Governor General's Award winner Darrel McKay is the current writer-in-residence at McLoughlin Gardens. Photo supplied

Governor General’s winner in residence at McLoughlin Gardens

Darrel McKay has has varied career, from teacher to negotiator to author

McLoughlin Gardens is hosting yet another Governor General’s Award winner this summer.

After bringing in poet Don McKay in June, the society now welcomes Darrel McLeod for August to serve as writer-in-residence.

“This year we felt really fortunate … to get two Governor General’s [winners] in one summer is pretty nice,” said Christine Dickinson of the McLoughlin Gardens Society.

McLeod will be holding a free public event on the evening of Aug. 18. He is of Cree ancestry from northern Alberta but lives in Sooke. He wrote Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, an account of childhood struggles with physical and sexual abuse, as well as his sexual identify. It went on to win the Governor General’s Award in 2018. Last year, another memoir, Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity, was released. It follows his life working in education and advocating for Indigenous people.

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Early on, he worked as a teacher in West Vancouver but started to worry he was losing touch with his roots, so he found a job as a principal for a school in an Indigenous community. This led to working with the provincial government in Indigenous education. Eventually, he took a job somewhat reluctantly with the federal government to work as a negotiator for treaty matters for the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

“I was a bit of a thorn in the side,” he said.

He was skeptical at first but an Indigenous woman in the federal government convinced him and he was glad he took the job. Later, he worked as executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations, but eventually, he had a different calling that led him onto his current path.

“I knew I wanted to write so I took some courses,” he said.

This led to publishing his first book, which met with high praise. As a result, he started travelling all over to promote his book until COVID shut everything down. What followed were months of solo time on his acreage.

During his residency, he is working on his third memoir based on his recent experiences since first being published, as well as life during the pandemic.

“There was plenty of living these last four years,” he said. “It’s been a wild ride.”

He is also working on his first novel, which uses his background from his teaching days as the premise. He was challenged though either to write it as another memoir or truly make it a work of fiction.

“It’s very different from creative non-fiction,” he said.

Recently, he attended his first public event in some time in Whistler, and it was a bit of an adjustment after COVID shutdowns but still inspiring.

“It was glorious to be with people again,” he said.

If McLeod’s résumé was not broad enough already, he can also add jazz musician and singer. He says he has always sung, from his youngest days, and took lessons and attended music camps in the summer. Later, in Mexico, he started taking music lessons with a jazz guitarist and eventually a landed a regular Friday-night gig in Puerto Vallarta for a couple of years.

Along with his life as an author, he still performs music and will be using the public event both as a belated book launch — Peyakow came out during COVID — and CD release party. McLeod plans to read from his work and will be playing a short set while accompanied by Victoria guitarist Wes Carroll, whom McLeod calls a ‘guitar genius.’ The event happens at K’ómoks First Nation’s community hall on Thursday, Aug. 18 ay 7 p.m.

McLeod is also holding a memoir writing workshop on Aug. 13, but registration is already full. However, they have added another workshop for Aug. 20 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Gardens. Registration is on the website at

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