A century standing by


On a warm summer day in 1985, Pammy’s great3grandson* looked on as Elmer MacKay, solicitor general of Canada, inaugurated the recently established museum of prison artifacts at Kingston Penitentiary, on the occasion of that cruel dungeon’s sesquicentennial. (Thirty years later his son, Peter MacKay, then justice minister, would finally shut the place.) He was a member of the ministerial party because he had co-authored a history of KP. A hundred and fifty years before, on June 1, 1835, Matthew Tavender became Inmate Number One, sentenced to three years for grand larceny. Tavender and the convicts who followed him inside were forced into labour gangs that would greatly expand the fortress-like prison on the shore of Lake Ontario, but the earliest work on the massive stone building was done by local tradesmen. (A generation later the ancient stone walls would give up their last inmates at the instigation of Elmer’s son, Peter MacKay, minister of justice. KP, which overlooks the harbour where the sailing events were hosted during the 1976 Olympics, was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world when it closed finally on September 30, 2013.)
+ For an explanation of the convention designating various generations of Pammy’s family, see About Rideau Canal And All That on the bar above.

In Kingston, the local workers who knew best how to work with stone were those who had just finished the Rideau Canal. The new pen, destined to be still in use in the twenty first century, wasn’t the only lucrative construction contract in those days in Kingston. Fort Henry, which commands the city’s entrance heights was — is — an imposing fortification. Some of the last Martello Towers ever built are in Kingston. It was a bit late for these defensive forts when they went up — another example of the military preparing for its last war — but they still stand tall for tourists. These were massive works of construction and times were good in Kingston, which in another half-dozen years would be the first capital of what would become Canada and where the young John Alexander Macdonald was entering upon a legal career, his thought not yet turned to politics. It was a bonanza for stone workers. Good times would come again for their descendants in the 1860s with work on Parliament buildings for the new country then being born. In the meantime they built many great houses along the Rideau corridor between the first Canadian capital (Kingston 1841) to the one we have now (Ottawa 1867), including the official residences on Sussex Drive for prime minister and governor general.

Many of the stone workers were among or had been trained by those who came to work on the canal in 1826. There were two companies of Royal Sappers and Miners recruited to assist Lt. Col. John By (right) in his great task, a complement of a hundred and sixty two men. Fifty seven were lost to accident, disease and desertion through the six years of construction. When the work was finished, seventy one of those remaining accepted hundred acre grants of land and settled along the corridor of the canal, planting outposts of settlement where none existed. And then there were the lucky few who got the land and a job as well. But few were as fortunate as William (Pammy) Fleming, who got all of that and the lady too.

Everything Jim Simmons owned was sold after he was killed in a blasting accident on the canal at Newboro in 1830. His wardrobe and kit and ‘necessaries’ went to provide some relief to his family.  Pammy, who had been a friend and fellow bricklayer among the sappers, bought a pair of regimental trousers for twelve shillings. Elizabeth Simmons, mother of a girl and seven-year old Jim Jr., received thirteen pounds, eight shillings, ninepence. Not a fortune but a tidy sum and with a widow’s pension from the military Elizabeth could bide her time. There was no shortage of suitors. There were many more men than women in Upper Canada. Women could choose. She waited two years, until it was sure that the colonel would give Pammy the job at Chaffey’s Lock. He wasn’t a big man, just five and a half feet tall, but strong. (It wasn’t a time of tall men, then or for a long time after. The mean height of a company of British soldiers en route to India in 1865 was 5’5. Winston Churchill, who was almost a teenager when Pammy died in 1887, was well short of 5’7.) He hadn’t been a non-com. Sergeants and corporals were getting preference for canal jobs. But Pammy was made an acting corporal before discharge. And she knew he had one of the essential requirements. Pammy could read and he could write, one of the few who could.

In his survey of the Rideau route in 1826 John MacTaggart, Colonel By’s clerk of works, wrote that at Chaffey’s “I am not ashamed to own that I was more puzzled to know how to act, than on any other part of the route.” This was because MacTaggart wanted to bypass the mills that Sam Chaffey and his brother had built on both banks near a waterfall of thirteen feet. It would be too expensive to expropriate the distillery and the grist, carding and sawmills that the Chaffeys had put up in the six years they had been in the area. “High banks on either side of the river, and mills choking up that river, seemed to defy the science of engineering to pass them with the Canal . . .”

But the problem would be resolved by tragic circumstance just a year later when Sam Chaffey died of malaria. His widow decided to sell the millworks and two hundred acres of land to Colonel By for two thousand pounds. His brother Ben had already departed for the United States and the family spread later to Australia, producing significant memorials wherever they settled. They are inveterate builders. One of Sam’s nephews was back at Chaffey’s in 1872 to construct a stone gristmill.

The contract to remove the mills and build a lock with nine feet of lift and a twenty foot high dam went to John Sheriff & Co. The project became known as Haggart’s Job after Sheriff’s partner, “a jolly bachelor of that name, well known for convivial hospitality to all travellers by this route.” Another year, another tragedy, when John Sheriff succumbed to malaria in 1828, along with several labourers on the lock.

Over the six year construction period more than five hundred men and an unknown number of women and children at and near the canal works died of malaria. It was a disease that had been present in eastern North America for many years. The mosquito that transmitted it could and did live here. But it was groupings of people that helped to spread the disease. In construction camps one worker to another was a zip for a mosquito. No one escaped, from Colonel By down through the ranks to the wives and children of workers. Everyone suffered. During the “sickly month” of August, six out of ten workers took to their beds with terrible pain, stomach upset, vomiting and general debility. The only known antimalarial treatment was quinine but it was quite rare and very expensive. It was hard to get in Canada and few had it. The old Chaffey’s graveyard is said to contain the remains of more unrecognized malaria victims than any other. (In the picture, Mary Anne Chaffey’s plot is fenced in, with fieldstones and headstones in the distance marking early graves where wood crosses have rotted away.)

But the work continued. And what a work it was that the colonel had conceived. To build the canal, John By had two options. The conventional and proven option was to use excavated channels of considerable length to link existing waterways that were navigable, bypassing falls, rapids, swamps and rocky shallows. By dismissed this approach as being too expensive and time-consuming, given the terrain, geology and configuration of the lakes and rivers.

Through what would be called “a fundamental stroke of creative genius” he envisioned another option, the relatively untried technology called ‘slackwater’. It would use a large number of embankments and high dams to inundate shallows, swamps, and rapids, creating a series of basins deep enough to navigate the full length of the canal. This dramatically reduced the need to excavate channels. Costs and construction time were greatly contained and compressed.

Slackwater techniques had never been attempted in North America near the complexity of what By conceived to join the Rideau and Cataraqui rivers into a corridor linking the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. This would become the swiftest route of the day from Montreal, where most British troops were stationed, to the frontier opposite the United States at Kingston. It was the threat from the U.S. that By was addressing. He never forgot that. Speed was essential. His Corps of Royal Engineers designed an ingenious system to exercise unprecedented control over water levels. They included seventy four dams and forty seven locks at twenty four lock stations, allowing vessels to ascend eighty five metres to the summit of the canal from the Ottawa River, and then descend fifty metres to Lake Ontario.

Part of By’s genius was his foresight in planning for the future dominance of steamboats. The specs for the canal that he was given called for locks just sufficient to pass durham boats, flat-bottomed vessels propelled by sail or oars. By sought and got authorization to build larger locks able to accommodate the bigger boats that would use the emerging technology of steam power.

“It is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America,” UNESCO wrote in designating the canal a World Heritage Site. “It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early nineteenth century to remain operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.”

Once built, with what even today would be considered blazing speed, the problem became one of operations. By’s final task before departure was to ensure that key posts along the waterway were filled with the best candidates available. Literacy was a prime requirement for a lockmaster, but not the only one. They are outlined by Ed Bebee in his original and masterful portrayal of the workers who have kept the canal operating almost the way it was built for almost two centuries. His book is entitled Invisible Army: Hard Times, Heartbreak and Heritage, and he writes:

“What were the qualifications to be a lockmaster? First, military experience, generally as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), either Corporal or Sergeant; second the ability to read and write, because of the flood of written orders and the extensive record-keeping; third, basic arithmetic and some sense of book-keeping to be able to manage the accounts of tolls and local rents; fourth, robust good health; fifth, ‘steadiness’, which could mean anything. Sobriety was not a requirement, as soon became evident.”

Canal jobs were the pick of the province. The Army built the canal. The Army owned the canal. There was nothing more stable in all of Canada than the British Army. The pay was not bad and it came in cash, a rare perk in an economy that operated almost entirely on barter and long-term credit. Pammy was a lucky man and knew it the year the widow and the colonel said yes. It was 1832.

Lockmasters initially got housing (or materials to build their own) and permanent lock labourers had small houses or stayed in dormitories at larger stations. Garden plots were also provided. Lockmasters and workers were strictly admonished to avoid political partisanship and even voting. They were front line public servants and expected to behave as such. Patronage was endemic in the early days of colonial semi-self-government. The Rideau Canal was one of the few major generators of jobs and contracts in eastern Ontario. Politicians were very much aware of the opportunities. The local MP, or the defeated candidate if his party happened to be in power, would provide a list of acceptable candidates.

Pammy and his bride Elizabeth (later Gammy) had little time to consider their circumstances in those first months at Chaffey’s, after the military had departed and the first ceremonial passage was through the lock, en route from Kingston to Bytown. Colonel By and his family were joined by aides and dignitaries aboard the canal tug Pumper, renamed Rideau for the journey, greeted all along the great waterway he had built with rousing cheers that fell not far short of adulation. In this place and time he had made a wonder of the modern world. The people along the Rideau corridor, some who had been his soldiers and many who had worked on the canal, sensed greatness. Sadly, he was to fall victim to bureaucrats and petty politics on his return to Britain, his world-class achievement never celebrated by the British, whose taxes had paid for it.

The Pumper, built for Robert Drummond, one of the primary canal contractors, would be followed through the years by a succession of maintenance tugs well into the twentieth century. The longest lasting and most famous was Loretta, whose captain into the 1930s was Pammy’s grandson. Captain Ned, Kate’s brother, also had captained the Rideau King (left), one of the passenger steamers owned by his brother-in-law. For many years the Rideau King and Rideau Queen, with their musical steam whistles that could be heard for miles, provided a luxurious cruise along the beautifully crafted waterway between two of Ontario’s principal population centres. He was known as the ‘poet laureate’ within the family. When tied up overnight at a station along the waterway, the sweet sound of Captain Ned’s violin would often swell from Loretta’s deck and fill the summer evening all around.

In 1832 the population of York (Toronto) was 5,000, Kingston was 4,200 and Bytown (Ottawa), which hadn’t existed six years earlier, was 3,200. It was the beginning of urban society but not yet an urban economy. As one merchant wrote, “No one here can do business and obtain payment short of a year’s credit.” Almost all sales to farmers were on credit. They had no cash until the crops were harvested. Some debts were settled by a merchant buying land and having debtors supply labour or materials to erect a house or building.

Pammy, who built a ‘log house’ for his family when he arrived, was paid the lockmaster’s wage of $0.80 per day. The days were long, sometimes stretching through the nights and into new days. A lot of labour and time went to stretching the salary. There was a plot to grow vegetables. The potato was a staple of the daily diet, which made for hardship in the mid 1840s when a blight struck. Ireland was being devastated at the same time by this crop failure but the famine that prevailed there was in no way repeated here. Canadians were survivors in the toughest climate of the new world. They kept a cow, pigs and chickens. Fish were plentiful as were venison, ducks, muskrat. Drowned logs or trees from the surrounding forest were fuel for winter fires. They might have been colonists, or even colonials, but they weren’t landless peasants so weakened by life as the 20,000 Irish who died of disease and malnutrition on their way to Canada in 1847, one out of five who sailed.

In the colony the Rideau Canal was about to become an economic lifeline. It would get busier and busier, day and night, week after week, month on month until ice checked the flow. Ultimately, of course, the onset of a navigable St, Lawrence and the railroad combined to overpower the canal as a commercial route. But for a century the scene was the one described by an anonymous writer at Newboro, quoted by Robert Legget in Rideau Waterway. The canal was “crowded with boats carrying the produce of the country and bringing in such goods as were needed and the growing prosperity of the country could afford. City of Ottawa, Rideau King and Rideau Queen were some of the boats that carried passengers and freight and looked to one in their day like monsters of marine architecture. Tugs were towing 2, 3 and 4 barges; about 40 sailing scows carried out wood, lumber, pressed hay, grain, horses, cheese, whatever the country had to sell and brought in goods the merchants sold, the implements that were needed, the foodstuffs not grown in this climate and furnished employment to hundreds of men. Rafts of squared timber and of rough logs running up to hundreds of lock bands, built up with cook and bunk houses, stables for horses gouged by 20 or 30 men made their slow way to mills and market every year and left behind a fire menace. I have seen the men at work without a break for over sixty hours. They slept on the grass while the locks were filling and ate their meals that were brought to them sitting on a swing bar. They worked 24 hours a day, slept when they could. At first the lockmen were paid 60 cents a day for 71/2 months each year. Later their pay was raised to $1 a day and there never was a time when there was any trouble getting men to work on the lock.”

It was non-stop “when the horn blew we’d lock ‘em through” twenty four hours a day, seven days a week until 1871, after which Sunday was allowed off. Sleep between lockages was often snatched on a cot on the lockmaster’s porch. The biggest problem were the “blue barges” of logs, huge flotillas of lumber that had to be passed through the lock bit-by-bit, hour-after-hour.

For more than seven months a year there was no shortage of activity or company at the station. But in the winter it was thoroughly isolated. Distances to Kingston or even Elgin, a few miles away, were over trails rather than roads. The few people in the area had to make do with one another’s company. Pammy’s house, the largest around, was often the centre for euchre games, Christmas parties and impromptu dancing. “One of the high spots during the winter,” Melinda Warren writes in Hearth and Heritage: History of Chaffey’s Lock and Area, “would be when the carpentry crew came. The crew, of about twelve members, would camp at the station, sleeping on bunks in the storehouse. This work force was provided with their own cook, for a crew could live at the lock site for sometimes two months, building a new set of gates or a new dock. Because of their long stay they would become temporary members of the small communities. They provided a friendly diversion from long winter boredom. At night when the day’s work was done the crew, Lockmen and families would sit around the wood stove; stories and homemade bread in abundance. When the families retired for the evening, more stories and other ‘refreshments’ would be in greater abundance!

“It was a special time for the Lock Station when this crew came. The empty space which the crew left in the community when they moved on, would soon be filled by hard work to prepare for the new navigation season; and later new faces to relate the past winter’s tales to. . .”

Lockstations were strengthened in 1837-38 in response to rebellion troubles in both provinces (Upper and Lower Canada at that time, to become Canada West and East in 1841 and Ontario and Quebec in 1867) that pointed to the susceptibility of canal works to attack. Government durham boats loaded with ammunition and troops were passing through. Lock workers were called out to train with the militia. A report in Pammy’s hand describes “the loyal men who turned out to defend the lock and other works at Chaffey’s, Rideau Canal, on the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th of July, 1838,” when the lock was menaced by sympathizers with the rebellion in Upper Canada. Under Pammy’s command twenty seven volunteers, including fifteen-year-old stepson James Simmons Jr., mounted sentries and patrolled the area to deter aggression.

Captain Billy, Pammy’s son, in 1890.

In the meantime Pammy and Elizabeth had a son William in 1833. As a boy he became a lake sailor and earned his captain’s papers at an early age. He would eventually be the first master of the Rideau Queen, owned by his son-in-law, and become widely known along the Rideau as Captain Billy.

As word spread of employment possibilities, good farmland and world class sport fishing at Chaffey’s, immigrant families began to arrive, many of them fleeing the famine in Ireland. Among these were the Doyles, who arrived from near Dublin in 1830 with an infant daughter. Young Billy and Margaret Doyle grew up together and just before Christmas 1854 they eloped and married. Elopement was necessary because the English Protestant Flemings and Irish Catholic Doyles were not ready mixers. They had to get over it eventually though as Captain Billy and his bride made passionate use of the long winters over the next two decades to produce five sons and three daughters, most born in a little log cabin on a section of Pammy’s property. The first born, Mary, married Captain Dan Noonan, who owned the Rideau Navigation Company. Henry, the second, became the third Chaffey’s lockmaster. A younger brother, Edward, would succeed Captain Billy as master of the Rideau Queen and earn his own local fame as Captain Ned.

Kate, christened Catharine, was the third, born in 1859. At nineteen she married James O’Brien, fifteen years older, the only son of Little Ned O’Brien, who had arrived in Chaffey’s from Ireland in 1840. Little Ned’s property would become the core of Queen’s University’s Biological Station (pictured) on Opinicon Lake a century later, where Pammy’s great3grandson Roberto would one day pursue studies toward his doctorate in zoology.
Jim O’Brien, who had been a lakeboat captain, tried farming at Chaffey’s as he and Kate started the family that would eventually number eight girls and five boys. But in less than a decade that toil was abandoned and they picked up and left for Montreal, the first ever of the family to move from Chaffey’s. Jim would be a milkdealer at first, then a grocer, and died in 1925. Kate would live to ninety nine in 1958 with the patience and quiet acceptance of the poker player and lifelong fisher she was.

The log cabin they were born and raised in had long outlived its comfort level by the time Captain Billy got around to building a proper home for his fast growing brood. Margaret would reminisce years later about the day in 1870 when the house was ready and what a pleasure it had been “to walk down the hill carrying baby Charles and take my family into our new home.”

And what a home it was. It’s described in a remarkable family manuscript written by Pammy’s great-granddaughter Catherine in 1975. Catherine was born at Chaffey’s in 1899 and knew Captain Billy intimately. They lived in the 1870 house together while she was growing up. Pammy had died a dozen years before but his memory lived strong in the neighbourhood where there were many old friends and much family. Catherine writes of the times, the neighbourhood, the customs, schools, entertainments, home life for the girls and the boys, a full and telling evocation of what it was to grow up and live at Chaffey’s Lock through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The manuscript is contained in the privately printed genealogical masterwork by Pammy’s great2grandson, James, entitled The Fleming Family Tree. Suffice to say the new home for Captain Billy and family was “the nicest and largest farm house in the community” with an iron roof, room to house a three-generation family of ten and an annex with a winter kitchen. It was still in use more than a hundred years after going up and may be still.

It was in this context that Pammy got the name he was universally known by, and which has descended to a property at Chaffey’s still referred to as Pammy’s Farm. A fourth generation grandson once suggested that it was derived from the derogatory slang for Englishman, ‘pommy’. This was impossible. Pammy was a man of respect in the county around Elgin. He had been discharged an acting corporal. There were very few field promotions in the two companies of sappers and miners of the Royal Engineers working with Lt. Col. By on the building of the Rideau Canal. Pammy was the Lockmaster at Chaffey’s, in command of a link on a vital waterway, holding one of the few permanent, paying jobs in the colony. He wouldn’t have been dissed by his neighbours.

Then, there were hundreds of demobbed sappers after the work was finished. Could Pammy have been a generally used nickname? Well no. Finally, there’s no record of the word ‘pommy’ being used before 1912, and then primarily in Australia. That’s well after Pammy’s day and far away. So how did he come by that nickname? For anyone with grandkids, it’s clear enough.  Pammy (William Fleming) had only one natural son, Billy. But he had eight grandchildren, all born at Chaffey’s, all within hailing distance for most of his life. He lived with one of his grandsons and family in later years. It was these kids who called him Pammy, an easy childish mangling of Papa or Grandpa. One after another they made it stick. Only they would have been innocent enough, and well enough loved, to have dared. For Pammy was far from a figure of fun. He had an aristocratic bent and, according to family account, in retirement “always dressed in a swallow tail coat, wore a high silk hat and carried a cane.”

A one storey, defensible lockmaster’s house was built in 1844 and after a dozen years in the log house Pammy, Gammy and family were finally able to move in. It was completely renovated in 1894-85 for their grandson Henry, another of Kate’s brothers, who was the third lockmaster at Chaffey’s. A second storey was added and a wood frame back kitchen. This house (pictured) is now a museum. Chaffey’s was a Fleming family fief for a century. After retiring in 1856, Pammy was succeeded by his stepson, Jim, who served until 1894. There was some fuss when grandson Henry got the next appointment. Patronage was alleged. Henry was dismissed in December 1896 but rehired three months later. He’d hold the job for more than three decades.

As Ed Bebee writes in Invisible Army, “An affable lockmaster with thirty-five years service at a popular station met a lot of people. When his family is there for generations, then relationships run deep.” Henry was such a person.

A combination of age (65 in 1922) and years of service (39) meant that Henry would most likely retire in the early 1920s. Knowing he’d have to move from the Lockmaster’s house, he wanted to acquire a property nearby where he could build a home. He wanted to get it at a good price and avoid an auction that might increase it, particularly since the CNR had built a station at Chaffey’s and local land prices had soared. So he wrote his good acquaintance, George Buskard, private secretary to Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, enquiring casually after family members and enclosing a sketch of the land he wanted. Within a day, enquiries on Henry’s behalf were dispatched on prime ministerial letterhead. The sale transpired as he had wished, helped by an Order-in-Council that designated him the buyer and sidetracked any other potential bidder. Perhaps most remarkably, the government had changed in the interim. Mr. Meighen had been replaced by Prime Minister Mackenzie King. But the change hadn’t bothered Henry. Rather, he lobbied again to have his retirement postponed. He wasn’t finally succeeded as Lockmaster until 1929. The family had held the job just three years shy of a century from the day Pammy got it from Colonel By.

James and Kate O’Brien. First to leave Chaffey’s, Pammy’s granddaughter Catharine (Kate) Fleming was the motherlink of the clan with thirteen children in Montreal. She lived to ninety nine.

After 1847, when work on the St. Lawrence River canals was completed, the Rideau system gradually lost its commercial prominence, though it long remained a gracious and comfortable route for passengers on the Rideau Queen, Rideau King and their like that plied regularly between Kingston and Ottawa. Until today the Rideau Canal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains a destination for boats and yachts from near and far as well as the focal point for local festivals in summer and, never forget, the largest skating rink in the world in winter.

Pammy’s canal was to prevent another war and help build a nation


It was fire that cleared the path for a capital that Canada might be proud of. Prime Minister Laurier and his planners used the disaster to advantage and made creative use of destruction.

They planned it around the canal, then as now the most singular feature of a capital rich in monuments. They gave it to the improvement commission to manage, which became the Federal District Commission, which became the National Capital Commission (NCC), which today is the principal real estate owner in the national capital region, with 1,400 properties, including the homes of the prime minister and governor general, four hundred and seventy square kilometers of greenbelt and parkland, and an annual budget pushing a hundred and fifty million dollars.

The canal of which I speak is the canal that gave the Yanks pause. They had jumped us twice in thirty years. Some Americans thought their manifest destiny was to own and occupy the whole of the continent. George Washington sent a general to take Montreal, “not to plunder but to protect you” in one of the earliest campaigns of the American revolutionary war. President Jefferson (1801-1809) said they had only to march to take us over, and President Madison (1809-1817) set troops marching to do just that in 1812. Twice bitten, Canada had ample reason to be shy.

Fort Henry commands Lake Ontario and overlooks the southern end of the canal at the mouth of the Cataraqui River

The Rideau Canal was one of the most spectacular engineering feats of the nineteenth century. Carved through a wilderness at considerable loss of life to work accidents and disease, at an incredibly low cost that nevertheless prompted a parliamentary enquiry, it was a measure of defence and defiance. Along with Fort Henry and a handful of defensive Martello towers that had emerged from the Napoleonic Wars, which defend its southern end at Kingston, the canal was the clearest statement possible at the time that no effort would be spared by Great Britain, no cost would be too high, no sacrifice too great, to defend Canada if the Americans were to try again their vicious incursion of 1812-15.

No less a military genius than Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, victor on the field at Waterloo in June 1815 not long after the nastiness in North America had ended, understood this all too well. When the decision was made to proceed with the canal he was serving as Master General of the Ordnance. He picked the man to build it. John By had been with him in the peninsular war. Wellington became prime minister during the years it took to finish the canal.


Dug by hand and heart and pick and shovel through hundreds of miles of wildlands and swamp, some so malodorous that breath of it could bring on fever, even death, the canal was a sign of determination so emphatic that America had to believe that Great Britain was serious. The motherland would rush in reinforcements and die on the ramparts in defence of Canada, outpost of empire, if attacked. In fact it had not been much more than a calculated bluff. England was stretched thin with European wars and colonial commitments. In only a few years it would be desperate to pull out of colonies that were costly to govern from across an ocean. It gambled that Americans would forget about Canada after a while if it wasn’t fighting Britain, which it had been doing off and on for a half century. It was a winning strategy. Before long Americans were consumed with their civil war catastrophe. The bluff would never be called.

The Rideau Canal, meanwhile, became a key lifeline in the fast growing colony about to become a country. Bob Sneyd tells the story in a masterful thesis at the UofT. But for Mr. Sneyd, who has made his life and his living on the waterway, it might well have been forgotten that the canal was the way of choice for decades for commerce and other traffic between the major cities and two provinces that then existed. The St. Lawrence hadn’t yet been tamed. Barges could shoot the rapids going downstream, but it was a job-and-a-half to get them back upstream. Steam power alone couldn’t beat the current. The best that could be done was to drag small barges, eight to fourteen tons, up the rapids by oxen and horses.

Upper Canadians 175 years ago believed that the Rideau Canal would do more for the commercial strength of the country than anything since its origin. Even as Col By and his family were aboard ship on their return voyage to London, Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Colborne announced at the opening of the legislature that a “profitable return” could be expected and in a resolution a week later, the assembly agreed that the new canal would be of “great national benefit.” Waterborne commerce, as Mr. Sneyd reports in The Role of the Rideau Waterway, 1826-1856, immediately found and followed the easiest, cheapest and safest route. A triangular pattern soon emerged. Imported British manufactured goods were transferred from ocean-going ships to barges in Montreal. They were then towed by steamboats up the Ottawa, through the Rideau, and transshipped to lake schooners at Kingston. In turn, those bulk staples destined for British and European ports were reloaded from schooners to barges and run directly down the St Lawrence to Montreal shooting rapids on the way. Two years after the canal’s opening, three quarters of westbound traffic was using the route, given its cost and security advantage over the St Lawrence, where surly Americans had cannon on their side of the river. The 1830s wasn’t a great decade for the young Canadian economy. Political upset and armed uprisings were disruptive. But one million bushels of wheat and eight tons of flour were being shipped through the canal by 1840. It was clear that it had become the vital link in inter-provincial trade.

The Rideau Canal also carried hordes of European immigrants fleeing famine and oppression for a better life in Canada. The canal was the reason for Ottawa, which became the capital. The canal was a technological wonder for the age, foreshadowing and inspiring ages of technology to come that would awe the world more than once. And the Rideau canal brought William (Pammy) Fleming from Old Swinford in Worcestershire, not far from Birmingham, a city that would drive the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century.

Captain Billy, above, who started early on the boats, came to resemble his father, whom he would never have called Pammy. Sir, more likely, or Master when locking through.

Pammy’s father was a nailer. It had been a decent craft from Roman times, even earlier. There were four nailers among the craftsmen counted in the 1665 Canadian census. But those times were over and nailers were pretty well done for in Birmingham, workshop of the world and city of a thousand trades. Nails would always be essential for fastening materials together, for building things. For centuries they had been fashioned by hand, one at a time, and that work had provided sufficiently for a nailer and his family. Now there were machines that spit them out by the hundreds of thousands. With no future in the family craft, Pammy enlisted. The army sent him here to help By build the canal. The colonel would prove to be a genius. He was an artist of an engineer who would use muscle and blasting powder to sculpt for the ages a waterscape surpassing nature. Pammy was a sapper, obeyed orders, kept his mouth shut, angling to come out of it alive. Many wouldn’t.

Among the Canadian supervisors and contractors on canal construction first generation Scots were prominent, if not predominant. Redpath, Drummond and McKay, who took on frontier construction challenges to build the locks, are names that resonate even today as nation builders, physically, politically and commercially. Skilled workers such as masons, carpenters and blacksmiths were mostly a mix of British, Scottish, Irish and French Canadians. Unskilled workers were Irish not long off the boats — the largest ethnic contingent and most difficult to manage, then and later — and French Canadians. They would wield axe, pick and shovel, push barrows, pump water, clear brush.

John MacTaggart was there as clerk of works and gives a vivid description of the hazards. “Even in their spade and pickaxe business, the [men] receive dreadful accidents; as excavating in a wilderness is quite a different thing from doing that kind of labour in a cleared country. Thus they have to pool in, as the tactics of the art go — that is, dig beneath the roots of trees, which not infrequently fall down and smother them. . . Some of them . . . would take jobs of quarrying from contractors, because they thought there were good wages for this work, never thinking that they did not understand the business. Of course many of them were blasted to pieces by their own shots, others killed by stones falling on them. I have seen heads, arms and legs, blown in all directions . . .”

Unusual as it was for any of these heads to belong to the men of the Royal Sappers and Miners, the soldiers were not totally immune. A blasting accident on May 29, 1830, killed Pammy’s friend and fellow bricklayer of the seventh company, Jim Simmons, at Newboro. Six men of the seventh and fifteenth companies died in the work on the waterway. Another twenty two died of malaria or cholera, which at times came on so violently that whole camps and villages were decimated.

Prince of publishers

Jack McClelland never stopped trolling for material he could publish and he had a marvelously seductive line. “That would make a great book,” he’d say to just about any rational thought. “Tony’s book.”
Who would know better than The Canadian PublisherTM himself?
That’s how he lured Pammy’s great3grandson. Every time Jack talked about “Tony’s book” it moved closer to a work-in-progress and after a while it was, though very much part-time as to work and haphazard as to progress. Nobody who writes for money in Canada is unaware of the perils of the book trade for the author.
But then, at 11 a.m. on May 18, 1985, after Tony pulled his robe tight and opened the door just wide enough to get the Globe and reach in the mailbox, there was an envelope. Bond paper, executive stock. At the kitchen table he propped it against the toaster, poured coffee, lit a JPS and stared at it awhile. It was from Toronto. Tony had been living almost ten years in Ottawa.
Inside, neatly-typed, was a three page letter from Jack, The Canadian Publisher.
Dear Tony:
“I finished reading your manuscript on the weekend and have been brooding about it ever since. It is a very thoughtful document. My initial reaction was that if we could get this out quickly, it would give Canadians a lot of food for thought before the next election. That might still be feasible…”
[There followed some random observations about possible libel, some argument about interpretation and a good deal of f-based vocabulary, leaving it largely unreproducible in a family journal.]
“I am passing the manuscript today to Linda, our new President. I am giving her a copy of this letter and a note saying, Linda, I think this has to be treated at the top level very urgently…
“This, then, is an interim response indicating that I at least think it is a manuscript worth very, very serious attention.
“Best personal regards.”
It had taken a year to write, compiled on CBM 8096 microcomputer — a souped up Commodore 64 — and stored on floppy disk. What had hit Jack’s desk ten days earlier was an original printout, double spaced, margins justified, spellchecked, not a single typo in all 75,000 words, a publisher’s dream.
More than once Jack had proclaimed his belief in “Tony’s book.” Now Tony had delivered and, with his enthusiastic response, Tony saw the fall round of public affairs interviews and bookstore signings, the world unfolding as it should. Not for him the trauma of Canadian authors like Ian Adams, whose last book was withdrawn from the market by one publisher, who saw 22,000 paperback copies trashed when another went into receivership after being warned off by the RCMP, and who had to admit to a Globe and Mail reporter, “I have written six books and still can’t find a publisher in this country.” Not only did Tony have a publisher, Tony had the publisher who mattered most. The Canadian Publisher.

The Canadian Publisher

The Canadian Publisher

Three days after Jack’s reply another letter arrived, from Linda McKnight, the new president of McClelland and Stewart (M&S). She was in the throes of corporate reorganization and the fall sales conference was just two weeks away. She wrote that she was asking for “a fast and thorough appraisal of the manuscript by a senior editor, with comments made by Jack and yourself in your correspondence in mind” but cautioned that “possibly the best interests of the book and you as a writer would be served by not rushing it through but taking the time required to get it in the best possible shape.”
Tony could live with that and called Linda to say, “I’m happy to leave it in your hands and I look forward to hearing from your editor.” Less than three weeks later Toivo, a senior editor, phoned. Things were moving along just as you might expect at Canada’s premier publishing house. Tony congratulated himself for his foresight in seeking Jack out seven years earlier.
On a Friday afternoon he had gone to the hotel room where The Canadian Publisher was conducting business while in The Nation’s Capital. Jack was very bullish on the prospects for “Tony’s book ” at that first meeting, and very creative. “That’s a great idea,” Jack said of the idea Tony had brought, then rapidly demolished it as unpublishable. Would never work in the Canadian market – “infinitesimal for this kind of stuff no matter how important it is” – and certainly not at this time. He had a better idea. “Write a spy thriller,” he said. “That’s where the money is.”
“A thriller?” Tony had written millions of words of journalism over twenty years for magazines, newspapers and broadcasting networks in Canada and around the world. His few early attempts at fiction were never sold and long forgotten.
“You can do it,” said Canada’s most important publisher. “Think one up and send me an outline.” On his own Tony would never have thought of attempting any such thing but Jack’s confidence that it could be so easily done bolstered him. Before the meeting was over Tony was thinking, “Why not try?”
He wrote a five page outline that involved filthy-rich Arabs, sex-drugged entertainers, power-hungry politicians and a conspiracy to control the global flow of information. It was extreme. Jack thought it was great. He asked for some sample chapters. Tony was prepared to invest a little time in a learning experience. He took a month to do some research and write 10,000 words.
“Very promising,” said Jack and passed the work along to his chief editor at the time, Anna Porter. She asked to see some more. Tony did another 10,000 words.
“It’s coming along nicely,” said Anna, who thought the sex scenes were particularly well done. “But the sample chapters are not consecutive and I’m not sure how they will be linked together. Could you fill in the front section so that I can picture it a little more clearly?”

Anna Porter

Anna Porter

Another 10,000 words would finish almost half the novel, called The Tonga Contract, after three months of work at the National Library of Canada. Bridget dropped Tony off each morning to work at the steaming potboiler all day, surrounded by scholars, students and speechwriters immersed in weighty research. She picked him up in the evening and typed his handwritten pages at night on the Xerox 800 word processor they had in the office at home. (They had acquired it to process the thousands of letters they mailed each year to invite participation in Ottawa and provincial capitals at meetings of The Response Group.)
Working with a word processor and later with a computer vastly improved the speed of revising text and reorganizing the manuscript. It was a matter of wonder to him that anyone had ever finished a book without one. Still, it had been a long time spinning out this dream that Jack had, “Tony’s book” of lurid and dangerous intrigue. There had been no talk yet of contract, let alone an advance. Two weeks after mailing the third instalment Tony trekked to Toronto to get down to business.
“I’ve read it all through again. I think we might have a bestseller,” said Anna as she and Jack and Tony met in her office. “The best market will probably be in paperback in the U.S. I’ll query some New York houses about a simultaneous deal here and there.”
“Great,” Tony said. “Can we talk about money?”
Jack said nothing. Anna said she’d think about it but first she had some reservations about the depth of descriptive detail in certain episodes and would like to see a little more evidence of ability at scene setting.
“How much evidence?”
“Ten thousand words should be ample.”
But Tony didn’t have another month to donate to the project. The mortgage needed paying and the kids needed feeding and the bank showed little confidence in his prospect of forming a troika with Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsythe. Tony decided it was the better part of prudence to cut-and-retreat to a real working world where effort was rewarded with income. The next time he tackled a book, Tony promised himself, if ever there’s a next time, which he very much doubted, he would do it differently. He put the half-done manuscript away.
It was five years later, 1985, that Tony finished The Response Group File. It wasn’t fiction but a lot closer to the idea he had originally brought to Jack. The book built on hundreds of hours of discussion with elected, appointed and self-designated leaders in Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Fredericton and Halifax. It dealt with how the rules of the Canadian game are manipulated to the advantage of very few and why everything is bigger in Canada than elsewhere. Bigger government, with 20% of the labour force in public service. Bigger big business — proportionally about four times more concentrated than in the U.S.
“This can be a very powerful book,” Jack wrote. “There is much that you say in it that is important but it needs more organization…”
That’s the beauty of having it on computer, Tony thought. Reorganization is a breeze.
“The material should be of interest to a broad constituency of Canadians.”
By this time Anna had left The Canadian Publisher to start her own publishing house.
“It also needs the attention of a meticulous editor although you write very well.”
Enter Toivo, a meticulous senior editor. Toivo talked to Jack. Toivo talked to Tony. It didn’t take long to agree that the principal focus of the book should be the extraordinary control over the lives of Canadians exercised by a few giant institutions that dominate the decision-making process. Toivo was about to leave for a brief vacation in his native New York. He would take the manuscript with him and work on it there, ready to meet with me on his return to organize the final push on a manuscript to be ready for publication in the spring.
Back from his holiday in mid-August, Toivo met Tony in his M&S office, where Jack waved in passing, then over lunch at the Four Seasons. For five hours they talked about what should stay in the book, what should be reserved for a sequel and what didn’t belong. They talked about tone, whether it was a story best told in the first person or more objectively. They talked about the title. Toivo didn’t much like The Response Group File. It didn’t mean anything if you hadn’t been there. Tony suggested First Canadian. Better, said Toivo, much better. Tony flew back from Toronto to prepare an outline showing how the manuscript would be re-organized. As soon as it was in hand, The Canadian Publisher would proceed to a contract.
“We need to talk contract,” said Toivo. “What did you have in mind?”
“It costs about five thousand a month to keep everything going.”
“How long do you think it will take?”
“Three months.”
“Fifteen thousand dollar advance against royalties?”
“That’s about right.”
“Doesn’t sound at all unreasonable,” said Toivo. “I’ll talk to Linda and Jack.”
The advance wouldn’t be a problem.
Within a week the outline was done and Tony sent along a rewritten chapter as well, a bonus made easy by computer power. Editorial meetings were held on Wednesdays. Toivo called late Wednesday afternoon. “I’m afraid I have some discouraging news.”
“I haven’t been able to get the point across to the people here. They want to see a little more reorganization.”
“How much more?”
“Two chapters.”
Tony bit his tongue. “OK I guess. With the micro I can redo two in a week or two.”
“I know you can but there’s something else.”
“I’m leaving to take a job in New York. From now on you’ll be dealing with Jan Walter, the director of publishing.”
“Has she read it?”
It was early September and Jan was the fourth handler since Jack’s warm welcome in May. Over the next ten days Tony rewrote the chapters and mailed them on a Friday. That would give Jan something to chew on. Something to think about. Something to send a cheque for.
A week later Tony called Toronto. “Your package arrived this morning,” said Jan. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it.”
Another week. The director of publishing didn’t call, didn’t respond to messages. Tony couldn’t think why — refused to think the unthinkable — until late in the last week of September as Tony sipped his first coffee of the day and unfolded the Globe. There in black and white his putative publisher was staring up at him from Page One. The Canadian Publisher, it was reported, was eyeball to eyeball with bankruptcy. He didn’t have the cash to print his fall list, let alone support development of future titles. The Ontario Development Corporation was being asked to convert $3 million in loans into shares in the company. The provincial cabinet was considering a million dollar bailout. The biggest of the Big Five banks and a group of private investors, including Jack’s more prosperous authors, were being canvassed for another million or so, to be held in preferred stock that could be converted later to common. Jack owned eighty percent of his company, which was $5 million in the hole. It was enough to drive a man to drink.
The press was complaining that he couldn’t be reached but the M&S switchboard operator put Tony’s call right through and Jack answered. His voice trembled and the tension was palpable as he spoke quickly. The bailout hadn’t been approved by cabinet yet. He expected word any minute, that afternoon. He had been too caught up with financial negotiations to follow the progress of Tony’s manuscript. He would ask Jan to call back. If Tony was coming to Toronto, Jack would like to take him to lunch.
They both understood the irony. Tony’s book featured the emergence of government as the bank of last resort for business. Jack’s story could now reasonably be added, a natural chapter eleven. The fate of Tony’s book, which by now had consumed “more than five percent of my adult life” as he said that night to Bridget, was in the balance. No bailout, no book.
Within days there was excellent news. The house that Jack built had been saved, at least for the moment, by a healthy infusion of public funds. Tony resolved to press for a conclusion. On the last Sunday of the month he bought a VIA Rail economy ticket and boarded the train for T.O., determined to wrest a favourable decision. Tony had a place to stay with a friend in the Republic of Rathnelly and would continue revising for as long as he had to wait.
Jack wasn’t in the office Monday morning. Tony left a message and another for Jan. Jack called back. He was at home, exhausted, wrung-out by the hard bargaining with banks and bureaucrats and the nerve-wracking, last-millisecond rescue. He was taking time off to recover. He asked me to call again in a week.
Then Jan called. “You’ve been reading about our troubles in the press. We’re not in a position to offer a fifteen thousand dollar advance.”
“I thought the government had solved your money problems.”
“That may clear up the debt. It hasn’t given us any more to operate with. Things are very tight. We can’t think of that kind of advance.”
“What kind of advance can you think of?”
“I’m not sure. Let me think about it. I’ll drop you a note.”
“Send it by courier,” Tony said, giving the address on Rathnelly.
Jack wasn’t in the office next Monday morning. Tony reached him at home in Kleinburg, the wealthy enclave of artists and others north of Toronto, home of the justly famed McMichael Canadian Art Collection. They agreed to meet for lunch on Friday in the Prince Arthur Room of the Park Plaza. That afternoon Jan’s letter was hand delivered. In it she noted that much of the content of First Canadian drew on the events of the past few years. She would like to see another outline that looked forward. She didn’t mention an advance.

Jan Walter

Jan Walter

On the phone she was not warm. “First we’ll need the outline,” she said, “then we might put up two thousand.”
“That’s not acceptable,” Tony said. He knew he was watching a year-and-a-half, the original work, two revisions, a hundred thousand hard words, tilt slowly into a crater.
“It’s the best we can do.”
“That’s ridiculous. Six weeks ago fifteen thousand wasn’t unreasonable.”
“The situation has changed.”
“Have you talked to Jack and Linda about this?”
“Not yet.”
“I’m having lunch with Jack on Friday,” Tony said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d talk to Linda before then and get back to me.”
“I’ll try.”
The Canadian Publisher wasn’t at the Park Plaza yet but Tony was shown to Jack’s usual table by the wall-length windows where he would be framed and highly visible to everyone in the restaurant as well as passersby on Prince Arthur Street. He loped in just a few minutes later, loudly greeting Jack Godfrey and Irving Grundman, who were seated together quietly conspiring. Loud gossip at the next table quickly refocused to the M&S bailout.
The waiter brought Jack a martini. “I’ve been taking too many of these in the last while,” he said. “I’m going to stop drinking on Sunday, for good.” He was 53 years of age and it didn’t sound as if he meant it, more as if he often quit for good on Sundays.
Tony said he had stopped two years before. We are all alcoholic in our family, or nearly all, he confided. Alcoholism is genetic, at least in part, Tony said. It certainly runs in families.
“My father never took a drink in his life,” said Jack.
“That doesn’t mean much,” Tony said. “If you never drink you never know whether you’re alcoholic or not. The only way you find out is by taking to drink.”
“I used to give it up for a month twice a year,” said Jack. “But now I find it takes most of the month just to get feeling well again.”
Jack had Jan’s letter with him. “I’m not really sure what this means,” he said. “Tell me what’s going on.” Tony told him about the meetings, the correspondence, the calls back and forth, the revisions, the outlines, the fresh thoughts, the most recent offer.
“I’ve been out of touch with all of this,” said Jack, “totally preoccupied with the financial thing. And I have to be very careful about intervening because I’ve given Linda full authority. I still own eighty percent but if I swing my weight I’ll undermine her.
“On the other hand,” he went on, “Linda and Jan don’t know the details of the new deal yet. I’ve been at Kleinburg since it closed. This meeting is the first I’ve had in two weeks. Also, we have a new director of sales who has just joined the company. I know that he hasn’t had a chance to look at this yet. I’ll tell you what, we’ll call them after lunch. One or the other will be there. You know I’ve always believed in Tony’s book. I’m sure we can work something out.”
Tony felt better than he had in a long while. The waiter brought Jack another martini. They ordered lunch.
As they ate Jack spoke about the bailout. The crisis had erupted suddenly when book sales unexpectedly took a nosedive. But negotiations had actually started two years earlier when Jack went to Bill Davis, the Ontario premier, with a proposition. The government already had a large stake in the company through loans advanced or guaranteed at the bank.
“If anything happens to me,” Jack said to the premier, “your government will have to deal with my wife and kids. If you should leave office, I don’t know who I’ll have to contend with. We should get the financing straightened away. How about swapping debt for equity?”
The premier agreed to talk but negotiations dragged on, with government, with investors, with banks, over months and months and a year, then two. The biggest barrier was the Big Five bank which held The Canadian Publisher’s account. Its participation in any refinancing was essential. But these were hardnosed banking days, so flinty that the prime minister himself had been moved to entreat banks to “take a chance on Canadians.” Jack’s business was not made of the bricks and mortar that gave most comfort to bankers. It seemed to rely more on creative hunch than product planning and development. He couldn’t persuade the bank’s account managers and he couldn’t circumvent them.
Then he got lucky. At a formal dinner in Montreal he ran into the bank’s chief executive. “You’re impossible to reach,” Jack said. “I’ve called a dozen times.”
“You need a code word to be sure to get through,” the chairman said. “If it’s really important, use this.” He gave Jack the code.
When Jack called the next month it was really important. The bank’s investment committee had just turned down The Canadian Publisher’s restructuring proposal, queering the rescue package carefully crafted with the province over two years. The CEO was away on vacation. Jack said the code word.
The CEO called the next day, not happy. “What the hell do you mean coming after me on my holidays? I can’t do anything about this. The decision’s been made.”
Jack paddled desperately. He said the decision had been made on numbers only. He said it was more than a numbers decision. It was public relations. The Canadian Publisher’s company was an important name in Canada. It wouldn’t look good for the bank to send it over the falls just as the government was tossing a lifeline. It wasn’t the strongest argument to give a banker but Jack asked the CEO at least to review the file.
“I haven’t got the file.”
Jack called the bank, used the code word again, and asked that the file be sent.
A day later the CEO reversed the committee but pointedly told Jack never again to interrupt his vacation. Jack didn’t know if the code word had ever been changed. He hadn’t called since.
When he went to pay for lunch Jack discovered his Diner’s Club card was missing. He signed the cheque then led me to the row of pay phones in the mini-lobby outside the dining room in the northeast corner of the hotel. Tony suddenly felt that this was a well practiced routine, the lunch, the call, the talk of a deal, all very agreeable. Pre-arranged. The way to do business as publishing should be done, creatively, would naturally be to do it when the office was supposed to be closed, from a pay phone at the Park Plaza. Jack dropped a quarter and waited an interminable minute before anyone answered. It was his daughter. She went to get Jan while Jack explained that the office was actually closed on Friday afternoons, but the director of publishing would be there. After a long wait Jan took the line. Jack said he was with me, we had talked at lunch. He passed the phone and immediately reached for another to try to locate his missing Diner’s card.
Jan said she had talked to Linda. They still wanted a new outline. If they liked what they saw two thousand dollars was the best offer they could make. No guarantees. For the first three chapters following the outline, they might advance another three thousand. She stressed “might”. Tony said he would give his answer to Jack.
“What do you think Jack?”
“I think we’ve made an offer you can’t accept. You can’t afford to.”
“That’s what I think too.”
The eighty percent shareholder explained once more why he couldn’t intervene in publishing decisions, even though he’d like to in this case. “If I do it once it will never stop. But I’ll be talking to Linda on the weekend. There are developments on the financing side that she’s not aware of. Leave it with me.” Tony had been two weeks in Toronto. He hated to leave without resolving the question. But he agreed to wait for a call on Monday.
Jack couldn’t budge them, he said when he called. There were now so many revisions and versions of who said what to whom and when, that the early spontaneous commitment had dissipated. It wasn’t that they didn’t want Tony’s book. Jack still believed in it. But he didn’t run the company any longer. He just owned it.
Tony asked Jan whether she had read the original manuscript.
“No. By the time I got involved we were looking for a new book.”
“I hope you find one,” Tony said. “Please send mine back.”
When it arrived by courier the next day he put it, unopened, on the shelf next to the dual disk drive that was the heart of the microcomputer’s memory. Tony recalled an incident from the week before at the Park Plaza. He had with him a copy of a best-selling biography published by M&S. Noticing it Jack said, “That one made a lot of money.”
Tony turned the cover to show the author’s dedication. “With affection and gratitude for my friend and mentor, Jack McClelland, the Canadian Publisher.”
“Really,” said Jack. “I never noticed that.”

Northern summer: endless days, riotous nature

Caribou crossing near Old Crow, the Yukon's most isolated village.

Caribou crossing near Old Crow, the Yukon’s most isolated village.

Summer in the North is short and sweet with riotous nature in bloom and joyous people at play through endless days. I get to Yellowknife now and then. Pammy has a great4granddaughter there, Danica, and her partner Jerry. A few years back Danica’s sister, Kerrin, was the mukluk annie running the Wildcat Cafe, the original watering hole for pioneer arctic pilots that was replicated and featured at Canada’s busiest museum, Civilization, when we had one (it has since been reformatted and renamed the Museum of History). Kerrin is in Umiujaq now, with her Inuk foster daughter, teaching school. But that’s another story. This one is about summer in the territories.
Yellowknife, beside the deepest lake in North America, Great Slave, built on a billion-year old geological thrust of rock and gold and diamonds, is the capital of the Northwest Territories and centre of summerland in the North. Not the geographic centre but the primary jumping off point for tourists and adventurers. This trip I was hanging mostly in town, where the start of the season is particularly vibrant. When I mentioned the visit to my friend Barbara, she posted, “I envy your opportunity to be in Yellowknife for the summer solstice! I have fond memories of many a summer solstice party in Old Town.”
Old Town. Within an hour of sighting the Giant Mine headframe that marks the airway in, I was on Ragged Ass Road heading there again. There’s a patio on the Wildcat. That’s new. But it’s been more than a few years since I’ve been back. On the whole the Knife looks much the same. Hard for much that’s new to take root here. It’s a government town. But it’s on the frontier, as far north as you can get to easily from most places in Canada. Easier from Ottawa than most and easier now than before.
One thing new in town is the Northern Lighthouse Project, five beacons strategically located and wired to flash colours on atmospheric conditions. Four feet tall and styled “Japanese lanterns” by the locals, they glow red for a possible geomagnetic storm that carries the likelihood of the fabulous northern lights, seen most vividly in Yellowknife and the primary draw for tens of thousands of Asian tourists who come to town to gaze in awe at the splendour of aurora borealis. Not in summer though. If you live here you might see an aurora or two around midnight in summer, but it’s not prime time for these spectaculars. That would be in the dark of winter. Seasons in the North are defined by light. It’s light for 18-20 hours a day in summer; dark for the same time in winter. The balance favours the summer because Yellowknife has more sunshine each year than anywhere in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritimes.
Summer in the territories is all about fishing, paddling, photography, bird watching, fly-in trips to remote camps. The adventurous canoe trekkers who brave the South Nahanni River gather and outfit in Yellowknife for the flight to the land of the Dene at Virginia Falls. Over the years, quite a few people have perished in these hazardous waters, named a national park after Pierre Trudeau first saw and mastered them in 1972. My niece survived an attenuated version forty years later, so it’s no longer death-defying, and the Nahanni is just one of ten great rivers that host expeditions up to 28 days long. Of course, there are many less daunting canoe routes out of the Knife – from a one-day trip to Tartan Rapids on the Yellowknife River to a five day wilderness trip for advanced paddlers. Five national parks and 34 territorial parks are accessible by road. It’s wild, wonderful, unspoiled and largely uninhabited, with unique sounds and sights of pristine land, water and vegetation as well as the birds and beasts that thrive there. Ravens and ptarmigan are indigenous favourites but there are more than 200 species of birds in the area and hundreds of thousands waterfowl breed and feed in the Slave River delta. Scheduled tours leave the Knife to encounter the great caribou migration in mid-summer or to mingle with muskox anytime in the barrenlands of the far North. These jaunts cost several thousand dollars a head. On the other hand, you could meet a herd of bison for free on just about any road or trail.
Old Town is the hub of city culture, “where Yellowknife’s gold mining past meets its creative present,” as the brochure says. Crafts from weaving and Inuit carving to glass etching and fur products rub shoulders with B&Bs, cafés, boat launching and the seaplane port. There’s probably no better locale in the country to find traditionally tanned moose and caribou hides, beaded, fur-trimmed and fashioned into gloves, dresses and moccasins. Many young men wear embroidered jackets. It’s a young person’s town, average age 32.
If you’re here for the first time and want a quick fix on the people, wildlife and geology of the place, you’ll find it all laid out in story and artifact at the Northern Heritage Centre. Five minutes stroll away and just down the hill if you stay at the historic Explorer, a hotel my wife and I once had entirely to ourselves when the staff took a surprise Christmas break, is the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre, where can be found everything there is to know about goings-on in town and where bicycles are on loan (no charge) for day trips.
Every month has its festivals, races, tournaments. The go-to event each week in summer is the outdoor food and crafts market on Tuesday evenings at the civic plaza in front of City Hall. It starts with a gong at 17:30 sharp and runs officially until 19:00, though the day I was there the chicken byriani was all gone by 17:45.
There’s much more to say and books have been written about Canada’s North and why Canadians should know it better. One reason more of us don’t know it better is because it hasn’t been easy to get to. For all the time we’ve had family up there, about a quarter century, the way in was through Edmonton. Fly to Edmonton by Air Canada or Westjet, sit for hours around the airport, then on to Yellowknife, and the same way back. It wasn’t convenient and it wasn’t cheap.
Now along comes a brash alternative. Air North has been in business for 37 years from its base in Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon Territory. For new Canadians and those who haven’t learned their geography, the Yukon is about one-third the size and immediately to the west of the Northwest Territories, of which I write, and much the same things can be said about it. Air North connects Whitehorse with turboprops to towns throughout the Yukon and Northwest Territories and, with Boeing 737s configured for plush single-class seating, to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton as well as Yellowknife and Ottawa. It’s the only scheduled airline whose founder and CEO, Joe Sparling, is also an active 737 Captain.
For the first time this summer, Air North is running a new route, non-stop and direct from Ottawa to Yellowknife. It doesn’t go often, just twice a week on Monday and Friday. But it gets there in half the time (four hours) and appears to cost about 20% less, insofar as one can decipher air fares. The flight jumps on from Yellowknife to Whitehorse, a first for that link as well. Return flights to Ottawa run on Sundays and Thursdays.
There have always been particularly tight ties between the territories and the nation’s capital. For most of the 20th century, until Yellowknife got the job in 1967, the Northwest Territories was governed directly from Ottawa. There are more Inuit living here than in any other southern city (every place is south seen from the North) and more in town temporarily for medical or other assistance, or for schooling. It’s a link we should be glad to strengthen, something they feel even more strongly in the North.
There are no roads into Old Crow 500 miles due north of Whitehorse near the Alaska border. You can get there by boat in summer or snowmobile in winter but by air is the only sure way year round. The Vuntut Gwitchin who live there, a community of about 300 people, think isolation is a blessing because it lets them preserve their language and traditional pursuits such as fishing, trapping and particularly hunting the massive Porcupine caribou herd, a hunt they have mastered over centuries. Nevertheless, connecting with the rest of us has always been high on the Vuntut Gwitchin agenda. After concluding a land claim deal with the feds in 1995, they decided to buy an airline. A share of Air North was available because Captain Sparling wanted funds in order to buy 737s to expand service between Whitehorse and Vancouver and intitiate it to points east, first to Alberta in 2002, now Ontario.
At least in part, Ottawa’s improved link to the North comes via investment by this tiny First Nation. And more, if the bright night of Yellowknife is too much metropolis for the North you envision, and Whitehorse even more so, know that Old Crow near the top of the land is just a flip away, with flights in and a warm welcome every day but Saturday.

Food and learning under northern lights, Part 4/4 True North

Kerrin's ice chips
Where is North?
It’s a matter of direction and degree. The north pole at 90⁰N (north latitude) is as far north as it gets on earth. The treeline, beyond which trees don’t grow because of ice, snow and cold, is at 50⁰N in some places. Above 60⁰ the land is pretty well all frozen all winter long.
To Americans, Canada is a northern country because it runs north of the United States. The U.S.-Canada border dipsy-doodles around 49⁰N and below (Toronto is at 43⁰N, Montreal and Ottawa at 45⁰N). Most Canadians by far — more than nine out of ten — live within 100 miles or about 1.5⁰ of this border. We hug our big neighbour very tightly.
Canadians are a northern people we say, guardians of the True North our anthem sings. We’re proud that the tiny hamlet of Alert at 82⁰N is the place furthest north on the planet that is continuously occupied. Alert’s motto, Inuit Nunangata, means beyond the land of the Inuit. The permanent population of Alert is zero but there are always a few dozen people there on a rotating basis because it’s a weather and military signals monitoring station and a short-term destination for northern researchers. Umiujaq, where Pammy’s great4granddaughter Kerrin and her Inuk foster daughter live, is just above 56⁰N.
But the real truth is we’re a northern people in name only.
KangViewLights-217X167Our North measures 4,650,000 square kilometers (46% of Canada) and has a total population of 110,000, more than half aboriginal (about 50,000 Inuit and 15,000 other indigenous peoples, including Dene, Metis and Cree.)
The North for the United States, Alaska, is the largest state in the union by area, with a population of about 750,000, just 15% aboriginal, largely employed in gas, oil and government, including the U.S. military. Disconnected from the lower 48, Alaska lies mainly between 60⁰N and 70⁰N.
I won’t belabour Helsinki, 1.5 million people at 60⁰N (all of Finland’s 5.5 million people live between 60⁰N and 70⁰N), Stockholm with 1.3 million and Oslo with 1.4 million at 59⁰N, Narvik, Norway with 19,000 people just above 68⁰N.
But the real rival claimant to northern pre-eminence is Siberia. At just over 13 million km2, approximately 10% of earth’s total land area, Siberia is 77% of Russia, with a population of 40 million. Very few (~6%) are indigenous, although some Mongols and Tatars were Siberian before the onslaught of Russia started in the 16th century. There are big cities in Siberia. The regional admin centre Novosibirsk is at 55⁰N with more than 1.5 million inhabitants.The longest railway in the world is the Trans-Siberian.
Kerrin's P-270X360Canada has no cities of any size above 55⁰N. Edmonton, with a population of 800,000, is at 53⁰N. North of Edmonton, stretching east and west from the Pacific to Hudson Bay, you’d have to look hard to find a total of 250,000 people, whites and Inuit together. About a quarter of these are at Fort McMurray (56⁰N) stripping the Alberta tar sands. Another 60,000 are pushing paper and serving drinks to tourists in the territorial capitals of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories (60⁰N), Whitehorse in the Yukon (60⁰N) and Iqaluit in Nunavut (63⁰N). The rest are dispersed through dozens of settlements and traditional villages, most with fewer than a thousand inhabitants. Nunavut, carved from the Northwest Territories in 1999, has the most land and the least people of all 13 provinces and territories. In an area larger than all but the biggest dozen of the 249 countries in the world, including Canada itself, there are just 32,000 people, more than four out of five of them Inuit. There were 445 people in Umiujaq when Kerrin arrived in 2011. Umiujaq is one of 14 villages in Quebec’s northern territory of Nunavik, with a total population of just over 12,000 of whom 90% are Inuit. Nunavik is tiny beside Nunavut but larger than California.
KangView36-149X510On the other side of the pole a different North is found. Moscow, the capital of all the Russians, sits at 55⁰N latitude, with a population around 11.5 million. St. Petersburg, with five million people, is at 60⁰N. More than half the area of Russia is still further North, with cities such as Archangel, with 350,000 people at 64⁰N, Murmansk, with a population of 319,000 at 68⁰N, Vorcuta, with 75,000 Vorcutans at 67⁰N and Norilsk, 165,000 at 69⁰N. Canada has only three hamlets at this latitude, with a total of 1,182 mainly Inuit residents.
There’s a lot more experience of the North around the world than Canada is any part of. Canada’s North is lightly occupied, scarcely developed and virtually unknown to Canadians themselves, Inuit excepted. We just have lucked into a huge slice of the planet that the rest of the world hasn’t had any use for until now.
And there’s the rub. Now the North is coming into its own. Now it is the focal point and early warning beacon for global climate change. Now international capital and technology are mobilizing to extract its almost limitless resources. Now shippers see an ice free passage open longer each year in the northwest, with its promise of faster times and lower costs to move commodities between Asia and Europe. The benign neglect that has kept the pride of Canada a private preserve won’t do for tomorrow. It is time to re-assess our interests in the North and the rights of its original people, the Inuit.
The Throne Speech of October 2013 boasted that, “Canada’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest latitudes. They are the dreams of a North confident and prosperous.”
Do we really have any right to such a claim? Not judged by our accomplishments. A current prime example is the final extension of the Dempster Highway, which starts near Dawson in the Yukon and runs 736 km across the Arctic Circle to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. This was part of Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s northern vision. He got the all-season road underway in 1958 when he was in office but high cost and disputes between Ottawa and the Yukon made it very much a start-and-stop project that took 21 years to get to Inuvik. The vision dimmed as Dief did. It wasn’t until 2013 that construction started on the 140 km link from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, a project half a century in the talking stage.
That’s the big one. But “building the Canadian North is an essential part of building our nation” are the first words of Canada’s northern strategy, introduced by the present government of Canada in 2007, so of course there are some other initiatives.
Rangers are a particular pride of the Inuit community. Some of the strongest young leaders become Rangers. There are 5,000 Rangers. Note the number. It’s about 10% of the Inuit population. Not entirely a coincidence. Rangers are important to the Inuit and the hundreds of communities through the North where they live. They are role models and their patrols through remote communities and areas serve a number of ends. Sovereignty is among them, but search and rescue or emergency assistance are more practical and better appreciated. They have no real military role. Ten days of orientation is all that’s required to train new Rangers. They are each employed a few weeks each year. Their 60-year old Lee Enfield rifles were supposed to be replaced last fall (2013), but that upgrade has been postponed by at least three years.
Search as hard as you can, you won’t find as much as $250 million spread over four or five years as evidence of this “building our nation”, money to be spent on everything from housing to adult education to species protection and harbour and hydro developments. To put that amount in context, it’s what was spent recently to renovate the Canadian Museum of Nature on the street where I live in Ottawa.
IMGP3051-300X144We have talking the talk down perfectly, despite the woeful record. “The Government of Canada has made the North one of its top priorities. Through our northern strategy, we are working to ensure Canada’s North achieves its full potential as a healthy, prosperous region within a strong and sovereign Canada.”
In response to this persiflage, Yevgeny Lukyanov, the deputy secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, explains what’s meant by walking the walk. “For the Russian economy, there are no alternatives for the majority of resources extracted in the North,” he says. “These resources provide Russia’s strategic security and will be a determining factor in lifting and modernizing its economy.” The Russian Arctic produces 11% of the country’s GNP, 93% of its natural gas and 75% of its oil. A good deal of the infrastructure required to further exploit Russia’s Arctic is already in place. Russia is actively promoting its northern sea route as an alternative to the fabled but elusive Northwest Passage.
“For the majority of Russians, the Arctic and everything connected to it is not an abstract concept or romantic exotica, but a practical and vitally important reality,” says Lukyanov. For most Canadians it is precisely the reverse, a romantic vision, a place dreamed of but difficult to get to. Most but not all. For the Canadian Inuit the North indeed is vitally important. This is their home as it has been through millennia. These magnificent people alone have the skill of survival at the frozen edge of existence. On their strength Canada must rely through the difficult northern century ahead.
But let’s be serious. There are 50,000 Inuit in a land bigger than India, which has 1.2 billion people. Canada’s North doesn’t come near India. But it touches two of the world’s most aggressive superpowers, both with northern investments that far outstrip Canada’s and populations above 60⁰N trained in the industrial economy that outnumber our Inuit vanguard by roughly 700 to 1.
Got to find a way to better these odds for Kerrin’s Inuk foster daughter. And soon.
The following links will bring you to Part 1 of this series, Yellowknife, Part 2, Kangiqsualujjuaq, and Part 3, Umiujaq

Food and learning under northern lights, Part 3/4 Umiujaq

Kerrin's vista
Foster is a family name. Pammy’s great2granddaughter Eunice, who was Kerrin’s grandmother, was born a Foster. When Kerrin perceived the desperate need in the Inuit community, it became a personal commitment. Her foster daughter is Inuk. Right now (2013) she has just turned eleven and is living in Umiujaq, near the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, where Kerrin teaches at Umiujaq-Kiluutaq School. At the mid-point of the 21st century she’ll be in her forties and part of the generation in charge of Canada’s North.
Canada is a big, big country, bigger than any other except Russia, with which it shares a northern border. But more than nine out of ten Canadians live in a narrow strip of land a hundred miles deep, stretching 3,000 miles east to west along Canada’s southern border with the United States. The rest of the great sweep of the country to the far, far North is largely unpopulated. Yet it is a bank of wealth beyond any other known on earth, bursting with mineral deposits and awash in hydrocarbons.
Alberta oilsands, Saskatchewan potash fields, Quebec hydro power, Ontario nickel, zinc and uranium are the low hanging globes of mega opportunity. There’s more, much more, in the far North. And there’s the fabled Northwest Passage, sought for centuries by adventurers, explorers and builders of fortune, a way to cut transit times and costs from Europe to Asia in half. As the Passage becomes navigable the world will be calling, with all its flotsam and jetsam and spillage and naval muscle. At Canada’s Northern extremity one of the world’s busiest shipping routes is about to open. Hadn’t thought much about that.
It’s the task of Kerrin’s foster daughter to think about it more than the rest of us. She’s one of “the people” as they call themselves in this land of ice and snow and giant floes and bears and whales and gas and oil. She’s young just now. But as an adult she’ll find herself at a critical intersection of global warming and commercial globalization, the two most confounding revolutions of our time. She has roots in America deeper than most others. How will she and her Inuit cousins fare through the cataclysmic years on the horizon?
She already exceeds all expectations of birth and survival as the product of an inconceivably complex and divergent ancestry, spiraling and branching back into primordial beginnings. Think of the cruelties of accident, chance and predation that beset the newborn, not least in the unforgiving Northern tundra. Had her ancestors back over countless generations not been one hundred percent successful at procreating, she could not exist. We are all of us, of course, next to impossible beings who have bested astronomical odds to be here, but she even more so. She’s one who knows the North, gigantic and unforgiving, beautiful and cruel. And she’s Canadian. That’s a combo as cool as it gets this century.
Kerrin's Window Ulus2-384X161Canada’s North. It trips from the pen. But it’s been the tripping up of many, from Hudson, Franklin and Amundsen, who perished there, to unwary retailers of the 20th century who first offered free shipping “anywhere in North America.” Orders from the North for tinned goods and other heavy items by the case piled up. Shipping to the North is a big charge. There are no free deliveries any more to the North of North America.
Umiujaq, population 444, is a modern Inuit village. It was built and supplied within the last half century by order of the southern qallunaat (white guys, outsiders). It’s not alone in this respect. Many Inuk have been moved from traditional lands for reasons ranging from geopolitics (send some of them up North to bolster Canadian claims to sovereignty) to resource development (move them out of the way so we can get at the minerals and hydrocarbons we want). Umiujaq was one outcome of the massive James Bay hydro-electric project. It cost more than $20 billion to build, covers an area larger than the Maritime provinces and provides more than half of Hydro Québec’s output.
Part of a deal to relocate an Inuit community away from the Cree-dominated region. Umijuaq is 160 miles North of James Bay, where fish and game are not threatened by hydro development and they can preserve their traditional lifestyle. The traditional Inuit lifestyle sees most families in the North draw their livelihood from a combination of hunting, gathering and fishing, the sale of handmade commodities and a very modicum of wages. There are some local, small business opportunities for employment, some public service jobs, but very few or none in the smallest communities. Individuals and families may engage in all of these activities, making the best use of the opportunities available to them. Virtually no one lives by traditional pursuits alone, but few Aboriginal people in the North live entirely by wages, and there is little prospect that everyone will be able to do so in the future.
Country food harvesting and sharing have very high cultural value in Inuit communities. Social relations around producing food for the traditional economy are critical to the functioning of that economy, and the sharing of food through the extended family and community reinforce those relations.
Harvested country food is often cheaper and healthier than store-bought alternatives. It’s richer in protein and has lower fat content, particularly saturated fat, than meats imported from southern Canada. This applies not only to sea mammals and fish but also to beaver, muskrat, polar bear and caribou. Seal meat consists of 32% protein and two per cent fat, and caribou is 27% protein and one per cent fat. In contrast, beef is 17% protein and as much as 23% fat.
Construction of Umiujaq was completed in 1986 and the settlement took life. Of course in 1986 few people were talking about climate change. There wasn’t a lot of evidence of climate change. The ice wasn’t melting any faster than it usually did, or if it was who knew? The Northwest Passage was as impassable as always. Fish and game remained abundant. That was then.
Now it’s clear that climate change is causing the Arctic to warm twice as quickly as the rest of the world, trending toward an average annual increase of between six and 12 degrees celsius by the end of the century. One result already is a dramatic loss of the sea ice that reflects sunlight and helps cool the planet. Between March and September of 2012, 4.57 million square miles of Arctic sea ice melted. This area of melt is larger than the size of the continental United States. Another threat lies beneath the Northern permafrost, where massive amounts of methane are stored naturally. If this ever escapes it will add cataclysmically to global warming.
Sled Dog Pups245X184But nowhere is it more distressing than at home where interactions between environment, animals and people are all changing. We know that thin ice threatens hunters and fishers in search of marine life. It’s even more precarious when local knowledge is no longer as useful. Among animals, the narwhal, polar bear and walrus are susceptible and warmth could drive some species so far North that they’ll be extinguished.
But warming will also bring economic opportunity for the North, say the optimists. In May 2013 the U.S. Coast Guard and the White House released separate but complementary strategies for the Arctic region. As the Coast Guard puts it, “Sovereign and industrial activities will continue to evolve around access to an abundance of resources. These resources include an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil (90 billion barrels), 30 percent of undiscovered gas, and some one trillion dollars worth of minerals including gold, zinc, palladium, nickel, platinum, lead, rare-earth minerals, and gem-quality diamonds.”
Climate change has caused permanent ice cover to shrink to record low levels and, as the Coast Guard says, “environmental changes and economic incentives are driving a transformation of maritime activity.” Ships in Arctic waters have traditionally been there for exploration or scientific research. The new traffic is aimed at resource extraction, commercial shipments, tourism and many other pursuits. Arctic adventure and eco-tourism often involve transportation by vessel due to limited road and air infrastructure.
Kerrin's window inukshuk-278X336Economic opportunity is the primary driver for increasing human activity in the Arctic. An oceanic trade route across the Arctic from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific would represent a transformational shift in maritime trade, akin to the opening of the Panama Canal in the early 20th century. An Arctic marine highway would cut existing oceanic transit between Europe and Asia by an estimated 5,000 nautical miles. While a shipping route through Canada’s Northwest Passage has yet to prove economically viable (although transits of the passage by small craft are increasing), trans-Arctic traffic through Russia’s Northeast Passage is rising swiftly. In 2012, over one million tons of cargo transited this Northern Sea route, 46 vessels compared to 34 in 2011, and four in 2010. The Russians charge $400,000 per ship to sail along this route, for which they supply a nuclear-powered icebreaker when needed.
The Northwest Passage can’t be found on a map because the Passage is not a defined waterway but a route through various sounds, straits, bays, inlets and gulfs. Most voyages through the ice fields in the past 400 years or so have been by icebreakers. A Canadian icebreaker escorted an American oil tanker through in 1969. There was a flurry of concern about Canada’s Arctic sovereignty in 1985 when the U.S. Coast Guard sent the Polar Sea through without a “by your leave.” Since then Canada has waved U.S. ships through on a case-by-case basis, but the sovereignty question has been left in abeyance. Canada claims the Northwest Passage as internal. The U.S. and Russia believe it is international water. Others may take a stand in the matter anytime, a stand we won’t like, because the status of the Northwest Passage is going to become as changeable as the weather or, to be more exact, is going to change because of the weather. But like the weather, nobody knows for sure. The state of the science is imprecise. Speculation about what could happen ranges from one month of open water in 50 years to four months in 10 years.
But what is certain is that impenetrable pack ice will be free flowing waters for part of each year in the foreseeable future. An open Northwest Passage combined with the Northeast Passage across the top of Russia would encourage routine commercial shipping, spawn new fisheries and lead to smuggling, piracy, oil spills and all the usual problems of marine traffic that the nation with sovereign jurisdiction can expect to confront.
K. and Molly 256X144As the U.S. Coast Guard puts it, “The increase in vessel traffic presents challenges to sovereign capacity for incident prevention and response in the Arctic. A major casualty on board a large modern cruise ship in the Arctic would pose a significant challenge to responders and stress any one nation’s capacity for mass rescue at sea. If an oil tanker were to spill its cargo in Arctic waters the potential impact to the marine environment would be profound, and removing the oil would be challenging.”
If Canada is that sovereign nation, how would we do it, particularly if our jurisdiction should be challenged? Who knows? Through all the years since Canada acquired the Northwest Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870 until we bought 275,000 sq. km. further North from Norway in 1930 for $67,000, up until right now, our commitment to Arctic development and security has been more rhetoric than reality. Canadian forces in the North are members of the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. They are part-time Inuit reservists who wear bright red sweatshirts and red ball caps or toques, get paid for up to 12 days on guard a year (more if they’re called for emergencies such as search-and-rescue) and are armed with a #4 Lee-Enfield rifle, last manufactured in 1955. They are dedicated and watchful but they won’t enforce Canadian maritime law against tankers.
As radical changes in climate and culture remake the North for the new millennium, the Inuit taught byPammy’s great4granddaughter Kerrin and her Inuk foster daughter are in the front line. But the responsible authority with all the clout is far away. Ottawa ranks among the coldest capitals on earth but it’s nowhere near what Canadians know as the North. It’s not near — it’s far away physically, culturally, environmentally, culturally — but it’s in charge.
The following links will bring you to Part 1 of this series, Yellowknife, Part 2, Kangiqsualujjuaq.and Part 4, True North


There is no country in the world that is not the motherland of some Canadians.

We are living the golden age. This is it. There has never been a better time to be alive, certainly in Canada. That’s the good news. The bad is it won’t be getting better. Our golden age will be remembered a thousand years from now as the age that squandered the planet’s future. We spent it all for ourselves and left garbage for our great grandchildren. Unless . . .

I stopped playing tennis after seventy years, driving after sixty. Habits of a lifetime are easy enough to give up. It’s all in the timing, like so much of life.

When you know your people have lived in this special place since the beginning of time it gives you a unique perspective. (Said of the Gwi’chin of Old Crow, the caribou people)

There’s just as much evidence for life after death as there is for no life after death. There’s zero evidence for either.

In the industrial age we had the haves and the have-nots. In the communications age we have the knows and the know-nots. (After Frank Ogden)

Family includes those you would never put up with if they were not family.

Empowerment of women solves a lot. (After Christopher Hitchens)

Inuit are ice-age survivors.

It is of equal value to the community overall that one has a million dollars as that a million have a dollar more. Each of those with a dollar will spend it. The one with a million will build.

In the capital economy the mint packages and distributes new currency. The mint of the knowledge economy packages and communicates new ideas.

Attention is the currency of the information age.

Chief enablers of alcoholics are usually those who love them most — family and friends.

Most people don’t read any more than they have to.

It’s never too soon to get your head in the cloud.

It takes a lifetime to break free of the zeitgeist you’re born into. For some it takes dying.

In poker the hand that needs no position is a good hand. The life that needs no position is a good life.

I’ve written too much because I’ve lived so long.

The situation you’d never be caught dead in is more than likely the one you’ll be in when you die.

Men need Mary. Men need Magdalene. Happy is he who discovers both-in-one.

All we know about what might have been is that it wouldn’t have been what is.

What a shame if after all none of it means anything.

Milestones is McDonald’s for the expense account crowd.

My first European-born ancestor to come to Canada, who was French, came to kill Indians. He was killed by my first Canadian-born ancestor, who was Indian.

Communication + unity = Community

We receive the spark of life from forebears and pass it to progeny.

Family includes those you would never put up with if they were not family.

I’m a believer, just not a true believer.

All religions are cults but some are more cultured than others.

I may not be more creative under the influence of mind altering substances but sometimes I feel more creative and that counts for something.

Journalism is a public good and should be supported from the public purse. A City Editor on the provincial payroll would be a good start.

The internet is the start of the noosphere.

What a privilege it is to exist.

To be, to exist at all, is either impossible or inevitable.

If you must choose, it’s better to love than be loved. (After “Pat” Patterson)

Everybody is different but every life is the same. (After Placide Gaboury)

There’s no beginning, middle and end to film. Just a beginning and a budget.

You stop when you have to. If you don’t stop then you’re dead, sometimes living dead.

How long can I be this lucky?

Once in every century there’s a palindromic year. Once in each millennium now we cross a lengthy palindromic bridge. Is it just magical thinking to invest significance in these dates? The turn of the third millennium saw the re-awakening of Asian giants that had been suppressed for centuries, unparalleled prosperity throughout American and European democracies, the advance of technology from fast flowing to torrential and, probably most important, the inexorable advance of women toward gender equality.

You can preserve yourself a little bit longer by depriving yourself a little bit more.

Life gives no choice but to take each day as it comes. Today I am heartbroke. Tomorrow my heart will sing.

Recuperative power so good there’s never any sign the day after of how you were the night before.

The A-List of people who don’t do what they say they will is composed of alzheimers patients, adolescents and alcoholics.

There are certain civilities it does well to attend to even when you’re in the middle of a difficult situation.

I often don’t do what I should and I often do what I shouldn’t but usually I do what I must.

If you’re well when you die you don’t know about it. You feel fine. Then you’re dead. If you’re sick enough you want to die. It’s a relief. The trouble with dying is all about thinking and worrying about it. This is the fault of the medical profession. Instead of telling people that they’re going to die because everyone dies, here’s a pill and call if the fever rises, doctors tell them they have something terminal so they can worry themselves to death even before dying from what they’ve got.

I’ve learned what I’m doing wrong but I haven’t learned how to stop doing it.

The ugliest is as hard to pick as the most beautiful.

For everyone who does what he wants and damn the cost, others pay the price.

Alice Munro and country music come as close to the truth of life as anything I know.

Life and labour will evolve to the stage when work consists of getting up in the morning to contemplate. (After Paul Buckley)

The essence of wisdom is mulled experience, perceptions turned round in the mind and seen from all sides. The more you see, the more is revealed, the more understood. This explains why the old are wiser. They have more to mull upon. They have more time. There is nothing more important for the old to do than reflect upon their past.

Journalists of the twenty first century face extinction unless they professionalize.

Journalism must be recognized and supported as a public good.

Poker leaves one so accustomed to cruel loss that it no longer hurts.

Nobody wins in life who hasn’t got used to losing.

In a near-death struggle you must focus.

On the whole I’ve received more than I’ve given. That wasn’t my aim. It just sort of worked out that way.

She sometimes has to get quite rough to turn men off, so powerfully does she turn them on.

Writers live twice. Once when it happens. Then when they write about it, cleaning it up a bit, adding a few imaginative wish-it-had-been-so’s. Writing is a great experience extender.

Some people don’t know what love is. Some do and are afraid. The rest of us are electrified whenever it strikes.

Some people want to go out in style. I don’t care a damn for style. Let me go out in love.

At 25 people know most about the future, at 35 they are very much in the present, while from 45 on most are cuffed to the past and need to be yanked hard if any change is to happen.

Half the men a woman wants to attract are otherwise engaged or impervious to her particular charms and the half she does attract are mostly a rotten fit.

“Look no hands,” the boys show off but the girls look away.

My religion is my life, and vice versa. The way I eat, sit, talk, behave. That is my religion.

The quieter you become the more you can hear.

Anger defeats one in battle and in life.

Live long, die healthy, that’s the ticket.

The meaning of life is consciousness.

The purpose of life is to pass it on.

To be human needs constant revision, like editing a text.

Cultivating the mind is as necessary as feeding the body.

Food and learning under northern lights, Part 2/4 Kangiqsualujjuaq

Ulluriaq School605X381It was good to visit with family in the south for a while. Ottawa is south for anyone from the territories. But Kerrin knew she’d be going back. Pammy’s great4granddaughter hadn’t experienced Canada’s true north yet, the land of the Inuit. There are many northern peoples. There are nine aboriginal languages recognized officially by the NWT government that sits in Yellowknife. But the most northern of all are the Inuit, the original and enduring people of the polar region, who for countless generations until less than a lifetime ago endured privations and a nomadic existence in an unforgiving land. Kerrin wanted to know what Inuit village life was all about, the hunting and fishing, jobs, social life, entertainments, what the people ate. She was Qallunaat, to be sure, an outsider. But she hoped for the best. It started with a memorable first day at school, recorded in the diary she began when she got there but abandoned not long after when the art bug bit her.

January 26, 2007
I’m going to teach again, this time in a small Inuit community on Ungava Bay. It is a very remote settlement – the only one on the east side of the bay.  [Ed. note: Kangiqsualujjuaq, population 874, also known as George River, is in Nunavik, which is the virtually self-governing far northern region of Quebec.]
Inukshuk 186X201Flight from Ottawa to Mtl – Mtl to Kujjuaq to George River by Twin Otter. You really know you are flying when in a Twin Otter.  It is cold, dark and very loud. The snow is blowing when we arrive. It is blowing, not snowing. This is something I will have to get used to. The wind is howling and whipping the outer lining of my western arctic parka about me. My coat snaps like a flag in a gusting northern wind. It is dark and relatively mild for this time of year, -8 when it should be -40.
January 27
The weekend is spent hunkered down in my dismally bare apt. It may take up to two weeks to get the meagre decorations and food supplies I have had sent up. I brought only what I would be willing to abandon if necessary. I have no intention of leaving before the end of June but some people only last a day and the school board won’t remove any belongings unless you’re here six weeks. I’m on a term position for the rest of the year. The students have been without a teacher for almost a month and I hurried to get here.
I am pretty much the last option though the last candidate. All others backed out soon after being hired, opting for less isolated settlements. But this is what I want to see — the communities. I regretted after being in Yellowknife fourteen years that I had never seen the communities. But I was thinking of the western arctic.
January 28
The wind howls eerily all weekend.  I can see only rock and snow outside my window.  Occasionally a snowmobile roars down the street. There are packs of beautiful looking but hungry dogs roaming constantly. When the wind dies and the town sleeps and the furnace stops, and the refrigerator, the silence is so complete your ears hurt for straining to hear a sound. Desolate is the only word for my first impression.
KangSunset205X154January 29
It’s Monday and my first day at school – though I have been given till Wednesday to prepare. After lunch Mark comes with unwelcome news. There was a suicide at lunch. I never met her though she will always remain in my memory as my introduction to life here. Her name was Celina. She was 17.
January 31
The quality of the snow here is unlike anything I have ever seen. Last night a wind came up and blew huge drifts of snow to new locations. I had finally found a solid path through to the school but it is now gone. It is impossible to tell where one might walk safely. My solid path of yesterday may be knee deep today. Even the Inuit are unsure. One asked me just yesterday if my path was solid and had his daughter follow me to school. Like desert sands the snow dunes shift. One foot from the path lies the possibility of a wrenched knee or twisted ankle. But when the path is set it is hard as packed earth. The force of the wind and the lack of moisture leave no space among the solid crystals and the snow is the density of cork. The children use machete type knives to build igloo type snow forts cutting and shaping snow blocks as easily as southern children shape plasticine.
Nanuk480X212The Weekend
I played poker with the cops and a few teachers on Friday night. It will be difficult to play with them as they care nothing about winning or losing. The cops are a young couple. She likes to do paint by numbers while he likes to cook. Neither of them were trained or had any experience when they were hired though he had worked for a time as a prison guard. They came up, were given guns and the way was pointed to the station.  They are all alone working 24 hours a day seven days a week. Only one is on shift at any time. When a call comes in, the other joins in for the call. The officer not on duty gets paid three hours for the call. There have been none for a few weeks now – but they come in waves. There are supposed to be three police officers here but no one wants to come. After the game I saw noone from Friday evening till Monday morning.
Monday Feb 5th
My students are helping me piece together the story of the town. Their parents were born on the tundra in tents 40 years ago. Now half of the adults in the community are on welfare and half of the teenagers have dropped out of school. The few remaining students have little good to say about their former classmates. Knives 186X202They are home watching television, drinking and smoking pot and neglecting the babies they start having in their teens. The students who have stayed will be the future leaders in the community.
Feb 6th
C. drove me to the municipal building after school to get my modem.  She is young – maybe twenty and has an admin job at school. She went to school here all her life. “And I graduated.” She is proud and holds a good job. She missed work today. Giselle, in the classroom next door, made a drinking sign. Sunday night there had been a big booze delivery.
The town is restricted, not dry. Booze can be ordered from the south. One case of beer and four bottles of wine per month. Hard liquor was banned a month ago. The bootleggers are ecstatic. They will get $200 for a bottle of alcohol. A single beer regularly sells for $10 though $20 is not unheard of. Mostly everyone takes advantage of the lack of spirits when they have the opportunity to go south. Montreal is the port of call and a doctor’s visit is a gold mine when you can return with a suitcase of liquor.
Feb 7th
Road safety is not a concern here. Seatbelts, child seats, helmets are all of the south. Children as young as 11 drive snowmobiles pulling others on sled behind. Mothers and fathers drive kids to school on snowmobiles with cousins and neighbors piled 10 to a kamatik. Teens fly by in trucks with friends sitting on the sideboards in the bed. Today a truck pulled up beside two youngsters.KangStop227X141 They hopped up onto the rear bumper and held onto the tailgate and the truck moved off down the road. There are eight stop signs in town. These are new and result from an accident a few years ago at an intersection. These are the only street signs or traffic regulating devices in town.
Feb. 8
Crystal upstairs is having a hard time with one young boy – she teaches grade five. This guy – who is bigger than her – punched her in the face in the yard at school. This was after pushing her on the stairs, throwing boots at her, yelling at her constantly in class and in the halls to fuck off and die, you’re a whore, you’re a cunt etc. Crystal is upset. She is afraid to go out and now keeps her door locked.
The Students
Don’t get me wrong, most of the students are really great. The usual problems with teenagers exist of course but for the most part the students are lovely. However Philip was telling me that a month into school this year the kindergarten students were so out of control that the entire class was suspended for two weeks. A month later it was the grade twos. And there have been incidents of extreme violence – which is scary in a community where two year olds have access to unlocked guns and plenty of ammunition.

Faces 371X401Feb. 9
Of course it isn’t really the kids fault. Many of them have very bad home lives. The parents are up gambling all night and sleep all day. They will gamble their whole cheque away in one night. There is no food and often times no one to take care of them. Two sisters are off school right now taking care of the house while their mother is away giving birth to yet another baby. They are the 15 and 16 year old caregivers to a house full of kids. They’ll be out of school for two weeks. It also keeps most of their friends from attending as everyone is over at their house all night.
Feb. 10
I have finally made an Inuit friend. Daisy. She is a janitor at the school and the mother of Louisa, one of the 3-4-5 class. She came to the door to see if I wanted to buy a broach Louisa made, an embroidered broach adorned with a hanging pair of sealskin mucklucks. It was well crafted and I bought it for $25.00. I thought it a good enough deal. It was a good thing I was on the phone or I might not have invited her in. She is the third person, though the first woman, who has come to the door trying to sell things. She was in and as we were chatting I invited her to stay for tea. She was here about an hour. She is delightful and we will go shopping on Saturday to the Co-op. We are going to shop for material and she is going to make an amouti type pouch for me to carry Molly in. I’m sure it will be expensive but I need one for her. I also need a kettle Daisy said. It will be my first shopping expedition to the Co-op though it is only five minutes walk at most.
The Dogs
Felix is in charge of maintaining dog control in town. Felix is actually in charge of lots of things. He is a big man around here and one of the best looking men I have ever seen. Every few months Felix will get a dog in heat tie it in the back of his truck and drive slowly through town luring the loose male dogs out to the dump. He then shoots them.  Sometimes he takes the fur. Apparently the fur from black shiny dogs is quite good. According to his grandfather it is the best for wearing close to your face – it doesn’t freeze and stick to your skin.
Sled Dog Pups245X184Feb 13th
The kid who was hassling Crystal attacked her on the street last night. He ran up and punched her in the face as she was leaving the Northern store. Mark came and the cops (her best friends) but they say there is nothing they can do as he is only 11. I think they can. It is assault. If he had a gun or had set a fire they would have taken him in. But they say they need permission from the parents to try scare tactics and the parents – well they just shrug.
Feb. 14
I guess anyone can have access to guns. Yesterday I went to the Northern and there were two snowmobiles running outside both with shotguns leaned up against the seat. I wonder if they were loaded. No one needs permits here and two of my secondary4 students were out shooting ptarmigan at lunch on Friday just behind the school. I guess if ptarmigan are spotted they can go to the IPL teacher downstairs and get guns. I will be meeting one of the more violent students tomorrow. Monday week three. Apparently he was in my class the first day I taught it but didn’t stand out. He has been suspended ever since. We will see.
February 20
The kids are having a hard time with socials. English can be made relevant to almost anyone. And some kids are just really good at and enjoy math. But socials? Well. It is hard to make European Inventions and Exploration during the Renaissance relevant to grade nine and ten Inuit students many of whom are AAD or FAS. They just don’t care and I don’t blame them. And what does it matter to most of them if they graduate or not.  Blue Inukshuks279X123This is where 97% of them will spend the rest of their lives. There is 50% unemployment and most of the boys want to drive the water truck when they grow up. The girls want to work at the daycare. There is certainly no need for an early-childhood education degree to work at the daycare here.
February 26
School is tough. The kids are capable but for the most part lazy. Two out of 13 did their family time-line project. But, they have been spoon fed for the past 8 years – and they are working in a second language and I must remember that. I am going to try to change my methods to more fun activities and attempt to be more project based. I can start with projects on different First Nations groups with the sec1’s. More movies, etc. etc. I am not going to do the math in Economics as I don’t know it and they don’t need it.
March 5
Daisy has had four children. The two girls she raised I believe – Nancy is 21 and works with the elders. Louisa is still in school. One of her boys died from meningitis at eight months – she said she let him go because the doctor said she could have more children. And she has a son Elijah. Daisy was in the avalanche and mentioned it three times while here. She is obviously still having a very hard time dealing with the tragedy.  Jan 1st, 2000 I think [Ed. note: 1999]. An avalanche slammed into the school gym collapsing the wall. Eight people were killed and dozens injured. A chair flew at Daisy and hit her in the stomach – she has had problems ever since though there is nothing the doctors can do. I think she has been to Montreal numerous times – she mentioned the hospital a lot. She is 47 – same as me. What different lives we have led though she did attend Algonquin school at one point – she didn’t pass she told me. What with the culture shock and difference in schooling levels it is no wonder. When she was young she would travel by dog sled from Kujjuaq to Kangiqsualujjuaq with her parents. It would take two days and was lots of fun. Her parents are both dead now. She is from Kujjuaq originally but likes it better here. There is a bar there where she lost two brothers. One was murdered and the other sustained severe head injuries – from the way she talked the second is worse off than the first. I feel Daisy will be my needed link to the people here. And she said I will really like the fishing. The char are thick as flies in the spring and jump from the water after the bait. They are renowned for putting up a really good fight.
Caribou 298X118March 12
It is not unusual for kids to be wandering around the streets in the wee hours of the morning. The parents are partying or fornicating and they kick the kids out or don’t let them into the house. And there is no one to help.
Of course this is not always the case. Some are luckier. I met Susan’s mother at parent teacher interviews a week into my journey here. She saw my tattoo and asked if it hurt. I said not really. She immediately pulled off her coat and showed me her arm which was covered in bruises. It looked bad. I asked her how it happened. She said she was drunk and fighting. But she is kind and caring and at least makes it to parent-teacher interviews.  Though, as she approached down the hall the teacher next door hurried over to me and whispered to be very careful about what I said about Susan. If the mother hears anything bad she will yell and yell at her. I was glad to be warned though as far as I was able to tell at that point Susan was a lovely girl. On task and trying hard at school.
March 19
I moved to the beach – there is a view to die for. It is on a bay just up the George River from Ungava Bay with mountains in the background – spectacular is the only word that comes to mind. There are lots of kids around and I like that. What I don’t like is them looking in the windows and trying to get Molly worked up. They bang on the window and bark at her and ask to come in. And they bang on the door and run away. Kids!  But I am not going to let them in. I will ask my kids down at times perhaps but not all the kids off the street.
March 26
They are a very pretty people – for the most part. The kids are really cute but at this time of year their noses drip snot and they often have sores from being so Caribou Anyone23(X292chapped. Their lips are terribly cracked and peeling.
Life is very tough for a lot of the kids. Many are adopted by grandparents or aunts and uncles. Many are abused either physically or emotionally. The top priorities are drugs and alcohol. Families on welfare are given food coupons to ensure not all the money is spent on gambling and drugs. The houses are supplied but many are without beds, fridges etc. though every home has a television. A young man came to the door the other day selling a pendant of a dancing polar bear. He said he was from out of town and staying at a house where there was no food. He said the kids were hungry. My students said he was lying – he just wanted a joint. Nice pendant though. I am going to give it to Chris if he likes it. I am also going to try to get a market going for some of the kids’ artwork – ulus and carvings.
March 27
There used to be a meat factory here. Isabelle said they killed all the caribou. They thought it was the George River herd but it turned out to be a sub herd. They are all gone.  Too bad – caribou is a specialty high-end product down south and in Europe. They could make a small fortune if they worked it properly.
March 28
A. and C. are the biggest challenges in terms of behaviour.

Kerrin's school busOnce she caught the beat of the place, Kerrin got a kitchen going to provide hot, nutritious meals to staff and students, as well as cater special events for the town. This CanTeen raised thousands of dollars for school and community activities, including a grad trip to Montreal, food baskets for needy families at Christmas and T-shirts featuring the new school logo for all the students.
As in Yellowknife, where she took turns as clown and face painter at festivities and actor/director in community theatre, she was an after hours dervish. In some ways, this extra-curricular activity touched youth who were not making it in a system imported from the south, modified though it was for Inuit cultural imperatives. Nine out of ten Inuk students in Nunavik are behind grade level when entering high school (the rate for the rest of Quebec is less than two out of ten). Four out of five will not graduate.
At the edge of the earth where global warming strikes first and foremost, with strategic world players all staring intently at resources and passages in places where none but the Inuit have ever lived, scenarios for the future become monumental and complex. But in real time, on the frozen ground, it’s the kids who can take it and make it through who will make a difference, one Inuk at a time. Some will make the thousand year leap from where their grandparents were to where their own children and grandchildren must live. These are going to be increasingly important people as the century moves on and the world closes in. The Inuit will need them. Canada will need them.
Elisapee432X576Kerrin remained in Kangiqsualujjuaq for five years. She then took a turn as den mother in a group home for foster children in Kujjuuaq, the principal town of Nunavik. She was interested and involved in looking after Inuit children who fall through the usual safety net of parents, family and friends. These are the neediest among a people struggling to find a way between a harsh life at the edge of survival and whatever is coming with the Qallunaat. After her grown daughter, Olivia, returned to Yellowknife, where she’d been brought up and educated, Kerrin took in a seven year old girl who’d had a frightful beginning involving parental murder and serial abuse through more than a dozen uncaring placements.
It’s not a legal adoption. Qallunaat don’t get to adopt Inuit children. Yet in everything but law she’s part of the family now (11 years old in 2013), an Inuk great5granddaughter for Pammy. And more fuel for Kerrin’s northern passion. After a year in Kujjuuaq, a rough and unruly frontier town, the two of them and Molly were off to the other side of Nunavik. She’d be teaching there in Umiujaq, a village on Hudson Bay. On arrival she wrote, “Kangiqsualujjuaq is a metropolis by comparison.”
The following links will bring you to Part 1 of this series, Yellowknife, Part 3, Umijuaq and Part 4, True North

Food and learning under northern lights, Part 1/4 Yellowknife

Muskox Bourguignonne
Muskox strip loin, Mushrooms and Pearl Onions simmered in Red Wine
Caribou Stroganoff
Ground Caribou and Mushrooms simmered in a Garlic Sour Cream Sauce

Northern entrées by Pammy’s great4granddaughter

Museum of Civilization facing Parliament Hill

Museum of History facing Parliament Hill

The Canadian Museum of History is built as a grand curvilinear that grasps the Gatineau bank of the Ottawa River opposite Parliament Hill. In the museum’s Canada Hall a great journey is simulated through many centuries and over vast distance via icons of Canada’s social history. Under the ceiling’s super high dome the adventure starts at a sod longhouse, part of a Viking settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland around 1000 AD. Basque ship, whaling station, Métis settlement, Voyageur camp, Ukrainian church, grain elevator, Chinese hand laundry, the many turns and tides of the Canadian historical experience are replicated. Finally, at the far end of the trek through Canada’s history, the visitor is invited to sit, sip tea and listen a while to tales of the frozen northwest in the warm welcome of the Wildcat Café.
The Wildcat is faithfully reproduced and featured at the museum because it was at the core of the pioneer community of Yellowknife and remains a symbol of identity in the Northwest Territories. In this expanse of more than a million square kilometers of the Canadian northlands just 41,000 people face tremendously challenging climatic extremes. (Nunavut, which was carved from the Northwest Territories in 1999 and stretches to Alert, 800 kms from the North Pole and the northernmost permanently inhabited point in the world, has twice the area of NWT, just 31,000 people and even more challenging conditions.) In the harsh northern frontier, prospectors, bush pilots, miners and trappers created places where they could exchange information and stories. The Wildcat was a popular gathering spot, part of the core and colour of Yellowknife. Built in 1937, an early owner also ran one of the two taxis then operating in town. His was the bigger car and he contrived a head-on collision with the other cab to drive his competitor out of business.

Wildcat-CafeThe Wildcat was popular but not always prosperous. It served at various times as an eatery, a Chinese restaurant, an ice cream and soda stand. Once it featured steam baths next door. Each new venture told of a previous failure. Finally, in the 1970s a volunteer group undertook to restore the log cabin, now one of the last remaining buildings in what had been the commercial centre of Yellowknife in the 1940s, and reopen it in 1979 as a restaurant featuring northern fare such as caribou and char.
It was this enterprising revival that caught the interest of the Museum of Civilization, which was itself re-housed in the sweeping cantilevered vision of Métis architect Douglas Cardinal in 1989, though it traces its origins as one of North America’s oldest cultural institutions back to 1856 (and was renamed the Canadian Museum of History in 2013).
Icon it might be, but the Wildcat wasn’t protected by any heritage or museum budget. Enthusiasts for heritage restoration proved over time not as adept at restaurant management. What the museum didn’t know – Yellowknife is a long way off and there are no direct flights – was that the restaurant had fallen on hard times again even as they were building the full-scale replica in Canada Hall. There was a danger that the Wildcat would be closing just as the Canada Hall exhibit was opening.
Then Pammy’s great4granddaughter took a hand. Kerrin had lived a decade in Yellowknife. A single mom with a fresh teaching degree from McGill, she’d come to teach at the school named for John Franklin. Her ancestor had once encountered the famed northern explorer. Returning in 1827 from two years of exploration in the Arctic, Franklin stopped at Bytown (now Ottawa) and presided at a ceremony at the entrance locks of the Rideau Canal on August 16. Pammy was among “as large and respectable gathering of spectators as had ever been witnessed at this place” for Franklin’s show. The intrepid adventurer, who would later return on a fourth expedition to the far north and disappear completely, laid the first stone of the great work that Colonel By and his men, the sapper Pammy among them, would strive mightily to build over the next five years.
Kerrin’s address — Trail’s End, Northwest Territories — spoke of vistas in the Canadian landscape that few have witnessed. Born and bred in Montreal, a big city girl, she came to know the midnight sun, the great life forms, the northern lights, the huge expanses and ice floes. “The north grows on you,” say those who know. “Eventually you have to decide whether you will spend the rest of your life there or get out.” Kerrin sank roots. She would stay.
Teaching was her vocation, cuisine her passion with some strong family antecedents. A grandfather owned one of the signature restaurants in mid-twentieth century Montreal. Her stepmother acquired the Grande Diplome of the Cordon Bleu Paris Cooking School, still on Kerrin’s kitchen wall.Wildcat KPatCAT Edit361X266
The Wildcat was a summer project, mostly months she was off from her primary occupation teaching art and drama to mostly Inuit high school students. Arctic summers are much like those in the rest of the country, with the exceptional delight that the sunlight and the days often stretch twenty hours or longer. Yellowknife has more sunshine each year than anywhere in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritime provinces.
The distance from the replica tea room at the Museum to actual operation of the Wildcat is captured in this monologue from Kerrin’s unfinished play about food and family, Wildcat Capers. The lights come up on Cook. She is pounding caribou and occasionally swatting flies. She is wearing the patch. It’s 4:00 at the Wildcat and the restaurant is prepping for dinner.

Cook: “Veg! Veg, veg, veg! Damned ferry. Damned veg. Always a problem. Friday afternoon, four o’clock, the food order shows up – no potatoes – no corn. Brunch tomorrow and no potatoes for home fries – no veg for tonight. Fucking produce guys. Only a lunatic opens a seasonal restaurant during break-up. Where does one find 100 lbs of potatoes at four o’clock on Friday afternoon in Yellowknife? Co-op! Not supposed to shop for the restaurant at the Co-op. Costly. But what’s a girl gonna do? Boy the flies are bad today! Anyway, Danica has the car again and she’s not answering the phone. Again. It’s nice she’s still here but why does she always have my car? I am not taking a taxi to the Co-op for potatoes and veg. Twenty dollar taxi for a twenty dollar grocery bill. Well it would be down south but this is Yellowknife and the ferry isn’t in. Fucking ferry. I can pick up potatoes at Extra foods tomorrow morning and get down here before . . . No. No I can’t. Shit! Veg, veg, veg! Ok – I got carrots, celery and onion for sure. A nice mira-poix for the dinner veg? Could stuff peppers. Never been a pepper person, only in chili and spaghetti sauce. Anyway peppers stuffed with rice and served with rice and fish won’t wash, not for 16.95 a plate. God it’s hot in here. Turnip! There’s turnip left from Gord’s stew. Turnip and carrot mash. I love that. A Christmas staple at home. My favorite thing on the plate – besides the beet salad. Best thing about Christmas is the cold turkey and mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread the next morning. Plain, just salt, pepper, mayo. Marcus puts stuffing and cranberries on his, which I personally think is a mistake. (Calling backstage) Tara – could you please bring in those turnips (pause) they’re in the bag in the produce cupboard? Turnip and carrot mashed with butter salt and pepper. And beets. We have beets. A mound of turnip and carrots with beets on top. Beets warmed in melted butter with salt, pepper and . . . dill. Great! I’ve gotta use up that dill. I have a car load of the stuff. It will be tasty and look great on the plate! Bridget always said we eat first with our eyes. Dad always said it better taste good too. I can please both. But he’s right. Nana judged restaurants on how clean their bathrooms were. Daddy by the bread. Now I can pee in a dirty latrine but I insist on fresh rolls. (Again to backstage) Tara could you bring the beets too? They’re in the box under the rotten onions. Fucking produce guys. I want a credit for those onions! And the romaine!”

Kerrin's Window Ulus-384X217Kerrin ran the historic Wildcat for four seasons, for another year had her own eponymous eatery, then set off to a new frontier. Yellowknife is a pioneer town still, with a population just shy of 20,000. Only Whitehorse in the western Yukon Territory is larger, by a few thousand people, in the whole of the immense Canadian north. But Yellowknife is the NWT capital and by far the largest city in the eastern territories. Kerrin was ready to experience traditional Inuit communities. True north.
She gave notice to John Franklin, sold the house at Trail’s End and Kerrin’s Restaurant. Danica and Marcus helped stow fifteen years of accumulation and Molly the dog in a convoy of north-beaten vehicles that took the four of them almost 5,000 kilometres over seven days to near the parental home in the Nation’s Capital.
The following links will bring you to Part 2 of this series, Kangiqsualujjuaq, Part 3, Umiujaq and Part 4, True North.

While the getting is good

Jones_Falls_Dam-560X372I’ve written (here) about the Scottish strain in Canada. Their masterful hands sculpted the historic Rideau waterway, including the largest dam in North America in its day (1832) at Jones Falls (above). Their great qualities of prudence and moderation pervaded the banking system and large segments of Canadian business until the country was a hundred years old, an era I’ve written about here. Today I’m reminded how profoundly things have changed in the past half century or so. Scots are no longer in the ascendant. We now have moguls of English, German, Austrian, Hungarian origin. Even Irish. Even from among Pammy‘s fast spreading family. And the change is nowhere more evident than in pay packets.
The July-August 2013 edition of the Globe and Mail Report on Business Magazine (ROB) tells the tale in its analysis of the Top 1000 corporations in Canada. The Royal Bank of Canada leads the list, as it usually does, with profit of $7.4 billion. Its CEO, Gord Nixon, collects $14 million for steering RBC.
Way down at the bottom of the ROB list is gas-producer Encana Corp. of Calgary, No. 1000 with a loss of nearly $3 billion. (ROB ranks the Top 1000 companies in Canada by profitability but just over half of the thousand — 544 to be precise — show any profit at all. The rest are all losers for 2012.) Encana’s CEO last year, Randy Eresman, was paid only $7 million. As ROB meanly calculates, Mr. Nixon’s bank made $542 of profit for every loonie he was paid. Mr. Eresman was paid more than $2,500 for every million dollars down the toilet at Encana. According to a calculation by Corporate Knights magazine, Mr. Nixon and Mr. Eresman were each paid 92 times the average salary in their respective companies, an intriguing coincidence.
Who decides this kind of compensation practice, and why? There’s no denying that, like the Big Mac, it’s an importation from the U.S. of A. Mr. Nixon explains it this way in the ROB. “It is a global market, a competitive market . . . most of my top executives have been offered very big positions in the United States and elsewhere.” As if on cue, Mark Carney makes his debut as the new governor of the Bank of England, filched by the Brits from the Bank of Canada. Mr. Nixon might point to this but he refrains. Mark Carney’s salary will be $1.4 million (decimal point not misplaced). He’s a public servant. At the Royal Bank of Scotland, which predates RBC by a hundred and forty years, the CEO was dismissed last month amidst a scandal over high salaries and bonuses. His salary had been the equivalent of $3.5 million with a chance three years forward at another $2.6 million. These are all big numbers. But some are a lot bigger than others. So who decides? Does Mr. Nixon set his own pay level? Does Mr. Eresman? No way. These are Board decisions. Directors decide.
Research for the New York Times (June 29), finds that for the “top 200 chief executives at public companies with at least $1 billion in revenue . . . the median 2012 pay package came in at $15.1 million — a leap of 16 percent from 2011.” Of course even the most ambitious and self-confident Canadian business executive might feel it a long stretch to become CEO of a multi-billion dollar American enterprise. That’s OK because it’s not necessary to reach the very top in order to become very wealthy. As the NYT points out, “Because the data shows only chief executives’ pay, it does not reveal how good it still is to be a prince . . . compensation of the No. 2 executives at some of these companies would have vaulted them to the top ranks on the C.E.O. roster.”
Jim Hynes recalls that, “My father retired as President of C-I-L with a very modest pension just about a decade before it became fashionable to push CEO compensation up to obscene levels. Had I stayed in the banking business, I might have gotten a monumentally unearned slice of this pie myself. This phenomenon, like the credit default swap, is an American invention that we’re stuck with, and like gun control, it isn’t going to get fixed anytime soon.”

David, Pammy's great2grandson

David, Pammy’s great2grandson

At least noone in Canada tried to push Larry Ellison last year. The larger-than-life CEO of Oracle took $84.5 million from the company to fund his expensive and enduring pursuit of yachting’s America’s Cup. Peter Munk’s gold-plated lures for directors at Barrick or Frank Stronach’s platinum-lined parachute from Magna don’t compare. Not since 2001 have we seen anything like it, when Canadian Pacific was split into five independent and self-sustaining companies after a century at the core of Canadian business and regional development. The CEO who made that break-up call received compensation, according to reports, somewhere above $83 million. This was Canadian money, of course, not American like Mr. Ellison’s. Then again it was a dozen years ago.
Who makes these decisions? Directors do and primus inter pares of directors is the Chair. The Chair usually gives a lead and the Board decides. In some cases the Chair and the CEO are one and the same. This was the case at CP in 2001, when the Chair and CEO who got the Canadian break-up fee of the century was Pammy’s great2grandson, David. The titles used to be joined at the RBC as well, in Earle McLaughlin‘s day (Earle’s day was about the same as Jim’s dad Leonard Hynes and he had a similar restrained grasp), but they’ve been split for some time now at Canada’s biggest bank. Mr. Nixon is CEO. The Chair is Pammy’s great2grandson David. Similarly at Encana. Mr. Eresman was succeeded early this year as CEO by Clayton Woitas. But the Chair remains the same as before. That would be Pammy’s great2grandson David.
Pammy’s starting wage as lockmaster at Chaffey’s on the Rideau Canal was $0.80 a day. During the boating season that was a 24 hour day. I write about some of that here.

One, two and through for Joey

Joey Smallwood-180X280“You saw they got Joey?” Pammy’s great2grandson Jon was calling from Toronto. A Royal Commission had nailed Canada’s only living Father of Confederation. It had made the Globe and both network newscasts.
In Quebec governments are always investigating their ousted opponents. There’s no reason it should be any different in Newfoundland and Labrador, where political nest building is equally a way of life. The ins put the boots to the outs. The only novelty in Newfoundland was that it was was the first time, for the very good reason that it was first change of government.
“Sure.” I had caught the item but I hadn’t been in Newfoundland for a while.
“How do you like what they did with your report?”
My report . . .???
The article July 6, 1972 in the Globe by John Zaritzky from St. John’s opened, “Joseph Smallwood and two associates bought $1.5 million worth of shares in Brinco Ltd., while Mr. Smallwood as Premier of Newfoundland was negotiating a $950 million deal with the firm on behalf of the province, a royal commission reported yesterday. The commission said that Mr. Smallwood and his associates borrowed money to buy the stock from the Bank of Montreal, which was and is the provincial government’s banker as well as Brinco’s.” There was some detail. Premier Frank Moores said his government would go after Smallwood in the courts. Finance Minister John Crosbie was flying to Toronto to confer with a top criminal lawyer. “The commission, headed by Fabian O’Dea, a former Lieutenant Governor of the province, was appointed by Mr. Moores on Feb. 29,” the Globe report concluded.
What had that to do with my report?


Accra, Barbados, West Indies

In May 1969 I was a resident of Barbados in the West Indies working on various economic development projects, including communications, hotel and restaurant management and an assignment with Gerry Bull’s controversial but highly innovative Space Research Corporation. I had departed Canada — mon pays c’est l’hiver — eight months before. There was still warmth in my heart for the old places, but I hadn’t been back. I had grown accustomed to the sun in my face.

Late on a Sunday afternoon, just home from a lazy day at Accra beach, Mary-Lea was laying the table for a supper of flying fish, christophine and breadfruit. Mary-Lea was cook and staff sergeant-major. But she couldn’t make a decent daiquiri so I was mixing the Mount Gay and lime when my daughter called from the den, “Daddy, it’s Canada.”
Jon asked, “Can you come to St. John’s?”
Kieran 1-168X211When in Canada, Jon (pictured right) was seldom away from where the money is, mostly Toronto. Since quitting school at fifteen shy a diploma and sticking out his thumb heading west, Jon had fashioned a sophisticated PR and lobbying consultancy. This belied his village origins. He had spent his infancy and pre-school years in the family hamlet on the Rideau Canal, Chaffey’s Lock with its population out of fishing season of a hundred and change. He bunked with his grandparents while his father was in prison on a DWI manslaughter conviction. He had vivid memories of his granddad Henry Fleming, who was Pammy’s eldest grandson and Kate’s big brother. Henry put in more than thirty years of service as lockmaster at the old stand, extending the family’s tenure  at Chaffey’s to as near a full century as dammit (1832-1929).
“Why are you in Newfoundland?”
“Can’t explain on the phone. Can you come?”
“It’s not really a good time.”
“Would ten thousand dollars persuade you?”
“And expenses.”
“As soon as possible.”
I left the next day, figuring to stop a day or two in Montreal, which was home town. Forty eight hours later– I hadn’t even said hello to family and friends — he tracked me down at the Hotel Bonaventure.
“I need you right away,” he said.
“I’ll try to get out tomorrow.”
“My office has you booked on the midnight flight tonight. You can pick up your ticket at the airport. You have plenty of time.” It was 10 p.m.
The flight by DC8-F from Barbados had been five hours. From Montreal to St. John’s took twelve. A turbo-prop Viscount added undreamed-of dimension to the term “milk-run” as it chugged up from Dorval, down at Moncton, over to Halifax, to Sydney to Stephenville, to Gander where it sat motionless on the tarmac for two hours. Stops for weather. Passengers deplaning, emplaning, complaining. Stops for new crew. For refueling. From Gander the flight was wrapped in a fog soup. I first saw ground at St. John’s ten feet above it.
Jon was there. As we drove to the hotel he filled me in on what-was-really-happening in Newfoundland.

John Crosbie1-138X206

John Crosbie

In his autobiographical Recollections of a Streetfighter, which was privately printed but deserves study by anyone in the rough and tumble of winning business and influencing governments, Jon writes of “the Smallwood Project” he took on after “two very high profile recently appointed provincial cabinet ministers resigned to protest the abuses of privilege, the patronage, and the anti-democratic dominance of Joey Smallwood.” The two who resigned were John Crosbie and Clyde Wells.
Now Boss Smallwood, it appeared, was going to retire, although nobody knew for sure. He said he would, probably. He had called a Liberal leadership convention for the fall. He had loosed his grip on the provincial Liberal party, which he had founded and always controlled. Some constituency organizations had exercised their newfound freedom to choose delegates to this convention who would not simply rubber-stamp Joey’s decisions.

Clyde Wells

Clyde Wells

As I arrived John Crosbie was the only declared candidate for the leadership. He had once appeared to be the heir apparent. Born to the St. John’s merchant clique that Joey baited with such devastating effect on the outport hustings, Crosbie had won a seat for the Liberals — no difficult task for they had dominated political life ever since the province had opted for Canada. After Joey took a liking to him he was named to the cabinet where as Health Minister he began to look like the anointed one. But he ran afoul of one of Joey’s pet industrial giveaways, a passel of government goodies for New York financier John Shaheen, who was promoting an oil refinery at Come-By-Chance, a hamlet with a deepwater port. Crosbie resigned from cabinet rather than endorse a deal that gave Shaheen a $15 million unsecured loan.
By the standards of the day in the province this arrangement was not extraordinary. It hardly compared in generosity, for instance, with the mineral rights and loans provided for John Doyle’s Javelin empire. Or the local pork-barreling that had turned the Lundrigan family from impecunious owners of a small sawmill into multi-millionaire construction czars. Or the benefits over a quarter-century that had siphoned millions of Canada’s transfer payments into the pockets of the established merchants — not excluding the Crosbie clan, which controlled construction and building materials companies, the regional airline, insurance and shipping companies, and a St. John’s daily newspaper. (This empire, run by Andrew Crosbie, John’s brother, was destined to collapse of mismanagement some years later.)
But Shaheen and the deal stuck in Crosbie’s craw and he withdrew to the backbenches. When Smallwood announced in early 1969 that he would retire it was widely understood that he would promote his own successor. Joey didn’t like it at all when Crosbie decided to make a contest of it and announced he would be a candidate for the Liberal leadership.
Joey Smallwood was the first and, until then, only Premier of Newfoundland. Almost singlehandedly against the opposition of the colonial-minded administration and the merchants of St. John’s he had persuaded the Islanders to opt for union with Canada in 1949. This coup had brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the new province, money which Joey had shrewdly distributed in ways to ensure the loyalty of the electorate. He was Premier-For-Life, or as long as he wanted to be.
However John Crosbie had got religion. He believed the time had come to call a halt to Joey and bring Newfoundland into respectable alignment with fiscal probity, at least to the extent it existed in other provinces. An autocracy was no longer tolerable, and Joey himself had dangled the possibility of change by calling for the leadership convention. The opening was slight and diminishing every day as Joey reconsidered, but Crosbie finally decided to run against Joey’s man, or against Joey himself if that became necessary, as indeed it would.

Jon swinging

Jon swinging

Jon was Crosbie’s campaign manager.
I wasn’t surprised; Jon is a great believer in improbable causes. He had put his talents at the disposal of Eric Kierans’ bid for the federal Liberal leadership (against Trudeau at his most charismatic), Bob Nixon’s hope to become Premier of Ontario (against unbeatable Bill Davis), and the First Nations’ fight for a fair future (against the weight of centuries). Managing opposition to Smallwood in Newfoundland seemed right in character.
”We don’t expect to beat him if he runs,” said Jon. “But we think we can create enough of a stink — or threaten to — that he’ll have to make a deal to leave soon. The first priority is to get Joey out. Getting Crosbie in is secondary.” It would be an expensive sacrifice.
What he wanted of me, I should have known, was “to provide the stink.”
In Streetfighter, written some forty years later, Jon describes how he “had taken a lot of heat from Andrew Crosbie” over a contract he had put out “to a financial journalist who had a unique forensic ability. The deal was $10,000 plus expenses for a publishable article that, if ever printed, would result in the biggest public scandal since the financing of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Its key value was that if the Smallwood campaign got unduly dirty, we had the capability to offer a scorched earth response.”
Before decamping for the West Indies I was associate editor of Financial Times of Canada. Anything remotely comparable to the CPR scandal had my attention, especially if it had scorched earth potential. After checking in to the Hotel Newfoundland, which would be home for two weeks, I walked to Jon’s headquarters, a two-storey frame house on a pleasant, tree lined, middle-class street not far from the hotel. It was leased for the summer from a family vacationing in Europe. What a treat it would have been to hear the neighbours describe that summer scene to the homeowners on their return. The place was erupting.

Jon in later years and six of Pammy's great3grandchildren. Their eldest sibling Susan died suddenly when just a young mother.

Jon in later years with six of his kids and Pammy’s great3grandchildren. Their eldest sibling Susan died suddenly when just a young mother.

Jon had three of his seven children visiting from the mainland. There was a red-haired girl friend in residence (Jon was in the midst of what he himself referred to as a “somewhat messy divorce action”), a brunette secretary and blonde transient. A young law student, who ran the campaign office, was encamped. And his girl friend. A private detective dropped in frequently to check for bugs. One was discovered and cleverly turned to deliver misinformation to the enemy camp. Public relations counselors were draped over the couches at all hours of the day and well into the nights. The freezer was stocked exclusively with steaks, the refrigerator partitioned between white wine and tomato juice. Much of the shelf space was occupied by cartons of Islay Mist scotch whiskey.
The strategists were from Toronto and the runners from Memorial. But the local strength was impressive. Brian Peckford, a political activist, was among the first to join the team. Clyde Wells, a Cornerbrook lawyer and Crosbie’s fellow defector from the Smallwood cabinet, organized volunteers. They would each become Liberal premier of Newfoundland in their day. Though his assistance had to be kept “in deepest confidence,” as Jon put it, Frank Moores “happily helped with the fund raising.” Moores belonged in the enemy camp. He was MP for Bonavista-Trinity-Conception and president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. He too would become premier, finally ousting Smallwood and the Liberals and bringing the first Conservative government to the province since joining Canada. All this was to come but known to none of the Crosbie cabal at that time.

Brian Peckford

Brian Peckford

“You’re not to tell anybody what you’re really doing here,” said Jon. “As a cover, you can say you’re researching a story on economic conditions in the province.”
“What will I really be doing?”
“You’ll be digging up all you can find on Smallwood.” After I had dug out whatever there was to be found, Jon wanted a report. He wanted it in publishable form, though there was no plan to publish it. “We want it as a lever,” he said. “This campaign is going to be bitter. If we have this in reserve it might keep Joey’s camp from going overboard.”
Crosbie had already paid for a wide-ranging survey of public attitudes done by one of the top American pollsters. He discovered that Newfoundlanders believed that their government was corrupt but didn’t much care. Joey was a folk-hero. Whatever he took for himself was alright with them.

Frank Moores

Frank Moores

At the time Joey talked the island into confederation just after the end of World War II, he had been a failure at almost every business he had tried. Before becoming premier he had run a pig-farming operation into the dirt. His salary for the top political job in the province had been $6,000 a year. Yet he lived in a lavish home that he had built privately and then, in an imperial gesture, willed to the people of the province.
But the Crosbie camp was convinced that the people had no idea of the extent of the rip-off. Particularly, they weren’t aware that, while Joey was well off, some of his friends and associates were wealthy beyond avarice. A complete accounting might be able to topple the tyrant. But perhaps just the threat of it could induce him to retire gracefully.
“We really want to avoid an all-out battle between Joey and Crosbie,” Jon said. “That can only undermine the party, and might mean a Conservative win at the next provincial election.”
Obviously, if I was going to be nosing about on this tight island, no cover story we could concoct would fool anyone for very long. This was alright, Jon said. It didn’t matter if Joey’s gang found out. In fact they were supposed to; it might throw the proper scare into them. But it would be more useful if they thought they were being clever while discovering me.
In fact I’d already been discovered. As Geoffrey Stevens reports in The Player: The Life and Times of Dalton Camp, “Smallwood was known to have informants at the airport who kept him personally posted on the arrival of suspicious strangers from the mainland.” By my May tan alone I was suspicious.
Jon suggested I get a copy of Richard Gwyn’s biography of Smallwood. He made an appointment for me with Baron Macdonald, an executive with the Crosbie companies, for the next day. I had a number to call in case I needed anything. I saw him only twice again in the next two weeks — once by chance at the Candlelight and once when I delivered my report.
In fifteen years of reporting there were a few luxuries I had missed. One was a research assistant. No employer had ever seen fit to provide one. Now that I was being paid so munificently, I thought to fill the gap myself. It seemed likely to be useful to have someone around who knew something about Newfoundland and its politics ¾ not to mention somebody to escort me about St. John’s. It didn’t take long to find Helen, a young widow who was under-appreciated by the daily paper where she worked and willing to moonlight.
She had the important qualification of family links to one of St. John’s old families. She knew a lot of skeletons, some still clicking.
Gwyn’s biography of Smallwood is excellent, very chatty, full of detail, some of it even critical. It was only after I had been in the province a few days that a strange omission struck me. All kinds of people were in the book, friends and enemies, rich and influential, politicos, merchants and fishermen. But there were no Lundrigans. This was very curious indeed because the more I tried to find out about Smallwood’s business affairs and the economic policies of his government, the larger Lundrigan loomed.
A courtly and charming clerk informed me with regret that there, were no open records of debates in the Newfoundland legislature. He had them of course, and they were scrupulously kept. But they weren’t to be made public. The reports of the provincial auditor-general were stored in the basement of the Confederation Building. When I asked for all the reports over the past 15 years, the guardian of the stores looked at me with quizzical condescension.
“You’d better come back tomorrow,” he said.
I called the number Jon had given me and told the young law student that I could use some expense money. Thirty minutes later there was a knock at the hotel room door. The girl standing there was very pretty, very young and very serious. She would have made a popular beauty queen at Memorial University but her manner said she would rather be student president.
“Mr. Patterson?”
She reached into a shoulder bag and pulled out a thick, white, unaddressed envelope, handed it to me and left without another word. The envelope was stuffed with $20, $50 and $100 bills. There was no note.
The next day the guardian of the stores had the A-G reports ready, except for two that were “out of print.” For several days I pored over these records, particularly the sections dealing with grants to private companies. There were dozens of these, for everything from fish packing to motel building. A number of companies, after taking the government’s money, had been somewhat improvident with it and come to the edge of bankruptcy. The practice then was for the government’s industrial development agency to take control of the company, and frequently hand over management to another business group. One of the most prominent of these business-fixers was Lundrigan’s Ltd.
Armed with the names of the companies I visited the provincial corporate records department to find out who was behind them. I was surrounded by law clerks in the dimly lit, meshed-in storeroom. We all suffered from eyestrain and the mugginess of an early summer heat wave.
It became clear that millions of dollars of government money had been pumped into ventures that had little or no chance of commercial success but had been sponsored by close friends of the Liberal party. Of the government-supported companies that survived, many had a remarkable congruence of directors.
The name that appeared most frequently was D.W.K. Dawe, a St. John’s lawyer whose clients included Lundrigan’s Ltd. and Joey Smallwood. Oliver Vardy, a senior public servant and Smallwood’s closest friend, and Arthur Lundrigan, who never met a benefactor he didn’t like, also sat on many recipient boards.
Arthur Lundrigan was a director of the Bank of Montreal, which was the province’s official banker. One of the first things I’d learned about Joey’s financial affairs was that he had a loan from the BofM that he used to buy stock in Brinco, the company that was building a gigantic power complex at Labrador’s Churchill Falls. Jon had known about it and so had Baron Macdonald, the Crosbie lieutenant. In fact it was almost a matter of common gossip.
One afternoon drinking screech in the hotel bar with one of the best freelance journalists in town, I told him of a complicated maneuver involving the provincial agricultural marketing board and a large chicken farm that Joey owned and his family ran. “Hell,” he came back, “I had that months ago. Sent a query but nobody bit.”
It was interesting and frustrating. Each time I discovered a particularly unorthodox situation involving Smallwood and company, I found the essentials of the deal were fairly well known in the corridors of St. John’s. My research was just confirming rumours that everyone believed anyway.
That night I saw Jon at the Candlelight and mentioned this problem. He didn’t seem concerned about the cost. “Put it all together with some documentation,” he said. “Nobody’s done that before. It should be enough to scare Joey. That’s all we want to do.”
I had several meals at the Candlelight during my time on the job. At first glance it appeared the typical eastern short-order lunch counter. But the Wyatts orchestrated a kitchen and a homey warmth into a rare experience. The place was a jewel.
It was also a traffic centre. My first evening there I met enough people to keep successive conversations going well past midnight.
Newfoundlanders are great storytellers and Joey was one of their favourite topics. It was something of a temptation to include in my narrative for Jon some of the more delicious scandals told me with serious conviction by more than one respected citizen. But most of the worst tales of venality were simply impossible to document. In the end I stuck very close to what was in the public records. On the tenth day I rented an IBM Selectric and started to write. After work Helen would drop over and we’d discuss my notes. She was a fount of knowledge on relationships ¾ where the family ties were, or the long-standing friendship, or the submerged but powerful business links ¾ the kind of things you learn by osmosis when you’re born into a community.
Two nights later the final version was ready. It fell short of proving malfeasance but showed a pattern that explained how a political cadre had been able to manipulate public funds in order to raise themselves from impoverishment to opulence and develop the clout to borrow millions of dollars from one of the nation’s Big Five banks. One original, no copies, per instruction. I delivered it to Jon the next morning and that afternoon the young woman arrived again with another unmarked envelope stuffed with bills. I left on a Wednesday.

Alex Hickman

Alex Hickman

The report that was supposed to increase pressure on Joey to see the light didn’t work at all the way it was intended. Events moved faster than anyone anticipated. Less than a week after I arrived Smallwood announced he would indeed be a candidate to succeed himself as Liberal leader. Crosbie’s campaign would feature an attack on “Newfoundland’s LSD — Lundrigan, Shaheen and Doyle,” but it fell well short. Joey was a shoo-in at the convention. Crosbie’s team secretly subsidized Alex Hickman, the justice minister, to join the race. The subsidy, Jon writes in Streetfighter, was delivered “in a shopping bag containing $25,000 in $100 bills.” Hickman’s entry split the vote three ways and spared Crosbie the ignominy of a head-to-head trouncing by the wily old veteran.
The report never surfaced during the campaign. A top libel lawyer provided an opinion that any action arising from its publication could be “successfully defended,” but it represented too much escalation for the Crosbie family, which still had to do business in the province after the votes were counted.
Only one person outside the Crosbie entourage ever saw the complete document. Jon told me a year or so later (he didn’t repeat it in Streetfighter – perhaps memory had faded after forty years) that he brought it himself to Frank Moores as soon as the Crosbie’s loss was certain. After all, the two men shared the same basic objective. Moores was a boyhood friend of Crosbie’s; they had been schoolmates together at St. Andrew’s College in Ontario. Both millionaires, from old island families. Both politicians. They shared many objectives, including the basic conviction that Joey had to be gone if Newfoundland was to have any chance to prosper.
As it happened, they soon accomplished this goal in a classic one-two combination. Crosbie weakened Joey’s credibility in the no-holds-barred fight for the Liberal leadership in 1969. Moores took over the PC Party in Newfoundland the next year. In the 1971 provincial election Moores’ Progressive Conservatives beat Smallwood’s Liberals to form a minority government, which became a knockout majority in early 1972.

Lt. Gov. John Crosbie

Lt. Gov. John Crosbie

Once Frank Moores became Premier, John Crosbie crossed the floor to become his finance minister. His political career took a federal turn that would include senior cabinet posts in both the Clark and Mulroney governments. In 2008 Harper appointed him Lieutenant Governor of the province, a gig that lasted until March 2013 when he was eighty-two. Joey left for London to write his version of the province’s history. Though he would live another two decades and die a nonagenarian, he was a spent force politically. It had all come about much as Jon had predicted.
Among the items flagged in my report, now in the hands of Joey’s opponents in power, were the unusual leasing practices of the Newfoundland Liquor Commission. Moores picked this peccadillo to invoke the Public Enquiries Act and establish a Royal Commission to investigate breaches of trust, conflicts of interest and other ways and means that public funds had been misused by his predecessor.

Fabian O'Dea

Fabian O’Dea

Fabian O’Dea found much the same pattern of private gain at public expense for a small group of Smallwood intimates that I had. He had access to private documents and could call witnesses to testify under oath, so his findings were more detailed. Even so there was not enough evidence to sustain criminal action. All the government could do was try to recover some excess payments through the civil courts. This would prove no more successful than recovering any of the billions from Churchill Falls that were recklessly ceded to Quebec by Smallwood, with a hydro obsession but blind to fiscal reality while he was in power.