Month: November 2019

Send Home The Clowns

I made a silent pledge to avoid joining the raucous but divided chorus praising or condemning Don Cherry’s latest outburst of bully-boy belligerence. And decided to break it five minutes later.

When I first heard – and saw – Canada’s most famous clown 17-years ago I was impressed with his grotesque costume and critical, analytical, examination of Canada’s best known team sport and the players engaged at princely sums to play it at least once a week.

But he grew tiresome after a while. His Clown Costumes grew more outrageous; his opinions on individual players, especially those from Sweden, Norway or Finland, became wearying tirades of regret that while they brought some hockey skills with them they lacked the fighting spirit of Canadian born players.

It didn’t matter how skilled the stick-handling, the precise passing at dazzling speed, the shots on goal – if they didn’t show a willingness to “drop the gloves” for an on-ice version of Saturday night bare-knuckle brawling, there was something lacking in their game.

A steady procession of stars from Europe slowly brought a slight change in Cherry’s views on “foreigners” daring to challenge Canadian ownership of the highest skills.

In his long Saturday night reign he was berated for his open, often boorish, belligerent criticism of others but won consistently high TV viewing ratings. Meeting and surpassing the ever  demanding TV gold-standard viewer ratings kept Cherry’s job safe – until his latest outburst about people who do not wear a poppy on Memorial Day, November 11, the day set aside in 1919 to mark the Armistice to end the blood-bath of WW1, the war to end wars.

Simultaneous storms followed Cherry’s condemnation about Canadians who don’t wear a poppy. The first erupted with the charge that Cherry was being racist and attacking new immigrants – a charge Cherry hastily denied. He says he just misspoke a word or two when he meant to say “everybody who doesn’t wear a poppy” should be ashamed.

Within a few hours Cherry was fired and the second storm burst with at last count 110,000 names on a petition screaming “drop the gloves” and demanding he be reinstated immediately. Most protesters charged Cherrry was being punished for exercising our much cherished, often abused, right to free speech. Others – a lot of others – claimed he meant new Canadians, “immigrants” only and was and justified in his criticism.

Cherry chipped in with an offer to apologize: “I think I could have smoothed it over pretty good,” he said – and I believe him as readily as I believe President Donald Trump when he talks before he thinks.

Like Trump Cherry has had a good run with fractured English and limited vocabulary and a petition with 110,000 signatures and still growing in support of “drop the gloves” philosophy is proof of some success. It is also, a little scary, unwarranted and unneeded north of the 49th parallel.

When Dreams Held Promise

It was 4 a.m., Easter Saturday, March 30, 1918. A cold first-light dawn with heavy mist; dull, but promising slow burn-off as the sun rose over Moreuil Wood near Amiens in France.

The already mounted troops of Lord Strathcona’s Horse were waiting for the command to advance and lead the Second Canadian Cavalry in what would be the last major cavalry charge of WWI.

The advance call should have been given as dawn broke, but the only early command had been “move postponed two hours” giving the cavalry men just enough time for what the journals of the day described as “a hot breakfast of bacon and tea.”

Riding with Lord Strathcona’s Horse that day was Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, the young son of a wealthy family of immigrants to western Canada; a teenager seeking relief from severe bouts with pleurisy. He had finally settled in a rapidly growing English community called Walhachin, which in the early 1900s promised to be Canada’s new Camelot.

And it may well have happened had WWI and a local weather disaster not decided otherwise. The war stripped the small but growing community of Walhachin of its manpower when 90 per cent of the males left overnight to fight for king and country. Flowerdew was first among them heading for Calgary, where he joined the Lord Strathconas.

Walhachin began to die from lack of a work force.

The close to final blow to the sweet dream of a second Garden of Eden came in 1918 when a wild storm wrecked the settlement’s irrigation system, and young proud orchards died. And in France many of the young men who built the system perished in the maelstrom of the “last charge.”

Walhachin, 65 km west of Kamloops, still exists. Wikipedia lists its population in 2018 as 31. It even has a small museum.

I wonder what Lieut. Flowerdew, 33, was thinking that far off morning as he rode through the chaos of battle. The official description provides part of an answer: “Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other … (His) squadron passed over both lines killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost 70 per cent of its members killed and wounded … the enemy broke and retired …”

Amazingly, Flowerdew, found badly wounded lying at the tree line, kept his mind in focus as he was picked up to be carried to safer ground by a “Lieutenant Harrower and a sergeant. As they carried him into the woods, a burst of machine-gun fire struck Harrower in the foot. The still conscious Flowerdew said: ‘You had better get under cover Hammy or they’ll shoot your head off next.’ Four men then took over carrying Flowerdew back to the field ambulance.”

Wartime stories seldom have happy endings. Wounded multiple times in the thighs and chest, Flowerdew died the following day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and had his approved promotion from Lieutenant to Captain confirmed. The citation reads in part: “There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime fact in the capture of the position.”

They say Flowerdew’s charge with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and a few lads from Walhachin marked the beginning of the end for Germany in WW1 – but sadly it didn’t mark the end of war itself..

We have spent decades since Nov 11, 1918, reviewing annually the murder and mayhem of war, praising our heroes, lamenting the destruction of our youth, and the loss of golden dreams. But we don’t seem to make much progress down the paths of peace. Man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn.

Up on the high plains of British Columbia, Walhachin still dreams of what might have been. In France – in plot I, row H. Grave 1 in Namps-au-Val Cemetery, 11 miles south-east of Amiens and not far from Moreuil Wood lie the remains of Captain Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who once played polo and cricket and “rode to hounds in Little England”, Walhachin – when dreams held promise.

Where Even Angels Should Walk With Care

We must be careful when, as adults, we abdicate traditional leadership roles on matters of great public concern and welcome children to the forefront of the battle.

My concern is prompted by the explosive arrival on the global warming battlefront of one teenage female named Greta Thunberg. It is historical fact that young women have from time to time over the centuries used family connections, their vocabularies and their access to big money to leap from obscurity to national fame – or beyond – to big-time sensations on the international stage.

Times do not appear to have changed much in recent weeks as we have watched, enthralled, as the instant teenage superstar from Sweden made her dazzling United Nations debut. A short time later, the 16-year-old Ms. Thunberg was in Vancouver, British Columbia, savouring the cheering adulation of a crowd estimated by some at 100,000.

Now comes a dangerous time for this intelligent young woman and her handlers – for never let it be thought she does not have handlers to organize travel between countries and cities and places to sleep and eat. People with money and/or the ability to raise funding for such epic adventures are essential for a 16-year-old or even a 60-year-old. These things happen by design, not luxury.

And, with today’s ever-growing demand for “transparency” when the public donates money to be used for a specific purpose, there’s a need to tell the donors from time to time how much has been collected, and where it has been spent. 

It has never been easy to get new, refreshing thinking into the political orbit, but Joan of Arc did it back in the 1400s – and she’s still listed as a saint although her claims to have conversed on a regular basis with Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret have long been suspect.

She was 13 when she started talking about her hopes and dreams for her beloved country, France. Though peasant born, she displayed a surprisingly intelligent vocabulary and enjoyed the power of persuasion. At the age of 19, she was the titular head of the French army, but there are many who believe she never did learn to write what she could speak. And she spoke often of the need to drive England from France and end the 100 Year War.

In the sometimes-bewildering mix of fact and legend in ancient history, we are told Joan convinced French political leaders her conversations with dead saints were real, not figments of her imagination.

The Roman Catholic Church gave her it’s blessing and Joan of Arc became commander in chief of the army, but – according to – “never actually fought in battle or killed an opponent.” She was the inspiration, carrying a battle flag or ceremonial sword, delivering the dawn of battle exhortation and leaving the tawdry business of finding the money to fight such wars and supplying armies in the field to lesser mortals.

It all came to a mortal end for Joan in 1443 when she was taken prisoner in her final battlefront appearance and was charged with 70 offences in a special English ecclesiastical church court. The charges ranged from sorcery to horse theft but were eventually reduced to 12 – with heavy emphasis on two claims – that Joan liked to wear men’s clothes and that she received messages and instructions directly from God.

And, at the end of the road, there was no eye to pity, no arm to save. The politicians and courtiers she had favoured with her inspiring talk and dreams for her homeland scattered like the ashes of the fire that consumed her.

And to finish where I started: Greta Thunberg’s teammates should tell her to stop waving a finger on camera and snapping like an angry adult with quavering cheek: “Don’t you dare tell me … ”

So, I won’t.