Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday, 19 May 2013


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      Ahead Of The Storm Painting by western artist Tim Cox
                For more of his paintings see

Next: The CBC

Sunday, 5 May 2013


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The stories, for what I was thinking of calling Canadian Profile, were being made up as I went along, using things I observed or imagined. My theme had become industrialization, how it had changed and was changing people’s lives.
On Cape Breton Island the ethnic group was obviously the Scots, and the activity coal mining. But first I wanted to get a sense of the hilly land and rugged inhabitants. A road engineer kindly drove me around the Cabot Trail, a road that afforded almost continually picturesque views. As we passed one town he asked if I knew that it had the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in Canada. And in that regard he told me a story.
There was this teetotalling priest who was always vigorously inveighing against the evils of drink, about how its victims would roast in Hell. And one day he was driving along and saw one of his parishioners walking on the side of the road. So he stopped and picked him up. But the fellow was carrying a suspicious package.
        Jock, the godly man said is that a bottle?
        Yes, Father, the other replied.
        Getting himself worked up the cleric cried After all I’ve said! Now open the window and pour it out, man!
        Jock answered Oh, I couldn't do that, Father
        Why not?
        Half of it belongs to me brother.
        Well, pour out half of it!
        Noo… it's the top half that belongs to me brother.
Nova Scotia, Newfie, and down-east jokes are rife now, but then, naïve and unworldly as I was, that caused me to laugh, and made an impression. Every tiny detail I could garner about a people helped shape my story.
After seeing some coal mines, I stopped at Whycocomagh, on the Bras d'Or Lakes. On Sunday morning I wanted to visit a small, white, wooden Presbyterian church on the other side of the water that could be reached by a pinched road that crossed through the narrows, a road that skirted the water and joined two parts of dry land. I had a rented used car, and though winter was lingering there I got over the crossing without much difficulty. But ahead was a high icy hill, and when I tried to ascend it the car slid back down to the bottom. I tried again, revving the motor, and almost made it, but the same thing happened. I was in despair. To my right was the lake, still frozen thinly around the shore, to my left dark snow-scattered hills.
I thought I might have to give up the attempt, when suddenly through the clear cold air came the peal of bagpipes. It was clearly a clarion call, an urging to charge, as in the Light Brigade, and though that offensive ended badly, I seized the challenge. I gunned the motor for all it was worth, sailed up the hill — and made it! I never found out who my unseen benefactor was, but then and there I incorporated the incident into my story.
The service was half over by the time I arrived at the church, but I entered and took a seat as unobtrusively as I could. The Minister was a lean man with a friendly face. When he was finished I was astonished to see him hold out his arm, only one arm, over the congregation, fingers spread, and intone May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord give you peace.
When people were leaving I went up to him and said That's the ancient blessing of the Jewish high priest.
He said I know!
And discovering that I was Jewish and a stranger he insisted on taking me home to lunch. I found that he was steeped in much old Jewish lore. Despite his rural parish, Alexander McKinnon was soon to be the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He was a man firm in his faith, but open to ideas. He begged me to come back the next summer, to make Whycocomagh the location for my story, so that we could see more of each other. I did, and when shooting was held up by weather we had several long walks and talks. He seemed eager for intellectual company, and though he disagreed with my secular notions, he was full of wonder about the mysteries of living.
My next stop was Caraquet, New Brunswick, among the Acadians. I found them convivial, fun-loving and very French. Though I was told, with pride, that it was their own French, somewhat different from that of people in Quebec. It seemed an area hard hit economically, with trawlers having displaced the traditional fishery, but the Acadians were buoyant, insisting on life and enjoyment. To characterize that I decided to stage a wedding. The bride I chose was a comely, lively young woman, though the groom, while he knew the girl and they weren't really getting married, was reserved. Their uncertain future was to be the burden of the story.
Quebec was a more complex problem. Things were happening. There was considerable social upheaval. Fortunately, I had a good lead. Pierre Juneau, later the first Chairman of the CRTC and President of the CBC, who has been immortalized by the Juno Awards, was then with the NFB in regard to French production. He gave me some introductions.
      The first was to Gérard Pelletier. We met for dinner at a French restaurant in east-end Montreal. Pelletier was a loquacious journalist and talked frankly about the whole upheaval in Quebec. He and those who were like-minded had been galvanized by the strike of the asbestos miners. Finally he said I have a friend you should meet, and he set up an interview.

        The friend was Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and I met him in his mother's house in Outremont. He was wearing a shiny wine-red dressing gown. But it wasn't really an interview. I hardly opened my mouth,  while Trudeau lectured for more than an hour. He went over much the same ground, but more intellectually, and ended by advising me to see Father Lévesque at Laval University.
Father Georges-Henri Lévesque was a Dominican monk who had established the School of Social Studies at Laval University and been the Dean of it for years. His pupils, Marc Lalonde, Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier, Pierre Trudeau, and I think, Pierre Juneau, who all in time became federal cabinet ministers — and Trudeau, of course, who went on to become the charismatic long-serving Prime Minister — were all contributing to what came to be called the Quiet Revolution, which was quiet in name only. Father Lévesque was as frank as the others. He said You know what's wrong with education in Quebec? And tugging at his cassock, his black robe, hissed This!

That decided me to have two Quebec stories, one for the educated, sophisticated elite of Quebec City, in which the son, grandson and nephew defies a traditional career and opts for social studies, and another for the labouring class in Montreal.
The latter didn't require much research. I had only to look in the districts where French-Canadian workers lived, at the tenement-like houses with their iron staircases winding up to the second floors, to get a sense of how hard life there was.
Next: The high risers