Ronnie’s moment of fame

Ronnie Egan wears her beret and Women’s Royal Navy Service identification in May 2015.

About a month ago, a CBC television reporter from Nova Scotia emailed me with a request. Being sufficiently old-fashioned about these things, I decided to phone him to offer a verbal (rather than texted) answer. He said he and a camera operator had just returned from an assignment in downtown Halifax. He said they had just shot video of the demolition of the Discovery Centre. I didn’t immediately get it.

“You’d more likely remember it as the Zellers store,” Dave Irish said. “It’s a building with much history. … I’m hoping to speak to you about Ms. (Ronnie) Egan saving it.”

A house that was a home

My neighbour's house comes down piece by piece.
My neighbour’s house comes down piece by piece.

The demolition had been going on for over an hour. Layers of roofing, above the second floor were now caving in. Rafters that hadn’t seen the light of day for over a century and the walls that could tell stories of many of those years came cascading down. It was all quite controlled. With the precision of a surgeon, the excavator operator was bringing my neighbour’s house down piece by piece.

Murray Huntington spots an important clue.
Murray Huntington spots an important clue.

But suddenly the excavator shovel – Murray Huntington’s industrial scalpel – powered down. Huntington opened the excavator door, stepped out of the cab and climbed over the debris that had been the second floor.

“What’ve you got?” I called out to him from ground level.

“Maybe you can use this,” Huntington said.

And he gently tugged at a few of the floorboards atop the pile of rubble to reveal some paper. He’d spotted it in the debris, brought it down and handed it to me. It was a newspaper.

An emblem of grace and service

Chief Petty Officer Rodine Egan in Halifax during Second World War.
Chief Petty Officer Rodine Egan in Halifax during Second World War.

We met over the Red Maple Leaf. Or, I guess it was actually under it. We had only been her neighbours for a while, when she looked up at the Canadian flag hanging at my front door and took exception to it.

“You’d better take that down,” she said sternly. “It’s against the law for the national emblem to be that tattered.”

Originally resentful that my neighbour should call me out on the physical condition of my flag, I soon learned that my neighbour – Rodine Doris Mary Buckley-Beevers Egan – had every right to demand that I replace the flag. Not just to ensure that I wasn’t charged by the Government of Canada or the Queen herself for disgracing a national symbol, Ronnie felt personally obliged to fix such things. Indeed, I sensed it wasn’t only her nature, but her occupation.

Sentinel of a century

Tree cutters arrive to bring down the maple on Balsam Street.

About a week ago, a friend up the street visited my next-door neighbour on a mission. With his pickup truck empty, save for his chainsaw and a can of gas, He began a day-long project dissecting the remains of a piece of history. A maple tree that had stood near the street at the corner of Ronnie Egan’s property for nearly a century had dropped too many dead or dying upper limbs to be safe anymore. So the township decided for the benefit of all concerned that the tree should come down.

“I cried the day they took it down,” Ronnie Egan admitted to me. “It was very sad to see it go.”