Barbara Nickel


My sister, Cindy Nickel, a teacher at Queen Alexandra Elementary in Vancouver, has ridden her bike every day to work in all weather for the past thirty-five years.

So it’s not surprising that her class of Grade 3 students wrote excellent poems about caring for the earth. I was honoured to hear the students in-person read and perform them while jumping rope for Earth Day yesterday. It’s lovely to me that what they write about is a way of life for their teacher. Two of her students wrote this one:

Skiing, scootering, skating, skipping,
Biking, bussing, walking, running,
Different ways to get to school,
Help the earth, use your own fuel.

After the presentation, some students took the jump ropes outside to continue at recess.

Back up several hours; in order to visit the school and hear this poem while following its advice, I needed to set out from my home in Yarrow at 4:45 a.m.

I’m grateful to my friend Sylvie Ingram, a teacher at Margaret Stenerson Elementary in Abbotsford, who decided to bike to her school too, and rode with me along the dyke in the dark and rain,

along North Parallel beside the Trans-Canada Highway, then down Abbotsford streets, the sky but not the rain beginning to lighten 23 km later when we parted ways on Old Clayburn Road.

Grateful to find my way 10 km farther to the Mission Bridge, to navigate its on ramp and for this rare 7 a.m. view of the Fraser River unique to pedestrians and cyclists from the biking/walking lane,

grateful to the bridge designers for including this lane as protection from the terrifying traffic a few feet away on the other side, an onslaught at odds with the tranquil view. (A sonnet line came to me and persisted: If all the cars were ordered off the road/what would we do…?)

Grateful to arrive soaking wet and shivering at Mission Station and to the West Coast Express

for carrying me to Vancouver with this view of Burrard Inlet and the Second Narrows Bridge as we neared Waterfront Station.

Grateful for Vancouver’s kindness to cyclists and the miraculous, stress-free, protected bike lanes through Dunsmuir downtown, over the Georgia Viaduct and along the Adanac and Mosaic Bike routes’ quiet blossoming streets all the way to Queen Alexandra.

After an Earth Day assembly and the jump rope poems, I found the area under the Burrard Street Bridge where they must have burned the train cars that would have taken me to Vancouver from Yarrow on the British Columbia Electric Railway before 1955 (see last week’s post). No ghosts, not even a trace of tracks.

Grateful for rest on the train back to Mission Station, for more wonders along the way home, like on tiny Grace Avenue in Matsqui;

and at almost 8 p.m., riding back into town, grateful for this earth, for friends and family near and far who help on the journey, and for my sister who inspires.



Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been selected as a finalist for the 2023/2024 Chocolate Lily Book Award. 

Barbara’s poem “Three-in-One,” originally published in Grain Magazine, has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2024  (Biblioasis) edited by Bardia Sinaee.

Check out Barbara’s 45-minute teaching video on Creating Believable Characters for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ In Class video library.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla was a finalist for the 2022 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been nominated for the 2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Young Readers Choice Award).

The Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards (MYRCA) has nominated Dear Peter, Dear Ulla as a 2023 Northern Lights (Grades 7-9) finalist!

Essential Tremor reviewed in The Vancouver Sun. Read full review here.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla is reviewed and “Highly Recommended” in CM (Canadian Review of Materials)! Read the full review here.

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