Friday, 24 June 2016

Titanic: The Canadian Connection

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tommy Douglas: The Birth of Medicare

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Canada's Most Famous War Photo Graces Stamp

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dinosaur Provincial Park

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

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

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

Monday, 20 June 2016

Laura Secord: More Than Just a Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Secord Canadian stamp courtesy

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Stompin' Tom

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Viola Desmond

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

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

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