Monthly Archives: May 2021

Caught some trout, but lost my teeth

I’m not sure who was writing the unsigned pieces for the “Summerside and Western Guardian” section of The Charlottetown Guardian during the spring of 1921, but their dispatches from the Western Capital included lots of wry commentary on the social ills of the town, and amusing microfiction like “A Fish Story” below.

The Charlottetown Guardian May 27, 1921 p8

Also in this little clipping under the “Western Personals” (i.e. the reporter met the western train and chatted to those who disembarked!) is the news that a former beau of LM Montgomery, Louis Distant (I think it’s really Dystant), had visited town. If I remember correctly, Louis was more a handy means of transportation for Maud while she lived and taught school in Bideford in 1894-95 than a real love interest, at least in her eyes. And the “AA McAull” who was also in Summerside was my great-grandmother’s brother, Anthony Alexander MacCaull.

That I manage to get anything done most days is a small miracle considering the hole I can fall down from just a small section of an eight-page 100-year-old newspaper.

70 Years

The Stewart Memorial Health Centre officially opened in Tyne Valley on this date in 1951. It rained that Victoria Day Thursday, so people sat in their cars to listen while speakers addressed them from the 7-bed hospital’s verandah. After the official ceremony, hundreds of people toured the building, and no doubt the ladies of the community provided ample and delicious refreshments.

Much of the money to build the little hospital was raised through suppers and bake sales, concerts and fundraising drives. The building was constructed by local contractors, and when we held a 60th anniversary celebration in 2011, a couple of the men who attended told me about working with their fathers to help with the initial build.

My mother tells of going to Stewart Memorial with a friend to help clean the rooms after construction was completed. The Women’s Institutes would answer their roll calls with canned goods that would be given to the hospital to provide food for patients, and they sewed curtains and johnny shirts. Farmers would donate eggs and meat, fishers would drop off trout and cod and lobsters.

Stewart Memorial had its own board until 1995, when amalgamation fever was high on PEI and regional health boards were formed. By that time, two building additions had added 16 more beds for a total of 23.

Over the years the hospital had provided almost every service except for major surgery. Many babies were born and cared for, there was an emergency room (and staff would attend accidents before there was an ambulance service), outpatient services, acute and later long term care. It provide generations of local residents with good jobs. It was the place where members of Lennox Island First Nation would come for medical care, first by boat or on a potentially hazardous trip across ice in winter, and later via the causeway built in the early 1970s.

After the regional health board was established, services at the hospital were gradually decreased until the government announced in 2013 that Stewart Memorial Hospital would close and be turned into a nursing home. Many of us fought to save our little hospital and the valuable services it provided to our area, spending thousands of hours in meetings. I’ve never really gotten over the closure, and trying to save it consumed my life for a couple of years.

Today I spent a couple of hours looking over old documents and thinking about all the people connected to our hospital. My grandmother was the first cook, my father served on the board of directors for many years. I went there to receive medical care, to volunteer, to visit sick relatives, so say goodbye to loved ones. My father lived there for a couple of years while dementia slowly took him from us, in a wing of the hospital he helped to raise the money to have built. He died there, as had his mother, his brothers, his friends and relatives, all cared for by people who knew them.

Soon there will be a generation of people who won’t know that we once had a hospital, that it was a focus of community pride and energy. I suppose it won’t matter, but I’ll never let it go, because it was important, despite what the Capital City bean counters told us. Closing Stewart Memorial didn’t fix the out-of-control health budget, it didn’t solve provincial health care staffing issues, it certainly didn’t improve health outcomes for my friends and neighbours. I’m not sure what closing it achieved, but I know what the hospital achieved while it was open, and that was life, and death, and everything in between.

Eurvosion 2021 #openup

Haven’t heard all the Eurovision finalists who will be performing in Rotterdam tonight, but I’m rooting for Malta and Iceland. I enjoy many types of music, but I LOVE upbeat dance music, and both countries have fun entries.

I’ve been watching Eurovision since 2012, when I used a VPN to watch the BBC coverage led by Graham Norton. Don’t have the VPN anymore, so will either watch the YouTube stream or OMNI Television, who are the Canadian broadcasters this year. Neither of those options will have commentary, so might listen to Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2 at the same time to learn more about the performers and their songs.

I believe the last frontier of the online world that needs to be sorted out is the ability to watch terrestrial television stations live from anywhere in the world. I would gladly pay the BBC to be able to (legally) watch their stations live, without the cat and mouse games. By now this should be easy.


David Sparks points out that the Mac special character and emoji list can be customized in some very cool ways. You can add dozens of sets, including divination symbols, Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform, and the mysterious Glagolitic and Ugaritic. I added the ancient Celtic Ogham set, which I first learned about from Diana Beresford-Kroeger. An alphabet based on trees is thrilling to me.

Trees speak to each other through chemical and electrical impulses, and they speak to humans, too, but we are often in too much of a rush and too loud to hear them. Find the tallest tree in a forest some moderately windy day (don’t try this in a hurricane!), something that is waving gently back and forth like a birch or poplar, and press your ear to it. You might hear the wind through the branches, the creaks and crackles of the vascular system, the roots and leaves, all of it. Trees exist at a different speed than we do, rooted in one place, reaching high, making the best of where they have landed, providing shelter, feeding and drinking, sleeping and dreaming.

We live with hundreds of tall teachers.

Happy Birthday to Happy Birthday to Me

The made-in-Canada-but-starring-Americans slasher movie Happy Birthday to Me was released 40 years ago today. Even through I’m not a horror movie fan, we watched the whole darn thing tonight, wall-to-wall gore, buckets of blood, screaming teens. I did the classic wimpy thing of covering my eyes when the yucky bits came on.

So why watch a scary movie when you don’t like them? Because my husband is in it, that’s why! Yes, now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll remember his pivotal role as “Police Officer.” He has an entry in IMDb and everything, even though he’s called Stephen there and not Steven. I needn’t make fun as I don’t have any movie credits, and he has two (he was “Chubby Cadet” in another Canadian classic, Hog Wild).

Happy Birthday to Me starred Melissa Sue Anderson, who played the older sister Mary Ingalls on Little House On The Prairies, and Glenn Ford, who was in tons of classic Hollywood movies including Gilda, The Big Heat and Blackboard Jungle. Ford was born in Quebec, so must have gotten a kick out of being in Montreal for the shoot. (Or he just needed the money. I bet he probably just needed the money.) If Wikipedia is to be believed, Anderson later moved to Montreal with her family and they all became Canadian citizens, so she must have had fun, too.

The rest of the cast is filled with names and faces you’ll recognize if you watched Canadian TV in the 70s and 80s. Most of them probably did at least one episode of Street Legal or King of Kensington. And a lot of them were theatre actors who welcomed small parts in dumb American movies shot in Canada, because that’s what pays the bills. Frances Hyland was a much-beloved Canadian theatre star. Lenore Zann had at least one season at the Charlottetown Festival right after this movie before eventually entering provincial and now federal politics in Nova Scotia. Ron Lea had been at the National Theatre School with Steven, and I worked with the lovely Lesleh Donaldson on the play How Could You, Mrs. Dick? David Eisner, Matt Craven, and Louis Del Grande are all in there. Even Maurice Podbrey, who founded and led the Cenatur Theatre in Montreal, had a role in this goofy film.

I tried to interview Mr. Mayoff about his experience on set, but he didn’t have much to report, no gossip except that Mr. Ford didn’t want anyone watching him film his scenes, so the set would be cleared. Steven said Frances Hyland said something nice to him, but he doesn’t remember what it was. No reports of fist fights or how good craft services was or anything. Oh well.

Beyond Steven’s star turn, there weren’t any really outstanding performances. Hyland gave it her all, and managed somehow to retain her dignity. I actually enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would. It’s a pretty terrible script, but it was so ridiculous that it was funny.

I’ll leave you with photos of Steven delivering his one line, in both Spanish and Japanese subtitles. He was hired as an extra, given a line, and the rest is Canadian movie history. There are no small parts, only small actors with big hats that hide their faces.

Spanish subtitle of “Sir, you better come outside.”
Japanese subtitle of “Sir, you better come outside.”

“Speak up, me son!”

My mother and I were talking about the characters that she knew years ago, funny friends and neighbours, customers at her general store. One fellow was George Palmer, who lived just up the road from the store with his wife, Dora. I don’t remember either of them, but have heard lots of tales.

Even into the 1990s, we had a party telephone line that was shared with other people. By the end, there was just one other family on our line, but there would have been dozens on the line at one time. Each telephone subscriber had their own distinctive ring that would alert them to an incoming call, so you had to know your pattern and were only to answer if it was yours. George, though, would listen to every call that came on his line, but his hearing wasn’t great in later years, so he would occasionally blurt out “Speak up, me son!” if he thought he was missing some juicy news.

Mom said George loved to play April Fool’s jokes. One April first he pulled up in his horse and wagon to deliver eggs to their store, which was having a very busy day. The eggs would be in a little crate on the back of the wagon and my father would go out and take them in to the store, grade them, and credit the amount to George’s account. George pulled up and yelled “Phillips!” and my father went out to get the eggs. Just as he neared the wagon, George slapped the reins, geed up the horse and yelled “April Fool’s!” as he drove away.

I have 40 hours of 8mm film my father took starting about 1960, and I remembered a short clip of a man in a horse and buggy on the road in front of our old house. It’s the only film I have of someone in a horse and buggy, so it’s a short but important memory of a time when horses were still the main source of transportation for some. George would be one of the last men in our area who never owned a car or truck. I showed the clip to my mother, and she is pretty sure it is him, the jokester, and at the end of the clip, you can see his house off in the distance as he drives down the road past my grandfather’s house.

Precious Plastic and Fixing#Fashion

Great episode of BBC World Service’s People Fixing The World podcast about the Precious Plastic movement. It’s been interesting watching founder Dave Hakkens create this international open source community, then step back recently to allow others to take the reins. When I think of open source, I think more of computer code than management styles, but there would be no way for Hakkens to have created this open community and then tried to control it from above. He is letting it evolve beyond him.

Precious Plastic is now under the umbrella of One Army, which includes their new initiative to fix fast fashion waste called, sensibly, Fixing Fashion. Their website is full of information on how to mend, care for, and repurpose your clothing, with the aim to have us think of old clothes as a resource and not waste, just as Precious Plastic did.

I have been mending my clothes again of late, so this comes at the perfect time to help me advance my skills. I have a 1970s sewing machine, but have been patching by hand: holes in jeans, the elbow of a hoodie, sewing up ripped seams on t-shirts. I’m using the thread I have on hand, and am not worrying about it all looking nice or matching. I can darn socks because my mother has always knit them and I watched her keep them wearable forever by mending holes toes and heels.

My only tip to pass on is to patch or mend before a hole emerges, when the fibres are just starting to look thin, then you are reinforcing what is already there and that is much easier. This requires examining your clothes regularly as you launder them, so having fewer clothes helps.

In two generations my family went from having a closet that was just a couple of hooks behind the door to a big walk-in room. Who do we think we are, and what would the ancestors think of who we have become?

The Mirror and 2P4H

Steven recently posted The Mirror on SoundCloud, a song he wrote with his friend, Ted Dykstra, for their yet-to-be produced musical, Dorian, based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

While the recording is a bit sketchy from a wobbly old cassette, the performers are straight up Canadian music royalty. Stratford Festival star Lucy Peacock is on lead vocals, Paul Hoffert from the band Lighthouse is on organ, Creighton Doane on drums and Kevin Breit on guitar. Steven’s not sure of backup vocals, but I would guess Melanie Doane and Damhnait Doyle are likely in there, maybe Terry Hatty, no doubt Ted, definitely not Steven.

Speaking of Ted, it’s 25 years since he and Richard Greenblatt premiered their play 2 Pianos, 4 Hands at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. Mirvish Productions just released a podcast interview with Ted and Richard and their devoted stage manager, Beatrice Campbell, my pal and classmate from the National Theatre School of Canada. Stage managers are NEVER included in such things, so it’s lovely to see Bea tell her stories.

Steven and Ted are working on a new show based on the Greek myth of Dionysus (no, it’s not contractual that they only work on subjects starting with D!), so poor old Dorian must be feeling a bit left out, like a forgotten painting in an attic or something.