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.”

Victory at Vimy


Victory at Vimy, Canada Comes of Age: April 9-12, 1917

Thomas Allen Publishers
January 26, 2007

ISBN-10: 0-88762-253-4

From the author of JUNO: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944, comes a new book about the Famous Canadian Victory at Vimy Ridge.

At the height of the First World War, on Easter Monday April 9, 1917, in early morning sleet, forty-nine battalions of the Canadian Corps rose along a nine-mile line of trenches in northern France against the occupying Germans. All four Canadian divisions advanced in a line behind a well-rehearsed creeping barrage of artillery fire. By nightfall, the Germans had suffered a major setback. The Ridge, which other Allied troops had assaulted previously and failed to take, was firmly in Canadian hands.

It was the first time Canadians had fought as a distinct national army, and in many ways it was a coming of age for the nation. Based on first-hand accounts, like JUNO: Canadians at D-Day, Ted Barris paints a compelling and surprising human picture of what it was like to have stormed and taken Vimy Ridge.

Behind the Glory

book-behind-the-gloryBehind the Glory, Canada’s Role in the Allied Air War

Thomas Allen Publishers
October 14, 2005

ISBN 0-88762-212-7

In this 60th Anniversary edition is Ted Barris’ telling of the unique story of Canada’s largest World War Two expenditure – $1.75 billion in a Commonwealth-wide training scheme, based in Canada that supplied the Allied air war with nearly a quarter of a million qualified airmen.

Within its five-year life-span, the BCATP supplied a continuous flow of battle-ready pilots, navigators, wireless radio operators, air gunners, flight engineers, riggers and fitters or more commonly known as ground crew, principally for the RCAF and RAF as well as the USAAF.

While the story of so many men graduating from the most impressive air training scheme in history is compelling enough, Ted Barris offers the untold story of the instructors – the men behind the glory – who taught those airmen the vital air force trades that ensure Allied victory over Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. In Winston Churchill swords, the BCATP proved “the decisive factor” in winning the Second World War.

This 60th Anniversary edition arrives as Canada continues to celebrate 2005 as the Year of the Veteran. Ted Barris interviewed more than 200 instructors and using their anecdotes and viewpoints he recounts the story of the flyers who coped with the dangers of training missions and the frustration of fighting the war thousands of miles away from the front without losing their enthusiasm for flying.

Days of Victory

book-days-of-victoryDays of Victory, Canadians Remember 1939-1945

Thomas Allen Publishers
March 12, 2005

ISBN 0-88762-175-9

When the German capitulation in Europe came on May 8 – VE Day – celebrations swept the continent. Festivities also spilled into the streets of Halifax, Ottawa, Sudbury, Regina, and Vancouver back home. It was a sweet day and a bitter one for millions of people whose lives had been changed forever by nearly six years of global war.

This volume of wartime remembrance carries the reader from the early days of the Second World War – through the struggles in western Europe, Italy, and Hong Kong to the Canadians’ ultimate march to victory that began on D-Day in 1944 and culminated in VE and VJ Day, more than a year later.

From interviews, research, and images originally gathered by father and son writing team Alex and Ted Barris, best-selling author Ted Barris has broadened this revised edition to include stories of Canadian heroism in the Pacific war, accounts of Canadian war correspondents battling to beat the censors, more first-hand impressions from the Canadians who liberated Europe – and from the civilians they liberated in Italy, France, Belgium, Denmark, and finally Holland. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of VE Day this book gives voice to that generation who won the world a second chance.

The Days of Victory text is enhanced by 32 pages of personal/archival photographs and maps.