Walking the line

During the 1950s and 60s in my hometown of Guelph, Ont., you made your own fun. There were no touring orchestras or theatrical groups, just the local light opera company doing The Gondoliers or the little theatre presenting The Importance of Being Earnest. The boffo offering was always the annual minstrel show by the Kiwanis Club with a row of ten men called names like Rastus and Bones who sat on the high school auditorium stage telling cornball jokes and singing. The highlight was “Old Man River” crooned by the owner of Kelly’s Music store. They all wore white gloves and blackface until the civil rights movement was launched in the...

Read More ....

Things to give thanks for

Every day that dawns. The Harvest Moon this past week. The fact that Monarch butterflies, blue jays and crows are making a comeback in Toronto. Lots of laughter. Curiosity. A civil society with few guns. Yoga. Any book about LBJ or Winston Churchill. The lyricism of A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman. The authority of the New Yorker and the quirkiness of the London Review of Books. Reading The Great Gatsby or The World According to Garp every few years.  My daily giornata. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Church bells and familiar hymns. Crisp McIntosh apples. Cranberry sauce. Butter tarts from The Bakery in Flesherton....

Read More ....

A sorry state

There was a time when governments never apologized, neither for what they did, nor for past transgressions. Pierre Trudeau comes to mind. He always said he was looking forward, not back. But, as time has passed, other prime ministers have taken a different approach. Brian Mulroney, for example, apologized for the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. Stephen Harper apologized for what was done to young aboriginals at residential schools. No prime minister, however, has been such a profuse apologist as Justin Trudeau. Being Canadian has come to mean always having to say you’re sorry. His list already includes:...

Read More ....

Sitting room only

All this foofara caused by President Donald Trump over a White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors has gotten out of hand. LeBron James is now calling Trump a “bum,” some NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem, and other teams are avoiding controversy by staying in the locker room until the Star Spangled Banner is over. Trump’s strategy is obvious. His main talent is to be a divisive force who plays one group off against another. Even on Capitol Hill, he’s cosying up to Democrats on fiscal matters while whipping his own Republicans toward impossible goals on healthcare. I believe this presents...

Read More ....

Bidding wars

Among the first stories I wrote for Maclean’s after joining the newsmagazine in 1978 was a behind-the-scenes account of how governments helped Windsor, Ont., beat out Lima, Ohio, for a $500 million engine plant Ford was planning to build. I was able to reveal all the negotiations that took place among Ontario Premier Bill Davis, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and Ford President Roy Bennett during the Calgary Stampede of all places. When I next saw the premier, he said the story read as if I’d been in the room, just the sort of comment a young magazine writer wants to hear. Looking back, that public support...

Read More ....

Fun on Fogo

When you ask the locals living on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, about the weather, they don’t begin with sun, cloud or temperature. They talk first about the wind. A south-westerly is best and can signal several fine days to come. We had just such luck during our recent time at the Fogo Island Inn. The inn, which opened four years ago, dominates Joe Batt’s Arm, a community that’s a 10-minute walk away. The most wonderful aspect of a vacation on Fogo is that you encounter folks in ways you don’t usually while on holiday. One man called John that we happened to meet on a dock held...

Read More ....

Hidden figures

When the most recent Statscan census declared that the Anglophone population in Quebec had increased by 57,325 during the last five years, Quebec politicians were apoplectic. There was talk about the need for a quick legislative response because this news somehow indicated that the French language would soon disappear from daily life. English-speakers were making a comeback, even outside Montreal. Mon dieu! When experts checked the numbers, they found that the Anglophone population had not ballooned to 8.1 percent of the population. It was a more reasonable 7.5 percent, a drop of 0.2 percent over the five-year period. The number of Anglophones in Quebec City was not 6,400...

Read More ....

Just wait and see

This morning, in a neighbour’s garden, there was a flurry of Monarch butterflies. I tried to count them, was it four, or five? Hard to tell, they were having so much fun flitting among the flowers – roses, zinnias, coneflower, snapdragons and a tall purple item I couldn’t identify. Not so long ago, Monarchs had all but vanished. If there are this many nearby, they must be making a comeback. So, too, with birds. Earlier in this decade, West Nile virus meant there were neither crows nor blue jays in Toronto. Robins, chickadees and others songsters were also reduced in number. For...

Read More ....