Jack and Eileen Boyd came to Canada from Scotland in 1957, became members of the Bahá'í Faith in 1960, and immediately started pioneering: to Niagara Falls, Niagara on the Lake, and Yellowknife in the North West Territories, where they served from 1965-1969. After leaving their pioneer post for health reasons, the Boyd family settled in Sudbury, Ontario. While helping to build up the Bahá'í communities in that area, the Boyds also traveled to Cuba, Iceland, Gibraltar, Scotland, Madeira, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Malta in service to the Faith.
As the turn of the century approached, Jack (with Eileen's encouragement) started writing down some of their experiences while raising four children and teaching the Faith. He also wrote some historical vignettes, including some about the early years of the Bahá'í Faith, aiming to catch the attention of readers in a doctor's or dentist's waiting room. These memoirs and stories are not only informative but entertaining and inspiring, pervaded as they are with Jack's deep faith, generous spirit and canny sense of humor.
Memories of Eileen Boyd
from a eulogy in Sudbury, Ontario, 18 Nov. 2004
A wise man once observed that life is a journey, not a destination. On
November 16, 2004 when Eileen was released from her worn out human
frame, we had been married 47 years, 4 months and 11 days. It was quite a
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns described death as a poor man's best friend. I think in the end it is most people's best friend, and a reason for us to be happy for Eileen, while feeling grief for ourselves. Bahá'u'lláh said "I have made death a messenger of joy for you. Wherefore dost thou grieve?"
I was twenty one years old and had finished a five year apprenticeship as a tool and die maker. I was living with my widowed mother in the village of Duntocher, just ten miles north-west of Glasgow, Scotland. I was a runner and competed in the various Highland Games and mountain races. I was also a mountain climber and went climbing with my club mates on weekends.
Most young people in the Clyde Valley area gravitated to Glasgow for entertainment, the surrounding communities being too quiet. Young people in those days usually met at one of Glasgow's dance halls, and it was there in October, 1956 at the Locarno that I first met the girl who would become my wife.
Eileen had come to the dance with a girl friend. She was a real beauty and I did not think that I stood a chance with her. She agreed to dance with me and as no liquor was on the menu, I bought an orange pop for her and her girl friend.
We were opposites in almost everything. Eileen was sophisticated, I was not. I was a sportsman, she was artistic. My family was poor, hers middle class. She had lived in London for several years and loved the big city life, I had never been anywhere except the mountains and loved the country.
We dated for a while. On our first date, trying to impress her, I took her to an opera. Eileen was disgusted that I brought along a bag of cherries (I was starving). She came mountain climbing with me and dropped my camera.
Anyway, I was persistent, and Eileen must have seen me as a challenge and a work in progress. We married in July, 1957 and Eileen started to take the rough edges off me. Forty seven years, four children, and five grandchildren later she was still working at those rough edges.
The most difficult thing in writing about Eileen, is what to leave out. I could write a book about the many adventures we had. In fact I have. Here anyway are some of the memories from that journey.
In 1957, shortly after getting married in East Kilbride, Scotland, We moved to Canada and settled in Toronto.
We lived in Toronto for two years during which time Eileen took classes at the famous Walter Thornton Modelling School and went on an incredible diet of 1,200 calories a day to get her weight down to 122 pounds. Lunch every day consisted of chicken bouillon and an apple. She bought some chocolates to celebrate reaching her goal weight, but became nauseous after the first bite of one.
Adjusting to married life was not always easy as I had presumed that it was just like living at home (where I was dreadfully spoiled) only coming home to a wife rather than a mother. I had a lot to learn about marriage and it did not come quickly or easily. Still do.
Every Hallowe'en we argued about this one. I was a meat and potatoes guy and Eileen would sometimes try to get me to venture into new territory. She offered to make a pumpkin pie for me one Hallowe'en and I, never having had one, said "No thanks". She went ahead anyway and made one from scratch with a real pumpkin.
We sat down to a nice supper, then Eileen produced her pumpkin pie. "I won't have any, thanks" I said, very politely.
"Yes you will," said the dragon across the table from me. "I worked hard to make this and you will eat it".
"No thanks. I said I did not want it and I don't," I pointed out, quite reasonably.
This discussion went back and forth for a while, then the female half of the discussion violently picked up a wine glass of water to throw on me. I put up my hand to deflect it and the wine glass broke and fell in pieces into exhibit one, the pumpkin pie, so no one got any. At the time, it seemed like a good resolution to me, but I was wrong. You can see that I was reasonable every step of the way, yet every year around Hallowe'en the argument starts over. Women have amazingly long memories. I kind of like pumpkin pie now, but she never makes it any more.
Then we decided that we should have a baby. Eileen decided that her biological clock was ticking and that we should have a baby. I expected this to be candlelight and soft music but to my amazement it became a scientific project with thermometers, calendars, and schedules. Eventually gin came in to it too. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Eventually the process was successful and Eileen became pregnant with Jackie. I think the gin did it.
Eventually Eileen increased in size and there went the Walter Thornton Modelling School figure. Eileen was working in the customer service department of a large construction company, fielding complaints from irate customers about cracks in the basement of their new houses. Crack in a housing subdivision has taken on a new meaning since then. In those days when a woman became obviously pregnant, she was fired and that's what happened to Eileen. "We can't have you representing our company and looking like that!" was the accepted attitude of the day. Being pregnant through summer was no fun either and there was no such thing as air conditioning. We cooled off in community pools or the lake and since Eileen had such a sensitive husband she heard a lot of comments about resembling Moby Dick.
My pattern has always been that I sleep extremely soundly for the first few hours of going to bed. If I wake up before 5 am I am a zombie. One time I heard a racket outside our apartment on Ryerson Crescent as I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I looked out of the window and saw that there were three fire pumper trucks at the house next door and it was ablaze. I went back to bed and only remembered to tell Eileen about it in the morning. We looked out the window and the house next door was gone. Just the basement and a few smoldering timbers left where that house had been.
When it came close to the time when Jackie would be born we had found a lovely wood panelled apartment near High Park. I remember Eileen taking a fancy to strange things late at night and I would go to a little store nearby for pickles and ice cream. There was an elderly lady worked there who had a tattooed number on her forearm. She was a Jewish survivor of the concentration camps.
Eileen's parents came out to be with Eileen while the new baby was born, and one night Eileen woke me up at 1 AM, not my best time. She said "the baby is coming. We have to go to the hospital" I told her "You just go with your mother. I'll see you there in the morning" Joseph Conrad wrote a story about this type of thing called "Lord Jim", about how you can do or say something in a split second that you carry through life. I never had a close relationship with Eileen's mother and while she never said, this may have been the root cause. There are some things you can never live down and this one was even worse than the pumpkin pie.
Jackie was born, our first child had arrived and our world would never be the same until our last baby left home. There was no such thing as disposable diapers and our apartment never quite smelled the same.
For employment reasons we moved to St Catharines, Ontario in 1959 and it was there that we encountered people who would have a profound effect on our lives. We were invited to a Christmas dinner, followed by a party where we played all sorts of games like charades. I had a wonderful time, but the ever perceptive Eileen observed "Those people have the same spirit that the early Christians must have had" The people were Bahá'ís, some of them are here today and are lifelong friends.
We were soon launched in investigating world religions and the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. It came as an earthshaking discovery for us when we realised that this was the long promised return of Christ. The anthropologist Margaret Mead observed "Never doubt the ability of a group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has" That is the business these folks were in, building a new world order.
Bahá'ís do not proselytize but do offer their Teachings to those who would like to know about them. Pioneering is the term used by Bahá'ís to describe the process of moving to another community to offer the Faith to others or to consolidate a growing community. Even before Eileen became a Bahá'í, she pioneered with me to Niagara Falls to establish one of its first Local Assemblies. There Eileen became a Bahá'í and we moved to beautiful Niagara on the Lake to open up that community. We loved that place, but a call was raised for pioneers in more extreme places and I remember phoning Eileen from a conference in Winnipeg and suggesting that we offer to pioneer anywhere in the world that we might be needed. She agreed and within a few months we were on our way to Yellowknife, in the North West Territories.
We spent four years there, adopted Little Eileen, and Robert was born. When we arrived there was one Bahá'í in town, when we left there was 36. Unfortunately that is where most of Eileen's health problems started as we later found out that there was arsenic in the drinking water, which later led to a high incidence of lymphatic cancer.
Shortly after we left Yellowknife to pioneer to Sudbury, Eileen came down with Hodgekin's Disease which was at a very advanced stage by the time it was discovered. She had a young family to take care of and by sheer determination and many prayers she fought her way into remission. She was told at the time that there would be a long term effect on her organs and this is what eventually caught up with her.
Eileen had been trained as a secretary, but wanted to change careers so while still recovering from cancer she went back to college to become a social worker.
After leaving Yellowknife in 1969, I was anxious to protect Eileen's health, but she became the bold one, with ideas about where we should go and what we should do, with me reluctantly saying "Well, OK. If that is what you want" Whenever she had a nickel's worth of energy she spent a dollar. It was Eileen that had us purchase a farm in Manitoulin to try to establish a community there, she who could not wait to retire so we could spend time pioneering around the world.
Gibralter, Madeira, Cuba, Scotland, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Florida, Malta - Eileen developed courses in communication skills and I offered my professional skills in organizational development. We provided them as a gift from the Bahá'í Community to mostly small developing countries or to anyone who needed them. It was Eileen who led me to all these adventures. Even as she became progressively ill she still was coming up with ideas for a teaching trip to the Arctic, and was saving her air miles to that end.
She suffered bravely. Always thinking of others - who should get what, Christmas and birthday presents to be purchased ahead of time. In mid September we found out that her cancer was terminal, but she was reluctant at first to tell anyone. "Its like waiting for a bus to leave" she said. And just like with the bus, you wait and sometimes long for it to leave, but when it goes there is a great big hole in your life, where that loved one used to be.
Here's one more story that sums it all up, in a way:
When we were both 22 years old in 1956, and decided to become engaged, we were as poor as church mice. I suggested to Eileen that we go shopping together for the ring. Eileen told me "I really like diamonds, and I have long fingers so I need a really large ring to look right." -- I was in shock! Anyway it turned out all right as we found a lovely rectangular faced ring, an antique from an estate sale with two largish diamonds surrounded by smaller ones. For some reason it was not really expensive at the time, although its value greatly increased over the years.
We left Niagara on the Lake and went pioneering in Yellowknife. It was there that we adopted "Little" Eileen, a beautiful baby from Inuvik, and also where Robert was born. One year we went "outside" on vacation, driving the thousand miles (600 of it gravel) to Edmonton, then on to the Bahá'í summer school in beautiful Banff, Alberta. The national fund was in difficulties and it was decided to have an auction to raise money. People donated mostly fun items and were bidding more than true value for them. My eldest daughter, Jackie was about four, sitting on the knee of an older man, across the room from me, and a cheap ball pen was being auctioned. The bidding stood at $1.50 when my child decided to get into the spirit of things and shouted out "ten bucks". That was my first shock. The next was when I learned that Eileen had donated her engagement ring to the fund.
There was nobody present who could bid an appropriate amount so it was sent to the National Treasury where a few such valuables were being kept until a reasonable price could be obtained for them. I was not as poor at this time, but could not afford the ring, and anyway Eileen would not hear of me buying it back as she had freely given it.
Some years later I heard that the ring was still unsold, and spoke to the treasury (I think it was Bill Sims) about it. I still could not afford the value of it but they let me have it at about two thirds of its value. Meanwhile we had moved to Sudbury, Ontario where Eileen had battled and barely survived Hodgkin's Disease caused by arsenic in the drinking water in our pioneer post in Yellowknife. The chemotherapy and radiation were devastating, causing her to lose hair and teeth and she was feeling low. I returned the engagement ring to Eileen on our anniversary. She loved that ring, treasured it, and it has traveled to all of our pioneer goals with us.
Eileen spent time during her last days, telling me who should get her various special belongings. She did not have many. The day after she died, according to her wishes, I put her worn wedding band and the engagement ring in a little jewelry box and presented them to our dear daughter "Little" Eileen, and both of us shed tears. I have been shedding quite a few lately.
Eileen was a lady of very strong opinions. She was often wrong, but never uncertain. She was loved by many and will be missed greatly.
47 years, 4 months, 11 days. It was quite a ride.
Memories of Yellowknife
An account of the Boyd family pioneering to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, from 1965 until 1969
When my mother was still alive there were many things she could have told me about growing up in
the Highlands of Scotland from 1894 when she was born, and other things about her life and family.
I was not very interested at the time and after she died in 1972 it was too late for the questions that
came to mind afterwards. On a vacation in Florida in January, 2002 my wife Eileen suggested to me
that I write my memories of Yellowknife. I said that nobody would be interested in reading about it,
but she pointed out that after we were gone the family would want to read about it then. It seemed
like an interesting project, but I was amazed at how many stories and memories came flooding back
from the four years we spent there, from 1965 to 1969.
This story is dedicated to Eileen, whose courage and sacrifice made it all happen and who ever since
has paid an enormous price for those four years. Apart from the difficulty of looking after four young
children, who were unable to play outside in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of
the blackfly and mosquitos, apart from "cabin fever" and isolation and neighbours who were not very
friendly because of our association with native people, Eileen had much more to cope with.
After we had been in Yellowknife for two years, the federal government commissioned the building
of an 18 inch diameter pipeline from the Yellowknife river some five miles away, running along the
bottom of the Great Slave Lake, to supply domestic water to the Giant Yellowknife Mines town site
where we lived, and to the Town of Yellowknife. They had discovered a high level of arsenic in the
drinking water and said nothing about it until the pipeline was completed. Staying at home with the
children in a centrally heated house Eileen drank lots of water. It turned out later that the people of
Yellowknife had a very high incidence of lymphatic cancer, and Eileen became one of those statistics
when Hodgkin's Disease nearly too her life in 1971. It took an extreme amount of chemotherapy and
many radiation treatments to save her life. Ever since her remission, her health has been badly
affected, partly from the after effects of the sickness and partly from the harsh treatments that were
used in those days to effect a cure. Eileen was one of the early success stories in the treatment of
Hodgkin's Disease and was always made welcome at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto when
she went back for subsequent checkups.
The memories I write about are those that seem interesting to me, being unusual, exciting, funny or
MEMORIES OF YELLOWKNIFE
I am writing this in Florida in the year 2002. The events in the story happened between 1965 and
1969 so I am sure I have left out some people and events which richly deserve to be included. For
that I apologize. I have tried to avoid what is known as "creative memory", that is, remembering
things that never happened. These stories, however strange, actually happened to us. I think. I have
written this as a very personal account for my children to have after I am gone. Perhaps, like me, they
will wish they had asked more about events in their parents lives.
Pioneering it was called. A good name for it. From a Bahá'í National Convention in 1965 in Winnipeg
I had heard of the need for pioneers in various parts of the world and phoned home to my wife Eileen
to say that I would like to offer for us to go anywhere in the world that Bahá'ís might be needed.
Despite her love for her home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, she said "OK. Go ahead." We were
asked to consider Labrador but that didn't work out so then were asked to try for Yellowknife in
Canada's sub-Arctic. Quite a change from the mild climate of the Niagara peninsula where we lived,
where wisteria could flourish in our beautiful sheltered garden, and different blossoms flourished
every month of three seasons. I flew up for an interview, accepted a job and now our family, Eileen,
Jackie aged seven and Jim nine, not to forget our little white west highland terrier, Charlie, were
headed north from Edmonton, Alberta. Charlie liked to travel lying in the rear widow and supervising
all activity. Unfortunately when Charlie got nervous, he would pass gas, and everyone would shout
"Oh, no, Charlie," and roll down the windows despite the dust. The people in Edmonton thought that
they lived in the north, but here we were going north on a thousand mile journey by road, all of us
jammed with our luggage into a tiny Renault R8. After four hundred miles of pavement we faced a
further six hundred miles of gravel road.
The gravel road was a bit tricky as any vehicle ahead threw up a huge cloud of dust as well as a
scattering of stones. Passing a slower vehicle meant taking a chance, not only with your windshield,
but that another vehicle may emerge out of the dust cloud heading south. Another hazard was the
steel parts broken off graders and snowploughs that occasionally littered the road just waiting to take
out an oil pan. Only four years before this there was no road at all to Yellowknife.(1)
In the middle of nowhere we passed a sign informing us we were now crossing the 60th parallel of
latitude and still had a long way to go since Yellowknife is at the 64th.We reached the great wide
MacKenzie River that flows to the Arctic Ocean, named after the Scottish explorer, Alexander
MacKenzie, the first European to pass this way. There we waited for a ferry and chatted with the
owner of the last gas station before our destination. He told us about bears that often came by his
isolated home and how his large dog chased them away. He told us regretfully that his dog was too
quick and that he thought his mean cat could chase the bears but never got the chance as the dog was
on the job first.
The MacKenzie River is closed to road traffic for six weeks during freeze up, then an ice road is
available until spring break up when huge chunks of ice come roaring downstream from the Great
Slave Lake, and the crossing is out for another six weeks. During the time the road is out supplies
have to be flown from Edmonton to Yellowknife which adds a great deal to costs, especially for
heavier items like milk. Sometimes the store owners were accused of flying all the way to the back
of the store to retrieve produce stored there to be sold at the higher prices. During winter the rivers
and lakes become highways and much of the years supplies for remote mines and communities came
in on heavy trucks to places that are otherwise inaccessible.
Our gas was getting very low and I had started freewheeling down hills to conserve. It was touch and
go and when we finally reached the town of Yellowknife in the dark had only one tenth of a gallon
of gas left in the tank.
The Place and the Job:
We were going to be living at the Giant Yellowknife Mines town site, about three miles from town
where there were about thirty company owned homes, a commissary, a staff house, bunkhouses, and
a recreation hall. The hourly rated employees either stayed at one of a group of bunkhouses or in the
staff house or lived in town. Until a home could be readied for us, we stayed in the elegant guest
lodge, a large Panabode log building with vaulted ceilings that overlooked Great Slave Lake.. I told
Eileen,"just wait till you see the view in the morning." First thing next day I called out "watch this"
and threw back the drapes dramatically. We could see nothing - it was snowing so hard. September
The Northwest Territories comprises 1.3 million square miles, one third of Canada's landmass, most
of it uninhabited and uninhabitable. About 33,000 people were scattered about this land, one third
being mostly displaced white southerners, one third Indians, Cree, Dogrib, Yellowknife, Chipewyan
and Leaucheux, and one third Eskimo or Inuit as they came to be known. The town of Yellowknife
was the largest community in the Territories with a population of about one thousand people.
There were many surprises for me at Giant Yellowknife Mines Ltd which was at this time the largest
gold producer in Canada, hoisting 1,100 tons of ore each day and from that extracting one gold brick,
about 99.9%pure, the size of a regular brick and weighing about 65 pounds. I saw the tiny room
where the gold was finally smelted in a little furnace, the rock impurities, being lighter than gold rose
to the top of the ladle to be skimmed off and the pure gold poured into a brick shaped mold and left
These bricks were weighed daily, wrapped in canvas, numbered and bound with two steel bands. The
bricks were stored in a safe inside a vault and twice each month a clerk would throw a plank of wood
on the back seat of a company Chevrolet Chevelle, load about fifteen gold bricks, (about a thousand
pounds of almost pure gold) then drive the three miles to the post office in town. From there they
were shipped to the mint in Ottawa. Bruce Nikiforow, the clerk ,was unarmed and had no escort on
In 1954 Tony Gregson, alias Tony Johnson, worked at Discovery Mine and managed to get himself
fired in time to travel out on the same plane as two gold bricks. While the pilot was busy he managed
to substitute two lead bricks for the gold. Someone at the post office became suspicious of the weight
of the bricks he received and unwrapped them to find the theft, but Gregson and the real bricks were
long gone by then. He was caught about three years later and got two and a half years in jail. He
claimed that he had hacksawed the gold bricks in a hotel room and sold them piecemeal. Those in the
know did not believe him because it is almost impossible to hacksaw gold as the metal clogs the saw
teeth. In any case those gold bricks were never recovered.
Along with the 1,100 tons of ore, a higher amount of waste rock was hoisted as well as eight tons
of arsenic which occurred naturally in the land. The company tried to find a market for this and was
successful in selling some for companies who made rat poison, weedkiller, and such. The remainder
had to be disposed of and the method used was to store it underground in the old stopes, in the
permafrost. The expectation was that it would be safe there and not ever find its way to surface. This
meant that underground mine waste water which was continually being pumped to surface would not
find its way to mingling with the arsenic.
As Mechanical Superintendent I was in charge of about 55 tradesmen in four crews including
mechanics, welders, plumbers, hoistmen, and stationary engineers and charged with the job of keeping
the wheels turning, the compressed air, water and steam flowing, so the ore could come up on
schedule every day. To supervise these men I had three experienced foremen and a chief operating
engineer. I knew very little about the work having worked in entirely different fields, but I was
replacing a man who had died, Snoopy Sneddon, and he had been a drinker, was seldom seen at
work, so all my people were quite competent at keeping things running. Perhaps not drinking was my
Working with Native Peoples:
The company had a policy of trying to employ as many Indians or Eskimos as possible, and the
challenge of this pleased me. Living in Niagara area I had started a track and field club on the Six
Nations Iroquois Reserve and from small beginnings, had built up a group of about a hundred kids
aged from12 to 16. This meant driving 160 miles twice each week and in the end I had to compete
against them to get them motivated. There were many social and economic problems on the reserve
usually related to alcohol and unemployment, and I was trying to use running to teach them never to
quit, and stories of once great native athletes to inspire them to be proud of their heritage. Then I
tried to get them to transfer this confidence and tenacity as I had done, to their studies and their lives.
Knowing that I may be leaving sometime I had spent the winters training and certifying twelve young
men as coaches, so that they could carry on after me. I managed to get funding for some equipment
from the Ontario government's lottery fund. This process worked quite well and when I revisited the
Reserve seventeen years later, many of the coaches and athletes had finished school, found steady
employment, and were married with nice homes and families. The track club had branched out to
include other sports such as ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse and many young people whom I had
never met had benefitted.
Anyway I think my work with native people had interested my employers and that may have been
another factor in my hiring. Becoming employable did not come easy to many native people, as they
were used to the freedoms that come with hunting or trapping when they needed food and doing very
little at other times. The idea of working from 8 am until 5 PM, day in, day out, was very
unappealing. Now that I am retired, I can quite agree with them. They also had a sharing culture and
when a family member had a job and a house others would move in to share their prosperity, and
would not be denied. These family members would sometimes like to party all night and it became
difficult for the employee to show up on time and fit for work next morning.
Fred B. was Métis, smart and a fine man with a nice family. Red Hamilton was an excellent trainer
and helped Fred to become certified as a stationary engineer and he now had a good career ahead.
The heating plant was the nerve centre of the Mine. From there insulated pipeboxes ran for miles in
every direction carrying steam, condensate, air and water to all of the mine buildings and homes. If
the a line became frozen it had to be fixed immediately or the whole place could have been shut down
until the next summer. If a stationary engineer was late or did not show up for work, the man on duty
could not leave until he was relieved. Dependability was a necessity for this job and with that Fred
had a struggle. I coached and encouraged Fred and praised his successes and so did Red. I also had
to discipline his lost time. At 3 am one winter's night I was wakened by a loud knocking on my door.
When I opened it, there stood Fred swaying and clinking. He said "I know that I am on my last
warning and that if I miss another shift you will have to fire me. Let me sleep here and make sure I
am at work on time in the morning". I helped him in and unloaded eight bottles of beer from his
pockets and he slept on the couch. He was almost impossible to wake, but Eileen and I got him up
at 7, pumped him full of strong coffee and delivered him to work. Fred survived that situation but had
to be let go not too long afterwards. We helped him find work at the new Territorial correctional
The native people in the north had many more problems related again to alcohol, loss of identity and
being ashamed of who they were. than those in the south and before long we were engaged in trying
to help with these. We heard from a lady who worked part time as a warden at the jail about Sophie
F. who "had not drawn a sober breath since she was fifteen." Sophie, who had no idea of what was
going on and now in her early twenties appeared before the magistrate charged with something or
other and the magistrate said "well Sophie, are you guilty or not guilty? You're guilty aren't you?
Lock her up for thirty days". At this time the magistrates in the north had twice the power of a
regular magistrate, if a magistrate normally had the power to give you a year in jail, they could give
you two years.
The son of a highly placed clergyman in the Territories a young man we shall call John C. got himself
in trouble one night while driving under the influence. On a narrow dark road he hit two Indians,
knocking them down. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed up they sere still lying there
and John was in a stew. The RCMP told him not to worry about it as they had been drunk. They
would just throw them in jail and in the morning they would have forgotten all about it. When
everyone left young John found a twenty five cent piece lying on the hood of his car. Afterwards he
entertained his friends telling them how he had "got two for a quarter."
George Blondin was a Dogrib Indian, in his early forties, who had more or less successfully made the
transition from living off the land to being a competent bonus miner, earning a good income at Giant
Mine. He lived in a government house in Old Town along with his wife and several teenaged children,
one of whom was the pretty Georgina I will write about later. We used to visit George and he would
tell us stories of his earlier life. He came from a family of eight children and he was the sole survivor.
I asked him what the others had died of. He said "the grip." I could only presume it was some kind
of influenza to which native people had little resistance.
I read a story of a boat going along the Arctic coast with an R.C.M.P. officer conducting a population
census assisted by a Métis interpreter. The Métis had a bad cold and a couple of weeks after they left
each community, most of the population died.
Anyway, George told me one story of going down a river in his canoe in the barren lands far to the
north of Yellowknife, and passing quickly through a rapids where there were grizzly bears fishing.
His canoe shot between two surprised bears and he escaped unhurt.
Home Life, Family and Friends:
I had met a social worker on a plane who was looking for a good home for an Eskimo baby about
to be born in Inuvik on the Arctic coast, and we applied for adoption. The process went quickly and
we suddenly received this beautiful baby girl, round and chubby and two months old. She came with
one page of instructions, much less than a food mixer or a Timex watch. We did not care for her birth
name Cindy Mae, and following an old Scottish custom, named her Eileen after my wife. From then
on she has been known as little Eileen, and my wife big Eileen. The Eskimo people were quite
shocked to hear that we had given her my wife's name as they thought that a name has a power, and
if two people have it, it splits the power. Abe Ookpik explained the Eskimo view of this and I have
written about it later on.
Little Eileen was a delight and the girls staying with us gave her an Eskimo name, "Dingmaliuk",
which means "Little Bird." When we heard that there was someone in town who may be Eileen's
Aunt, we made contact. The Children's Aid Society would not approve, but in small remote
communities you find out a lot that is meant to be secret. Eileen's Aunt was a 22 year old woman
named Winnie who worked at the Giant Mines Cafeteria. Through Winnie we met and became
lifelong friends with Eileen's natural mother, Liz Wray, who now lives in Whitehorse Yukon and still
visits us. Shortly after meeting Winnie we heard from our friend the jail warden that Winnie had been
arrested for stealing a truck.
We spoke with a local lawyer Mark de Wirdt, who was to become a good and kind friend and he was
glad to get involved at no cost. Mark managed to get the charges changed from stealing an item
worth more that $5,000 to one of joy riding, and got the magistrate to release her into our custody.
The Cafeteria Manager held her job open as she was a good worker although she had a problem of
getting to work on time. Winnie had to be at work at 5.30 am to prepare breakfast for the miners. For
a few days she was good but Winnie liked to party and would come home late. She was full of good
intentions and would set the alarm for 5 am and put the clock across the room so she could not just
turn it off and go back to sleep. Unfortunately she could sleep though the alarm, and I could not, so
I would often have to get up to turn off the alarm and to waken Winnie out of a dead sleep to make
sure she got off to work.
After we got to know Winnie we found out what had led up to her arrest. She was at a party in a
trailer, and when she tried to leave to go home, a man attacked her and tried to rape her. She
managed to get out the door and when she saw the truck she jumped in it and tried to start it. She had
no idea of how to drive. When she turned the ignition switch the battery power moved the truck
ahead until it stalled against the side of the building. She was too shy to tell anyone about all of this
and would have gone to jail for a long time rather than talk about it.
Little Eileen was always a very logical person. One day when she was old enough to dress herself,
she came downstairs with her shoes on the wrong feet. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet", I told
her. "No they are not," said Eileen. I knew that something interesting was developing. "Yes they are"
I pressed her. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet". Puzzled. Little Eileen looked down at her feet.
"These are my feet," she insisted.
Jackie loved to visit our next door neighbour, Elsie Wist who loved children but had none of her own.
One day she came home from her visit and told us that the Wists were very wealthy. "How do you
know that?" we asked her. "They always have a dish of candies sitting on the coffee table. They have
to be wealthy", said Jackie.
One year we attended a Bahá'í Summer school in Banff, Alberta when Jackie was a little girl. An
older Bahá'í friend had taken a shine to her and she was sitting on his knee across the hall from us
during a small fund raising auction. Someone had donated a very ordinary plastic ball pen worth about
fifty cents. As the bidding got started and stood at $1.15 we heard Jackie shouting loudly "ten bucks".
It was a big surprise to find out that Yellowknife had a nine hole golf course. It was the furthest north
course in the world at that time. There was absolutely no grass on it, just sand, bedrock, and some
runty trees. Winter rules applied and since the ball would always end up in a hollow in the sand, you
were allowed to set it up for an improved lie. The "greens" had no grass either and a level surface was
established by oiling the sand and smoothing it out. At each green there were several doormats on
chains and when you walked on the putting surface you pulled one of these mats behind you to cover
your footprints. If you ever hit the rock the ball would carom anywhere. Another hazard was the
villainous ravens who delighted in stealing your ball from the green and flying away with it. I don't
know if they tried to hatch them or offer them for resale to other golfers. The big event of the golf
calendar was a tournament on the longest day of the year with a shotgun start at midnight and went
all through the night. Yellowknife did not have midnight sun but with the sun just below the horizon
it had 24 hours of daylight and you could see clearly enough to read a newspaper at midnight.
One of the events the family participated in before we left Yellowknife was a twenty mile
"walkathon", raising funds for charity. I did my twenty miles and so did eleven year old Jackie
although she asked permission to skip for the last mile. Robert and little Eileen "walked their age",
Eileen, aged three, walking three miles and Robert at eighteen months completing a mile and a half.
Robert's mother bribed him over the last stretch holding his milk bottle just ahead of him to inspire
him to keep toddling on.
Mental and Emotional Problems in the North:
Before we left Yellowknife the government decided to do a health survey af Northern residents.
People who had been there for less than ten years were each asked to complete a lengthy
questionnaire. Those who had been resident for more than ten years were in addition given a full
medical examination. The questions asked in the survey were quite revealing. They would ask a series
of things like:
-Do you experience back aches?
-Do you have a morning cough?
-Do you hear voices when there is no-one there?
About every third question was to help determine if you were losing your grip on reality.
Slim had the job as an "oiler". It was not a demanding job and involved walking around all of the
conveyor belts and lubricating the idler pulleys. He was tall, stooped, and emaciated, for he had been
taken prisoner of war when Singapore fell to the Japanese. He had worked on the Burma railroad as
slave labour and survived hunger, beatings and overwork. He was single and stayed in the Old Town
with a very nice family of Jehovah's Witnesses.
He was a very reliable worker and pleasant to talk to, but he often brought up the subject of a
possible third world war. This was in the heart of the Cold War and many people thought that war
was a strong possibility. During this time the world had recently experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis
with President Kennedy and Premier Kruschev facing each other down. A third world war was a
strong theme with the Jehovah's Witnesses at this time. One morning all of this got too much for Slim
and he rose at his usual time for work, but instead of going there, put the barrel of a shot gun in his
mouth, and pulled the trigger.
We were all shocked and saddened, wondering if we could have said or done anything, that would
have averted this. Slim had no known next of kin, and so there was no immediate funeral as the
R.C.M.P. investigated the circumstances of the event. I was shocked some months later to find that
Slim's body was being stored on a shelf in an old warehouse, and raised a ruckus until he was buried
with the respect due to a man who had served and suffered for his country.
Kelly T. was a stationary engineer, a pleasant, bright young man with a keen interest in mathematics
and physics at a basic level. He would get very excited to discover facts like the boiling point of water
was 212 degrees Fahrenheit. I encouraged him as well as others in studies as people in jobs like
stationary engineers and hoistmen had a lot of time on their hands and I thought that studies would
keep them occupied as well as furthering their careers and chances for promotion.
One evening I got a call from Kelly in the Boilerhouse saying that he was worried and needed to
speak with me. I shot over to the Boilerhouse and he asked me if the R.C.M.P. had been inquiring
about him. I told him that they were not and gradually got him to tell his story. Apparently the last
time he had been on vacation he had danced with another man's wife in Red Deer, Alberta, and this
weighed heavily on his conscience. Realizing that all was not well here and that the operation of the
Boilerhouse was critical to the operation of the whole property, I phoned Red Hamilton and got him
to head in to take over the heating plant.
I encouraged Kelly to talk and an amazing rambling story emerged. He thought that there were X-rays radiating from the boiler control panels to get him. In Winter Yellowknife has very low humidity
and everyone experiences minor static electrical shocks from door handles and other people. The kids
used to shuffle their feet on the carpet and give each other a little jolt for fun. Kelly was sure that this
phenomena was personally aimed at him. He told me that his phone was tapped and that when he was
in town he would see people he knew from back home in Red Deer but when he said "hello" to them,
they would not answer. The poor guy was seeing the faces of friends on the bodies of strangers.
I told Kelly that his nerves were bad and that he needed medical attention to calm his nerves. I
managed to get him in to see a local doctor whom I tipped off ahead of time and he arranged to send
Kelly "outside" for medical attention. He gave Kelly some pills and arranged for him to see an
appropriate doctor in Red Deer. Kelly insisted on driving out and while I was anxious about this, I
could do nothing to prevent it. Six months later Kelly showed up back at work, just as bad as before
with a "return to work" certificate from a doctor down South. He told me "My back is all better now."
Kelly had driven South and on the way saw several people and things that were not there. As he came
closer to Edmonton, Alberta, he heard voices telling him "You will never get through Edmonton. You
are too well known." He holed up for a few weeks in a motel in a small town called White Fox, before
driving on. When he went to see a doctor, he was asked what his problem was and Kelly said, "I
don't really know, but my back bothers me sometimes."
I phoned Red Deer and impressed on Kelly's mother that her son needed her so she flew up. When
I met his mother, I realised that she was worse than Kelly. She would not admit that there was
anything wrong with him, but finally we got both of them sent for medical attention. Over the years
Kelly kept in touch with me every Christmas with a card that included useful information such as that
the freezing point of water was 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bill M. was a nice gentle guy who worked in the Boilerhouse. He came to several social events at our
house and was very friendly with the girls who stayed with us. Bill had been in the army and had a
difficult time adjusting to being a civilian. "In the army", he told me, "all decisions are made for you.
What you wear and what you eat and where you stay. Everything." Bill could play a little guitar music
and would sometimes bring his instrument when he came to our house.
One evening I got a phone call from Bill saying that he needed to talk to me. "What about, Bill?" "I
owe you an apology. I've been doing terrible things to you and saying terrible things about you."
"Here we go again", I thought, and sure enough, it was a repeat of Kelly's problems complete with
X-rays and plots against him.
Each of these men were single, neither had other men friends nor went out with women, nor drank
to excess. Each stayed in a room the bunkhouse. Even more interesting, each had identical libraries,
including self help books about mind over matter, Zen Buddhism, and Dale Carnegie's "How to Win
Friends and Influence People."
From then on I refused to hire Stationary engineers who were not married and living with their
spouse. Every day when the single men went home to isolation their minds could get further and
further away from reality. Married men had wives and children to keep them occupied with day to
Hourly rated employees were hired through the Chamber of Commerce in Edmonton, given medical
examination, equipped with what working and safety supplies and clothes they needed, then flown
up to Yellowknife. Their flight and clothing costs were deducted from wages over a period of time
and refunded if the stayed for one year. One man was hired to work underground and went through
all this process and cost, showed up for work and was sent about 2200 feet underground in the man
cage, found out that he was claustrophobic, and quit.
The town was divided into two parts, Old Town where the earlier shacks
and buildings had been constructed and New Town which was more upscale. The
town had two grocery stores, one of which was operated by a Chinese family,
the other was the Hudson's Bay store which also sold clothing. There were
two hotels one of which had the Polar Bear dining room. On one wall was
stretched out a monster polar bear hide that went almost wall to wall in
the room. That was the more upscale hotel. The other had more history and
had been won and lost in a card game. There was one dentist and one
undertaker, three doctors and one hospital.
There was only one undertaker and he had to plan for how many people may die during the year and
dig his holes while the ground was unfrozen. Red Hamilton was a wonderful older man, who had
come to Yellowknife on a scow in the 1930's(2). He once told me of having to bury someone in the
frozen ground of the graveyard. With a miners rock drill he had to drill holes in the ground to take
the sticks of dynamite, then he apologized to the man buried next to this grave site "I am sorry,
Maclean, but this won't take long. Just one big bang and it's over."
In the earlier days the town had only one short street. Two local businessmen both were anxious to
have the first automobile in town, and both vehicles arrived on the same barge when the big lake
thawed out. A few months later their joy turned to sorrow as their cars were totaled when they met
on a head on collision on that one street.
Yellowknife had many "characters" and everyone was someone unique, even the town drunk(s). Not
the least of these characters was a tall gaunt man named Tom Doornboss. Tom was an old timer and
had started out in Yellowknife almost as a beast of burden. He used to collect large pails of water in
the lake and carry them door to door by means of a shoulder yoke, selling the water to the local
housewives and restaurants. Tom lived very frugally, lived in a shack, dressed always in an old black
topcoat and wearing "Fagan" type fingerless gloves. He was well read and was often seen carrying
a packsack of books from the library which was free, but then Tom liked everything that was free.
He had come from Europe somewhere, maybe Holland with that surname, and when you walked with
him he liked to hold serious conversation. He was well known in the local restaurants where he would
get some free crackers and ask for a cup of hot water into which he would dunk a used tea bag he
carried, all at no cost. He would sometimes put tomato ketchup on the crackers. Sometimes
customers would buy him a sandwich or coffee, and he always thanked them graciously. He seemed
like a harmless old man. Rumour held that he was wealthy and that he owned most of the properties
in Old Town, but that seemed like urban legend. Then one day.....
Our security man reported that he had found old Tom snooping around the mine dump, and had run
him off the property. A few days later we received a phone call from our head office in Toronto
informing us that we had to treat Mr Doornboss with respect. If he wanted to look around our dump
we were not only to allow it but to give him a ride home when he was ready to go. It seems that Mr
Doornboss was a major stockholder in Giant Yellowknife Mines Ltd. He had no close relatives and
when he died a few years later, it turned out that he did own most of Old Town. He bequeathed
everything he owned to a school in Denmark.
There was a bar in the old part of town named the Old Stope (a mining term). The bartender
approached us there demanding "Name your poison". It took courage to ask for orange juice.
Flora and Fauna:
At this time many native people lived by hunting and trapping and there were many dog teams for
pulling sleds in winter. Perhaps by now these will have been replaced with snow machines. At
Contoyto Lake there was a herd of 500,000 caribou and the Eskimo hunters depended on its
migration to provide food for their people. Most Eskimo and northern Indians could not swim as the
water was too cold to learn, and it would not do much good anyway if someone fell in a very cold
river or sea. Despite this they used canoes to get around and kayaks and it was not unheard of for an
Eskimo hunter to be at sea along the Arctic coast for a few days and come back towing a whale
behind his kayak.
The raven was the symbol of Yellowknife and were often huge birds. They were very smart and
delighted in teasing dogs. Our little white West Highland terrier hated them and if one flew by he
would take off across country after it. They would sometimes for their own amusement "work" him.
On would fly down to the ground and he would run at it so it flew up out of reach while another
would fly down about thirty yards away. He would charge after that one and it would fly up as the
first one flew back down again. Another time I saw a hungry dog trying to get at some paper frozen
to the ground that had some meat attached to it. A raven hopped up behind him and pulled his tail,
so the dog pursued it then returned to his paper. The raven repeated this tactic staying just out of
reach until he got the dog far away from the paper, then flew back to get at it himself.
There were lots of dogs in the mine townsite and they usually had the run of the place. They were all
friendly and mostly good friends with each other. A bunch of them came calling each morning for our
little West Highland terrier, Charlie, and then they would go off on their rounds. There was a Saint
Bernard, a Lab, a Dalmation, and a few miscellaneous mutts, but the biggest dog was in the pack was
a young black Newfoundland dog named Morgan. Being small, Charlie felt he had to assert himself
and he was a tough guy who never backed down from a fight, but never won any either. In Niagara
on the Lake we often carried him to the vet for repairs. He used to bully Morgan until one day
Morgan just put his paw on Charlie, pinning him to the ground and that was the end of bullying.
We stayed in a semi-detached house and next door to us lived Horst Wist, a Mine Captain and his
wife Elsie. They were of German background and were kind and helpful neighbours. One night while
Horst was at work and Elsie was keeping a little dog for a friend, the little dog would not stop
barking. Elsie got out of bed and peered out on her back deck to see what he was excited about. Here
in the dark was Morgan, so she told him to get home, but he would not go. She opened the door and
gave him a big push with her bare foot and still he did not go. Elsie was quite annoyed an went back
inside and got a broom to chase him with, but when she turned on the outside light, she saw to her
horror that it was not Morgan she had kicked but a large black bear.
Eileen had asked "do we have a garden there?" and I had said yes, but it was kind of a rock garden.
In fact all of the community where we would live had no topsoil at all and bedrock was on the surface
everywhere. A few pockets in the rocks had been filled with a rich peat moss type of soil, and if you
could clear the grass roots, that was where you could plant flowers and vegetables. While the
growing season was very short, with almost 24 hours of sunshine each day and such a rich soil, you
could almost watch things grow.
One time I was trying to get rid of the grass in a small pocket of garden. It was quite dry so I decided
to burn it off. When the grass was gone I hosed the dirt to make sure the fire was out. Next morning
I noticed smoke coming from the soil. I hosed it again. A few hours later, the same thing, more
smoke, more water. Next morning, smoking again. That fire continued to smolder until all the dirt
was gone and bare rock exposed. The whole surface of the Territories that are not under water or
solid rock is made up of sphagnum peat. I knew that peat had been burned in "turf fires" for heat and
cooking in Ireland and Russia.
I wondered if this could be an economic boon for the native people of the North. I tried compressing
the peat in our machine shop to make briquettes, but without success. I had heard of pulverized peat
fired turbines being used in Scotland to produce electricity and wrote to the Clyde Valley Electricity
Authority to inquire. They said their findings had mixed reviews, some experts thinking them
successful and promising but others who had final say deciding not to spend any more money
pursuing the project. I wrote to the Canadian National Research Council asking if they had considered
the peat as a source of fuel, and they said that all of their experiments with it had been about how to
build roads on its boggy, shifting surface. In the end I could not get anyone interested and let the
matter die. Perhaps just as well because while employment is needed, strip mining the stuff on a large
scale may do untold and unsightly damage to the fragile land.
Red Hamilton was spunky old man who worked for me. He was very much an "can do" type of man.
He drove an old Hillman Minx model car and rather than wait for a truck he could sometimes be seen
driving his little car and pulling a hundred feet of high pressure steam hose behind it. Red looked after
the Boilerhouse and travelled every day in summer by canoe from his home in Old Town where he
lived with his wife, Mary and two sons.
When the boiler inspector made his annual visit to test and certify our pressure vessels, Red would
show him around. I met this man once in Edmonton as I was heading North and he was returning
from Giant. He told me that Red had taken him fishing in his canoe on the Great Slave Lake. The man
had hooked into a very large Northern Pike and had visions of having it mounted over his mantel.
When he got it in the canoe, however, Red unhooked it and threw it back in the lake. The poor man
was almost in tears, but the Northern Pike, or Jackfish as they are known, are looked on as a nuisance
fish in Yellowknife. All turned out well though, as shortly after that the man caught a very large lake
trout and was bringing that home with him.
I was so impressed with Red as an employee that when his two sons came looking for work, I hired
them. Del was an apprentice Welder and the other son an apprentice Mechanic. I met Mary Hamilton
in town one day, and expecting to be in her good graces, and joked with her that she was the only
Hamilton not working for me. Mary was quite annoyed however and said "I certainly do work for
you. You have every one of them on a different shift and I am cooking twenty four hours a day."
Tom Doornboss was not the alone in examining our dump. There were seagulls aplenty and many
black bears looking for a free lunch. We did not get any grizzly bears though, nor polar bears, so we
could live and let live with the black bears.
The Big Oil Spill:
Harry McD. Was a recovering alcoholic and lived in the bunkhouse at Giant. When he decided to join
he was the first addition to our little Bahá'í community. Harry was single and used to work for Paddy
Harrison, a mining contractor where he and his coworkers would spend months developing a new
mine ad then get to a town with lots of money and the urge to blow it. Harry told us that he would
go into a bar with a few cronies, slap a hundred dollar note on the counter and drink until it was gone,
then slap down another. He had fallen foul of the law for passing bad cheques and while in jail had
joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was in Yellowknife to find out if he had hurt anyone while he was
in his cups, and to apologize and pay off any debts.
Harry drove a ten ton dump truck for Giant and was working early on New Years morning, a shift
that others did not want, when he spotted at first light the big oil spill and phoned me at home. We
had several 100,000 gallon tanks of Bunker C fuel oil which was burned in our heating plant and the
large air heaters that warmed the air going underground for ventilation. Since a holiday was coming
up a pipefitter decided to ensure a good supply of fuel over the holiday and opened a valve coming
from a full tank. Unfortunately he opened the wrong valve to a disused pipeline that spilled out onto
It was minus forty degrees and the fuel oil which was in a heated tank thickened as it ran on the
ground, but it had run along roads and ditches for about a mile. Thanks to Harry's watchfulness we
were able to dam it before it could flow into the Yellowknife River and pollute that and the Great
Slave Lake which was only a mile downstream. Measuring what was left in the tank we knew that
we had spilled 82,000 gallons of oil and had to get it cleaned up before Spring run off.
For a start we hired two men, one a very shy Cree Indian named Larry, the other a white drifter who
was anxious for the money, for the miserable job of standing in the bitter cold and shoveling this thick
gooey heavy oil into 45 gallon drums to get the road cleared. That was when I found out just how
much difference there was between a good worker and a poor one. Larry never said a word, the other
fellow was quite chatty. At the end of eight hours shoveling Larry had filled eight drums, the other
fellow one. We kept Larry on the job and had another man work with him but this obviously was
going to be too slow. We had to get inventive. We mounted a 200 gallon tank on wheels as a trailer
and devised a rectangular system of perforated pipes through which we could send steam to heat and
liquify the oil then mounted a vacuum pump to make the trailer into a high powered vacuum cleaner.
Over the next few weeks we recovered 76,000 gallons of oil and were able to clean it and eliminate
any water content and use it in the heating plant. Where the remaining 6,000 gallons of oil went, we
never knew for it wasn't anywhere to be seen. Certainly none of it got into the River or the Lake. We
had to assume that it had gone into various holes on the ground. Just a foot or two beneath the
surface is where permafrost starts and things remain permanently frozen there.
Larry was bright although illiterate and I felt we owed him after the hard unpleasant job he had done
so faithfully. He was married with two children and very steady. We discussed what could be done
and I made contact with a young man named Bruce Kidd who was a member of an organization
called Frontier College. These people are usually university students and they deliberately find work
in remote areas such as mines and lumber camps and offer literacy training to other employees on
their time off.
Bruce worked underground at Giant. He was not related to the famous Canadian runner of the same
name, had parents in Montreal and was taking a time out of his studies to be of service. He jumped
at the chance to teach Larry to read and write and they would get together in Larry's home several
times a week while Larry worked as a trades helper.
Red Hamilton undertook to break Larry in as a Stationary Engineer and we made arrangements with
the Boiler Inspector for Larry to be tested in the Boilerhouse verbally with the actual equipment. This
was a process that had been done in earlier times when more people were illiterate. Larry passed his
Fourth Class Stationary Engineer examination with flying colours, and we all rejoiced with Larry and
Bruce left Giant Mines and was planning to travel to join some friends working on a project in
Mexico. He was driving a little Volkswagen Beetle. We were not surprised that we did not hear from
him again, but then Slim Lubesedar found a "True Detective" magazine and in it was the story of the
unsolved murder in Alabama, of Canadian university student Bruce Kidd.. We got in touch with his
grieving parents and were able to tell them of the wonderful work he had done in his last months. His
murder was never solved, but it was the Sixties, and civil rights issues were raging in the Southern
USA. It would have been only too easy for a gentle young man with his beliefs to say something
unpopular with local red necks that could have led to his murder. His little Volkswagen was found
by the ditch where he had been shot. The world had lost a fine man it could ill afford to be without.
He was so proud of Larry going on to a successful career.
As winter descended the weather got colder and the days shorter. In December the sun rose in the
southeast at 10 am and set in the southwest about 2 PM. The sun looked as small as a pea in the sky.
The snow became very crunchy underfoot. We did not get a lot of snow but what landed, stayed.
Precipitation in Yellowknife is so slight that if it were not for the snow staying the place would be a
desert. One of my minor tasks was to log the high and low temperature every day. I began to notice
that people's memory of "how cold it was this time last year" was really inaccurate, yet they were so
sure that they were right. Taking high and low daily for the month of January, 1966, the average
temperature was 38 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That was a lot colder than I was used to. People
usually want to know "What was the coldest temperature while you were there?" 57 degrees below
zero Fahrenheit is the answer. Usually when it gets very cold there is no wind, but not always. Wind
was a main factor in any pipe freezing problems we experienced. Someone, for a joke had told us that
on a very cold day if you throw a mug of water into the air, it will hit the ground frozen in icicles. Not
true. We were dumb enough to try it.
We had to learn quickly how to cope with the cold. I added extra heaters to my little car until I had
1500 watts going in when I plugged it in at the end of the day. That is the same power that an electric
kettle draws. I had to respond to emergency call outs for frozen lines or power failures or pump
outages. Action had to be taken quickly to prevent a problem from turning into a disaster. When there
was trouble in the middle of the night, the engine would start but the wheels would be frozen, not just
the rubber but the bearing grease too. You had to back the car up about six inches, then forward for
six, then back a little more and forward again until it was possible to move away without burning the
clutch. When we went to a movie in town there were no electric plug ins available and everyone had
to leave their cars running for the duration of the movie, or they just would not start. An interesting
feature in the little movie house was a soundproof crying room. People would bring their babies and
children along and you would often see Eskimo women with a little baby tucked inside the hood of
their beautiful parka.
The winter cold is so intense and dependable that our family was able to buy a side of beef and have
it butchered into steaks, roasts, and hamburger then store it frozen in a little wooden cupboard in our
backyard. We only needed a freezer in summer. Actually although summers were short, the weather
was quite hot, getting to 90 degrees Fahrenheit quite often, and when the blackfly and mosquito
season was past it was quite pleasant.
Come to think of it, I don't know if the blackfly and mosquito season ended until the snow arrived.
I can remember trying to putt on the golf course and ignore a cloud of blackfly that swarmed between
my face and the ball. Blackfly can give quite a bite and their saliva causes blood to flow freely and
leaves you itching for days after. They get into your hair and try to eat their way out. This is very hard
on young children, especially girls with long hair.
On the first week of June the big Lake was usually open and we got our delivery of fuel oil by barge
from Norman Wells on the MacKenzie River that was to last us all year. I can remember one May
28 celebration of Victoria Day Holiday when the Bahá'í community had a picnic. The edge of the
Lake was open but young Jonas Sangris showed up with his dog team and took the kids for a sled
ride on the ice. The ice usually got to be four or five feet thick in winter and stayed a long time after
the weather was above freezing. Jonas was about 19 years old and one time he entered some dog
team races in Edmonton. There were teams from all over North America of specially bred and trained
dogs, but Jonas with his malamutes beat all of them. His secret was that he never rode on the sled at
all but ran behind it on his snowshoes for the 30 miles. His mangy looking dogs, pulling an empty sled
had no trouble finishing ahead of the other more domesticated dogs.
One day a load of steel plate was being delivered, having been transported in intense cold from
Edmonton, Alberta on a flat bed truck. As a five foot by ten foot sheet of half inch mild steel plate
was being offloaded, it slipped and fell to the ground. The metal had crystalized in the cold and the
steel plate shattered.
While Winnie was staying with us we noticed T-bone steaks were missing and would find the dog
chewing T bones under the couch. We tried to find out who was giving steaks to the dog, and found
out what had really happened was that Winnie would come home late and eat a raw frozen steak for
a snack then throw the bone under the couch where Charlie would find it.
Winnie told us a story of how she had gone "outside" to Calgary and visited Al Oeming's Game
Farm, a small zoo of sorts. There she saw for the first time a giraffe. Winnie had never conceived that
there could exist on Earth such a weird looking animal and it struck her as very funny. She started
laughing and laughed so hard the she had to hold on to the fence to stay upright. Every time she tried
to walk away, she would get into another fit of laughter. I wonder what the giraffe thought of this
tiny woman, all alone looking at him and laughing to the point of exhaustion.
The Dogrib Indians and Indian Village:
The largest tribe of Indians in the Yellowknife area were the Dogrib. There was a community of
several hundred at Fort Rae, about 300 miles west of Yellowknife, and a smaller community of about
a hundred people in a place called Indian Village about five miles across the lake from Yellowknife.
The only access to this place was by boat in summer and across an ice road in winter. I made a trip
over and got to know the chief of this band, Joe Sangris. The North had remained undeveloped until
the 1930's and the Dogrib people found themselves catapulted from the stone age to the modern age
and they had lots of problems in adjusting. They still lived by hunting and trapping, and followed the
food sources using dog sleds for winter transportation, and the whole village migrated to "fish camps"
for several weeks each year.
The native children were all sent to school, and if a community did not have a school, the children
were rounded up by the RCMP and transported to a residential school from the age of five or six.
Parents would sometimes try to hide young children but they did so on pain of arrest and the RCMP
were quite skilled at finding them. The different lifestyles between the residence and home led to a
major rift between parents and children and a breakdown of the family bond. The children got home
during major school holidays, if their home was accessible and reasonably close. The children from
the far north would only get home for the summer holiday and it was not unknown for the plane
carrying them to be unable to land and circle around their home community then fly back, the children
not seeing their parents for another year. This separation often led to a loss of language and family
members being unable to communicate with each other, the children had none of the basic skills for
living off the land, such as lighting a fire, or skinning an animal. The parents thought them lazy and
stupid and the children who were used to daily showers and food being provided thought their parents
dirty and stupid.
Indian Village had a government trained health worker who spoke English quite well and it was
through him that Joe Sangris and I communicated. I asked Joe about the old religion of the Dogrib
people, and he told me that they knew nothing of religion until the priests came to the north. I said
that was very unusual because all of the native tribes I had known observed certain ways of having
a spiritual connection with their daily activities. I said that when eating they would save a tasty piece
of the food and put it in the fire to give thanks to the Great Spirit. "Oh, we do that," replied Joe. I told
him that when killing an animal they apologized to the spirit of the animal but the people had to eat.
"We do that too," said Joe. They followed many of the old ways without recognizing that it was part
of their religion.
Joe knew that I was interested in the old ways and would save stories for me from the old days, about
how they made a house without nails, and how they would cut a caribou hide in spiraling shape to
make rope and how they made fishnets, and how they drove caribou over a cliff when they had no
rifles. Joe's version of how the Whiteman came to the north I found very interesting. He said that his
grandfather was a chief and a great warrior and everyone feared him.
One day his grandfather was out with a hunting party when he saw that a group of white men had
arrived in two canoes and landed near the Yellowknife River. They were doing something with the
rocks and suddenly there was a great noise. His Grandfather thought that thunder had hit the rocks
and lay low for a while. Then he and his men marched up to the white men and told them in no
uncertain terms to "stop fooling about with my rocks, and get out of here." The white men packed
up their canoes and left, and stayed out of the north for a long time. Then his grandfather got sick and
died. "When the white men heard that my grand father was dead, they all came." I suspect what he
saw was an exploration team from Edmonton who were prospecting for minerals and that his
grandfather died when a lot of others did, in the great flu' epidemic of 1920, but his story is much
richer than mine.
One of the main concerns at Indian Village was that they had no road. During freeze up and break
up the village was cut off and if someone was seriously ill or injured, there was no way to get them
to hospital. The chiefs were issued with a nice jacket with gold braid, a kind of navy blazer and hat
and every time a dignitary would visit the Chief would be trotted out to impress them. They also had
a medal from the Queen which they wore on formal occasions. Joe had met many dignitaries in this
way and had spoken to all of them about the need for a road to his village. All of them had said it was
a good idea and sidestepped the issue. The Minister of Northen Affairs, Arthur Laing had said "I'll
have to ask my boss." He had spoken to Princess Alexandria, and to many politicians from Ottawa
who were usually on a free trip with alcohol provided and not interested in getting involved in local
issues. These half corked politicians also made a poor impression on the native teenagers at the Sir
John Franklin School and Akaitcho Hall, the residence where the students lived..
A young Bahá'í lady, Marlene Richardson, and I travelled by boat once more to Indian Village and
I explained how white people would make a petition and get as many signatures as possible and give
it to the government decision makers. T he Chief talked it over with his people and they all thought
it was a good idea, so Marlene typed up a petition and a covering letter and we made copies for
Princess Alexandria, the Minister of Northern Affairs, the Edmonton newspapers, but the main
message was to the Commissioner for the Northwest Territories, who was the Queens representative
and the head of government in the North. I really stressed to Joe that the Commissioner had to get
his letter a week before all the others, but that got screwed up and the Commissioner read about it
in the Edmonton Journal. It was quite a passionate letter pointing out how people could die for the
lack of a road. The Commissioner was furious, the government officials very defensive, saying that
nobody had ever died. It was a big mess. The Commissioner, knowing the Indians did not have a
typewriter said it was the "work of outsiders, maybe communists". I had the job of phoning this irate
man and telling him that I was behind it. He gave me an appointment and to my relief we got along
very well. Earlier in his career he had been a union organizer and was used to hard bargaining and
stirring things up.
A year later the government quietly built an eight mile road to Indian Village. This made it practical
to build a school as teachers were now able to commute from Yellowknife. The children could stay
at home for elementary school and commute to the high school in Yellowknife when they were old
enough. I have heard that this road has been further developed and will eventually reach Copper Mine
on the Arctic coast.
Yellowknife Grows Overnight:
The Northwest Territories had always been governed from Ottawa then it was decided to make
Yellowknife the capital of N.W.T. and transfer almost all government employees north. This must
have meant a great dislocation, with a lot of couples each having a job and kids in school, etc. Almost
overnight the town grew from 1,000 people to 3,000, and 2,000 of those didn't want to be there.
There was lots of complaining from the "in comers" about a one horse town, and lots of resentment
from the Yellowknifers about these people with government housing and fuel oil allowance and
northern allowance pay at taxpayers expense who had the nerve to complain. Many a shouting match
took place with statements like "If you don't like it, get the hell out and leave the job for someone
who does like it here". Actually that was one of the milder comments. Eventually it all settled down
and all became northerners.
Social and Economic Development:
We heard that a man was coming to town, a Mr Ernie MacEwan, from Toronto who was Executive
Director of the Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada (I.E.A.). This association was trying to
decentralize and were interested in some of the things we and others had been doing about native
rights, They wanted to start an NWT division of the Association and we held a meeting for anyone
interested in this and created this body. We set up a board of directors eventually had over two
hundred members all across the Territories. We hired a local CBC radio announcer, Harry Leishman
as our full time Field Secretary. Nobody likes to go to meetings but the organization gave the native
people some political clout and a chance to air their concerns which now were hard to ignore. The
aim of the organization was not to speak for the native people but to give them a platform to speak
for themselves. Harry was married to a Chippewa lady and knew first hand how much native women
had to put up with from sexual harassment. Harry had many contacts in the media, across the north,
and in the native communities and with lot of initiative, things began to happen. I was elected
president of the NWT Division, then appointed to the National board of directors.
We managed to arrange for a federal commission on housing needs across the Territories and it met
in each community. We set up a conference in Yellowknife for native people to give their thoughts
and ideas, with white specialists being in attendance for expert input only when asked for The native
people sat silent for a long time and the white people had a lot of difficulty restraining themselves
from speaking. When we asked the native people one by one for their thoughts, they had a lot to say
and their input was thoughtful and generous, making the point that all people needed housing not only
By highlighting some of the injustices we managed to get a Royal Commission on the Administration
of Justice in the Northwest Territories and Harry Leishman worked behind the scenes to encourage
any native people who had experienced injustice to come forward.
There was a travelling court in the North and it flew into all the remote settlements to try cases in
each home community rather than have the people charged become totally confused by bring them
to the"big city." A fine man named Judge Sissons pioneered this work and tried to judge the people
on not only Canadian law but on whether they had broken their own code. This was a real good effort
to administer justice rather than law. Problems occurred more with local Justices of the Peace. They
were usually appointed on the recommendation of the local RCMP, who would recommend their
friends or people who saw things the way they did. Their priority was to keep the peace, not to
necessarily to ensure justice. If someone who might cause problems was locked up, that removed a
source of trouble. Often when a white kid did something like being drunk and disorderly, the RCMP
would drive them home. If a native kid did it they would be locked up.
At a Board of Directors meeting of I.E.A. in Toronto I was explaining some of the problems at
Akaitcho Hall, the residence for the Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife. The native kids
living there were older than most high school kids and would sometimes be expelled from the
residence for relatively minor infractions which meant an end to their education, even although the
school was satisfied with their work. It could be something as simple as staying out beyond curfew
a couple of times, but a young man or woman, twenty years old needed more slack than a youngster.
Another Board Member who worked for the Secretary of State said if I would give him all the details
he would get something done about it on the political end. I was naive and gullible and thought that
he was going to put the facts in front of his boss or an influential cabinet member. A couple of weeks
later I had an anxious phone call from this man who started off by saying "This phone call is probably
being tapped." He had in fact taken the story to the leader of the NDP, an opposition party, who was
asking very awkward questions of the Minister of Northern Affairs who at that time was Jean
Chretien, later to be Prime Minister of Canada. This questioning was being reported in Hansard, an
organ of parliament and the whole thing had become a political football. Telegrams were sent to Jean
Chretien trying to explain the situation, but he did not receive them. Someone in his office was
sabotaging him. I remember from my office at Giant Mine one Friday night in the presence of Harry
Leishman and a lady who headed up the Company of Young Canadians, a kind of Peace Corps group,
trying to get Jean Chretien on the telephone. He had left Ottawa and I got him in his home
constituency of Shawinigan, Quebec. When I tried to explain to him how he was being set up, instead
of being grateful he roared at me "I am not your enemy". We ended in a bit of a shouting match with
me shouting "I am trying to help you," and so on. Anyway the end result was the government of the
NWT was asked to investigate itself essentially and concluded that it had done nothing wrong.
However after that some changes were made.
Quite a few native young people were leaving school and starting work at the mines in town, living
in the bunkhouses and going from a totally sheltered environment to one where "anything goes". They
could not handle it. We held a meeting of concerned citizens and were fortunate to have the presence
of the well known Canadian author Farley Mowat. Out of this meeting we set up a committee and
applied for funds to build a residence for working native kids so they could stay in their own relatively
harmless company. The funding was granted and in due time a building set up that was named for
some reason Hardy House.
Hardy House worked very well but we had some spare rooms and since accommodation was at a
premium in Yellowknife we allowed some non native people to live there when we had a vacant
room. A board of directors made all policy decisions and there was an old man who acted as
superintendent and one day I received a call saying that a man we shall call Smith, who had a room
there was drunk and breaking the place up and terrorizing our superintendent and the young folks
All of our board members were out of town as it was vacation time, except for a local priest. I phoned
the local detachment of the R.C.M.P. and asked if they could evict this man. They said since the by-laws of Hardy House did not give them the right to do this, the board had the responsibility. They said
that I was allowed to use reasonable force to evict this man. Now the priest was an elderly man, not
up to reasonable force, and Smith was six foot six and weighed over 250 pounds. (He gets bigger
every time I tell the story) He was mean drunk and had beaten up R.C.M.P. officers quite recently,
so it was in some trepidation that I went along to Hardy House. When I got there, Smith had gone
out, so I packed his bags and moved them outside and locked the door. To my relief, Smith left town
and I never heard any more about it.
On another occasion the R.C.M.P. were much more helpful A young woman from Newfoundland was
married to a large young Serbian man who worked as a helper in one of my Underground Mechanical
Crews. They had a baby and we sometimes saw her at the Post Office and chatted. One day she
showed up at our home in a frightened state. She had left her husband who had been beating her,
sometimes whipping her with the electrical cord from a frying pan. She asked if she could stay with
us for a while and of course we took her in.
She was anxious to get her baby and her clothes from the family home but thought he would get
really violent when she did. We went with her to the R.C.M.P. and again they said there was nothing
they could do, but they were willing to come along and let their presence be known as it might help.
They waited outside and I went and went with her into their house. I was afraid that he might be
jealous and think that his wife was leaving him for me, but this man's respect for authority was such
that he stood by while she collected her baby and all their clothing.
The Government decided that the community at Fort Ray was in an unhealthy location and their lake
was becoming polluted so wanted to build another community for about a thousand Dogrib Indians
a few miles away. The Commissioner of NWT, Stuart Hodgeson had arranged to meet with Chief
Jimmie Bruneau, the wily octogenarian who still hunted and trapped. They met at Fort Ray and the
Commissioner asked what seemed a simple question. "Would 'Akaitcho' be a good name for the new
community?" Akaitcho had been a famous warrior Chief of the Dogrib people.
The answer he got seemed to ramble and did not directly relate to the question, so he asked again
"Would 'Akaitcho' be a good name for the new community?" Another long rambling answer saying
that the Chief was hunting at Lac la Martre and it was as long journey and the hunting was not good
this winter. Lac la Martre was about 80 miles from Fort Rae where they met. This process went on
for a long time until the Commissioner said "I am travelling by plane. We could fly you back to Lac
The Chief's immediate response was "Akaitcho would be a good name for the new community."
The government recognized a problem in the correction system. The native people of the north were
not criminal types and were very gentle by nature. Nearly all of them who ended up in jail was for a
crime of passion that was alcohol related. When northern natives were sent to jails in southern
Canada, they did not fit in and would sometimes come home with new skills, such as the ability to
crack a safe. A new Correctional Institute was opened and anyone in the Territories who was
sentenced up to two years less a day would be sent there instead of Montreal or Kingston. This
worked very well and a team of three probation officers were hired.
We heard somehow that the people who organize the Miss Canada Beauty Pageant were anxious to
have a candidate from the Northwest Territories. So we agreed to organize a Miss NWT Pageant.
Eileen senior been trained in Toronto at the Walter Thornton Modeling School and provided guidance
and advice for our candidates on posture, walking and makeup. About twenty young ladies
participated and some of them looked quite stunning. Apart from appearance and presence the panel
of White, Indian and Eskimo judges interviewed all candidates and asked questions about their
knowledge of their culture, traditions and stories. A young woman named Georgina Blondin, a
Dogrib Indian was finally selected and first runner up was Addie Tobac, a Chippewayen, who was
staying with us at the time. Addie, a beautiful woman, who was deaf, felt bitter that she was not
chosen to win. Addie was writing a book and accepted our hospitality but according to Rosemary,
her resentment of white people led her to include us in her hostility. A lot of Northern kids were
angry and confused because of their life experiences.
Georgina went on to the Miss Canada Pageant in Montreal, a big adventure for a Northern girl. She
finished second in all of Canada. Bill Wuttannee was at that pageant and afterwards told us that the
buckskin costume which she wore did not look very fetching, and that in his opinion she could have
won. Georgina was awarded many prizes and had to stand in for Miss Canada several times during
that year. This gave her a few trips to major Canadian cities. This experience really helped her
confidence and career and she finally held very responsible positions with the Territorial Government.
After we left the North, Georgina became a Bahá'í, and was a valued member of the Yellowknife
community. Tragically she died at a very early age.
Centennial Year, 1967:
1967 was Canada's Centennial year and lots of big events were planned. I remember hearing CBC
announcer Wally Firth, an Eskimo, covering an airplane fly past in Hay River. Wally did the best he
could to make it interesting but since only one plane showed up it was a thankless task. Wally later
took over from Harry Leishman as the I.E.A. Field Secretary and performed admirably. This turned
out to be a stepping stone for Wally and he was able to bring his skills and experience to Ottawa
when he was elected Member of Parliament for the NWT.
Our son Jim came rushing home from school one day to tell us he had met the "man who invented
Canada." We eventually unraveled this story and it turned out that a man named Bobby Jimby was in
town and he had written the Centennial theme song entitled "Canada." Jim, who was adopted and
of Jamaican - Ojibwa Indian background, often got his stories scrambled . He came home one day
announcing "There are three types of people in the world, Negroloid, Mongroloid and Cascazoid, and
I am Cascazoid". On the first of November, 1967 our family's contribution to the Centennial
celebrations arrived at Stanford Yellowknife Hospital , a little baby we named Robert, 22 inches long
and weighing seven and a half pounds. The girls staying with us gave Robert an Eskimo name,
"Duduk", which means "Dirty Face."
Shortly after Robert was born we held a naming ceremony for him at our house. The social diversity
of people ranged from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and his wife to Larry, a Cree
Indian man who was just coming off shift in the Boiler house. These were people who would not
normally meet at a social occasion, but they were all fine people and enjoyed the occasion as well as
each others company.
The Hospital Fire:
One summer evening Eileen and I were sitting outside the house when we noticed smoke billowing
in the direction of Yellowknife, about three miles away. Everyone from the Giant Townsite rushed
to town and found that the 60 bed Stanton Yellowknife Hospital was in flames. Fortunately it
happened at 8 PM, during visiting hour and the visitors managed to get everyone out with no injuries.
We all pitched in and in short order had saved all of the equipment that was not bolted to the floor.
The X ray machines were lost but almost everything else was retrieved.
We took over the Elks Lodge to turn it into a hospital and my job was to co-ordinate the group that
was setting up the beds and male and female wards. We confiscated 4x8 sheets of half inch plywood
and with hinges, connected them in zig zag fashion down the middle of the hall. By 11 PM two wards
were set up, the patients were all in bed and the doctors and nurses looking after them. It was
absolutely amazing what was accomplished when the whole town pitched in and what could have
been a great tragedy became something of which the town could be justifiably proud. By the next
morning nothing was left of the Hospital but the boilers and some still smoldering ruins.
The North can be very unforgiving of mistakes. Our son Jim was in the Cubs and they met once each
week in town. We usually dropped Jim off and he took the bus home afterwards. We had drilled him
on what to do if he ever got stuck in town and could not get in touch with us for any reason. There
were about three homes he could go to for help. One night when he was about ten years old the Cubs
got out an hour early and it was 38 degrees below zero with a thirty mile per hour wind. Jim used his
bus money to try to phone us, but the phone system was different in the Territories and he lost his
money in the machine. He decided instead of going to one of our friends homes to walk home. There
were two ways he could go, either by the gravel road or by the ice road across the Lake. Either way
it was about three miles. About half way home Jim thought that he saw a wolf and considered turning
back and taking the other way. If he had, he would probably have died. Instead he kept on walking
reaching almost to the Giant Townsite when the bus he would have normally caught reached him and
brought him home to us. His boots were frozen solid, and we thawed him out slowly in a bath of
lukewarm water. He felt a lot of pain as the circulation returned, but apart from some frostbite in his
cheeks and toes he was uninjured.
Robert was not very aware of his first Christmas since he was less than two months old, but his
second one was eventful and almost fatal. The children had received gifts from friends and family
members and there was great excitement opening all the packages. Our dear friend Joan Moore, living
in Niagara on the Lake, had lovingly knitted a pair of nylon slippers for baby Robert. He always
kicked off his shoes and slippers but these had drawstrings that tied them on securely. When the initial
excitement was over the older kids decided that they would visit their friends nearby and compare
presents. We had a walk in basement, but when they walked out they did not close the doors properly
after them. Little Robert followed them out wearing only a tee shirt, diapers, and his new nylon
slippers. The kids did not notice him and the spring loaded storm door closed leaving him stuck
outside in the snow and a temperature under 30 degrees below zero. Eileen and I were tidying up the
house and the vacuum cleaner was running so we did not hear his cries. Eileen thought she heard
something and shut off the vacuum and that was when we found the poor little guy. He had
frostbitten fingers and cheeks, but if it had not been for the little slippers Joan sent he would have lost
his toes and those little piggies would have gone to market. Robert completed the Toronto Marathon
in 2001 and in 2002 was on the Canadian Kickboxing Team competing in the World Championships
in Rhodes, Greece and bringing home to Canada a bronze medal. Don't forget to thank Joan for your
There were several plane crashes in the more remote areas while we lived there, and one involved five
people who were lost for a long time and ran out of food. By the time three survivors were found,
it turned out that they had been involved in cannibalism. One person, a nurse, had died on impact, and
another, an eighteen year old Eskimo boy, refused to eat human flesh and died of starvation. When
this news broke in the media there were all sorts of opinions expressed by people from the security
of their comfortable homes around Canada. The opinion I remember came from an old polar explorer
in his nineties who said, only someone who has been in that position has any right to express an
Ella was a retired school teacher who had become a Bahá'í in 1903 and pioneered to Niagara Falls,
New York in her eighties. Her main claim to fame was that she had lunch with Abdul Baha in 1911
when he visited the USA. She had received three personal letters from Abdul Baha and about thirteen
from Shoghi Effendi, and was an inspiring person to visit, not only because of her connection with
the past, but because of her simplicity and charm. Ella never visited Yellowknife in person but
something she did helped to inspire the few Bahá'ís there during our first year there.
When we visited Ella in her home it became apparent that many people had given gifts to her, but she
had always given them away, and in the process transformed the original gift into something really
special The first Inter Calary we spent there I made a number of replicas of "The Greatest Name".
I made these by buying 1/8 inch thick cork sheet gasket material, and carving the shape out of the
cork. With this profile mounted on a board I could make two pictures, one raised and the other inset.
I then painted them gold and white and put them in a gold picture frame.
I sent one of these as a gift to Ella and told our fledgling community how Ella always transformed
a gift into something much better. A month or so later I received a loving letter from Ella thanking
me for the gift and saying that she had given it away. There was a lovely young new Bahá'í woman
came to visit her who was blind. She had heard about the 'Greatest Name" and always wondered
what it was like. She was able to put her fingers in the shape and trace the outline of the letters. Ella
gave it to the blind girl and hoped that I did not mind.
The last time I saw Ella it was at a huge Bahá'í picnic at Queenston Heights, Ontario. She had
Alzheimers and did n't know me, but she told me that I had a very kind face. That was because I was
looking at her and the love that I felt showed.
We got to know the probation officers as friends and one day we got a phone call from one of them
telling us about a 21 year old girl who had been expelled from Akaitcho Hall for coming home late
and could not now finish her education. The school would be happy to have her back but she needed
a safe place to live, would we give her a home? Right away Eileen accepted and Rosemary Thrasher
came to live with us. Rosemary was an outgoing, cheerful person who liked to laugh. She moved in
with us about 1967, and we are friends still.
Rosemary was a "can do" type of person who was unafraid to try anything. I remember her laying
some cloth on the floor and lying down on it. "Now cut around me", she demanded. We did and she
went on to make a nice parka. She had never made one before. The parka was so admired that the
next week orders started coming in from the young men who worked at the mine and Rosemary made
quite a bit of pocket money.
We had television in those days although in the first years we were there the programs operated for
only three hours per day. The material was "canned" and shown a week after the event. This was kind
of strange when it came to news and sports events, but it was lots better than nothing. One of the
commercials was promoting the sale if Dodge automobiles and trucks and the theme they used
repeatedly was that everyone was getting "Dodge Fever." One night Rosemary quietly asked me
"What is dogs fever?"
Pierre Trudeau came to Yellowknife twice while we lived there. The first time he had burst onto the
political scene and was head of the Liberal party which was now engaged in a federal election. He
caught the imagination of the Canadian people and the term "Trudeau Mania" was used to describe
the passion he aroused as he barnstormed around the country. Rosemary was introduced to him and
was the envy of most of Canada's female population when he gave her a big kiss and presented her
with the rose that he always wore in the buttonhole of his jacket. Rosemary brought the rose to our
house and planned to preserve it as a memento. She put is inside the pages of a large Bahá'í book
entitled "Dawnbreakers". Unfortunately she had the rose inside a small plastic bag and it turned to
mush, permanently staining several pages of our book, The rose is long gone but the stains remain
to this day.
When Summer vacation time came around we were going "outside" to Sylvan Lake, Alberta to a
Bahá'í summer school and we took Rosemary along to help look after the children and to give her
the experience of seeing some of the world outside of the north. Driving down the road she suddenly
shouted "Stop the car!" and got out to see her first grassy field and run in it with her bare feet. A little
while later it was "Stop the car!" again, this time to see her first live cows. She had only seen them on
the movies. It was a wonderful experience for us to see the world through her fresh and appreciative
We visited Banff in the Rocky Mountains and went in a pool fed by a natural hot spring. Rosemary
had never been in a lake or pool before. "How do you swim?", she asked me. I said "you do this with
your arms." "Right," said Rosemary, "and what do you do with your feet?" I showed her and to my
astonishment she swam away from me across the pool.
Rosemary told us of getting into a snowmachine race when she had never driven one before and
racing past her father at the finish line shouting "how do you stop this thing?" Later I was giving her
driving lessons in our family car and coming up against the house to park, she stepped on the gas
pedal instead of the brakes, but we won't go into that.
Rosemary declared her faith in Bahá'u'lláh in our home, becoming the first Eskimo woman in Canada
to be a Bahá'í (if you don't count baby Eileen Boyd). Actually it was kind of funny the way it
happened. We were in an LSA meeting at the Skuce's home and Rosemary phoned from our house
saying she would like to see us. We apologized and said we were in a meeting and couldn't come at
that time. As usual, Eileen was the one who thought about it a few minutes later and said "Hey. This
is why we came here. Let's go see Rosemary." So we closed the meeting and went home. That was
when she declared.
The Eskimo girls had all been subject to abuse and harassment from men and did not trust white
people but it was Rosemary who assured them that we were "all right." We usually had three native
girls staying with us at any given time, on probation or attending school, and usually one or two
would be sleeping in the livingroom on couches. These girls were very modest when they were sober
but would do things while drinking that they felt ashamed of when they sobered up. They never slept
with the lights off and constantly had visions of being dragged off into pools of boiling blood. The
church had put this fear in them. It was a bit unnerving to feel those anxious eyes on me when I had
to use the bathroom through the night. It is painful not to be trusted in your own house.
It is certainly true that a lot can be learned from other cultures. Winnie discovered that we had the
board game "Monopoly" and told us that she loved to play and at home in Inuvik, the game goes on
for days. Now I was aware that it was rather a long game, but I could not imagine how it could go
on for days until we played with Winnie and Rose. They come from a sharing culture and were very
hospitable. When anyone ran low in money they would share what they had, then if someone landed
on their hotel and couldn't pay, they would say "You can camp with me. That's all right." Every time
someone passed "go" they collected $200 and nobody ever lost in their version of the game, so they
played until they were tired of it.
Violet and Margaret:
We had a young Cree woman named Violet staying with us for a while and she shared a bedroom
with little Eileen. After she left we got word that Violet had been exposed to tuberculosis through
a brother. The result of that was that Little Eileen had to go into hospital for three consecutive days
without eating beforehand, and have her stomach pumped for testing. This worked well for two days
but Little Eileen could be very sneaky and on the third when we arose we found her in the kitchen
with a ring of peanut butter around her mouth.
Violet's sister, Margaret worked for the local detachment of the R.C.M.P. and lived in a shack in Old
Town. She was quite well educated and very ladylike, but a bit unsure of herself. One day I dropped
in to visit her and could hear lots of noise coming from a drunken party next door. I was wearing a
fur hat and a checkered coat, rather like the off duty clothes worn by the Mounties. All of a sudden
her door was kicked in and a bunch of young drunks came bursting in on us. When they saw me they
immediately apologized and said that they had got he wrong apartment. If I had been dressed
differently the outcome would have been quite different.
How I got that fur hat is another story. A Blackfoot Indian man named Bill Wuttannee from Calgary,
started a law practice in Yellowknife. His brother Noel was an artist, in fact was the artist who first
started painting head and shoulder portraits of beautiful young Indian children. Noel became the first
North American Indian to become a Bahá'í, back in the fifties, and somehow we met up with Bill. Bill
was not a Bahá'í, was a traditionalist and president of the National Indian Brotherhood of Canada.
We were experiencing some prejudice against us in high places at the time and Bill proved to be a
good friend and encouraged us through a difficult period.
He maintained two legal practices, one in Calgary, Alberta, the other in Yellowknife, and every time
he came to town we got together for a visit. Knowing that we were interested in native culture he
undertook to educate us. One day I admired a beaver fur hat he was wearing, and he said that in his
culture, if I admired something of his, he must give it to me. Before he left for the South again I was
wearing his fur hat. He absolutely insisted. He also told me if I ever met her, not to admire his wife.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau:
Some time after this, Pierre Trudeau came to Yellowknife for his second visit, this time as Prime
Minister of Canada. A plaque was to be made for him commemorating his visit and it was an
engraved work on a lovely piece of wood. The crowning touch was to be a solid gold button mounted
on the plaque. Karl in our machine shop had the job of drilling and tapping a pyramid shaped gold
piece so that it could be secured by a screw from behind. All of the Giant managers and department
heads stood around watching this operation, but when Karl was drilling the piece he did what all
machinists do when drilling. He suddenly puffed, blowing all the gold chips away mixing them
irretrievably with the steel shavings around the drill press. I remember to this day the look of horror
on the faces of the Giant bosses who are always so careful to preserve every last particle of gold.
Little Jack O:
A little Eskimo man, Jack O. came to work at Giant as a labourer. He could have been no more that
four foot six inches tall, sturdy, about 25 years old and came from the community of Coppermine
which is pretty remote and on the Arctic coast. He was very good natured and willing although his
grasp of the English language was not good. Everyone liked him and we gave him a job as a helper
to an older man, George Terris who was a Mechanic Second Class and repaired all of the mucking
machines and slushers that were used to move ore underground. George took a real liking to Jack
and became like a proud father, boasting of how quickly Jack could learn how to repair the
machinery. I suppose many of the stories we heard about the Eskimo being quick learners with
anything mechanical, came from their experience in survival. Those with slow learner genes probably
died off. Anyway before many months had passed little Jack was promoted to Mechanic Second Class
and George beamed with fatherly pride.
The unaccustomed wealth that went with a job at the mine, and having no family responsibilities led
Jack into difficulties. He became a target for certain mean spirited people who befriended him. They
would pick him up in their cars on pay day and take him off drinking and Jack's capacity for alcohol
was minimal. Then they would get him into a card game and fleece him of his earnings. Jack was
several times found unconscious from the booze with his arms wrapped around a toilet bowl. "Must
have thought it was his mother" was the comment of one callous "friend".
Another time I heard that the RCMP were looking for Jack and he was "on the run". He had
gambled this time with an Eskimo friend, John, from Coppermine. John was married and had a baby
and Jack and he had got to gambling recklessly until John had won Jack's rifle, camera, and portable
radio as well as all his money. These were all the new treasures that he had acquired from living in
civilization and it became too much for Jack. He picked up the rifle and threatened to shoot his friend
John with it. John grabbed the barrel of the rifle and put it against his chest saying "If you are going
to shoot me then do it now". Jack did not shoot but ran out of the house and fired the gun a few times
which was why the RCMP was looking for him. We held his job open for him until he got out of jail
then I tried to council him saying "Gambling is no good for you. If you win all of your friend's things,
he won't be happy and you will be sad for him, and if he wins all of your things you won't like that
either, just like what happened now."
Anyway, Jack went on his merry way drinking and gambling until he got very ill. It was thought that
he might have tuberculosis and he was shipped out to a hospital in Edmonton. It turned out to be
pneumonia and he recovered and showed up for work in a few weeks. I was about to counsel him
again, but he told me that he was not ever going to drink again. I was pleasantly surprised and asked
him what had helped him to make this good decision. Jack told me he figured that if he kept getting
drunk and lying down he would eventually die. He said that when people died up in Coppermine they
laid them on the frozen ground and covered them over with stones and brushwood. People who died
in Yellowknife were buried in a deep hole. Jack firmly believed that he was going to return from the
dead and that if he was buried up in Coppermine, he could roll back those big stones but if he died
in Yellowknife and was buried deep in the ground there was no way he could get out. On such a
premise little Jack swore off booze. It was better than anything I could come up with.
Abe Ookpik is an Eskimo man who became a good friend. He worked for the Federal Government.
Ookpik means "owl," and his name was a good fit for him. Abe had a powerful stocky build with a
large round face and wore large eyeglasses. Abe smiled a lot and had many interesting experiences.
At one time the Eskimo people were all registered with the Government only by a number, not a
name, since they only used one name and changed it from time to time, based on events in their lives.
An "E" prefix was given to the number for those from the Eastern Arctic and a "W" prefix for those
in the Western Arctic. When the Government decided to change this Abe was given the job of visiting
Arctic Communities and asking the Eskimo to choose a permanent name by which they would be
known. Abe told us of one man known as "Komak," which means bed bug or louse. Abe suggested
to him that he may want to change his name before it became official, but the man declined saying "A
louse makes its presence felt. Nobody can ignore a louse."
Abe told us stories of Eskimo "Shaman" who could make tents shake without touching them or enter
into an animal and travel as that animal. He told me of a shaman who entered into a polar bear and
travelled the Arctic coast that way. A hunter shot the bear and it turned into the shaman again who
handed the bullet back to the hunter.
Abe also told us how a name has a power and if a brother dies the next baby in the family is given that
name and from then on is called brother and treated as that brother. He also told us that if one has
an enemy, you can name a dog after that person and see that it has a hard life.
Michael Sikki was an old man, a quiet, shy Dogrib Indian whom we got to know as he came around
the houses selling whitefish, which was illegal We bought some from him to help him make a living.
Under the Indian Act, Indians were allowed to fish and hunt to feed their families but not to sell the
game. Michael knew that I enjoyed stories about the old ways and told me how they used to hunt
caribou in the days before guns were available and they had to use spears and bows and arrows.
They would chase the caribou and herd them towards a cliff, eventually driving some of them over
the edge. Another method was to take advantage of caribou having consistent habit such as crossing
the same river at the same place each year as they migrated. The Indians would wait for them in their
canoes and paddling alongside, spear them and bring them ashore.
Michael was famous for being involved in a major legal battle that went all the way to the supreme
court of Canada when he was charge with hunting duck out of season. The Indian Act guarateed
native people the right to hunt and fish "as long as the grass will grow, and the rivers run." The
Migratory Birds Act was brought in much later, in 1918 and prohibited hunting birds out of season.
When we knew Michael the court case had already cost $250,000 and was not settled yet. Michael
went his old ways anyway.
Bahá'í Visitors and New Bahá'ís:
Lady Scarlet Buffalo (Ina Mae Brown):
During our stay in Yellowknife we had many interesting Bahá'í visitors. One lady was from Pine
Ridge Reservation. Her name was Ina Mae Brown, but she had a much more exotic Indian name,
Lady Scarlet Buffalo, and she was the Great Granddaughter of Chief Sitting Bull. She told us many
moving tales about his character and behaviour and that Chief Sitting Bull was not a war leader but
a spiritual leader of his people. Her stories were somewhat substantiated when many years later I read
about how he had escaped to Canada and later travelled with the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.
In London England he was so troubled by the poverty of ordinary people that he gave almost all of
his earnings to the poor that he met on the streets.
As a footnote to this story, my Grandfather told me how as a young man he walked from our village
to Glasgow, about ten miles, to see the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show.
I used to spend time at the company's Recreation Hall chatting with some of the men, and one fellow
I met that way was Steve. He was from Hungary and spoke fractured English but was very friendly.
He was a "boomer" (someone who works for a while in one place then moves on, in Steve's case
between Giant and Keno Hill Mine in the Yukon) and worked as a Mechanic Second Class in an
underground crew in my department.
We struck up conversation easily on Bahá'í themes, such as the need for a universal language and saw
each other on and off for about six weeks, but I was suspicious because we always had the same point
of view and never disagreed. I took a peek in his personnel file and found that he had named Reg
Dixon in Whitehorse as beneficiary in his life insurance policy. I knew that Reg was a Bahá'í. When
I asked Steve if he was a Bahá'í, he said that he was. We had both been trying to teach each other
about the Faith for six weeks. Talk about indirect teaching!.
One other funny incident involving Steve was when we were visiting the home of one of the probation
officers (social visit only) and Steve thought he was all alone in the living room, I heard him say to
the budgie in its cage "Lilly (little) bird. You gonna speak English before I do."
Another Bahá'í visitor was Florence Mayberry who was an Auxiliary Board member in the Bahá'í
community. She was also an author and wrote for the Ellery Queen mystery series of books. At this
time Bahá'í communities were being asked to adopt goal areas on which to focus attention and try
to establish some Bahá'í presence and we agreed to adopt the town of Inuvik, some seven hundred
miles to our North. We managed to get a copy of the Inuvik telephone directory and wrote a personal
letter enclosing some data about the Bahá'í Faith to each person listed in it.
We did not have much success in making friends that way but since Yellowknife was a crossroads
type of town we eventually got to know many people from Inuvik and had quite a few stay with us
over our years there, and after we left the North we were thrilled to see that Inuvik had reached
Tom Anaquod and Dave Springay:
Tom Anaquod, a Saulteaux Indian Bahá'í was coming to visit us. A couple of nights before he was
to arrive, I was home babysitting when the telephone rang. It was a man responding to an
advertisement we had placed in the local newspaper. He was quite interested as I told him a little
about the Faith, but he really picked up when I told him that we had a Bahá'í who was an Indian,
coming to teach the white people. The man's name was Dave Springay and he was a guard at the
Yellowknife Correctional Institute. He thought that it would be marvelous if Tom could come in to
the jail and speak with some of the prisoners, who were mostly Indian or Eskimo. The next night he
phoned me again saying that the head of the Correctional Service said that the only way a Bahá'í
could visit the Correctional Institute was if one of the prisoners was a Bahá'í.
Dave was outraged at this, saying that it was prejudice and racism, and ended up by swearing that
when he was going to find a Bahá'í in the jail population by the time he came home from work the
next day. Tom arrived and was going to speak at a public meeting on the anniversary of the
Declaration of the Bab, May 23, 1967, but Dave Springay called to say that there was "some kind
of Bahá'í" in the jail, and could Tom come with him to visit. The time for the public meeting to start
came and went and still Tom and Dave had not shown up. As master of ceremony I was stalling,
telling stories and ad libbing for quite a while, until finally they arrived. Tom took the platform, but
flashed a yellow Bahá'í declaration card as he did, peaking our curiosity. He gave an interesting and
humourous talk then fielded questions from the audience. After all that we finally found out what had
happened at the jail.
Dave had gone to work as usual and gone around asking all the prisoners "Are you a Bahá'í?" until
finally an Eskimo man said that he was. His name was Josephie Teemotie from Cambridge Bay in the
Eastern Arctic, and he had been sent "outside" to Moosejaw, Saskatchewan to take training as a
plumber. While there Josephie stayed in the home of a Bahá'í couple, the Silversides, and they held
weekly fireside talks. Josephie was much too shy to join in, but he sat in his bedroom listening
through the heating vent to what was said in the living room and thought that it was true. When
Dave came around asking, he just naturally said that he was a Bahá'í.
Josephie was our key to getting to visit the Institute and we went along helping some inmates to read
and write, and eventually other Eskimos decided that they, too, were Bahá'ís. Most had biblical
names, there was Alukie, Solomonie, and Josephie's brother Harry Teemotie and we tried to prepare
them for life outside the Corrections system. As they were released they came to stay with us as they
waited for a plane to take them on their long journey to the Eastern Arctic. Their route went through
Montreal so we arranged for Bahá'í friends to meet them, give them a warm welcome and see that
they caught their plane safely to the North. There were some Bahá'ís living in Cambridge Bay and
they tried to look after them when they got home.
This did not always work out as the new Bahá'ís had been ideal, quiet shy people in jail but on the
outside they were exposed to community pressure to drink again. Belonging in their society was
traditionally vital to their survival and when their friends said to them "If you won't drink with me you
are no longer my friend," it put unbearable pressure on them. One newspaper editor unwittingly added
to the problems of one of these men when he took him out for a celebratory dinner, and provided
wine with it. This man was back in trouble the same night. The Cambridge Bay Bahá'ís were calling
for us to stop sending them problems and we were asked to stop teaching in the jail.
The news was not all bad, for a judge in Cambridge Bay, hearing the case of one of the new Bahá'ís
said "I don't know who has been working with this man but I hope they continue working with him".
He had stayed away from alcohol for a while, out of jail longer than usual and while out had found
work as a janitor at a hotel. He had spotted a bundle of cheques that had been thrown in the garbage,
thought that they looked important so brought them to the manager, saving a large financial loss.
The next year I was a delegate and chief teller at the Bahá'í National Convention which was held in
Halifax, as I remember. A most interesting thing took place at the election of nine people to serve on
the Bahá'í National Assembly. There was a tie for the ninth spot. The other tellers and I knew well
the Bahá'í principle laid down by Shoghi Effendi, that in the event of a tie the position be
unhesitatingly given to the person who represents a minority group. I asked to meet with the outgoing
National Assembly to verify our result, but those members said the were now out of the position of
the NSA and it was up to the Convention to decide. I put the problem to all 171 delegates without
revealing the names in the tied vote. I was asked if we were absolutely sure that one person was a
member of a minority and we said we were in no doubt and to every one's delight, that was when
Thomas Anaquod became the first aboriginal Canadian to be elected to the National Assembly of the
Bahá'ís of Canada.
After the unusual experience in the election I was asked to destroy the ballots and was faced with a
practical problem of how to destroy 171 times 9, or 1,539 ballots. In my hotel room I first tried to
burn them in the bathtub, but that set off the fire alarm. After that hullabaloo died down I tried to
flush them down the toilet, but they floated, did not flush easily and choked the toilet. I cannot I
remember just how I got rid of those ballots but I was a very unpopular hotel guest, and was never
again asked to be Chief Teller at a National Convention.
Bahá'í Pioneers to Yellowknife, Bahá'í Visitors and Friends:
As a board member of the national body of I.E.A. I was given several opportunities to leave
Yellowknife and visit Toronto. We also took advantage of going "outside" on vacation, usually to
Bahá'í Summer School to conscript young single Bahá'ís to pioneer to Yellowknife. We met a
wonderful young Dutchman, Willie van den Hoonard in Banff and a young woman named Marg
Rumple, who worked as an upstairs maid at the Banff Springs Hotel, and Marlene Richardson who
worked in the Bahá'í National Office in Toronto. We made them an offer that made pioneering much
less scary. We said that if they came with us to Yellowknife they could live with us until they got a
place of their own. We guaranteed that they could find a job within one week, and told them that if
they did not like it we would pay their fare back home again. All of them came and settled. A lovely
young woman Marlene Penteluke who used to babysit for our kids swore she would come to see us
when she finished high school and sure enough she showed up and in a few months, decided to
become a Bahá'í.
One trip I made to Toronto, the N.S.A. of Canada sent Jamie Bond to meet me and ask us to cease
and desist as there were other places that really needed Bahá'í pioneers. He asked if I could persuade
Bahá'ís to go to those places, but obviously our method only worked for the place where we lived.
We never had to lock our door and on one of my trips away from home, a young Indian man, John
Ross, who was a wonderful boxer, got a little squiffed and came to our house in the small hours of
one morning. Eileen was sound asleep and wearing no clothes when she suddenly was wakened by
John shaking her and asking for me. Dulled by sleep and a little scared Eileen said "Oh no, Jack is in
Toronto and wont be back for a few days. John just nodded and left the house to walk back to town.
All the time we were there we never locked our door, we had native people visit and stay with us for
extended periods. In all that time never once was anything stolen.
A young Eskimo man, Johnnie Weetaltuk, came to live in Yellowknife. He had been the second
Eskimo man to become a Bahá'í in Canada, the first being Billy Ekomiak who lived in Ottawa.
Johnnie had been in the major release movie "The White North," based on a book written by Canadian
author James Houston. I remember walking with Johnnie Weetaltuk over the ice to Indian Village
and John telling me of how he had once walked all day in snow and ice only to find that he had
returned to the place where he set out. The North can be treacherous.
Alex Frame came to Yellowknife as a teenager and made a major contribution. Alex worked for CBC
Radio and had a children's program where he was Uncle Alex, and interacted with the kids. One
seven year old boy asked Alex "What is it that goes all around the room, nobody can see it, but
everyone knows that it is there?" Alex walked right into this kids trap and said "I don't know. What
is it?" "A fart", replied the kid. They did not have the ability to bleep out things like that and it was
a live program. Word spread around the school playground and by next day all the kids in town knew
about it. Alex's popularity grew, but he left Yellowknife and forty years later is still with CBC in
Toronto as head of all programming in Canada. Have you no ambition at all, Alex?
Dan and Helen Kelly:
The Kelly family pioneered to Yellowknife, Dan and Helen, and their three teenaged children. Dan
had owned a pharmacy in Dundas and quickly found a job in a local pharmacy. Dan one time told me
that he was happy working for someone else as employee theft had been a major problem for him
down South. Dan soon became my golf partner and we enjoyed a regular Saturday game trying to
ignore the blackfly that swarmed on the greens as we tried to putt.
The Kelly family anxiously waited for their furniture to arrive from Hamilton, Ontario, but when it
did I got a phone call at work. The moving company who had quoted them a price to move their
belongings said that their bill was going to be twice the amount quoted and refused to unload the
furniture until they got paid. Dan asked if I could refer them to a good lawyer so I gave them the
name of old friend Mark de Wirdt. He saw them immediately but advised "All you can do is pay
them. The same thing happened to me when I moved here". Things were different in the North
although not as different as they had been. Mark told me that in the earlier times a lawyers fee was
50% of the amount in the deal being signed. It is no wonder that most companies of any size engaged
their own lawyers.
The Kellys made a fine addition to our community as they were experienced and dedicated Bahá'ís
and willingly used their home as a drop in centre and a place for emergency sleepovers. Often when
you visited them on a morning, you had to climb over recumbent bodies in sleeping bags on the floor.
A few of these guests were the young Dogrib social activists who would later hammer out agreement
with the government for the establishment of the "Dene Nation".
Bill and Houri Skuce:
With the Kellys, the Boss's and the Boyds we now had three families who provided a sound base and
places to hold meetings and social events. We were rising up in the world, but things were to get even
better. The Bahá'í National Assembly decided to encourage the work we were doing and to purchase
a home that could be used as a Bahá'í Centre. In the Old Town section of Yellowknife, for about
$7,000 we purchased a house from a man called Frenchy Lameroux who was in the transport
business. It needed work but it had a hall on the property with a big old woodstove made from an oil
drum. We fixed the house up as well as we could and then another Bahá'í couple moved in, Bill
Skuce, an artist and his city raised elegant wife Houri who was Persian. It must have been a great
shock to Houri, for while our native friends thought that the house was rather nice by their standards,
it had no running water and sewage was by "honey bucket". They bravely stuck it out and Bill got
a job working for the territorial Government. He was responsible I think for the design of two N.W.T.
emblems, the "three legged" polar bear that is still used on automobile and truck license plates and
the image of three figures in parkas holding hands in a circle, representing the White, the Indian and
the Eskimo people.
About this time we had a very distinguished guest, a Mr Samandari who was travelling with his son,
Dr Samandari. Mr Samandari was over ninety years old and was a Hand of the Cause and the last
man alive to have known Bahá'u'lláh. He was a tiny man and wore a long black coat and a very long
scarf when he arrived at the Yellowknife airport. I t was forty degrees below zero and we anticipated
a slow moving old man., but when his feet hit the ground he moved so fast we had a hard time to
keep up with him.
One of his functions was to authenticate the handwriting of Bahá'u'lláh, and he spoke little English,
his son Dr Samandari acting as his interpreter. Dr Samandari was now a man in his fifties. He had
spent much of his life travelling, living out of a suitcase and I understood that he had not seen his son
since he was fifteen years old. The Bahá'ís in Yellowknife were deadly afraid that Mr Samandari my
die while with us, and none of us any idea of how to handle a funeral for such a unique person.
Little Robert showed up at all the meetings that were held, sitting in his little baby chair, and Mr
Samandari referred to Robert as "my faithful friend." Virginia Evans was a young Bahá'í who worked
as a waitress at the Yellowknife Inn, and she was approached by some natives in the hotel lobby
asking "who is the holy man?". They had a sense that someone special had arrived. When he visited
our home I offered him the "lazy boy" chair, but Mr Samandari declined, saying that was a chair for
One of the meetings that we held was very strange. One of those present was Chief Jimmy Bruneau,
Chief of the Dogrib Nation who was over 80 years old, and still ran a trap line and hunted and fished
for a living. He spoke no English and was almost deaf. Someone attending spoke Chippewayen and
English, another could speak Chippewayen and Dogrib and Mr Samandari spoke Farsi and Arabic.
Mr Samandari gave a talk which sentence by sentence Dr Samandari translated into English, then it
was translated into Chippewayen, from that into Dogrib, and finally someone shouted this version into
Chief Jimmy Bruneau's best ear.
Mr Samandari told us how at the age of 16 he had lived in Acca and had been present when
Bahá'u'lláh attended a feast there. His stories were simple but touching, such as how Bahá'u'lláh
went round the group at the feast and personally gave each person a flower. We were all sad but
relieved to see Mr Samandari leave us and it must have been one of his last teaching trips as he died
within the year, leaving the world bereft of this wonderful link to our Bahá'í history.
Willie van den Hoonard:
A young Dutch Bahá'í, about 22 years old named Willie van den Hoonard who was newly landed in
Canada came home with us from that Summerschool. He quickly found a job at Giant as a Surveyors
Assistant and lived near us in the Staff House where he quickly made many friends. A six man
exploration team, including some friends of Willie's, went out by plane to the Barren Lands, looking
for ore bodies. They came back six weeks later swearing that they never wanted to hear another word
about the Bahá'í Faith. None of the six were Bahá'ís but they found that they could not stop talking
We had many fun parties at our house with games and lots of food and laughter. One of Willie's
friends was a young man named Fred, and both Willie and Fred played the piano. Strangely Willie
who was a straight arrow played swing and pop, and Fred, who was a party animal, played classical
music. That is they did until someone threw the Staff House piano out of the second floor window.
Their parties were more uninhibited than ours.
Willie saved his money while working at Giant which helped finance his university education and he
went on to get his doctorate in Sociology. For some time he was the Bahá'í Representative to the
United Nations in New York and later became a full Professor at the University of New Brunswick.
He also wrote a fascinating book about the lives of the early Bahá'ís in the Canadian Bahá'í
Community up until 1948.
A year after Fred and Willie both left Yellowknife, Fred showed up again. He had a good job as a
guard in a correctional institute near Vancouver, but found that there was something missing in his
life. He quit his job and came back to Yellowknife looking for that something. Fred had an interview
for a job as a guard at the Yellowknife Correctional Institute, but the Head of Correctional Service,
while interviewing him said"You are living with the Boyds. Does that mean that you are a Bahá'í?"
Fred told him that he wasn't, but that he had no right to ask that question as it showed religious
Fred finally decided what was missing in his life was the Bahá'í Faith and decided to become a Bahá'í,
but never got the job. Fred moved back to Vancouver. Some time later Eileen senior was working
for the Government and found the record of another persons interview on the file. It stated that he
was not to be hired because he was a Bahá'í. The Head of the Correctional Institute was strongly
involved with the Baptist Church.
A young Eskimo woman named Florence Kalinek came to live with us and brought her mother and
her nine year old daughter. Since I was on call 24 hours a day at the mine, I could never ignore a
telephone call, and Florence had a brother in Inuvik whom she did not want to speak with. He was
very shy but would often telephone us about 3 AM under the influence of alcohol in some cheap
form, and want to speak with Florence. He was hard to get rid of and would also complain to me
about the size of his telephone bills. Florence and Dave Springay hit it off together, and eventually
got married and are still married all these years later and living in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.
From time to time we keep in touch with Dave and Florence by telephone.
A fine young Bahá'í man named Buzz Gibson moved to Yellowknife and eventually found work in
the mail room of the Government of the N.W.T. He was a friendly, gentle person and when my wife
Eileen took little Eileen on a trip to visit her parents in Scotland, he stayed in our home and looked
after little Robert who adored him. While overseas, Eileen picked up some of the latest fashions of
the time and turned many heads in Yellowknife with her new mini skirts.
Hand of the Cause John Robarts influenced our lives several times and in most loving ways. On one
occasion we attended a Bahá'í Summer School at Sylvan Lake, Alberta, and John was one of the
featured speakers. Eileen and I had decided that in the light of the need for the Bahá'í Fund, Bahá'ís
should not have life savings, but should donate it all. We approached John with this proposition,
expecting him to confirm our ideas, but he said "Of course Bahá'ís should have life savings."
John came on a teaching trip to Yellowknife in 1969 and we were wondering how we could use him
effectively. We got press and radio interviews lined up and debated whether to hold a public meeting
with him. The public meetings we had seemed to have zero results, but we thought that for the sake
of prestige, we should hold one anyway, to show the flag. The Bahá'í friends dragged out old friends
to the meeting, some coming for the first time, others who had been around the Bahá'ís for years
without showing any signs of wishing to join.
John gave a good talk, not a brilliant one, but one I had heard him give many times before. After the
talk he mingled with the audience, while we had coffee, and I saw in a little group in one corner that
someone was signing a Bahá'í membership application card. This was unusual and exciting. A little
later he was in a group at another corner and we saw that someone else was signing a card. It went
on like that, some people who heard of the Faith for the first time that night and others that had been
around Bahá'ís for many years all were signing Bahá'í cards. By the end of that evening the
Yellowknife Bahá'í community had six new members.
Having Marlene Richardson in our community really helped things along as she was an attractive
young woman and her men friends, trying to shine in her eyes, came with her to our meetings. One
of these was a Northerner named Andy Steen who later became a Bahá'í. Andy was an accomplished
artist and played the guitar. At this time our community was very attractive and people were flocking
to our parties which were rocking.
Another friend of Marlene's was Duncan Pryde. Duncan had come from my hometown in Scotland
and was something of a legend in the North. At age 18 he started work for the Hudson Bay
Company, assisting a Factor in some far Northern outpost. He had a great aptitude for languages and
learned to speak seven Eskimo dialects fluently. In 1967 he was given a federal grant to develop an
Eskimo dictionary of grammar.
Duncan loved adventure and was not afraid of hardships and started exploring remote areas. He made
one amazing trip which was written up in Time Magazine, dated May 2, 1969 traveling by dog sled
and canoe from Cambridge Bay to Inuvik. He came to know of some of the mountain climbing
marathons I had done in Scotland and wanted me to join him on one of these adventures, but I knew
nothing of canoeing, dog sledding and Arctic survival and was now a settled family man, and
Duncan had an ego to match his talents and took advantage of Eskimo hospitality in the wilds to leave
several young girls pregnant. Maybe some of this was talk but he joked about it, saying "They should
have a little pride in themselves." Duncan never became a Bahá'í but for some time was a Member of
Parliament, with the most widespread constituency in Canada. He visited his constituents regularly
spreading his favours widely. He threatened to campaign on his next election with the slogan "Vote
In the Time Magazine article he tries to point out the needs of his native constituents and is quoted
as challenging Prime Minister Trudeau to join him on a dog team journey "get out on a lake at forty
or fifty below, where you have to skin out four or five caribou with your bare hands because your
mitts are going to get wet with blood and freeze. Let the Prime Minister of Canada see not merely
the Arctic of the white man, but the Arctic of the Eskimo and Indian.. Tell the swinger of the south
that the swinger of the north wants to meet him." When the message was conveyed to Trudeau, the
PM did not say yes and did not say no. but asked "Is he in shape?"
Not your usual politician, yet he truly cared for the native people and certainly was a colourful
Slim Lubeseder was a very large fellow who worked as a Surveyor at Giant and was a long time
Bahá'í. We played a game one evening when a paper bag was passed around and what ever you
pulled out of the bag you had to wear. When 250 pound Slim drew a lady's underskirt from the bag
and gamely climbed into it, I thought that Jonas Sangris was going to die, he laughed so hard. Jonas
that day before coming to the party had hired out his dog team to a geologist and had run twenty
miles ahead of the dogs to break trail. Slim used to say that if you ever met a bunch of people
gathered together who had no business being together, they were probably Bahá'ís. We were certainly
a diverse group.
Noland and Bernice Boss:
Noland Boss was the very first Bahá'í to live in Yellowknife, moving there in 1953 and thus becoming
a Knight of Bahá'u'lláh. Noland worked as a Safety Officer at Con Mine across town from Giant and
was always on the go. He was very modest with a quiet sense of humour, volunteered for many
community needs, and in all the time I knew him I do not remember seeing him sit down. He married
Bernice and they lived in a very small house in Yellowknife. They were without a doubt, the very
bedrock of the Faith in Yellowknife. Noland came from a farming family in British Columbia and used
to use some country expressions. One of these was about his three mischievous sons and went "A boy
is a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all". Bernice and Noland were very
relieved when the fourth child was a girl.
Bernice had a friend Jessie, who worked as a law clerk and assisted our LSA with any and all legal
problems. Eventually Jessie became a stalwart Bahá'í and married Del Hamilton who became a Bahá'í
after we left the North.
Al and Eileen Vale:
Al and Eileen Vale lived in Hay River, some three hundred miles Southwest of Yellowknife, and were
often visitors. They were very mature and loving Bahá'ís, but made our fledgling Bahá'í Local
Spiritual Assembly feel very valued and mature when they sought our advice on problems. Al and
Eileen started to build a very large dream home from scratch made of hand hewn logs, but sadly Al
died before it could be completed. Eileen, who is the sister of the poet, the late Roger White, all these
years later, still lives in Hay River.
Dorothy Weaver was a young woman when she pioneered to Cambridge Bay where she worked as
a school teacher. Her dad, Craig Weaver was a very devoted Bahá'í in the Toronto area, but was very
much against Dorothy pioneering to the Arctic. Perhaps he was right. Dorothy had some harrowing
experiences as an attractive young woman, one of which was being attacked by a sled dog and
requiring 19 stitches in her face. Dorothy came to visit us in Yellowknife to "recharge her batteries"
and in the process, recharged ours. Dorothy married Bahá'í pioneer to Greenland, Bill Kerr, but
contracted cancer and died at a very early age.
At a large Bahá'í Conference in Toronto in September 2002, hosted by the Association for Bahá'í
Studies we saw a lovely face from the past. She used to be Margaret Rumple and pioneered to
Yellowknife about 1966. Marg was then about nineteen and had taken first year at the University of
Toronto, but did not plan to return there. At that time she was working as an upstairs maid at the
huge Banff Springs Hotel. She moved North with us and has remained there ever since. Marg married
an Inuit chap and now has five children and eight grand children and had a baby with her at the
conference which she was planning to adopt. She must be about 55 years old now but the years have
been physically kind to Marg and she does not look much different than she did when we first met.
She lives at Baker Lake, NWT with her children and grandchildren. What a spirit.
Rosemary Kirby (Thrasher)
We still keep in touch with Rosemary who is now about 57 years old and lives in Inuvik. We spoke
to her tonight by telephone and caught up on her news. They have five adult Bahá'ís in Inuvik and
it is a struggle still to achieve and maintain Assembly status but Rosemary never quits. She had a
stroke some years ago and lost the use of her right side. With typical determination she taught herself
to walk again and to type and write with her left hand. She has been writing children's stories and is
working with an illustrator to complete a book.
One day her husband Tom Kirby came home and found Rosemary weeping inconsolably. He had been
writing her early memories and when she wrote about having to leave home at the age of seven she
totally broke down. "What is your story called?" asked Tom. "The Mission Boat," said Rosemary.
"You should call it the ship of tears", said Tom. In our phone conversation Rosemary said "I guess
I had never dealt with it."
As I mentioned before, arsenic occurred naturally in the land around Yellowknife. Sometimes this
would leach out of swamps into surrounding lakes, and the Territorial Health Officer would declare
certain areas off limits for swimming during the brief season of hot weather, when the temperatures
would occasionally reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We found out that there had been for years
an unacceptably high level of arsenic in our drinking water. The Government had been aware of this
but kept it secret as they took a year to build a huge 18inch diameter pipeline to convey pure water
from the Yellowknife River. As mentioned in the introduction, this is how Eileen became deathly ill.
A word of warning as soon as the problem was discovered and everyone could have been using
bottled water for drinking.
Arsenic leaves a bitter taste.
The teaching work was going so well. The Bahá'í community had grown from two when we arrived
in Yellowknife to about 35 people. We were gradually being recognized as a worth while
organization, the potential for growth was strong. Eileen had looked after four young children and
had three house guests to feed and care for most of the time. She worked full time and still had the
lions share of housework to do, but her health was crumbling. We were going through the same
pangs as all pioneers who desperately wanted not to quit their post. We wanted to hang on but
needed to leave. What to do? At Bahá'í Summer School at Sylvan Lake, Alberta in 1969 we again
saw dear Hand of the Cause John Robarts and asked for his advice. What did John tell us? Stay at
your post? Buy your grave? No. John said, "Of course you must look after your health. That is your
first and only priority. You have done wonderfully well, others can carry on the work."
We would have liked to move to the Vancouver area and I signed up with an executive "headhunter"
company, but there was nothing available. I heard of an opening in Sudbury at the parent company
of Giant Yellowknife Mines, Falconbridge Limited, went for an interview, and that is how we ended
up in the Sudbury area. I was hired as Assistant Mechanical Superintendent in the Falconbridge area.
We arrived on September 8, 1969 exactly four years after arrival in Yellowknife. We had gone to
Yellowknife with two children and returned with four. At that time Sudbury had five Bahá'ís and was
struggling to reach assembly status, but we had to stay in Falconbridge as my job required me to live
close to my place of work. That is how we started to open Nickel Centre as a Bahá'í Community.
The Bahá'ís in Sudbury at the time were all fairly new to the faith. Terry and Caroline Spratt, Keith
Vivian and Marion Pine (later Marion Vivian) and Penny Hubbard, were a wonderful, spirited group
of people and we worked closely together in those early days.
ONE LAST SMILE:
The newly appointed Commissioner of the Northwest Territories was traveling around his domain,
visiting remote communities and getting to know the people. While visiting an Inuit village he had
to obey the call of nature and since there were no flush toilets, he had to use what was available, in
this case an outdoor wooden toilet. Several planks were missing on the little building, it was
dilapidated but still serviceable. The Commissioner accepted the situation and went about his business
then suddenly came bursting through the door, his pants around his ankles, red in the face, shouting
"You knew about that! You set me up!" This particular toilet had not seen much use and some
swallows had built a nest inside, entering and leaving through an opening in the rear wall. One of
these little birds, homeward bound, had goosed the Commissioner. Both survived the ordeal to tell
of it later but I don't know which was the most shocked.
1. Before 1961 when the road to Yellowknife was built, the North was opened up by water
transportation, by ice roads across frozen rivers and lakes and by bold pilots in small bush planes. Cat
trains were utilized using Caterpillar Tractors to haul sleds laden with freight through woods and
across frozen water. One time a Cat train owned by Sheck Bros. of Yellowknife, one of the best
known winter carriers, established a record by roaring forward day and night, covering the 650 miles
from Grimshaw to Yellowknife in 14 days. Sometimes these trains would encounter pressure cracks
on the lakes which could form a barrier up to 14 feet high and stretch for miles in either direction.
Equipment had to be carried to bridge such barriers. Sheck Bros had one great setback when they lost
two cats through the same hole in the ice. The lead Cat was pulling a cable 150 feet ahead of a bigger
Cat and behind that was a train of 15 sleds. The lead Cat crossed a crack in the lake which was
covered by snow, then the ice under the heavier Cat began to give way. They should have cut the
cable but probably thought that it would be useful in recovering the sinking Cat. Unfortunately the
lake was 300 feet deep and both machines went down. The insurance company was unhelpful and the
loss helped to put the valiant Sheck Bros out of business.
2. Just like the early astronauts, Red Hamilton had "the right stuff". In 1930 his family moved from
Saskatchewan to Fort St John to homestead, but things were very tough and Red seized a chance to
move further north. In 1932 a trader named Ross saw an opportunity in bringing fresh things to the
north. He gathered 45 pigs, 5 cows, 100 chickens, feed for the crew and animals and ten tons of other
supplies loaded it all on a scow and Red managed to get hired as crew. This floating menagerie then
headed for Yellowknife. At the dangerous Vermillion Chutes the animals were offloaded and safely
herded around the fast flowing water. Red was tied to the stern of the scow and went through the
Chutes with it. His job was to throw a rope to men on the bank at the downstream end. The scow
went over with a huge splash and Red disappeared but the scow survived and Red, as usual was up
to the task of saving the day. On reaching the Great Slave Lake the scow became ice bound at Fort
Resolution with all the animals and cargo. The pigs had to be slaughtered immediately and sold locally
or salted for sale next year. The scow with much of its freight and the salt pork eventually went on
to Aklavik, but Red settled in Yellowknife.
Pat Younger and Other Friends:
Some of young Jack's friends and adventures in Scotland (1953-57)
I first met Pat about 1953 when I was18 years old. I was a member of Clydesdale Harriers at the time,
one of only a few members, and we were very glad to have him join us. To look at Pat we could see
that he was too big and heavy to be a good runner. How wrong we were. Pat was eventually to show
us all just what determination, training and heart could accomplish, even if he did not have the physique
of a greyhound. Yet what Pat brought to the club was a lot more than his running ability.
The top runners at the time were my brother Bobbie, who was also the coach, and George White. Pat
was very good natured, easy to get along with, and trained hard, so he fit right in. Pretty soon he made
a good addition to our first team for road and cross country races. Shortly after Pat joined the club,
he transferred into the department where I was serving an apprenticeship as a press tool maker with
the Singer Manufacturing Company. Pat was a sheet metal worker and his work bench was tucked
away behind a tool room, very secluded. This was a mistake that Singer's made because although the
supervisors seemed to appreciate Pat's skills and dedication, he always had some home project on the
Singers was a huge factory. It had fences and guard gates on three sides and was bounded by the Forth
and Clyde Canal on the other. Every night Pat went home from work, he was a different shape, with
things he had built smuggled under his coat or coveralls. Perhaps it helped that the father of his best
pal, Lachie Turner, was a security guard. I don't know if old Mr Turner turned a blind eye, or if Pat
was just lucky, but he was never apprehended. Pat was interested in photography and always had old
cars and boats which constantly needed parts for repairs. One time he built a bulky enlarger which had
to be brought out. Pat built a fender for one of his old cars, and being too big to tuck under his
coveralls, he attached it to an oil drum and floated it right across the canal.
I have to say a few words about Lachie Turner, a childhood friend of Pat's. Lachie was a very large
man, overweight( about 19 stone -- 266 pounds), powerful, and surprisingly athletic. He was a
draftsman at Singer and I had the -- I'm looking for a word -- honour? privilege? experience? -- maybe
all of the above -- of working with him for six months during my apprenticeship.
Lachie was a most devious practical joker who loved to tease and challenge the younger fellows around
him. One fellow, whose name I forget, owned a motorcycle and had parked it in an off limit spot, near
where he worked. Lachie phoned him pretending to be security and told him that he had to move his
bike. The young guy came into the office grumbling about officious security and Lachie said "You're
not going to let them tell you what to do, are you? Don't be a mouse!" The guy thought that Lachie was
right and be damned if he was going to move it. Then he got another call from "security" escalating
the threat and saying that his bike would be towed away. He came back very nervous still bitching
about security, and Lachie told him "They're just bluffing. They would never tow your bike away.
Don't let them push you around. Bloody Gestapo!" This went on for a few more encounters until the
guy was a nervous wreck and left to move his motorbike, to Lachie's loud jeers.
Lachie had us all measuring our chests one day and I still remember his measurements, 50 inches
normal, 55 inches expanded. Then he challenged a young fellow to say to a buxom young lady in the
office "We have all been measuring our chests and we wondered what your measurements are." When
he did, she burst into tears and we all felt bad. Lachie could jump straight in the air for surprising
heights, onto drafting tables and such, and many a youngster, myself included, barked his shins trying
to do what Lachie could so easily do.
Lachie and Pat were fishing buddies and I heard a sorry tale from Pat one Monday morning. The two
of them had gone on a fishing trip, drove to Rannoch Moor and hiked, in pouring rain, twenty miles
across the roughest country, to a favourite Loch. They pitched their tent and Pat said to Lachie
"Where's the matches?" Lachie said "I thought you were bringing the matches." They ate a can of cold
beans, packed up and trudged back across the Moor, not speaking to each other. Pat tells me that
Lachie got married, slimmed down a lot, and became civilized. I find that very hard to believe.
In those days the club members socialized with each other much more than today. I suspect the main
reason for that was that nobody had an automobile; nobody, that is, except Pat Younger. Today when
someone goes to the club for a run he just pops in his car and goes home afterwards. Being the
generous guy that he is, Pat always shared his good fortune by giving rides to all the others, so we were
still doing things together. This sometimes proved very exciting.
Pat had just bought an old car, a 1936 Singer, and had not yet had time to work on it. He offered a
ride to a bunch of us from Mount Blow track, back home towards Duntocher and Parkhall, and six of
us jammed in this tiny car. We headed up the steep hill towards the Boulevard then found that the car
could not make it to the top. Singer's workers were pouring out in their hundreds, walking up the hill,
and it started to rain hard. As Pat backed the car around, we found that the windshield wipers did not
work, than as we started down the hill we found that the brakes did not work. The horn did not work
either. As the car went faster and faster, we rolled down the windows and shouted at the oncoming
workers "Get out of the bloody way". These tired men had to jump with alacrity, cursing at us as a
threat to humanity. A later car that Pat owned had something wrong with the steering mechanism and
I remember him driving it with a wrench for a steering wheel.
The word was out that Pat had bought a wooden houseboat with an inboard engine! It was moored
at Balloch in the South end of Loch Lomond, and pretty soon Pat invited us for a day on the Loch. It
was a perfect day, one that you seldom see in Scotland. We were amazed when we got there to find
that the boat was on the bottom of the riverbed, in eight feet of fast flowing water. "That's so the
planks can 'take up' and the boat won't leak " Pat told us. He fetched the small engine from a shed and
we raised the boat, emptied it out, and before long Pat had the engine installed and we were underway.
There was supposed to be eight of us that day but fortunately somebody, I think it was Charlie Rowan,
couldn't make it, or we would have sunk. As it was, we were right down to the gunnels as we headed
out of the river into the Loch. Always tactless, John Hume shouted "OK, Pat, open her up!" Mortally
offended, Pat growled "She is bloody opened up!" Under a cloudless blue sky we could see the
beautiful mountains ahead as we sailed to an uninhabited island. We spent a perfect day lounging about,
eating, swimming and playing soccer with a tennis ball. When it was time to head home, Frank Keilty,
Pat's other best pal, always a free spirit, suggested that we all just stay there and not go to work the
next day. That was typical of Frank but, fortunately or unfortunately, he was overruled and a perfect
day came to a close, except in memory.
That brings up dear departed friend, Frank Keilty. As I said, Frank was a free spirit. He loved to do
the unusual, taking on strange challenges. Frank it was, who left his good paying job as a plate worker
in John Brown's Shipyard to go north and work for a time with the Forestry Commission. While there
he found out about the Ben Nevis race and he and an Australian coworker entered it; fourteen miles
up and down the highest mountain in the British Isles.
Frank came back and enthusiastically told us about it and next year it was our marathon runners, Davie
Bowman and Willie Howie that ventured to try the mountain. The following year, 1955, all of the
middle distance runners had a go and the team included John Hume, Frank, Davie Bowman, Willie
Howie, my brother Bobby, me, and Pat. I am sure there were others too, but I cannot remember them
now. There was a set of scales in the dressing room and I know that although I only weighed 11 ½
stone (160 pounds), I lost ten pounds during that race. Running alongside my brother, Frank offered
him a glucose tablet which we used for energy. After Bobby ate it Bobby asked if he had a pocket in
his shorts. Frank claimed that he carried them in his jock strap. Frank, Pat and Bobby ran the Ben Nevis
race many times, but I only ran one more time, 1956, before leaving for Canada.
A bunch of us used to get together every Sunday evening, meet at the corner of Kilbowie Road and
Dumbarton Road, and walk to a café near the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow. Frank was a bit of an
intellectual and read very unusual things. He loved to be controversial, often making outlandish
statements which we would all debate with him. One time he claimed to have read that worms were
very intelligent, in fact a worm was smarter than a dog. Duncan Stewart said "That is stupid. Look at
sheepdogs and what they can do. Don't tell me that worms are as smart as that." Frank said "Worms
could do that too. They just don't have the speed to round up sheep."
Frank worked in construction for a while, helping to build houses in Faifley. In one housing scheme
a lady told Frank that her toilet was plugged. Always obliging, Frank offered to clear it. He
disconnected the sewer pipe and taking an air hose, he gave a little too much air, and blasted the toilet's
contents all over her new bathroom, then made a hasty retreat. Always wanting to avoid responsibility,
Frank found in latter life what seemed the perfect job for him: he worked collecting fares on the
Erskine Bridge. No responsibility, and he could run home over the Old Kilpatrick Hills at night,
keeping up his training. Sadly, Frank developed cancer, which he fought bravely, but died, much too
young. His ashes were scattered by his friends on the mountaintops near Glencoe. He was one of a kind
and is sorely missed.
In 1954 John Hume, always upwardly mobile, took up mountain climbing and the rest of us went
camping and hill walking. Later on Jack Higginson and I got the bug and took up mountain climbing
too. A group of us including Pat, went to Glen Nevis camping and Davie Panton was to provide the
tent. He brought along a Bell Tent from some scout troop he was associated with, but when he
unpacked it, he cursed loud and long. He said "We don't have the crown piece and the main guy ropes."
We thought that this was a disaster, and all of us insisted that John Hume cut up his hemp climbing rope
to use as our main guys. John grumbled, but gave in very reluctantly, and we cut up his rope. It was
a few days later that we found out that a Bell Tent does not have a crown piece and main guy ropes.
It is supported by all the little guys all around the bottom of the tent. What a bunch of dummies we
John Hume ended up with a nylon rope which was safer, as he was a very talented climber. John was
a pretty talented athlete in running, singing, and rugby as well, but what I remember most about him
was the time we were camping in the Cairngorms and, packing up to leave, we had four eggs left over.
John said we shouldn't throw them away, and one by one cracked the raw eggs into his mouth and
gulped them down, pretending enjoyment.
Another time we went to Glen Rosa in Arran, and Pat brought along a mouth organ. All he could play
was a few bars from something that started with the words "When the moon comes over the
Cumbrae." He drove us nearly daft, playing it over and over all weekend. Being poor planners, we
brought along what looked like enough food for all of us, but went very hungry, since we consumed
it on the first day and all the stores were shut on Sunday. I vaguely remember a stew with everything
we had left in it, eggs, pies, bread etc. We started a big bonfire the first night we were there, but it got
out of hand with huge flames, much bigger than we wanted, and the sparks flew, carried by the strong
wind. The woods were very dry, but fortunately nothing caught fire. I read in the newspaper that the
next weekend somebody did start a bush fire in the very same place, in the very same way.
When young, Pat lost an eye. His brother Alex threw a dart which bounced off the dartboard, striking
Pat. This handicap did not seem to bother him much, but he used to tease the rest of us with the
artificial eye. One time he came out of the showers at Mount Blow (always cold water) covered in soap
suds, turned out the lights and jumped into the change room, naked, soapy, and with his eye in
backwards. Another time Pat had a classy, somewhat newer car, an Armstrong Sidley. Davie Panton
had a car too, and we went in style to St Andrews, where we had rented a caravan (a trailer) with eight
bunk beds. Pat ran ahead of us and, throwing his eye on a bed, shouted "I've got my eye on that bed!"
Pat went into the obstacle race at Singers Sports one year, and was leading when he dived under the
tarpaulin, but came out the other side without his shorts, and had to dive back under to find them. Pat
was a bit of a philosopher. He has a fine voice now, but it used to be terrible. Walking home from work
with him one day he was singing, then stopped and observed "When somebody is singing, they are
hearing Frank Sinatra, but they are the only buggers hearing Frank Sinatra."
In 1955, Pat finished ninth in the prestigious Scottish Senior Cross Country Championships, making
him first reserve for the team to represent Scotland at the International Championships. This came as
a surprise to many athletes in Scotland, who had not noticed just how Pat was improving. Ian Binnie,
a world class athlete with an ego to match, said "If that clodhopper Pat Younger can make the team,
I quit." Maybe he should have. Pat was the right up there with the best Clydesdale Harriers of that
decade, Bobby Boyd and George White.
Pat was the best man at our wedding in 1957 and we have stayed in touch ever since. In the wedding
pictures I look a bit strange with my buttonhole flower pinned on the wrong side. Pat has his on the
proper way. I can now tell everyone -- it was me that pinned on Pat's and he that pinned mine ...
Pat has always been a gentleman, easy to be around, and trustworthy, adding a lot to each life that he
came in contact with. A good man with a wrench. I am very proud that he is my friend.
The Mountain and the Marriage
Jack Boyd's experience climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland (1956), and marriage to Eileen (1957)
The Final Ascent
It is known as Ben Nevis, or "the Ben". All mountains in Scotland are
called bens, just as all lakes are called lochs. I suppose ben is Gaelic
for mountain. One school child mistakenly spelled it Ben Nervous, but he
was not far off the mark. It is a killer, and each year, without fail, some
people die on its slopes. The poet and climber Hamish Brown terms it "the
Great Harlot" and it can turn from benign and friendly to cruel and
vindictive in a very short time. Sometimes the reverse is true, and you can
climb through clouds of pouring rain to bright sunshine and a spectacular
view of the surrounding peaks. Situated in the Western Highlands of
Scotland, it rises almost from sea level some 4,400 feet, making it the
highest mountain in the British Isles. It is geologically old and the top
is relatively flat, being worn down by weather over millennia. The "easy
way" to the top involves a six-hour exhausting plod up winding paths, but
even there one has to exercise caution, as the path comes perilously close
to the edge of the climbing face -- and what a climbing face! Starting
about halfway up there is a valley with a small loch, surrounded by scree
and huge broken boulders, then soaring from there is over 2,000 feet of
crags and gullies capped by cornices of snow and ice. The whole area is a
vast wasteland and the cliffs run for about two miles on the exposed face
of Ben Nevis. The cornices are created by the prevailing winds blowing the
snow and sleet across te summit and building up a huge overhang of ice and
snow. There is snow on top all year round and in spring some of the great
cornices come crashing down.
I had taken to mountain climbing when I was nineteen because of a fear of heights, and became quite
competent. I still feared heights, perhaps because of an active imagination, but was able to keep fear
in check. Jack Higginson, like me, was a member of Clydesdale Harriers. He stood about five foot
eight, was perfectly proportioned, and had unusual talents as a runner, as he excelled in sprints and
marathons. Together we joined the Glenmore Mountaineering Club so we could gain climbing
experience and transportation to the mountains. Jack was seven years older than I, but was willing
to let me lead on our climbs. In turn I needed someone I trusted to be second on the rope. If the
second falls the rope comes tight very quickly, but when a leader falls he can have a substantial drop
before the rope tightens and you have to trust the second to hold on to the rope as it burns through
the skin on his hand.
Ben Nevis is a magnet for adventurers. Every year since 1920 a footrace has been held in August
from the town of Fort William to the summit of the Ben and back -- a brutal race of fourteen miles.
When I competed in 1955 and '56, the others were a strange mix of about sixty -- athletes, distance
runners, adventurers, mountain rescue experts, a couple of shepherds, a few Marines, some
Commandos, and a few from the Royal Navy. Some trained on mountains all year and travelled
hundreds of miles just for this race. The distance runners usually fared well, the best of them trying
to stay close to local athletes who knew the mountain and its short cuts. The winner took about an
hour and forty five minutes. I finished in the middle of the field -- ahead of the military types but
behind the distance runners -- in about two and a half hours. While the Ben is usually benign for race
day, she has turned bitchy and people have died in the race. There was a dance in the evening after
the race, but my legs were always shot and dancing was the last thing on my mind. The locals love
the racers and cheer them on over the last few miles. I had always known hospitality and a warm
welcome here. On my next visit here I was not so welcome.
Jack and I had planned this climb for months. We had bought crampon spikes for our boots so we
could tackle the ice fields. In Scotland we used to work Christmas day but have three days holiday
at New Year. Combined with a weekend, this made a nice long winter break. The people of England
had several days holiday at Christmas and some of them head for adventure to Scottish mountains.
The year was 1956, and over Christmas holiday a nasty accident occurred when five people who had
climbed up "the easy way" became disoriented and, roped together, glissaded (slid) over the climbing
face. All were killed. The press had a field day; sensational news titillates the public.
Despite the accident, Jack and I decided to go ahead with our plans and took the train from Queen
Street Station in Glasgow to Fort William. Arriving on a Friday evening, festooned with climbing
ropes, ice axes, crampons, and camping gear, we were surprised to encounter a hostile crowd,
shouting and jeering at us, yelling for us to go home. Inspired by the media, they were objecting to
climbers causing others to risk their lives to rescue them when they had a fall. We could care less
about their feelings as it was not the town bullies that would come out on a rescue, but other climbers
just like us. We had been called out on other rescues in the past. We shouldered our way through the
jostling crowd without serious incident, and decided as it was late and dark, to stay at a bed and
breakfast place in town. The place where we lodged was owned by a man who worked as a nurse at
the local hospital. He had seen the results of many accidents and told us that these bodies had been
found because the birds were feeding on them, and that the head of one man was still not recovered.
It was windy and overcast when we set out early next day, but we pressed on and made camp,
eventually making our way to the foot of the climbing face. We had planned to climb Number Five
Gully, but changed our minds when we saw that birds were at something further up, and we had no
wish to retrieve the missing head. We went further around and started up Number Eight Gully and
were soon in snow and ice as the wind picked up. In the gully the wind became very troublesome, as
it would sometimes blow above our heads and then strike with great force. When that happened, we
would drive the shaft of our ice axes into the snow and hang on until it veered away.
As the day wore on, the snow and ice became very brittle and little sections of it would break away
around our crampons and go tinkling down the slope. We decided that it could avalanche so we
unroped and were climbing independently -- if one fell, he would not drag the other. Finally, about fifty
feet below the summit, we reached the bottom of a huge cornice, an overhang of ice and snow. We
had to choose between tunneling through this mass, or turning back. It was soon going to be dark,
the weather conditions had worsened, and neither of us had ever performed this tunneling operation.
While we were discussing this, suddenly the decision was made for us. A huge gust of wind hit and
I drove my ice axe into the snow and hunkered down. When I raised my head, I was alone. I had
heard no sound above the roar of the wind, but my partner was gone.
I started down, carefully at first, then as there was neither sight or sound of him, faster and faster until
I was bounding down the gully, the crampons tearing my pants and my legs too. He had been wearing
new blue leather mittens and they had become wet, and every now and then I would see a blue streak
of dye on the ice. When the wind came up I still dug in and in those moments I prayed desperately,
making a bargain with God that if Jack survived this fall I would look around for what I should do
with my life. After an hour or so of reckless descent I found Jack standing dazed in the half darkness.
He had survived a fall of over a thousand feet. The strap on his backpack had broken, causing him
to overbalance and he fell headfirst, tobogganing down the gully with the pack hitting obstacles first.
Assessing the damage I found that he had gashes on his wrists that did not look too bad, but the
blood trickling from his mouth had me very worried. This also turned out to be minor as he had
bitten himself on the way down. He had come to a stop just a few feet away from a frozen waterfall
that would have been dead fall of over a hundred feet and killed him for sure. We still had to get off
the mountain and made our way back to our tent, laughing hysterically for no particular reason and
stumbling a lot over our own feet. I suppose we were in shock.
My life went on, but the experience left more than physical scars. I had recurring nightmares for some
months, re-enacting the accident, but coming down I would find Jack's head and put it in my pack,
wondering how I would tell his mother about what had happened. Then I would find him intact and
wake up in a panic, soaked in sweat.
That was to be the last time Jack and I were on the mountains together. A few months later he
suffered a torn cartilage, hiking in the Cairngorms and that was the end of his climbing days. Eileen
and I got married and moved to Canada, and with family responsibilities, I never again did any serious
Years have passed and Eileen and I still love to be on the mountains in Scotland, always now taking
the "easy way". The Great Harlot still takes her annual harvest of lovers, but this one escaped her.
What happened to this perfectly proportioned athlete that I knew, the man who could not only sprint
with the best, but also won the eighteen mile road race at Bute Highland Games? We did not see each
other for forty years, then met in Glasgow for a meal. I barely recognized the short, fat, bald man who
told me he had taken up lawn bowling. What a transformation.
I wonder if I have changed too ...
Even from the great distance of forty three years and all that has subsequently happened, 1957 was
an outstanding year, a major turning point in my life. After the mountain accident and its
consequential spiritual quest, after two months on the high seas and the life shaping lessons involved
in that, Eileen and I were to be married in July and then move to Canada, myself in September and
Eileen following in October.
We were both 22 years old on a beautiful July day when we were married in a very old
church (Presbyterian) in the village of East Kilbride. By some weird twist of fate we can never
remember whether it was the fifth or sixth of July, and every year we have to look up our marriage
certificate to get it right. Eileen's parents let us choose either to have a large wedding or a small one,
in which case they would give Eileen the cost difference as a dowry. Since we were so young and
poor, we chose the latter, had a very small wedding and Eileen had a fund of $400 when she arrived
I would have chosen Jack Higginson as my best man, the man who fell down the mountain, but he
was unavailable, so I asked dear Pat Younger, a fellow member of Clydesdale Harriers, and one of
nature's gentlemen, to stand up for me. Eileen chose the friend who had been with her when we first
met at a dance in Glasgow. I cannot remember her name, but I do recall that she had a pet fox that
hated men. Pat and I have maintained our friendship ever since, and whenever we get the chance we
visit him in his cottage, "Tigh Phadaig" (The House of Patrick) at the head of Glencoe, almost in the
shade of Ben Nevis.
In our wedding pictures you will see that the men have a rose in the appropriate buttonhole of their
jackets, except for me. Don't blame me. I pinned Pat's rose on him and he pinned mine on me. I was
so nervous that day at the ceremony, that it was all a blur. Eileen, I am sure, was no better as I recall
standing beside her at the altar and out of the corner of my eye seeing her bouquet quivering.
We had a small wedding reception in a Glasgow restaurant and Eileen and I, because of signing
papers etc, arrived by taxi later than the others. Unfortunately, because it was near the "Glorious
Twelfth" of July a huge Orange Walk parade poured out of a train in Central Station, complete with
band and big drum beating. They had been having an annual parade somewhere to commemorate the
victory of King Billy (William of Orange) over he forces of James VI at the Battle of the Boyne
several centuries ago. They use this occasion to celebrate and provoke Roman Catholics. Apart from
delaying us they were quite pleasant, many of them calling in the taxi window and wishing us well.
Unfortunately we were in a huge rush to catch the last train to the Clyde Coast and the nice hotel
where we would spend our honeymoon.
The reception was attended by a small party. We had no time to eat, gulped down a glass of
champagne and leaving the guests to their meal, rushed off to catch the train. We had a carriage to
ourselves until a man boarded at the last minute. Eileen tells me that I scowled at him so fiercely that
he promptly left to find another carriage.
The honeymoon was problematic and adjustments had to start right away. As soon as we unpacked
I was in trouble as I had brought along my climbing boots and rope as well as my running spikes and
Eileen was not very happy about that. She was even less happy when she found that she had left her
make-up case at home. Getting ready for bed I thought I had a chance to redeem myself as Eileen
screamed and I rushed over to see a huge horrible black bug crawling out of the sink drain. Uttering
a horrible swear word, I grabbed a piece of tissue to kill and get rid of the monster. Then I
discovered it was plastic, a practical joke Eileen had devised. The next morning as we were heading
downstairs to breakfast, Eileen could not control a fit of giggles. Thus tipped off, I went back to my
room to inspect myself. That was when I found out she had provided a bar of soap which turned my
face entirely black. I considered suing that practical joke shop; maybe I will yet.
The hotel was a lovely old stone building and many of the guests were attending a sailing course but
for some reason we chose not to participate. We went to a nearby resort town and rented a rowing
boat to go out fishing. Eileen caught a large fish and I didn't. Not having the means or desire to clean
and cook fish, we approached another rowing boat captained by a simple minded young man. He was
delighted when Eileen presented him with her fish. "I'll tell my Mammy I caught it myself," he
Over the next few days we tried what we call miniature golf (in Scotland "putting") and Eileen was
unbeatable at that. In the evenings or when it rained we would play cribbage, and I continually lost,
then we made the mistake of playing table tennis. I had never played before but came close to winning
the first game so I said "Let's make it the best two of three games." I lost those too and chose "the best
three of five", which I proceeded to lose also. By the time we left for home I had been bitten by the
table tennis bug, but was on the losing end of something like "the best 41 of 80."
We had no place to live when we returned to Glasgow, so Eileen's dear Grandmother MacPhee
unselfishly chose to go visiting relatives and leave her flat for our use for a couple of months until I
would leave for Canada. Both of us were working in Glasgow as we settled in to married life. We
decided to buy a dartboard and mounted it on a cupboard door, anticipating that we would never miss
the board. By the time we left that poor door was perforated like Swiss cheese. I'm afraid we were
not very good tenants.
We looked forward to Friday nights when the work week was over and payday, and I would join a
line up of the rest of Glasgow at the local fish and chip shop. We usually had Pat Younger or some
for Eileen's friends over for supper and beer, then all played cards or darts. On the weekends we paid
last visits to my old haunts, including some climbing at the Whangy, a huge rock cleft near Drymond
and hikes over the Old Kilpatrick Hills to the Stocky Muir Road.
All too soon the time passed and I had to pack my meagre belongings to prepare for immigration to
Memories of Niagara Peninsula
Recollections of Southern Ontario (1959-1965)
As I start to write this I wonder, who is ever going to read it? Very few, I'm sure. Therefore I will
write this, not for an audience, but for myself, to recount those events and tell of people who were
special to me and stand out in my memory these forty odd years later. If you read this, you will
encounter names of people that mean not much to you, but everything to me.
As my job with Ewbank and Partners, Consulting Engineers in Toronto was in jeopardy because of
a shortage of work, I applied to Foster Wheeler Limited in St Catharines, Ontario. They offered me
a job as an estimator in their design department (at about $500 per month) and I accepted. Shortly
after agreeing to accept that position, Atomic Energy of Canada phoned, offering what sounded a
more interesting, higher paying, high-tech position in Chalk River, Ontario. Until now my philosophy
had been that companies would look out for their own interest and I would look out for mine. I was
not a very ethical person at this period of my life, but suddenly I took the moral high ground and told
the Atomic Energy people that I had accepted another position. They persisted and so did I until
finally their representative said "I am not going to beg you," and I said "Fine," and that was the end
of that. How different my life could have turned out had I accepted that job.
In Toronto, our apartment had been furnished for the vast sum of $300, by haunting auction sales on
Saturday mornings. Eileen and I were rather proud of that. We moved these few belongings at the
end of November 1959 and I started work in December. We rented a small apartment in a large older
house in the centre of St Catharines, near Montebello Park. On our first New Year my sister Isobel
and her husband Paul paid a surprise visit and we welcomed the New Year together, just like old
Our landlords were a wonderful old couple, Lee and Susie Houston. Lee was a grizzled old man
working for the General Motors plant and Susie was a homemaker. Lee was close to retiring and both
of them loved baby Jackie and couldn't do enough for us. Jackie was christened at the St Paul's
United Church with an old school friend of Eileen's, Mary Davy, and her husband Ray acting as
Godparents. Somewhere we still have black and white pictures of that occasion.
Both Lee and Susie had stories to tell about rural Ontario life in earlier times, providing a memorable
connection to a past we knew nothing about. Susie grew up in Orangeville and told of taking a cow
to market in Toronto. Overtaken by darkness, she simply knocked on the nearest farmhouse door,
and said I am Susie from Orangeville, taking my cow to market. Very naturally she was welcomed,
invited to stay for supper, and given a bed for the night. In exchange for the hospitality she was
expected to give them the news from her home community. The world seemed a much kinder, more
trusting place in those days. Susie could remember seeing a headline in a newspaper that Christ had
not returned. Apparently a date had been prophesied and set and He failed to appear at the appointed
On my first day at work, as I was introduced around, a lean handsome engineer asked me "Are you
from Clydebank?" That was very close, only three miles from Duntocher, so I was really surprised.
This was Charlie Grindlay, who was to play a huge role in our lives, and whom I still love dearly these
forty odd years later. Charlie was a brilliant man, a deep thinker and something of a futurist. On my
first lunch break he and I got into an argument which I apparently won -- won the battle and lost the
war perhaps. Charlie proclaimed that truth was different, like light seen through different coloured
glass, like a church window. I insisted that the truth was the truth, and that was all there was to it,
it could in no way be different and still be the truth.
When Charlie left our group the rest of the men patted me on the back and made a big fuss as I had
successfully argued with Charlie. It seems that they were tired of always being on the losing end of
debates with him. Charlie belonged to some religion, but he seemed like a really nice guy despite that.
We were new in town and it was Charlie who invited us for Christmas dinner and a house party
afterwards. I told Eileen about the invitation and said that he belonged to some religion that began
with the letter "B." Eileen was curious and suggested Baptist or Buddhist or B'nai Brith. I said that
it sounded a bit like that. We had a marvellous time at the party. They played a lot of goofy games,
including charades, until we were quite sore from laughing. Later, at home, Eileen astutely observed,
"Those people have the same spirit that the early Christians must have had."
Charlie and I took to spending our lunch hours together, having wide-ranging discussions on world
affairs, history and ethics. I was still on a spiritual quest of sorts since the big fall down Ben Nevis
in Scotland, but I was still very macho and refused to use such words as "God" or "love" -- Charlie
could use them, but not me. I recall a few years before this, one morning early at Paisley Technical
College a young man had asked "Have you been saved?" I damn nearly jumped out of the window.
Of course Charlie was a Bahá'í and another really nice man, Don Dainty, also a Bahá'í, was head of
the design engineering department. I took all this for granted. At the time I did not know what a
blessing it was to be in such company. Two spiritual giants and one ethical midget. I have to think
that God was looking out for me and steered me. Another very bright young engineer worked there
named Michael Yovanovich. Mike was not a Bahá'í but had read widely in Bahá'í literature and loved
the Faith dearly. It was to Mike that many turned to ask questions they did not wish to ask Charlie
or Don. Mike later went on to MIT to design hydraulic systems for platforms in space and ended up
with his doctorate, a professor of Engineering at Waterloo University. To this day I don't think Mike
ever became a Bahá'í, but I don't know why. (Many years later I was counselling a young engineer
in Sudbury, Ontario, going out of my way to be helpful to him. He said, "You remind me of a
professor I had at Waterloo University." I asked "Would that be Michael Yovanovich?" He was
amazed. "How did you know?")
Charlie soon invited us to join a study group in Niagara Falls where he lived, discussing World
Religions. They studied a book I still love, by Huston Smith. I knew very little about World Religions
apart from what I had learned in comic books as a kid. This included such interesting things as
sleeping on beds of nails, the Indian Rope Trick where a mystic plays a flute like a snake charmer,
charming a rope to uncoil and stand vertically upright, at which time the mystic climbs up the rope to
disappear completely at the top. I had a vague idea that Mohamed was a murderer and Confucius was
someone that jokes were told about.
While my education as an engineer was quite advanced, in the fields of the humanities and literature
it was sadly lacking; after all I had left high school at age fifteen. To my amazement I found the
same spirit in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam as I had seen in Christianity at its best. The very same
spirit. Taoism and Confucianism were all so profound too. It was a whole new world for me.
I read in Hinduism about the Fivefold Path in which the desire for material things was like a huge fire.
Acquiring material things, rather than quenching the fire, was like pouring butter fat on it. This hit
me very hard as I realized how I had changed from an ethical teenager to a man who so badly wanted
to get "ahead." I did not like the man I had become.
We started going to fireside meetings in St Catharines, always bringing
little Jackie along in a portable bed. There we got to know many people who
remain friends to this day. The first noticeable thing at a Bahá'í meeting
was the number of Volkswagens parked outside. In 1960 a new Volkswagen
"Beetle" sold for $1,588 and the upscale version for $1,735. Firesides were
held in the home of Doug and Ann Wilson. Doug had an important position in
the Personnel Department of Ontario Hydro and told a couple stories I
remember. When he was studying at Queen's University in Kingston he was the
lone Bahá'í there. Someone who was at Queen's at that time commented "there
was a huge Bahá'í community there when I was studying." Some of these
Bahá'ís were like an army.
Doug had been an athlete while at Queen's, a sprint hurdler. He qualified for the Canadian Olympic
Trials and figured that while he had no chance of winning since one man was much better than he
was, if everything went perfectly he could finish second. He decided to pray about it, which in
hindsight he thought was not a very spiritual thing to do for something so trivial as a sporting
competition. Finally, on the big day Doug got off to an excellent start and was leading the field, but
he hit the last hurdle and finished second.
Ann Wilson was a wonderful hostess and was not a Bahá'í at this time. She always prepared foods
that were favourites of her guests. I remember Don Dainty was very fond of buttermilk and she had
that in too. Ann was also excellent at meeting new people and bringing them to the firesides where
she made each person feel that he or she was a very special guest. Ann and Doug had a little boy named
Bradley, a year or so older than little Jackie, who was very fond of Charley Grindlay. Bradley had a
foghorn voice and would sometimes wake up in his crib wanting to see "Mustache Charlie."
The St Catharines Bahá'ís included Doug Wilson, Don Dainty and his wife Diana, Gale Burland,
who had recently returned from living in Bermuda, Ted and Tiny Denholm, Ross Ransome and others
whom I now forget. A group of seekers started attending firesides most of whom had a Foster
Wheeler connection, including Doug Sheldrick and his wife Patty, Winnie Norton and her two sons,
Paul and Dennie, and Eileen and I. One by one over a period of weeks or months all of us became
Bahá'ís. Many others at Foster Wheeler were strongly influenced by this spiritual movement but never
made the journey themselves.
Others joined the Faith in St Catharines about this time. One lady, Olga Earwaker, who was very
talented in making silver jewellery, had been coming to Bahá'í events for a long time and was quite
enamoured with the teachings. She had a neighbour named Claire Wolfle who was down in the dumps
about world affairs. Olga told her "You can mope about it if you like, but you should know that the
Bahá'í teachings can solve all those problems." Claire of course wanted to hear more, and got very
excited about it. Then she asked Olga that critical question "If the Bahá'í Faith is so wonderful, how
come you have never become a member?" Olga thought about this, and both became Bahá'ís at the
same time and were joined by Claire's husband Walter.
Olga was a member of the St Paul's United Church in St Catharines and this church had been losing
a few of its members to the Bahá'í Faith. Olga told me a story of how the clergyman came to see her
and she was telling him she had become a Bahá'í. She was rather nervous, but the minister for some
strange reason was even more nervous and said he had to hurry away. It was afterwards that Olga
realised that in her nervousness she had been fumbling with the buttons on her blouse and undoing
them one button at a time. In hindsight, it is no wonder that the poor man ran off.
Now for a story that Eileen is doubtful should be told. While I draw no conclusions about it, it seems
to me to be so strange that it should not be left out. It was Olga's church where the minister decided
to deliver a service about the Bahá'í Faith, on the theme of "Modern Heresies." It was a Sunday night
he delivered it and not too many people turned out, but most of the Bahá'ís showed up to hear what
he had to say. He made some points about it "smacking of nepotism" ( Bahá'u'lláh, Abdu'l Baha, and
Shoghi Effendi being of the same family), how much money the temple in Wilmette must have cost
that could have been spent to help the poor, and some other points I wish I remembered. Anyway at
the end of the service he prayed to God, saying, "If we are wrong, give us a sign. Let us know clearly
if we are mistaken."
That night St Pauls Church, one of the oldest and most historic in Southern Ontario, burned to the
ground. It was caused by faulty wiring and no one was hurt. This was one of three times that such
a thing happened. The other times were the Catholic Church at West Bay, Manitoulin Island, where
a boiler blew up after the priest had attacked the Bahá'í Faith, and the St Peter's United Church in
Sudbury, where Heidi Lakshman stood up and boldly told the members that she was leaving the
church and had recognised Bahá'u'lláh as the return of Christ. There was no response but that church
burned to the ground too. The Fire Marshal attributed that one to "an act of God."
All of those churches were rebuilt to be even more beautiful than before, but all in all, it is a very
Meanwhile in Chippewa, Joyce Edmonds had joined the Faith while her husband John was
investigating it. John told of the two of them reading in bed, John trying to concentrate on God
Passes By, rather heavy reading, while Joyce was making the bed shake as she tried to suppress her
giggles reading Bill Sears' God Loves Laughter. John and I became Bahá'ís over the same weekend
so we were some kind of spiritual twins.
Shortly after moving to St Catharines, we bought our very first car. We did not need one in Toronto
as the public transportation was so efficient. I heard that a young engineer who worked at Ewbank
and Partners in Toronto wanted to sell his car and was returning to England. He brought the car
along for me to see, a 1953 Chevrolet, green and white. In Scotland we could never have dreamed
of owning a car at this time, and I had no idea of how to drive, but we bought it anyway. It was very
sad, the young engineer selling had terminal cancer and was going home with his wife to die.
A fellow engineer working at Foster Wheeler, a Dutchman named John ter Horst, kindly offered to
teach me to drive, and his method was very effective. He drove himself to our house en route to
work, and I drove us the rest of the way. We both went home for lunch so I got to drive in traffic four
times each day, and pretty soon was confident enough to get a driver's licence.
This opened up new vistas for us and pretty soon we were able to take Jackie to the zoo in Buffalo,
New York. Actually I suppose it was Eileen and I who went to the zoo as Jackie travelled there in
a car bed. She became very ill while in Buffalo and we took her to a doctor who said she had picked
up a virus. It turned out later she had picked up her mother's cigarettes, and eaten one. That could
have been serious but she soon got over it. The zoo had a very cute baby gorilla whose keeper told
us it had taken eight men to hold it down for its first baby shots.
One day I came home for lunch and saw a crowd standing in our street blocking my way. I asked
what was happening, and was told it was a fire and that the Fire Department had been called. Then
I realized it was my house they were staring at. I burst in to find Eileen safe, but an oil-filled pan of
french fries was on fire. Eileen had turned off the burner but was at a loss about what else to do. I
grabbed the burning pan and headed for the front door holding it in front of me. When I shoved the
door open, the flames shot higher and blew back very close to my face, singing my hair and eyebrows,
so I was forced back and put the pan back on the stove, also at a loss what to do. Then the firemen
arrived and one guy picked up the pan and walked out the door backwards with it. The solution was
so simple, but it's hard to think when you are excited.
I resumed training, preparing for competition in the discus. Charlie assisted, tossing the discus back
and marking the good throws. Much later I found he had a chronic back injury and that this effort
cost him a good deal of pain. Sometimes I would go off on my own into a field near Foster Wheeler
and practice, spinning around and throwing. One day a young woman who worked there cautiously
asked me "What is that little dance that I see you doing in the field?" She had seen the spin, but failed
to notice the discus. I suppose with the shout I gave when throwing hard, she thought I was
The best throwers in Scotland were throwing about 108 feet at this time and I had got close to 100
feet, so felt I was ready to compete. My first competition was in a sports field by Lake Couchiching,
near Orillia, Ontario. In the changing tent a large man sat down on the bench next to me. I was very
intimidated when I noticed as he bent over to tie his shoelaces that his arms were bigger than my
thighs. This was Stan Raike, a Toronto policeman who was Canadian and British Empire champion
and could throw more than 155 feet. I was humiliated in the competition, but Stan was a very nice
guy and gave me a few pointers. He told me that nobody had used the technique I used for the past
thirty years. I had learned how to throw out of a book -- an old book.
We had been in Canada for three years when Eileen's parents, always generous, sent her a ticket to
go back to Scotland for a visit with baby Jackie, about ten months old. We had been attending Bahá'í
firesides for some time and I had come to think of the Bahá'í Faith as something that was really good
for everyone else -- everyone else but me that is. While Eileen was away, I became very ill with an
imbalance of the inner ear, leaving me seasick once again, very seasick. It took me two weeks to
recover and I was really impressed when Don Dainty knocked at my door on his way home from
work and handed me a chicken (cooked already). He said "I thought that you would not feel like
cooking." It was a simple thing, but touched me deeply. Don was always a kind and gentle man.
While Eileen was away, I decided to become a Bahá'í -- or I should say it was decided for me. It
happened on October 27, 1960, a Bahá'í Holy Day in fact. I had decided I was going to a movie that
night. I still remember the title: "The Girl on the Golden Swing." I was reading the book by George
Townsend called Christ and Bahá'u'lláh, and before going to the movie I took time to read the last
chapter. I loved the book and totally agreed with it, and at the end Townsend asks "What are you
going to do about it?" I had been going to the show, and had no plans to do anything about it, but
since he asked, I realized that one by one, all of my barriers had been falling. Charlie had given me
a prayer book (which I have to this day) and in desperation I started to read the prayers. I read all of
them all the way through the book, then I felt as though a great big foot was on my rear end giving
me a hearty push and impelling me to become a Bahá'í. I phoned Charlie, who was at Don Dainty's
home celebrating the Holy Day. It was about 11.30 on a Friday night. I sounded so distraught that
Charlie felt sure that something terrible had happened, maybe an accident to Eileen or the baby, and
he came rushing over.
Charlie was extremely happy when I told him of my decision to become a Bahá'í. This was on the
Bahá'í Holy day known as the Day of the Covenant, in the year 1960. I was 26 years old and had
just become one of only about 750 Bahá'ís in all of Canada. Charlie insisted that I stay with him and
his wife Florence that night, so we headed off for Niagara Falls where he lived, Charlie leading the
way in his Volkswagen and I following in my own 1953 Chevrolet. I remember thinking that I had
to be very careful driving as I was very tired and emotionally charged. Then I thought "Nothing can
happen to me. There are too few Bahá'ís and I am needed!" Just at as that thought occurred I
suddenly became aware of a Coca Cola bottle, standing upright in the middle of the road. I could not
avoid it and it struck the underside of my car with a huge "bang." I realised that I had to change my
way of thinking. I was not indispensable.
Early next morning, a Saturday, I had a golf date with Jack Thewliss, whose wife Ella was a Bahá'í.
I did not tell Jack at the time about me becoming a Bahá'í but when he found out about it afterwards
he said that he had noticed a big difference in me. It seemed to be based on the reduced number of
swear words I used as I played golf. I may have retrogressed since then.
Eileen returned from her trip to Scotland with baby Jackie, who had changed so much during her
absence that I did not at first recognise her. She was in the arms of a stewardess as Eileen cleared
customs, and I saw this young child staring at me, but did not know who she was until Eileen claimed
her. Jackie had learned to walk and talk and it was a long time before the talking slowed down. Of
course I unloaded all about my newfound faith to Eileen. She had been through a bout with a Billy
Graham campaign in Scotland some years before, and told me something like "I know what you are
going through and I know it will come to nothing." It took Eileen about another six months to decide
that she too was a Bahá'í.
For years I had been an agnostic. Perhaps the main reason I was not an atheist was for insurance
purposes. If God existed, I didn't want to make him mad. For a few days after becoming a Bahá'í I
would wake up in a panic thinking "My God. What have I done?" Then I would think more rationally
about what I had done. The image that most comforted and assured me was remembering how
Bahá'u'lláh, in a dreadful dungeon, cut the bottons from his clothing, semi precious stones, and sold
them to pay for a funeral for his followers who had been murdered.
Doug Sheldrick and his wife Patty became Bahá'ís a couple of weeks after I did. Doug was about 25
years old, very athletic and also worked at Foster Wheeler in the Contracts Department. Doug had
a serious problem as his eyesight was failing. He had qualified for a white stick and discounted fares
on public transportation. He was legally blind, had difficulty reading the small print on contracts, and
was soon going to have to quit his job. He had been told that nothing could be done. Then Doug heard
about a possible eye operation in the United States and agreed to give it a try. Hearing about it later,
it sounded like a fearful procedure which had to be performed while the patient was conscious,
watching the needles being used on the eye. I remember all of the Bahá'ís along the Niagara frontier
praying desperately for the success of the operation. Doug came out of it with 20-20 vision in the eye
they worked on and went on to an illustrious career, both as a Bahá'í and in business, where he finally
retired as Vice President of a major pulp and paper company in New Brunswick.
As I became involved in Bahá'í life, my life changed too, bursting with enthusiasm for something I
loved and felt was so obvious and vital. I am sure I scared away many of my friends. I just could not
stop talking about it. A few months passed and Ridvan was coming up, April 21, 1961. Eileen was
still not a Bahá'í but we heard of a need for the town of Niagara Falls to make its numbers to form
a local spiritual assembly. The Local Assembly of Niagara Falls had formed for the first time in 1960,
but now three more Bahá'ís were needed in order to reform.
The adult Bahá'ís living in Niagara Falls at this time were Joy Carter, Vi Dutov, Charlie and Flo
Grindlay, and Herb and Gerry Trip. Herb and Gerry Trip were mainstays in Niagara Falls. Maybe we
all were. Anyway Gerry was a school teacher and Heb drove a locomotive for CN or CP.
John Edmonds had just become a Bahá'í and he and Joyce, who lived in nearby Chippewa, were
considering moving to the Falls. One morning Joyce saw a large rat in her basement and took that as
a sign that they should move. Despite the fact that Eileen was not a Bahá'í, she was willing to leave
our nice apartment in St Catharines, and move to help make up the numbers, so we ended up sharing
a very large old home in Niagara Falls with Joyce and John Edmonds and their family, which then
included Jennifer and Timothy. We had daughter Jackie, and within a year or so adopted Jim, two
years older than Jackie. All of us lived together in that house with their dog, Shane, a large black lab,
who was soon joined by a West Highland Terrier puppy we acquired, and named Charlie. Joyce,
John, Eileen and I were all about the same age, and for years Bahá'ís outside our community could
not sort out who was married to whom. Some still cannot, but they are dying off.
I endured a lot of good natured teasing from my friends at work about becoming a Bahá'í. I was not
sure if I would manage the first fast I was undertaking. It was John Edmond's first fast too and he
ate an enormous fried breakfast. The rest of us had uncertain stomachs early in the morning and I
remember we built a small wall of cereal boxes around his plate so we did not have to see what he
ate. John later said that he ate so much, he was still not hungry at supper time. Eileen, on the other
hand, had been told that the sun would set at a certain time and when that time rolled around the sun
was still high above the horizon. She watched it impatiently, saying that she expected it to suddenly
disappear -- zoom!
During that fast my friend at work, Eric Ahermae, walked with me at lunch time, deliberately taking
me past bake shops with their enticing smells. Eric was a proud Estonian and John ter Horst, who had
helped me get my driver's licence, a Dutchman. Eric had a socialist bent and John was politically
more conservative. Each loved the Faith for what they saw as the socialist and conservative principles
At this time an extremely difficult Scotsman named Bill Orr worked with us at Foster Wheeler. He
was the rudest person you could imagine, loud, aggressive, and argumentative. He would cut people
off and slam down the telephone -- seeming to work hard at being really unpleasant. After I became
a Bahá'í, for some reason he went out of his way to be particularly unpleasant to me, and I resolved
to wear him down. If a conversation was being held, he would ignore anything I said, treating me as
if I were invisible and insignificant. I continued to be pleasant to him for two years, then something
A group of us engineers went on a tour to the new Richard L. Hearne Electric Generating Station in
Toronto. It had new technology everywhere, including the toilet, where they had a birdbath type of
sink for hand washing. It was there that Bill was peeing, thinking it was a large urinal, when he noticed
someone washing their hands further around the sink. I laughed my head off, and Bill suddenly said
to me, "I could become a Babi, but never a Bahá'í." No one had any idea that Bill had any interest or
notion in anything about the Faith, but he had secretly been reading about it on his own. From that
day forward he became a different person, although he was still rather direct.
Bob Steele was newly arrived from Scotland, another engineer at Foster Wheeler. Bill said to him
"You should go to the big picnic the Bahá'ís are having at Queenston Heights." Bob asked "What are
the Bahá'ís?" ... Now when we tell anyone about the Faith we usually start with things with which
they will be in general agreement, saving some of the stickier points until the person at least knows
a little about it and is somewhat attracted. Not Bill. He said "They have an annual fast, you need
parents' permission if you want to get married, and they don't drink at all. If you are still interested
after that, you will probably become a Bahá'í yourself." Well, his words were prophetic. Bob went
to the picnic, later became a Bahá'í and now some 40-odd years later is still faithfully serving the
Bill, too, became a Bahá'í, and all of the people at work held their breath, watching the kind,
thoughtful, polite man he became. They were waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never
happened. This was as close to a miracle as many of those people will ever witness. A few months
later, Bill and his wife moved back to London, England where he became a mainstay in that Bahá'í
While living in Niagara Falls, I was saving my money in order to buy a pair of golf shoes. You could
get a pair for $20, and as we did not have much money it had taken a while to have that much extra
cash, but now I had it. Then something came up in the Bahá'í community where $10 was needed for
something important and I bit the bullet and donated half of my little savings. One day I was driving
home from work, dropping Charlie Grindlay off at his home then going along Main Street in Niagara
Falls I noticed a shoe store that was having a sale. I parked the car, walked back, and there in the
window were golf shoes for $10. This was unheard of. I just could not believe it. I went in and asked
the salesman about the shoes and he said "We only have one pair." I asked what size they were, and
sure enough it was size 11, my size. Feeling somewhat like Cinderella, I tried on the shoes -- a perfect
fit! Leaving the store in a bewildered state, I thought, "I have never seen that store before. I wonder
what is the name of the place?" Looking back over my shoulder, I saw in big bold letters above the
Another incident centred around a Bahá'í named Roger Lilly, who lived in Welland. Roger was about
four feet six inches tall, with a hunched back and totally blind. He gave a wonderfully inspiring
fireside on the theme of the Lord's Prayer. Roger was giving his fireside at Herb and Gerry Trip's
home in Niagara Falls. When I arrived, I looked in my wallet for some reason and found that I had
lost a twenty-dollar bill. I was silently furious but tried to calm myself as I listened to Roger speak.
He told us how he had just lost his job which involved lifting and stacking a few cases of Coca Cola.
He was fired because he did not have the physical strength to do that simple task. He went on to
speak of sacrifice and how God took sacrifice from us and as far as he was concerned if God wanted
more from him, He was welcome to it. I felt ashamed of my internal tantrum, realising what I had lost
was so small compared to Roger, and I was able to come to terms with it. It did not matter. On
leaving the fireside, having learned that valuable lesson I was walking along the garden path in the
dark when I saw something blowing on the ground. It was my twenty-dollar bill.
The St Catharines Bahá'ís had been hosting a successful series of lectures on World Religions based
on a Life Magazine series. The series was very well attended, with about forty people showing up for
each lecture. One day Don Dainty showed up at my door and informed me he had laryngitis. Don was
to be the guest lecturer on the religion of Confucius in two days time -- he asked if I could replace
him. I knew absolutely nothing about Confucius, but reasoning that no one else at the lecture would
know anything about it either, I reluctantly agreed to take it on. I slept very little in the meantime,
studying night and day, and was very nervous on the night of the lecture. As I sat on the platform
watching the audience gather I was horrified when a Chinese man sat in the centre of the front row.
It all turned out rather well, as I later discovered he was a Christian who knew nothing about
In Niagara Falls I usually played golf weekly. Don Dainty was an honest and fun partner. Whenever
he had an unusually good shot, instead of acting cool as though he expected it, he would fall down
laughing. I played with John Edmonds on one occasion. We had a very early tee time at Niagara
Parks, a popular and beautiful course. John did not own clubs, so had arranged to borrow a set from
a friend in Chippewa. We arrived in the right street but John was unsure of the address, so he ended
up knocking on a door at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It turned out to be the wrong place, so he
had to apologise to a disgruntled and irate neighbour. He finally got the clubs and we were playing
along when John took a mighty swipe and the head came right off the driver. John stuck the head in
the bottom of the borrowed golf bag and played on.
It was an extremely blustery afternoon and I waited in my car as John returned the clubs to the owner.
It played out through my windshield like a silent movie, as John knocked on the door, the man
opened it, John started to apologise and explain about the damaged club then John turned the golf
bag upside down to retrieve the head, tumbling out a huge number of score cards, golf tickets, pencil
stubs and tees, which blew all over the manicured lawn and across the one next door where we had
wakened that householder earlier in the day. We were very glad to escape from there.
I saw in the "in memoriam" section of this month's issue of Bahá'í News (April 2004) that Bill Basset
has died. There is a name from the past. Bill the best friend of Charlie (brother-in-law of Carol
Bowie) and both became Bahá'ís in Niagara Falls at the same time, around 1962. Bill came to our
flat one day where he gave me a hand bathing our West Highland Terrier also named Charlie. This
dog hated being bathed. As soon as he got out of the bath, he raced outdoors into a neighbour's
garden where he rolled on a pile of manure. Bill thought this was hilarious and later told his friend
Charlie's mother the story. She did not realize he was talking about Charlie the dog, not Charlie, her
son and had a strange image of us holding Charlie down and forcing him to have a bath. The rest of
the story left her truly dismayed.
When the Bill Sears' book Thief in the Night was first published
we decided we should promote its use. We discussed releasing hot air
balloons with prize certificates inside but decided against that. In
Niagara Falls we started a campaign to let all of the clergymen know that
Christ had returned. We attended church service usually on a Sunday evening
when it was least busy, visiting the clergyman afterwards, briefly trying
to establish our sanity, and then let him know that this was one of our
central beliefs. This information was not always received with joy, but
mostly with a lukewarm remark like "That is interesting."An Anglican
clergyman, Bob Blackwell, a very pleasant man, was the most impressive of
the ones we met and liked to debate. When I was sharing the Faith with
someone (such as Bob Steele or Bill Orr), I would often take them to meet
Reverend Blackwell. I would point out to them, "You have heard our
viewpoint about why you should become a Bahá'í. Now come and see this
clergyman. Ask him to tell you why you should not do that." It worked very
Eventually the Bahá'í National Assembly sent Doug Martin along to ask us to call off this project.
They were very nice about it but their reasoning was that the clergy no more deserved to be singled
out for special attention than the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. They also encouraged
us for our initiative as their job is to steer Bahá'í activity, as, if local groups are not in motion, it is
not possible to steer inaction.
Speaking of Doug Martin reminds me of a story. Doug, has had a very distinguished career, first of
all for many years as Secretary of the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada, and more recently
as a member of that most supreme Bahá'í body, the Bahá'í Universal House of Justice, in Haifa,
Israel. In earlier times Doug was a high school teacher, teaching history in the town of Niagara Falls.
He came back to visit on occasion, and once was asked to speak there at a public meeting. Doug was
a well-known historian by this time, very knowledgeable in the history of the Christian Church. I was
sitting in the midst of a relatively small group with Charlie Grindlay's mother, a devout Christian, on
one side of me and a fundamentalist Christian lady on the other. Gail Burland introduced Doug saying
that his talks were usually dynamic and surprising so we should fasten our seatbelts. Doug asked what
we would like him to speak about, listing some options, then adding "I could speak about
Christianity, but I prefer not to speak about something that is dead and gone, and nothing is deader
and goner than Christianity." I tried, unsuccessfully, to sink through the floor.
Many parties were held in the Chippewa area, and this was perhaps our most successful teaching
method. David and Flo Robertson were always front and centre at these, as were Ella and Jack
Thewliss, Charlie and Flo Grindlay, Jeannie and Jim Mason, and Pearl and Alex Birrell. Except for
Jeannie and Jim, all were from Scotland. Alex was a Glasgow man, kind, gentle, and perhaps the
funniest person I ever met. We played simple games like charades, but Alex had a wit that could take
your breath away. I remember one Hallowe'en party where Ella danced an amazing "Me and my
Shadow" with a sheet as backdrop. Sometimes a serious comment can be funniest of all. I still
remember David Robertson saying, "I really believe in life after death, but I'm not counting on it." In
summer we had many picnics by the river in Chippewa, often being joined by Michael and Elizabeth
Rochester and their children.
One summer most Bahá'ís in the Niagara Falls community were away at Bahá'í summer school with the
exception of Joy Carter and me. We were running little short teaser advertisements in the Niagara
Falls newspaper for a few weeks. One evening Joy and I got together and decided we would pray
until somebody telephoned us to ask for information about the Bahá'í Faith. In previous weeks we
had some crank calls for a while and with one person all you could hear was heavy breathing. We got
around them by putting two-year-old Jackie on the phone. She loved to talk at length and we could
hear our crank caller breaking up at the other end. They never called back. Anyway here Joy and I
were taking on a bold venture, determined to see it through to a successful conclusion. Starting at
the beginning of the prayer book, taking turns, we worked our way almost all the way through,
including such seldom heard prayers as "The Tablet of the Holy Mariner" until finally after two hours
the telephone rang and there was a genuine inquiry.
Joy was single and shared an apartment with another single lady, Vi Dutov, probably the only Bahá'í
in Canada at this time with a Doukhabor background. Vi had gone through a university in the
teaching profession and was finishing a two year probationary period, teaching in Niagara on the
Lake. Someone in the system did not approve of her, (probably because she was a Bahá'í), and her
contract was not renewed. So after all that study and effort, it seemed that her life was in ruins. Short
of funds, out of work, feeling really depressed, she decided to go to a Bahá'í summer school at
Greenacres in Maine. Since she could not afford the fees, she went to work there for the summer as
a waitress. In the course of her stay she met a fine man. I don't know what happened to her teaching
career but they married and to the best of my knowledge, lived happily ever after. Somehow those
adversities, taken in a good spirit can turn out well.
Studying the Bahá'í Writings provides people with a crash course in the humanities and a good
knowledge of what makes society tick. Knowing nothing about philosophy, I started attending an
ongoing philosophy discussion group which was held weekly in someone's home. This was not a
Bahá'í group. The basis of their study was an excellent text by Marcus Long of the University of
Toronto. During the second session I attended, the discussion leader announced that it would be his
last as he was leaving the area. The group asked me to take over as discussion leader and I boldly
agreed. All I had read on philosophy until now was a half page about Jean Paul Sartre. The group
continued very well for some months before breaking up for the summer. During the summer I was
contacted by the YMCA wanting to know if I would facilitate a course on anthropology. They heard
how well the philosophy group had gone and were very confident that I would do a good job, so I
agreed. I had to ask Eileen after the phone call "What is anthropology?" They had a text book and
extended play records with situations for discussion so that went off quite well too.
There is one last remarkable thing about the philosophy group. An electrician in the group dabbled
with inventions. He brought along large black plastic bags asking us to try putting our garbage in
them, and let him know how they worked out. He later adapted tearaway sections to use to tie the
bags. I do not know if he was ever credited with the invention when plastic garbage bags became
popular, but I certainly hope so. He was a nice guy.
Charlie Grindlay was both a wonderful Bahá'í teacher and a wonderful man. He was somewhat of a
role model for me. Charlie volunteered for all kinds of tasks, so pretty soon had Eileen and I serving
with him on the Ontario Teaching Committee, responsible for co-ordinating Bahá'í teaching activities
throughout Ontario. We were still "wet behind the ears" but there were so few Bahá'ís in those days.
The next year saw us serving on the Canadian National Teaching Committee with scant knowledge
of Canadian geography, much less awareness of Bahá'í activities across the nation. Co-ordinating
dates for travelling teachers was a bit of a problem and we sometimes set impossible dates for their
travel between events and places, especially in British Columbia and Alberta.
In Niagara Falls we got involved in two major Bahá'í events. One was an annual picnic which had
been going for some time before the 1960's, the other the Arts, Crafts, and Critics event which we
in Niagara falls and Chippewa inaugurated. Both were to grow in size and scope beyond those
In 1961 the Bahá'í Assembly of Niagara Falls was asked to host the annual picnic held at Queenston
Heights, near Niagara Falls, a relatively small event. Queenston Heights had been the site of a major
battle in the War of 1812, when the Americans tried to liberate the Canadians from the British, but
they did not want to be liberated. The British General Brock was killed on Queenston Heights but
the Canadians repelled the attack.
Abdu'l Baha visited Niagara Falls on the New York side in 1911, travelling there by train from
Buffalo. He dipped His hand in the water of the Niagara River, then had a simple lunch of fruit. While
in Niagara Falls, we participated in a commemoration in 1961 celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of
that event. This annual picnic was a kind of celebration of that visit. It had been held for years before
this, but always on a small scale. There was a tradition that regardless of the weather leading up to
it, there was never rain during the picnic. I saw several examples of stormy mornings and sunny
afternoons myself on the big day.
Of course Charlie Grindlay was at the centre of the planning and
working, with us hard on his heels. I remember all of the men being asked
to furnish old unwanted neckties for the children's three-legged race.
That will give you and idea of how small an event it was. While we were few
in number, Bahá'ís and their friends from both sides of the Canada-US
border took the opportunity to get together, to enjoy each other's company.
Over the years the picnic grew until I heard of ten thousand people showing
up for it. I don't know if that figure is an exaggeration, but the last
picnic I attended was huge. I heard that eventually it was cancelled
because of the difficulty of providing insurance for the event.
Bahá'ís are asked to observe Intercalary Days (Ayyam-i-ha, March 26 to April 2) as days of
hospitality and gift giving. Especially encouraged is giving gifts which are made, thus encouraging
creativity. Realizing many Bahá'ís in our small community were engaged creatively during this time,
we decided to reach out to the Niagara Falls community and stage an Arts, Crafts and Critics evening
(we included "critics" to give a role to those not comfortable in trying to make anything), giving us
a chance to see each other's creative efforts. It was open to the public, arts and crafts by everyone
The first event, held in the home we shared with John and Joyce Edmonds, was very popular, so we
repeated it the following year when even more people participated. A newspaper journalist who
attended the event wrote an article about it in the local paper in which he observed "the art was
interesting but the people were fantastic." After we left the area, other Bahá'ís developed this event,
holding it annually for many years with a great deal of success. It was for a time held in the old
courthouse at Niagara on the Lake, and may be going yet.
It is very encouraging to realize that by us simply making a start in both these programs, others with
more skill and talent built them into something so succesful.
Niagara Falls community was asked to plan a teaching trip for a very special lady. Her name was Ella
Quant and she became a Bahá'í in 1903. Ella, who never married, was now 84 years of age,
pioneering in Niagara Falls, New York, sharing a home with a "younger" woman, Marion, in her mid
70's. Ella was an inspiring person to visit, not only because of her connection with the past, but
because of her simplicity and charm. She had witnessed the development of the Faith from very early
days and over the years had personally received something like five letters from Abdu'l Baha and
about thirteen from Shoghi Effendi.
The memory of which she was most proud was of having lunch with Abdu'l Baha during his visit to
North America. Her account of this meeting is published in one of the Bahá'í World volumes. In
1911, Ella attained the presence of Abdu'l Baha, sitting across the table from Him, feeling very
spiritual. Suddenly He looked directly at her and asked after the well being of a lady whom Ella
particularly disliked. Her spiritual bubble burst as she realised that Abdu'l Baha had very kindly
indicated that she still had work to do.
We feared the strain of a teaching trip would be too much for her but Ella could not be dissuaded.
Eileen and I travelled with her and I remember her starting three different stories, each of which
seemed to be left unfinished, which I put down to her age and memory loss, but at the end of her talk she
very nicely tied all of the stories together in a complete package.
I told the following story in my "Memories of Yellowknife" account, but it bears repeating. On those
occasions when we visited Ella in her home, it became apparent that many people had given gifts to
her, but she always gave them away, in the process transforming the original gift into something really
special. During the first Intercalary Days that came along after we moved to Yellowknife I made a number
of replicas of "The Greatest Name," a short Bahá'í prayer. I made these by buying 1/8 inch thick
cork sheet gasket material, carving the shape out of the cork. With this profile mounted on a board
I could make two pictures, one raised, the other inset. I then painted them gold and white and put
them in a gold picture frame.
I sent one of these as a gift to Ella, telling our fledgling Yellowknife community how Ella always
transformed a gift into something much better. A month or so later I received a loving letter from Ella
thanking me for the gift and saying that she had given it away. A lovely young blind Bahá'í woman
came to visit Ella. She had heard about the 'Greatest Name"and always wondered what it was like.
She was able to put her fingers in the shape and trace the outline of the letters. Ella gave it to the
blind girl and hoped that I did not mind. While she never visited Yellowknife personally, Ella certainly
inspired the early Bahá'ís there.
The last time I saw Ella was at the huge International Bahá'í picnic at Queenston Heights when she
was in her 90's. She had Alzheimer's, her memory gone, and she did not recognise me, but told me
that I had a very kind face. That was because I was looking at her and the love that I felt showed.
A group was gathered around her chair. She still remembered every detail of her story of the lunch
she had with Abdu'l Baha and was telling it with a shining face. Ella died shortly after this. She was
a luminous soul whom we feel privileged to have known.
About 1962 Charlie Grindlay and his family decided to pioneer to Iceland where the tiny Bahá'í
community was in difficult straits, primarily because of the activities of one of its members who was
a recluse, living in the mountains in summer and in someone's garage in winter. This man was
mentally ill and his imaginings and delusions caused no end of problems for the other four or so
Charlie came to the home we shared with the Edmonds in Niagara Falls to say farewell. We had
recently got a little puppy, a West Highland Terrier, named Charlie (for Bonnie Prince Charlie).
Charlie Grindlay went upstairs to the toilet and meanwhile Charlie the puppy dropped through a
broken return air vent in the floor and wandered off along the duct which led directly to the furnace.
Of course there were filters and other barriers which would prevent him from going into the furnace,
but Eileen was unaware of this. Terrified, she started shouting "Charlie, Charlie! Come back Charlie'.
Charlie Grindlay must have thought that Eileen was overcome with grief at his leaving and came
racing downstairs. All ended well though and little Charlie the puppy wandered back to the hole
through which he had fallen.
1963 was a landmark year for the Bahá'í Faith. The Faith had met its many goals, becoming
established in so many countries world wide that for the first time, we were able to elect the Universal
House of Justice, the governing body responsible for Bahá'í activities around the globe. 1963 also
marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Bahá'í Faith. A World Congress was planned
in London, England and Eileen and I determined to get there.
Having two young children, the idea seemed like a pipe dream, but a wonderful Bahá'í family, Ron
and Edna Nablo, had moved to St Catharines with their three children. They were loving and
hospitable and big-hearted Edna happily agreed to look after our two youngsters to let us get to the
Congress. Ron was Industrial Commissioner for the city of St Catharines, responsible for attracting
new industry to the town. They were kindly and attractive people, nice to be around for affection as
well as intellectual conversation. Anytime I had a spare half hour, I spent it drinking coffee in their
kitchen. Anyway, they made it possible for us to get to this historical event.
About 6,000 Bahá'ís attended the event, which was held in the Royal Albert Hall. Accustomed to tiny
Bahá'í communities, I had never conceived of so many in one place at one time. People had come
from all over the world, many having made great sacrifices, including one lady from Cyprus who had
sold her only cow to help finance her trip. A Dayak headhunter was there with his tally stick, a notch
for each head he had taken.
Having had some experience working with Canadian aboriginal people, I was interested in others in
similar fields of endeavour. I spoke to a man who had pioneered along the Amazon, where there
were still headhunters and asked him how he went about it. He said "You have to get to them, before
they get to you." Uncle Fred Murray, an Australian Aborigine, spoke at length. No one knew what
he was saying except every now and then he said "I'm so happy, so happy." My face muscles ached
from smiling by the end of the first day. We met wonderful people from Ethiopia, and the Scottish
Bahá'ís who were mostly Persians in kilts. I probably could write a lot about this World Congress but
maybe will save it for another time.
After the Congress we went to Scotland to visit family, and while I was so close, I popped over to
Iceland to visit Charlie and Florence Grindlay in Reykjavik. I saw a pile of books in their hallway
about four books across and maybe five feet high. These were copies of the book "Bahá'u'lláh and
the New Era" translated into Icelandic, which is a version of ancient Danish, close to that spoken by
the Vikings. Iceland has the oldest parliament in Europe. At that time the value of their currency
fluctuated with the success of their fishing fleet. Charlie and I climbed a mountain together, sharing
our news and memories. Half of Reykjavik in 1963 was heated by water from their natural hot
springs. All in all it was a very interesting place.
Hands of the Cause: We first met Hand of the Cause, Mr
Zikrullah Khadem, in St Catharines. I was a new Bahá'í, Eileen having not
yet declared. He came to our home for dinner before giving a talk in the
evening. I had heard about Hands of the Cause and understood them to be
something like the disciples of Jesus. When I first saw this slightly
rumpled looking man, I was a bit disappointed as he did not look very
spectacular. No halo! He had been appointed by Shoghi Effendi in 1957 just
months before the Guardian died and was extremely modest, having no idea
why he had been chosen for this important role. When the Guardian asked
him, he had said that he could not afford to accept this position as he had
to work to make a living. Mr Khadem then showed us a little black purse
wrapped in tissue paper which the Guardian had given him. This purse had
belonged to Abdu'l Baha. The Guardian had told him that as long as he had
this purse, he would never want for money, and that had turned out to be
Baby Jackie crawled all over Mr Khadem and he really enjoyed that. He told us a story about how
when leaving Alexandria, Egypt, on a train, he shared a carriage with a priest. Many Bahá'ís had come
down to see him off and they were obviously grieving to see him leave. The priest asked "Have you
lived here very long?". Mr Khadem replied "I don't live here. I just arrived yesterday for the first
time." He told us that the priest did not believe him. I must confess I did not believe this either, until
the next morning after we had spent an evening with the St Catharines friends listening to this modest,
shy man. As Eileen and I looked at each other over the breakfast table and thought of this loving man
leaving, tears began to fall for us, just as they had in Alexandria, and no doubt in many other places
that were honoured by his visits.
The next time we saw him, we lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in Niagara Falls. Mr Khadem
had just returned from a visit to Iran, where the Bahá'ís were being terribly persecuted. He had
escaped through the backdoor of a home, just as an angry mob broke down the front door.
Mr Khadem stayed overnight with us. Jim and Jackie shared a small bedroom and we slept in the
living room, giving Mr Khadem our bedroom. He was extremely tired so we wanted to ensure he had
a chance to rest undisturbed. Unfortunately, when I rose to dress for work I had no clean shirts and
my clothes were in that bedroom. What to do? I reasoned that if I knocked quietly on his door, if he
was awake, he would let me in. If he did not answer, I could assume that he was sound asleep, and
sneak in and get the shirt.
Knocking quietly produced no response so, quietly as possible, I snuck in and tiptoed across the
room. Just as I opened the drawer, poor Mr Khadem woke up, saw this shadowy figure lurking in his
room and got a great fright.
Over the years I occasionally met him at large conferences and he always remembered to ask for
Eileen and the children by name. I don't know how he could remember so many people in detail. I
was asked to give a workshop in Oakville and wrote to Mr Khadem asking if he would like to send
a greeting to the friends there. He sent such a loving greeting that everyone was moved. He told me
that he was sorry not to be there to sit with the group and learn from me. In all my life, I never met
a more humble man.
I suppose that it is more than coincidence that it was at a National Convention in Winnipeg, where
Mr Khadem raised the call for pioneers that led us to pioneer to Yellowknife. The power of love can
Sometime during 1960 Hand of the Cause John Robarts passed through St Catharines on a cross
Canada tour. He was speaking with Bahá'ís only, encouraging them in the use of prayer and stressing
daily use of the Prayer for Canada, the Tablet of Ahmad, and the Long Obligatory Prayer. As I was
not a Bahá'í at the time, I was unable to attend his talk. Around 1964 we were living in Niagara on
the Lake and I was asked to give a talk about the Bahá'í Faith to a grade eleven class at the high
school in Virgil, near Niagara on the Lake. I wanted to convey to the students something of the global
reach of the Faith, so I wrote to Dempsey Morgan in Vietnam, Mr P.N. Rai, Secretary of the National
Assembly of Bahá'ís of India (whom we had met at the World Congress in London, England in 1963)
and to Mr Robarts who was now pioneering with his wife in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). I
asked all of them to send a greeting to the class and say something about where they lived.
In the letter to John Robarts I started off saying "You don't know me, but I lived in St Catharines
when you came through there in 1960". John replied "Of course I know you. We all prayed for you
in St Catharines, as you were still clinging to your old outworn rigging."
Eileen and I pioneered to Niagara on the Lake in 1963 which had only one Bahá'í at this time, Rene
Bailey, an older black lady. She had been a nanny to a little girl in the southern United States, now
adult and married a doctor. The couple moved to Niagara on the Lake taking Rene along as a faithful
helper. Quite elderly by this time, Rene's health was not good.
Helen Hazen was very interested in the Faith and soon became a Bahá'í. She was married to Oz and
had three fine boys, John, Ward and Bill, ages about nine. eleven and thirteen. The boys were
courteous, intelligent and adventurous. I almost had a heart attack to see Ward swaying in the wind
near the top of a huge old tree in their backyard. I remember Oz telling me that their neighbours were
very quiet. Their property was adjacent to the Anglican graveyard. Helen was a school teacher and
a real spark plug. Then, as now, she had many bold ideas on how the Faith may be advanced. We
started children's classes for Helen's three plus our two children, Jackie and Jim. I was fortunate to
be at Helen's home in Mitchell , Ontario in 2002, when her oldest son, Bill celebrated his fiftieth
birthday. I found it very moving that Bill and Ward could still tell stories about events from those long
ago children's classes.
Our faithful contact in Niagara on the Lake was dear Joan Moore, a very fine lady of English
background. Joan had two sons, David and Michael. David was a quiet, scholarly boy who used to
find arrowheads and musket balls around the fort in historic Niagara on the Lake. Michael was an
outstanding sprinter, excelled in many sports and full of fun. He came to our youth dances and was
very popular with the other kids. Joan supported many of the efforts we attempted, including starting
a branch of the United Nations Association of Canada. We used to get together on Sunday evenings
to discuss what was termed "the balance of power" between the superpowers, studying the threats
caused by nuclear warheads, delivery systems and silos, using a book provided by United Nations.
At this time the world was going through what was called "The Cold War." John F. Kennedy had
faced down Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, who was trying to ship nuclear missiles to Cuba just a
very few miles from the USA. For thirteen days the world teetered on the brink of World War Three.
Civil rights marches were taking place in the southern US, then John F. Kennedy was assassinated,
then Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, then Robert Kennedy. The world seemed to be in a state of
turmoil, but despite this, few people accepted the Faith as the viable alternative to war and social
unrest. I don't know what it will take eventually.
While all these major world events were taking place, Eileen and I were plugging away in our feeble
attempts to fix the world. I started the track and field club on the Six Nations Reserve (see another
report about that) and it was going along well. I was trying to teach those kids to be proud of who
they are, and in the tradition of long distance running, never to give up or give in.
The youth in Niagara on the Lake had very little available to them in the way of entertainment, and
some of them were getting into trouble. A police chase of a stolen car at 90 miles an hour ended with
a 14-year-old boy captured. He had taken his Dad's car to help his friend deliver newspapers! He was
tiny and could hardly see over the steering wheel.
There was an old community hall behind our house on Luther Street, so we decided to start a youth
club, and try to give them an outlet for their energies. We had weekly meetings with dances, snacks
and games. Their ages ranged from 13 to 17 and a couple were a bit rebellious and out to cause
problems. The oldest and the natural leader was a muscular boy, proud of his physique, so I got them
into a wrist wrestling competition. After he had beaten the other youth, he turned his ambition in my
direction, just as I anticipated. I was evasive, saying "No way, I'm too old for that" and so on. I finally
let him talk me into a match. To his surprise I managed somehow to put down his arm. That brought
respect -- from there on, he was very supportive and the other rebellious kids got in line.
We branched out into community projects with a points competition for performing acts of service,
like assisting old people, cleaning up parks, etc. We rebuilt two tennis courts and got them back in
service which gave them another alternative for activity. Meanwhile, we had heard about a group of
black Bahá'í youth in Rochester in the USA and invited them over for a visit. Then we expanded to
include the Six Nations Track and Field Club with the Rochester youth and the Niagara on the Lake
club, and they all had a wonderful time together. Eileen fed the whole crew.
All of a sudden things came to a screaming halt. The Niagara parents did not want their kids
associating with blacks or Indians. The word was out that we were COMMUNISTS. The worst thing
you could say about any group at this time. A clergyman in Niagara Falls backed up this allegation,
saying "I don't know much about them, but I do know this. They are a front for Communism!" We
found out the lady spreading the allegations had already been in trouble with the law for slander. We
thought about taking action, but after researching the Writings, decided to let it go and just wait to
see what happened.
One parent was Lillian Penteluke, a close friend to this day. Her daughter Marlene, about fifteen years
old, was a member of our youth club, and also our babysitter. Lillian went to the other parents and
told them, "They certainly cannot be Communists, for they believe in God." One by one the club
members returned and we carried on with our program.
A study carried out by students from Waterloo University at this time concluded that the only
worthwhile organisation of this kind in Niagara on the Lake was our little youth club.
When World Religion Day came along, we thought it a good idea to get all of the various religious
groups and churches together to pray for peace. This was a time before the ecumenical movement had
gained momentum. The idea of getting together alarmed the clergy as they had never done anything
jointly before. The main concern was "Where are you going to hold it?" Nobody wanted to attend the
church or synagogue of another faith. The black church known as the British Methodist Episcopalian
was most amenable, but made the others nervous too. Eventually they agreed to come if it was held
in our home, so that was what we did. All the participants seemed to get along very well at the event.
Ron and Edna Nablo came to visit us one day in Niagara on the Lake. As usual they were helping
someone out. This time it was by looking after a friend's very large Collie dog. He was black, brown
and white with a large hook nose. We all went out for a walk when suddenly there was an uproar
ahead of us. The dog had got into a fight with another identical Collie dog. Ron bravely waded into
the fight, kicking away one combatant, putting a lead on the other, dragging him away. It later turned
out that he had taken the wrong dog so the situation had to be rectified. No good deed goes
Many wonderful Bahá'ís visited Niagara on the Lake in the early 60's. We worked together across
the US border with the Chernievsky family, with the brothers John and Jim Yates, and Ella Quant.
Agnes Harrison, an Inuit from Alaska, visited. She was the first Inuit to be appointed a judge in
Alaska, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower. Firuz Kazemzady came through. He had headed
up Radio Free Europe and was now a special advisor to the US president on Soviet affairs. If there
was a change in the Soviet hierarchy, Firuz had 24 hours to tell the President how the US might be
affected. Author and historian Stanwood Cobb gave talks, as did Mehdi Firuzi.
I still remember Mehdi speaking in the village of Queenston. When he was attending school in Iran,
his teacher said "We are Persians and our fathers before us were Persians." Little Mehdi thought about
this and thought "It must be a lie. It is too obvious!" Then he thought about the various people who
had occupied Persia over the centuries. "The Romans! I bet they did not bring along their wives!"
Returning from Yellowknife in 1969, we spent a week in Niagara Falls, where we attended a public
talk given by Stanwood Cobb. After the talk he was introduced to Eileen. When shaking hands with
her he looked suddenly very concerned. He told her she was very ill and should get medical attention
as soon as possible. It took 18 months of tests to diagnose, but the arsenic in Yellowknife's drinking
water was in her system and Eileen was in the first stages of Hodgkin's Disease. How did he know?
Dear Nancy Campbell gave several talks in Niagara on the Lake, often despite severe pain from
arthritis. Nancy was one of the leading ballet instructors in Canada and had taken her training in New
York, where she lived round the corner from poet Kahlil Gibran. As a student, Nancy was in the
library one day and heard a girl crying at the back of the bookshelves. Nancy asked what was wrong,
and the girl said "I'm a Bahá'í and I'm supposed to tell people about it. I cannot find anyone who wants
to know, and I feel like such a failure." Nancy said "Well, you can tell me, dear,"and so began an
illustrious Bahá'í career spanning more than fifty years.
We lived very happily in Niagara on the Lake, until in 1965 I was elected delegate to the National
Bahá'í Convention in Winnipeg. The task of the delegates was to elect the nine members who would
form the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada. During that convention Hand of the Cause Mr
Khadem, whom we loved so much, raised the call for pioneers to go to the more remote areas of
Canada and of the world. About twenty Bahá'ís came forward in response. I telephoned home to
Eileen, then we offered to go anywhere in the world we may be needed. A few months later we were
on our way to Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories.
We had bought a beautiful two bedroom house in Niagara on the Lake for
$8,200, with a 30-year mortgage at 3.5 percent. The garden, which
had been landscaped by a retired professional gardener, had a variety of
blossoms which appeared in rotation for three seasons. At times the perfume
was magnificent. There was never a harsh word spoken in that little home,
and many wonderful people flowed through its doors. We have revisited the
spot occasionally and one time saw this home, now forty years older, for
sale at $280,000.
I sometimes think of Terry Fox, that wonderful young man who had lost a leg to cancer. He was sure
that cancer could be beaten and vowed to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He
put his foot in the ocean on the East Coast then started out, running about thirty miles every day. All
the way through the maritime provinces and Quebec he raised almost nothing, then coming into
Ontario he caught public attention and was joined by Maple Leafs Captain, Darryl Sittler and other
famous athletes and hockey players who jogged along with him for a few miles. The money started
to pour in. He did not manage to run across Canada. Cancer struck him again and he had to stop near
Thunder Bay, Ontario, where a beautiful statue has been raised to his memory. He went home to die
with his dream unrealised, yet he raised more than twenty million dollars for cancer research, and each
September the Terry Fox runs are held all across Canada, and continue to generate millions every year
for cancer research.
In a way his story reminds me of our time in Niagara. We were young and healthy, we had a dream,
and nothing seemed impossible to us. Dear Joan Moore and Helen Hazen have continued to follow
that dream through family tragedy, illnesses and old age. This is true of Ann and Doug Wilson, Doug
and Patty Sheldrick, Joyce and John Edmonds, Don and Diana Dainty, Herb and Gerry Tripp, Charlie
and Florence Grindlay, Ron and Edna Nablo, and the others in this story. Some are dead, some still
carry on but they never gave up, nor did Eileen and I. Just like Terry Fox, we never saw its realization
but all of us continue to follow that dream.
In many ways our hearts stayed behind in beautiful Niagara on the Lake.
Six Nations Track and Field Club
Stories of service as founder/coach of a track club for Native youth, near Niagara Falls, ON (1962-65)
In 1962 while living in the picturesque and historical town of Niagara
on the Lake, I saw a Reuter article in the local newspaper written by Kahn
Tineta Horn, a young beautiful Indian activist from Caugnawaga near
Montreal. In this article she was saying that young native people needed
non-natives to work with them to help give them a chance in life.
I wrote to her care of the newspaper, saying that I was a Bahá'í and would be able to work with
young people in one of two areas. Either I could coach them in mathematics or physics, or I could
coach them in Track and Field. I told her up front that I was a Bahá'í, so that she could not later think
that I had misled her. She responded promptly saying that she had often heard of their natural athletic
abilities, and would I consider coaching Track and Field on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford.
This was 70 miles from where I lived and I had been hoping for something much closer to home, but
being asked directly, I didn't like not to accept the challenge. Kahn Tineta wrote to the School Board
offering my services and saying that I was a blood brother because I was a Bahá'í. She was some years
later to have some negative comments about Bahá'ís, but at this time accepted it positively. I assured
her that I would in no way take advantage of the situation to proselytize, and of course I honoured
The School Board accepted my offer and appointed a very nice lady, Mrs Oliver Smith, to liaise with
me, open and lock up the school facilities and so on. Mrs Smith was a very dignified and interesting
lady, being an excellent potter and sister to the actor Jay Silverheels, famous for his role as Tonto in
the popular television potboiler show, The Lone Ranger. A piece of her pottery still graces our living
room, long years after I was told that she had ended her life by suicide.
I was given the name of a hopeful athlete, Pete Davis, who lived in Caledonia, which was en route
from my home to Ohswekan, where the action would take place. Pete was a gangly fifteen year old
and he became the mainstay of the club. Since I knew where he lived, I could winkle him out, even
on occasions when his heart was not really in it. There were times when I would wake him up out of
bed at six pm to go running. There were times when Pete and I were the only ones there. Pete had
a cousin, Cecil Davis, and we got him involved, then friends named Gilbert Montour and Bucky
Mountpleasant, then Ron Lickers, and one by one we grew. With a number of good looking young
men we started to attract a few girls who overcame their natural shyness to get involved in athletics.
Our running track was no hell! A half mile track used by trotting ponies, and usually churned up by
them, but it had to serve. One day we attracted a good runner, Orville something, and he started to
train with us.
As the group grew it became obvious that they really lacked a competitive spirit. They knew each
other very well and knew who could run faster than who, so races became a sort of procession with
no-one trying any harder than they had to. It also became apparent that the young folks viewed
themselves as second class citizens because of their native heritage. I decided to focus on two main
1) that they should become proud of who they were.
2) that they should learn to really try in everything they do.
For the first theme, I gathered up all the stories I could of Indian
sports heroes and athletes and what they had accomplished, and each week
would tell them stories about these people. On one occasion we had George
Armstrong, then captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, speak to all
the kids of the reserve. He was a real live hero and you could hear a pin
drop as he told them about the importance of having a dream, having a
healthy life style, and avoiding alcohol. This reinforced the message I was
trying to impart. George was a real gentleman with no airs or graces and
gave the kids a lot of practical examples from his own life.
To address the second theme, I came out of retirement as a runner and
competed against the teenagers. It was one thing to have a friend beat them
but for an old man like me, they could not accept it, and soon they were
giving each race all they had. In long distance running there is a
universal principle that you never quit. Even if it is over and the winner
has gone for a shower, if you are still on the course, the race is on, and
you have to give it all until you personally finish. I drilled the
young folks on this principle every training session, believing that if
they could learn it thoroughly, apply it to their running, then transfer it
to their studies and to their working life, it would serve them well.
By now I was making the 140 mile round trip two or three times a week to Ohswekan, and the club
expanded to about a hundred members. I conscripted various friends to assist me in measuring, timing
and coaching. One fellow named Brian came along twice from Hamilton, once to coach and once to give
a demonstration. He was the Welsh record holder in the javelin, and the demonstration nearly proved
to be a disaster. It was held on the Queen's birthday, known as Bread and Cheese Day on the Reserve.
Originally Queen Victoria had arranged for bread and cheese to be distributed on that day, and now
the Band Council had taken over the responsibility. About five thousand people were in attendance,
almost all members of the Six Nations. (My daughter Jacquelyn who was about four years old
confided in an old Mohawk lady, "You had better watch yourself. There are Indians around here.") The
spectators lined each side of the race track to watch our athletes perform in competition with each
other and the club did pretty well. The track was about thirty yards wide and Brian decided to give
his javelin demonstration in the middle of the track with people hanging over the fence on the infield
as well as the outfield. He threw a couple of huge throws, over two hundred feet, but on his third
effort the wind caught the javelin and it started drifting towards the watching crowd. Fortunately it
landed just inside the fence and no-one was injured, and that was the end of his demonstration.
Something very unusual happened one night as I drove on to the Reserve. I am sure it was very
symbolic, but what it was symbolic of, I do not know. My car clipped a little bird in flight across the
road. I stopped to see if it was OK, and when I walked back I found that the bird was dead but it had
been flying with a caterpillar in its beak, and the caterpillar, being given a reprieve, was now heading
across the road to freedom. I called to my passenger "George, come and see this." Before George got
up to the scene, along came another car and ran right over the caterpillar. I worked often with the
symbolism. The caterpillar was going to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly, and then tragedy
struck. It was given a second chance to realise its potential, and then this too was snatched away. All
of it seemed beyond the control of the little creature. Beyond mine too.
As I got to know the young people, social problems emerged. One young man whom my wife and
I loved dearly said he hated his father and wanted to kill him. His Dad drank a lot and this fourteen
year old and his brothers and sisters were often scared, and could not do their homework, or count
on any peace at home. We tried discussing things with him, but it all seemed futile. We took him with
a couple of others on our annual vacation, and their company was delightful. Twenty years later,
returning to the Reserve to renew old friendships with former club members, now in their mid thirties,
I found that some had done very well with stable families and jobs, but this young man had become
a carbon copy of all he despised about his father. His children were at home dreading his return and
he was off on a binge.
For the adults on the Reserve, Bingo had become a major preoccupation to the extent that free buses
were regularly sent to bring players to Hamilton and to Brantford.
On occasion my wife and I popped in to visit the few Bahá'ís who lived
on the Reserve. Bob Jamieson and his wife Phyllis ran a small restaurant in
the centre of Ohswekan and we enjoyed some cheery visits there. Emily
General was a feisty old lady, a retired school teacher and an expert on
the history of the Six Nations. She introduced us to a book called
Wilderness Messiah, a story of Deganawida and Hiawatha and
the religion of the Iroquois Confederacy. Emily organized an annual
pageant, at a place called the Theatre in the Wilderness, a beautiful open
air setting, with birchbark canoes coming and going in the background.
Emily's brother, Jack General (not a Bahá'í) was Deskaheh in the Cayuga Long House. He was a
wonderful, dignified and knowledgeable man and he invited my wife and me to attend a Strawberry
Festival in the Long House. We did this and were treated to an experience of another culture and
another language. There were many speeches in the native language and dances to the beat of drums
and turtle rattles. We were given a thick soup of corn with strawberries in it, a strange combination
to my palate, and treated with a great deal of respect. Most of the speeches were about the
importance of the young people learning their language and culture. Only one of my young athletes
was present, the rest telling me that they avoided such events.
Mr General accepted an invitation to come with me to St Catharines Ontario to address the Bahá'í
Community, and he gave a wonderful talk in English to an enthralled audience about giving thanks
to the Creator for the Earth and all that is on it. Through him we learned of the Iroquois struggle for
independence and how an earlier Deskaheh had appeared before the League of Nations, appealing for
justice and recognition that the Iroquois had been the allies of the English, never their subjects. The
Iroquois had been usurped as had the Scots in an earlier time.
Back to the Track Club. We were now officially known as the Six Nations Track and Field Club and
had many well wishers in the sporting world. The Department of Indian Affairs had heard of us and
came out to visit and we managed to get some $1,000 funding from Lottery monies to buy
equipment, jumping stands, hurdles, javelin, shot put, etc. I knew that I would not be able to continue
my association with them indefinitely, so I selected twelve of the most mature and enthusiastic
teenagers to train as coaches and we spent one winter grooming them to eventually take over the
Club. At the end of the course all twelve proudly accepted their coaching certificates with due
ceremony from Mrs Smith on behalf of the School Board.
During the same period my wife and I were involved in operating a youth
club for locals in Niagara on the Lake and were also associated with a
group of mostly black kids from Jamestown, New York. The kids in Niagara
had been getting into trouble with the law primarily through boredom and
having nothing to do. This club gave them the opportunity to get together
and socialise, dance the latest steps and get involved in community project
such as rebuilding a tennis court, sprucing up the parks, and helping
seniors with garden or domestic work. When the Six Nations Track Club came
to town we also brought over the Black kids from Jamestown and all the
young folks had a great time. The next thing we knew was that the parents
of the white kids did not let their children come to the Niagara Youth
Club. We asked around and found out that the word was out that we were
COMMUNISTS!!!. The worst thing that you could be accused
of at the time. Eventually one mother said that she knew we could not be
communists because we believed in God. Gradually the youth returned to the
club and the program went on. We feel sure that many parents were shocked
at the idea of their sons or daughters mingling with Indian or Black youth.
This was the time of Martin Luther King and many of our friends were taking
part in walks in the South, where racism was in the open.
The next season was the last one I was to be closely associated with them. I contacted two other
clubs, the Civitan Track Club in St Catharines, and the Welland Track Club and they agreed to a
triangular interclub match in St Catharines. We brought two school buses filled with athletes and they
competed with these more experienced and older athletes in all of the usual events. We finished
second in the points competition but the thing that pleased me enormously was that all day in all the
events, no-one quit. All gave there very best effort, except for one young fellow who was deaf and
had not got the message as the others had.
Before my family left to move to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories I made every possible
effort to get someone capable to continue the work with this club. It really needed some more
support, as it is expecting a lot of kids of 14 to 16 years to organize and run the affairs of a Track
Club. While there were many well wishers, I could find no-one willing to take it on.
Years later when I returned to the Reserve I was told that the Track Club had become the foundation
of an umbrella organization encompassing all sports on the Reserve. Jack and Emily General had
passed away after most useful and fruitful lives. Bob Jamieson had died of a heart attack and Phyllis
was happily remarried. Cecil Davis was a steelworker, married to a nurse, with two happy children
and a nice home. Gilbert was an accountant in Montreal. One of the girls was a successful hairdresser
with her own business. Ron was in the US Marine Corps. Many had taken the lessons, translated them
into life skills, and were doing well. Maybe they would have done well anyway. Who knows?
Kahn Tineta went on fighting as an activist for aboriginal rights, always a controversial figure, a
fearless and outspoken Mohawk woman. I met her once during the early 1960's when she came to
Niagara Falls to take a role in a border crossing demonstration. She arrived late, changed into
ceremonial costume at a friends home and I had to lift her into the back of an open automobile as the
procession passed by. I was not at all surprised to learn that she was behind the barricades at Oka.
I met her again two year ago when she lectured at the Fraser Auditorium of Laurentian University,
as impressive as ever. Afterwards we spoke briefly of the Track Club she had initiated. I promised
to write an account of it for her.
This is it.
Eight Weeks Before the Mast
Memories of working on the crew of an oil tanker in 1957
The romance of the sea has always attracted writers. Classics have been written which will endure
forever. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "The Ancient Mariner". Herman Melville gave us "Moby
Dick". In more recent times Nicholas Monserrat wrote "The Cruel Sea". Here now, is a story that
has been fifty years in the making, one that only I could tell.
Many families around Scotland have a strong seagoing tradition. My family's sea experience was
limited to day trips to Rothsey and Dunoon on the Clyde coast and an hour in a rented rowing boat.
I was about to break that mold.
1957 was a year of major events for me. After a big accident on Ben Nevis during the New Year
holiday, I was faced with three choices. I could either accept conscription for two years of military
service, or spend five years in the merchant navy, or emigrate to either Australia or Canada.
Eileen and I had become engaged in October, 1956 and this was to have a big influence on my
choices. As a single guy, I had eagerly anticipated life in the military, with dreams of having all sorts
of opportunities to train and run. I had mostly put the athletic part of my life on hold to study for
engineering qualifications, but this seemed like a great chance to see what I could accomplish. The
four minute mile was within reach for me, if I could only find a cliff that was high enough.
Anyway, to make a short story long, I opted for trying the merchant navy and signed on with the
Imperial Oil Company, Esso. It has more recently become Exxon. Within a very short time I had been
assigned as Fifth Engineer to a ship, the Esso Manchester. My studies were relevant to the work, but
my work experience was almost totally irrelevant. Tool and Die Maker is a fine precision trade, but
has nothing whatsoever to do with engines, pumps, fans and boilers. I understood how all these things
worked, but I had never seen the inside of them. That was soon fixed by an older friend, who shall
remain nameless, who provided me with a reference saying that I had two years of heavy engineering
experience, which I hadn't. So here I was, only 22 years old, an officer, holding Part A of
a chief engineer's ticket, requiring only 18 months seagoing experience to get Part B and become a
full fledged chief engineer. I understand how the Exxon Valdez ran aground and the oil spill
I picked up my handsome officers dress uniform with brass buttons, epaulettes and a gold braided
cap. I was bluffing, but I looked the part. Hell, I looked fine, like an admiral in the Swiss Navy. I had
to report to my ship in the port of Fawley, near Portsmouth in the south of England, and left Glasgow
by train for the big adventure.
The Esso Manchester was a sixteen thousand ton oil tanker with a top speed of sixteen knots, making
it one of the faster ships around. The propulsion system was turbo-electric with two Babcock and
Wilcox boilers fired by Bunker C fuel oil, each capable of producing forty thousand pounds of
superheated steam per hour at 500 pounds per square inch pressure and 750 degrees F. The steam
drove a large turbine which in turn drove an electric generator, the electricity from which operated
an electric motor which finally turned the gears for the twin screws, or propellers. The exhaust steam
leaving the turbine went through a condenser turning it back into water to be reintroduced to the
boilers. Make up water was produced in an evaporator that could turn four tons of seawater into
fresh water in a four hour period.
It had been one of the last ships through the Suez Canal before President Gamil Abdul Nasser closed
that waterway by sinking boats in it. Stories abounded about how little boats would come out with
Egyptians shouting at the crew and shaking their fists at them. Someone dropped a very large wrench
over the side and through a little boat, sinking it. That would do a lot for international relations.
There were more stories of how hot it was in the Red Sea. The ship's cat died of heat stroke, and
engineers had to work out of the ship's refrigerator, doing part of a round then going back in to cool
off before resuming their inspections. I was glad I had not joined the ship earlier.
This ship had been built in 1942 when the German submarines were sinking tankers as fast as they
could be built. It had been constructed with a life expectancy of ten years and was now fifteen years
old and leaky. Soon these small tankers would be replaced by supertankers of 100,000 or even
200,000 tons gross weight, bringing potential for ecological disaster.
We sailed out of Fawley on January 28, 1957 and I became seasick even
when the sea was calm. This lasted for three days, during which the weather
became stormy. My job was to assist the Third Engineer (who knew what he
was doing), working two four hour shifts each day, seven days a week. A
tanker has a bridge and forward deck where the captain and mates do their
thing and have living quarters. The officers mess, kitchen, engine room,
boiler room, funnel, and everyone else's living quarters are aft. An
elevated long narrow flying bridge, exposed to the elements, connects the
two ends of the ship.
The crew consisted of the Captain, in charge of marriages, funerals, and everything in between; First
Mate, and Second Mate who looked after navigation; the Chief Engineer, who followed any deliveries
of booze from the bond (where it was kept) to its destination, to share in the goodwill; Second, Third and Fourth
Engineers; and three junior Engineers who were all, like me, Fifth Engineers. The Chief Engineer had
overall responsibility but did not stand watch. The Second, Third and Fourth Engineers took turn on
watch, keeping the engines running, each with the assistance of a Fifth. In addition there was an
Electrician (Sparks), a Carpenter (Chips), some Stokers who looked after the operation of the
boilers, a Purser, who guarded and dispersed the booze locked up in the bond. (Once outside the
Three Mile Limit there was no obligation to pay tax on booze and it became very inexpensive.) There
was the Cook, some Stewards, and a number of deck hands. Altogether we were a crew of about
thirty rather strange people who had to live in close proximity for the duration of the voyage. We
would come to know more about human nature and about each other than we would have chosen.
The crew were predominantly English, except the Fourth Engineer who was from Edinburgh,
Scotland and another Fifth engineer who was Irish. The English accents were strange to my ear and
that sometimes caused problems.
Despite my seasickness I faithfully stood watch each day, which included making rounds checking
on pressures and temperatures of various pumps, fans and assorted machinery. I would make part of
my round, recording the produce of various gauges and thermometers then stop by a sink to throw
up, then continue with another part of the round. One thing that disoriented me, setting off my
sickness, was to see chains hanging from pulley blocks high up in the engine room. They did not hang
vertically, but sideways. Someone gave me a tip to eat dry crackers and go up on the prow of the ship
to watch the waves coming in. Either this cure worked or I got better anyway, but from the third day
on I thoroughly enjoyed the stormy weather.
I had a cabin to myself on the port side well above sea level with two portholes. When the waves
started rolling, the crew from the forward part of the ship had to risk the flying bridge to get aft for
meals. This could be entertaining. Each man would wait for a big wave to break over this bridge then
open his watertight door, making a run for the rear of the ship, trying to get there before the next
wave soaked him. This was particularly enjoyable when it involved people whom I had come to
dislike, and a few of us would gather to watch their efforts. At times in the Atlantic the waves would
get so high that you would not believe me if I ventured to put a measurement on it. Suffice it to say
that at times waves broke over the top of the Captain's bridge.
Esso provided excellent food but the overwhelming smell of our cargo so effected our taste buds that
we could not appreciate it. When the weather was rough the stewards would soak the tablecloth and
lay condiments and sauce bottles flat. Cutlery was passed out and held in hand so it did not go sliding
off the table. Soup was not possible; some days eating a meal was not possible either. Sitting at a
meal in stormy weather I could look through a porthole and see the ocean then as the ship rolled I
would see clouds in a blue sky. We worked every day, so lost track of time, but knew it was Sunday
when ice cream was served.
The noise below varied from extremely loud to deafening and the temperature in the engine room was
95 degrees, in the boiler room, 105 degrees. Because of the heat all I wore on shift was underpants,
a pair of coveralls and shoes. I wore socks for a while but they rotted from perspiration. When the
telephone rang, between the noise and strange accents I found it difficult to understand the speaker.
We were designated as a weather ship and each hour had to radio various climatic information. The
most common thing the phone would ring for was a request for the sea temperature, so anytime I
could not understand the phone message, I would give them the sea temperature. This,
understandably, led to problems.
Because the ship was past its best, we engineers had usually to work an extra four hour shift each
day, making it a "field day" just to keep things working the way they must for our survival. There was
no doctor on board but the medical kit included a stretcher, splints, aspirin, bandages, ointments and
enough Epsom Salts to move the bowels of the earth. The rubbing alcohol had mysteriously vanished.
In the hot weather you were expected to avoid excessive sunshine. Anyone who was incapacitated
with sunburn could be put on a charge, whatever that meant.
January in the Atlantic means wild weather. When I recovered from seasickness there was a lot I
enjoyed about the big storms. It was somewhat like mountain climbing -- life on the edge. A few days
out our radar scanner broke down and someone was needed to climb a mast and fix it. I volunteered
but fortunately they got a real sailor to do the job.
One week out and I was feeling OK except that from the movement of the ship I had become badly
constipated and took a large dose of the Epsom Salts. Right at this time, we had an emergency, and
a boiler had to be shut down for repairs. We had only half power to handle the storms so we had to
get it back on line as soon as possible. It was 105 degrees in the Boiler Room but we had to climb
in and out of the boiler where it was 140 degrees. I worked for straight 36 hours without rest while
the Epsom Salts proved their effectiveness. This period of time is still a blur.
Another time, as we were going off shift, a gasket blew on a main steam line and the Engine Room
instantly filled up with steam like a Turkish bath. While it was impressive, it turned out to be relatively
easy to repair.
I wrote to Eileen describing our experiences, about three pages every day, and mailed them when we
arrived in a port. These bulky letters would arrive stained with sweat, Coca Cola, and Guinness.
I do not remember ever meeting the Captain, who ate in his quarters, and met the Chief Engineer only
when, just as advertized, he followed a case of Guinness from the bond to my cabin. After that he
would pop in regularly until it was finished, then I did not see him again until my next case arrived.
The Second Mate was a fair haired, burly man and seemed to run the ship. He was from Newcastle
(a Geordie) and a very sour man, and it was he that interacted with the Engineers on duty. Coming
from that part of England, he had a very strong accent, and I found him difficult to understand. I was
later to hear that he had marriage problems and had not heard from his wife since we left England.
At sea problems like this become magnified and spill over to affect the crew. That may have
contributed to his personality, but I think it was a talent. A few crew members did not have all of their
oars in the water and one man, who had come to hate Esso, spent hours trying to scrape the company
name and logo off a mug. Life at sea pushes many in that direction.
The Third Engineer that I worked with was a nice enough guy, although we never became close
friends. He was from the Isle of Wight and had a girlfriend I met when she was leaving the ship after
a last conjugal visit in Fawley. He was interested in the fact that I was engaged as he planned to get
engaged when the ship returned home. During our trip he would speak to me about his plans, but I
could see trouble ahead as, in the short time I saw her, I could see she had "a roving eye." I did not
think he would welcome that news item, so never said anything about it. The Third had his quirks too.
The evaporator that made fresh water was of simple design. Sea water came into it, steam was passed
through tubes, converting seawater to steam which was then condensed leaving its salt on the outside
of the tubes, and passing pure water to storage tanks. Cold water through the tubes would then
shatter the coating of salt and it could be flushed away. Simple as it may be, the proportions of steam
and seawater were critical and too much of one or the other would set a very loud alarm going. The
Third had mastered this process but last thing, before going off shift, he would readjust the valves and
we would pause before leaving the engine room to hear the alarm going off and the Fourth Engineer
start cursing, sweating, and running around.
The Third and I would spend some time together after shift. At four in the morning we would pick
up large glasses of evaporated milk mixed with water and an ice cube, then sit on deck chatting,
enjoying this strange brew. This drink never tasted good before or since, but in the Caribbean looking
at the brilliant stars with no light pollution and watching the flying fish it was perfect. Dolphins
followed our ship for many hours and as we sailed along, flying fish would either fly to the side to get
away from us or fly ahead and have to keep on flying. They actually glided rather than flew, and it
seemed that they could be airborne for about fifty yards at a time. So many empty beer cans were
thrown overboard that we used to speculate that one day a ship would run aground on Beer Can
Island. The one thing involving the Third that I was ashamed of was when his wooden deck chair
collapsed with his fingers jammed in it, and I could not stop laughing quickly enough to help him. He
must have thought I was warped too.
The Fourth Engineer was meaner than cat shit. He had huge biceps, was an expert in martial arts, and
was nasty from day one. He started throwing his weight around, humiliating the stewards. He said
the steak they brought him was terrible, and demanded they take it away and bring something
properly cooked. Then he winked at me and said "You have to show these bastards who is the boss".
A jumped-up tradesman misusing power. Whenever he was doing something particularly nasty, he
would wear a sadistic smile as though it was all a joke. My management methods were the reverse
of his, including showing respect for others and appreciation for any extra effort they made for me.
The Fourth seemed to like me, perhaps as a fellow Scot, but I never liked him. From time to time I
tried to use this "relationship" to appeal to his better side, but he did not have one. On the other hand
he was often trying to point out that a strong hand was the way to get things done.
The Irishman, Paddy, worked under the supervision of the Fourth Engineer. I really liked Paddy -- he
was young, gentle and normally good natured. As the voyage went on, it seemed that the Fourth took
a dislike to him. He claimed he was trying to train Paddy and that he had to "break" him. Paddy was
assigned all the most miserable jobs, many of which were not necessary, and worked in extremes of
heat, dirt, stink and anything unpleasant that occurred to the Fourth. Paddy spent a lot of time in the
bilges. I think the Fourth wanted him to give up and ask for a break, but Paddy resolutely did all the
work without giving in. Unfortunately Paddy started drinking a lot in his off time. By the end of the
voyage this gentle boy was threatening the life of the Fourth, going around with a large wrench,
clanging it on metal bulwarks and telling the Fourth not to sleep too deeply. The Fourth pretended
that this did not bother him at all, but I expect he was lying.
In 1957 it seemed that Elvis was on the radio all day, every day. The Esso Manchester too, could
really rock and roll. Our ship handled pitching quite well but it could really roll from side to side. We
took on extra ballast but it was still a problem. A few days after the boiler was repaired we were
underway and back to a normal routine, when we were hit by a wind force ten. The ship started
rolling so badly that a large steel crate of spare parts, weighing about two tons, broke loose and
started sliding across in front of the boilers, crashing against the bulkhead then sliding to crash on the
other side. We were afraid that it could break through the side of the ship. The stokers got out of the
way and the Third Engineer and I grabbed crow bars and chased after the crate. We were too slow
in getting to it and pretty soon the crate was chasing us. We had to jump up and hang on to steel
beams as it passed under us then we pursued it again. This slapstick was repeated a few times before
we managed to get it pinned and secured.
We had an electrical problem in the middle of the night and I had to wake up the Electrician. I was
warned that Sparks had a phobia about drowning and would be hard to rouse. I was hardly able to
contain myself when after banging, kicking, and beating on his steel cabin door with a large wrench,
he finally opened up. Sparks was prepared for the ship going down, fully dressed, wearing an inflated
Mae West life jacket, no teeth, with his wig on backwards. Despite his fears he turned out and fixed
our electrical problems before going, grumbling and mumbling, back to bed.
The very word "Jamaica" had a magic ring for me. I had signed on for a voyage to Jamaica and back
to Fawley, but I was to find out that uniforms were not the only thing the merchant navy had in
common with the military. The company could change their minds about destinations, sending you
anywhere in the world for up to two years, then they had to get you to your home port even if they
had to fly you there. Anyway this was a time of an oil crisis and strange things were happening. I was
really looking forward to seeing Jamaica and I did, but only as we sailed right past it heading for
Venezuela. As we sailed past I could hear Belafonte on the radio singing:
Down the way where the lights are gay
And the sun shines daily on the mountain top
I took a trip on a sailing ship
And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop
Now I'm sad to say, I'm on my way
Won't be back for many a day.
My heart is down, my head is spinning around
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town.
If Elvis was King in North America, Harry Belafonte and calypso ruled in the Caribbean. We were
regaled with a steady diet of Day-o, Brown Skin Girl, Jamaica Farewell, Scarlet Ribbon and other
favourites. I must say that I preferred Harry to Elvis and Calypso to Rock'n'roll. Calypso is more of
a ballad and tells a story. This was as close as I would ever get to Jamaica, although Jamaica, its
culture and its crime would eventually be exported to Britain and Canada.
In the warm weather of the Caribbean it was decided that we would paint the superstructure at the
front of the ship. About eight men with buckets of white paint were doing a fine job and the ship
started to gleam. Every shift had its unpleasant jobs, and the one allocated to our shift was blowing
the boiler tubes clean to maintain the efficiency of heat transfer. To do this the Third Engineer would
climb up on a platform high above the boilers to open and close the steam valves, and I would be
jammed behind the boiler to pull on the overhead chain that rotated the soot blowers. The soot was
carried out of the funnel at the back of the ship with the boiler exhaust gases. The soot blowers were
a bit leaky and I had to be nimble to manage the job while avoiding the scalding hot water which
splashed around me. It was hot, dangerous work, taking about twenty minutes, and once started we
did not wish to be interrupted. In the middle of the job, the telephone started persistently ringing. We
thought it would be another request for the sea temperature, which could readily wait, so we said "To
Hell with them" or words to that effect. Just after we finished and sat down with that feeling of well
being that comes with a job well done, the Second Mate burst into the Engine Room. His face was
red and he was literally jumping mad. We wondered what was bugging the silly man this time. It was
then that we found out that there was a strong following wind that morning. The soot we had been
blowing from the boilers had all ended up on the newly painted superstructure. Giving him the sea
temperature when I finally answered the phone had not helped the situation either.
We had a change of orders and were supposed to go to Maracaibo. That sounded very interesting and
exotic, but again things changed and we ended up at a place called Amoy Bay. I have never seen it
on a map before or since, but it was there. There were a number of tankers from other nations tied
up near us, I could see a lot of desert and away in the distance what looked like a volcano. I was told
that a customs officer was coming aboard and if he went in to my cabin and took anything I was to
let him have it. Apparently he usually helped himself to booze from the bond and goodness knows
what else. I saw the customs launch pull alongside and an old peasant type with a straw hat tried to
help this guy in immaculate uniform. For his trouble he was given a punch in the face. I hoped he
would not come near me as I did not think I would control myself, and fortunately he didn't. It was
in port that I found out that the ship had a thirteen hour turn around (could load or unload in that
time) and that engineers had to stand port watches as pumps, fans, and generators were all running.
I got ashore for all of ninety minutes in Venezuela, just enough time to go to a bar and have a beer.
There were police types guarding various gates with carbines on their shoulders. I was told that a
German sailor had run to catch up with some friends a few days earlier and was shot for looking
suspicious. I could have got away longer but covered for others who wanted to get to a nearby
"nightclub". They said the women were really beautiful, but I declined to join them. Later two crew
members started fighting with each other as one had oral sex with a woman and the other man had
later been kissing her. When they compared notes, that's when the trouble started. One man's meat
is another man's poison.
Chips, our carpenter, got drunk here and missed the set time for sailing, so he was left behind. I never
heard what happened to him after that. So we said farewell to the beauties of Venezuela and headed
north with a load of oil for Portland, Maine. It was hot in the Caribbean and I was wearing shorts
each day. It was still hot when I went to bed but when I rose in the morning, just off the coast of New
York, it was snowing, and I was bloody freezing. There was lots of snow in Portland and we sailed
up a river to deliver our cargo near a power station. I don't remember much about Portland except
for a taxi driver who complained bitterly about the purchasing power of the dollar. He said "I
remember when a dollar was a dollar. Now it ain't worth a piss hole in the snow." Now why would
that stay with me for fifty years? The US government was very much afraid of Communists and I was
interviewed by a stern looking official who asked me two questions.
- Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
- Are you clean?
The second question was not about soap and water, but about sexually transmitted diseases.
Everyone on board our ship passed the test, but I bet it would have caught out anyone being
dishonest. By the time we got to Portland I had developed a very painful medical problem. From
turning large, stiff, valve handles, a motion that I was not used to, I developed bursitis in my right
shoulder and it was so bad that I ended up with severe bruising. It added nothing to my enjoyment
of this port. Anyway, I got ashore for two hours in an isolated village outside Portland. Oil tankers
do not usually get to tie up in towns. Now we said goodby to the snows of Portland and headed for
New Orleans. Isn't that exciting!
In my mind I could hear the rich voice of that wonderful singer, Paul Robeson, singing Ole Man River:
Darkies all work on the Mississippi
Darkies all work while the white man play.
Paul Robeson, Olympic high jumper, possessed the finest voice in the world. Like Charlie Chaplin he
was a social activist before his time. He left the USA to go on tour, was branded a Communist, and
denied readmittance. The same thing happened to Chaplin. A few years later Robeson would have
joined Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King and gone down in fond memory. The early worm gets
Big Muddy, they call it. The Mississippi River lives up to that -- it is big, and it sure is muddy! The
entrance to the river is vast and has five mouths. We did not see much for a while, then gradually
began to see work barges along the shore, with black men still doing the most menial work. Again
we sailed past New Orleans, tying up by an oil tank farm, miles away from New Orleans. I worked
again and got ashore for another ninety minutes. We were far enough from town that I did not get
there at all. To this day I have not seen New Orleans. There was an accident while we were there and
five thousand gallons of oil was spilled into the Mississippi, but not on my shift. This was in the days
before we were aware of ecological problems. A fine had to be paid -- not very much -- and there was
a fuss, which I could not understand. The river was such a mess anyway, I did not see what difference
a bit of oil would make. How much we have learned since then!
Homeward bound at last, the Atlantic had one final go at our leaky ship. After a stormy night, I
awoke one morning to a swishing sound followed by bonk, bonk, bonk. I jumped out of bed into a
foot of seawater on my cabin floor. The swishing was the water, the bonking was my shoes and the
drawers that had tumbled out of my storage cupboard. All were floating like little boats. As I tried
to rescue them my bed took off and started banging from one side of my cabin to the other. Just call
me Dances With Waves.
When we arrived home, all around Britain oil tankers were anchored, waiting for the price of oil to
rise. Esso had been very good to me. They fed well, they paid well, and I had lots of vacation coming
from the hours I had worked at sea. Despite this, between all of the uncertainty about the duration
of a voyage, the lack of opportunity to see interesting places, the heat, and some of the unpleasant
people, I had decided that life at sea was not for me. I was determined that when I got back to
Fawley, I would quit. I had been ashore for all of 5 hours in this whole trip. Not a life for someone
planning to get married. It seemed to me that an experience like this was the spice of life. I would
remember it forever, but a little spice goes a long way. Who wants a steady diet of spice?
At this point, more uncertainty entered into the picture. Most of the unions in Britain were headed
by Communists at this time. There were not very many Communists, but their method of taking
control was simple. They were the only people willing to attend meetings, so they elected themselves.
As we neared Britain there was news .that the Transport and General Workers Union was going to
strike all forms public transportation. I was informed, as a result, I would have to sign on for another
trip. I vowed, if necessary, I would walk the five hundred miles home.
After signing off, the Engineers compared the ratings the Chief had given us. Each one said:
Ability: Very Good
General Conduct: Very Good
I cannot believe the Chief was strictly sober when he completed these ratings. Even Paddy was
"Strictly Sober." I had started a poem that was perhaps a more honest reference for some of the crew.
The Chief's aloof, the Mate's a poof
the Fourth's a rotten Bastard
There's lots to fear and plenty beer
so Paddy, the Junior, gets plastered
It was not necessary to walk home. The strike was delayed and I took the train to Glasgow
accompanied by the Fourth Engineer. Despite his experience with Paddy, he was sure that his
methods of handling people were sound, and continued trying to convince me of it. As we neared
Edinburgh where he lived he was pointing out to me how he had received first class service from the
kitchen staff and stewards, all during the trip. It was true. As usual, he was often wrong, but never
uncertain. I could hold it back no longer.
As the train was pulling away from Edinburgh I called through the train window, "Do you remember
when the steward got drunk in Venezuela?"
He said "Yes. What about it?"
I shouted, "That's when he told me they always spat in your soup and wiped their dicks on your
He looked kind of green but I never saw him again. He probably still thinks he was right.
His kind never change.
Oil tankers have grown in size since my days at sea in a 16,000 ton tanker. The largest tanker afloat
is 600,000 tons, 1,500 feet long, 225 feet wide and 80 feet below the water line. This is about ten
times the volume of the Queen Mary. The modern supertankers are filled and discharged through
underwater pipelines provided by offshore ports. Every tanker has a hull and bulkheads which run
the length and width of the ship, dividing the tanker into compartments, enabling the vessel to carry
several petroleum products at the same time. Some tankers, but not many, have double bulkheads to
minimize loss of oil in accidents. Ships of this size are difficult to maneuver and take about three miles
to come to a stop. These ponderous vessels create a potential for ecological disaster, not only from
accidents, but also from terrorist attacks.
Altogether there are about 7,500 merchant ships in the world with a gross tonnage of 400,000,000
tons. 17,000,000 additional tons are built each year. Japan and South Korea produce about two thirds
of the annual tonnage launched. The United States merchant marine has about 6,500 vessels,
including those that sail the Great Lakes and inland waterways.
The U.S. federal government requires that all merchant ships registered under the United States flag
must be American built and operated by American crews. Shipbuilding in the USA costs about 50%
more than in the lowest cost shipyards, located mostly in Asia. American flag ships can compete
against foreign vessels only with the help of government subsidies. The government grants these
subsidies because it believes that a merchant fleet is vital to the nation's foreign trade and national
defense. In wartime US ships are necessary to carry supplies, and shipyards are vital to build
warships. Without a large merchant fleet the USA is dependent on foreign countries whose allegiance
may lie elsewhere.
Despite this, only 150 ships flying the American flag are engaged in its foreign trade, carrying about
4% of U.S. trade. Most American companies refuse to take the subsidies, preferring to build and
register abroad, thus building more cheaply and enabling the company to pay lower taxes, pay crew
members lower wages, and not be required to follow the strict and expensive safety standards.
The USA and other developed countries require that ships meet safety standards, crews be trained,
qualified and adequately paid. As a result, Liberia has the largest merchant fleet in the world with
55,000,000 gross tons or 15% of the worlds total tonnage. This fleet is followed in size by the
Bahamas, Honduras, and Panama. These are called "flags of convenience" and enable US companies
and those from developed countries to avoid paying taxes at home, paying much lower taxes to these
tiny countries. US exporters are free to pay crews much lower wages and avoid following any decent
safety standards. For accommodating these powerful and wealthy companies, Liberia receives $20
million a year in registration fees. The companies are enabled to save billions by unleashing "sinking
Sarahs", ships of unsafe condition, on the world, endangering every continent. Oil tankers spill
1,200,000 tons of oil annually into the world's oceans.
So much for patriotism, free trade, and market forces.
Robbie Boyd, My Father
My father had a generous share of faults. Who doesn't? But they are not very interesting so let me
say at the outset, that is not what I am writing about.
You have heard the term "a troubled childhood"? You could say that about my Dad, but the trouble
was usually inflicted on those around him. He was born in 1898 at Milton Douglas in Duntocher. His
mother and father had a "mixed marriage," she coming from a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent
(her maiden name was Margaret Bratton), and he from a Scottish, Protestant family. This type of
marriage was unconventional and somewhat shocking in those days.
He was christened Robert Boyd, a name with a proud history, with due ceremony in the Presbyterian
Church in Duntocher. A few days later the Catholic side of the family, afraid that his soul might
eventually burn in Hell, "kidnapped" him and had him christened Robert Boyd in the Catholic Chapel.
This left him all his life with a strong but ambivalent faith, and a very tolerant view of religion, which
he passed on to his children.
Robert, or as he came to be known, "Robbie", was soon followed by two sisters and a brother, all of
whom came to admire and love their elder brother. This was a mistake. There was nothing vindictive
about my father, just a sense of adventure, curiosity and fun, which led him and those around him into
many unfortunate experiences.
There was a steep hill beside Milton Douglas where he took his little sister, Polly, for a ride in a
wheelbarrow, first up the hill, then racing back down as she yelled with excitement. Soon her yelling
was for another reason when he fell, spilling the wheelbarrow and its contents, breaking little Polly's
arm. On another occasion he gave Polly an umbrella, telling her she could jump from the second floor
staircase and, using the umbrella as a parachute, float down over the big rocks. She faithfully tried
this too, with predictable consequences. This time nothing was broken, but Robbie was in trouble
again. When I last saw Polly she was over eighty years old, and still told these stories -- but loved her
Being the eldest in the family, Robbie was expected to act responsibly, taking care of his younger
siblings. His parents left him in charge when they went out for a few hours. They were enjoying some
noisy game, when the people upstairs started to knock down for them to be quiet. Robbie figured it
was the children upstairs having fun at his expense so taking a broom handle, he started knocking
back on the ceiling. Unfortunately he knocked so hard that a large piece of the ceiling, which was
constructed of lathe and plaster, came crashing down about him. Ingeniously he took some slices of
white bread, made them damp and, climbing on piled up furniture, stuck the bread to the exposed
lathe hoping his parents would not notice. Shortly after his parents came home, the bread dried out
and, to their astonishment came plopping down. Perhaps he was more unlucky than troublesome. He
was usually well intentioned.
The house at Milton Douglas had two rooms, a "good" room which was a bedroom that was seldom
used and a combination kitchen, dining room, with a built in bed in the wall. This is where everyone
lived. It had a wooden table, some wooden chairs, one easy chair, and a recliner couch. There was
a cast iron stove-oven combination and a built in coal bunker, whose top served as a sideboard.
After his parents recovered from the ceiling incident, Robbie was given another chance to be
responsible. Again he was left in charge when they went out for a few hours. This time all went well
and the children played lots of fun games including Hide and Seek. As the time neared for his parents
return, they realised that no-one had seen five year old Jackie since the game of Hide and Seek. In
a panic they searched everywhere, but Jackie was not to be found. When his parents returned there
was a great uproar. "How could you lose your brother?" they demanded. A good question, but hard
to answer when you are held by the ear in a vise grip. Eventually little Jackie showed up. He had
hidden inside the coal bunker, on top of the coal, and when no-one could find him, he had fallen fast
All of Robbie's problems did not happen with others around. He was quite capable of getting into
trouble all by himself. The next village to Duntocher was called Faifley, a low lying community of a
few houses. My Dad was in the hills above Faifley where there was a substantial body of deep water.
He found this contraption with a big wheel, and wondered what its purpose was. As he turned the wheel,
nothing seemed to happen for a while -- it was later that he found the village had been flooded by the
Misfortune followed him in childhood. Everywhere. One time he was playing with Bengal Matches,
a poor kids version of fireworks. You could light one and throw it up in the air to watch the trail of
light. At night it made a quite impressive display. Next door was a barn, and this barn had a knot hole,
high up on the side of the wall. Dad threw a match in the air - what are the chances of it finding the
knot hole ? A million to one ? Guess what! Soon horses, cows, and chickens were being led out,
bellowing and squawking. There were no serious injuries, but there was not much left of the small
barn. I don't think he ever confessed his guilt.
At his father's insistence, Robbie started an apprenticeship as a machinist, which could have led to
a fairly stable working career, but World War One was raging, so one day, instead of going to work,
he headed for the nearest recruitment office where he lied about his age to join the army. His father
was dismayed but helpless to do anything about it. Robbie had his boot camp experience at Maryhill
Barracks, just outside Glasgow, then was assigned to the Scots Greys, a cavalry regiment. Since he
was just a kid he was posted to Edinburgh and given the task of looking after the horses. This led to
a life long love of both horses and Edinburgh.
During WWI, train stations were picketed by patriotic young women, who tried to shame young men
into joining the military. A group of them were at Central Station in Glasgow when Robbie was
headed home on leave, in civilian clothes. One young lady pinned a white feather on him, the symbol
of cowardice. Robbie kissed it and pinned it on his bottom. Actions speak louder than words.
Coming out of the Army, he had lost his apprenticeship opportunity, and was destined to work the
rest of his career at jobs more menial than his intelligence could handle. He was a very bright man,
quite literate for the times, with a fine "copperplate hand" in writing, but lacking in formal education.
My mother, Molly MacKechnie, had lost her mother and a sister within two days during the great
Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1920. She took on the responsibility of caring for her younger brothers and
sisters. Being very impressive, Robbie dazzled my mother into marrying him, she thinking he
possessed stability and security and would help her look after her siblings. This was not to be. "Let
me take you away from all this" was a bluff. I suppose that all's fair in love and war. Their marriage
turned out to be a little of both.
What he did was provide her younger brothers with an classic education in practical jokes at their
expense. The twins, Jim and Angus, were apprentices with the huge Singer Manufacturing Company
in Clydebank, about three miles away. When they went to bed, Robbie set all the clocks in the house
ahead several hours. While they slept the sound sleep of teenagers, he blackened their faces with shoe
polish. At one in the morning, he woke them up one by one.
"Angus, wake up. You're late for work. Hurry!" Then he gave Angus a wink and pointed to his
sleeping brother's blackened face.
While Angus was getting hurriedly dressed ...
"Jim, wake up. You're late for work."
Jim moaned. "My God. It feels as though I just went to sleep!"
Robbie furtively pointed out Angus's black face. Jim sniggered quietly, rushed to dress , then the two
boys hurried down the three mile walk to work, each quietly giggling about the other.
"What are you so happy about?" asks Angus.
"Nothing. Its just such a nice morning," says Jim
And so on, until half a mile away from work they come in sight of Singers clock, the largest in the
world, with a big hand 23 feet long. They are stunned to see it is only 2 AM!
"The clock has stopped," says Angus, but they both know it is always accurate.
It gradually dawns, they have been tricked by a master.
Then they discover that they both have black faces....
While Robbie was still living with the MacKechnie family, Jim had completed his apprenticeship and
joined the army, being posted to India. After a couple of years he came home on leave and brought
with him a mongoose as a pet. This was an exceptionally smart animal which could move very fast.
In India the mongoose is the only animal (apart, maybe, from the elephant) which can take on and
defeat a king cobra. That is how fast and smart they are. Since there were no king cobras in Hardgate
where they were living at the time, this mongoose took on and destroyed a fox fur stole which was
my mother's most prized possession. I suspect the mongoose came to a bad end.
"The guys" in the family decided to make a cloth dumpling but did not wish to share it with the
women, so they sterilized a chamber pot, and made the dumpling in that. There was no demand to
share that dessert.
Robbie was always athletic -- a pretty good soccer player and runner too. He found out that a
Highland Games was coming up and thought of an opportunity -- an event which would have few
competitors. Lacking equipment, he improvised and trained for the Games using a wooden clothes
pole (used to prop up a line of laundry for drying). He practised pole vaulting until he could vault
over a goal post in the local soccer field -- the cross bar is 8 feet 6 inches high and very unforgiving
if one does not clear it. When he arrived at the Games he found that the Scottish pole vault champion,
a man named Speedy, was there, and Speedy could clear 10 feet 6 inches, but Robbie gave it his best.
Those were the days when a bamboo pole was the latest technology, and vaulters had to land on a
pile of sand or hay. During the depression he would go to the various Games with a group of local
soccer players and take part in the five-a-side matches, bringing home some cash or prizes.
My Uncle Neil MacKechnie was a fine runner and many times I have heard Dad tell the story of how
Neil beat all the favourites to win the Glasgow Cup in a quarter mile race. "As he neared the finish,
he threw his head back and found that last bit of courage and speed to beat them all." My brother
Bobby remembers Dad winning the married men's race at local picnics, and I remember as an older
man, he could still "kick his height".
During the depression the men of the village would hang around together, sometimes going for long
walks. It was at this time that some of the great mountain climbers emerged, unemployed all, formed
the Creag Dhu Climbing Club, and went on to blaze breathtaking new routes on the mountain faces.
The men of Duntocher and Hardgate were more into long walks and "drumming up" or making tea
over a fire by the roadside. Ghost stories were a very popular form of entertainment around the
campfire. People of this time were much more superstitious than today, and many people in the
villages seriously claimed to have heard banshees calling for the dying, or seen balls of fire, apparitions,
and even Satan himself.
Robbie knew this group of friends were going to be walking past the Hardgate Golf Club after dark,
so he got himself suited up in a bed sheet and hid in one of the bunkers. As the men came past he
gave a loud frightening moan. Nobody could see him, it was a black night, and they were all quite
superstitious and scared. They had all heard the scary stories. This was the real thing, but they were
unwilling to admit to being afraid.
'Whit was that noise?" someone asked.
"I didny hear onything," said another.
"Sure ye did, it was an awful moan."
Robbie let out another awful moan.
"It's a ghost," said someone.
"Rubbish. There's nae such thing."
"Well, you go and see whit it is, then."
"Not me, you go."
Finally when they all went together into the darkness towards the green, Robbie emerged from the
bunker and ran toward them, then disappeared into another bunker.
"My God. Whit was that thing?"
They eventually got up the courage to cautiously come nearer. The ghost reappeared, and rushed
toward them. This was too much. They took to their heels in full flight with the ghost after them.
Robbie caught the slowest of them, a small man with a limp and a stutter.
"Help, h-help, don't k-k-k-kill me, Mr G-g-g-ghost!" he shouted.
Robbie felt sorry for him and whispered "It's all right. Its only me, Robbie. Keep shouting as though
I was killing you."
The man got over his terror and co-operated fully. "He's k-k-k-killing me. Don't l-l-l-leave me!
His friends reached the road and stopped running, ashamed of themselves, but still didn't want to come
anywhere near the ghost. Someone got a bright idea and picked up a stone, throwing it at the ghost.
The others quickly joined in. After a couple of direct hits, the ghost took flight, racing across the golf
course and disappearing into a remote bunker, where he removed his sheet and remained hidden. He
later joined his animated friends and calmly asked them "How was your walk?" They told him tales of
the terrible ghost that tried to kill them. It was ten feet tall with huge fangs and eyes of fire, but they
fought it off and saved the village.
"Weren't you scared?" asked Robbie.
"No sir, we're no feared of any ghost."
Robbie was a cross between Sergeant Bilko and Zorba the Greek. He was full of fun and practical
jokes, but he could dream, and he could translate those big dreams into reality. Everyone in the village
was out of work and quite depressed. Some were getting into trouble with the law. Robbie had
an inspiration. The village really needed a first class soccer field, soccer being the national religion
in Scotland. A local farmer, Laird, had a field that was not much use to him, being just an extremely
As Secretary of the local soccer club, Duntocher Hibs FC, he came up with a breathtaking proposal.
They could raise the money and build their own soccer field. The protests came thick and fast. "How
can we raise that much money at a time like this?" was the main one. He said "It wouldn't take much
money to buy that big field from Laird, the one off the Roman Road." It took lots of discussion and
wrangling, but after a while others bought into the dream. Robbie was only 25 years old at this time,
but he could be very persuasive. The team had a small fund and they worked hard, putting on dances
and such until they raised the sum Laird had asked for his field, 100 pounds (about $400 at that time).
It took five years of backbreaking labour. There was no heavy equipment, so with picks, shovels, and
no more than half a dozen old wheelbarrows, they excavated the field, moving the soil from the
middle to build up the lower side, leaving a flat field with two embankments at either side to provide
standing area for the spectators. Some 7,500 tons of earth were moved, an amazing feat of civil
engineering accomplished. A small stadium would be added at a later date. All of this kept the men
busy and out of trouble, gave them a sense of purpose -- they were too busy to be depressed -- and left
them with a great sense of pride and self esteem.
The area newspaper (possibly The Clydebank Press) dated September 6, 1929 reported on the
opening ceremonies for Glenhead Park, and my brother remembers being there as a child. All of the
local politicians were there and many dignitaries from all around, to bask in the glow of success. The
President of the Glasgow Intermediate Association, a Mr J. Paterson, and said it was one of the
biggest engineering feats and indications of local support he had ever encountered. He pointed out
that many of the big clubs in Glasgow, with thousands of supporters, had good grounds but he
doubted if there were many places outside of Duntocher where such a gigantic voluntary job would
have been attempted by football supporters.
Many people had worked hard and long on this project, but nobody objected when the ball from the
inaugural game was officially presented to Robbie. My brother, who was eight years old at the time
told me that Dad later had the ball painted green and white, the Duntocher Hibs colours. Glenhead
Park is still in use today, some 75 years later, a lasting memorial to a man who could dream.
A hall was built behind soccer field and named the "Black Diamond". It was given its unusual name
because nobody had any money at the time it was built, and admission to the hall was a lump of coal,
or a "black diamond". It was used as a changing room, a social club, and for fitness classes etc. I
remember Dad taking me there as a very young child and watching some boxers and football players
training. Someone gave me a small bottle of milk and two chocolate digestive biscuits. The hall was
destroyed in the Clydebank Blitz of 1941.
At some time Robbie's ability in spotting soccer talent was recognised and he became a "scout" for
Manchester United Football Club, a famous first division team. I remember clearing a drawer in our
bedroom that was stuffed with telegrams from the legendary Matt Busby, manager of that team. Matt
himself died just a few years ago from this writing, still a nationally recognised figure in soccer. I do
not imagine Robbie was ever paid very much for this service -- it was more a labour of love -- and he
did so enjoy helping youngsters with their careers, in football or otherwise.
At the outset I mentioned that Robbie had his share of faults. A lack of courage was not among them.
He always stood up for the underdog, facing up to police, gamekeepers or whoever was trying to be
intimidating, especially around children. I heard many exaggerated stories about how he had beaten
up a gamekeeper who fired his gun in the air to scare off a local teenager. That never happened, but
it became local lore. I witnessed the event and all that he did was give the gamekeeper a real telling
off with threats of dire consequences if it ever happened again. I don't remember him ever striking
anyone, especially not me.
Anytime he had to be given a needle in hospital, he always asked for the inexperienced nurse who had
never done it before, then he would commend her for a great job. During WWII we had an air raid
shelter in our backyard. It was something like a section of culvert, half buried in the ground and
sodded over the roof. These shelters could withstand most things except for a direct hit. After the fall
of France and Norway, the Germans could send bombers over with impunity and these would
primarily go after industrial targets. Our little village was not industrial but was close enough to
Clydebank, whose shipyards had produced the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and were now busily
producing warships. Clydebank also housed the huge Singer Manufacturing Company which was now
busily producing machine guns and various armaments, and the Royal Ordinance Factory (where
Robbie worked), which produced much bigger guns.
Dad, being too old for the army, after work was a member of the Home Guard, a militia group
responsible for home defence and freeing up younger men to go off to war. Brother Bobbie was an
apprentice in a restricted trade that was needed for the war effort, and was trying desperately to get
away from work to join the Air Force. When the sirens went off warning of approaching enemy
aircraft I was usually bundled up and hauled off to the air raid shelter. Dad had a very strong faith and
belief in prayers and used to tell me that if I said my prayers, the Germans would not come over and
bomb us. In March, 1941, when I was six years old a major air raid happened and I was wakened
from a sound sleep, bundled off shouting words I had picked up in the street and protesting "and I
said my bloody prayers!" My faith in prayer diminished, and now I am always surprised when I see
During that air raid, which became known as the Clydebank Blitz, the Old
Kilpatrick Hills were set alight with decoy oil bins, hoping to make the
bombers believe that was Clydebank ablaze. That night Robbie and my
brother, Bobbie, who was 19 years old, stayed outside and fought fires in
neighbours houses. The bombers were dropping land mines which would make a
whistling sound as they fell, then there was silence for a few seconds,
followed by a huge explosion. (An eerie footnote to this: the trees near us
were home to many crows, which are great mimics. For some time after this
they faithfully reproduced the whistling sound of falling land mines, and
in the ensuing silence we waited for an explosion which did not come.) They
also dropped sticks of small incendiary bombs, which would stick on the
roofs of houses, then burn their way through floor by floor, setting
My Dad and Bobbie watched for these incendiary bombs and went into houses where they fell to
somehow get them outside, or extinguish them with sand. They had great difficulty breaking down
a heavy wooden locked door with a pickaxe, then found a bomb smoldering in an armchair. When
my brother carried it outside, it burst into flames in his face when the air hit it, singing his hair and
eyebrows. It was afterwards that my Uncle Tommy asked "Why did you not just break that little glass
window in the door and open it that way?" Three houses west of us was just a ruin, hit by a land
mine, five houses east of us was gone too, but the houses nearest to us were all saved thanks to Dad
and Bobbie. Some neighbours afterwards, when they emerged from the safety of their air raid
shelters, complained about the mess they had made ...
After this my dad decided to evacuate Mum and I to the relative safety of Uncle Jim MacKechnie's
home in Garelochead, about thirty miles away. Cars were not very willing to stop, but I remember Dad
standing in the middle of the Boulevard, a normally busy highway, and with his rifle stopping a car
and insisting that the driver take us to Garelochead. He would not take no for an answer, but the
driver was quite nice about it eventually.
During the war we volunteered our home to extend hospitality to soldiers, sailors and airmen from
overseas. They would visit and spend weekend leaves with us. My Dad, just like myself, saw himself
as something of the Great White Knight. I remember seeing his copperplate writing in a journal,
quoting that poem:
If there is some good that I may do in this world,
let me do it now, for I may never pass this way again.
Unfortunately it was the Great White Knight's wife that had all the washing, cooking, cleaning and
providing rations for the guests while the Great White Knight told them funny stories. He was a lot
Both my sisters married some of these friends that we met during this time. Isobel married Paul
Olson, a staff sergeant in the Eighth Army Air Force of the USA, and Betty married Eli Baldwin from
Newfoundland, a petty officer in the Royal Navy.
Cultural differences were sometimes interesting, and the USA and Scotland used the same expressions
to mean vastly different things. Robbie was an early riser and left to walk to work at about 5.30 AM.
He did not start work until 8 AM so enjoyed that time. What Robbie liked to do in this quiet time was
wander with his thoughts, listening to the birds, sometimes visiting the graveyard "to see my old
friends," he said. Only too soon he would be joining those old friends.
On the way to work he would wake some others as a favour, by knocking on their door or window.
In Scotland this was what was meant by "knocking them up". My mother was telling Paul and two
of his friends about this, but when she said that he knocked people up she noticed startled expressions
on their faces, so she followed it up by "Oh, yes. He knocks up half the village every morning." To
her surprise, Paul and his friends exploded in uncontrollable laughter.
The word was out. My sister Betty had a new boy friend, and he was a Polish soldier, an older man.
The whole family was shocked. At this time in Scotland, Americans and Canadians had come to be
accepted, but Poles, while being allies in the War, were seen as foreigners, with strange ways and a
strange language. We were told that at the annual New Years gathering at my Grandparent's home,
we would be introduced to Josef, the new boyfriend. When he finally showed up along with my sister
Betty everyone had braced themselves to make him feel welcome. He was a tall man with black hair,
sideburns, and a small mustache. He spoke English with an accent, but had elegant manners. He was
introduced to my Grandfather first. Grandpa shook him by the hand and said "Welcome to our
country." He was then introduced around, kissing the hands of the ladies, saying he was enchanted.
Grandma was heard to mutter "He is old enough to be her father." Finally he was introduced to an
old maiden lady who lived next door and she saw through his disguise. "Oh, my God," she shouted.
"It's Robbie!" That was perhaps his finest hour as a practical joker. He had fooled his own mother and
father. Grandpa, I think, never did quite forgive him for that one.
In September, 1951, after a series of strokes and recoveries, Grandpa Boyd finally passed away.
Robbie dearly loved his father, and while he was able to help others cope with the loss, he himself felt
it very deeply. Two weeks after Grandpa's death, Dad, Mum and I were sitting at home on a
Saturday evening. Dad had been feeling unwell for some time, but suddenly he started throwing up
blood. He did not want to go to hospital, but with all the authority of my seventeen years I insisted
and we went together. It was cancer of the stomach. Two weeks later he was pronounced incurable.
He expressed the wish to die at home, so Mum and I looked after him as he wasted away very quickly.
Brother Bobby came when he could and he and I would carry Dad in a chair to the bathroom when
he wanted to go.
Robbie faced his end as bravely as he lived, but asked to be converted to Catholicism. That ambiguity
had followed him all his life. He got one last smile, getting his brother Jack, a Freemason, to bless
him. I am still not sure why that was funny, but he thought it was. Two short weeks at home and in
October, 1951, aged 53, he passed away. He is buried in Dalnottar Cemetery, looking towards the
Old Kilpatrick Hills which he loved. His grave is close to that of his father and mother, just off the
Boulevard, where he stopped the car with his rifle, demanding that the driver carry Mum and me to
At Glenhead Park, the flag was flown at half mast, and a moment's silence was observed at the soccer
Arriving in Canada (1957-59)
Adventures as new arrivals in Canada (mostly Toronto)
How in the heck did we end up in Canada, and why in 1957? As a matter of fact the law was closing in on me. By government legislation, after I finished my apprenticeship I had three options. One was to spend two years in military service, another was to spend five years in the merchant navy and the third was to emigrate to either Canada or Australia.
Well, I had tried the second option and decided that life at sea was not for me. I had looked forward to life in the military, with time to train and see what I could achieve as an athlete, but now that I was married, that did not seem an attractive way to spend two years. Just at this time, there were nasty things happening over possession of the Suez Canal, and I had a serious doubts about my government's policies over there. Some of my friends had gone to Suez and were telling me stories of slaughter that was going unreported in the media.
The last option sounded better as the weeks in 1957 passed, so we decided (or I decided, as Eileen remembers it) to move to Canada. Why not Australia? Canada was not so far away and we fully intended to save up some money ($5,000) and return home in a few years to buy a house (or start a small business as I remember it). Both of us turned 23 this year, and here we were, newly married and off on a big venture.
An ex girl friend of mine, Terry, who worked at Canada House in Glasgow smoothed the way for us to go. I had obtained what was known as a ten pounds ($30) assisted passage, which I was due to repay after one year in Canada. The whole fare was 55 pounds ($165). From the time of Christopher Columbus until September 1957, it had always been less expensive to sail than to fly to North America. This was to change over the next few weeks as the airlines greatly increased their volume of traffic, giving them lower prices and a competitive edge.
On a sunny day on September 9, 1957 in Greenock, Scotland, a piper played "Scotland the Brave", or some such sentimental favourite, and I kissed Eileen "goodby" and boarded the SS Carinthia, a Cunard Liner. This ship was much more luxurious than the Esso Manchester on my last sea voyage, and the Atlantic is in a much more genial mood in September than in February and March when I sailed before. The ship had proper stabilisers, there was much less pitching and rolling although some people still felt the necessity for heaving. The meals were excellent, there were movies and organized games, a small swimming pool and lots of things to do.
One of the movies shown was popular at the time -- it was called "Geordie", starring Bill Travers, and was about the fictitious life of a small Scottish boy who grew up to be an Olympic Champion hammer thrower. Borrowing a sledgehammer from the engine room and using a plaid curtain from my window as a kilt I took second place as Geordie, swinging my hammer at the fancy dress party.
I remember little about the people I met on board. There was a group of Chinese-American university students returning home wearing kilts and a young woman who was half squiffed a lot of the time who was from British Columbia. She said that she worked for large lumber companies and when it looked like a strike was about to take place she mingled with "the boys", drinking with them and saying "Come on now, working here is not so bad. You don't want to go on strike." She was filled with self-loathing, and when she told me I should settle in British Columbia it did not seem very attractive -- anyway I did not have the fare. My ticket took me to Quebec City or Montreal or Toronto, period.
After a six day voyage our ship stopped briefly in Quebec City and we disembarked in Montreal. I had a cousin living there, Mona. She was a few years older than I and worked as a nanny for a wealthy family. Mona was well trained and travelled a number of countries in this kind of service. Anyway for Mona, I was usually bad news. The last time I saw her was when I took her along to the Cowal Highland Games in Dunoon, Scotland. It poured rain all day, we got totally soaked, and Mona ended up with pneumonia. In Montreal I visited her but with the time change and the trip, I was very tired and fell asleep while talking with her, waking up when it was time to leave. That was to be the last time I saw Mona. A few times over the years while visiting Scotland we almost got together again, but it never happened.
I travelled from Montreal to Toronto, arriving with the vast sum of $50 in my pocket. It seemed like quite a lot of money to me and I was too dumb to know I could be in trouble. Eileen had a cousin, Eric Morter, who was about ten year older than us, and he had moved from Chelsea to Toronto a few weeks earlier. Eric was an engineer and had found work and had a rented room in a nice home owned by a fiery French Canadian woman. He took me under his wing and asked me to stay with him until I could find a place to share.
Eric was very calm and unexcitable and it was a big relief to me to have his support. The landlady was not home when I arrived and Eric said that I would probably like to take a bath after my travels. I ran a nice hot tub, stripped off, and was soaking, enjoying some peace of mind. Things were shaping up well, when all of a sudden the landlady and her live in boy friend (very unusual in those days) arrived home. I heard all this ranting and raving on the stairs outside my door and the only word I understood was "Anglais" repeated many times. Very nervously I hurriedly dressed, still half wet and emerged to find out we were being chucked out the very next morning.
Together Eric and I found a place for room and board on Mount Pleasant Avenue, and I started seriously job hunting. In Scotland, the wages were very poor but employment was easy to find for anyone with my training. In Canada I had hit an economic downturn and suddenly jobs were scarce. I became very nervous as few companies seemed to be looking for my skills, and was quite relieved when I got an interview with Ontario Hydro who were hiring a number of draftsmen. They interviewed me for three days and I did very well in the process until at the end they decided they were not hiring anyone. Their head management had imposed a hiring freeze. They were very apologetic, but meanwhile my funds had been sinking, as had my self confidence. It seemed that nobody wanted me in this country. Eric's moral support was most appreciated during this time.
Then through a newspaper ad I was interviewed, then hired, as a design draftsman by an English consulting engineering company, Ewebank and Partners, for the grand salary of $60 per week. This was fairly good pay for the time and about double what I had earned in Scotland. I quickly settled in and sent for Eileen.
The place we were staying had another two young men lodging there, a carpenter and a draftsman who worked for an aircraft company, and we all gat along very well. The landlady, Doris, was OK but had some strange habits. She would leave us to our own devices for meals on Saturdays while she went off to visit a lady friend, but when she went, took along her television set in case her friend wanted to watch a different program from the one Doris wanted to see.
I was very excited when Eileen wrote that she would be flying out, arriving in mid October, and I went out and arranged to rent a furnished flat. It was a small place in a large house in what was then the north end of Toronto, just north of Eglinton Street. The house was located among other expensive homes on a street called Tedington Park, just overlooking a golf course. We had the third floor with one bedroom, a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The owners were obviously wealthy and moved freely in Toronto high society. They had a teenage daughter who was finishing up at an exclusive high school, and was going to a debutante that year. The lady seemed very nice and told me that her husband had some kind of heart condition, so would I mind stoking the coal furnace in the basement once each morning when the weather got colder. I was glad to help out -- big mistake.
Finally the big day arrived and Eileen flew in to Toronto Airport. Her nice fur coat flew on to Vancouver, but otherwise her trip was uneventful. She liked our small apartment until some strange things started to happen. When we were out during the day, our furniture would be rearranged. Then the lady of the house started asking for more from us in the way of services. Would Eileen mind keeping the stairs washed and waxed, would I mind raking the leaves, and so on. It became apparent that we were being viewed more as butler and maid than as tenants. This became even more obvious when we gave two weeks notice that we were leaving. "You cannot do that!" was what we were told. Anyway, we did, and went on to new adventures in Toronto apartments.
I had to introduce Eileen to restaurant eating in Canada and we ordered a favourite of mine, club house sandwiches. I forgot to tell Eileen about the little toothpicks they use to hold the three decker sandwich together, but she found out anyway. Coming from post war Britain, the abundance of goods lining the shelves in grocery stores was overwhelming to Eileen, as was the business of serving yourself. In Scotland we were still used to waiting in lines (called "queues") for everything from produce to movie houses.
As we settled in, Eileen quickly found secretarial work at $50 per week and we planned to live on her income and save mine. It turned out to be closer to the other way around, but save we did -- for a while. When Eileen went to a bank with her cheque she found out that she needed an account in order to cash it and that married women could not have an bank account in their own name. It had to be in the name of the husband.
Our next apartment was a bed sitting room, bathroom and kitchen in the home of a Japanese-Canadian family who had lost everything when they had been placed in a camp during World War Two. They were very quiet and one time had a request, not that we do not shut our bedroom door loudly, but that we turn the door handle carefully so that it did not make a click as it closed. There was a kindly older lady in the family who often made us Japanese delicacies that looked wonderful but tasted awful to our sensitivities. She would give us a little plate of these artistic wonders saying "beanya, beanya". After quietly trying them we had to find careful ways to dispose of them without her knowledge.
The young people in the family, a little older than us, were quite another matter and made no attempt to hide their contempt for us. Another tenant in the building was Italian and they would hold loud discussions within our hearing about how rotten the British were. We started looking around for another place, but they were too quick for us and one day the wall of our kitchen around had been taken out for renovations, and we were left looking at the great outdoors, hoping that it did not rain. We took the gentle hint and left, going on to more apartment adventures.
We lived in Toronto for two years, and during this time I started working out with the Ryerson Athletic Club, mostly throwing the discus and javelin. Eileen took classes at the famous Walter Thornton Modelling School and went on an incredible diet of 1,200 calories a day to get her weight down to 122 pounds. Lunch every day consisted of chicken bouillon and an apple. She bought some chocolates to celebrate reaching her goal weight, but became nauseous after the first bite of one.
Work was tough in Canada and people could get fired, something that almost never happened in Britain. I made a blunder and came close in the first week of employment, but managed to scrabble my way out of it. Then I got to be pretty good at what I was doing and made responsible for a little section of mechanical design draftsmen. Our chief electrical draftsman left for a two week vacation and when he returned he found another man working at his desk. He had been fired, but not told about it. He was a Swiss national and there was some story of him claiming to have influence with the huge Brown Boveri Company in Switzerland, which turned out to be untrue. Another time two RCMP came in to our office and took away a draftsman, a Scottish guy, in handcuffs. He was later deported. We were told that it was due to some immigration violation and he had lied when he said that he was not a communist. Being a communist was not a big deal in Scotland, although very few were.
Our main customer was the Manitoba Hydro Electric Company for whom we were designing a power station comprising two 66-megawatt electric generating units. The top brass from Manitoba came to see us at our office in Bloor Street to go over some plans and our top brass took them out for lunch. I was only 23 years old and in rank by far the junior member of the party that went to Swiss Chalet on Yonge Street. The waitress came to take our lunch order and I was first to be asked, so I ordered a favourite of mine, their chicken-in-a-basket. The CEO from Manitoba was next to place his order and he said "I'm not very hungry. I'll just have a ham sandwich." The rest of the group followed him and said they were also not hungry and would have a sandwich too. The waitress brought out this huge basket of chicken and french fries and tied a bib around my neck. They gave you no cutlery for what I had ordered, and I felt like an idiot with my huge meal and bib, eating with my fingers.
I started studying and completed my British engineering qualifications, becoming a member of the Association of Mechanical Engineers and because of this Eileen was left on her own a lot. Adjusting to married life was not always easy as I had presumed that it was just like living at home (where I was dreadfully spoiled) only coming home to a wife rather than a mother. I had a lot to learn about marriage, and it did not come quickly or easily. Still do.
We still argue about this one. I was a meat and potatoes guy and Eileen would sometimes try to get me to venture into new territory. She offered to make a pumpkin pie for me one Hallowe'en and I, never having had one, said "No thanks". She went ahead anyway and made one from scratch with a real pumpkin. We sat down to a nice supper, then Eileen produced her pumpkin pie. "I won't have any, thanks" I said, very politely. "Yes you will," said the dragon across the table from me. "I worked hard to make this and you will eat it". "No thanks. I said I did not want it and I don't," I pointed out, quite reasonably. This discussion went back and forth for a while, then the female half of the discussion violently picked up a wine glass of water to throw on me. I put up my hand to deflect it and the wine glass broke and fell in pieces into exhibit one, the pumpkin pie, so no one got any. At the time, it seemed like a good resolution to me, but I was wrong. You can see that I was reasonable every step of the way, yet every year around Hallowe'en the argument starts over. Women have amazingly long memories. I kind of like pumpkin pie now, but she never makes it any more.
Then Eileen decided that her biological clock was ticking and that we should have a baby. I expected this to be candlelight and soft music, but to my amazement it became a scientific project with thermometers, calendars, and schedules. Eventually gin came into it too. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Eventually the process was successful and Eileen became pregnant with Jackie. I think the gin did it.
Eventually Eileen increased in size and there went the Walter Thornton Modelling School figure. Eileen was working in the customer service department of a large construction company, fielding complaints from irate customers about cracks in the basement of their new houses. (Crack in a housing subdivision has taken on a new meaning since then.) In those days when a woman became obviously pregnant, she was fired, and that's what happened to Eileen. "We can't have you representing our company and looking like that!" was the accepted attitude of the day. Being pregnant through summer was no fun either and there was no such thing as air conditioning. We cooled off in community pools or the lake, and since Eileen had such a sensitive husband, she heard a lot of comments about resembling Moby Dick.
My pattern has always been that I sleep extremely soundly for the first few hours of going to bed. If I wake up before 5 a.m. I am a zombie. One time I heard a racket outside our apartment on Ryerson Crescent as I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I looked out of the window and saw that there were three fire pumper trucks at the house next door and it was ablaze. I went back to bed and only remembered to tell Eileen about it in the morning. We looked out the window and the house next door was gone -- just the basement and a few smoldering timbers left where that house had been.
When it came close to the time when Jackie would be born we had found a lovely wood panelled apartment near High Park. I remember Eileen taking a fancy to strange things late at night and I would go to a little store nearby for pickles and ice cream. There was an elderly lady worked there who had a tattooed number on her forearm. She was a Jewish survivor of the concentration camps.
Eileen's parents came out to be with Eileen while the new baby was born, and one night Eileen woke me up at 1 a.m., not my best time. She said "The baby is coming. We have to go to the hospital." I told her "You just go with your mother. I'll see you there in the morning." Joseph Conrad wrote a story about this type of thing called Lord Jim, about how you can do or say something in a split second that you carry through life. I never had a close relationship with Eileen's mother, and while she never said so, this may have been the root cause. There are some things you can never live down, and this one was even worse than the pumpkin pie.
Jackie was born, our first child had arrived, and our world would never be the same until our last baby left home. There was no such thing as disposable diapers and our apartment never quite smelled the same.
Now Eileen was out of work and our contract with Manitoba Hydro was drawing to a close. We were designing the lawn sprinkler systems for the power station and had no other big contracts. My friends and coworkers were being laid off. I started casting about for a new job but could find none in Toronto. I applied to Atomic Energy of Canada at Chalk River, but did not hear anything back. Then I got lucky and managed to land a job with Foster Wheeler in St Catharines, Ontario as an estimator in their design office. When Jackie was only a few weeks old we moved to St Catharines, but that is another story.
Kids Say the Funniest Things
A compilation of "wisdom" out of the mouths of babes (mostly Jack and Eileen Boyd's children)
A small boy was standing beside his Aunt looking at a map in a
shopping mall. There was an arrow on the map with a statement
saying "You are here." He whispered suspiciously to his Aunt "How
do THEY know?"
Since this is the International Year of the Family and since I have recently retired from my umpteenth career on what is intended to be a permanent basis, it seemed like a good time to work on something in which I have been interested for a long time. Over the years kids in my life have said and done the funniest things. I often wished that I had written down these pearls.
Every family has children who have done and said the funniest things and I thought it would be a good idea to collect some of these stories too. We will be travelling this year and spending time in the USA, Scotland and Madeira and it may give us a way of meeting new friends, networking, and sharing these life experiences.
Starting with our own family, since we know them best, my wife and I are searching our memory banks to rediscover these treasures.
We have a family of four, who are no longer children. Like most other families, they arrived one at a time. Unlike most families, two were adopted and two were born to us in the normal manner. Chronologically, we really had two pairs of children, the first two being born two years apart, then a six year gap, then two more. Jackie was the first to join the family, being born in 1959, and was the star of the show until we adopted Jim two years later. Jim was of Irish, Spanish, Russian, North American Indian, and Jamaican descent and was almost five years of age when he joined us. All of a sudden Jackie had an older brother, and from that day until they left home, they were trying to get each other in trouble. We made most of our mistakes with the first two children, and passed on the benefit of this learning experience to the next two. I suppose that is normal.
Eileen was adopted in 1965, at the age of two months, and Robert arrived two years later, the normal way.
When I first announced to the family that I planned to write a book on this subject it caused more excitement and nervous anticipation than when the kitten ate the prunes. The guilty parties were all saying among themselves, "I hope he doesn't write about that..."
Kids Say the Funniest Things
Jackie and I got off on the wrong foot from the start. Eileen's mother had come to Toronto from Scotland for the birth of our first child. Some things you never live down.... I am a really sound sleeper for the first few hours of the night and when Eileen tried to wake me at 1.30 am to take her to the hospital I mumbled "you go with your mother, I will see you there in the morning." Not an auspicious beginning, you will agree.
Jackie was a little red, wrinkled prune when she was born and for some strange reason, everyone agreed she looked just like me. Fortunately she grew out of this and became a very pretty, if fussy child. Jackie had her own opinion on everything and could never be convinced of anything that was not of her own invention. She had boundless energy and was bright, creative and completely tactless.
Waiting in the doctors office with a group of strangers Jackie went around carefully inspecting each person then announced to one unfortunate man, "My Daddy said I am not to say anything when someone has a big nose. It is not polite."
Jackie was in the bathtub and her mother was telling her about the grandmother she had in Scotland. Jackie looked herself and at the size of her mother and said "Your mother must be real big."
Jackie came to me one day, upset. A baby tooth had fallen out and she had lost it. What would happen with the Tooth Fairy? I suggested that she draw a picture of the tooth and put that under her pillow. When she awoke in the morning there was a picture of a quarter under her pillow. The Tooth Fairy was not as generous in those days.
One time I told Jackie that I was going to plant lollipops in the garden. I showed her a packet of seeds with a picture of tulips on it. Neither she nor Jim believed me. That night I bought a string of a hundred lollipops, separated them and stuck them all over the garden. The next morning not only did Jim and Jackie believe me, but dozens of believers from all over town showed up to ask if they could have one too.
A similar thing happened when we discovered a circle of toadstools in a field. I told them it was a Fairy Circle, and they did not believe that either. The next day we went back and there were all these little chocolate eggs wrapped in aluminum foil. We took them away, but the kids were very anxious that the Fairies might be mad and take their revenge. Maybe they did.
Jackie was a terrible singer and when her Grandmother came for a visit, she decided to entertain, by singing a song.
"A turtle travels slowly, his house upon his back, And you would travel slowly too, if you had such a pack." The song was a real dirge, sung wildly off key, and Mother and Grandmother were stifling laughter, unsuccessfully. Jackie scowled at them as she thought about this insult. "You can laugh Mother, she said,"but she can't."
When Jackie first learned to read she found, on a pack of corn flakes that she could send away for a book. She absolutely insisted that she had to send two box tops and her name and a dress!
She accompanied me on a trip to the Veterinarian's to get shots for our West Highland Terrier. When the Vet came in she started to cry. The Vet reassured her that the shots would not really hurt the dog, but that was not why she was crying. She thought that the Dog Doctor would be another dog.
One Halloween she got our dog Charlie dressed up in a T-shirt, scarf, hat and a pair of pants and he went off cheerfully to trick or treat. Charlie had a great time and was given several treats including a bone. The pants did not work out so good as they impaired his natural functions but we had a difficult time later, persuading him to part with the T-shirt.
We attended a small fund raising auction one time where people donated things of small value and then everyone bid on them. She was sitting on the knee of a family friend across the room from us and a ball pen was being auctioned. The bidding stood at seventy five cents when I heard Jackie's voice across the room shout "Ten bucks!"
One day Jackie saw the Easter Bunny. There was no question about it, and she could not be persuaded otherwise. She was lying on her bed at the time. I asked her how big it was and she said it was about my size. I asked her where she saw it and she told me it came through her door and went under her bed. I asked where it was now and she said that it was still there. She and I both looked carefully but it was definitely not there any more. She insisted that it must have disappeared because the Easter Bunny can do that.
Jim came to us when we lived in Niagara Falls, Ontario. At the time we were sharing a large house with another Bahá'í family, the Edmonds, who had two children about the same age as the two we had at the time. John Edmonds took the whole gang to the circus and when they came home they were totally overwhelmed. They had quite enjoyed the acrobats and the clowns and the elephants performing balancing tricks, but the big event had been when an elephant performed a natural function. They were amazed beyond words.
Jennifer Edmonds was a small, serious, black haired beauty, about four years old. To the consternation of some fussy people, I introduced her to drawing on the haze produced by water vapour on the kitchen windows. She had drawn a strange looking picture but seemed surprised when I had to ask what it was. She seemed to think that it was self evident. "It's a kangarufus, of course" she replied.
One night her dad John said he was taking the dog, Shane, out for a walk up past the high school. Jennifer wanted to know why he was doing that. John told her that it was so Shane could go to the toilet. "I didn't know that's where dogs toilets are," said Jennifer.
Timothy Edmonds was about two years old and wildly funny. He was asked at a Bahá'í gathering if he would say a prayer, and he recited one which he had been memorizing. It was a beautiful moment, coming from one so young, and everyone was moved. When he finished, Timmy said "Now everybody clap." Timmy was crazy about toy guns, and when his mother Joyce was tucking a sleepy Timmy into bed, he asked for a kiss. Joyce gave him a special hug and a kiss. "Not you," said Timmy,"I want to kiss my rifle."
The Bab and Abdul Baha are two central figures in the Bahá'í Faith. Although they were barely contemporaries, since Abdul Baha was only six years old when the Bab was martyred, both were definitely on the same side, and peaceful men. Timmy asked for a bedtime story. "Which one do you want?" he was asked. "Tell me the one about Abdul Baha and how he shot the Bab," said Timmy.
I told Jim about Niagara Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Two hundred feet high, two hundred feet deep, passing a gazillion gallons of water each hour of every day. People come from all around the world to see it. I drove Jim to the brink of the Falls, a very impressive spot. He asked "What's falling?" I said "Water." He said "Big deal," and that was that.
One day there was a tremendous banging from the kids room and I shouted up to Jim, "What are you doing?" He said "Nothing." I shouted "What are you doing it with?" He replied "A hammer."
Jim in fact was making an elevator and had a rope around a cardboard box with Jackie inside it and he planned to hoist her up to the top bunk of their bunk beds. I got to the room just in time, as he was using a hammer and a chisel to make a window in the box and Jackie was on the inside of the window.
Jim never did very well at school but was always optimistic. I remember him bringing home a miserable report card with Cs and D's and remarks about having to try harder, and throwing it on the table triumphantly, saying "Take a look at that." The things that Jim did best at school was showing up regularly and recess.
One day Jim came rushing home from school in a state of great excitement. "Guess what the teacher told me!" he shouted. "There are three types of people in the world. Cascausoid, Negroloid, and Mongreloid, and I am Cascausoid."
When we moved to Niagara on the Lake, there was a little guy named Stevie who lived nearby and was about six. Stevie was small and had red hair and freckles. Jackie was five and Jim was seven at this time, and it was Christmas Day. I watched Stevie leave his house wearing a pair of boxing gloves and with another pair slung over his shoulder. We could see what he got for Christmas. He headed directly for our house, knocked at the door, and asked me the big question "Is Jacquelynn coming out to play?"
I was always a sports fan and watched, at this time, a lot of the Olympic trials to pick the various teams that were going to the Tokyo Olympic games. On afternoon we heard a lot of rumbling and crashing and falling noises accompanied by shouts and laughter. After a while I asked them what they were doing. "We are having bum fights to see who goes to Pinocchio." Their version of Olympic competition was to start at opposite corners of the room and charge backwards on all fours, crashing into each other, the victor being the one left upright.
When Disney released a hot new film, Mary Poppins, Mother thought that the children should get to see it. We both remembered seeing earlier Disney films in our own childhood, Snow White, Bambi, and Pinocchio. The film had not been released in Canada yet, so we made a special trip to Buffalo, New York. This involved considerable driving in Friday night traffic, parking, dining out, and losing out on the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar. All in all it was an expensive and nerve wracking trip. The kids' opinion of the show afterwards was that it was "O.K., not bad." The next day they went to see an old Disney release at a children's matinee in downtown Niagara on the Lake. They walked to the show and had change left over from the quarter they each had with them. On returning home they assured us that The Lady And The Tramp was much better than Mary Poppins.
Jim was not as fashion conscious as Jackie but was more open to being told what to wear. If he did not know, he improvised. One day we found that he had dressed normally on the outside, but underneath was wearing a vest and another vest upside down for underpants. He said he could not find any underpants.
Jackie had a definite taste in clothes which was very strange and with her skinny legs and large feet she often left the house resembling Minnie Mouse.
Jackie enjoyed the Saturday morning cartoons and decided that she wanted to marry Mighty Mouse when they both grew up.
Jim and Jackie developed their own vocabulary which we adopted within the family. We remember in a restaurant in Yellowknife sniggering because a man said "Hamburger" instead of "Hangieburger.
When we were discussing the possibility of adding to our family, we asked them what colour of baby should we get. Jackie said "Purple." Jim said "White." When asked why he said that all the other guys would not stand around laughing at him on his first day at school. This was the first major indication that he had been the subject of racism.
Eileen was an accident. She was born on the Arctic coast in a place called Inuvik, in Canada's Northwest Territories. Eileen's natural mother, Elizabeth was Inuit and about 22 years of age when Eileen was born. Her father was a sailor in the Canadian navy who was stationed in Inuvik for a period of time. I was travelling by plane for a job interview at Giant Yellowknife Mines Ltd., and sitting next to me in the plane was a social worker from Inuvik. When she heard that we had been involved in interracial adoption she told me of a very nice Inuit girl who was going to have a baby and would probably be putting it up for adoption. When my wife Eileen heard about this she was very excited and we decided that we would like to have this new addition to our family.
The new addition arrived in early December, 1965 with a bag of clothes and a few sentences on a page of instructions. A new car comes with more than that. Even a tin opener or a Tilley hat has more of an owners manual. Eileen was just two months old and very pretty. However she had a figure problem, being so fat that when you placed her on her tummy she was a bit like a rocking horse and her head and feet did not reach the ground. Eileen was a happy baby, almost a perfect one. She woke up smiling and was glad to see anyone, anytime. As she became mobile she trimmed down and changed from being portly to being solid. She made friends easily and charmed everyone who came into her life.
When Eileen was small, I took her shopping with me and we stopped for a break at the cafeteria at a Woolco store. When I came to her table with our treats on a tray, I noticed she was already eating something. I asked her what it was, she reached under the table, retrieving some second hand chewing gum that was parked there, and said "Have some. There's lots here."
One morning in Yellowknife Eileen came down the stairs from her bedroom and I noticed that, as kids will do, she had her shoes reversed. "You have your shoes on the wrong feet." I told her. "No, I don't," she replied. Eileen always had good reasons for her viewpoint, so I pursued the argument to see where it would lead. "Yes, you do," I replied brilliantly. "No, I don't." She stuck by her opinion. "Your shoes are on the wrong feet," I said even more convincingly, but she shot down all my arguments. "These are my feet!"
Eileen used to love to answer the phone, picking up the receiver in a businesslike manner and saying "Luho." When asked what her name was she would reply, "Jim."
When Eileen was three or four we bought an old farm on Manitoulin Island. It was a hundred acres with about thirty acres of bush and maple trees, thirty acres of hay which a neighbour took in exchange for a steer each fall, and the rest was unused pasture. We had a barn, a blacksmith shop, a wonderful old maple shack, and an old stone farmhouse, but no farm animals. None.
We held a party at our house shortly after buying the farm and a guest was chatting with Eileen. "It is really nice that you have a farm," said the guest. "Do you have any animals on your farm?" "Yes," replied a serious Eileen. I could not wait to hear what might come next. "What kind of animals do you have," asked the guest. "Mice," said Eileen.
"I am going to draw," announced Eileen one day. "What are you going to draw," I asked. "I am going to draw God," said Eileen. I was most anxious to see this picture. She sat quietly for some time. "Go ahead," I prompted her. Eileen started to cry. "What's wrong," I asked her anxiously. "I don't have any grey crayons," she replied.
"I am going fishing," Eileen told me. "How are you going to do that?" I asked her. "Take me to the lake," she instructed. I took her to a jetty on the edge of Great Slave Lake. "What do you do now," I asked her. "I get a rope and throw it in," she informed me. I gave her a piece of rope about ten feet long. She threw it in the water, all of it. "What happens now?" I asked her." There was a long pause, then Eileen started to cry.
Like Eileen, Robert too was an accident. He was born in the Stanton
Yellowknife Hospital in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories on
October 1, 1967. His birth coincided with Canada's Centennial year,
which was very considerate of him as it helped his parents remember
when he was born.
At the ripe age of 18 months he entered a "walkathon" which was organized to raise money for charity and managed to "walk his age" completing a mile and a half at a year and a half. Towards the end of his monumental effort as he was losing interest, his mother enticed him to keep going by walking just ahead of him and holding his bottle out, like the carrot for the donkey.
This Machiavellian theme of motivation by bribery that my wife Eileen demonstrated was to be a recurring theme in our family as I suppose it was in Machiavelli's. It came more naturally to Eileen and I think she was marginally better at it.
Bottles also featured strongly in Robert's early career. When Robert was a very small boy he used to get up through the night, come into our bedroom and whack me smartly on the head with his bottle, communicating his wish for a refill. It did not take long for me to insist that we switch to lightweight plastic bottles. The outside of the bed may be a macho position but is not always a safe place to sleep.
The terrible two's were an exciting time for Robert, and I well remember trying to pick up the corn flakes he had spilled while he moved on to the sugar and rice. As he grew a little older he started getting himself up in the morning and his favourite attire was a cowboy hat and boots and his plastic bottle. When we were on vacation at the farm, this was not a problem, but at home we often had to retrieve him before he went out to greet the neighbours.
From this Robert progressed to regular clothes, though he always had the feet of his socks trailing behind him as he sped through the house in his Superman cape. Robert was so uncoordinated that we had on many occasions to take him to the emergency for stitches. If all of these stitches still showed, Robert's head would now look like a baseball. It is hard to believe that this funny little guy became, among other things, a fashion model, with a black belt in karate.
When Robert started being able to move around on two feet without training wheels, we had some new concerns. The house we lived in at Giant Yellowknife Mines was in an rocky area and was surrounded by small cliffs. In order to enable Robert to play outside in the brief but pleasant summer, after the worst of the mosquitoes and blackflies were gone, we decided that I should build a fence around our small lawn. As an inexperienced carpenter it took considerable effort to gather up suitable material and working in the rocky terrain finally erect a fence that was reasonably strong and more or less vertical. It was constructed of four by four fence posts with two by fours along the top as an upper railing and the whole thing was enclosed with chicken wire. It took so many attempts to get it completed that it became a source of interest and amusement to our neighbours, Malcolm and Penny Lye, who were from Australia.
Once the fence was finished we popped Robert outside with his toys to play. After about ten minutes we received a telephone call from the Lye's who were in hysterics laughing about something. Eventually I understood that they wanted me to look out of my window, and when we looked, there was Robert standing on tiptoe beside a fencepost, reaching one foot away over his head, hooking his heel on the upper railing and then hoisting himself over and off to freedom. I should have made a chicken wire roof too.
Robert always was, and still is a very dreamy person, but has always had the ability to really focus on things that caught his interest.
We moved to Northern Ontario when Robert was almost two years old, and he quickly settled in to a new lifestyle. Interacting with Robert, we would point out items of interest to him as we drove around. Since there were no trains in the Yellowknife area, we would often say, "Guess what, Robert," and one common answer would be that we had spotted a chu-chu train which he could not see at his lower vantage point. For a long time Robert's answer to any "guess what" question was a shout of "Chu-Chu train." Robert became very good at signalling to the engineer and getting him to blow the train whistle. Eventually this skill extended to passing transport trucks too, and on any trip our lives were punctuated with whistle and horn blasts.
At this point Robert decide to become a paleontologist, and at a most early age began to spout off the lengthy names of many dinosaurs to the astonishment of many. He was very serious about this and not just trying to impress.
We decided that Robert should learn to skate and took him to a rink where he stumped around pushing a chair to keep him upright most of the time. When the Falconbridge Winter Carnival arrived Robert could get around without the chair. Just. For his age group they had a race that was one lap around the rink. The only other competitor was from the McCourt family who had the famous George Armstrong, Captain of Toronto's Maple Leafs as an uncle. It also produced a brother, Dale McCourt who went on to play for Team Canada and Detroit Red Wings. This was a hockey family. Their little guy could skate. When these two lined up for the big race, there was real excitement and when the starters pistol went off, young McCourt was off like a greyhound and whipped around the course in no time flat, and the race was over before Robert got to the first bend. Robert could not glide, in fact his ankles would not hold him up so he stumped around the course on his ankles with tiny quick steps and only fell a few times getting around to great cheers from the crowd. When he finished he was handed a prize of two quarters. He looked at this in wonderment. "Did I win?" he asked. Robert was so delighted with this victory that he could not wait to get home and left the Carnival, walking home with his skates still on and a great long scarf trailing behind him. He banged at the door and when his mother answered he stuck out his hand with the two quarters in it and said "Look at that, fifty bucks." Then he was off to Hodge's Store to spend it before he might wake up and find it was all a dream.
After this great event it was decided that Robert should start playing hockey. He joined a league of little guys who had some very patient and loving coaches and officials. Robert was not only the worst skater on any team, he was not very interested either. The games lasted a long time and Robert was not interested in who was winning or what the score was. He started off all right but after a while when he fell down he let his stick slide across the ice and just lay there reflecting on life in general and eventually someone would pick him up and give him his stick again. His Grandfather, Jim MacPhee, who came over from Scotland on a visit was taken to see Robert in one of his games and he had to be helped off the floor. He laughed so hard, he fell off his seat.
We decided that what was needed was some motivation, so we promised Robert that if he scored a goal we would give him a big bag of Smarties. That was the magic key. From then on Robert was desperate to score a goal, and as soon as the whistle went he made for the opposite goal where he hung on to the post with one hand and waited for someone to knock the puck in his direction. This caused great agitation to the goalkeeper who kept appealing to the referee to take him away. Each time play was stopped, someone would pick up Robert at the goal crease and place him in his position before the game could restart. One time he almost got that goal, but hockey was not to be his forte and he retired from the league at the age of five without a pension.
On one occassion Mother decided to introduce the family to the principles of budgetting. She carefully worked out a grocery budget and was determined that we would not exceed this limit. Towards the end of the month we ran out of peanut butter, and Eileen took this opportunity to explain to Robert how the budget worked and that with one week left in the month we had to conserve our remaining funds for emergencies only. Robert looked anguished. "We are out of peanut butter," he said. "This is an emergency!"
While Robert was still in his Superhero phase we received a visit from my sister Isobel and her husband Paul. She had made a wonderful Superman cape for Robert and he entered another world, only joining us at meal times. Further assisting him in his efforts to save the planet, his sister Eileen drew a web on his face using a red ball pen, so he could be Spiderman for a change. It took a lot of painful scrubbing to reclaim Spiderman from Metropolis.
Eileen had a pretty good relationship with Robert from the start but often resolved their daily differences with a sharp elbow in the belly, quickly followed by a beautiful smile and "Sorry." Eileen always was the natural athlete that Robert longed to be, and could beat any boy on the school bus at wrist wrestling.
Each used to inform on the other when someone was not eating their broccoli, accompanied by muttered threats of violence. They still do at family get togethers. Both used to slip uninviting morsels from their plates to Charlie, the West Highland terrier, under the table. From an early age they harmonized rather nicely singing The Aardvark Song.
We took Robert and Eileen to Cornwall, Ontario to visit our friends, the Bowies. While there we took them to a place where they could play mini-golf, and at this place there was a great deal of excitement since the people who operated this business had just acquired a beautiful large grey parrot. A substantial crowd was gathered around including Robert and Eileen to see this wonderful parrot. Joining the group I spoke to the bird, in a friendly manner, "Hello, Parrot." The parrot replied without hesitation, "Hello, stupid." I hate playing second banana to a lower life form.
I had a library card which I seldom used personally, and yet I have been blackballed for life from the library system. Sometimes I suspect my phone is tapped and that I am being shadowed by the Library Cops as they attempt to get back Babar Goes To Sea. I also received several letters threatening to confiscate my eye glasses.
Robert loved animals. We bought him a white Persian cat for a birthday. He wanted to name it Tiger, but settled for Snowball. He dearly loved this cat, which barely tolerated him. When the cat scratched him one day, Robert was heard to plaintively say, "Call yourself a pet?" He did much better with other name choices, with a canary which he named Luke Skywalker and another called Sunshine Charlie. Snowball eventually ate both of them. One previous cat was called Big Eyeball Pete, which his parents insisted be shortened to just plain Pete. Snowball, whose miserable temperament was probably due to being sick, wandered away from home one day, never to return. Robert always suspected me of foul play. Still does.
When Robert first went to school it opened new dimensions to his life and he was greatly impressed by David Jewell, whom he described as "the best swearer in school." Robert was always disorganized and slow, even pokey, at doing anything, and we often had to send out a search party for him as he wandered home from school, sliding down snowbanks, and watching construction sites.
One of his early teachers seemed not to like Robert. He described her as having "angry eyes." A few days into his first term he showed up at home with his shoes under his arm, as he could not get them on and everyone had left school. Robert now teaches Grade Three in a public school in North York, near Toronto, and makes every effort to ensure that everyone goes home with their shoes on. Pupils, teachers, principal, secretaries, and custodial staff, all leave with shoes. Every day.
My wife Eileen was disturbed that Robert was not applying himself. He was always a dreamy child and his teachers were saying that he was not achieving the results of which he was capable. Eileen also thought that every child had major dreams and that at least one should be realized. That is how I ended up with a horse living in my garage, but that is another story ... Combining these themes, she had long discussions with Robert and found out that a major dream was to own a motorbike. Thank God it was not an elephant.
We struck a deal with Robert that he had to accumulate points by virtuous deeds and applying himself to schoolwork, and when he had a massive number of points we would purchase for him a motorbike. The transformation in Robert was amazing. He was up in the morning at first call, volunteering for domestic chores and really applying himself at school. For a time he was unrecognizable, although after each activity he was asking how many points he got for that one.
Eventually the great day came and we brought home a tiny mini bike. A fifty cc Honda, bright yellow and second hand. Robert was in seventh heaven, and cut a fine figure driving around the back yard and the local arena. Robert grew to be very tall and did not seem to notice when he was towering over his minibike, and riding it with his knees tucked up around his ears.
One birthday when he was at high school, his mother arranged a major surprise for him. She had told Robert that she was going to have to get rid of his bike as it was too small. A half ton truck pulled into the driveway and a young mechanic emerged and asked Robert if he would help him load the minibike into his truck. Sadly Robert helped with the task and then the young fellow got him to help unload a brand new trail bike, full size. "Who is this for?," asked Robert timidly. The young mechanic looked officiously at his papers. "It is for a Robert Boyd," he said in an Oscar-worthy performance.
When my daughter Eileen was pregnant with Joshua, she liked to listen to music, and her favourite was the new Paul Simon Album, Graceland which he made with backup from those wonderful singers and dancers from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When Joshua was born, he had us laughing right away as he started boogieing any time he heard this music on the radio or television, even as a tiny baby. When he became mobile we bought the video cassette and he jumped and danced to it for a long time before he developed a more sophisticated taste for Raffi.
Joshua was a skinny little guy to start with, but has made up for that as time passed. He is an affectionate, gentle, and kindly person, but he comes up with the most unexpected statements.
To some extent Joshua proves the law of Karma, or what is nowadays expressed as what goes around, comes around. He appeared one day with his shoes reversed. I told him, "Your shoes are on the wrong feet." He said, "That's the way I like them."
Eileen's future husband Jody had a temporary job with CN Railway, and his duties included travelling up a Northern Ontario railway line and bringing supplies to work crews who were stationed there. I asked Joshua what Jody's job was and he told me that he went away in a train. I asked him whose train it was he and he told me it was Jody's. What did he do on the train, I pursued. He brings pop and doughnuts to the workers, I was informed, then he comes home. What does he do at home? He buys more pop and doughnuts with his own money to bring to the workers. Nice guy.
One day something strange occurred. Jody took Joshua into a doughnut shop and the usually peaceable Joshua had got into a fight with another little boy. A real scuffle. Jody had tried to find out but had still no idea what had caused it. I had a quiet chat with Joshua. It went something like this.
"I hear you went to Tim Horton's today."
"And you got into an argument with a little boy."
"He was real bad."
"What did he do that was bad?"
"He wouldn't share his doughnut."
Some years after the fight in the doughnut shop, this same story was told to Joshua, but he had no recollection of it happening. He thought about it for some time and then went off to bed. An hour later a sleepy voice came from the darkness of his bedroom. "Mum?" "Yes dear?" "Did I win?"
One day I asked Joshua a philosophical question. "If you had all the money in the World," I asked, "what would you do with it?" "I'd buy a big bag of potato chips," said he.
One day as I was driving along with him as my passenger, he was gazing out of the window from the vantage point of a baby chair. "When you die, I am going to get your car," he suddenly announced. "Are you?" I replied brilliantly. "Yes, and I am going to drive it much faster than you do," he said.
When his mother was pregnant with a new baby sister and she and Jody were trying to break the news to him, they asked "How would you like a little baby brother or sister?." Joshua replied "No thanks, I already have a hamster, that is enough pets."
For his birthday we gave Joshua a lovely Himalayan kitten. All white and fluffy with grey socks, tail and ears, known as a seal point. Joshua was given the job of picking a name. He called it Shadow. My brother Bob, on a visit from Scotland teased Joshua about the name. "It's a white cat," he pointed out. How can you call it Shadow?" Josh stared off into space for a long time, thinking about this. "It will get darker," he finally said.
Joshua came bursting into our house last night. "I am not playing with Jake anymore," he said. "He believes in fairy stories." What did he do, we wondered. "He says that there is no Santa Claus." "What do you think?" his grandmother parried, stalling for time. "If there was no Santa Claus, why would the stores be open so late around Christmas?" said Josh. "Jake is telling fairy stories, and I am not going to play with him."
Joshua saw the Disney Studios movie, The Lion King, and was most enthusiastic about it. We received a garbled version of the plot involving lions, elephants and hyenas. This involved some bad hynanas who went into the elephants gravy yard and concluded with them being told by the Lion King "If you never come back, I'll kill you."
Joshua spotted a small Bible at our house with a gold cross on it. "I know what that is for," announced Joshua, "that is to keep the vampires away."
While spending the weekend with us, Josh asked if he could borrow my nail clippers for his toe nails. I had a very nice manicure set, gold plated and monogrammed, so I loaned clippers to him with dire warnings to be careful with them and to be sure to return them. He promised to be careful but a short time later confessed to his Grandmother that while cutting his nails in the toilet, he had dropped the clippers down the toilet bowl! He could still see them, so his Grandmother loaned him a long spoon to try to retrieve the missing clippers. Some time later he appeared triumphant waving the clippers. His Grandmother said "I guess the spoon worked then." Josh said "No. I had to get them the old fashioned way!"
Well, this is the end of this story. Stories come to an end but families continue and life goes on. No doubt Joshua has more to add and his sisters, little Alisha and Samantha are now starting to talk. Just last week my wife dropped me off at the automotive garage. "Where has Poppa gone?" asked Alisha. "He has gone to pick up his car," replied Eileen. "Poor Poppa," said Alish. "That must be heavy."
Robert is now married and I can't wait to see his and Rita's children. As children grow they do and say wilder and funnier and more creative things than anyone could think of. The most inventive and talented writer could not write the script for an average child growing up, they would be outclassed by the reality. One can only try to observe, remember and write the stories so others can share in such precious moments.
Thank you for sharing these ones with me.
Chariots of Fire:
The life of the Scottish runner Eric Liddell
Bio of the famous runner who was the subject of the film Chariots of Fire. Essay does not mention the Bahá'í Faith. The title was given by the author, and refers to the film which was about Eric Liddell (see imdb.com). [-J.W., 2012]
I believe Rudyard Kipling caught the essence of foot racing in his poem "If."
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: "Hold on";
My family was always interested in track and field, or as we called it in Scotland, athletics. My mother’s brother Neil, had won the Glasgow cup in a 440 yard race. During the depression, dad, who was out of work and could not afford bus or train fare, would walk to Highland Games, in the hope of picking up a prize. He could sprint fairly well, and developed some skill as a pole vaulter. Lacking any equipment, he used a solid wooden clothes pole and practiced vaulting over soccer goal posts which are eight feet, six inches high, and very unforgiving when he failed to clear the cross bar. Usually there were very few competitors in pole vault, but dad told me of one occasion when Bill Speedie, the Scottish Champion, showed up. He could vault more than two feet higher than dad; Embarrassing.
By 1943, my brother Bobby was shaping up to be a fine miler and cross country runner and had finally managed to get into the Royal Air Force where he continued his running career with inter unit competitions. My dad, who was an excellent trainer, used to hold up Bobby, thirteen years older than I, as a fine example, and he was.
Another role model he told me about was the famous Scottish runner Eric Liddell, who was willing to sacrifice everything for principle. Observing the Sabbath was minimal in my family, but to Eric Liddell it was a vital part of his spiritual life. We respected this without having any intention of emulating it. "Eric Liddell had integrity," dad told me. "It is always important to do what you think is the right thing," he said. "Don’t take the easy road."
Eric Liddell once said "In the dust of defeat, there is glory, if you have given your best." As someone who, on many a good day, finished in second place, I found that thought very comforting.
"The past is a foreign country - they do things differently there." L.P. Hartley.
The world changed a great deal since the 1920s. Sport and competition was something individuals did after work or school. No one made a full time career of it. Even in my early days of competition in track and field, in the late 1940s, the philosophy of coaches was that an athlete had to train twice a week plus a Saturday competition. More than that and the athlete would "go stale."
The first of the modern Olympic Games had taken place as recently as 1898 and there was much less hoopla and commercialism. Television now pays millions for the right to cover major sporting events. Commercial companies pay millions for advertising time on major sports programs.
Back then, an amateur athlete could not receive any money, only a medal or a prize in competition. Today the winner of a prime Olympic medal such as the 100 meters can parlay that into millions in earnings. In contrast, Jim Thorpe, a native American of the Sac and Fox tribe, who won both the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics, was stripped of his medals when it was discovered he had been payed for playing semi pro baseball for two years before the Olympics. In 1983, thirty years after his death, the International Olympic Committee restored his medals.
In those days there were no track suits. Warm up clothes consisted of an old pair of flannel trousers and a sweater with a towel tucked around the neck. The competition uniform was knee length shorts and a T-shirt with a club or national badge on it. They ran on a cinder or grass tracks, and there were no starting blocks. Each runner carried a little trowel to dig the holes for his feet behind the starting line for the sprints.
It was not until my own time of competing from age fourteen onwards in the mid 1940s and 50s that some of this changed. Before specialized running shoes, we ran in sandshoes, with plain flat rubber soles and canvas uppers. A marathon runner in our club, the Clydesdale Harriers, got the bright idea of slicing a 4"X6" rubber sponge into wedges to provide heel cushioning for road running, and in no time we all copied him. The only spiked running shoes available until the 1950s were hand made. In 1972 Bill Bowerman, the coach for the University of Oregon, borrowed his wife’s waffle iron and made a new type of sole for running shoes. That was the beginning of the Nike Company.Cushioning and arch support followed soon after.
Tianjin, in north China: a strange place for a Scotsman to be born, especially in 1902. But Eric Liddell’s parents were Scottish missionaries with the London Missionary Society. Eric attended school in China until age five. At six he and his brother Robert, eight years old, were enrolled in Eltham College, Nottingham, a boarding school in England for the sons of missionaries. After leaving them at the boarding school, the parents and sister Jenny returned to China. During the boys’ time in Eltham, parents, sister and new brother Ernest came home on leave a couple of times and the family was able to be together, living in Edinburgh, Scotland.
At Eltham, Eric became an outstanding athlete and was awarded the Blackheath Cup as the best athlete of the year. As young as age of fifteen he played cricket for the First XI, rugby for the First XV, and later became captain of both teams. His headmaster described him as being "entirely without vanity." This was to be a very apt description for Eric Liddell’s conduct throughout his life..
While still at Eltham College Liddell became well known as the fastest runner in Scotland. Newspapers carried stories of his feats at track meets, and many articles stated he was a potential Olympic winner.
Because he was so well respected as an athlete and a devoted Christian, Eric was chosen to speak for the Glasgow Students’ Evangelical Union (GSEU). This group hoped he would attract large crowds to hear the Gospel. The GSEU would send out groups of ten men to stay with the local population in an area better known for razor slashing than hymn singing. It was Eric’s job to be the lead speaker and to evangelize the men of Scotland. At this time the Evangelical Union was promoting a theme of "muscular Christians."
In 1921, Eric joined his brother Robby at the University of Edinburgh to study Pure Science. Running and rugby, however, played a large part of his university life. He ran in 100 yards and 220 yards races and played rugby for the University club. He soon won a place on the Scottish national rugby team where he played wing three quarter. In 1922 and 1923 he played in seven out of the eight Five Nations (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France) international matches. In 1923 at the British Amateur Athletic Association Championships he won the 100 yards, setting a British record of 9.7 seconds, a record that stood for thirty-five years. He also won the 220 yards in 21.6 seconds.
Harold Abrahams was used to being Britains premier sprinter. His view was if you don’t break the tape, you are a loser. When Eric beat him at the AAA Championships, he became very discouraged and had an interesting discussion with his lady friend Sybil Evers, about pulling out of the Olympic team.
Harold Abrahams: "If I can’t win, I won’t go."
Sybil Evers: "If you don’t go, you can’t win."
Another interesting conversation took place between Harold and his coach, Sam Mussabini.
Sam Mussabini: "Eric Liddell? He’s no real problem..."
Harold Abrahams: "You could have fooled me." (Eric had just beaten Harold.)
Sam Mussabini:"Yeah, he’s fast! But he won’t go any faster; not in the dash, anyway. He’s a gut runner, digs deep! But a short sprint is run on nerves. It’s tailor made for neurotics."
What did Eric Liddell have to say about running?
"Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within."
"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. When I run I feel His pleasure."
Even more impressive than Eric’s athletic ability was the way he competed. When knocked down in a race, he didn't complain or point fingers. He persevered. In 1923, Eric represented Scotland in a triangular Scotland - England - Ireland international match at Stoke on Trent, England. Running in the 440 yard race he was bumped and knocked to the ground a few strides into the race. He got up, hesitated briefly, then pursued his opponents, now 20 yards ahead. He passed the leaders shortly before the finish line and collapsed after breaking the tape.
The 1924 Olympic Games were hosted by the City of Paris. Without doubt one of Scotland's greatest sporting heroes, Eric Liddell, owes much more of his fame to a race he didn't run than any he did. However, the uplifting manner in which he lived his life, as portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire, truly marks him as one of the greatest Scottish heroes.
Since he was a devout Christian and a man of principle, Eric refused to run in any race held on a Sunday, the Sabbath. To Harold Abrahams relief, Eric withdrew from the 100 metres, his best event. The heats for the 4 x 100 and the 4 x 400 metres relays were also held on Sundays so he withdrew from those teams, too. The movie Chariots of Fire shows this happening as they boarded the ship for France, but that is not how it happened. The schedule had been published several months earlier, and his decision made well before the Games. Now, instead of having five opportunities to medal, he was down to two long shots. Eric had spent the months before the Games preparing for the 400 metres, but his best time was 49.6, set in winning the 1924 British Championships. This was quite modest by international standards; neither was his 200 meters time up to world levels.
The 100 meters final took place early in the Games, and Harold Abrahams surprised everyone except his coach, by winning the gold medal and setting an Olympic record. Liddell did not see the race; he spent that particular Sabbath preaching in the Scots Church in Paris.
Despite his 200 metres time being slow before the Olympics, Eric managed to take third place in the 200 metres behind Jackson Scholz and Charlie Paddock of the USA. In that race he beat his British sprint rival, Harold Abrahams. This was the last time Eric and Harold raced together. Eric had qualified for the final of the 400 metres. He was well loved, and the pipes and drums of the Cameron Highlanders Regiment played outside the stadium for an hour before he ran. As he approached the starting position for the race, he was handed a slip of paper by an American Team masseur. He opened it and read a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30 "Those who honour Me, them will I honour."
The 400 meters was considered a middle distance race in those days and normal strategy was to sprint the first bend, coast down the back straight, then give it everything for the remainder of the race. He faced a strong field in that distance, in particular from the American Team, one of whom, Jackson Schulz, had bested Liddell in the 200 meters. He also had to contend with some negative British press, who could not understand his placing God above winning a medal for King and country. Liddell was to some extent helped by the American attitude, as their coach had instructed their runners not to worry about the Scot, whom he was sure would burn out after 200 meters. Liddell, however, was ready for the challenge and, after sportingly shaking the hands of each of his competitors, the "Flying Scotsman" was off.
Inspired by the pipe music and the biblical message, Eric raced all of the first 200 meters covering it in 22.2 seconds, close to his best time for that distance alone. This put him well clear of the favoured American runners. He was never challenged, but led the whole way and won by six meters in 47.6 seconds, breaking the Olympic and world records. This time stood as a European record for twelve years until the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
To win a race in a distance you are not familiar with is no mean feat, to do it to win Olympic gold is something else again, and to set a world record in the process raises the feat to incredible.
After the Games, in 1924, Eric graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Edinburgh University. He continued to compete and later in the year, running the anchor leg in a 4X400 meters race helped the British Empire team beat the team from the USA. In the same year he won the 100, the 220, and the 440 yards at the Scottish Championships. He was the only athlete ever to win all three of these events in this competition, and he repeated the feat in 1925.
Eric was at the top of his game as a runner, but did not stay on to compete in the 1928 Olympics. After his spectacular winning of the Olympic gold medal, Eric quietly announced his intent to go to China as a missionary: "It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals. It has always been my intention to be a missionary, and I have just received word that I have been accepted as a chemistry teacher at the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin, China. From now on, I will be putting my energy into preparing to take up that position."
Having been born in China and left at the age of five in 1907, Eric returned as a missionary in 1925 and used his athletic experience to train boys in a number of sports. One of his many responsibilities was as superintendent of the Sunday school at Union Church where his father was pastor. He lived at 38 Chongqing Road and today a plaque commemorates his former residence. He also helped to build the Minyuan Stadium in Tianjin. He suggested it be copied exactly from Chelsea Football club’s ground, where he had competed and said it was his favourite running venue.
Eric continued to compete occasionally within China. He beat the French and Japanese Olympic team representatives in the 200 and 400 metres at the South Manchurian Railway celebrations in 1928 and also gained a victory in the 1930 North China championships.
During his first leave from missionary work in 1932, he was ordained a minister of religion. In 1934 in Tianjin, he married Florence Mackenzie, a Canadian whose parents were also missionaries.
In 1940 traveling on leave was dangerous. Once, when Eric and his wife and daughters were on leave, they crossed the Atlantic on their way from Scotland back to China. No less than three ships in their convoy were sunk by U-Boats. At one point, a torpedo struck their ship, but miraculously, it failed to explode.
Eric now faced risks daily. He and a Chinese friend were bicycling home from a wedding to a missionary hospital in Siaochang when they heard the sound of gunfire nearby. Both jumped off their bikes as bullets flew around them. Suddenly the firing stopped, and several nationalist Chinese soldiers sheepishly apologized - they had mistaken Eric and his friend for communist or Japanese enemies. In a letter written to his wife, Eric said, "When I am out it is giving, giving, giving all the time, and trying to get to know the people, and trying to leave them a message of encouragement and peace in a time when there is no external peace at all." .
In 1941, living in China became precarious because of invasion by the Japanese, so the British government advised all of its nationals to leave. Florence, who was pregnant, left with their daughters Patricia and Heather, moving back to Toronto to stay with her parents. Sending his wife and daughters away was probably the most difficult thing Eric did in his life. He would never see them again. His parting words to his wife were "Those who love God never meet for the last time."
Eric accepted a position serving the poor at a rural mission in Saochang. He joined his brother, Rob, who was a doctor there. The station was severely understaffed and the missionaries were exhausted. A constant stream of locals came at all hours for medical treatment. Eric and his brother were overworked and suffered daily hardships. When the invading Japanese pushed back the Chinese Eighth Army, they took over the mission station and Eric left to work in Tianjin. In 1943 he was imprisoned in the Weihsien Internment Camp with many others.
The Japanese were cruel and ruthless in their occupation of China. Over ten million people died during this time, mostly civilians, women and children. Many died of disease, physical violence, and malnutrition in prisoner of war and internment camps.
Eric became a leader and organizer in the camp, but food, medicine, and other supplies were scarce and life was hard. There were many cliques in the camp, even some fellow missionaries formed one, and instead of helping they moralized and behaved selfishly. Some inmates, mainly oil company executives, managed to bribe the guards into giving them extra rations and luxury goods. Liddell shamed them into sharing these with the rest of the inmates.
Eric kept busy helping the sick and the elderly, teaching at the camp school Bible classes, arranging games and teaching science to the children who called him "Uncle Eric."
When Chefoo School was closed by the Japanese, the entire staff, faculty and students were placed in the Weihsien Camp. The youth and children, some as young as six years old, would not see their parents for years, and parents would have no idea if their children were living or dead.
Missing their parents, the young people and children were lonely and afraid. They needed someone to look out for them and to have activities to distract them from their fears and the harsh life. Eric was the ideal man for the job. He would not break the Sabbath for King and country, nor for personal glory, but he did for the children and for the first time in his life, indulged in sporting activity full time, refereeing soccer matches and organizing games even on Sundays. Another occasion on which Eric did not keep the Sabbath was when he refereed a men’s hockey match to stop fighting amongst the players. He was the only one trusted not to take sides. As Jesus said, when accused of healing the sick on a Sabbath, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
One of his fellow prisoners, Norman Cliff, wrote a book about his experiences in the camp called "The Courtyard of the Happy Way," which detailed the remarkable characters in the camp. Cliff described Liddell as "the finest Christian gentleman it has been my pleasure to meet. In all my time in the camp, I never heard him say a bad word about anybody." Every written record by anyone who was imprisoned in the camp mentions Eric Liddell in glowing terms. He was a friend to all.
The day he died, Eric wrote his last letter to his wife. He spoke of suffering a nervous breakdown due to overwork. But though overwork and malnourishment may have hastened his death in fact he had an inoperable brain tumour. He died on 21 February, 1945, at the age of forty three. A friend reported his last words, "It’s complete surrender," in reference to how he had given his life to God.
Eric died just a few months before American troops freed the camp and rescued the survivors. He was greatly mourned not only in Weihsien Internment Camp, but also in Scotland. A fellow internee, Langdon Gilkey, later wrote, "The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death left."
I remember I was travelling on a streetcar when I saw the large black headlines in the Glasgow Evening Times newspaper that someone else was reading. "ERIC LIDDELL DEAD." Even at ten years old, I was as stunned as anyone.
* * * *
Fifty six years after the 1924 Olympics, another Scot, Allan Wells won the gold medal in the 100 metres at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. When asked if he dedicated his victory to Harold Abrahams, the last member of a British team to win the event, Allan said "No. This one was for Eric."
The school where Eric taught is still in use today. In 1991 one of Eric’s daughters visited the school and presented them with a medal he had won for running. A poll conducted by The Scotsman newspaper in 2008 voted Eric Liddell the most popular athlete Scotland has ever produced
Upon his death, Liddell's grave at the former camp site in Weifang, was marked by a simple wooden cross erected by his fellow prisoners, with his name written on it in boot polish. In the aftermath of the war, his gravesite was forgotten and for a long time nobody knew where he was buried. However, the site was identified many years later, and Edinburgh University erected a stone of Mull granite there in 1991. The headstone carries a few simple words from the Book of Isaiah 40:31 "They shall mount with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary."As part of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the internment camp in 2005, the city of Weifang commemorated Liddell by laying a wreath at his grave.
Starting in 2009 Eric is honoured annually with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 22 February. However, perhaps a tribute that Liddell himself would have more appreciated, was the setting up of the Eric Liddell centre in the old North Morningside Church at "Holy Corner" in Edinburgh. Once every four years, the Olympic year, Edinburgh University holds a parade in his memory.
When China was about to host the 2008 Olympic Games, which they did in a memorable way, they listed one Li Airui as the first Chinese national to win Olympic medals. Li Airui is the Chinese name for Eric Liddell.
It was not until 2008 that China released news that back in 1944 a prisoner exchange had been arranged between the Japanese and British, with full approval of Winston Churchill. After two years of malnutrition, overwork and abuse, Eric Liddell was scheduled to be released from the camp. Freedom! Instead he quietly stepped back, giving his position to a pregnant woman. This news came as a great surprise, for he told no one, not even his family, but it was typical of the man.
In Eric’s own words: "You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals."
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man my son!
Well run, my friend, well run.
Jim MacPhee (1906-1997): A Life Well Lived
I had the privilege of having Jim MacPhee as my father in law. He died in 1997 and I have been meaning to set down memories of him so that my children and their children may know something about his family history and his life. I’m the only one left who knew him well. He was a fine gentleman, well worthy of being remembered.
Jim served as a role model for my cousin by marriage, Eric Morter, who was a blood relative of the MacPhee family, and could have added a great deal to this story. Eric quietly passed away a few years ago, taking his recollections with him. Such is life.
My story starts with Jim’s maternal grandfather who was a tradesman, living with his wife and three daughters in London, England, in the 1880s. He worked in a factory and was blinded in one eye when struck by a flying metal chip. As was the custom in those days, he was immediately fired. From the company’s perspective, he was of less value with limited vision. There was no workman’s compensation or welfare, so suddenly he was without income. He and his family couldn’t pay their way, and suffered the social ostracism of being sent to London’s Poor House, just like the writer Charles Dickens before him.
As soon as they were old enough, his daughters were sent into domestic service in different wealthy households and the family was separated forever. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the three girls treasured being part of a family and somehow managed to maintain contact even into old age.
Bessie, one of the daughters, detested life in domestic service and took an early opportunity to run away. She met and married a handsome young man of Scottish background, named James MacPhee. James was "on the stage" in London as a "mesmerist" and Bessie became his assistant. His job was to pretend to hypnotize Bessie and hers was to lay rigid between two chairs while members of the audience were challenged to test her, which they did by blowing smoke in her face, trying to get her to blink. Some sat on her, and some even stuck a pin in her to try to make her flinch. Bessie always had an iron will. In fact, she used to take a bath in cold water every morning, right into her 80s. She said it was invigorating. I believed her.
Bessie and James were among the first in London to own bicycles. There were no gears or chains on these machines but each had a very large front wheel with pedals and a tiny rear wheel. They were popularly known as "penny-farthings", since they reminded one of a very large coin and a tiny one.
In 1906 James junior was born to this adventurous couple. He was an only child who dearly loved and admired his dad. When World War I broke out in 1914, James senior volunteered for military service in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders regiment. He served his country with honour, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He was killed in September, 1918 on the last day of the war.
The closing days of both world wars were to impact this little family.
Young Jim was devastated, losing his beloved dad when he was only twelve. One of his dad’s fellow officers paid for Jim to attend a fine public school for two years, then he too passed away in the Spanish Flu epidemic. It seems ironic that many men survived trench warfare, snipers, poison gas attacks and shelling, only to die in this way. World War One claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918-19 attacked one fifth of the world's population, and killed an estimated 50 million people.. Within months, more people died of this than any other illness in recorded history. In two days my own mother lost her mother and a sister to this same deadly virus and many families had similar experiences.
To find work, Jim’s mother, Bessie, moved from London to a rough area of Glasgow. Suddenly Jim, with his polished English accent, did not fit in. It must have been extremely difficult. Jim had a very strict religious upbringing as his mother was a member of a Baptist Church. I am sure that did not help him to fit in with neighbouring kids either. I remember him telling me of a song they were taught in Sunday School.
The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling,
For you, but not for me.
The angels they all sing-a-ling-a-ling,
For me but not for you.
When he was 16 Jim started a five year apprenticeship in a shipyard on the River Clyde. He suffered some teasing because of his accent, but some of the older men spoke up for him, saying, "leave him alone - he is a decent boy." During his apprenticeship he was sent off on an errand and while he was gone, all of the many huge bolts were tightened and secured on an enormous condenser. Then someone asked "Where is young Jim?" There was general panic, the men thinking they had bolted him inside the condenser. They had half of the bolts undone when Jim showed up, wondering what all the panic was about.
It was here that he was exposed to asbestos, which was commonly used for insulation. Asbestos got into his lungs and eventually caused his death, but not until he was 91 years old. All during his training he pursued engineering studies and when he finished the apprenticeship at age twenty one, Jim became a sea going engineer. He always had work at sea while many who worked along the industrial Clydeside were unemployed during the depression. Sometime around 1933 he met and married the love of his life, Margaret McLelland, a beautiful young woman some ten years his junior.
Margaret was the favorite child from a large, close knit but poor family of Irish origin. She worked in a major department store and possessed a very quick mind for numbers and bookkeeping. Jim and Margaret were deeply in love and remained so all of their days. My late wife, Eileen, also an only child, was born in 1934. Jim was away at sea and didn’t get to see his daughter until she was 18 months old. Jim was a good, kind and loving father, but was away at sea much of the time until Eileen was twelve years old. She missed the influence of her father and had a very difficult upbringing at the hands of her mother who, despite many good qualities was temperamental and sometimes emotionally unbalanced. grandmother Bessie provided something of a "safe place" which was often needed. Bessie and Margaret were good friends and were good to each other.
By this time Jim had qualified as chief engineer and was employed in this capacity on the various ships on which he served. He travelled the world on cargo ships and tramp steamers during the 1930s and was exposed to many people of other religions, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, among others. He was surprised to find most of them decent people who lived a spiritual type of life with good values. His eyes were opened to how restrictive and narrow minded his upbringing had been.
Cargo ships usually spent a bit of time in the various ports as they were loaded or unloaded, and the ship’s crews and locals would sometimes get together for a game of soccer. Jim was slim but strong and enjoyed these games, but his preference was for his own team to lose. It was even better if they lost by only one goal for the sake of respectability. He was quite unusual in this way. I mentioned his strength - he could swing a sixteen pound sledgehammer when needed and could do that rare feat, a one handed chin up. Also during his travels in the far east he learned some strange and unusual skills. I have seen him unobtrusively take a mouthful of water and blow it out through his nostril for cleansing purposes.
When World War II broke out, Jim, like his father before him, immediately volunteered to serve his country and joined the Royal Navy. In the Navy he undertook the same type of work, supervising crews in the engine room and boiler room on armed Naval vessels. These warships provided escort to merchant ships crossing the Atlantic to bring food and supplies for the beleaguered British population. There he ran the hazards of bombing by the Luftwaffe, German U-boats (submarines), surface raiders, mines and torpedoes.
Jim never viewed himself as a hero. Far from it. However, he lived through some dangerous experiences. He told me of one occasion on which he had been on duty for three days and nights while being bombed and having no sleep. They were part of a convoy of seventeen ships. Finally he was able to go to bed and sleep. When he woke in the morning only three ships were left. The Germans had invented magnetic mines.
Now for a story within a story, Jim features in this one too...
The Grille-Hitler’s Yacht
Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer, had a yacht built for his personal use. It was named the Aviso Grille, was built by the great shipyard Blohm and Voss in Hamburg, Germany and was the 500th ship to be launched there. Grille can be translated as "grasshopper" or "cricket" but a secondary interpretation is "whim, fancy, caprice." Caprice seems a more appropriate name for such a stately yacht. At 443 feet overall it was the largest yacht afloat, costing four million dollars, raised by public subscription, it was Germany’s equivalent of a royal yacht. She was equipped with three 12.7 cm cannon, six anti-aircraft guns, two machine guns and had the capacity to carry 280 mines. It was the first ship to test the high pressure steam machinery planned for German destroyers. The Grille carried three smaller boats on her deck, designated Motorbooten 1, 2 and 3. They were used as pinnaces or admirals’ barges.
The crew included four junior officers who wore immaculate white uniforms and had to be at least six feet tall. They were subject to intense security checks as their job was to look after VIPs who would be brought aboard by Motorbooten 1. These VIPs were the highest ranking personalities of the Third Reich. Included among Hitler’s guests were Goring, Goebbels, Hess and Himmler, along with honoured guests from Hungary, Italy and Japan. Important secret conferences of the Naval Command took place on board.
The Fuhrer forbid alcohol and often gave his staff severe temperance lectures. After one such harangue on board the Grille, the staff gathered in the saloon to calm their nerves with a bottle of champagne. Suddenly Hitler appeared in the doorway and the bottle which had just been opened was discretely hidden under a table. He stormed in, kicked the bottle, spilling its contents, and walked out without saying a word.
The Fuhrer was a very poor sailor and did not travel far aboard his yacht, using it mainly for state occasions. He had very little understanding of naval strategy, but often memorized small details of the ship to humiliate his admirals when they could not answer his questions.
On Hitler’s orders, the Grille was not camouflaged at first, but retained its distinctive yellow funnel and white hull with gold trim. He called it his "White Swan of the Baltic." Yet she became a warship and, with a destroyer escort for protection, laid mines in the North Sea.
Hitler planned to invade England, and the first step of the plan was to dominate the skies over the English channel and England. However, he allowed only 80 days of preparation. It was code named Operation Sea Lion. (As a contrast, the Normandy invasion took two years to plan.) Ten infantry regiments, 170 cargo ships, 1,277 Rhine barges, and 471 tugs were all gathered around the Grille in Ostend. The barges could not operate on anything but a dead flat sea or they would overturn. Worse, the mobilization was so large it was spotted by the RAF, who bombed it to hell. It has been described as the most flawed plan in the history of modern warfare. All the docks were destroyed and almost everything lay in rubble and ashes. One captain said "Our ship was undamaged so we sailed away from Hell, back to Kiel." Suddenly Operation Sea Lion was cancelled and the Fuhrer turned to Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Grill was painted wartime gray in 1942 and used as a staff ship and operational headquarters for Grand Admiral Erich Rader, Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. The Battle of the Arctic was controlled from her dining room. When Rader was replaced by Karl Donitz, Grille became command ship of the entire U-boat fleet.
On May 1, 1945 Grand-Admiral Donitz was ferried to the Grille, which was anchored in Norway, and on her foredeck announced the death of Hitler. It is recorded in the ship’s log "that he, acting on the Fuhrer’s orders, had assumed leadership of the German nation and supreme command of the fighting forces." The last German entry in the log was "May2-4: flag at half mast in memory of the hero’s death of our Fuhrer."
The Fuhrer’s grand plan had been to totally defeat Britain, then to sail there in his "royal yacht", the Grille, have one of the Motorbooten bring him up the River Thames where he would take over Windsor Castle as his "London home." This would not have been the Grille’s first visit to the Thames, as during the early days of the war she had been laying mines in the Thames Estuary, the first German vessel to enter British territorial waters.
The world survived six years of war, sacrifice and suffering, but finally Adolf Hitler’s dream was shattered. As a final stroke, a nail in his coffin, a hand picked Royal Navy crew sailed to Norway at the end of the war, and took command of the Grille, the Fuhrer’s "White Swan of the Baltic." They sailed with only one working boiler (the rest and some of the engines had been sabotaged), the German crew commanded by British officers and the Aviso Grille was finally anchored at Rosyth in Scotland. The Royal Navy’s Chief Engineering Officer on that voyage was none other than my father in law, Jim MacPhee. Jim said that they had so much engine trouble on that short cruise, that if Hitler had been in charge he would have shot somebody.
Again, like his father before him, a major event in his life on the last days of a world war
In Rosyth, naval personnel stripped the ship of anything valuable. In his typically modest way, Jim took just a few souvenirs from the Grille. There was a wall clock in his kitchen which came from the ship and I now have in my possession a diary for the year 1944 that came from the Grille, with a foreword by Adolf Hitler.
Following the war Jim held various positions including one in London, where the owner wanted him to have the equipment operate continually without ever having a maintenance shutdown. "That’s why we hired you," he was told. Leaving there he moved to East Kilbride, Scotland where he worked for the National Research Council. They had many extremely bright scientists working on leading edge projects, such as trying to harness the sun’s energy, or utilize the energy available from the tides. These "boffins" were often prima donnas and Jim’s job was to try to harness them, to get them to listen to each other and work together.
One favourite place for vacations was Majorca, an island off Spain, but Jim and Margaret also took many bus trips around Scotland. Since Jim was older than Margaret she was often after him to keep fit, which he was happy to do anyway and into his 70s, both of them would often take their old bikes (no gears) and travel by train to the highlands where they would disembark, often cycling over a hundred miles a day.
As he had been a good father, Jim was also a fine grandfather and all his grand children loved him. My son, Robert, still remembers visiting his grandparents when he was quite young and his grandpa getting him toy soldiers every day he was there. One day grandpa did not bring any, and little Robert complained. His mother lectured him for being greedy, but later on that day grandpa slipped out and bought him some fine little soldiers.
One day the couple were walking home from the bank where they had collected their pension money when a young hoodlum grabbed Margaret’s purse and ran away with it with Jim in hot pursuit, or perhaps lukewarm pursuit, unsuccessfully, with Margaret shouting at Jim for being such an idiot. He was 85 at this time.
Margaret loved her Jim dearly, but possessed a tongue that could cut steel. One day in 1995 the old couple were returning home from the shopping mall in East Kilbride. It was a morning with a bright sun rising. They were holding hands as Jim was a bit unsteady on his feet, and while crossing a minor road, about twenty feet wide, were struck by a car driven by an white haired lady. They were both knocked down and Margaret died right there. Jim was taken to hospital for treatment.
The lady had a young child in the front seat with her and claimed that the sun was in her eyes and she didn’t see Jim and Margaret crossing the road. We suspect she was distracted by the child, but who knows? Eileen senior and I were doing volunteer work in Madeira at the time and had just managed to have a telephone installed in our flat. Our first call was from Interpol who had tracked us down, to inform us of the accident. We dropped everything and flew back to Scotland.
A strange thing happened at the accident scene. Mr and Mrs Bruce were neighbours who lived across the way from Jim and Margaret. Mr Bruce saw the crowd gathering at the accident scene and when he saw Margaret lying on the road, he thought it was his own wife. The shock was too much and Mr Bruce died of a heart attack the next day.
Mrs Bruce was a lovely, interesting lady who had been a dancer on stage when she was young. She lamented to me "We never had a retirement." Her mother had lived to be a hundred and died shortly before this. They had faithfully waited on her every day, and now Mr Bruce was dead.
Jim loved wildlife and had a tiny Robin who came to his window ledge every day for little pieces of cheese. Mrs Bruce went one better. The same little robin went into her house for cheese and perched on the TV or the back of a chair for a visit.
We stayed in Scotland for some time until Jim felt well enough to come to Canada with us. He was delightful company and was very popular at Baha’i gatherings as he asked such interesting questions. Jim did not believe in God, because he wondered "what kind of God would allow animals to suffer?" I don’t know the answer to this and it is one thing I plan to inquire about when I finally get to the next world. Maybe by then, Jim will be able to fill me in....
After six months Jim wanted to go home, because, as he said, Scotland was his home. Many times he told me that he was really sorry that he had not been killed in the accident. "That would have been perfect, for us to go together," he said. We travelled with him back to Scotland to make sure he was settled. His doctor confided to us that Jim had hinted to him that he would like the doctor to give him some medication that would end his life. He did not want to try it himself in case he messed it up.
At this time Jim lived alone, but continued with his exercise program and had lists of the meals for each day of the week, and reminders posted about the walls, "turn off the gas" and "lock the door." We checked on him before going to do volunteer work in St Vincent in the West Indies but once there we had a phone call telling us that Jim was not doing well, so we rushed back to Scotland in January in our tropical clothes. Brrrr.
Jim was in hospital and was not being well cared for so we got him into a very nice nursing home in Eaglesham, a nearby town. It was a fine place and Jim kept his sense of humour. Here is his last joke. Jim was sitting in a wheel chair in the Sunroom. He had been a skilled artist and when Eileen asked him "If I brought a tray in for you, would you like to paint?’ Jim said, "what colour would you like it?"
One time we came in and Jim had a black eye. He had fallen out of bed. We asked him what happened, and he said he woke up and thought he was in a very fancy hotel which he couldn’t afford, so tried to get out of bed to call a taxi to take him home.
Jim was 91 years old at this time, and with the asbestos in his lungs from his apprenticeship days, his condition was terminal. He wanted to visit his home once more, but we had to arrange for a nurse and an ambulance to bring him. It took two weeks to make the arrangements, and by that time he had lost interest in his home. There was even a squirrel performing acrobatics for him on the clothes line on the back lawn, but he was no longer interested. He died soon after this, two years after Margaret, and finally got to join his beloved wife who, no doubt, would tell him off for taking so long.
In preparation for his funeral we contacted a local Presbyterian Church that Jim and Margaret had sometimes attended. We wanted to include a Baha’i prayer in the ceremony but before he would agree, the minister wanted to know "What God do you pray to?"
During one of our visits Jim told us, "the Baha’i Faith is the only religion that makes any sense." I suspect that at the end he still didn’t believe in God, but he was a very decent man all his life and I am sure God believed in him.... I certainly did.
(Written 29 November, 2011.)
World War II, According to Me
In the year 1939, my family, the Boyds, lived in the village of Duntocher, population 3,000, just north of the industrial town of Clydebank, population 48,000. Clydebank is, of course, on the banks of the River Clyde. Our home was situated at the northern edge of a subdivision, facing a stand of beech trees which were several hundred years old, a much more ancient Roman Road, then a farmer's field, beyond which wild land of gorse and heather, rising 1,800 feet above, the Old Kilpatrick Hills. These were named for St Patrick, whom local tradition insists was born there into a family of Roman citizens and kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of sixteen, in the year 405 AD. But that's another story.
Each building in our subdivision accommodated four families, two upstairs, two downstairs. We lived downstairs and our downstairs neighbours were noisy, the unruly kids being in the habit of bouncing a golf ball off our mutual brick wall for hours. Or it seemed like hours. Diagonally upstairs from us the neighbours were particularly quiet, he being a second story man, a burglar.
Of the 3,000 people in Duntocher, about 2,800 were Roman Catholic of Irish background, the rest being Scottish Presbyterians. For Protestants, Presbyterian was your only option, since the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was the official national religion. The unofficial religion of Scotland was and still is soccer, at whose stadia thousands enthusiastically worship each weekend, while churches stand empty.
MEMOIRS: WORLD WAR II, ACCORDING TO ME
I was born in the middle of the Great Depression, the fourth child in my family, a surprise and an accident, just like you. Mother was quite concerned about having another mouth to feed, but my Father quite cheerfully said "Don't worry. He'll bring us luck." A lot of responsibility on my young shoulders. My Father was out of work at this time, but within a couple of years he had found a job and the Great Depression was over. I was doing well, but there was more to come....
I had just turned five and started going to school when war was declared. Our Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, had been sucking up to Adolf Hitler and came out of a session with Adolf in Munich, waving a signed treaty and claiming "Peace in our time!" I don't remember much about that, but Hitler immediately invaded Poland. His excuse for doing so was that troops in Polish uniforms began shelling the Germans. It turned out later that those troops were Germans, sneaked across the frontier so he could justify attacking Poland.
Anyway, they invaded Poland, and the dashing, bold Polish cavalry looked fine but however courageous they were, did not make much headway against the German Panzer tanks. Germany had been preparing militarily for years while the rest of Europe hoped for peace. The British Empire was a powerful economic engine at this time but ill prepared for a modern war. The world was just some thirty years removed from the end of World War I. That was supposed to be the "war to end all wars."
Britain had a mutual agreement with Poland, don't ask me why, that in the event that an attack each would step up to protect the other.
My personal memories of war start in September of 1939, at the dinner table in our living room. The whole family was there, sisters Betty and Isobel, brother Bobby, Mum and Dad, and yours truly, the baby of the family. Even the cat Kitty Whiskers was under the table. I remember its name because all the cats we ever had were called Kitty Whiskers. All were listening to the BBC six o'clock news on the radio. Electricity had been quite recently installed at our house, before that, illumination was by natural gas in a mantle. Our radio was powered by an old car battery and nobody had television. I remember the announcer, in suitably somber tones, announced that war had been declared. September 1939. I could see my family took it very seriously, but it didn't mean much to me. No big deal......
Anyway, Britain soon dumped Chamberlain and brought out a new champion, Winston Churchill. Winston had been involved in wars going back to 1898 when, as a journalist, he was taken prisoner in South Africa by the Boers, during the Boer War. He escaped and left journalism for politics.
It was said of Churchill that he marshaled the English language and sent it to war. Even as a child I remember hearing him speak when he entered parliament on May 13, 1940, replacing Chamberlain. Apparently Churchill received a lukewarm reception while the outgoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was lustily cheered. It happened while the Nazi army led by the brilliant General Erwin Rommel was roaring across Europe, seemingly unstoppable, conquering country after country, and the survival of Britain seemed very uncertain.
Churchill made this brief statement which has been described as one of the greatest calls-to-arms ever uttered. It must have been powerful because I still remember it 68 years later.
"I say to the House..... I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men."
- Winston Churchill - May 13, 1940
Even although I was only five years old, I remember hearing the part about having nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. That sounded pretty cool to me, but the term "cool" would not be coined for another fifty years.
Now that war was underway, food was rationed as German submarines were sinking supply ships coming into Britain. The shipbuilding industry was going flat out but the U-boats were sinking them as fast as they were built. (Years later, my father in law Jim MacPhee told me he was chief engineer on a cargo ship in the early war years. On one run he went to bed after three sleepless nights of air attack, being bombed and shot up, and fell sound asleep. He was in a convoy of seventeen ships. When he awoke in the morning three ships were left. The Germans had invented magnetic mines.)
Not only was food rationed but, tragedy, candy was too. Gas masks were issued. Everyone had to carry them as well as identity cards. Posters went up everywhere saying "Is your journey really necessary?" and "Loose lips sink ships." All railway stations had candy bar machines which now stood empty and forlorn.
On May 10, 1940, Germany began a massive attack against Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Defending those countries was the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) along with the French, Belgian, and Dutch armies. The B.E.F. had been quickly thrown together and shipped off to stop the German army. The B.E.F. were ill equipped, and poorly trained with incompetent leaders. Their generals thought they could run things by staying well to the rear of the action and communicating by hand delivered messages, just like in World War I. Their main line of defense was the Maginot Line, a string of defensive forts along the French-German border, from Luxemburg to Switzerland. They were sure the Germans could never break through. Never!
Yet the high speed, mechanized German 'blitzkrieg' continually caught the Allied armies off-guard. Rommel did not try to break through the Maginot Line but sent his Panzer tanks through the "impassable" Ardennes Forest, circled north, and surrounded the Allied armies in Belgium. German morale was very high.
The "Miracle at Dunkirk" occurred next. 338,000 British and French soldiers were picked up along the coastline by over a thousand vessels, including Royal Navy destroyers and a flotilla of small boats of every shape and size, civilian as well as military, anything that could float. The entire country had thrown itself into the war to save the troops from annihilation.
After just a few weeks of battle, Hitler's armies had experienced stunning victories on all fronts. Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium had capitulated in less than a month. Paris fell on June 14. Three days later, France sued for peace. Europe had collapsed like a house of cards.
In this speech to the House of Commons, Prime Minister Winston Churchill discusses the disastrous turn of events in Europe with the realization that Britain now stands alone against the seemingly unstoppable German military juggernaut.
"...the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions...... The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward.... If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
-Winston Churchill - June 18, 1940
Europe had been conquered and Britain was left to fight alone. In August 1940 Reichmarshal Goering, supreme commander of the Luftwaffe and deputy to Hitler himself, initiated a great offensive against Great Britain, Operation Eagle, convinced that he would drive the RAF from the skies and secure the surrender of the British by means of the Luftwaffe alone. The Germans commenced bombing strategic targets and airfields when an audacious bombing raid by the British on Berlin infuriated Hitler and caused a change of plans. The Luftwaffe made a fatal, tactical error at Hitler's insistence, when they switched to massive night bombings of London in September, 1940, just when British fighter defenses were reeling from losses in the air and on the ground. This move saved the RAF control stations from destruction and gave the British fighter defenses precious time to recover. The failure of the Luftwaffe, which Hitler never forgave, caused the abandonment of Operation Sea Lion, the planned invasion of England, and began the political eclipse of Goering.
The people of London were hammered by planes based in newly occupied France, Belgium and Holland. London was ablaze, yet the King and Queen refused to leave London, daily visiting bombed areas to comfort survivors. Fire departments and hospitals were overwhelmed, and often fire trucks and ambulances could not navigate the streets because of rubble from destroyed buildings. Air raid shelters were few and many people were sleeping under ground in the subway stations, but instead of being demoralized, their resolve increased.
The British Royal Air Force, quite limited in men and machines, strove valiantly against the Luftwaffe's fleets of bombers and fighter escorts invading. A bombastic Reichmarshall Goering, a former World War One hero, had assured the world that they would totally destroy the Royal Air Force in four days in preparation for invasion. Residents of southern England were treated daily to "dog fights" as British Spitfires and Hurricanes engaged the Heinkels and Messerchmidts of the Luftwaffe in deadly combat overhead. Pilots were scrambled and flew around the clock with little rest. This was known as the Battle of Britain and Hitler found that he could not overwhelm the country even with massive air superiority. They were turned back by this handful of heroes. Instead of winning the battle of Britain in four days, they lost it in one month.
Churchill rewarded Britain's young pilots with praise as only he could. I remember part of his speech saying "Never in the annals of history has so much, been owed by so many, to so few."
Now it became personal. Hitler, frustrated in the south of England, turned his attention northward, sending planes from occupied Norway into the industrial heart of Scotland, the Clyde Valley, where the great Cunard ships, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth had been built. Shipbuilding yards on the Clyde produced over half of Britain's tonnage. The Singer Manufacturing company with its 16,000 workers had switched from manufacturing sewing machines to machine guns and light weaponry, and further down the river where my Dad worked, huge guns were being manufactured at the Royal Ordnance Factory. They all knew they would be a target as soon as the Germans could reach the area.
In preparation for an attack, "barrage balloons" were installed at the outskirts of towns. Their purpose was to prevent attacks from low flying aircraft. They were unmanned dirigibles flying at an altitude of 300 metres and anchored to the ground by steel cables. An anti aircraft gun battery was in a farmer's field just outside our village. We found out afterwards that a fake town had been built in the Old Kilpatrick Hills, to attract planes to drop their bombs there instead of on industrial targets. A series of oil filled smokepots lined a nearby highway. I don't know if their purpose was to hide the road or attract bombers away from the nearby River Clyde and its many vital targets. Blackout was enforced and every window had blackout curtains so no light would be visible. Each home had a bathtub full of emergency water and a bucket of sand for firefighting. A Home Guard had been organized of men who were medically unfit for service or too old. My Dad had been in World War One and was now considered too old for military service, so he served in the Home Guard.
Personally, I found all this activity rather exciting and enjoyed it all.
My brother, Bobbie, was an apprentice Die Sinker. This was considered a trade vital to the war effort and he could not get permission to join the military. He tried many, many times, and once was told by the General Manager, "There are three hundred die sinkers in the Clydeside. I will be damned if there will only be two hundred and ninety-nine." Eventually he gave way and Bobby was able to join the Royal Air Force in 1943.
We were blessed with having Anderson Shelters. These were almost like a culvert, made of corrugated metal, half buried in the ground and covered over with sod. They were almost invisible from the air and could withstand all but a direct hit. In towns with tenement buildings, there was no room for these individual family shelters. There were some above ground sturdy brick shelters but these could be destroyed by a blast from a nearby bomb explosion. Most people in town had to take shelter in stairwells, closets, and on lower floors. Before we got our Anderson Shelter I remember one raid we had to take cover in a closet that had no windows or outside walls. It was pitch black and in the darkness, waiting for the bombs to fall, I did not feel any particular fear but in my imagination I could see rockets, just like Flash Gordon had, coming towards me, one after the other, all in white.
The Anderson shelters, being underground, inevitably accumulated water on their dirt/mud floor, so my brother installed a wooden floor and built a strong wooden door for it. I saw it as a new playhouse and my friends and I incorporated the shelter into our games.
Here are some extracts from an official report [source not cited. -J.W.]:
"On the nights of the 13 and 14 of March in 1941, the Luftwaffe executed a brutal attack on Clydebank, and dealt that town a devastating blow from which it never completely recovered. Clydeside as a whole had prepared itself for an expected onslaught from the beginning of the Second World War. Clydebank with its industrial profile expected it would be marked as a prime target. Some believed that the iron in the mountains around Clydeside would interfere with the compasses of aircraft, making reliable target navigation impossible."
Good luck with that. Our home village, Duntocher, was in the Clyde Valley and on the outskirts of Clydebank.
"At 9 pm on the clear frosty evening on Thursday the 13th of March, beneath the light of a full moon, a "bomber's moon," with snow on the ground, the eerie wail of air raid sirens echoed through the Clyde valley. The sound faded, replaced by the drone of heavily-laden bombers.
In the darkness 3,000 metres above, Luftwaffe crews in labouring Heinkels of the elite KGr 100 Bomber Group gazed down on a city in "blackout". However, the silver waters of the Clyde estuary, the river, canal and docks reflected the glare of the full moon. In their aircraft, bomb aimers pinpointed targets far below with ease. Bombs and incendiaries rained down and as the citizens below scuttled to safety, as their town began to burn."
Meanwhile down on the ground I was roused from my sleep. Dad, who had great faith in the prayers of children had assured me if I said my prayers, the German bombers would not come over. As I was bundled in my 'siren suit" and carried to the shelter by my sister Isobel, I shouted some words I had picked up on the street, "And I said my #**# prayers." (This childhood experience led to a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of prayer which still haunts me today.)
Mother showed up carrying the "shelter bag" holding important family documents in case the house went up. I had a good laugh at Dad who, running across the back lawn in the dark, was flattened by a clothes line which caught him around the neck.
The first bombs were small - 50 kg high explosive, oil bombs and incendiaries, with the intention of starting fires to act as a beacon for the main force, already en route from bases in France, Holland, Denmark and Germany. According to Germans, who kept good records:
"On the first night the Luftwaffe dropped 1,630 containers of 1 kg incendiary bombs. Each container weighed 70-250 kg; a total of 105,300 bombs. Made of magnesium alloy with a filling of "Thermite" and ignited by an impact fuse, they burned fiercely with a heat sufficient to melt steel. Dropped in a variety of containers designed to open as they fell, bombs could be spread in patterns with devastating efficiency."
After they made sure we were safe, Bobby and Dad went out and started fighting fires caused by incendiary bombs. These would land on a roof, then burn through that, through a ceiling and into the upstairs home, setting things alight.
Bobby spotted a home where an incendiary had burned through the roof. He broke down the extremely heavy front door and found an incendiary burning in a horsehair stuffed armchair with a great deal of smoke. With great difficulty he wrestled the chair downstairs but was taken by surprise when he reached the outside air and the bomb flashed in his face burning his eyebrows and hair. The house was saved but the resident, a fussy old bachelor who stayed safe in his shelter, complained later about the mess Bobby had made.
Bobby later saw an incendiary that had become trapped in the eaves trough of house and ended up hanging by one hand and swinging a pickax in the other to break the bomb loose.
Here is an excerpt from the official account of the event:
"The first major blazes began at Yoker Distillery to the east of the town. Set on a hill above the town to the northwest, Auchentoshan Distillery was blasted, setting ablaze a warehouse containing the equivalent of 1 million bottles of whisky. From the resulting inferno, whisky poured into the nearby burn creating a line of fire that stretched to the River Clyde."
These Nazis had no conscience.
"Schools and churches fell easy prey to the hail of incendiaries. Three huge oil tanks were bombed and one set on fire at Dalnotter, close to Auchentoshan. The 40 acres that comprised Singer's timber yard, which was stocked full was set ablaze. In every street a fire had taken hold. The town, now an inferno, beckoned the incoming formations and the heavy bombs and parachute mines began to fall.
The intensity of the raid overwhelmed emergency services. Communications were badly interrupted by a direct hit on the control centre; fire-fighting and rescue units toiled independently against hopeless odds. A bomb, leaving a crater 30 feet wide by 20 feet deep, severed the town water main in the early hours of the raid. Immediate assistance from neighboring services was made impossible by the craters and collapsed buildings which blocked the Burgh's roads.
Hardly a single street was without a fatal casualty. Second Avenue had the highest number of deaths - eighty - when a parachute mine ripped the face off 150 yards of terraced housing. Whole families were wiped out as tenement buildings collapsed, crushing the occupants who had sought shelter in lower floors and closes.
It was soon became apparent that the battle to defeat the inferno had been lost, through damage to fire fighting equipment and to the sheer scale of the bombardment. In rest centres, medical supplies were exhausted quickly. The burned and broken were attended to in horrendous conditions with anything available. For nine hours, wave after wave of bombers pounded the town. Into the night, the deaths and destruction mounted. Dawn broke, the all clear sounded, and shocked citizens emerged from their shelters into a smashed and burning town."
After the "all clear", I stood with my father looking at the huge oil tanks blazing two miles away, lighting up the sky. "Do you see that?" he said. "That's man's inhumanity to man."
Again from an official account:
"The Burgh was evacuated. 48,000 refugees, set adrift and spread afar, many never to return. Clydebank was still burning that evening, when the bombers returned to complete their task. When the drone of the last bomber had faded, 528 lay dead and over 617 had been seriously injured. Many hundreds more were wounded by shards of flying glass.
Clydebank suffered massive loss of housing; 4,000 units were completely destroyed, 4,500 were severely damaged and 3,500 suffered serious to mild damage. Only seven houses out of a total stock of 12,000 remained intact. Many large schools and churches perished.
Industrial targets received directs hits or severe blast and incendiary damage; Beardmore, the Royal Ordnance Factory, John Brown's Clydebank Shipyard, Arnott Young, Rothesay Dock, D & J Tullis and the Singer Factory. The massive Singer timber yard was destroyed. At the primary target, the Admiralty oil storage depot at Dalnottar, eleven huge tanks had been destroyed, others severely damaged. Countless millions of gallons of fuel were lost and the resulting inferno blazed for two weeks. When the site was finally cleared, ninety-six bomb craters were counted. Clydebank suffered the most concentrated damage from bombing of any part of the British Isles during the Second World War.
There can be no doubt that the Clydebank Blitz succeeded in causing massive dislocation and hardship to the population. That was part of its design. The psychological effect was the exact opposite of what was intended. Rather than divide the community and throw it into frenzied panic, it strengthened and immeasurably hardened the people's resolve to survive and resist.
There was, however, a lingering anger, tinged with sadness. Ties were severed, many thousands drifted; time passed and people began to make new lives elsewhere. Many still bear the mental and physical scars; all have vivid recollections. The consequences of the Blitzing of Clydebank were as far-reaching in time as they were in effect."
I remember coming out of the shelter after a few hours when the "all clear" sirens blew. The ground was partly covered by snow and the house across the way was gone as was the building three houses further along our street. Dad and Bobby had saved those in between. There were many incendiary bomb burned out casings lying around on the ground each about eighteen inches long with fins to direct them to my back yard.
When we entered our home we found that the blast from our own anti aircraft guns had blown out all the windows on the north side of the house and they were lying, frame an all, on the beds. The cat, Kitty Whiskers, was sleeping in the empty frame where one pane had been. Cool cat.
The soldiers manning a battery of anti aircraft guns, by a farm on the outskirts of our village, had a nerve shattering experience. A large land mine landed upside down beside the battery and did not explode. After a bit, the gunners, resumed firing and were fortunate that the bomb did not go off.
We gathered in our living room, warming ourselves around a coal fire after the "all clear" sounded. We were joined by our upstairs neighbour, Cathy Boyd (same surname as us but no relation.) Cathy's husband was in the army and away from home. Mother was making the "cure for any problems," a cup of tea. Nobody in our family showed fear, but Cathy wept profusely. She was very pregnant and her face was wet with tears. Suddenly a huge blast occurred, probably caused by a land mine which had not detonated when it landed nearby. Soot came shooting down the chimney and Cathy's tear soaked face, was totally blackened. After the suspense of the air raid we were all ready for a something to break the tension, and Cathy was able to join in with the rest of us who were totally unable to suppress our laughter.
There were numerous air raid warnings, with sirens setting our nerves on edge, and other bombing raids, but we never again experienced one as severe as the raid that came to known as the Clydebank Blitz. During one air raid, a friend, George White, was caught with many others in the La Scala Theatre, a very large and fine movie house. George ended up in the crowded basement and there was a lady who was extremely thirsty and most anxious for a drink of water, but none was available for the water main was off. . George left the safety of the basement to see what he could do, He returned with a glass of water and when asked later how he had managed to get it when everything was shut down, he explained he had got it from a toilet tank.
Only two fighter planes were available to attack this armada, the rest being held in southern England to defend London. Up those two went against that huge armada with all its escort fighters. One pilot, a New Zealander was killed, the other was shot down but survived. I have often wondered at the courage it must have taken to get into that one sided fight.
The second night of the blitz, the Germans dropped the heavy land mines. I remember the whistling sound they made while falling, then a few seconds of silence, followed by a huge earth shaking explosion. They would leave a crater about thirty feet in diameter and fifteen feet deep. Where these landed in a "burn" (small stream) they caused a lovely fresh water pond where in later years I was able to install minnows.
A number of crows (that's called a "murder of crows!) had nests in the beech trees that bordered our street, Beeches Avenue. I have heard that crows are fine mimics and I remember that these crows learned quickly to mimic the whistling sound of a falling land mine. The families living on Beeches Avenue were subjected to that noise made by the crows and braced themselves for that huge explosion that never came. This continued for some weeks after the blitz and proved to be quite stressful. I, for one, did not like that suspense.
It wasn't all bad news, though, for I found out that my school had been destroyed. I was going to have some months off while they replaced it with temporary buildings. Dad decided that my mother and I should be evacuated to a safer location away from the industrial area. I remember well, him standing on the boulevard with his rifle held crossways and stopping a private car and asking (demanding?) the driver to take us to Garelochhead on the coast, where an uncle lived, my mother's brother Angus, and his family.
We were only gone for two weeks but when we returned we found out that my tender hearted sister, Betty, had fed mother's precious hoard of canned goods to local abandoned cats. "They were starving," she said.
Shortly after the Blitz a bomb disposal crew, about seven men, arrived in our community and disarmed all of the unexploded bombs they could find. I remember Mother appreciating the risks they took on our behalf and bringing them in for several cups of tea to warm up. They were most grateful as it was cold, damp and windy.
My family volunteered to have various members of the military, who were far from home, spend their leaves with us. I remember many sailors from Newfoundland, Canadian soldiers, and US airmen who stayed at one time or other. Some came back for further visits. Some went away and never returned. I remember one quiet Canadian paratrooper, Arnold, lost in the abortive raid on Arnhem. A Canadian soldier, Johnny Walker, entertained us playing "Turkey on the Straw on his "fiddle." It was marked "Stradivarius" inside and he told us he had found it outside a museum in Belgium. Who knows? (At war's end my sister, Isobel, married an American airman, a Staff Sergeant in the 8th Army Air Force, and moved to Indiana. My other sister, Betty, married a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy from Newfoundland and moved there for a year before they returned to settle in Scotland.)
Then I was in uniform. Hitler had better watch out now. The First Duntocher Wolfcub Pack. I quickly got fed up with marching and tying knots. Years later knots became of great interest when I took up mountain climbing.
When America entered the war in 1943, the ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, with a top speed of 30 knots, became troop ships, carrying 18,000 men at a time, the men sleeping in shifts. These ships were prime targets but sailed without escort, relying on speed and a zig-zag course to evade German U-boats.
Here is something from an official account:
"The D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, was the largest seaborne invasion of all time, involving over 156,000 troops crossing the English Channel from the United Kingdom to Normandy.
The Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks, naval bombardments, an early morning amphibious landing and during the evening the remaining elements of the parachute divisions landed. The "D-Day" forces deployed from bases along the south coast of England, the most important of these being Portsmouth."
On D-day and the allied forces landed on the beaches in France and began to slowly, painfully push the Germans back. Eventually the Germans capitulated a year later, unconditional surrender, on May 7, 1945. This came to be known as VE Day.
We followed the war in the Pacific on a large map on the living room wall. The map was there to cover a stain on the wallpaper caused when a bread crust spread with margarine bounced off my sister Isobel and hit the wall. She often irritated me and we occasionally had our own private war. Three months after victory in Europe, on August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered. Finally, it was all over. In my village we celebrated with a huge bonfire and in school a grateful nation awarded me a bag of sultana raisins with seeds and a quarter. All the other kids got the same.
My Dad faced stomach cancer bravely but died in 1951 at the age of 53. In Dalnottar Cemetery close by my father's grave is the mass grave of over three hundred people who died in the Clydebank blitz, and whose remains could not be identified.
Hitler sought world domination. In the end he did not even need the traditional six feet of ground everyone is allocated. He did not wish to be captured, so poisoned himself, and by his own request, his remains were consumed by fire from flamethrowers. He would probably fit into a matchbox after that.
72 million people lost their lives in World War Two, the greatest loss of life in any conflict since the beginning of history. The Allies lost 61 million dead, the Axis, 11 million. Many more than that were wounded. 47 million of the dead were civilian casualties, the greatest number of these, women and children. Military losses were 25 million dead. Between five and six million Jews lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps, as did five hundred thousand Gypsies, two thousand Roman Catholic clergy, and ten thousand gay men. 40 million died in prisoner of war camps. Of the various nations, Russia and China suffered the greatest losses with ten million war dead each. The United States of America had five hundred thousand war dead.
As Robbie Burns said:
"Man's inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn."
An official summary of this tragedy:
Prisoner of war deaths in Nazi captivity totaled 3.1 Million. 600,000 in Soviet captivity. POW deaths in Japanese captivity totaled 539,000. Detailed by country: China 400,000 ; Indochina 34,000 ; Netherlands 25,000; U.K. and colonies 24,000 ; Philippines 27,300, United States 10,700 and Australia 8,000. Civilian Deaths - Includes losses from military action and war related deaths caused by famine and disease.
The Holocaust took the lives of between 5.1 to 6.0 million Jews. Other groups persecuted and killed by the Nazis included 130,000 to 500,000 Gypsies, 150,000 to 200,000 handicapped persons, 2.6 to 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.8 to 1.9 million Poles, about 1,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, between 1,000 to 2,000 Roman Catholic clergy and an unknown number
"The fate of black people from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and in German-occupied territories ranged from isolation to persecution, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality, and murder."
From 1933-1939 the number of German deaths in Nazi concentration camps were 165,415, primarily Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, and trade union leaders.
The civilian victims of Japanese war crimes totaled 5,469,000. Detailed by country: China 3,695,000; Indochina 457,000; Korea 378,000; Indonesia 375,000; Malaya 346,000 ; Philippines 119,000, Burma 60,000 and Pacific Islands 57,000. The deaths of 400,000 civilians deported during the Soviet annexations in 1939-40 are included with World War II casualties.
Civilian losses in the postwar era (1946-47) due to famine and disease are not included with these losses. Jewish Holocaust Deaths. 5.7 million (78%) of the 7.3 million Jews in German dominated Europe perished in the war.
[Source: Martin Gilbert, Atlas of the Holocaust, 1988, p. 242-244. ISBN 0-688-12364-3]
Memoirs: Mountain Climbing
6 June, 2010
When I was nineteen years old I was bothered and not at peace with myself. The primary reason for this was I was letting myself be dominated by fear. I had a strong fear of heights. I wasn’t too crazy about the dentist either. As a healthy teenager I detested this state of affairs. It was unfinished business, so I decided to face up to those fears. The dentist was the easiest part so I quickly put that experience behind me, then decided to take up mountain climbing.
It started rather innocuously in 1953 when, with a group of fellow Clydesdale Harriers, we were driving across the Rannoch Moor in Pat Younger’s little 1936 Singer car. We saw a beautiful mountain about a mile away and John Hume, who had been climbing for about a year, suggested we tackle it. It was named Clach Leathad, in ages long past it had been a volcano, a beautifully shaped mountain with a washed out basin. It had snow and ice on top, and was just over 3,600 feet high. The climb was not very difficult but a bit strenuous, and in the snow and ice we had to kick steps for ourselves on the steep slopes. After that invigorating experience, I found myself hooked on climbing. I was used to running around the 1,800 feet high Old Kilpatrick Hills, but this was a real mountain.
All of the mountains in Scotland were surveyed by a man named Munroe, so any peak over 3,000 feet high, and there are 324 of them, is known as a Munroe. Almost all of those in the Highlands have Gaelic names, many with poetic meanings.
Anyway, another member of the Clydesdale Harriers, Jack Higginson, a fine athlete about seven years older than I, came with me to join the Glenmore Mountaineering Club, which organized bus trips to the mountains. Very few people had cars then, so transportation to the hills was very important. The members of the Glenmore club were a friendly group of mostly young people, although when I was nineteen, the thirty year olds seemed rather ancient to me. We met at a school gym in Glasgow for training and conditioning with weekly or biweekly climbing trips. Sometimes we would take a day trip by train on a Sunday to Arrochar, a village on Loch Long, to climb a peak named Ben Arthur better known as “The Cobbler” From some angles this mountain looks like a cobbler bending over his last. If you have a lot of imagination, that is.
I think of The Cobbler very fondly and it was where I learned a great deal. Scrambling there I found I could control my fear and eventually became a competent climber. I was still terrified at times, but it no longer controlled me. Any climbing move I could do six feet off the ground, I learned to do a thousand feet off the ground, not allowing the exposure influence my ability which was OK but not brilliant.
I was to find that on almost every climb there came a “moment of truth”, when I thought I was going to die in a great fall within the next thirty seconds. It never happened, but the feeling was extremely real. Having faced those situations I found myself unafraid of any normal stress at work, in studies, or anywhere else in my life.
The Cobbler had three peaks and many routes with a wide range of difficulty from “Easy” to “Very Severe.” I remember even on one Easy route, I had to jump across a gap with a great deal of exposure below and the wind flapping my clothes. It was not a very big jump, but quite unnerving for a beginner. One Sunday on The Cobbler, rain was pouring down so a few of us decided to go caving instead (know as spelunking.) I remember going down a “chimney” with my back against one wall and feet against another. The walls gradually diverged and I became totally stretched out and wondered how the hell I was going to get down or up from that position. I still don’t know how, but here I am all these years later.
A few of us later made our way down an ever narrowing cave, squeezing though tight openings while wondering if we could get back. We were prepared for daylight climbing so had only one flashlight and a couple of candles to light our way. The lead guy was roped and I was third. I remember him saying “There is some kind of underground stream here. I am going to stand on this earth bank.” Then we heard a great splash and the rope came tight. We managed to retrieve him, all 230 pounds, and back out of there minus the flashlight he had been carrying. When we finally reached daylight and the now welcome pouring rain, we found our boots and clothes covered in some kind of sparkling stuff. It was mica, also known as “fool’s gold.”
That was the first and last time I tried spelunking.
Jack Higginson and I paired up and he, while older, was happy to allow me to lead on the various routes. The role of a leader and second on a rope is different. The leader has to take more risk as when he falls he will go twice the length of the rope that has been paid out before the it tightens and the second can start to try to brake the fall. When a second falls there is almost no slack so he does not go very far before the braking effect. The leader has to trust his partner, that if he falls, the second will be securely belayed and will hang on to the rope as it runs out and burns through the leather gloves and the skin on the palm of the hand. Anyway we were both willing to trust each other in our chosen roles, and hope it would never be put to the test. Forty years later we were reunited in Glasgow for a meal and he observed “I think you were trying to prove something then.” Boy, he got that right!
We climbed together in Glencoe, in the Cairngorms, the Island of Skye, the Mamore Forest and the Nevis Range. The Cairngorm Mountain range was where mountain climbing started in Scotland. In the 1890's it was not a sport, but semi precious stones were discovered there and people started to search for them. The stones were a beautiful smoky topaz, known in Scotland as Cairngorm stones.
The sheer rock face can test you to your limits, but some ridges can be every bit as difficult. Slogging up a mountainside the view is often limited to the few feet ahead, On a ridge the view is often spectacular. In Glencoe one summer we traversed the Aonach Eagach Ridge I don’t remember much about that day. It was quite challenging and the view was incredible. Jackie took a picture taken of me on a small cliff just as the cloud started to roll in.
One New Year an older climber (must have been at least thirty!) from the Glenmore Club and I were the first that year to do the winter traverse of the Devil’s Ridge. This was a spectacular experience as there was lots of snow and ice and a huge wind blowing. We saw a golden eagle battling its way into the wind. What a sight! The ridge took longer than anticipated and we were benighted on top. It became dark and we were making our way by flashlight until suddenly a full moon rose, and we could see for miles. The ice covered mountains were glistening and sparkling like diamonds in the moonlight. I shall never forget that night.
In preparation for long hikes I had started experimenting by adding whisky to my flask of tea as a “pick me up” for fatigue. What I discovered was that booze really is a depressant. It picked me up alright for about twenty minutes, and I could hear and feel my heart pounding, and a pleasant glow, then I mentally crashed, thinking “what the hell am I doing this for?” Later on I stuck with glucose and candy bars as less dramatic but more dependable as a source of energy.
I remember spending a weekend in March, 1954 in the Cairngorms with Jack Higginson. On the way in we had to pass over the 3,200 foot high shoulder of Cairngorm Mountain itself which was covered in deep, ice crusted snow. My pack was extremely heavy and I kept breaking through to my waist. I became exhausted hauling myself out of the snow so many times. Jack was much lighter and managed to stay on top of it. On the downslope I found I could lie on top of the snow without breaking through and started to let myself slide. It felt so pleasant and I was so tired I just let myself slide faster and faster. I was coming to a frozen waterfall and could care less, when Jack reached out with his ice axe and hooked my pack to pull me to safety.
We camped in Lost Valley that night. The wind was extremely strong and our little tent had to be weighted down with stones as we could not get tent pegs into the frozen and rocky ground. I recollect getting out in the middle of the night and finding heavier stones to weigh down the tent which was threatening to blow away.
The next day we were to have a close encounter the Gray Man of Ben MacDhui. We had read all the stories about this frightening apparition. Legend, originated by monks, had surrounded this mountain for centuries about a ghost which is seen from time to time. We were in the clouds and travelling by compass, as we could not see very far because of the mist. As we walked on the icy ground we could hear footsteps that were not our own, and we could swear that someone was following us. When we stopped walking, it stopped too. We continually looked around, but saw nobody. We were totally alone on this day and had seen no-one for two days. It was very spooky and our nerves were tingling. Suddenly out of the mist a giant figure loomed up coming towards us with his arms outstretched above his head. Were we scared! The runners were ready to run! It turned out to be a skier who had climbed up from the other side of the mountain with his skis strapped crosswise on his back. I think he got more of a fright than we did.
The Cairngorms today houses a luxury ski resort with hotels, lodges, restaurants, ski lifts, groomed trails, ski instructors, and rescue teams. In 1954 if you wanted to ski down, you had to climb up, and carry all the gear you might need.
On the way from Lost Valley to Ben MacDhui I was climbing solo a relatively short but difficult route on the “Forefinger Pinnacle” with Jack was standing below watching. The rock was loose because of the action of ice over the centuries and near the top I accidently dislodged a huge pillar of rock which, without warning, plummeted down to smash the ice axe Jack had laid on the ground at his side. That was a narrow escape for Jack. At the cost of a package of cigarettes the hickory ice axe handle was replaced the following week at John Brown’s Shipyard in Clydebank. They had built the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, so we were sure they could do a good job on the ice axe!
In the Summer of 1955 I took a trip to the Island of Skye. Today the Island is connected to the mainland by a road bridge. In 1955 we had to travel over rough seas in the small mail boat. It was the first time I was to see the magnificent Cuillin Mountains. They are of a rough craggy Gabbro rock with spectacular knife edge ridges and great long scree slopes of loose stones and boulders. I travelled with a group of young members of the Clydesdale Harriers whose names now escape me, except for Eric McMahon. At age twenty I was the senior member of the group for a change, also the most experienced. We stayed in the youth hostel in Glen Brittle and I remember the bread arriving via the mail boat from Glasgow, of all places. Each loaf was coated with green mold which had to be sliced off to eat the somewhat hard bread inside. One would have expected a local industry of baking, but no such luck.
We set off for the hills next day and left our packs and food supplies at the foot of a climb that was graded as much too difficult for us. We thought we would just try it for a bit then come back down, however we met with success and after a long hard climb managed to scale to the ridge at the top. There must have been iron in the rock in this locale for our compasses gave us totally wrong directions for getting back and we went on for miles and hours. We were somewhat weakened from hunger when we came to a sharp overhang on the ridge that demanded a lot of arm strength, which we no longer possessed. It was a short pitch and finally one of the group managed to get up the thing. I remember him bending over and a pocket watch slipped out of his anorak pocket and came crashing down beside me. It was an Ingersol make and must have been sturdy for it survived the fall. Once he was up the rest of us were assisted by a fixed rope and it was easy, however by the time we got back to the hostel it was dark and we were quite exhausted.
Next day we climbed a mountain named Sgur Alisdair and to attain its summit required a fairly formidable climb, well named “The Inaccessible Pinnacle.” It was at the foot of this climb we met an older man who had climbed every Munroe in Scotland all 323 of them, except this one. Over the years he had managed to scale every one taking the “easy way” up, without himself being a rock climber. He had deliberately saved this one to last as he had to climb this last part. Fortunately he was successful. We sunned ourselves for a while on top the decided to abseil or rappel down using a rope and “walking” down the vertical face. I was wearing a thick cotton shirt and I still remember the rope burning my back all the way down, and leaving a scar to remember the occasion for some time.
On the way back we had a wonderful time launching ourselves down long scree slopes and moving at great speed, taking twenty feet long strides all the way. We saw a magnificent little loch of a startling blue colour and just had to peel off and have a bracing swim. When we finally reached the river in Glen Brittle I saw a large fish swimming upstream so had to jump in after it in fairly shallow water. I chased it around throwing rocks and finally managed to bring in a twenty two inch long salmon, which we later cooked in butter at the hostel. We were rather fortunate to get away with this as the Warden at the Hostel was also the Game Warden and catching salmon without a license carried an extremely heavy fine, which would have been all out of proportion to my wages of twelve dollars a week as an Apprentice Tool Maker.
Guarding the entrance to Glen Coe is a beautiful mountain named the Buachaille Etive Mor. It has a twin mountain called the Buachaille Etive Bheag. Mor means bigger and Bheag means smaller. Side by side they look magnificent, when you can see them without rain or clouds in the way. Buachaille Etive means the Shepherd of Glen Etive. I was climbing solo there in 1955 on a quite difficult route and when I was almost at the top of the climbing face, I was rejoicing inwardly. It had been a risky and dangerous day. However I rejoiced one step too soon as when I carelessly brought my trailing foot over the top ledge, it struck the rock leaving me standing at the edge with my arms windmilling, trying to regain my balance. This always looks funny when it happens to Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, but I can assure you there is no more frightening experience. Most times when this type of thing happens one gradually loses balance and takes the fall. With several hundred feet of exposure, I can assure you I would not be writing this had I not managed to stay on top. This was a lesson, never to be forgotten. In rock climbing and in life, no job is over until it is completely finished.
At this time I was reading every book I could get my hands on about mountain climbing, and there were not all that many. Mount Everest had been climbed and mountain climbing now received a lot of attention. I read a book by a man named Ben Humble about a marathon climb he and a couple of friends made in 1936 in which they climbed fifteen Munroes in the Mamore Forest in a single day. I thought that unbelievable so got out my maps and pored over them. There were mountain ridges connecting many of these peaks and you did not have to go all the way down before scaling the next one. Not only was fifteen possible, but I thought that given the right weather and extra long summer days, it was possible to climb twenty four Munroes in a single day. There was one location where one would have to go down to 1,000 feet above sea level and cross a waterfall at Steall then climb back up to the Ben Nevis range to finish with nine mountains all over 4,000 feet.
We planned it for a couple of months and with a group of fellow harriers, (Pat Younger, Jim Young, and Davy Panton) Jack Higginson and I spent a week of our vacation in July 1956, camping by the river in Glen Nevis each day waiting for the cloud ceiling to be above the mountains. This required us to hike five miles into the town of Fort William to the nearest public telephone and call long distance to the weather office at Glasgow Airport for the forecast. (This was the days before cell phones.) Finally we got the all clear. The cloud ceiling was to be above 5,000 feet the next day. Perfect!
Jack and I set off in total darkness at 3 AM and headed up the Glen with the others cheering us on and Davy Panton playing “Scotland the Brave” on his bagpipes. Coming to the foot of the first mountain we slowly climbed up, trying to avoid tripping over obstacles. It was still dark when we reached that summit, and we had to guess the route to the next peak. A number of times we found ourselves coming down the mountain rather than finding the ridge to the next peak. When dawn arrived we had not got very far and, to our disappointment, we found ourselves in thick cloud cover. We wandered around like this for about three more hours. Not a great start for a record breaking attempt and a marathon climb.
As the morning wore on, the dense clouds lifted and we made better headway, until gradually a problem of another nature emerged. Jackie Higginson was substantially fitter than I, so naturally he went on ahead. Each summit I reached, Jackie was sitting on a rock nearby resting and was ready to press on. This meant that I started out with him each time without having had any respite. As the day wore on and we successfully scaled more peaks I was getting more and more weary. When we descended all the way down to the waterfall at Steall, just 1,000 feet above sea level Jackie wanted to quit. I was determined to go on. Neither one of us were fighting men, but we were seriously at odds over it. In the end we quit after having climbed fifteen Munroe’s. We trudged back to join our friends who were on the lookout for us at the camp in Glen Nevis. Their cheers were encouraging and once again Davy Panton piped us home.
That day we covered 29 miles and climbed 9,000 feet up and, of course, another 9,000 feet back down. Starting at 3AM, we finished at 7 PM, a sixteen hour journey. Some of the Clydesdale Harriers asked me about it over the years, Jim Shields and others, men much more capable than I. I am sure others have improved on that effort, but it remains memorable.
It is funny how life turns out. We never got another chance at this route. Our vacation was used up, then at New Year, 1957 Jackie took his big fall on Ben Nevis. I went to sea on oil tankers in January - February, 1957. Jackie blew a cartilage in his knee climbing in the Cairngorms with John Hume that Spring. Eileen and I were married in July, and I emigrated to Canada in September that year. Neither of us ever climbed again.
In hindsight, quitting at the Steall Waterfall was a wise decision. Climbing another nine mountains, each over 4,000 feet , in fatigued condition and fading light could have been fatal.
The last climb Jackie and I had together was on New years Day of 1957 when Jackie survived a huge fall. It was the end of my mountain climbing days and the beginning of a spiritual quest.
In 1990 my son Robert graduated from Laurentian University and to celebrate, he and I revisited some of my old haunts in Scotland. I am a hill walker now, rather than a rock climber. We had planned to try the last part of the West Highland Way, a difficult slog up what is known as the Devil’s Staircase, crossing from Glen Coe to Glen Nevis. However when we started out we found that the packs we had were much too heavy for that tough hike, so we stopped for a meal in the old Kingshouse Inn, a favourite haunt of movie star Sean Connery, who was also a climber. We pitched our tent at the foot of the Buachaille Etive and in the morning fried up breakfast in pouring rain, sheltering in the hut belonging to the notorious Craig Dhu Climbing Club, then headed up the mountain. At around 3,000 feet we heard the roar of an engine below us and here came a US fighter plane doing low level flying through Glen Coe. As we watched in amazement we heard what sounded like a huge thunder clap - it was the plane going through the sound barrier.
A Twenty Dollar Trilogy
1 December, 2012
GOD LOVES LAUGHTER
The world was quite different then. Wages were low but so was the cost of living. Gas was 35 cents a gallon, a new Volkswagen Beetle cost $1578 and gold was pegged at $35 per ounce. What Charles Dickens said about the year 1790 always seems valid: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Just like today...
Yet youth and financial struggle go hand in hand. In 1960 I was a young engineer earning $70 a week, a family man with a wife and two children. However, I had managed to take up golf and played once a week at the nearby public course close to the whirlpool in the Niagara River in Canada. Over a period of a few months I had managed to accumulate a discretionary twenty dollars, just the right amount to buy a pair of golf shoes, on which I had set my heart.
We were members of a tiny Baha’i community of nine adults in the town of Niagara Falls, and a need came up for ten dollars for a planned children’s picnic. What the money was wanted for, I have long since forgotten. I decided that as I had lived without golf shoes until now, I could still do without them, so I contributed the ten dollars.
About a week later I was driving home from work, taking an unusual route after dropping off a coworker at his home, when I spotted a shoe store with a “sale” sign in the window. I pulled over and parked my 1953 Chevrolet. (recently purchased for $425)
Then I noticed a pair of golf shoes in the window marked for sale at ten dollars. Now this seemed strange as you never saw golf shoes at such a low price. When I went in, the owner of the store told me the shoes were the last ones he had and that was why he had marked them down. I asked their size.
I tried them on. A perfect fit. Just like Cinderella.
Leaving the store with my new shoes under my arm, I thought to myself, “I have never seen that store before. I wonder what it is called.”
Looking back, I saw the large gold lettering above the store “GODSELLS.”
FLEE FROM ANGER, AS YOU WOULD A LION.
I had read those lines in Baha’i scripture and decided that was for me. I would live my life in that way. You can probably guess, before that particular day was out, my resolve was fully tested and I had a failing grade
On another occasion, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, we were going to a friend’s home to hear a guest speaker named Roger Lilly. His topic was going to be “Sacrifice.”
I had met Roger before. About forty years old, he was a dwarf with a hunch back, totally blind, yet a fine speaker. His thoughtful presentations always had you doing some soul searching. Tonight was to be no exception.
It was winter and dark by 7 p.m. when we entered our friend’s home. When we sat down I checked my wallet for some reason and found that a twenty dollar bill was missing. Gone!
I was totally pissed off. Mad at myself for being so stupid, angry that the loss was so pointless. Then we all settled down to hear Roger speak. He spoke on sacrifice. He used the Lord’s Prayer as a base for his talk. He said that everything belonged to God anyway, so He could take what He wanted from us. If He wanted more from Roger, He was welcome to it. I felt smaller and smaller, thinking how I had let myself become upset over trivia. Then we found out that Roger had lost his job at the Home for the Blind that day, because he was not strong enough to lift the cases of Coca Cola. He could not do that part of his job.
I had a silent epiphany. My loss in no way compared to Roger’s. It was OK. It was only money. Maybe someone who needed the money more than I had found it.
At the close of the session we said our “goodnights,” and left into the dark night. Walking down the garden path, by the light from the porch, I saw a piece of paper blowing along on the ground. It was my twenty dollar bill...
A GIFT THAT GOES ON GIVING.
Youth is no longer a problem. I looked in a mirror today and an old man looked back at me. I don’t know where he came from. I am 78 years old and the world has changed. Gas is now $3.35 gallon, a new Volkswagen Beetle costs about $23,000 and gold is selling for $1,600 an ounce. While I am not one of the financial top two percent, a twenty dollar bill is no longer so lonesome in my wallet.
We are spending the winter in Florida and today I had two very nice surprises.
Surprise Number One. I was having trouble with both remote locking devices for my car, which now worked only sporadically. Locking the car safely when parking was frustrating as I had to walk around the car, locking one door at a time. I contacted an auto electric repair shop and they said the problem had to be in the car, not in the remotes, so they would need the car for four hours and it would cost $72 plus the cost of parts and labour to fix it. I was looking at a bill of at least $150.
I went to an electronic store in the mall. They checked the batteries on my two remotes and said they were still good, but I asked that they replace them anyway. Returning to my car, I found that one of the remotes now worked perfectly. Wow. I was in luck.
Surprise Number Two. Reentering the mall to join my wife, Eveline, for a frozen yogurt, I saw an elderly lady at a Salvation Army collection station. I had recently discovered that some of these folks were being paid $10 an hour for doing this work. Not only was this lady past the age when she should have to work, but she also looked quite poor.
I asked her if she was a volunteer, or was this a job. She said it was her job. Still feeling good about my car, I put a dollar in her collection bucket and then peeled off a twenty dollar bill and said “I know you don’t earn very much. This is for you.” She was very grateful, accepted the money, then said, “I hope you don’t mind,” and folded the twenty dollars and put it in her collection bucket.
“Give me a hug,” I said.
And she did.