“A brutally honest story”


From the Standard Freeholder


CORNWALL — Fierce, courageous and embarrassing were all terms used by Kathy Dobson to describe her mother, who was set forth as a model for others during an International Women’s Day event on the weekend.

Dobson’s mother works tirelessly against a distant husband, at times apathetic neighbours and a city that turned its back on one community.

Dobson tells her mother’s story, and her own, in her book “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.”

The book chronicles Dobson’s childhood growing up in Point St. Charles, a suburb of Montreal.

Dobson, a former writer with the Standard-Freeholder, shared her story and excerpts from her book at the Canadian Labour Congress’ International Women’s Day breakfast on Saturday.

Her speech was an “insight into how poverty limits people, but how people can be empowered, especially through a strong woman,” said Elaine MacDonald, president of the Cornwall and District Labour Council.

Dobson’s book is brutally honest in its language and imagery, portraying memories of her childhood told in her childhood voice.

Dobson said she used this voice so “I could show the reader up close …as raw as it was then.”

With scenes of “feminists” and “hippies” brainwashing her mother into protesting dangerous roads in the community, or into standing up against domestic abuse, the scenes are raw with emotion.

“I was either going to tell the truth, the whole truth, or I was not going to tell anything at all,” said Dobson.

While Dobson’s story emphasized that it is possible to break that cycle of poverty with a strong family, mentors, and an emphasis on education, she said not everyone is lucky enough to do so.

“I hope people don’t judge people who don’t,” she said. For herself, the power, voice, encouragement and hope of one woman was the key to escaping the cycle.

“A driven mother, that’s the key,” said Dobson.

“She spoke most clearly to the economic challenges women face,” said MacDonald. “We have to step out at least one day each year to see where we are.”

MacDonald said politically, women have made significant strides, with females at the helm in three provinces and one territory.

But with only 9 of 39 municipal seats occupied by women, MacDonald suggested more local women should take a stand. She even offered to mentor local women to be leaders in the community

She also said with cuts expected to public service jobs and programs, she worries women will feel the brunt economically.

“What we have to do is take charge of our lives,” she said. “We have a lot to contribute politically, economically and socially.”

International Women’s Day is March 8.

“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.