by Cheryl Jackson Friday January 6, 2012

I can't think of a better person to be named an Officer of the Order of Canada than the Honourable James Karl Bartleman. I had the great pleasure to meet Ontario's former Lieutenant Governor last fall and he's a gem.

We met in Thunder Bay where I was hosting the IFOA's LitonTour event. Bartleman was there to read from his latest book, As Long As the River Flows, a novel about an aboriginal family struggling with the legacy of residential schools. My first glimpse of him was as he rushed through the doors of the hotel banquet room we'd booked for interviews. His flight had just arrived and he ran in with his suitcase in hand and a smile on his face. We asked if he'd like to check in to his room first, have a few minutes to get organized. He said no, he was ready to go. So we did. He talked about his book, of course, and he told moving stories about growing up as an aboriginal kid in a time and place where that wasn't so easy. He told one great story about how he learned to read at the town dump.

James Bartleman also sat across from me at dinner that night where he told stories about being High Commissioner in South Africa. He was honest about a physical attack he suffered there and about his ensuing depression. In fact, he says that's what led him to writing...it was a way for him to share what was on his mind. 

As Lieutenant Governor, Bartleman tried to reduce the stigma of mental illness, he fought racism and discrimination and he promoted literacy among First Nations children by starting the Lieutenant-Governor's Book Program.  More than a million books were donated to school libraries in First Nations communities, especially those in northern Ontario.

Congratulations to you, James Bartleman. You truly deserve this award, and I hope we meet again.