I stood in what seemed thunderous chaos. Horses galloped to the right of me, to the left of me. Lances appeared to whisk past my ears. The ground felt as if it were trembling beneath my feet. And I grabbed my dad’s arm, fearing if I didn’t I might topple over. Just audible above the din of the rhythmic panting of the horses and the pounding of their hooves, I could hear singing.
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.
It took us nearly a lifetime to recognize a lifetime. But we finally did it on Sept. 19, 2009. It was a tribute to one of our own – a photographer, innovator and award-winning artist. And in the days afterward, as the person given the distinction of hosting the evening and interviewing the man being honoured, I received two touching written snapshots of the occasion. One came from the subject of the tribute.
“Thank you for your introduction of me,” Christopher Chapman scribbled on a card a few days later. “And thank you for guiding me through that interview.”
The other snapshot came as an email from Christopher’s wife, Glen.
“How thrilling to have a significant number of family, friends and community there,” she wrote. “We’re still in awe of the whole evening.”
Part way through B.J. Byers’ concert last Saturday night in Uxbridge, the young pianist finished one of his toughest pieces – an etude by Chopin. He wiped the perspiration from his face with a towel, smiled broadly – as if he had just conquered Everest – and acknowledged the packed house at Trinity United Church.
“There was once a time, I wouldn’t have been able to face this,” Byers said. “I would have just turned and run away.”
Last week, I was heading out of town on one of the 400-series highways. It was a Friday afternoon. Traffic was slow. There were the usual volume holdups and the usual culprits – semis and commuter buses, but mostly cars towing boats, cars towing tent trailers, four-by-fours loaded to the gunwales with camping gear, and lots of RVs. One sported a bumper sticker that kind of summed up the moment.
“Don’t follow me,” it said. “I have no idea where I’m going.”
It seems commonplace now, but for a long time those working in the media were not considered able, nor in some cases were they allowed, to do two things at the same time. Today it’s called multi-tasking. Thirty-five years ago, it was considered a violation of the working agreement between workers and managers in the media. The first person to break that barrier in Canadian news media will leave his revered spot on the air later this week.
“Unions were so powerful [when I worked] at the CBC,” Lloyd Robertson told a group of journalists a few years ago. “As an announcer there, all I was allowed to do was pick up news copy and read it on the air.”