Who’s North?

(This post, originally published in High North News, was inspired by the presence in the Arctic of significant numbers of Pammy Fleming‘s family, including great4,5,6granddaughters in the Northwest Territories and Nunavik. Credit photo of Nunavut below: Peter Prokosch-Grid Arendal.)

Nunavut-(Peter Prokosch-Grid Arendal)It’s entirely a matter of degree. The North pole at 90°N (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 50°N in some places. Above 60°N the land is pretty well packed white all winter long. And it’s a long, dark winter.
To Americans, Canada is a Northern country because Canada lies North of the United States. The U.S.-Canada border dipsy-doodles around 49°N and below (Toronto is at 43°N, Montreal and Ottawa at 45°N). Most Canadians by far — more than nine out of ten — live within 100 miles or about 1.5° of this border. We hug our big neighbour very tightly. (This is true “even in the North,” as Brian Pehora wrote from Whitehorse, Yukon, after this article was first published. “About a 1/4 of ppl North of 60 live within a days drive of Alaska.”)
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 82°N is the place furthest North on the planet that is continuously occupied. Alert’s motto, Inuit Nunangata, means beyond the land of Inuit land. The permanent population of Alert is zero, but there are always a few dozen people there on a rotating basis for weather and military signals monitoring and as a short-term destination for Northern researchers.
But the real truth is that most Canadians by far are a Northern people by reputation only.
Canada’s territory above 60°N 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 spread among dozens of nations, including Innu, Dene, Métis, Yellowknives, Tlingit, Yukon and Cree). Total GDP for the three Northern territories is just under $10 billion.
Alaska is North for the United States, the largest state in the union by area, with a population of about 750,000, largely employed in gas, oil and government, including the U.S. military, and a GDP of US $45 billion. I won’t belabour the Scandinavians: Helsinki, 1.5 million people at 60°N (all Finns live between 60°N and 70°N), Stockholm with 1.3 million and Oslo with 1.4 million, both at 59°N. Narvik, Norway, with 19,000 people, is situated just above 68°N.
But the real claimant to Northern pre-eminence is Siberia. At just over 13 million sq. km., approximately 10% of Earth’s total land area, Siberia is 77% of Russia, with a population of 40 million. There are big cities in Siberia. The regional admin centre Novosibirsk is at 55°N with more than 1.5 million inhabitants. The longest railway in the world is the Trans-Siberian.
Canada has no cities of any size above 55°N. Edmonton, with a population of 800,000, is at 53°N. North of Edmonton, stretching East and West from the Pacific to Hudson Bay and across to Labrador, you’d have to look hard to find a total of 250,000 people. About a quarter of these are at Fort McMurray (56°N) stripping the Alberta tarsands. Another 60,000 are in the territorial capitals of Yellowknife (60°N), Whitehorse (60°N) and Iqaluit (63°N). The rest are dispersed through dozens of settlements and communities, most with fewer than a thousand inhabitants.
On the other side of the pole a different North is found. Moscow, the Russian capital, sits at 55°N latitude with a population around 11.5 million. St. Petersburg, with five million people, is at 60°N. More than half the area of Russia is still further North, with cities such as Archangel, with 350,000 people at 64°N, Murmansk, with a population of 319,000 at 68°N, Vorcuta, with 75,000 Vorcutans at 67°N and Norilsk, 165,000 at 69°N. Canada has only three hamlets at this latitude, with a total of 1,182 residents.
What southern Canadians must understand is that there’s a lot more experience of the North around the world than we possess. 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 Canada’s North a private, undeveloped preserve won’t do for tomorrow. It’s high time to re-assess our interests in the North and to work in partnership with its Indigenous peoples.
The October 2013 Throne Speech boasted that, “Canada’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest latitudes. They are the dreams of a North confident and prosperous.” That was a Conservative speech and the Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was an annual visitor to the North, walking the talk as it were.
The current Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, hasn’t articulated any significant Northern policy, other than to somehow help Northern residents with the exceptionally high cost of living in lightly populated areas where most food and other supplies have to be flown in. This will no doubt be welcome relief, if and when it happens, but it’s hardly a policy, let alone a strategy. However Mr. Trudeau would hardly disagree with the sentiment, and might feasibly have used it himself if it hadn’t first come from the opposition, that “Canada’s greatest dreams are to be found in our highest latitudes.”
Great dreams perhaps. But do we really have any right to claim great doings?
Search as hard as you can, you won’t find more than $250 million spread over four or five years as evidence of “building the Canadian North,” federal money to be spent on everything from housing to adult education to species protection and harbor and hydro developments. To put that amount in context, it’s the same as was spent recently to renovate the Canadian Museum of Nature along the street from where I live in Ottawa. It’s a pittance in the scheme of Northern development.
Despite the woeful record, we have perfected talking the talk. “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 delusion, Yevgeny Lukyanov explains what is meant by walking the walk. “For the Russian economy, there are no alternatives for the majority of resources extracted in the North,” says the deputy secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. “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. In support of resource development, a public-private partnership was concluded December 30, 2015, to build the world’s Northernmost railway, running 170 km Northeast from the Bovanenkovo gas field to the port of Sabetta on the Yamal Peninsula, which will be fully operational by 2016 to provide year-round facilities for vessels carrying goods and gas through the Northern Sea Route. “This project opens a window to the world oceans,” says Irina Sokolova, vice-governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. “Its goal is to strengthen the power of Russia in the Arctic frontiers.”
Russia is actively promoting its Northern Sea Route as an alternative to the fabled but elusive Northwest Passage. In fact the most promising and to date the most used way through the Arctic hugs the Russian coast. The Northwest Passage through Canadian waters is narrower, shallower and has more ice.
Russia can deploy 41 icebreakers today and is building 14 more, many of them nuclear-powered. The largest is a 556-foot megaship, 42 feet longer than the next biggest and too big for any existing docks. The United States has only three, one of which has been out of service for repairs for five years. But the U.S. Coast Guard announced January 12, 2016, that it will purchase two new heavy breakers to support operations in the Arctic. They are expected to cost more than US$1 billion apiece and be able to break through ice six feet thick at a speed of three knots, operate for 80 days without refueling and cover about 40,000 kilometers at a speed of 12 knots in ice-free waters.
Canada’s Coast Guard has two decades-old icebreakers heavy enough for thick ice and two medium breakers, all powered by diesel-electric engines. The workhorse has been CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, almost a half century old. It was due to be replaced next year (2017) by the $1.7 billion CCGS John G. Diefenbaker but this project, announced in 2008, has been repeatedly delayed. The earliest estimate now for the Diefenbaker’s deployment is 2022.
Russia has recently established six new military bases in the Arctic, two of them equipped with anti-aircraft missile systems, and is modernizing six Northern airfields. President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia doesn’t intend to militarize the Arctic but will protect its national interests in oil and gas and maintain an alert against terrorist activity in the region. Last year the largest building in the Arctic, a 14,000-square meter (151,000-square foot) military complex, was completed at Franz Joseph Land, an archipelago of 191 mostly uninhabited islands at 81°N (just 1° south of our Northernmost populated site at Alert).
“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 Mr. Lukyanov.
For most southern Canadians it is precisely the reverse, a romantic vision, a place dreamed of but difficult to get to and hard to get a grip on. For Northerners and Northern Indigenous peoples, the North is vitally important. On their strength and on their leadership Canada must rely through the difficult Northern century ahead.
To secure this future internationally we must look to the Arctic Council.
The Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum “promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states, Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.” These objectives may either have been strengthened or exceeded last year with establishment of the Arctic Economic Council. The AEC was set up, under Canadian auspices, “as a primary forum for interaction between the Arctic Council and the circumpolar business community.”
The Arctic Council has no power. But it has influence. As the world’s awareness grows of the Arctic’s economic riches and climate risks, that influence is bound to increase. Nobody knows the North better.
As well as Canada, the U.S and Russia, members of the Council include Denmark (pop. 5.6 million), Finland (5.5 million), Iceland (pop. 329,000), Norway (5 million) and Sweden (9.6 million). Membership is open only to nations with territory extending into the Arctic. Many others would like to be involved. Eight European states and China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have status as Observers and participate in Council working groups. The European Union would like to be an Observer too but has been blackballed by Canada in retaliation for its Brigitte Bardot-inspired ban on seal products. There are also six organizations representing Indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic designated as Permanent Participants of the Council.
All together, the six members of the Council that are not superpowers have a total population lower than California plus Texas. We are never going to outmuscle the giants. But we have a three-to-one voting majority. This will increase in importance as the Council’s authority grows, as surely it will. Outriders will want to get closer to Arctic action. Why is this inevitable? Some non-members of the Council assert that the Arctic belongs to those who have most use for it as well as those who claim sovereignty.
Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, told an interviewer from the Globe and Mail in January 2014, “Arctic resources, in my opinion, will be allocated according to the needs of the world, not only owned by certain countries. We cannot simply say that this is yours and this is mine.” China has two icebreakers and is expected to commission another this year.
Canada can continue to lead the Arctic Council and solicit the support of non-members, such as China and the European Union, in a new alignment to fulfill the North’s economic potential. We must boost investment in social and economic infrastructure, not by small amounts but by billions.
Above all, the common cause must be to revive and amplify Indigenous strength in the Arctic.
Southern Canadians can rely on their Northern compatriots to hold the North. They won’t hold it alone. But they will be the core, the backbone, of Canadian control in the Arctic. Without them we’ll be frozen out of competition in what is fast becoming a most important focal point of global concern (climate) and interest (resources), in our own backyard.
John Diefenbaker raised the level of Northern consciousness by championing a “roads to resources” vision. But Dief’s program dwindled to nothing during his brief and troubled time in office. Now sixty years later, the time has arrived to do more than walk and talk. Nickel and diming one of the vastest underdeveloped territories of the world is a loser’s strategy. Use it or lose it, China has told us, politely. We should be listening carefully.

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 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-700X200

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?”
“Where?”
“Newfoundland.”
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.”
“Naturally.”
“When?”
“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?”
”Yes.”
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.

Canada’s Aquinas loved a good joke

Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan SJ, CC,  liked to laugh. He liked Goldie Hawn in the movies. He liked Jane Jacobs too. Not because she was funny but because she was smart. He called her Mrs. Insight. Not as smart as he was, of course. In that he stood alone.

Lonergan UofT set280X107

Some volumes in UofT’s Lonergan Series

Pammy’s great2granddaughter Eileen had dinner with Lonergan the evening of February 19, 1981. That afternoon he asked to borrow a copy of Eichner’s Guide to Post-Keynesian Economics from the library at Montreal’s Thomas More Institute. He explained that it would be good to have at hand for his visit with Eileen. They knew each other well. Eileen had written her doctoral thesis on Lonergan’s economics. But she was somewhat shy and he was somewhat introverted, neither of them big on table talk. Economic theory would be easier for both.
He was in town from Boston College, where he held appointment as Distinguished Professor. He had consented to a week of interviews by disciples who wanted to mine the fatherlode before it petered out. He was 76 years old, a survivor of cancer surgery with one lung carved away from three decades of pipe smoking, who would be in declining health during the few years left before he died in November 1984.
The outcome of the talks at TMI would be a slim volume of Q&As, Caring About Meaning, privately printed by the Institute and dealing with “patterns in the life of Bernard Lonergan.” This transcript “moves around,” writes the editor, “as in any good conversation. There are frequent and abrupt changes of topic, some repetitions, and the casual use by Father Lonergan of Latin, Greek, German and French,” some of the languages in which he was proficient.

Lonergan shuffling

Lonergan shuffling

In marked contrast to the simplicity of this memoir are the academic surroundings in which the boy from Buckingham is enshrined today. There are gatherings worldwide to discuss his meaning. The Lonergan Research Institute in Toronto and the Marquette Lonergan Project in Milwaukee are jointly digitizing and preserving his papers, sponsoring seminars and publishing newsletters to describe the thriving world of Lonergan studies. There are Lonergan Centres at seven universities and at least another seven independent Lonergan Institutes in places as diverse as Nairobi, Mexico City, Montreal, Sydney and Innsbruck. The University of Toronto Press is publishing a compendium of his works in 22 large volumes at a cost north of $1 million. They’re on the market for prices as little as $18 for a paperback, or up to $114 for clothbound major works. More than 500 hours of his lectures, delivered and taped between 1957 and 1980, are being remastered to CDs. Three decades after his death he has become an academic industry with branches on all continents.
Major international collocutions are scheduled on topics such as “Lonergan’s Insight After Fifty Years: Its Origins, Its Meaning, Its Reception and Prospects,” on the agenda for one of the annual symposia at Marymount U. in Los Angeles. In 2013, for the 40th annual workshop on his work at Boston College, the Lonergan lens is on the “50th anniversary of Vatican II.” Workshops are also scheduled this year for Jerusalem and Melbourne, Australia.
He was the great grandson of a saloonkeeper. Hugh Gorman was among the early settlers of the lumber town of Buckingham, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. It was largely an Irish community to begin with but later became and remains primarily French speaking. Lonergan’s father was an engineer and surveyor who was away much of the time, marking ways for rail lines through the Canadian northwest. His mother, remembered even today as particularly pious, prayed the rosary three times daily and was the foundation of the home, assisted by her spinster sister Mollie.

Mackell164X236

Fleming Mackell followed his Dad into the NHL

A precocious student, he was reading Treasure Island at six and went through four years of high school in two. Much of his drive for learning he attributed to formation at the Buckingham primary school, where the Christian Brothers organized students into three sets of three grades. “I had the advantage — in the ungraded school you kept working. If you had one teacher talking all day long, you just wasted your time.”
Young Bernie enjoyed all the usual pursuits of small town Canada. His delight in winter sports was amplified by the exploits of his cousin, Ed Gorman, who would go on to play in the mid-1920s for the original Ottawa Senators. One of the founding clubs of the NHL, contender for 11 Stanley Cups in 17 years of which it won five, this team was voted the greatest of the first half century by Canadian sports editors in 1950. Another player among the Silver Seven, as this great team was known by fans and sportswriters, was winger Jack Mackell, who married Pammy’s great-granddaughter Margaret (Kate’s niece) in 1922. Their son Fleming Mackell, Pammy’s great2grandson, also won a couple of Stanley Cup rings. Ironically, he got both during his three season run with the Toronto Maple Leafs, while he made his reputation in the game as a rugged all-star centre and alternate captain with the Boston Bruins.
In summer Bernie Lonergan went river rafting on the Lièvre River, which drained a vast region of virgin forest and flowed to the Ottawa River four miles south. He wasn’t altogether free of mischief. He taught his two younger brothers to play poker and took their money at cards, returning it only after they threatened to tell their parents. One of these siblings, Gregory, also joined the Society of Jesus and was able to stay with Bernie at the Jesuit infirmary in Pickering to provide palliative attention during the distressing last year of his life (1984), when he was afflicted by depression and a long-simmering addiction to alcohol as well as the ongoing effects of the cancer surgery.

Boy from Buckingham ready for Loyola

Boy from Buckingham ready for Loyola

He waved goodbye to Buckingham at fourteen to study at Loyola College in Montreal, now a division of Concordia University, but then a Jesuit-run liberal arts college which was organized, he would write some years later “pretty much along the same lines as Jesuit schools had been since the beginning of the Renaissance, with a few slight modifications.” After schooling, he would return home only occasionally as his work took him further and further afield (late in life he would count that he had been “across the Atlantic about forty six times”). But Buckingham remembers him. The town’s public library is the Bibliothèque Municipale Bernard Lonergan and a plaque at the door reads, “Born in Buckingham, member of the Order of Canada and considered by many intellectuals as the best philosophical thinker of the twentieth century, he was a Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian of world renown.”
A philosopher and theologian indeed, also an economist of original perception, though most who look carefully at the vast expanse of his work conclude that none of these labels really capture him. He was essentially a methodologist, whose vocation was to teach how we can “appropriate our own rational self-consciousness,” by which he meant understanding the operations of experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding as we perform them in our daily routines. But first and foremost he was a Jesuit, which provided both his greatest support and his greatest frustration.
At Loyola “I acquired great respect for intelligence,” he would say years later. “The Jesuits were the best educated people I had ever met.”
As much as anybody, once Jacques Cartier had found the place for Europeans, the Jesuits made Canada. The Society of Jesus was founded in the mid-16th century by Ignatius Loyola and immediately set to work to counter the reformation being promulgated by Martin Luther. Their primary tool would be education  — Ignatius Loyola, founding “general” of the Society and his first half-dozen recruits were all doctoral students at the University of Paris  —  that they deployed in order to strengthen faith, gain converts and cultivate influence, both within the Church and beyond. Education was the hottest product in the cultural arena as literacy began its run following Gutenberg’s marvelous invention barely a century before.  As the Society’s origin coincided with a great age of exploration, discovery and settlement in new worlds — the age of Cartier, Columbus, Cabot, Verrazano, Hudson and hundreds more — its schools spread worldwide, some to become major universities (Université Laval in Quebec City, among the oldest institutions of higher learning in North America, would evolve out of the Collège des Jésuites). Many members of the order through the centuries became renowned scholars and scientists, making significant contributions particularly in fields such as astronomy and anthropology. And they became inveterate travelers, carpetbaggers of the church, seeking to spread the Roman Catholic faith throughout North and South America, and in the far east, particularly China (even today the largest Chinese dictionary in a western language is a Jesuit publication of 9,000 pages).

Jesuit college and church, Quebec City, 1761 (Nat. Archive of Cda)

Jesuit college and church, Quebec City, 1761 (Nat. Archive of Cda)

The first Jesuits to reach the land that would become Canada were Pierre Biard and Ennémond Massé on May 22, 1611. They and many who came after them went to live among the native nations. They followed the wanderers through forests, along waterways and across long portages. They acquired some fluency in aboriginal languages and customs, and served as interpreters, guides and go-betweens for the early traders and colonizers, who could hardly have survived the harsh climate, rocky soil and distant treks to fur-bearing resources without this assistance. Some blackrobes set out to explore the vastness of the American continent. Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet, who studied eleven years with the Jesuits but backed away from ordination at the last minute, were the first Europeans to reach the Mississippi. Others taught, baptized and ministered to the settlers and “sought to insulate the Natives from the consuming ravages of greed.” The annually published Jesuit Relations, begun as reports from missionaries in the field to superiors back home, gradually evolved into travelogues and adventure tales circulated in Europe to attract immigrants and enlist support for the mission. As colonial powers began to negotiate treaties with aboriginal inhabitants during the 18th and 19th centuries, Jesuits acted as counselors and interpreters in an effort to protect indigenous interests. That they were not always, or even often, successful was acknowledged by Peter-Hans Kolvenback, the General of the order, in 1993. He offered the Society’s apology to American Indians for “the mistakes it has made in the past (when) the church was insensitive toward your tribal customs, language and spirituality.”
The million or so Canoriginals today are proportionally much more numerous than their cousins in the United States. There, indigenous peoples were not regarded as trading partners but as barriers to western expansion. They were cut down like trees in the forest so that white Americans could achieve their manifest destiny, range their cattle and farm their fields. Jesuits were among those who imprinted a pattern in Canada that moderated the military violence and wanton massacres so common south of the border. (Which is not to say that Canada treats its indigenous peoples fairly and justly. It doesn’t.)
Jesuits were intrepid to the point of sacrificing their lives. Jean de Brébeuf and seven companions are canonized as saints of the Catholic Church. In their memory each year on Sept. 26 a reading of the religious ‘office’ proclaims that their lives were “like a martyrdom because of the character and wretched conditions of the Huron Indians of that time.” In the mid 17th century the Hurons were wiped out by the Iroquois and blackrobes were among the casualties of conflict, some of whom “endured almost unbelievable tortures with such invincible courage as to arouse the admiration of the savage executioners themselves.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia says “the torture and death of blackrobes Gabriel Lalemant (left) and Jean de Brébeuf (right) in 1649 was one of the most powerful images distributed of the New World, not least for its value as propaganda.”

It should not be hard to imagine why impressionable young men are attracted to this adventurous, historic band of brothers. I dare say that almost everybody who spent as much time at Loyola as Lonergan did, or I did, gave some thought at some time to joining the Jesuits. They are figures of authority and of mystery, a fraternity with great traditions, who opened many frontiers for European civilization in new found worlds and ancient. They had been advisers to emperors and teachers of princes. They also had been persecuted, martyred and, for forty years in the 19th century, disbanded under a papal prohibition. There were some places in the world where the ban was not rigidly enforced and one of them was Quebec. By going underground and keeping the dream alive the Jesuits survived and eventually were allowed to raise their head again. They were a magnetic draw for boys (there were no girls at Loyola then, nor in the Society of Jesus).
I gave it a few days consideration before concluding that the strict vows of poverty, chastity and obedience required of Jesuits were not for me. The fathers bent little effort to persuade me otherwise. Some of the more courageous among my friends took the spiritual path, among them David Asselin, who would have become a brother-in-law had he not died so young; and Jean-Marc Laporte, a philosophy wunderkind who dazzled us in caf and coffee shop sessions with his grasp of subtleties in Aquinas, Scotus, Kant and other lights, including the recently published Bernard Lonergan. After long apprenticeship (the road to full membership in the Society of Jesus stretches fourteen years) Laporte would become Lonergan’s personal secretary and in 2002 he was appointed Provincial, the highest administrative post of the order in English Canada (Jesuits long ago divided Canada into just two provinces, English and French). Provincials report to the Jesuit General in Rome, who reports to the Pope. In fact the General is referred to by scoffers as the black pope. Jesuits are the papal legion, canonically speaking. (This was written before the election of Pope Francis, an unexpected event that likely portends more change for the Church than for the Society, which seems to be dong better than its founder Ignatius could have dreamed.) 

Former Chapel (now F.C. Smith Auditorium) on Loyola Campus

Former Chapel (now F.C. Smith Auditorium) on Loyola Campus. Mary Blickstead and I were married here in December 1958.

When I was at Loyola, through most of the 1950s, the Thomas More Institute was a centre of continuing education and intellectual discourse for adults, and so it remains. Founded by Eric O’Connor, a Jesuit and Harvard-educated mathematician, it was here in 1945 that Lonergan began to think through a centrepiece in the ever-expanding universe of his thought. Though Insight: A Study of Human Understanding , would not be published for another dozen years, it was in a series of lectures at TMI that the brilliant, middle-aged professor found inspiration to begin writing what would quickly be recognized as one of the most original and profound philosophical works of the 20th century. Of its origins at TMI he would later say, “It seemed clear that I had a marketable product not only because of the notable perseverance of the class but also from the interest that lit up their faces.”
The spark had been struck but it was soon in danger of being extinguished as year after year, for more than a decade, he was consigned by the order to teach in institutions that he found intellectually stagnant. His personal standard for education was set somewhat higher than the Society’s. When he was sent to Europe as part of his Jesuit training he found he had to work harder just to catch up. “I read Thackeray and made a list of all the words,” he said, “to know the meaning well enough to use them myself. I looked them up in the dictionary and wrote them down and went over these lists; if I still didn’t know the meaning I would look up the dictionary again. I improved my vocabulary tremendously. But I went to England for philosophy, and all the lads there were talking that well!”
Years later he would write to a superior, “At the parish school I always had to work my hardest. At Loyola my acquired habits did not survive my first year: by the mid-term exams I was in 3rd High; by the end of the year I was fully aware that the Jesuits did not know how to make one work, that working was unnecessary to pass exams, and that working was regarded by all my fellows as quite anti-social. For my remaining three years at Loyola I loafed and passed exams with honours . . . Now do not tell me that I am exceptional. I have more than average ability, but not so much more that I did not have to work when confronted with the standards of the parish school in Buckingham or the University of London.”

Lonergan laughing, as often he did

Lonergan laughing, as often he did

Only the strict vow of obedience he had taken kept him on course. In the Society of Jesus, he would say in later years, “you have to do things that are rather hard and you need a lot of grace to do them. That is the advantage of a religious life.”
In the early 1950s the advantages were not evident. The grind of teaching scholastics (Jesuit apprentices) year after year in Montreal and Toronto was wearing him down. Then his superiors relented. In 1953 he was dispatched to begin a dozen years as professor of theology at the world-renowned Gregorian University in Rome. Apparently he had passed the test of obedience.
He finished the last seven chapters of Insight in a white heat between December 1952 and August 1953, fired by the titanic orchestrations of Ludwig van Beethoven. Insight sold out its first printing within a year, “a best seller of its type,” he once quipped. It has since been translated into all European and several Asian languages and still sells thousands of copies annually. I fear to put it this simply, but since he repeats it a couple of times in Insight, I’ll say its premise is that by understanding what it is to understand “not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.”
Putting Insight behind him, Lonergan turned to shedding new light on old theological questions. At the Gregorian as many as 650 students would crowd into his classes, and the works he produced there had an unusual feature for a modern author. They were written in Latin. He was also fluent in Italian, German and classical Greek, all important to pursue his theological and philosophical studies, and French. Perhaps not surprisingly for a Quebec-born Canadian of his era, he didn’t learn French at home. In Buckingham “we didn’t speak French. That depended on what part of the town you were from. And the hardest place to learn French is Montreal. I learned French in England.”

Receiving the Order of Canada

Receiving the Order of Canada

In fact Insight had never been the end that Lonergan had in mind. His overriding concern was to bring to the 20th century the kind of synthesis of modern thought with theology that Thomas Aquinas had achieved in the 13th century and that had endured, sometimes in observance sometimes in ignorance, for some 800 years. He agreed with Aquinas that philosophy did not consist in knowing what others have said, but in seeking and finding what is true. Bringing to bear the findings of physics and mathematics, often in dialogue and exchange with Eric O’Connor, he built on Aquinas with practical examples just as Aquinas had built on Aristotle’s first principles.
He didn’t delude himself that altering the classical perspective would be easily accomplished. “Centuries are required to change mentalities,” he would say, “centuries. You don’t get a change of mentality by introducing a few fads.”.He found it necessary first to consider the fundamental question, “What is it to know?” The answer he put forward in Insight would have effects far beyond philosophy and theology. His long-time Jesuit friend and biographer, Fred Crowe, points out, “his political thought has been found relevant to problems in the Philippines; his social thought was the focus of a study group in Mexico; his notion of values was used in an analysis of rural development in Ethiopia; doctors and nurses are applying his ideas in their field of health care; there have been similar applications to Anglican moral theology, to Quaker spirituality, and to Australian and Chinese contextualization of theology; to theories of architecture, chemistry, feminism, to jurisprudence and to psychotherapy . . .” In Ottawa his method is used to train border guards how to tell who’s slippery in the line. There is no end in sight.
His shift forward into theology was given a hard check in 1965 when lung cancer was diagnosed while he was on a return visit to Toronto. He remained for radical surgery, first to remove the lung and then to reshape the ribcage. Recovery was slow. He never returned to his Rome professorship. Instead he began to formulate what would become his second masterwork, Method In Theology, which would be published in 1972.
Theology, he points out “is a reflection on religion, it isn’t being religious.” In Lonergan’s view “contemporary theology and especially contemporary Catholic theology are in a feverish ferment. An old theology is being recognized as obsolete.” Not just theology, but all handed-down classical ‘truths.’
“What breathed life and form into the civilization of Greece and Rome, what was born again in a European Renaissance, what provided the chrysalis whence issued modern languages and literature, modern mathematics and science, modern philosophy and history, held its own right into the twentieth century . . .
“Classicist philosophy was the one perennial philosophy. Classicist art was the set of immortal classics. Classicist laws and structures were the deposit of wisdom and prudence of mankind. This classicist outlook was a great protector of good manners and a great support of good morals. But it had one enormous drawback. It included a built-in incapacity to grasp the need to change and to effect the necessary adaptations.”
Lonergan does not attempt a new or revised theology per se. Rather he creates a process, a method of drawing on the past to enlighten the future. It is not confined to theology but can be applied, as Fred Crowe puts it, “in philosophy or theology, in the pursuit of any project in the field of human studies and human sciences, be it theoretical or practical, present or future, peculiar to one culture or another.”
Though his strength had been sapped by the surgeries, he believed that his desire to finish this project “was a psychological factor in my recovery.” Writing didn’t come fluidly to him. “I write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, eh . . . I could have written more by taking another ten years. But you get sick and tired of a subject and you call it off. Books aren’t finished; authors get tired.”
For relaxation Lonergan often saw films in the company of younger Jesuits who wouldn’t pester him to expound philosophy, and developed an appreciation for the talents of Goldie Hawn. He enjoyed a good joke and could tell one. He read widely, chuckling through Waugh, Chesterton and Lewis Carroll. He championed the work of urban guru Jane Jacobs, whom he dubbed “Mrs. Insight.” Insight occurs with respect to concrete images, not abstractions, and Jacobs is very much grounded in what’s real. But he was no casual conversationalist. In general he displayed a modesty approaching shyness. And while he had a photographic memory and amazing powers of retention for what he read, he was not swift at repartee. The telling comment or response to a question often would occur to him hours after a conversation had ended. He described himself as a “forty eight hour man, strong on l’esprit d’escalier, the witticism you think of when you’re going down the stairs.”
Lonergan’s interest in economics was stimulated by social disruption in the first instance and, in the second, by the quandaries that the profession was experiencing. These instances were separated by some forty years. “When I came back to Canada in 1930,” he said, “the rich were poor and the poor were out of work. The rich were trying to get money selling apples on the street. Many theories were floating around.”

Pammy's great2granddaughter Eileen

Pammy’s great2granddaughter Eileen

Eileen, his dinner companion while visiting Montreal to be interviewed for Caring About Meaning, wrote in her review of the economics volumes in the collected works, “Both the 1930s and 1970s were periods of ferment in economic theory because of the major structural changes and crises that were not explained satisfactorily.”
His response was to identify two separate but interactive levels in the economy that produce wealth and income in different ways. The surplus sector produces goods for further production, e.g. rails for railroads. The basic sector produces goods for consumption. As well, when prices rise, workers demand more and the wage-price spiral begins. When prices fall, producers pull back from investing and recession begins. The result is often panic and “panic doesn’t get you anywhere; it is just stupidity, loss of nerve.” He proposes an economic policy based fundamentally on a strategy of education, generating widespread understanding of the way these cycles work and the natural interconnection between them.
He was far from embracing socialism, “which doesn’t work very well.” He believed that “the trouble with the welfare state is that it crowds out investment, and if you crowd out investment the economy goes to pot.” But he favoured creation of benevolent enterprise, small-scale industries that employ people who can’t be taught much, or who can’t find jobs elsewhere. Also, “If you can have government deficits to conduct wars, you can have government deficits for a war on poverty, a war on ignorance, a war on ill health, and so on.”
The first International Lonergan Congress was held in Tampa, Florida in 1970, attracting eminent theologians and other thinkers from around the world. One of the participants was former senator and presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy, a devoted Catholic who once had given thought to becoming a Benedictine monk. When an eminent intellectual remarked, “there are large gobs of Insight” he didn’t understand, McCarthy quipped, “You’re the first to admit it at breakfast. Most of us wait until afternoon.”
The following year Lonergan was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank.
Lonergan’s invitation to self-appropriation is also an invitation to self-development through self-criticism and self-evaluation. Professor Ken Melchin at Ottawa’s St. Paul University writes in his introduction to ethics, Living With Other People, “More than any other author, Lonergan makes self-discovery the central activity of philosophy and theology. While much of his writing is theoretically complex, it is everywhere guided by a single purpose, the understanding of ourselves in our everyday acts of understanding.”

Delphi today

Delphi today

It sounds straightforward yet, as Fred Crowe says, “the full extent of his influence will not be seen for many years yet. His chief contribution was the creation of an instrument of mind and heart for others to use, whose worth will be discovered not only in study but also in implementation. Only the slow process of history can measure the enduring stature of this great thinker who belongs to the world as much as to his native Canada.”
In a lecture just after Insight was published, Lonergan said: “Your interest may be to find out what Lonergan thinks and what Lonergan says, but I am not offering you that, or what anyone else thinks or says, as a basis. If a person is to be a philosopher, his thinking as a whole cannot depend upon someone or something else. There has to be a basis within himself; he must have resources of his own to which he can appeal as a last resort.”
Know Thyself. It was inscribed on Apollo’s Temple at Delphi in southern Greece and has been a precept for human action since before the time of Socrates. But it has famously defied easy doing. Lonergan doesn’t promise to make it any easier. But he may well be the first and only oracle to nail precisely how it can be done.