Thursday 31 May 2012

Hatfield's vs McCoy's

Photo of Hatfield clan circa 1890's courtesy

The Hatfield-McCoy feud, involving two pistol-toting, tobacco-chewing, moonshine-making, brawl-inciting families from the Appalachians, lasted roughly from 1865 to the 1901.  Here are 10 things you may not know about this feud.

1.  This was a two-state feud.  The Tug Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River, divided the Hatfield property in West Virginia, from the McCoy land in Kentucky.

2.  Most of the Hatfield's fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War while most of the McCoy's fought for the Union.  The first dispute between the two families resulted from the death of returning Civil War veteran Asa McCoy who was killed by ex-Confederate Homeguards.  Jim Vance, a Hatfield and a member of the Homeguards, was the suspected murderer.

3.  Hollywood loves them.  Books, songs and films have been written about the two families.  In 1950 Bugs Bunny was caught between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's in an episode called "Hillbilly Hare".  In 1952, Abbot and Costello did a feature on them.  "The Flintstones" episode called "The Bedrock Hillbillies a.k.a. The Hatrocks" (1960's) was based on the two clans.  A 2012 TV series called "The Hatfield's and The McCoy's" is also loosely based on the two families.

4.  The game show "Family Feud" was inspired by the Appalachian feud.  In 1979, descendants of both families appeared on the show.  The Hatfield's won, claiming a monetary prize as well as a pig, supposedly one of the catalysts of the original feud.

5.  "Life" magazine (May 1944) featured an article about how the families were living in peace by World War II, the conflict helping to unite them as it did many families.  Descendants Shirley Hatfield and Frankie McCoy (see photo below) had their photo snapped outside of a local military uniform factory where they worked side by side.

6.  The Supreme Court of the United States got involved in the feud when some Hatfield's were arrested for the murders of Randall McCoy's two children.  The Court ruled that the suspects would be extradited from West Virginia to Kentucky to stand trial.  They were charged and seven men served life sentences while one (Ellison "Cotton Top" Mounts) was executed for the murders.

7.  A 2007 medical study of dozens of McCoy descendants proved that they are prone to the Von Hippel-Lindau disease, an illness which causes tumors of the ears, eyes, pancreas and adrenal glands.  They are prone to high blood pressure, racing heartbeats and high levels of the fight or flight stress hormones, which might explain their combattive behaviour.

8.  A May 19, 1920 clash led to more bloodshed in the area.  Detectives from the anti-union Baldwin-Felts Agency evicted families of workers trying to unionize the Stone Wall Mountain Coal Company Miners in Matewan, West Virginia.  Sid Hatfield intervened on behalf of the miners, resulting in a violent clash :  seven detectives and four local men were left dead.  Sid became famous for defending the miners and was assassinated a year later, purportedly by Baldwin-Felts agents.  This clash spawned the 1987 film "Matewan".

9.  There are thousands of descendants of the Hatfield-McCoy clan including:  Henry D. Hatfield, a newphew of the patriarch William "Devil Anse" Hatfield, who became governor of West Virginia; 1930's jazz Musician Clyde McCoy is also one; and basketball coach Mike D'Antoni belongs in this category.  Leonard "Bones" McCoy, from the original "Star Trek" TV series, is a fictional descendant.

10.  Bo McCoy and his cousin, Ron McCoy, organized "The Reunion of the Millenium" (2000) between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's.  Five thousand descendants attended the event.


For more information, read The Coffin Quilt by Ann Rinaldi. 

"Life" magazine photo of Shirley Hatfield and Frankie McCoy courtesy

Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Great Stork Derby

My daughter Jacqueline's favourite episode of The Flintstones involves Fred staying overnight at his late Uncle Giggles' haunted house in order to collect his inheritance.  He makes it through the night despite all of the scary incidences, but the next day it's revealed that his uncle really never died and was just playing a practical joke.

Charles Millar, a wealthy Toronto lawyer, was also a practical joker.  One of his favourite tricks was to drop a few dollar bills on the sidewalk, hide and then see the reaction on peoples' faces as they found them.  And like Uncle Giggles, he was childless.  He did not have any immediate descendants and therefore thought up some unique ways of dividing up his estate.  Upon his death, his will was read and it was revealed to have many "funny" clauses, including:

1.  Seven Protestant ministers, who were also temperance movement members, were given stock in the Catholic-owned O'Keefe Brewery.
2.  Three men who despised each other were given lifetime tenancy in his Jamaica vacation home.
3.  Three staunch anti-horse-racing advocates were given $25,000 each in an Ontario jockey club stock.

The tenth clause, however, proved to be the most interesting and controversial.  Mr. Millar's will read that he would give a chunk of his estate to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most babies in the 10-year period following his death.  Little did the lawyer know that the Roaring Twenties would give way to the Dirty Thirties, a time when families were more desperate than ever financially.  Many Toronto women were more than willing to try:  the Great Stork Derby had begun. 

In the meantime, some Toronto lawyers, as well as some of Mr. Millar's relatives, tried to discredit the clause, battling it out in the Supreme Court of Canada.  However, the deceased lawyer had known the letter of the law and made sure he left no room for loopholes.  Even so, boundaries had to be drawn for the "baby race":  Where did Toronto begin and end?  Did illegitimate children count?  How about stillborn children?  Above all, many pointed out that the derby should be cancelled since it was immoral. 

Regardless, the Stork Derby went ahead as planned.  Toronto's maternity wards had more patients.  Its newspapers ran more birth announcements.  By 1937, four women won the Great Stork Derby, each having given birth to 9 children in the ten year period:  Annie Smith, Kathleen Nagle, Lucy Timleck and Isabel Maclean.  Homes and automobiles were purchased as well as education plans for their children with the winnings.

Note:  "The Great Stork Derby" was a made into a TV movie in 2002 starring Megan Follows.  For further information, read The Great Stork Derby by Mark M. Orkin.

Photo courtesy

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Step by Step to the Summit

Photo of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay courtesy

Sixteen years before Neil Armstrong left his boot imprint in the dust of moon's surface, Edmund Hillary left his boot imprint in the ice of Mount Everest's peak, the world's highest mountain.  Bundled in layers of clothing, goggles over their eyes, backpacks over their shoulders, they were no longer thinking about their uncomfortable gear.  Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, Hillary's climbing companion, stood with an ice axe as Hillary snapped a picture.  Then the Sherpa offered to take Hillary's photo, but he declined.  With their oxygen supply slowly depleting, Hillary buried a cross and Tenzing left a Buddhist offering of chocolate, and then they got ready to retrace their steps down the icy slope of the mountain. 

Edmund Hillary, the son of a schoolteacher mother and newspaper editor father, was born and raised in New Zealand.  He was a bright student, skipping two grades in elementary school.  In high school, which he took a two hour train ride to reach, he was an average student.  He studied math and science at the University of Auckland.  However, he decided to take up beekeeping instead.  On a school trip to Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano, the 6 foot 5 inch New Zealander was bitten by the mountain climbing bug. 

In 1939, he climbed Mount Ollivier in the Southern Alps.  However, he was sidetracked when he was conscripted for the war effort in 1943, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force and operating Catalina flying boats in the Pacific.  On the Solomon Islands, he was badly burned in a boat accident and had to return home. 

After World War II, Hillary resumed his life as a mountaineer.  In 1948, he climbed Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak.  In 1951, he participated in a reconnaissance expedition on Mount Everest in the Himalayas.  In 1952, he joined an expedition to the peak of Mount Cho Oyu, also in the Himalayas, which failed. 

Then in 1953, he was invited to join a British expedition to the summit of Mount Everest.  From 1921 to 1953, there had been 8 expeditions to the famous mountain, mainly from the Tibet side, resulting in 16 deaths and no successes.  In 1949, China took control of Tibet, forcing mountaineers to climb the peak from the Nepal side. 

The 1953 attempt to reach the peak would include a party of 400 people:  362 porters, 20 Sherpas, a cameraman, a doctor and a reporter, etc.  Their gear would weigh 10,000 pounds.  The group set up base camp in March of that year.  Hillary and Norgay were accompanied by Hunt and Bourdillon.  With several pounds of gear on their back, they headed up the mountain face, step by step, to the summit.  Hunt and Bourdillon were the first to attempt to summit, but ran out of oxygen and were forced to turn back within 300 feet of the peak.  Hillary and Norgay's attempt was postponed for two days due to blowing snow.  Finally, their chance presented itself.  That morning Hillary went to grab his mountain boots only to find they were frozen solid in the ice outside the tent.  Finally, the pushed on to the peak.  Hillary figured out a strategy to climb the 40-foot rock face (later called the Hillary Step) which was the key to a successful summit.  By 11:30 am, they were "on top of the world" at 29,928 feet above sea level. 

Back in New Zealand, a small country of less than 2 million at the time, Hillary was considered a hero.  In Britain, Queen Elizabeth received the news on the day of her Coronation.  She knighted Hillary and Hunt for their exploits.  Sir Edmund Hillary graced the cover of Life magazine, among others.  Nepal became a country near and dear to his heart; he financed the building of several schools and hospitals there as well as the restoration of monasteries.  He would go on to explore the South Pole and the North Pole, as well as other adventures, but he be remembered first for as the conqueror of Mount Everest.

Monday 28 May 2012

A Basket Full of Babies

On May 28, 1934, in a farmhouse in the village of Corbeil, Ontario, a French Canadian woman named Elzire gave birth to five children, delivered by Dr. Dafoe and two midwives, Madame LeGros and Madame LaBelle.  They soon became known as the Dionne Quintuplets, the first to survive infancy.  They would soon become wards of the King, the Premier claiming that the parents were incapable of caring for them since they already had five children at home.  The Quints' new home, across the street from the Dionne farmhouse, soon became the most popular tourist attraction in Ontario, even surpassing Niagara Falls.

The Dionne quintuplets were born two months premature and were not expected to survive.  Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie (Elzire suspected that she miscarried a sixth baby early in her pregnancy) were identical quints.  For the first 24 hours, the quints were fed water and corn syrup every two hours.  Then they were placed in a wicker basket with heated blankets, which was placed in the kitchen by the open oven door.  Every so often, they were taken out of the basket to be massaged with olive oil.  The second day, they were moved to a laundry basket and given a concoction called the "seven-twenty formula", a concoction of cow's milk, boiled water, 2 spoonfuls of corn syrup and 1 to 2 drops of rum as a stimulant. 

Public interest first started when the quints' father, Oliva, had his brother contact the local newspaper to ask how much a birth announcement would cost for five babies.  The Dionne's started receiving offers of help from all over North America; one hospital sent them two incubators.  Bit by bit, the babies started to grow stronger. 

However, Premier Mitchell Hepburn got in on the act and had the babies taken away as wards of the King, claiming that the Dionne's were incapable of raising them.  The original plan was to get the quints into their toddler years.  However, the wardship was later extended until they turned 18.  A 20-room mansion, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery, funded by a Red Cross fundraiser, was built across the road from the Corbeil farmhouse.  The mansion contained 9 rooms and was staffed by 3 nurses and 3 policemen.  Each day, the girls followed a rigid routine which started with a dose of orange juice and cod liver oil followed by someone curling their hair, followed by tutoring and ending with a bath and dinner.  Sometimes the girls had engagements to honour like photo sessions.  Images of their cherub-like faces framed in dark curls were used to sell products like Karo Coprn Syrup and Quaker Oats.

The mansion, known as "Quintland", attracted 6,000 visitors per day.  Not only Canadians came to the observation gallery but also Americans, including famous personalities like Clark Gable, Bette Davis and Amerlia Earhart, the latter just six weeks before her doomed flight.  The girls even met the Queen of England at one point.  Oliva Dionne opened a souvenir shop there where he sold autographs, photographs of the quints, spoons, cups, dolls and even "fertility stones" from his farm.  Three million visitors passed through Quintland in the years 1934 to 1943.  Only Radio City, Mount Vernon and Gettysburg surpassed it in terms of tourists.  The Quints raised a revenue of 1 million dollars in 1934 alone and 40 million dollars in the 9 years they lived at Quintland. 

In 1943, the Dionne's regained custody of their girls and Oliva had a 20-room house built for his entire family which became known as "The Big House".  Sadly, though, the girls were already 9 1/2 years old by this point and much of their childhood had been lost.  It was hard to become part of a family that they had had so little contact with.  Apparently, their father begrudged them the trouble they had caused him over the years, but, at the same time, it was the money they had generated which had paid for their new home. 

Although all of the quints reached adulthood, Emilie died of an epileptic fit at age 20.  Marie died of a blood clot at age 35.  The remaining three sisters lived until middle age.  Yvonne died of cancer in 2001.  The other two are still alive and celebrate their 78th birthday today.  No one will ever forget the five cherub-faced girls who captured the hearts of 1930's era Canadians.

Note:  For more information, read Pierre Berton's book The Dionne Years:  A Thirties Melodrama (1977).

Sunday 27 May 2012

There's a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate

Photo of Golden Gate Bridge on opening day in 1937 courtesy

At last the mighty task is done;
Resplendent in the western sun
The Bridge looms mountain high;
Its titan piers grip ocean floor,
Its great steel arms link shore with shore,
Its towers pierce the sky.*

*An excerpt from "The Mighty Task is Done" by Joseph Strauss.

On May 27, 1927, the Golden Gate Bridge officially opened when President Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington D.C. on the other side of the continent.  A motorcade of cars rumbled across the bridge, filled with dignitaries like the mayor of the city of San Francisco.  All told, 200,000 people crossed the bridge that day on foot or on rollerskates.  "There's a Silver Moon on the Golden Gate" was played.  The next day, the bridge officially opened to car traffic with a toll of 50 cents per car and $1.00 for a round trip. 

Back in the 1800's, San Franciscans had to take a 27-minute ferry ride to cross the bay to the neighbouring cities of Berkley and Oakland.  City planners thought that a bridge might help the growth of the city.  Joseph Strauss, an engineer who designed a bridge to cross the Bering Strait for his university thesis, was hired to lead the construction of the bridge.  Financiers were lined up to cover the $35 million dollar expense.  However, the plan was delayed after the Stock Market crashed in 1929.  Within a year, funding was arranged through a series of bonds. 

Construction began on the bridge, named after the Golden Gate Strait, in January of 1933.  The structure, the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time, would be 1.7 miles long, 90 feet wide and 746 feet high.  The steel required for the bridge would weigh 83,000 tons and the two main suspension cables would weigh 11,000 tons each.  The steel arrived with an orange paint on it to protect it from corrosion; it was agreed that the colour fit in with the surrounding red hills and so it stayed orange.  Strauss was a stickler for safety during its four-year construction, using a special net which saved many workers from falling; however, at one point the net gave way and ten workers fell to their deaths.  Even so, this was a "good" safety record compared to other bridge construction records.  When the bridge was finally completed in 1937, Joseph Strauss, a poet in his spare time, composed a poem called "The Mighty Task is Done".

The Golden Gate Bridge's legendary beauty has not only inspired poets, but also movie directors.  Alfred Hitchcock chose the bridge for a key scene in his film "Vertigo" starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart.  The bridge is the setting for "Dark Passage" starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  The man of steel flies over the bridge of steel in "Superman" starring Christopher Reeve.  It is also featured in "Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home" starring William Shatner. 

Today, daily traffic on the bridge totals 127,000 vehicles while yearly traffic totals 40 million.  The toll has been raised to $5.  The bridge remains San Francisco's most recognizable landmark. 

Photo of Golden Gate Bridge today courtesy

Saturday 26 May 2012

Shopping for a Suit

About a month ago, I started investigating prices on suits for my son Thomas for his Grade 8 graduation in June.  Someone kindly offered to lend us her son's suit, but unfortunately it was a little bit snug.  I checked out Value Village, but I couldn't find one in Thomas' size and colour.  Someone kindly gave us a coupon for Moore's so we went there next.  I figured we would be able to rent a suit for about $80 and the coupon was for $40 so I though we would get half off.  The young lady took Thomas's measurements and then had him pick out a vest and tie.  Finally, we met at the cash register and the lady presented me with the rental agreement to sign; however, I wanted to know the final price first.  The grand total was $160 -- for one evening's wear! 

Now, a few years ago I might have just signed on the dotted line, given how much time the lady spent serving us, eventhough the suit was a lot more than I was led to believe it would be.  However, the older I get, the more I realize the value of a dollar, and the more that I get irked when I feel like I'm being ripped off.  So, I kindly thanked the lady and kept the piece of paper with the measurements, saying we would think about it. 

My friend Mary Ann told me that we could own a suit for $100.  I said to myself "This I have to see to believe."  So today we headed to the Meadowlands in Ancaster to International Clothiers.  I had phoned in advance to get some prices.  How refreshing it was to find that what they had advertised was indeed true:  they had $300 suits for $75!  Thomas picked out a simple black suit and tried it on.  He chose a red shirt with a red striped tie.  The grand total was $96.  I was smiling from ear to ear, on a high from the feeling that I had just gotten a great deal.  Now Thomas will look smart for his graduation, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter (and any other special occasion).  We should get a year out of it at least since the pants are a bit long and the waist can be let out.  It pays to shop around!

Friday 25 May 2012

The Soccer Pitch

Tonight we returned to an old haunt, the soccer field.  It was nice to be back at D'Aubigny Field on the banks of the Grand River.  It was nice to view the mature poplar and oak trees that surround the field.  It was nice to hear the sounds of the soccer game:  the kicking of the ball, the blowing of the whistle, the cheering of the crowd, the prodding from the coaches, the applause of the spectators.  It was nice to see the high fives from the coaches, the smiles on the faces of the girls when they make a good play, and the looks of appreciation on the faces of the parents. 

I remember when Jacqueline first started playing and her little legs could barely run the length of the field.  Now, her long legs carry her down the field much faster.  I remember when I was happy that she just wanted to play while other children cried, refusing to step on the field.  Now everyone plays and they only cry if they get hurt.  I remember when some players just showed up to get the snack at halftime.  Now the highlight is the game, not the snack.  I remember when the girls couldn't remember which direction to kick the ball.  Now, some of them even pass the ball. 

Tonight, Jacqueline seemed to come alive.  She was brimming with confidence.  She worked hard and she did not hold back.  No more dainty kicking for her; she gave the ball powerful kicks.  And she even had a bit of a breakaway.  She really enjoyed herself out on the soccer pitch.  And her team won!

As the sun sunk behind the poplar trees at D'Aubigny Field, the girls lined up to shake hands and we folded up our lawn chairs.  It was a great start to the season.  It's good to be back! 

Thursday 24 May 2012

What They Were Doing at 30

1.  Sylvester Stallone was a deli counter attendant.  However, in between serving customers, he wrote the screenplay to a movie about an underdog boxer from Philadelphia (it took him only three days).  Within a short time, he had signed a movie contract for "Rocky".

Photo courtesy

2.  Andrea Bocelli was a lawyer who moonlighted at a piano bar.  He did not become a singer until 1992.

An early photo of Andrea Bocelli.

3.  Martha Stewart's first career was in modelling.  Then she became a stockbroker.  Within a couple of years, she bought a rundown farmhouse and supervised its restoration.  Now she has a multi-million dollar empire.

Photo of a young Martha Stewart looking like Grace Kelly courtesy

4.  Mao Tse-Tsung was an elementary school principal.  Four years later, he joined the Chinese Communist Party, becoming its leader in 1935 and the leader of the nation from 1949 to 1959.

Photo of Mao Tse Tsung courtesy

5.  Julia child was a government spy, collecting secret documents in China and Ceylon.  Six years later she entered cooking school.  Twelve years after graduating, her famous cookbook was published.

PHoto of Julia Child at Cordon Bleu in France courtesy

6.  James Joyce had a beautiful tenor voice which he translated into a singing career.  Two years later he published "The Dubliners", a book of short stories.

Photo courtesy

7.  Colonel Harland Sanders was, among other things, a steamboat pilot, an insurance salesman, a farmer and a railroad fireman.  He did not start frying chicken until he was 40.  He did not sell franchises to Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 65.

Photo of young Harland Sanders courtesy

8.  Rodney Dangerfield was an aluminum siding salesman.  He had been a stand up comic at 19, but gave it up for a more stable career.  However, he returned to comedy at the age of 40.

9.  Harrison Ford was a carpenter.  In 1972 he had appeared in the movie "American Graffiti", but was paid very little.  Therefore, he made carpentry his fulltime job.  But four years later, George Lucas offered him the role of Han Solo in "Star Wars" and the rest is history.

Photo courtesy

10.  Jesus Christ was a carpenter at the age of 30.  However, he gave up woodworking to preach the Gospel.  Three years later, he died on the cross and became our Saviour.

Photo of "Jesus" from "Passion of the Christ" courtesy

Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Brown Bomber

During Joe Louis’ years in the ring there were only two professional sports that consumed the interests of Americans: baseball and boxing. Winning a World Series ring was the pinnacle of team competition. Winning a heavyweight championship belt was the greatest individual honor.*

Joe Louis, nicknamed the "Brown Bomber", fought 72 fights in his 12-year professional career:  he had 69 wins (of which 57 were knockouts) and only 3 losses.  He was declared number 1 in The Ring's 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.  He won a total of almost 5 million in prize money and yet he died penniless; in fact, one of his archrivals paid for his funeral.

Joseph Louis Barrow was the grandchild of former slaves.  He was the seventh child of a cotton picker father named Munro Barrow and a housewife mother named Lilly.  The Barrow family lived in a ramshackle cabin off of Route 50 north of Lafayette, Alabama, struggling to make ends meet.  When Joe was only 4 years old, his father suffered a nervous breakdown and entered a mental institution.  Later, his mother was told that his father passed away and she remarried.  In 1924, the family suffered persecution at the hands of the KKK and migrated north to Detroit.

In the city's "Black Bottom" neighbourhood, named for the rich soil from the basin of the River Savoyard, Joe sold newspapers, shined shoes and worked as an assistant on an ice wagon to help make ends meet.  Later he would say that it was carrying those heavy blocks of ice that helped him develop his muscles for boxing.  His mother, fearing that he might get in trouble on the streets, paid for him to have daily violin lessons.  However, as Joe walked down Brewster Street every day, he noitced a youth recreation centre and eventually went inside.  He started training regularly, putting his boxing gloves in his violin case so his mom wouldn't suspect anything. 

Legend has it that when he signed up for his first fight, he was barely literate and wrote his name in such big letters that he ran out of room for Barrow and that's how he became Joe Louis.  Another theory says that his manager thought his full name was too long and shortened it.  Finally, some suggest that he didn't want his mom to know he was boxing and so he altered his name.  Whatever the case, Joe Louis clinched numerous amateur victories, winning The Golden Gloves in 1933.

He quickly developped an honest reputation, heeding the advice of his coach to never gloat, never engage in a fixed fight and live and fight clean.  As a pro in 1935, Louis fought Primo Carnera at Yankee Stadium in front of 62,000 spectators, winning the match.  The boxer continued to clinch victory after victory until he met up with the German fighter Max Schmeling.  Their June 1936 gruelling bout ended in a 12th round knockout by the German.  They had a rematch in June of 1938, listened to by 1,000,000 fans on the radio.  This time the American knocked out the German in the first two minutes of the match.  The two went on to become lifelong friends.

Joe Louis held the title of Heavyweight World Champion from 1937 until 1949 with only a four year hiatus where he joined the military during World War II.  Finally, he retired and became a celebrity greeter at Caesar's Palace.  After paying his trainers and managers and the IRS, he ended up penniless.  He passed away in 1981, his funeral costs covered by his former rival Max Schmeling. 

*Excerpt from Joe Louis:  Hard Times Man (Randy Roberts). 

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Pomp & Circumstance

The six-year-old boy held his father's hand as they walked down their Toronto street to the Danforth on the sunny May day.  The little boy watched his father open up a wooden step ladder and he climbed up the steps to to see above the crowd that had formed.  He observed the crowd:  everyone was dressed in their finest clothes, the women wearing dresses and gloves, the men in suits and fedoras.  Some held pairs of binoculars while many waved Union Jacks.  Some held brownie box cameras while a few held big fancy cameras and notepads.  The boy asked his dad why they had fancy cameras and he said that they were reporters for the Toronto Star.  The boy watched the policemen walk up and down the Danforth, a two lane street which would normally have lots of traffic but was empty today. 

The boy's father, a high school math teacher who also loved history, explained to him that the car they were waiting for would carry the King and the Queen of England.  King George VI had just been crowned two years before.  He was married to Queen Elizabeth.  They had two little girls, the princesses, who had stayed in England.  Although it was peacetime, England and Germany were not getting along and just in case they started a war, the King wanted to make sure he had Canada's help.  That's why he was making this trip.

The boy asked how the King and Queen had gotten to Canada and his father explained that they had sailed on a big ship called the Empress of Australia which had taken them across the Atlantic Ocean and down the St. Lawrence.  They had landed at Quebec City and then taken the royal train, complete with the royal insignia on its engine, through Quebec and into Ontario.  They had stopped in Ottawa at the Parliament Buildings for a visit.  At the east end of Toronto, they had disembarked from the train where a royal car was waiting to transport them through the streets of the city. 

The boy thought that it was taking a long time for the parade to start.  When would the King and Queen reach his street?  Finally, he heard the drone of engines.  A large 1939 Buick appeared with several policemen on motorcycles as escorts.  The boy climbed higher on the step ladder to get a better view, squinting in the sunlight.  It was a black convertible with white-wall tires and running boards along the side travelling at between 5 and 10 kilometres an hour.  What a beauty! thought the young lad, a car buff like his grandfather.  With its roof down, the boy could see the car's occupants perfectly.  A chauffeur drove the royal couple with a man in a tophat in the passenger seat (maybe that's the Prime Minister, thought the boy).  In the back sat the King and Queen, the former dressed in a black suit and the latter in a white dress, giving her signature wave. 

Once the royal car passed by, the crowd started to disperse.  The boy's dad folded up the step ladder and they started to head back down Wolverleigh Boulevard.  The boy asked where the King and Queen were going next and his dad said that they would stay overnight at the Royal York Hotel and then get back on the royal train to head across the Prairies on a whistlestop tour.  Later the boy's grandfather, who had been watching the parade from Pape Avenue, showed him a photograph that he had snapped of the royal car.  The boy would never forget the Royal Visit of 1939.  What a parade!

Note:  This post is dedicated to my dad, Norman Ross Tufts, who was the boy watching the parade.


Photo of royal car in parade in front of Toronto Star building on May 22, 1939, courtesy

Monday 21 May 2012

A River Runs Through It

Today our family took a walk along the Grand River trail here in Brantford, sheltered from the hot sun by the canopy of trees, feasting our eyes on the purple and yellow wildflowers lining the route, leaving the path periodically to peak at the river.  The Grand River was named by the French who called it "Grande Riviere", although the Native Indians had called it the "Willow River".  As Ontario's largest river, the Grand covers an area of 300 kilometres.  It starts near the small town of Dundalk, then flows through Fergus and Elora where one can see a beautiful gorge.  Then it meanders through St. Jacobs where one can shop at the Farmer's Market and flows through Waterloo and Kitchener where one can see the brilliant colours of fall foliage.  At Elmira, Mennonite country, one can find Ontario's only remaining covered bridge.  In Cambridge, the Grand flows past beautiful stone churches.  Paris is a favourite spot for canoeists and flyfishers.  Brantford is the site of where Native Joseph Brant once paddled down the river.  At Caledonia a beautiful old bridge with several arches spans the Grand; the river is wide enough here that a cruise boat plies its waters, complete with a staff serving a roast beef dinner and fiddlers playing.  At Port Maitland, the Grand empties into Lake Erie. 

Photo courtesy

Sunday 20 May 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About the Titanic

1.  By the Numbers
The $7,500,000 (now $400,000,000) Titanic could hold a maximum of 3,547 people, but had 2,223 aboard when tragedy struck four days into its maiden voyage. There were six warnings of icebergs before the collision and it took 160 minutes for the boat to sink into water that was negative two degrees centigrade. Just 31.6 percent of the passengers and crew survived, however experts say 53.4 percent should have survived given the capacity on the Titanic lifeboats. Just 28 people were on board the first lifeboat, which had a capacity of 65. Today, the ship sits at 12,600 feet below sea level.

2.  Titanic's Near Collision

Long before it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic, the RMS Titanic ran into trouble with another object: the steamer New York. A much smaller ship, the New York was sucked into the Titanic's wake and its mooring snapped, spinning her around stern-first toward Titanic. A nearby tugboat, the Vulcan, came to the rescue by taking the New York under tow. The two ships avoided collision by a matter of about four feet and the incident delayed Titanic's departure for about an hour.

3.  Canceled Lifeboat Drill
A lifeboat drill was planned for the Titanic on April 14, 1912 - the day it struck the iceberg. For reasons that remain murky, Captain Edward John Smith canceled the drill. Some say it was canceled to allow passengers to go to church. Several historians believe that had the drill taken place, many more lives could have been saved. There were not even close to enough lifeboats on board to hold all passengers and crew, but when they were launched, they were not filled to capacity.

4.  Two Bathtubs
Nearly every passenger on the Titanic had to share a bathroom as only the two promenade suites in first class had private facilities. However, the third class passengers had it rough. There were just two bathtubs for the use of more than 700 passengers.

5.  The Atlantic Daily Bulletin
The Titanic was so impressive for its time that it even had its own newspaper on board. The Atlantic Daily Bulletin was printed every day on the Titanic. The newspaper included news, advertisements, stock prices, horse-racing results, the day's menu, and society gossip.

6.  The Richest Man On Board
The wealthiest passenger aboard the Titanic was Lt. Col. John Jacob Astor IV. Astor, whose family made its fortune in opium, fur trade, and real estate, went down with the ship after helping his pregnant wife escape into the last lifeboat. Traveling with the Astors was their valet, maid, nurse, and pet Airedale. The nurse and maid survived with wife Madeleine, the rest perished. The Astors were returning on the Titanic from an extended vacation in Europe and Egypt where they waited for gossip to calm down over their recent marriage. Madeleine was one year younger than Astor's son Vincent from his first marriage.

7.  The Titanic Orchestra
All eight members of the Titanic orchestra perished in the disaster, though just three of the bodies were found. According to those rescued, the all-male group played until the ship went down. It's been suggested that the last tune was the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." "I shall never forget hearing the strains of that beautiful hymn as I was leaving the sinking ship," an unnamed rescued sailor told the Western Daily Mercury in 1912. "It was always a favorite hymn of mine, but at such a time and under such tragic circumstances it had for me a solemnity too deep for words." On May 9, 1912, a concert was held at the Apollo Club in Brooklyn, N.Y. to aid the families of the musicians who died in the disaster.

8.  The Mystery Ship
According to newspaper reports from 1912, the SS Californian was just eight to 15 miles away from the Titanic as it sank, but failed to respond to distress calls. Several Titanic buffs believe another ship, the 254-ton Samson, was just five to eight miles away, between the Californian and Titanic. The SS Californian's crew claimed that this mystery ship, which some believe to be the Samson, was steaming away, confusing them into thinking the rocket-flares came from a ship that was, in fact, in fine working order. For its part, the Samson may not have been eager to identify itself because of illegal seal hunting.

9.  Suicides
Ten Titanic survivors would later commit suicide. The first was stewardess Annie Robinson who was sailing across the Atlantic to visit her daughter in Boston two years after the tragedy and jumped overboard. The last was Frederick Fleet, the lookout on the Titanic who first spotted the iceberg. He hung himself from a clothesline in his garden in 1965.

10.  The Lost Titanic Film
One of the roughly 700 survivors of the Titanic voyage was silent screen star Dorothy Gibson. Gibson burst to superstardom in 1911 and her film "The Lucky Hold Up" was released on April 11, 1912 while she was on the Titanic. Surviving the disaster on the first lifeboat launched, Lifeboat No. 7, she convinced her manager to appear in a film based on the sinking. She went on to write the scenario and star in the one-reel drama "Saved from the Titanic" wearing the very clothes she wore on the night of the tragedy. The film was hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic, but the only known prints were destroyed in a 1914 fire at the Éclair Studios. Many film historians consider this the greatest loss of the silent era. Gibson abruptly ended her film career soon after the film's release. At the time, she was the highest paid movie actress in the world.

Note:  For further reading, look at the list below.

1.  A Night to Remember (Walter Lord, 1955).
2.  The Discovery of the Titanic (Robert Ballard, 1987).
3.  Titanic:  An Illustrated History (Donald Lynch, 1995).
4.  Titanic: A Survivor's Story (Colonel Archibald Gracie, 1998).
5.  The Titanic for Dummies (Stephen Spignesi, 2012).

Photo of sinking from movie Titanic (1997) courtesy

Saturday 19 May 2012

Happy Birthday, Daisy!


Imagine a Child so Small and Wee
Never to Climb on their Mother's knee,
With No One to love them
Or Kiss them Goodnight,
No One to Hug Them
or Scatter their Fright.

Imagine a Ship a Zillion times bigger
Children shipped Steerage Passage litter,
From England, Ireland, and Scotland they came,
Germany, Iceland a Barnardo/Home child, No-Name,
To shores of Canada, US, Australia
And Rhodesia were brought
Emmigrant children - a Little Know Not.

Hidden away from parents and Kin
Cheap Labour for the Farm people Then,
Doctors, Lawyers, and Heads of State
What Pockets were lined at Governments gate,
Yes! We are the Relatives and the Next of Kin
To Forget Who They Were,
Is Canada's Great Sin.

Isabel Hays

It was on this day in 1894 that my great-grandma, Daisy Blay, was born.  She was one of 100,000 home children to immigrate to Canada from England as an indentured servant (see my blog post "British Home Children" dated August 1, 2011).   A third of these children were orphans; however, two-thirds were not orphans, but their surviving parent could no longer afford to raise them. 

Canada opened its doors and offered them a place to live and work, as it was a fast growing nation in need of cheap labour.  Some of the children were fortunate enough to reside with sponsors who treated them as part of their family.  However, others were treated as nothing more than hired help, sleeping in the barn with the animals.  Many of them missed out on the love of their siblings.   Some of them were fed well; however, others were given a minimal amount of food.  Some of them attended school; however, others missed out on an education because farm work took precedence.  All of them missed out on the love of their parents.  All of them missed out on the family traditions that their parents would have passed down to them.  All of them missed out on a normal childhood.

Australia also took in British Home Children.  Recently their government offered an apology to them for the abuse that they endured while working for sponsors there.  The British government also offered an apology for their role in child emigration.  Canada has issued a home child stamp; it has designated a British Home Child Day (September 28).  However, the Canadian government still refuses to issue an apology to the group which helped build this nation.  Not only did the home children contribute to the running of Canadian farms, but they also served in the First World War (11,000).  When Canada industrialized, many of them went to work in our factories. 

While an apology won't undo the harm that has already been done, it would acknowledge that the mistreatment did happen.  I never knew my great-grandma, but by all accounts, she was not a bitter women.  She did not hold it against others that she had a hard life.  She was a kind and loving wife and mother.  And she was indicative of many of the home children.  Happy Birthday, Daisy!

For more information on the British Home Children, visit


Friday 18 May 2012

International Museum Day

Today is International Museum Day.  Here is a list of museums in Southern Ontario:

1.  Bell Homestead, Brantford (Home of Alexander Graham Bell when he first moved to Canada.  Much of the work for the telephone was done here.)

Photo courtesy

2.  Casa Loma, Toronto (Home of Sir Henry Pellatt)

Photo courtesy

3.  Dundurn Castle, Hamilton (Home of Sir Alan McNab, one of Canada's first premier, this castle sits on the shores of Lake Ontario.)

Photo courtesy

4.  Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton (Pioneer village with Methodist Church, General Store, former Jerseyville Train Station, etc)

5.  Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake (Site of War of 1812 battle)

Photo courtesy

6.  Laura Secord Homestead, Queenston (Laura Secord alerted the British to the secret attack planned by the Americans during the War of 1812.)

7.  Wings of Paradise Butterfly Conservatory, Cambridge

8.  Backus Mill, Port Rowan (The Backus Family owned a farm and mill near Lake Erie.  The area also features a schoolhouse, general store, etc.)

9.  Uncle Tom's Cabin (Escaped American slave Josiah Henson's homestead, the man on whom the novel was based.)

10.  Point Pelee Conservation Area (A conservation area turned cottage resort turned conservation area on the shores of Lake Erie, this is the southernmost point of Canada, excluding Pelee Island.)

For a complete list of Ontario Museums, visit:

Thursday 17 May 2012

Brown vs. Board of Education

And I remember going inside and my dad spoke with someone and then he went into the inner office with the principal, and they left me out to sit outside with the secretary. And while he was in the inner office, I could hear voices and hear his voice raised as the conversation went on. And then he immediately came out of the office, took me by the hand, and we walked home from the school, and I just couldn't understand what was happening, you know, because I was so sure that I was going to get to go to school with Mona, Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.

*This is a quote from Linda (Brown) Thompson, daughter of Oliver Brown, plaintiff in the case Brown vs. Board of Education, taken from 2004 PBS Documentary.

Linda Brown grew up in Topeka, Kansas in the 1950's.  Although she was black, she lived in an integrated neighbourhood where she had many white friends.  The neighbourhood school Sumner Elementary, however, was segregated.  Eight-year-old Linda watched her friends Mona, Guinevere and Wanda walk the seven blocks to the white school while she walked six blocks in the other direction and then hailed a bus to the black school one mile away. 

Black families in the neighbourhood joined forces and with sponsorship from the NAACP, they filed a lawsuit called Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  The lawsuit tried to undo the case of Plessy vs.Ferguson of 1896 which stated that all schools must be "separate but equal".  As long as the black schools were equal to the white schools, the lawsuit claimed this practice to be consititutional.

Although Brown was the plaintiff, the lawsuit included 12 other parents and was filed on behalf of their 20 children.  Oliver Brown, a lifelong resident of Topeka, was a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad.  He was also an assistant pastor at his church; perhaps his leadership in the church made him a good candidate to lead the lawsuit.  According to Oliver's youngest daughter, Cheryl, the black school buildings in Topeka, Kansas were equal to the white school buildings (unlike many of the schools in the Deep South).  The black teachers were well educated.  However, for the Brown's, it was the principle of the matter.

The lawsuit was filed in the district court of Kansas on February 28, 1951, but the plaintiffs lost.  However, Oliver Brown took the case to the Supreme Court and on May 17, 1954, Justice Earl Warren and his court ruled 9-1 in favour of the plaintiff.  Segregated schools were declared unconstitutional in the United States.

Linda Brown was able to join her friends Mona, Guinevere and Wanda at Sumner Elementary thanks to the courage of her father, Oliver, and the 12 other parents.

Photo of newly integrated classroom courtesy

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Paris

1. The best views of Paris can be had from Montmartre, which is home to the famous Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. It has also been home to Dali, Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh and now has many unusual and interesting shops and cafés.

2. It’s easy to get around by public transport on the Metro, which has a comprehensive network, the RER, to take you out to the suburbs. If you’re going to be making a lot of journeys it’s cheap to buy books of tickets or carnets. You can also use the Vélib’, bicyles which cost €1 a day in subscription, plus charges for every 30 minutes, although if you use them for less than half an hour there’s no additional charge on top of the subscription.

3. There are numerous parks and gardens where you can relax and watch the world go by.

4. On the first Sunday of each month you can get into the larger museums, such as the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Pompidou Centre, for free. The under 25s can also get into the Louvre for free on Friday evenings after 6pm.

5. You can see a lot of interesting and beautiful parts of Paris along the River Seine, either by walking along the banks, or by taking a boat trip.

6. There are some interesting areas of Paris worth wandering around, including the Latin Quarter and the Right Bank with their narrow, winding streets and lots of small shops and cafés.

7. If you’re looking for bargains, the flea market on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at Porte de Clignancourt in the north of the city is well worth a visit.

8. In the evenings many Parisians like to sit along the banks of the Seine with wine, cheese and bread, but if you prefer a livelier kind of night life, a good place to head for is the area around Place de la Bastille.

9. The Eiffel Tower is the tallest structure in Paris, at night the it is lit up, and every hour after midnight for 5 minutes the lights flash and sparkle. When it was built in 1889 it was the tallest tower in the world. Different shades of paint are used at different levels of the tower so that it looks the same colour to people on the ground.

10. The Promenade plantée is the world’s only linear park. It runs for 3 miles along an old railway viaduct from the Bastille almost to the Bois de Vincennes in the eastern suburbs. Many of the arches beneath the park have been made into arts and crafts workshops.

Photo of Arc de Triomphe courtesy

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Shiny Stockings

Count Basie, leader of the Count Basie Orchestra, circa 1955 courtesy

I'm hip, I'm lucky to have
Someone so endowed;
A girl half as lovely would made
Lots of fellows proud
I love all of her charms
But one's really a ball:
I love those shiny stockings most of all.

(An excerpt from "Shiny Stockings", a jazz tune composed by Frank Foster in 1955 and  performed by the Count Basie Orchestra.)

Everybody has heard of D-Day, but who has heard of N-Day?  It was on this day in 1940 that the Du Pont Corporation first came out with nylon stockings.  The hosiery quickly became a bestseller amongst American women.  European women appreciated them as well:  the stockings were the favourite gift for American soldiers to give to British women when they were stationed overseas.

However, with the entry of the United States into the war in December of 1941, Du Pont stopped making the stockings and started manufacturing war materials like parachutes and aircraft tires.  A severe shortage for the product soon developped.  The stockings which had previously sold for just over a dollar, were being traded on the black market for $20 a pair.  Investigators of a murder in the United States quickly ruled out robbery as a motive since the perpetrator left six pairs of nylon stockings behind. 

In August of 1945, with the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II, the DuPont Corporation returned to its pre-war production of stockings.  However, each time a store had a sale, they were sold out before day's end.  Mobs of women surrounded the department stores; fights broke out and the police had to be called.  These incidents became known as the "Nylon Riots".  In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the mayor received a petition with the names of 400 women on it demanding that the nylon product be more readily available.  The mayor arranged a stocking sale:  40,000 hosiery-hungry women lined up for 13,000 pairs.  Another Nylon Riot ensued. 

It wasn't until March of 1946, when the DuPont Corporation started producing 30 million pairs of stockings per month that supply met demand.  And America's women were happy once again.

Photo of line up for nylon stockings on May 15, 1940 courtesy

Monday 14 May 2012

To Bok, Perchance to Caw

Photo of a brood of chickens courtesy

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Chickens

1.  There are 150 varieties of chickens.

2.  They can run up to 9 miles per hour.

3.  They can live for up to three days without their heads.

4.  September is National Chicken Month.

5.  The world has more chickens than people.

6.  Chickens speak their own language.

7.  A cross between a chicken and a turkey is called a "turken".

8.  The latin term for a chicken is a "galos domesticos".

9.  The chicken is the closest relative to the T-Rex.

10.  "Alektorophobia" is the fear of chickens.*


Today a pastor came to my children's school and delivered a talk about chickens.  He recruited ten volunteers, all relatively small in stature, and asked them to strut around like chickens, flapping their wings, pecking at the ground for food and making their trademark "bok bok" sound.  Then the pastor recruited a tall teacher to act as an eagle and descend on the brood of chickens.  But he was not any ordinary eagle.  He decided to make his home with the chickens, walking instead of flying, pecking at the seed like the chickens, rather than searching for prey, and even "boking" like a chicken.

Finally, a naturalist came along and reminded the giant eagle that he was the king of the birds and that he should act accordingly.  After much coaxing, the eagle took flight, soaring over the land with his giant wings, searching for fish, and "cawing" like an eagle.  He realized his full potential, that God had made him much more than just a chicken. 

We, too, might go through life acting like the chickens, running around with our heads cut off.  But we have been given such talents and resources.  With God's love and direction, we no longer need to peck at the ground like chickens, but rather soar like the eagle.

Photo of hawk courtesy

Sunday 13 May 2012

God's Helpers

He could not send us here alone
And leave us to a fate unknown;
Without providing for His own,
The outstretched arms of mother.

God could not watch us night and day
And kneel beside our crib to pray,
Or kiss our little aches away;
And so He sent us mother.

And when our childhood days began,
He simply could not take command.
That's why He placed our tiny hand
Securely into mother's.

The days of youth slipped quickly by,
Life's sun rose higher in the sky.
Full grown were we, yet ever nigh
To love us still, was mother.

And when life's span of years shall end,
I know that God will gladly send,
To welcome home her child again,
That ever-faithful mother.

George Wiseman

Saturday 12 May 2012

Ballad of Birmingham

"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."

"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."

"No baby, no, you may not go
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know that her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"

Dudley Randall

Photo of four girls killed in Birmingham Church bombing on September 15, 1963 courtesy www.english.illinois/edu.

I saw four little girls sitting on a wooden bench in an old yellow brick church in Brantford this week and I thought of four little girls sitting in an old red brick church in Birmingham almost 50 years ago.  The main difference between the two groups of girls is the colour of their skin.  The Brantford girls don't have to worry about a group called the KKK.  They don't have to worry about dogs and guns and hoses and tear gas.  They don't have to worry about which fountain they drink at or which stores they shop in or which restaurants they eat at or which libraries they borrow books from or which schools they attend.  Their parents don't have to worry about the right to vote or whether they will be paid less for a job because of their skin colour or which neighbourhoods they are allowed to live in.

The Birmingham girls had a much different life fifty years ago.  Their city earned the nickname "Bombingham" after the forty-plus racially motivated bombings that had taken place there since World War I.  Alabama's governor, George Wallace, known for his pro-segregationist views, resisted black leaders' attempts to integrate Birmingham, announcing in September of 1963 that the city needed "a few first-class funerals" to stop integration. 

Only a week later, four KKK members complied by planting a box of dynamite under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a meeting place for civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Junior and Ralph Abernathy.  The Sunday School children, heading downstairs at 10:22 am, never got to hear the sermon "The Love that Forgives" since the bomb exploded.  The dynamite blew a hole in the back of the church, destroyed the steps, and shattered every stained glass window but one, showing Christ leading the children.  Twenty-two people were injured.  Four girls died including Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

Would there be justice for the Birmingham girls?  Robert Chambliss was arrested shortly after the bombing, charged and put on trial for the crime.  However, he was only found guilty of possessing dynamite and sentenced to six months in jail and a $100 fine.  Chambliss was retried in 1977 and finally convicted of the murders, this time going to jail for life.  In 2001 the FBI announced that the crime was committed by a KKK splinter group called The Cahaba Boys.  Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were finally arrested and charged with the murders.  The final member of the group, Herman Frank Cash, had already died of natural causes in 1994, never seeing a day in jail. 

This week, the four Brantford girls left the old yellow brick church in one piece.  But may we never forget the four Birmingham girls who never got to leave the old red brick church that day in 1963.

N.B.  Here are some other materials about the Birmingham Church Bombing:

1.  The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963 (a novel by Christopher Paul Curtis)
2.  "Birmingham Sunday" (a song recorded by Joan Baez in 1964)
3.  "4 Little Girls" (a documentary by Spike Lee)
4.  Until Justice Rolls:  The Birmingham Church Bombing Case (Frank Sikora)