Friday, April 30, 2010

Larry van Kleeck, decorated RCAF pilot (1919-2010)

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 29, 2019

On Sept. 25, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Larry van Kleeck lost one of the four engines of his Halifax bomber while roaring down the runway on takeoff.

Too late to abort, the aircraft lifted into the Yorkshire night sky.

The pilot canvassed the rest of his crew. They agreed to continue on to the target over enemy territory in occupied France, though they would trail the rest of the bombers from No. 427 Squadron.

“The flak was worse than usual and we were on our own,” he told the Windsor (Ont.) Star newspaper five years ago. “But we wanted to do the trip. We had made all the preparations, had the bombs loaded. I was confident I could fly on three engines.”

It had been a summer of danger for the Royal Canadian Air Force officer, who had evaded an attack by a German fighter on June 28 and suffered cannon shell damage to his Halifax when attacked twice while returning from a mission on Aug. 12.

He flew over the target at Calais, successfully dropping his bombs before returning to base.

Mr. van Kleeck was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “press(ing) home his attack with outstanding determination.”

He completed 34 sorties, including one during which he dropped a bomb in a Norwegian fjord.

Larry Robertson van Kleeck was born on Dec. 29, 1919, at Vancouver. He enlisted in 1941.

After the war, he worked for Dietrich-Collins Equipment Ltd. in his home town.
In retirement, he and his wife did charitable work through Christian ministries active in the Downtown Eastside.

Mr. van Kleeck, who died on April 16, aged 90, leaves Audrey, his wife of 65 years; a sister; three daughters; eight grandchildren; and, two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by a brother and his son, John, who died in 2007, aged 57.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The incredible life of a West Coast Elvis impersonator

Morris Bates' interpretation of Elvis earned him several performances at The Cave, Vancouver's legendary nightspot.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 28, 2010


Morris Bates, who turned 60 earlier this month, figures it’s about time he told his story. If he didn’t have the photographic evidence, you might not believe a word of it.

He’s the product of a short-lived summer romance sparked at a cannery along the British Columbia coast. As a teenager, he would learn the women he knew as an aunt was in fact his birth mother, a Shuswap from the Sugar Cane reserve near Williams Lake. He would be in his 40s before being told the identity of his father, a Haida.

Young Morris, who had been sent to high school in the United States, a way of avoiding church-run residential schools, left home in his mid-teens to pursue life as a musician.
In a few short years, he would craft a stage persona that earned him a decade-long gig in Las Vegas.

He was billed as “Morris as Elvis,” his name in neon lights on the Vegas Strip.

He wrapped women in sweaty scarfs, enjoyed their kisses in return, signed autographs and enjoyed the fans’ adulation as though he were the King himself.

An early Elvis tribute artist, he developed a stage show — the first of its kind, he claims — in which the Tennessee Cat was portrayed in the three stages of his career: rocker Elvis, movie Elvis, Vegas Elvis. He was called “the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator.” The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner newspaper declared him to be “the great pretender.”

As one of the Elvii, he toured Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa, and appeared on television as a singing guest of Merv Griffin and Dick Cavett. He became so much a Vegas institution that he was even the subject (or should that be victim?) of a Friars Club roast.

When the white-jumpsuit routine became tired, he tried to re-establish himself as a lounge singer under his own name, only to learn the customers expected ersatz Elvis.

“Even today people don’t know who Morris Bates is, but they know Morris,” he laments. “I built my own hole.”

Show biz was abandoned. After returning to British Columbia, he began promoting a Japanese craze to local bars. He called it “UR the star.” Karaoke proved popular, though he tired of listening to butchered amateur renditions of “Roxanne.”

He eventually became a counsellor working with native youth in the Downtown Eastside. He worked for the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society, offering assistance to victims of crime. To his great frustration, he tried to find the whereabouts of women who friends and family had reported missing, including a relative of one of his oldest friends. The remains of some were found on the suburban farm owned by Robert (Willie) Pickton, the convicted serial killer.

These days, Bates conducts tough-love tours of the streets and alleys of the Downtown Eastside, during which youths at-risk get to see the dangers of street life.

“It’s an in-your-face situation,” says Bates, whose voice now is raw and raspy. (“Like Rod Stewart,” he says, happily.”) “The desperation of the street is in evidence. You can smell it. You can see the terror of the street. Some stop what they’re doing and tell the kids, ‘Stay in school.’ Others just don’t care and they keep on shooting up.”

He calls his program “Reality Check for Indigenous People,” which is expressed as R.I.P. with a check mark between the first two letters.

So, let’s recap. A Shuswap from an isolated reserve called Sugar Cane becomes an Elvis impersonator, conquers Vegas and sees the world, returns to his home provinc, where he becomes a street worker who offers assistance to victims of one of the most notorious crimes of the century.

Bates tells his story in a book titled, “Morris as Elvis: Take a Chance on Life,” the subtitle an encouragement to aboriginal youth to avoid the pitfalls of a life of drugs and alcohol.
Written with the assistance of Jim Brown, a veteran author of country-music biographies, Bates memoir is a fascinating, roller-coaster account of an unbelievable life. The writing is ragged in parts, unintentionally echoing a life that has been anything but smooth.

The book is filled with rich anecdotes about his life as a musician, heading a band called Batesession, playing rural bars before transforming into an outfit called Injun Joe’s Medicine Show. After the movie “American Graffiti” created a new audience interested in early rock ‘n’ roll, Bates headed an act that billed itself as the Graffiti Band of Gold, Featuring Morris as Elvis.

The segment featuring Elvis eventually became a complete stage act enjoying a long run at The Cave on Hornby Street in downtown Vancouver, his bookings in a nightclub boasting papier-mache stalactites sandwiched between the likes of Tina Turner and Mitzi Gaynor.

Bates even had a brief stint as an impresario.

He organized a rock festival in the mid-1970s on reserve land during the Williams Lake Stampede. He lined up bands, including Sweeney Todd, a Vancouver band who had just hit the charts with “Roxy Roller.”

After getting a liquor license, Bates discovered the stampede had already cornered all local stocks of alcohol. He averted disaster by renting a cube truck in Vancouver, stocking up by clearing out every beer and liquor store on the drive upcountry.

He patrolled the sprawling concert site atop a black stallion, a baseball bat shoved inside a rifle scabbard hanging from the horse. Other than a few fist fights, which is to be expected in Williams Lake on a Friday and Saturday night, the worst incident occurred when a drunk driver stopped his vehicle atop a fan in a sleeping bag. The exhaust burned a hole in the bag, but Bates managed to wrest the fellow free before too much damage was done.

He laughs at the memory, prompting another funny story, before acknowledging that, at 60, “there’s still lots left to do.”

Elvis is a hard act to follow, but Bates is doing his best.

Morris Bates, from the Sugar Cane reserve outside Williams Lake, B.C., appeared on The Merv Griffin Show in 1978.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jim Rimmer, printer, designer, typographer (1934-2010)

Jim Rimmer poses in the workshop behind his home at New Westminster, B.C. Ryan Mah photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 27, 2010


In an age when anyone with a personal computer is a designer and printer, their apprenticeship apparently lasting no longer than the time it takes to boot up, Jim Rimmer kept alive ancient arts dating back to Gutenberg.

He designed and carved by hand his own typefaces, cast molten lead into letters, operated clanging machines. He did so from a printing workshop behind his home at New Westminster, outside Vancouver. The room smelled of ink and machine grease. On sunny days, light shone through stained-glass windows to illuminate monstrous, cast-iron contraptions once hailed, as is now the laptop computer, as marvels of technology.

The clunking, whirring machinery produced the most magnificent broadsides and books, including his autobiography and an illustrated edition of “Tom Sawyer” for which he also produced colour illustrations. These were produced in editions so limited as to make each volume a hand-crafted wonder.

He was a printer, illustrator, graphic designer, and typographer, as well as a metal and digital type designer.

It was once said about Mr. Rimmer, who has died, aged 75, that “fine art is not above him, commercial art is not below him.” Another fan called him “a jazz musician with inky fingers.”

In retirement, he was hailed for his craftsmanship. The W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University, which maintains a Jim Rimmer Collection, held a night called Rimmerfest in his honour four years ago. In 2007, the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada named him a fellow, the group’s highest honour.

Mr. Rimmer was little known by the general public, though the logos he designed were part of the visual diet of everyday life.

He inherited from his father, a stove repairman, a mechanical aptitude that would help him years later when he needed to rebuild vintage machines. His father also showed talent as a drawer, though he did so only for his own amusement and that of his son. His mother had worked at her family’s commercial printing house, so knew hot to rebind books, though she did so during the harsh years of the Depression with gingham, the only material at hand.

Young Jim was a poor student, which he would later attribute to undiagnosed dyslexia. At the time, he was dismissed as stupid. Not for him were the disciplines of reading and writing and arithmetic. He cared only for art class, otherwise doodling in the margins of textbooks a phantasmagoria of Wild West scenes over which floated zeppelins.

Poor grades led to the parental decision that he should become an apprentice compositor at his grandfather’s firm, J.W. Boyd Printers and Publishers. The young man balked, though he agreed to talk the matter over.

“I arrived at the Duke Street house and found grandfather in the backyard, hoeing potatoes,” Mr. Rimmer recalled in his autobiography. “He propped the hoe in the crotch of the plum tree. In the cool green of his garden, he tamped his old briar, took a draw and started in his gentle voice: ‘I hear you want to go back to school. ... You have a fine opportunity to have a trade. Printing is an old and respected craft. There is art in printing. You are artistic; you will have a chance to use it. At one time printers were the only people aside from nobility who were allowed to carry a sword.’ He took a pause to relight his gurgling pipe, and midst the perfume of the rhubarb and loganberries he continued: ‘And if yer don’t take the job I’ll kick yer little arse all the way up Duke Street!”

Young Jim earned $15 per week. Thus began a career lasting nearly six decades in pursuit of the mastery of fine typography.

When the apprenticeship ended, he found work as a Linotype and Monotype operator at daily and weekly newspapers. At the Williams Lake Tribune in B.C.’s Cariboo, his drawings caught the eye of the publisher, who asked for a weekly cartoon for which he paid the munificent sum of $5.

Mr. Rimmer returned to Vancouver, working in the composing shop of newspapers. Realizing the letterpress trade was shrinking, he determined to become a graphic designer, attending night classes at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art + Design). His newfound skills gained him a position with the Columbian, the daily newspaper in New Westminster, where he worked for seven years.

The attraction of an independent exploration of the typographical arts led Mr. Rimmer to launch a freelance career. He opened a shop in Vancouver’s historic Gastown district, using the front window to display his work for the edification of the neighbourhood winos.

He worked for advertising agencies and design studios, designing logos for Canadian Pacific Airlines and B.C. Hydro, among other clients. One of his most widely distributed images was created for the Vancouver-based band, Heart. The band’s name in a thick, flowing script is immediately evocative of its mid-1970s era and is often cited in lists of top rock band logos. The sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson revived the logo after reuniting as Heart eight years ago.

He began designing typefaces in 1981, naming his creations after friends and family — Nephi Mediaeval (for his father, John Nephi Rimmer); Duensing Titling (for friend Paul Duensing); Juliana Old Style (for a daughter), and Albertan (for his wife, Alberta). He also designed a calligraphic face named Fellowship (for the American Typecasting Fellowship) and another known as Hannibal Oldstyle (after the birthplace of Mark Twain, a favourite author).

In 1998, he began producing a digital library of typefaces, including some of his own design as well as revivals of other faces. He produced more than 200 digital fonts, which are sold through the P22 Type Foundry of Buffalo, N.Y. He was a typographer who used 19th-century equipment even as he prepared typefaces for use on 21st-century computers.

His home shop was called the Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry, after an “ancient snagly old tree in our backyard, from which a couple of old sister ladies who used to live next door to us would bake apple pies. They always referred to it as the Pie Tree.”

His delight in a fine pun, as well a self-deprecating sense of humour, was on display in a broadside produced in 1988 titled, “Appleogia, Being an Allucidation [sic] of the Press, Its Name, Its Printer, and His Steadfast Lack of Direction.”

The press produced broadsides of poetry by Al Purdy, Irving Layton, and Dorothy Livesay. A proposed chapbook by Allen Ginsberg fell through because of the poet’s endless demands.

He spent many years on the creation of his autobiography, producing just 50 copies of “Leaves from the Pie Tree: Memories from the Composing Room Floor.” A beautiful example of the printer’s arts, a copy is currently for sale at Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers in Seattle for $800 US.

The first machine he acquired was a side-lever platen press, long abandoned and covered with years of dust. The vendor asked $25 and it is said Mr. Rimmer paid him $30. It was the first in what became a remarkable assemblage including linotype machines, a Monotype caster, a pantograph etcher, a Kelly cylinder, two Potter proofing presses, and a large Colts Armory press. An eager accumulator of machines orphaned by the technological advances of the 1960s, he described his collection as “ten tons of impedimenta.”

He tinkered with these mechanical beasts, his expertise readily shared with the handful of other printers dedicated to the venerable craft. He also inspired a younger generation as a design and typography teacher at community colleges throughout the Lower Mainland.

His knowledge and amiability made him a central figure in the letterpress community.

Mr. Rimmer’s works were evident in everyday life even though few recognized the creator. He produced bookmarks and ink blotters, book covers and broadsides. His linocut illustration of an isolated cabin in snowy woods decorates tins and packets of hot chocolate sold by Murchie’s Tea and Coffee Ltd.

Not long ago, Simon Fraser University called on the semi-retired Mr. Rimmer to design a new logo based on the suburban university’s three-letter initials. He began sketching with pen and paper, before digitizing his work on a tablet computer.

“I began with a typeface developed 50 years ago called Optima, but I completely changed it in every possible way except that the original flavour is there,” he told a university publication. “The proportions, the width of the letters to their height are different. Things like the placement of the cross stroke in the F are different. Even the shape of the F — the top and the bottom — is different.”

The final logo “has more of an organic look to it, not mechanical.”

A reception and tribute ceremony in honour of his life was held at Simon Fraser’s downtown campus on Sunday. The formal invitation was printed using Stern and Duensing type, both faces designed, cut and cast by Mr. Rimmer.

Jim Rimmer was born on April 1, 1934, at Vancouver. He died on Jan. 8 at New Westminster. He was 75. He leaves Alberta, his wife of 55 years; two sons; and, two grandchildren. He was predeceased by a daughter.

Jim Rimmer operates the Colts Armory Press at his workshop. Ryan Mah photograph.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Caution: Turtle crossing

An adult female Western painted turtle shows off her colours. The subspecies is the last native turtle to survive on Vancouver Island. BELOW RIGHT: A sign urges drivers to go slow on Beaver Lake Road outside Victoria. BELOW LEFT: A hatchling is about the size of a Loonie. All photographs by Christian Engelstoft.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 26, 2010


A resident of Beaver Lake Road, just north of Victoria, reported the sad news.

Hit and run. Five victims. Likely never knew what hit them.

The unseen culprit? Believed to have departed the scene with nary a backward glance.

Left on the pavement were the remains of five turtle hatchlings. Squished.

These were Western painted turtles, a species plentiful in other locales but endangered on southern Vancouver Island.

Their untimely demise marked 10 dead turtles on the same stretch of rural road in the past three years.

So, to cut down on the road kill, the District of Saanich has erected a orange hazard sign at either end of Beaver Lake Road.


It features a silhouette of a turtle.

No kidding it’s a go-slow zone.

The poor hatchlings barely stood a chance against oncoming traffic.

“They’re small,” said Christian Engelstoft, a biologist, “so they don’t go very fast.”

The baby turtles, no bigger than a Loonie, were likely trying to make their way from their nesting area to a nearby pond to feed.

While the loss of hatchlings is unfortunate, it could be devastating to the local population should a mature female be killed on the road later this summer. Hence the signs.

An adult Western painted is about as large as a dinner plate, so somewhat more visible to motorists.

The mothers travel as far as 150 metres — about the length of a Canadian football field — in search of well-drained, sandy soil in which to lay eggs.

Since roads often border bodies of water, the four-legged reptiles wind up playing chicken against four-wheel (or more) vehicles.

It’s not safe, even if wearing permanent body armour.

Mr. Engelstoft is an unabashed turtle fan. With colleague Kristina Ovaska, they provide scientific advice to the Western Painted Turtle Recovery Team operated by the non-profit Habitat Acquisition Trust.

The thing about the Western painted is that they’re shy. (With us. Not each other. The fault for their low population rests elsewhere. Mostly in the loss of wetlands through urbanization.)

“They are quite skittish,” he said. “They see you before you see them, so you don’t see them.”

He recently returned from a canvass of nesting sites near Port Alberni. He did so on foot, though finds canoes a quieter means of investigation. They spotted 21 turtles in one lake, eight more in another.

Add two spots along the Nanaimo River, six sites on Galiano Island, a threatened nesting area in Metchosin, and a scattering of sites outside Victoria, and you have the extent of the Western painted’s reach on the island.

They are believed to be the island’s sole remaining native turtle, the Western pond turtle no longer found here. The few remaining Western painted also have to share habitat with red-eared sliders, who were introduced to these parts by disgruntled pet owners. Mr. Engelstoft has seen those reptilian cousins sharing space on a log, but admits no one knows how well they get along, especially during mating season.

The biologist admits to being a pond voyeur.

“I really enjoy looking at basking turtles. Why? They’re just sitting there having a great time soaking up the sun. We don’t see them when they’re at the bottom of the lake.”

Not only is their seasonal commute a danger, but the Western painted is something of an hors d’oeuvre for the likes of crows, ravens, and otters. One suspects the occasional dimwitted Fido may mistake one for a squeaky toy.

The plight of a road-crossing terrapin is the subject of a children’s book by the American author and illustrator Rick Chrustowski. He titled his book, “Turtle Crossing.” The protagonist is a five-year-old female crossing a road to lay eggs when a car approaches. She tucks into her shell and (Spoiler Alert!) ... she gets some human assistance. (Hey, it’s a kids book. You were expecting a blood-soaked Quentin Tarantino climax?)

The turtle’s range extends across the southen Canadian prairies through the American Plains. Two years ago, the turtle was named the official reptile of Colorado, following a lobbying effort by elementary school students who liked them for being “slow, harmless and cute.”

The Western painted gets its name from the striking red-and-orange patterns found on the plastron, the underside of the shell. Its formal name is Chrysemys picta bellii, which is apparently Latin for jaywalker.

Normally, picking up turtles is frowned upon, but a little biped hitchhike is acceptable. If you see a Western painted crossing the road, by all means help it on its journey.

The turtle people ask that you call them (250-995-2428) with details about the encounter. Turtle paparazzi are also encouraged.

A hatchling takes a first look at the world after spending winter underground. Christian Engelstoft photograph.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wrestling's worst villain a proud Canadian fans loved to hate

"The Creation of Mean Gene Kiniski" as depicted by Bob Krieger of the Vancouver Province.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 21, 2010


Gene Kiniski was a mean, nasty, vicious scoundrel.

Fans threw shoes and chairs at him. One stabbed him in the back with a shiv.

More than once, a Kiniski match began in the ring only to be settled in the parking lot. He once drove an opponent’s head into a parked car, leaving a large dent and bent chrome featured prominently in a photograph in the next morning’s newspaper.

His favourite move was known as the back-breaker.

For almost four decades, he was hated in three lands as the worst villain in professional wrestling.

In 1960, the Toronto Shoe Repairmen named him Heel of the Year.

Everyone called him Mean Gene.

Gosh, but he was a swell fellow.

A crew-cut behemoth with a baked potato nose, cauliflower ears and fingers as thick as kielbasa, Kiniski brought to his sport a wit as sharp as a hidden razor. He knew how to ballyhoo. He was under no illusions about the wrestling racket.

“Say you saw me in a fight on the street,” he once told the Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie. “Regardless of whether you knew me or not, you’d say, ‘Look at that big ugly son of a bitch kicking the [bleep] out of that guy.’ I could care less what they said, as long as they paid to see me.”

Kiniski succumbed to cancer last week, his own body defeating him as no rival ever could.

He was an unforgettable character on television, standing 6-foot-4, weighing 275 pounds, his speaking voice a rasp that sounded like he gargled with crushed glass.

Even his name was tough, those Polish consonants grinding against the vowels.

One of his schticks was to take over an interview with his own aggressive patter, cutting up his challengers with sharp words, teasing the fans who loved to hate him with promises of future mayhem, before handing the mike back with kind words about the skills of the interviewee.

Kiniski claimed the championships of the two major pro wrestling circuits, becoming one of the most familiar, if infamous, sporting figures of the 1960s.

The sportswriters called him Big Thunder. He took as his own the title of Canada’s Greatest Athlete, the conceit being that any challenger first had to wrestle against Kiniski before competing in their own sport.

Who could beat Kiniski? The baseball pitcher Ferguson Jenkins? The golfer George Knudson? The jockey Sandy Hawley? Don’t make me laugh. Only football’s Angelo Mosca, or hockey’s Gordie Howe could have lasted more than a minute in the ring with Mean Gene.

He was also a greater entertainer. He promised $10 of pleasure for every dollar spent on a ticket.

He once initiated a riot in Toronto by tearing up a $1,000 cheque presented to Whipper Billy Watson, his frequent rival and a beloved fan favourite.

Kiniski was engaged in a 12-rassler Battle Royal at a jam-packed Winnipeg Auditorium when his noogie on a fellow wrestler was interrupted by an enraged customer who threw both his shoes at the crew-cut villain. Police were about to eject the fan from the building when they realized he had no shoes and a February night in Winnipeg without shoes was too harsh a punishment.

Kiniski was the youngest of six children born to a poor family in hardscrabble rural Alberta. His father worked as a $5-per-week barber, while his Polish-born mother sold cosmetics door to door and managed a cafe. When Gene was 15 she went back to school to complete her education, interrupted in Grade 7. She contested 11 elections before winning a seat on Edmonton city council, where she proved a formidable advocate for the poor. Every year, on her birthday, Gene made sure she received a bottle of Joy perfume. Long after her death, her son said even the slightest rose-and-jasmine whiff of her favourite perfume reduced him to tears.

He spent three seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, earning a college scholarship with the Arizona Wildcats. He learned he could make more money in the ring. Incredibly, his first ring nickname was Skinny Gene Kiniski.

Mean Gene settled in Vancouver in the early 1960s, touting the city’s beauty at every opportunity. He was a proud Canadian, even after establishing his residence just across the border. He owned the Reef Tavern in Point Roberts, a popular watering hole for thirsty Canadians, especially on Sunday in the days when British Columbia’s liquor laws were still influenced by Prohibition.

Kiniski finally retired from the ring at age 64 because he said no one wanted to see an old guy beat the crap out of a young guy.

Wrestling World magazine once featured a full-colour photograph on its cover of Kiniski using a ring rope to choke into submission some hapless opponent. The headline read, ‘I’M NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING, by Gene Kiniski.’

True, he was not afraid of any man. But Kiniski admitted to being intimidated by the movie camera.

He appeared in “Double Happiness” as Man at Bus Stop and as a wrestler in Sylvester Stallone’s “Paradise Alley.” He portrayed a sadistic cop in “Terminal City Ricochet,” released in 1990.

“It was humbling experience,” he told me afterwards. “I was completely out of my element.”

He did not think he had much of a future on the big screen.

“”With my face, my voice and my features, maybe I can get a character role. My capabilities are limited. Even on a commercial, there’s a goddamned cattle call. Who needs it?”

On Sunday, fans and friends and, one hopes, some old-time rivals will gather at Kiniski’s Reef Tavern to remember a Canadian original.

Ian McTaggart-Cowan, zoologist, conservationist (1910-2010)

Ian McTaggart-Cowan hosted early television programs encouraging the young to understand the natural world. Courtesy UVic Photo Services.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 21, 2010


A scholar and early activist in the cause of wildlife conservation, Ian McTaggart-Cowan informed generations of British Columbians about the natural wonders in which they lived.

He encouraged management of nature’s bounty, a somewhat radical approach in a province where pillaging the seas, forests and wildlife seemed a privilege of residence.

The eminent zoologist produced hundreds of papers, pamphlets and books, yet it was undoubtedly his appearances on the fledgling medium of television that won his message its widest audience.

In 1955, already established as a distinguished figure in academia, the dapper professor, who favoured vests and neck ties, hosted a live television show called “Fur and Feathers.” Filmed live, he taught children about animals while encouraging them to appreciate the natural world.

He later served as host of two other documentary series for CBC television. “The Living Sea” was shown in British Columbia in 1957 and on the national network in 1962. This was followed by the “Web of Life,” an 11-part series of half-hour episodes that aired in 1963. These programs were sold to other broadcasters from around the globe. His success as a televised educator preceded that of David Suzuki, the Vancouver geneticist whose teachings also enjoyed widespread popularity through television.

Mr. McTaggart-Cowan, who died on Sunday, aged 99, remained active well into his advanced age. He was a director emeritus of the Nature Trust of British Columbia, a non-profit, non-advocacy group on whose board he sat for more than 30 years.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 25, 1910, he immigrated to Canada at age 3 with his family, who settled in North Vancouver. The boy, the eldest of four children, was encouraged by his mother to take note of natural history. At age 12, according to Rod Silver, who profiled Mr. McTaggart-Cowan for the Vancouver Natural History Society’s “Discovery” magazine six years ago, Ian completed a year-long diary of all birds spotted around his home to fulfill the requirements for a Boy Scout proficiency badge. From this simple beginning emerged a biologist of encyclopedic knowledge.

He began studies at the University of British Columbia, spending his summers in the field, studying Rocky Mountain fauna in national parks. In 1931, a fruitful spring spent with Kenneth Racey, a naturalist who served as a mentor, resulted in several finds, including the Pacific Pallid bat in the southern Okanagan, as well as the rediscovery of the Vancouver Island marmot.

After graduation in 1932, he began work on a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. He then joined the staff of the Provincial Museum (now the Royal B.C. Museum) in Victoria as a biologist, helping to revive a moribund institution by resurrecting field work and expanding the collections.

After five years, he joined the faculty at UBC as a zoology professor, becoming department head in 1953. He was dean of graduate studies from 1964 until retiring from the university in 1975.

During the war years, he conducted important field studies in the Rockies.

(Two of his siblings also enjoyed careers of note. His brother, Patrick, was a Rhodes Scholar and eminent meteorologist before becoming the first president of Simon Fraser University at Burnaby, B.C. A sister, Pamela Charlesworth, became a well-known architect in Victoria.)

Mr. McTaggart-Cowan encouraged the application of scientific methods to wildlife management. He felt British Columbians, as custodians of the richest biota in the land, had a particular responsibility to ensure this “extraordinary diversity of living organisms is passed on to our successors with all options intact.”

He had an extensive list of public service contributions, including seven years spent with the National Research Council of Canada, for which he was the first chairman of an advisory committee on wildlife research. He also sat on the board of governors of the Arctic Institute of North America and sat as chairman of the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council.

Having moved to Vancouver Island in retirement, he began serving a five-year term as chancellor of the University of Victoria at age 69 in 1979.

As a zoology professor, he developed a diet, called UBC 14, consisting of alfalfa hay and a mash of corn bran and corn glutton, designed to make deer as efficient a meat producer as sheep. The diet, developed with an animal nutritionist, was tested on waifs rescued from forest fires. The news about a new source of venison led one manager of a drive-in restaurant to ponder adding 50-cent buckburgers to the menu.

At one point, he had more than 60 deer sampling his high-protein diets from the safety of campus enclosures.

One of his more exotic television performances included a look at the preservation of wild animals in Africa, produced for CBC-TV’s “Discovery” in 1962. Mr. McTaggart-Cowan described poorly-tended domestic cattle as a scourge.

“They are miserable, useless, undernourished creatures that defile the water holes, denying them to wildlife. By intense overuse they have done to the land in 20 years what centuries of use by wild beasts and locusts have not done. They have turned large areas of the once productive grassland into a sea of lifeless sand.”

He also appeared in a 1982 film opposing the use of leg-hold traps.

His papers ranged widely, from studies of white-footed mice to definitive looks of the mammals and birds of British Columbia.

He was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1971 for his contributions to zoology and as a conservationist. (His younger brother later joined him in the Order.) He was named to the Order of B.C. in 1991.

His name graces the Cowan Vertebrate Museum on the UBC campus, which boasts 17,000 mammal and 15,200 bird specimens.

In 2005, the provincial government contributed $500,000 to establish a professorship in his name at UVic’s school of environmental studies. The university raised an equal amount to fund the professorship, for which Brian Starzomski was hired last year.

As well, a $25,000 endowed scholarship at the university carries the names of the wildlife biologist and his late wife, Joyce.

On his birthday in 2007, 97 trees — one to mark each of his years — were planted at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill nature sanctuary. Cedars, Douglas fir and black cottonwoods were planted at a site which the conservationist had been instrumental in establishing as a sanctuary. Until its acquisition in 1976, Swan Lake, in Saanich, just north of Victoria, was a dumping ground for raw sewage and wastes from dairy farms and a winery.

The subject of the honour was on hand to encourage the tree planting.

Ian McTaggart-Cowan was born on June 25, 1910, at Edinburgh, Scotland. He died on April 18 in Victoria. He was 99. He leaves his daughter, Ann Schau, three grandchidlren, and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Joan, who died in 2002. He was also predeceased by a son, Garry; by his sisters, Joan McTaggart-Cowan, and Pamela Charlesworth, who died in 2008, aged 80; as well as by his brother Patrick, who died in 1997, aged 85.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Writer crafts eerie vision of Victoria as dystopia

Laura Trunkey wears a lab coat as she gets ready to snap an Instamatic aura. Jeff Vinnick photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 19, 2010


Laura Trunkey shopped at the campus bookstore, picking up a white laboratory coat for $20.

As a featured reader at a book launch in Vancouver on the weekend, she wanted to dress as a scientist. She arrived armed also with an old Polaroid Instamatic camera and swatches of colored film with which she covered the lens.

Inside the camera was a stock of instant film won on eBay, an online purchase made necessary because the film is no longer manufactured.

Shooting through the coloured film created an odd, halo-like effect on the subjects.

“They wanted interpretations of what their aura meant,” Ms. Trunkey said. “I would come up with ... something.”

The exercise was a nod to Kirlian photography, an electromagnetic process that features in a Trunkey story included in “Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow” (Douglas & McIntyre).

You hold a book launch for a collection of sci-fi stories and you wind up with authors in disguise as scientists reading auras. You also get someone dressed as a giant mutant squid.

The collection, edited by Zsuzsi Gartner, features speculative fiction from 23 Canadian writers. Among the heavyweight British Columbia authors are Douglas Coupland, Timothy Taylor and Annabel Lyon.

The idea for the book was inspired, in part, by Ms. Trunkey’s story “Fire from Heaven: A Dystopian Suite,” first published in the terrific Vancouver Review, a literary quarterly for which Ms. Gartner serves as fiction editor.

As someone born and raised in Victoria, whose bucolic charms have inspired many a writer, Ms. Trunkey turns paradise inside out, transforming a real-life seaside utopia into an imaginary dystopic nightmare.

“That,” she says, “was fun.”

Ms. Trunkey, 30, has worked for the past four years she has worked with children with special needs at Tillicum Elementary. After graduating with a degree in social work, she worked at a shelter for homeless youth. The job left her little time to write. remembering how she had enjoyed a writing class taught by Lorna Jackson at the University of Victoria, Ms. Trunkey returned to university to complete a graduate degree.

Her first book, the children’s novel, “The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier” (Annick Press), earned strong reviews on its publication two years ago. Her hometown newspaper hailed the book’s “touch of Roald Dahl-esque grotesquerie.”

Her own childhood in Victoria’s Fairfield neighbourhood included long hours outdoors during which she gathered rocks, shells, and bird’s eggs and nests.

“My room was lined with different collections,” she said. “Nobody else had bird eggs, so I figured I should have them.”

Her mother still has a few of the items.

Frequent childhood expeditions to Beacon Hill Park help inform her dark vision of Victoria in “Fire from Heaven,” set just five years in the future.

Most of the park’s trees have been lost to a pestilence, while some of the survivors have been chopped down by cynical politicians eager to cash-in on a demand in Asia for “silver-streaked termite wood.”

Considering the marketing of the blue-tinged pine-beetle wood, you might say the story was torn from today’s headlines.

The park’s few remaining Douglas firs are home to scrap-metal watchtowers constructed by eco-warriors known as the Herons.

An alarmist preacher, known as the Beacon, lives in a garden shed beside the Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero. He has gathered a “throng of crimson-clad teenage followers who pace the strip beside the cliffs like zombies, droning about the apocalypse to all who will listen.”

Those very cliffs along Dallas Road have been paved with cement, a futile attempt to stop erosion caused by rising sea levels.

Elsewhere in the city, terrorist-alert signs mimic Vancouver Island’s familiar red-to-green fire danger ratings. All Muslims have been relocated to internment camps in the Interior, while schoolchildren are indoctrinated into thinking them all terrorists.

The desperate faithful line up to worship at the synagogue and Catholic cathedral, along a broad street where the smell of human excrement is unavoidable.

Swan Lake is a “soggy garbage dump,” Crystal Palace is abandoned, and “the Empress Hotel slumps sideways — propped against a row of metal girders,” sinking slowly into ancient landfill, the temporary residence of wealthy tourists now home to squatters.

This is not the Victoria of the tourist brochures, but it sure is fun.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From boss jock to Bundolo to beer pitchman

Bill Reiter's memorable voice has provided the soundtrack for a generation.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 14, 2010


Bill Reiter’s delivery runs the gamut from antic to zany.

He has provided a madcap soundtrack to life in British Columbia for more than 40 years as a disc jockey, comic performer, and product pitchman.

His voice, immediately recognizable to so many of us, is as familiar as the Nine O’Clock Gun.

It impelled us to drive Mazdas, drink Kokanee beer, and scoff A&W Teenburgers.

It made us laugh until our bellies hurt while listening to Dr. Bundolo’s Pandemonium Medicine Show.

It turned us on to the best of what he now describes as “New World African music,” a Reiter passion that continues to this day as he hosts a show on an Internet radio station.

Mr. Reiter has been around so long he’s receiving honours and accolades one could assume he’d been given a decade earlier.

The Union of BC Performers presented him with a lifetime achievement award the other day, following last year’s ascension into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame.

He’s touched by the recognition, though he remains the class cut-up. On being inducted, he thanks the audience for the indictment.

His buffoonery is delivered in a vaguely nasal voice capable of frenzied patter, or a devastating deadpan.

“It’s a voice that borrows from all of the different people that I have heard,” he said.

Mr. Reiter is not so much a mimic as someone who picks up on oddities of speech.

He was taping a beer commercial as a henpecked Sasquatch — admittedly not a physical stretch for the stout and hirsute actor — when he ad-libbed a line. “Yo, my little mugwump!” became a catchphrase.

Reiter is so natural a performer, so obvious a choice as a commercial producer, you’d think being an actor was his life’s ambition, that he spent long hours in small productions waiting for his talent to be recognized.

You’d be wrong.

“It’s always been happenstance,” he said.

Mr. Reiter, 67, was born in Verdun, a working-class suburb of Montreal. His paternal grandfather, a German, wound up in Quebec after fleeing from he kaiser’s army. His maternal grandfather was decorated for bravery at Gallipoli. His father worked for the railroad as a pipefitter’s helper.

One of his strongest memories as a boy was getting the autograph of Louis Armstrong at a restaurant across the street from the Montreal Forum. (He was also outside the arena, dressed as a sea cadet, on the night when the building was evacuated following the ignition of a tear-gas canister. The smart-aleck kid yelled “Down with Rocket Richard!,” and, for his impudence, got punched in the shoulder by a grown man. That would have been one of the early blows in what is remembered as the Richard Riot.)

The Reiter family moved to Vancouver in the mid-1950s in search of a climate easier on the boy’s asthma. He attended school in eastside Vancouver, indulging a great passion for the soul, jazz, rock, R&B and blues sounds coming from the United States.

At 16, he hopped on a southbound Greyhound bus to catch shows in Seattle by the likes of James Brown and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, whose ribald stage show remains a strong memory more than half-century later.

He dropped out of school, got a job driving a fork lift (until the day he punctured a container of liquid soap), and eventually opened a record shop in a building so narrow it made both Ripley’s and Guinness. Asked to become a sponsor for a new radio show, he so impressed the station manager of CKLG-FM that he was invited to become a host.

In October, 1967, he launched “Groovin’ Blue,” featuring black music and interviews with the likes of Joe Tex, John Lee Hooker, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. He played whatever he liked by whomever he liked, a freedom unknown in today’s formatted world and one he continues to this day as DJZigZag on the Internet radio station WAGR 180.2 FM (1802 AM).

He became a “boss jock” on AM radio and worked as “Bill Reiter, the All-Niter.” His television debut came as co-host with Terry David Mulligan of “A Second Look,” a half-hour comedy series that debuted in 1969.

Soon after, he was performing with the brilliant ensemble performing “Dr. Bondolo” before raucous audiences at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Bundolo’s lone long-playing album was titled “Volume 3,” a typically simple, clever and perplexing bit of wit.

By the mid-1970s, he was a familiar presence on television, once appearing on an episode of the Rene Simard Show with Playboy centrefold and country singer Barbi Benton, as well as hockey stars Phil Esposito and Rogie Vachon.

Mr. Reiter also released a 45-r.p.m. record of his own, called “Injun Jim’s Blues,” which was a tribute to the Jim Thorpe, the great aboriginal athlete who lost an Olympic gold medal for having played semiprofessional baseball. Billboard Magazine noted the single was “receiving strong regional play.”

He’s been the sombre host of Nightfall, a horror series, as well as the voice of “Harold, the Planetarium Star Projector” at the planetarium in Vancouver. Mr. Reiter also subverted the minds of a generation of children who watched Zig Zag, for which he played Biff of “Biff and Bart” (described as a Bob and Doug McKenzie for kids), as well as such characters as Bill E. Glitter of K-Smell Records.

Millions know his voice from more than 4,500 commercial productions, some of which are comedic masterpieces.

He opens a record shop and becomes a disc jockey. The DJ then became a comedy performer. The comedy performer became a commercial spokesman. None of it planned.

The distinctiveness of his voice, the vaguely nasal quality? Well, that, too, was an accident.

He got smacked in the nose by a baseball as a kid. Lucky guy.

Bill Reiter operated a record shop when offered a chance to host a new radio show in 1967. His "Groovin' Blue" established him as a boss jock. He's shown here with a chart from radio station CKVN 1410.

From lemons to loquats: A surprisingly fruitful B.C. orchard

Bob Duncan checks out his lemon harvest in the orchard beside his North Saanich home. Deddeda Stemler photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 12, 2010


The winds howled and the thermometer dipped last week, as Victorians shivered through a late-season cold snap.

At a home a short drive north of Victoria, the chill weather helped Bob Duncan enjoy all the more his daily repasts.

He slurps mandarins and savors tangelos. Grapefruit appears regularly on the menu. “Kumquats? I just eat ‘em whole,” he said. Pretty soon, the navel oranges will be sweet.

He’s looking forward to the harvest.

He maintains an extensive outdoor fruit orchard on the property, growing subtropical fruits usually seen only in supermarkets in these parts.

The fruits of his labour are fruits.

“The foliage is beautiful, the fruits are colourful, and the blossoms are fragrant,” he said.

Sometimes, the intoxicating, fruity aroma envelops your senses before orange polka dots can be spotted among the greenery.

He has turned a small parcel of North Saanich into South Florida.

When winter refuses to make way for spring, shivering visitors make a pilgrimage to an unlikely grove.

The orchardist is accustomed to the shock expressed by guests.

“Most people are in disbelief. They’re not expecting to see anything like this. It’s not on their radar screen.”

Mr. Duncan’s crop includes more than 80 varieties of fruit trees — figs, grapes, cherries, and apricots, as well as such pleasing produce as pears, plums, peaches. Not to mention persimmons and pomegranates.

He’s got kiwi, quince and medlar.

He’s got hardy subtropicals that look like clever Scrabble plays — feijoa, jujubes, and loquats.

He’s got olives.

He’s got more than 200 varieties of apples.

He even has a lemon tree growing against a back fence.

When life hands you lemons, make lemon pie.

You can say this.

There’s no threat of scurvy in the Duncan household.

It is no great distinction to be a lemon grower in, say, California, where they have joined with their Arizona brethren to create an association with a logo and a marketing strategy. The fraternity of outdoor lemon growers in Canada is a small one.

Like Johnny Appleseed before him, Mr. Duncan is a fruit evangelist. He encourages other Canadians to try growing lemons outdoors, appearing in YouTube videos with simple instructions. Eat Magazine described him earlier this year as a local hero. After all, he tempted his chronicler with a tasty apricot, ripe from the tree.

“I’m pleased to help Canadians grow their own lemons. That’s a fruit all of us need and use. It’s a universal fruit.”

Once, he fished for coho in the Saanich Inlet from nearby Deep Cove. The salmon are harder to find these days, but the lemons with which he served them — so simple a recipe, so magnificent a flavour — are plentiful.

He squeezes a lot of fruit from his .313-hectare (.77-acre) lot.

An unheated greenhouse has been built at the front of his home. In winter, he drapes a row cover of polyester fabric over his fruit to protect it from frost. He has also rigged strings of Christmas lights around his plants. These are connected to a thermostat. Whenever the thermometer dips to minus-2 C., the lights turn on, generating enough heat beneath the wrap to prevent the fruit from freezing. It’s a simple, ingenious system using little power. A single string of lights protects an eight-foot-tall lemon tree with a 14-foot spread.

Mr. Duncan is a good farmer for an entomologist. Recently retired, he spent his working life handling insect diagnostics for the Canadian Forest Service. He’s your man if you’re wanting to put a genus and species to bug bits.

The botany degree earned from the University of Victoria is coming into service later in life than anticipated, as he turns mossy messes into Mediterranean marvels.

His challenge is not so much cold winters as temperate summers. This southern slice of Vancouver Island does not boast the scorching heat of summer adored by subtropical fruits.

Not yet, anyway.

“When you’re growing crops that are marginal in the area in which you live and which have no history, you definitely become a climate watcher.”

He has noted increasingly warmer temperatures every year, save one, in the past decade.

Not everything he’s planted has borne fruit.

Mr. Duncan remains thwarted in attempts to grow the cherimoya (pronounced cheer-a-MOY-uh), whose white flesh was described by Mark Twain as “deliciousness itself.” Alas, the so-called jewel of the Incas has a terrible sensitivity to frost (and who amongst us doesn’t?), making the equatorial plant resistant to moving north to the 49th Parallel.

He also has yet to sustain a mango, a plant at home in subtropical India and, closer to home, Mexico. Tis a pity. Not only is the mango delicious, but a tree can flourish for 300 years. That would be a suitably long-lasting and sustainable tribute to a lemon man.

Gord Ritchie, decorated gunner (1923-2010)

George VI presents Gordon Ritchie with a Distinguished Flying Medal for his bravery in trying to save his critically wounded pilot.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 12, 2010


On the night of June 7, 1944, Gord Ritchie climbed into the gun turret at the rear of Halifax bomber LW128.

His Canadian crew faced another harrowing mission over occupied Europe, this one coming hours after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The assignment for this evening was an attack on the railway marshaling yards at Acheres, outside Paris, to hinder the enemy’s ability to bring reinforcements to the landing sites.

Mr. Ritchie, aged 20, had already survived several harrowing bombing runs, including one near-miss when his pilot was struck in the face by flak. Despite the dangers, he had returned from all missions safely aboard his aircraft.

He would not have so happy an outcome on this night.

The same pilot, Squadron Leader William Brodie Anderson, was at the controls, having recovered from his earlier injury, when flying splinters left him temporarily blinded.

The Royal Canadian Air Force crew from No. 429 Squadron, popularly known as the Bison Squadron, lifted off the runway at Leeming air force base about 45 minutes before midnight. In the skies above Dieppe, the French coastal resort that had earlier been the site of a failed commando raid, the Halifax got hit by flak.

The pilot suffered grievous injuries, slumping over the controls, sending the large bomber into a nose dive.

At his rear post, the force of the dive pressed Mr. Ritchie into his seat. He struggled to free himself.

What happened in the following hour would become part of squadron lore.

Gordon John McDowell Ritchie was born in Montreal to Agnes and William Ritchie, both of whom hailed from Scotland. An older brother, also named William, enlisted in the RCAF at age 18 in 1941. Gordon followed him into the air force 10 days after his own 19th birthday in December, 1942. He graduated from No. 9 bombing and gunnery school at Mont Joli, Que., eight months later.

His first mission was the mass bombing raid on Leipzig, Germany, on the night of Feb. 19, 1944. The raid was a disaster for the Allies, as unhelpful weather and German fighters wreaked havoc. Bomber Command lost 78 aircraft, almost 10 per cent of the raiding force, in what was to that point the most costly single night of the war.

Most of his other missions also involved deep penetration into the skies over Germany, including attacks on Essen, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Dusseldorf.

While returning from an attack on Karlsruhe, anti-aircraft fire struck the cockpit, sending splinters into the pilot’s eyes. He fulfilled his duties as captain on the flight back to base, though a second pilot handled the controls.

As the Halifax crossed the French coastline that June night, the bomber once again attracted enemy fire. The aircraft was flying at 18,000 feet.

“All hell broke loose,” Mr. Ritchie once said, “as the flak guns opened up on us.”

The pilot “caught a rather large fragment — and gave us the order to bail out.”

The navigator, bomb aimer and wireless operator all exited through the front escape hatch, jumping with parachutes over occupied France.

The airplane went into a steep vertical dive.

In the cockpit, Sgt. Gilbert Steere, the flight engineer, ignored the order, instead tending to the semi-conscious pilot, who was bleeding heavily. S/L Anderson was eased from his position, as Steere pulled the bomber out of its dive. His flying experience consisted of just 10 minutes in a light trainer. The pilot offered as much instruction as he could before passing out.

With the plane leveled and the bomb load jettisoned, the two gunners crowded into the cockpit.

“We administered morphine to our pilot,” Mr. Ritchie said in an interview conducted for The Dominion Institute’s Memory Project, “and began the ordeal of carrying him back to the escape hatch at the rear of the aircraft.”

It took nearly an hour to haul the 200-pound (90.7-kilogram) pilot through the fuselage.

The injured man passed in an out of consciousness, in his alert moments urging his crew to jump, patting their parachutes as encouragement.

The flight engineer had to squat to handle the controls, forcing him to rely on the altimeter and airspeed indicator, as he could not see over the instrument panel.

He coaxed the damaged bomber back over England, where their mayday call received many responses, though no station could pinpoint their location. Lacking a crew member with experience in landing, the decision was made to abandon the Halifax.

The gunners took care of the pilot.

Mr. Ritchie said, “We attached his parachute D-ring to the static line — that’s a length of strapping approximately 30- or 40-feet long — to the aircraft. And then we attached the other end to his D-ring, as he was not able to pull his own ripcord on the parachute.

“And we slid him out the end. Out of the rear exit.”

The unconscious pilot’s parachute deployed when the static line reached its length.

Then, Mr. Ritchie, the mid-upper gunner, and the heroic flight engineer jumped into the dark night above the Oxfordshire countryside.

The unoccupied bomber crashed about a half-mile (800 metres) north of the airfield at Benson.

By the time he was found, the pilot had succumbed to his grievous wounds. A piece of shrapnel had entered his left side, exiting through his chest.

All the other jumpers survived.

Back in France, the navigator and the wireless operator were both taken prisoner by the Germans. The pair were sent to Stalag Luft 7 near Bankau, Poland. Meanwhile, the bomb aimer evaded capture. With the help of the underground, he eventually made his way overland to Gibraltar, from where he returned to England.

The dramatic events aboard the Halifax led to the awarding of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to the flight engineer, the sole Royal Air Force member of the crew.

The two gunners, Mr. Ritchie and John Mangione, of Ottawa, received the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Mr. Ritchie received his medal from King George VI during an investiture ceremony at his air base two months later.

The pilot received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for his leadership in the earlier incident during which he had been wounded in the face.

After the war, Mr. Ritchie had a 26-year career as an accountant with the Montreal Pipe Line Company and another decade with Imperial Oil Limited. He later worked as a manager of sales for the Montreal Board of Trade.

Number crunching was his vocation, though he far preferred to count strokes on the golf course. He made several expeditions to play the famous links courses of Scotland, his ancestral home.

Gordon John McDowell Ritchie was born on Dec. 6, 1923, at Montreal. He died on Jan. 15 at Abbotsford, B.C. He was 86. He leaves his second wife, Sally Ann Maher, as well as a son and two daughters from his first marriage. He also leaves three grandsons and a sister. He was predeceased by his brother, who had been a Hurricane pilot during the war.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A lost novel by 'voice of a friendly ghost' finds its way to the bookstore

Norma Macmillan performed the voices of Gumby, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Sweet Polly Purebred.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 7, 2010


Norma Macmillan’s voice in Saturday morning cartoons provided the soundtrack for a generation of children.

Her substantial acting skills made real the vulnerability of such animated characters as Gumby, Casper the Ghost, and Sweet Polly Purebred. She also provided the voices of Caroline and baby John-John on a hit comedy album about the Kennedy family.

A slight pixie with an upturned nose, the Vancouver-born stage actress appeared in Hollywood movies and once worked with Katharine Hepburn in a made-for-television movie. Less memorably, she was axed to death in “Nightmare on the 13th Floor.” She was stopped on the street by people who recognized her from television commercials for the Yellow Pages and Kraft Mayonnaise.

Much less well known was her work as a playwright. Her “A Crowded Affair,” a witty expose of social mores in a privileged Vancouver milieu written in the style of Noel Coward, might well have been the first play written by a woman with a British Columbia setting. She also wrote “Free As a Bird,” a screwball, Cold War comedy in which starred the Tony Award-winning comedienne Edie Adams.

Norma Macmillan has been gone now nine years.

She left a husband, the producer Thor Arngrim, and a son and a daughter, both of whom had been successful child actors.

She also left a box filled with a typescript on sheaves of the cheapest newsprint pulp in pink, green, and beige, a literary spumoni. Some sections were held by paperclips, while others were loose.

The widower vowed to get the novel published.

The work was long in the creation.

Alison Arngrim remembers her mother leaving their West Hollywood home on a moment’s notice with a hearty cry of, “I’m going up Island now.” Norma would fly to Vancouver, hop over to Vancouver Island, and eventually wind up aboard a converted minesweeper hauling freight and passengers. MV Uchuck III, named for “healing waters,” plied the waters of Nootka Sound.

Her novel, a multigenerational saga in the style of The Thorn Birds, or the Jalna series, opens at the moment of contact between the indigenous peoples and the Europeans. She’d visit the area for inspiration, staying in isolated cabins, a glass of Scotch beside her trusted Olivetti portable typewriter. (At home, she preferred a large bag of popcorn.)

“She sent the most fabulous postcards and letters,” the daughter said. “She was mucking about the wilderness.”

The novel, set on Vancouver Island from the 19th-century to the end of the Second World War, described five families wrestling with secrets and changing sexual mores.

She got a literary agent, had a mockup of the book constructed, shipped it around. The British television host David Frost found it cinematic in structure, and there was some interest expressed in turning it into a movie, or television series. But, as is so often the nature of these things, nothing happened.

The author continued editing her work, even after she and her husband returned to Vancouver. They had been a celebrated Hollywood couple, as he had been personal manager to the likes of Liberace and Debbie Reynolds, while also handling the careers of their children, Stefan Arngrim (Barry Lockridge in “Land of the Giants”) and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson on “Little House on the Prairies”). They showed no airs being back home in British Columbia, where both are honoured on the Starwalk in downtown Vancouver. Ms. Macmillan became the host of a program for seniors airing on Co-op Radio.

Her sudden death in 2001 left her husband feeling responsible for completing his late wife’s project.

He asked a friend, Charles Campbell, a journalist and former editor of the Georgia Straight, whether the work could be published.

“I looked at it without reading it thoroughly,” Mr. Campbell said. “I found some interesting writing and interesting themes. I told Thor, ‘Maybe I can help.’ ”

The first step involved turning the typescript into an electronic form. Barbara-Anne Eddy, a researcher who once gained local fame by winning $52,000 US as a contestant on the “Jeopardy!” television game show, began retyping the work on a computer. She alerted Mr. Campbell to the unfinished state of the second half of the novel, offering helpful guidance to unreconciled narrative.

He approached a publisher. The instruction was to cut it by half.

He did so, an arduous and time-consuming process. “Where I did axe great chunks of material,” he said, “I found myself having to find the voice of a 65-year-old woman writing a novel in 1984. That was an interesting exercise.”

The effort paid off.

Norma Macmillan’s lost novel, “The Maquinna Line: A Family Saga,” is being released this month by TouchWood Editions of Victoria.

By coincidence, Alison Arngrim also has a book being published this year, as HarperCollins is releasing “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated.” The memoir is about “a Hollywood child actress’s kooky upbringing.”

Meanwhile, her older brother, Stefan, an actor and musician who wrote songs with Warren Zevon, continues to perform and compose. He lives in Vancouver.

The widower was in the intensive-care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital, battling Parkinson’s disease, when presented a colour copy of the cover for his late wife’s novel.

It was at his bedside when Mr. Campbell visited late last year.

“I’m happy,” Mr. Arngrim told him.

After what Mr. Campbell regarded as an actor’s dramatic pause, he added, “I don’t know why.”

He did not live long enough to see the finished product, but died knowing he had fulfilled a duty.

Thor Arngrim and Norma Macmillan were important figures in the Vancouver theatre scene in the post-war years.

Bob Attersley, hockey player and politician (1933-2010)

Bob Attersley captained the Whitby Dunlops hockey team. He won a world championship in 1958 and a silver medal at the 1960 Olympics.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 7, 2010

The final match of the 1958 world hockey championship pitted the Soviet Union’s best players against an amateur team from small-town Ontario.

A game to determine global hockey supremacy carried even greater burdens.

For one below-freezing afternoon, the frontline of the Cold War could be found on an outdoor rink at Oslo, Norway.

The Soviet athletes competed for the glory of their motherland, as well the superiority of their leadership’s Communist ideology, while the Whitby Dunlops carried the weight of a nation’s fear it might no longer dominate the sport it bequeathed the world.

All the skaters faced extraordinary pressure.

In the postwar years, the Soviets and Canadians became hockey arch-rivals, the world championship pitting a nuclear power against a club bearing the name of a tire manufacturer on their sweaters.

The outcome was 60 minutes of what the Toronto Telegram described as “a brutal, rugged, at times vicious game.”

It was in this circumstance that Bob Attersley, at age 24, delivered one of the greatest performances by a Canadian player on the international stage. Mr. Attersley belongs in the pantheon of hockey heroes with the likes of Paul Henderson, Darryl Sittler, Mario Lemieux and, most recently, Sidney Crosby, all of whom scored dramatic goals.

He had success on the ice as an amateur, later proved himself in business before enjoying a long political career, eventually serving as the longtime mayor of the city whose name he helped make familiar to hockey fans around the globe.

If his feats were not readily remembered at home, it was perhaps because the stylish centre never played in the National Hockey League.

Robert Alan Attersley carried a lean 165 pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame. A broad nose, full lips, and swept-back hair, as well as a confident air, gave him a pugnacious appearance, though he mostly kept his play within the confines of the hockey rule book. He had good hands around the net and was not averse to passing the puck to a teammate in better position.

Born in Oshawa, Ont., he was a product of the automotive city’s minor hockey system. He played two seasons of midget and two more of bantam before lacing up with the junior-B team. He qualified for the Oshawa Generals as a 17-year-old junior-A rookie in 1950-51. His point totals increased each season and, by his third campaign, he recorded 45 goals and 43 assists to lead his team and finish fourth in the league in scoring.

The young centre received the Tilson Memorial Trophy, awarded by sportswriters to the league’s outstanding player. The trophy, sponsored by the Globe and Mail, honoured the memory of Albert (Red) Tilson, a former junior player killed in action at age 20 in 1944 while serving with the Canadian Army in Europe.

The Oshawa arena burned down, so the Generals were dispersed throughout the league. The Guelph Biltmores plucked the centre’s name from a hat and he went on to record 116 points in 59 games.

Mr. Attersley joined the senior Dunlops in 1954 for the first of six high-scoring campaigns. The centre worked at the tire factory when not on the ice.

The Dunnies, as they were also known, won the league title in his first three seasons, then unexpectedly claimed the Allan Cup as amateur champions in 1957 by sweeping the Spokane (Wash.) Flyers in four straight games. Mr. Attersley scored one of the goals in a 5-2 victory in the final game, as the home team delighted 6,259 delirious fans.

The Dunlops, managed by Wren Blair, were selected to represent Canada at the world championship. One of the early announcements from the team was that wives would not be accompanying the players.

“We’re not going overseas on a sightseeing tour,” Mr. Blair said, “but to play hockey with the sole aim of bringing back to Canada the world hockey title.”

Sweden was the defending champ, in a tournament Canadian officials chose to skip, while the Soviets had claimed gold at the Olympics in 1956.

Joan Attersley told a reporter the wives were disappointed, but were resigned to the fact of being hockey widows for two months.

The Dunnies swept a pre-tournament, 14-game exhibition series with games in England, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Whitby outscored the opposition 162-18.

Led by captain Harry Sinden, a defenceman, the Dunlops wore yellow sweaters with black stripes with a touch of red in the logo. Four veined maple leaves formed a half-moon below the neck of the front of the sweater, while five more could be found on the back, which included the word CANADA instead of a player’s name across the shoulders.

The team received a giant telegram signed by hundreds of Canadians back home. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker sent a message. Foster Hewitt arrived to broadcast the game over the radio.

For the deciding game, 11,000 spectators shoehorned into Jordal Amfi Stadium in Oslo, the site of the Winter Olympic tournament six years earlier. The outdoor rink was surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped grandstand. The fans were joined by King Olav, as well as by 120 reporters, a large turnout in those days.

“The tension built and built,” Mr. Attersley told the Globe’s Trent Frayne in 1983. “It was the way they ran the tournament; we played every day. We kept winning and so did the Russians. I don’t know how much sleep the guys got the night before the final. I know I tossed and turned and fretted.”

The Soviets scored in the game’s opening minutes, as the Canadians struggled with penalties. They trailed into almost the final minute of the second period when, at 18:42, Mr. Attersley pushed the puck past Nikolai Puchkov in the Soviet goal.

The teams exchanged goals in the third period. With less than four minutes to play, Attersley scored what would be the game winner. Just 25 seconds later, he fired a shot tipped in for an insurance goal by Bus Gagnon.

The Dunlops celebated at the final whistle by hoisting playing coach Sid Smith onto their shoulders.

The Dunlops had won seven consecutive games in the tournament, scoring 78 goals while goalie Roy Edwards surrendered eight while recording three shutouts.

George Dulmage, sports editor of the Toronto Telegram, admitted to crying as Mr. Sinden stood atop the podium for the playing of “O Canada.” The editor had high praise for the game’s top scorer.

“There was Bob Attersley, the centre, who suddenly you saw skate into the Russian end to combat a still fresh and eager Russian player,” he wrote. “He was bumped but he wouldn’t go down. His legs were like rubber but he was staying with the Russian and fighting him for the puck. Bobby Attersley had already scored two goals to bear out what you had written about him, that here was a player who would be there when all the blue chips were piled on the table.”

The victory was hailed back home as the only acceptable outcome.

“We Canadians are a modest folk, with a due awareness of our own limitations,”opined the Toronto Star. “We do not expect to beat the French at cooking, the Persians at rug-making or the Australians at tennis. But we do, by golly, expect to handle all comers when the game is hockey.”

The Dunlops repeated as Allan Cup champions in 1959, defeating the Vernon (B.C.) Canadians. Whitby declined the opportunity to represent Canada at the 1960 Winter Olympics, to be hosted at Squaw Valley, Calif. Instead, the Kitchener-Waterloo (Ont.) Dutchmen got the nod, bolstering their lineup with Mr. Sinden and the Dunnies top scoring line featuring Mr. Attersley with Fred Etcher and George Samolenko.

The Dutchies’ only loss in the seven-game tournament came at the hands of the host Americans, who won 2-1. Mr. Attersley’s line had a poor game, owing perhaps to his being hobbled by a knee injury.

On the last day, the Canadians once again faced the Soviets, prevailing again, this time by 8-5. Mr. Attersley scored the final goal, having already contributed four assists, his victim once again the unlucky Mr. Puchkov.

The Americans claimed the gold medal, the Canadians taking silver. Mr. Attersley scored six goals and 12 assists in seven games, the second best total on the team.

His rights belonged to the NHL’s Boston Bruins. He tried out twice in camp, but failed to make the Hershey Bears farm team, perhaps owing to his slight stature. At times, his weight dropped as a low as a reported 153 pounds.

The centre spent two productive seasons in the Eastern Professional Hockey League with the Kingston (Ont.) Frontenacs, a Bruins affiliate.

His hockey career ended in 1963 after a season split between the Johnstown (Penn.) Jets and Clinton (N.Y.) Comets. He chose instead to open an eponymous tire shop in Whitby.

He began political career in 1964 with election to county council. A longtime councillor, he served as Whitby mayor from 1980 to 1991.

Five years ago, his No. 15 Dunlops sweater was put on permanent display in the lobby of the Iroquois Park Sports Centre in Whitby.

He was inducted into the Whitby Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

As the Olympics were held in Vancouver, Mr. Attersley visited schools to show off his Olympic silver and world championship gold medals. He was still sore about losing to the Americans a half-century earlier.

“We should have bloody well won the gold medal,” he told the columnist Brian McNair. “You never forget it. Losing to the Americans really hurt.”

Robert Alan Attersley was born on Aug. 13, 1933, at Oshawa, Ont. He died on March 12 at the Rouge Valley Hospital at Ajax, Ont. He was 76. He leaves his wife, the former Joan Evans; a daughter; a son; three grandchildren; and, a sister. He was predeceased by a brother.

The 1958 Whitby Dunlops represented Canada at the world hockey championship at Oslo, Norway.