Rural Roots – My 4-H Calf

This would have been the 170th year of the largest county fair in my region.  Traditionally held mid-October on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, it attracts over 50,000 people every year – except this one, when it was cancelled like everything else.    It originally took place near a tavern in 1850 and featured only cattle and horses.   Now it has its own permanent fairgrounds and features the usual fair fare – midway, exhibit halls, livestock barns, grandstand shows and more junk food than you could possibly eat.

Brigden Fair - old pic

Everyone wearing their Sunday best…..in 1900?

My ancestors immigrated in 1846 and I like to think of them attending those early years.  My dad remembers the fair being a highlight of his Depression childhood when he would be given the princely sum of 25 cents to spend as he wished.   Back then everyone went to the fair, and they still do.

It was our tradition growing up to attend the fair on Thanksgiving Monday, (we had our big turkey dinner on Sunday), in order to catch the noon parade.   After a tour of the exhibition halls and a walk through the midway my dad would spend the rest of the afternoon in the cattle barns watching the judging of the livestock while we womenfolk would head for the much more interesting horse competitions.   

Bridgen fair cattle 2 (3)

We would meet up at 5 pm when they would be awarding the prize for the last show of the day – the 4H Beef Cattle Grand Champion, with the winner headed straight to the abattoir.  (This is probably TMI for all the vegans out there, but it’s a fact of rural life, you eat/sell what you raise.)  

So imagine my surprise to come across this ceramic creature when I was buying fall bulbs at a city nursery.

Calf ceramic

Sure it made a nice fall display, sitting there on that bale of straw, but at $198 I can’t imagine anyone who would buy it?   Farmers aren’t known to be too sentimental about their livestock.   Now if it was a horse maybe….

This cute little fella reminded me of my short-lived 4H calf.    For those of you who are city folks, 4H (their motto is head, heart, hands and health) started out as a rural Boy-Scout-type organization, fostering life skills in youth ages 7-21, learning by doing etc.   Although they have branched out into other programs, they are still going strong in many rural areas.  According to last years Fair Exhibit Prize Booklet we have a local 4-H sheep  club, a 4-H beef club, a horse club, baking club, quilting club and one for the younger set age 7-9 called Clover Buds.

We never belonged to 4H growing up in the sixties, as life was busy with school, chores and my brothers had baseball and hockey, but my sister joined the 4-H cooking club one year when she was 12.   They met on Saturday mornings at a neighbors farm to prepare a dish, but she was to try out the weekly recipes at home.   She was teased so mercilessly by my siblings, over such delicacies as Welsh Rarebit and Blueberry Buckle, that one night at supper she burst into tears and declared, “You guys never want to try anything!”  And it was true, we weren’t very adventurous.  (I can be absolved as I was always a picky eater who had zero interest in cooking.)  The Purity cookbook states that Welch Rarebit is a cheese sauce and egg on toast concoction, but it might have been the dry mustard/cayenne pepper/Worcester sauce we objected to.   The Blueberry buckle wasn’t too bad, more cake-like, but we were pie people.   Then there was the long blue calico dress that had to be sewn for Pioneer Days, which involved many tears and much work, and was tossed aside after a few hours wear.   So that was the end of 4-H until one summer afternoon when we were bored to tears, the way kids used to get when there wasn’t a constant source of entertainment streaming at them 24/7.

The Barn in Winter (2005)

The Barn in Winter – painting by Joni’s mom 

While my brothers helped with the chores when they got older, I wasn’t out in the barn that much – there was nothing to do there.   Sometimes there would be a new batch of kittens, and if my cousins were over, we might jump in the hay mow which we weren’t supposed to as the middle section had rotten floorboards under the bales.   My dad had Holstein milking cows then and I remember the pails of milk being lined up in the hallway, but you had to stay out of the way and you definitely couldn’t go near the milking stanchions or you might get kicked by a cow.  Occasionally, we would take the dog for a walk back the lane-way to get the cows for milking, but mostly they came up on their own, like clockwork.   Here I am with Sally Ann, the oldest and head cow, and the only one with a name.

Cow - Sally Ann barn helper (4)

I’m really liking this jacket I have on.   L.L. Bean still sells this type of barn coat.  

So we decided one bored afternoon that we would train our own 4-H calves and parade them around the barnyard on a rope, like they did at the fair.   Here’s a photo of mine.

calf my four H (4)

What surprises me about this picture is my outfit – I’m wearing a cute white eyelet top that surely was not part of my regular play clothes.   And my hair, a towhead after a summer of sun.   Now cows aren’t the brightest of animals to begin with, and the poor little thing was not very obedient, so the 4-H calf was abandoned after a few short hours.   Judging from the size of my brother in the background, (my mother is supervising and taking the picture) I’m likely seven years old, much too young for a 4H calf anyway, although I don’t recall my older siblings lasted any longer with theirs.

Although not obvious in the picture, the calf had a big ugly goiter on its neck.   I wish I could say that’s what first inspired my interest in pursuing a medical career, but I just found it yucky.    Besides, it was really a horse I wanted anyway.

I don’t know what happened to my 4-H calf – it was gone in a few weeks.  It’s unlikely you could treat a hypothyroid calf back then, and you certainly couldn’t sell it for veal.  (My mother served veal exactly once, as we all refused to eat it on principle.)   Although I took a veterinary medicine course in 4th year (an easy elective we called Barnyard) I’ve never dispensed any thyroid for animals, large or small, although I’ve seen some strange meds (Ventolin inhaler for a horse?) as we had a veterinarian’s office close by.   Most likely the calf went on to the Big Barnyard in the sky.

My dad eventually sold his milking herd and switched to cash cropping and beef cattle, as they were less work than milking twice a day.   A milk quota is worth a million plus now, and the majority of dairy farms are mechanized and large scale.  Those small family farms hardly exist anymore, it’s a way of life which has mostly disappeared.    

Ghost Barn – painting by Joni’s mom

So, when I visit the nursery for plants next spring, I expect to see that ceramic calf on sale for a substantially reduced price, and I hope to be able to attend the fall fair again next year.

PS. I should add that our animals were treated humanely, with grazing in the fields, and no antibiotics or growth hormones. We also had free range chickens for eggs long before it was popular. I guess you say we were organic before organic was cool.

Me and my pet chicken…

PS. No matter where you may sit on the vegetarian/carnivore spectrum the decision to eat red meat or not is a personal choice. In the early 80’s my brother married a vegetarian (or a herbivore as my young niece delightfully described her, they must have been studying dinosaurs) which was not that common back then when 10 oz. porterhouse steaks were a fixture on restaurant menus, but nothing was ever said by my dad who raised beef cattle and my mother just added a few extra dishes to the holiday table…mac and cheese for Thanksgiving, deviled eggs for Easter and rice….yea bring it on! Not that my new SIL expected anything, but you know, to be hospitable. I know I lucked out in the parent department as my folks were nice easy-going people who were always willing to set an extra place at the table….but I wonder if people generally were just more tolerant to differing viewpoints back then? Now it seems like you can’t even give a dinner party without a long list of someone’s dietary restrictions and an accompanying lecture on why they are right!

On The Waterfront

      Last fall I attended a museum exhibit called On The Waterfront, where they displayed a number of old photos and postcards of the waterfront from days gone by.   I thought I might share a few of these, for those interested in history and vintage memorabilia.      

Grand Bend Beach Beauties

In this postcard, we see swimmers enjoying the beach in Grand Bend in the 1920’s.  One hundred years later, it remains a popular beach resort, but my how bathing suits have changed, although these may have seemed daring in the flapper era.  

On the Waterfront - Grand Bend Dance Pavilion

Imagine paying five cents for a dance – if you ran out of money, you were done for the night and maybe went for a moonlight stroll instead! 

Many of the waterfront amusements then involved dance halls or pavilions which attracted people for the nighttime entertainment, as much as the beaches did during the day. 

On the Waterfront - Dance Pavilion - Stag Island

My great-grandmother lived across the river from this resort and dance pavilion.  One of my father’s earliest memories was of hearing the music floating across the water while being babysat – with the probability of a cookie and a reassurance that his parents were not too far away.   Built in the the early 19th century, it hosted parties coming down river on  steamships to attend the dances and stay at the hotels and cottages.  Long torn down, it is now the site of a private clubhouse with a beautiful wood floor which would make a perfect dance floor. 

On the Waterfront steamship

Before there were bridges and motorcars, you, and your horse and carriage, could also hop on the ferry to get to the party.  

On the Waterfront - Ferry with Horse

Fast forward to the Big Band era…

Kenwick on the Lake

Care to jitterbug anyone?

When my parents were dating in the late 1940’s, they attended the Big Band dances at this venue on the shores of Lake Huron.  Opened in 1946, it had an outdoor dance floor, as dancing under the stars was very popular back then.   It attracted big name bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, and Glen Miller who played to crowds of up to 3,000 on weekends.   My mother recalls going for a hamburger and a Coke at a nearby diner after the dance – hamburgers were 25 cents, a sum they could barely afford. 

Moonlight Serenade – by Glen Miller and his Orchestra

Kenwick Pat Boone (4)

By the 1950’s as musical tastes shifted, it attracted the likes of rock and roll’s Bill Haley and the popular crooner Pat Boone.  I’m certain my parents did not attend this crowded Pat Boone concert, as I was born a few days later.    

By the 1960’s when we used to picnic in the park there on summer Sundays, there was nothing left of it but some broken cement from the dance floor and a few crumbling walls.  Now, it’s a tennis court, with a historical plaque marking the site, although a few years ago they held The Simply White Dinner (link) there, and dancing under the stars resumed for one enchanted evening. 

When we see pictures of young people congregating on the beach this summer, partying and having fun in the midst of a pandemic, it seems crazy, but youth is ever optimistic.   Although, looking back at these old photos, it does seem a much more romantic time.  Perhaps music and moonlight never go out of date.       

 

 

A History Lesson – Throwback Thursday

1918 flu ladies with masks

A friend sent me this in an email so I can’t credit the source, but it’s deja vu a hundred years later.   In 1720 there was the plague, in 1820 a cholera epidemic, in 1918-20 – The Spanish Flu, and now 2020 COVID-19 Coronavirus.  It seems history repeats itself every hundred years.

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

Spanish flu

They Shall Not Grow Old – a WW1 Documentary

They Shall Not Grow Old is a 2018 documentary produced by Peter Jackson which debuted last year on the BBC on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of November 11 1918.    Now available for viewing in North America, the film  was created using original WW1 footage from the Imperial War Museum’s archives.   Most of the video has been colorized and transformed with modern techniques and sound effects to better reveal the soldier’s experiences, rather than the sped up blurred clips of vintage newsreels.   Intended to be an immersive experience of “what it was like to be a soldier”, the film crew reviewed 100 hours of original film footage and 600 hours of interviews from over 200 veterans to make the film, including audio from 120 of them talking about their war memories.   The director Peter Jackson,  dedicated the film to his British paternal grandfather who fought in the war.  The title was inspired by the line, “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old” from the 1914 poem, “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which is often quoted on Remembrance Day, especially the famous fourth stanza.   The poem was written in Sept 1914 in the early days of the war when the first deaths were being reported…..there would be millions to follow.         

The Movie Trailer

Note:  I have not actually seen the movie yet, but have it on reserve at the library.   (Edited to add – it was powerful and moving to watch these young men go off to war as if on a grand adventure and to see the actual footage of the sad reality – I really have no words.)

I have blogged before about my Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet.   Like many of his generation, he never talked about his war experiences, other than being gassed and convalescing for six months with the Spanish Flu before being shipped home, but I have tried to reconstruct his war journey through his WW1 memorabilia.    (link – Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet)

Poppies - AMc

Being the faithful library patron that I am, the staff requested one of my mother’s paintings (above) for their Remembrance Day display.   I spied this book on the shelf and skimmed through it.   It’s quite gruesome in parts, so not for the faint of heart – but that is the reality of war. 

A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great WarA Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War by Sebastian Faulks

A collection of of personal WW1 diaries and letters, this book is an an unforgettable read for history lovers. Lest We Forget.

 

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Welcome to Downton – A Movie Theatre Review

Downtown Abbey

At the risk of sounding like an old fogy, it’s been years since I visited a  movie theatre – 22 to be exact – the last movie I saw at “the show” as we used to call it, was Titanic.   Yes, the year was 1997 and those actors are now middle-aged.   There hasn’t been a movie since where I felt I could not wait the minimal few months for it to come out on DVD, or it isn’t even called that anymore – become “available for home theatre viewing.”

So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the opening of the new  Downtown Abbey movie.   For stalwart fans of the Masterpiece TV series it was like coming home again, for it’s been three long years since we last had a glimpse of the Crawley family and their downstairs servants.   (See my Febrary post – Downton Abbey Revisited for more on their famous world.   Ah, the food, the fun, the fashions….)

Downton Abbey

The old Cineplex theatre where Titanic last sailed, has been torn down and a new multiplex Cineplex built, as that was the most requested addition according to a recent mall survey.    As the average box-office movie-goer is now a teenage boy who is into Marvel/Star wars movies, that’s probably who they surveyed.   No one I know goes to the movies anymore, so we have only ourselves to blame for the dearth of watchable movies.      

We decided to attend the noon matinee on the opening weekend, thinking the crowds would be fewer, and they were as when we walked in there were maybe fifty people at most.   The set-up reminded me of an IMAX theatre, an enormous screen with the seats facing downwards, but at least no one could obstruct your view.   I remember the last time I was in an IMAX theatre, decades ago for a Grand Canyon documentary, definitely not a good idea for someone who doesn’t like heights.   Speaking of heights, I wondered why almost everyone was sitting near the top.    We soon found out, as wow – that surround sound is certainly loud.   Even my mother, who denies being a bit deaf, thought it was way too loud.   As she was unable to climb higher than five rows up we stopped there, and had a lovely conversation with the lady in the seat behind us, who had recently had knee surgery and also found the stairs a chore.    Although there was a space below to store her walker, these places are really not designed for the handicapped…..steep uneven stairs, a long reach to the side handrail, and an elevation requiring a sherpa to achieve.    I watched the people coming down afterwards, mostly an older crowd, and everyone was navigating slowly as if coming down off Mount Everest. 

The seats were fake leather, non-tilting and horribly uncomfortable – gaming chairs really.   They must have surveyed their 15 year old target audience. 

The lights dimmed – therein followed thirty minutes of previews – lots of dark intergalactic forces at work on the planet these days, plus one unappealing Christmas rom-com staring nobody I knew.   I didn’t know they still made rom-coms, but Meg Ryan would not be caught dead in a silly green velvet elf suit.   The only one I was remotely interested in was Judy, and I can easily wait the three months to see Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, which I’m sure will be an Oscar-worthy performance.   Most younger people would not even know who Judy Garland was, nor maybe Renee Zellweger either. 

At least ticket prices are still reasonable…..$9 for a senior and $11 regular.  Big boxes of popcorn were $9 but small ones were $7 so you might as well spring for the larger size.    And what a variety of hot foods available, my lord – poutine at the movie theatre?   I happen to think poutine is a code word for future heart attack, but hey the target audience is invincible. 

Oh yea….I was supposed to be reviewing the movie. 

The Movie:   (no spoilers here)

There’s a big difference between writing a weekly series with an ongoing storyline and having to construct one from scratch in such a way that people tuning in for the first time are not hopelessly lost.   There were lots of intro scenes establishing the background and introducing the characters.   This probably accounted for the slow first half – I glanced over and my mother had fallen asleep, (1:30 pm is her usual nap time), but when I nudged her awake, she said she was just resting her eyes.   My eyes were sore too, as I found the screen way too close even from five rows in the midsection and wished we were higher up the mountain.   Where is a sherpa when you need one….

The characters seemed somewhat subdued.   It took them awhile to don their familiar roles, which is to be expected I suppose as when you are playing someone weekly it’s easy to slip into character again.  They were rusty – not Mary or Violet though.   Although everyone had a story, some were larger – Mary, Tom, Thomas and Daisy.   Daisy really seemed to be coming into her own.   Maybe they should give her a spin-off series?    Some characters barely had a part – Cora, Robert and Mr. Bates, and Henry just showed up at the end leaping of a car in time for a ball, although for a tall skinny guy he does leap well.   The plot line seemed thin and weak to me – but then I’m not really a monarchist.   It’s hard to get too excited about a visit from the King and Queen when they couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance the past six years – much ado about nothing – but I suppose for the time period, serving king and country and all that.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing it to the fast-paced series where scenes seldom lasted more than a minute or two and you were constantly left in suspense, wondering how things were going to turn out.  This ending was preordained.           

The sets and costumes were lavish as usual, as Julian Fellowes is one for details, but perhaps a wee bit less extravagant than usual.   As I had read it cost 1 million pounds/dollars to film each episode of DA, I wondered if  having already dismantled all the sets (except for Highclere), they had to make do.  Big box movies have a budget too.   If the substitute rooms didn’t seem as familiar or as opulent then maybe I have just watched too many episodes and know that the place settings would never be that close together for a formal dinner with the King and Queen, where Mosley makes a speech…..oops small spoiler.   The table did seem rather crowded. 

Will we get a sequel?   We could – there were a few unwrapped hints, Edith’s comment about missing her job, Tom’s new romance, but I suppose it depends on how much money is made.  

Most newspaper reviews have rated the movie a three star, but of course to DA fans it’s a five star.    I would tend to agree with both of them.  While I enjoyed it – it was good, not great.    Actually, I think I enjoyed any of the two hour spectacular Christmas specials more, except of course the one where Mathew died, a tragic ending so unexpected it made some people tune out permanently.    So don’t feel bad if you don’t have access to a mountain near you, you can easily wait until it comes out for home viewing…..and you can save on the popcorn too.

Overall, while it was slow to start, it picked up speed and finished with a grand, if somewhat sad, flourish – leaving us wanting more.  But there’s a small part of me that wishes he had just left them frozen in time at Christmas/New Years 1926 where everything was wrapped up neatly with a big bow.   

Postscript:  My apologies for not commenting on anyone’s blogs this past month.   Real life has interceded with the Cold-From-Hell (me), plus my mother was hospitalized for a week, she’s home now and on the mend, but I have not had internet access so I have not been able to read here at all.   

 Downton Abbey

 

 

Woodstock Revisited

They say that being a senior is just like being a teenager again, only you have more money.   You have no responsibilities, don’t have to work and can stay up late and party all night, if you wish.    While many of the today’s younger seniors may remember Woodstock, you definitely know you’re getting older when a local retirement home holds a Woodstock 50th anniversary night and you agree to go because your neighbor has free tickets and it would be a shame to waste a nice meal.   My mother agrees to go with us, although neither of us really remembers Woodstock.   My neighbor has more recollection of it, but I feel like I missed the whole hippy era, as at almost 13, I was just a bit too young and by the time I was old enough to peace out, disco had arrived.    While I remember much of the music from the era, I was more into the clean-cut Monkees than the Beatles, who had by then morphed into those long haired dudes strolling across Abbey Road.    My mother was a forty-something housewife back then who only listened to our music because the radio was on in the morning while we were getting ready for school, but I’m sure the station got changed as soon as we left for the bus. 

For those of you younger folk who may be unfamiliar, Woodstock was a famous music festival held on a dairy farm in upstate New York in Aug 1969, which attracted almost half a million young people and which became a symbol of the hippy era.   It rained over the three days, people camped and slept outdoors in the mud and listened to music and generally a peaceful groovy time was had by all.   Surprisingly there was no violence, considering the size of the crowd, but then the mood was mellow-yellow.      

Woodstock

Peace, Love and Fame!

(The couple in this iconic photo of the era, which first appeared on the Woodstock album cover, got married a few years later and are now seventy years old.   In a recent interview they said they didn’t even recall the photo being taken because they had just woken up.  Here’s a link to more on their story.)

 Woodstock had a music lineup of some of the best rock and roll groups of the time.   A friend of mine has a copy of the original festival poster, with the band playlist.   She was on her way to the show with a group of friends, complete with camping gear, when for reasons she doesn’t remember, they turned around and came back to Canada.   Most likely it was due to the negative publicity at the beginning – the drugs, the rain, the traffic, the lack of washroom facilities etc.   As she later went on to work in the music industry, she recalls it as one of the regrets of her life.   Here’s the playlist. Woodstock poster (2)

Of the groups who played, I only remember Creedence Clearwater Revival CCR (Bad Moon Rising), Blood Sweat and Tears (And When I Die), Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee), Jefferson Airplane (White Rabbit, Somebody to Love), Santana (Evil Ways), and Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summer Time).    While I recognize some of the others, (Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix), I don’t recall what they sang, so Linda over at Walking,Writing,Wit and Whimsy (who has a great Woodstock post), shared this link with me,where you can check out the songs each band played at the venue.    https://www.woodstock.com/lineup/     The site also has some great photos and videos, and man do those kids look young, as do the performers.   Of course that was in the day when we didn’t trust anyone over thirty.  

Many of the musicians who were asked to play, turned it down, (The Doors, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel) and have expressed regret, including Joni Mitchell, who went on to write this famous song, after seeing the news clips on TV.   

I was surprised to read that the music went on so late,  but being out in the country there were no noise bylaws, although I’m sure the neighboring towns weren’t too thrilled about the sudden descent of half a million hippies.   John Fogerty of CCR, remarked that most of the fans were asleep on the muddy ground by the time they went on at 3am, so he played to one guy way at the back, who was flicking a Bic lighter.   (Wikipedia link)

Imagine hosting that kind of party today, half a million people united by music, singing in peace and harmony. 

Not likely to happen – there’s too much violence in the world now.   The organizers of the 50th anniversary bash ended up cancelling.  (Sorry Jay Z and Miley Cyrus, no soggy fields for you, although I’m not sure why you got invited in the first place).   There will never be another Woodstock.     There was however a smaller anniversary gig held in Bethel Woods, with performances by Arlo Guthrie, John Fogerty and Carlos Santana, who were all there at the first one – what a trip that must have been for them to play again at the same site so many years later. 

But back to my Woodstock party….

So maybe it was a good thing the retirement home stepped in to fill the void – keeping the flame alive for all us aging hippies.  (I believe they are called hipsters now if Taylor Swift lyrics are correct). 

This particular retirement home is a bit of a white elephant, the product of a poorly developed plan hatched by some company in Toronto where the rest of their buildings are located and fully occupied.    It opened several years ago, and fewer than 25% of the units are rented.   I’m not sure who it’s actually marketed for, as many in this small town could not afford the high prices, most seventy somethings would want more space (the apartments are very small), and the over-eighty crowd who might inhabit such a place, might need some medical help of which there is none available.   But I give them A for effort, as they are trying hard to fill it up.   One of their marketing ploys is to offer community events and free dinner tickets to anyone who might have expressed even the slightest bit of interest.  (My friend went to a yoga class there.  They even sent my mother a Christmas gift in the mail – a puzzle of one of her art works).   They host monthly theme nights, Roaring Twenties, Casino, Neil Diamond, and while older people in the community might support the events, it seems no one actually wants to live there.  

There is a big atrium, like in a fancy hotel, wasted space, but it’s supposed to be a social area.    A perfect spot for a sit in or a love-in or at least a free buffet with some folk music.     

I have a hard time deciding what to wear, and have to visit the basement and unearth a few old Seventeen magazines to refresh my memory of the clothes of the era.   I found the magazines in the attic when my mother moved off the farm.   They’re from 1970, the summer I entered high school, when I must have been worried about looking hip, although why I don’t know, as we wore uniforms, other than the first Friday of the month which was Dress Up Day.   

Seventeen Magazine

Dig those blue tinted shades!

Back then, Seventeen magazine came in the the big twelve-inch size format, like Life and Look magazines.    The ads alone were a trip down memory lane.   We seemed to be consumed with lightening our hair (Sun-In, Lemon Go Lightly), darkening our tans (Coppertone, Johnson’s Baby Oil, Sea and Ski, Noxzema), and wearing blue eye shadow (Bonne Bell, Yardley, Max Factor).   

But back to the fashions, and the all important question, when Jupiter aligns with Mars will you be dressed for it?

Seventeen Magazine

You will if you sew your own threads!

That song was far out – Aquarius – by the Fifth Dimension. 

In the fashion pages, we wore bell bottoms, embroidered peasant shirts and gauzy skirts, mini skirts, maxi skirts, tie-dye, leather sandals, headbands, love beads, rose or blue tinted granny glasses and anything with fringe.

Seventeen Magazine

Model Susan Dey before The Partridge Family and L.A. Law

And don’t forget the flower for your hair, preferably a daisy.   

The song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) was written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas,to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.    It also gave birth to the flower-child movement and the phrase flower-power.  

At age ten, I remember being annoyed when my first pair of bell bottoms got caught in the spokes of my bike, but later being quite envious of my grade eight teachers mini skirts and especially her long black maxi coat.  By high school short skirts were all the rage even in Canada, and my mother, who made our navy uniforms, made them short, but we still rolled them shorter, until the nuns caught you out.   By grade eleven she had given in, but it does make me cringe now looking my high school year book that they were that short.   I believe the nuns had given up by then too.   One year hot pants were in, but not part of the uniform.   The nuns would have fainted at that.    I had a pair I wore under a matching mini dress.   By grade twelve we were allowed to wear navy pants, but nobody did as jeans were in, wide and flared by then. 

But back to party prep….(which as I recall was often the best part of a night out). 

I found a pink cotton embroidered shirt, last worn fifteen years ago, in the back of a closet, and piled on some beads and bracelets.    As luck would have it, I had also found a suede necklace with a peace symbol at an outdoor craft show the weekend before, a bargain at $10.   

Hippy outfit Woodstock

Finishing touch, some dangling feather earrings.   I had a problem with my gold chain headband, as I have bangs and it did not sit quite right.   Alas, I did not have any bell bottom blue jeans, faded or otherwise, as in this famous Cat Stevens song, so regular skinny jeans had to do.  (How is it that I now own only one pair of jeans, which I admit haven’t been worn in two years, and seemed a bit snug, but isn’t that why yoga pants were invented). 

The residents really got into the spirit of the evening.   There were prizes for best costumes and I got some great ideas should I decide to resurrect my hippy costume for Halloween.    Daisy chain headbands, flowing caftans, ponchos, embroidered jean jackets, with most of the guys looking like cool cats in their bandannas.    Obviously, many of these people had lived through the era, and had a better idea than I did.   Someone had tie-died some white sheets to hang as a backdrop behind the stage.  As my only memory of tie-dye was a blue and white t-shirt which came out uneven, I had no idea it could be so colorful. 

Woodstock - Tie-DyeUnfortunately, after Bad Moon rising, the musician/guitar player wandered into the wrong decade and stayed there, as I’m sure Tequila Sunrise and Margaritaville were not played at Woodstock.   His final nod to the sixties was Love Potion Number Nine, when really it was Diovol I needed, as the food was – well the polite word might be – institutionalized.   Can you dig it?   No I could not, and this is coming from someone who ate hospital food for years way better than that.   Unlike the original Woodstock, no drugs were allowed, well at least no psychedelic ones.   Although marijuana is legal now in Canada and they are even trialing it in nursing homes for pain control (don’t get me started), there was none in evidence.   Thank God, smoking inside buildings is not allowed.   

As parties go, it ended fairly early, but I was tired (one of the disadvantages of getting older is you can stay out all night but you don’t want to), and this hippy-chick was happy to go home to my nice comfy bed and grateful I did not have to sleep out in the mud with half a million other people.   While not quite as exciting as the first Woodstock, it was a fun happening.    Maybe they can do it again in another fifty years and  invite the Rolling Stones – they’ll be 125 and on their final world tour. 

PS.  In these strange and tumultuous times, maybe we need to be reminded of those famous slogans, “Make Love, Not War” and “Give Peace a Chance.”  

PS.  Do you remember Woodstock and the hippy era?   Do you remember any of the fashions and music?    

PS.   I think we had much better music back then, a lot of which is still listened to today.   I may be showing my age, but I have a dislike for much of the current music scene, especially rap, which I feel is totally lacking in lyrics and melody.   I listen to classic rock, oldies but goodies stations, and even the really old classics like Sinatra and the Big Band era.   Younger readers, how do you feel about your generation’s music versus the older stuff?    Do you think it will have staying power?    I read recently that Drake has now surpassed the Beatles record of eleven number one hits in a single year/album, but I could not tell you one single song Drake song, or Beyonce or Justin Beiber for that matter  – I guess I have turned into my mother and just change the station! 

The Tall Ships

        The Tall Ships have come and gone, sailing away on a south wind and lots of good cheer, as the Gordon Lightfoot song goes.   They have spent the summer visiting ports along the Great Lakes and were in my vicinity for the weekend, attracting 100,000 visitors in the process.   You could purchase general admission day and weekend passes, as well as boarding passes that included deck tours, but as I am not a fan of big crowds or standing in long line ups in the sweltering heat, I viewed them from afar on Friday afternoon – along with thousands of other people lining the shore with the same idea!   

The Tall Ships

Among the six ships in dock, was The Bluenose II, a famous Nova Scotia ship,  and my favorite, the Nao Santa Maria, the flagship from the 1492 voyage Christopher Columbus made when he discovered North America.

The Tall Ships

Photo courtesy of Nao Santa Maria Facebook page

This replica was built in Spain to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the discovery of the new world and has spent the past two years touring various ports of call on this side of the Atlantic.   (The Nao Santa Maria has it’s own Facebook page if you wish to check if it will be in your area).    

The Tall Ships

We probably all remember the grade school rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and we may remember the three ships on that famous voyage, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta, but I was unaware that the Santa Maria did not make the return journey home as it had run aground on a sandbar in Hispaniola/Haiti on Christmas Day 1492. 

Shipwreck AMc

Shipwreck!

Here’s a link with more description about the three ships, and also a Wikipedia link with some information about the design, cargo, and the voyage.   As the largest of the three, the Santa Maria was the main cargo ship, carried the most men, 52 of the 90, and was considered an old tub too unwieldy to navigate river mouths and shallow bays, which was left to the smaller faster Pinta.   Columbus had struggled for years to obtain financing for his project (searching for a sea route to the far east and the treasures of Cathay), until the Queen of Spain reluctantly granted approval for the journey.    How overjoyed they must have been to have sighted land and being proven right, even though they were unaware at the time that it was a whole other unexplored continent.   

The Tall Ships

Ahoy mates! Land ahead! (Photo from Nao Santa Maria Facebook page)

Can you imagine travelling across the ocean in that for two months?    

I had anticipated the opening Parade of Ships to be a glorious sight to behold – a beautiful sunny day, blue sky and water, white sails billowing in the breeze.  While the weather was okay (coolish, sunny but lots of clouds), there was such a brisk north breeze, it wasn’t really a Parade of Sails, it was a Parade of Masts! 

The water was so dark and choppy, I had to lighten my pictures to be able to see anything, plus a cloud managed to obscure the sun every time a ship went by.    One of the crew was quoted as saying the sails were not up for safety reasons, as the river channel was too deep and narrow to allow much maneuverability, and it was too windy and rough once they got out on the lake.   Plus, it wasn’t really a parade, as there were long gaps between the appearance of one ship and the next.   We chatted and visited with fellow sightseers, many of whom had driven great distances, and ate french fries from chip trucks under the bridge, which is one of the touristy things to do in this town.   This is the first ship which came along, although I don’t know the name, as I was too far away to see.  

The Tall Ships

Several were so tall, we watched in awe as they barely cleared the bridge. 

The Tall Ships

The Tall Ships

For $120 you could go on board for a two hour cruise during the Parade of Sails, which was sold out, as were all the more reasonably priced ($85 and $60) morning and evening cruises where the proceeds went to charity.    I suspect the lack of sails was a liability issue also, as they wouldn’t want to risk anything with all those VIP’s and tourists aboard, especially if they were puking all over the nicely polished wooden decks.

The Tall Ships

I had a moment of regret, when the Empire Sandy went past.  It looked like such fun, and I don’t usually get seasick on boats, having been on cruise ships, ferries and even a small motorboat.         

The Tall Ships

But then I remembered the five days I spend on a Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean, back in my younger years, when I could more easily be talked into such things.   I’ve learned my lesson, while something might sound romantic and adventurous, the reality often doesn’t match up.   (Plus I require much more luxury in my vacations now).    I distinctly remember arriving in St. Marten’s and gazing at the small vessel in the harbor and thinking – no that could not possibly be it.   Nothing so small could hold 160 passengers and crew.   It did, except for the two who got off at the first stop and flew home, thus saving themselves four more days of misery.     Everyone on the boat was sea-sick the first 24 hours – the captain explained that was normal because the stretch from St. Martens to St. Kitt’s was notoriously rough.   (Well if that was the case, then why didn’t they depart from a port with calmer waters?)    He said most people were okay after the first day.   Many were not.   He said, stare at the horizon.   It didn’t help.   Better to be above deck, than below.   It wasn’t.   Have some more booze.   I don’t drink.   While the cabins were so small as to be claustrophobic, the rocking of the ship was somewhat comforting when you were tucked up in your bunk bed at night.   I tried not to think about the fact that only a foot of timber separated me from the watery depths.   The food was okay, if you could eat it.  (The dry crackers were highly recommended).    We visited St. Bart’s and a private island for a picnic and scuba diving which was a welcome break.    On Day 3, I applied one of those anti-nausea patches behind my ear – upon awakening on Day 4, I removed it, after walking into a wall and being told my pupils looked strangely dilated.  (Most fixed-dose drugs are not for me, as I am a featherweight).   Night 5 was particularly rough again, the rocking cradle turned into a see-saw, invoking a few prayers.   I was never so glad to see dry land again, and practically kissed the ground at the hotel.    The only good thing about the whole trip was the two days of shopping and restaurants in St. Marten’s capital city.  The only good thing about the ship was there was plenty of hot water in the showers, and they played Amazing Grace on deck in the evening when they unfurled the sails, a nice romantic ritual.   (Funny, I don’t remember the sails being raised during the day, probably too many drunken tourists about who might fall overboard).    Thank God a wretch like me was saved – but I swore never to set foot on a sailing ship again!

It may be exhilarating to be on board when the wind grabs the sails, but sailing is only for more adventurous souls, with strong stomachs.   For the rest of us, the Tall Ships are a pretty sight, best viewed from the safety of the shore.   

The Tall Ships

(photo courtesy of the Tall Ships Festival Facebook site)

Postscript:   Like the best of all plans, Columbus started small, with old ships.   News of his new world discovery spread quickly throughout Europe, so on his second voyage, he was given a fleet of 17 ships, with 1,200 men and the supplies needed to establish permanent colonies in the New World.  Which just goes to show how any new venture can start with one small step, which with a bit of luck and a favorable south wind, can turn into something much larger.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pioneer Village

Victorian Tea China        Last month I blogged about a Victorian tea party I attended on the grounds of a local museum.    If you are a history lover, please join me for part two of the tour,  a visit to yesteryear.   

Moore museum collage

While the Victorian cottage is one of the original buildings on the museum site, there are many others.   Most have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, as well as a local lighthouse.           

The 1919 church with the original pipe organ in the corner.

 

The one room schoolhouse.

schoolhouse

At the risk of sounding like someone from Little House on the Prairie, I seldom admit I once attended a one room schoolhouse.   It was located less than half a mile down the road from our farm, within walking distance even for a first grader, and was the same school my dad and all his ancestors had attended.   In 1963 the government closed all the remaining rural schools, and our parents drove us into town to the Catholic school until the bus system was started a few years later.  

What do I remember from my year and a half there?   Not much, as I was only six.   The big wood burning stove, so hot you could cook hot dogs wrapped in tin foil on top for lunch, schoolhouse

games of baseball for all ages at recess, getting the strap once (just a little tap on our hands) for talking in class and being made to stand in the corner with my cousin – much more humiliating.  schoolhouseThe teacher was always yelling and in a bad mood – can you imagine trying to teach 40 kids of all ages.   It may sound archaic, but I suppose it would be similar to home schooling now, with different age appropriate lessons.    As there were only three of us in grade one, myself, my cousin and an unkempt boy whose family no one knew, we did not get much attention, but I must have absorbed something from listening to her teach the older grades, as when we were given tests at the new school I passed with 92%.  (They thought we were country hicks who would have to be held back a year).   My new grade two teacher was pleasantly surprised and told my parents I was smart, a moment I remember to this day.   I always had a friendly rivalry with the boy sitting in front of me over who would get top honors, sometimes it was him, sometimes me, and as I went on to graduate from the University of Toronto, it didn’t to me any harm, although I admit some kids who needed extra attention were not as lucky.    

Compare this slate with the tablets of today.   I vaguely remember the sound of the school bell being rung.  

schoolhouse

At the one room schoolhouse the grade ones were let out half an hour early, and my cousin, who lived next door, and I would dawdle along, catching tadpoles in the ditches, playing in the snowbanks and making up fairy stories, the road being lined with beautiful trees, (channeling Anne of Green Gables here), and arrive home the same time as my siblings.    It seems I remember more than I had thought.   

Here is a picture of the class of 1934, with the school in the background appearing larger than I remember. 

schoolhouse dad

This is a log cabin from 1874, not a replica but an actual cabin moved to the site to preserve a part of history. 

cabin

My great-grandparents John and Ellen were married in 1870 and I try to imagine my Irish ancestors living in such a small drafty house during their early years on the farm.  The old white farmhouse I grew up in had two parts, the initial smaller dwelling and a larger addition with bedrooms upstairs to accommodate their growing family of nine children. 

This picture of an old stove certainly puts my complaints about the ongoing delays in my kitchen reno into perspective.   What my ancestors would have given for such modern conveniences as a stove you could turn on with the touch of a button.

cabin

Not too keen on the sleeping arrangements, a loft accessed by very steep stairs.    I remember my dad saying some of his uncles slept upstairs in the granary when it was new, which probably looked like this.  I imagine it was freezing in the winter, hence the quilts. 

cabin

Open concept floor plans were popular back then too!   We have an antique farm table dating from 1870, longer than this one.  

cabin

While most farms had large vegetable gardens, including rhubarb, and were mainly self-sufficient,

cabin

there were times you simply had to go into town for a few provisions at the general store,  

general store

and perhaps a new hat.

general store hats

The model train room, which boasts three large train sets, is always a hit with the guys.  

model train

 As well as the individual buildings, there is a large agricultural building full of old farm implements such as this cutter/sleigh.    We had one just like it and my dad sometimes took it for a spin behind the Clydesdales.

cutter sleigh

There is also a large exhibition hall, with a marine room and different display rooms and lots of historical archives.   It does seem strange that my Barbie/Skipper carry case has now achieved vintage status.   

vintage toys

I remember playing with this doll house too. 

vintage doll house

Several volunteers were setting up the loom for a display of weaving the day of our visit, a time consuming process.   There was no fast fashion back then.  

loom

And of course, I always enjoy looking at old medical exhibits, such as this infirmary,

infirmary

and pharmacy.   

pharmacy

The tools of my trade

Perhaps somewhere among those antique bottles is a clue for my (long neglected) murder mystery?    Agatha Christie used the knowledge acquired during her days as an apothecary apprentice when writing her books.   

When I think back to the changes in my profession over the past one hundred years – the invention of penicillin and antibiotics, vaccines, insulin – these are discoveries which saved lives.   In my student days pharmacy labels were prepared on typewriters, not as ancient as this one as ours were electric with correcto-tape.

typewriter

The last forty years of my career has seen the implementation of computers (a massive improvement for record keeping, drug information and drug interactions), clot-busters for preventing damage in heart attack and stroke, palliative care measures for end of life, improved chemotherapy, drugs for depression and mental illness, biologicals for autoimmune diseases, and more new drugs on the market than you can possibly keep up with.   When I think of the future – targeted chemotherapy, gene therapy, cures for diseases never thought possible – it is amazing the amount of change that can happen over the course of a century. 

One Christmas my father was given one of those autobiography books to document your life for the grandchildren.   One of the questions was what are the most important changes you have seen in your life as compared to that of your grandparents.  

“When my grandparents settled here the land was all bush.   Roads were Indian trails.  People lived far apart.   They had to build houses, barns, roads, clear land.   Walking and horses were the main modes of travel.   Machinery was crude or non-existent.   Since then tractors and combines have been invented.  Hydro, paved roads, cars, radios, toasters, tvs, micowaves, computers.   Household goods and furnishings have changed such as washers and dryers, refrigerators and stoves, air conditioning in summer and furnaces in winter instead of a wood stove.    My mother churned butter and we had an ice box and a root cellar for vegetables, an outhouse, no running water in the house and having to heat water on the stove for a bath.    Materials are softer now than the scratchy clothes I wore as a child.  You have toys now that we never dreamed of.   The biggest changes are education and modern schools, and medicines and childhood diseases.”

My father was a child of the Depression, and one of changes he recalled was hydro.  The farm didn’t get hydro until after WW2, 1947, and all of a sudden you had lights in the barn and weren’t milking cows by lantern light, and you could stay up late with hydro in the house.   Worth thinking about  the next time I grumble because the power is out a few hours due to a storm.   As to the future, he commented on computers and the internet which was just starting up.   In the twenty years since he died we now have – Google, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Siri, Spotify, Netflix, IPods, IPads, GPS, digital cameras and clouds which are not rain clouds, although we have plenty of those too!   We are now testing cars that drive themselves, robots and artificial intelligence.   It feels like something out of the Jetsons –  that old 60’s cartoon about a futuristic world which was very predictive.   Does anyone else remember the theme music?

What will the future hold?    Maybe someday my old 1986 DOS computer, currently residing in the basement, with it’s orange blinking screen and large floppy disks, will be on display at the museum, resting behind the electronics exhibit, along with a  Sony Walkman and a ghetto-blaster.

As a history lover, I feel it is important to preserve our heritage, and I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the past.  

Postscript:   My mother painted the log cabin (two versions), but she placed it in winter time, as my ancestors arrived here in late October, not expecting snow.   Is the lighthouse a beacon to the new world?    You can tell I’ve been hanging around the art world too much…

Postscript:  This is my 100th post.  I never would have imagined that!

 

A Victorian Tea

Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.   

 The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!”    Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015.   She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era.   She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers.   After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend.   Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era.   This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819. 

Victorian Tea CottageNote: the Union Jack (Canada did not get it’s own Maple Leaf flag until 1965) and the old fashioned lilac bush (see Lilac Time)

The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage.   Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds.   It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893,  which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum.    She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by. 

Victoria Tea Cottage

 It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and  kitchen and two very small bedrooms.   

Victorian Tea

Victorian Tea Cottage

The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.  

China cabinet Victorian Tea

The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer.   It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice.  Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend.   The last time I was there,  it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove.     It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.  

Victorian Tea cottage

Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour.   On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog.  (It’s never too late to edit!)  

Rhubarb

There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey.    Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates. 

Victorian Teat

 The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons.   The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside. 

Victorian Tea

The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.   

Bird nesting

 Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered.   Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.   

Victorian Tea China

 Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret.    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!   Victorian Tea Cottage

They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove.  (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?)    The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.    

Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party.   Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.  

Postscript:   Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart.   Mix this, Rhubarbwith this, Rhubarb scones

bake as directed,  Rhubarb sconesand you get this.  Rhubarb scones

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!

 

 

Come From Away

Nfld Wash Day Two - AMc

Newfoundland Wash Day

When 911 happened, 38 airplanes were diverted to Gander Airport in Newfoundland.   The island of Newfoundland is the most easterly province in Canada and generally the poorest, with high unemployment and a mostly rural lifestyle, but Newfoundlanders are also known for their friendliness and down home hospitality and the small community of Gander took in 6500 stranded passengers, supplying meals, beds and entertainment for five days and spawning lifelong friendships in some cases.  The musical “Come From Away”, which debuted on Broadway last year and is currently playing in Toronto, is based on this true event.   The phrase Come From Away, is east coast slang for the fact that you are from someplace else, somewhere other than here.   

       It is human nature to want to help those in need, especially true if those in distress have a face and a name, but what if they come in the tens of  thousands, and we had to help them indefinitely?   Would we be quite as accommodating?  Or what if they were a boat full of 500 Sri Lankan refugees, as happened on the west coast of British Columbia in 2010, people from a different country and language and background?   Ah, it’s getting complicated.     

A overloaded raft filled with refugees sinks and a dead toddler washes up on the beaches of the Mediterranean – tragic.   Angela Merkel expresses sympathy for the drowned victims.  Gangs of young men board trains in Germany and swarm European borders, not so tragic – maybe even scary, in the way that large unpredictable crowds can be.   Now, it’s even more complicated.   

They are all asylum-seekers, but are they “refugees” fleeing conflict and death in a war torn country, or “economic migrants” seeking a better, more prosperous life?   Should people who follow the rules, fill out the required paperwork and wait their turn, be treated differently from those who just show up?    

As a writer with an interest in history and genealogy I have been mulling over these questions lately, because immigration is a hot issue today.   There’s a lot of anger and resentment.   Many people are in search of a better life, whether it is planned immigration, like my Dutch grandparents (see Dutch Inheritance), or fleeing a crisis, like my Irish ancestors (see Irish Roots), during the potato famine when a third of Ireland’s population starved to death.   But it’s also a much more complicated issue. 

When my Irish and Dutch ancestors came here, the country welcomed immigrants – they were needed to settle the wide open spaces.  The immigrants weren’t dependent on the government to support them, because there was no support system, or very little – unless you count that one pound note they received from the government for water transport to their new home.   They lost three members of their party of twenty on the way over, and jumped ship while it was lined up waiting to dock at the quarantine station in the St. Lawrence River, thus arriving destitute but nevertheless alive, although they lost one fifteen year old son in the bush and never found him.   I’m not sure how they traveled from Quebec to Toronto, where they were issued the loan, but as Quebec was swamped with the Irish, as were major US cities like Boston and New York, perhaps there were charities to give them a meal and help them disperse.    Certainly they were penniless, as the record, for the three brothers and their families, referred to them as indigent emigrants – poor and needy.   To put this cost of Great Lakes water transport into perspective, the ship fare from Ireland was 3 pounds per person to Canada, and 5 pounds to the US.    In many cases the landlords paid for the passage, eviction being an established practice.  National Archive Record -

In 1846 much of Canada was forested, and it must have been a daunting task to clear the land of all those trees to be able to plant a small crop.  They arrived in late October and wouldn’t have survived the first winter if the Indians hadn’t helped them build some kind of hut to provide shelter from the snow. 

First Homestead - AMc - 2017

First Homestead 1846

 Their first years were so bad that they gladly would have returned to Ireland, but slowly they started to prosper.  I can follow their prosperity through the agricultural census reports, so many acres farmed, bushels of wheat, livestock etc.    

My mother’s Dutch parents planned their immigration in 1922.   By then, immigrants had to pass a pre-medical and be sponsored by a Canadian farmer for a year.  Harvesting sugar beets in the hot sun was hard work – which they continued to do even after the year was over, until my grandfather found carpentry work building houses, barely surviving during the lean years of the Depression.   Both groups eventually adjusted and assimilated into society and their descendants considered themselves Canadian first. 

Canada is a lucky country in that we tend to have a fair degree of cultural tolerance – yes people can retain their culture here, but they are also expected to become Canadian.   But we have our limits too.  Unfortunately, demands to accommodate customs and episodes of cultural extremism tend to breed intolerance and distrust of all immigrants.   There’s a reason why America was called a melting pot – if people don’t wish to adapt and aren’t willing to abide by the laws of their new society, then perhaps they would be better not to come.   Respect is a two way street – if a country is kind enough to welcome someone in, they should be respectful of that country’s customs too.      

Being from a rural area as white as Wonder bread, I was in university in Toronto in the late 70’s, before I met anyone of a different race or color.  Now I work with so many different nationalities I don’t even think about it, because they are all just Canadians.   A few years ago during a playoff game I saw a TV clip of a group of fans cheering their hometown team in a sports bar in downtown Toronto, truly a multi-cultural city now, and there wasn’t a white Caucasian face among them.   Mind you, they were most likely first generation descendants who grew up on hockey and baseball, but certainly the face of the nation is changing.  (If you come here, you must love hockey – it is the law!)    

A co-worker of mine went through two years of paperwork and red tape to immigrate from an eastern European country.   Neither she nor her husband could work here in their respected careers (engineering, translator), but they came anyway.   They wanted a better life for their children.   They started with modest jobs and a modest home, then got better jobs and a better home.  Another colleague of mine was visiting her sister after graduation and got stranded here when the Croatian war broke out and the borders were closed back home.   She taught herself English and obtained her Canadian license.   Planned, not planned – both of them became excellent Canadian citizens, hard working, educated, the kind of people any country would want. 

But are all educational degrees the same?  Skills, knowledge?  There are lots  of taxi drivers with degrees.  What about values, ethics?  It would be naive to think all refugees share our moral standards.   If a person comes from a country where violence, fraud and corruption is rampant, and sometimes the only way to get ahead, then they might think those practices are acceptable here?  They’re not.  There has been some talk of making an ethics test a requirement for immigration.  But just how do you go about that?  It’s about as impractical as a test for terrorists.   I’ve often wondered why we letting so many international grads into the country when our own Canadian grads can’t get jobs.  It seems unfair.   Ordinary citizens may find their tolerance slipping away every time they read something negative in the newspaper or on social media or perhaps experience something themselves, because so many of our opinions are influenced by our personal experiences. 

When our prime minister (polite, nice hair but politically inexperienced, champion of women’s rights until one disagreed with him), proudly but  naively proclaimed that Canada welcomes immigrants, he also opened the floodgates to over 40,000 illegal immigrants walking across the Canadian-US border at unofficial entry points, most fleeing possible US deportation.   What he actually meant was applying for it the usual way.   But can the steady stream of people wheeling their over-sized suitcases across the fields near the Quebec and western borders be considered “refugees” fleeing a war torn country, or are they “economic migrants” who have heard Canada is a good place?   The social services system in the big cities like Montreal and Toronto have run out of places to put them – they are housing them in hotels and calling on federal reimbursement for the millions spent accommodating them, as Ontario is already in a major-debt crisis, (346 billion and climbing, similar to California and Greece).   The refugee claimants are entitled to free social assistance, education and medical care while awaiting their hearing before the Immigration Board, for up to one year but often longer, as there aren’t enough immigration officers to process them all.   They are also allowed to apply for a temporary work permit after the claim is initiated but many have children to look after and who would hire them temporarily?   And just how do you sort out which ones might be ‘undesirables” – perhaps criminals or drug dealers back home.   It must be a difficult process doing background checks, if they can be done at all.   Recently, in an effort to stem the tide, the government enacted legislation to try and deter the “asylum-shoppers” – if they have already claimed asylum in the US then they will be deported back to await a hearing there.      

Years ago, borders between the nations were more fluid.  People moved to where there was work and stayed there.   Most of my grandfather’s siblings went to the US.    In 1913, the big Detroit car factories (GM and Ford) were just starting their production lines and needed workers, so they advertised $5/day, enticing many Canadians to move across the river.  But by the 1960’s, I remember my great Aunt Bea hesitating about visiting the farm in her old age, as she did not have any papers to show the border officer.   Another of my grandfather’s siblings went to Seattle to work in the logging industry in the 1920’s.   When he couldn’t get work the first year, the whole family picked apples.   Now, nobody wants to do that kind of manual labor anymore, so our fruit and vegetable farmers must hire Mexican or Jamaican seasonal workers through a government sponsored program.   My ancestors didn’t settle in the big city, they spread out to the rural areas where land was cheap and work available and settlers needed. 

Both my Irish and Dutch ancestors faced some prejudice as foreigners.  The Irish were universally hated, there were so many of them taking away all the jobs, but now 1/4 of North Americans can claim some Irish descent and no one thinks anything of it.   My mother remembers the teachers not liking the Dutch and foreign kids as the parents couldn’t speak English, one of the reasons most of the new immigrants prefer to stay in the big overcrowded cities.  Perhaps they feel more comfortable with their own kind, but often it is the opposite of what they might expect.   The people in the smaller towns may be more welcoming and the churches who were sponsoring the Syrian refugees and had raised enough money for a year to qualify, were delighted to have a family to help out.      

While Canada did take in it’s share of Syrian refugees, many are still unemployed.   It’s hard to find work when they can’t speak English or their English is poor.  The schoolkids always do better at picking it up.   For some their sponsorship money has run out and others have expressed the wish to return to their own country once things settle down – the winters here are too cold.   (Yes, Canada is a great country, except for the snow and the winters that drag on for six months and the high taxes).   One poor Syrian family lost all seven of their kids in a tragic house fire in Nova Scotia – such beautiful children all perished.   They may have wanted the promise of a better life, but sometimes that promise isn’t fulfilled.   

If a person is destitute they are glad of a safe haven anywhere, but is their new life what they expected?  (My Dutch ancestors stepped off the train in Niagara Falls into a foot of snow, and the Irish crew had heard Canada was a temperate climate requiring nothing more than a straw hat!)   Perhaps their lives are better overall, but are there regrets?   I wonder about the caravans coming over the southern US – Mexican border – if they don’t speak English do they even know what they are facing, or are they just fleeing from a situation which is even worse?   Are they aware they might be separated from their children (like my ancestors losing one son in the bush and never finding him).    Or is the hope and promise of a better life for their children worth the chance?     

In today’s era of entitlement, I have been reminded lately of the famous J.F. Kennedy quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”   While each individual case may be different, the goal is the same for everyone – hopefully each immigrant will become a hard working, law abiding, contributing and tax-paying citizen of their new country. 

Taxes – those necessary evils that help support our enviable social programs, and yes the taxes here (in our cradle to grave social state) can be as high as the snow.    But people can’t pay taxes if they’re here illegally under the radar.   If I wanted to move to Provence permanently as I hear the sun shines there 300 days of the year – and I’m there illegally and don’t pay taxes, eventually I would be sent right back to snowy Canada.  And if I insisted on butter tarts from le patisserie instead of macrons I would be deported tout suite!   

In addition to humanitarian concerns and human rights, each country also has the right to decide their own fate, to have a system in place which is fair and reasonable and not so costly that it deters the country from letting anyone in at all.   Which is what might happen if this heated issue continues to build steam.  The door will be closed to everyone.  You can already see individual countries everywhere (Australia for example where immigrant boats are diverted to an island offshore), tightening up their immigration policies.           

A recent UN survey states there are 227 million migrants in the world, people who have left their countries in search of work, to join their families or fleeing conflict.  There are probably another billion or two who would like the opportunity to leave.   47 million migrants said they would most like to move to Canada, a nation of just 37 million.  (I’m not sure how they arrived at this data other than through extrapolation).    Any country with a good standard of living, offering free social services and health care is attractive, witness the desire for many of the Syrians to travel north to Denmark and  Sweden.   But Canada lets in just 300,000 immigrants per year.   The dilemma is deciding who and how? 

We may want to help everyone, but can we afford to?   Canada is a big country land wise – maybe we could take in more people if we didn’t have to guarantee them so much, for so long?   What if social assistance was limited to six months, could we take in twice as many?   Three months, three times the amount?   Or just vet the applicants and open up the border like centuries ago and let everyone fend for themselves?   No, there are too many people now and the world has changed too much for that.   And what about human rights? 

Immigrants and asylum seekers have rights too, but sometimes a plea for help may seem like a demand, especially if there are large numbers  involved, a mob of people versus an orderly process.   “Let me in, support me financially while I’m waiting even if takes years, let me stay and let me appeal if you decide to deport me.”   Is this a right, a plea, a hope or a demand?   There’s everything good and decent and right about giving someone a helping hand, a start to a new life, and that’s what it should be, a start.   Our ancestors did it, they had no other choice.     

Fast forward a few decades to the future and the possible issue of mass migration and “climate refugees”.   If climate change evolves, and droughts and flooding and food shortages occur all over the world, will hordes of people be leaving their counties seeking food and shelter elsewhere?  If that happens more prosperous countries will simply shut their doors and take care of their own.  It will be every country for themselves, and every man for themselves.   Our face of humanity will be lost.   It’s disappearing now.  People are losing tolerance and empathy.   The immigration systems are strained and overwhelmed.   It’s something to think about and there are no easy answers, but we need to figure it out, sooner rather than later.       

To sum up, we all came from away at some point, even those white Europeans who came over with Columbus on the Santa Maria, but surely there is some middle ground somewhere, and room for reasonable discussion and action.   We need to learn to balance practicality with compassion, for the storm is coming.       

PS.  Your respectful thoughts and opinions are welcomed.

And because there’s always a book or two in my blogs, may I recommend some excellent reads on the refugee crisis.      

A fictionalized account, the Canadian novel The Boat People by Sharon Bala explores the Sri Lanka refugee boat incident from all angles – the refugees, their history and the workers in the legal and immigration systems who have to decide who can stay.   

Castaway: True Stories of Survival from Europe’s Refugee Crisis by journalist Charlotte MacDonald-Gibson, first hand reporting mixed with personal stories, told from an observer point of view leaving you to draw your own conclusions. 

Tears of Saltby Dr. Pietro Bartolo – memoir by an Italian physician of his many years of treating the many Mediterranean refugees who washed up on his small Italian island.   

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky – The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan   –  A  heartbreaking memoir by three orphaned cousins, aged 5 to 7,  who spent over ten years in a refugee camp before immigrating to the US in their teens.

First They Killed My FatherA Daughter of Cambodia Remembers – by Loung Ung  – memoir of life as a child soldier in a work camp during the days of the Khmer Rouge.  

In my shoes

(Next week I will return to my regularly scheduled non-political topics.   Also, when The Tall Ships visit this summer, I hope to blog about the replica of the Santa Maria, of Christopher Columbus fame.)