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A Maud Maud world

New garden at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale, Ont., on Saturday, June 20, 2015.

New garden at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale, Ont., on Saturday, June 20, 2015.

It was getting late on Saturday afternoon. The chief dignitary at our event, the lieutenant governor of Ontario, had moved on to her next appointment. Most of the remaining dignitaries had left too. Only the volunteers were left cleaning up and chatting with us hangers-on. Suddenly a car pulled up and a couple emerged.

“Has the event already happened?” the woman asked. “Have they unveiled the sculpture?”

“The sculpture of Maud?” I repeated. “Yes, they have.”

“We’ve come a long way,” she said.

“Don’t worry. Just about everybody’s gone,” I said. “But the sculpture’s not going anywhere. She’s just waiting for you.” [more…]

Mother Corp on my mind

The old CBC Radio building on Jarvis Street in Toronto was home to a different generation of broadcasters.

The old CBC Radio building on Jarvis Street in Toronto was home to broadcasters with a different set of priorities and ethical standards.

I’ve been asked the question a lot over the years. It’s an issue some of friends feel compelled to put to me whenever it comes up. And I feel compelled to respond. But friends and peers have asked it of me repeatedly these past months, in particular, this past week.

“What’s with all this rottenness at the CBC?” people ask. [more…]

A meeting here tonight

Panel discussion regarding the Stratford school board decision not to allow the son of Art Boon (foreground) join him in Holland.

Panel discussion regarding the Stratford school board decision not to allow the son of Art Boon (foreground) join him in Holland.

Up until last April, the council chamber in one Quebec community would generally fill with reporters and interested members of the public. When it was time to commence the town of Saguenay’s business, in would flow the members of council to take their spots. Then, before a single piece of business was addressed that day, someone would recite these words:

“O God, eternal and almighty, from Whom all power and wisdom flow, we are assembled here in Your presence to ensure the good of our city and its prosperity…” [more…]

A writer life

Kayla Czaga at a poetry reading.

Kayla Czaga at a poetry reading.

Her name is Kayla Czaga. She’s a young Canadian poet. And last Saturday night during a gala, I attended in Winnipeg, her peers announced she’d won the annual Gerald Lampert Award… Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of her or the prize. It was awarded by the League of Canadian Poets at the first ever joint conference of the LCP and its new sister association, The Writers’ Union of Canada, of which I’m a member. In fact, she commented on the new relationship between the LCP and TWUC.

“I want to thank this big, new, strange family,” she said. And the 200 or so writers present – poets, novelists, short story writers and non-fiction writers – all laughed and applauded in appreciation. [more…]

All the world is his stage

OLIVER_TWIST_POSTEROur two families met during an elementary school production of “Oliver!” back about 1990. In the musical, our daughter Whitney performed the role of the old thief Fagin and Lisa and Conrad Boyce’s daughter Alida played Mrs. Bumble, the wife of the workhouse caretaker. Of course, the girls were great. I didn’t realize it right away, but Alida probably had an edge. She was coached by a man steeped in theatrical experience as an actor, director, producer and critic. In a note to me this week, Conrad described his own stage debut.

“I played my first role in Grade 1,” he wrote, “a Canadian history pageant (in which I was) Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal.” [more…]

Going deeper

Birchcliff Theatre in Toronto c.1949.

Birchcliff Theatre in Toronto c.1949.

I think it was my first time at the movies. It was the Birchcliff Theatre on Kingston Road in Toronto. My mom took me. We got popcorn and a soft drink. And the excitement mounted as the movie house lights dimmed, the curtains parted (that’s right, they actually had curtains drawn in front of the screen then) and up came the opening titles as the announcer boomed:

“Walt Disney presents…” and he paused before finishing the sentence, “Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” [more…]

Citizen duty

MEIN_KAMPF_EHe felt compelled to act. He could not hold his tongue. He sensed that if he didn’t step in and say something, all the evils of the past might be repeated. That’s why during a neo-Nazi meeting in the Netherlands about 1960, Heiman de Leeuw demanded entry to the meeting as well as a voice to express his concern.

“You don’t deserve to be living in this country,” he told the supporters of fascism assembled in the hall. “I refuse to keep silent.” [more…]

Acts of liberation

Veteran glider pilot Martin Maxwell and dispatch rider Harry Watts pause at the British Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek, Holland (2015).

Veteran glider pilot Martin Maxwell and dispatch rider Harry Watts pause at the British Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek, Holland (2015).

Early in May, 70 years ago, a Second World War glider pilot named Martin Maxwell tasted freedom for the first time in nearly eight months. On Sept. 17, 1944, during his second airborne operation, he had delivered British soldiers and equipment in a controlled crash landing near Arnhem, Holland, during the Operation Market Garden, only to be wounded and captured days later. But on May 1, 1945, with the Germans surrendering all over Europe, Maxwell regained his freedom.

“A British tank came into our POW camp,” he said, “and we were liberated.” [more…]

Rubble and rabble

On Sunday morning, I picked up one of the Toronto daily newspapers. I saw images of city towers tumbling, apartments smouldering and people wandering aimlessly in the streets. Two days later, I watched breaking news on TV and I saw a dishevelled downtown, stores smouldering and people wandering in the streets.

The first disrupted city was Kathmandu, Nepal. The second was Baltimore, Maryland, in the east-central U.S.

Did it occur to anybody else that civil unrest looks a lot like the aftermath of an earthquake? [more…]

Oh, for more happy landings

I remember as a boy of six or seven, when my mom and dad and sister and I got a lift out to Malton (that’s the former name for Pearson International) Airport for a marathon flight to New York. I was almost jumping out of my skin, I was so excited. I think for a month afterward all I ever said in gatherings of more than two people was:

“You know what I did? I flew to New York on an airplane.” [more…]