Monthly Archives: January 2020

That 1959 St. John’s Blizzard

Battery after avalanche

Reports from the huge blizzard besetting St. John’s this weekend brings inevitably to mind the night of February 16, 1959, when a savage blizzard blockaded the entire city, precipitating a disastrous snow slide at the Battery that snuffed out five lives. The avalanche struck two houses, sweeping them downslope. Several people were injured, including one woman who was rescued after 12 hours buried under the snow.
The tragedy sounded a grim reminder of the perils of life at the edge of the Atlantic, but the experience had its lighter side as well for those of us coping with winter at its wildest. I told this story in my first book Yesterday’s News, describing adventures in my days as a St. John’s news reporter:

Bill and Margaret Werthman

The storm caught us – my fiancée Madeline Roche and me and another couple, Canadian Press correspondent Ian MacDonald and his wife Lillian – enjoying a little party in Glendale, Mount Pearl with friends Bill and Margaret Werthman. Telegram reporter Tony Thomas and his fiancée Sylvia Godden were there too but had left for home before the storm struck. What started as a gentle snowfall blew up into a massive blizzard, so we had no choice but to stay put for the night.

Ian and Lillian MacDonald

A wood stove kept us from freezing entirely, but it was a cool and uncomfortable night, especially for some whose footwear had been soaked in early attempts to get cars on the road. No spare beds being available, chairs and coffee table tops had to serve as makeshift supports to prop up our aching bodies. Discomfort gave way to hilarity at one point when a whiff of something burning was traced to Ian‛s shoes, carefully tucked in the oven to speed up the drying process.
Next morning, snow drifts were still at rooftop levels, and the best we could do was to wade hip deep through the drifts to nearby Samson‛s Supermarket to fetch bread and something else to eat. It was late afternoon before the rumble of snow plows encouraged us to set out for home. Even at that, the narrow track along Topsail Road was in zigzag pattern – at one point the zag took us between the gas pumps and the building at Parsons‛ garage as the highway drifts were too high for the plough to topple. We were so relieved to get home at last.
Yet, despite a surfeit of aches and groans, and the stench of smouldering shoe leather, that night we spent by Werthman‛s woodstove is one none of us was likely to forget for many a day.

Harry and Meghan

Meghan in “Suits”

I’ve had a soft spot for Meghan Markle since I began watching “Suits,” the made-in-Canada TV show about a passel of angry high stakes lawyers. Her good looks helped a lot but the character she played was likeable – more so than some others in the cast – and she played it well.
When her romance with Harry came to light, my general disinterest in royalty mellowed as they were both likeable people, as most everybody came to feel. Seeing them come to Canada for Christmas had a nice feeling about it, but nothing to get avidly excited about. And by all means let them come to live here if that’s what they want.
Controversy about their druthers to back away from lifetime royalty roles has thankfully ebbed with the Queen’s philosophical acceptance of their wishes, so let us hope their future may be a little less in the media spotlight.

Governor General Vincent Massey

One outcome than ought never to be allowed is the alarmingly popular notion of appointing Harry as Canada’s Governor-General. Admirable as the young Prince may be, he lacks the essential qualification for the job – he is not a born Canadian. The country had its fill of Brit Governors – 17 of them – from 1867 until 1952 when Vincent Massey became our first Canadian Governor General. He filled the post admirably, promoting Canadian unity and identity and enthusiastically encouraging the arts. He was tireless in his travels, visiting every corner of the country – where plane or ship couldn’t reach, he went by canoe or dog team. His immediate successor, General Georges Vanier, was a distinguished armed services veteran and diplomat. And other prominent and accomplished Canadians have carried on the traditions they established.
So please keep this record of Canadian achievement alive and banish any thoughts of handing over this all important honour to an outsider, no matter how commendable.
Indeed, why not go that further step toward national self-respect by cutting ties entirely with the British crown, and re-designating the position by whatever title as official head of state. It surely is time – after 163 years of self-government, for Canada to be fully independent of Britain and the British monarchy. I have no problem of Britain keeping its monarch, as long as it is no longer ours.

The John Crosbie Roast of 1986

My most memorable experience of John Crosbie was the time he was on the receiving end of a very public roasting by some of the country’s leading politicians. I had a hand in making it happen. The date was October 26, 1986, and the event, held in Ottawa’s Westin Hotel, went down in history as The John Crosbie Roast for the Rick Hansen Man in Motion Tour.
He was Canada’s Minister of Transport then, and thus a fitting subject for a major fund raising project on behalf of wheel chair athlete Rick Hansen’s magnificent worldwide public awareness campaign.

Rick Hansen on 1986 tour

The Man in Motion tour had begun in 1985 and, by the time it ended in 1987, had raised $26 million and covered 36 countries. The final leg of the tour had begun three months earlier in Crosbie’s home town, St. John’s. John and his charming wife Jane had proposed the roasting approach to mark his 20th year in active politics. John and I knew each other from early days in St. John’s when I covered City Hall and House of Assembly sessions as a reporter.

A high powered committee organizing the roast was co-chaired by former broadcaster and MP Rob Parker and Dean Melway of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association. As DOT’s Public Affairs Operations Director, I was given the job of coordinating publicity and developing a promotional brochure for release at the time of Rick Hansen’s launching his Canada tour in August.
I struck it lucky on this task by enlisting the services of a top flight professional, Judith Yaworsky, head of Communications Consultants in Ottawa. Donating the artwork, she produced the brochure in record time, with copy “a bit irreverent,” referring to Crosbie’s 20 years of service “and he’s still not speaking either official language.” Runge Press, also donating its services, handled the printing. Well and widely distributed, the brochure and overall publicity proved highly effective.
Timed to coincide with Rick Hansen’s arrival at his Ottawa stop on the cross country tour, the Crosbie roast drew more than 800 attendees at the $150 a plate dinner in the Westin Hotel. With Hansen as Guest of Honour, tribute was paid to his superb exploits to raise money for research into spinal cord disorders and for wheelchair sport, rehabilitation and public awareness.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Liberal Leader John Turner, NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Newfoundland Premier Frank Moores headed a broad panel of eager “Roasters” targeting the widely known foibles and bon mots by which John Crosbie earned his standing as one of Canada’s best known politicians. Moores is credited as remarking that “Crosbie is the perfect antithesis to Hansen. Rick Hansen is a consummate athlete and Crosbie has trouble getting out of his limousine.” The evening program was taped for national television broadcast.
Rob Parker later commented: “Judging by the volume of raves in the past several days, it seems safe to say that the entire evening – dinner, roast and broadcast – was an outstanding runaway success, financially and in terms of awareness and publicity for Rick’s cause.” Rick Hansen thanked me in a personal note for my “great contribution to our efforts …It raised very important and useful funds (and) contributed enormously to public awareness of our cause from coast to coast.”
Of special value to me was John Crosbie’s “Thanks for all the help, Nix” in his letter of appreciation. He said, in part, “I am particularly pleased that your work, together with that of all the organizers, for the Man in Motion Crosbie Dinner, resulted in over one hundred thousand dollars being raised for the Man in Motion Trust Fund…Thank you for the part you played in making the evening such a resounding success.”

Taking Down the Tree

Call us old fashioned but maybe that’s what getting old is all about. Today is Old Christmas Day for us, and it’s only now that we can think of taking down our Christmas tree. Unlike many folks whose Christmas calendar seems to begin in early December and ends with Boxing Day sales. Yet to each his own.
We got our tree at a local tree farm – preferably the one we’ve gone to almost every year – Laird’s U-Cut Christmas Tree farm on Manotick Station Road in Osgoode. Until recent years, I cut the chosen tree myself but lately we get the cutting – rather the sawing – done by the always obliging owner ‘s family or employee. This time, our guy went above and beyond, driving us in his truck to a backup grove and loading the tree on our car. Balsam fir trees suit us best for their pleasant scent, sturdy structure and longevity when suitably watered at base. We do the decorating a day or two before Christmas Eve.
Ornaments of rich sentimental value date back as far as our first Christmas in Newfoundland in 1959 and range widely in content from a presiding angel and other handiwork crocheted by Madeline’s sisters to such dinky little artifacts as a rustic tea kettle, a pair of miniature Torbay socks, a Frosty the Snowman and a bird family tucked into leafy havens among the branches. Little pieces of tinsel sometimes pop up  to brighten the display,
We may take down our tree today but not before hoisting a toast to the Christmas season we’ve all enjoyed and in celebration of Twelfth Night, an event not only remembered by Shakespeare.

I like to recall a tradition once practised in old St. John’s and probably more so in its rural environs, like down Torbay way. They used to call it The Pilgrimage, a term reflecting its almost sacred status among stout hearted citizens mindful of the importance of preserving honoured customs of their ancestors.
Devotees of the pilgrimage tradition began on Christmas Eve by gathering at one of their neighbour’s homes in which they filled their glasses from household stocks and drank in solemn celebration of the happy and holy season. With many celebrants on hand, it did not take too long for spirits supplies to run out. Upon which, the party goers moved on another house, offered the same good hearted toasts, and made quick work of refreshments provided. Then on to the next welcoming abode. And so on and so on until all 12 days of the festive season ended at Epiphany time. Thus the pilgrimage came to a close for another year.
Christmas traditions, real or imagined, cling to our heart strings despite the excesses of modern merchandising, so let us cherish what is best of all that remains today, and keep its spirit alive and well.

A Step Away From Facebook

Given all the controversy about Facebook and its alarming reach into the minutiae of our private lives, I find myself sitting on the fence, reluctant to do anything drastic but wary of big brother’s messing around with my personal data.

One step I have just taken, however, is to dismantle my so called Author Page – the one with the whiskery image – on my Facebook account. This is not so much a partial FB withdrawal as a recognition of the futility of promoting a book – my Gower Street memoir – that, despite early promise, failed to attract sufficient buyers to persuade the publisher to keep it on the market. While I have kept a small supply of copies on hand for private sale, there is no point in maintaining this would-be marketing site. It didn’t do a lot of marketing for me. Some good, though, resulted from Facebook references to my Wadden Family History booklet released last March, with a second print run underway.

Doing the deed of closing down my Author Page was simpler and quicker than I expected, and for that I am grateful. Saving the contents leaves me with a useful record of the experience begun in 2015. A full set of my postings came to 61 pages. Much of the content involved sharing of blogs from my website Doing so used to be a simple process, forwarding e-mails of each blog to Facebook, but problems arose when WordPress stopped sending blogs by email and Facebook not only ceased to accept blog sharing on timelines, but stymied sharing with groups in some unaccountable ways. Blogging efforts have gained less than world shaking response anyway, so closing time in that regard is fast approaching.

I shall continue using my main Facebook site for its undoubted value in keeping in touch with relatives and friends despite misgivings on several counts. I have utterly no intention of indulging in advertising, and I cringe increasingly at the preponderance of advertising on what is supposed to be my timeline and close by on every page I happen to look at. Beyond that, perhaps I am not alone in wasting many hours in endless scrolling to find items of interest to me among torrents of trivialities, cutesy animal videos, and other banal offerings from around the globe.

But enough of rant rage. Let’s stay the course for six months, say, and, in the words of Mr. Banality himself, we’ll see how it goes!