On my first opportunity to greet royalty I flubbed my lines. As a six year-old lad welcoming the newly crowned Queen on her first visit to Wales, I’d been given a little flag to wave and encouragement to give a hearty cheer as she walked by. I was well-placed at the front of the crowd, but when the time came to perform I was so over-awed that I just stood speechless with my little flag drooping [insert your own joke here]. In my defence, as well as being The Queen she was also the first TV star I’d ever seen. Her funeral last month reminded me of watching her coronation seven decades earlier, and a Canadian operation that made North American television history.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.
The Croatian “special police” crowding into the hotel bar were singing songs of the notorious Second World War pro-Nazi Ustaše (Ustasha). All were sporting the “skinhead” look, which may be benign now but was once the fashion choice of neo-Nazis. It was late. I was bone-weary. Over the past few days I’d been responding to Croatian “ethnic cleansing” and cease-fire violations. I’d allegedly been shot at by Serbs, although I was pretty certain that it was just some Croat trying to inject a touch of drama into a front-line visit. As the child of parents whose lives had been upended by a Nazi regime, my feelings on returning to the familiar comfort of our hotel to find it full of neo-fascists would be difficult to put into words. But my job was to monitor, so I settled down to nurse a beer and watch.
Please note: There were some inaccuracies in the original post which are now corrected. My apologies.
A brisk wind was gusting straight down the expanse of South Beach as Debbie set Sable Aviation’s little Islander down with deceptive ease. Earlier that morning the Parks Canada team had scouted out a suitable stretch of sand firm enough, despite the rain which had cancelled our flight plans a day earlier. The spot was about four kilometres from Sable Island Station, the sole permanent habitation for those on the island for professional reasons. For the few hundred casual visitors permitted each year between June and October, staying overnight is not an option. By sunset we had to be airborne again.
On October 1st each year Nova Scotia celebrates Treaty Day, when nation-to-nation covenants between the indigenous Mi’kmaq and British Crown (now the Government of Canada) are reaffirmed in Halifax (Kjipuktuk in the Mi’kmaw language). Yesterday, to mark the occasion the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre presented a program of dance, song, drumming and cultural teaching along with a free meal of Atlantic salmon to all comers as a gesture of the Peace and Friendship which the treaties were intended to nurture. The troubled three-century history of the treaties and subsequent colonial abuses is too complex to relate here, but is the reason why many people were wearing orange shirts of remembrance. But this was a day of celebration and reconciliation, which put me in mind of another, more ancient annual feast.
At the moment – and that’s an important qualifier – Nova Scotia is said to be the safest place from the COVID-19 coronavirus in North America, along with the neighbouring provinces cooperating as an “Atlantic Bubble.” Some other parts of Canada have spent Thanksgiving weekend locked back down after renewed outbreaks. The public health debacle south of the border in the world’s richest country beggars belief. Yet the Halifax waterfront has been lively during the summer. Most restaurants and pubs are open, albeit with limited occupancy, mandatory masking, physical distancing, and registering patrons for potential contact tracing. Shops, salons, other businesses and places of worship are struggling, but most are staying afloat. Those who can are working from home, and the public and private sector are doing their best to mitigate the economic hardships on the most vulnerable. So what’s making the difference?
A timely trivia quiz for movie buffs:
1. What 1980 pandemic disaster movie used a Canadian submarine as a set?
2. Which submarine?
3. Who were the lead actors?
4. Which minor actor appears in the credits but not on screen?
I hadn’t quite turned 15 when somehow I learned that Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) would charter an airliner to organized groups for half-hour flights over Niagara Falls, flying out of nearby Malton airport (we still called it that, though it had been re-named “Toronto International” some months earlier). Being mad about flying I asked my Dad whether we could organize that for the youth group at the church where he was minister. Sure, he said, that wicked twinkle in his eye. Why don’t you do it? From experience I knew that an excuse of just being a kid wasn’t going to cut it. Dad was a born mentor.
It’s not often you get to see two of the Cunard Line’s great passenger ships in port at the same time. It’s particularly significant in Halifax, where Samuel Cunard founded the company. Last week crowds lined the shores in brilliant late afternoon sunshine to watch the spectacle of Queen Elizabeth 3 and Queen Mary 2 leave their berths, steam in line up the Dartmouth side of the harbour, then turn seaward along the Halifax piers; Queen Elizabeth bound for St. John’s and Queen Mary for New York. Surely a more stately sight than Britannia, Cunard’s first tiny hybrid paddlewheel steamer with its full suit of sails furled away as backup, chuntering seaward along the same course 180 years ago.
I have a special fondness for Queen Mary 2, having immigrated to Canada (via New York) aboard her predecessor, back in the day when crossing the Atlantic by air was still a new but unaffordable luxury to us common folk. Dad had gone ahead to find a job, then Mum and I followed.
From the moment I first saw Emma Fitzgerald’s Hand Drawn Halifax I enjoyed her funny, spontaneous, uninhibited sketching style. My own amateurish attempts tend to be fiddly and fussy, with lots of dithering and erasing in trying to get everything just right (which it never is). So this summer I couldn’t resist an advertisement for Emma’s week-long course at Lunenburg School of the Arts “for those who want to sketch on location, in public, without fear.” That’s me. Continue reading “A Lunenburg Sketch-About”
Tomorrow night, at 22:31 Atlantic Time, hundreds of people around the world will be taking quiet moments in their own way to mark the twentieth anniversary of that awful moment when Swissair’s Flight 111 from New York to Geneva plunged into the shallow waters of St. Margaret’s Bay, just a few minutes flying time from the city of Halifax. The tragedy was compounded by the terrible knowledge that only one of the 229 bodies, a child, was sufficiently intact to be identifiable visually. Recovering remains of the others, whether floating, entangled in the wreckage or washed ashore, was to be a mammoth and grisly challenge. Those involved in supporting grieving families; recovering and trying to identify body parts; retrieving wreckage; reconstructing bits of the aircraft to determine the cause; cleaning up the shoreline; or simply supporting those who did – they number in the thousands, and all have their own meaningful memories. Here’s three of mine.
I can’t say that I was particularly scared at my first parachute jump – excited for sure, but not scared. There’s a theory that both those emotions are physiologically the same thing and it just depends on how you interpret them. That makes sense to me.
Before the plane takes off you have no way of predicting what it must be like to step outside, half a mile above the ground, and then trust that the nylon line joining your aircraft to the pins keeping your parachute pack closed will tug them out when your falling body reaches the end of it. There’s a strange moment on takeoff when you realize that you will not be landing in the same aircraft, and once it starts climbing with the door open the unreality really kicks in. By the time your instructor tells you to get out on the step, the adrenaline rush, engine roar, howling wind and realization that you are standing outside an airplane in flight come close to sensory overload. Things get surreal as you hear “Have a good jump — GO!”, feel a firm but somehow encouraging thump on you shoulder, and hop backward into empty space. All those good intentions to follow instructions and count out the seconds before the parachute should be opening evaporate, and all that comes out is YEEEEHAW! Continue reading “Leaps of Faith”