Linda Catlin Smith named Honorary Degree recipient

Honorary degrees have been awarded at UVic since its inaugural convocation in 1964. An honorary degree is the highest honour the university can bestow for distinguished achievement in scholarship, research, teaching, the creative arts and public service.

As part of the Fall convocation ceremony on November 14, we were thrilled to confer upon School of Music double alumna Linda Catlin Smith with an Honorary Doctor of Music (DMus).

Forging a career in music

Linda Catlin Smith’s music has been performed by Canada’s major orchestras and featured in concert series and festivals across North America and around the world. Born in New York City, Linda received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UVic, before moving to Toronto. Since then, she has forged a career like her music: quiet and persistent, unassuming and steady, with an absolute certainty of purpose.

On the surface, her music is deceptively simple; look closer, and it reveals a mastery of harmony and orchestration that puts her in the highest ranks of composers. In the classical music world, where works by (male) composers from the past dominate orchestral concerts, Linda’s is often the only contemporary voice. Over more than 40 years, she has developed a singular vision, creating real beauty in a world that profoundly needs it.

A sensitive teacher and mentor, Linda has also been an inspiration and a model for a generation of young composers, performers and ensembles, many of whom have become important artists in their own right. She will continue to be revered by future generations in Canada and beyond.

A climate of change marks Writing grad Aldyn Chwelos’ academic journey

Writing grad Aldyn Chwelos finds hope with UVic’s Climate Disaster Project (photo: Sean Holman)

Given the deluge of headlines about fires, floods, droughts and heat domes, it’s easy to feel a sense of despair around our continuing climate crises. The challenge, therefore, is to find hope amidst the chaos. Yet that’s exactly what graduating Department of Writing student Aldyn Chwelos has done while working with UVic’s Climate Disaster Project.

“I’ve heard from people who have lost their home, their community and their entire town, and they’re still somewhat hopeful,” says Chwelos. “Sometimes it’s a skeptical or a heartbroken hope, but it’s still there. As someone who hasn’t experienced that much personal damage from climate change, how could I possibly not be hopeful and ready to fight when they still are?”

Sharing survivor stories

Using the model of an international teaching newsroom to train students in trauma-informed journalism techniques, the Climate Disaster Project (CDP) has already made a significant impact in the past two years by sharing eyewitness accounts of climate survivors and building an international community based on hope, trust and empowerment.

Funded by an initial $1.875 million donor investment and led by veteran journalist Sean Holman—now Writing’s Wayne Crookes Professor of Environmental and Climate Journalism—the CDP works with partner institutions across Canada and around the world to collect, compile and share survivor stories with local and national media outlets like The Tyee, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), CBC Radio’s What On Earth, The Fraser Valley Current and the International Network of Street Papers.

“We listen to everyone’s story, without question of who they are or where they come from or what they’re going to say,” says Chwelos. “When a flood or a fire comes through your town, it arbitrarily destroys everything. By focusing on these disasters and highlighting the different ways people are affected, you can show that universality, which is key to seeing ourselves reflected in their experience and wanting to help.”


Aldyn Chwelos and Sean Holman in Lytton BC, 2022 (photo: Philip McLachlan)

A journey of discovery

It’s no exaggeration to say that Chwelos’ work with the CDP has changed the way they see the world — especially since writing and journalism isn’t where they started their UVic journey.

Originally enrolled in computer science and then “dabbling” with courses in environmental and gender studies, Chwelos switched to working in the local tech industry but soon realized they wanted to be doing something of more closely aligned with their values. “I’m an incredibly pragmatic human and felt like computer science made more economic sense, but I soon became disillusioned and knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” they say. “But I’d always wanted to be a writer, so I came back and enrolled in Writing.”

After discovering creative nonfiction as a genre and profile writing as a passion during their introductory Writing 100 course, Chwelos was ideally positioned to enroll in Holman’s class when the Climate Disaster Project launched in September 2021.

“From day one, it was all about realizing that climate change has a huge stamp on everything,” they recall. “The whole point of the project and Sean’s class was to not minimize those experiences — we students may not have lost our homes to wildfires or flooding, but we’re all part of the situation that caused those disasters and so we can see ourselves in the project.”

Media that really matters

Currently the CDP’s managing editor, Chwelos is planning on doing their graduate degree in creative nonfiction at UVic in 2024, and very much sees their time with the CDP as the culmination of their time here—including a harrowing journey to Lytton a year after the small BC town was destroyed by fire. (“It was like driving through the belly of the beast,” they recall. “You really felt for the community and what they’d lost, to see the entire town basically reduced to rubble.”)

While Chwelos has published non-climate disaster articles with the likes of Canadian Geographic and Hakai, they feel their work with the CDP gives them the opportunity to use everything they’ve learned. “It combines my interests in social justice and environmentalism and also aligns with my background in software development,” they say. “As far as the sheer amount of experience and personal challenge it represented, work with the CDP has definitely been the highlight of my degree.”

Aldyn Chwelos participating in the Royal BC Museum’s Climate Hope exhibit (photo: Philip McLachlan)

The power of positive change

Ultimately, Chwelos has discovered the power of positive change through their work collecting survivor stories, sharing them with the media and engaging with new students in the Climate Disaster Project.

“There’s a lot of criticism around media coverage of the climate crisis, but our work has been held up as an example of how disaster survivors want to see these disasters covered. That’s where this work has power: it’s not just in the stories we’re sharing with the world, but in the experience we’re creating for the people who go through it,” says Chwelos.

“It’s been a powerful experience for the storytellers…the communities we write about feel seen and their stories are being shared as they want them to be told. If more people in different communities do this and share their experiences, if they start talking about climate change and solutions and potentially taking political action and making policy changes, then there is hope.”

Feeling Earnest at the Phoenix

Eric Barnes in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Phoenix Theatre (photo: Dean Kalyan)

The Importance of Being Earnest — Oscar Wilde’s timeless comic masterpiece — has long been celebrated for its sharp humour and daring social commentary. But despite being over a century old and a justifiable mainstay of Western theatre, Earnest has surprisingly never before been mounted at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre.

Running November 9-25, this production debut promises an uproarious evening where identity, transition and transformation collide. Yet despite Victorian Britain’s reservations, modern audiences continue to adore and embrace Wilde’s brilliant play for its enduring humour and relevance.

A transgressive satire

In this fresh take on Wilde’s play, guest alumni director Alistair Newton explores the hidden layers and remarkable queerness that underscore the relationships among the characters. Instead of sticking to traditional Victorian aesthetics, Netwon dives into a dramatic world filled with melodrama, secret codes and playful contradictions, breaking free from the usual clichés associated with this era.

 A perennially popular production that has never gone out of style since its 1895 debut. What’s the appeal for a very contemporary director like Newton?

“Aside from the obvious answer that it has got to be one of the greatest works of comic writing in the English language, it’s also a work coded with all sorts of transgressive satire—much of which would only have been legible to those members of the audience with the right ear to hear it,” he says. “Populism with a wicked satirical edge has always been irresistible to me.”

Earnest director Alistair Newton (photo: Carly Lemmon)

Syrah Khan (left) & Carter Lapham in The Importance of Being Earnest (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Reevaluating the 19th century

Newton, who is also teaching Theatre’s fall elective on drag culture and was just announced as a director for the prestigious Shaw Festival’s 2024 season, says he enjoys “excavating the hidden histories and secret codes” of what’s often described as classical theatre.

Earnest is so constantly revived that it almost feels like a meme at this point, rather than a play,” he explains. “True, the 19th century gave us hysterical sexual repression and the codification of rigid gender roles, but it also gave us radicals who rebelliously pushed back—like the pioneering sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the Danish artist and trans woman Lili Elbe, and William Dorsey Swann, an enslaved black activist and drag performer who was likely the first person to refer to himself as a ‘queen’.”

Something quarrellous, something queer

In an era when RuPaul’s Drag Race has become a global TV sensation and drag artists regularly appear everywhere from restaurant brunches to library readings, Newton feels Earnest will definitely resonate with Phoenix audiences.

“Oscar Wilde loved a paradox, and both his legacy and the history of Earnest has sort of become one: at the time of his arrest for ‘gross indecency’, Wilde had two hit shows running in the West End and had completely conquered mainstream boulevard entertainment in London — but, at the same time, his queerness was considered so scandalous by his society that they had to forcibly remove him from their midst.”

From left: Samantha Frew, Syrah Khan &  Claudia Fraser (photo: Dean Kalyan) 

Alumni in the house

Finally, as a returning alumni, how does it feel for Newton to be back at the Phoenix — both directing and teaching? “A lot of things change in a couple of decades, but some things are exactly how I left them: the graffiti on the scene shop wall and the very particular smell as you first enter the Roger Bishop Theatre,” he quips.

“But I think my favourite change is something I perceive in the students: they seem much more willing to advocate for themselves and to challenge orthodoxies, ideas of canon and the educational status quo. At the risk of sounding like an old queen, the kids definitely seem alright to me.”

The Importance of Being Earnest runs November 9-25 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre

New sxʷiʔe’m Indigenous Writers & Storyteller Series launches

When the new sxʷiʔe ̕m “To Tell A Story” Indigenous Writers & Storytellers Series launches at UVic on November 10, it will be offered as a gift to the community by the Department of Writing and professor Gregory Scofield.

“My goal is to honor the nations on whose territory we live, and to celebrate and honour the writers and storytellers in our communities,” he says.

To launch this latest offering in Victoria’s literary landscape, the Writing department is honouring two acclaimed alumni: Syilx Okanagan multidisciplinary author Jeannette Armstrong — an Order of Canada recipient and founder of Penticton’s acclaimed En’owkin Centre — and award-winning WSÁNEC poet Philip Kevin Paul, a past Governor General’s Award poetry finalist and former instructor with the Writing department.

Gregory Scofield

“Jeannette Armstrong is a matriarch, an author, a storyteller and an incredible educator working in language revival,” says Scofield. “Philip Kevin Paul is an amazing poet and storyteller, as well as a local knowledge keeper and SENĆOŦEN language speaker. I’m very excited to be able to celebrate these writers and storytellers.”

Indeed, both our Writing department and the Faculty of Fine Arts have a long history with the En’owkin Centre, whose Foundations Indigenous Fine Arts Progam ladders towards a UVic BFA.

An exciting time for Indigenous writers & storytellers

Inspired by a similar series he ran while teaching at Ontario’s Laurentian University, Scofield began working on this new series shortly after joining UVic’s Writing department in 2019.

“It has been and continues to be a very exciting time for Indigenous writers and storytellers,” he says. “There are so many important stories to be shared, told and celebrated across Turtle Island through the mediums of literature, film, music, dance and oral storytelling.”

Armstrong and Paul are among a number of notable Indigenous alumni who have graduated from the Writing department over the years, including the award-winning likes of Haisla & Heiltsuk novelist Eden Robinson and multidisciplinary Tłı̨chǫ Dene author Richard Van Camp — both of whom originally came from the En’owkin Centre program — plus Métis & Trinidadian poet Cara-Lyn Morgan, and Xaxli’p & Métis freelance journalist Jenessa Joy Klukas, to name a few.

“We now have specific generations of Indigenous writers: there’s the writers of Jeannette’s era and the writers of my own generation, plus new writers like Billy-Ray Belcourt, Joshua Whitehead and Shari Narine,” says Scofield. “As more Canadians become aware of truth and reconciliation, more people are reading works by Indigenous writers and gaining knowledge of our history.”

All are welcome to join in the celebration of the new sxʷiʔe ̕m “To Tell A Story” Indigenous Writers & Storytellers Series, starting at 7:00pm Friday, November 10, in UVic’s First Peoples House.

Orion Series presents Kunji Ikeda

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Kunji Ikeda

Visiting artist


7:30pm Monday, Nov 6

Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, School of Music 

Free & open to all 



Presented by UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts

For more information on this lecture please email:



Don’t miss this dramatic reading of a new solo work created and performed by current Past Wrong, Future Choices artist-in-residence.

From the creator of the most successful comedy about the Japanese Canadian Internment, Ikeda shares their first draft of this brand new solo performance. Ikeda’s creative signature has been built from a deep trust in joyful rigour, and rigorous joy that has generated their own unique brand of dance / theatre / clown. Inspired by modern day rituals, the psychology of creativity, and classic Japanese Oni (demons), this work invites the audience to consider their own definition of joy.

About Kunji Ikeda

Kunji Ikeda 池田 勲二 (he/they) has spent his life researching the super powers of stories and how they can bring us together. Ikeda is the Artistic Director of Cloudsway Dance Theatre (based in Mohkinstsis / Calgary) and is honoured to be pursuing a life of connection and empathy.
He performs, directs, and dramaturges while following the natural ecology of the performance. They’ve won awards and stuff, but they are more proud of the connections that art has given them – particularly in physical theatre, where they have the greatest capacity to grow physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing within his community. He enjoys climbing trees, classical music, and drinking tea.
For more information and upcoming performances visit

About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

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