Wednesday 31 August 2016

Barbara Frum: Prime Ministers, Political Prisoners & The Vulcan Nerve Pinch

Barbara Rosberg, born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1937, was the daughter of a Polish Jewish immigrant father and New York City bred mother.  She attended the University of Toronto where she graduated with a BA in 1959.  Married to dentist Murray Frum, the couple had two children and adopted a third.

After graduation, Barbara Frum worked as a freelance writer for the Toronto Star, focussing on social issue pieces.  In 1973, she was hired by CBC Radio to host As It Happens, a newsmagazine program which conducted live interviews.  Frum started to develop a reputation as a "tough, incisive, well informed interviewer" (


In 1981, Frum debuted on The Journal, a TV show following The National which delved deeper into the feature stories.  Frum interviewed major political figures such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  In 1969, Leonard Nimoy explained the vulcan nerve pinch to the Canadian broadcaster and in 1990, South African political prisoner Nelson Mandela granted her an interview on the very day he was released in 1990 (

Frum was diagnosed with a form of chronic leukemia in 1974.  Eighteen years later she succumbed to the disease.  A predominantly Jewish area of Toronto named its library after Barbara Frum as well as a CBC Toronto atrium.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Le Reve de Rosa-Anna Vachon

beauce - La Maison J.-A. Vachon, fierté des Beaucerons!

Rosa-Anna Vachon in front of her wood stove courtesy

In 1923, Joseph Vachon and Rosa Anna Giroux, who had worked a Quebec farm for 25 years, purchased LeBlond Bakery.  Rosa Anna hoped that the family business would be the incentive to bring her four sons home, who had left for the United States to find work.  Within a year, J.A. Vachon et Fils was a true family business.

In 1932, the Jos Louis, a famous round white cake covered in chocolate icing, debuted.  Within four years, nearly all of Quebec enjoyed Rosa Anna's little cakes.  In 1937, Vachon expanded into Ontario as well as the Maritimes, flying in the face of the Great Depression.  The next year, Joseph Vachon passed away and it fell to Rosa Anna to run the business with her sons.

L’usine Vachon avec un premier groupe d’employés

By 1940, with the business boasting 125 employees and 30 trucks, it stopped making bread and focused exclusively on the cakes.  During the Second World War, these cakes were supplied to military bases in Halifax, Vancouver, Nanaimo and even England.  At war's end, Rosa-Anna retired and her sons took over the business.  By 1947, Vachon had expanded to 250 employees and 70 trucks.

In 1960, J.A. Vachon & Fils changed its name to Vachon Inc. and by the end of the decade, it purchased Lido Biscuits.  Twelve hundred employees baked the famous cakes which were delivered in 425 vehicles.


In 1980, the Jos. Louis was joined by Alouette and the Flaky.  Three years later, Vachon produced its 10 billionth cake.

In the 1990's, Roger Lacasse wrote Le Reve de Rosa Anna Vachon based on the early years of the Vachon family.  In 1999, Vachon merged with Saputo, still producing the same tasty cakes.

Monday 29 August 2016

Adelaide Hoodless: Domestic Crusader

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless, Canadian Advocate for Women and Children.tif

In 1857, Adelaide Hunter was born on a farm in St. George, Ontario, north of Brantford, the youngest of twelve children. Her father passed away only a few months later and her mother struggled to raise her family on her own.  Adelaide grew up and married John Hoodless, a furniture manufacturer, and became a Hamilton socialite.  The couple had four healthy children.  Tragedy struck in 1889 when her infant son died after drinking impure milk at a time when dairy practices were questionable:  milk was often left uncovered and unrefrigerated, leaving it ripe for contamination.

From that moment on, Hoodless would crusade for children to prevent more senseless deaths like that of her son.  She championed the cause for pasteurized milk, still an emerging science, and embraced the cause of better education for young mothers.  The Hamilton socialite campaigned for Domestic Science classes and wrote a textbook, Public School Domestic Science (1898) to be used in such classes.  By 1902, Domestic Science had become a mandatory course in Ontario classrooms.  But Adelaide did not stop there.  With the financial aid of a Montreal businessman, she established Domestic Science classes in Canadian universities, too.  Mrs. Hoodless travelled the province speaking about her passion:  "Is it of greater importance that a farmer should know more about the scientific care of his sheep and cattle, than a farmer's wife should know how to care for her family?"

On February 12, 1897, Mr Erland Lee asked Mrs. Hoodless to speak at his Farmer's Institute Ladies Night.  Over 100 women turned out to hear her speak and that group became the first chapter of the Women's Institute.  Within a decade, the Institute had over 500 branches.  With Lady Aberdeen, she helped establish the National Council for Women, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).  

Adelaide Hoodless passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage only one day shy of her 53rd birthday. The Hoodless homestead in St. George was acquired by the Federated Women's Institute of Canada in 1959 and now serves as a museum.  A roadside plaque in Stoney Creek, Ontario marks the location of the first Women's Institute meeting well over a century ago.  

Image result for adelaide hoodless stamp

Canada Post stamp issued in 1993 courtesy

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Louis Vallee Photographs Old Quebec

Basse-ville de Quebec - Louis-Prudent Vallee vers 1880.jpg

In 1839, Louis DaGuerre succeeded in capturing a unique image on a copper plate, named the daguerrotype.  People called it "a mirror with a memory".  The Quebec Gazette, the Toronto Patriot, and the Halifax Colonial Pearl reported on the daguerrotype and itinerant daguerrotypists set up shop in hotel rooms and stores, eager to capitalize on the new technology.  However, the process was slow and was eventually replaced with photography.

In the 1860's, Louis Prudent Vallee opened a studio in Quebec City and soon became known for his photographs of his hometown.  Vallee captured the capital before the departure of British troops in 1871 and after the demolition of military installations.  Old Quebec's walls remind us of how the city used to serve as a fort.  Vallee also documented the urban development at the end of the 1800's.  Vallee's Catalogue of Photographic Views of Quebec City and Vicinity, published in 1899, served as a good record of local history in the latter half of the 19th Century.

Louis-Prudent Vallée: His work is a record of the 19th century in Quebec City. “The photograph on the stamp was taken circa 1894.”

A Quebec City street circa 1894

Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Cunard Line

The Aquitania leaves Liverpool on her maiden voyage circa 1914 courtesy

Samuel Cunard, raised in Halifax, was the son of a German Quaker and an Irish Roman Catholic who fled the United States during the American Revolution, part of a large group of United Empire Loyalists.  During the War of 1812, Cunard fought on the British side with the second battalion of the Halifax Regiment.  The young man was a highly successful entrepreneur who was one of 12 people to greatly influence the affairs of Halifax.

In 1830, Cunard founded the Halifax Steamboat Company which ran a steamship between Halifax and Quebec.  Seven years later, Cunard travelled to the United Kingdom where he made a successful bid to run a trans-Atlantic mail service.  The result was Cunard Steamships Limited.  In 1840, the company's first steamship, the Britannia, sailed from Liverpool to Halifax and then on to Boston.  Cunard's ships soon earned a reputation for speed and safety.  However, that reputation came with a hefty cost; Cunard fled creditors in Halifax by 1843, unable to pay his bills.  By the following year, however, the entrepreneur started to turn a profit.

The Cunard Line has owned several famous ships over the decades.  The Carpathia (1901) came to the rescue of the Titanic when it sank in 1912.  The Lusitania (1906) was torpedoed by German U-boats and sunk in 1915.  The Aquitania (1914) served in both World War I and World War II.  The Queen Mary (1936) transported royalty, movie stars and war brides across the Atlantic.

Britannia sails from Liverpool to Halifax circa 1840 courtesy

Monday 22 August 2016

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Sir John A Macdonald recommended the formation of a police force after Canada purchased the Northwest Territories from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1873. Prime Minister MacDonald wanted to call the force the North West Mounted Rifles, however that sounded too much like a military. Therefore, he named them the North West Mounted Police. Royal was added to the name in 1904 by King Edward VII. In 1920, the Royal North West Mounted Police merged with the Dominion Police to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

 Originally, the RCMP oversaw two territories and several provinces. The police force added Newfoundland to its territory when it became a new province in 1949. Today, the RCMP oversees three territories and eight provinces. The two largest, Ontario and Quebec, have their own provincial police forces.

The RCMP is famous for its uniform, the Red Serge, which includes a high collared scarlet tunic, midnight blue breeches with yellow leg stripe, Sam Browne belt with white sidearm lanyard, oxblood riding boots (possibly with spurs), brown felt campaign hat (wide, flat brimmed) with "Montana crease" and brown gloves (with brown leather gauntlets for riders). While performing regular duties, the RCMP uses standard uniforms. However, during the Musical Ride, they wear the Red Serge (

In the past, the RCMP was heavily involved in counterintelligence, keeping a close eye on suspected radicals including the Communist Party of Canada, Ukrainian Nationalists, Chinese (under the Opium & Narcotics Drugs Act) and strikers. During the Great Depression, the RCMP was largely responsible for halting the On to Ottawa Trek by inciting the Regina Riot.

The RCMP Musical Ride, which comes to Paris, Ontario this September, courtesy

Sunday 21 August 2016

Terry Fox: Marathon of Hope

He dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean early on that morning in April of 1980.  His battle was cancer.  His goal was to run from Newfoundland to British Columbia, across the entire country.  Twenty- six miles a day, seven days a week for the duration of his trip -- that's a marathon every single day.  As he ran along the highway, he developped a certain gait as he shifted from his natural leg to artificial one.  Passersby were curious as to who he was; but as they got to about him and his story, they would wave or shout words of encouragement.  For those who didn't know him, they would give an impatient honk.  

Terry made his way through the Maritime provinces without a hitch.  But in Quebec, it was a different story.  The Quebec Provincial Police didn't want to let him run on the highway.  Terry's response?  Don't people in Quebec get cancer too?  At the Ontario border, Terry was joined by a police escort for the first time.  In Ottawa he met with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  In Toronto, he shook the hand of NHL player Darryl Sittler.  People lined the main street of Hamilton as he passed by.  

Terry Fox's route circa 1980 courtesy 

With most of Ontario at his back, Terry looked forward to crossing the Prairies.  However, just outside of Thunder Bay, he started to tire.  He took the time to swim with a young cancer survivor in Lake Superior.  He developped a nasty cough and realized he couldn't go on:  the cancer had come back.  One hundred and forty three days had passed since he left Newfoundland.  He had logged 5, 373 kilometres.  Nine months later, the Canadian hero passed away.

While Terry's run was over, his legacy would continue.  His goal was to raise $1 for every Canadian at a time when our population sat at $24.  The Marathon of Hope, now called The Terry Fox Run held every September, has far surpassed this goal, raising over $700 million for cancer research.  

Note:  The St. Jacob's County Playhouse is staging Terry Fox:  The Musical from October 5 to 30 to honour the contribution this young man gave to his country (

Saturday 20 August 2016

Canadian Pulp & Paper Industry

Steps to making paper out of pulp:  1.  Harvest the trees.  2.  Cut into logs and take to the mill.  3.  Machinery turns the wood chips into pulp.  4.  Pulp is mixed with water and poured onto a long machine.  5.  The fibres bond to one another at the dry end of the machine.  6.  Researchers perform tests at each stage.  (Photo & Steps courtesy 

Egyptians made paper from papyrus, which serves as the root of the word.  Europeans used animal skins to make paper. The modern process of turning pulp into paper was first used by the Chinese.  By the 19th Century, with rising literacy rates and the proliferation of newspapers, a demand was created for a cheaper paper supply -- wood.  German paper makers developped machines to break down pulp to make paper.

The demand for paper in Canada grew as the population did.  First, Canadians imported it from the United States.  Later, the Canadian pulp and paper industry formed, based mainly in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.  Argenteuil paper factory, near present day Montreal, provided the newsprint for the Montreal Gazette.  Later the Canadian factories also provided book paper, printing paper, wallpaper and wrapping paper.

As the frontier moved westward, British Columbia also developped a pulp and paper industry.  In the meantime, the United States lifted its tariff on newsprint just before World War I and Canada "emerged as the world's preeminent newspaper maker".  While production sat at 65,000 tons in 1900, it grew by 65 times that within three decades.

In the mid-1920's the nature of the pulp and paper industry started to change:  once controlled by multiple family-owned enterprises it became dominated by a few "behemoths", requiring huge financial backing from the United States.  By the Great Depression, most of the Ontario mills and some of the Quebec mills declared bankruptcy.

With the advent of the Second World War, the pulp and paper industry made a come back, ushering in three and a half decades of prosperity in Canada.  Whereas production sat at 4.3 million tons in 1939, it quintupled by 1972, sitting at 23 million tons, almost a quarter of the world's capacity.

However, by 2000, with the rise of the Internet, came the fall of the newspaper industry.  Canadian paper mills lost the American market; at one point, a paper mill was closing every week.  Even so, today the pulp and paper industry remains at important part of Canada's economy.

Friday 19 August 2016

Canadian Stamp Celebrates 60 Years of Confederation

A Toronto traffic jam circa 1928, the year that Canada produced 240,000 automobiles courtesy

The Canadian 20 cent stamp celebrates 60 years of Confederation.  The Canada of 1927 looked quite different than today.  While the country already had nine provinces (all except Newfoundland) and two territories, the population sat at just under 10 million.  Canada was on the cusp of switching from a rural to an urban based society.  The 1921 census showed that while 49% of Canadians lived in urban areas, only 51% lived in rural areas.

Transportation had played a huge role in Canada's development.  In 1885, Donald Alexander Smith had driven the last spike into the British Columbia soil marking the first transcontinental railroad in Canada.  Mail travelling by train arrived much quicker than by pony express.  In 1926, Western Canada Airways opened, providing cargo service to Northwestern Canada.  At a time before passenger flights, "airmail was the backbone of aviation" (

In 1927, the Special Delivery Stamp was issued, showing the Canada of old along side the new Canada.  The stamp featured five methods of special delivery service:  air, ship, train, horseback and dog sled.  The stamp was unique as it was the only Special Delivery stamp that doesn't have the word "delivery" and it isn't shaped horizontally.  Also, the Confederation stamp was the first to depict a dog, an airplane, an ocean liner or a horse.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Pier 21: The London Blitz, the Baltic Ethnic Cleansing & the Hungarian Uprising

Displaced person with her infant arrives in 1948 at Pier 21 courtesy

Halifax's Deepwater Piers was built in 1880 to accommodate Canadian immigrants arriving by ocean liner.  By 1913, when Canadian immigration peeked, authorities realized that they needed a much bigger facility.  However, the First World War in 1914 and the Halifax Explosion in 1917, postponed such an endeavour.

In 1928, Pier 21 opened in Halifax's south end, a two story, 600 foot shed.  Along with the shed were freight piers, grain elevators and a train station.  Adjacent to the shed was an annex which included immigration offices, customs, railway booking office, and a telegraph office, a restaurant and immigration charities offices.

Pier 21 was the entry point for over 1 million immigrants and refugees.  In the early years of the immigration station, many Dutch and English immigrants arrived.  The Second World War slowed down the number of immigrant arrivals but increased the total of refugees.  Two thousand English children, evacuated during the London Blitz, arrived in the early 1940's.  Princess Juliana sailed into port with her family after the Nazis invaded Holland.  Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill passed through Pier 21's doors in 1943 on his way to the Quebec Conference.  In 1945 and 1946, thousands of war brides also arrived at Pier 21, many with their infant children.  In 1948, almost 350 refugees arrived from the Baltic, a result of the Soviet's ethnic cleansing program.  The Hungarian uprising of 1956 brought another flood of refugees to Canada's immigration station.  Finally, in 1970, 100 Cuban refugees passed through Pier 21, the last major group to do so.  The following year, it closed its doors forever.

Canadian stamp commemorating Pier 21, issued in 1999 courtesy

Wednesday 17 August 2016

A Failed Flight & A Rare Stamp

Captain Terrence Tully and Lieutenant James Medcalf in front of the Sir John Carling courtesy

Everyone knows about Charles Lindbergh's historic trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in the spring of 1927 ( However, few have heard of the London to London flight which took place that fall, a flight that would turn a wife into a widow and a stamp into a philatelist's dream.

Carling Brewies of London, Ontario offered a 25,000 reward for the first person to successfully fly from London, Ontario to London, England.  In August of 1927, former World War I pilot Terrence Tully, along with navigator James Medcalf, set out on their trans-Atlantic journey.  Their plane, christened the Sir John Carling, was packed with stacks of mail, all with a new stamp on it commemorating the historic flight.  The pilot's wife was also given a handful of the stamps as a souvenir of her husband's flight.

The plane set out on its journey, but after encountering thick fog, turned around and headed back to London, Ontario.  In early September, the plane departed for a second time, making stops in both Maine and Newfoundland.  Taking off for England, it disappeared into the mist, never to be seen again.  The ticker tape parade waiting for the Canadian men in London, England was cancelled.

Fast forward over eight decades to 2009.  A Toronto businessman discovered a stamp in his sock drawer. Curious, he took it to a stamp dealer, John H. Talman, on Yonge Street.  Talman, examining the stamp with a monocle like device, explained that only nine of these such stamps survived; the rest went down with the crashed plane.  One of the surviving stamps, in mint conditions, sits in the Smithsonian in Washington DC.  Talman sells the stamp at auction and an American bids $10,000 (

The rare London to London stamp circa 1927 courtesy

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Raoul Wallenberg's Briefcase

The briefcase, cast in bronze, stands on the foundation of an old house in Sweden.  It held history:   documents with important signatures, documents that would change lives, called "schutzpasses".  Its owner would lose his own life in the pursuit of saving tens of thousands of others'.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in Sweden in 1912.  His father died of cancer when he was only 3 years old, leaving his mother to raise him on her own.  He sailed to America to studied architecture at the university of Michigan.  It was there that he learned to speak English, French and German, skills that would serve him well later in life.  Along with other male students at the university, he took a job as a rickshaw driver at Chicago's Century of Progress World's Fair.

Returning to his home country after his studies, Raoul was disappointed to discover that his American degree would not suffice in Sweden.  In 1938 the Swede learned how to speak Hungarian and started working in an import/export business, travelling between Stockholm and Budapest.

Between May and July of 1944, the Nazis deported 400,000 Jews.  It was at that time that Wallenberg was appointed secretary to the Swedish legation in Budapest.  In his role he started to issue protective passports to Jews.  He rented 32 buildings and gave them such names as "Swedish Library" and "Swedish Research Institute", hanging large blue flags with the yellow cross over the door, only serving as a subterfuge for the rescue operation.

With each passport that he forged, Wallenberg increased his risk of being caught by the Nazis.  He started to sleep in a different house every night so as not to be caught.  Ironically it was the Soviets who arrested Wallenberg as a spy when they arrived in Budapest in 1945.  Wallenberg was detained in Lubyanka Prison where he was removed from his cell in March of that year, never to be seen again. One report stated the he had died of a heart attack in 1947.  Another said that he had been executed the same year.

Wallenberg will always be remembered for his courage in the face of fear.

Monday 15 August 2016

Atlantic Puffin: Clown of the Sea

The Atlantic puffin, nicknamed the sea parrot, breeds in Iceland, Norway, Greenland and Newfoundland.  It has a black crown and back, pale grey cheek patches and white underparts, along with a red and orange beak and orange legs. 'The striking appearance, large colourful bill, waddling gait and behaviour of this bird have given rise to nicknames such as "clown of the sea" and "sea parrot" (  On land, the puffin walks like an auk.  In the water it swims on the surface and eats small fish.  It lives in colonies typically found on islands free from terrestrial predators.  The Atlantic puffin serves as the official bird of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Queen Elizabeth Celebrates Canadian Transportation

One of the most flattering pictures of Queen Elizabeth I have ever seen is the one depicted on the six cent Canadian stamp which debuted in 1968.  The stamp depicts the Queen, along with several modes of transportation:  an ocean freighter, a jet, a transport truck, a bus and a turbo train which operated in Canada between 1968 and 1982.  A microwave tower was included to symbolize communications.

Friday 12 August 2016

Ted Rogers Wins First Prize for Amateur-Built Radio

Ted Rogers builds a batteryless radio courtesy 

Obsessed with radios from childhood, 13-year-old Ted Rogers built an amateur radio which won first prize in an Ontario contest.  Rogers worked as a radio officer on the Great Lakes passenger ships from 1916 to 1919. In 1921, he won an American contest for low power broadcasts across the Atlantic, the only Canadian radio station to enter.

Originally, radios operated on rechargeable acid filled batteries, which were large and expensive.
But that all changed when Rogers invented an amplifying tube that would operate on alternating current.  No longer would living room carpets be stained with acid; no longer would pocketbooks be stretched to the limit.  "At a time when a schoolteacher might earn $1,000 per year, the top of the line Rogers radio sold for $370." ( 

In 1927, Rogers created CFRB (Canada's First Rogers Batteryless) radio station, operated by Bell Media today.  Rogers died prematurely in 1939, but his brother, and later his son, took over the business now known as Rogers Communication.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Anne of Green Gables Celebrated with Canadian Stamp

In the early 1900's, Lucy Maud Montgomery was working as an editor for the Halifax Morning Chronicle when she read a newspaper article about a local couple who applied to adopt a boy, but instead was sent a girl.  The wheels started turning in Miss Montgomery's head.

In 1905, she wrote a novel about an elderly sister and brother from P.E.I. who apply to adopt a boy, but instead are sent a red-headed, freckle-faced girl with a wild imagination.  Most people would assume that her story was immediately snapped up by a Canadian publisher.  But this was not the case.  After five rejections, Miss Montgomery put her manuscript in a hat box and tucked it away.


                                      "Beyond the Summer Fields" by Ben Stahl circa 1932                                                         courtesy

Three years passed.  Finally, the author resubmitted her story, this time to an American publisher.  It was accepted by L. C. Page of Boston, Massachusetts, the editor unable to resist the feisty freckle faced girl with the fiery red hair.  Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success in bookstores, selling more than 19,000 copies in the first five months.  It was translated into 20 different languages. Today it has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.

In 2008, on the centennial of Anne of Green Gables, Canada Post issued a stamp.  The design is based on a painting by Ben Stahl, a resident of Prince Edward Island.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Winnipeg Lightning Bolt Graces Canadian Stamp

Canada gets about 2.34 million lightning strikes per year.  Unfortunately, about 10 people each year are killed by these strikes.  More than 4,000 forest fires are set by lightning.  Lightning strikes do make for good photographs and no one knows that more than Canadian Dave Reede. He snapped a photo on the Trans Canada Highway outside of Winnipeg which caught the eye of a Canadian stamp designer.  Reede explained:  "This particular night was just crazy.  There was just so much cloud to ground lightning everywhere, violent storms.  I've never seen anything like it since."

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Northern Dancer Wins Kentucky Derby

Damsired by Native Dancer at Windfield Farms in Oshawa in 1961, Northern Dancer was the first Canadian bred racehorse to win the Kentucky Derby.  What he lacked in stature he made up for in heart.  As a two year old, Northern Dancer debuted on the Fort Erie racetrack where he captured a $2,100 prize.  His jockey, Ron Turcotte, explained:  "We won that race by eight lengths.  He was a bold horse.  Brave.  He could handle anything.  The grass.  The mud.  Anything."  The same year, Northern Dancer captured the Summer Stakes, Coronation Futurity Stakes, and Remsen Stakes, putting him in a good position for the following year.

In 1963, he entered the Kentucky Derby with jockey Bill Hartack.  While he had an unsettling start, bucking when the band played "Old Kentucky Home", he settled down once he got into position. With the race underway, he avoided some of the horses which got tangled up.  One author said that his "short, powerful legs made like a hummingbird's wings".  Northern Dancer crossed the finish lines in two minutes flat, a Derby record that remained unbroken until Secretariat won the famous race in 1973 (  As Northern Dancer was draped with a blanket of roses, Canadian sportswriters started typing the headlines for the following day.  History had been made.

Monday 8 August 2016

From the Silver Dart to the Avro Arrow

J. McCurdy pilots th eSilver Dart over Baddeck Bay circa 1909 courtesy

Everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell was responsible for the first telephone call in Canada.  However, many do not know his connection to the first successful flight in Canadian history.  It was in 1909 that the Silver Dart made its pioneer flight across the Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, the culmination of years of work by the Aerial Experiment Association started by Alexander Graham Bell.

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Silver Dart's flight, Canada Post issued a stamp.  In the foreground sits the Silver Dart.  In the background are three delta winged aircraft which resemble the Avro Arrow, an aircraft decades ahead of its time.   In an effort to defend the Canadian Arctic from Soviet bombers, the RCAF was looking for an aircraft that would fly "faster, higher and further" than any other aircraft.  The Victory Aircraft Company had built dozens of bombers during the Second World War (

Victory Aircraft, Toronto, Ontario circa 1941 to 1945 courtesy

Purchased by a British businessman, it was renamed A. V. Roe.  By 1949, it built a jetliner which delivered airmail from Toronto to New York City at record speed.  However, with the onset of the Korean War, the project was scrapped.  In 1957, the sleek Avro Arrow was unveiled at the Toronto plant in front of a crowd of 12,000.  Its timing, however, was disastrous:  the Soviets launched the unmanned Sputnik on the same day, leading some to conclude that manned flights were a thing of the past.  The Space Race was on.

Furthermore, only a week after the Avro Arrow debuted, John Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister.  Distrusting the Avro Arrow executives, and chafing at the hefty price tag for production, he announced the program would be cut.  The end was swift.  Elwy Yost, a TVO movie critic who used to work at A.V. Roe, said that when officials came to shut down the program, he felt like he was back in Nazi Germany. Workers were whisked away from their desks.  The Arrow was chopped into pieces, all traces of the aircraft destroyed -- Canada's broken dream.


                                 Avro Arrow unveiled at A.V. Roe Plant in Toronto circa 1957                                                              courtesy

Sunday 7 August 2016

Skookum Jim Sparks the Klondike Gold Rush

Skookum Jim Mason.png

Skookum Jim circa 1898 courtesy

Born to a Tahitan mother and Native Indian father, James Mason grew up in the Yukon Territory.  In the 1880's, he worked as a packer, carrying supplies for miners, earning him the nickname "Skookum", a Chinook term for incredible strength.  On August 17, 1896, four prospectors, Skookum Jim, his sister Kate Carmack,her husband, George Charmack and their nephew, Dawson Charlie were travelling along a tributary of the Klondike River, called Rabbit Creek.  Stopping to rest on the banks of the creek, one of the party saw a shiny object in the water.  It was gold, pure gold.  While it might have been Skookum Jim who spotted the precious object, it was George Carmack who took credit for the discovery, possibly because the former was a Native Indian.

Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass in a long line

Ascending the Chilkoot Pass circa 1898 courtesy

Word spread quickly as thousands of prospectors stampeded to what is now "Discovery Pass".  Climbing the white capped mountains, their figures looked like ants on an anthill.    The Canadian government required each "stampeder" to pack a year's supply of food to avoid starvation.  As a result, each prospector's gear weighing close to a ton, had to be carried in stages.  Nearby Dawson City, with a population of 500, swelled to 30,000 by 1898.  To accommodate the new arrivals, locals built dozens of wooden structures, susceptible to fire.  Unsanitary conditions made epidemics spread quickly.  Yet, successful prospectors sunk their fortunes into the local saloons where they gambled and drank every night.

Miners wait to register claims in Dawson City circa 1899 courtesy

Rabbit Creek was renamed Bonanza Creek by the miners who discovered millions of dollars worth of gold beneath its waters.  Skookum Jim passed away in Whitehorse, Yukon in 1916, leaving a daughter, Daisy Mason.  Discovery Claim was declared a National Historic Site in 1998.  Canada Post issued a Klondike Gold Rush series in 1996, on the Centennial of Skookum Jim's discovery.

Klondike Gold Rush series courtesy

Saturday 6 August 2016

Canadian Prairie Street Scene

In 1978, 75% of Canadians lived in or near cities.  Projections indicated that the figure would rise to 90% by 2000.  Communities were changing as they were being designed to accommodate cars rather than people.  Concrete was replacing grass.  Glass was replacing wood.  Air and water pollution were on the rise.  Solid waste disposal was an issue.  Canada was losing its traditional landscape.  Canada Post issued a series of stamps devoted to the communities of the past.  Arthur Ponting and Yves Baril engraved a Prairie town scene which harkens back to a simpler time.

Friday 5 August 2016

Champlain Statue in Old Quebec

Sculpture honouring "The Father of New France", with Chateau Frontenac in the background, courtesy

French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608.  Near the present day Chateau Frontenac, he built the Habitation, consisting of a Compagnie des Marchands (trading post) and a wooden building, Fort Saint Louis, where he resided and built a successful settlement.  Champlain established a good relationship with the local Native tribes including the Huron, Algonquin and Montagnais.  For all intents and purposes, the explorer became the first governor of New France.  Champlain went on to explore and map the Great Lakes, the first European to do so.

In a political move, Champlain married a 12 year old bride Helen Boulle, whose father Nicolas Boulle had influence in the royal court.  While the couple did not have any biological children, Champlain adopted three Montagnais girls named Faith, Hope and Charity.

In the 1850's, the St. Jean Baptiste Society of Quebec talked about erecting a monument of Champlain, but did not have the funds to do so.  Finally, in 1890, the group decided to act.  Out of 11 designs and 14 models, a jury chose the one created by the young French sculptor Paul-Romain Chevre.  To the tune of $30,000 Chevre designed a 16 metre high sculpture of Champlain which was erected in 1896.  One Quebec newspaper said it resembled "un gros mousquetaire triste".

Canada Post issued Champlain Statue stamp in 1935 courtesy