Never again

Uxbridge Secondary School students pose in front of German gun emplacement during their field trip to D-Day beaches in France.

They all looked sharp in their specially tailored commemorative jackets. They responded to the atmosphere of being away from home on a field trip with not unexpected exuberance; they looked pretty pumped. But when several of them spoke publicly the other night in Ypres, Belgium, I could tell these teenagers had changed even in the few days we’ve been away.

One of them, Sam Futhy, a Grade 10 student from Uxbridge Secondary School, noted a visit to one of the Great War cemeteries.

“When I saw the number of grave stones,” he said. “I don’t know. It just hit me.”

Shoulders broad enough for eternity

We had finished our preparations. I’d checked the microphone levels with the sound technician at the venue. We had loaded all the visuals supporting my talk into the theatre’s projection system. The script? I knew all the stories by heart. Everything seemed ready for my presentation about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Suddenly, everything changed. A woman entered the theatre and then came out of the box office shaking her head. I spotted her and asked what was wrong.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. “I just wanted to talk to tonight’s speaker, but there are no tickets left, so I guess I’m out of luck.”

“I’m the speaker,” I said. “What was it you wanted to say?”

“It’s a story about the sculpture on Vimy Ridge,” she said.

Workplace and symbol

It was about 1 p.m. One of the clerks outside the chamber went over the rules I was to keep in mind when I went inside: Enter quietly. No briefcases or parcels. No applauding or talking out loud. Rise to your feet when the Speaker enters, when you’re introduced and when you leave. It made me think I was entering the Vatican.

But it was actually the Speaker’s Gallery at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton last Thursday afternoon. Eventually, the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) for Sherwood Park, just outside Edmonton, rose to address the government and opposition members present.

“Speaker, I rise to introduce distinguished visitors,” MLA Annie McKitrick said.

There is nothing like a Dame

RCAF vet Charley Fox leaning on one of his beloved Spitfires; but a day in 2006 nearly topped that.

A student pilot nearly killed him in a training accident in November 1942. While still an instructor in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, during the Second World War here in Canada, he’d survived a head-on collision with another aircraft near Bagotville, Quebec. And overseas during combat operations flying Spitfires, RCAF airman Charley Fox also survived 234 combat sorties as a fighter pilot. And yet, it was a June evening in 2006, that Charley told me just about topped them all.

“Meeting Dame Vera Lynn,” Fox said, “was a highlight in my life.”

Organized chaos

Suddenly, people in the room felt a great deal of tension. A man rose from his seat in the middle of the auditorium. He cleared his throat. He appeared to muster his courage in front of several hundred others in the audience and a platform of political dignitaries. He looked to the moderator and began to speak.

“I am a taxpayer in Scarborough,” he began, “and I see the Scarborough subway extension coming, but I have a serious question…”

At precisely that moment, in the corner of the hall some sort of air compressor or ventilation pump clicked into gear. And the gush of air and the grinding sound of its motor all but drowned out the sound of the man about to ask the dignitaries present that serious question.

The REAL ‘We the North’

From a grade school primer reader, All Sails Set, a sketch from the story about Canada’s winningest basketball team.

Over the weekend, I read with moderate interest about the latest woes facing the Toronto Raptors pro basketball team. All week long, the Raptors’ brain trust was grappling with the news that Kyle Lowry’s wrist surgery might put the Raptors’ all-star point guard on the shelf for the rest of the season. Here’s now the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur put the loss of Lowry:

“It’s like a team losing both its brain and the biggest part of its heart.”

Locked into vinyl

As background to where and when I work, a favourite LP on my retro turntable.

It happens about 15 minutes and 30 seconds in. It’s happens after the flugelhorn introduction from the leader of the band, Chuck Mangione. It follows the entry of the full Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the spontaneous applause. Just about the time soprano sax player Gerry Niewood comes in. Right in there, kind of unexpectedly, there’s this short stutter in the recording. No, not in the recording, but in my pressed version of it.

“It’s a locked groove,” I once explained to my daughters, “an imperfection in the pressing of the vinyl disc.”

Fixin’ a hole…

The conditions seemed perfect. Winter hadn’t made up its mind whether to encase us in ice or drown us in rain. But the erratic conditions had lulled me into thinking neither did I have to shovel the driveway because a thaw would melt it, nor should I believe Wiarton Willy that spring was less than six weeks away. Then it happened.

“Ted,” my wife shouted, “we’ve got a leak in the bedroom ceiling.”

Play like a girl

Team White shakes hands with Team Blue at end of 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League All-Star game at ACC.

Their faces suddenly lit up. One of the cameras in the arena caught them cheering and dancing all in a row. And there they were jumping up and down in unison to the sound of a Spice Girls pop tune. They were thrilled to be up on the jumbo screen at the Air Canada Centre. But most of all they loved showing off their team jerseys, the North Durham Blades hockey team. And the camera cut to a makeshift placard another young female hockey player was holding.

“Play like a girl!” it proclaimed proudly.

Trump’s ban, Canada’s boon

Refugees from the Baltic at Pier 21 immigration hall in 1848. Photo Halifax Chronicle Herald.

A number of weeks ago, neighbours and friends gathered in the basement of the United Church in my town. The church auxiliary served sandwiches, cakes, cookies, coffee and tea. A Syrian family had finally arrived in this community and the gathering at the church allowed townspeople to greet and meet them. They kept thanking the town for its generosity and initiatives to help. One thing the couple said that first day we met has stuck with me.

“Thank you for this welcome,” they said.