Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band from Kingston, Ontario which debuted in 1984, has come back into the limelight with its lead singer, Gordon Downie, being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Their last concert, scheduled for this summer, was sold out four minutes after tickets went on sale.

One blogger suggested that you could teach a History lesson using Tragically Hip songs.  Here is a list of suggested tunes:

1.  Fifty Mission Cap

Based on a World War II cap that a pilot received for flying fifty mission successfully, this is a cap that Gordon Downie owned.  Inside was a hockey card of Bill Barilko, the one who scored the winning goal to win the Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup in 1951.  That summer he went on a fishing trip and disappeared in the Northern Ontario Bush.  The plane's wreckage wasn't found for another 11 years, the same length of time it took Toronto to win the Cup again. (

2.  At the Hundredth Meridian

The Hundredth Meridian is a line of latitude with separates Central and Eastern Canada from Western Canada.  The Hundredth Meridian is where the Great Plains begin.  "I remember buffalo and I remember Hengelo" is a line from the song in reference to the glory days of the Plains, filled with buffalo, and the glory days of the band, at a Hengelo, Holland concert filled with fans.

3.  Fireworks

This song makes reference to all things Canadian:  the Canada Fitness Award Program, hockey legend Bobby Orr and the 1972 Summit Hockey Series in which Paul Henderson scored the winning goal against the Soviets, immortalized in the line "If there's a goal that everyone remembers it was back in ol' '72."

4.  Wheat Kings

This song talks about the beautiful skyline at "Sundown in the Paris of the Prairies" (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) and alludes to convicted murderer David Milgaard who received 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

5.  Looking For a Place to Happen

Traces the history of explorer Jacques Cartier and his journey across Canada.

6.  Listen to the Bear

Refers to a bear in Algonquin Park, a famous camping destination for Canadians, immortalized by painters The Group of Seven.

7.  Bobcaygeon

Cottage country town Bobcaygeon is the title of their song which mentions looking at the constellations. It also mentions the "checkerboard floors" of the town's Horseshoe Tavern.

Note:  My son's birth cousin, Tyler Wilson, is part of a band called "Checkerboard Floors", inspired by the Tragically Hip's reference.

8.  The Dire Wolf

The songs talks about Isle aux Morts in Newfoundland.

9.  Nautical Disaster

A reference to the World War II Canadian raid on Dieppe in which 4000 of the 4800 soldiers were killed.

10.  New Orleans is Sinking

This was written before Hurricane Katrina.  You could argue that this song has a Canadian theme since New Orleans was settled by Acadians, of French descent, who were deported from present day Nova Scotia in the 1750's.  Known for their cuisine, they became known as Cajuns.  If you say the French word "Acadien" quickly, it sounds like Cajun.  (

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Old Town Lunenburg

Lunenburg, established in 1753, was a planned British colonial settlement which has retained much of its original appearance.  The town, situated on the south shore of Nova Scotia, was settled by Protestants in an attempt to offset the large number of Acadian Catholics and Mikmaqs in the area.  The town has a seemingly German name as it was named after Britain's King, George August of Hanover, also the Duke of Braunschweig-Luneberg.

It is surprising that the town, filled with a mix of multi-coloured buildings, remains as beautiful as it does for Lunenburg has endured many attacks.  In the 1750's, the Acadian and Mikmaq militias attacked the town in a series of raids.  British officer John Knox wrote:  "In the year 1757, we were said to be masters of the province of Nova Scotia or Acadia, which, however, was only an imaginary possession..."

In 1775, during the American Revolution, the Yankees raided Lunenberg.  Again, in 1782, they attacked the town.  On both occasions, the town was devastated.

During the War of 1812, private citizens of Lunenburg were called on to build or purchase privateer ships to attack American vessels.  "After a long battle in Mahone Bay, the Lunenberg militia was sent to take prisoners from the American privateer, Young Teazer."

A relative peace came to the area by the early to mid-1800's and its residents could focus on making a living. Lunenburg became known for its agricultural industry as farmers took advantage of the fertile soil on the rolling drumlins of Nova Scotia.  In the 19th Century Lunenburg became a major fishing centre, drawing on the schools of fish on the offshore banks.  Lunenburg shipping yards specialized in building wooden fishing schooners which remained competitive until the 1920's.  The most famous of these, the Bluenose, which won the International Fisherman's Trophy, is immortalized on our Canadian dime.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the town was also featured on a Canadian stamp in 2014.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Alexander Graham Bell

"The conception of the telephone took place at my father's residence in Brantford in 1874...the experiment of August 10, 1876 made from Brantford to Paris was the first transmission, the first clear intelligible transmission of speech over the real line, that had ever been made." 
(Alexander Graham Bell, March 13, 1916)

It's hard to believe that an idea as revolutionary as the telephone, was conceived on the banks of the Grand River just six kilometres from my house in Brantford, Ontario.  Alexander Graham Bell, after suffering from tuberculosis, had recently immigrated with his parents from Scotland to Canada.  In 1876, Bell, recently relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, spoke for the first time on his new invention, the telephone, using the famous words "Mr. Watson, come here!  I want to see you!".  Later that year, from his parents' homestead in Brantford, he placed the first telephone call over a telegraph line to nearby Paris, Ontario.  The first public showing of Bell's new invention came at the Philadelphia World's Fair in 1876.

Catalogue for the Philadelphia World's Fair 1876 courtesy 

Like any new invention, the telephone had some wrinkles to iron out, evident in the letter Alexander Graham Bell penned to his parents two years later (  After moving away to accept a job as a professor at Boston University, Bell continued to make the journey back to Brantford every summer to visit his parents.  It was during his vacation that he would work on his famous invention.

In 1913, with the approaching of the World Exposition in San Francisco, the AT & T President suggested building a transcontinental telephone system.  The system, completed six months before the Exposition, connected Bell in New York City, with his trusty assistant, Thomas Watson, in Los Angeles (

At Bell's death, in 1922, thirteen million telephones had been sold.  In 1947, on the 100th anniversary of Bell's birth, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate the inventor.

Monday, 27 June 2016

German U-Boats Offshore

Halifax Herald, May 13, 1942.<br />  Library and Archives Canada NL125952

Growing up in Toronto during the Second World War, my Dad remembers reading in the Toronto Star that German U-boats were spotted in the St. Lawrence River, that German soldiers were spotted entering a Montreal movie theatre.  He remembered air raid wardens marching up and down his street during blackouts in Toronto.  I had always thought that the World War Two theatre was restricted to Europe, not North America (with the exception of Pearl Harbor).  I couldn't believe that the Germans had come that close to home.

                             On September 11, 1942, <abbr title='Her Majesty's Canadian Ship'>HMCS</abbr> <em>Charlottetown</em> (I) was destroyed<br /> within sight of horrified onlookers on the shores near Cap-Chat. <br />Department of National Defence, CN-3636.

HMCS Charlottetown was one of the first targets of the German U-boats courtesy

As part of the book that I'm writing about wartime Toronto and the Maple Leafs, I researched German U-boats in Canada and found out that a full battle took place here, the Battle of the St. Lawrence, from 1942 to 1944.  Submarines penetrated the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle (my mother in law was born and raised on Belle Isle) to sail down the St. Lawrence.  There, they torpedoed and sunk an amazing 23 Allied ships, some within 300 kilometres of Quebec City.

German U-boats posed not only a military threat but also an economic one:  they decreased cargo shipments by 25%.  Quebec City, Trois Rivieres and Montreal were essentail ports, the latter accounting for "more tons of shipping than all over East Coast ports combined" (

                                                Victory Bond advertisement in the <br /><em>Montreal Daily Star</em>, November 2, 1942.<br />  Library and Archives Canada NL12595.

Some Canadian cities started imposing blackouts and employing air raid wardens.  The war campaign at home went into full swing.

Canadian stamp issued on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the St. Lawrence courtesy

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Franklin the Turtle

Hawkeye admits he is afraid to go into a dark cave in a M*A*S*H episode circa 1979 courtesy*A*V*E_(TV_series_episode)?file=MASH_episode_7x21_-_Hawkeye%27s_Claustrophobia.gif.

After the birth of her first child in 1996, Canadian Paulette Bourgeois decided to write a picture book. Bourgeois was inspired by an episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye admitted he was claustrophobic and refused to enter a cave, saying:  "If I were a turtle, I would be afraid of my own shell." (*A*V*E_(TV_series_episode).

Franklin in the Dark, published in 1986, was the result of her effort.  Franklin the Turtle, in his daily struggles growing up, encourages children to "come out of their shells".  Whether it's the story of Franklin reluctantly cleaning his room and finding his prize sword, or the one where Franklin first meets his baby sister, the series resonates with young readers (and parents).

To date, Paulette Bourgeois has written 100 different tales.  The books, of which 65 million have been sold, are translated into 38 languages including French (Franklin's French counterpart is Benjamin). Illustrator Brenda Clark from Toronto explains how the series has taken off:  "With Franklin we were pioneers of sorts in Canada; the first to have a picture book developped into a large series, published globally and expanded into TV, DVDs and e-books."

Canada Post recognized Franklin's contribution to literature in a stamp issued in 2012.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Canada Post Commemorates Canadian Photography

Canadian curators and gallery owners have chosen the best photography from the last 150 years to grace Canadian stamps.  Here are some of the photos selected from the website:

1.  Nina Raginsky's Shoeshine Stand, Vancouver, BC (1974)

2.  Conrad Poirier's Friends and Family and Trips, Montreal Simpsons Store, 1936

3.  Isaac's First Swim, Lambton, Ontario, 1996

4.  Alex Colville on the Tantramar Marshes, Sackville, New Brunswick, 1970

5.  Angels, St. Jean Baptiste Day, Montreal, 1962

6.  Southam Sisters, Montreal, 1919

Friday, 24 June 2016

Titanic: The Canadian Connection

"Long before Cameron called 'action' on the set of Titanic Canadians were involved with the world's most famous ocean disaster."  Early on the morning of April 12, 1914, wireless operators in Cape Race, Newfoundland received distress signals from the ocean liner.  Aboard the Titanic, there were 130 men and women and children bound for Canada.  There were also over 20 Canadians returning to their native land on board the Titanic when it sank, including Grand Trunk Pacific Railway vice-president, Charles M. Hays and Eaton's buyer George Graham.  At least 10, including Hays and Graham, perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic, while the remainder were rescued by the S.S. Carpathian.

More than 150 dead were recovered by Maritime ships, their funerals presided over by Halifax clergymen and their bodies buried in Halifax cemeteries.  On the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic, Canada Post issued stamps to commemorate the tragedy.  One stamp portrays the stern while a second illustrates the bow, the two sections of which were torn apart when the ocean liner hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.  The third stamp shows the anchor, which was so heavy that it took a team of 20 Clydesdale horses to pull it through the streets of Belfast, Ireland.  The fourth stamp features the three-bladed propellers, which weighed as much as 38 tonnes each.

While it was an American who discovered the wreck of the titanic in 1985, it was a Canadian, James Cameron, who produced and directed the blockbuster hit Titanic in 1997.  While by far not the biggest marine disaster, it remains the most famous one.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tommy Douglas: The Birth of Medicare

Tommy Douglas, born in Scotland in 1904, immigrated to Canada in 1910 with his family.  Growing up poor, Douglas developped an infection and he almost lost his leg if not for a doctor who agreed to treat him if his students could observe.  He never forgot the experience.

During the Great Depression, as a Baptist preacher, Douglas watched his parishioners suffer. Looking for ways to alleviate their suffering, he made an unsuccessful run for the provincial candidacy for the Farmer-Labour Party.  He became a Member of Parliament for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.  In 1944, Douglas became the Premier of Saskatchewan, leading the first democratic socialist government in North America.

In 1947, Premier Douglas brought in hospital insurance in Saskatchewan, the first province to do so. In 1960, the CCF was renamed the New Democratic Party with Douglas as its leader.  Two years later, Saskatchewan's Medical Care Insurance Act came into effect, thanks in large part to the groundwork set by former Premier Douglas.  Ontario did not get equivalent care until 1972, due in large part to resistance from Premier Robarts.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Canada's Most Famous War Photo Graces Stamp

It's the most famous and most recognized photo ever to be taken in Canada during World War II.  It appeared in Life, Time and Newsweek.  It hung in every school in British Columbia during the war.  And it was used to sell Canadian war bonds.  It is called "Wait for Me, Daddy!".

On October 1, 1940, a column of Canadian soldiers walked down Vancouver's Columbia Ave. to the train station.  Their uniforms freshly pressed, their hats tilted on their head at just the right angle, their boots freshly shined, their bodies trained for battle.  But one little boy wasn't ready for them to leave.  The white-blond haired boy broke away from his mother's grasp and ran after his father who was part of the column, reaching out his little hand as if to say "Wait for me, Daddy!".  His father responded by reaching out his own hand. His elegantly dressed mother reached out for her son's hand, trying to keep up.  

All the while, photographer Claude Dettloff was snapping photographs of the column of soldiers on Columbia Ave.  Unprepared for the scene to follow, he captured a once in a lifetime moment on film. His photograph would be published in The Province newspaper,  later to be picked up by several magazines including Reader's Digest.  Dettloff would become famous over the heart-grabbing image of the white-haired boy chasing his war-bound father down the street.

The little boy, Warren "Whitey" Bernard, later sold war bonds for his country, holding up the famous photo and pleading with his audience to help "bring his Daddy home".  Warren's Daddy was one of the lucky ones who returned five years later, in October 1945, for a happy reunion with his son.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dinosaur Provincial Park

While the United States is known for its badlands, Canada has its share of beautiful topography, located in southern Alberta.  Opened in 1955 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alberta, Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to at least 40 dinosaur species and 500 specimens, exhibited all over the world.  Due to the precious fossils found in the park, it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979.

The diverse collection of dinosaur bones at the park, part of the late Cretaceous period, include:  ceratopsia, hadrosauridae, ankylosauria, hypsilophodontidae, pachycelphalosauria, tyrannosauridae, ornithomimidae, caenagnathidae, dromaeosauridae, and troodontidae.  Previous to 1985, exhibits of these fossils could be found at the Toronto's Royal Agricultural Museum, Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature, and the New York City's American Museum of Natural History.  Today, the exhibits are displayed at Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, located only two and a half hours southeast of Calgary, supports three ecosystems:  badlands, prairie grasslands and riverside cottonwoods.  Current inhabitants are much smaller than the dinosaurs.  "Choruses of coyotes are common at dusk as well as calls of nightowls."  Daytime visitors can spot cottontail rabbits, mule deer and pronghorns.  In the spring and summer, curlews and Canada geese fill the skies.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Laura Secord: More Than Just a Chocolate

"For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you or me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs." (George Eliot Middlemarch, 1871)

Most of us know about the chocolates with the cameo logo.  But how many know the story of the housewife turned heroine who, in 1813, made a dangerous 19 kilometre trek to warn the British that the Americans were coming, thereby helping the Redcoats regain control of the Niagara Peninsula?  

Laura Secord was an American whose father fought for the Thirteen Colonies in the American Revolution.  She married the son of a United Empire Loyalist and settled in Queenston, Ontario.  Her husband, called to serve in the War of 1812, was wounded at the Battle of Queenston Heights, along with General Isaac Brock.  Most housewives, when their husbands did not return from battle, would have waited to hear news.  But Laura acted:  "[She] picked her way through the red and blue uniformed figures on the ground until at last she found her husband."  Discovering that he had been wounded in the chest by a musket ball, she torn a strip of cloth from her petticoat and applied pressure to his wound.  For months, she nursed him back to health.

In the meantime, Laura was forced to billet American soldiers in her home, generals who plotted their next move.  Laura overheard their strategy and formed a plan of her own.  Dressed in a brown house dress and cotton sunbonnet, the 38 year old housewife set out on foot, saying she was going to visit her brother and his wife in nearby St. David.  However, it would be the start of a 19-kilometre trek over the Black Swamp, across Ten Mile Creek and up the Niagara Escarpment, to warn the British that the Americans were coming.  After an eighteen hour journey, Laura came by chance upon a group of Native Indians from Brantford, who directed her towards Lieutenant Fitzgibbons' camp.

With their preparedness, the British were able to mount a good counterattack at Beaver Dams, even though they were outnumbered 542 to 150.  The Iroquois regiment, which fought alongside the British, marched back and forth, back and forth, all the while shouting war cries, giving the illusion of more men.  Within  three hours, the Americans withdrew.  The British regained a foothold in the Niagara Peninsula, helping them to secure a victory in the War of 1812.

Years later, the Brock monument was erected at Queenston Heights honouring the British general who fought in the war.  Laura Secord, struggling to make ends meet as a widow, offered to be a tour guide at the new monument.  However, in a political move, she failed to get the job.  She would go down in history as an unsung hero.  For more information, read

Note:  My Dad told me an interesting fact.  Laura Secord Chocolates, which originated in 1912 on the centennial of the War of 1812, are sold in the United States, but under a different name.  

Laura Secord Canadian stamp courtesy

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Stompin' Tom

Stompin' Tom Connors did not have an easy life.  Abandonned by his father, he was raised by a destitute mother.  At a young age, he was taken away by Children's Aid and became part of the foster system.  Still a teenager, he hitchhiked his way across Canada and wrote songs about it as he went.  It was at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins that he got his big break, playing his guitar and belting out his country tunes.  It was also at the Timmins hotel that he got his nickname:  he would stomp with his cowboy boots so violently that a big chunk of the stage flew across the room into a customer's drink.

Stompin' Tom had a way with words:  he knew how to tell a story.  A proud Canadian, his music was filled with tales about Canada.  In the 1970's, with more Canadians heading south of the border to promote their music, Stompin' Tom put his cowboy boot down, refusing to be a part of the mass exodus.  He believed that Canadian talent should stay in Canada and be promoted here.  He took some flack for his outspokenness, but he was only telling the truth.

In 2009, Canada Post honoured him with a stamp.  He passed away four years later, always a Canadian patriot.

For more information read One Nickel Short in the Nickel Belt at

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Viola Desmond

Black Canadian Viola Desmond owned a beauty parlour in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  On a cold, blustery day in 1946, she set out on a business trip to Sydney, but her car broke down in New Glasgow.  The mechanic said it would take hours to fix so she took in a movie to pass the time.

After buying her ticket, and finding her seat at the Roseland Theatre, Viola was interrupted by the manager who said she would have to take a seat upstairs in the balcony "where her people sat".  Just as Rosa Parks would refuse to move to the back of the bus nine years later, Viola Desmond refused to move to the balcony. The police were called and Viola was thrown in jail and charged with a trumped up account of tax evasion (the price difference between a main floor ticket, 40 cents, and a balcony ticket, 30 cents).

Viola lost her case as well as a subsequent appeal and was forced to pay a fine.  In 2010, the Nova Scotia government formally pardoned Viola posthumously.  Canada Post issued a stamp in her honour in 2012.  The documentary, Long Road to Justice:  The Viola Desmond Story tells what happened on that blustery day in 1946 (

Friday, 17 June 2016

Superman: The Canadian Connection

Toronto artist Joe Shuster, a cousin to the famous Frank of Wayne & Shuster, came from humble roots.  His parents, struggling to make ends meet, could not afford to buy him sketch paper.  He went from store to store asking for donations, and received some rolls of old wallpaper.  It was on the back of this wallpaper that he sketched musketeer Henri Duval and crime fighter Doctor Occult, both approved by DC Comics in 1935.

The Shuster's moved to Cleveland, Ohio when Joe was 10 and it was there that Joe met future collaborator Jerry Siegel.  Jerry had found a kindred spirit:  "When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together."(  One day, the duo sketched a superhero which sat on the slush pile at National Comics for six years.  However, in 1938, an editor at a new magazine, Action Comics, took notice and Superman was born.

The similarities between Superman and Shuster were noticeable.  Shuster, the son of a Dutch immigrant, was similar to Superman, a North American from the planet Krypton.  The Toronto Daily Star, which Shuster used to deliver as a young boy, became The Daily Star (later The Daily Planet) in the Superman comic.  Metropolis, where Superman lives, shares similarities to the skyline of Depression-era Toronto, where Shuster grew up.  Perry White, editor in chief of The Daily Star, is socially conscious just as The Toronto Daily Star's Joseph "Holy Joe" Atkinson was.

On the occasion of Superman's 75th Anniversary, Canada Post issued a stamp to honour the superhero.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Original Six

In my research for a picture book I am writing about wartime Toronto and the Maple Leafs dynasty, I discovered that the Detroit Red Wings, whom the Leafs faced in the 1942 Stanley Cup, were made up completely of Canadians.  Then I googled the Toronto Maple Leafs 1942 and discovered that they were all Canadian except the Russian born Sweeney Schriner.  On to the Montreal Canadiens who, like the Leafs, were an all Canadian team.  The New York Rangers, despite being the furthest team from Southern Ontario where most of the talent was found, were also an all Canadian team.  The Boston Bruins roster showed an all Canadian team except for the American born Frank Brimsek and Cliff Thompson.  Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks, were the only team that had any significant number of Americans at six, but the majority (18) were still Canadians.

These were the original six teams of the National Hockey League.  This was the era of Bobby Orr, Pierre Pilote, Red Kelly, Doug Harvey, Harry Howell and Tim Horton (yes, the donut shop owner Tim Horton).  Nicknamed "The Golden Age of Hockey", this was the era of no helmets and less body contact, of close friendships and intense rivalries, of lower salaries and higher expectations, the era of shorter haircuts and clean shaven faces.  On Saturday night, hockey fans often listened on their living room radio to the play by play by Foster Hewitt.  For the Leafs fans who purchased tickets, they attended the game at Maple Leaf Gardens dressed in suits and fedoras, dresses and pillbox hats (sometimes the hats ended up on the ice after a player scored three goals in a game).  The Golden Age of Hockey lasted until 1967, when the NHL expanded.  It would never be the same.

Note:  For more information on the Original Six, visit (

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

National Film Board of Canada

The National Film Board of Canada, created in 1939, has produced more than 30,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and 90 Genies.  "The National Film Board of Canada laid the groundwork for a home-grown Canadian film industry," explains Canadian heritage minister Shelley Glover.  in 2014, on the occasion of the National Film Board of Canada's 75th Anniversary, Canada Post issued a stamp.  Here are some notable films they have produced:

1.  Acadia!  Acadia!
-students at Universite de Moncton stage marches and sit ins to protest the lack of recognition of Acadians, French Canadians expelled from Nova Scotia in 1755 who fled to New Brunswick, Massachusetts, New York and Louisiana

2.  Action:  The October Crisis of 1970
-Canadians demonstrate relief, dismay and defiance after Pierre Trudeau says "Just Watch Me" and the Canadian Army steps in to stop the terror imposed by the Federation de la Liberation du Quebec (FLQ)

3.  Apollo 13
-documentary about Ron Howard's blockbuster movie

4.  Barbed Wire and Mandolins
-700 Italian Canadians interned at Petawawa, Ontario during the Second World War

5.  The Caleche Driver
-old world charm of Quebec City

6.  Canada at War:  Part 5
-Dieppe, Lancaster Bomber, U-boats penetrate St. Lawrence River

7.  Children From Overseas
-British evacuee children during WWII

8.  Fairwell Oak Street
-Regent Park tenements in Toronto

9.  Les Raquetteurs
-snowshoe competition in Sherbrooke, Quebec

10.  Vimy Ridge
-the WWI battle that helped define Canada as a nation

For more films, visit:

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Africville: A Ghetto to Some; Home to Us

"They razed Africville; what's the fuss?
A ghetto to some; home to us."
(Africville poem, Linda Jonasson)

It had a garbage dump, an abattoir and a jail.  It had no street lights, no running water and no paved streets.  But it did have flowers.  It did have small colourful homes.  It did have a church, a school and a post office.  And it had a strong sense of community.  

Africville was a black settlement on the shores of Bedford Basin at the edge of Halifax.  Its residents are descended from Black Loyalists who arrived after the American Revolution.  For close to two hundred years, they lived in Africville, working Monday to Friday and attending Seaview Baptist Church on Sunday.  Their children attended the school, also located in the church.  While they may have been poor in the pocketbook, they were rich in spirit.  

Urban planners who visited Africville in the 1960's "did not see the flowers" (  They only saw the garbage.  They did not see the quaint church; they only saw the jail.  They did not see a close knit community; they saw a ghetto.

They pressured the home owners into selling and, one by one, the houses were bulldozed.  A resident would go to bed with a neighbour beside him, only to wake up to a pile of dirt.  They even bulldozed the church in the middle of the night.  Africvillians were forced to relocate in Halifax tenements, their land lost, their sense of community destroyed.

In 2010, Seaview Baptist Church was rebuilt to honour the residents of Africville.  In 2014, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate Africville.  

Note:  For more information about Africville, watch the National Film Board of Canada presentation "Remember Africville" (

Monday, 13 June 2016

Polio: The Most Feared Disease of the 20th Century

American stamp issued circa 1999 courtesy

President Franklin D. Roosevelt walked with braces and crutches due to a life threatening battle with polio at age 39.  When I googled "Famous People who Have Had Polio" (  I was surprised to discover how long the list was:

  • Donald Sutherland (actor)
  • Jack Nicklaus (golfer)
  • Mia Farrow (actress)
  • Neil Young (musician)
  • Paul Martin (former Canadian Prime Minister)
  • Alan Alda (actor)
  • Dinah Shore (actress, singer)
  • Joni Mitchell (singer)
  • Sir Walter Scott (historical novelist)
  • Wilma Randolph (Olympic medallist "La Gazella Nera")
  • Ben Bradlee (Washington Post V.P.)
  • Marion Davies (movie star)
  • Frank Mars (chocolate bar maker)
  • Dorothea Lange (Great Depression-era photographer)
  • J. Robert Oppenheimer (physicist)
  • Tanaquil Le Clercq (ballet dancer)
  • Margarete Steiff (seamstress; founder of Steiff Teddy Bears)
These are just some of the names on the list.  Polio has afflicted millions of people worldwide, killing many, paralyzing others and leaving still others infertile.  

For those of us born after 1955, we have the benefit of the polio vaccine developped by Jonas Salk and a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.  As a precaution, Salk spent three years testing the vaccine on 1.8 million children in 44 different states from Maine to California.  Once considered safe, the vaccine was promoted by the March of Dimes in a massive inoculation campaign.  The annual number of cases decreased from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957.  As of 2014, there were only 359 reported cases of the disease.

Polio vaccine research was also conducted at the University of Toronto.  Canadians also participated in the trial vaccine in 1954.  However, in early 1955, it was discovered that 79 children who had received the vaccine still contracted polio:  Americans temporarily suspended its administration.  Meanwhile, in Canada, the Minister of Health, Paul Martin Sr., was particularly concerned about the lack of action.  He had battled polio back in 1907; his son, Paul Martin Jr., a future Prime Minister, battled the disease in 1946.  Martin Sr. pushed for the continuation of the mass vaccinations.  "Canada's confidence in the Salk vaccine renewed confidence around the world."  (

In 2005, Canada Post issued a stamp commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Oscar Peterson: Maharaja of the Keyboard

Oscar Peterson was born and raised in Montreal to immigrants from the West Indies.  Peterson's father worked as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Growing up in an all black neighbourhood and surrounded by the jazz culture, Peterson first learned how to play the trumpet.  However, a bout of tuberculosis forced him to give up the horn for the piano.  His sister, Daisy, was one of his first piano teachers.  Peterson also studied under Hungarian born classical pianist Paul de Marky.  Thanks to his persistent practice of four to six hours per day, Peterson mastered the art.

At the age of fourteen, Peterson won a CBC national music competition and quit school to pursue music fulltime.  Peterson, drawn to jazz, was heavily influenced by Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole, James P. Johnson and Art Tatum.  The young talent made his first recordings, I Got Rhythm and The Sheik of Araby, for RCA Victor in 1945.

Peterson was introduced to American audience through Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1949.  Peterson's first tour of Europe took place in 1952.  He made more than 200 albums with other bands or artists including "Ella and Oscar" with Ella Fitzgerald.  Peterson left his mark on Duke Ellington who called him the "Maharaja of the Keyboard".  Canadiana Suite, which came out in 1964, was a nod to Peterson's home and native land.  While he was an international success, he would never forget his Canadian roots.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Sam McLaughlin: One Grade Only and That the Best

Sam McLaughlin, born in Enniskillen, Ontario, began apprenticing as an upholsterer in the family carriage business in 1871, earning only $3 a week.  Within five years, he was an official partner in the business.  He turned the carriage company into a car company and soon merged with GM to form General Motors of Canada.  Sam's motto always remained:  "One grade only and that the best." Under Sam's leadership, GMC became Canada's leading exporter of automobiles.

Sam didn't just contribute to the car business; he was a dedicated philanthropist, donating $200 million to organizations, charities and individuals.  McLaughlin received the Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967.  He passed away five years later.  His home in Oshawa, Ontario was designated a historic site in 1989.  Weddings are held on its beautiful grounds.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Anne of Green Gables' World Wide Appeal

"Despite its distinctly Canadian setting, Anne of Green Gables belongs to the world." (Canada Post)

Every Canadian knows about the flame-haired orphan who warmed her way into the hearts of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.  We know about Anne hitting Gilbert over the head with her slate when he teased her about her red hair.  We know about her kindred spirit, Diane, and about her tear felt goodbye to her beloved Matthew.  We remember her academic success and the trials of her first teaching assignment.

"[However] despite its distinctly Canadian setting, Anne of Green Gables belongs to the world."  (  Who would have thought that a book with such a Canadian flavour would first be published by an American company?  Lucy Maud Montgomery had already been turned down by Canadian publishers and as a last ditch effort, in 1908, approached an American one, the Page Company of Boston  (  

It should be no surprise, then, that one of Anne's earliest fans was the famous American author Mark Twain who wrote to Montgomery and praised her for creating "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice [in Wonderland]" (

It was only a year later that Anne was translated into Swedish, titled Anne pa gronkulla.  It was so well received that two further Swedish translations followed in 1941 and 1962.  

The Swedish edition was followed in 1911 by a Polish translation titled Ania Z Zielonego Wzgorza.  During the Second World War, members of the Polish Resistance were given black market copies of Anne of Green Gables to read at the Front, inspiring them to fight for their principles.  

In 1939, a Canadian missionary visited Japan and left her prized copy of Anne of Green Gables with a friend who secretly translated the text into Japanese, Akage No An (Red-Haired Anne).  After the war, when the Japanese school system was looking for good quality Western literature, Anne of Green Gables was selected for its curriculum.  Today, generations of Japanese celebrate Anne by visiting Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.  Many celebrate Anne-themed weddings at home.  Thousands of Japanese tourists flock to the Island each year, the women often dying their hair red and fashioning it in pigtails.  The Japanese cannot get enough of Anne.  

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Royal Ontario Museum

My Grandad used to go there every year for the Royal Winter Fair where he admired the beautiful horses.  I visited there in Grade 7 for the King Tut Exhibit.  It attracts over one million visitors each year.

The Royal Ontario Museum was officially opened in 1914 by the Governor General of Canada. Situated at the edge of Toronto's built up area, it was deliberately placed near the University of Toronto, the institution which governed it for decades.  The original museum included five buildings representing:  Archeology, Paleontology, Minerology, Zoology and Geology.

The first addition to the ROM, the South Wing, was built during the Great Depression.  In 1968, the ROM opened a Planetarium funded by a generous donor Sam McLaughlin, the head of General Motors of Canada.  The Michael Lee Chin Crystal was added to the front of the ROM in 2007.

Notable exhibits over the years include:

  • King Tut's Tomb (1979)
  • Into the Heart of Africa (1989)
  • Anne of Green Gables manuscript (2007)
  • Pierre Trudeau's birchbark canoe (2007)
  • Avro Arrow Landing Gear (2007)
  • Dead Sea Scrolls (2009)
  • Pompeii (2015)

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Homer Watson

"There is at the bottom of each artistic conscience a love for the land of their birth." 
(Homer Watson)

Dawn in the Laurentides courtesy

Homer Watson was given a set of paints by his aunt and decided to become a painter.  Decades later, Oscar Wilde nicknamed Watson the "Canadian Constable", comparing him to the great English landscape artist.

Homer Watson was born in Doon, Ontario (now Kitchener) in 1855.  He showed an interest in art from an early age.  Later moving to Toronto, he copied works from the Toronto Normal School, but was mainly self-taught.  In 1876, Watson moved to New York where he was influenced by the Hudson River School.  He painted along the banks of the Hudson and Susquehanna Rivers.  In 1880, he painted The Old Mill and sold it to the Marquis of Lorne for Queen Victoria's art collection.

The same year Watson married and bought a house in Doon, near the banks of the Grand, which he featured in his newest paintings. In 1887, he moved to England for four years where he painted his most famous piece The Flood Gate.  Watson maintained:  "There is at the bottom of each artistic conscience a love for the land of their birth."  In his later years, Watson campaigned for the preservation of the Waterloo woodlands which he had so lovingly painted.  The Stock Market Crash of 1929 forced him to sell many of his paintings.

In 2005, Canada Post honoured Homer Watson by issuing two stamps, Dawn in the Laurentides and The Flood Gate.  Today, Watson's Doon home has been transformed into a museum, filled with his paintings.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Canada Post Recognizes British Home Children

A group of British Home Children, accompanied by Dr. Barnardo's widow, head to Canada courtesy

From 1869 to 1939, 100,000 destitute children from Britain's cities immigrated to Canada where they worked as child labourers (   While the churches and philanthropic organizations which sent them here had good intentions, they were unable to properly monitor their situations.  Some of these "little immigrants" were treated well, but many were overworked and even abused.

One in ten Canadians, including myself, is a descendant of a British Home Child, named after the Children's Homes that they lived in.  They settled all across Canada, but the majority settled in Ontario.  The highest concentration of Home Children was in North Muskoka, where my great- grandma lived once she immigrated here.  These children worked on Canada's farms, in Canada's factories and on the battlefield in Europe during the First World War.  They helped build this country.

Many people do not know that they are descendants of the Home Children since it was a source of shame for the children. As they die off, however, some are sharing their stories.  Rose McCormick Brandon, another Home Child descendant, features many of these accounts in her book Promises of Home:  Stories of Canada's British Home Children (

Brant MP Phil McColeman, the nephew of a British Home Child, championed a bill declaring 2010 the Year of the British Home Child in Canada.  The same year, Canada Post issued a stamp in their honour.  "The stamp features an image of the SS Sardinian ( a ship that carried children from Liverpool to Quebec), a map symbolizing their trans-Atlantic journey, a photograph of a child at work on a farm and one of a newly arrived Home Child, standing beside a suitcase while en route to a distributing home in Hamilton, Ontario."

Monday, 6 June 2016

D-Day: The Element of Surprise

"Our intention is to honour the survivors and their fallen comrades while the events of June 6, 1944 remain within living memory." (Bill Danard, Canada Post)

On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate the historic event of World War II. "With the imagery of this stamp, we aim to capture the experience of the very first Canadian troops to land on Juno Beach that day.  We tried to balance a sense of victory achieved with an acknowledgment of the human price," explained Bill Danard of Canada Post (

Much preparation went into the D-Day invasion, which included Canadian, American and British troops.  The Allies wanted to capitalize on a number of factors.  The moon had to be full (June 5, 6 or 7).  The tides had to be low.  The weather had to be appropriate (low winds, light cloud cover).  If all went well, they would catch the Germans sleeping.  The forecast for June 5, the original invasion day, was horrible:  a stiff wind, choppy seas and overcast.  Operation Neptune would have to be postponed for a day.  

The landing place also had to be perfect.  The Allies had dropped clues hinting that they would land at Pas de Calais.  However, it was too fortified.  In the end, they chose Normandy.  The word went out:  "Halycon Five finally and definitely confirmed."  On June 6, 1944, the Canadians debarked at Juno Beach.  By midday, the beachhead had been won.  "[By] nightfall, Canadians had penetrated further inland than any other seaborne forces."  The Canadian Army had proven once again, like in the First World War, that they were a formidable fighting force.  

Why were the Germans caught sleeping?  While the Allies employed expert meteorologists (two British teams and one American team) to predict the Normandy coast weather that month, so too did the Germans.  The former had decided that a Beaufort Scale rating of 4 or lower was acceptable for winds while the latter had decided that 4 was too strong.  Furthermore, General Eisenhower went ahead and made the ultimate decision to launch the D-Day invasion whereas General Rommel, shopping for birthday shoes with his wife in Berlin, waited for an ultimate order from Hitler, which never came.

Sadly, Canadians suffered 359 losses while the Allies suffered 12,000 deaths on D-Day.  However, the number was a lot lower than the 75,000 predicted without the element of surprise.  

What a glorious sight!  D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 courtesy

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Rural Mailboxes

David Wilcox of Oxford County, Ontario, after witnessing free rural mail delivery in Michigan, returned to Ontario and started a campaign to achieve rural mail delivery in Ontario.  However, both the government of the day and the official opposition rejected the idea.  Wilcox set out on a letter writing campaign, sending 40 or 50 to as many newspapers as possible.  Anxious to retain the farm vote, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier responded to the pressure.  Finally, Postmaster Lemieux announced free rural delivery "so Canadians could get their mail without the necessity of sending after it to the village post office."

On October 10, 1908, the first rural mail delivery run, consisting of 37 boxes, was established between Hamilton and Ancaster, Ontario.  The mailbox, known as the King Edward, "had to be located within easy reach of rural couriers so that delivery and collection could be done without dismounting from the horse or carriage".

The Establishment of Free Rural Mail Delivery

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Group of Seven

The Group of Seven, also known as the Algonquin School, was a collection of Canadian landscape artists from 1920 to 1933.   Their inspiration was Algonquin Park, where Thom Thomson, another painter associated with the group, was a guide.  One of their members, Lawren Harris, heir to the Massey-Harris fortune, financed their studio in Toronto where Franklin Carmichael, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley painted.  A.Y. Jackson and Frederick Varley served as official war artists during the First World War.  Thom Thomson died mysteriously while canoeing in Algonquin Park.  However, the remaining members reunited after the war.  The Group of Seven held their first official exhibition in 1920, the same year as Frank Johnston left the group.  A.J. Casson joined the group in 1926 followed by Edwin Holgate in 1930 and LeMoine Fitzgerald in 1932.  In 1995, Canada Post issued ten stamps to commemorate The Group of Seven, seven for the original members and another three for the additional members.

1.  Serenity Lake of the Woods (Frank Johnston)

2.  A September Gale, Georgian Bay (Arthur Lismer)

3.  Falls, Montreal River (J. E. H. MacDonald)

4.  Open Window (Frederick Varley)

5.  October Gold (Franklin Carmichael)

6.  NOrth of Lake Superior (Lawren Harris)

7.  Evening, Les Eboulements (A. Y. Jackson)

8.  Mill Houses (A. J. Casson)

9.  Pembina Valley (LeMoine Fitzgerald)

10.  The Lumberjack (Edwin Holgate)