Monday, August 31, 2009

Waiting to be reunited with her missing son

Michael Dunahee went missing at age four. He would now be 23.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 31, 2009


Crystal Dunahee’s birth mother in California was on the telephone with the kind of news that takes your breath away.

Jaycee had been found.

“I was stunned. It was a bit of a shocker,” Ms. Dunahee said.

She knows well the story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a blonde, bucktoothed, 11-year-old girl whose stepfather watched helplessly at a distance as she was dragged by a woman into a car while on her way to a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

The terrible details were familiar to Ms. Dunahee because the girl was snatched just three months after her own boy disappeared from a Victoria playground.

This is what happens when you’re the mother of a missing child and another missing child comes home. The telephone rings and strangers want to know how you feel. They promise it is an opportunity to remind people about Michael.

As if anyone could forget.

The details are as familiar as the plot to a horror movie. A cute, four-year-old boy, a hint of baby fat still carried in his dimpled cheeks, goes missing from the playground at Blanshard Elementary as his parents play sports nearby. Soon, both teams are looking for the boy. The police are called. But no one can find anything.

Poof. Gone.

In the 18 years since, the Dunahee family —mother Crystal, father Bruce, and daughter Caitlin, a baby then and a high-school graduate today — have been tireless advocates for their missing son and brother.

Earlier this month, a “Tournament of Hope” softball showdown was held for the 17th consecutive summer.

Every year, on the anniversary of his disappearance, a “Michael Dunahee Keep the Hope Alive” Dance, featuring That ’70s Band, is held to kick off the “Michael Dunahee Keep the Hope Alive Drive,” a five-kilometre walk and run through the streets of Esquimalt.

Crystal Dunahee begins organizing the dance and walkathon each January. One of the highlights is picking a T-shirt design submitted by local elementary students. The events carrying her son’s name are squeezed into a schedule already crowded with raising a daughter and running the family donair shop on Esquimalt Road.

“It’s a warm feeling to know the community is still out there supporting us,” she said, “and all missing children.”

The Dunahees carry a burden any parent can imagine and all fear.

“I’ve never met a family that is stronger than that family,” said Steve Orcherton, executive director of Child Find B.C., a charitable group for which Ms. Dunahee is president. “What they have had to endure is nothing short of remarkable.”

Child Find offers services to the families of missing children, the vast majority of whom are runaways. The group conducts clinics around the province during which children are photographed and prints taken for passports that provide essential information should they ever disappear.

Of the many cases filed each year, only a few missing children are victims of an abduction by a stranger, the circumstances so rare and puzzling they garner the most attention.

Mr. Orcherton said his delight at the return of Jaycee Dugard to her family was tempered by learning from news reports that police squandered opportunities to end her captivity years earlier.

The details are unsettling. A parole officer who visited the home of her alleged captor failed to notice the two little girls she bore her tormentor. So poor was his reputation as a convicted sex offender that neighbours spoke of him as “Creepy Phil.” Yet, his crimes went undiscovered for years until a woman police officer at the University of California at Berkeley questioned his behaviour erratic as he handed out religious pamphlets while accompanied by two unnaturally pale girls.

Mr. Orcherton said Phillip Garrido should have been drawn the attention of authorities years earlier.

“You can’t just walk through life ignoring people whose behaviours clearly aren’t normal,” he said. “That’s the shocking part for me.”

Mr. Orcherton, a former NDP MLA, spent the weekend sailing around the San Juan Islands with the teenaged son whose bantam baseball team he coached to a Vancouver Island championship last summer. These are delights he knows have been denied the parents of Michael Dunahee, about whom he says, “We’re still looking for him.”

The Dunahee family marked the 23rd year of Michael’s birth in May.

At the family home, a room is reserved for a son’s return, unopened birthday and Christmas gifts waiting to opened.

Crystal Dunahee knows another anguished family has been reunited with a daughter some thought lost forever.

“It just goes to show there’s always hope,” she said.

She repeated the phrase.

“And miracles do happen.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Preserving the game's Canadian past

The Indian Head (Sask.) Rockets, a barnstorming team. Photo from Western Canada Baseball.

Two B.C. men are documenting baseball's coming of age on the Prairies

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 21, 2006

Barry Swanton remembers the days when he waited for his father to return home from his job as a postal clerk. “Go get the gloves,” his father would say, the boy fetching two baseball mitts.

Some days, his father brought with him a special delivery: two tickets to a game at Osborne Stadium in Winnipeg. Father and son would ride the streetcar to the ballpark opposite the Manitoba Legislature. The stadium was the home of the Winnipeg Buffaloes and the Elmwood Giants. For a boy, it was a field upon which trod giants — in stature as well as name.

The father treated the son to a 25-cent scorecard on which young Barry could record the outcome of each confrontation between batter and pitcher. After the game, he liked to hang around the clubhouse entrance to beg for autographs and coax tips from savvy players who were willing to entertain a star-struck lad.

“They weren't in a hurry to get back to their rooming house, or the YMCA,” recalls Mr. Swanton, now a 67-year-old resident of suburban Surrey.

The next day, the boy would clip a game report and box score from either the Winnipeg Tribune or Winnipeg Free Press, and tuck them away with the scorecard for safekeeping.

Years passed and the boy became a man, following his father into the post office. But Barry Swanton never left the baseball diamond, coaching boys as wide eyed as he was once himself. While preparing to move to British Columbia 17 years ago, he came across the box holding his yellowing scorecard collection.

A forgotten box also held the boyhood mementoes of Jay-Dell Mah, a 64-year-old former CBC reporter in Toronto who now lives in southeastern B.C. When he was preparing to retire some years ago, he discovered a trove set aside decades earlier — an autograph book, a signed baseball, assorted newspaper clippings and two thick scrapbooks.

Mr. Swanton and Mr. Mah, who both came to baseball through their fathers, each embarked on separate projects to revive interest in the baseball of their youth on the Prairies.

Mr. Swanton has written a book profiling the black players who came north after the collapse of the Negro Leagues. Mr. Mah, meanwhile, launched a comprehensive website about the history of baseball in Western Canada in the 1950s and 1960s.

The two men have struck up a long-distance friendship, though they have never met. They share a passion but not an area code. While Mr. Swanton makes his home in Cloverdale, Mr. Mah lives in the village of Nakusp, about two hours drive north of Castlegar.

Both men pursue the forgotten players of that long-gone era.

“I hunt them down,” says Mr. Swanton, who tracked about 140 former Negro League players in the Mandak League, a circuit that took its name from teams based in Manitoba and the Dakotas.

“When I find them, the old players don't want to let me off the phone,” he says. “Talking baseball — it's great.”

Mr. Swanton was inducted this month into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame for his five decades of work as a coach, manager and administrator. Joining him in the ceremonies at Morden, Man., was Dirk (Bubblegum) Gibbons, a former Negro League pitcher who led Manitoba's Brandon Greys to a provincial title in 1949, with 19 wins and 5 losses.

Bubblegum's exploits are among the many tales told in Mr. Swanton's recent book, The Mandak League: Haven for Former Negro League Ballplayers, 1950-1957, published by McFarland and Co.

Baseball has a long history on the Prairies, a history transformed by social changes far afield. Jackie Robinson had ended a half-century of segregation by breaking baseball's unofficial colour bar, playing for the Montreal Royals in 1946 and the parent Brooklyn Dodgers the following season. Soon after, Negro League teams lost their best players — and many customers — to major-league clubs.

“The Negro Leagues were closing down,” Mr. Swanton explains. “A lot of players had no place to play. Organized baseball wasn't about to let all these black players take all these jobs in the minors. That's the way it was.”

Many of the players headed north to find seasonal work on the wind-blown grass fields of Canada's three western provinces. They wore uniforms with such names as Oilers, Eskimos and Combines spilling across the chest.

These men played in the cities, as well as in whistle-stop hamlets in which a semi-professional team was the community's claim to fame.

Mr. Mah grew up in Lloydminster, where he “slept in Saskatchewan and ate breakfast in Alberta.” The family home was on one side of the provincial dividing line, while the family restaurant, the Elite Cafe, was on the other.

His father, Jimmy Mah, had come to Canada from Canton in about 1911, when he was still known as Mah Do-wing. His restaurant became a hangout for mercenary ballplayers and his young son, Harvey, became something of a mascot. (Harvey was nicknamed Jazz by his brothers, later shortened to Jay. When he launched his radio career, he called himself Jay Dell. The chosen name was later grafted onto his family name, and he became Jay-Dell Mah.)

When he was old enough, Harvey became bat boy for the Lloydminster Meridians. On the field, he fetched bats for the players and balls for the umpire. Off the field, he washed socks and shined shoes for tips. “Those were fun days,” he says.

His favourite player was Benny Lott, a slick-fielding second baseman whose panache on the field was matched by his stylish wardrobe. Mr. Lott's swing was so elegant, so sweet, he was nicknamed Honey. The infielder, who had come to the Prairies after stints with the Indianapolis Clowns and the New York Black Yankees, presented his young fan with an autographed five-dollar bill (a small fortune then) inscribed: “To the best bat boy in the world.” Somehow, the bill got mixed in with the restaurant till and was given to a customer as change.

Only later, as an adult, would the bat boy realize that the players he idolized had minor roles in a social revolution — ending segregation by playing sports in circumstances where the only colour that mattered was found on a uniform.

All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

Black baseball players in Canada

This is a foreword written for "Black Baseball Players in Canada," published this month by McFarland and Co., a publisher of scholarly and reference works, based in Jefferson, N.C. I was invited to write the foreword after writing a column in the Globe and Mail about the British Columbia authors, Barry Swanton, of Surrey, and Jay-Dell Mah, of Nakusp.

Baseball is a sport for storytelling. The game is famously played without a clock, which means the first pitch might be followed by two, or three, or four, or more hours of baseball. The game comes with natural pauses in the action after every three outs. Toss in batters stepping out of the box, pitchers talking to catchers, pitchers being sent to the showers, runners dusting off pants after a slide — why, there’s plenty of time to gab about the great summer game.

At some point, a batter steps towards home, taps dirt from his cleats, tightens his batting gloves, adjusts his helmet. Your neighbor in the stands asks, “Who’s this guy?” You can answer with statistics, but that’s only part of the story. A better question might be, “Where’s this guy from?” Is he a promising rookie on his way up to The Show, or is he a declining veteran hanging on in hopes of returning to the bigs? Who is he and how did he get here?

You appreciate the game more when you know the story behind the number on the uniform.

Many who have taken to the field in Canada were imports from the south — a left-handed college kid earning a few bucks under the table in summer, or a slugger seeking to put up big numbers in hopes a scout might sign him to a good contract. This steady trickle became a deluge after 1947, when the great Jackie Robinson broke the modern color barrier in the major leagues by taking to the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

This created a labour problem. Major league teams began to pluck the finest African-American talent from the Negro Leagues, the beginning of a steep decline and inglorious end to a circuit so rich in baseball lore. Lesser players faced a tough decision: Stay in black ball though the future looked bleak, or sign a contract to a minor-league team and face the possibility of having to play in the Jim Crow South.

Dozens of black athletes found well-paying and altogether more comfortable employment in Canada, where the pay was good and the reception, for the most part, welcoming.

Many headed north to find seasonal work on the wind-blown grass fields of Canada’s three Western provinces. They wore uniforms with such names as Oilers, Eskimos and Combines spilling across the chest in Coca-Cola script.

These men played in the cities, as well as in whistlestop prairie hamlets in which a semi-professional team was the community's claim to fame. From Vulcan, Alta., to Indian Head, Sask., to Carman, Man., the hard-working people of a hardscrabble land eagerly flocked to watch a superior brand of baseball than that to which they had become accustomed.

The new recruits had nicknames like Baldy and Buddy, Pappy and Pepper, Doc and Ducky. They had baseball names like Lefty and Fireball and Pee Wee and Home Run. Even the family names had poetry, as there was a Coffee and a Colas and even one unfortunate stuck with the tag of Harry Butts.

They came from Cuba, Panama and, of course, the United States. Some had been playing on such barnstorming clubs as the Indianapolis Clowns, New York Komeday Kings, and Ligon’s Colored All-Stars. Their resumes included stints with the Cuban Giants and the Elite Giants and the Colored Giants.

Three players who came north in the 1950s went on to bring integration to major-league clubs — Tom Alston with the St. Louis Cardinals, John Kennedy with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Pumpsie Green with the Red Sox, Boston being the last club to hire an African-American athlete, 12 full years after Jackie Robinson had been hired. Shoot, Robinson had been retired three years before Pumpsie joined the Scarlet Hose.

Earlier pioneers tried to earn a living in the sport they loved, only to be barred for the basest of reasons. By posing as a native Indian, Dick Brookins earned a spot at third base with the Regina Bone Pilers back in 1910. He would be kicked out of the game when other owners protested his ethnic ancestry.

The authors Barry Swanton and Jay-Dell Mah have compiled an informative, entertaining and, ultimately, inspiring series of thumbnail sketches of ball players who found a welcome home in Canada.

So, who are these guys?

Barry Swanton remembers awaiting his father’s daily return home from his job as a postal clerk. “Go get the gloves,” his father would say, the boy fetching two baseball mitts. On some days, his father, Cecil, brought with him a special delivery —two tickets to a game at Osborne Stadium in Winnipeg. They would ride the streetcar south from the North End to the ball park opposite the Manitoba Legislative Building. The stadium was the home of the Winnipeg Buffaloes and the Elmwood Giants. For a boy, it was a field upon which trod giants in stature as well as name.

The father treated the son to a 25-cent scorecard on which he could record the outcome of each confrontation between batter and pitcher. After the game, the boy liked to hang around the clubhouse entrance to beg for autographs and coax playing tips from savvy veterans. The players were willing to entertain a star-struck lad.

“They weren’t in a hurry to get back to their rooming house, or the YMCA,” Swanton says.

The following day, the boy would clip a game report and boxscore from either the Winnipeg Tribune or Winnipeg Free Press. He then placed these inside the scorecard, which was tucked away for keeps.

Years passed and the boy became a man, following his father into the post office. He never left the baseball diamond, coaching boys as wide-eyed as he was once himself. While preparing to move to British Columbia almost 20 years ago, Barry came across the box holding his yellowing scorecard collection.

A forgotten box also held the boyhood mementoes of Jay-Dell Mah. The CBC’s Toronto city hall reporter was preparing to retire some years ago when he discovered a trove placed in safekeeping decades earlier — an autograph book, a signed baseball, assorted newspaper clippings, and two thick scrapbooks.

The two men, who both came to baseball through their fathers, each embarked on separate projects to revive interest in the baseball of their youth on the prairies. Mah built a comprehensive Web site — — about the history of baseball in Western Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. Swanton wrote a history of the ManDak (Manitoba-Dakotas) League profiling a circuit that provided work for Cubans, Canadians and American players while entertaining fans in prairie cities on both sides of the border.

The two men struck a long-distance friendship. They share a passion, but not an area code. Swanton lives in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, while Mah resides in Nakusp, a village in southeastern British Columbia. They have known each other for years, but have never met.

Mah grew up in Lloydminster, where he “slept in Saskatchewan and ate breakfast in Alberta.” The family home was on one side of the 4th Meridian, while the family restaurant was on the other. His father, Jimmy Mah, who had come to Canada from Canton in about 1911, when he was still known as Mah Do-wing, owned the Elite Cafe. The restaurant became a hangout for mercenary ballplayers and the cafe owner’s son, Harvey, became something of a mascot. (Harvey was nicknamed Jazz by his brothers, later shortened to Jay. When he launched his radio career, he called himself Jay Dell. The chosen name was later grafted onto his family name, becoming Jay-Dell Mah.) When he was old enough, Harvey became bat boy for the Lloydminster Meridians.

On the field, he fetched bats for the players and balls for the umpire. Off the field, he washed socks and shined shoes for tips. On one glorious day, when he was a bit older, a pitcher with speed but little accuracy asked the boy to catch his pitches. The first six stung his hand so much he could barely endure the pain. Then, his catching hand became so numb as to dull the pain. The next morning, he awoke with a left hand as swollen as catcher's glove. Though painful, it was a temporary souvenir he displayed with pride.

His favorite player was Benny Lott, a slick-fielding second baseman whose panache on the field was matched by his stylish wardrobe. Lott's swing was so elegant, so sweet, he was nicknamed Honey. The infielder presented his No. 1 fan with an autographed five-dollar bill — a small fortune at the time — with the inscription: “To the best bat boy in the world.” Somehow, the bill got mixed with the float in the restaurant till and was unceremoniously handed to a customer as change.

Lott came to the prairies after employment with the Indianapolis Clowns and New York Black Yankees. Only later as an adult would the bat boy realize the players he idolized had minor roles in a social revolution, ending segregation by playing sports in circumstances where the only color that mattered was that found on a uniform.

Both Mah and Swanton pursue forgotten players of the era with the same enthusiasm as a fielder chasing a hapless baserunner.

Tom Hawthorn

Victoria, B.C.

August, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ocean view

Artist's depiction of NEPTUNE undersea observatory.

By Tom Hawthorn
Posted on August 12, 2009

The winch at the rear of the ship slowly lowers a 13-tonne steel capsule about the size of three minivans into still water in early July. The shell, painted a garish yellow, is a trawl-resistant frame designed to deflect fishing nets. More important, once settled on the ocean floor, the capsule will protect the sensitive power and communications equipment located inside. Think of it as a wall plug under the sea that runs electrical and Ethernet systems.

At the Esquimalt Graving Dock at the naval base outside Victoria, B.C., the crew of the C/S Lodbrog — a converted ferry owned by an arm of telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent — demonstrates how the capsule, called a node, will be settled into the ocean later this summer. Doing so while anchored to a jetty in a sheltered harbour is easy. It will take a bit more nerve on the rolling waves of the Pacific.

Installing the nodes is a key final element in the completion of the world’s largest ocean observatory, known as NEPTUNE Canada — for North East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments. The project involves attaching five nodes to an 800-kilometre loop of powered fibre-optic cable — long enough to stretch from Toronto to Ottawa and back — that was placed on the ocean floor two years ago.

Following this work, a crew on the R/V Thompson will install an initial suite of more than 100 instruments on extension cables running out from these nodes. And by the end of the year, researchers will be studying events in the ocean as they occur. This unparalleled window on the ocean floor will also be open to the public via the Internet.

“At the moment, big ships put instruments down to the seabed and get a snapshot,” says Peter Phibbs, NEPTUNE Canada’s associate director of engineering and operations. “Mostly, they’ve collected little vignettes over the years. If you’re down there all the time, you can see change as it happens.”

Essentially, it is the difference between a scrapbook of still photographs and a high-definition film.

NEPTUNE will allow for the real-time study of plate tectonics, the movement of seabed fluids and the effects on marine ecosystems caused by climate change and will help pinpoint earthquakes and observe the resulting seismic stresses.

Sea-floor pressure sensors are expected to improve our understanding of the movement of tsunamis through deep-ocean and coastal areas. The improved knowledge of ocean currents will also help in handling such man-made disasters as oil spills and ship collisions.

It is not easy to build an observatory under the water. The shallowest instruments will be placed on a rocky pinnacle just 17 metres below the surface, while the deepest node will sit on the abyssal plain, 2.7 kilometres down.

While planning NEPTUNE, scientists faced a dilemma familiar to anyone warned about dropping a hair dryer into the bathtub. How do you get electricity to a node that is underwater? The answer is a connector in which vegetable oil displaces salt water to create a safe electrical connection. The node and instrument components are also encased by a corrosion-resistant material such as titanium.

A total of 10,000 volts of direct current flow along the 800-kilometre loop of cable — a lot of power, considering that the average household socket handles 120 volts. On land, such a system would quickly overheat, but on the sea floor, the 2°C water keeps the nodes cool. Each node decreases the voltage to power, without shorting, such carefully calibrated instruments as hydrophones, seismometers, video cameras and high-resolution still cameras. Other instruments will measure salinity, carbon dioxide and even the movement of organisms in the sediment. More instruments can be added in the future as initial data generate more questions. If it happens in the ocean, NEPTUNE scientists want to know where, why, how much and what changes over time.

The cable houses a fibre-optic network that will deliver reams of data to a station at Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island, and then transmit it by high-bandwidth Internet to the University of Victoria, where it will be accessible through

The data management and archive system used by NEPTUNE also supports VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea), a coastal network of cabled underwater observatories. VENUS began operations in the Saanich Inlet near Victoria in 2006 and in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland, in 2008. More than 200 people from a dozen countries use VENUS data, which include such information as the nightly upward migration of zooplankton.

At a demonstration of NEPTUNE in July, Phibbs was asked why the general public should be concerned with what happens at the bottom of the Pacific. “Why should they care? A huge amount of the Earth is covered by oceans,” he said. “How the oceans change affects what happens on land.”

Much of what occurs underwater remains unknown. Oceanographer John Delaney, whose brainchild this is, has described the project as “a Hubble telescope of inner space.” The ocean is a last unexplored frontier right here on Earth.

As well as studying earthquakes and tsunamis, NEPTUNE scientists will also examine gas hydrates — cages of ice containing methane. It is thought the potential energy within gas hydrates equals the world’s hydrocarbon reserves. The problem is, the extraction of the gas could contribute to global warming. As part of NEPTUNE, German scientists have developed the world’s first Internet-operated deep-sea crawler. Nicknamed “Wally,” it will study gas-hydrate deposits by collecting data on methane concentrations, changes in hydrate distribution and other factors.

The size of an all-terrain vehicle, Wally has dual tractor treads, giving it plenty of mobility on the sea floor and providing scientists, as well as the rest of us following on the Internet, a live moving image from the bottom of the sea.

The innovations sparked by overcoming the challenges of making NEPTUNE work properly are expected to find commercial application in such fields as communications, aquaculture, hydroelectricity, port security and the extraction of subsea oil.

“This is our planet,” says Mairi Best, NEPTUNE’s associate director of science. “We live on a little scrap that’s above the water. The planet is run by the oceans. Yet we know so little about how they work.”

NEPTUNE and VENUS will provide an unprecedented look at the ocean, creating the possibility of a better understanding of our world and how to repair it.

“For now and the future,” says Best, “our imagination is the only limit.”

Distant Afghans never far from mind

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 26, 2009


Kathy Santini offers advice on “self-actualization” and “growing your possibilities.” She cites Tony Robbins in conversation, quotes Oprah Winfrey’s philosophy on her Web page.

For the past four years, she has operated a business from her home in which she offers clients advice on making the most of what life has to offer.

This week, she has taken a moment to glance at a photograph of herself four years ago. She wears a flak vest, press credentials dangling from her neck, a headscarf ready for those moments when religious mores demanded a more demure headcovering than that provided by her helmet.

As the brave Afghanis once again defy the Taliban by voting in a national election, Ms. Santini wishes she was back in their land. She found much to admire among people with so little for which to be thankful.

Election officials continued the slow counting of ballots yesterday, showing a close race between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Allegations of voting fraud were being investigated by Grant Kippen, a Canadian appointed by the United Nations. Meanwhile, a car bombing in Kandahar killed 36, including women and children.

“Whoever is elected faces an incredibly challenging situation,” Ms. Santini said. “It’s become like juggling grenades.”

Though half a world away, the landlocked nation grips those who visit, however briefly. The author Terry Glavin offers a fierce defence of the cause of protecting the Afghanis from the Taliban and their supporters on his Transmontanus blog. “The courage of ordinary people is breathtaking,” he wrote in reference to those who cast ballots in the face of Taliban threats.

Another Victoria man deeply involved in events is Gordon Smith, the executive director of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. Mr. Smith, who was named winner of the Vanier Medal for service to Canada earlier this week, has offered proposals for a self-sustaining peace in the war-torn nation.

On the day she arrived four years ago, Ms. Santini recalls being stunned by a moonscape in which war’s terrible cost was all too evident. Hardly a tree could be seen. Half the country’s forests had been devastated.

“How dry. How desolate. The geography is incredibly unkind,” she said. “A lot of the buildings had been bombed out and despite many years had not been repaired. It was quite depressing.”

She arrived four years ago in time to cover the first elections in a quarter century. Ms. Santini was hired as an editor for Sada-e Azadi, a trilingual newspaper known in English as the Voice of Freedom. The paper, funded by the International Security Assistance Force, also printed articles in Dari and Pashto, though the high number of illiterates in the population made it necessary to publish many photographs. The Kabul newspaper had a circulation of 300,000, the largest in Afghanistan.

On election day, she and her co-workers were nervous at the prospect of violence. One male copy editor from Boston handled the tension by repeating the Lakota battle cry attributed to Crazy Horse, “It’s a great day to die.”

Because of her gender, she was a rare reporter to be able to accompany woman into their segregated voting area. She remembers their sky-blue burkhas and the eagerness with which they showed her fingers dipped in indelible blue ink as a signifier of having voted. She proudly noted the ink came from Canada.

“Did your husband influence your vote?” she asked them.

She recalls their reply. “They were quite indignant,” she said. They voted as they wished.

Ms. Santini had been working as a spokesperson for the provincial health ministry when a cancer diagnosis in 1999 convinced her to alter her working life. She took a job as an aid worker in Sierra Leone and worked as a journalist in Afghanistan before returning home to Victoria, where she opened her home-based Arbutus Coaching business.

She would rather follow the elections in Kabul than Victoria, which is a great distance from people never far from her mind.

Vancouver team knocks it out of the park

A tip o’ the ball cap to the spunky kids from Hastings Community Little League who showed good sportsmanship and undying East Vancouver spirit at the Little League World Series.

Katie Reyes, a rare girl to have competed in the tournament, knocked in the game-winning run in a sloppy, thrilling, heart-stopping, back-and-forth 14-13 win yesterday over a team of American kids representing Germany.

The Hastings squad completed the official part of the tourney with a record of one win and two losses. They’re sticking around Williamsport, Pa., for a few more days to play some games for fun.

The Hastings team of 11- and 12-year-olds are the first from Vancouver to win the Canadian championship, a Cinderella team in a sport dominated by wealthier teams from the suburbs. The Hastings kids play on diamonds looking onto six forbidding asphalt lanes of Hastings Street, across which can be seen the alluring thrill rides at Playland.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A portrait of the cover art as a young man

Cole Denton photographed by his father Don Denton, circa 2001.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 24, 2009


About eight years ago, the photographer Don Denton asked his sons to race through the family’s basement rec room. The boys made faces as they darted in and out of their father’s frame.

“They had these different expressions,” he said. “Some odd. Some scary.”

The youngest son lost interest after just a few minutes of tomfoolery.

The series of images captured on film with his trusty Nikon startled the photographer, who was, for obvious reasons, quite familiar with the models and their repertoire of expressions.

“Some of them looked quite ...,” he said, pausing briefly for the correct word. “Strange.”

One stood out.

Cole, the youngest, stands bare-chested, his almond-shaped eyes opened wide, pupils fully dilated. The stare gives an alien, almost amphibian, countenance to his face. Some see him as frightened. Others think he’s shocked. Perhaps he sees something the rest of us miss.

“It’s the eyes you’re drawn to. They’re wide and they really draw you in,” Mr. Denton said.

He contemplated the image.

“It’s a little spooky looking.”

Later, he sent the image to Arcangel Images, a British stock agency, now based in Spain, that offers publishing and advertising clients a library of images “with a commissioned feel.”

In time, he placed more than 100 photographs with the agency.

He got not a nibble.

“To be honest, there weren’t any sales,” he said. “You do stuff and you want to see returns. When you don’t, you lose interest.”

Mr. Denton, 52, has spent his working life as a photojournalist, a vocation he traces to working on the high school annual in Maple Ridge. He learned to make prints in the basement darkroom built by his classmate, Nick Didlick.

(A few years later, Mr. Didlick shot heartbreaking images from the deadly confrontation when Liverpool soccer fans attacked those for Juventus at Heysel Stadium in Brussels. He would also capture the iconic image of a police officer standing guard beside the bisected nose section of the doomed aircraft at Lockerbie, Scotland.)

Mr. Denton took a one-year media course at Cariboo College (now Thompson Rivers University), a school that took as its motto a Chinook phrase meaning “to strive ahead.”

In the late 1970s, he found work in Vancouver pulling timber off the green chain at a sawmill. He also published photographs from the fledgling punk-music scene, a rare documentarian for early gigs by the likes of the Furies, Rabid, Subhumans, the all-girl Dishrags, and the Skulls, the precursor to D.O.A. He sold some of his concert photos to the Georgia Straight for $10.

“Even in 1977 or 1978 dollars,” he moaned, “that wasn’t a lot of money.”

The newspaper jobs eventually came and Mr. Denton worked as a lensman for the Kamloops News and the Kamloops Daily Sentinel, the Vancouver Sun and the Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Herald and the Reuter news agency.

Along the way, he decided to take it as his goal to make Canadian writers better known. He prepared two books of photographic portraits of authors, some so well known they need no first name (Atwood, Coupland), others still obscure enough to defy recognition (Cheryl Foggo, Hiromi Goto) outside their readership. These volumes, published by Banff Centre Press, are titled “First Chapter” (2001) and “Second Chapter” (2004), which means he will not spend much time thinking up a title for any sequels.

These days, Mr. Denton, who is photographic supervisor for the Victoria-area newspapers of Black Press, is recuperating from operations on his right eye to repair a retinal tear, a particularly distressing injury for a photographer.

The worst moments came as he rode the ferry to the Mainland, unable to fly in his condition, for emergency treatment.

“My eye was going dark, like an eclipse. That was the worst thing, sitting there watching as your eye goes blank.”

He has had two recent bits of good news.

He will be going to the Olympics for his employer.

His eight-year-old photo of his son was purchased by Oxford University Press.

The image graces the cover of the latest novel by Julie Hearn, a popular author among teen readers in Britain. Set at the beginnings of the Second World War, “Rowan the Strange” has been longlisted for the Guardian children’s fiction prize.

Rowan is a schizophrenic boy who is sent away to a hospital for experimental treatments to cure him of the voices in the head that have encouraged him to violence.

On the dust jacket, a playacting Cole Denton represents a disturbed Rowan.

“I didn’t realize it at first,” Cole said. “Reading the back of the book my mother said, ‘You realize this boy is a schizophrenic.’

“It doesn’t bother me. I think the picture really suits it.”

Cole, 16, worked construction this summer, cleaning up sites after the journeymen completed their jobs. He is entering Grade 12 at Edward Milne Community School in Sooke. He plays basketball, listens to rap and hip-hop, likes to write snippets of fiction. He does not remember the details of the day his father had him pose.

“Just trying to be a bit crazy looking. Fooling around. A bit silly.”

He has shown the dust jacket to his friends. Their reaction?

“One of my friends said it was creepy. But another said it was cool. They all think it’s really weird and cool.”

His father anticipated a modest windfall for the good fortune of having his son’s image selected. By the time the agency took its cut, a half share, Mr. Denton made $154.75. He described the sum as munificent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Not your grandpa's lawn-bowling event

Fans watch the national lawn bowling championships. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 19, 2009


The fans were going mild.

Out in the parking lot, bottles of water were chugged in an impromptu tailgate party in which the goal seemed to be to get fall-down hydrated.

Once inside the venue, some painted their faces.

Though, to tell the truth, the paint was likely sunscreen.

Welcome to the genteel world of the Canadian Lawn Bowling Championships, being held this week at the Juan de Fuca Bowling Greens in suburban Colwood.

The pleasant clacking of bowl on bowl interrupted the hush of intense competition. It sounded like the clinking of tea cups.

The most obnoxious bit of trashtalking heard yesterday (Tuesday) morning was a plaintive, though somewhat encouraging, “Come on, Verna!”

Davie Mathie, the 61-year-old local club president, was asked the age range of the competitors.

“From 17 to I don’t know,” he said. “You get to the higher end. Probably around 84.”

There is no drug testing.

“Good thing, too,” quipped club member Wayne Edwards. “Because most of them are on medications.”

While the sport’s demographic skews more Geritol than Red Bull, bowls remains a highly competitive discipline. It continues to hold on to a coveted spot in the Commonwealth Games agenda.

Mr. Mathie helped construct this facility after Victoria was awarded the 1994 Games. The arduous task involved a deep layer of gravel topped by soil, sand and grass seed. The greens are constantly rolled and trimmed to a crew-cut perfection, a coin placed atop the freshly-mown lawn to test firmness.

“Keeping them fast is the key,” he said. “Fast.”

Speed is not always associated with a sport that dates its beginnings in England to at least as far back as the 12th Century, making bowls and archery remnants from the High Middle Ages, which, as it turns out, is an apt description of the maturity of many of the tournament’s players.

The championships opened Monday with a parade of 124 competitors from every province, save Newfoundland, whose top players could not afford to travel across the continent. The athletes, a broad term in describing a contingent including some rather broad players, were led into the club by the Sooke Pipe Band.

Dr. Keith Martin, the local member of Parliament, rolled a ceremonial opening jack. This was followed by a ceremonial opening ball rolled by Audrey Brown of North Vancouver, the widow of Dave Brown, a coach and longtime national team member who died two years ago. Mrs. Brown then sang the national anthem.

Like many others, Mr. Mathie took up the sport through the encouragement of a relative. His inspiration was his grandfather back in his Scottish birthplace of Greenock.

“He’d grab ahold of me by the scruff of the neck,” he said. “I’d be kicking and fighting, saying, ‘I don’t want to play that old man’s game.’ ”

In time, he made peace with the sport. A morning spent on a game of bowls with an afternoon at the bookies, followed by the pub.

The sport rewards those with good eye-to-hand coordination, as well as an ability to read the grass.

The Juan de Fuca surface is composed of creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustris), which plant scientists acknowledge doesn’t mix well with other grasses, unlike the friendly athletes who play on it

Like golf and curling, bowls is a sociable sport of refined etiquette in which a match begins and ends with handshakes all around.

The first $4 can of Canterbury was cracked open at 10:35 a.m. yesterday, though it should be noted the thirst-quenching patron was a spectator, not a competitor.

A kitchen staffed by volunteers has prepared tasty treats for fans, including $3 sandwiches and a refreshing $2 fruit salad.

The event, which has free admission and lots of free parking, attracted a crowd yesterday numbering in the tens. A match lasting 3 1/2 hours can seem like watching grass grow — because it is watching grass grow. Still, even a fan unfamiliar with the sport will find much to admire in the athletes’ ability to roll biased balls towards a distant jack. It is a marvel to watch a wobbly ball roll precisely through a minefield of earlier shots to a precise spot.

A visitor to the tournament, which has medal rounds and closing ceremonies scheduled for Saturday, can also observe the future of the sport.

Among the younger athletes is Kylah Dittmar, of the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire, a history student at Concordia University who earlier this year was selected one of six princesses making up the court of the parade queen for the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

As well, Saskatchewan’s men’s pairs boasts a combined age of just 40. Alex Scott, 23, graduated earlier this year with a sociology degree from the University of Saskatchewan. The sport has already taken him to events in Hong Kong and Australia.

“Everyone else is way older,” he acknowledged. “We’ve got some good friendships here. Age doesn’t really play a part.”

Before a match, Mr. Scott listens to hip hop music, a genre not known to be favoured by the hip-replacement crowd.

His player partner is Mike Pituley, a 17-year-old high school senior from Regina who works parttime as a pump attendant at a gas station. He finds pregame inspiration in listening to hardcore rock and heavy metal.

“If I turned on my Screamo here,” he said, “I’m sure I’d get a few sour faces.”

The keen pair pulled off an exciting victory yesterday, scoring four points in the final end to nip Alberta by one, a triumph for up-and-comers versus savvy veterans.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Want to save your workplace? Buy it.

Levi Sampson photographed by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 17, 2009


Like most young people, Levi Sampson presents a resume with a varied background.

In high school, he worked at a plant nursery, “pushing around fertilizer” before being promoted to driver of the delivery truck.

In summer, he laboured in the oil fields.

In university, he sold golf equipment as part of a sales gig.

Pretty standard stuff.

He studied history and economics, but didn’t stay at the University of Victoria long enough to complete a degree.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” he explained.

Last year, he helped pull off a surprising resuscitation of what seemed a doomed company.

Other desperate workers now want to know how to repeat the miracle.

Earlier this month, Mr. Sampson accepted an invitation to talk to employees at CHEK-TV, a venerable Victoria station scheduled to go off the air at the end of August.

The station's workers wanted to know about the wonders of employee ownership. If their employer, Canwest Global, no longer had need of them, or for the station for which they had worked so long and so hard, then perhaps they’d take over the joint themselves.

At 28, Mr. Sampson is president of Nanaimo Forest Products, which operates the Harmac softwood kraft pulp mill south of Nanaimo. Last year, the mill came within a judge’s whisker of being shut down, the machinery sold as bulk metal, the workers dismissed into an uninviting job market.

Instead, those same workers pooled their money, to the tune of $25,000 each, with union backing, to buy a quarter share of the company. Equal shares were purchased by the Sampson family, Totzauer Holdings, and Pioneer Log Homes, of Williams Lake. The mill was purchased for $13.2 million.

A single production line reopened last October.

Some 220 workers stayed on the job.

A second line is scheduled to open later this year, adding 40 workers to the payroll.

It’s not every blue-collar worker whose co-worker is also a business partner.

It’s not every company president whose employee-owners are old enough to be his father.

In his limited experience on the job market, Mr. Sampson knows how grueling some jobs can be.

“You go in. You punch the clock. You leave. You don’t have a real connection to the place.”

Not so at Harmac, where overtime shifts are easily filled from among a motivated workforce.

“When you have money invested in something, you’re invested in it emotionally and you’re invested in it from a business standpoint.,” Mr. Sampson said.

He says Harmac has cut costs and become more competitive simply by giving workers a voice in how the company is run.

The workers, represented by the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, signed an 11-year contract. And why not? “You’re never going to lock yourself out,” Mr. Sampson said. The labour agreement allows the company to promise customers the supply of pulp will not be interrupted.

Mr. Sampson has made three sales trips to Europe and three more to Asia in the past year. He is often asked about Harmac’s employee model.

“Companies are always looking for a more productive workforce, a happier workforce.”

Born in Yorkton, Sask., Mr. Sampson moved to British Columbia at age five. He graduated from Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey before attending university. A competitive sprinter at the national level, he played cornerback for the Victoria Rebels football team. He hails from an entrepreneurial family. His father, Ed Sampson, owned a furniture business in Saskatchewan and later became operator of a Smitty’s Pancake franchise. He invested in oil wells and today the Calgary-based Sampson Group has wide oil and gas interests.

Levi Sampson says the pride people take in enjoying the lifestyle possible on Vancouver Island makes it a fruitful place for the worker-owned model.

Had Harmac closed, the workers would have had to leave Nanaimo to find work, perhaps chasing resource jobs as far afield as the Alberta oil patch.

“If the CHEK station goes down, most likely those workers are going to have to move,” he said. “How bad do you want to continue your lifestyle and live in the community you love? So, you invest in yourself.”

He warned the television workers they faced long days in making their dream a possibility.

His words found a receptive audience. The employees of CHEK have pledged $500,000 towards a quarter share in the station. They will seek other investors in an effort to keep the 53-year-old station on the air.

Back at Harmac, a customer recently toured the facility, expressing surprise at the tidiness of the operation. Pulp mills do not have a reputation for cleanliness.

The president has a simple explanation.

“Guys care about what they own,” he said.

A Nanaimo filmmaker wants to produce a drama about how the workers saved “the little pulp mill that could” and with it their own jobs. They liked working there so much, they bought the company.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In death, he found an address at last

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 12, 2009


It is after midnight as party night has become Saturday morning. At the north end of Kelowna’s city limits, a black Pontiac 6000 sedan, a boxy car with a six-cylinder engine, rolls eastbound along a straight but rolling section of Sexsmith Road.

Just past St. Theresa Cemetery, as the road once again dips before rising, the car strikes a pedestrian.

The car keeps going.

The pedestrian does not.

An hour passed. Then another. And a third.

At 4:53 a.m., the RCMP got a telephone call. A body had been discovered on the gravel shoulder of the road.

On the roadway, police found an antenna and bits they believed were from the windshield and right-front corner of an automobile they suspected was an early 1990s General Motors product.

The car was long gone.

The battered body of a man, abandoned like a sack of trash, rested on the shoulder.

His name was Arthur Horton. He was 78. He was homeless.

He carried with him some of his most prized possessions. These included his medals from his time with the armed forces.

“He had not had a fixed residence for several years as he had fallen on hard times,” Constable Steve Holmes said in a press release. “For him, the ‘golden years’ were anything but that. It is a tragedy that this elderly man died alone and helpless on the side of a roadway, leaving his family no answers to the questions of what happened and why.”

Two days later, on July 20, police seized a black sedan on Morrison Road, about four kilometres from where Mr. Horton had been struck. It is believed the car continued along Sexsmith, past a popular Tim Hortons, before being abandoned. Three men were seen leaving the car, a 1989 model. (Police had been off by a year.) The car had been reported stolen.

Const. Holmes urged the surrender of the driver responsible for hitting the homeless veteran.

The investigation continues.

Three weeks passed.

On Sunday, a small group of Mr. Horton’s friends gathered on Sexsmith Road. Some knew him from morning coffee at the doughnut shop. One woman identified herself as his former landlady. A minister, who was not wearing a collar, conducted an informal memorial service.

A wreath was placed on the site where he had died. Small children decorated the wreath with colourful flowers.

People spoke, uttering the typical remarks about how good a man the deceased had been.

A half-dozen members of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 26, were also on hand.
None of them had ever met Mr. Horton. But the police had described him as a former serviceman, so they took it as their duty to attend the roadside memorial service.

They brought with them a boom box for which they had a compact disk with a recording of a bugle call for the traditional Last Post ceremony. A moment of silence was observed. A prayer was said. The Legion Act of Remembrance was recited, the repeated refrain of “We will remember them” causing even the most hardbitten to choke up.

Then, a recording of reveille sounded, the spirited music meant to reflect the resurrection of the spirit of the fallen.

At most services, Legion members parade out of a church service to form a guard of honour. The roadside service did not allow for such formal trappings. Instead, they joined the dead man’s friends at his favourite coffee shop, the Tim Hortons past which callous criminals fled, just down the road from where he fell.

“He was down and out,” said Frank Truman, a former president of the Legion’s Kelowna branch. “There were some things the Legion could have done to assist him. I’m sure Veterans Affairs Canada could have helped out.

“But if you don’t know, you can’t do anything.”

By his age and by the police description, Mr. Truman figures the man either served during the Korean War, or as a 1950s peacekeeper in the Middle East.

Though he had never met Mr. Horton, he was pleased to have been invited to recognize a fellow veteran. He enjoyed the informal nature of the memorial service.

“It was kind of nice,” Mr. Truman said.

Arthur Horton died after several years adrift with no fixed address, according to police.

His final moments were spent in the 3100-block Sexsmith Road in Kelowna, an address at last for a man whose misfortunes seemed limitless.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bob Banks, illustrator (1923-2009)

Bob Banks photograph from The Buzzer Blog.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 10, 2009


The illustrations flowing from the prolific pen of Bob Banks interrupted the tedium of riding the bus, altered the monotony of sitting in class, made lighter the perusing of a corporate report heavy with numbers.

His style showed a deft comic touch. While much of his work cannot be described as funny in a kneeslapping manner, it should be kept in mind his assignments included textbooks and bus schedules. He did not always have much with which to work.

One of his creations became a ubiquitous symbol of a golden era in the promotion of British Columbia as a tourist destination.

In 1956, a civil servant named Lawrie Wallace conjured a fictional prospector to represent the province on the pending centenary of its founding as a mainland Crown colony. It fell to Mr. Banks to bring the character to life.

Century Sam wore a tattered hat, a kerchief around his neck, a yellow vest, and a checked red shirt. He had a chin-strap beard and eyebrows permanently arched in happy wonderment.

The pixie-like prospector appeared on coasters, brochures and felt pennants, as well as in printed advertisements promoting Greyhound bus tours and Lucky Lager breweries.

“He was a cute little geezer,” Mr. Banks said last year.

To give the grizzled feller some company, the artist conjured a Centennial Sue as a companion.

Century Sam proved so popular he was revived on several occasions by the ruling Social Credit government, for whom self-promotion was almost a sacrament. The gold panner also appeared for the centennial celebrations of 1966 (union of the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island), 1967 (formation of the Dominion), and 1971 (entrance into Confederation).

Last year, the artist said he considered his rendition of Century Sam to be a distant ancestor of the 2010 Olympic mascots Miga, Sumi and Quatchi.

His interest in illustrating began at age 4 as he grew up in the working-class Grandview neighbourhood of Vancouver. He liked to draw the streetcars that rolled along Commercial Drive, which he would later recall having hard wooden benches unlike the padded seats to be found on the cars on the wealthier west side of the city.

Transport of all types — cars, trucks, planes, ships — would became a lifelong subject of his art.

The neighbourhood would also provide inspiration of another sort later in his career. The striving children of the area’s immigrants would grow up to become lawyers and judges, the most notable of whom was Angelo Branca. Mr. Banks, a carpenter’s son, would draw their portraits on the cover of The Advocate, the publication of the Law Society of British Columbia.

He learned mechanical drawing at Vancouver Technical School, where his cartoons appeared in the 1939 yearbook. After graduation, he briefly attended the University of British Columbia before enlisting in the naval reserve. He later transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He trained as a bomb aimer, though the closest he got to be sent overseas was a posting to Newfoundland. He rose in rank to flight lieutenant.

After demobilization, he enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art, getting formal training in what would become a career lasting six decades.

An ability to read blueprints won him early assignments in painting barges and tugboats even as they were under construction in dry dock.

In 1954, he made a cold call on a potential client. The result changed his life. Mr. Banks thought his cartoons might enliven the otherwise dreary contents of The Buzzer, a palm-sized publication distributed from metal trays on the interior walls of buses and streetcars. The publication had been launched by the B.C. Electric Railway Co. in 1916 to foster customer loyalty in an era when the competition included private jitneys.

For 22 years, his simple illustrations enlivened a newsletter read by thousands seeking temporary relief from the humdrum nature of their commute.

Mr. Banks also illustrated textbooks for the J.M. Dent book publisher; provided marine drawings for Pacific Yachting magazine; offered a variety of graphics for CP Air, including art for placemats when trays were not in the upright position; and, covers for the Law Society’s journal, a gig that lasted 20 years.

His corporate clients included forestry giants such as Domtar, Canfor, MacMillan Bloedel, and Crown Zellerbach. His passion for drawing and painting transportation vehicles found expression in commissions from BC Rail and Air Canada.

“You had to be versatile to survive,” he said. “You had to do just about everything.”

His illustrations were likely seen by more British Columbians than those of any other artist. While one of his creations — Century Sam — became famous, the creator did not.

Mr. Banks liked to tell a self-deprecating story about his lack of status. One day, he spotted the illustrator Norman Rockwell enjoying a cup of coffee at a hotel restaurant. Mr. Banks invited the artist, famed for his Americana covers for the Saturday Evening Post magazine, to join him on a motor tour of nearby Stanley Park.

In the parking lot, another man interrupted to introduce himself as Charles Schulz. The creator of Charlie Brown shook hands with the illustrator of the Four Freedoms.

Mr. Banks gave them a moment together.

“What was I supposed to say? ‘Hey, fellows, I do the Buzzer cartoons’?!”

In the past year, Mr. Banks enjoyed a minor revival. He was again invited to draw for The Buzzer. As well, two of his animal prints were included in a show at the Heaventree Gallery in Vancouver last November.

Robert John Banks was born on March 2, 1923, at Vancouver. A resident of North Vancouver, he died at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on May 17. He was 86. He leaves two sons, three grandchildren, and a sister. He was predeceased by his wife, the former Elma Hanbidge, whom he married in 1947 and who died in 1990. He was also predeceased by a brother, a sister, and a grandson.

Heritage lover finds beauty at ground level

Janis Ringuette on Broughton Street in Victoria. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 10, 2009


At this time of year, the creature turistico fotografo wanders city streets, lens pointed skyward in search of steeples and other heavenly wonders.

They’d be advised to follow the example of Janis Ringuette, a resident who has made it her practice to keep her head down.

Ms. Ringuette, 69, is a retired elementary school teacher with a penchant for enumeration. On her perambulatory inspections, she takes it as her duty to note the historic delights “hidden in plain sight.”

She spotted sidewalk prisms, hitching posts, and mooring rings, all nods to the city’s mercantile beginnings. She noted street names spelled out in ceramic tiles imbedded in the concrete on sidewalks. Out in the street, she dodged traffic to read the cast letters on manhole covers.

She sees these mostly ignored utilitarian features of the streetscape as a neglected tourist attraction.

Come to Victoria. See the majestic Legislature. Smell the roses at Butchart Gardens. Crawl our gutters in search of century-old storm drains.

“It sure seems a missed thing the city could be promoting,” she insists. “But there’s no signs. Nothing.

“I think it adds interest. We can have a bland experience walking down the street. It isn’t necessary.”

Take manhole covers. (Not literally. We’d lose too many tourists.) The oldest to be found are in Oak Bay. On some, a waffle pattern is interrupted by letters reading:


Those four words and ampersand are the found poetry telling the story of a venerable hydraulic and sanitary engineering firm whose Scottish foundry cast all manner of iron sewerage works. It is thought these manhole covers, cast in the late 19th Century, came across the oceans as ballast in sailing ships.

The covers have a square-knob pattern, designed to offer a grip for horses’ hooves.
See. With a little imagination, we’re already back in horse-and-buggy days.

Lest wandering the asphalt seem dangerous in a city where an automobile’s turning signal may go unattended for several blocks, if not kilometres, a safer examination can be made at the southeast corner of Douglas and Yates. The sculptor Illarion Gallant’s eccentric bench, named Re:Assemblage, incorporates castoff grates and covers of cast iron. Locals refer to the street furniture as the Burnt Waffles.

Speaking of horses, the city has but three remaining hitching posts in the city, all on residential streets.

Ms. Ringuette has also found eight mooring rings along the shoreline — one at Ogden Point, two at Clover Point, and five on the Inner Harbour, off Wharf Street, including two that are the only remaining fragments of the original Fort Victoria, built in 1843. The fort’s last original buildings were dismantled 135 years ago, but a stroll along the boardwalk leading to the Red Fish, Blue Fish restaurant offers a view of the rings on which sailing ships loaded with furs once moored.

Early in the past century, street names in ceramic could be found in the sidewalks of every downtown corner. Now, only two can be found downtown, while another 60 are scattered in several neighbourhoods.

The city maintains a stock of replacement letters at the Garbally Works Yard, something of a wonder as the company in Zanesville, Ohio, that manufactured the ceramic tiles went out of business during the Depression. A surplus of some letters — B, C and G — is offset by a shortage of others — only a handful of M and D remain. The stock of A and L has been long since exhausted, making it difficult to repair some sidewalk signs.

Like many residents, Ms. Ringuette chose Victoria as a place to retire. She moved here from Terrace in 1992. Born in Juneau and raised in Seward, Alaska, she grew up hunting moose, a pastime which she says offers no insight on governance, contrary to the statements by a certain former Alaska governor. One of her strogest memories of growing up in Alaska involves running down to the dock with the rest of Seward’s human and canine population to greet the arrival of a steamship. Perhaps it was this lack of entertainment as a child that fuels her dogged pursuit of the city’s hidden treasures.

For many years, she walked on sidewalks speckled by colourful glass squares without ever knowing their purpose. On learning they were sidewalk prisms designed to cast light onto basement storage areas extending beneath sidewalks. Three years ago, she completed her census of the once ubiquitous prisms. She counted 11,155 intact sidewalk prisms in seven downtown locations.

The largest collection can be found at 624 Broughton St., in front of the Yarrow Building.

It is her fond wish that someday the city place an interpretive plaque explaining the prisms, which, over the years, have turned a striking shade of purple from the oxidization of the manganese once used in the manufacture of glass.

She thinks they’d look swell at night if illuminated from below.

“It’s a wonderful heritage feature,” she said, “and we just stomp on it.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Carleton (Mac) McDiarmid, hockey collector and illustrator (1936-2009)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 4, 2009

Carleton (Mac) McDiarmid’s life revolved around his passion for hockey.

He spent decades as a goal judge at home games of the Montreal Canadiens. Away from the rink, he painted portraits of the game’s greatest stars.

A trailblazing collector of hockey paraphernalia, Mr. McDiarmid accumulated rare pieces of ephemera in an era long before the hobby attracted the interest of auction houses as a business.

So dedicated was he to gathering forgotten pieces of cardboard that fellow hobbyists managed to cobble together checklists thanks in part to his desire to collect complete sets. He uncovered items previously unknown to the hobby.

He was known to scour the back roads of rural Quebec in search of his prizes. Small advertisements laced in local newspapers flushed from attics and basements scraps of cardboard and other items otherwise likely to end up someday in the dump. Mr. McDiarmid’s accumulative desire was fueled not by a desire by riches but by a curiosity in the rich lore of the sport he loved.

Among his great finds was the sweater Russ Blinco wore during a 1937 charity match to raise money for the widow of Howie Morenz, a Canadiens star who had died earlier that year.

Over time, word of his collection spread. He recovered a Morenz hockey stick once displayed in the dressing room of the Montreal Forum, but missing since misplaced during renovations in the 1940s. A man who said he had retrieved it from the garbage many years earlier presented the fabled stick to Mr. McDiarmid.

Born in Montreal, his first home was in Lower Westmount just a few blocks from the Forum. His father, an engineer with Northern Electric, held season tickets to Montreal Maroons games.

As a toddler, Carleton, as his family called him, played on a front balcony at his home, where he would be greeted by Maroons forward Jimmy Ward on his way to the rink on game days.

“I believe I was born to be a hockey fan,” Mr. McDiarmid said.

The family moved to Notre-Dame-de-Grace, a neighbourhood home to many of the city’s English-speaking sports stars. The boy played ice hockey in winter and road hockey in all seasons.

When not contesting sports, he liked to draw and scribble. One Sunday morning, he told his brother he was going down the block to get the autograph of goaltender Bill Durnan, who had likely only got home from protecting the Canadiens goal a few hours earlier. The boy returned with the signature on one of his drawings, the beginning of a project that would last a lifetime.

Mr. McDiarmid attended art classes after graduating from West Hill High School. A commercial artist, Mr. McDiarmid’s cartoons and illustrations appeared in magazines and for such clients as Kraft and Maxwell House. In 1969, his design for a postage stamp commemorating the inaugural summer Canada Games was accepted by Canada Post.

His enthusiasm for hockey led to an excursion behind the Iron Curtain to to Moscow for the unforgettable Summit Series of 1972, during which Paul Henderson scored in the final minute of the final game to give Canada a come-from-behind victory over the Soviet Union. He recalled the package deal cost $607.

After the game, the exuberant Canadian fans sang and shouted as they boarded a bus. “Just as we were approaching out hotel, the bus driver’s attention was diverted and he crashed into a large dump truck,” Mr. McDiarmid once told an interviewer. “Fortunately there were only minor cuts and bruises among our fans. We all figured the driver would be sent off to Siberia the next day to practice up on his driving skills.”

Mr. McDiarmid returned to the Soviet capital to observe world championships in 1979, 1986, and 1990.

Away from the studio, he turned his talents to his favourite subject. He sought the autographs of the subjects of his illustrations, a practice that once led to an embarrassing showdown with a Russian during the height of the Cold War.

When he asked Anatoly Tarasov for his signature on a portrait, the Soviet national coach misunderstood the gesture and believed the drawing was being presented as a gift. This resulted in an unseemly tug-of-war, resolved only when Mr. McDiarmid promised to return with a portrait for the coach to keep.

A few months after returning from Moscow in 1972, he was invited to become an off-ice official at Canadiens’ games as a goal judge, a mostly thankless task in which a red light is to be lit when the puck crosses the goal line into the net.

Most goals are obvious to all in the arena, but it is those less clear in which the goal judge can appear the chump by too eagerly lighting the lamp.

His secret, which he shared with would-be goal judges, was to avoid following the puck, instead casting his attention at the net. In such a fashion, he would not be tricked by a spectacular save, or a certain goal in which the puck deflects off a post, or crossbar.

Later, he worked away from the ice as a video replay official, a job that he disliked.

His hockey illustrations appeared as inserts in boxes of Jell-O, giving his work a mass audience.

In 1983, Mr. McDiarmid was commissioned to paint watercolour portraits of all the inductees in the Hockey Hall of Fame. These were reproduced as a set of 232 postcards, which were also presented to the honourees.

At McGill University, athletics communications officer Earl (The Pearl) Zukerman got permission to reproduce the images of alumni in a hockey program and media guide.

Mr. Zukerman and Mr. McDiarmid once agreed to travel together by car from Montreal to Fredericton to attend a meeting of hockey historians. The journey was not without its difficulties.

“We were supposed to spit the driving,” Mr. Zukerman writes, “but we got into a heated discussion about hockey and Mac, who was a bit stubborn, decided that he wouldn’t give up the wheel and ended up driving the entire way (about 850 km), making only a couple of pit stops in a drive that took about 10 hours.

“He was still mad at me on the way back and drove the whole way again!”

As a boy, Mr. McDiarmid caddied for prime minister Louis St. Laurent at a golf course in rural Quebec. The game remained a passion and Mr. McDiarmid was proud to have scored two holes-in-one.

At the time of his death, Mr. McDiarmid was compiling a library of sports and editorial cartoons featuring hockey players.

His works are held and on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and at the New England Sports Museum at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Mr. McDiarmid decided to sell some of his vast collection. (A 1987 inventory by the Montreal Gazette counted 1,000 photographs, 8,000 photographs, 80 vintage sweaters, and a huge assortment of cards, pucks and ephemera.) Last fall, Classic Auctions of Delson, Que., put on the auction block his watercolour portraits signed by the subject.

The cornerstone of his collection — a complete set of 45 postcards of hockey layers distributed by the Sweet Caporal cigarette company in 1911 — fetched a top bid of $140,607 US

Donald Carleton (Mac) McDiarmid was born on Oct. 29, 1936, at Montreal. He died on April 25 at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. He was 72. He leaves a brother, William McDiarmid, of Toronto.