This Storyteller Wears Sunglasses at Night

Hanna Tervanotko is Biblical scholar passionate uncovering ancient, forgotten narratives. She can order a meal in eight languages and her special talent is falling asleep in bright sunlight, thanks to growing up in Finland – a land of midnight sun. She’s lived in Hamilton with her family since 2017.

Hanna Tervanotko_Steel City_Photo

Come out Thursday September 26th at the Staircase Theatre and hear Hannah’s story about her attachment to Canada, and some forgotten graves with a personal connection. Get your tickets here!


Steel City Stories Presents “Culture Shock” ~ Meet the Storytellers!

Thursday November 15th, at the Staircase Theatre, come and hear six storytellers regale you with their tales of “Culture Shock.” You can die from physical shock, can you die from Culture Shock? We all reside in Hamilton today, but it wasn’t always so…

Meet Pierrick Gacinya, originally from Rwanda. He will host Thursday evening’s event. If you heard him tell his story about his muscles at our May 2017 event, you’ll remember a very funny guy with a hang up for the magical powers of milk.


Now… Our Storytellers…

Ben Moore is a French Immersion Teacher, Volunteer, Foodie, Reader, Knitter, Pokémaniac, Colourblind Painter, Amateur Baker, French Press Coffee Enthusiast, and Insider Member at La Maison Simons, but his cat couldn’t care less.

He calls Hamilton home today, but he thinks there are unwritten rules about city living no one tells you in advance…


Amy Sloan, a 6th generation Hamiltonian, has been writing and public speaking since grade 2 (Bronze medal at St. Margaret Mary school for reciting My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson!).  In her spare time, she is a fiancée, a mom of three and works in health care.  She is excited to be participating in her first Steel City Stories event.


Fito Molina is a musician & artist from Central America, currently living in Hamilton.  He left his home country due to the civil war, lived in Costa Rica for some time, & came to Canada in the 90’s.



Kaila MacMillan is a writer, storyteller and fiddler. She moved to Hamilton in 2017 and  aims to have tried all the best donut places by 2019. Kaila is attending med school at McMaster and previously worked as a pharmacist. Her life goals include finding balance between work and play, arts and science, and convincing her cat to go on leash walks with her. Kaila and her partner are expecting their first child in January.



Ian Sloan is a United Church minister. He has been in downtown Hamilton almost ten years and in that time he has helped to end two churches and to begin another one. He thinks that one is doing some great things. He drinks coffee in any number of forms.

Sloan Remarks

Constanza Durán was born in Santiago, Chile.  She left her birth country in 1975 fleeing the military dictatorship. She has been published in three Latin American /Canadian anthologies: Iguana – Escribir el Exilio/Writing Exile, “Lumbre y Relumbre”, and in “Construyendo memoria”. In 2012, she received an award from the City of Toronto in recognition for “Outstanding Participation In Punto de Encuentro III” for creative writing.

Constanza says life has been her university, and went to university when she had graduated from life.



There you have it! All you need to do now is click on the link below and get your tickets! Seating is limited and so are the chocolate marshmallow squares. See you there!

Buy your tickets! 10$ in advance


  • Please note that for day of ticket sales, we can only accept cash. Thanks!

Introducing the Storytellers for DIRT!

We are excited to introduce a line-up of new and veteran Hamilton storytellers for our May 24th event! Whether it’s the grainy, clay dusty stuff or the crud of everyday life, we’re talking about DIRT.


Sarah Leyenaar

Sarah enjoys playing in dirt – psychologically and in the ground – and has discovered treasures beneath the surface of both environments. This is her second time taking the stage at Steel City Stories and we’re excited to welcome her back.



Phil Argent

Phil was raised in Stoney Creek, way back before it was part of Hamilton. He has a wife, a cat, and enjoys the sun, tap water, and working on spreadsheets.





Michael John Derbecker

Michael John Derbecker is a writer and occasional performer living in Hamilton. His stories frequently involve dirt on his hands, but a good 90% of it has been the literal, rather than metaphorical kind. Fans of Steel City Stories will remember Michael’s misadventures meeting Martin Scorsese. Welcome Back, Michael!






DarrellDarrell Doxtdator is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation of the Six Nations Confederacy.  He grew up on the Haudenosaunee territory of the Grand River. Darrell earned his Hon. B.A. (Political Science) from McMaster University and his LL.B. from Osgoode Hall.  On his Call to the Bar, he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. Instead, he re-affirmed his commitment to Mother Earth.  After considerable debate, the LSUC agreed to make the Oath optional.

‪Darrell continues to strive to be a social activist.  In his efforts to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”, Darrell finds that writing, speaking out and singing karaoke are effective instruments in achieving these objectives.



Inge Christensen headshot-3

Inge Christensen

Inge moved from Toronto to Hamilton a couple years ago. With improv, writing and art as her passions, she is fascinated with creating stories. She is also a historical architecture freak and so is delighted to explore Hamilton’s streets and laneways. Welcome Back, Inge!


CBK headshot 2017

Your host for the evening is Carla Klassen. Carla has told a story for Steel City stories and hosted the Grit Lit event “Excuses” a couple years ago. Welcome Back, Carla!




Just a reminder that our shows are now Thursdays  at the Staircase Theatre and tickets sell out! (Seating is around 60 people!) Don’t miss out, get your tickets here!

Totha Was a Witch


Darrell Doxtdator is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation of the Six Nations Confederacy.  He grew up on the Haudenosaunee territory of the Grand River. Darrell earned his Hon. B.A. (Political Science) from McMaster University and his LL.B. from Osgoode Hall.  On his Call to the Bar, he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. Instead, he re-affirmed his commitment to Mother Earth.  After considerable debate, the LSUC agreed to make the Oath optional.
‪Darrell continues to strive to be a social activist.  In his efforts to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”, Darrell finds that writing, speaking out and singing karaoke are effective instruments in achieving these objectives. On May 24th he shared his stories of DIRT with the audience at the Staircase Theatre, and we’re happy to share a piece of his writing here.


A Little Truth

There were those who said that my Tótha was a witch. For those not familiar with the language of the Mohawk Nation, Tótha is the term of affection for “Grandma”. And a witch holds powerful medicine. Further, it is said that among a witch’s powers is the ability to shape-shift.

So, there were whispers that my Grandma was a shape-shifter. That may explain why my Tótha was never what she appeared to be.

Many people were afraid of Tótha. Afraid of what she could do. Afraid of what she’d done.

There were wild stories that seemed impossible. There were tales that told of the power of her protection medicine. Talk of unnatural deaths of those who cheated her. Stories of her skills as a mid-wife; how she saved the lives of mothers and newborns. Gossip on how she controlled the animals. And how, if she wanted, she could cloud the minds of those around her.

Even the police were leery of her. As a young mother, she saw a rabid dog wandering about. Knowing what a threat it was, she contacted the R.C.M.P. When the police finally arrived, they said there was nothing they could do. It was not under their jurisdiction. Rabid dogs are a provincial matter. Mounties are federal. They could only deal with the removal of dead animals.

“Wait here,” she told them. She got her rifle. And with a single shot, she dropped the rabid dog at 75 yards.

“Now … get that damn dead dog off my property”, Tótha growled in frustration.

One afternoon, when I was around seven, I asked Tótha about these rumours. We were playing Yahtzee and eating her home made pie. She was casually throwing “boxcars”, while I was catching “snake eyes”.

“Tótha, are you really a witch?”

“Why do you ask … ?” Tótha casually replied.

“There’s talk ‘bout you controllin’ the animals. And people are afraid of you.”

“Oh, don’t believe half the stuff you hear. And I ain’t tellin’ which half …”

“You cheatin’ with the dice?”

“Naw … I ain’t doin’ nothin’ that you can’t do. Now … just concentrate.”

I put down my fork and concentrated. First, while I was throwing. Later, when Tótha was throwing. Soon enough, I was throwing “boxcars” and Tótha was catching “snake eyes”.

“I win!” I shouted. Tótha smiled.

“Yes, yes you did. Now, always remember … Never do that if you’re not holding kanikenriio (the Good Mind). Understand?”

I nodded in agreement, not really knowing what I just did. Nor did I really understand why I shouldn’tdo what I just did if I was angry. As with all her advice, it took time to decipher all that she had said and all of its implications.

“Want more pie?” Tótha added. Yes, Tótha was special. No need for a novelty “kitchen witch” in her home. She controlled her domain. And she knew that one way of controlling hearts and minds was through the stomach!

Baking was another of her special talents. She knew how to handle the dough to make delicious pie crust. Tender enough to be sweet; strong enough to hold everything together. Making delicious meals was how she showed her love. It was the best way she knew how.

Tótha helped me throughout my life. Providing what she could. Giving timely advice. She’d say things like, “Now, don’t ya just think about gettin’ a girl ta bed. Think about wakin’ up with her for the next 50 years.”

That bit of advice helped me choose my wife, Jacqui. Unfortunately, our marriage didn’t last 50 years.Cancer took Jacqui’s life. Our little girl, Ksenya, was only six when her mother passed away.

Around mid-December, I dropped by to visit. I had hoped to find her cooking. Instead, she was drinking. Nothing good ever came when Tótha was drinking alone.

“Come in, Come in …” Tótha hollered from the kitchen. “Grab yourself a glass …”

I entered the kitchen where she was sitting. Walking across the room, I bent down and gently kissedTótha’s forehead. Like she always did whenever anyone kissed her, she tensed up; bracing herself. You could see her visibly restraining herself. Anything further was an invitation for a confrontation. Tóthawas a mean drunk — with a mean right hand. Years of chopping her own fire wood gave her the strength to be respected — and feared.

I poured myself a shot. “To family …” I toasted. We tapped our glasses and downed the shot.

“What brings ya ’round …” Tótha slurred.

I knew better than to say “Christmas”. Tótha barely endured Christmas. She especially hated to hear the phrase “Merry Christmas”. In her state, she’d swing a right hook, just to knock some sense into me. Instead, I spoke about my little girl.

“Kseniya. She made something for you; at school. She wants to give it to you once school’s done.”

During Jacqui’s illness, Kseniya had reached out to Tótha for comfort. And Tótha did her best. Having had three sons killed in car accidents, she knew the pain of losing family members. There are some life

lessons that only experience can provide. An unspoken bond arises amongst those who have endured such tragic experiences.

“That girl needs a mother. When ya gonna find a woman?”

Tótha may have been a mean drunk, but there was always an element of truth in whatever she said — whenever she said it. No one tells the truth like drunks and little children.

“In time,” I replied. “… ’til then, Kseniya needs you.”

“Whaddaya think she made?” Tótha demanded.

“Probably something for Christmas; I think it was meant for her mom,” I replied, too quickly.

Tótha paused. The combination of the two elements struck her — Hard.

“Ya know … a little girl needs her mother,” Tótha softly observed. I nodded, silently.

“Some one she can trust. Some one she can talk to”. Her voice trailed off. Then — a long pause.

“I never had any one I could trust,” Tótha whispered. “I needed to tell somebody. But there was no-one I could talk to …”.

A tear formed in her eye. After all these years, she was finally ready to acknowledge what had happened to her.

“How could they? We were only children? What satisfaction could they possibly get?”

Tears formed in both eyes. A single tear traced its way across her cheek. Finding a tissue in my pocket, I passed it to Tótha. She wiped her eyes. Tótha took a deep breath.

“Ya know, we were made to do things, forced to do things; Things no child should ever know about. Things that even a wife shouldn’t be forced to do.”

Painful memories flooded back from the horrible abuses endured at residential school. Especially from what occurred around Christmas time. She’d be told, “If you want Christmas to come, you’ve got to be agood girl.” Later that night, she’d found out what they meant by being a “good girl.” She had been forced into submission. She was forced to submit to another’s desires. No matter how wrong.

For her, the phrase “Merry Christmas” had become synonymous with the dirty phrase “Want some candy, little girl?” For Tótha, the two phrases had become one and the same.

We sat there in respectful silence. Nothing further was spoken. Nothing more needed to be said. The community’s pain was acknowledged. The unspoken family secret had just been confirmed.

The traumatic effects endured by one generation seep down to the next. Despite being a bad gene, it becomes spliced into the family tree. It takes major efforts to overcome this inter-generational trauma.

Tótha hung her head. She was ashamed of her drinking. But she didn’t know how else to handle the pain.

“Look, I’ll be here next week. I’ll be bringing Kseniya. She loves you. She made something special for you. Be good — for her.”

I got up and said my good-byes. No more was said. Tótha knew how much I loved her. And I knew how much Tótha loved her family. But that love was tempered by her drunken binges. Some of the family had tried to moderate her drinking. Nothing had worked in the past. And her violent attitude would only get worse the more she drank.

The following week, I returned with Kseniya. It was the Christmas break. For now, school was done.

The two of us drove to Tótha’s. Kseniya clutched her gift to her chest for the entire length of the drive. It was so good to see her smile again. She was clearly her mother’s daughter, with her round face and long dark hair. Even more, Kseniya had her mother’s generous spirit. Jacqui had always taken the time to take the extra measures to ensure everyone felt welcome and comfortable. A caring nature was the best quality that they shared. A bit overwhelming at times; it arose from loving and caring hearts.

I bit my lip. Who would we encounter on our arrival? A sober Tótha? Or a nasty shape-shifting drunk?

I thought about trying to forewarn Kseniya, just in case. But what should I say? How much of Kseniya’s innocence should be shattered, perhaps needlessly, in preparation?

Silently, my anger grew with those who ran the residential school. How could they? The damage they caused! From one generation of small children to the next.

I felt my grasp of kanikenriio (the Good Mind) slip away. Now was not the time to try to explain.

“Kseniya,” I began, “remember to be gentle with Tótha. She may not be quite herself today.”

“I will, Daddy!” Kseniya replied, not realizing the full truth of the request.

Snow was falling; huge, fluffy, feathery flakes. They quickly blanketed the landscape, concealing everything. It was like a classic holiday moment — in all the senses. Everything was pleasing to the eye, with all the unpleasantness buried out of sight. Out of sight — and out of mind. For a brief moment, all the ugliness of the world had been set aside. The better angels of our nature prevailed.

The scent of turkey dinner filled the house. In the corner of the room was a little holiday tree, recently cut and all decorated. Tótha had prepared herself to try.

Kseniya bounded across the room and hopped into Tótha’s lap. I bit my lip. While Tótha was willing to try, she still had her triggers. And Kseniya had just pushed one of Tótha’s buttons.

“Merry Christmas!” Kseniya blurted. “I made you something at school. I hope you like it.”
I held my breath. Without knowing it, Kseniya had just pushed another one of Tótha’s buttons.
Kseniya gave Tótha her gift. She had gift-wrapped it herself — as only a seven-year-old could. taped up as securely as a hockey stick, with a corner of her gift poking through.

Tótha asked, “Did you wrap this yourself?” I took another deep breath. Kseniya nodded excitedly — barely able to contain herself.

“You did an excellent job!” Kseniya beamed.
It was
Carefully, Tótha opened this treasure. Starting at the exposed corner, she gently tore an opening large enough to slide out the gift.

It was a cardboard collage. Made from old Christmas cards and poster paper, it was a wintry scene of a forest setting. Amid the trees, in a small clearing, a gathering of animals were gazing at a huge star. On the bottom of the collage, Kseniya had written the phrase, ‘ Twas in the moon of Wintertime …” — the opening line from the Huron Carol.

“Tótha, It’s a special message. Just for us!”
“It’s beautiful. Did you do this all by yourself?”

“Yup! Our teacher told us to choose our favourite Christmas song and make a picture. Everyone chose another song. This one is my favourite.”

Kseniya threw her arms around Tótha’s neck. Not getting the hug she was anticipating, Kseniya let herself slip. Tótha protectively clutched Kseniya.

“Clever little girl,” I thought. “Kseniya managed to get a hug from Tótha.”
Tótha tightly embraced her little whirlwind. Kseniya snuggled against Tótha’s neck.

This became too much for Tótha. She had reached the end of her endurance. I readied myself to intervene should Tótha snap.

“I need to finish making dinner. Wanna help me in the kitchen?” Tótha whispered into Kseniya’s ear.

Kseniya sat up and smiled.

“After dinner, maybe we could play some Yahtzee?” Tótha suggested.

In reply, Kseniya nodded eagerly.

They made their way to the kitchen. Holding Tótha’s hand, Kseniya hop-scotched her way. Tóthaambled along. She was off to finish preparing dinner. It was how she showed her love. It was the best way she knew how.

Introducing Vuk!

Vuk Pejovic arrived to Hamilton just a few years ago from magical country of Montenegro. He is a code wizard for HHS by trade, and is attending McMaster University to improve his degree. Outside of work, he boxes at a local gym and has earned a spot on the plaques at The Judge pub on Augusta.headshot_2017