Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As goes the groin, so goes the season

The fall of Capt. Luongo

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 31, 2008


The shot heard 'round the province seemed such an innocent thing.

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, at 4 minutes 54 seconds of the first period in a game at Pittsburgh, Philippe Boucher of the Penguins fired the puck from the point.

Roberto Luongo was ready. Kneeling in a butterfly position, the Vancouver Canucks goaltender moved his left leg to block the shot. When the puck instead ricocheted to his right, Mr. Luongo reflexively flicked his right leg.

He was attempting a physical position nature had not intended.

He collapsed face-first on the ice.

He was skated to the dressing room by teammates Ryan Kesler and Taylor Pyatt, the goalie placing his weight on his right leg, the left trailing behind. A photograph of the pair escorting the goalie looked like the painting The Death of General Wolfe, as all around looked on in horror at the fallen warrior.

As it turned out, the Canucks won a game, but lost a superstar.

The goalie's groin is “strained, not torn,” the club insisted in announcing he had suffered an adductor-muscle strain on the left side of his groin. Like a James Bond cocktail, the precision of the description is key. In this case, it is the fans who are both stirred and shaken.

Hours after the injury, a sports reporter wrote: “Roberto Luongo walked Sunday,” as if to reassure diehard fans and obsessive poolsters that the goalie's fate was better than that of Gen. Wolfe.

Here are some statistics. Mr. Luongo wears sweater No. 1, stands 6 foot 3, weighs 205 pounds. He has a save percentage of .928 and a goals-against average of 2.17. He has been watching games from the press box for five weeks and he still leads the National Hockey League in shutouts with five.

When you combine the words “Roberto Luongo” with “groin” on Google, you get 86,700 hits.

Comedian Torben Rolfsen says the goalie possesses the most talked-about nether parts since Sharon Stone appeared in Basic Instinct.

I will say this.

I know more about his groin than I do my own.

(In a city that gave us a band called Bruno Gerussi's Medallion, how long before some smart-aleck punks call themselves Roberto Luongo's Groin?)

The concern over Mr. Luongo's health reached a crisis in the week before Christmas when a radio station reported the goalie is lost for the season. The club insists the athlete is being evaluated on a week-by-week basis.

Why so much ink over one player's inguinal injury?

Mr. Luongo, the team's captain, is regarded as a cornerstone of its success. No Bobby Lou, no long playoff run. No long playoff run, no additional revenue from ticket sales, no jam-packed bars and restaurants, no (temporary) newspaper circulation gains, no out-of-towners staying in downtown hotels, no cops making tons of overtime while eyeballing celebratory fans. A lot of money rides on that adductor.

Goalies can have strained relations with their body parts, especially involving what is euphemistically referred to as a lower-body injury. A recitation of Czech-born goaltender Dominik Hasek's many groin injuries reads like a Franz Kafka tale as told to Feodor Dostoyevsky. (Note to hockey fans who have stumbled onto the news pages – the latter pair are dead writers, not checking forwards to watch at the 2010 Olympics.) So dark and so bizarre were Mr. Hasek's struggles with his health that the sports columnist Mitch Albom once wrote a dialogue between the injured goalie's brain (“I can come back”) and his groin (“I'm feeling a twinge. I'm not kidding”).

The media reports on Mr. Luongo's condition read like war dispatches:

Dec. 1 – Luongo skated a few laps, but did not take shots.

Dec. 2 – Luongo spent an hour on the ice.

Dec. 5 – Luongo faced “controlled shots” during practice.

Dec. 9 – Luongo returns to practice.

Dec. 11 – Luongo left practice early.

Dec. 13 – Luongo suffers a setback and will no longer take to the ice.

The Canucks have twice made the finals of the seemingly never-ending Stanley Cup playoffs. The euphoria of the 1982 and 1994 springs was a joy to behold. Okay, both ended in disappointment, and the white surrender towels of '82 would have been handy during the riots of '94. Still, the mood of the province is affected by the team's fortunes.

British Columbia is scheduled to hold a provincial election on May 12, just about the time the serious contenders in the playoffs make their move. The winner (of the election) will welcome the world to the 2010 Winter Olympics the following February.

No sporting event at those Games will be more closely watched than the men's hockey tournament. One of the likely goaltenders for Team Canada will be a workhorse Montreal-born netminder. That would be Martin Brodeur.

Another likely goaltender for Team Canada will be a workhorse Montreal-born puck-stopper who answers to the name Luongo.

In the coming months, we will be hearing as much about a goalie's groin as we can stomach.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mickey Vernon, baseball player (1918-2008)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 27, 2008

They called Mickey Vernon the Gentleman First Baseman. The productive baseball player won two American League batting titles in a career straddling the Second World War. He was a seven-time all-star and one of the most popular players of his era.

Polite, kindly, and graceful on and off the field, Mr. Vernon's enviable reputation only grew after he retired as a coach and manager. He was a frequent guest at banquets, old-timer's games and other charitable events where fans got to meet their childhood heroes.

“Mickey Vernon is as silent as a night watchman, as conservative as a banker and as well-behaved as a vicar,” a baseball writer once said.

With a face as lean as his frame, accentuating a large nose and jug ears, Mr. Vernon's constant half-smile seemed to express delight that he was fortunate to earn a living playing a child's game. The placid demeanour contrasted with that of the mercurial Ted Williams, the great batter he bettered to win his first batting crown.

While resident in the White House, Dwight Eisenhower pronounced Mr. Vernon his favourite ballplayer, the selection receiving bipartisan support. The sure-handed first baseman provided the Washington Senators with a panache they otherwise lacked in the field and at the plate.

Five years ago, Mr. Vernon's hometown erected a life-sized statue of a favourite son on the site where his career began as a sandlot player. A plaque hails him as a “role model, mentor, great guy” and “a gentleman's gentleman.”

After 20 major-league seasons and a long career as a coach and manager, including a stint with the Montreal Expos, Mr. Vernon returned to the county of his Pennsylvania birth, where he lived with the high-school sweetheart who became his wife. Mr. Vernon attended the opening game of the local Little League each spring without fail, taking it as a duty after they named the league for him.

It was while closing out a losing season as manager of the minor-league Vancouver Mounties that Mr. Vernon got talked into a wacky stunt. The clubhouse attendant, a teenaged university student, begged for a chance to pitch. Something of a soft touch, the avuncular manager pencilled the lad in as the starting hurler for the final game of the 1968 season. What happened that day has become part of the city's baseball lore.

Mr. Vernon was born in a working-class town along the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. His grandfather, Samuel Vernon, a Civil War veteran, was elected the first burgess, or mayor, of the borough of Marcus Hook, Pa., in 1893. His father, Clarence Vernon, worked at the Sun Oil Co. (Sunoco) refinery. Pinker, as he was known, also starred as a first baseman, part-time pitcher and slugger for the company's semiprofessional baseball team.

An aunt took to calling her nephew Mickey and the name stuck. A tall and skinny boy, he first won attention in the Chester Times newspaper at 15 as a star hitter in a local sandlot circuit. That October, he hitchhiked with three classmates to Washington, where they took in two games of the 1933 World Series. Six seasons later, Mr. Vernon, by then a lean, 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, would be patrolling first base at Griffith Stadium himself.

While attending Eddystone High School, Mr. Vernon won a regional championship with an American Legion team before leading his school to a title of its own. He also earned a spot on the roster with the much older men on his father's old industrial-league team. A sports writer described the “lanky sensation” as a “sure shot for the big time.”

After graduating, he accepted a scholarship at Villanova College, ending feverish competition among scouts. As it turned out, the coach also managed the minor-league Easton (Md.) Browns and he inked the freshman to a professional contract.

Mr. Vernon played for the Greenville (S.C.) Spinners the following season, then earned a promotion to the Springfield (Mass.) Nationals in 1939. He was leading the league in hitting when the parent Senators called him up to the major leagues. Mr. Vernon made his debut in Philadelphia against the Athletics, the team for which he had cheered as a boy. He went 1-for-4.

In 1941, Mr. Vernon married Lib Firth, whom he had met in high school several years earlier. He had been too shy at the time to ask her for a date and their courtship did not begin until he was playing baseball out of town.

Mr. Vernon enjoyed three full seasons as the regular first baseman for the Senators before joining the U.S. Navy at the end of the 1943 season. After basic training, he spent much of the war playing baseball for service teams.

Competition for positions was fierce in 1946, as returning servicemen jostled with the players who held roster spots during the war. Mr. Vernon beat out veteran Joe Kuhel to regain his Senators job. Mr. Kuhel had been the first baseman in the World Series he had seen as a schoolboy. “He was a very good first baseman,” Mr. Vernon told Baseball Digest magazine, “but he was getting near the end of his career.”

At his physical peak and still retaining the speed of youth at 28, Mr. Vernon responded with the greatest season of his career. He hit 51 doubles, eight triples and eight home runs while registering a .353 average for his first American League batting title.

He failed to maintain those numbers in the following two seasons, as his batting average fell precipitously. The Senators traded him to the Cleveland Indians, although Washington got him back just 18 months later.

The Senators struggled to win as many games as they lost in the following seasons, badly trailing the Yankees in the standings. (The musical comedy Damn Yankees, in which a Washington fan makes a pact with the devil, debuted on Broadway in 1955; many years later, a Pennsylvania production was dedicated to Mr. Vernon.) A rare victory celebrated by Senators fans came in 1953 when Mr. Vernon won his second batting title, this time with a .337 average.

Back in Pennsylvania, a newspaper publisher arranged for the batter to receive a state licence plate with his initials and average: MV 337.

With Mr. Eisenhower on hand to throw out the opening pitch of the 1954 season, Mr. Vernon smacked a game-winning two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Allie Reynolds to defeat the Yankees, 5-3. As he crossed home plate, he was accosted by a man in a suit who identified himself as a member of the Secret Service. He took Mr. Vernon to the grandstand to meet the president.

A month later, Mr. Eisenhower presented a silver bat to his favourite player in honour of his 1953 batting title. Mr. Vernon failed to get a hit that game, but the Senators once again defeated the hated Yankees.

Washington traded him to the Boston Red Sox, where he spent two seasons before being claimed on waivers by the Indians, who in turn traded him to the Milwaukee Braves. Mr. Vernon closed out his playing career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who signed him as a playing coach for the final month of the 1960 season. He got one single in eight pinch-hit appearances.

The Pirates faced the powerhouse Yankees in the World Series that fall. Ineligible to play in the series, Mr. Vernon assisted manager Danny Murtaugh, who had been a teammate when they were teenagers. Mr. Vernon never did play in a World Series game, but he counted Bill Mazeroski's dramatic series-winning home run as one of his greatest thrills.

He concluded his playing days with several records. He took part in 2,044 double plays at first base, including 10 in a doubleheader played on Aug. 18, 1943. He also set American League marks for first baseman in games (2,227), putouts (19,754) and assists (1,444), according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Mickey was so smooth around the bag that he could have played first base wearing a tuxedo,” a minor-league manager once said.

The Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Mr. Vernon was hired to manage an expansion team playing in the U.S. capital under the old Senators name, but was fired midway through his third season.

In 1968, the minor-league Vancouver Mounties were suffering on the field and at the turnstile. Ernest (Kit) Krieger, the attendant for the visitors' clubhouse, convinced Mr. Vernon to allow him to take to the mound. After observing him in batting practice, the skipper agreed to the stunt. The teenager fared surprisingly well, surrendering a lone run to Hawaii before being pulled after three innings. He even recorded one strikeout. After the game, a Vancouver victory lasting just 64 minutes, the starting pitcher returned to his usual duties, including handling the soiled laundry of the players he had just faced. Mr. Krieger went on to become a high-school teacher and, eventually, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

Mr. Vernon's legion of fans have long insisted he deserved a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. The 12-man Veterans Committee composed of seven Hall of Famers and five historians considered Mr. Vernon and nine other players whose careers began before 1943. He got five votes, falling short of the nine needed for induction, the hall announced on Dec. 8.

James Barton (Mickey) Vernon was born April 22, 1918, at Marcus Hook, Pa. He died Sept. 24, 2008, a week after suffering a stroke, at Riddle Memorial Hospital in Media, Pa. He was 90. He leaves a daughter, Gay Vernon, of Sharon, Mass. He was predeceased by his wife of 63 years, the former Anne Elizabeth Firth, known as Lib, who died in 2004.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New mayor is familiar face to Victoria's homeless

Dean Fortin photographed by Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 24, 2008


The mayor strolled along familiar streets in search of the homeless.

Snow crunched underfoot. Crisp air reddened ears, the chill demanding gloves, scarves and warm overcoats, at least for those of us who owned some. The mayor's bootlaces slipped loose and he seemed in no hurry to remove his gloves to retie the trailing strings.

Dean Fortin, 49, stopped on the sidewalk in front of the Streetlink Emergency Shelter. Men huddled in knots, some whispering, others shouting.

“Not a good time,” the mayor pronounced. “It's the time of day when they're looking for a fix. They're planning and scheming the next score.”

He returned through Chinatown, cutting across Centennial Square on his way to a soup kitchen a few blocks to the east, when he bumped into a man pushing a cart.

“Hi, Mr. Mayor,” Darren Douglas said.

“How're you doing?” the mayor asked.

“As soon as I find a place to live, I'll be okay.”

Those words, or variations thereof, have been part of Mr. Fortin's working day for much of his life.

He is soft-spoken with the looks and manner of a vicar. A lawyer by education and an elected official by the voters' choice, he does not present himself as a boisterous, backslapping politician.

His face – round like Charlie Brown's, offset by stylish eyeglasses, topped by a laurel wreath of well-trimmed hair – is familiar to passersby. He sees in their eyes that they recognize but can't quite place him. For some politicians not to be recognized and afforded the proper respect would be a small death. Not so for Mr. Fortin. He's in this game for other reasons.

Although new to the mayor's chair, he is only too familiar with the city's most pressing issue. For 17 years, he worked as a community organizer in a poorer corner of the city. The locals included homeless families, two generations living in a car, or couch surfing until the welcome ran out.

One lad who sticks out in memory was a Grade 2 student who had already attended 20 schools. Twenty! The boy lacked a peer group and the only adults in his life were his parents, far from perfect models. The Burnside Gorge Community Centre offered hot meals, a warm place, and structure in a young life sorely in need of some.

“Homeless children,” Mr. Fortin said. “That will break your heart. Wonderful, amazing children.”

In his inaugural address to council earlier this month, the mayor told the gathering his daughter was aware of homelessness, a circumstance he thought unfair for a seven-year-old to contemplate, let alone live.

“I want to be able to tell her that we're doing everything we possibly can to find homes for those in need,” he said then.

The city's previous two mayors, both the choice of the business community, failed to stop downtown streets from turning into drug bazaars. As the situation deteriorated, residents and tourists alike began to avoid sidewalks taken over by those struggling with addictions, mental-health issues and poverty.

Where his predecessors were frustrated, Mr. Fortin says he can deliver results in as little as six months. It is a bold statement. The goal is to first get the hardest to house off the street, since they prey on other homeless folks.

A looming concern is whether Vancouver's homeless will migrate across Georgia Strait if Olympic planning forces them from metropolitan streets.

Mr. Fortin has never lacked for a home himself, though he notes he was brought after birth to a home that was a converted chicken coop at Kamloops. His mother was a nurse, his father “a cowboy, a builder, a miner” who prospected for gold.

“Did he have much luck? Nope. I'm sure even though he's dead he's out there looking still for his lucky strike.”

The boy inherited a sense of social justice from his mother, who took him to a political rally at the height of Trudeaumania.

The future mayor worked the green chain at a mill before moving to Victoria to attend university. He articled in Whitehorse, then joined a Victoria firm. Instead of building a career as a lawyer, he became executive director of the community centre, where he found he could directly help improve the lives of local residents.

After two terms on city council, he made an early announcement of his intention to run for mayor. The move convinced other councillors not to risk losing their seat by challenging the labour-backed candidate, though as it turned out, novice politico Rob Reid, a runner who owns stores selling athletic shoes, nearly scored an upset at the wire.

The short walk, bitter in the cold, at last brought Mr. Fortin to the entrance to the Our Place soup kitchen. The mayor had to introduce himself twice before the staff realized who he was. Usually closed on the weekend, the drop-in centre, with the city's help, had secured extra funds to operate during the cold snap. Inside, about 25 people snacked on oranges, bananas and muffins. Some slept on benches, their bindles beside them.

Mr. Fortin was invited to join a table where sat people who did recognize him. He asked after their health, listened intently as they talked. Karley Smith, a young woman whose shock of red hair seemed all the brighter for the paleness of her skin, told the mayor she is looking for a place to live. Pregnant with her fourth child, she is due to give birth in five weeks. Two of her children live with her mother, while a third has been placed for adoption. She is 22. He took her details and said he would do what he could.

He left the table. “Bad decisions,” he said with a what-can-you-do shrug. “She looks healthy, though. That's good.”

Earlier in the month, his wife, Donna Sanford, the daughter of former NDP MLA Karen Sanford, and his daughter, Sophie, joined him in serving turkey dinners at the annual Mustard Seed family Christmas dinner held at the Armoury.

The mayor believes the homeless situation will be solved by incremental change, one program at a time, one person at a time.

The man with the cart in Centennial Square said he was slowly working towards getting a room of his own. The cart he pushed, decorated by red tinsel found in the street, included brooms and brushes with which he cleans the street.

Mr. Douglas, a logger for 17 years until a falling tree injured his back, is paid $10 an hour by the Downtown Victoria Business Association. His route includes Douglas Street, which, he said, cracking a smile, is his responsibility because it carries his name.

Mr. Douglas told the mayor he was having difficulty getting an apartment because he did not have the extra money needed for a damage deposit. As it turns out, the mayor knows of a program that can help.

“You know where to find me,” the mayor said.

The street cleaner swung an arm, pointing to the red building behind him. “Mayor's office,” he said.

They shook on it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Carlos Santiago, baseball player (1926-2008)

Two years after Jackie Robinson integrated the Montreal Royals, Carlos Santiago signed a professional contract to become the first black Puerto Rican in Organized Baseball.

Mr. Santiago followed Mr. Robinson to Canada, playing infield for the Farnham Pirates, based in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The short-lived team played in the Class-C Provincial League.

Celebrated for his glove, but not his bat, Mr. Santiago hit a poor .195 for the Quebec team.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound infielder was known as the “King of the Double Play” in his native Puerto Rico, where he was named to the island’s professional baseball hall of fame in 1993.

Mr. Santiago played for the Mayaguez Indians in his hometown before representing Puerto Rico with an all-star team at the 1944 Caribbean World Series. He was just 18.

He played for the Atlanta Black Crackers and the New York Cubans of the Negro Leagues after being discovered on a barnstorming tour of the United States.

His signing with the Stamford (Conn.) Pioneers of the Colonial League in 1948 was seen as blazing a trail for other black players from the Commonwealth such as Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente.

Mr. Santiago’s baseball career was interrupted for two years when he served in the U.S Army during the Korean War. After being discharged with the rank of sergeant, he returned to baseball. The closest he got to the major leagues was a season spent with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils), two levels below the big leagues.

He later worked as a baseball coach and a scout for the California Angels in Puerto Rico.

“Baseball is a way of life to our young boys,” he said in an interview in 1973.

His death by heart attack was confirmed by his son, Carlos Manuel Santiago Feliciano, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Carlos Manuel Santiago was born on March 2, 1926, at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. He died at his home in that city on Dec. 21. He was 82. — Tom Hawthorn

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A 150-year-old newspaper keeps up with the times

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 17, 2008


Who says newspapers are dying? Just the other day I spent several hours engrossed in the local daily.

The Times Colonist carries a hybrid name adopted in the wake of a shotgun wedding ordered by a new owner. (Please note, dear editor, the paper is an unhyphenated Canadian.) Critics still insist on calling it the Times Communist, which is more laughable than funny.

It boasts solid columnists and a talented reporting staff. On some days it offers almost 20 minutes of good reading.

The edition I couldn’t put down was dated Dec. 11. It remained riveting despite being a few days old. A few days and 150 years.

The inaugural issue of the newspaper now known as the Times Colonist features four pages of dense columns of type. It is unsullied by photography. The lone graphic is a thumbnail sketch of a leaping stag, part of a small notice for the Washington Restaurant on Government Street, whose proprietors “continue to keep their table well supplied with all the substantials and luxuries which the market affords.”

Other advertisers in the debut edition of the British Colonist include a druggist, a shoemaker, a bookseller,an auctioneer, the Victoria Coal Co., and a merchant announcing “GOLD DUST PURCHASED.”

Three years earlier, Victoria counted just 148 adult residents. Reports of gold discoveries along the Fraser River in 1858 caused the rapid construction of a ramshackle city of 20,000 with muddy roads and creaky wooden sidewalks. Among the new arrivals was a 33-year-old dreamer from Nova Scotia formerly known as Bill Smith.

The warehouseman had left the Maritimes to seek his fortune in the California goldfields, where he set up shop as a photographer in Mud Springs. When the settlement changed its name to the evocative El Dorado, plain Bill Smith decided to follow suit. He legally changed his identity to Amor de Cosmos, a name he said expressed what he most loved — “order, beauty, the world, the universe.”

In Victoria, he started a newspaper. The editor promised “an independent paper, the organ of no clique nor party — a true index of public opinion.” A year’s subscription cost $5, a single issue 25 cents.

A history published by the newspaper at the start of the sesquicentennial celebration stated only 200 copies of Vol. 1, No. 1 were produced on an old hand press.

Today, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the first edition can be read at a computer terminal anywhere in the world at any time of day for free.

Every page of every issue of the Colonist dating from Dec. 11, 1858, to June 30, 1910, has been digitized in a searchable form at . That’s more than 100,000 pages to be perused by historians, genealogical researchers and fans of old newspapers. No more scrolling and squinting and scanning reels of microfilm in some dark corner of a library.

The project is a collaboration between the newspaper and McPherson Library at the University of Victoria, with support from other university and public libraries.

Those of us who have spent hours at library microfilm machines know well the joy when a prospector spotted a good-sized gold nugget. Trolling through needle-in-a-haystack film of old newspapers demands a certain but-I’ll-find-it-anyway mania. Now, the thrill of discovery is just a few keyboard clicks away.

Those prospectors, many of them American, brought with them to the colony their passion for a game involving a bat and a ball. The baseball historian Geoff LaCasse has uncovered a recorded game of baseball played in New Westminster on the Queen’s birthday in 1862. A quick search of the Colonist unveils “base ball,” still spelled as two words, being played at Beacon Hill Park in 1863. Coverage includes a basic box score for the 39-33 match.

The first local baseball brawl happened less than a week later.

“Row on Beacon Hill,” the Colonist reported. “A breach of the peace took place on Beacon Hill yesterday. Two men seated in a buggy, and driving round the hill, came in contact with a party who were engaged in play base ball, and after some altercation, one of the base ball players pulled one of the men out of the vehicle, and, as we are informed, presented a pistol at him. Some of the by-standers prevented ay further violence occurring, and quelled the disturbance.”

A hint to the reason behind this puzzling confrontation — why so sudden and why so violent? — can be found a few items further along the column. Another game was to be played that day with the prize for the winner being a keg of lager beer. Hic hic hooray!

Technology is making the fustiest of communication devices — a century-old printed newspaper — as accessible as the most recent Twitter posting. This comes at a time when newspapers are undergoing a crisis — the National Post has axed weekday distribution in Manitoba, even though Canwest, which owns the Post and the Times Colonist, has headquarters in Winnipeg; Sun Media Corp. announced 600 job cuts yesterday; and, the Detroit newspapers are offering home delivery on only three days a week. In Victoria, the local community newspapers sometimes seem to be little more than flyer delivery mechanisms.

These days you wonder which will be the final surviving newspaper to report on the last North American automobile manufacturer to declare bankruptcy.

Mr. de Cosmos sold his newspaper to employees less than five years after launch. An advocate of the colony joining Confederation, he represented Victoria in the House of Commons and also served as British Columbia’s second premier. In the end, he went mad.

Happy 150th birthday, Times Colonist. Here’s to many, many more.

Tom Burgess, baseball player (1927-2008)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 18, 2008

Tom Burgess had abandoned a dream of playing baseball for a living when his wife urged him to try one last time.

Her encouragement gave birth to a long career as a player, coach and, most notably, an instructor. Mr. Burgess also had two brief stints as a player in the major leagues, a rare Canadian to earn a roster spot in the mid-1950s.

A lackluster performance — he hit an anemic .177 in 104 games — belied a keen baseball mind.

He helped send to the majors legions of young players who benefitted from the skills he taught. Others praised him for his handling of young athletes. Among them was Tom Henke, the fireball reliever of the Toronto Blue Jays, who credited Mr. Burgess with ushering him through the minors.

The coach’s winning personality could convince even the most headstrong athlete to tinker with their batting stance, or alter their positioning in the field.

Like a mechanic who can fine tune an engine to get extra power, Mr. Burgess eliminated the weaknesses that made hitters vulnerable.

A typical case was that of Chito Martinez, a prospect born in what is now Belize, who languished in the minors with a low average. The free-swinging batter considered quitting until the coach eliminated a long, upper-cut swing in favour of a compact stroke that was both shorter and quicker. Mr. Martinez went on to enjoy two productive seasons with the Baltimore Orioles.

For a time, Mr. Burgess was under consideration to become manager of the Texas Rangers of the American League, which, had it happened, would have made him the first Canadian to handle a major-league club since George (Moon) Gibson guided Pittsburgh in 1934.

Despite a lifetime on the diamond, Mr. Burgess considered himself an outsider among the American baseball fraternity.

“To survive in the U.S. being a Canadian,” he said in a 2003 interview, “you’re getting knocked down and getting back up.”

For all his many seasons in flannels and polyester pinstripes, Mr. Burgess did not earn much attention in his homeland, even as a coach for the Baseball Canada’s national junior and senior teams.

“I am the best-kept secret in Canadian baseball,” he once told the Edmonton Journal.

Born to the postmaster of Lambeth, outside London, Thomas Roland Burgess, who would also be known as Tim in his playing days, interrupted high school studies to pursue baseball. He followed success as a peewee by pitching for the London Majors, a semiprofessional team in Ontario’s Major Intercounty circuit. He also played senior-B hockey in winter.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a pro ball contract, assigning him to their Hamilton farm club. He was promoted to Allentown, Penn., and Columbus, Ga., before winding up at Omaha, Neb., after three seasons in the minors.

Mr. Burgess placed himself on the voluntarily retired list to return to London to complete his education.

After three summers, his wife, the former Dorrie Bates, a school teacher, convinced him to take another shot at winning a big-league job.

“I always thought that maybe later on he would wish he had gone back to baseball,” she told Neil MacCarl of the Toronto Star in 1953. “He had gone halfway up the baseball ladder and to quit then seemed silly to me.”

The couple set a two-year limit to the renewed quest.

The 6-foot, 180-pound left-handed outfielder enjoyed a stellar season with the Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings, hitting .346 with 22 home runs and 93 runs batted-in. He finished second in batting average in the International League in 1953.

The parent St. Louis Cardinals called him up the following season for spot duty. The Redbirds had a solid outfield with rookie Wally Moon, sophomore Rip Repulski, and the veteran Stan Musial, a future Hall of Famer. Mr. Burgess managed just one hit — a double — in 21 at-bats.

He spent six seasons at Rochester, where his solid production on the field and popularity off it earned him the nickname, The People’s Choice.

Another three seasons in the high minors with the Columbus (Ohio) Jets and the Dallas-Fort Worth (Tex.) Rangers won him another chance in the majors.

The Los Angeles Angels were an expansion team in their second season in the American League when they promoted Mr. Burgess to fill a spot at first base. He displayed a deft glove, making only a single error in 35 games, but struggled at the plate, hitting just .196.

Ted Bowsfield, a pitcher born in Vernon, B.C., was also on the roster. He hit .162.

Mr. Burgess completed his playing days with the Richmond Virginians in 1963 before embarking on an odyssey. He managed teams in different leagues on both American coasts, as well as in the Texas and Appalachian Leagues.

He returned to the majors as a third-base coach, working with the New York Mets in 1977 and the Atlanta Braves the following season.

He was fired often and quickly hired by rival teams.

“It’s like politics,” he told the Globe’s Paul Patton in 1985. “If you’re on the right side, good things will happen.”

His regret at the time was not finding work in his homeland.

“I’m a Canadian and I’m sorry neither the Jays nor the (Montreal) Expos ever had a job for me,” he said.

He got his chance to work with homegrown talent with Baseball Canada. Among those whose raw skills he helped refine were Jason Bay and Justin Morneau, whose batting averages today are significantly heftier than that of their mentor.

In 1992, Mr. Burgess was inducted into the Rochester Red Wings’ hall of fame. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame at St. Marys, Ont., honoured him the same year.

A decade earlier, Mr. Burgess co-edited a coaching guide to baseball fundamentals. Like all books, it came with a price tag, though the creator was more than willing to share his knowledge for free.

Tom Valcke, president of the Canadian hall, tells a story about the coach’s ceaseless desire to pass on his baseball knowledge. Mr. Burgess was at the head table at a banquet held in Hamilton, the city where he launched his pro career, when approached .at the end of the evening by a prospect seeking tips. The conversation lasted until long after the hall emptied. The information was put to good use, as the prospect, Joey Votto, of Toronto, went on to join the Cincinnati Reds and was runner-up for National League rookie-of-the-year honours announced last month.

Thomas Roland Burgess was born on Sept. 1, 1927, at London, Ont. He died of cancer at Victoria Hospital in that city on Nov. 24. The resident of Lambeth was 81. He leaves a son, Tom Burgess, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; a daughter, Cindy Crawford, of London; a sister, Ruby Astles, of Toledo, Ohio; a brother, Bill Burgess, of London; and, five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Dorrie (nee Bates), who died in 1994. He was also predeceased by sisters Mildred and Violet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Treasuring the West Coast's anarchic history

Photograph of Allan Antliff by Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 10, 2008


Camas Books is a busy place.

By day, there’s a children’s free school. By night, teens gather for all-ages gigs featuring ska and punk bands.

Every second Friday is Burning Fort Cinema Movie Night.

On Saturdays, a volunteer from the Devil’s Club Community Apothecary is on hand to answer questions about the contents of the jars in the wooden cupboard that serves as a shared herbal dispensary.

The Victoria Anarchist Reading Circle gathers on Tuesdays. The reading homework for last night’s scheduled meeting was a 16-page essay on the Black Panther Party. Last week they discussed fascism.

Then you have your meetings of the anti-Olympics “No 2010” group, not to mention assorted workshops, benefit concerts, bicycle maintenance demonstrations, and what is billed as a not-so-silent auction.

You wonder how the anarchists ever find the time to smash the state.

The not-for-profit bookstore is operated by a collective. No salaries are paid. Bookkeeping, book ordering and book reshelving is all handled by volunteers. Any revenue from book sales goes back into retaining the space.

The address provided for the store is “Lekwungen territory (colonial jurisdiction of Victoria, B.C.)” The oppressive-reactionary-bourgeois street address is 2590 Quadra St.

Camas Books and Infoshop takes its name from a herb popular with indigenous people, who cooked the bulb to a thick liquid like molasses, or dried and ground it into flour for bread. Camas fields disappeared to grazing cattle brought by settlers. By building neighbourhood autonomy and challenging authority, the collective states, they “envision the camas flower one day being able to blossom forth from beneath the pavement that now restrains it, flourishing on this land once again.”

Among those who helped launch the bookstore a year ago was Allan Antliff, who holds the Canada Research Chair in art history at the University of Victoria. His graduate seminars includes the topic “New York Dada.”

Mr. Antliff, who gives $200 monthly to support the bookstore, has made his own contribution to the shelf of anarchist literature by writing three books. He also donated his personal collection to launch an Anarchist Archive at the university.

“As a historian,” he said, “I was acutely aware that people were not saving their history.”

While researching the modern art movement of the early 20th Century, the professor sought documents seized from Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth magazine. These had been taken by American authorities during the Great War, when the publication’s 8,000 subscribers were investigated and harassed.

Turns out the government destroyed what they had taken.

“I don’t want to see the history of anarchism in Canada pulped by the authorities, or thrown into a garbage bin because they’re moving and don’t have a place to keep it anymore.”

One of the better finds for the Victoria archive came from an editor of the Toronto publication Ecomedia, whose files and correspondence had been gathered because of a court case. The cache was being stored in poor condition in an attic before being donated.

What do donors get for handing over their materials?

“They do what they do because they want to change the world,” Mr. Antliff said. “They get the knowledge that what they’ve done — and the ideas — aren’t going to disappear.”

The archive includes flyers and zines, posters and pamphlets. A stack of newspapers leaves the impression anarchists have black ink for blood. The titles tell the story — “Clash,” “Clamour,” “Class War” are unsubtle calls for strife; “Bulldozer” and “Slingshot” match theory with weaponry; “Endless Struggle” is either a call for never-ending confrontation, or a recognition of the task at hand; “Practical Anarchy” and “Anarcho-Syndicalist Review” promise a less-than-thrilling literary experience; “Strike!” and “Storm Warning!” are exclamatory!; “Demolition Derby” expresses the revolutionary and humourous nature of much anarchist expression.

The political philosophy has deep roots on the West Coast, where a respect for nature and a connection to the indigenous peoples are defining elements. George Woodcock, the prolific writer who in 1962 produced an important overview of anarchism, settled at Saseenos, outside Sooke, before moving permanently to Vancouver after the Second World War. A friend of George Orwell, he also maintained a correspondence with the English anarchist poet and art critic Sir Herbert Read, whose papers are also part of the holdings at the McPherson Library at the University of Victoria. Less literary and more Yippie were the pie-throwing Groucho-Marxists.

Four years ago, Arsenal Pulp Press published “Only A Beginning,” an anarchist anthology edited by Mr. Antliff. Some of the livelier writing is to be found in “Open Road,” which published irregularly from 1976 to 1990. The largest print run was 20,000 copies for an issue dedicated to Bikesheviks, who figured we’d all pedal our way to utopia.

One of the Open Road founders was Bob Sarti, who contributed a short overview to the anthology in which he acknowledged the newspaper’s outsized influence even if the results were thin.

“The environment is still going to hell, racism and authority are flourishing, state-sponsored war never seems to end,” he wrote. “And we really didn’t make much of a difference on the specific stuff we targeted either: Leonard Peltier is still in prison, solitary confinement has not been abolished, our friends got convicted for the Direct Action campaign and sent to prison.”

Still, he found much to cheer in the upcoming generation.

He’d doubtless be impressed by Camas. The anarchists are getting downright organized.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bill Parnell, miler (1928-2008)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 5, 2008


A cacophony of honking tugboat horns and screaming ferry whistles greeted Bill Parnell on his return home from the British Empire Games in 1950.

The runner brought with him two shiny souvenirs — a bronze and a gold medal — from the competition at Auckland, New Zealand.

After landing at the airport south of Vancouver, Mr. Parnell was escorted through the city in a motor cavalcade. The ferry across the harbour to his hometown of North Vancouver was adorned with flags and bunting. A parade brought the athletic champion to a reception at which the cheers of 500 high school students was all the louder for their having been given the day off in honour of one of their own.

“This is North Vancouver’s hour of triumph,” Mayor Frank Goldsworthy told the crowd. “Our Bill did it.”

Mr. Parnell did not care for the spotlight. One newspaper described him as being “tall, slow-talking and Gary Cooperish.”

He outran the best milers in the British Empire to claim the gold in a record-setting time.

While that would be his greatest achievement on the track, Mr. Parnell’s standing among fellow athletes was reflected in the bestowing of two great honours. In 1952, he carried the Canadian flag in the Opening Ceremonies of the Helsinki Olympic Games. Two years later, he read the athlete’s oath at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games held across the inlet from his hometown.

It was at those 1954 games that his record was shattered in the most celebrated mile-long foot race in history. The Vancouver competition also marked the end of the running career of one of Canada’s best track athletes in the post-war years.

Born on Valentine’s Day in 1928, Comer William Parnell competed as a high jumper as a junior in high school. He switched disciplines after observing the pace of runners at school meets. He felt he ran as fast. To test himself, each morning he deliberately left home late to try to beat the school bell. After school, he also ran home — uphill all the way.

As a senior, he won the city’s senior high school championship in 1945.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete had difficulty pacing himself while training for the mile, a problem not solved until after he won an athletic scholarship to Washington State University. A coach at the school at Pullman had a simple solution — Mr. Parnell carried a watch as he ran.

At age 20, he qualified for the Olympic Games at London, where he competed in both the 800- and 1500-metre races. He was eliminated after racing one heat in each event.

He set a Canadian mark in the mile that year with a time of 4 minutes 17 seconds. In 1949, he broke his own standard by placing third at the U.S. Nationals with a time of 4:09.6. The Amateur Athletic Union ranked him third in the world in the 800 metres.

He capped a breakthrough year by being named winner of the Norton H. Crow Memorial Award as Canada’s outstanding amateur athlete of the year in 1949.

The journey to New Zealand for the British Empire Games was a marathon. Canada’s team boarded the liner Aorangi in Vancouver harbour on Dec. 22, 1949. The athletes celebrated Christmas and New Year’s while on board, the holidays interrupting the monotony of a voyage lasting nearly three weeks.

Aboard ship was a backstroke specialist from Victoria named Joan Morgan. The swimmer and the miler, who spent many hours in the British Columbia capital training under coach Bruce Humber, would later marry.

Four days before his 22nd birthday, Mr. Parnell took to a soggy grass track at Eden Park at Auckland before 40,000 spectators to face the empire’s greatest milers. The favourite, Len Eyre of England, established a scorching pace over the first three laps. He was followed by Maurice Marshall, running on home soil.

Mr. Parnell ran freely in third place, having pulled away from the rest of the field. A move to grab second place was repulsed by the New Zealander about a furlong from the finish line. As the runners prepared to turn the final corner, found himself trailing the Englishman by 15 yards. Mr. Parnell made his final, desperate and decisive move.

The Canadian’s closing kick closed the gap. He passed both leading runners to breast the tape five yards ahead of his rivals. The time — 4:11 flat — established an empire record. He was six-tenths of a second faster than the previous mark.

“The race went exactly as we planned it,” Mr. Parnell said. “We hoped Eyre would forge his way to the front to enable me to get a final sprint at him and to my glee he did so.”

Auckland Star sports editor E.H. Doherty praised the Canadian’s strategy.

“It is possible Eyre threw away the race by over-confidence,” he wrote. “It is certain he received the biggest fright of his life when the Canadian came pounding up in the run to the tape.”

At a modest home half a world away, the Parnell family gathered around a radio console atop which had been placed a son’s photographic portrait.

“Mother was the one that got excited,” Alfred Parnell, speaking of his wife, told a visiting reporter. “She had her ear glued to the shortwave. When Bill came in first she could hardly speak.”

The runner may have learned a valuable lesson four days earlier. He had led the 880-yard race in the stretch when he was passed by teammate Jack Hutchins, who then was passed near the finish line by John Parlett of England. Mr. Hutchins took the silver, Mr. Parnell the bronze. The latter had been boxed in on the second lap of the race, a frustrating position he avoided in the mile.

The eight-week sojourn ended with a long flight home. The athletes landed at Vancouver airport to be greeted by local mayors and other dignitaries. Mr. Parnell joined fellow gold-medal winner Dr. George Athans (obituary, March 2, 2007), a tower diver, in riding in an open car adorned with a scarlet banner proclaiming, “Our champs.” They were lead car in a cavalcade including such other competitors as the cyclists Lorne Atkinson and Johnny Millman, the boxers Eddie Haddad and Len Walters (obituary, April 2), as well as Mr. Humber, who coached Mr. Parnell.

(The return to home soil was not without tears. Peter Salmon, a Victoria swimmer, was informed on his arrival of his mother’s death earlier that day.)

When he spoke at his former high school, Mr. Parnell said he was overcome by the moment.

“This welcome does something to you,” he said. “I just don’t seem to be able to talk.”

Two years later, he enjoyed the privilege of carrying the Canadian flag into the Olympiastadion in Helsinki during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1952 Olympics. He often described his role as flagbearer as being his proudest moment as an athlete.

He qualified for the semifinals in both the 800- and 1500-metre races before being eliminated.

His status led to another honour closer to home. On July 30, 1954, he stood atop a structure called the Tribune of Honour on the infield grass at new Empire Stadium in Vancouver for another opening ceremony. After an air force fly-past, a fanfare of trumpets sounded, followed by the release of hundreds of pigeons and the firing of a five-gun artillary salute. Mr. Parnell held a corner of the flag in his left hand. He recited, as captain of the host team and on behalf of all the athletes, an oath: “We declare that we will take part in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games of 1954 in the spirit of true sportsmanship, recognizing the rules which govern them and desirous of participating in them for the honour of our Commonwealth and Empire and for the glory of sport.” With that, the greatest sporting event in British Columbia history began.

The official souvenir program of the games featured Mr. Parnell as a star alongside mile rivals John Landy of Australia and Dr. Roger Bannister of England.

The much-awaited showdown came on Aug. 7, the final day of competition. Two days earlier, Mr. Parnell came fifth in his heat, missing by one slot a spot in the final. “I was disappointed that I didn’t run harder,” he told the Globe many years later. “Or couldn’t run harder.” On the day of the big race, he flashed his athlete’s credentials to grab a prized piece of turf on the stadium’s grass infield not far from where he had taken the oath.

The race did not disappoint. Dr. Bannister called on a kick along the final straightaway to pass on the right as Mr. Landy glanced over his left shoulder for his pursuer. The Englishman crossed the finish line in 3:58.8. Mr. Landy also broke the four-minute barrier, earning the race the name the Miracle Mile.

Mr. Parnell’s four-year-old empire mark had been shattered by an astounding 12.2 seconds.

He cheered the runners, knowing he would be hanging up his cleats and picking up chalk as a school teacher. His competitive running career was at an end.

Mr. Parnell taught physical education at North Vancouver schools until his retirement, after which he continued as a coach. He was honoured earier this year for a half-century of coaching.

He was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1977.

Over the years, his accomplishments were forgotten and his achievements overshadowed. He kept his medal, four years older but the same colour as Dr. Bannister’s, in a drawer at his home.

Some years ago, he reminisced how techniques for his students were different than he had known.

“We had our first child and I was trying to train myself, which never works out as well,” he told the sports columnist Archie McDonald in 1990. “We didn’t know as much about running in Canada as we do now. When I think of what high school kids do now compared to what I did I wonder how I managed. We didn’t know much about interval training back then. I guess we ran for fun.”

Comer William Parnell was born on Feb. 14, 1928, at Vancouver, B.C. He died on Sept. 6. He was 80. He leaves his wife, Joan (nee Morgan); two sons; two daughters; seven grandchildren; and, two brothers. He was predeceased by a sister earlier this year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

George Morrison, hockey player (1948-2008)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 2, 2008

George Morrison knew triumph on the ice of a hockey arena. He won a championship in college before forging a professional career lasting seven seasons. He also enjoyed the honour of having his stick requested by the Hockey Hall of Fame.

For all that, a certain segment of hockey fans preferred to remember him for an odd incident involving an untimely hunger pang, a hot dog, and an on-ice collision.

The skinny left-winger — he carried just 170 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame — first won notice as a fleet skater and flashy sniper with the University of Denver. He seemed too callow to be playing so rough a sport. “Morrison has the fresh-scrubbed look and haystack haircut of a farm kid who should be carrying a pitchfork instead of a curved stick,” Sports Illustrated magazine noted.

The Pioneers were a dominant power in American college hockey under the guidance of Murray Armstrong. The Saskatchewan-born coach was seeking his second consecutive national title and fifth overall when Mr. Morrison joined the Colorado school’s team as a freshman for the 1968-69 season.

The Pioneers registered 26 wins against just six defeats. Mr. Morrison recorded 40 goals and 18 assists on a roster including such future National Hockey League players as defenceman Keith Magnuson and forward Craig Patrick.

In the final game of the championship tournament, the Pioneers faced Cornell University and star goaltender Ken Dryden, who would go on to become one of the greatest NHL goalies with the Montreal Canadiens. On this day, however, Denver persevered 4-3, with Mr. Morrison scoring his team’s second goal.

The Pioneers did not repeat as champs in 1969-70, although Mr. Morrison scored 57 points in 32 games in his sophomore campaign. He was dubbed Super Soph.

“He is at his best around the crease,” Sports Illustrated reported. “When traffic gets heavy he looks like Plastic Man, bending and twisting away from big, menacing defenders.”

In his brief university career, he was twice named a Western Collegiate Hockey Association first-team all-star and he was twice named an All-American. He led his association in scoring in both seasons.

Perhaps because of his pacific nature — he earned just 24 penalty minutes in two seasons of collegiate hockey — Mr. Morrison went unselected in the NHL amateur draft. Despite the initial lack of interest, the St. Louis Blues signed him as a free agent days before the puck dropped to start of the 1970-71 season.

His rookie campaign got a boost late in the season when St. Louis acquired Garry Unger from Detroit, where general manager Ned Harkness (obituary, Sept. 30) objected to the young player’s refusal to trim his hair. Mr. Unger centred a line with Mr. Morrison and Wayne Connelly, contributing to a strong 7-2-3 finish to the season.

Mr. Morrison scored 15 goals and added 10 assists. He was named the club’s rookie of the year.

His production lagged the following season and he ran afoul of the Blues’ management. The team traded him to the Buffalo Sabres and, when he refused to report to their minor-league team at Rochester, N.Y., he was suspended.

He sat out the remainder of the season rather than ride the bus around the American Hockey League circuit.

Meanwhile, a group of businessmen, frustrated by the cartel-like operations of the NHL, launched a rival major league. The World Hockey Association began raiding NHL rosters, offering players better salaries and freedom from the whims of managerial edicts about personal grooming.

The Minnesota Fighting Saints signed Mr. Morrison as the club’s eighth player in June, 1972. His former teammate, Mr. Connelly, had earlier signed with Minnesota. Both men were represented by Morden Lazarus, a lawyer who at the time said he was brushing up on his knowledge of contract and anti-trust law because NHL owners were threatening legal action to retain their contracted employees.

On Jan. 7, 1973, a WHA record crowd and a television audience watching on CBS witnessed the national debut of the new St. Paul Civic Center, a $23-million arena notable for dasher boards of clear acrylic. The Sunday afternoon game opened with a goal by Mr. Morrison against Winnipeg’s Joe Daley.

Mr. Morrison delivered the greatest single-game performance of his career in the final game of the 1973-74 regular season. The victims were the visiting Vancouver Blazers, much to the delight of an appreciative hometown crowd.

At 15:42 of the second period, he scored on a powerplay to give the Fighting Saints a 5-0 lead. Fourteen seconds later, he split the Vancouver defence before snapping a shot high over the shoulder of netminder George Gardner (obituary, Dec. 4, 2006). A third goal came at 16:25, the hat-trick in 43 seconds setting a WHA record. All three goals were assisted by Mr. Connelly and Bob MacMillan.

(Bill Mosienko of the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks established the major-league record by notching three goals in 21 seconds against the New York Rangers on March 23, 1952.)

Nor was Mr. Morrison’s work for the night complete. He pushed yet another puck past the hapless Blazer goalie in the third period for his fourth marker of the night. It was also his 40th goal of the season. Mr. Morrison had never before scored more than two goals in a pro game.

The stick he used for the feat wound up in the collection of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

After another productive season, the Saints traded him to the Calgary Cowboys in a multi-player deal in which they acquired Johnny (Pieface) McKenzie, a one-time rodeo rider from Alberta.

Mr. Morrison spent his final two seasons as a pro in Calgary, scoring 36 goals.

A respectable career as a journeyman with one brilliant campaign has mostly been ignored. However, his role in a bizarre bit of hockey lore has been retold in such trivia books as Floyd Connor’s “Hockey’s Most Wanted” and on such Websites as Joe Pelletier’s

While playing with the Blues in his rookie season, Mr. Morrison found himself riding the bench as the clock ticked down in a game against the Los Angeles Kings. Figuring his work was done for the night, he sent an usher in search of a hot dog, surreptitiously swapping one of his sticks for the snack.

He snuck a bite whenever the play took the coach’s attention away from his direction.

He was still chewing when coach Scotty Bowman unexpectedly ordered him onto the ice. Not wishing to be discovered violating an unwritten rule of hockey etiquette by eating on the bench, he shoved the remnants of the sausage down the cuff of one of his hockey gloves.

He was not on the ice for long before being bodychecked by an opposing player. The collision sent flying bits of bun, splashes of condiment, and a half-eaten hot dog.

Mr. Morrison was involved in sports management after leaving hockey. In 2003, he helped bring the Alberta Classic golf tournament to Calgary as a Nationwide Tour event.
Midway through last season, he offered his services as a volunteer coach for the Dutchwoman at Union College at Schenectady, N.Y.

An inoperable brain tumour was diagnosed before the start of this season. His sudden decline and death stunned the team.

“He was everything to our team — a leader, a mentor, a teacher, a father figure and a coach,” said head coach Claudia Asano.

The Dutchwomen held a moment of silence before the puck dropped against visiting Qunnipiac in a game played just two days after Mr. Morrison’s death. The hush was followed by a stirring round of applause.

George Harold Morrison was born in Toronto on Christmas Eve, 1948. He died on Nov. 12 at his home at Schenectady, N.Y. He was 59. He leaves his partner, Ellen Johnston; daughters, Sloane Junge and Keri Lauxman, both of Kansas City, Mo.; parents Harold and Margaret Morrison, of Fort Erie, Ont.; brother Robert Morrison and sister Cathy Gaglia, both of Toronto.

How a new calling for service grew from a seed

Tom Oshiro photographed by Deddeda Stemler

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 3, 2008


Folks greeted the small figure by patting his back, or by pumping his hand.

“Bless you, Pastor Tom,” said one woman, looking him in the eye after delivering a hug. “We prayed for you last night.”

It is a busy time at the Mustard Seed. The weather is cold and Christmas approaches. Tis the season for fundraising, as those with are asked to share with those without. Seventy cents of every dollar given to the charity will arrive in these next weeks.

On Friday, a surfboard store is offering discounts in exchange for food. The Salmon Kings hockey team has set up bins for donations at the entrances to their arena, which happens to carry the name of a grocery chain.

There will be a truck parade and food drives and charity events.

In 11 days, the parade grounds inside the nearby Armoury will be filled with paper-covered tables on which roast turkey and mashed potatoes will be served to people who have already begun to anticipate the upcoming feast.

A familiar figure at these Yuletide events is the Rev. Tom Oshiro, a gentle, moon-faced man whose ready grin makes him look like he’s permanently squinting.

The constant need to replenish the larder, which feeds hundreds of hungry citizens throughout the year, can so dominate the discussion that the pastor thought it best to offer a visitor a reminder.

“The Mustard Seed is a church, not a food bank,” he said.

The street ministry opened a generation ago with a prayer closet in a downtown store. The needs of the underprivileged are so great that it is now housed in a former marine garage, where it offers food and clothing banks, as well as offering such services as counseling, advocacy, and prison visits. A 32-acre farm outside Duncan, called the Hope Farm Healing Centre, provides recovering drug addicts a working life on a spread with livestock, orchards and vegetable crops.

The old garage is where services are held, although the room today is filling with donations. Tables in the centre of the room are covered by mounds of discarded pants and blouses and hoodies. Two blue work shirts, still wrapped in cellophane, carry a gas-station logo.

The clinic, a small room not much bigger than a closet, was an untidy mess of tins of formula and medicinal flotsam. A layer of order could be seen behind the disarray.

In the entryway, coffee and carrot cake was being served to visitors. At the food-bank window, a tiny, big-eyed girl in a pink shirt, who looked a lot like Cindy Lou Who from Dr. Suess’s Grinch tale, reached for an overhead box of milk cartons certainly weighing as much as herself. Rev. Oshiro gently warned her away.

Seventeen years ago, as he neared retirement age, the pastor accepted an invitation to help out at Mustard Seed. It has been a consuming passion ever since, an unexpected grace note to conclude a rich life.

Rev. Oshiro wrote a story in the church’s current newsletter about his own background.

“In my lifetime,” he wrote, “I need to confess, I have never known abject poverty.”

He began working at age 9, delivering newspapers. His father, George Oshiro, had come from Okinawa to British Columbia to work on the railroad. An educated man, he soon handled bookkeeping and became foreman of a work crew. With his wife Tsuiru, he settled in Kenora, Ont., where he worked at the Canadian Pacific Railway roundhouse.

Tom was the sixth of seven children. The newspaper gig was followed by work as a caddy. During the war, his family was ordered, as enemy aliens, to stay within the city limits. Two older brothers circumvented the restriction, while also disproving the accusation, by enlisting in the armed forces.

Tom got a job at a 7-Up bottling plant, then joined his father at the roundhouse as lightup foreman, igniting the firebox so locomotives could return to duty.

He used an ax to shop down trees for a hydro right of way, and cut railway ties at a sawmill. He hauled oat sacks filled with stoker coal, building strength in his legs that helped him win a spot as quarterback for the high school team, no small feat for a young man just 5-foot-6.

As a schoolboy curler, his rink came within a few points of representing Northern Ontario at the Macdonald Brier.

Though his parents were not yet converted, he felt the calling.

“In Grade 12, I began to realize as a Christian my main mission was to follow Christ. I had trouble with that because I was having too much fun in high school. Eventually, I realized my life was to be act of obedience.”

After studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, the Baptists assigned him to a pastorage for the Rainy River District. At Emo, a town across the river from Minnesota, he met Vietta Gingrich, a nurse.

The couple married, moving to Southern Ontario in 1966, where Rev. Oshiro began his ministry at the King Street Baptist Church in Preston (now Cambridge). After a decade, he moved to the Baptist church’s headquarters in Toronto, from which he was assigned to be area minister for British Columbia, a high-ranking position he held for nearly five years.

After another six years with a Victoria congregation, Rev. Oshiro accepted the invitation to help out at Mustard Seed.

“I felt the pulsating experience of fellowship, of people who really wanted to get involved in people’s lives, and to serve the poor,” he said.

His wife, known as Vi, worked as lead organizer for the big Christmas banquet. She also offered nursing help from the closet-sized clinic, which she kept tidy and orderly until taking sick three months ago.

She died just before dawn on a chilly morning a fortnight ago.

At the Mustard Seed yesterday, the pastor accepted condolences from volunteers and visitors. He will be flying east today to attend a memorial service to be held Friday at the very church in which he was once the minister.

He will return in time to help organize the banquet. He would not miss it for the world.

As Rev. Oshiro likes to say, the first Christmas was the picture of poverty.