Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Laughing Matters with Laurie Gelman and Dave Hill


A common denominator of humour kept the audience laughing at the Ottawa International Writer’s Festival, while the rain came down on a dreary Sunday afternoon. Laurie Gelman has recently released her second book You’ve Been Volunteered, part of her Class Mom series. The book takes a humourous look at the trials and tribulations of being a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Class Mom volunteer.  Dave Hill’s most recent book, Parking the Moose: One American’s Epic Quest to Uncover His Incredible Canadian Roots, was written by the author as he tried to find out why his grandfather had always claimed that Canada was better than the United States. 


Gelman has a strong Ottawa connection, having attended both Vincent Massey Public School and Carleton University. After a successful career in radio and television on both sides of the border, Gelman decided to stay home with her two children for a few years. When she turned 50, Gelman decided she would write about her experiences as a parent volunteer in her children’s school.  “Women in the US turn the PTA into their own fiefdom,” observed Gelman. “You have a Mom who left her job as one of the Fortune 500 company presidents to raise her kids, and then decides to put her energy into the PTA in their child’s school.” 


People can relate to the social scene in You’ve Been Volunteered because it is the same anywhere you have a diverse group of people who are working towards something together, Gelman added. The PTA experience can be found anywhere, in a church group, or even a book club, said Gelman. People are often telling her stories of their own experiences, and Gelman said she has enough material to go into a third book for this series. 


Dave Hill’s experience was that of an American who had always heard tales of Canadian exceptionalism from his grandfather.  He then decided to come and find out for himself what his Northern neighbor was really like. In the course of researching Parking the Moose, Hill travelled to Montreal, Moosejaw, Regina, Winnipeg, Merrickville, as well as Clinton, Ontario, the birthplace of his grandfather. 


Growing up in the US, Hill observed, everyone is taught to believe that their country is the best, and not many Americans are curious to explore their neighbor to the North. “I’ve never met an American who’s been to Saskatchewan, and I don’t think I ever will,” said Hill.  He chose the places he travelled to in Canada, because of a particular connection, said Hill. For instance, he went to Winnipeg, since his Grandfather had worked in a clothing factory there. Along the way, Hill had many Canadian experiences, including stopping a sled dog team in mid-ride to let two dogs “get it on” on a trip in Quebec. He tried his hand at axe-throwing in Halifax and made a point to attend NHL games whenever he could. 


Both writers said they really liked coming to Canada, especially with the current political scene in America. Hill admitted that that he lives in New York, which he considers an oasis from the political scene. Still, he observed, “Coming to Canada is nice, because you don’t have to see or hear Donald Trump, every minute of every day.”