Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The coldest front in the Cold War

Robert Peacock wears his beret in the yard of his North Saanich home. Globe and Mail photograph by Geoff Howe.

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


Robert Peacock returned from war in 1953 to be greeted by a neighbour, an educated businessman.

“Where have you been?” the fellow asked.

“Over in Korea,” Mr. Peacock replied.

“You haven’t become a missionary, have you?”

“No, there’s the Korean War. I was in that.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Oh. I heard something about that.”

They call it the Forgotten War when they call it a war at all. Harry Truman referred to it as a “police action,” a designation that led veterans to describe it as “an awful tough beat in an awful tough neighbourhood.”

Sixty years ago this month, troops from North Korea invaded the south. Seoul was overrun within hours. The United Nations responded with a force under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur of the United States. In the coming weeks, Canada dispatched three destroyers and an air-force squadron. Ground troops arrived later.

When war broke out, Mr. Peacock immediately tried to sign up with the special service force. The officer cadet at Royal Roads Military College, outside Victoria, was told to wait until graduation, assured the war would last for some time in spite of newspaper reports suggesting the shooting would be over before Christmas.

He graduated in June, 1952, aged 23, got his commission, and by early August was in Korea, a lieutenant in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry ready for duty as a platoon commander.

His strongest memories are of the people — both Canadian and Korean.

“The Koreans are tough. Independent. Strong willed. Nationalistic. They gave no quarter. they asked for none. They’re tough. Always a joy to be with.”

He was impressed, too, by the good humour and the work ethic of Canadian soldiers.

Though he later trained as a parachutist in the Canadian Arctic, he was never as chilled as during the winters on that rocky peninsula. It was the coldest front in the Cold War.

“When the wind came off the Siberian Plain and whistled down, my god, I don’t think there’s any clothing in the world that can stop that,” he said.

“Korea was the coldest place I’ve ever been. Also the hottest.”

War, he says, is 90 per cent waiting and 10 per cent hell.

He had one close call.

He was riding in the right front passenger seat of a jeep along a dirt road on which the order had been given not to drive more than 5 miles per hour so as not to raise a dust cloud and give away position.

His driver obeyed the order. There was no dust plume as they returned from a reconnaissance from a forward observation post. An enemy artillery gunner timed a slow-moving target in the distance.

A 120-mm shell exploded right in front of the vehicle.

“The jeep took the shrapnel, pretty well all of it. Driver was pretty badly shaken. Sergeant took some.”

The platoon commander took some windshield glass in the left arm. He and the sergeant asked not to be put on the wounded list lest family back home think the wounds more serious.

For years afterwards, the sergeant kidded the lieutenant about trying to get him killed. Donald Ardelian, who spent 33 years with the Princess Pats before becoming a business professor in Kelowna, died last week on his 78th birthday.

As the war became a deadly stalemate, interest back home waned. Editors at the Vancouver Sun wondered whether anyone read the dispatches from the front. One day in 1952, assistant managing editor Hymie Koshevoy ordered placed on the front page a wire story under the same headline: REDS BLASTED FROM VITAL KOREAN KNOB. The same story with the same headline ran the next day and the day after that.
No readers complained and the wire service did not notice the repetition. On the Sun’s 50-man staff, reported Time Magazine, which ran a brief article on the stunt, only a single reporter quizzed management about the repeating item.

Though men died to protect it, Korea had fallen from the public’s agenda.

Mr. Peacock retired as a colonel in 1992 after 33 years of service. He had four tours of duty in West Germany, became a vice-commandant at Royal Roads, spent a year peacekeeping in Indochina with the International Control Commission. He spent time in Vientiane, the Laotian capital, in Saigon before its fall, and, most remarkably, in Hanoi at the apex of the Vietnam War. He recalls celebrating the Queen’s birthday with other foreign observers when an American air raid sent the Eastern Bloc attendees scurrying for a bomb shelter while the British, French and Canadians continued to drink toasts to her Majesty’s health.

After retiring from the Ontario civil service and returning to Victoria, Mr. Peacock wrote “Kim-chi, Asahi and Rum,” a memoir of his time in Korea published 16 years ago. It offers a rare, on-the-ground account of the conflict.

Every year, around Remembrance Day, he speaks to local students about his experiences, the high schoolers only a few years younger than when he first saw action.

He’s more gentle in describing his war to elementary students. “Other people aren’t as lucky as we are,” he tells them. “We have to go help them sometime.”

He brings along his mess tin and his military cutlery. Just like camping, the kids say.

Sort of, he replies.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The running diva

Marilyn Arsenault discovered she was a world-class runner later in life.

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
July/August, 2010

The runners walked the course before the event, following a sandy path looping around a hill covered in dirt and scrub. A steep but short climb with a quick descent was followed by a long, steady rise that all knew would be excruciating.

“Bloody hell,” thought Marilyn Arensault. She had traveled halfway across the globe to Jordan for the biggest race of her life and she was not entirely sure she would be able to finish without collapsing.

Much of the route was stony and hard, except for the lowest level. Rains created patches of slick mud, a treacherous hazard. The course had been carved from alongside a nine-hole golf course in which the main feature was sand, and not just in traps. The scrubby moonscape offered one small oasis — a strip of grass placed at the finish line like a carpet. At least if she finished she would do so on turf.

Five Canadian women qualified for the world championship cross-country race at Amman last year. All but one were in their 20s, the prime of an athlete’s life.

Arsenault came late to running. She played other sports, did her studies, settled in Victoria.

Most remarkably of all, she was 41.

Not so old in real-life terms. Ancient for someone make her debut on the running world’s stage.

Arsenault is known as The Running Diva. The nickname refers not to prima-donna behaviour, but rather to her career as a lyric soprano. She has sung as Clotilda in “Norma,” Chocholka in “The Cunning Little Vixen,” and Papagena in “The Magic Flute” for Pacific Opera Victoria. During the day, she works as an administrative officer for the political science department at the University of Victoria.

The 5-foot-3, 110-pound (1.6 metre, 49.9-kilogram) dynamo squeezes her training regimen between a full workday and daily vocal exercises.

At any age, it takes dedication to maintain fitness. Arsenault’s typical week is chockablock with running sessions and workouts. She begins the week with a 75-minute run on Monday morning, followed by a 30-minute evening run. Does a workout with intervals (sprinting, jogging, sprinting) on Tuesday mornings. No running on Wednesday. A two-hour run on Thursday. Fridays are like Mondays. If not competing, Saturdays include workouts with hard intervals. Sunday, the supposed day of rest, includes 90 minutes of running.

Believe it or not, she does not mind the routine. “We have so many beautiful trails,” she said. “Most of my runs feel pretty terrific just because of the environment I’m in. It’s rare to have a run where I fell I don’t want to be out there. We’re pretty lucky to be living here.”

Our temperate weather and glorious vistas, combined with the capital region’s never-too-old mentality has encouraged many of us to return to the sports we loved as children. Several Canadian Olympic programs have established their training centres here — the rowers, the divers, the swimmers, the mountain bikers, the triathletes. They are served by coaches and trainers, creating a pool of talent in a city in which many older athletes find support for their midlife exertions.

Sarah Macdonald, a lawyer, had been a competitive swimmer through her teenage years, even swimming for Simon Fraser University at age 18. But she gave up the pool only to return after her daughters began swimming. Soon, she began setting masters world records for her age group in such hotly contested disciplines as the 50- and 100-metre freestyle, as well as the 100-metre individual medley.

Sandra Froher, a fitness trainer who operates Muscle Lines, began her career as a competitive bodybuilder in 1980. After almost three decades of competition, she continues to win titles. At Las Vegas last August, she placed fourth in the category of Bikini Divas, won two other categories, and was named Overall Ms. Figure at the International Flex Appeal championships.

In the Times Colonist 10K race this spring, Maurice Tarrant completed the waterfront route in 47 minutes, 58 seconds, breasting the finish line three minutes ahead of his son. His 48-year-old son. Tarrant is 80. While he was finishing, one 50-year-old magazine writer was huffing and puffing somewhere about three kilometres behind.

We are leaner, fitter, and active in Victoria, where we not only enjoy the facilities on offer at Saanich Commonwealth Place (the same pool used by world-class athletes) but are blessed with several spectacular running routes. No wonder so many of us work so hard in midlife. Jogging the Dallas Road waterfront is less a chore than a delight.

The Running Diva finds a midlife sporting career creates less angst than she might have experienced earlier in her life.

“I come to the sport with a different attitude than a 20-year-old who might be more anxious at getting results. Because it’s their identity. For me, it still feels like an extra thing I do. I mean, it’s important to me, but I know I’m not going anywhere further. I’m not going to the Olympics.”

She returned to running while studying vocal performance at McGill University in Montreal. A friend’s husband, Malcolm Balk, wanted her to try a body-awareness program known as the Alexander Technique as a runner. “I ran recreationally, for fun, but he decided to use me as a guinea pig to teach me to run with good technique,” she said. “He tried to teach me to run with a better form.” She soon discovered she had “an aerobic talent,” honed, no doubt, by her breathing technique while singing. After moving to Victoria in 2003, she joined the Island Road Racers.

She got a coach in Jon Brown, a British-born Olympic marathoner who now lives in Victoria. In short order, she shaved minutes from her times. Running inspired her in much the same way music did.

“It instills a deep sense of self and confidence. You’re alone doing it. Its not a team sport. You have to rely on your inner strength and confidence.

In a few years, she went from novice to serious challenger to the varsity team at the University of Victoria. Frankly, she was old enough to be the mother of some of her teammates.

Arsenault’s appointment schedule has been filled with races. In April, she raced the Carlsbad 5000 (“World’s Fastest 5K”) in California, finishing as top masters woman, taking home a $1,000 US purse. The following weekend, she contested the Canadian Half-Marathon Championships, finishing as the top female master and fourth overall among women to claim a total of $1,200 in prizes.

Her goal for this year is to contest her first marathon. She’s got her eye on the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in September.

“A lot of older athletes are showing us we can keep improving longer than we thought,” she said.

The world championship proved to be a test unlike any other. The downhill and level sections were not long enough for her to recover from the arduous climbs. She felt her breathing was off. She knew she was in trouble. She even walked for a brief stretch, which is not the way to contest any race, let alone the world championship. A passing teammate tapped her on the shoulder, encouragement to keep going. She knew she was not going to win, but she also did not want to finish in last place. Now, she was struggling just to complete the course, avoiding the humiliation of not finishing.

Near the end, she spotted a teammates collapsed across the course. She hurdled over the sprawled figure, like a steeplechase runner.

Minutes later, her feet touched grass. She had finished. Her ranking: a humbling 81st. Not first, but not last. Not bad for 41.

A man of this land

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
July/ August, 2010

My thanksgiving day comes on July 1, because I’m grateful to have been born in Canada.

Every Canada Day, tens of thousands flock to the Inner Harbour for a dawn to dusk celebration, culminating in a fireworks display inevitably described by the city as “Eh rated.” Several hundred don free red or white T-shirts to help create a living flag on the lawn of the Legislature.

Elsewhere, immigrants will dress in their finest for a formal swearing-in ceremony.

I’m not one for flag waving; I mistrust jingoism; I will never say, “My country, right or wrong,” or, “Love it or leave it.” But I’ll take a moment on the holiday to reflect on the people who have created this peaceable kingdom, a sustaining myth that manages to ignore our bloodlust appreciation for hockey, not to mention our military’s reputation for getting the job done.

A great thing about our grand Canadian experiment is that we are melding First Nations, two major founding peoples, and boatloads of immigrants from all parts of the globe. My own ancestors earlier came from England and Ireland, Scotland and Galicia, homelands reflected in the family names of Starkey and Hourihan, Hawthorn and Kozak.

I’m a man of this land, the product of a soldier father from Manitoba and a young mother from New Brunswick. My home addresses have ended with MB, AB, QC, ON and, for more than half my 50 years, BC.

We are building a nation in which inclusivity is a pillar and health care a right. Peaceful dissent is constitutionally guaranteed and, perhaps, should be regarded as an obligation. We try to work out our problems through dialogue. Slavery ended in our part of this continent without a civil war. Even our own independence came via words and evolution. Let our neighbours be constitutionally encouraged in “the pursuit of happiness.” In Canada, that’s a band name. We seek “peace, order and good government.” Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Our unique genius has been a talent for compromise, a cliche to be sure, but Canada has much to share in that skill with the world. Not that our country does not face a slew of problems, from persistent poverty to domestic violence to the shame of the reserves and the slow pace of treaty negotiations. But we evolve. The land is no longer pillaged with such carefree abandon as it once was, because the citizenry said enough.

A new Canada has emerged from a liberal immigration policy initiated in Centennial Year, adding hues to the Canadian kaleidoscope, not to mention a Babel of languages. The red maple flag, deliberately chosen to be a distinctly Canadian standard, was adopted only in 1965. Those of us who were children then are part of a new Canadian nationalism, one that has a different history and narrative than that of our parents.

The street celebrations during the Olympics surprised many of us. We’re not accustomed to flag-waving demonstrations with spontaneous singing of the national anthem. I think for many, especially those whose parents or grandparents were immigrants to this land, the celebrations offered a chance to express pride in an identity not always easy to define.

Canadian nationalism is an inward expression. It is about how we feel about ourselves. It is, in many ways, an abstract construction: We are not them, or them, or them, and we’re no longer quite what we were when we left wherever to come here. We’re something else.

Here’s how others see us. A magazine once ran a contest to find a more boring headline than “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” Some get a kick out of playing “Canadian, or dead?,” in which a challenger has to decide whether a minor celebrity is cadaverous, or a Canuck (and thus so wooden and spiritless as to seem deceased). While Americans laugh at our earnest dullness (or is that dull earnestness?), we have quietly infiltrated Hollywood and the television newscasts with stealth Canadians. Someday, Alex Trebak will read a Jeopardy! clue that will be the signal for our takeover. They won’t know what hit ’em.

Mostly, though, we do not impose our Canadian nationalism on others. Whatever the outcome of our role in Afghanistan that poor country will not be an outpost of the Canadian empire. We will not annex the Sudetenland, or invade tiny Caribbean island nations that flirt with ideologies not to our liking. Though if the Turks and Caicos want to join Confederation, I’m all for it.

The “world needs more Canada” insists Chapter’s, the bookstore chain, and I tend to agree. When the European championship soccer tournament needed a song six years ago, they selected “Forca” by Nelly Furtado, the Victorian-born daughter of Portuguese parents from the Azores. Organizers of this summer’s World Cup of soccer chose as a theme song the catchy and inspiring “Wavin’ Flags” by K’naan, a Somali immigrant who grew up in Rexdale, Ont. Both were selected for their universal appeal. Because we have become a home for people from many nations, who mix it up here so that we’re one big fusion, we have come to be the go-to people when the world needs a global anthem.

My Canada Day weekend will not likely include fireworks, or a flag hoisting, though the imbibing of one of the beverages with which our land is associated is a distinct possibility. I’ll think about my ancestors who so fortuitously chose this land and offer a quiet thanks.

Earlier this year, I joined a baseball tour of Cuba organized by a Vancouver company. Our guide, Clem, a bilingual Cuban, had recently immigrated with his wife and young son to Canada. He retains a great passion for his homeland, whose cuisine, music and people garner his highest praise. (As, too, does the Caribbean climate.) An American on the tour told me Clem would always be Cuban and would never integrate.

Au contraire, I replied. We’re not a melting pot. Clem can be Clem. His arrival here makes Canada just a wee bit more Cuban.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The joys and sorrows of a high school principal

Stephen Bennett, principal of Vic High, is more Clark Kent than Seymour Skinner. Globe and Mail photograph by Geoff Howe.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 28, 2010


You are principal of the oldest high school in the province, whose alumni includes the likes of the artist Emily Carr and two premiers,

You have an enrollment of 864 students. Some are troubled. Many are magnificent.

You troubleshoot all year long. That’s just the way it is.

Finally, June rolls around. The final month of the school calendar is hectic. There are yearbooks and final exams and graduation ceremonies.

Some students are moving on after four years. You’d call it empty-nest syndrome, except that they’re soon to be replaced by a coterie of fresh-faced and somewhat nervous Grade 9s.

The grad class departs with a bit of high jinks, a pranking tradition mostly harmless in execution. One morning, the grand entrance of the four-story brick schoolhouse is blocked by a blue tarp on which has been spray-painted “Victoria High School Grad 2010.” A waist-high wall of paving stones blocks the doors.

Another morning, hundreds of plastic utensils have been stuck in the lawn fronting the school. A sign reads, “Grad 2010. Stick a fork in us, we’re done.”

On a third morning, the entranceway is lined with dozens of “For Sale” signs, as well as some ratty couches scrounged from nearby alleyways. The realtors are called, apologies offered.

In the midst of the chaos, police arrive one afternoon to arrest a shop teacher on harassment charges.

He is taken away between third and fourth block, in the early afternoon.

As it turns out, the arrest of a teacher in the middle of the school day is not the worst thing to happen in the month.

Not by a long shot.

At 7:30 a.m. on a Friday morning, the telephone rings at home. You are told one of your students, a Grade 10 kid, is dead.

“You never want to get that kind of phone call,” said Stephen Bennett, who has been at Victoria High School for seven years, the past four as principal.

Justin Wendland, 15, was stabbed to death, killed at a bus stop on his way home the previous evening.

“There’s so much that goes through your head when you hear something like that,” he said. “I’m thinking about his family. His mom. It’s any parent’s worst nightmare.

“Then you start thinking about the kids in your school who are connected to him. You think, ‘Oh boy, how do they begin to cope with someone so young whose life has been taken from them.’

“Then you start thinking about your staff. There’re people who have taught him, who have worked with him. How are they going to feel about it?”

He went to work that morning to break the terrible news to the teachers. A team trained in handling such situations soon arrived at the school.

“It was a hard day. A real hard day.”

There were many tears, as on two subsequent memorial services held in the school auditorium.

Mr. Bennett, 53, is a lean, middle-aged man with a square jaw and neatly-trimmed grey hair. With his dark-framed glasses and soft-spoken manner, his demeanor is more Clark Kent than Seymour Skinner.

As a teenager, he decided to become an educator because he admired the teachers who encouraged his interest in ancient and medieval history.

“I had some absolutely amazing teachers. I couldn’t think of a thing I would want to do more than to be one of them. They worked so hard. They inspired me to think. They were my role models.”

The delights of teaching the young also brings with it unexpected duties.

In the last week of classes, grieving students were buying commemorative $5 wrist bands and $15 T-shirts to raise funds for a memorial, such as a bench, for their lost classmate.

“Personally, it’s been incredibly intense,” the principal said. “Roller-coaster.

“One day you’re celebrating with kids at a grad dinner dance.

“Then you’re remembering a student. Justin.

“And then you’re back to celebrating again at a graduation ceremony.”

Finally, days before the end of the school year, he announced a $10-million project to replace a technical building on campus that is slowly sinking into ground that was once a quarry.

It is said the tilt to the floor in the dance studio is such that dancers lose their balance.

The new facility, though smaller, will include woodworking and metal shops, as well as an auto shop with bays and hoists.

The building announcement provided a welcome respite in what has been a trying month.

“You feel,” he said, “like you’re just wobbling through.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blue Shadows' slice of country-rock genius reissued

The Blue Shadows featured the chilling harmonies and brilliant songwriting of Billy Cowsill (far left) and Jeffrey Hatcher (second from right).

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


At the end of a sweaty set, while packing up on stage, Jeffrey Hatcher plucked on his guitar the melody of an unfinished song.

“Don’t finish it on your own,” replied Billy Cowsill. “I want a piece of that puppy.”

When Mr. Hatcher arrived for the next night’s show, he told his bandmate he’d finished the tune. Mr. Cowsill, he remembers, “sagged almost completely onto the stage floor.” He was quickly told it was a joke.

The pair worked on the song, which came to be titled “If It Ain’t Rockin’.” It appeared on the debut album of The Blue Shadows. “On the Floor of Heaven” was hailed as a slice of country-rock genius on its release in 1993.

The recording earned praise for a quartet who described their own sound as “Hank (Williams) goes to the Cavern Club,” as though the honky-tonk master was sitting in with the Beatles in Liverpool. Others suggested Cowsill and Hatcher sounded like the Everly Brothers performing Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The album, released by a major label, received terrific reviews, but little airplay and few sales. The sound was said to be too rock for country radio and too country for rock radio.

The release eventually went out of print, though its reputation grew as time passed. The clever songwriting and the jangly guitars made it an alternative-country masterpiece.

Now, 17 years after its original release and four years after Mr. Cowsill’s death, Bumstead Records has re-issued the album with previously unheard outtakes and cover songs.

“I talked to him before he died, and he said he really wanted it to come out again,” Mr. Hatcher said. “He called it the thing he was proudest of in all his professional career.”

The collaboration of Cowsill and Hatcher is one of the more unlikely pairings in Canadian music. One was a hard-living former child star with a reputation for unpredictable behaviour, the other a hard-working songwriter with a reputation for craftsmanship.

Mr. Cowsill was the lead singer for the eponymous family band that was the inspiration for the television series “The Partridge Family.” The Cowsills had three Top 10 hits on the Billboard charts in their American homeland, hitting No. 1 in Canada in 1967 with “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.” Only the Beatles’ “Get Back” stopped “Hair” from also reaching the top of the charts here.

The Cowsills appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other variety programs, their every haircut detailed by the likes of “16” and “Tiger Beat” magazines.

Billy left the band after a falling out with his father, launching an unsuccessful solo career. He wound up drinking a bar dry in Texas with his cronies before coming to Canada. For a time, he drove trucks over ice roads in the far north.

He eventually settled in Vancouver, where the cognoscenti sought out one of the most distinct voices in pop music.

By the time Hatcher caught up to him, Mr. Cowsill was fronting a combo whose schtick it was to perform requests. They called it the Dead Man’s Set. If someone shouted out the name of a living performer, he’d say, “Sorry, man we only do dead guys. As soon as he’s on the slab we’ll be all over him like a cheap suit.”

Born in Winnipeg, the son of a jazz trumpeter who became a denturist to support his young family, Mr. Hatcher earned critical praise and flirted with commercial success with such bands as The Six, The Fuse, and Jeffrey Hatcher and the Big Beat. His first two shows paired with Mr. Cowsill ended with the latter clubbing obnoxious drunks over the head with guitars.

The Blue Shadows formed in the early 1990s with Jay Johnson on drums and Elmer Spanier on bass, soon replaced by Barry Muir. Mr. Cowsill himself once described the band as “three vegetarians and a junkie.”

Chronic pain led to his becoming addicted to painkillers, leading to odd eating and sleeping schedules, as well as a certain unpredictability in behaviour.

This odd-couple songwriting duo, who looked the Grinch Who Stole Christmas paired with a choirboy, one straight as a razor the other known for indulgence, cooperated on crafting remarkable songs that can be seen as beginning a new chapter in Americana music.

“People often said we were opposites,” Mr. Hatcher said. “We actually had lots in common. On the outside, it seemed like Billy had a chaotic life and I seemed to be together. I think we had a similar sense of humour. He knew how to laugh at himself, which a lot of troubled people don’t have such an easy time with.”

Oddly enough, they shared an interest in science and psychology, an abhorrence of sports, and encyclopedic knowledge of Depression-era show biz.

“How many people have laughs over George Kaufman and Moss Hart? We were very different but found a lot in common.”

Those of us who had the good fortune to catch a live show of the Blue Shadows back in the day knew we were enjoying something special.

Another album followed, again trailblazing a new sound in country, but a mass audience did not evolve and the band broke up in 1996. Mr. Cowsill later moved to Calgary, where he performed with a group called the Co-Dependents. Suffering from emphysema, osteoporosis, and a hormonal imbalance, he died four years ago. The news of his passing reached his siblings as they gathered in Rhode Island for a memorial service to another brother, Barry, who was killed during Hurricane Katrina.

“When he was at his best he was a beautiful guy,” Mr. Hatcher said. “When he wasn’t at his best, it wasn’t personal necessarily. He just wasn’t doing very well.”

Mr. Hatcher later completed studies at colleges in the Lower Mainland, gaining a master’s degree from Simon Fraser University. He has returned to his hometown, where he is a music therapist who works with young people, some with brain injuries and others with fetal alcohol syndrome, at a former orphanage.

His audience is smaller than ever, but perhaps his music has never been more meaningful.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The unlikely tale of a World Cup hero

George Pakos took unpaid leaves of absence from his job with the City of Victoria to take part in World Cup qualifying 25 years ago. Canadian soccer fans should be glad he did. Geoff Howe photograph for The Globe and Mail. BELOW: Pakos (right) in action on the pitch.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 21, 2010


Most weekends, George Pakos can be found on the soccer pitch, a whistle in his mouth, a referee’s shirt on his back.

He officiates girls’ matches, high school matches, men’s over-50 matches. If he’s needed to deliver judgment on fouls, he’ll take to the pitch, no matter the players, or the weather. He loves the game that much.

Few of the kids and only some of the adults are aware of his footy pedigree.

His story is so unlikely, so incredible, it seems more fiction than fact.

Mr. Pakos, 57, is retired from his job with the City if Victoria, in whose employ he laboured since high school.

These days, he arises before 7 a.m. each morning to catch a World Cup match on television.

He once watched sport’s great spectacle from a better seat than a basement couch.

He began playing soccer at age 10 with other neighbourhood boys in the Gorge Soccer Association.

“I took a love to it right away,” he said. “Anybody can play the game. That’s why they call it the People’s Game.”

His father, Zenon Pakos, played professional soccer in Poland before the outbreak of the Second World War. He survived the war as a displaced person. He found work as a boilermaker at the Yarrow Shipyards in Victoria, saving enough to send for his wife, Eva, and their son. Their second son, George, was born in the new land, a symbol for the family of a promising future away from the ancient animosities of the old continent.

The patriarch spent 38 years in the shipyards. His son, too, was going to be a dedicated worker, though he indulged a young man’s desire to see the world. He travelled through Europe in 1974, taking in a World Cup match in Munich. He figured it would be the closest he’d ever get to soccer’s championship.

Back home, his workdays were busy in the city’s work yard. The weekends, then as now, were dedicated to soccer.

He was playing midfield for a local amateur team in a muddy exhibition game when spotted by Bob Bearpark, an assistant coach with the national team. He invited the stocky player to a tryout.

Mr. Pakos was a tad old at 29 1/2 to have been discovered, but in those days the national team would take prospects wherever they could find them.

He made the team, only to be cut before the 1984 Olympics.

He vowed to make the squad trying to qualify for the World Cup.

Those tryouts were held during a week-long camp at the naval base at Esquimalt. Forty players took to the pitch for a chance to wear the red-and-white uniform of Canada.

The coaches could name 22 players.

Mr. Pakos heard 21 names. On the final selection, he heard his own.

Then, he was cut again. That’s what happens when you’re on the bubble. One day in, next day out.

“I was so mad,” he remembers. “I said, ‘If they call me back, I’ll never go.’ ”

He was playing midfield for the Victoria Riptides in a game in California when his wife reached him with an urgent message. There had been an injury. He was to report to the national squad immediately.

He flew home to Victoria, caught a red-eye flight to Toronto, where he rejoined the team, which was flying south to Tegucigalpa for the first of a home-and-away World Cup qualifying series against Honduras.

The poor Central American country took the sport seriously. After all, it had engaged neighbouring El Salvador in a dispute remembered as the Soccer War.

“You get protection,” Mr. Pakos said. “Police guards at the airport, army in front of the hotel, armed with machine-guns. Very safety conscious. Nerve-racking for us.”

The stadium was packed with 55,000 frenzied fans. Mr. Pakos sat on the bench. After 30 minutes, a Canadian was hacked down by a Honduran defender. Mr. Pakos was sent in as a striker.

Early in the second half, he broke free from coverage, received a pass from a teammate and drilled a shot from outside the penalty area into the far corner of the net as the goalie sprawled helplessly to his right.

The Pakos goal settled the match, which ended 1-0.

The return engagement was held at St. John’s, Nfld. The September weather was chill enough that the visitors wore gloves and toques. Mr. Pakos opened the scoring when he pounced on a deflection, banging home the ball. At the final whistle, Canada, winning 2-1, had qualified for its first appearance on the World Cup stage.

The emergency fill-in was serenaded by teammates who sang a version of Guantanamero with altered lyrics — “One Georgie Pakos! There’s only one Georgie Pakos! One Geogie PAY-kos!”

Only 24 teams qualified for the final tournament in Mexico in 1986, eight fewer than today.

He watched Canada’s first two matches from the bench.

The third game was against the Soviet Union. With 21 minutes left, coach Tony Waiters at last let the moonlighting water-meter technician take to the pitch. He did not score — Canada was shut out for the third consecutive match — but took a measure of revenge for what his opponent had done to his ancestral homeland.

“I remember chasing (Igor) Belanov, trying to stick him with a Canadian elbow. I think I got him, too.”

He later learned relatives in Warsaw watched the match on a rented colour television.

At the advanced age of 33, he had played in a World Cup, a blue-collar amateur who took an unpaid leave-of-absence from his city job to take on the best soccer players in the world. His international career ended with the satisfaction of knowing his two goals helped put Canada in the final tournament.

He returned home and to an ordinary anonymity broken when his stepdaughter, Kelly Ellard, was charged and convicted in the beating death of schoolmate Reena Virk.

At his home, Mr. Pakos has as souvenirs the tricolour captain’s armband of Michel Platini, as well as the shirt of Bernard Genghini, who like Mr. Pakos, wore No. 13.

In Canada, because Mr. Pakos’ athlete feats were performed on grass and not on ice, he is hardly celebrated. In any other country, he’d be a hero.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Last Supper in Liverpool

Verne McDonald, a lifelong Beatles fan, commissioned a painting featuring the Beatles and nine candidates for the title the Fifth Beatle in a pastiche of Leonardo's Last Supper. Lyle Stafford photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 16, 2010


We know all about John, George, Paul and Ringo. But who was the Fifth Beatle?

Music fans can argue for hours about which musician, or impresario, or producer deserves the title.

One of the first to claim the crown was a New York disc jockey who claimed one of the Fab Four jokingly called him such at a press conference.

“There’s been so many fifth Beatles ever since Murray the K said he was,” said Verne McDonald, a Beatles fan. “Of course he wasn’t.”

Mr. McDonald, 54, is an award-winning journalist, now retired from Grub Street, who in his reportorial duties once had a brush with one of the prime claimants to being the Fifth Beatle.

Five years ago, Mr. McDonald was laid off from the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver weekly. He had a modest sum to invest, but did not care for the bank rate, nor was he one to invest in stocks. After a few weeks contemplating his options, he decided his long appreciation for Beatles music offered an opportunity.

He recalled a long-ago trip to Turkey, during which he took a break from visiting Greek ruins to enjoy a cup of tea. Among the Turkish rugs hanging as windbreak was one whose detailed looming had been inspired by a black-velvet painting of Elvis.

Some cultural icons are global. Mr. McDonald could not afford a licensing fee, so he was thinking of art in the public domain. Leonardo da Vinci came to mind.

Mr. McDonald commissioned the Vancouver painter Vic Bonderoff to recreate Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” only with the apostles replaced by candidates for Beatledom.

Months passed. A year went by. Then another. And a third.

Leonardo only needed three years to complete the original.

Mr. McDonald began to wonder if the painting would ever be completed.

Born at Soellingen, Germany, while his father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, young Verne was living in Clinton, Ont., when he first heard the Beatles on the radio. After the mop tops made their inaugural appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the boy turned from the television to say, “See, I don’t need to get my hair cut.”

While at university, he was elected editor of the student newspaper. Classes were often an afterthought. On a campus in which students described themselves by discipline and yera, such as arts 2 or science 4, Mr. McDonald said he was alchemy 7.

In 1980, he ran for Parliament as a Rhinoceros standard-bearer. The colourlessness of the opposition — the Progressive Conservative incumbent was a chartered accountant, the Liberal a resource economist best known for a report on the fisheries, the New Democrat a social worker — made the Rhino campaign all the more interesting.

He called himself John Eh? McDonald. He described his occupation on the ballot as novelist.

The John Eh? campaign called for a return of corruption to the railways and gin to the House of Commons. (Railway corruption? He was a candidate ahead of his time.)

He got 405 votes in the upscale riding of Vancouver Quadra, finishing a respectable fourth of eight candidates.

It was a period in his life when it could be said he cultivated a reputation as a character from Doonesbury, as his long hair and free spirit somewhat resembled that of Zonker Harris.

Mr. McDonald worked as a graphic artist at the Vancouver Sun and kicked around a variety of newsrooms in British Columbia before settling in at Vancouver’s alternative weekly.

At the Straight, he became the default Beatles expert, reviewing a steady stream of biographies and rereleases.

“They made some great music,” he said. “Wonderful, wonderful music.”

Among the assignments was an opportunity to interview by telephone Pete Best, the group’s original drummer, whose misfortune it was to be fired on the cusp of the band’s breakthrough. (The drummer tried to cash in on Beatlemania by releasing an album titled, “Best of the Beatles.”)

A series of pratfalls followed. Finally, with a deadline looming, he reached the former Beatle, whose well-being he asked after in a formal manner.

“Oh, Verne, lad, don’t call me Mr. Best. Just call me Pete.”

And with that the telephone went dead.

The two were unable to reconnect.

Mr. McDonald cobbled together an article, but was stuck for an ending. A friend helpfully offered the following: “Coming soon, an even shorter interview with Stu Sutcliffe.”

(Mr. Sutcliffe, a bassist with the band during extended gigs at nightclubs in Hamburg, Germany, had died in 1963.)

The commissioned painting was beginning to seem as ill-fated an endeavor as the Best interview.

At long last, the artist unveiled his masterpiece — a five-foot by three-foot painting prepared in alternating layers of oil paint and lacquer, an ancient glazing technique.

“I wanted something representational, like Norman Rockwell,” Mr. McDonald said. “He went all Renaissance on me.”

The painting depicts John Lennon at the centre of the table with Yoko Ono taking Mary Magdalene’s place and Paul McCartney in the Judas seat. The candidates for fifth Beatle — manager Brian Epstein, producers George Martin and Phil Spector, musicians Jimmy Nicol, Billy Preston, and Eric Clapton, as well as Ms. Ono, Mr. Sutcliffe, and, of course, Mr. Best — are posed in imitation of the original.

The repast includes lager, marijuana, baked beans, steak and chips, all favoured by the group. An empty prescription bottle (“the last upper”) rests on the table. Through the windows can be seen the Merseyside waterfront of Liverpool.

Mr. McDonald is selling $80 prints of the painting through his website.

If his retirement plan seems like a scheme from the Trailer Park Boys, well, sometimes life is like that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Remembrances grow for Justin, a boy too soon gone

Friends, family and co-workers have left teddy bears and other memorial objects at a bus stop on Douglas Street where Justin Wendland, 15, was attacked and killed by a stranger. Deddeda Stemler photograph. BELOW: Justin smiles while camping at Lake Cowichan last year.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 14, 2010


It is a bus stop, so people have time to spare.

Some wander over to a nearby tree to read the notes attached to a pile of tributes.

There are candles and balloons, flowers and a toy lamb, teddy bears and a stuffed dog, the sentimental debris of a painful grief.

You lean in to read the notes, not wanting to disturb what has been left. The messages are written in cheery script by schoolgirls and in blocky lettering by schoolboys. They are addressed to a friend and a classmate and a coworker and a brother and a son as though he might be able to stroll past to read them.

Already, the evening rains have caused the writing to fade.

The poignancy of one note is heartbreaking, a common grammatical error making the emotion all the more human.

“I love you. I’ll love you forever. Your my little boy. I’ll miss you forever. I never wanted to live without you. You were such a good boy, always listening to me. You always took care of me. I love you so much. I want my little boy back. Love forever and always, Mom.”

Justin Wendland, 15, was at the bus stop in the 2600-block Douglas Street eleven days ago. A popular boy, he’d been visiting with friends after school. It was about 8 p.m., the sky still light an hour before the gloaming.

Witnesses say a passing man plunged a knife into the youth’s chest.

The paramedics tried to save the boy in the leafy shade of a tree under which a makeshift shrine now rests.

Fifteen minutes after what the family was told was an unprovoked attack, a 39-year-old man turned himself in at police headquarters a few blocks south. He is now charged with murder. He has been described as a man with drug addiction and possibly mental-health issues, agitated that day by the theft of his backpack. He was known to police.

A youth waits to catch a ride home. Violence arrives before the bus, and a mother is left to pen a note to a boy she’ll never again hug.

On a brilliant Saturday afternoon, students gathered in the auditorium at Victoria High School. A young woman sang a song of her own composition and a young man performed a rap. A slide show portrayed a boy with a beaming smile.

Afterwards, mourners gathered on the school lawn to release balloons into the sky in memory of a boy whose nickname was Pudgy.

“A lot of people got up and shared,” said family friend Tracey Spence-Thorpe. “We laughed and we cried. And then we ate. There was so much food in there I think some of it had been distributed downtown to some of the shelters.”

She and other parents are urging their children to write the premier about the loss of their friend and about the threat of random violence on downtown streets.

“We’re not having a celebration of life for Justin yesterday,” she said, “and forget about him today,” said

Ms. Spence-Thorpe has ordered 2,000 rubber wrist bracelets. These will be sold for $5 each. Another parent is selling T-shirts featuring a photographic portrait of the boy with his birth and death dates. These cost $15. As well, a trust fund has been set up in the Wendland name at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union.

Friends are raising money for Raj, a single mother who has brought up the boy and sisters, Courtney, 16, and Kayla, 21, on her salary as a dispatcher for Totem Towing.

In the nightmare of losing her son, she faced the prospect of a funeral which she could not afford. Her employer has agreed to cover the cost.

The boy’s tragic death is all the more upsetting for its seeming inevitability. The deinstitutionalization of mental patients a quarter-century ago has moved deeply troubled people onto the streets. Anyone who spends time in downtown Victoria has an anecdote about an unpredictable encounter, or a perilous confrontation.

Even as the crime rate goes down, the sense of menace on the streets does not lessen. The littered boulevard campgrounds of the homeless and the drug addicts and the mentally ill evoke scenes from Dante’s circles of hell — the predictable result of cutbacks to programs.

Ms. Spence-Thorpe remembers Justin working on his resume at her house. He was applying for a part-time job he would get at the McDonald’s on Pandora Street, on the same block as the Our Place drop-in and residence. She feared for Pudgy on that street.

He got the job to cover the cost of his muay thai lessons, a martial art whose demanding workouts were fast removing the last vestige of baby fat from his physique.

A Facebook page in his honour has 1,640 members. Every day, his mother scans the page, seeking solace in reminiscences by friends of a boy too soon gone.

A generation ago, a boy disappeared from a playground. Michael Dunahee is remembered to this day. Thirteen years ago, Reena Virk, just 14, was murdered by classmates. She, too, is remembered. Now, another young person is dead, his loss keenly felt by all.

The shrine at the tree started with two bouquets attached by green painter’s tape. It now spills along the sidewalk.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The man in the iron mask

Umpire Ian Lamplugh has been yelled at in five countries and in three different languages. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

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


Ian Lamplugh is accustomed to being yelled at. He is often called a bum. His eyesight is regularly called into question. What they say about his parentage — well, that discussion is not fit for a family newspaper.

Mr. Lamplugh, 45, is a baseball umpire, the best ever to come out of British Columbia, and the only one from here to get as far as the major leagues.

Umpires say they are expected to be perfect on the first day on the job — and then they are supposed to get better.

The Pope is supposed to be infallible, too, but he gets to wear fancy clothes and does not have bottles thrown at his head.

An umpire dresses in a traditional blue work shirt and goes to a workplace where harassment is the right of any ticket holder.

“Everybody can do the job,” he says of the second-guessers, “but when it comes time nobody wants to do it.”

He has heard the cry “Kill the ump!” in ballparks from Albuquerque to Victoria. He has heard it uttered in Spanish and in Chinese and in English with a Texas drawl.

To be an umpire is to lead a lonely and itinerant life, where every game is an away game, every fan a critic, every player an enemy. Infamy is as close as the next decision.

Let’s go to the video replay.

Last week, Armando Galarraga, a hitherto unknown pitcher from Venezuela, was on the cusp of baseball immortality. He had retired 26 consecutive batters — no hits, no walks, no baserunners of any kind — and needed just one more out to complete a perfect game. These are so rare that only 18 have been pitched in the majors since 1880.

(Oddly enough, two perfect games were thrown in May, the only time perfection has twice been crafted in the same season, let alone the same month.)

The 27th batter hit a routine grounder, which was fielded by the first baseman. Mr. Galarraga raced over to first base to take the throw, catching the ball and touching the base before the runner arrived.

Perfect game!

Except umpire Jim Joyce pushed both arms out wide in the familiar safe sign. Only, in this case, the human semaphore stood for, “I’ve just made the most-boneheaded call in recent sports history.” Replays showed the runner was out and the Venezuelan had been robbed his deserved prize.

In the heat of the moment, the pitcher cast a you-sure-about-that smile.

After the game, the umpire acknowledged his error. He offered his apology to the pitcher for blowing the call, ruining what should have been a remarkable achievement.

The umpire, a striking figure with his white Fu Manchu mustache and his professed reliance on his Catholic faith, struck a chord with a weepy mea culpa, his sportsmanship coupled with death threats making this a uniquely American melodrama.

“I’ve been there,” Mr. Lamplugh said. “I know what he’s going through.”

More than once, he has needed a police escort to leave a baseball diamond in safety. In the Dominican Republican, where he umpired in winter, he got police escorts to the town line.

He could handle chickens in the outfield and the occasional power failure knocking out the lights. What was unnerving was the fanaticism of the fans.

On one unforgettable day, he ejected the manager and a player for the Leones del Escogido. An unsettled atmosphere quickly became ugly at game’s end.

As tall and lean as a foul pole at 6-foot-3, the lanky arbiter made a handy target.

“I was surrounded by eight police officers to walk me off the field. As soon as we got in range of the stands, fans began throwing beer bottles and rum and whiskey bottles. So, the police left me on my own.

“I had to make a 50-yard sprint from the grandstand to the bleachers, getting pelted by these bottles.

“As I got near the clubhouse, fans were trying to punch me.

“I was pushing people out of the way. I get to the locker-room and there’re two guys with machine-guns standing there guarding the door.”

He survived and after a nine-year odyssey on baseball’s back roads he earned a shot at a job in the National League in 1999. In September of that season, he had an enviable view of the home-run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, working behind the plate in a game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field during which Mr. McGwire hit his 59th home run of the season, putting him one behind Babe Ruth’s famous total.

He worked nearly 200 games before returning to the minors. In recent years, he was umpire-in-chief of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan. Not surprisingly, a country whose parliament features regular donnybrooks is not known for respecting authority figures, even if they’re wearing a mask and a chest pad. To his horror, he saw one manager race out of the dugout to deliberately crash into a home-plate umpire, the skipper dropping his shoulder like Pete Rose barreling into home plate.

Mr. Lamplugh, who was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and came to Canada at age four, still works the occasional home game of the Victoria Seals of the Golden Baseball League, an independent professional circuit. Often, he is the only person with big-league experience on the field.

When not calling balls and strikes, he can be found doing road work, setting up barrels and traffic cones for road work, exchanging his umpire blues for an orange safety vest.

To be an umpire is to be a judge where there is no appeal court.

“Your harshest critic is yourself,” he said.

He has learned a valuable lesson from his years on the diamond.

When fans are throwing bottles, keep your mask on.

Lou Jankowski, hockey player (1931-2010)

Lou Jankowski played 127 NHL games with the Chicago Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings. He spent most of his career in the minor leagues with such teams as the Buffalo Bisons.

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

Lou Jankowski scored goals by the bushelful.

The native of Regina went east to play junior hockey, leading his league in scoring. Later, he terrorized goaltenders in Western Canada with his marksmanship.

His prowess earned him a shot at a job in the National Hockey League. The goals continued to come, but not quite as frequently. After a full season and parts of two others, Jankowski was demoted to the minors, where he crafted a stellar reputation as a sharp-shooting forward with a gentlemanly demeanor.

Hanging up his skates after 18 professional seasons, he became a longtime scout for three NHL teams, as well as for the league’s central scouting bureau.

Louis Casimer Jankowski was born on June 27, 1931, at Regina. He attended high school in Hamilton, Ont., where he excelled at baseball and football. At age 16, he helped the Aerovox hockey team claim the Sutherland Cup as Ontario junior-B champions. He scored five goals and four assists in nine playoff games.

He spent three seasons with the Oshawa (Ont.) Generals. In his final campaign as a junior, he was placed on a line with stylish centreman Alex Delvecchio, of Fort William, Ont. (now Thunder Bay). Their potent offence earned the duo a reputation as the “payoff pair” for the Generals.

Mr. Delvecchio, a future star, was seen as a playmaker, while his goal-scoring linemate was heralded by sportswriters as the “hat-trick kid,” so often did he score three goals in a game. The centre averaged a goal per game, while his right-winger led the league with 65 markers in 54 games.

Both forwards earned one-game tryouts with the Detroit Red Wings that season. Mr. Delvecchio did not score a point, while Mr. Jankowski recorded an assist. yet, it was Mr. Delvecchio who would go on to enjoy a brilliant, 23-season NHL career, all with the Detroit Red Wings, on his way to being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mr. Jankowski’s professional career would be more peripatetic and less distinguished, though not without honours. At the end of his junior career, the high-scoring forward finished second in voting for the Albert (Red) Tilson Memorial Trophy as Ontario junior hockey’s “most valuable and gentlemanly” player. The coveted award, donated by the Globe and Mail in honour of a star junior player who had been killed in action during the Second World War, went to Glenn Hall, a goaltender who would also go on to enjoy a Hockey Hall of Fame career.

A solid athlete at 6-feet, 180-pounds, Mr. Jankowski was a versatile forward capable of handling assignments at centre, or on either wing.

After a year with the Indianapolis Capitols of the American Hockey League, he at last got a longer tryout with the NHL’s Red Wings. Detroit had built a dynasty and the rookie forward suffered from a lack of ice time, managing only a goal and two assists in limited action in 22 games.

In the summer of 1953, Mr. Jankowski and two other players were sold to the Chicago Black Hawks, moving from hockey’s penthouse to the basement. The Hawks suffered on the ice and at the gate. Mr. Jankowski displayed some of his scoring touch, notching 15 goals in 68 games.

He broke a bone in his big toe in training camp in 1954. After recovering, his output tailed off and he was demoted to the minors with the Buffalo Bisons. He had played 127 NHL games (with 19 goals and 18 assists and just 15 minutes in penalties), but his NHL career was at an end. He spent the following 14 seasons in the minors.

In 1958, he joined the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Hockey League, quickly establishing himself as the circuit’s top marksman. He led the league in goals in his first three seasons, including a spectacular 57-goal performance in the 1960-61 season. The record-setting tally earned him most-valuable player honours, including a cheque for $500 from a sponsoring liquor company.

He again led the league in goals with 41 for the Denver Invaders in 1963-64, the same campaign in which he won the Fred J. Hume Cup as most gentlemanly player.

He later skated for the Victoria Maple Leafs, Phoenix Roadrunners, Denver Spurs, and Amarillo (Tex.) Wranglers, for whom he was a playing coach.

Mr. Jankowski took a coaching job in New Jersey, but quit after four months, resigning due to the stress of the job.

He could not stay away from the hockey rink, however, and began a lengthy career as a scout in 1972 with the St. Louis Blues. He also prowled the back roads looking for talent for the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, for whom he was employed for 15 years, based in Calgary,

A 1985 expedition saw him evaluating teenaged talent at a hockey tournament at the unlikely hockey outpost of Baton Rouge, La.

“We don’t encourage a kid leaving school to play in the pros,” Mr. Jankowski told the local Morning Advocate newspaper. “Our team has the philosophy of letting them get their education. We don’t interfere with the boy’s education at all.”

His passion for hockey was shared with his family. One of his sons, Ryan Jankowski, is assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting for the New York Islanders.

Mr. Jankowski retired to Florida, where he became a regular at home games of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was known to regale press-box regulars with tales about the rough-and-tumble days of pro hockey, when the top league had only six teams, none farther south than New York City.

A moment of silence was held in his memory before the puck was dropped for a game pitting the Lightning against the visiting Carolina Hurricane.

Louis Casimer Jankowski was born on June 27, 1931, at Regina. He died on March 21 at Clearwater, Fla. He leaves his wife Roseanna; a brother; a daughter; two sons; and, eight grandchildren.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fallers' risky decision 20 years ago continues to pay off for all

Dave Luoma (left) and Don Zapp were fallers who disobeyed a company order to cut down trees on a site that later became a provincial park. They recently returned to the grove, where a plaque heralding their effort was unveiled. Photo by Ann Greene.

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


The three-man crew spent the morning felling trees, as they had done for years and as their fathers had done before them.

Felling is not a job for the sentimental, or the fearful, as the cuts and gravity that transform timber into logs can just as easily crush a man to a bloody pulp.

On a May day 20 years ago, a trio of axemen went about their business bringing down tress on Vancouver Island, turning nature’s bounty into profits for their employer and paycheques for themselves.

They were midway through the workday when they came upon a stand of prime timber — towering red cedars and majestic Douglas firs, as well as spruce, balsam, hemlock and cottonwood.

The ground was level and free of underbrush. A thick canopy overhead filtered the sunlight. Paths blazed by foraging Roosevelt elk paths crisscrossed the area. Nearby, the chill waters of White River flowed past.

The setting was spectacular, even for men who spent every workday in the woods.

“It looked pretty nice,” said Don Zapp, “so we put our saws down.”

“You’ve got to see it to believe it,” said Dave Luoma. “It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.”

Joined by Dave Morrison, the union chairman at the Kelsey Bay division of MacMillan Bloedel, the three decided they simply could not destroy so beautiful a site.

They took a stand to preserve a stand of old-growth trees.

They knew their impromptu decision might come with repercussions. They had earned seniority and contributed to a pension plan in a dangerous job. One of them had recently married.

“It was kind of a big risk,” Mr. Zapp said. “We had a lot of years to lose.”

He had entered the woods in 1972, following in the caulk-boot steps of his father, Tony. Four years earlier, Mr. Luoma had also followed his father, Reino, into the forests of Quadra Island as a gyppo logger.

Fallers like the independence of being off in the woods on their own, making decisions as to how best bring down trees without getting brained.

That spirit contributed to a stubbornness when they stumbled on an Eden in the middle of a cut.

As it turned out, the men were not punished for their extraordinary refusal.

Mr. Zapp and Mr. Luoma recently returned to the stand, where they posed against giant firs, flesh Lilliputians leaning against bark Gullivers. They had similarly posed two decades earlier for Lumber Worker, the union newspaper.

The two fallers were joined by about 40 others from the village of Sayward, about 340 kilometres north of Victoria. They wore rain slickers and held a picnic under a tarp. Colourful drawings by some of the 48 children enrolled in Sayward elementary and junior secondary school hung from another tarp like Tibetan prayer flags.

The event was the dedication of a sign telling the creation story of what is now White River Provincial Park, a 68-hectare patch of pristine wilderness that some call “the Cathedral Grove of the North Island.”

The sign was covered by a pair of grey Stanfields serving as a drape for the unveiling. Resting below was a hard hat and a pair of caulk boots, the protective tools of the faller’s trade.

The park was created five years after the loggers refused to do their job, protecting an elk and bear habitat, as well as a river filled with coho, steelhead, rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.

After the sign was unveiled, Mr. Zapp, 60, and Mr. Luoma, 62, shook hands. (Mr. Morrison was unable to attend.)

The ceremony was filmed by Renee Poisson, a Courtenay filmmaker. She is at work on a documentary about the creation of the park and the culture of fallers. Her producer is Sy Pederson, a 63-year-old retired faller and the former local president

“All my uncles and my father were fallers,” he said. “A dangerous job, being a faller.”

In his own time in the woods, he unwittingly headbutted his share of the dead branches known as widow makers.

“They go out and face dangerous conditions. Felling trees most days, dodging trees some days. Trees are felled and bucked and you’re producing something of value.”

Because loggers are also hunters and fishermen, he said, the trio knew what was especially worth protecting. Their fellow fallers and their union, IWA-Canada, backed their decision and the company did not log the grove, leaving a gem for the rest of us.

The documentary is not the first movie to have been filmed in the park. Hollywood came north to film “The Scarlet Letter,” a Demi Moore vehicle about which can be said it had better scenery than reviews. Artifacts from the film set are still evident at the park, including a wide boardwalk for horse-drawn carriages.

Mr. Pederson is raising funds to complete the documentary. Something of a jokester, he has a vision for the premiere. He wants moviegoers to enter the theatre by walking along a trail of loggers’ longjohns, replacing the red carpet with a grey one.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The technology has changed, but the library remains a refuge

Paul Whitney checks out a volume about Jimi Hendrix. He is retiring as Vancouver's city librarian at the end of the year. Jeff Vinnick photograph for The Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 2, 2010


Paul Whitney, whose title in Vancouver for the past seven years has been city librarian, is retiring. He is 62. In his working career, library technologies have gone from the Flintstones to the Jetsons.

When he began, patrons searched titles by riffling through a card catalogue.

Librarians prepared small cards with handwritten and, later, typewritten information about each volume in the collection. These were arranged alphabetically and placed in long, narrow, pullout drawers.

(Stay with me, kids, we’ll get to the flashy online stuff soon enough.)

It was a painstaking process, which had been little improved since first developed for use in the eighteenth-century at the Bibliotheque du Roi (later the Bibliotheque National) in Paris. Trinity College, Dublin, adopted the French method, and by 1845 the library at the University of Rochester in New York relied on a card system. (Reference: “The Card Catalogue,” by William Charles Berwick Sayers. Accessed via Google Books.)

Card catalogues were the memory of the library when Mr. Whitney began working for a branch of the Burnaby public library in the mid-1970s.

Then, one day, computers changed everything.

“That was a revolution,” he said. “You went from dealing with only what you had in your local branch and having to pick up the phone if you wanted to find out what was on the shelf at another location, to immediately having this full view of your own system.”

Computers checked books in and checked books out. The card catalogue became a paper dodo.

Miss it?

No way.

“Filing and checking filing was one of the more tedious library jobs.”

Mr. Whitney recently announced his decision to retire at the end of the year, an announcement that coincidentally came about the same time as the launch of the library’s latest innovation.

BC Books Online, a digital collection of published books, is now available for patrons of several public and academic libraries.

A consortium of publishers and library organizations got together three years ago. The result is a diverse collection of 650 non-fiction titles about British Columbia, from “A Chosen Path: From Moccasin Flats to Parliament Hill” (a memoir by Frank Oberle) to “Zamboni Rodeo” (a book about Canadians skating for a Texas hockey team).

The books can be accessed online from home, work, or school. They are searchable, so one can find all references to, say, “Moccasin Flats.” Users can also copy, bookmark, cut and paste, and print a limited amount of the content.

It’s as if the personal libraries of every patron grew by 650 volumes, only you don’t need to get more Ikea bookshelves.

“People can get in touch with their province, the history of their province, the nature of their province, and its geography,” Mr. Whitney said. “We get swamped by content from the United States. As e-books take off, you become painfully aware of how little Canadian content is available.”

The consortium, which includes 17 publishers, hopes to arrange funding to ensure the collection is available in perpetuity to all libraries in the province by 2012.

It is the latest of many surprising innovations being introduced by librarians, who are making a rapid transition from dead-tree products to cyber wonders.

(Those seeking an entertaining, informative and surprisingly funny look at the new world of librarians should check out Marilyn Johnson’s “This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.” The Vancouver library system has 13 copies, while Victoria has five, as does Surrey. The Okanagan Regional Library has four. So does Burnaby. Of course, you can always purchase a copy, making happy a retailer, a publisher and a deserving author.)

Mr. Whitney was born in Dublin in 1948, moving to Canada at age nine as his family sought greater economic opportunities. They settled in the Ontario village of Palgrave, northwest of Toronto, as his father advanced his career in the federal civil service.

(Palgrave was settled by Irish immigrants and was originally known as Buck’s Town after a local tavern keeper. Postal authorities named the settlement after an English critic two years after Confederation. Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to the Caledon Public Library.)

The village lacked a library in those days, but that did not limit the boy’s curiosity.

“I was always a voracious reader and there were always books in the house,” he said.

His grandmother presented him with a volume of “The Wind in the Willows,” a “treasured book” that remains in his personal library. He had an appetite for the Victorian adventures of G.A. Henty, as well as for Dickens. By the time he attended high school at Orangeville, he was ambitious enough to tackle E.M. Forster.

As a librarian, he has enjoyed the ability to influence a collection. While working at the McGill Branch of the Burnaby library, he ensured a full selection of the works of celebrated sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick were available. Many years later, a guest at a dinner party described coming across the novels, which he described as “transformative.” Nothing can make a librarian happier (other than returning a book in timely fashion and in pristine condition).

Mr. Whitney does not think the library will disappear anytime soon. As beneficial as is the virtual library, the physical library remains a gathering place for students, a refuge for “the most marginalized in our community,” and a haven for people like himself, a “print-on-paper kind of guy.”

The young come to the library in droves. The top three circulating books in the Vancouver system last year were volumes in the Twilight Series by young-adult author Stephenie Meyer.

So, there’s hope the future will include readers, at least “if it’s about cute vampires.”