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.
Dignitaries had been gathering at the French Embassy in Ottawa for an hour. Wine was flowing. Hors d’oeuvres fast disappearing. And finally, an assistant to the ambassador announced that His Excellency was in the hall. The din dissipated and our attention was directed to a mezzanine level where a woman dressed in red, white and blue began to sing.
“O Caa-naa-daa,” she began in elongated, almost dirge-like tones.
“Oh no,” I thought. “This is going to be another of those interminable renditions of our national anthem.”
We were just peeling off our hockey gear. We were considering a little refreshment after what we thought was a Pyrrhic victory; in others words, we had won our final game of the oldtimers’ tournament, but figured we were out of the running to win the championship in our division. Then, suddenly, in came the tournament organizers – members of the Uxbridge Islanders hockey club – and they were carrying what looked like a box of prizes.
“You guys won!” they told us. “The other team got too many penalties in their last game and you won on points.”
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.
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…”
In the fall of 2001, a man dropped by the original location of the Grenadier Militaria store in Port Perry. It wasn’t long after the store had opened its doors for the first time. Although he didn’t know Dave Zink, the proprietor of the store, Dave Robinson asked a favour. A production (by the Borelians Community Theatre) needed military props and uniforms to authenticate an upcoming show. Robinson, then a history teacher at Port Perry High School, wondered if Zink might loan some of his unique artefacts to the production. Robinson couldn’t believe what happened.
“He said, ‘Yes,’” Robinson said. “And right away, I knew Dave Zink was a valuable asset to the community because he was so supportive.”
I stopped at one of my favourite art-supply shops in the city, the other day. Out of habit, I passed the cashier, said hello and walked directly to the aisle with the portfolios. They’re those bound folders that contain those see-through plastic sheaths for photos, clippings or other important papers you want to display. Anyway, like old Mother Hubbard, when I got there the shelf was bare. I asked what had happened.
“Oh, they’ve been discontinued,” the sales clerk said.
The 21st Winter Olympics wrapped up Sunday night. The closing ceremony began with a moment that could only have happened in Canada. Uniquely able to poke fun at themselves, Canadian organizers allowed speed skater Catriona Le May Doan to light that fourth cauldron – the one that malfunctioned during the opening ceremony. Then, thousands of spectators and athletes opened their mouths and let patriotism come out.