The value of teaching music

View from the back of the Agincourt Collegiate band … with music teacher John Rutherford conducting. (May 1967)

Most of the time I sat among the back seats in the rehearsal room. But that’s OK. As long as I kept one eye on the music charts in front of me and the other down front where conductor John Rutherford stood, I knew I’d stay in step with the rest of the group. I just had to wait for Mr. Rutherford’s downbeat and I was part of the performance. And that meant a lot to me. He’d often begin the rehearsal with the same words of encouragement.

“OK,” Rutherford would say. “Let’s make a little magic.”

Was it stolen valour?

Unknown to historians, Charles Loewen addressed the logistical challenge of landing an army in wartime France.

Early in 1943, the military planners in London, England, coped with the ebb and flow of the Second World War, but they did so secretly. Squirrelled away in his tiny office at the British War Office, an experienced Canadian-born artillery officer grappled with a logistics problem about an upcoming military operation. But the stress proved overwhelming for hm. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t focus. To switch his mind off before bed, he tried reading detective stories. Then, he tried something completely different.

“I set up a fly-tying table,” Charles Falkland Loewen wrote in his memoirs, “and before going to bed sat down to tie a fly or two. I found that this absorbed one’s complete attention … and really unbuttoned my mind from current problems.”

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.”

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.

The price of renaming

Just over a year ago, some of our Centennial College student reporters were assembling the latest edition of the East York Observer newspaper. One reporter had been assigned to cover a media conference at the regional hospital in the area. She returned to explain that the hospital, which for probably half a century was known as the Toronto East General Hospital, was now going to be called the Michael Garron Hospital, in honour of the son of long-time hospital donors, Myron and Berna Garron. Michael Burns, the chair of the old TEGH, explained it to our reporter this way.

“If you’re lucky, once in a lifetime a truly extraordinary philanthropic gesture transforms an institution and care for thousands of people,” he said. “We are humbled and beyond grateful that our hospital is in receipt of such a remarkable and historic gesture.”

All the news that’s fit to fake

Very much alive, but nobody bothered to check. Courtesy GordonLightfoot.com.

As I recall, it was an afternoon in February a few years ago. One of my journalism students came to me with a cell phone in his hands – you know the pose, with head bowed, eyes mesmerized, phone illuminating his face – and a look of incredulity. He looked up at me and announced the news.

“It says here Gordon Lightfoot is dead,” he said.

“What?” I said, then added with a tone of say it ain’t so in my voice “No.” Then, I asked him where he was reading such news.

Lucy in the sky…

Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.
Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.

The media came out in droves to hear an important pronouncement about law and the use of a controversial hallucinogenic substance in Canadian society. Then, three sober-looking legal figures proceeded to offer their findings. J. Peter Stein, Heinz Lehmann and the man after whom the report was named, Gerald Le Dain, unveiled their findings.

“The cultivation of cannabis should be subject to the same penalties as trafficking,” Judge Le Dain said, “but it should not be a punishable offence…”

If you thought those pronouncements were a recent dress rehearsal for the current Trudeau Liberal government’s plan to decriminalize the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana next spring, well, you’d almost be right.

Power in association

The occasion was a municipal debate at Toronto City Hall, that I witnessed some months ago. The issue arose over the purchase of a small, insignificant piece of land by the municipality for the expansion of a city service. And before the debate even began, the city clerk called for city councillors to declare. Then, several stood up and did.

“In accordance with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act,” one councillor said, “I excuse myself from the debate.”

Make it awkward

Mother Canada sculpture at Vimy Memorial.
Mother Canada sculpture at Vimy Memorial.

The man sat at the back of the audience area through most of my presentation. I spoke, as I usually do in those situations, walking among those in the audience, in this case 30 people seated at about eight tables. My topic was the Battle at Vimy Ridge coming up to the 100th anniversary next year. And I was speaking at a small Ontario fair last weekend. I could see the man was reacting to what I had to say. He frowned a lot and when I’d finished he put up his hand.

“Is it true that all the French-Canadian troops threw their rifles overboard on the way over to France?” he asked.

I paused a second, wondering where he was going with the question. I didn’t want to think there was prejudice involved. “No. I don’t think that’s true, since one of the key regiments at Vimy was the Royal 22nd from Quebec.”

Shoe leather and storytelling

CBC News reporter Terry Milewski
CBC News reporter Terry Milewski

The first he knew of the story, came from a phone call early one Sunday morning in 1985. His producers at CBC told him to get on a passenger jet bound for Shannon Airport in Ireland and then to travel south along the Irish coast to where families from India were assembling.

Actually, they were scrambling to the coastline where they hoped they might find their relatives from Canada. CBC reporter Terry Milewski had been assigned to find these families and report on them.

“It was just a bizarre and horrifying situation,” Milewski wrote. “Most of the bodies (of their loved-ones) were never found. Most of the bodies went to the bottom of the sea still strapped in their seats.”