Category Archives: rambling

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?


A Newfoundland Nurse in World War One

Alice Fitzgerald (top rrow) on nursing duty in France

Alice Fitzgerald (top row) on nursing duty in France

An intriguing photo of a Newfoundland nurse who served in the First World War is tormenting me because I can’t seem to find any details of her story. What I do know is that she was my Aunt Alice, my mother’s oldest sister, but I only saw her once when I was seven years old. In the photo above, she is in the top row among soldiers resting within the ruins of a war damaged stone wall, apparently somwhere in France.

Alice M. Fitzgerald was born in St. John’s March 22, 1885, the oldest daughter of William B. and Katherine (Hagan) Fitzgerald. Thus she would have been between 29 and 33 years old during the First World War. All that I have been able to confirm about her World War 1 nursing career is that she is listed in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment as a nurse from St. John’s but with no further information recorded. According to a heritage Nfld. account of Newfoundland and Labrador’s WW1 service, there were about 175 women who served overseas as graduate nurses or with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) – a corps of semi-trained nurses. So she was most likely one of those graduate nurses.

Alice Fitzgerald (from family Portrait)

Alice Fitzgerald (from famiy porrtrait)

After the war, Alice Fitzgerald married another Newfoundlander, Norbert Burke Dec 18, 1918, at St. Joseph’s Church, presumably in St. John’s.

They settled in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where Norbert worked with Nova Scotia Steel Company, and raised one daughter, Frances.

Norbert Burke’s family lived in St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, and he too served in the war overseas, one of four brothers who volunteered for active service.

One of them, Leonard, was seriously wounded in the Battle of Cambrai. His other brothers also survived the war – Dr. John Burke conducted a dentistry practice in St. John’s, while Dr. Vincent P. Burke, had a distinguished career in Newfoundand education, and as a member of the Canadian Senate.

Alice Fitzgerald Burke died in North Sydney March 21, 1947 at the age of 62. Her daughter Frances, who married Jerome Rabnett and lived in Belleville, Ont., passed away in 1998.



Newfoundland Stamps Lost and Found

I thought I had long ago lost all of my Newfoundland stamp collection when someone at home unwittingly threw them out while I was away at university. It was a big one – more than 5,000 stamps in all. That was a long time ago – about 1952, three years after Newfoundland became, controversially enough, a province of Canada.

St. John's harbour

St. John’s harbour

And that was why the monetary value of Newfoundland stamps had escalated because no more were ever to be produced.

Image then my surprise when a couple of hundred of them showed up again a few months ago – 65 years later! I discovered them while clearing out some old boxes containing long discarded memorabilia accumulated over the years and all but forgotten.

King George V

King George V

Easy to miss, because the stamps were wrapped in tiny bundles enclosed by golden hued sewing thread – a method of postage stamp husbandry that would justifiably horrify philately purists in any era. But they did keep them together and in reasonably good shape.

Pity it is that these remnants from the past include only some of the most common low-denomination stamps. Survivor sets consist of 118 grey 1-cent stamps depicting codfish dubbed “Newfoundland currency”, and 100 green 2-cent stamps depicting King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth. Current values except for those in mint condition – which these are certainly not – appear to be minimal.

Codfish: Newoundland currency

Newfoundland currency

My stamp collecting methods were entirely simple and downright crude, soaking stamps from envelopes and bundling them in sets as needed and placing them in envelopes or even Eddy’s match boxes, and keeping them together in larger cardboard boxes which I stored on bedroom cupboard shelves. I recall one of my favourites, a Whitman’s Sampler chocolate box in a design still to be found on store shelves today. Others I liked to use were fancily packaged boxes for cigars my Dad used to smoke.

What I was careful about was in counting all my stamps and marking down the numbers and the places they came from. The listing shown below was hand written in pencil on a note pad sheet dated November 1943, supplied by a venerable St. John’s printer, Dicks and Company. I probably wrote the list in the late ’40s before going away to St. F.X. University in Nova Scotia. It spelled out my complete Newfoundland stamp holdings:

1,394 2-cents, 1,129 3-cents, 1,090 4-cents, 781 1-cent, 426 5-cents, 199 10-cents, 151 8-cents, 54 7-cents, 18 4-cents, 15 15-cents, nine 20-cents, nine 25-cents, two 24-cents, two 9-cents and one 28-cents, for a total of 5,280.

As recounted in my 2015 Gower Street memoir, I wrote about my stamp collecting hobby in The Sentinel, a 1944 grade eight newspaper. I don’t really recall how or why I got interested in stamps, but it probably grew from awareness that Newfoundland stamps were rather unique because we were a small country which produced quite a lot of attractive stamp designs.

Caribou Symbol of Newfoundland Regiment

Symbol of Newfounland Regiment

As comprehensively detailed by Memorial University of Newfoundland professor, Dr. Thomas F. Nemec, some 300 different postage stamps were issued by the Newfoundland Post Office between January 1, 1857 and June 24, 1947. Interestingly enough, because they were not demonetized, Newfoundland stamps can still be used legally on mail posted in Canada.

Back to the BlogoSphere

Neglecting one’s blog may be an unforgiveable character fault, but let’s see if comeback efforts can merit yet another comeback. A virtual hiatus since last June came on, not because of illness or other drastic cause, but merely due to preoccupation with other interests.

First, there was an inordinate obsession with tracking down family origins in Ireland, prompted by discovery of digitized listings of birth records for parishes in the vicinity of my great-grandfather Nicholas Wadden’s home community near New Ross, Wexford County.

Birth of an Irish cousin 1845

Birth of an Irish cousin 1845

Eyes glazed from hours of scanning pages and pages of hand-written records, some of them fiendishly rendered in Latin, the time-consuming exercise produced some worthwhile results. But that’s a story for a later blog.

Sated with family history’s somewhat frustrating research, I had fun helping out with publicity for a quite successful photographers’ gathering held in June in Ottawa, organized by the RA Photo Club. The Canada Camera Conference 2017 was the third national conference which our club has organized since 1998, and all three were highly successful and profitable. Co-chair DAVE Haggarty, mastermind of each event, overcame special problems this time for want of major industry sponsors, victims of photography’s transformation to the digital age. “Canada Wild,” a hit audio-visual production staged in Algonquin College’s theatre by the Almonte team of photographer Bill Pratt and musician Ian Douglas, helped a lot in the revenue drive.

More recently, much time has been given to retrieving something else from the past – hundreds and hundreds of photo images originally taken as colour slides. Thanks to the virtues of a trusty scanner, decades-old photos of people, places, events and scenic wonders have been recaptured, edited, and preserved in special event or annual print albums.

from the archives

from the archives

A painstaking chore indeed, but it’s been rewarding to get the best out of images that graphically trace many of the high points of a family’s growth.

Today’s voluminous triggering of electronic images for every moment of the day brings many satisfactions but their very plenitude defies most people’s ability, or indeed willingness, to preserve them in printed form. Perhaps only those venturing into their golden years my feel a desire to bother with prints. Later generations may or may not care, but let us hope that enough people leave something behind to tell who and how they were in days of yore.

In seeking to revive the blogging habit, topics of interest range from the sublime – day dreaming of a world without Trump – to the ridiculous – back to the aforementioned subject. Yet there are plenty of potential items coming to mind, e.g. the mundane concerns of green binning,

compost essential

compost essential

bicycle behavior, the ongoing follies of our own politicians, or the joys rather than the frustrations of noteworthy international travels. And let’s add some tidbits on such offbeat pursuits as stamp collecting, book writing and photography,

Autumn in Ottawa

Autumn in Ottawa

along with a generous sprinkling of photo images to brighten up the mix. More to come soon!

Chippy Is In Trouble

We have taken to calling him Chippy.

The guilty look

The guilty look

A bold and ever frisky chipmunk has been popping up on our deck and throughout our back yard for many months now, and we usually love to see him. He’s so cute and seems to love posing for pictures. And he is not always on the move. More often than not we see him perched on a corner of the deck, gazing speculatively at our bird feeders, figuring out his next move in search of tasty seeds to munch or hide away.

On the Feeder

On the Feeder

But he was never really a nuisance – until yesterday!

Suddenly our friendly little rodent entertainer had outwitted our hitherto squirrel-proof bird feeder and climbed aboard to gorge himself on safflower-sunflower birdseed mix.

How the little blighter got there we’re not quite sure, but most likely by leaping from the pole supporting the feeder.

Chipmunks and squirrels of all kinds have tried their best to reach that feeder ring, only to be stymied by the cylindrical obstacle midway up that pole.

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward




Chippy tried to do it a year or two ago, but had to retreat in failure.

But the crafty little critter somehow solved the access problem, leaving us with a new challenge to deter this new threat to hungry birdlife.


Hasty retreat

Hasty retreat

Today we think we’ve solved the problem. While the multi-striped invader has no problem climbing up the pole, he surely cannot get past that pesky barrier.

Out of reach, maybe

Out of reach, maybe

So we just removed the makeshift hanger put there to make it easier for reloading birdseed, raising the feeder well above the barrier.

Let’s see Chippy trying to beat that!

My U.S. Open Story

This weekend’s United States Open Golf tournament finds me sporting a well-liked souvenir of sorts – a U.S. Open Golf shirt my son Ron gave me a dozen or so years ago. Thanking him for it, I learned that I had someone else to thank as well – long time Canadian sports writer Cam Cole, whom he asked to get it for him.

Then working for the National Post in Toronto, Cam Cole covered golf tournaments all over the circuit and one of them was the 103rd edition of the U.S. Open at Olympia Field, Illinois in June 2003. Jim Furyk won that one in his first major victory.

Olympia Fields U.S. Open

Olympia Fields U.S. Open

What tickles my fancy still today is that, during his flight home to Toronto, something got spilled onto the shirt he was carrying on Ron’s behalf. But no problem. When Cam Cole got home, he gave the shirt a good wash and had it all nicely wrapped to give to my grateful son the next day.
I have been a great admirer of Cam Cole’s sports writing, especially on golf, for many years, so this gift was especially appreciated. I was sorry to read last December that he was retiring after more than 40 years in the business. He moved to Vancouver some years ago, probably in hopes of better golfing weather in his retirement years. Though I never met him, I wish him well.


Bearing a delightfully colourful front cover, Ottawa One Five O celebrates 150 years of the Canadian Confederation with an anthology of writings by Ottawa authors inspired by this major anniversary. Prose and poetry submissions by 30 members of the Ottawa Independent Writers (OIW) represent what its editor describes as “the widest imaginable range of works.” Content having a decidedly Canadian theme was required.
Conveniently presented in sections, with time periods from 1900 to 2167 and beyond highlighted for each selection, stories and poems touch on the past in history and imagination, the present in recollection and fiction and the future in speculation. Published by OIW, Ottawa Five One O is handsomely produced, thanks to excellent editing by Bob Barclay, assisted by Benoit Chartier and Bill Horne, with occasional illustrations and the splendid cover design by Magdalene Carson. Brief biographies of all contributors are included. Copies are available from the Ottawa Independent Writers

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson commented in a foreword note: “This special anniversary has particular significance for our country’s capital. This anthology brings to life our collective creative spirit…Each work in its own way, is a reminder of the unique beauty that is Canada and how blessed we are to live in the best country in the world.”

Prose in the Park

Prose in the Park

As one of the anthology contributors, I am very pleased indeed by this volume’s appearance which occurred Saturday June 10 at the Prose in the Park book festival at Ottawa’s Parkdale Park. Not sure how mine fits in with others singing Confederation’s praises – my piece, Lament For What Might Have Been, tells why I would have voted against Newfoundland’s joining Canada in 1949.
Editor Bob Barclay, who is also one of the contributors, is publisher of LooseCannon Press and is author of four books, one of which is due for release this year.

Her Name is Sookie!



She is only shut in a cage in down times of puppy training but doesn’t mind it a bit. And, in spite of Newfoundland connotations of her name, she is no cry baby, though she has been known to enjoy a little bark now and then.
Her doggie heritage is strictly Westie, with all the cuteness embodied in that breed. A west highland white terrier of Scottish origins, she lives in Toronto with her proud owner, our precious granddaughter Bridget.
About her name which, in a dotage rather than doting moment I earlier misnamed, young Sookie may not be pleased to learn of its down east repute. Here is how it’s listed (albeit in slightly different spelling) in Canada’s only regional dialect reference book, the Dictionary of Newfoundland English: “sooky (a for adjective): “whining, petulant, jealous…a sooky baby is a cry-baby”. The term “sook” is tagged as ‘a babyish child.”
Remembering these terms from childhood caused some hesitancy on my part in embracing the Sookie name, but a first glance at the bundle of fur in the flesh erased any such misgivings. This joyful and playful new arrival gives the lie to all that ancient verbiage.
Can’t wait to see her again, uncaged and rarin’ to go!

Be Smart and Buy A Paper

Want to do something about the troubling decline of the daily newspaper? For a start, buy a subscription, and read it through every day. We get two in our house, and not just for the crossword puzzles, and certainly not for the comics (except Zits.). If you’re in any kind of business, advertise in it. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than TV or the so-called social media, and folks can take their own good time reading it.

Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Citizan

Looking through a newspaper today, you get a sense of unreality at the lack of local ads that used to meet everyday information needs. Don’t you get fed up always having to resort to google, a process that increasingly boggles the mind because of its innumerable entries saying much the same thing, but so often irrelevant to your particular need? Google and boggle do seem to go together, don’t they?

We have only ourselves to blame, of course, for allowing technology changes to sweep away all the comforts of what used to be everyday living. Look at what digital deering-do has done to the music scene – turfing out CDs and DVDs which were great, and cheap, for music buying and selling and playing. Now singers and musicians are struggling to survive, yet everyone steals their work on line all the time.

Same goes for professional photographers who have a hard time making a living in an age overladen with selfie-worshiping amateurs snapping admittedly sharp photos on their tiny ultra-modern cell phone devices.

News reporting suffers immensely today from the incursions of digital’s hand maidens like Facebook and Twitter, the great pretenders of the mass communications universe. Colour me hopelessly reactionary but, while sharing the neighbourly gossiping merits of Facebook tune-ins, I shudder at the torrents of purportedly knowledgeable outpourings on affairs of the day by persons of unknown and often highly suspect credentials. Not to mention the even mightier torrents of odious pop-up and timeline-packing ads you have to wade through in pursuing whatever interests you.

National Post

National Post

What people seem to forget when browsing through social media is that everything they see is – just like this blog – strictly someone’s opinion. In news media, factual information is in the forefront while opinion pieces are strictly confined to by-lined columns or editorials. The news is telling about what happens, and not what someone thinks about the whys and the wherefores. If legitimate news reporting disappears, we’re in deep trouble.

Certainly my most unfavourite knowledge source so ubiquitously featured on the google-dominated internet is that ghastly phenomenon known as Wikipedia. As candidly expressed to me the first time I heard of it, dealing quite erroneously with a subject I did know about, it embodies whatever information anyone in the world fancies contributing on a subject, and leaves it for others out there to embellish or revise it with their own take on the subject. A kind of Dummies Dictionary relying in smugly democratic confidence on other dummies to get it straight. Now why didn’t Encyclopedia Britannica think of that?

In short, can’t we draw back just a little from our headlong plunge into technology’s maelstrom and hold fast to the time-honoured bastions of the free press. Journalism is a professional calling and only responsible seekers of the truth in public affairs can be trusted to communicate factual information to the public at large. OK, I’m a tad biased, my son works for the National Post, but with my own modest background in journalism, I am a firm believer in the integrity of the legitimate news media.

Just as the daily newspaper managed to survive the advent of radio and television news, so too it can and should surmount the challenges of today’s on-line communications environment. So let’s give it room to breathe.


The Much Abused Apostrophe

Lynne Truss gave it the most apt of descriptions – a “satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes.” Her example was different but couldn’t have been more hilariously striking than this blue-bordered one-liner in today’s Ottawa Citizen’s proud full page ad for Real Canadian Superstore:


Seeing full page ads in any newspaper is a happy occasion nowadays for those of us who cling to the timeless custom of daily subscriptions and faithful perusing of its contents from cover to cover. No question that such advertising spreads catch the eye of even the least fervid of shoppers.

But there is a price to be paid for thus snaring the consumer – beware of dumb and silly mistakes in whatever you choose to print.

Reading all the way to the bottom of a full page ad may well be an uncommon experience but on this occasion it was probably fated to happen. Fact is that lately I have been re-reading that delightful British #1 best bestseller Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss’s witty exposition of what she calls “the zero tolerance approach to punctuation.” Her book is chock full of bizarre but all too familiar examples of the savagery with which countless offences against the fundamentals of English grammar are committed in everyday parlance and publishing.

Putting apostrophes where they don’t belong may be one of the least forgivable of such transgressions. It’s almost as bad as the nearly universal ignorance of the difference between it’s and its!

(Just a moment – my Word spell checker dared to tell me I had to change that it’s to its. No wonder the world’s ignorance so easily thrives!)

If only everyone understood that it’s is merely another way of saying it is. However its denotes possession just like his and her. Oh well, enough about grammar.

But please, let’s not let advertisers get us sticklers on their backs when they should really know better.

Or maybe just hire a copy editor!