Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Correspondent experienced Second World War as few others did

War correspondent Peter Stursberg of the CBC records a radio broadcast from Potenza, Italy, on Sept. 22, 1943. Photograph by Frank Royal, Collections Canada, No. 3207587.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 30, 2009


On Aug. 31, a Thursday, Peter Stursberg celebrated his 26th birthday. The next day, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, a week before Canada would do so.

Mr. Stursberg spent Saturday night at a dance at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, then stayed up late at a friend’s house listening to band music when the program was interrupted for a bulletin from London.

“We were expecting it,” he says. “It didn’t come as a shock. This was in the days when they actually declared war, remember.”

He went for a long walk along the Victoria waterfront the following morning, admiring the quiet beauty of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop. Many years later, he would recall the “dull Sunday emptiness” of city streets.

He had no way of knowing at the time, but in several months his own voice speaking over shellfire on the battlefields of Italy would bring news of the war into Canadian parlors.

His teltale voice remains strong, his elocution precise. For Mr. Stursberg, now 96, retelling the events of a spectacular September in British Columbia 70 years ago revives memories of a war he experienced as few others did.

Desperate to become a war correspondent, he quit print journalism to join the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., a decision regarded as madness by many of his fellow reporters.

He debuted on an agricultural show. Soon, though, Mr. Stursberg’s eloquent reports, delivered in a memorably stentorian tone, his British parentage echoing in every crisply enunciated syllable, became familiar to every household with a radio across the Dominion.

He became the first Allied correspondent to broadcast for a home audience the wartime love song “Lili Marlene,” which British and German troops alike in North Africa listened to as the tune closing a day’s broadcasts on Radio Belgrade. On landing with Canadian forces in Sicily, Mr. Stursberg was surprised to hear peasants singing the tune in the fields. A local orchestra, including an operatic tenor, was hired, and he recorded their version of a sentimental song about a soldier’s unfulfilled promise to meet a lover under a lamppost.

It was in Sicily, too, where he recorded the ringing of church bells and the Seaforth Highlanders playing a victory salute at Agira, the first sounds of liberation in the Italian campaign.

Canadian technicians and engineers cobbled together a mobile broadcasting studio inside an army truck dubbed Big Betsy. Disks were then dispatched from the war zone to London and on to Canada, a difficult and roundabout route.

Mr. Stursberg’s eyewitness accounts brought an immediacy to war reporting. As the Canadians began an artillery assault on the Hitler Line, the German’s defensive position in central Italy’s Liri Valley, the correspondent peered through a shell hole in the attic of a farmhouse to describe the scene.

Just listen to those guns roar!

He drove through the Netherlands in a chauffeured jeep, joined in the expedition by an Associated Press correspondent. They were quickly mobbed by jubilant civilians.

“We were greeted wildly,” he said. “All kinds of Dutch girls got into our jeep. We were covered in girls as we drove through Holland.

“I was lucky because the main Canadian force didn’t have such a pleasant time. They were fighting the Germans.”

On Dominion Day, 1945, Mr. Stursberg entered Berlin. The war in Europe had ended more than six weeks earlier, though, of course, the German capital remained rubble.

He descended the 36 steps into the bunker that was the final headquarters of the Nazis, his Soviet tour guide Major Feodor Platonov, whose shock troops had entered the Chancellory.

The rooms were in a shambles, thick layers of soot covering floors filled with the detritus of a nightmare. Much had been looted.

“I thought I might as well take something,” Mr. Stursberg said. “I went into the pantry and took what looked like kitchenware. They were black, covered with dirt. A spoon and a fork.”

After cleaning, it was discovered one of the pieces of silverware carried the initials AH. Years later, he would display the souvenir for a CBC television audience. He has it still.

In the post-war years, Mr. Stursberg covered the United Nations for CBC Radio before writing a series of books during the decade in which John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson did political battle in Ottawa.

About three decades ago, he had built a home in West Vancouver with a spectacular view across Burrard Inlet to the city. A garden beneath towering conifers was fragrant of lilacs on dry mornings, of what his wife liked to call a bosky smell of moss and ferns on the many damp mornings.

A year ago, the former Jessamy Robertson, his wife of 62 years, died.

“I’m alone here now,” he said.

In an hour-long conversation, it is the only time his voice — once strong enough to be heard over shellfire — cracks.

He published his most recent book, his 14th, seven years, at age 89. “No Foreign Bones in China” retraced his family’s colonial roots to where his father served as a postal commissioner and where he was born in Chefoo less than a year before the outbreak of the Great War.

Mr. Stursberg was invested in the Order of Canada 13 years ago, two days after Remembrance Day. He is also a life member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Sometimes, he hears his old reports rebroadcast on History Television, or on the CBC, for whom his son, Richard, is executive vice-president of English services.

On some midweek mornings, Mr. Stursberg is driven to a coffee shop at the Caulfield Village Mall, where he discusses books and current events with friends, all of them younger than himself.

He finds some solace in knowing much of his life’s work — his books, his recorded war correspondence, his priceless tape-recordings of politicians in the 1960s — have been preserved in archives for the future use of historians. He saw so much and yet knows he cannot bear witness forever.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soon, you can cross that bridge when you come to it

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 28, 2009


Politicians handed out $719 million on Friday. The list includes pump station upgrades, airport apron widenings, and dike foreshore improvements.

The money will cover such worthy projects as arena heat recovery in Hudson’s Hope and a sewage detention lagoon in Mackenzie. It will build a slo-pitch park in Kamloops and libraries in Surrey and on Salt Spring Island. On Galiano Island, highways will be resurfaced, while in Victoria the First Peoples Gallery at the Royal B.C. Museum will get an upgrade.

Of the 174 projects announced for British Columbia, only one is likely to find itself on the cover of a glossy magazine. (A magazine other than Water Meter Installation Monthly or Infrastructure Projects Quarterly, that is.) The federal government is kicking in $1.9 million to restore the picturesque Kinsol Trestle, a sum matched by the province and the local government.

For many years, a dedicated band of history fans, railway enthusiasts and civic boosters in the Cowichan Valley have campaigned to preserve a bridge magnificent in its construction and spectacular in its audacity.

The trestle spans a wide canyon at the bottom of which flows the Koksilah River, which carries trout, salmon, and summer steelhead.

The Tinker-toy construction stretches 614 feet (187.2 metres) at a height of 145 feet (44.2 m), about the same as a 14-story building.

A horizontal curve of seven degrees adds a graceful note.

Imagine building for a toy train a trestle stretching across an inground fish pond using matchsticks and you get an idea of the boldness of a span for which construction was completed in 1920.

The trestle is looking hard done by these days. The last train crossed 30 years ago. It survived a fire in 1988 that damaged some of the deck and supporting structure. It is a rickety hazard, for the time being at least.

The money raised from government and private donations will rehabilitate the old trestle. The structure will be reinforced and unsound timbers replaced. A pathway will be built for cyclists, pedestrians, and horseback riders across the trestle. Each end will be landscaped, while a trail will be hacked through towering Douglas firs to the valley floor.

Some of the work will be done through donations. Western Forest Products has offered trees, which will be selected and cut at the company’s sawmill. The forestry union is offering skilled labour to the project, a fitting contribution considering the original structure was put together by local farmers and loggers.

The Koksilah River Trestle, as it was officially named, was constructed by the Canadian National Railway as part of a rail line that became known as the Galloping Goose for the noisy and ungainly passenger car that serviced logging and mining hamlets. Local residents referred to the trestle as Kinsol, taking the first letters of the nearby King Solomon copper mine.

A river flood caused serious damage to the trestle in 1931, but it was repaired and reinforced. After the Second World War, trucks came to replace trains as the method of hauling logs and the rail line no longer was as important to the local economy. The last repairs were done to the trestle in 1974, six years before it was abandoned. The province acquired the CNR right-of-way in 1984.

In recent years, the trestle has deteriorated so that officials either had to rebuild, or dismantle it, lest it fall into the river it spanned. Some, such as former Lake Cowichan mayor Jack Peake, who himself spent six years in the railroad industry, thought the trestle could be an historic landmark and tourist attraction.

It is believed to be the tallest free-standing wood structure in the Commonwealth.

The campaign to rehabilitate the trestle means an end to a 10-kilometre detour over the river for those following the 120-kilometre Cowichan Valley Trail. The repaired crossing, scheduled to open in 2011, will also close a missing link in the Trans-Canada Trail between the town of Lake Cowichan and the north end of Shawnigan Lake. It was a gap in a footway that is to extend 21,500-km, linking every province and territory.

Alas, the rehab will not allow trains to return. The last crossed the trestle in 1979, ending six decades of freight and passenger service.

On the rebuilt trestle, the only trains will be those carried by brides as they pose for formal wedding photographs in a spectacular setting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thirty years ago a documentary awoke a sleepy community

Chinese-Canadians protested a W5 segment titled "Campus Giveaway" at rallies in four cities in January, 1980. The protests were a "galvanizing experience," said Sid Tan (below) of Vancouver.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 23, 2009


The television segment lasted about 11 minutes, an expose of the takeover of Canadian classrooms by foreign students.

A section of a university lecture hall filled with non-white faces was shown.

The documentary, which aired on television 30 years ago this month, had unintended consequences.

It awoke what had been, until then, a silent community.

A history of the Chinese in Canada includes such benchmarks as building the railroad; defending against rioters in 1907; paying the Head Tax; enduring the Exclusion Act; bravely contributing to the war effort; gaining the franchise in 1947; and, oddly enough, protesting against a single episode of a current-events television program.

Some who watched back then have never forgotten their initial reaction.

Victor Wong was studying science at the University of British Columbia when “Campus Giveaway” aired on the popular program W5 (today known as W-Five).

“It touched many of us,” he said yesterday. “The message was: Because of your skin colour, or your ethnic heritage, you don’t belong here. You’re just taking up someone’s space.”

Sid Tan was also studying at UBC in 1979.

“They were calling a bunch of Canadians foreigners. It was quite disgusting and quite off the mark,” he said. “I remember it as a galvanizing experience.”

Anthony B. Chan, a communications professor born in Victoria, recalls the shock.

“We’re going, ‘Huh?! They’re saying we’re foreigners. They can’t be serious.’ ”

The report alleged that Canadian students were being prevented from studying medicine and engineering because foreign students were occupying their rightful place in university classrooms. Much of the segment focussed on the plight of a student from Ontario who was thwarted in her aspiration to study pharmacy at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Joseph Wong missed the episode when it originally aired on Sept. 30, 1979. He was completing a residency at a hospital when he watched “Campus Giveaway” on a videotape a few weeks later.

“My reaction was so vigorous I’ll never forget it,” he said. “How could this happen in Canada? We’re living in a country without discrimination, I thought.”

He had already booked tickets for a flight to Calgary to visit his mother-in-law. He brought with him the videotape, which he showed at a meeting on New Year’s Eve, 1979, in Calgary, and on New Year’s Day, 1980, in Edmonton. He then flew to Vancouver for a showing four days later.

The tape made the rounds to small audiences in Regina, Ottawa, and Montreal, as well as in smaller Ontario cities such as Waterloo and Sarnia.

A community known for “not wanting to ruffle any feathers,” in Dr. Wong’s words, formed Ad Hoc Committees of Chinese Canadians Against W5 in 16 cities, from Victoria to Halifax.

In late January, four simultaneous protest marches were held. About 2,000 marched on CTV’s offices. “Red, brown, black, yellow and white,” they chanted, “all Canadians must unite.”

The protestors were told Canadian universities had only 85 foreign medical students, 66 of them from the United States.

As well, university officials disputed the W5’s numbers, stating the number of foreign and visa students had been multiplied by a factor of five.

Even 30 years later, Dr. Wong is baffled by the airing of footage in which any Asian face was presumed to be non-Canadian.

“All the yellow-colored students they showed were nationalized Canadians, landed immigrants or permanent residents, or local-born Chinese Canadians,” he said.

The committee had identified all of the unnamed students shown in the report. Not one was a foreign student.

W5 aired an on-air apology that tiptoed around the committee’s complaints. It was rejected by the committee. Finally, in April, CTV issued a statement Globe columnist Dick Beddoes described as “a retraction, an apology, a confession of error, a disorderly retreat.”

Murray Chercover, the network’s president and managing director, wrote: “Right after the program was broadcast our critics — particularly Chinese Canadians and the universities — criticized the program as racist: they were right, although it was never our intention to produce a racist program.

“There is no doubt that the distorted statistics combined with out visual presentation, made the program appear racist in tone and effect.”

With the apology came the offer to fill a 11-minute segment on an upcoming W5 episode.

It aired in December. A survey of 25 job placement agencies found 17 casually agreeing to send only Caucasian employees, while only three flatly refused a request violating provincial and federal laws. The segment was titled, “White and Bright.”

“It was a beautiful victory,” Dr. Wong said.

Mr. Chan, who is now a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology at Oshawa, traces his own family roots in Canada to the arrival of his grandfather in 1881. His mother was born in Vancouver, his father, like himself, in Victoria. He devoted a chapter of his book “Gold Mountain” (New Star, 1983) to the W5 scandal.

In retrospect, he sees 1979 as a pivotal year for the Chinese-Canadian community. Many had been working on the resettlement of the Vietnamese boat people, most of them ethnic Chinese, at the time “Campus Giveaway” was aired.

“It was time,” he said. “Things just coalesced. Thank you very much, W5.”

The politics have reverberated in the 30 years since, as Chinese-Canadians won election to Vancouver city council, to the mayoralty of Victoria, to the Legislature and to Parliament. Some active in the W5 protests have gone on to become filmmakers, provincial court judges, and activists in the campaign for redress of the hated Head Tax. Out of the protest committees, the Chinese Canadian National Council was formed, giving a diverse community a united voice.

At the time of the protests, Dr. Wong, a landed immigrant, was identified in a newspaper story as someone who had “yet to become a Canadian.” He immediately filled out the requisite paperwork. He looks forward next year to celebrating 30 years as a proud citizen of what he calls “the fairest society on earth.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

A rock 'n' roll CEO gets back to his down-home boogie roots

The Heartbeats in concert in 1963 at Cardiff, Wales. From left: Tom Edwards (bass), Geoff Edmunds (guitar); Johnny Stark (drums), Denny Driscoll (vocals), and the great Dave Edmunds (guitar).

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 21, 2009


In the 1950s, the Edmunds brothers played boogie-woogie piano duets at church halls in their hometown of Cardiff, Wales. After a gig at a private party, they were approached by a sharply-dressed car dealer.

“He was a spiv, a bit of a lad,” recalls Geoff Edmunds. “He was into used cars and he loved rock ’n’ roll.

He asked the brothers to perform at a joint he operated on the side.

“A nightclub! We’re moving up. He offered us 30 shillings. That was big.”

The Blue Moon was a dark, smokey and altogether thrilling venue for Geoff, aged 16, and his 12-year-old brother. It was not far from their row house in Tiger Bay, the tough, busy, mixed-race neighbourhood surrounding the docklands.

The audience at the club was mixed, too. “On stage, two little white guys rolling it out,” Mr. Edmunds said. “Singing Everly Brothers.”

Around about midnight, the front door bursts open.

“In come the gendarmes. Half the audience heads out the back, gone like a breeze.”

The brothers thought they were about to witness the bust of some dangerous criminals.

Instead, the police had come on a mission demanded by a tough-minded mother who wanted her boys back at home.

The anecdote is included in his unpublished memoir. A life story that includes appearances by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Gates, and Conrad Black, among others, is worthy of the title, “Music, Money and Madness: A Journey into the Bizarre Life and Times of a Rock ’n’ Roll CEO.”

He grew up in a household where his father, a clerk at a flour mill who also served as a firefighter during the war, played the great guitarist Django Reinhardt on the family’s wind-up record player. One day, a merchant seaman in the neighbourhood returned from America with two records — Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.”

He hung out at pubs and clubs, befriending a slightly older girl singer who worked as a cookie packager at a biscuit factory in Tiger Bay. A few months later, Shirley Bassey placed on the charts the first of a string of hits.

Mr. Edmunds and his friends formed a band called The Stompers, later becoming The Heartbeats, a group with a jazzier sound who opened for the likes of such American acts as Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Sometimes, a coal miner’s son and aspiring singer from nearby Pontypridd handled vocals for the band. Tom Jones also would go on to become a regular on the charts.

Mr. Edmunds’ younger brother, who became an auto mechanic, left the group to form his own rockabilly trio. Soon after, Geoff himself decided he had enough of the uncertainty of moonlighting as a musician. He was working by day as an advertising salesman for the South Wales Echo, which was purchased by Roy Thomson. When a Canadian was sent to the newspaper to shake things up, Mr. Edmunds was convinced to move his young family to Canada to make his fortune.

He was selling ads for the Hamilton Spectator when his mother telephoned with news from back home.

“Your brother’s just hit the No. 1 spot on the hit parade,” she told him.

A crazy, speeded up rendition of Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian’s “Sabre Dance” became a novelty hit for the trio Love Sculpture, featuring the drumming of Congo Jones and the blistering guitar work of Dave Edmunds.

(The tune actually peaks at No. 2 on the British charts, but he grabbed the top spot two years later with “I Hear You Knocking.”)

The younger Edmunds has gone on to enjoy a long career as a musician and producer, including a stint with Nick Lowe in Rockpile, who, in 1980, ripped up the Heatwave festival at Mosport, Ont. Dave Edmunds released a greatest hits album a year ago.

Meanwhile, Geoff enjoyed success in business in Canada. During the oil boom of the 1970s, he left the Calgary Herald to launch a weekly newspaper in rural Okotoks, which was becoming a bedroom community of the city. he sold ads and covered council meetings, putting in 12 hour days, seven days a week, writing stories at the family’s kitchen table.

“We spiced it up with some good, juicy crime stuff. Grow-up busts. Our circulation boomed.”

He sold the Western Wheel just weeks before Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Policy burst the Alberta oil bubble, settling in Victoria where he eventually formed a company designed to handle help-wanted advertising through the Internet. Jobs Canada Inc. became JCI Technologies Inc. as realty and automobile listings were added to the service.

Torstar, Southam and Microsoft all invested, or had arrangements with the firm, but Mr. Edmunds said his company became doomed once Conrad Black increased his control of Southam to 41 from 19 percent in 1996. Mr. Black made it clear he had no interest in online classifieds, Mr. Edmunds said, leading other investors to bail out.

The news broke and the bubble popped.

“The stock crashed. And I had $12 million worth of stock. I woke up the next day and it was gone. Then I had to fire 135 guys. That was brutal.”

He went into the battery business, selling his Battery Power Online five years ago.

Geoff Edmunds never really gave up on music, either. He released an eponymous album in 1983, gaining a favourable review from the Globe’s Liam Lacey, who praised the songwriting “on the down-home boogie numbers.”

These days, the 69-year-old businessman has placed his memoirs with a literary agent. He’s also working on a new compact disk.

“I’m going right back to boogie-based beats on the piano,” he said. “I want to return to my roots.”

He’s going to call it “True Blue Me.” He has his reasons.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eddie (The Great Gabbo) Dorohoy, hockey player (1929-2009)

Eddie Dorohoy with the Montreal Canadiens (above) and as a member of the 1950-51 Victoria Cougars (below).

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 19, 2009


Of all the attributes Eddie Dorohoy brought to the rink — a scoring touch, a pugnacious disposition, a keen desire to win — the one for which he gained his reputation was a quick tongue.

This was reflected in nicknames bestowed on him by teammates, who called him The Brat and The Great Gabbo. (He was also dubbed The Pistol, about which more shortly.)

Of tough-minded coach Bert Olmstead, he once said, “If Olmstead was Santa Claus, there wouldn’t be any Christmas.”

Of a tightwad owner he said, “Coley Hall is so cheap he wouldn’t give you the sleeves off his vest.”

He was aged 19 when he broke in with the Montreal Canadiens, displaying a cockiness not appreciated by older teammates.

“When I was a rookie I didn’t have so much to say,” 33-year-old veteran Murph Chamberlain told the brash newcomer.

“When you were a rookie,” Mr. Dorohoy replied, “you weren’t as good as I am.”

When Canadiens coach Dick Irvin, Sr., chewed him out for not scoring any points, the rookie explained his predicament by saying, “I’ve been trying to score from too sharp an angle — the end of the bench.”

This not so subtle critique of the coach’s judgment led to his demotion to the minors, where he would spend the following 16 seasons, never again to enjoy a spot on an National Hockey League roster.

The passing seasons failed to moderate his barbed comments. As a coach of a sixth-place junior team in Winnipeg, he summed up his predicament by describing his lineup to a reporter: “I got a Doughnut Line, which has no centre, and a Helicopter Line, which has no wings.”

One of five children born to Mary and George Dorohoy, he learned to play shinny on Seven Persons Creek near his home at Medicine Hat, Alta. The early introduction to hockey came without formal instruction and he would display a choppy skating technique, owing more to running than gliding, throughout his career.

As a cadet, 14-year-old Eddie earned a favourable write-up in Alberta newspapers for the stentorian tones with which he shouted instructions to non-commissioned officers training at Camp Sarcee, near Calgary, in 1943.

“With a voice which would be a credit to an Exhibition barker,” the Lethbridge Herald noted, “the diminutive sergeant-major snapped his orders and about 40 cadets wheeled on a dime.”

As a junior player with the Lethbridge Native Sons, he played wing on what became the highest-scoring line in all of junior hockey in the 1947-48 season. The 5-foot-9, 155-pound forward led his league in assists.

Lethbridge defeated the Moose Jaw (Sask.) Canucks to face the Port Arthur (Ont.) Bruins for the Abbott Cup, emblematic of Western Canadian junior hockey supremacy.

Mr. Dorohoy suffered a leg injuring midway through the series, though his coach insisted he dress for Game 7, which was played at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto as a neutral site.

“I figured the team would get a life with him out there,” Lethbridge coach Scotty Munro said after the game.

Dorohoy’s sore knee was frozen and wrapped tightly, but a bodycheck in the second period knocked him out of a close game. With Dorohoy unable to finish, the Bruins cruised to a 11-1 victory and a berth in the Memorial Cup finals.

Six months later, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Dorohoy joined the Canadiens at age 19, becoming the second youngest player in the NHL after Fleming Mackell of Toronto.

The rookie saw only limited ice time in 16 games, recording no goals, or assists. He made his crack to the coach — some accounts have him saying he was using too short a stick to score from the end of the bench — and wound up demoted to the Dallas Texans five days before Christmas in 1948. He scored in his debut with his new team.

While visiting a wealthy Texans supporter at his home, Mr. Dorohoy spotted a holstered set of revolvers. He spun them on his trigger fingers like an Old West gunslinger. The fan interrupted his play. “He told me to be careful,” Mr. Dorohoy told hockey historian Jon C. Stott in an anecdote included in the 2008 book “Ice Warriors,”“because they were loaded.” Forever after, Mr. Dorohoy was known as Pistol.

The following season he was with the Cincinnati Mohawks. His coach, the great King Clancy, liked to tell a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a game in which his goalie was injured. Lacking a substitution on the roster, Mr. Dorohoy volunteered for the thankless task of stopping rubber. The coach winced when the fill-in netminder skated onto the ice with goalie pads strapped to the wrong leg.

Soon after, Mr. Dorohoy arrived in British Columbia, where he would spend the bulk of his playing career with the Victoria Cougars and Vancouver Canucks.

In the final game of the 1950-51 season, Mr. Dorohoy scored four points to grab the league scoring title with 29 goals and 58 assists. He helped lead the Cougars to the Pacific Coast Hockey League championship.

A player who seemed always to be on the scoresheet, whether recording points or scrapping with opponents, Mr. Dorohoy became a fan favourite on the West Coast.

In 1955, he joined older brother Walter, known as Ollie, on the roster of the Seattle Americans. The older Dorohoy spent 11 seasons as a top-scoring centreman with the New Westminster (B.C.) Royals, for whom he scored an overtime winner to clinch a league title in 1950.

Eddie Dorohoy won a divisional most-valuable-player trophy for 1958-59 while skating for the Calgary Stampeders of the old Western Hockey League., scoring 109 points in 64 games. The award came with a $100 prize.

In December, 1959, he was second in the scoring race when a heavy check by Seattle defenceman Les Hunt left him with a fracture above his right ankle. He missed a season and a half while recuperating. Many suspected his career was at an end, but he managed four more fruitful seasons.

Mr. Dorohoy skated for the Los Angeles Blades, the Knoxville (Tenn.) Knights, and the New Haven (Conn.) Blades before winding up as a playing coach with the Spokane (Wash.) Jets.

After hanging up his skates, he had success coaching junior players, most notably Juha Widing, Bill Fairbairn and Larry Brown of the Brandon (Man.) Wheat Kings, all of whom went on to NHL careers lasting longer than his own.

Mr. Dorohoy worked as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings in the 1970s. He managed a golf course in his home town before returning to Victoria, where he drove taxi for many years.

The 1950-51 Cougars have been inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

During his time with Vancouver in the early 1960s, the forward was sometimes a healthy scratch from the lineup. On one such occasion, teammate Barrie Ross, sitting at the end of the bench because of an injury, remembers hearing from the stands a lone, leather-lunged voice yelling, “We want Dor! O! Hoy! We want Dor! O! Hoy!” Soon, the entire Forum crowd joined in the cry. When Mr. Ross looked over his shoulder, he saw Mr. Dorohoy in street clothes leading the chant.

Edward Eli Dorohoy was born on March 13, 1929, at Medicine Hat, Alta. He died in Victoria on June 9. He was 80. He leaves two sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and a sister. He was predeceased by a granddaughter and by three brothers, including Ollie Dorohoy, who died in 1997, aged 73.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Capturing the unlikely friendships of war

Don Hunter has written a novel, "Incident at Willow Creek," inspired by his own boyhood friendship with a German prisoner-of-war.

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

September 16, 2009


As a boy growing up in the north of England, Don Hunter captured snapshot memories of the war.

He remembers his father, the son of a coal miner and the grandson of a coal miner, signing up for the air force, choosing the service taking him the farthest from collieries whose shafts extended beneath the Irish Sea.

He remembers brave Ernie Stabler, a sharp lad in his uniform, standing in the family home, a hero off to fight the Nazis.

He remembers German warplanes flying so low overhead he could see the pilots. Happily for those in the village below, the twin-engined Heinkel bombers sought more important targets in Scottish shipyards.

He remembers a prisoner-of-war camp not far from his family home.

“We had seen friends and relatives from our village go off to war and not come home,” he said. “This group on the fringe of the village might have killed them.”

Captive enemy soldiers behind barbed wire proved irresistible for a lad of eight. He and his friends would taunt taunt the Germans by holding fingers to their nose in mockery of the fuhrer’s silly toothbrush mustache. To the tune of the “Colonel Bogey March,” they’d sing a ditty that left them in stitches: “Hitler has only got one ball, Goering has two but very small, Himmler is very sim’lar, but poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.”

The prisoners laughed, too. The boy came to a realization.

“Hey, they’re human,” Mr. Hunter said recently, recounting a childhood in Distington. “They’re not monsters. Which was a bit unsettling because they were supposed to be.”

The prisoners repaired local roads and laboured in farmer’s fields. They became a familiar sight, each passing day making them less of a threat in a boy’s imagination. Words were exchanged between bored young men and an adventurous boy, much to the displeasure of the sentries.

“The Home Guard would tell us to bugger off,” he remembers. “They’d say, ‘We’ll kick your arse if you don’t get out of here.’ ”

On one unforgettable day, a prisoner passed to Don a toy fashioned from scraps scavenged in the camp. Rubber bands and bits of wood had been transformed into a spring-loaded jumping jack, “like a circus trapeze act.”

A friendship, of sorts, formed.

The boy never forgot. He grew up, wisely avoiding his birthright down the mines, completing his obligatory military service with the airborne before leaving England for British Columbia in 1961, where he got a university degree and became a teacher. Instead of removing coal from the bowels of West Cumbria, he’d try instead to implant critical thinking into the minds of the young.

After eight years as a teacher, Mr. Hunter left the classroom, working as a longshoreman on the Vancouver waterfront and driving taxi for Coral Cabs of suburban Richmond. He also wrote, selling a story on local theatre to the Province newspaper for $25. The ex-teacher got hired after a reporter quit to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hunter sent off a short story titled “David’s Friend” about an English boy befriending a German prisoner. He got in return a stack of rejection slips, the most encouraging a favourable note from the fiction editor at Playboy, who liked the piece but suggested a war story at the height of the conflict over Vietnam was not likely to be embraced by the market.

He later rewrote the short story into a screenplay, which was sold to the CBC but never produced. Mr. Hunter eventually bought back the rights for $1, “which was a lot less than they paid me for it.”

Though “David’s Friend” remained unpublished, Mr. Hunter had success as a writer. A critically-praised television movie for CBC about an idealistic high school teacher from Britain and his unruly charges in northern British Columbia, titled “9B,” led to a series of five one-hour weekly episodes that first aired in 1989. These featured an unwed teenage mother, a death in a car wreck, and a threatened teacher’s strike. Though the series lasted but one season, it has since been sold in 50 countries.

He co-wrote a book with Rene Dahinden about sasquatch (“non-fiction,” he insists, laughing), while a collection of columns from the Province, titled “Spinner’s Inlet,” was shortlisted for the Leacock Medal for Humour.

He never gave up on his original story, changing the setting from England to rural Alberta, altering the time element from 1944 to the present, adding the element of a mourning daughter finding the truth behind a tragic family secret. The Fort Langley writer travelled to Alberta to do further research at Lethbridge, even incorporating a sudden prairie deluge that forced him from a golf course.

The story, at long last, found a home.

NeWest Press of Edmonton has released "Incident at Willow Creek," a first novel for a 71-year-old writer who has had a lifetime to contemplate the unlikely friendships of war.

By coincidence, the weekly newspaper back in his hometown ran a recent report on the forgotten prisoner-of-war camp at Distington, concrete slabs in wasteland the only physical evidence remaining. The newspaper followed their report with the surprising news about a Canadian novel inspired by the same camp.

Finally, spare a thought for the memory of a young man splendid in uniform who impressed a boy on a visit to the Hunter household before going off to war.

“He was glorious,” Mr. Hunter recalls. “These were our heroes. They were going to beat Hitler.”

Ernest Stabler, a sergeant (air gunner) with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was killed in a crash during a training flight in poor weather on Nov. 23, 1943. He was 20, not much more than a boy himself. The only son of Edward and Norah Stabler is buried in Cumbrian soil in a grave in the churchyard of Holy Spirit at Distington.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A beacon of light still burns on West Coast

Trial Island lighthouse, off Victoria, photographed by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 14, 2009


A lighthouse keeper’s schedule comes with a clock that never stops ticking, with tides that rise and fall and rise again, with winds that howl when not calm, with a radio that at any time can bring news of desperation.

Steve Bergh has kept an eye on the coast of Vancouver Island for 27 of his 59 years. For the past two decades, he has been based at Chatham Point Lightstation, about 40 kilometres north of Campbell River.

He lives in a house with his wife, Alice Woods, on a bluff overlooking the confluence of Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait. A small building houses a fog signal. The yard includes a helicopter landing pad.

Among his duties is a responsibility to pay close attention to the weather.

It is a task more pleasant on some days than others.

“It’s beautiful here today,” he reported. “Flat. Calm and sunny.”

His workplace is an idyll, especially on a sunny day, with a spectacular vista overlooking waters in which orca frolic.

Some time ago, he told his employer he planned to retire on Jan. 5, 2010.

He has since withdrawn the request.

He has a fight on his hands. Once again, lightkeeper positions on the coast are to be cut to save money.

Three lighthouses around Vancouver Island are soon to lose their keepers. Coast guard officials say automated equipment eliminates the need to continue staffing at Cape Mudge on Quadra Island, Entrance Island off the tip of Gabriola Island, and Trial Island within sight of the lights of Victoria.

Mr. Bergh is serving his third, two-year term as elected president of B.C. Lightkeepers Local 20232, Public Service Alliance of Canada. He’s putting off retirement to make the case for continued staffing of lighthouses.

“I feel an obligation to my membership and to the public I serve,” he said.

His normal workday includes such duties as providing weather reports every three hours and keeping all the machinery in good operating condition at all times.

It is what happens on abnormal workdays in which the lore of the lighthouse keeper is built.

Mr. Bergh, born at Arcadia, Calif., took to the sea at a young age, fishing for albacore tuna off the California coast. In 1971, with his homeland bitterly divided over the conduct of the Vietnam War, this son and grandson of veterans decided to move to Canada. After a few years in Winnipeg, the lure of the sea brought him to the West Coast, where he resumed his work as a commercial fisherman, which he continues to this day.

“Mainly salmon,” he said. “Ling cod. Little bit of halibut. Some dogfish. Crabs. Prawns.”

His first posting as a lighthouse keeper was to Estevan Point, on an isolated peninsula jutting into the unforgiving Pacific Ocean northwest of Tofino.

Forty-five years earlier, on a late summer’s evening in June, 1942, Robert Lally and his family fled the home at Estevan Point for a nearby hillside after shells began to explode around the lighthouse. The front page of the Globe heralded the shocking wartime news with a banner headline reading: Vancouver Island Shelled by Enemy Sub.

Many years later, a fellow named Don Graham contended the attack was made not by a Japanese submarine, as official histories state, but by an American warship as part of a conspiracy to aid the Canadian government in promoting conscription. It was a controversial and unproved theory rejected by many.

Long hours spent in a fortress of salt-spray solitude afforded him the time to write to write two popular histories about the plight of his fellow lighthouse keepers. He chronicled the venerable, if lonely, way of life of the lighthouse keeper by trolling the diaries, letters and logbooks of his predecessor, uncovering such fantastic tales as a cow blown into the sea by fierce winds at Triangle Island and a keeper’s wife, driven so madly suicidal by loneliness, being strapped to her bed until her husand could return with medical help.

Mr. Graham, who died six years ago, was a fierce opponent of government efforts to make redundant the human presence at lighthouses.

“They haven’t invented a machine yet that can see or hear a person in distress and take action as light keepers have done unflinchingly on this coast for 150 years,” he once told a reporter.

His words are echoed by Mr. Bergh, who cites many instances when the safety of mariners depended on the presence of these lonely sentinels.

In June, the keeper at Trial Island spotted several kayakers in the water alongside their vessels in the waters between the island and the shore. Five were plucked from the cold sea, while another swam to shore.

At Chatham Point, a lengthy stairwell stretches from the bluff down to the waterfront. The steps are painted red, the handrails white, matching the telltale colour scheme of all lighthouses. It ends at a dock at which a boat is always kept moored for emergencies.

“I’ve pulled people out of the water. I’ve searched for people who’ve fallen overboard. I’ve provided first aid,” Mr. Bergh said.

“We provide mechanical repairs to vessels and we provide sanctuary for the shipwrecked.

“I don’t know what kind of computer can do those kinds of things.”

Rod MacKay, baseball player (1930-2009)

Rod MacKay as a player and as an investment advisor.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 14, 2009

A phenomenon as a high school athlete, Rod MacKay became a rare pitcher to play baseball professionally in his Vancouver hometown.

At 6-foot-2 and a lean 170 pounds, the gangly hurler enjoyed a sensational record at King Edward High. He signed with the New York Giants organization, making his professional debut at age 18 with the Reno (Nev.) Silver Sox.

He made a strong first impression, as the Nevada State Journal approvingly noted how he “had the batters at his mercy” in spring training.

By 1953, he was pitching for the Vancouver Capilanos of the Western International League, who used the versatile thrower as both starter and reliever.

On July 6, 1954, he started the second game of a doubleheader against the Senators at Salem, Ore. The first game had been started and won by Arnie Hallgren, another King Edward product to have made the Capilanos’ roster. It is believed to be the only time two Vancouver-born pitchers started both games of a doubleheader for a professional team.

Mr. MacKay had a record of five wins and five losses in two campaigns with the Capilanos.

He also pitched for the Erie (Pa.) Sailors, the Sunbury (Pa.) Giants, the Knoxville (Tenn.) Smokies, the Brandon (Man.) Greys, and the Idaho Falls Russets. He once won a game for the Russets in which he enjoyed a surfeit of run support. He limited Boise to a run on six hits, while teammates scored an impressive 23 runs.

Mr. MacKay was an investment advisor for 37 years with Pemberton Securities. He delivered daily business briefings in the 1970s on New Westminster-based radio station CKNW.

His father-in-law was Johnny Nestman, a popular industrial league player in Vancouver who was named to the B.C. Baseball Hall of Fame.

A longtime coach for youth baseball, Mr. MacKay helped launch the career of a namesake son, who pitched in relief for Canada at the 1977 world amateur baseball championships in Managua, Nicaragua.

Roderick Archibald MacKay was born on Nov. 20, 1930, at Vancouver. He died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Aug. 26 at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver. He was 78. He leaves Reneth (nee Nestman), known as Rene, his wife of 58 years; a daughter; two sons; six grandchildren; and, a sister.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Filmmaker chronicles love affair with 'Frankenstein' tree

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 9, 2009


Dan Pierce first gazed upon a dead tree, about which he had heard so much, on a rainy fall day a year ago.

He knew much of the lore of the tree, which had maintained a silent vigil for some eight centuries. He knew it had been a tourist attraction, a sight to be shown to foreign dignitaries, a place for residents to pose for photographic portraits.

He also knew the tree was in grave danger, facing the axe despite vocal opposition.

Those who were trying to save it wanted the young filmmaker to record their efforts. They offered to buy film equipment. They included a small stipend. They also promised him full editorial control.

Must be some kind of tree, he thought.

Through the drizzle, he could see the tree — more of a stump, actually — at a crazy angle. It tilted about 14 degrees to the east. (To compare, the famed Tower of Pisa leaned just 5.5 degrees until righted slightly earlier this decade.) A pair of struts propped the stump. Wires and steel seemed to be holding it together.

An ugly blue fence surrounded the site, protecting passersby from the tree should it tumble.

“It looked sad,” he said. “Like Frankenstein.”

He decided to do the documentary anyway.

He thought a story was to be found in the passionate characters who wished to preserve the tree, and those who thought nature should be allowed to run its course.

Added to the mix are those who think it foolhardy to spend money to preserve a dead tree, a not entirely unreasonable assertion if one was speaking of an object with less emotional appeal than the Hollow Tree in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

A Western red cedar, it grew to be greater than five metres in girth until likely killed by a lightning strike some time before the surrounding land formally became a park. It is a reminder of the arboreal giants logged a century ago.

In 1890, just four years after the founding of the city, six men posed in front of the tree. One of them, a fellow named McCallum, wore an apron and carried a serving tray. A rough, handpainted sign had been nailed to the rear of the tree’s opening. “Stanley Park Hotel,” it read. “Drinks, cigars, 2 bits.”

The Hollow Tree, also known as the Big Tree, became a civic landmark. Locals posed next to the giant stump on horseback, with bicycles, in horse-drawn carriages. In 1904, William Hayward, proprietor of the Commercial Hotel, rode to the stump in a motorized vehicle known as a White Steamer. All manner of early Fords, Daimlers and Oldsmobiles, including those with the rounded carriage that led to its nickname as the Rolling Peanut, made the journey. Harry Hooper, recognized as the city’s first taxi driver, often piloted his nine-seat sightseeing car to the tree, which soon became the image of the striving port city projected to the world.

Men wore top hats and women dressed in their fussy Edwardian finery.

Visiting officials were shown the tree by proud mayors. The head of the Kingston Penitentiary paid a visit, as did men from the Japanese embassy. Earl and Lady Grey saw the tree several decades before a local professional football team managed to claim the silver cup bearing his name.

Lord Strathcona made a pilgrimage in the company of Sir Mackenzie Bowell, a former prime minister.

Soldiers on leave, picnicking lovers, and families all stopped at a tree also favoured by publishers of postcards.

Around 1910, an immigrant named Luigi Trasolini brought his wife and two infant children to the park in a buggy pulled by a horse. Little Norman grew up to become a popular ballplayer nicknamed Bananas, while his sister, Tosca, earned renown as a pioneer aviatrix with a group of women pilots known as the Flying Seven.

A few months earlier, the African-American boxer Jack Johnson, fresh from his triumph over the Canadian Tommy Burns (born Noah Brusso) to become world heavyweight champion, clowned at the tree, wearing a hat sideways as a tricorn while sticking an arm inside his jacket in an impersonation of Napoleon.

Over time, the lantern slides, glass negatives, and stereoscopic images taken by professionals were replaced by the Brownie snapshots, Polaroid stills, and digital images captured by amateurs.

As a documentarian, Mr. Pierce, 23, filmed workers shoring up the interior with a cribbing that looks like a tower of Jenga blocks. He filmed park board meetings, including the one earlier this year in which two earlier votes to cut down the tree were overturned by a decision to allow the Stanley Park Hollow Tree Conservation Society to preserve the stump with funds raised by donations.

Mr. Pierce, who was raised in Stoney Creek, Ont., decided to become a filmmaker while working as a clerk at a Blockbuster outlet, inspired by the 10 free rentals he enjoyed each week. He graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Simon Fraser University last year, then got $8,000 worth of equipment plus a $2,000 stipend from the conservation society for his film. He recently won a grant of $4,000 from the National Film Board. He continues to canvass for anyone with opinions or anecdotes about the tree, good or bad, happy or sad.

Among those filmed include the author and artist Doug Coupland, whom he says told a winning tale of mischief involving the tree.

“When you get close and can touch the tree, you can feel its energy,” Mr. Pierce said. “That’s when you realize it’s worth saving.”

A trailer for the documentary has been posted to YouTube. It includes a remarkable shot in which touring members of the Vancouver Historical Society decide on a whim to see how many can fit inside the interior. Five enter, then 10, then 20, more flowing inside as Mr. Pierce and his camera slowly back away from the opening.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Memories take centre stage

Phyllis Addison Pollack casts a dancer's pose on her return to the stage at Vic High 73 years after her last performance. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 7, 2009


The pending return to school creates foreboding in some, anticipation in others.

Phyllis Addison Pollack entered Victoria High School the other day with the eagerness of a keen freshman. She paused at the war memorial in the lobby — all those sad names — before admiring the magnificent aboriginal carving on the wooden door to the auditorium.

She climbed a few steps to the stage. She struck a dancer’s pose, moving with grace despite stiff sinews and aged bones. Mrs. Pollack last trod these boards 73 years ago, when she performed a recital during which she traded ballet slippers for tap shoes halfway through her routine.

The reminiscence left her emotional.

“I could cry,” she said. “And I’m not the crying type.”

Tomorrow, hordes of children and teenagers return to school for more books and teacher’s dirty looks. Among them will be apprehensive kindergardeners, rambunctious middle schoolers, and high school seniors only too ready to put an end to their 13th year of imposed education.

None will ever forget their time in school.

Those who enjoy the experience will learn they can never quite recreate the feeling; those who find it horrible will find they never quite escape the memory.
Mrs. Pollack places herself firmly in the former category.

“I just love Vic High,” she said.

“I was a prefect. I was on student council. All that jazz.”

She celebrated her 90th birthday a week ago, returning to her home town to celebrate a classmate’s nonagenarian ascension, which followed hers by a few days. Mrs. Pollack retains a dancer’s supple movements, her petite physique making her seem a zephyr as she saunters past.

She wears her white hair long past her shoulders, topped by a flat cap of Irish tweed. A compliment about her hair reminds her of the day she became the talk of the school when she arrived one morning with long locks shorn.

Vic High claims to be the oldest public school in Western Canada, having opened its doors in 1876, just five years after the colony of British Columbia joined Confederation. Mrs. Pollack attended classes at a time when the On-to-Ottawa Trek was current events and not yet history. The Depression left her father searching unsuccessfully for work, though the deprivations of the decade went unremarked by students.

“As kids, we didn’t suffer,” she said. “We didn’t know the difference. We had everything we needed.”

Mrs. Pollack, class of ’36, graduated a year later than her peers, stretching her senior classes so as to dedicate herself to the study of dance. She then joined the Taynton Ballet, a traveling troupe included as part of a 75-member barnstorming revue. The A.B. Marcus Show included balancing acts, comedy tap dancers, and “Chinese wonder dancers,” as well as boasting “one of the finest collections of beauties ever assembled in a musical show.” Another of the acts carried the memorable stage name of the Raucous Lovelies.

It was a grand adventure for an unmarried young woman, as the ballet enjoyed lengthy engagements at Mexico City and Havana. In the Cuban capital in 1941, she met a medical student from New York City who was studying tropical diseases at the university. They married in the United States soon after. The couple eventually settled in San Francisco. Dr. Robert Pollack’s pioneering treatments in cancer surgery led to invitations to teach and demonstrate surgical techniques in such exotic locales as New Guinea and Western Samoa, where he would be joined by his wife. He died six years ago.

On Friday, Mrs. Pollack was escorted to the school’s basement archives room by alumni executives Keith McCallion, a former principal, and Alan Perry, a broadcaster who graduated from the school in 1974. They found for her a copy of the 1936 Camosun yearbook in which old classmates — some no longer with us, all aged — appeared in photographs untouched by the passing decades.

Among others, she remembered Kangee Lee (“taught her tap dancing”), Tom Pepper (“he bicycled past my house”), and George (Porky) Andrews, a hunky basketball star and future professional athlete who “let me ride on the back of his motorbike.”

In a box labelled 1932, the year in which she first entered the school, a small index card was found on which had been signed in ink in flowing script “Addison, Phyllis.” She had signed the card on the first day of classes, undoubtedly receiving good grades for superb penmanship.

In the auditorium, Mrs. Pollack remembered the orchestra sitting on one side, while a Union Jack hung overhead. The room remains unchanged from her day, each succeeding generation of students respectfully avoiding the temptations of vandalism at times of tedium.

For having made a modest donation to the alumni association, she is to have a metal plaque placed on a seat in the second row, one in from the centre aisle.

As she sat, she banged her right elbow on the unforgiving wooden armrest.

“Just as hard as ever,” she noted.

For her, the unyielding seats are a rare unhappy memory.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Al Purvis, Olympic hockey player (1929-2009)

The Edmonton Mercurys, an amateur team sponsored by a car dealership, won a world championship in 1950 and an Olympic gold medal in 1952. Defenceman Al Purvis was a key player on the squad, shown below arriving at the train station, trophy in hand, in a photograph available at the City of Edmonton Archives.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 4, 2009


For many years, Al Purvis and his teammates on the Edmonton Mercurys were remembered, if at all, as the Forgotten Team.

The Mercurys won a world hockey championship in 1950 and an Olympic gold medal in 1952 in an era when Canadians expected their representatives to return from overseas with top prize.

Even their hometown needed a few weeks before holding a victory parade after they returned from the Winter Games at Oslo.

Not until the Winter Olympics were held at Calgary in 1988 did the Mercs begin to receive overdue recognition as the most recent Canadian hockey side to have claimed the Olympic championship. In 2002, by which time the Canadian hockey drought stretched to a half-century, the players were feted as worthy reminders of a nation’s prowess on ice.

When Team Canada emerged triumphant at long last on the ice at Salt Lake City, the surviving, grey-haired Mercs joined in the national celebration, happy to surrender an unwanted status as the most-recent Olympic hockey gold medallists.

Born in Alberta ranch country and raised in Calgary, Mr. Purvis first earned notice as a 17-year-old forward with the Calgary Buffaloes junior team. He was signed to a negotiation list by the Chicago Black Hawks of the National Hockey League, but as it turned out he never played professionally.

The Buffs transformed the young man into a defenceman, where he quickly earned a “reputation as (a) tough blue-line bumper,” as the Winnipeg Free Press described him in 1949.

He joined the Mercurys in the fall of 1949, giving the intermediate club a solid presence in front of the net. Mr. Purvis scored on occasion, but it was more his job to prevent the other team from getting near his own net.

The Mercurys took their name from a popular automobile being sold by their sponsor, car dealer Jim Christiansen, who had recently opened Waterloo Motors. The Mercs were selected as Canada’s representatives for the 1950 world championship to be held in London. The team began an exhaustive exhibition schedule in Scotland. After nine weeks together overseas, the club was in fine form for tournament in March.

The Mercs crushed their opposition in the preliminary round, defeating Switzerland 13-2 before humiliating Belgium 33-0. Canada then recorded five victories in the six-team medal round, outscoring opponents 42-3 to claim the world championship.

On their return to the continent two years later, the Alberta skaters discovered European hockey had made significant improvement.

“The difference was lightyears,” Mr. Purvis told Craig Daniels of the Financial Post in 1992. “We really had to buckle down and play that much harder.”

The Mercurys felt even a single loss would be a disgrace. They already knew something the majority of their countrymen would not learn until the Summit Series of 1972 — the Czechs, Finns, Swedes, and, especially, the Soviets were no longer pushovers.

Mr. Purvis scored two goals in the Olympic tournament, both coming in the third period of blowouts. He scored in a 15-1 shellacking of Germany and an 11-2 drubbing of Switzerland.

Canada went undefeated, clinching the gold medal on Feb. 24, 1952, with a 3-3 tie against a desperate United States squad, which leapfrogged from fourth to second place with the draw, earning a silver medal.

Mr. Purvis, Canada’s assistant captain, joined his teammates in an exuberant celebration on the ice at the outdoor Jordal Amfi rink in Oslo. The players tossed their trainer in the air, sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and tried to dissuade eager souvenir hunters from among the 10,000 fans.

“The best thing I remember about it was watching that flag get raised,” Mr. Purvis told the Globe’s Brian Laghi in 1998. “If you’re a good Canadian, which I am, there’s no prouder moment than that.”

The Mercs continued their lengthy overseas tour, the team’s excursion financed by a reported $100,000 invested by Mr. Christiansen, who took ill during his time in the Norwegian capital.

The players finally returned to Edmonton five weeks after winning the gold medal, their record an impressive 42 victories in 51 Olympic and exhibition games. They were met at the airport by their families and about 200 fans, including the mayor and provincial politicians.

After speeches, the players boarded convertibles provided by the dealership for a triumphal motorcade along Jasper Avenue. A banquet was held at the Hotel Macdonald.

The players returned to their jobs as builders, firefighters, and automobile salesmen. Mr. Purvis became general sales manager at the dealership. After Mr. Christiansen’s death, the former players played more prominent roles with Mr. Purvis eventually becoming the owner. After 56 years, he retired as chief executive officer, a position now held by his son, Randall Purvis.

In summers, Mr. Purvis played baseball in the Big Four Intercity League, pitching for the Edmonton Cubs and Edmonton Dodgers.

Mr. Purvis also served as a director of the Edmonton Eskimos football club during the team’s greatest string of success, when it won five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982.

The 1952 hockey team, including Mr. Purvis, was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2002.

Away from the dealership, Mr. Purvis was an avid fisherman and a frequent visitor to Hawaii. He also collected art, specializing in abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Some of the artworks were displayed at the dealership, sharing with the public one of his passions.

Allan Ruggles Purvis was born on Jan. 9, 1929, at Trochu, Alta. He died at home on Aug. 13 in Central Saanich, B.C., a Victoria suburb. He was 80. He leaves Jeanne, his wife of 59 years; a son; two daughters; five grandchildren; two great-granddaughters; and, three brothers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Art, inside the box

ContainerArt photographed by John Lehmann of the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

September 3, 2009


Aficionados of the Pacific National Exhibition are likely unfamiliar with the refined decorum demanded by art galleries.

Nor are gallery habitues accustomed to gazing upon an objet d’art while gorging on cotton candy.

Snob, meet mob.

On the fairgrounds, what is described as an innovative temporary container museum offers a thoughtful respite from the daylong vendors’ cry of “Win a house! Win a car!”

Fifteen cargo containers are stacked to present an archway leading to an interior courtyard. Opened at one end, eight of the containers hold installations created by eight British Columbia artists. There are paintings, sculptures, photographs, and multi-media presentations.

It is called, understandably enough, ContainerArt.

Think of it as schtick in a box.

The idea comes from Italy, where it boasts a manifesto. The idea: “Empty containers ambling around the world, filling with beauty wherever they stop.”

“It’s very new,” said Peter Male, whose title of vice-president, sales with the PNE is much less interesting than calling him a curator. “It’s very experimental. It’s breaking new ground.”

The Fair is traditionally associated with such popular arts as black velvet paintings and toothpick Eiffel Towers, as dedicated craftspeople compete for blue ribbons, a prize also coveted by those doing battle in displays of animal husbandry.

The ContainerArt exhibition is located on Spirit Plaza, sandwiched between a casino, a beer garden, and the logging sports display. The roar of nearby Monster Trucks provides a background soundtrack. At night, a quartet of Skytracker searchlights flashes beams of light into the sky. Good luck trying to find a similar multimedia experience at the Uffizi, the Prado, or the Louvre.

The artists were told they could not alter the container in any way — no painting, no cutting windows, no using glue, or nails, or screws.

As a sustainable project, the containers must be able to return to their ordinary duty, which is in evidence at the nearby working waterfront.

The artist Corinne Wolcoski draped the interior of her box in billowing white cloth, soothing as clouds. Five acrylic panels of calm landscapes hang at eye level. Sand, shells and driftwood lined three sides of the interior. Stepping inside, one hears the sound of a sea and waves crashing.

“It’s immersive,” Mr. Male said enthusiastically. Though it should be noted one child who entered said he felt like he was inside a hurricane. The work is titled “360 Inside Passage.”

Another container bringing the outside indoors was prepared by Brittany Devon Mitchell, whose “Whitespaces” includes strips of turf on the floor. A series of green-and-white paintings of the city based on satellite images show how urban landscapes are dominated by man-made structures. She got the idea while living in Osaka. Let’s just say her painting of the fairgrounds has way more green than it would have a decade ago, when asphalt dominated. A “keep off the grass” sign on the exterior is not so much ironic as an attempt to protect the artwork.

An installation by Neal Nolan with Eden Bender and Brian Gotro, titled “{BlackHandprint}”, includes spraypainted panels and a video featuring a freight train with a hobo’s recounting of riding the rails. “My work is a catharsis occurrence; expressing conjecture toward individual emprise, a philosophy, theory or discussion through mixed media application,” Mr. Nolan writes.

That’s what I thought.

“Neon Heaven in Flames” by Ken Gerberich and Harvey Chometsky uses fragments of neon tubing, chrome hubcaps, and sheet copper scavenged from dumps and laneways as an attempt “to change the mundane into the sublime.”

Anthony Au’s container featured his photographs from Asia, while Robert Studer’s “Empty Vessels, Full Container” includes 500 sculptures of handblown glass.

Junichiro Iwase’s “Country” displayed three mask-like sculptures created from eggshells, chosen because Canadians are “attuned to the fragility of others.”

“He must have eaten a lot of eggs,” a mother informed her children after reading the artist’s statement.

Nor was their yet word of protest from the nearby 4-H nearby barns.

A brief canvass of visitors showed the most popular of the eight installations to be Christian Dahlberg’s photographs of neon signs found on Vancouver streets, including the Apostolic Faith’s spectacular “Jesus, The Light of the World.”

Perhaps the photographer can be accused of pandering to fairgoers, who are likely more familiar with the Ovaltine Cafe than contemporary art.

A guard sidled up to a note-taking patron.

“I don’t get that one,” he said, cocking his head to one side towards a container. “And I don’t get that one,” he added, cocking his head to the other. He pushed his chin forward. “That one I like.”

I don’t know art when I see it, but I do know this. Everyone’s a critic.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The highs and lows of a fairground pitchman

By Tom Hawthorn

Special to The Globe and Mail

September 2, 2009


The seated audience leaned forward, eagerly following the folksy wisdom of Guy Foubert.

A small crowd gathered behind those in seated in plastic chairs. Two women with baby strollers laughed. Men craned as Mr. Foubert displayed the food cooking while he delivered his patter.

He held up a pot filled to the brim with a medley of carrots, red peppers, and broccoli.

“Look at the colour of those vegetables, folks,” he said. “The greens are green, the yellows are yellow, the reds are red. Smell how sweet those vegetables are.”

He promised baked potatoes prepared at “microwave speed without all the radiation.”

He also offered roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, and roast chicken, all prepared in gleaming Kitchen Craft Cookware, “the original waterless cookware.”

As he diced the food into sample bits, toothpicks were handed out to the audience.

“We’re almost done, folks,” Mr. Foubert promised. “Almost time to sample the food.”

He spoke about the dangers of cooking with certain non-stick cookware, cited Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, praised the qualities of the T-304 stainless steel used in manufacturing his cookware.

Minutes ticked past, toothpicks held in anticipation.

He extolled the healthy benefits of preparing food in his product, described the tenderness of the roast chicken he was slicing into bite-size squares.

“I tell you,” he said, “if Col. Sanders cooked that way he’d have made general.”

Mr. Foubert, 38, of Winnipeg, is a pitchman, though he prefers to be called an exhibitor, a demonstrator, or a show host. At least five times a day for the 17-day run of the Pacific National Exhibition, he can be found delivering a 30-minute spiel inside the Forum building.

He competes for attention amid the cacophony of other salesmen in what the fair calls Marketplace, crowded with stalls offering gizmos and gadgets promising to make our busy, workaday lives just a little easier. They sell objects named Wonder This and Miracle That.

There’s Thunder Head, “the space age shower.”

There’s the Original Ultimate Hose Nozzle, described as “the only nozzle you’ll ever need.”

There’s Bumpits (“The Full Hair Volumizing Solution”), which promises to turn your hair “from flat to fabulous in seconds.”

There’s a booth promoting Euro Strap (“perfect idea for bra straps”), not surprisingly staffed by a young woman of pulchritudinous attributes.

There’s the V-Slicer Plus, Super Sani toilet seats, Human Touch Massage Chairs.

But wait! There’s more!

There’s OxyLift (“facelift in a box”), Miracle Glue (“glues almost anything”), Sir Stickalot (“the lint roller that never needs refills”), Pet Perfect (“the ultimate 2-in-1 de-shedder and rake brush”), and Frisper Freshkeeper (“the easy, stylish way to keep food fresh, longer’).

Floors were mopped, vegetables sliced, clothes steamed.

A shammy pitchman tried to attract a crowd with a rhyming call of “Don’t be shy. Give it a try.”

On television, the silver-tongued Vince (The ShamWow Guy) Shlomi and the late Billy Mays became rich from fast-paced commercials in which the simple sales points of a 30-second presentation is drilled home by frequent repetition.

At the fair, a pitchman is narrator of his own fortune.

They endure more rejection in an afternoon than most of us experience in a lifetime.

“It sucks,” Mr. Foubert said. “It’s very difficult not to take it personally. You get one no. Then a second. OK, what am I doing wrong? Is it me? Then you have self-confidence issues. At that point, you can say, ‘Take it.’ And people won’t even take it.”

A sale, however, is a confirmation of the veracity of the pitch, the trustworthiness of the product, the personal connection between pitchman and fairgoer.

“That sale is like a high,” he said.

He has been on the Western Canadian fairground circuit for most of the summer. After finishing the PNE gig on Labour Day, he will take his show to Edmonton, making for a long stretch away from his wife, eight-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter back home in Winnipeg. The son of a construction worker, Mr. Foubert has been working direct sales since age 14, when he became a door-to-door vaccuum-cleaner salesman.

After completing his pitch, he passed around paper plates of his cooked goodies. The audience eagerly gobbled up the samples.

Towards the end of his pitch, after an entertaining half-hour presentation, he made his first mention of price. A skillet is $499 (“less than the price of a Callaway driver”), a gourmet slow cooker is $489 (“less than a microwave oven”), a deluxe set is $3,695 (“less than a flatscreen plasma television”), while the works is $5,295 (“less than half the price of one of the hot tubs you saw outside.”)

“How many of you liked my cookware?” he asked, to approving nods. “Good thing. I would have cried like a baby after all that work if you didn’t like my cookware.”

In the end, all left the presentation empty-handed. He thought some might return by the end of the day.

He knows no one walks into the fair planning to purchase a $2,195 cookware set.

“When a guy can stand up and make you laugh, make you chuckle, life is good,” the pitchman said.

“Life is good,” he added, “as long as you’ve got good cookware.”