Stop mangling O Canada

Because it was appropriate, Whitney Houston belted out The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. Photo www.newyorker.com

Because it was appropriate, Whitney Houston belted out The Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991. Photo www.newyorker.com

Dignitaries had been gathering at the French Embassy in Ottawa for an hour. Wine was flowing. Hors d’oeuvres fast disappearing. And finally, an assistant to the ambassador announced that His Excellency was in the hall. The din dissipated and our attention was directed to a mezzanine level where a woman dressed in red, white and blue began to sing.

“O Caa-naa-daa,” she began in elongated, almost dirge-like tones.

“Oh no,” I thought. “This is going to be another of those interminable renditions of our national anthem.”

[more…]

The salve of understanding

Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.

Joe Tilley hold photo of his son Spencer during his time in Canadian Forces.

Joe Tilley recalled the day his son died. He recounted the scene in front of an audience that knew the story. He described the day two years ago, when his wife answered a heavy knock at the front door. The fact that a police officer was knocking didn’t surprise Penny-Claire Tilley. Their son, Spencer, had had several run-ins with the law. But this police visit seemed different.

“You’re here to tell me my son’s dead, aren’t you,” Penny-Claire Tilley said.

“Yes,” the officer said solemnly. [more…]

Free speech not always free

FLQ painted windows.

FLQ painted windows.

I met the man at a party. He told me he’d just experienced the worst week of his life. He said he’d been rounded up in a Quebec City dragnet and that the police told him they had the authority to keep him in jail indefinitely. I was all ears. I figured I could somehow benefit from listening to his story. Better than that, as the host of a regular radio broadcast, I hoped I could get his story on the air.

“I was a victim of the War Measures Act,” he told me.

“Would you come on my radio show?” I asked him. “I’d like you to tell your story.”

As it turns out, his experience was indeed one that every Canadian wanted to hear at that moment. [more…]

What is the benefit?

Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.

Scrabble With The Stars competitors (l-r) Charlotte Moore, Dorcas Beaton and Alan Gotlib. Photo from Performing Arts Lodges, Toronto. April 25, 2016.

It was that time of the night. The host had told plenty of jokes. The volunteers had completed most of the preparations. The event was unfolding the way most had hoped. Even the chair of the fundraising committee had a smile on her face. It was time for the pitch. So, out came the president of the charity that was the beneficiary of the evening to speak.

“Time to dig deep folks,” he said. “It’s why we’re here, right? To make some money.” [more…]

Inside out

As kids, we would lose ourselves below the high-tension wires of Rouge River Park on day-long outings.

As kids, we would lose ourselves below the high-tension wires of Rouge River Park on day-long outings.

It must have something to do with age, but instead of waking up and getting out of bed refreshed, last Sunday morning, I was hurting. Nothing very complicated. It was just a knot in my back. I chalked it up to a tumble during a late-season hockey game or maybe carrying home too many bags of students’ papers to mark.

Anyway, soon after, I took my coffee up to my office and began editing and evaluating those papers. But it was hard to ignore the gorgeous day unfolding outside my office window. So, eventually, with all that blue sky and long-overdue warm air, I gave in.

“I’ll just rake the lawn for a while,” I thought to myself. “At the very least, it’ll clear my head.” [more…]

Making history then and now

Tish MacDonald gives her students - bound for Vimy next year - last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.

Tish MacDonald gives her students – bound for Vimy next year – last minute instructions for their Sam Sharpe Gala. April 15, 2016.

Sometimes, achievement comes in very small packages. And sometimes it arrives when you least expect it. In this case, a friend of mine, a teacher who’s been working diligently to pull together a major event this weekend, was in the middle of something else. Suddenly, one of her students interrupted to show her his latest piece of work.

“He was completely covered in sawdust,” my teacher friend Tish MacDonald said, “and he showed me this wooden silhouette he’d been working on. It was incredible.”

The silhouette is the outline of a soldier, a First World War Canadian soldier, whose figure will join the décor and displays that, in a few days, will transform the local high school in Uxbridge, Ont., into the site of “The Samuel S. Sharpe Gala” fundraiser. [more…]

Above and beyond the call

One of a number of interviews Const. Massey experienced on Awards Night for Toronto Police Services.

One of a number of interviews Const. Massey experienced on Awards Night for Toronto Police Services.

The CP24 reporter had been hovering for a few minutes waiting for her turn to do an interview. She approached one of the evening’s featured award-winners, a constable and his partner just an arm’s length away. She waited for the cue from the studio that she was on the air, looked into the camera and introduced the “live” segment from Toronto Police Headquarters. She asked the constable why he was being recognized with a special award.

“Well, if it wasn’t for Jetta,” the constable said, motioning to his partner, “none of this would be possible.” [more…]

All in the details

Uxbridge Oilies hockey club got some unexpected news at end of the old-timers tourney.

Uxbridge Oilies hockey club got some unexpected news at end of the old-timers tourney.

We were just peeling off our hockey gear. We were considering a little refreshment after what we thought was a Pyrrhic victory; in others words, we had won our final game of the oldtimers’ tournament, but figured we were out of the running to win the championship in our division. Then, suddenly, in came the tournament organizers – members of the Uxbridge Islanders hockey club – and they were carrying what looked like a box of prizes.

“You guys won!” they told us. “The other team got too many penalties in their last game and you won on points.” [more…]

Fewer settings at the table

Second World War RCAF Lancaster bomber crew.

Second World War RCAF Lancaster bomber crew.

When I got there, members of our organization, including myself, clustered the meeting chairs into a smaller grouping. It appeared there would be fewer people coming today. Indeed, the president pushed the lectern closer to the chairs since there wouldn’t be as large an audience.

“Not very many here today,” one man said.

“Getting worse too,” said another, noting the recent passing of a friend and regular member. [more…]

To build a birthday party

The Confederation Train in 1967 - Tim Reid Collection.

The Confederation Train in 1967 – Tim Reid Collection.

As I recall, it was a summer morning. It might have been around the July 1 anniversary. It didn’t matter. That whole summer of 1967 had had a birthday feeling to it. In any case, I was just rising from a rare sleep-in. But even in my half-conscious state I remember hearing a sound in the distance. It was the diesel whistle of a locomotive approaching the level crossing in Pontypool, Ont., just south of where I was rising from bed.

“Daa. Daa. Da-da,” the diesel horn announced.

“What the heck is that?” I called out to my folks. And just as quickly as I asked, I realized that it was the first four notes of “O Canada” coming from that train whistle. About 15 minutes later, when I’d arrived at the station, where coincidentally the train stopped for a visit, I discovered it was the Confederation Train. [more…]