Month: March 2016

Vespers or Evensong – Traditional is Best

Driving around the countryside on a rare sunny day I noticed church bill board proclaiming GOOD FRIDAY – JAZZ VESPERS 7 PM. Came as a bit of a shock because my memories of Vespers as a boy soprano 80-years ago were built on the solemn but joyful recitation and singing of psalms and hymns without the faintest hint of “propulsive syncopated rhythms” of jazz.
My scholarly quote is from the Merriam-Webster dictionary which provides a simple definition:”A type of American music with lively rhythms and melodies that are often made up by musicians as they play.” For people like me with limited knowledge, and even less appreciation, of the modern “beat” it adds a “Full definition of “Jazz: (A) American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre. (B) Popular dance music influenced by jazz and played in a loud rhythmic manner.”
I could only think as I drove along that Vespers in that country church was going to sound a lot different on Good Friday evening to a similar service called Evensong sung 80-years earlier in a small town in England’s industrial Midlands.
There will I am sure be strong arguments that if any church is to survive today it must cater to changing values if it wishes to attract and hold younger generations. But it seems to me that if the appeal to the young among us means the abandonment of the richest of traditions of worship the church loses far more than it gains.
Tom Service, writing in The Guardian seven years ago said he didn’t like the austerity of Evensong (Vespers) until the cold rainy day he walked into Lincoln Cathedral to listen to the girls’ choir singing Evensong “ (and) the way the sounds of their few voices carried in Lincoln’s transcendent architecture and massive acoustic was miraculous, every note shimmered with a halo resonance..The choir’s performance of a Stanford anthem and their sensitive singing of the Psalms, were minor musical miracles in the cathedral’s gigantic space.”
Somewhat sadly he added “Only a handful of Lincolners were in the audience – a few of the girls’ parents mostly – but there was a moving sense of the service being part of the centuries-old musical traditions of the Cathedral….If I lived in Lincoln…I reckon Evensong could become a regular musical ritual It’s one of (our) richest heritages – a living tradition that costs precisely nothing to experience live.”
I can’t imagine Tom Service being so moved by my old church choir at St. Mary’s but we must have done fairly well. In the 1930’s there were never many empty pews for Evensong, probably because we sang with greater feeling than we did on other occasions. Can’t think why – unless maybe because Vespers had been the service for sunset. I remember the shadows deepening, the hush in the congregation as the traditional evening Psalm 141 was read. I can still recite fragments “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips, do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity….”
And I can still remember walking home down gas-lamp lit streets with fellow chorister my older brother Tom, all of 14, explaining to his 10-year-old sibling “it means you have to watch what you say and think before you speak, and steer clear of the bad guys at school.” Over the years I did fairly well steering clear of the bad guys – but keeping a guard on my mouth and watching over the door of my lips has been a much more difficult challenge.
And I am sure it remains a difficult challenge for those who cherish the calming of Evensong or Vespers as recited and sung since 400 AD, or those who need a little jazz (first heard in 1915) and appreciate the music but never hear or pay attention to the words.

A Rebel – Sometimes Without Cause

It may surprise a few readers but we had a Donald Trump in Canada 150-years or so ago. Our guy wasn’t a billionaire – although he did fairly well over his life span with “business” and land deals, some with suspected shady legal activities. I mentioned him in my last week’s blog – “Fighting Joe” Martin who achieved his ambition to organize the dismissal of one provincial Premier with himself standing ready in the wings to replace him.

“Fighting Joe” earned his nickname. He was savage in verbal argument, brilliant in rhetoric and prepared to go bare knuckle with those who didn’t accept and agree with his ideas. And he didn’t like the idea of “foreigners” flooding into Canada. He wasn’t against immigration his family having been new fortune seekers when his grandfather Jasper Martin with wife Sarah and two young sons arrived in Upper Canada, the first settlers in what is now known as Milton, Ontario with present population around 100,000. When Jasper and his family arrived to settle a 100 acre land grant in 1818 two families, his and Hugh Foster’s comprised the total settlement. Jasper’s land grant was on 16 Mile Creek where he built a large pond to harness enough power to operate his first commercial operation – a grist mill.

“Fighting Joe’s” father, Edward, was Jasper and Sarah’s third son born in the settlement and was working in the mill when Joe was born in September, 1852. When Joe was in his early teens the family moved to Michigan. Joe knew all about immigrants and hardships and the need for those already established to help those in need. Like Donald Trump a 150 years plus later he wasn’t averse to immigrants – as long as they were white, preferably of Anglo descent and able to speak and understand English.

Joe was a good student. In his teens he qualified as a telegrapher, graduated to become a school teacher, then switched to law and moved to Manitoba where he was called to the Bar in 1882. His law practice blossomed as he became more involved in politics as a Liberal. His speeches and his energy brought him many friends. His barely, and rarely, controlled anger, as many, maybe more, enemies.

As The Dictionary of Canadian Biography records:”His blurring of the distinction between his public and private responsibilities brought him into conflict with his legal clients and his cabinet colleagues.” It was when the overlap of those responsibilities became too strong that BC Premier Charles Semlin asked Joe for his resignation as attorney general “because he had neglected department business to work on his own legal practice, had revealed cabinet’s private business, and ‘while the worse for liquor’ had lost his temper when heckled by irate mine owners at a banquet in Rossland.” Joe resigned but “vowed vengeance” on Semlin and others who contributed to his down fall.

What was missing in Semlin’s recitation of Joe’s failures was a big one which saw Ottawa order his amendments to the Alien Exclusion Act withdrawn. Martin wanted tougher laws governing mining licences in the Atlin Lake area. His amendments touched off a storm of protest from Americans flocking to Atlin to seek their fortunes in gold. Joe Martin wanted the right to seek that previous metal reserved for Canadian citizen’s only – no aliens allowed. The many Americans already in the area protested to their President who relayed to Ottawa his displeasure over US citizens being declared aliens. Ottawa responded to its biggest trading partner. Laws dealing with aliens were a federal matter. Joe Martin’s amendments were quashed.

Fighting Joe was a one man wrecking crew for himself as well as others but built an amazing slightly bizarre record during his political life. He was a member of the Manitoba Legislature and a cabinet minister; he was a Member of Parliament in Ottawa; he was a member of the BC legislature, a cabinet minister and, very briefly Premier. And he was an elected Member of Parliament in England. Joe went to England shortly after his defeat in the BC provincial election of 1903. Within a few months he got himself nominated as a Liberal candidate in a by-election for Stratford upon Avon. He lost but created a great impression with British Liberals who nominated him a candidate for the London riding of St. Pancras East in their general election of 1910. Joe won the seat handily and launched his favourite role as a maverick in the House of Commons.

Then began a weird period with WW1 side-lining normal parliamentary proceedings in England for the duration of the war. In the spring of 1914 Joe had returned to Vancouver for a visit. In August war was declared but Joe, wisely, didn’t hasten back to his MP duties. He did bravely find his way back across the Atlantic in 1916 – and quietly resumed his seat as though he had never been away. During his “visit” to Vancouver he stayed in political training by running twice for mayor – while still being an MP in the Palace of Westminster. He lost both times.

He then wandered back and forth between BC and London a few times with each visit declared his final move. He was in Vancouver on March 2, 1923 when he died a victim of influenza and diabetes. In strange epitaph the Victoria Daily Times wrote: “The fact that during the last few years of his life he played no very active part in politics was due to no fault of his own but rather to his sinister record as a disruptive force, which made all parties fear his support as much as his opposition.”

And S.W. Jackman wrote in Portraits of the Premiers of the decline of “his mental powers and intellectual brilliance…his rather stout figure shriveled and he became small and pathetic – a little gnome…believed and trusted by nobody…His chimerical nature, his cynicism, his devious character and his lack of political morality baffled and infuriated his contemporaries….but he always survived”

I wonder that they’ll be writing about Donald Trump in 2166? Or if anybody will care.

The Day Government Collapsed

“As (Lieutenant-Governor Thomas R. McInnes) was admitted to the chamber all the members left immediately with only the Speaker and the Premier remaining….After a few moments the Lieutenant-Governor recovered his aplomb, read his speech, left the chamber with boos and catcall (from the public gallery) resounding in his ears; 28 February, 1900, was a memorable day in Victoria for the whole customary constitutional establishment had collapsed. Respect for authority was gone and discourtesy to the Lieutenant-Governor (had become) the accepted code of conduct.” (From Portraits of the Premiers (1871-1952) by S.W.Jackman)

The events leading to total collapse, albeit briefly, of constitutional government had their beginnings a few days earlier when Premier Charles Augustus Semlin lost a vote in the Legislature, his second such loss in almost as many months. The defeat set the rumour mill swirling quickly through the Legislature that Semlin would be forced to resign, to forfeit the Premiership to another member “who would have the confidence of the House.”

Semlin moved quickly into damage control. To have any hope of forestalling royal dismissal he needed open confirmation that despite the most recent set-back he could still command majority support in a Legislature unrestricted by party loyalties.( Prior to 1903 MLAs were classed as Government supporters, Opposition, or Independent members without reference to political party affiliation). Semlin needed a majority commitment from at least 20 of the 38 MLAs to demonstrate that while he may have lost a relatively minor vote he was still better able to muster majority support than anyone else and was still the favoured Premier.

He had until only a few hours to do his lobbying and persuade the Lieutenant-Governor to resist the temptation to fire the Premier and dismiss his government.

Around 11 pm on Tuesday, February 27, 1900, with the temperature a few degrees above freezing but feeling colder as the city was buffeted by “ a storm from the northward covering the province causing unsettled rainy weather,” late night denizens of Victoria would have spotted a group of well dressed men heading up town from the Legislature. If they were knowledgeable they would have recognized Premier Semlin as the group trudged over to the Hotel Driard on the south east corner of View and Broad. The identities of all the individuals in the group remain unknown. And we can only guess they were heading for the Driard – because they wanted to convene in private, or because they needed a little “Dutch courage” before confronting the Lieutenant-Governor McInnes with their request for a reflective pause before banishing Semlin from the Premiership.

All MLAs were well aware of McInnes penchant for flexing his constitutional muscle, and none more so than Premier Semlin. When McInnes dismissed Premier John Turner (MLA for Victoria) from office in 1898 he informed Turner mail “(I have) become convinced that yourself and your colleagues are no longer endorsed by the electorate and have not the confidence of the Legislative Assembly,“ then asked Semlin to take over as Premier.

An intrepid, unknown, reporter for The British Colonist informed readers it was shortly after 11 pm that Semlin and his supporters “were driven to Government House” to meet with McInnes and that two hours later around 1am “returned to their hotel and all were happy.” They felt they had convinced McInnes to “await any contemplated action until a vote of confidence might be taken” in the Legislature.

When the House convened some eight hours later Semlin was handed a letter from McInnes rejecting Semlin’s new coalition and probably containing the “lost confidence” words used when he dismissed Turner two years earlier. The headline in the Colonist (Feb.28, 1900) was bold but simple: SEMLIN’S EXIT. The Legislators voted 22-15 to condemn the Lieutenant-Governor’s action. An unprecedented rebuke to the Crown.

In the debate prior to the vote Capt. John Irving, (Cassiar) a government supporter, was critical of McInnes timing. He reminded the House that two months earlier McInnes had been made aware of Premier Semlin’s precarious control of the House “and at that time he should have acted to put an end to their misery.” Irving paused then added ominously. “But his Honour didn’t want to – he was waiting for his opportunity….” Shouts of “Order, Order” and demands for withdrawal filled the chamber.

Contritely Irving asked the Speaker “will I have to take those words back.” The newspaper report says “the Speaker nodded affirmatively” and Irving responded “Well I will; but I said it anyhow – and I meant it, too.”

A few minutes later he returned to his critical theme outlining the incidents of the previous day culminating in the midnight visit to Government House where the Lieutenant-Governor “had been informed the business of the House could be carried on with a working majority.” With that solution, he added, “he found his game was up” the implication being that McInnes was playing a calculated power broker game.

The protest was immediate from Martin the man McInnes had asked to form a new government. The Speaker asked Irving to withdraw and he did with the proclamation – “well I said ‘em, and I meant ‘em and I’ll withdraw ‘em.”

Martin screamed “such a withdrawal (to the Queen’s representative) should not be accepted. It was a direct insult to the Queen”

“Then I’ll apologize to the Queen,” snapped Irving.

There was never any published charge that that McInnes or Martin had acted improperly but Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier quietly replaced McInnes with Sir Henri-Gustave Joly Lotbiniere from Quebec, and Joseph Martin, the Premier hand-picked by McInnes, survived only 106 days before resigning after leading the Liberal party to defeat in 1903.

There was a weird but welcome end to the day when the “customary constitutional establishment collapsed” and for a few hours British Columbia teetered on the edge of chaos. At adjournment Henry Helmcken,MLA, for Victoria proposed a message of praise and thankfulness be sent to Queen Victoria ”and her Generals” for recent victories in the Boer War. The Colonist tells us the Assembly unanimously endorsed the resolution then “enthusiastically joined together in singing God Save the Queen and cheers for her gracious majesty.”



Slubberdegullions Begone


Slubberdegullion: Not a word that springs readily to mind when viewing pre-eviction portraits of Victoria’s Courthouse-Cathedral tent city and many of its residents, but one powerful enough to convey what the camera – or a personal walk-through – would confirm.

First used in the 1600’s the word springs from “slubber, to daub, smear, behave carelessly or negligently.” My Brewer’s Dictionary Phrase and Fable (Millennium edition) adds a few words to fill in the picture: “A base fellow; a nasty oaf. ‘To slubber’ is to do things carelessly in a slovenly way, and ‘degullion” is a fanciful addition ‘gullion’ perhaps being a variant of ‘cullion’- a base fellow.”

In recent weeks local newspapers have published many letters on Victoria’s tent-city. Most called for understanding and tolerant treatment for the less fortunate among us. Others warned that while some of the inhabitants were mentally ill, suffering from serious addictions or genuinely down on their luck and deserving of help, there were too many “slubberdegullions” among them to justify all-encompassing offers of safety-net benefits designed to help the unfortunate – not provide free food and lodging for those who “daub and smear” while demanding society feed and clothe them and provide a little cash for smokes, a bottle of wine and other more dangerous sources of false comfort.

We must be wise with our care because as letter-to-the-editor writer Rod Steibel wrote (March 2 Times-Colonist) “reality seems to be missing” among those demanding more. “Yes, many are thankful for the help….and decided to take advantage of our outstretched hand. I wish them the best of luck…On the other hand, if you (tent city occupiers) prefer to live outdoors, then off to the woods you go. Stop making our city a squalid mess.”

The same day Nancy Raycroft wrote: “I have been poor all my life, yet have never been homeless. Why? Because I took whatever menial work was made available to me…. because I have always put rent and food above beer and smokes…tattoos and travel….Bravo to those choosing to take the help being offered, let’s hope this will be a step toward a better life….But most of the campers, where do they get off thinking the rules don’t apply to them…?” She went on to wonder “who’s going to clean up that wretched mess on the land taken over by this group…..?

I ask the more pertinent questions: When will the authorities charged with protecting us against plague, pestilence and lawlessness exercise the powers they hold and paper the “residences” with “unfit for occupation” signs? When will public health officials step and condemn the site as the serious health hazard it quickly became after too many slubberdegullions moved in? We are told that a few days ago “about 20 people spent several hours cleaning up the tent city to counter the government’s view that the grounds constitute a health and safety risk. A lot of garbage was picked up and pathways cleared in case emergency service personnel have to carry someone on a stretcher.” The emphasis is mine.

To date there have been four stabbings, as many drug overdose calls, one fatal. It is not surprising that paths for stretcher bearers appear more essential in that abysmal landscape of tattered tarpaulin, ghastly constructed “shacks” and piles of garbage, than basic sanitation, common rules of hygiene and, most important, the rule of law as shaped by the majority.

In Seattle a once relatively small homeless camp is described in Saturday’s Globe and Mail as now “stitched three ragged miles along the underbelly of Interstate 5…if a fire broke out today, firefighters would not be allowed in without an armed escort.” A proposed solution now being considered in the Washington State Legislature calls for:”A razor wire fence separating (the site) from the city at a cost of one million dollars.”

“The jungle” as the zone is called is located on State owned land. City and State are “discussing – as are Victoria and out provincial government – what should be done and by whom. The latest reports on conditions in “the Jungle” cited “blight, misery and filth beyond anything imagined…heroin addiction, trafficking, depravity and sexual violence….” Should any contagious disease break out the razor wire will presumably be used to keep victims isolated inside the wire.

It couldn’t happen here? Of course not, we are far too civilized in Canada to be threatened, dragged down and held hostage by a handful of slubberdegullions? Aren’t we?