to the Books and Breakfast, speaking at the Ingleside Public Library would be like just talking to a small group of close friends. Right?

So naturally, I was a complete nervous wreck.

At the Books and Breakfast, something that was surprisingly comforting was the fact that I felt like I couldn’t see the audience. My field of vision was limited to the three inches between my face and the cue cards. The ballroom where the event was held was so large, and the lights were so bright, it was almost like the audience was lost in a fog. Sort of like that saying about “not seeing the forest because of the trees.”

But in the library, I was going to see each individual person. They weren’t some large anonymous crowd who, if I utterly humiliated myself in front of them, I could cry and run off the stage and drive 500 kilometers away and begin the slow, painful process of blocking the memory out and hoping it never resurfaces.

This was a room filled with people whom I’ve known for years and consider many of them to be pretty close friends. People that I really care about what they think of me. Especially considering how personal and raw and vulnerable the subject matter of my book is.

I’d be speaking to people like Jackie from the post office, who my son Scott, at age four, vowed to marry one day. And Sandy Winchester and Margaret Power, two of my children’s favourite teachers, the kind of teachers who make life long lasting impressions on many of their students.

In the end, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to worry- that it really would be like speaking to a group of my closest friends. And that I think I’ve finally overcome my fear of public speaking.

Yeah. Right.



“Author’s vivid memories of growing up in Montreal slum”

An article about “With a Closed Fist” from Cornwall’s daily newspaper, the Standard Freeholder.


By Cheryl Brink

CORNWALL — Many of Kathy Dobson’s local readers will remember her as a humour columnist, sharing anecdotes about her children’s antics and life in Ingleside. So her first book may come as a surprise.

‘With a Closed Fist’ details Dobson’s childhood in Point St. Charles — a rough slum of Montreal — with an activist mother, five sisters and not much else.

“The language in (the book) is authentic for that neighbourhood, but some people would find it extremely offensive,” she says.

“But I wanted it to be real, I wanted it to be honest, and not romanticize poverty the way a lot of people do. I wanted to show that ugly truth.”

It was a tough beginning for someone known in Cornwall for her cheery stories.

Dobson has freelanced for numerous publications — including this one — over the years, but a book was always on her to-do list.

“My mother was a militantly political activist,” she says from her home in Waterloo. “It was always in the back of my mind that it would be a good story to write about.”

Though she says her situation wasn’t a unique one in that place and that period; most mothers were active for various causes, using their children as props for protests and sit-ins.

“I knew it would be an interesting story to one day tell,” she says.

Dobson began working on the narrative as a documentary several years ago, but her mother died before it was complete.

“She helped to create some incredible changes for a neighbourhood that was being ignored,” she says.

Dobson wasn’t ready to review the tapes with her mother’s voice, so she decided to put the story on paper instead, and it evolved from there.

“It ended up being a memoir,” she says. “It was an incredible thing she was doing, but it’s seeing it through our perspective. We didn’t have the understanding of the bigger picture of what she was fighting for.”

Dobson says she read through dozens of her old journals and did research on various events from the time, ensuring she had her facts and dates straight. The writing process took just six months.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she says. “There was no writer’s block, but it was very emotional.”

But Dobson says the process was worth it, since hearing from readers who now have a changed perspective on poverty, or found comfort in knowing their own shame wasn’t unique.

“They feel a sense of relief to realize this emotion is universal,” she says, adding that many people blame moral failures or poor choices as the reason for poverty.

“If we treat it like it’s simple, we’re not solving the problem.”

Though Dobson says she cringes to think about some former colleagues or friends discovering her past through the pages of her book, she has also been thrilled with glowing reviews and an outpouring of positive feedback.

“So far, it’s been great,” she says, noting she plans to stop in Cornwall next February during a book tour.

“It was hard, but I think it’s important. This book has been my awakening.”

Dobson is already working on a sequel about her life after Point St. Charles, and also has ideas for a series of novels.

“These are two I wanted to get out of my system first. I’m hoping it can help change how people think about poverty.”


Click here to see the article at the Standard Freeholder online.