Everybody’s Uncle Monti

When I first saw him, he was reading a newspaper. Not one I recognized.

But that’s OK. Canada is not his home. English is not his first language. And we were, after all, staying at his home – the Hotel Levante, in Rimini, Italy. My wife Jayne and I had arrived there to meet the man known in those parts as “the adopted Canadian.” When he emerged from behind the newspaper and approached us, it seemed as if his entire body smiled.

“Signore Monti?” we asked in our best tourist Italian.

“Uncle Monti,” he responded. “Everybody calls me ‘Uncle’ Monti.”

Canada Day and disaster

Ninety-five years ago this week Canada suffered unexpected disaster.

It was June 30, 1912. Every street and every building in Regina, Saskatchewan, was festooned with bunting and patriotic flags. Two weeks of intense heat and humidity hadn’t dampened Reginans’ anticipation of the national anniversary (then called Dominion Day) the next day. Then catastrophe struck. The sky darkened in the middle of the afternoon. Winds rose to more than 500 miles per hour and the resulting cyclone sliced right through the centre of the city. In twenty minutes the storm killed 28 people, destroyed 400 buildings and caused $5 million damage. One resident described the blocking out of the sun that summer afternoon.

“It was as dark as the inside of your hat,” he said.

First day of summer

Today is the anniversary of my favourite first day of summer.

One spring night on my way home from delivering newspaper copy to the Star Phoenix, (I was freelance writing in Saskatoon then), I walked across one of the massive bridges spanning the Saskatchewan River. I stopped half way across and stared upward. There from north to south from horizon to horizon, danced the Northern Lights. Shimmering, sparkling and awe-inspiring, the rainbow of colours and patterns of aurora borealis lit up the nighttime sky like a three-D movie.

Barris goes blogosphere

There is no fear greater in my world.

The turning point occurred for me about 1980. The freelance world of writing had suddenly changed. I had recently moved to Alberta. The work seemed incredibly plentiful – not unlike the way it is now in Western Canada. The demand to be everywhere and cover everything in news and current affairs had become paramount. But it wasn’t so much a matter of what or whom I knew anymore. It appeared to be how quickly I could deliver. A close writer friend pointed it out to me.

“Word processors, have you seen them?” he asked. “Seems like we’d better get one or we’ll be left behind.”

When old soldiers fade away

The meeting came to order as the Officer Commanding pounded the handle of a former German hand grenade atop a former German military helmet. The makeshift gavel brought all hubbub in the room to a sudden halt. And 21 Canadian army veterans seated ’round a horseshoe-shaped dining table all recited a lusty and lurid poem mocking a long-ago enemy – the Kaiser and his generals.

“Good evening,” the OC said. “Welcome to the final meeting of the Byng Boys Club.”

Vimy moments

The statue of Mother Canada mourning her dead - part of the refurbished Vimy Memorial.
The statue of Mother Canada mourning her dead - part of the refurbished Vimy Memorial.

The Queen, the French prime minister, Prime Minister Harper, assorted other dignitaries, at least 4,000 young Canadian students and thousands of French and Canadian citizens were there. They had all assembled on a hillside in north-central France to commemorate perhaps Canada’s greatest military victory in the Great War at Vimy Ridge, on April 9, 1917. The tour of 112 people, for whom I’ve provided commentary this week, had dispersed into the overall crowd of 25,000. Suddenly, this older man approached me.

“You are a Canadian?” he asked.

A man of honour

A notice in the newspaper a few weeks ago, lamented the recent passing of a local resident. The short obituary noted that Terry Haddock’s family would miss him dearly, as would members of the boating and billiards community. But the notice also mentioned the loss to his many friends. One of those friends is another Uxbridge resident. Fred Barnard will miss Terry Haddock mostly on Thursdays when the two regularly shared conversation and refreshment at the Legion.

“It was easy to talk to him,” Fred Barnard said. “I’ll miss that.”