Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Archivists cast wide net for collecting Games history

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 25, 2010

This is how the archivist Courtney Mumma spent her summer.

She hung out at a company's office, listened in on meetings, watched staff play volleyball after eating lunch outdoors at picnic tables.

She peppered them with hundreds of questions, polite but incisive. She wanted to know how the project and information management team handled their records. What did they keep? How did they store it? Where was it all logged?

When the Olympics come to an end, when the Games' organizing committee (VANOC) has completed its work, its voluminous records - minutes, memos, e-mails - will wind up in the hands of the City of Vancouver Archives.

Ms. Mumma, 34, who graduated with a masters degree less than a year ago, was invited by VANOC to study the organization.

It is believed to be the first time Olympic planners and the future repository of their records have worked together.

Thrilled though they are to handle the records, the staff at the Vancouver Archives know the official papers will tell only part of the story.

So, they've put out a call for any group affected by the Games to consider donating their records to the archives, too.

"We're casting a really wide net," Ms. Mumma said. "At this point, we're open to everyone."

Archivists take a neutral position on controversial issues. They are interested in facts. They love primary material. They are masters of metadata.

Their lives are such that phrases like "large event methodology" and "controlled environment storage areas" pepper ordinary conversation.

Guided by a code of ethics, they value objectivity to such a degree it would shame all but a handful of journalists.

Archivists solve mysteries, says archives manager Heather Gordon. "It's like playing detective all day long," she added.

While the call for donations to the Olympic archive does not encourage any specific group to contribute, it is easy to imagine a wish list for future researchers - documents from media outlets, tourism groups, hotel and restaurant associations, as well as advocates for the poor and the homeless.

Sensitive information can even be restricted for a period of time.

Few will be aware of the city archives' success in handling the records of Vancouver community groups.

It has papers from the Downtown Business Association; the Gay Alliance Towards Equality; the committee organizing celebrations for the city's diamond jubilee in 1946; from the citizens who opposed urban renewal in Strathcona, saving Chinatown from the wrecking ball; and, the group that stopped development at the entrance to Stanley Park.

It also has the earliest documents from the Don't Make A Wave Committee, which became Greenpeace.

The archives in Vanier Park include a large storage area not open to the public. An entire aisle of shelving has been left open for Olympic records.

On her first visit to the archives, as a graduate student, Ms. Mumma noticed the empty shelves, which, as it turned out, she has since been hired to fill.

There's plenty of space for community group contributions, since most of the VANOC records will be digital.

Ms. Mumma, who describes herself as an army brat, was born at Cape May Court House, N.J., but grew up in Texas. She graduated from the University of British Columbia last May.

She's enjoyed the happy crowds downtown, marvels at the spirit of the city.

Her big Olympic event so far involved riding the zipline across Robson Square the other morning. She arrived at 8 a.m. The reward for three hours of queueing: "Eighteen seconds of bliss."

It was a rare moment of derring-do for someone whose work day involves the preservation of records for future generations.

That might seem a dry occupation. Those who do it do so because they believe in an informed citizenry.

"I became an archivist," Ms.Mumma said, "because I want to be a part of a society that doesn't forget."

As if any of us - pro or con, thrilled or disgusted - could forget the events of the past month. Thanks to the archivists, we will have a fuller understanding in future of what we're experiencing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ice masters

Tracy Seitz at the Whistler Sliding Centre in the summer of 2009.

By Tom Hawthorn
Vancouver 2010 Official Souvenir Program

Tracy Seitz leans against a railing. From his perch midway up Blackcomb Mountain, he overlooks Whistler Village in a stunning valley vista framed by nature with mountains as a backdrop. On a warm June afternoon, he is alone save for a visitor and a young male black bear, who, as our sports truck’s engine roared on the way up, barely glanced from his solitary forage.

The warm air was still. Only the chirping of birds could be heard from this crow’s nest.

How different it all would be in just seven months.

Spectators in their thousands will cheer from bleachers. Television cameras will capture the spectacular view, an image certain to thrill broadcasters and a worldwide audience.

The athletes for whom this vantage point was constructed will be too busy to sightsee. They will be concentrating instead on the icy path they face and the few, fleeting milliseconds that will be the difference between infamy and glory.

As he rested at the start area for the bobsleigh, skeleton, and men’s luge, Seitz traced the winding course in the air with a forefinger. All the crooked twists and turns follow a perilous drop here that will give pause to even the bravest daredevil. Like the black tees for professionals on a golf course, or the launching pad at Cape Canaveral, this is not for the faint hearted.

“The speeds here are like nowhere else,” Seitz said

In a competition preceding the Winter Olympics, a luge athlete set a course record of 153.98 km/h (95.68 m.p.h.). A fellow could get to Vancouver in a hurry at that speed.

The athletes careening at such breakneck speeds do so atop a ribbon of artificial ice no thicker than two fingers pressed together.

The responsibility for maintaining this slippery surface falls to Seitz and his crackerjack crew of scrapers and groomers. He is the ice meister of the Whistler Sliding Centre, a demanding job for which there is no quitting time. The ice always demands attention.

“If you’re a perfectionist,” he says, “if you’re never satisfied, then this is the job for you.”

He has been doing this rare job for so long, has become so familiar with minute differences in ice quality that he judges the quality of the ice not with his eyes, but with his ears.

Seitz, who turns 40 later this year [2010], discovered the sport that would become his life’s calling as a teenager in his Calgary birthplace in 1988. After the Games, a younger brother asked to be taken to the venue. In time, Tyler Seitz became an Olympian and won a bronze at a luge World Cup event on his home track, the first Canadian man to win a medal at the highest level of the sport.

(A third brother, Trevor, became involved in moviemaking. His first movie credit came by working on “Cool Runnings,” the Disney movie about the Jamaican bobsled team, unlikely heroes of the Calgary Olympics.)

Seitz served as track master at Bear Hollow for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, a difficult task at high altitude, as it seemed to him “like we’re almost touching the sun, it’s so hot,” he told a reporter at the time.

He belongs to one of the world’s most exclusive fraternities, as only a handful of technicians take on the arduous task of ice preparation. Among his counterparts for the Vancouver Olympics is Kameron Kiland, who will have spent two years preparing the ice at the Pacific Coliseum for figure skating and short-track speed skating. Kiland hails from Kelvington, the Saskatchewan town known as “Canada’s hockey factory.” He learned his trade preparing hockey rinks and curling sheets across the prairies.

Humidity, temperature and the impact of spectators on both can lead to condensation and frost, ruining even the best ice.

“Water is water,” he says, “but there’s a chemistry to water and how the molecules freeze.”

So, who makes the best ice meisters? “Someone who doesn’t like to sleep,” Kiland said without hesitation. “When the athletes have gone home that’s when we’re working on the ice. We do our repairs and maintenance when all else is quiet. My goal is to have the most fair, open competition as possible.”

Back at the sliding centre, Seitz says his goal is the same — to ensure the ice is as good for the last competitor as it was for the first.

“For us, it all depends on what Mother Nature brings to us.” The run is set on Blackcomb’s southeast slope, exposing it to the midday sun. The air is thick with humidity, an unavoidable presence in the midst of a rain forest.

Nor does Seitz want the ice to be too cold, lest it become brittle, breaking up as a competition progresses.

“The toughest part of the job is getting it smooth. The second toughest is keeping it smooth.”

In summer, the snaking, 1,450-metre long run is about as interesting as a dry culvert. In winter, when the ice is right, it will be a spine-tingling ride through intimidating curves nicknamed “Shiver” and “50/50” (because only half the sleds got through it during a World Cup run).

No Zamboni fits on this ice, so a crew scrapes away with handmade tools.

Even the smallest bump in the ice will cause a sled to become airborne, though just for a fraction of a second. It then returns to the ice with a jarring shudder, cracking into the surface. “One bump,” Seitz sighs, “ creates a hundred.”

He likes to stand along the track, cocking an ear for what to him is a happy rumbling sound.

“It’s like an airplane flying over, louder and louder the closer it gets and then fading away.”

The sound he does not like is silence. Silence means a sled is in the air. It means his ice is not performing as well as it should. What he wants to hear is the steady roar of a speeding sled, interrupted only by cheers and cowbells. Always more cowbell.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A man who knows the burden of carrying his country's hopes

Father David Bauer organized Canada's first national hockey team as a group of athlete scholars. They were jobbed of a medal at the 1964 Olympics, but won bronze in 1968. Below: Roger Bourbonnais as a skater in 1964 and as a lawyer in 2010.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 22, 2010

Roger Bourbonnais twice played in Olympic hockey games for a gold medal.

That he has a single bronze medal to show for his effort reflects the fortunes of sport, as well as the duplicity of officials.

Mr. Bourbonnais has worn the maple leaf on his chest and he has faced Finns, Czechs, Swedes, Americans, and Russians on the ice.

He knows the burden of carrying his country’s hopes in the one sport that matters more than any other.
That he did so as an amateur, as a university student, sent out to confront a mighty Soviet team, seems ever more remarkable as the years past.

Mr. Bourbonnais, 67, a lawyer in Vancouver, was recruited out of junior hockey in 1963 to play for a squad being organized by Father David Bauer, a Basilian who had abandoned his own prospects of a professional career for the priesthood.

Europe’s best had been dominating the senior Canadian teams sent overseas, so Fr. Bauer convinced Canadian authorities to allow him to forge the country’s first true national team.

He wanted young man of strong moral fibre, athletes who would continue their studies even as they prepared for the Olympics.

“I was just 21,” Mr. Bourbonnais said. “We were all very young. We enjoyed every minute of it.”

The players lived on the University of British Columbia campus, where Bob Hindmarsh had purchased the prize home from a lucky fairgoer at the annual Pacific National Exhibition. The house was trucked to the campus.

Mr. Bourbonnais remembers hammering a nail into the wall as a place to hang his clothes.

The squad attended class during the day, held a practice at 4 p.m., ate supper together in the house. (They had a cook the men referred to as Ma.) Then, they pounded the books late into the night.

Mr. Bourbonnais was a smooth-skating centre with good hands. He stood just 5-foot-9, weighed 170 pounds, small even by the standards of the day.

In retrospect, the notion of amateur student scholars taking on the world’s best hockey players seems folly. The Czech and Soviet players were professional in all but official status.

The Canadians were shellacked in their first European exhibition game in preparation for the 1964 Winter Games at Innsbruck, Austria. While some thought they were about to be crushed in the Olympic tournament, Mr. Bourbonnais said the defeat and an us-against-the-world mentality, coupled with a discipline instilled by coach Bauer, helped the young squad come together as a team.

“We always had the faith that we could do it,” he said.

In Canada’s final match, the unheralded Canadians rode goals from George Swarbrick and Bob Forhan, nursing a 2-1 lead late into the second period against the mighty Soviets. The winner would get gold.

The Soviets tied the game at 18:28 of the second, then popped in a goal at 1:36 of the third period for the lead.

“We felt we were getting chances,” Mr. Bourbonnais recalled. “We were in the game right to the end.”

The Soviets won the game to take the gold medal, while the Canadians finished with a 5-2 record for a three-way tie for second with Sweden and Czechoslovakia. Under the tie-breaking system in effect, the Canadians believed they had claimed the bronze medal.

They marched back into the stadium that evening dressed in their official blazers, only to discover that the International Ice Hockey Federation officials, led by Bunny Ahearne, never a friend of Canada, had agreed with the Europeans to alter the tie-breaking system. The Swedes would get silver, the Czechs bronze.

“Come on fellas,” Fr. Bauer told his players, according to hockey historian Andrew Podnieks, “let’s get out of here. We’re not getting anything.”

The sense of unfairness lingers nearly a half-century later.

“I think we got jobbed,” Mr. Bourbonnais said.

The hockey program moved to Winnipeg, Fr. Bauer becoming team manager and replaced by Jackie McLeod as coach. Mr. Bourbonnais was studying law at the University of Manitoba. A friend, now a judge, mailed overseas carbon copies of lecture notes taken in class.

The Canadians still struggled to score at the 1968 Games at Grenoble, France, despite the presence of slick Fran Huck, but the team managed to qualify for a gold-medal showdown once again against the Soviets 42 years ago today (Feb. 17, 1968).

The Soviets eked out a 2-0 lead after two periods though outshot by the hardworking Canucks. The Soviets popped in three more in the third.

“The Russians just overpowered us,” Mr. Bourbonnais said. “We didn’t see the puck too often. We were on our heels.”

As a consolation, this time the Canadians received their deserved bronze medals.

That was the end of Fr. Bauer’s dream, as the country withdrew from the Olympics, not to return until 1980.

His players, many of whom earned university degrees, a few of whom played in the National Hockey League, went about their lives.

The rink built on campus for the the team has been replaced by a new facility constructed for the Olympics.

Mr. Bourbonnais, who was named to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1999, had a modest role to play in the leadup to the Games.

In the dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, the lawyer was asked to take part in the pretend Parade of Nations. He was an ersatz Swiss.

As for his bronze medal, his six-year-old granddaughter is taking it to show her classmates in a Coquitlam elementary school this week.

That is reward enough.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Underaged soldier became Canada's last veteran of the Great War

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 20, 2010

Jack Babcock never saw No Man’s Land, or the poppies in Flanders Field; did not fight at Vimy Ridge, or at Passchendaele; never flew a biplane in the skies over Europe; never attacked a U-boat, or a Zeppelin.

In 1916, he volunteered for the Canadian army, another Ontario boy eager to leave the family farm to see the world. The late discovery of his tender age — he was just 15 1/2 — saved him from being ordered to the trenches on the Western Front in France. The disappointment he felt then was tempered over the years by the knowledge that legions of his peers had been cut down in their youth.

More than 60,000 Canadians died in the Great War, a terrible toll from which emerged in this land a greater sense of nationhood. Mr. Babcock escaped the bloodletting with the signing of the Armistice halting “the war to end all wars.” Seeking opportunity, Mr. Babcock settled in the United States, where he emerged from obscurity decades later, surviving as the last known Canadian veteran of the First World War.

The unrequested burden of representing all the soldiers, sailors and airmen who had served in the conflagration fell to a man whose war record, as he readily admitted, reflected little more than a youth’s eagerness for adventure.

“I didn’t do any fighting,” he said.

For all the killing, for all the slaughter, Mr. Babcock never fired a shot in anger.

Though he had not seen action, Mr. Babcock proved to be a most worthy representative of his brave generation.

He entertained visiting Canadian dignitaries, including Cabinet ministers and military officers, at his home in Spokane, Wash. The centenarian willingly accepted as his duty the responsibility to answer all reporters and military historians keen for insight on his wartime experience. He did so with good humour, even as his hearing failed in recent years, making conversation difficult.

Mr. Babcock readily acknowledged the importance of youth serving their country in uniform even as he warned against the savagery of battle.

“I hope countries think long and hard before engaging in war as many people get killed,” he once told an interviewer from Veterans Affairs Canada. “What a waste, not to mention the relatives who are left to mourn.”

He politely declined any suggestion his death be marked by a state funeral, as he felt his own contributions were not worthy of such an honour. It was said his wish was to have his ashes scattered in the mountains.

A vibrant man well into his 11th decade, Mr. Babcock golfed until only recently and regularly attended church. He had brilliant blue eyes their clarity all the more striking for his shock of thick white hair. Mr. Babcock attributed his longevity and his positive outlook to his second wife, 29 years his junior, who doted on him. He was a rare man to have celebrated a 30th wedding anniversary more than once.

Two years ago, he regained a Canadian citizenship lost when he became a naturalized American citizen in 1946.

John Henry Foster Babcock, who was born in the final months of the reign of Queen Victoria, enlisted to serve King and Country under her grandson, George V.

His prosperous and hard-working father, James Babcock, of German ancestry, owned a sawmill and a farm, on which he also raised cattle, in Frontenac County, Ontario. He had fathered five children when his wife and sixth child both died in childbirth. After remarrying Isabelle Anne Foster, a woman of Irish stock 10 years his junior, he fathered five more children. Jack Babcock was his eighth child and third son.

The family’s fortunes suffered when James Babcock was killed while falling a tree in March, 1907. Jack was age six at his father's death. The family lost the farm, though the boy remained to work as a servant for the new owners.

He remembered being with an older half-brother when approached by an army lieutenant and sergeant in 1916.

“They were hard up for men,” Mr. Babcock told me five years ago. “They asked me if I would like to enlist and I said, ‘Sure.’ So, they signed me up. The next Monday morning I walked to the little town of Sydenham about 10 miles away. There were about 35 men who had been recruited and we drilled in the town hall.”

(Albert Manily Babcock enlisted three weeks after Jack. He was serving in France with an engineering unit when injured. “He was building a narrow-gauge bridge across a big shell hole,” Jack Babcock said. “He got buried up to his hips in sand and had to get help to get out. He came back home, had a nervous breakdown.” After studying at McGill University in Montreal, he became a minister.)

Despite an accurate recording of his birth date in 1900, Jack Babcock’s enlistment papers, dated Feb. 4, 1916, describe his “apparent age” as 18. The fair-haired boy stood all of 5 feet, 4 1/2 inches. He signed as Foster Babcock in a schoolboy's uncertain scrawl. He was assigned to the 146th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Mr. Babcock was posted to the armoury at nearby Kingston, Ont. He once recalled marching down Princess Street where he was embarrassed to have been spotted by an uncle, as his own long pants did not reach his ankles. He was then sent to the base at Val Cartier, Que., where he underwent a physical.

“I was fit but I was underage,” he said. “But for some reason or another my name wasn't posted with those who were turned down, so I put my pack on and got on the train for Halifax. Of course, the company commander, who knew my age, had me step aside when I was ready to get on the boat.”

Instead of joining the men overseas, Mr. Babcock wound up toting freight on the docks.

“I didn't care for that. When they called for 50 men to go to the Royal Canadian Regiment, I volunteered. When they asked me how old I was, I said 18.”

The voyage overseas lasted nine days. Mr. Babcock remembers his troopship being escorted through U-boat waters by a light cruiser and three destroyers.

Once again his official documents betrayed him, however, and the eager but underaged soldier was dispatched to a Boys’ Battalion at Bexhill-on-sea in Sussex, where non-commissioned officers prepared the youngsters for eventual service in France.

“They drilled us for eight hours a day,” he said. “We probably had the best drill outfit in the Canadian army. That's all we did. We weren't particularly fond of it.”

The only action he would see in the war came during a donnybrook at Kinmel Park Camp in North Wales.

“We were there when the Armistice was signed” on Nov. 11, 1918, he said. “We got into a beef with some British soldiers. We got into a fight and they armed themselves with rifles and bayonets. One fellow got a little obstreperous and they stuck a bayonet through his thigh.”

(Kinmel Park was the site of an infamous riot and mutiny by Canadian soldiers dissatisfied with delays in being returned home. Five were killed and 23 wounded in the unrest on March 4 and 5, 1919.)

A fortnight later, the acting lance corporal was back in Canada. “Spent two days in Halifax, two days in Quebec City, and one day in Montreal, and then I landed home.”

At the time Mr. Babcock reminisced about the Armistice in 2005, he was one of only three living Canadians to have been in uniform on that day.

Mr. Babcock worked as a labourer in Canada before emigrating to the United States, where he joined the army in 1921. His expertise on the parade field earned him promotions and he was soon a sergeant. He left after three years in uniform.

He then found jobs as an electrician, a trade he learned in the army. He later owned his own businesses in oil and natural gas, completing his working life at age 87 in the employ of his son's waterworks equipment business.

Mr. Babcock, who became an American citizen, was unaware of his status as one of the last remaining Canadian veteran of the First World War.

He saw great changes in his lifetime, even at the Ontario farm at which he grew up. In 1955, aerial photographs revealed the farm as the site of a meteorite impact some 450 to 650 million years ago. An Ontario government plaque today marks the Holleford Crater.

Mr. Babcock’s wife, Elsie, whom he had married in 1932, died in 1976.

Some months later, Mr. Babcock proposed to one of her caregivers, Dorothy (Dot) Farden, a 47-year-old nurse.

“When I found out how old he was,” she said, “I said no way.”

Her concern was his advanced age. She did not want to attend a funeral too soon after a honeymoon.

Rebuffed, her septuagenarian suitor persisted. He suggested they try dating.

“He said, ‘You like to dance, I like to dance. You like to golf, I like to golf. You like the outdoors, I like the outdoors.’ ”

A second marriage proposal was accepted, though the bride insisted her groom promise to live at least another decade.

They celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary on Dec. 26.

Mr. Babcock made the most of his longevity, earning a high school diploma by correspondence at age 95. He had never returned to school after enlisting.

He became the last known surviving Canadian veteran following the death in May, 2007, of Percy Dwight Wilson, aged 106.

Mr. Babcock’s death leaves Frank Woodruff Buckles, who turned 109 on Feb. 1, as the sole surviving American veteran of the Great War.

On his birthday last July, Mr. Babcock enjoyed one of his favourite treats — long-cut french fries served with tartar sauce on the side.

In recent years, he received several honours, including a minister’s commendation from the Canadian veterans affairs minister in 2008. As well, the Royal Canadian Regiment named him regimental patriarch. It was reported he marked the occasion by belting out O Canada.

Jack Babcock was born on July 23, 1900, on a farm at Holleford, Ont. He died on Thursday (Feb. 18) at his home at Spokane, Wash. He was 109. He leaves his second wife Dorothy, known as Dot, whom he married on Dec. 26, 1976. He also leaves Dot's two adult sons, Eric and Marc Farden. From his first marriage, he leaves John H.F. Babcock, Jr., of Newport, Wash., and Sandra Strong, of Hamilton, Mont. He is survived by 16 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Elsie, who died in March, 1976, after 44 years of marriage. He was also predeceased by a grandson, Christopher Babcock, a junior high school teacher who was killed, aged 25, during a rebel attack in El Salvador in 1989.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tony Zeilinger, tailor (1930-2010)

The tailor Tony Zeilinger had British Columbia's legal market all sewn up.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 17, 2010

Tony Zeilinger faced more judges than even the most recalcitrant of scofflaws.

Pins between his teeth, a measuring tape draped regally around his neck, chalk and scissors at hand, the master tailor outfitted the cream of the province’s legal community.

His Matz-Wozny Custom Tailors, on the ground floor of a downtown Vancouver office block, was crowded with objects from his trade. Stacks of sample books teetered precariously. Bolts of cloth loomed over a snug fitting area.

At lunchtime, lawyers and judges from the law courts across Hornby Street shoehorned into the tiny shop to be fitted in the finest British woolens and the best Canadian polyesters.

The Austrian-born clothes maker mashed his consonants like fellow countryman Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Zeilinger operated his shop with good humour, his wisecracks bringing a smile to the sternest jurist while putting at ease nervous customers only recently called to the bar.

He provided tabs, shirts, skirts and waistcoats, as well as the robes whose cut and style seem unchanged through the centuries.

The proprietor was aware many citizens did not share his opinion of his customers.

“I’m the only guy around,” he once said, “who wants more lawyers.”

The tailor considered his humble outpost part of a centuries-old tradition launched by such esteemed firms as Ede & Ravenscroft, founded in London in 1689, which created robes for the coronation of their Majesties William and Mary.

While a paragon of discretion, Mr. Zeilinger took pride in having outfitted the Speaker of the B.C. Legislature for more than four decades. Robes were also made for Supreme Court justices in Ottawa.

He could often admire his handiwork on the national news, as one of his deluxe robes was favoured by Vancouver South member of Parliament John Fraser, who served as Speaker of the House of Commons for eight years.

At the time, in early 1992, the tailor’s robes cost from $415 for a modest wool blend to $1,600 for Ottoman ribbed silk. A Zeilinger innovation involved extending a judge’s vent in the seat, eliminating those undignified moments on the bench when m’lord squirmed to be freed of a trap of his own unintentional construction.

He was born in Treubach, a village on the German frontier in Upper Austria. He grew up in the nearby hamlet of Maria Schmolln, which included a church built on the site where a man claimed the Virgin Mary saved his life. The faithful have made pilgrimages there for more than 200 years.

Mr. Zeilinger liked to note the hamlet has but one church, though it boasts six pubs to slake the thirst of visitors.

“I think the pilgrims preferred to drink than to pray,” he said.

The son and grandson and great-grandson of tailors, he began his own apprenticeship at age 13. Though his corner of Austria avoided many of the deprivations of the war, he remembered Allied fighter planes strafing his village. He continued his education in the craft in Salzburg and Vienna before hopping a freighter in 1954 to see the world. He got off in Australia. In Melbourne, a young German immigrant named Ingeborg Tutlat, who had been working as a nanny and a waitress, brought her slacks to him for alterations. They married and started a family.

In 1967, eager to see the Rocky Mountains, the couple travelled across the Pacific by freighter. Mr. Zeilinger soon found work with the tailors and bushelmen at Matz-Wozny.

The shop had been founded in 1955 by master tailors Erich Matz, a postwar German immigrant, and Albert Wozny. (Mr. Matz died eight years ago at Samon Arm, B.C., aged 95.) Mr. Zeilinger became a co-owner in 1972, eventually taking over the company until his retirement two years ago.

A lucrative and happy trade involved the preparation of “silks” every year for those lawyers named Queen’s Counsel. Tradition demanded these honoured lawyers replace their wool robes with elegant ones of hand-cut silk.

In 1994, Elizabeth Bennett earned the coveted QC designation, though she would be a rare Vancouver lawyer not to call on Mr. Zeilinger’s services, she told the Vancouver Sun’s Larry Still. She intended to use the silk inherited from her late father, a piece of clothing with which she was familiar, as he had allowed her to wear it as a child when she wished to canvass for candies on Halloween as Dracula. Last year, Madam Justice Bennett was appointed to the B.C. Court of Appeal while presiding over the political corruption case involving the sale of B.C. Rail.

The shop also became a favourite for visiting actors and rock stars, many of whom stayed at nearby downtown hotels. Among the clients served by the tailor were Bob Hope, Tom Selleck, and Gene Simmons of the band Kiss.

After the founders retired, Mr. Zeilinger resisted the urge to rename the shop after himself. Some customers already thought he was the eponymous proprietor.

“Many people call me Matz when they come in,” he said. “But Matz-Wozny is so well known all over the province, why give it a new name?”

Anton (Tony) Zeilinger was born on June 28, 1930, at Treubach, Austria. He died of heart failure on Feb. 3 at Vancouver. He was 79. He leaves Ingeborg (nee Tutlat), his wife of 47 years; a daughter; and, two grandchildren.

The Island remembers its black pioneers

Mifflin Gibbs made a fortune in Victoria by outfitting gold prospectors. He helped finance the African Rifles militia before returning to his native United States, where he became the first elected African-American municipal judge.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 3, 2010


Some 60 bronze plaques adorn the causeway wall overlooking the Inner Harbour, a project begun nearly a half-century ago to mark the city’s centennial.

Named are kings and queens and presidents and grand ships with grander names.
Only one plaque commemorates the arrival of an ethnic group.

The fascinating story of Vancouver Island’s black pioneers will be retold on B.C. Black History and Heritage Day on Sunday.

“We don’t think this history is widely known at all,” said Ron Nicholson of the B.C. Black History Awareness Society. “Each year, there are a few more people who get reached.”

The first group of black settlers arrived in the colony of Vancouver Island in 1858.

Joining them was a Philadelphia-born son of a preacher and a laundress who came north from California after learning of gold fields on the Fraser River.

While prospectors loaded up with supplies before heading off to seek their fortune, Mifflin Wistar Gibbs made his by outfitting them from the general store he built with his own hands in Victoria. He was the first provisioner to challenge the Hudson’s Bay Company in the city founded by the company as a fort and trading post.

He made enough money to buy a lot in James Bay on which he built a house, the first of several properties he would own in the booming city.

As his American homeland descended into the bloodlust of the Civil War, Mr. Gibbs helped organize and finance a volunteer militia called the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps, which became known as the African Rifles. The corps comprised many men who had been rejected when they volunteered for the all-white fire department.

One can only delight in imagining the reaction of racist white prospectors from California arriving in the colony to discover blacks not only free, but armed.

In 1861, some 200 “of the elite of our coloured population,” according to the Daily Colonist, gathered to picnic at Cadboro Bay in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the emancipation of African slaves in the British West Indies. Speeches, including one by an episcopal minister, were followed by dancing, before concluding with the singing of “God Save the Queen.”

Earlier that year, Mr. Gibbs and his wife and another couple secured seats in the dressing circle of the local theatre, the first black patrons to sit in an area in whichetiquette demanded full evening dress to be worn. During the first act, a paper bag filled with white flour landed on the party. Several American men at the back of the hall were suspected of the act. A complaint was laid, but the man, an auctioneer, was acquitted after witnesses swore another American had done the deed.

“English sentiment was greatly scandalized by the mean action of the blackguards at the theatre,” the Colonist recounted many years later.

Gibbs took a seat on city council by acclamation in 1867, and, soon after, joined a fledgling group called the Confederation League, which advocated the colony of British Columbia immediately join the Dominion of Canada.

He opened a coal mine in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii); returned to his homeland to study law; was chased and beaten by a white mob in Mississippi accusing him of carpetbagging during Reconstruction; became an active Republican in Arkansas, where he won election to the bench, the first African-American to do so in the union; became American consul to Madagascar; and, at age 80, opened a bank.

Though he spent only about a decade in the province, it seems a shame that Victoria has not named a street after so remarkable a figure.

His exploits are told in Crawford Kilian’s superb, “Go Do Some Great Thing,” a history of the province’s black pioneers, released in a revised edition by Commodore Books 15 months ago. The author writer took the title from a challenge offered by a female abolitionist to a young Gibbs.

Mr. Kilian was invited to speak at B.C. Black History Day events on Sunday[Feb. 7], but the prolific North Vancouver writer cannot attend as he will be celebrating his 69th birthday that day.

Ron Nicholson, who is well versed on Gibbs, has spent many years researching the story of his own great-grandfather, Adam Nicholson, a slave in West Virginia who escaped to Canada, settling near Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“He had scars on his back from being whipped,” he said. “He was a sturdy man, too, as I’ve found a report of him carrying on foot a 100-pound sack of sugar all the way from Port Dalhousie to his home.”

The wooden house his ancestor built remained in the family’s hands for generations.

“I remember visiting it as a boy,” Mr. Nicholson said. “It had an outdoor well. The water tasted terrible!”

Mr. Nicholson, 63, is the chief of security at Government House, where he offers protection to the Lieutenant Governor and the chatelaine, as well as to their visitors.
In the past year, overnight guests at the stately manor have included the Emperor of Japan and Prince Charles.

So, the great-grandson of a slave who found freedom under the Crown was responsible for the safety and well being of the heir to the throne.


The Victoria-based B.C. Black History Awareness Society has several events planned in February.

On Sunday, the film “Go Do Some Great Thing,” based on Crawford Kilian’s history of black pioneers, will be shown, with the producer Anthony Brown available afterwards to answer questions. The screening is part of a three-hour event that will also include a session with Doug Hudlin, a longtime umpire who is an inductee in the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame. The event begins at 1:30 p.m. at the James Bay New Horizons Centre, 234 Menzies St., in Victoria.

On Valentine’s Day, a tribute to black music including the Vic High R&B Band, as well as Louise Rose and the Victoria Good News Choir, will be held at the Farquhar Auditorium on the University of Victoria campus. A children’s choir, a gospel choir and a dance troupe round out the bill, which begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25.

On Feb. 20, Ron Nicholson will speak about the history of the Underground Railroad, the informal network of secret routes and safe houses by which blacks fled slavery in the United States to find freedom in Canada. The presentation begins at noon at the Traveller’s Inn, 1961 Douglas St., in Victoria.

The annual Black History Month service will be conducted at the Shady Creek Church, 7162 West Saanich Rd., at 9:30 a.m. on Feb 28.

A walking tour of the final resting spot of black pioneers will be held at the Ross Bay Cemetery on Feb. 28. Participants are to meet at 1:45 p.m. at the Fairfield Plaza across from the cemetery.

For more information, check here.

Kevin O'Shea, hockey player (1947-2010)

Kevin O'Shea played with the Buffalo Sabres and the St. Louis Blues in three NHL seasons.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 30, 2010

Kevin O’Shea was a hard-nosed forward who scored one of the most dramatic goals in the history of the St. Louis Blues.

The overtime goal in Game 7 of a 1972 Stanley Cup quarterfinal series earned the rugged checker a place in the lore of the Blues.

The excitement of the moment was captured by the call of play-by-play announcer Dan Kelly, which has been rebroadcast over the years in St. Louis.

“(Larry) Hornung breaks the rush up,” Mr. Kelly called, “to Terry Crisp at centre, to Danny O’Shea, to Kevin O’Shea. Moving in. A shot! He scores! The puck is in the net. the red light now comes on, and St. Louis wins the game and the series.”

By firing the puck past Cesare Maniago for a 2-1 victory, Mr. O’Shea eliminated the Minnesota North Stars. His own team was then steamrolled by the Boston Bruins, who swept the series in four games before going on to win Stanley Cup.

The overtime drama was the highlight of a hockey career that included three seasons in the National Hockey League.

“The goals were few and far between,” Mr. O’Shea told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1989.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound right winger skated for Canada’s national hockey team in 1968-69, gaining a reputation as a ruffian for a game during the world championships in which he flattened a Swede behind the goal and then did the same to another hapless player on his way to the penalty box.

His rugged play earned him a spot on the roster of the expansion Buffalo Sabres in their inaugural season, during which coach Punch Imlach preferred to use him in games against the Big Bad Bruins.

Mr. O’Shea also played a season with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association, a short-lived rival to the NHL. His older brother, Danny, with whom he had played in St. Louis, also skated with the Fighting Saints.

In three NHL seasons, he scored 13 goals and added 18 assist in 134 games. He scored two goals in 12 playoff games.

He also played minor professional hockey for the Denver Spurs, the San Diego Gulls, and the Phoenix Roadrunners. He completed his career by spending a season in Sweden with the Timra Red Eagles. One of his teammates was a teenaged Mats Naslund, a future NHL star. Of course, Mr. O’Shea led the Swedish league in penalty minutes.

After leaving hockey, Mr. O’Shea studied law at the University of Windsor. He established an office in Stouffville, Ont., specializing in labour law. His name was touted as a possible replacement for the disgraced Alan Eagleson as head of the NHL Players Association. The position was eventually filled by Bob Goodenow.

Kevin William O’Shea was born on May 28, 1947, at Toronto. He died of heart failure on Jan. 18. He was 62. He leaves three children.

Yet another path for 'minister of rails and trails'

Percy and Ernest Petter made their family name associated with aircraft and engines of all types. Sir Ernest is the grandfather of new Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 29, 2010


Andrew Petter taught a first-year law class the other day, a lecture for which he stayed up until the wee morning hours in preparation.

Mr. Petter, 56, returned happily to the classroom last year after six years as dean of the law school from which he graduated at the University of Victoria. Later this year, he will become the ninth president of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

His name is well known in the province, as he spent a decade in the Legislature as an NDP MLA. Mr. Petter held more ministries than a peripatetic preacher — health, forests, finance, seniors, human rights, aboriginal affairs, advanced education, intergovernmental relations, and, appropriately, attorney general.

For his work in creating a network of trails in the Greater Victoria area, he earned the nickname “minister of rails and trails.”

In the take-no-prisoners ethic of provincial politics, Mr. Petter was seen either as a calm, brainy administrator more interested in the common good than in scoring cheap, partisan shots, or as an out-of-his-element elitist brainiac for whom a balance sheet was an insolvable puzzle.

His physique and appearance — the lean build of an avid runner and cyclist topped by a shock of silver hair and professorial eyeglasses portrayed by caricaturists as being as large as his face — did little to dissuade anyone of their viewpoint.

After his stint in politics, Mr. Petter returned to academia, a public figure about whom most everyone seemed to have an opinion.

His political opponents might be surprised to learn the former social democratic MLA hails from a family including a knighted manufacturer and entrepreneur.

He has had little opportunity to explore his family’s remarkable journey from the south of England to Vancouver Island.

“I’m a little dodgy on our history,” he said the other day.

The tale begins with Andrew’s great-grandfather, James B. Petter, who received an ironmongery from his father as a wedding gift in 1865. He expanded by purchasing a foundry in Yeovil, Somerset, from which machinery and agricultural implements were produced.

Mr. Petter won a design prize for developing a fireplace grate later selected by Queen Victoria for use at her summer residence at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Twin sons Percy and Ernest joined the firm, developing steam engines with the engineer Ben Jacobs before producing one of Britain’s first horseless carriages. When one of their automobiles failed to win a 1,000-guinea prize in 1897, the brothers abandoned vehicles to focus instead on developing engines such as the Petter diesel and the Petter Handyman.

In time, the Petter name would come to be associated with aircraft of all types.

Away from the factory, Percy Petter, an evangelist for the Plymouth Brethren, took part in temperance parades. His cause was not helped by his twin’s occasional enjoyment of an ale at a public house. The imbibing brother was sometimes mistaken for his teetotal sibling, causing Percy to be accused of hypocrisy.

Sir Ernest Petter, who had been knighted for his role in presenting the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925, sought a refuge on Vancouver Island as war clouds gathered over Europe. He built a waterfront manor house in Comox, where he employed seven servants, later hiring a nanny to care for the 14 children evacuated from the German Blitz. Sir Ernest later moved south to Victoria, purchasing a grand Saanich home known as Lower Drummadoon, which he renamed Sinclair House.
Meanwhile, Sir Ernest’s son, Gordon, married a ballerina met in London while on tour with Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Vienna-based company.

In 1946, Gordon and Elizabeth, known as Lisl, and their three children followed Sir Ernest to Vancouver Island. Seven years later, another son, named Andrew, became the first of the family born in Canada.

Having lent money to the owner of a local clock repair shop, only to have the proprietor abscond to Australia, Gordon Petter claimed the business as collateral.

Young Andrew liked to be in the store on what is now Antique Row on Fort Street at noon, when he would be amused by a syncopated cacophony. “A real treat,” he remembers.

Before Christmas every year, the clocksmith called on Government House to service timepieces. During one visit, the chatelaine presented Andrew with a gift of opera glasses.

Raised in tony Oak Bay, Andrew’s inaugural foray into politics came at age 10, while still at elementary school. He showed his support for the Conservatives in the 1963 provincial general election by pasting leader E. Davie Fulton’s stickers on an air rocket, which he then launched from the school grounds. No one was injured in the stunt, nor were any Conservatives elected.

His father lasted 20 years in the shop, “serving time,” as he liked to say.

By 1972, the family had settled in Nelson, where Gordon Petter, an Oxford graduate, taught history at Notre Dame University. Though still a teenager, Andrew hosted a hotline radio show on which he managed to get lure both Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett and NDP leader Dave Barrett, who would go on to win the election.

He soon after gave up the radio gig to become an executive assistant in the capital for local NDP MLA Lorne Nicolson, a teacher at his high school. He was just 19.

Later would come law school (from which he would graduate top of his class), then studies at Cambridge, a stint with the justice department in Saskatchewan, two years teaching at Osgoode Hall, and a return to the University of Victoria as a professor.

Andrew Petter never met Sir Ernest, who died in England not long after his grandson’s birth. It was his parents, who recited Shakespeare to one another, who inculcated in their youngest child the importance of a formal education. Yet, when he flies between Victoria and Vancouver, whether in a helicopter or a floatplane, he knows his grandfather’s innovations contributed to their development.

CAMPAIGN HIJINKS: Andrew Petter’s grandfather, Sir Ernest Petter, campaigned for a seat in the British House of Commons in a 1931 byelection in the central London constituency of Westminster St. George’s. He ran as an independent Conservative in favour of free trade within the British Empire in opposition to Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin.

The tense campaign, with the high stakes of Baldwin’s future in the balance, was not without humour. After Sir Ernest placed a large sign on a building reading “VOTE PETTER,” his opponent rented the floor above, on which a banner reading “DON’T” was hung. The Petter campaign then rented the floor below their sign, moving their banner down a story, replacing it with one reading, ‘HESITATE.”

Despite enjoying the backing of such press barons as the Canadian-born Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Ernest lost the campaign to Alfred Duff Cooper, a decorated Great War hero.

Mitch Pechet, hockey player (1918-2009)

Mitch Pechet shown late in his career with the Calgary Stampeders.
(Society for International Hockey Research photo.)

By Tom Hawthorn


The Pechet brothers were farmer’s sons who played hockey together in Manitoba before answering the call of duty.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, their father, a Jewish immigrant, called his sons together.

“You know what you have to do,” the patriarch told them.

All three enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight the Nazis. Only two would make it home after the war.

Mitch Pechet, the youngest of the trio, played right-wing on a line centred by Sam with Morris on left wing. After games, they’d return home to argue about who neglected to pass the puck to whom.

His parents had been grape growers in their native Romania, near the Russian frontier. They abandoned their homeland in 1895, part of a wave of immigration to the Canadian prairie.

“They lived a terrible life,” Mitch Pechet once told me. “Cossacks would get drunk on a Saturday night and burn and pillage.”

William and Sophia Pechet found life in Canada to be decidedly less dangerous, if somewhat colder. Over the years, the family accumulated land and machinery from the annual bounty of acres of wheat coaxed from the fertile Saskatchewan soil.

Mitch Pechet showed a deft scoring touch at age 18, when he joined brother Morris on the Brandon Wheat Kings for the 1936-37 season. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward scored 16 goals in just 15 games, though his assists total of four hints at a style of play in which he preferred to shoot than pass.

An even more impressive sophomore campaign, during which he netted 27 goals in just 14 games, led to his being signed by the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League.

He left the prairies to play for the Rangers’ amateur affiliate, the Rovers, who played their home games in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden, a grander and more cosmopolitan venue than the Wheat City Arena back in Brandon.

Reluctant to miss ice time, he once played three games despite a serious ligament injury to one hand. He had his wrist strapped to a hockey stick.

The speedy winger continued to score goals by the bushel, turning professional in 1940 with the Philadelphia Ramblers. He did not have much of a chance to make an impression in the tough-nosed American Hockey League with the Ramblers and the Pittsburgh Hornets, as he soon swapped his hockey sweater for an air-force uniform.

Determined to become a pilot, Mr. Pechet’s training returned him to Manitoba, where he completed programs at Brandon, Verdon and Dauphin. He was later posted to Gimli, Man., also serving at Dorval and Lachine, Que,, before teaching recruits at the No. 3 Service Flying Training School at Calgary.

He was “washed out” in his bid to become a pilot after the diagnosis of a vision defect.

Mr. Pechet continued to play hockey for armed forces teams during his postings. In a 1943 game at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, he helped lead the RCAF Flyers to a 9-4 victory over the Sudbury (Ont.) Frood Tigers. “Pechet played a stout game,” the Globe reported, “grabbed two goals, narrowly missed a couple more.”

In December, 1944, the family received word their eldest son and brother was missing after having completed 27 missions. It was later confirmed that Samuel William Pechet, a flying officer, had been killed when his Lancaster crashed into a Halifax during an attack on the rail yards at Soest, Germany. He was 30.

Six months later, Mitch Pechet marked his 27th birthday the day before what would become known as V-E Day, as hostilities ended in the European theatre of war.

Eager to resume his pro hockey career, he joined the Calgary YMCA to get back into shape for the rigors of a long season. His association with the Y would last more than 60 years, as he daily took part in morning exercises even after turning 90.

He spent four seasons with the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints, who won the United States Hockey League championship in 1948-49 under the guidance of coach Clint (Snuffy) Smith (obituary, May 25).

Mr. Pechet rarely spent time in the penalty box but on one occasion he was at the centre of a bench-clearing brawl. In a 1948 game against the Minneapolis Millers, hated cross-town rivals, Mr. Pechet was serving a penalty when a fan snuck up to punch him from behind. In the ensuing melee, then entire Saints team wound up on the ice in a brawl. The players were each fined $10 for the transgression.

In another game against their rivals that season, coach Murray (Muzz) Patrick sent Mr. Pechet onto the ice armed with a rule book with which to confront the referee. The referee’s response was to skate to centre ice with the compact volume, which he then tore into little bits.

“Now you’ve done it,” Mr. Pechet informed the official. “Patrick had all his phone numbers in the book.”

Mr. Pechet was reinstated as an amateur so he could play senior hockey with the Calgary Stampeders. He almost single-handedly eliminated the Fort Frances (Ont.) Canadians in an Allan Cup playoff series in 1950, as he scored four goals and an assist in one game and five goals and an assist in another. The Stampeders lost the senior hockey championships that season to the Toronto Marlboros, whose roster included a young George Armstrong, a future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Mr. Pechet retired from the game after three seasons with the Stampeders.

He was later inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame at Winnipeg.

Away from the rink, Mr. Pechet became a Calgary restaurateur, operating a dairy bar and restaurant, both of which would be packed after a hockey game. He later ran the Park Hotel and Greenbrier Motor Hotel in Edmonton, as well as the Wales Hotel in Calgary.

After moving to Victoria in 1971, Mr. Pechet became a co-owner and general manager of the Victoria Cougars junior hockey team. He would eventually add coaching duties to his job description.

Two years ago, Mr. Pechet joined fellow Jewish veterans in a ceremony at the Emanu-El synagogue in Victoria. Decades earlier, they had worn helmets and balmorals, replaced on this day by yarmulkes. When once they ate slop dished from a mess kitchen into a tin box, they dined on a meal catered from a kosher kitchen and served on china.

Mitchell Pechet was born on May 7, 1918, at Cupar, Sask. He died on Sept. 30, 2009, at Victoria. He was 91. He leaves his wife, Judy (nee Shapiro); a daughter; two sons; five grandchildren; a great-grandson; and, a brother. He was predeceased by a son, Sam, and by a brother, Sam Pechet, who was killed in action in 1944.