Tag Archives: Canadian cities

The Acadians: Review

Bill Smallwood takes a complicated period of history and makes it more complicated – Smallwood-Acadiansand that’s good. The Acadians, the first novel in his Abuse of Power series starts in 1749 with the British looking for a site to build a fort in Nova Scotia. They choose a harbour they rename Halifax. It ends in 1757 with British soldiers and sailors choosing tracts of “unoccupied” Nova Scotia land to homestead. The Acadians have been deported and the Mi’kmaq are being ‘cleared’ off their lands. The French have been driven back, and Nova Scotia is open for British business.

The facts of it: war between the French and British for control of North America, deportation of long-time Acadian settlers to France and the future United States, and war with and suppression of First Nations. We know these things from living in the Maritimes or reading history. By situating the facts in a story, Smallwood brings them to life and explains the intricacies of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘why’.

Deportation_Grand-Pré-wikicommons
Deportation at Grand Pré 1755, by George Craig 1893

I have read a lot about the colonization of North America and the history of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. I have been to Halifax many times and traveled around Nova Scotia. So I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the history and geography of the region. But this book made so many things click into place for me. Instead of a spreadsheet of facts, the story gave me a flow of events, places and reasons. The dots were connected.

Deportation_of_Acadians_order 1755 Grand Pre,_painting_by_Chas Wm Jefferys 1923
Col. Winslow reads Order of expulsion, Grand Pré 1755, by C. W. Jefferys 1923

The main character in The Acadians is William Gray who was in real life a clerk to Governor Cornwallis. Smallwood promotes him to British Navy Lieutenant in order to permit him to travel to the extent he does and be privy to the discussions that he is. But it is not only from his perspective that we look. We get to know all the players involved; British, colonial American, French, Acadian and Mi’kmaq. Fear and confusion, bravery and avarice – we see the emotions and actions of all sides. Only the Mi’kmaq remain relatively unknown to us, and I’m sure that is remedied in later volumes.

Smallwood lets history shape story

It is history that shaped Smallwood’s story and character rather than the other way around. Most of his characters are real people. Events are based on letters, logs and other documentation of the time. When he creates or alters events or characters, he explains why and gives what is actually known in notes. So you can become involved in the story and also keep track of the real events. He references his sources and changes in chapter endnotes.

Citadel Hill Fort-photo-D-Stewart
Fort at Citadel Hill, Halifax, today

My only quibble is that footnotes would save having to flick to the end of the chapter each time. You can, of course, ignore the notes but they contain archival sources as well as additional bits of information, quotes from letters and official records as well as the points at which history and this story deviate. That, I found, adds to the story.

The Acadians, 1749-1757 is the first of seven in the Abuse of Power series: The Colonials and the Acadians, 1757-1761; Crooked Paths, 1755-1862; The Planters, 1761-1921; Expulsion and Survival, 1758-1902; Rebels, Royalists and Railroaders, 1841-1910, and Lives of Courage. You can read more at Mr. Smallwood’s website or the publisher Borealis.

Battle of Ridgeway

Anger house Ridgeway near Fort Erie ONToday marks a bizarre incident in Canadian history. Irish-Americans invaded Canada, planning to hold it hostage as leverage to end British rule in Ireland. My family’s farmhouse was smack-dab in the middle of what became known as the Battle of Ridgeway. Reading about it, the threads I picked up led far into North American and Anglo-British political and cultural history.

June 2, 1866, soldiers of the US-based Fenian Brotherhood met Canadian militia at a limestone ridge near Ridgeway west of Fort Erie, Ontario. It was a kind of “who’s on first?” fight. The Canadians had no horses to pull ammunition wagons so only had what they could carry. The Fenians had dumped Battle of Ridgeway illustration, showing IRA flagmuch of their ammunition because it had got too heavy after a day of carrying it all. Information and communication on both sides were misinterpreted, resulting in costly mistakes.

The Fenians were American Civil War veterans, straight from battle. The Canadians were volunteer part-time militia who had never seen action.  Due to budget constraints, many had never fired a live round.

At the end of the day, both sides had dead and wounded. The Fenians, who wanted to move west, were pushed back east to Fort Erie. But then the Canadians retreated. The newspaper clipping Fenians are coming June 1 1866 Irish-AmericansFenians celebrated their victory and planned their next move. And then they saw US gunboats in the Niagara River pointed at them. American and Canadian authorities picked them up and imprisoned them briefly.

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war. And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore. Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue. And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.”

Their marching song pretty much explains the Fenians. They had finished fighting in the Union Army just a year before. While the country tried to pick up the pieces after the devastation of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, the Irish-Americans were looking at the troubles in the homeland they had been forced to leave. The US government knew the Fenian plan but ignored it until the last minute. Their action might provide leverage for US negotiations with Britain as well. Indeed, on June 6, Britain paid the US $15 million for war damages caused by its commerce with the Confederacy and the US enacted laws to stop acts of aggression from within its borders.

Fenian flag 1866 crwflags.com
Fenian Flag 1866

In Britain, they downplayed it because technically it was a British military loss to the Irish, the first in over 100 years. In Ireland, they celebrated it for the same reason. Fifty years later in Ireland, the name of the Fenian Brotherhood’s invading force was resurrected: the Irish Republican Army.

In Canada, the government downplayed the battle because it was a military loss with significant casualties. At the same time, they were debating confederation of the four provinces. That spring’s Fenian campaign of raids (in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario) convinced enough people that, individually, each was more vulnerable than if they united. In 1867 the vote was for Maple Leaf Forever sheet music coverConfederation. That same year, Alexander Muir, a veteran of Ridgeway wrote The Maple Leaf Forever, long an unofficial anthem.

The date of the battle was chosen in 1890 as Decoration Day, commemorating Canada’s war dead. That stood until 1931 when November 11th replaced it as Remembrance Day. The date and story of the Battle of Ridgeway faded into obscurity.

The Anger house, at the corner of Ridge and Bertie roads, holds its memories of that day. The shed that served as a field hospital still stands and the brickwork of the house is scarred by bullet holes.

Sources

Amazon link for Ridgeway by Peter VronskyFor more, see Peter Vronsky’s Ridgeway (left), or an introduction by him at fenians.org.  Other good accounts are:  

The American Legion’s Burnpit,

The Wild Geese Irish history site,

history.net,

“Here comes that damned Green Flag again”,

Loyal Orange Lodge, and

“The Fenian Raids” by Capt. (N) (Ret’d) M. Braham, CD.

An excellent novel about the Fenians is The Roof Walkers by Keith Henderson (click title or image below left for Amazon). 

On eBay – Fenian Raids Battle of Ridgeway

 

Ford Branding

Rob Ford at Ford Nation t-shirt boothTobacco companies are probably heaving a huge sigh of relief.  As far as we know, no cigarettes were smoked by Mayor Rob Ford.  So they do not need to distance themselves and their brands from him. One of few industries spared.

Due to the mayor’s littering, Newfoundland’s Iceberg Vodka distillery released a statement decrying drinking and driving.  Ford Motor Company said its logo can’t be used on t-shirts made by his supporters.  CFL officials must have had kittens seeing him wearing a Toronto Argonauts jersey while making his infamous statements Thursday about whom he was going to sue and why.

shocked cat with text Rob Ford Eats What?And speaking of kittens, I wonder when a cat food company will distance themselves from him after all of his revelations on Thursday.

We made a point of watching The Daily Show and the Colbert Report Thursday night.  This was way too good for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to pass up.  They and every other comedian could not believe he had actually said what he said.  In a nation grown accustomed to dirty little scandals like Anthony Weiner’s crotch ‘selfies’, Elliot Spitzer’s call-girls and a President’s hair-splitting denials of what exactly he dailyshow-14-Nov-13was doing with an intern, you would think nothing could shock American late night tv hosts.  So when the mayor of a Canadian city grosses them out, that’s an accomplishment of some sort.

I’m not a fan of Saturday Night Live, but I saw they plan to do something about him in their show this week.  You know we’ll be watching, along with the rest of Canada – except for maybe a few truly mortified Torontonians.

iceberg vodka-bottle-TO-police-picCongratulations, Mayor Ford, you have well and truly made Toronto a memorable city.  And provided hours of entertainment, both with your own words and the commentaries on them.  Thank you.  I haven’t enjoyed watching the news so much since President Clinton was Bad Billy.  Please don’t stop now!

Coming Home

Coming Home Talbot-St-to-east-photo-D-StewartComing home after an absence, you see it differently.  When you leave one home to visit another, you get it both ways.  Going back to Ontario after a year in a new home, I was both visitor and resident simultaneously.  I was surprised St. Thomas looked the same, but how much does anywhere change in one year?

Talbot-St-to-north-dorothystewartMy eyes had changed, though.  I saw beauty in things I’d never really noticed for a long time.  Waiting for a pizza one night, I looked at the main street – the buildings themselves and the details of architecture we often forget to look at.  Chef Bondi Pizza, in business since the early 1970s, next door to Your Fish & Chips, in business for even longer.  Both with signage I’ve known all my life.  At 10 p.m. the street was empty enough to stand on the middle line.  Yet cars are driving somewhere, people singly or in pairs walk home or to the bars, dogs and their people are out for their late night constitutionals.

Talbot-St-to-south-dorothystewartBeing in Aylmer at a Scottish-surnamed, German-speaking family-run Mexican food shop, The Tortilla Store, buying corn Tortilla-Store-Aylmertortillas in bulk to bring back to NB.  Looking at the parking lot of The Bargain Shop across the side street.  A horse and buggy parked alongside the cars and minivans.  Getting teary-eyed outside the John Street Tim Hortons in Aylmer.  Waiting for my coffee, I automatically nodded to people at the tables.  They nodded back.  They may well be the same ones I’ve seen for years at the same tables at the same time of day.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the other outside this common meeting ground, we always nod hello.

horse-and-buggy photo D StewartMissing Aylmer; the complex mix of peoples in a small town, there long before the term cultural diversity became common parlance.  Stores and restaurants that have remained exactly the same since I went to high school there.  I hated Aylmer and all small towns then, thought the big cities had it all.  Eventually learning that, really, big cities become living in your own small neighbourhood for the most part and that getting away to see fields and forests requires a Clarkes-Aylmer photo Dorothy Stewartmajor expedition.  In Aylmer or St. Thomas, you drive only a few minutes and you are in countryside with cows and horses or woods.

In a London department store, the young sales clerk who waits on us isn’t busy so she starts chatting.  She’s counting the months until she graduates from university and can leave the small-town dust of London behind her for the Big City.  She can’t wait.  I remember being you, I think as I listen to her talk about what London doesn’t have.  But she will do well in Toronto.  I can see the virtues of Hogtown, but London Ont is big city enough for me now.  I was born and bred in real small town Ontario and I have grown old enough to appreciate that.

coming home, field-walk-photo-Jim-StewartThen returning to New Brunswick and what is now home.  No take-out pizza close enough to get it home still warm.  No Tim Hortons without a 20-minute drive.  But the stars fill the sky as they cannot do against the lights of any city or town.  The fields and woods beckon us to come for a walk.  Silence other than the songs and squawks of birds.

Hampton Court House

Hampton Court House 5-Feb-2013 D StewartThe 140-year-old Court House in Hampton, New Brunswick has heard its last case.  Court cases for Kings County will now be heard in Saint John.  The town knows a new purpose for the building must be found, something befitting its beauty and its position as centrepiece in the town.  But.

They already have a museum and library.  The building needs extensive refits and, of course, public money is in short supply.  Please, Hampton, don’t let this magnificent structure and its grounds become derelict.

There are too many beautiful old buildings left to moulder beyond the point of any reasonable possibility of renovation or maintenance.  Such buildings are markers of our heritage.  When we lose them, we lose our collective history.

nb-castle-manor-cbc.ca-22jun2012In Moncton recently, I saw Castle Manor for the first time.  The huge stone building with good-sized grounds looks pretty bedraggled.  Plywood covers all the ground-floor windows.  Originally built by the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s as a seniors’ residence, it has also been a school and orphanage.  Vacant, it was bought in 2012 by a local builder.  He says vandalism has been a problem.  He didn’t say what his plans are, but it sounds like he values its historical and architectural significance to the city.  I hope he can do something beautiful with it before its story ends sadly.

Coming from St. Thomas, Ontario, I know that architecture, and the recognition of its value, can be defeated by real and bureaucratic vandalism.  Alma College was the pride of St. Alma-College-discover-southern-ontario.comThomas.  Built in 1878, it was a private girls’ school from 1881 to 1988.  It then passed through several hands and, like Castle Manor, became pretty sad looking.  Windows were boarded up after the glass had been broken.  People slept in the building and used it as a hangout.  It had provincial status as a historic building but status and a plaque cannot protect against the predation of weather, time and vandals.  It deteriorated to the point that rehabilitation may have been impossible, no matter how much money was available.  Battles about whether to restore or demolish went on for years. Then somebody torched it.

Alma-College-Fire-Credit-Robert-Chaulk,-Sun-Media-Corp-heritagecanadaMay 28th 2008, smoke could be seen all over the city. I drove toward it.  Alma College in flames.  Pretty much every firefighter and piece of firefighting equipment in the city was there, huge crowds gathered on all sides to watch and cry and pray but it was too late.  All that’s left are the outdoor amphitheatre and the music building.

Please do not let this happen to the Hampton Court House.  The building, still usable Main-Street-Hampton-5-Feb-2013 D Stewartnow, has given grandeur to downtown Hampton for well over a century.

I am sorry that it will no longer be an active court.  I will miss the reportage from it in the Sussex Kings County Record.  Every week there is at least one full page of proceedings.  Shoplifting, drunk driving, assault – lengthy and detailed accounts that give a wonderful window into society and jurisprudence in this area.

Stompin’ Tom Revisited

Thank you CBC Radio!  Just when I think I’ll never hear anything that I haven’t heard at least once already in any given day or week, you give me a wonderful treat.

Stompin’ Tom Connors – his songs and his conversation in radio interviews and call-in stompin tom album cover My Stompin' Groundsshows from the CBC archives.  Last Sunday on Radio One on Inside the Music (listen here).  If you know him and love his music, you will truly enjoy this.  If you know him and think ho hum, take a listen to him talking about his life and where the songs came from.  If you have no idea who he is, listen so that you may learn about someone central to Canadian music and Canadian pride.

My mother was a fan of Stompin’ Tom so I grew up with his music.  I don’t know if ‘Tillsonburg’ was the first song of his she heard, but it was her favourite.  She’s from Aug 1986 priming tobacco West Lorne Fodor farm from elgin.caTillsonburg and she worked in tobacco – one season.  She understood, and connected with, every word.  That’s what Stompin’ Tom songs do for Canadians and Canada.  He is the quintessential Canadian; born in New Brunswick, raised in PEI and has worked out west, in Ontario and pretty much every part of the country.

In the doc, he talks about meeting people who had recently returned from visiting Germany.  The Germans they were with one evening sang their country’s folksongs then asked to hear some songs about Canada.  They couldn’t think of one except for Oh Canada.  So Tom, over the Stompin' Tom accepts 1973 Junoyears, set about writing those songs.  He created the folk songs about our country.

There are strong regional music traditions in Canada.  Certainly Newfoundland, the Maritimes and Quebec are rich in traditional songs that tell the history of their places, events and people.  The west is the homeland of country and western.  But songs about Canada as a whole or regional songs known outside those regions?  Like Woody Guthrie, Stompin’ Tom both created and popularized the music of a land.

‘Stompin’ from St. John’s to Tillsonburg

me with Stompin' Tom in St. John'sThe first time I saw Stompin’ Tom perform was in St. John’s at the old Memorial arena.  He was on a small dais and the audience was seated in front, all of us on the covered ice surface.  It was close and personal.  He didn’t mind you getting out in the aisle taking his picture and he stayed after the performance for a long time signing autographs and talking to fans.

Years later I saw him in Tillsonburg.  The sound system was atrocious.  It was almost impossible to make out his words when he was singing or talking.  But it was worth every cent and more when he started Tillsonburg (My back still aches).  The place went up!  You couldn’t hear him over everyone singing along.  (You can listen to him singing it in Hamilton by clicking the title, also below for Sudbury Saturday Night.)

In his songs, Stompin’ Tom gets at the heart of the people and landscape of every one of stompin tom autograph on cigarette packour regions.  And by focusing on the particular, he speaks to the whole of this large and sometimes fragmented nation.  Thank you, CBC, for the chance to hear him talk about how and why he made the music and to tap my foot and sing along with Sudbury Saturday Night.  You don’t have to have ever been in Sudbury to ‘get it’.

A Local CBC Solution

Stick with what you do well and others can’t do – that’s my suggestion for CBC Radio.  CBC Museum in Toronto broadcast centreAn example, from this past week’s Sunday Edition, the story of The Investigator, a 1954 CBC Radio play about the McCarthy Communist “witchhunts”.  Two important points:  one, the power of drama as social and political commentary and two, the power of a broadcast being heard across an entire nation at exactly the same time.  CBC Radio can do that, your hometown radio station cannot.

So if programming must be scaled back due to less money, cut what others do and keep what fulfills CBC’s mandate as a national broadcaster.  If I had to do a quick and drastic cut, it would be local programming:  the morning, noon and ‘drive-home’ time slots.  I’d keep national and international news, documentaries and drama.

Local information is valuable if you live in the locality.  In southern Ontario, “local” programming comes from Toronto.  It doesn’t matter even a tiny bit to me what traffic in Toronto is like.  And while it can CBC sold mock newspaper headlinebe entertaining hearing what Toronto City Council is doing, I can live without it.  If it’s deemed necessary to keep regional programming, cut each time slot to one hour and have production staff and hosts work part-time or split shifts.

A Facebook friend’s comment on CBC Radio was that he’d listen more if it had local news relevant to him, in London Ont.  Doing just that was the reason for the much ballyhooed local news break on the half hour inserted by CBC into its programming a few years ago.  All that has done for me too often is interrupt the thread of interviews and documentaries for a weather “update” six or ten hours old.  Being in touch with regional communities is a good idea, but that way of doing it hasn’t worked.  I don’t know how much that 90 second break costs, but it’s not worth it.

Local is good if you are local to CBC station

When I lived in St. John’s, I enjoyed the CBC St. John’s local shows.  They were informative and entertaining about my community.  Keyword:  my community.  If I lived Mar 2012 full page ad from Friends of Canadian Broadcastingin Gander, it wasn’t relevant.   I remember when CBC Newfoundland planned to shut down regional stations and programmes across the island.  There was outrage.  Gander, Grand Falls, Corner Brook all wanted to keep their own CBC local programming.  Traffic reports weren’t going to make that much difference to the day’s decisions, but people wanted their broadcaster to reflect their lives.  Valid point.

I’d like that in St. Thomas too.  But I’ve never got it from CBC in Ontario.  In St. Thomas, London, Windsor or Owen Sound, you get Toronto.  Faced with the choice of Don Valley Parkway traffic reports and who’s singing where in Toronto or in-depth national and international news and socio-cultural analysis, I’ll pick the latter.  CBC Radio should put its resources into what other, local radio stations do not do.  If I want to hear St. Thomas news, I’ll switch to 94.1 myFM for its hourly news, then go back to CBC.

CBC is where I’ve been able to hear documentaries, political and cultural analyses, literature discussions and radio drama.  cbc funding graph 2011 from Friends of Canadian BroadcastingMake Radio Two a definable station as it used to be (i.e. not a mishmash of music genres you can hear elsewhere). Also keep RCI alive.  Make greater use of existing egional facilities and staff for national programming from areas outside the Toronto broadcast centre.  If more repeat broadcasting is necessary on Radio One, play RCI programmes like The Link.

Corrie Stars in London Ont

I’m glad I didn’t bother putting mousse in my hair last Friday.  I hate the feel of it, but use it when it’s important to me that my hair looks good.  Fortunately it looked ok on Tales from the Street VIP ticketits own for me to meet the Corrie stars at Althouse Auditorium at UWO.  No one noticed my hair.

I’ve never been at a meet and greet so didn’t know what to expect.  I’d read a description of the Winnipeg show so knew that an autograph line was part of it.  The ‘VIP’ meet & greet tickets were $96 and included the $10 brochure; general admission tickets were $50.

fan greeting Charles Lawson March 30 2012You came first to Charles Lawson, then Nicholas Cochrane (McDonalds), then across the stage to Julia Haworth and Stephen Arnold (Peacocks).  I was nervous, as everyone seemed, and Charles Lawson appeared as gruff as Big Jim can be.  People said hello, poked their programmes under his nose and went on.  By the time we got to the Peacocks, everyone had loosened up and spent more time at their table.  There was less reluctance to ask for a photo with the stars, more chatting.

Part of that was a function of realizing by the number of people in line and the passage of time that this was the entirety of the meet and greet.  There wouldn’t be another chance to talk to them.  Part, I think, was a function of the different personalities of Steve Arnold and Julia Haworth with fans March 30 2012 Londonactors and characters.  We only know their characters, and neither Claire nor Ashley Peacock are intimidating.  So we are less likely to be nervous around Julia Howarth and Stephen Arnold.  And both of them were gracious, smiled and laughed – genuinely – a lot.  Jim McDonald is kind of intimidating and Charles Lawson, the first you came to, was business-like about what he was doing.  Where’s your programme, what’s your name, there you go.  Nicholas Cochrane is not intimidating, either the actor or character.  But he’s probably less known to many in the audience, having been off the show for the longest.  What do you say to him – “cómo se va”?

autographed programme photo Julia HaworthI would have placed them with Julia first because she immediately puts you at ease.  She had a little wifely thing going with Stephen.  She signed my programme, then flipped to Stephen’s page, pushed it across to him and said, “this is to Dorothy.”  I heard others chuckling about her keeping him organized.

Another reason for putting Charles Lawson further along the line is that he was the big draw for many.  People near me in line were so excited about meeting Big Jim.  A woman from Northern Ireland was so nervous that she forgot to get a picture with him and she’d promised her brother in Belfast that she would.  So she and her husband returned to the stage so that she could get the photo.  More Other Worlds page autographed by Corrie starsnerve than I had!  I really wanted a photograph, but I was in the lineup by myself and the opportunity didn’t occur to ask someone else to use my camera.  Having a stagehand there to help people like me would have been nice and not that hard to organize.

I thought that there would be some non-autograph time.  Maybe they’d sit and chat with the assembled smaller group that paid $46 extra to meet them.  Maybe after the autograph line had ended for each actor, they’d circulate among the audience sitting dutifully in their seats.  But as the line ended, each actor departed behind the curtain.

The actual show was “awesome” (Julia’s favourite new word from Canada).  Great stories told by Corrie stars on stagethem all in the first half, and audience questions answered thoughtfully and intelligently in the second half.  But my husband was surprised when I said that if I went to something like this again, I wouldn’t pay the extra for the meet and greet.  Autographs alone aren’t worth that much to me.

Fanshawe Riot: Educating fools?

Last weekend, St. Paddy’s Day, London Ont. joined the ranks of cities of fools.  Violent, Burning car and London Ont. rioters St. Patrick's Day 2012vandalizing fools.  Students at Fanshawe Community College in the city’s east end overturned cars and torched a CTV news van.  Houses near the campus were damaged and several people were injured.

Over what?  High tuition fees?  The upward spike in unemployment among young people?  The political struggle in Syria?  Outrage over the Kony 2012 video?  Nope, just too much partying and too much green beer.  And, important to note, Fanshawe is in the suburbs, not downtown.  There aren’t a lot of bars and clubs around, no one congregates there other than the college students and area residents.

Fleming Drive house after 2007 party damageThis isn’t the first time Fanshawe students have run amok for no apparent reason.  From Canoe News: “Oct. 30, 2009: About 500 people at a student party on Thurman Circle near Fanshawe College pelt police with beer bottles, overturn vehicles and smash windows.  Police charge 22 people.”  There was at least one such incident a year before that.

But these were before last year’s Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, also starring foolish youth going nuts.  In that case, their home team lost the game.  Not much of a reason, granted, but at least a reason.  In London?  Nobody seems to know, but everybody Facebook posts from imgur.com and reshared many timesseems to have lost patience.  Some of those involved have posted on Facebook and other online sites.  You’d think they’d have learned after Vancouver – don’t take pictures with your phone and don’t post on Facebook!  Police are going through the material, online and contributed to them.

Local tv news said local high school students and “some University students” were involved as well.  The University of Western Ontario is the only university in the city.  Glad to see you’re putting the high cost for your education to good use.

The only major vandalism I remember when I was at Western was, once a year, the engineering students bricked up the bridge that was a main access to the main campus.  UWO bridge looking east toward Richmond Street entranceEveryone knew it would happen sometime in the academic year, including maintenance staff who would dismantle it in the morning, early bus drivers with a load of students anxious about being late for class, and profs with morning classes who knew few students would turn up.  It was pretty funny, the thought of students out there all night long blocking off the bridge as quickly as they could.  And they always did a good job of it, putting their learning to practical purpose.  Even, so I heard, competing against the previous classes that had done it, with each year’s job assessed on the length of time it took to demolish it.

I don’t know if they still do it.  Yes, it was vandalizing university property and, yes, it inconvenienced people.  But I don’t think too many people really minded.  The Police in riot gear watching fires near Fanshawe March 18 2012engineers were using what they were learning and we all took pride in how well they had done the job.

Throwing bottles?  Bashing in windows?  Overturning cars?  You don’t need higher education to do that.

Tales from The Street

The big Corrie bus has rolled into Canada:  McDonald father and son and the Peacocks.  Poster for Tales from The StreetCharles Lawson (Jim McDonald), Nicholas Cochrane (Andy McDonald), Stephen Arnold (Ashley Peacock) and Julia Howarth (Claire Peacock) started a tour of Ontario and Alberta last weekend.  They come to my area – Southwestern Ontario – at the end of March.  Yippee!

While none of the four are on the show now, Stephen is the only one for whom the door is closed with Ashley having died in the tram crash.  So we can hope we’ll see the others on the cobbles again.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Cochrane years ago when I was researching Other Worlds.  His character, Andy, was still a student and we talked at the school then used as Weatherfield Comp.  Nicholas got the part of Andy right out of school and had no training other than high school drama class.  Working on Coronation Street McDonald family Coronation Street 1989every day with actors who had a wide range of experience, he said, provided a great education.

Nicholas worked closely with Charles Lawson.  Jim McDonald is maybe my favourite Corrie character and that is due to his portrayal by Charles Lawson.  When you look at the parts of Jim, there really isn’t much to like.  He isn’t a great father, you can hardly call him a good husband, he probably was a good soldier but he never found success or happiness in any other endeavour.  He’s quick-tempered, even violent.  But.  He’s also witty, warm-hearted, generous with his time and love, and a guy you’d like as a friend.  Charles Lawson plays the whole man, in all his complexity.  Jim is kind of a Janus, so he is, and you see his good face and his bad face, sometimes at the same time.

Jim hauling Liz out of car 1996The Jim and Liz story I have never forgotten is when she told him about a long-ago affair she had with his Army buddy.  He exploded, hauled her out of the car, hit her and left her on the pavement.  It was shocking, as was the aftermath when she and he continued to deal with it.  The violence was delved into, with his sons confronting him and also examining their own relationship with him, pre- and post-beating.  It also showed Jim’s examination of himself and his relationship with his family.

Liz on ground after Jim drives awayI had those episodes on tape.  I showed scenes to my Popular Culture class to illustrate how a “social issue” story can be presented effectively.  I contrasted it to a wife abuse story on the soap The Young and The RestlessY&R’s involved a character, back after many years away, and her husband and daughter who hadn’t been seen before.  It said the right things and gave information about what a woman should do in a situation of domestic violence.  But, while you were horrified, it didn’t really connect.  These weren’t people you knew.  And then they disappeared so you didn’t have to think about them, or the issue, again.  With the McDonalds, all aspects of family violence were looked at without preaching, through the vehicle of a family you knew well and continued to see.  You couldn’t help but care.

Canada AM with Corrie stars CTVAnd the Peacocks – I look forward to seeing them.  I’m so sorry that Ashley will never grow old on the show and become the next Fred Elliot, I say, the next Fred Elliot.

The book below is not about Coronation Street, but the people it talks about could well live on the Street.