Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mr. Vancouver seeks help to finish his magnum opus


Chuck Davis made a dramatic announcement at a salon organized by former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 30, 2010

VICTORIA

Chuck Davis has been told it is time to write his final chapter.

The 74-year-old author met last week with an oncologist who delivered a grim verdict. His cancer was incurable. Radiation and chemotherapy were out. Nature was to take its unforgiving course.

In the dizzying aftermath, Mr. Davis realized he had not fully absorbed the prognosis. His wife and daughter, who had accompanied him, filled him in on the unhappy details.

These he shared just two days later with an audience at a public salon at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre.

The longtime radio announcer asked to be the final speaker on the program.

He stepped on stage in his usual wardrobe of a rumpled shirt and well-worn sweater, a style that contributes to his avuncular presence.

Speaking in familiar dulcet tones, apologizing that his illness has made him less stentorian than his days as a CBC staff announcer, he related his recent meeting with the doctor.

“I naturally asked, ‘How long do I have?’

“While she couldn’t be specific, the words ‘weeks’ and ‘months’ were in there somewhere.”

He paused.

“I don’t recall hearing the word years,” he added.

He was sharing the “embarrassing and intimate details” of his health for one desperate reason — he needs help in finishing a massive history of the city he has chronicled all his adult life.

He announced that he was seeking $30,000 to pay a writer to complete the project.

A man of boyish curiosity, Mr. Davis has been a radio host and a quizmaster, an author and a newspaper columnist.

He has 17 book titles to his credit, including histories of Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and radio station CKNW. He is best known as editor of “The Vancouver Book,” an urban almanac published in 1976, and “The Greater Vancouver Book,” an omnibus that won two major prizes but proved to be an expensive self-publishing fiasco. (“Memo to self,” Mr. Davis once wrote, “never publish, only write.”)

Along the way, he earned a deserved reputation as Mr. Vancouver.

It has long been his ultimate ambition to complete a massive, popular history of the city.

Some years ago, Mr. Davis told one of his many admirers about the project, promising the book would be “fun, fat, and filled with facts.”

“Just like you,” the man replied.

That Mr. Davis repeats the story shows his good humour.

He has an insatiable appetite for facts and a storyteller’s gift for finding the ironic, the interesting, and, especially, the humorous in even the must ordinary of details.

Typical of his style is a tidbit about the city getting the first mechanized ambulance in the land in 1909. The crew proudly took the ambulance on a tour, which ended when they accidentally struck and killed a pedestrian.

He has posted thousands of such facts, from the mundane to the macabre, at his website, The History of Metropolitan Vancouver.

When not haunting the library or the archives, Mr. Davis works from a cluttered office at his Surrey home, a four-fingered typist immersed in what has been described as “the world’s largest gerbil nest.” Flat surfaces are covered by stacks of paper. Hundreds of files fill four cabinets.

In the coming months, he needs to complete a commissioned history for the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (“formerly the B.C./Yukon Chamber of Mines,” he added helpfully). With a centennial in 2012, the book has a fixed deadline. So, too, does its author.

As for the Vancouver history that was to be his magnum opus, Mr. Davis seeks a writer to complete a manuscript for delivery to Harbour Publishing of Madeira Park, B.C. The publisher patiently awaits a long overdue book.

At the conclusion of his address to the salon, Mr. Davis’s voice cracked and he choked up. As he exited, the crowd rose in salute, a tribute that went unseen by him.

It is also his cruel fate that he will likely not see the publication of a book that will tell the people of Vancouver more about themselves than they ever knew.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ted Bowles knows what it's like to tempt fate

Ted Bowles flew aboard a CP Air flight that held in its cargo bay a bomb that exploded shortly after landing in Tokyo. The former RCAF bombardier has had his share of close calls. Deddeda Stemler photograph for The Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 27, 2010

VICTORIA

On June 22, 1985, Ted Bowles checked his bags at the CP Air counter at Vancouver International Airport, a mundane and forgettable experience for a seasoned traveller.

The mining executive faced a long journey — a flight to Japan with a connection to Hong Kong. He was then to continue to a mine north of Guangzhou, formerly Canton, to negotiate the sale of graphite.

Among the hundreds of passengers checked in by clerk Jeanne Bakermans that morning was a man booked on the same flight. L. Singh, as his ticket read, had his bag tagged to be transferred in Tokyo to Bangkok. The connecting flight was operated by Air India.

A terrible plot unleashed that day caused the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. Two bombs were planted aboard airplanes departing from Vancouver.

One blew up while a plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 aboard.

The other blew up in Tokyo, killing two airport workers.

Inderjit Singh Reyat, of Duncan, remains the only man convicted in the bloody conspiracy, having been found guilty of manslaughter in both attacks.

Last week, he was convicted of perjury in B.C. Supreme Court. He had been accused of lying 19 times in his testimony seven years ago in the trial of two suspects who were acquitted.

The perjury trial is seen as the end of a long and unsatisfactory legal odyssey.

Justice has been in short supply for the grieving relatives of the passengers aboard Air India flight 182.

The components of the bombs were assembled on Vancouver Island. Mr. Reyat, who lived in Duncan, got blasting caps and dynamite sticks from a well driller, as well as a 400-page explosives manual from a contractor, neither of the acquaintances suspecting a deadly plot.

Mr. Reyat bought gunpowder at a local sports shop, electrical relays at Radio Shack, and a stereo tuner at Woolworth’s. Charred fragments of the latter item led police to him.

A quarter-century has passed since Mr. Bowles stepped aboard CP Air 003, a flight that crossed the Pacific Ocean with a bomb in its cargo bay.

Mr. Bowles was in the terminal at sprawling Narita International Airport when the bomb exploded, killing baggage handlers Hideo Asano and Hideharu Koda. Four others were seriously injured.

It is not known whether the bag with the bomb was dropped. It could have exploded prematurely. Or, in what gives Mr. Bowles chills, it was timed to explode while his plane was in the air.

His fight arrived in Tokyo 14 minutes ahead of schedule.

“Lady luck,” he said. “We would have been a statistic also.”

Mr. Bowles knows what it is like to tempt fate.

He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a young man, survived 33 raids over Germany in the Second World War.

A flying officer with No. 429 Squadron, he served as bombardier aboard a Halifax bomber on attacks against industrial targets at Essen, Hamburg and Cologne.

Once, the bomber was attacked by German night fighters, survival depending on the nerves of the mid-upper and rear gunners. The bombardier watched with relief as two of the German aircraft were sent down in flames.

There was one other close call.

“We ditched in the ocean once,” he said. “North Sea. Off Aberdeen. We were rescued by a Scottish trawler.”

He returned to Canada with a war bride named Joan.

Now retired and living in Victoria, Mr. Bowles recently wrote a letter to the editor to correct an error in a newspaper account of what happened that summer day 25 years ago. The bomb in Narita had not been planted there, he wrote. It was intended to kill passengers in the air, either on his flight, or on a connecting one.

He continued on his journey after sniffer dogs examined the remaining luggage, which was spread out in the shadow of a 747 jumbo jet.

Only on his arrival did he learn of the fate of the Air India flight in the waters off Ireland.

The knowledge of having ferried a bomb across an ocean left him feeling “kind of queasy, kind of funny.”

“It could have been a double disaster. It could have been our plane, as well.”

Mr. Bowles thinks often of the dead passengers and of the brave vigil observed by their grieving families. He knows he and his wife narrowly escaped such a fate.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Year of the tiger to the power of three

The men of Inspection Tiger return from the taiga with their prey.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 23, 2010

VICTORIA

The book has been written and edited, the folios have rolled off presses to be cut and folded, the bindings have been glued and the dust jackets wrapped around boards pressing together 352 pages of adventure.

Pallets of the product have been shipped around the world, boxes making their way to stores, where clerks place them on shelves to capture the attention of a buying public with no shortage of reading options.

With each purchase, a pie chart established by legal contract divides the proceeds among publisher, retailer, and author. No need to guess who gets the thinnest slice.

Trailing the book around the continent is its creator, John Vaillant, a 48-year-old Vancouver author who has crafted the remarkable, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Knopf, $34.95).

Now, it is time for the public to pass judgment.

How much does he have riding on the book?


“Everything,” he said.

“You spend three years on a project and everything’s on the line. Financially. Professionally. Domestically. Everything’s riding on it.”

For him, it has been the year of the tiger followed by the year of the tiger followed by the year of the tiger.

His wife, Nora, has handled the home front as he has travelled afield for research and, now, publicity. He has sold only a handful of magazine pieces since winning the Governor-General’s Literary Award five years ago for The Golden Spruce, a superb retelling of the destruction of a tree in Haida Gwaii by a man gone mad. He has had the good fortune of spotting another terrific tale, though it, too, has demanded he stake a lot on its outcome.

“If this book crashes and burns,” he said, “the chances of getting another good project, of getting the ear of publishers and getting their financial backing is compromised.”

As if that was not pressure enough on a writer, he also hopes “The Tiger” will promote conservation efforts for a creature as magnificent as it is endangered.

He seeks not just want another book contract, but he’s also out to save the tiger.

Perhaps that’s the attitude inherited when your family name is pronounced like valiant (val-yehnt), a word whose Middle English roots stem from the Old French vailant, from the Latin valere. It means to be strong, heroic, courageous.

Like the ancestors of football player Brett Favre, his people maintained the integrity of the original spelling while compromising on the pronunciation.

Born and raised at Cambridge, Mass., where his father became a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, Mr. Vaillant first tried his hand at professional writing at age 35. Earlier, he laboured in Alaska as a commercial salmon fisherman and as a boat builder. He worked with learning disabled children at a special education school and with juvenile delinquents on a remote island off the Massachusetts coast. For a time, he led workshops on race and gender issues for corporations seeking to diversify.

He hopped from job to job, “dodging my destiny.”

He moved to Vancouver in 1998 so his wife, a potter and anthropologist, could do graduate work at the University of British Columbia.

He sold pieces to Sports Afield, Men’s Journal, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker.

For his latest book, Mr. Vaillant trudged through frozen Siberian forests. He studied the literature on the endangered Amur tiger. He befriended the unforgettable Yuri Trush, a Russian whose hands look like “knuckled mallets,” a squad leader of a local Inspection Tiger unit, a tracker whose responsibility it was to investigate forest crimes, usually involving poachers.

Of the three main characters in The Tiger, the only one still alive by the time of the author’s arrival in the taiga is Mr. Trush. The other human character has been eaten, and tigers don’t do interviews.

Happily, extensive videotapes combined with a tracker’s ability to see evidence in the displacement and melting of snow — a crouching 400-pound tiger leaves a distinct imprint — allow the author to recreate in riveting fashion such terrifying scenes as the poacher’s final moments.

So far this month, he has appeared at readings and signings, done interviews for print and television, engrossed radio audiences of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and CBC Radio’s “The Current” with his true-life tale.

The life of a writer is more slog than glamour.

He left his home in Kitsilano by car earlier this week for an event at the public library in a forestry town in Washington state.

Actors go to Los Angeles. Authors go to Port Angeles.

He is scheduled to be in Seattle today followed by Bellingham, Wash.; a California swing to Palo Alto, Corte Madera, and Berkeley; Portland, Ore.; Colorado stops at Boulder and Denver; a New England circuit; before returning home for an event on Oct. 21.

So far, the reception for the book has been solid, the reviews rapturous. The Tiger is No. 2 on the Globe’s bestsellers list, as it is on the Maclean’s list, up from No. 7. It appeared briefly on the New York Times’ list, then slipped off. He hopes it returns as he crisscrosses the continent.

“The people you find yourself in company with, especially on the non-fiction list, is so weird. It’s surreal, frankly, to be between Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang and Shit My Dad Says and Going Rogue. Strange bedfellows."

The movie rights have been optioned by Brad Pitt, who is preparing a treatment with the producer of The Wrestler and the screenwriter of Babel.

A movie, especially a successful one, cannot help but move books. The more books sold, likely the more money to be raised to preserve the Asian forests in which live the tigers.

How ironic. The success of a book of significant literary merit may depend on Hollywood.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rock 'n' rolling off the mother tongue

Art Napoleon addresses a rally opposed to the building of the Site C dam on the Peace River, which would flood is ancestral home. Geoff Howe photo for The Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 20, 2010

VICTORIA

Art Napoleon tells a story about himself. He is aged six or so when his teacher conducts a talent show.

Not wanting to be left out, the boy borrows a classmate’s harmonica, an instrument which he has never held before.

He squeaks and honks and fakes it, knowing enough to repeat his own phrasing, making the improvised tune sound like a real song.

He remains a performer at age 49, a man who, in his own words, straddles “two worlds” — his ancestral home in the Peace River Country and his current address in the capital city; one, a milieu where moose is a staple and the other, where Staples is a chain store. His mother tongue is Cree and his second language is English.

He acts and performs standup comedy and makes music. His latest release is a remarkable collection featuring covers of familiar songs by the likes of Smokey Robinson and Hank Williams. The tunes are familiar, though, for most, the lyrics are indecipherable. On the disc, titled “Creeland Covers,” he sings almost exclusively in Cree.

The melding of a half-century of popular music with an ancient language has never been done before, as far as anyone knows, not even by the great Buffy Sainte-Marie, for whom he has been an opening act.

The result is a refreshing take on songs so familiar as to have become aural wallpaper. Sung in Mr. Napoleon’s haunting Nehiyawewin, the dialect of the northern woodlands Cree, one discovers new-found appreciation for the original power of the numbers.

“I started with a whole bucket of songs, a whole canon of artists that I respect and admire,” he said. “Artists that are well received on the Rez scene. They like Nazareth, CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival), that kind of rock. They like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, the rootsy country. Merle Haggard. George Jones.”

As a boy, little Arthur grew up on those classics, though his introduction to music came from a grandfather telling ancient stories while accompanying himself on a traditional handheld drum.

Born at the hospital in Pouce Coupe, B.C., the boy was raised by his mother’s parents after her death during his first year of life. His uncles competed in local rodeos, inspiring in the boy not so much a desire to ride horses as to emulate the rodeo clowns. More than once, he inadvertently set afire some props found around the house as he tried to emulate pyrotechnics he had seen.

“Got into mischief,” he said with a chuckle.

Shy away from the stage, a showman came forth when handed a microphone.

A television host and a folk festival stalwart, Mr. Napoleon is also an award-winning children’s entertainer. You can find a hilarious comedy routine on YouTube in which Mr. Napoleon echoes the “I Am Canadian” television-commercial monologue with an “I Am Indigenous” monologue. “I believe in round dances,” he says, “no square dances.”

While Cree can be heard on his earlier albums such as “Siskabush Tales” and “Mocikan: Songs for Learning Cree,” the new release forced him to shoehorn his native tongue into rock and country constructs.

“Certain words are not translatable,” he said. “Certain words in English take a whole sentence in Cree. The other way there are certain words in Cree for which you have to say a sentence, or phrase to describe that.”

For example, the Cree word moskomaw means singing in so powerful a fashion as to bring a listener to tears.

Some concepts simply don’t exist.

“We don’t have a word for 'resource.' We don’t have a word for ‘management.’ We don’t have a word for ‘time.’ ”

Over time he eased his frustrations by taking artistic license with his Cree.

“At first I found it difficult as I was trying to be a perfectionist. Once I relaxed, it got easier and then got better as the process rolled along.

“This is a first crack at it. Next time we’ll satisfy the linguists.”

He sings in Cree Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, John Fogerty’s Long As I Can See the Light, and Neil Young’s Pocahontas, an ironic selection. His cover of the the Beatles’ Rain, originally released by the Fab Four on a single with Paperback Writer, is a killer, while two Hank Williams’ standards — Jambalaya and Weary Blues from Waiting — sound like Cree classics.

The most powerful number on the disc is a stirring folk rendition of Redemption Song. He opens in Cree before switching to English, reworking Bob Marley’s lyrics to express the anguish of his own people: “Oh, pirates took our lands, they saw dollar signs in trees, they drank the creeks and dig their coal, passed around their disease...”

The song then segues into Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ Bout a Revolution, a medley he was to have performed on Sunday as the emcee during a protest at the Legislature against the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam.

He is no newcomer to politics, having served as an elected councillor and, briefly, as chief of the Salteau First Nation.

The proposed Site C dam on the Peace River would flood some of the lands on which he had trapped squirrels and weasels as a boy growing up on the East Moberly Lake reserve. “Arboreal. Subarctic. Very beautiful,” he said.

It is on those same lands that he hunts the moose that fills his freezer in the city, from which he makes such delicacies as the moose-tongue soup he served on the weekend.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The strange, sordid death of a ballplayer

On the 75th anniversary of Len Koenecke's death, we reprint a 2005 article from The Globe and Mail looking at one of the oddest deaths in the annals of baseball.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 17, 2005

A small aircraft landed with a hard bounce on an unlit field one night outside Toronto.

The pilot, who had no idea where he was in the darkness, heard barking. He thought he was being set upon by wolves, only to realize these were dogs belonging to the caretaker of the Long Branch racetrack. The craft had landed in suburban Toronto, not the woods of northern Ontario.

Three men had boarded the plane in Detroit, but only two walked off. One had a torn shirt daubed with blood, while the left leg of his trousers was smeared with gore.

Police were called. Constable W.R. Weatherup opened the cabin door of the Stinson Detroiter monoplane. He leaned over a body crumpled on the floor behind the rear seat. He could find no pulse. The body was still warm.

“If he's dead,” the pilot said, “I'm the one that killed him.”

News of the death caused a sensation in the New York newspapers. The dead man was Len Koenecke, who had begun his last day of life as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball club and ended it with a brain hemorrhage in the black night skies above Ontario.

Seventy years ago today, around 2 a.m. on Sept. 17, 1935, a ballplayer with a reputation for eccentricity died in suspicious circumstances. In short order, the two other men aboard the plane would be charged with manslaughter and just as quickly found innocent.

They told a fantastic tale about a frantic life-and-death struggle aboard a plane so small the hand-to-hand combat caused it to rock in the sky.

The two men also hinted in court about an untoward proposition, which few newspapers in 1935 dared report.

A case emblazoned across the front page of The New York Times was dropped from its pages after just a few days. The case has since faded into obscurity.

“There are a lot of bizarre pieces in this incident,” said William Humber, a baseball historian and author of Diamonds of the North.

What happened on board remains uncertain to this day. In a recent search, the Ontario archives could not find documents associated with the case. In its day, the case was a cause célèbre; the province's attorney-general was involved.

Leonard George Koenecke was the second son of Herman Koenecke, a locomotive engineer living in Baraboo, Wis. As a young man, Len Koenecke honed his muscular 5-foot-11, 180-pound physique by working as a fireman for the Chicago & North Western Railway.

He played minor-league baseball for the likes of the Moline (Ill.) Plowboys before becoming a star outfielder with the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. Scouts described the slugger as “a fence-buster and highly capable ball hawk.” In the summer of 1931, John McGraw of the New York Giants paid a princely $75,000 (U.S.) for Mr. Koenecke. His batting average was an eye-popping .375 at the time.

He made his debut with the Giants the following spring at age 28, but was soon returned to the minors for more seasoning.

The Dodgers then acquired Mr. Koenecke, who became a regular during the 1934 season. He was a bright addition to a mediocre team, batting .320 with 14 home runs. He tied the all-time National League standard for fielding by committing just two errors all season.

His prowess with the glove disappeared the following season, as erratic play led to his making eight errors. He also stopped hitting.

Mr. Koenecke was a character who always seemed to be in the doghouse for disobeying team rules, such as violating curfew, and his position in the majors became tenuous. After 100 games, manager Casey Stengal had had enough. He demoted Mr. Koenecke and two teammates.

The trio flew from St. Louis to Chicago, where they barely caught an American Airlines flight to Detroit.

Once on board, Mr. Koenecke, who had been seen carrying a bottle of liquor, got into a fight with a fellow passenger. In the ensuing scuffle, he knocked over a stewardess.

The co-pilot eventually had to guard the outfielder, who was ordered off the plane at Detroit while his companions continued to Newark.

Mr. Koenecke chartered a private plane to fly him to Buffalo, N.Y.

(Had Mr. Koenecke known the history of the aircraft, he might have had second thoughts. The plane had been owned by Broadway torch singer Libby Holman, who was a suspect in the shooting death of her husband, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune.)

The hired pilot was William Mulqueeny, 32, a former university football player, who invited aboard his friend Irwin Davis, a daredevil parachutist billed as the Human Bat. Mr. Davis had developed a bat-wing parachute that allowed him to soar in the sky before making a conventional landing, a costume he wore while thrilling crowds on barnstorming tours.

Hours after the plane landed, the two men were allowed to talk to reporters at Islington jail.

They told a story in which the ballplayer was said to have been rebuffed after asking the pilot to perform stunts, then demanded to fly the plane himself, then tried to kill all aboard by deliberately crashing the craft.

Mr. Davis wrestled with Mr. Koenecke as the pilot fought to maintain control of the small craft.

“While I was doing my utmost to guide the plane with one hand, I tried to ward off Koenecke's wild blows,” the pilot said. “I then seized the fire extinguisher — I don't know how — and struck at Koenecke wildly.”

The pilot later said he could have hit his passenger as many as a dozen times.

When shown the battered fire extinguisher, Mr. Mulqueeny said: “Surely it wasn't pounded into that awful shape by hitting him on the head.”

“I simply didn't know what I was doing. . . . It's too horrible to think of. I want to forget it all.”

Mr. Davis even posed for a photograph in which he displayed a torn sleeve and what he said were bite marks on his left arm.

The Crown's case was presented by Ontario Attorney-General Arthur Roebuck, who insisted on handling what promised to be a sensational trial. The accused were represented by prominent Toronto defence lawyer Edward J. Murphy, who argued they had faced a deranged man.

“Koenecke was deliberately attempting to commit suicide and trying to do it in one grand, glorious finish,” the lawyer said.

A coroner's jury needed only a few minutes to reach a decision — not guilty for reasons of self-defence. The criminal charges were also dismissed.

The wily Mr. Murphy had also introduced evidence ignored by most reporters and impossible to refute under the circumstances — Mr. Koenecke had made a homosexual advance.

And that was it. The story disappeared from the newspapers.

Mr. Humber, the baseball historian, finds the alibi about suggestive behaviour aboard the aircraft suspiciously convenient. “It seems too ridiculous, a little absurd,” he said. “Why not wait until after the plane landed? To do it in mid-air? Come on.”

Mr. Koenecke was buried at Repose Cemetery in Friendship, Wis. The small Norwegian Lutheran church in nearby Adams had been overwhelmed by funeral crowds, so some 250 mourners viewed the body after a mass conducted by the Rev. M.A. Stubjar. Among the floral offerings were pieces sent by the Giants and Dodgers.

For her part, the ballplayer's widow, Gladys Koenecke, who lived in a Brooklyn apartment with their five-year-old daughter Annie, denied her husband had been despondent. She showed a letter posted the day of the demotion in which the outfielder had written to his little girl: “Hurrah, I'll be with you tomorrow.”

All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

She saved Americans from the horrors of thalidomide

In 1962, U.S. president John F. Kennedy presented a medal to Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey for her courageous role in keeping thalidomide from American medicine cabinets. The doctor was honoured again this week by the Food and Drug Administration, her former employer. She was born in 1914 at Cobble Hill, B.C. BELOW: Dr. Kelsey at her home at Chevy Chase, Md.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 17, 2010

VICTORIA

Fifty years ago, Dr. Frances Kelsey saved untold babies from deformity and mothers from heartache.

A single line in a medical journal made her suspicious of a new sedative, as users reported minor numbness in toes and fingers. In a fetus, such effects on developing nerve tissue could be catastrophic. As a medical officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she demanded further testing, sparking a two-year battle with the manufacturer, the William S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati.

In an age of wonder drugs and a trust in science, when advertising agency Mad Men made pill-popping as American as apple pie, a mother of two working from a cubbyhole office resisted pressure from a major pharmaceutical firm.

The drug she kept from American medicine chests was to be marketed as Kevadon. The world remembers it by its generic name — thalidomide, today a byword for science and marketing gone astray. Thousands of babies around the world were born without limbs, or with flipper-like appendages, a terrible toll for mothers seeking simple relief from the rigors of pregnancy.

A grateful nation thanked Dr. Kelsey, who was hailed as a heroine in headlines and who received a medal from President John F. Kennedy. Her stand led to tougher regulations in food and drug use.

This week, Dr. Kelsey, only five years retired at age 96, is being celebrated again for her perseverance. In a ceremony in Washington, DC, she received on Wednesday from her former employer the inaugural Kelsey Award for “excellence and courage in protecting public health.”

Gone unremarked was her idyllic childhood on Vancouver Island, where she tried to satisfy a restless curiosity about the natural world by exploring the forests surrounding the family home.

“We had 32 acres, most of it in woods, a little stream running through it,” she said Thursday by telephone from her home at Chevy Chase, Md. “I was born right in our home in Cobble Hill. The doctor rode over on horseback.”

Her father, Frank Oldham, a retired British artillery officer, and her Scottish mother, Katherine Stuart, settled in the farming village in the Cowichan Valley about 50 kilometres north of Victoria. Within a fortnight of the birth of their second child, named Frances Kathleen Oldham, Europe was embroiled in war.

Her father rejoined the armed forces that fall and did not return home from the Great War for four years.

“I remember my brother and I were having supper when he walked in,” she said. “We stopped eating long enough to shove some little presents we had for him and then went back to eating. My mother said it was the most pathetic thing she’d ever seen.”

It was her mother who promoted the education of a daughter who counted among her maternal aunts a lawyer and a doctor.

“I enjoyed learning. I wasn’t brilliant, but I was a smart kid. I grew up being encouraged with thoughts of going on to college.”

She boarded at the all-girl Saint Margaret’s School in Victoria before graduating to Victoria College, where classes were held at Craigdarroch Castle, a mansion high on a hill in the capital city. She recalls scandalizing classmates by choosing a male student as a partner for the dissection of a cat in biology class, which was seen to be a too-intimate process to have been conducted with a member of the opposite sex.

She then enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, earning a science degree in 1934 and a masters the following year.

With the encouragement of a McGill professor, she sought a position with the noted researcher E.M.K. Geiling at the University of Chicago.

“I wrote him a letter, signed my name, Frances Oldham. To my surprise, I got a letter back, airmail special delivery, saying if I could be there before the week ended I could take an assistantship and qualify for a fellowship. The only thing was the American doctor addressed me as Mr. Oldham.

“I said to my McGill professor, ‘I really should tell him and give him a chance to back out.’ He said, ‘Don’t be stupid. Accept the job. Say you’ll be there when he wants you. Just sign your name with Miss in brackets.’ ”

She got the position, though she later learned “Dr. Geiling was appalled when he got my (acceptance) letter.”

While completing a doctorate in pharmacology, she helped conduct animal studies that led to the discovery of the toxic ingredient in a medicine blamed for the deaths of 107 children.

In 1943, she married fellow faculty member J. Ellis Kelsey. She gave birth to two daughters while in medical school. She later edited a journal of the American Medical Association and taught pharmacology in South Dakota, where she also offered medical services to remote hamlets.

She became a naturalized American citizen in 1955, fulfilling a pact made with her husband.

“If became an American, he’d become an Episcopalian,” she said. “He did, and I did.”

She still has connections to Canada. In 1994, the doctor attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Frances Kelsey Secondary School at Mill Bay, north of Victoria. As well, a daughter lives at London, Ont., while her sister, Monica, lives in Victoria.

After her husband took a job in Washington, she found work with the FDA. Examining thalidomide was one of her first assignments.

In 1962, President Kennedy presented her with the highest award for the federal civil service, becoming only the second woman to be so honoured. She bought a new dress for the occasion.

“Shook my hand. Put a medal around my neck.”

Later that year, on the tenth day of a month the world remembers for the October Missile Crisis, she was invited to the White House as the president signed into law tough new regulations. When he completed his signature, he reached across the desk to hand her the pen. She has it still.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Zealand earthquake provides some tough lessons for B.C.

Liquefaction during the recent New Zealand earthquake has turned the verdant lawns of Elwood Bowling Club in Christchurch into a mud pit. BELOW: Natural hazards expert John Clague, a professor at Simon Fraser University.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 15, 2010

VICTORIA

When the ground stopped shaking at 4:30 a.m., the residents of Christchurch poked out of their homes to survey the damage.

Chimneys toppled. Facades fell onto sidewalks. Across the New Zealand countryside, once-straight railroad tracks curved like slithering snakes.

In the city, brick walls collapsed, exposing the interiors like an open dollhouse.

In the eerily silent aftermath, many reported the sound of rushing water, as though water pipes had burst.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage. Happily, few residents were physically hurt.

No deaths. Only a handful of serious injuries, including a man injured in a taxitwo serious injuries, both to middle-aged men, one cut badly by falling glass, another trapped by a collapsed chimney. A lemur named Gidro drowned in a moat at a wildlife park.

The world has moved on even as the cleanup continues.

The New Zealand earthquake already has the feel of ancient news, superseded by boorish football players (shocking!) and Lady Gaga wearing a dress made of red meat (horrors!), thus raising the steaks on outrageousness.

In university offices around the world, however, professors whose expertise fall in this area are keenly following developments.

John Clague, a natural hazards specialist at Simon Fraser University, says the antipodean temblor provides lessons for British Columbia.

“It’s the type of earthquake we’ve got to worry about here,” he said. “Shallow, crustal earthquakes.”

Christchurch’s building stock includes many older buildings made of brick. It is a low-rise city with few skyscrapers. It is known as the Garden City,

Sounds a lot like Victoria to professor Clague.

A surprise to many New Zealanders was a process known as liquefaction, or, as Television NZ describes it, “when solid ground turns to sludge.”

Liquefaction sounds like “liquid fiction” for a disaster movie.

The ground shakes and certain soils — silty, sandy, even gravelly material — can be transformed into a liquid the “consistency of heavy jelly,” as one report described it. A muddy slurry of a mess.

Terra turns out to be not so firma.

“It’s a hard concept to get your head around,” Prof. Clague said. “You take seemingly solid earth material and you transform it into a liquid.”

Loose, water-saturated silts and sands lose their strength in the shaking, turning into a liquid. Sometimes, this happens below the surface, causing the land atop to glide laterally. Gravity can then lead this capping layer, as it is known, to slide downhill.

On Courtney Drive in Kaiapoi, about 20 kilometres north of Christchurch, two women were swept away in a river of sludge that materialized in front of their homes. They were rescued.

Puns seem hard to avoid — liquefaction is an issue below the surface, waiting to bubble up.

“It’s starting to sink in about liquefaction,” Lewis Joyce, husband of one of the women, told TVNZ.

Sometimes, the sludge is expelled from cracks in the ground at great pressure, creating geysers. These later form into cone-shaped sand volcanoes, many of which now dot backyards in the Christchurch area.

“An amazing phenomena,” Prof. Clague acknowledged.

For many hours after the quake, residents assumed water mains had broken, as muddy liquid continued to bubble through cracks in concrete. This upward thrusting has damaged many homes and roads.

Now, as well, the drying soil is a health hazard, as the sludge mixed with waste from broken sewer lines.

As television showed residents wrestling with wheelbarrows filled with the heavy muck, it also interviewed professors from the University of Canterbury, the University of Arkansas, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute examining the damage caused by the muddy ejecta.

Christchurch’s mayor said about half the city is susceptible to liquefaction.

In British Columbia, a Geological Survey of Canada map shows extensive areas in the Lower Mainland with loose, saturated lowland sediments.

These include all of Lulu Island (the city of Richmond); most of Delta except for Tsawwassen; along the Nicomekl River in Surrey; along the waterfront in Port Coquitlam and Pitt Meadows; as well as the extensive floodplain along the Fraser River farther up the Valley.

In the Greater Victoria area, the liquefaction hazard areas include a few spots along the low-lying parts of the Inner Harbour and at Cadboro Bay.

In Haiti, where the January earthquake measured 7.1, liquefaction knocked out the port area, delaying the delivery of aid.

Prof. Clague noted that the sludge is not usually a killer, though it creates tremendous damage. Like most earthquake experts, he tempers his knowledge with a desire to lead a normal life. He personally would not purchase property in Richmond, even with the precautions demanded on new buildings, yet is at some risk as he lives in a home on the North Shore. He used his expertise in quake threats and geological hazards in judging the soil surrounding the foundation.

“That would be my worst fear as a professional — having my house taken out by a landslide,” he said. “It’s funny what drives you.”

Suffice to say he teaches atop a mountain.

Monday, September 13, 2010

He was the NHL's oldest rookie and he scored in seconds

Bob Barlow holds a stick autographed by the championship Victoria Maple Leafs team in 1966. He has turned part of a basement into a shrine honouring his hockey career. Photographs by Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail. BELOW: An elated Barlow celebrates his first NHL goal, scored just seconds after he stepped on the ice.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 13, 2010

VICTORIA

On hockey night, you can find white-haired Bob Barlow, 75, at the arena sitting in Section X, Row 8, Seat 14. He likes the seat designation, as it matches a uniform number he once wore.

Between periods, Barlow cruises the concourse at Bear Mountain Arena in suburban Colwood, greeting his cronies and handing out a free hockey card to children.

“I tell them dreams do come true if you work hard,” he said. “I tell them I finally realized my dream at 34.”

The colourful piece of cardboard features Barlow in the green, white and gold livery of the Minnesota North Stars. He wears No. 14 on his sleeves and a crew cut atop his head. The image comes from his O-Pee-Chee rookie card issued after he finally got a National Hockey League job after spending 15 seasons in the minor leagues.

All that training paid off. After a long apprenticeship, Barlow stepped on the ice on Oct. 12, 1969, as the oldest rookie in NHL history. Seconds later, he was on the scoresheet by firing a 30-foot shot past Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers.

A photograph captured him with both arms in the air in celebration, his toothless grin evidence of a lifetime spent dodging pucks and sticks.

“Took the puck to the bench, told (coach) Wren Blair, ‘What’s so hard about this league?’ ”

As his teammates laughed, Barlow added, “Why didn’t you bring me up a little sooner?”

Back in the 1960s, Barlow used a modest playoff bonus to put a down payment on the split-level rancher he still calls home. The basement includes a small wet bar decorated with memorabilia from his hockey career. Among the items is the puck from his first NHL goal, mounted on a small wooden base.

The basement includes pucks and pennants, stickers and programs, autographed hockey sticks and a library of hockey books.

He brought out a watchcase. Inside could be found jeweled rings from each of the five championships he won in the minors. He wears a different one each night he goes to the rink to watch junior hockey.

To play on a championship team — at any level, in any sport — is to be bonded with teammates forever.

The first pro title he won came with the old Victoria Maple Leafs in 1966. A city not known for exuberant public displays went nuts for the Toronto farm team as it battled the Portland Buckaroos for Western Hockey League supremacy.

Barlow lived in an duplex in Esquimalt in those days, waking each morning during the playoffs to see a new rhyming sign posted by a hockey-mad neighbour.

“Here will lie the Portland Bucs,” read one, “laid to rest by Barlow’s pucks.”

The hard-fought series included an incident during which Barlow tussled with defenceman Jim (Red Eye) Hay. Both miscreants were dispatched to the penalty box for two minutes to contemplate their misdeeds. As they caught their breath, a reporter overheard an exchange between two old friends.

“Whatcha doin’ after the series?’ Hay asked.

“Been thinin’ about goin’ to Portland,” Barlow replied.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I just bought a big place,” Hay said helpfully.

“That so.”

“Yup. Be sure and bring the family and stay with us.”

“Okay,” Barlow said. “And thanks.”

With that, they returned to the ice to do battle.

Victoria won the series, Barlow leading all goal-scorers with 10.

The team flew home aboard a Viscount turboprop to be greeted at Pat Bay airport by about 100 fans and family members. At Memorial Arena, another 600 gathered beneath a marquee reading, LEAFS YOU ARE THE GREATEST. A junior band played. The crowd spilled out onto street, blocking traffic. A civic reception and a dinner were held that night.

“A great hockey team,” Barlow says of the Victoria squad.

A year later, two of his teammates were called up by Toronto as playoff reinforcements. Milan Marcetta and Autry Erickson, an Albertan who was named after cowboy singer Gene Autry, both got their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. Erickson qualified for the honour though he only ever wore Toronto’s storied blue-and-white sweater for a single game, making him one of the most obscure players to win the Cup.

Erickson died in Phoenix last month of stomach cancer, aged 72, his passing mostly going unnoticed. Even Barlow had not heard the sad news.

He nearly died himself three years ago after suffering a heart attack while doing yard work. Barlow was unconscious in hospital for three days. Doctors were worried about possible oxygen deprivation.

“They were ready to pull the plug when he woke up,” his wife, Marilyn, recalled.

They did not take into account an old athlete’s fighting spirit.

He now has a large bump near his collar bone beneath which rests a defibrillator. For a guy who often sported a black eye in his playing days, it looks like just another lump endured in a rough and tumble sport.

Barlow went hunting for another memento. It captures what it was like to be an ice warrior in those days.

Every month, he gets an NHL pension cheque. The total: $5.16.

He waits until he has three before cashing them. It saves on banking costs.


Five generations

Bob Barlow and his wife Marilyn (nee Mutrie) are at the heart of five generations of exceptional athletes.

Marilyn's grandfather, Lot Roe, was a world-class speed skater.

Her father, Dr. Ralph Dory Mutrie, was inducted into the North Bay (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 as a builder for his contributions to figure skating. He became active after Marilyn took up the sport. She continues to train yung skaters at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre outside Victoria. She was named coach of the year by Skate Canada in 1992.

Hugh Barlow, Bob's father, won the Allan Cup in 1947 with the Montreal Royals.

Bob and Marilyn's daughter, Wendy Barlow, was a world-class professional tennis player who competed at Wimbledon. She has been inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame. Today, Wendy Pattenden is president of Canadian Sport Centre Pacific.

Hillary Pattenden — Wendy's daughter and Bob and Marilyn's granddaughter — is an all-star goalie for the Mercyhurst College Lakers in Erie, Penn. It is her dream to play for Team Canada at the Olympics.

Wendy Pattenden is a junior at Mercyhurst College and a possible future star for Team Canada. Her grandfather, Bob Barlow, played pro hockey for 22 seasons.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dwight Armstrong, radical bomber (1951-2010)

Dwight Armstrong was still a teenager when he made the FBI's most-wanted list following the killing of a researcher from a bomb blast on the University of Wisconsin campus in 1970. BELOW: Armstrong in handcuffs. Portrait of a fugitive, circa 1970. Portrait of a family man, circa 2008.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 11, 2010

The man known as Gary Mitchell rode the bus to his job as an apprentice printer and enjoyed the occasional glass of draft beer at a nearby Toronto tavern. He took correspondence courses, watched shows on an abandoned television he had repaired, and paid his $22 weekly rent for a furnished room in cash.

On a Saturday evening in April, 1977, he was arrested by four plainclothes Toronto police at a restaurant on Yonge Street.

His landlord and coworkers were surprised to learn he was actually Dwight Alan Armstrong, 25, of Madison, Wis., a fugitive who had spent seven years on the most-wanted list of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Armstrong had been a long-haired teenager — a high-school dropout — when he and an older brother, with two accomplices, parked a van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil outside Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin campus in his hometown. They lit the fuse before fleeing.

The resulting blast failed to destroy its target — the Army Mathematics Research Center, on upper floors of the building — but it caused damage to several surrounding buildings and injured three civilians. It also killed a 33-year-old postdoctoral fellow who was conducting a late-night superconductivity experiment. Robert Fassnacht, a father of three, was the victim of a twisted plot by radicals to bring home the violence of a war they opposed.

Mr. Armstrong, who has died of lung cancer, aged 58, later expressed regret and remorse at the death, though he was unrepentant about using violence to protest the Vietnam War.

Dwight Armstrong was born on Aug. 28, 1951, the youngest of Ruth (nee Kennedy) and Donald Armstrong’s four children. His father was a machinist who worked his way into a white-collar job as a purchasing agent. Baseball and Boy Scouts were parts of an ordinary middle-class upbringing.

Dwight worked as a cook, dishwasher and railroad switchman. He became radicalized by his brother Karleton’s opposition to the war in Asia. On New Year’s Eve, 1969, the brothers stole a two-seat Cessna from a nearby airport. Dwight had worked as a maintenance man for the company that owned the plane before being fired for refusing to cut his hair. With less than 30 hours experience at the controls, Dwight flew through snow flurries before reaching their target, the Badger Army Ammunition Plant at Baraboo. Three homemade bombs were tossed from the plane, but they failed to explode, fizzling in the snow.

The New Year’s Gang, as they styled themselves, tried other attacks, these also failing. In one case, Karl threw a firebomb inside a campus building he had wrongly identified. The device failed to ignite.

As foolish were these attempts at sabotage, the one success was devastating. The brothers, joined by recruits David Fine and Leo Burt, stole a Ford Econoline van, which was then filled with legally purchased fuel oil and 700 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The van was parked alongside Sterling Hall. A warning call was made to police from a nearby telephone booth before Dwight drove the four men away from the campus.

At 3:34 a.m. on Aug. 24, 1970, the predawn stillness was shattered by a tremendous explosion heard for miles around.

The bombers felt their car briefly lift from the road by the force of the blast, occurring coincidentally just as a police car sped by in the opposite direction likely in response to their warning.

Dwight Armstrong was shocked by the spectacle of what he had unleashed.

“It looked like an atom bomb had gone off,” he once told magazine journalist Michael Fellner. “The sky was all red. Debris was still rising in the air, almost in slow motion, forming a mushroom cloud over the city. It was eerie.”

The quartet fled, getting away even after being pulled over by a suspicious police officer. They sought help from anarchists in Ann Arbor, Mich., only to be turned away. The four split into pairs, the brothers making their way to New York City, where they survived by panhandling and shoplifting.

In a two-part series published in Wisconsin magazine in 1986, Fellner described Dwight Armstrong’s underground life as one of impoverishment featuring several close scrapes.

The brothers originally holed up in Montreal, which turned out to be a poor choice for a haven after the invocation of the War Measures Act in response to two kidnappings by militant Quebec separatists. An apartment next door to their hideout was raided by police.

The brothers moved to Toronto, where Dwight survived by panhandling and selling copies of the Guerrilla underground newspaper. He was arrested for vagrancy but not fingerprinted, so left jail after one night on $25 bail.

When daily newspapers reported the fugitive had been spotted at a Toronto youth hostel, Dwight fled to Vancouver, where a thriving counter-cultural scene offered support.

(Meanwhile, Karl Armstrong was arrested by the RCMP in Toronto in 1972. He fought extradition for a year before being returned to Wisconsin, where he got a 23-year prison sentence.)

Dwight later returned to Montreal, where he found work as a hospital janitor under the name of Martin Fairchild.

In January, 1975, he flew to Calgary before catching a bus to Milk River near the border with Montana. He planned to walk across the frontier by following railway tracks, a cockamamie scheme in wintertime. A blizzard forced him back. He returned to Toronto, where a girlfriend agreed to help him enter the United States. They drove to Kingston, Ont., where he paddled across the St. Lawrence River. The girlfriend met him in a car on the other side.

He then flew to San Francisco, where he was eventually arrested for shoplifting cheese. He spent five days in jail before being released because of overcrowding. Though he had been interviewed in custody by an FBI agent, his true identity was not uncovered. Dwight returned to Toronto, where, after 18 quiet months, he was arrested on April 9, 1977.

He was the third bomber to be captured. David Fine had been arrested in California a year earlier.

A fourth suspect, Leo Burt, narrowly escaped capture at Peterborough, Ont. His whereabouts remain unknown to this day. The FBI still offers a $150,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Dwight Armstrong received a seven-year sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder. He was released from jail after three years. His brother was paroled in 1980. Fine, also sentenced to seven years, was released in 1979 after serving three.

Dwight Armstrong married in October, 1984, and a daughter was born two months later. However, he was soon once again on the lam.

In April, 1987, he fled warrants issued for his arrest after police busted an Indiana-based group that manufactured and sold methamphetamine. He was arrested four months later following a car chase in British Columbia, after which Vancouver police charged him with possession of methamphetamine, stolen property, dangerous driving and two charges of leaving the scene of an accident.

He got a two-day jail sentence before being extradited. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the drug laboratory and was released in 1991.

“My life has not been something to write home about,” he told the Capitol Times newspaper in Madison the following year.

In recent years, he worked at a produce company and as a cab driver in Madison, where he also helped care for his ailing mother.

Three years ago, the university unveiled a plaque at the rebuilt Sterling Hall in memory of the research scientist killed in the blast.

On the 40th anniversary of the bombing last month, the school’s library and the Wisconsin Story Project installed a booth to record the memories and anecdotes of those who remembered the attack. The tales will be including in documentaries looking at the era of campus protest.

Mr. Armstrong died on June 20 at UW Hospital on the same campus on which he had planted a bomb 40 years earlier. He leaves a daughter, his mother, two sisters, and his brother, Karl, who, in warm months, operates the Loose Juice food cart on the university’s Library Mall.

Police and firefighters carry out the body of Robert Fassnacht, a physics researcher killed in a bomb attack on the University of Wisconsin campus in 1970.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

'Mother of the Similkameen' honoured

Susan Allison plays with her pet coyote, Synkelips. The pioneer woman has been designated a personal of national historical significance by the federal government.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 8, 2010

VICTORIA

The good folks of Princeton celebrated a 150th birthday on the weekend by panning for gold, listening to cowboy poetry, and admiring the venerable art of blacksmithing.

The sesquicentennial celebrations included a re-enactment at the roundhouse of the driving of the Last Spike.

At Veterans Square downtown, some 300 people gathered at a ceremony to commemorate the designation of Susan Louisa Moir Allison as a person of national historic significance.

The pioneer is among 44 British Columbian to have received the august designation by the federal government.

The town’s birthday and the impending honours has revived interest in the first European woman to settle in the Similkameen. Her friendships with local First Nations women gave her insight into traditional foods and medicines. Her writings and later reminiscences left a valuable record of Victorian-era life in the province’s undeveloped rangeland.

She provided early accounts of the cryptozoological legends we now recognize as Ogopogo and Sasquatch, long before the former became a tourist attraction and the latter a beer pitchman.

Unlike many women of her era, she managed to get her words to the public. Two ethnographic papers on the Similkameen people were printed by respected British academic journals. As well, she published a long narrative poem about a local chief. The poetry was issued in 1900 under the pseudonym Stratton Moir, which was her brother’s name.

“You can’t celebrate her without reading her books and reading her poems,” said Diane Sterne, who edited a compilation of Allison’s work, including some lost writings. The volume was released earlier this year with the title, “In Her Words.”

It was Allison’s great ambition to incorporate in her poems the body language expressed when telling an oral legend.

Ms. Sterne, a hotelier and history buff, found it necessary to include a reference dictionary, as Allison used archaic English and the Chinook trade language in her writings.

“Cattle were kine,” she said. “En-che-chim is wolf, shnee-na is owl, synkelips is coyote, skumahist is black bear and callowna is grizzly bear.”

The bare outline of her life begs for a movie treatment.

Born in 1845, she spent her childhood in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where her father owned a tea plantation. His early death forced her mother to pack up the three children to return to England and a life of genteel impoverishment. Her mother remarried to a Scotsman, who brought the family to Fort Hope on the Fraser River when Susan was 14.

Her stepfather dreamed of life as a country squire amidst the riches of the gold fields. When that failed to happen, he simply vanished, proving himself to be a wastrel. His abandoned stepdaughter depended on the financial support of her married sister in Victoria, where Susan worked as a teacher and governess.

In 1868, Susan married John Fall Allison, a miner and explorer. She settled with him on a massive acreage north of Princeton, a community also known locally as Allison Flats.

She gave birth to 14 children, all of whom survived into adulthood, and she befriended many local aboriginal women, who “told me more than they told most white people,” she wrote.

She was sympathetic to their history and traditions, expressing deep concern about their communities’ decline in the latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

After her husband died, in 1897, she turned to writing, including accounts of fires and floods that twice washed away her homestead.

Before she died in Vancouver in 1937, aged 92, she became known as the “Mother of the Similkameen,” her writings a rare woman’s account of pioneer life.

In her old age, she moved to the coast, where the Daily Province published a series of articles comprising her memoir. These were later collected in a volume by the celebrated historian Margaret Ormsby under the title, “A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia.”

Ms. Sterne, the editor of the latest collection, praises Allison for her unerring accuracy.

“She would just tell it the way it was,” she said.

The new volume includes the narrative poems “In-Cow-Mas-Ket” and “Quin-Is-Coe,” as well as richly detailed accounts of Simalkameen beliefs and traditions. It is available online at Lulu.com, as well as at the Princeton Museum, the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, and at the Mozey-on-Inn in Coalmont.

Among the attendees at the weekend ceremony were three Allison grandchildren, including namesake Sue MacGregor, daughter of Alice, the pioneer’s 14th and final child.

“She was a woman of great charm, poise, dignity,” Mrs. MacGregor, 84, of Summerland, said of her grandmother. “She didn’t allow any nonsense from us kids. No rudeness, no bad grammar, no slang.”

Though she did not care for slang, perhaps she’ll have forgiven us for thinking her a skookum character.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Howard McDiarmid, doctor and politician who helped create a national park (1927-2010)

Dr. Howard McDiarmid won election to the B.C. Legislature as a Socred. He used his position to campaign for what became Pacific Rim National Park. He was photographed by Deddeda Stemler in Victoria in October, 2009.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 7, 2010

VICTORIA

Dr. Howard McDiarmid, who has died, aged 83, was a country doctor whose election to the British Columbia legislature aided a campaign to create a national park, turning the sleepy fishing village of Tofino into a global destination.

McDiarmid later built a world-class resort on Vancouver Island near Pacific Rim National Park, which includes Long Beach, a spectacular stretch of white sand.

The doctor served two terms in the provincial legislature as a Social Credit member under the leadership of Premier W.A.C. Bennett. It was a career decision to which his wife objected. “I married you for better or worse,” she told him, “but not for politics.”

In a province where politics is often practiced as blood sport, McDiarmid made friends on both sides of the aisle. He knew some regarded Socreds as “anti-union, right-wing zealots,” so he offered himself to the voters as a middle-of-the-road maverick. He succeeded in a riding of resource workers, many of them staunch trade unionists.

Though his party included many holy rollers and the premier himself was a well-known teetotal, an impassioned Legislature speech by the doctor on behalf of fellow imbibers earned him the sobriquet “the drinking man’s friend.”

The nickname immunized him later when he was charged by the RCMP for drinking a beer in public at a beach party. The charge, dismissed by a judge, failed to detour a re-election campaign.

McDiarmid had a round face, a ready smile, and prominent ears, which, combined with a rascally sense of humour, added to his boyish charm. He was an amiable raconteur not above telling stories at his own expense.

When diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, the doctor set to work on a memoir though he had never before written anything longer than a patient’s prescription. He hired an award-winning editor and enlisted Socred grande dame Grace McCarthy to write a foreword. He self-published “Pacific Rim Park: A Country Doctor’s Role in Preserving Long Beach and Establishing the New Wickaninnish Inn.” Copies sold for $18.95 at local groceries and at the resort.

The 103-page book is a funny, rollicking account of a raucous era in provincial politics. The author insisted the effort was worthwhile, though he printed just 300 copies.

“It was important to get the story out,” he told me last October, “before I croaked.”

A son of a bank manager, Howard Rihmond McDiarmid had a peripatetic childhood, as each of his father’s promotions made necessary a move to another prairie city. He was born in Edmonton on June 3, 2917, and grew up in Calgary, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Sask., where as a boy he met an ambitious lawyer by the name of John Diefenbaker.

McDiarmid studied medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, earning money for tuition in summer by working as a bellboy at the Banff Springs Hotel. He also made an early foray into the political ring in his senior year, when he ran for president of the students union, only to soon after withdraw.

He had been dating a nursing student who went to work in Bermuda while he began an internship at Vancouver General Hospital. He traveled to the British colony to woo the young woman, as he recounted in his memoir. “One afternoon we were sitting on a hill overlooking Hamilton Harbour, the blue ocean contrasting with pastel houses, sailboats bobbing in the wind, which prompted me to say, ‘Let me take you away from all this.’ ” Two days later, she accepted his proposal.

On a grey, drizzly January day, the doctor arrived by flying boat to begin duties at the hospital in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. “I wondered who should be more fearful,” he wrote years later, “me or the townspeople, my future patients.”

His workweek was divided between the fishing village (population 400) and Ucluelet (pop. 800), separated by 42 kilometres of a washboard road. He also handled the medical care for several aboriginal communities. The area was so isolated in the 1950s that it was the custom to chalk one’s purchase on a blackboard at the lone gas station for future payment.

The doctor estimated he delivered about 100 babies every year. His own growing family included three sons. The fourth pregnancy of the former Lynn Honeyman was problematic, as she suffered from fatigue, nausea and vomiting. McDiarmid prescribed samples of a wonder drug left by a salesman. The symptoms disappeared, but the decision proved tragic. The drug was Thalidomide. A baby girl, named Karen, was born with facial deformities and severe mental handicaps. She was institutionalized, dying young.

“Lynn was the only woman I gave these samples to,” he wrote. “The guilt if I had given them to others would have been more than I could bear.”

A desire to preserve as a national park the glorious mixture of rain forest and scenic coastline on the west coast of Vancouver Island led to his contesting a seat in the provincial general election in 1966. His quest seemed unlikely to end in victory, as the New Democratic incumbent had won five consecutive elections over 14 years.

The local Socred campaign raised $18,000, a tremendous sum then spent in an eager and freewheeling fashion. “We put on free salmon barbecues and greeted workmen at the end of midnight shifts, and no beer parlour was safe from us.” He even imported a Trinidadian musician he had befriended during a Caribbean holiday.

Because regulations barred campaign signs within 500 feet of a polling station, an aircraft was hired to fly at that height while trailing a banner reading, “Stay on top. Vote McDiarmid.” The doctor won the seat with 6,039 votes, while the NDP’s John Squire took just 4,321.

In a speech in the Legislature in Victoria, McDiarmid surprised many by noting the spectacular Long Beach in his constituency needed to be preserved as a federal park, as some 7,000 campers were “defecating, micturating and copulating” amid its splendors. It is thought many of his fellow MLAs were stumped by at least two of those words.

The new MLA served on the government benches for almost three years before he finally got a face-to-face meeting with Premier Bennett. An election was pending and he wished to press for park status and for improvements to a notoriously treacherous highway in his riding.

“Besides the switchback sections and the sheer drop, there were potholes as big as washtubs, and protruding rocks lying in wait to puncture an oil pan,” he wrote. “Most locals who had to use the road carried two spare tires, extra oil, food and, in winter, sleeping bags.”

The premier asked how much improvements would cost. Having done his homework, McDiarmid cited a figure of $2.3 million. Bennett reached by telephone the deputy highways minister, who confirmed the estimate.

While still on the line, and without making any other consultations, the premier announced, “It’s just had Treasury Board approval.” Such were the efficacies of one-man rule.

The premier also made a vow: “You will get your park.”

The promise of an improved highway helped McDiarmid win re-election in 1969, though by only 529 votes.

In 1971, to mark the centennial of British Columbia’s entry into Confederation, a dedication ceremony was held at the Long Beach section of Pacific Rim National Park. (McDiarmid had originally hoped the park would be named for the explorer Captain James Cook.) Princess Anne was in attendance, as was Jean Chretien, the federal Indian affairs minister. McDiarmid marked the occasion by wearing a traditional Nuu-chah-nulth conical hat of cedar bark.

That same year, his motion opposing the shipping of Alaska oil by supertanker along the British Columbia coastline received unanimous approval.

Meanwhile, the doctor moved to the Victoria area, where, in the 1972 provincial election, he challenged Dr. Scott Wallace, a Scottish-born Socred who had crossed the floor to sit as a Progressive Conservative. Wallace crushed his rival, taking more than twice as many votes as the arriviste, who found consolation in feeling he was rejected for having “too many rough edges for wealthy, sophisticated Oak Bay.” Social Credit lost the government to the NDP and McDiarmid could only shrug as an NDP MLA cut the ribbon when the highway improvements were completed.

McDiarmid spent a decade working as a doctor in California. He returned to Vancouver Island, where he enlisted investors to build a resort in Tofino. The Wickaninnish Inn on Chesterman Beach took as its name that of a storied hotel that had been converted into a marine interpretive centre after the creation of the national park. The new resort opened in 1996.

It had been his hope to write a second volume of memoirs about the building of the inn.

Howard Richmond McDiarmid was born on June 3, 1927, at Edmonton. He died of cancer on Aug. 25 at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. He leaves Lynn, his wife of 55 years; sons Charles, Bruce, and James; and, five grandchildren. He was predeceased by a daughter, Karen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

For hang-gliding instructor, tragedy strikes again

Marvin Trudeau, a former lumberjack sports champion, died following a hang-gliding accident in August.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 6, 2010

VICTORIA

Marvin Trudeau spent his working life in treetops. For the past year, he spent his spare time leaping from mountaintops.

As a young man, the faller competed on the lumberjack sports circuit, most famously winning a world championship in tree climbing in 1977 by scaling a 100-foot spar pole and returning to earth in a record time of 31.08 seconds.

He got his name in the Guinness World Records book and the event was featured on ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports.”

Newspapers called him “a speedy spar scaler.”

For the past 30 years, he has owned Aerial Tree Service in Chemainus.

When not on the job, he liked to skydive, completing more than 1,250 jumps.

A year ago, he took up hang gliding.

On Aug. 18, the 60-year-old man took off from atop Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring Island.

He crashed. It took rescue crews four hours to evacuate the unconscious man. He was airlifted to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, where he remained in a coma until dying eight days later.

Friends and family gathered Sunday afternoon at the Crofton home of Brian and Doreen Knight to bid adieu.

One of the first arrivals was Steve Parson, a certified hang-gliding instructor who operates Hang Glide Vancouver Island. Mr. Parson said he was atop the mountain as his pupil took off on a solo flight.

“He disappeared around the side of the mountain to where the big cliffs were,” he said. “He went exploring a little bit where he shouldn’t have.”

Mr. Parson had been a regular at the hospital vigil, bringing chocolates to those who gathered. At yesterday’s celebration of life he showed mourners video of Mr. Trudeau’s inaugural flight. The unfortunate man had crashed during his sixth lesson.

Asked how he felt, Mr. Parson replied, “Completely gut busted. It’s a horrible thing.”

There is no investigation under way into Mr. Trudeau’s death and there is nothing to suggest that Mr. Parson, as his instructor, was responsible.

It was not the first time he had lost a student.

Mr. Parson has been hang gliding since 1994, becoming an instructor six years later. It was his custom then to spend the Canadian offseason working in New Zealand.

On March 29, 2003, a 23-year-old Greek tourist named Eleni Zeri, a recent civil engineering graduate, joined other adventurers in paying for a tandem hang-gliding flight. She was paired with Mr. Parson.

They launched from a site on the Remarkables mountain range, according to press accounts of the subsequent trial. It was almost immediately clear something had gone wrong.

The student’s harness was not attached to the glider, so she was hanging only by her hands. Mr. Parson tried to wrap his legs around her, trial was told, but the actions caused the glider to spiral.

After less than a minute, she lost her grip, falling — silently — some 200 meters to her death.

The Canadian pilot was charged with manslaughter for not having attached her carabiner, a metal loop with a catch, an oversight that should have been caught in the pre-flight safety check.

The trial included video testimony from a witness who had returned to the United States, as well as a visit to the launch site.

Among those attending the trial was Eirini Zeri, of Athens, a mother who had lost her only child.

On the fourth day, Mr. Parson changed his plea.

He addressed the grieving mother in court, saying, “I know that you miss Eleni terribly. She was your life. I need you to know I also have a hole in my heart. Eleni was very brave. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Court was told the accident was doubly tragic as a promising young woman had died and a distraught man had lost his livelihood, according to press reports.

Mr. Parson was sentenced to 350 hours of community service and ordered to pay NZ$10,000 ($8,450 Canadian) in reparations to the mother for manslaughter. He had faced up to 10 years in jail.

He completed his service by clipping newspaper articles for a local library.

His departure from Queenstown for Canada was also noted by a local newspaper.

When reached by telephone at the site of the memorial service for Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Parson refused to talk about the death in New Zealand. Nor would he talk about how it was possible to be a certified instructor with the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada when he had a manslaughter conviction on his record.

“I’ve got to get on with my life and live with myself for mistakes I may have made,” he said.

He added, “We’re defying gravity. The more you do it the more the chances something could happen.”

Mr. Parson’s website makes no mention of the New Zealand accident. It does include the promise of “careful pre-flight instruction from Steve.” The business is also featured on tourism and adventure sport websites. Last month, a few days before the latest accident, the Cowichan News Leader ran a glowing profile of Mr. Parson’s business under the headline, Let your dreams take flight.

By coincidence, while Mr. Trudeau was in a coma in hospital, the Civil Aviation Authority in New Zealand announced tougher regulations for hang-glider operators. The pending rule change was triggered by the terrible death seven ears ago of a young Greek tourist.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Return of the Subhumans: 'More bombastic' than ever

Subhumans front man Brian (Wimpy) Goble finds a lifetime performing at punk gigs good training for a job as a mental-health worker. Simon Hayter photograph for The Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 1, 2010

VICTORIA

You start a band in Vancouver back in the day.

You debut in front of an anti-Canada Day concert organized by anarchists.

The punk thing is so new that some in the audience still wear flared jeans and are as hirsute as a ZZ Top tribute band. Not you though. You wear torn clothes and a buzz cut.

You give yourselves noms de punk — Wimpy and Dimwit and Useless.

You find yourself pogoing shirtless before maelstroms of sweaty kids.

You hunch and lurch about stage, a howling front man whose lyrics are most easily discernible when the chorus includes the shouting of a common expletive.

You release records whose staccato rhythms mimic a firing squad of AK47s, your buzz-bomb sound best captured by a skid-row graffito reading, “Apocalypso Now!”

Of course it all comes to a screeching halt and the Subhumans split up.

The drummer dies.

The bassist gets caught up in a series of acts of sabotage, each more violent than the last. He gets sentenced to 10 years in jail, gets out in five.

A British anarcho-punk band settles on the same killer band name.

Some others claim to own your recordings, so that somehow you no longer have the rights to your original album, which has long been heralded as a classic of the genre. A court battle looms.

So, what do you do?

“Cheaper to go back into the studio,” said Brian Goble (aka Wimpy, Sunny Boy Roy). “Re-record everything again. Get it right. For me it was a blessing in disguise because I was now able to get these songs out now without musical parts that make me wince.”

The band reformed — Mike (Normal) Graham on guitar, Gerry (Useless) Hannah on bass, Jon Card replacing the late, lamented Ken (Dimwit) Montgomery on drums. They gathered at Hive Studios in Vancouver and, 30 years after making the original recordings, redid such catchy ditties as “Death to the Sickoids,” “Slave to My Dick,” and “Let’s Go Down to Hollywood (and Shoot People).”

Since the original album, released on an independent Vancouver label in 1980, was titled, “Incorrect Thoughts,” this one is called “Same Thoughts, Different Day.”

Punks getting together in middle age to recreate the sounds of their youth has the potential for farce. Happily, the release on San Francisco label Alternative Tentacles is getting favourable reviews. It is “an anthemic, provocative and inspiring update,” according to CHARTattack, the online music magazine.

“Bigger. More bombastic. More powerful. To me it sounds like we wanted it to sound. It really shreds,” Mr. Goble said.

Now, the Subhumans are heading to Ontario and Quebec later this month for a series of club shows. Three years ago, the band drove across this vast land in a van with a U-Haul trailer, spending much of the time nursing a viral ailment. “Just about killed us,” Mr. Goble said. This time, they’re flying, though the punk do-it-yourself ethic still involves coach surfing on dates when a motel is unavailable.

While the Subhumans institute a scorched-earth policy in Eastern Canada, fellow punk peers D.O.A. will be laying waste to vast swaths of Alberta. (Such is the DNA of the West Coast contemporaries that Messrs. Card and Goble both spent time in D.O.A.) The tours follow the well-received release of “Bloodied but Unbowed,” Susanne Tabata’s feature-length documentary on the Vancouver punk and new wave scene.

“I can feel my age for sure,” said the 53-year-old frontman. “But I can still put out a fair amount of energy” on stage.

When not making music, he can be found working as a building manager and mental-health worker at the Roosevelt Hotel in the downtown eastside.

“Keep the place from erupting into anarchy and chaos, y’know,” he said.

“I think touring on a shoestring budget in that kind of environment has given me experience in dealing with crisis situations. With D.O.A., we were the band and we were the bouncers at a lot of our shows. I’ve dealt with a lot of craziness, so it doesn’t surprise me when more craziness rears its ugly head. I have a good idea how to deal with that stuff.”

The class clown in the band is Mr. Hannah, who, after the Subhumans originally broke up, became involved with a group of left-wing activists who adopted an urban guerrilla philosophy. They called themselves Direct Action, though, after a dramatic arrest on a highway north of Vancouver, the media dubbed them the Squamish Five. Mr. Hannah was convicted of conspiring to rob an armoured car. He spent many years after his release working as a snowplow operator. He still writes memorable songs.

“He’s doing what we’re all doing — working hard, paying off the mortgage, planning for retirement, I guess,” Mr. Goble said.

He’s looking forward to hitting the road again at a time in his life when he plays for fun, not fortune.

“We’re not trying to become the next Justin Bieber anymore. There’s no pressure.

“You never know, maybe someday Justin Bieber will cover a Subhumans song.”

Call us weirdos, call us crazies, but it might be more entertaining to have the Subhumans perform one of his hits.

Lock up your beer fridge, here come the Subhumans: (from left) Jon Card, Mike Graham, Gerry Hannah and Brian Goble.