Feature Articles



“ PGI stands for Peter Gwozski Invitational… PGI also stands for Powerful Glorious Impact, Praising Gifted Interveners, and Pretty Good Idea”. Marshall Button, 2018






We are pleased to share this special article on literacy written by Marshall Button, writer, actor, comedian, director, and playwright extraordinaire and literacy advocate. Marshall was the worthy recipient of this year’s PGI Award presented by the Literacy Coalition at the Delta Fredericton Literacy Dinner, April 26th. The award recognizes Marshall’s unwavering support for literacy and the PGI, which Marshall has served so masterfully as Master of Ceremonies, and Poet Laureate, displaying an incredible combination of talent, diplomacy and humor, and helping to make the PGI Literacy Dinner such a successful fundraising event each year.

The Joy of Reedin’ and Writin’

Marshall Button| May 18,2018 | Daily Gleaner 

Smorboll odmjuk Malm flard dagstorp grundtal gronkulla Tarva riktig fyrkantig.  Caution: objects on this page may appear more confusing than they ought to be.

If the second sentence of  my opening paragraph appears as illegible as the first, if my opening salvo of gibberish looks like it’s been followed by more gibberish, chances are you’re among the 18.5 percent of New Brunswickers who have literacy challenges.

If you’ve made it this far, but are wondering what the heck I’m on about, and maybe you’re tempted to turn to the comics, the crossword puzzle or the classifieds, I understand completely.  You may be among the 60 percent of New Brunswick citizens between the ages of 15 and 65 who need better literacy skills for everyday living and especially to compete in the workplace.

Our literacy levels are among the lowest in Canada. We’re running neck-and-neck with Newfoundland and Labrador for the right to shout, “We’re number 10!”  Canada-wide assessments show that Grade 8 students in New Brunswick lag behind all of their Canadian counterparts in reading, except Manitobans. Take that, Manitoba!  I suspect New Brunswick thirteen-year-olds find Quispamsis and Washademoak easier to pronounce than Pukatawagan and Winnepegosis.

We don’t have the best literacy levels, and we’re our own worst enemy!  When you give yourself a nickname like ‘The Picture Province’ you imply that it’s okay to skip the reading parts and, in the tradition of Playboy magazine, go straight to the pictures.

We showcase the covered bridge as a major provincial icon, suggesting that covering up our problems will make them disappear.  Two of our biggest tourist attractions are Magnetic Hill and Reversing Falls, where we celebrate the act of going backwards.  Our tourism dollars are heavily invested in Kings Landing and La Village Historique Acadienne, where we highlight a time when New Brunswickers smoked indoors and went to the bathroom outdoors. Inside our outhouses, reading material played an important role, albeit non-literary.

The news is not all bad. Thanks to the excellent work of the Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick, people of all ages are learning to read and write.  The commitment of Laubach Literacy New Brunswick and the impactful work done by CCAA (Centres communautaire d’apprentissage pour adultes) has improved lives of New Brunswickers from Dalhousie to Digdeguash, from Maltembec to Bocabec.

It’s weird.  Literacy skills, or  the lack thereof, don’t always correspond to levels of intelligence.  Consider Jacques Demers. He was a successful professional hockey coach and general manager, and was later appointed to the Senate. He couldn’t read or write.  Demers kept his dark secret until, at age 61, he revealed the truth in the book Jacques Demers En Toutes Lettres, by former Montreal Canadiens beat writer Mario Leclerc.

The most amazing thing about Demers’ problem is that he was able to hide it so well. In the book, he describes how he faked his way through most of his dealings by getting secretaries and media relations people to write his correspondence for him.  Canadian hockey fans who are rooting for the great white hope Winnipeg Jets may remember Demers as the coach of the 1993 Stanley Cup champion Montréal Canadiens, the last Canadian team to bring home the Cup.

There’s also the extraordinary story of American John Corcoran. He taught school for seventeen years, and in the mid-1980’s he revealed that he was unable to read or write.  Corcoran was inspired by the late Barbara Bush. During her tenure as First Lady of the United States, she made adult literacy her leading cause.  Now if only someone could make adult literacy a priority for the current president of that country.

One of my annual highlights is participating in the PGI. I was the master of ceremonies for sixteen consecutive years and poet laureate for the past four.  ‘PGI’ stands for Peter Gzowski Invitational.  It’s an annual fundraising golf tournament and dinner that takes place in all thirteen provinces and territories. ‘PGI’ also stands for Powerful Glorious Impact, Praising Gifted Interveners, and Pretty Good Idea!

The PGI  began in 1986 when popular CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski was approached by representatives of Frontier College in Toronto. They asked him to consider leading a fundraiser for literacy.  Gzowski agreed and said he would continue until they raised $100,000.  The first golf tournament was held at The Briars, his boyhood course near Jackson’s Point, Ontario.  Over the past thirty-two years, more than 50,000 people have taken part in PGI events and more than $14 million has been raised to support local volunteer literacy programs across Canada.

New Brunswick has by no means been a have-not province when it comes to the PGI.  Over a fifteen-year span, we led the country by raising more than $1.6 million to help folks who don’t read good.

I’ve been honoured to have been involved in all of those New Brunswick events.  Every year, my favourite moment is listening to adult learners read their stories out loud.  Their courage is inspiring.  It reflects how far we’ve come in improving literacy levels in our province. It serves as personal motivation to continue this important work so that someday we can all shout, “We’re number seven!”

My hope is that someday everyone will read sentences such as “Smorboll odmjuk Malm flard dagstorp grundtal gronkulla Tarva riktig fyrkantig” and realize it’s not a bunch of gibberish after all.  It’s my wife Patricia’s shopping list for the new Ikea store in Halifax.

Happily Yours,



Marshall, Marshall bo-bar-shall

Bo-na-na fanna, fo-far-shall

Gee jie jo-jar-shall, Marshall!


Commentary: New Brunswick’s profound literacy challenge


Gregory Gillis | August 2,2018 | Telegraph Journal


New Brunswick is facing a literacy challenge.  The home of  masters of the written word such as Alden Nowlan, Bliss Carmen, Antonine Maillet, Hermenegilde Chiasson, Sheree Fitch and David Adams Richards has over half its citizens unable to meet literacy requirements  of today’s world.   The wonderful stories written by the storytellers listed above and others may be beyond comprehension by a majority of our citizens. We do have examples of individuals who have had successful lives and careers while struggling with literacy but these are by far the exception.

New Brunswick has much scope for improvement when it comes to literacy performance.   Today as many as 25 percent of students and 50 percent of adults cannot read to their full potential. Having adequate literacy means not only being able to access the literary culture that is part of our heritage but also being able to reach our potential and participate fully as citizens in a democracy.

The New Brunswick Literacy Secretariat was established in 2015 to lead the development of a comprehensive literacy strategy for the province. One of the Secretariat’s first tasks was to engage a broad range of stakeholders from individuals, government and the private sector as well as educators to share their ideas on how to improve the literacy situation in New Brunswick. The resulting report commissioned by the Secretariate entitled “The Power of Literacy – Moving Towards New Brunswick’s Comprehensive   Literacy Strategy” presented recommendations that reflected this wide stakeholder input, as well as the current status in New Brunswick and emerging best practices.  The vision presented in the Power of  Literacy document strongly suggests that a long term commitment is required to ensure that opportunities for engagement in literacy rich environments are created across one’s lifespan.  Such a commitment must be strongly assisted with an investment at the community level by both organizations and individuals.

Following the release of “The Power of Literacy” , New Brunswick’s comprehensive literacy strategy   “Unleashing the Power of Literacy”  was produced.  This strategy plots a course for New Brunswick to improve literacy among our citizens and has been embraced by educators, non-governmental organizations and individuals.  It identifies key priorities organized in four developmental stages (early childhood, kindergarten to grade 2, grade 3 to 12 and adult and  lifelong learning).

The strategy includes commitments for each stage and provides conditions for success. Among the conditions are improved co-ordination and cooperation among stakeholders, establishing an accountability framework, providing support to families, providing training and coaching  for early childhood educators, exploring ways to strengthen the role of libraries, exploring ways for universities to better equip teachers and working to ensure that initiatives are based on research / best practices.  The strategy recognizes the importance of early childhood literacy development that continues to place emphasis on parental involvement.   Scarcity of time, resources and energy among parents and caregivers for pre-school children remains a significant challenge and efforts are continuing to address this challenge.

A key element of the strategy is the leadership of  government in assisting with co-ordination of efforts for literacy improvement throughout New Brunswick.    Within our schools K – 12 each student must be supported and monitored to achieve his/her appropriate outcome in reading at each grade and certainly before completion of high school.  At the same time teachers require solid preparation in university to teach literacy and they must have adequate resources and support in the classroom on the literacy front.  Likewise New Brunswick’s adult literacy challenge demands enhanced efforts to engage employers and employees as well as the underemployed and unemployed in remedial literacy along with essential skills training/upgrading.

New Brunswick is embarking on excellent new directions within the childcare sector.  This is the ideal moment to ensure that each child in our new early childhood education centres receives optimal opportunities to develop a love of reading and that the quality of the learning environment in these centres is monitored closely.

One motto to achieve success is “plan the work and then work the plan”.  Much effort and energy has been put into the production of the “Power of Literacy” followed by the plan “Unleashing the Power of Literacy”.    Efforts are underway to implement the strategy that involve governments, the private sector, community groups and many volunteers.  There are opportunities for New Brunswickers to become involved in these efforts and all are encouraged to do so.

New Brunswick will be going to the polls in September.   I  hope that, whatever the outcome of the election, the value of the work done to produce and implement the current literacy strategy be recognized and continued.   As with any strategy or plan, periodic reviews of progress may result in changes. I would encourage leaders of all political parties to commit to continuing the implementation of the literacy strategy.  Literacy is far too important to the future prosperity of New Brunswick and any incoming government should embrace the extensive groundwork that has been laid in charting a course into the future.