The Hon. Donald S. Macdonald 1932-2018

To understand Donald Stovel Macdonald, who died yesterday, you have to know that he was born and raised in Ottawa amidst great players on the national and international stage. In December 1941, at the age of nine, he walked by himself to Parliament Hill, just to get a glimpse of Winston Churchill being bundled into Centre Block to deliver his “some chicken, some neck” speech. Among the congregation at the church his family attended were two cabinet ministers in the Mackenzie King government, James Lorimer Ilsley and James Layton Ralston. His Sunday School teacher was John Read who later became the only...

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Exit stage left

When Justin Trudeau first announced the legalization of cannibis, I thought it was a good idea. Now that the day has almost arrived, I am not so sure. In particular, I have my doubts that legit pot will in any measurable way impinge upon black market sales. Such transactions will still occur after the legit stores are closed. Backstreet dealers might even offer credit for a day or two, another factor that differs from the official pot places. But that’s not my only problem with Trudeau. The USMC has been a bit of a snow job. Trudeau made much of retaining...

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Gender-bending Shakespeare

Faithful readers may remember my praise for Martha Henry’s performance this season at Stratford as Prospero in “The Tempest.” Imagine my pleasure to see her interviewed Monday night at McMaster University along with Seana McKenna. The two actors appeared as part of The Socrates Project, a series of cultural events running until next summer, sponsored by L. R. “Red” Wilson, a businessman and former McMaster chancellor. The two women were interviewed by CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel. McKenna talked the most, but Henry was the best. In response to a question about how she got into acting, Henry told of owning a dress that made...

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Music of the spheres

A sentence on the front page of my morning paper caught my eye. The story was about the meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un who greeted his visitor while “a brass band played the North Korean leader’s personal arrival song.” Arrival song? Has diplomacy taken on the patina of Major League Baseball where a batter gets to choose the stadium music played as he walks to the plate? For example, Justin Smoak of the Blue Jays takes his practice swings to the sound of Brantley Gilbert’s “The Weekend.” Maybe Kim’s arrival song is simply the modern-day inheritor of campaign...

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The quiet of the crowd

I recently attended a lunch at a downtown Toronto location, one of those events with a quick chicken plate followed by a speaker. All the usual niceties were observed including the rhythmic clapping to welcome the arrival of the head table.There also was an acknowledgement – that has become essential at any public gathering – of the specific indigenous nations who once lived on the site. We even had grace and toasted the Queen. How often do those latter elements feature in a program? And then, a mezzo-soprano was introduced to sing O Canada. I joined in, as I always do. I knew the...

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Vignettes of summer

Everywhere around there are delightful, unusual and a few sad-making things to see, if only you look. A man is standing under a tree with a Longo’s bag of breadcrumbs. Pigeons feed from both of his outstretched hands and on the ground around. A pigeon rests on each of his shoulders, another perches on his hat. He seems becalmed. He could be in Piazza San Marco in Venice. In front of a stone building the flowers of August abound. The hosta and hollyhocks are pretty much over but remaining in full bloom are rudbeckia, begonia and anemone. A woman in...

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The Tao of Pooh

I was lucky as a lad. My father read to me every bedtime. By the time I was four I could read aloud myself although I can remember mispronouncing “gnaw” in the The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse by Thornton W. Burgess as “g-naw” with a hard “g” rather than silent. But of all the books that I read in my young life, I would put A. A. Milne’s work at the top of the list for lyrics and characters. Who else could write a poem about a boy called “James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree who took great care of his...

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By my so potent art

Martha Henry is spectacular in The Tempest, my favourite Shakespearean play, at Stratford this summer. Prospero was written as a male role, but a few words changed here and there and it suits an actress of Henry’s breadth just fine. It’s also a role that many thespians take on later in life, but at 80 Henry looks as if she has many great years left. As a side note, the first time she was on the Stratford stage was in 1962 – playing Miranda, Prospero’s daughter. The Tempest is a busy play with multiple subplots, but among all of Shakespeare’s works, it...

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