Category Archives: rambling

A Hazardous Night at the Y

Many a first time visitor to Ottawa in the carefree Sixties was apt to bed down for a night or two at the old YMCA located on Metcalfe Street at Laurier. Built in the early 1900s, it served as a key recreational centre until new facilities were opened in 1970. The old Y was then converted into a budget hotel, functioning under various names ranging from the Roxborough to the Indigo until its most recent rebirth in 2017 as a boutique hotel, the Metcalfe.

Ottawa YMCA Metcalfe St.

Ottawa YMCA Metcalfe St.

In February 1966, its location only a few blocks from Parliament Hill and Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre), with easy access to the principal sights of the capital, was a popular haven for travellers, students and newly-arrived government employees. It had clean beds and standard if unpretentious facilities, better than average recreational amenities and a friendly atmosphere.

And it was delightfully inexpensive by comparison with its relatively pricey hotel neighbours – the Lord Elgin, the Beacon Arms, the Savoy and, of course, the haughty Chateau. The Lord Elgin had been my first destination on arrival in bitter late January blizzard conditions to report for my first government job as a Fisheries Department information officer. Three nights at the stately Elgin was all my thin budget could bear.

After 12 years working as a radio-TV news reporter in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I wasn’t too flush financially. Getting the best temporary accommodation possible was my top priority pending the sale of my house so that my family could transfer later that winter.

The Metecalfe Boutique Hotel

The Metcalfe Boutique Hotel

Someone at work told me of the Y. My single bag hastily packed, I paid the hotel, and blithely called for a cab. I wondered why the driver looked at me strangely as I told him where to take me. We turned one corner, then a second and in less than a minute, the cab door opened to drop me at the Y door on Metcalfe, one street away! The fare was 50 cents – a lot of money to waste in 1966 when the train ride from Montreal to Ottawa was $3.20. An inauspicious introduction to the venerable Y, to be sure, but perhaps an omen of what was to be found inside.

My room was on the top floor. No penthouse, it was very small, even cramped, but at $3.75 a night, what else could one expect? At least it got me in from the cold – and did it ever do that! As bitterly frigid as it remained outside, the atmosphere in that tiny attic chamber was well-nigh tropical steam bath. Nothing builds up heat like the old style hot water radiator, and as surely as heat rises, the temperature in that room must have been bursting the Fahrenheit scale. No problem, though. Unlike in those modern glasshouse monsters, there was a storm window one could probably open the old-fashioned way with a lift by thumb and finger to let a bracing draught of winter air cool things down a bit.

But wait. What’s this? A plain hand written note on the dresser:



Oh dear, another message from management on the window ledge:



Closer inspection reveals yet another instruction designed to ensure the tenant’s better comfort and peace of mind:


Considering myself well and truly forewarned, I could not forbear from approaching the window pane and falteringly probe its ability to slide open. Oops, what was that? A mere touch of the window frame let loose a fist sized chunk of decayed exterior masonry, which slid fast away to plunge earthward, six storeys below.

Horrified, I listened fearfully for the screams of maimed Laurier Avenue pedestrians and the wail of police sirens. But only silence, and my palpitating heart. Chastened by this narrow brush with tragedy, I backed as far as possible from the deadly dormer. No fresh air for me this night, thank you.

Just one small gesture, though, to thwart big brother Y. A tiny touch, mayhap, but a budding bureaucrat’s blow for human kind. Before lights out, I turned off that sucker radiator – all the way. It was a very warm night!

(with apologies to the Ottawa Citizen which published a version of this story in a Voices column in 1994.)

Dragon Fly Memories

Nostalgia, as once famed Canadian writer Pierre Berton used to say, is one of our most powerful emotions. His formidable output of successful explorations of Canadian history firmly attested to that viewpoint.
That may explain a sudden urge experienced in a weekend drive up the Ottawa Valley to re-visit the scene of many scores of enjoyable outings on the friendly contours of Dragon Fly Golf Course on the Opeongo Road near Renfrew. Though scores is perhaps not an altogether pertinent term, our golfing prowess seldom if ever rose to competitive levels, but gave us ample pleasure in pursuing little white balls whizzing about fairways and trickling across the greens.

Kevin Brown offering golf tips

Kevin Brown offering golf tips

Drawn to this newly opened course by moderate rates and our Corporate Golf cards, we lucked in with the appointment as Golf Pro of our friend Kevin Brown, whom we knew from his previous gig as assistant to Golf Pro Tim Cole at Pine View Golf Course in Ottawa. Moreover, it was Kevin who organized a delightful golfing week in South Carolina for a group of enthusiasts from Pine View. I joined up, along with my friend and former Transport Canada Public Affairs colleague Norm Pascoe for the only time I ever travelled south for golf or anything else.

South Carolina Golf Course

As usual, my golfing endeavours were not remarkable but I earned some credits for playing the group photographer, producing a colourful album celebrating highlights of the week’s adventures.
Playing at Dragonfly began in the 1960s when we joined Corporate Golf, which charged a moderate seasonal membership plus a bare minimum fee – initially $9 per game-for playing at any of 25 or so area golf courses. Courses ranged all over the map from Pine View and others in the city to clubs as far away as Upper Canada near Morrisburg, Buckingham, Renfrew, Cobden, Calabogie and Cassselman. But it was Dragonfly in Renfrew that drew us most often. Just a 9-hole course at the beginning, it expanded to 18 holes a couple of years later. When it did, the one hour drive from home proved well worth it for the four or five hours spent at play and occasional post game socializing.

Ibis, a sideline attraction of South Carolina golfing

Ibis, a sideline attraction of South Carolina golfing

It must be a dozen or so years since we last played at Dragonfly, having moved on to join the Cedar Glen Golf club in Williamsburg, near Morrisburg, but the memories linger on. Now styled the Dragon Fly Golf Links, and under new ownership, the club looks a lot posher, with a splendid log-style club house added since our day, so it seems to be doing quite well. Our friend Kevin retired a few years ago Long may our old course prosper!

A Fond Farewell


Back on the water

Back on the water

We said good bye to a happy memory last weekend.

For a dozen years or so, some of our most delightful hours were spent paddling our smooth riding kevlar canoe on lakes, rivers and streams throughout the Ottawa region. No great adventurers then, we settled for calm waters and easy-going canoe routes that let us enjoy to the fullest the beauty and tranquility of nature at its finest. One weekend we would cruise upon the Rideau River, another found find us idling along short stretches of the Mississippi near Pakenham. Or we would venture as far as Murphy’s Point Park, seeking to find a location that might be free from the hazards of power boat competition.

Our favourite destination, bar none, was Meech Lake which does boast freedom from power craft and is rich with cozy corners ideal for leisurely lunching, swimming and just lazing around in sun or shade.

Ron tries fishing

Ron tries fishing

A twinkle regularly sprang from my dear spouse’s eye when younger folk, seeing us oldsters shouldering our trusty 15 ft. craft en route to a launching point, gallantly offered to take her share of the burden. No way, she would be quick to reply, it’s as light as a feather. And it was – only 38 pounds not counting the paddles. Entirely comfortable and simple to hoist upon the car roof for lashing down on a roof rack or using foam pads and effective ratchet-controlled strapping.

We took up canoeing in the 1970s, investing in a sturdy 65 ft. Grumman aluminum canoe big enough to take our two kids with us for adventurous journeying to places like Prince Edward County, Bon Echo Park, the Tay River near Perth, and even all the way to New Brunswick.

ancient markings at Bon Echol Park

ancient markings at Bon Echo Park

And then, in 1995, we opted for something smaller and lighter, buying second hand from Trailhead a 15ft Novacraft Bob Special kevlar Spectra canoe with ash trim. It suited us perfectly, being easy to mount on our car, delightfully comfortable in any waters and no trouble to store when not in use. And we did indeed put it to good use, exploring routes all around the capital, enjoying the exercise and snapping the odd picture along the way.

a beautiful moment

a beautiful moment

Regrettably perhaps, diminishing energy – or was it a preoccupation with golf? – left the noble craft suspended in our garage from one year to the next. There it remained until, shaking off lethargic inclinations, we put the word out that it was for sale. No sooner said than done, as a friend of a friend agreed to take it and, after brief inspection, loaded it aboard the family car and took it off to a new home a few days ago. Fare thee well, our faithful kevlar companion!

A Golfing Fun Day at Kingsway

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans annual golf tournament at Kingsway Golf Course in 1978 was a prime occasion to mix sports and social activities.





About 24 foursomes teed off on a fine sunny day. I played with Ed Hearnden, Viviane Jennings and Lynn Dolan.





A few pictures from that event were passed around at the time, but a recent scanning session has allowed posting of a full set for interested viewers.


Names are noted when known – help please to fill in any gaps.




Golfers enjoyed a hearty dinner in the Kingsway lounge, after which prize giving was run off with the usual round of plaudits and commiserations for performance on the golf course.








Award presentations were headed up by Assistant Deputy Minister Gerry Ewing.









Oops!  one picture got in twice, but couldn’t find out how to delete it.

Remembering Mary O’Flaherty

Mary O'Flaherty

Mary O’Flaherty

It has been gratifying to see the tributes which have been published marking the death in Ottawa at age 92 of Mary O’Flaherty, who played a vital role in the Canadian Caper in Iran in 1980 as communications officer for Canada’s embassy in Teheran. The group headed by Ambassador Ken Taylor engaged in a cloak and dagger plan to protect and smuggle six American citizens to safety after rebels overthrew the Shah of Iran and took control of the United States embassy. She was one of five recipients of the Order of Canada for her part in the escape adventure.

In her public service career, Mary began work with the Department of National Defence and transferred to the Department of External Affairs. She is reported to have never turned down a posting and, in addition to Teheran, also served in Islamabad, Canberra, New York, Moscow and Ottawa.

Mary O’Flaherty was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I knew her in her younger days as a member of a family that shared many experiences with my family. Her parents and mine were friends for many years and her mother was a particular friend of my mother, Bridget Wadden. In St. John’s, children went to the same schools, and our families actually shared a pew in the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica). Her brother John and I were at Memorial University together. In summer both families spent vacation time in Kelligrews.


Mary's mother in 1920s

Mary’s mother
in 1920s

Among a treasure trove of family oldie pictures inherited from my mother is one of Mary’s mother, Chris O’Flaherty, mounted on a favourite horse when she was a riding fan sometime in the 1920s era.

A South African Patriot

A chance name search on google prompted a delightful e mail exchange remembering Peter  Hjul, a fascinating individual who played an important role in two widely different spheres – pre-Mandela South Africa and International Fisheries. My search began while scanning photo slides from the 1970s when my work in federal Fisheries Communications brought me together with Peter on several occasions.
We first met in Vancouver in 1973 when I was Canadian Press Officer at the FAO International Conference on Fishery Management and Development. Peter Hjul attended as Editor of Fishing News International, a leading British trade magazine. The ten-day conference was organized at the instigation of Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Jack Davis, as a prelude to negotiations that led to establishment of the Law of the Sea and the 200 mile fishing limit. Two years later we met at the World Fishing Exhibition in Marseilles, France, where we in Canada were promoting the 1977 edition of that exhibition to be held in Halifax, N.S.

Peter and I became good friends during this period and, when my wife and I planned a trip to England in 1979, he invited us to visit him in London and to his home in Windsor. He treated us to an intriguing pub crawl of Fleet Street, then the famous hub of British news media, capping it off with lunch at the London Press Club. In Windsor, a home visit was preceded by a marvelous private tour of Windsor Castle where Peter amazed us with his thorough knowledge of its rich and colourful history.

In re-discovering my pictures from that era, I wondered what might have happened with Peter Hjul in later years, so I browsed through google one day and was rewarded by finding significant references to him and his career. I found that he had died in 1999 at the age of 70 but his obituary paid tribute to his many achievements since growing up in Northern Rhodesia. His family had come originally from Norway.

Most gratifying to find was an article about his South African experiences entitled “Days When My Father and Mandela Stood Against the Forces of Apartheid,” written by his journalist daughter, Jenny Hjul. It was published in 2013 in the Daily Telegraph, one of Britain’s most prominent newspapers. Peter Hjul was working in Cape Town as editor of the South African Shipping News and Fisheries Review. Strongly opposed to the ruling party’s apartheid regime, he became a leading figure in the mainly white Liberal Party, heading its radical wing which advocated voting rights for all adults black and white. His party was unsuccessful in efforts to elect members to Parliament, and his persistent agitation against apartheid policies resulted in his being banned from any political involvement and subjected to police harassment and two years of virtual house arrest. After a Nationalist fanatic’s firing of a bullet into his home, he and his family left South Africa in 1965 for a new life in Britain. There he founded the highly successful Fishing News International magazine, followed later by Fish Farming International. He travelled to all continents to report on, and participate in, major fisheries conferences and events.
Having discovered Jenny Hjul’s article, I contacted her by e mail and had the pleasure of telling her about my experiences with her father and sending her some of my photos from those encounters. She answered enthusiastically, remarking that she knew her father had visited Canada several times and even considered moving here at one point. She was thankful to receive “these wonderful pictures,” which she was sharing with her sister.“ She recalled how much her father loved to travel, particularly after having been banned for several years from going anywhere beyond his house and work.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Peter Hjul, along with other political exiles, was invited to a celebration with the African National Congress, Jenny recalled, he did not go, downplaying his role in South Africa’s long road to democracy. “But, until his death, he kept Mandela’s photograph beside his bed, a symbol of hope in the years when there was none that one day his country would be free.”

Relics of a Bygone Era

carbon papere cover sheet

carbon paper cover sheet

Nostalgia freaks among us may readily recognize these flimsy relics of that earlier age when the term digital meant something to do with fingers. Labourers in the media and communications world many decades ago resorted often to the use of this stuff – messy black carbon paper – to file away copies of their deathless type-written prose. Secretaries and stenographers were doubtless the principal users but many if not most reporters found them handy when they wanted to keep a copy of text for whatever reason. Letter writers, another nearly extinct breed nowadays, occasionally slipped in a sheet so they’d know what they had said when replies arrived.

carbon paper inky side

carbon paper inky side

Carbon paper is described by one authority as “thin paper coated with a mixture of wax and pigment that is used between two sheets of ordinary paper to make one or more copies of an original document.” Offices of all kinds used carbons constantly with manual typewriters and they only fell into disuse when replaced by word processors and photocopiers. Few if any lamented the loss, relieved of the often messy routine of inserting and removing carbons and filing of dark stained flimsies. (Yet the term cc still commonly used in correspondence to denote copies actually derived from the term carbon copy.)

In my early journalistic days, working primarily in radio and TV in Newfoundland, I had little practical need for carbons, but used them often to keep copies of my stories, since originals stayed with station management. Well did I appreciate this custom when, decades after abandoning journalism for the dark side of government communications and then retirement, I decided to write a book (Yesterday`s News) about my news media career. Being able to quote verbatim from carbon copies of dramatic news stories lent the narrative a base of authenticity which mere reminiscence could not possibly achieve.

Coming upon these unexpected carbon sheets in a seldom opened subject file, my thoughts dredged up a far less pleasant recollection of many miserable hours spent in a student days summer time job in Montreal. As a temporary clerk, posted from one Canadian Pacific Railway office to another, I endured a full week doing nothing but removing carbon paper from copious office files. It took hours every night to wash away those dirty carbon stains.

A Little Bit of History

A small snippet of political history which has been in my possession for more than 60 years is outbound by mail this week to the Newfoundland Archives in St. John’s. Musty from nearly forgotten confinement in a filing cabinet, the folder contains meeting notes and correspondence on the 1949-50 drafting of a constitution for the newly formed Progressive Conservative Association of Newfoundland. It came to me when I served as acting Secretary of the Association in 1958-59.

Militant opponents of Newfoundland’s 1949 entry into Confederation and the Liberal provincial government led by Premier Joey Smallwood hastened to form the Newfoundland Progressive Conservative Party. While struggling to fight the Liberals in early elections, organizational efforts began with drafting of the new party’s constitution.

Documents show that preparations began with approaching the Dominion Headquarters of the Progressive Conservative Association of Canada in Ottawa, seeking copies of existing constitutions. National Director R .A. Bell complied with this request in letters March 18, 1949, to Hon. J.S. Currie, Editor of the “Daily News”, and Harry Mews, Manager, North American Life Assurance Co. He provided copies of constitutions of the P.C. Association of Canada and that of the P.C. party of Ontario which he said might be of some value to them. Other provincial parties also sent copies of their constitutions. Harry Mews, later to become Mayor of St. John’s, was the first Leader of the Newfoundland Progressive Conservative Party while Hon J.S. Currie was Honourary President of the Nfld P.C. Association.

The folder label reads “Constitution – 1st draft – Currie, Browne, Furlong.” Of particular interest in its contents are hand written minutes of the Consultation Committee of the P.C. Association held November 8, 1950 over the signature of Secretary A.B. Butt. Attendees, identified in the minutes mainly by surname, were Messrs (John T.) Cheeseman, John G. Higgins, (W.J.) Browne, (Frank) Fogwill, (J.W.) McGrath, Pinsent, Stick, (R.S.) Furlong, (Bill) Perlin, (Harry) Mews and (A.B. “Bert”) Butt. It was decided after discussion to produce a constitution for a provincial association rather than limiting it to a St. John’s organization. The minutes were written on Press Message form paper of the Anglo-American Telegraph Company Ltd.

Another hand written note dated Nov 5, 1950 listed by surname the following as P.C. Association officers:
Hon. President – Currie
President –           Cheeseman
Vice-Presidents   Duffy, Finn (?), Sparkes,
Secretary              Hollett
Treasurer             O’Dea

Members included McGrath, Dawe, Furlong, Doyle, Perlin, Mews. Harrington, Higgins. Fogwill, Fahey, Jackman, Browne, Higgins

Several of the participants later served in the Newfoundland House of Assembly or in the Canadian Parliament. R.S. Furlong became  Chief Justice of Newfoundland.

Something to Celebrate

Just a quiet dinner out marks a notable milestone for this family – the 50th anniversary of moving into out modest South Keys bungalow on May 28, 1968. There was nothing but mud covering the building lot surface as we gingerly stepped on rough boardwalk leading up to the front door. Not a blade of grass, nor any other kind of vegetation  was anywhere to be seen, and only a handful of neighbours. Our house was among the first group to be built in this new Campeau development. We were in fact the fifth family to move into South Keys, and the third on our street and, as some have moved on, we may have lived here longer than anyone else.

home sweet home 1968

home sweet home 1968

But we remember well that first day, moving in with a small apartment’s worth of furniture and two young children, though there was one consolation. The actual move didn’t cost us a lot. We had ferried a lot of stuff from our Henry Farm Drive garden home by car in previous days. Saving the big stuff until the last day, we hired a U-Haul trailer which was hitched to our bumper, paying the princely sum of $8.03 for eight hours use. Good friends pitched in with the heavy lifting of fridge, stove, washer and bedroom furniture, so the job was done in three or four trips.

Outside the house was far from ideal, surrounded by masses of that gunky mud caked with the disastrous leda clay that undermines so much of the local landscape. Kids being kids, however, made the best of it in outdoor play by grabbing up gobs of the stickier stuff to fashion crude but imaginative sculptural creations. Topsoil, front lawn sodding and other improvements followed eventually, while settling in chores whiled away a busy but enjoyable first year. Then barely within city limits, the south end community has bloomed into one of the capital’s more desirable neighbourhoods.



Foreign Stamps in My 1940s Collection

distinctive foreign stamp design

distinctive foreign stamp design

At the height of my short lived stamp collecting career in the 1940s, I had accumulated, not only some 5,000 Newfoundland stamps, but also a colourful array of stamps from 126 foreign countries. Unhappily, this entire collection disappeared following my departure from home in St. John’s to attend St. F.X. University in Nova Scotia from 1950 to 1952.

One memento survives in a hand written listing I put together of those countries from which I had gathered quite a rich cross section of colourful national stamps. Most were of the standard rectangular format, but a few countries had adopted triangular and other offbeat designs.

many French colonies issued their own stamps

many French colonies issued their own stamps

These were naturally among my favourites. See a few samples from a current on line catalogue.

triangular stamps are uncommonly attractive

triangular stamps are uncommonly attractive

It may be interesting to check how many of these countries have since changed names or been otherwise altered with the passage of time. Here is that list:

Abyssinia, Algeria, America (United States), Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Bavaria, Bechuanaland, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, British Guiana, Bulgaria, Cameroons, Canada, Cayman Islands, Ceylon, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Dahomey, Denmark, Dominica (British), Dominican Republic, Dutch (Netherlands), Dutch Guiana, Dutch Indies, Egypt, England, Equador, Finland, France, French Equatorial Africa, French Overseas, Germany, Gibraltar, Gold Coast, Greece, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, Latvia, Lebanese Republic, Leeward Islands, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malay, Malta, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montserrat, Mozambique, New Caledonia, Newfoundland, New South Wales, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Northern Rhodesia, Norway, Oceanic Settlements, Orange Free State, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Persia, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Porto Rico, Portugal, Queensland, Romania, Russia, St. Pierre, St. Lucia, St. Thomas & Prince Islands, St. Vincent, Salvador, Senegal, Seychelles, Siam, Sierra Leone, Somali Coast, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Southwest Africa, Spain, Straits Settlements, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tannu Tuva, Togo, Transvaal, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunis, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela, Victoria, Wallis and Futuna, Yugoslavia.

How many outdated country names have you spotted?