Special Updates

Once More – With Feeling

Well, to repeat a phrase I’ve used so many times over the past half-century: “That’s it then; another year is staggering to its close; another birthday – the 97th has been posted – and the 98th is a distant shimmer somewhere out there in the mists of time.

It’s been many years since I first wrote: “It’s been a long hike since my first plaintive cries shattered the post peace and goodwill of Christmas 1923 on a bleak December 27th morning. My mother would later recall the event when showing me off to relatives and friends as “a nice lad, even if he did ruin my Christmas.”

It was a bright tale and always told with the warmth and love she had and openly demonstrated for all her children, warmth and love I never really appreciated until I became a parent myself. Her example has served me well when set alongside my father, a badly wounded First World War veteran, always strong, always taciturn. And it still will, I hope, as I head down another unknown stretch of road marked 2021.

Other than a calendar-marked starting date, the future “road map” is, as always, blank when it comes to details and destinations. I still know only one thing for sure: Like the stretches already travelled, there will be rough spots; some hills will be tough to climb; others will lead to valleys of despair. But, as many have and hopefully more will, the journey will lead to summer-lit meadows warmed and made pleasant by the shared love and support of family and friends.

I have no more idea of how long the next leg of my journey will be than I had when I made what I’m told was a noisy and fragile debut a little more the 97-years ago. I just hope I can head over the last hills with a minimum of fuss – and that I don’t ruin any festive occasions with my departure.

Since I marched past my 90th birthday close to a decade ago, I have often been asked how much longer I intend to keep writing my Old Islander blog. The question is usually asked with raised eyebrows as though publishing weekly thoughts and opinions in my 90s is, well, just let’s say – not talked about in mixed company.

My answer remains honest: “I have no idea” – but this is spoken with less conviction than it used to be. I still enjoy the weekly challenge, but it gets harder to meet my arbitrary deadline, and it takes longer to write. And, every now and then, an afternoon nap becomes more important than my self-imposed duty. On such days, my editors regularly save me from the embarrassment of muddled syntax. It’s a good mental exercise for me but a reminder that my mental candle doesn’t burn as brightly as it once did. Regardless, I carry on with the abiding hope that occasionally, my blog brings some joy or sparks a rebuttal challenge from readers.

So, with a bit of luck, I can maybe publish another re-run of this piece a year from now. That marker looks a long way down a road yet to be travelled, but then so has each New Year I’ve experienced since I was old enough to wonder where life was taking me. It has always been a far distant, often nervous, unknown journey since 1923.

At 97, time – never fully guaranteed – is measured with less certainty; energy fades dramatically, and modest talent shaping words into understandable English is more difficult to quantify.

So, for now, I’ll just puddle along with a gentle weekly ramble in low gear and hope you keep reading until an unwelcome map maker puts up a sign “ROAD ENDS.”

Protest – Always a Close Run Thing

It was 2.35 pm when the leader of the Opposition rose to speak but then stood silent for a few seconds, his head cocked to one as he tried to capture meaning to shouts filtered to whispers by the marble and granite walls of The House of Government.

It was 1958 and is remembered here only to remind readers of today’s newspapers – the few who remain – and the viewers of television who have replaced them, that the scenes you read about earlier in the week were not quite as new as portrayed. Mass protests have been around for a long time and more often than not with loud choruses of verbal abuse and threats. But not always.

On Tuesday, February 11, 1958, the Front Page headline in The Daily Colonist proclaimed  “Angry Shouting Farmers Storm into Legislature.” The crowd several hundred strong massed on the front steps chanting a demand to meet Premier W.A.C. Bennett. “Bring him out or we’ll come in and we’ll bring him out.”

It was tense. Reporter Courtney Tower covering the main event described  “the turbulent mob’ surging into the building chanting “bring him out, bring him out.” What was the problem? The price of milk. In 2021 we have become so programmed to food price increases that a cent a pint increase would seem like a gift – but not to the local farmer whose production costs still outstrip their returns on the product.

Bob Strachan, the NDP Opposition leader you met in my opening paragraph with his head cocked to snare the far away shouts, eventually broke his pregnant pause and asked if maybe the minister of agriculture would like a few moments to chat with farmers.

Peter Bruton was providing a colour commentary. He tells us the minister “looked up and with a weak smile” declined the invitation. Close to 20-years later in January 1976 W.A.C. Bennett’s son Bill was occupying the Premier’s chair when the doors to the cabinet room were crashed open and mixed mob of protesters and press gallery reporters disrupted.

In one of the rare photos recording the event it’s hard to tell the reporters from the protesters. Nothing of consequence was damaged; the Premier took control and the reporters who had become part of the story could always boast about the time they attended a cabinet meeting.

In dispute that day – ICBS auto insurance rates and some drastic and unwelcome social welfare changes called “reform” by the government, “cruel cuts” by recipients and social workers. It proved to be but a prelude to the 1980’s procession of massed protests which exploded with the infamous 1983 provincial budget (26 restraint control bills in a single day) and the occupation on July 19 by staff of the Kamloops health facility at Tranqu

The siege lasted 22 days and the newly formed Solidarity movement took over with the first protest marches of 25,000 in Vancouver, 3,000 in Nelson with an estimated 80,000 on hand in the Fall to form an unbroken ring around the Hotel Vancouver where Premier Bennett and the Social Credit Party were meeting in annual convention.

In between there had been two or three mass rallies with crowds 30 to 40,000 strong in Victoria covering the front lawn of the Legislature and stretching several blocks back along Government Street to Fort. And there was one protest which gained access to the Legislature while the House was sitting. There was damage to the main doors to the Chamber and one senior staff member was injured before order was restored.

Students of history will be well aware that my selection of noisy, sometimes threatening, but rarely totally out of control protests is highly selective and avoids mention of  Cromwell’s spectacular revolt with its brutal ending; and the overrated glory of the French Revolution still known as “the age of terro

I thought it better to leave President Trump’s failed coup of earlier this week which would have surely launched another bloodbath, to collapse on its wretched foundations – but with an epitaph to be ever remembered that a few years ago in BC we had “a close run thing.’

Time Too Fast For An Old Man

Time is fleeting with ever-increasing velocity as we sweep past the markers recording journeys of 90-plus years.

A least, that’s the way it’s appeared to me in the hike between birthdays 96, the day after Boxing Day a year ago, and 97 a few days ago.

If there is an unknown historian recording the pages of my lifelong journey, he or she is turning the pages too quickly. Each day I seem to have less time for the things I want – and often need – to do.

I know all about the problems created when procrastination becomes the thief of time but having the “daybook” closed before I have time to complete the “things to do today” section can hardly be laid on me.

So it goes. Every afternoon, I reserve time for reading as Christmas usually brings me a mini-flood of books from well-read sons. With small boxes from daughters-in-law containing diet-defying treats like home-baked shortbread, assorted cookies, cheese and cracker nibbles and obligatory Christmas chocolates.

I enjoy the multitasking of nibbling, with maybe a sip of wine, while revelling in the fantastic writing of Wade Davis in “Into the Silence,” a powerfully written history of the men who served together during the First World War and climbed together in early attempts to conquer Mount Everest.

The Sunday Times reviews the book as “an elegy for a lost generation.” I agree, nibble, and read just a few more pages. Then rest my eyes for a few minutes.

The rest break can be considered a medical necessity. After all, less than a week ago, all I could see from my left eye was white fog. I was blind in one eye. Modern surgery has corrected the problem. I can see clearly again but still welcome a few minutes of restful shut-eye.

Just a few minutes – but time doesn’t hesitate. In those few moments, someone, somehow, has moved all the clocks forward an hour. Maybe two. I can’t possibly have napped for two hours. But?

Ah, well. I was going to catch up with e-mails now long overdue. If you happen to be waiting and wondering, be patient. I will be in touch, maybe tomorrow if tempus doesn’t fugit and whoever’s turning my life’s pages takes a day off.

In the meantime –Happy New Year. May 2021 bring you everything you need which is not the same as everything you want

Christmas – with Empty Chairs and Treasured Memories

It was quiet in the kitchen. Warm from the friendly glow of the kitchen stove as it nursed a kettle to boiling for the first brew-up of Christmas Day, 1938.

The wall clock’s pendulum flashed with reflected light from the miracle of electricity, installed only months earlier to replace gas in the row houses of an English industrial town.

The “tick-tock” keeping time with the pendulum could always be heard above normal conversation, but this Christmas Day, it sounded crisper. Not louder. Just more precise, like a call to attention in addition to recording the passage of time.

Four people were listening. A husband and wife and their two children – a daughter,17, and son two days shy of his 15th birthday, sitting around the scrubbed-white kitchen table waiting for the kettle to boil, the brewed tea signalling that it was time to open presents.

There was a vacant chair at the table.

The family was observing, with slight modification, a decades-old routine governed by mother’s rule that her husband and the children remain upstairs on Christmas morning until the ceremonial tea was brewed. The change in 1938 allowed us to be downstairs for the final few minutes waiting for the tea – and time to think about the vacant chair.

On the table, Christmas gifts nestled in four small piles; two very small piles for mother and father; and two, not much larger, for son and daughter. In the latter would be one or two luxuries like a small box of chocolates or small bottle of perfume to please a teenage daughter.

The bulk of the children’s gifts consisted of clothes. Warm underwear, socks and decent footwear were more important for survival than coveted baubles.

The metronomic beat of the wall clock relentlessly measured time as it moved from past to present. A year earlier on Christmas Day, there had been five mini-mounds of presents and a mother and father waiting for the kettle to boil with a daughter and two sons.

I was one of the sons. The other was my older brother Tom, 18; my mentor, protector and hero. In April of 1938, he collapsed at work, was rushed to hospital, diagnosed with peritonitis following a ruptured appendix. Tom died on May 17th

Some years ago, I wrote how every Christmas Day morning we threw open our back-bedroom window and sang the first two verses of “Christian’s awake, salute the happy morn …” Tom never told me what sparked the idea, but seven- or eight-year-olds never question the leadership of their 11 or 12-year-old brother.

So, we sang every Christmas morning for six or seven years until 1938 when just before dawn, I opened the bedroom window and tried to sing but could only weep.

There will be more tears before this Christmas Day is over as unbelievable thousands will see an empty chair – and remember what was – and dream of what might have been.

Let There Be Light

A bulletin following a brief comforting encounter with British Columbia’s health care system in the midst of a pandemic:

It wasn’t my intent to add to Medicare woes by losing the sight in my left eye five or six months ago just as COVID-19 launched its full fury on the world. It just happened that an artificial lens installed in 2004 had slipped its moorings and needed replacement.

Let me emphasize any following descriptions are pedestrian personal, not medical textbook. Just adequate enough to relate a procession of “please don’t blink” eye exams from my family doctor (yes, I know I’m lucky to have one) and eye specialists.

It was roughly six months later that I was requested to present myself to “Surgical Daycare, Royal Jubilee Hospital, a few minutes before 7 a.m. on December 14th.”

I was advised several times by phone and by text that the times were not chiselled in stone and “may be adjusted” if COVID-19 got too unruly.

An anxious time, but last Monday morning, December 14th, my youngest son Nic juggled his shifts as a paramedic and picked me up at the Berwick Royal Oak senior’s retirement residence shortly after 6 a.m. He delivered me to RJH, where he chatted with surgeons and nurses with the familiarity only veteran front-line health care workers can have – and picked me up a few hours later to get me home to Berwick.

Ever accommodating, Berwick had placed a single bed in my living room, a mandatory requirement from Dr. Daniel Warder, the vitreoretinal specialist who had been up before dawn with a small army of nurses and technicians to take care of me and a multitude of others. The extra bed was for my driver – just in case I needed post-op help.

I can’t clearly remember the comings and goings. I can say I was well attended with explanations as to what was happening and why. After the surgeon arrived, I had a little nap, woke up with a bandaged left eye, a sporty white eye patch and a list of advisories noted by my paramedic guardian.

We came home to Berwick to dine on home-cooked shepherd’s pie courtesy of Nic’s partner Anna – who is also a paramedic. The pie and other goodies were stashed in an insulated backpack. And, courtesy of microwave technology, the pie was perfect, served hot as we dined late Monday afternoon.

Tuesday was a post-op checkup day. Everything looking good. Eye drops every four hours until December 23rd and the next post-op check. I’ll let you know how it plays out. For now, BC Health Services get gold stars all-around for efficiency, courtesy, and confidence-boosting helpfulness.

Thank you!

Direct to Heaven…or The Other Way?

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Anyone familiar with Charles Dickens who has ventured beyond Ebenezer Scrooge and A Christmas Carol will recognize the opening quote as the first words of “A Tale of Two Cities” and as an accurate description of the world as it was as it shivered in the dark ferocity of the French Revolution – and of the world we live in today.

As we stumble toward the end of 2020, we realize those opening words sound like a nervous echo from the 1700s. History books would describe the brutally violent re-birth of France as a Republic as “The Terror.”

True, we don’t have murderous mobs ranging through neighbouring city streets seeking to replace a government by force, but we have been made aware in recent months how close we have come; and how close we remain to an armed revolt by factions who believe it the best way to solve problems.

If concern about a peaceful resolution of our neighbour’s recent presidential election was all we had to worry about, it would be enough. Unfortunately, it is just an addition to a list that has as its number-one threat a monster named COVID-19 that so clearly indicates where Canada and the world stand with 2021 just around the corner. A few days ago, it was estimated COVID-19 had claimed the lives of thousands of Canadians but hard on its heels came the promise of a new vaccine. The news filled us with cautious hope, but not for long. As Dickens wrote about other troubled times, dark clouds often obscure the sun.

So, a vaccine is on the way – but it may take some time before it gets down to plain folks like you and me. There can be no complaint about the decision to provide the first protective shields to frontline workers who have stayed at their dangerous posts to provide care to the stricken and extended protection to the rest of us.

News of vaccines fill those of us who believe in science with hope, but we must have the courage to accept that, in the immediate future, the vaccine’s promise comes with days of waiting, each one a little harder to bear than the last.

What about those who oppose vaccinations of any kind? A tough question. Conscientious objection should certainly be tolerated in a truly free democracy. But, do we tolerate the objector when a proven defence against this deadly pandemic is rejected, and the denier provides lethal transmission to others?

I think I shall opt gratefully for vaccination if/when the choice is offered, although I suffer qualms about its protection being offered to 90-year-olds before much younger parents. At 97 two days after Christmas I’m not yet anxious to end my run, but if it ever comes to a triage choice we old guys should be more than willing to give way to those young enough to survive Covid 19 and lead the world to happier times.   

It wasn’t the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas, it was the Christians. Good Christians, too, firm in their faith and determined to rid the world of the evils of mince pies and merry making.

Oliver Cromwell gets most of the historic blame for the 1640’s official shut down of activities designed to bring Christmas joy to the masses, but the real villain was the English parliament which solemnly enacted the law banning all Christmas celebrations.                                     

Cromwell was certainly in favour. Having had what was called a “religious experience” as young man he supported all measures to move mankind closer to Godliness as he and other Puritans perceived Godliness. When, shortly after the Christmas ban became law, he assumed the role of Dictator (he preferred Lord Protector) he embraced and enforced the ban.

It was a no-joy-law and in perception frighteningly similar to today’s Muslim Taliban version of what is holy. Women were banned from wearing make-up or colourful clothes and squads from Cromwell’s army roamed the streets searching for violators. They would give a woman an on-site face scrub if they judged her make-up overdone. The dress code for women was Taliban-Puritan strict – a long black dress covering neck to toes, a white apron with her hair bunched up behind a large white headscarf or black hat.

Men were ordered to wear black, keep their hair short and go straight home from work to lead the family in prayer and bible reading. To make the route home easy Cromwell ordered many taverns shut and the closing of all theatres.

The roving patrols stayed alert on Christmas Day seeking the smell of a goose being cooked or minced pies being baked. Fines could be imposed and the goose and pies confiscated. The enforcers kept their eyes open for sprigs of holly and other ungodly decorations, and their ears open for anyone cussing the new laws. Swearing was punishable by immediate fine with repeated offences resulting in jail.

To make sure the populace understood that the banning of Christmas (and Easter and Whitsun celebrations) was only part of a grand plan to bring the nation closer to God, Sunday’s were proclaimed to be special days, and one day in every month was designated a fast day. Women observed doing “unnecessary” work on a Sunday could be placed in the stocks, boys caught kicking a ball around or engaging in any other sporting activity could be whipped on the spot – and just going for a walk unless it was to church could result in a fine.

The clampdown on Christmas, while shocking when it came, was not unexpected. Over decades the festival that had morphed over the centuries from pagan bacchanal to Christian celebration had grown wild. By the late 1500’s Christmas was being described as the time when “ more mischief is committed than in all the year beside….what dicing, carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used…to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.”

Debauchery had become the way of Christmas and Lord Protector Cromwell – who wasn’t above a little banquet style celebration himself in the privacy of his home – strongly supported any move to curb public festivities. Any opportunity for him to spin his anti-Catholic paranoia was to be seized. After all, he argued, good Christian Protestants should never celebrate a Christ-mass with Catholic mass overtones. They even tried to cultivate a new name – Christmas-tide.

The Puritan’s ban on Christmas lasted a quarter of a century with shopkeepers fined for closing their stores on December 25. It wasn’t until 1660 – with Charles II back on the throne  that Christmas was reinstated. To make sure people understood Cromwellian laws were now as dead as the enforcer the King had Cromwell’s body exhumed, the corpse decapitated and the Lord Protector’s head hung on a spike in Westminster Hall.

By then Puritans, who years early had fled England to start building the United States of America, were establishing old beliefs in the new land. After their second Christmas in America they ruled “whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or in any other way….shall pay for every such offence five shillings as a fine….”

The ban lasted only 22-years but it wasn’t until 1856 that Christmas Day became an official holiday in Boston. Scotland took even longer. It was 1958 before Christmas was declared an official holiday north of the River Tweed thus ending the 400 year old ban promoted by firebrand preacher John Knox in the late 1500’s.

The Scots hadn’t chafed under their Christmas ban. They just moved the celebrations back a week and called it Hogmanay then, little more than 50-years ago, realizing English workers were getting two year-end holidays to their one, graciously agreed Christmas could again be celebrated.

Now, stop complaining about face masks. Think about Christmas under Cromwell. But go easy on the egg nog,

Ultimate Arrogance

What a difference between the boastful truculence of USA President Donald Trump last Tuesday and the calm reasoning of President-Elect Joe Biden’s Thanksgiving message a day later.

President Trump, in a rare one-minute speech from the White House, wanted to draw attention to the fact that his bible, the stock market, was showing signs of a strong recovery in the past 24-hours – and it was entirely due to him.

And, of course, it was – but only a supreme con artist would have the arrogance to demand praise for an economic recovery sign which was, in fact, an open rebuke of his wild administration.

For days after his defeat at the polls, President Trump refused to admit his loss. People who count such things say he launched at least 24 legal challenges claiming the election had been hijacked by his rivals. Every charge was dismissed because when asked for factual evidence of forged, faked, or destroyed ballots, the president’s legal team came up empty.

Undeterred, the president stilled refuses to concede defeat, but after a flurry of firing department heads, who he felt had let him down, he did agree to remove obstacles that had prevented Biden from engaging in transfer of power procedures.

It was enough to indicate he knew that his days of issuing royal commands were fast coming to an end. And most a most appropriate happening for USA Thanksgiving.

Twilight for the man who wanted to be King

In the final agonizing days of President Donald Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office, a darkness is threatening to engulf what was once the greatest, freedom-loving nation on Planet Earth.

It did not need to be this way. A full measure of blame can be laid at the feet of Mitch McConnell – the Republican Senate Majority Leader in Washington, D.C. – who, four years ago, chose to remain silent as his then newly-elected president boasted wildly and falsely: “I am the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.”

That small dark cloud of Inauguration Day groundless bragging has since grown from childish bravado to the scale of a tragic opera, Trump’s version of the final act of Gotterdammerung – The Twilight of the Gods.

It will be well into January before we can add “former” to his title. And, there seems little doubt that he intends to make the wait as uncomfortable and chaotic as possible. If democracy suffers in the process, and the nation he promised to make great again loses all respect on the world stage, so be it. The fault will be the failure of others; never of his own bonfire of vanity.

Through centuries of repetitive world history, we are reminded that Nero fiddled and threw another party while Rome burned and its empire collapsed. It’s what the media has now tagged as Trump’s “scorched earth” swan song.

This brings me back to where I started with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republican senators who could have taught Trump the basics of democracy. They chose instead to let him become the ringmaster of his own sad political circus. They worried about his irrational behaviour but never voiced disapproval of his dubious acts until a few days ago

McConnell – his voice just above a quaver – was answering questions the other day in a media scrum, questions about the President’s latest venture into foreign affairs and military posturing which will create major headaches for President-elect Joe Biden. McConnell suggested that people in their final days of power “should not make earth-shaking” policy changes which Trump had just done with scowl and glower firmly in place.

Just a spark of truth. We shall see if McConnell and his Republican spear-carriers have the courage and integrity to openly denounce Trump’s “scorched earth” policy.

They can borrow a few words from Sir Winston Churchill when he faced a Nazi leader who brooked no challenge to his ambitions, a leader who thrived on mass rallies and muscle to control dissent: “If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

It’s late, but never too late to reach for that sunlit upland.

Officer and Gentleman

Peter Godwin Chance was wearing his “bum freezer uniform” comprised of “a short jacket open in front with a vest underneath … at the throat maroon coloured patches” proudly proclaiming he held the rank of Midshipman in Canada’s Naval Reserve. He was 18 years old; the year was 1938 and he was reporting to Division Headquarters located in Kresge’s department store basement at the corner of O’Connor and Slater streets in Ottawa.

Less than a year later Midshipman Chance was on his way to Halifax to report for duty at Admiralty House, in 1939 the Naval Officers Mess, Atlantic Command. In his book A Sailors Life, he recalls the sunny June day in ’39 “when I arrived in Halifax via the CNR Ocean Limited. The typical summer fog had burned off leaving the all too familiar pervading odor from the National Fish Plant not far beyond the railway station and the fumes from the Imperial Oil Refinery in Dartmouth across the harbour.”

Not that sounds and smells dismayed him. “I was young, I knew absolutely nothing – but, damn it, I was eager,” he told me a dozen years ago in the quiet comfort of his Sidney home. Eager enough to be excited when shown to his “cabin” equipped with “two iron beds, a small table, and a chest of drawers for each bed. There was a window, otherwise, it was pretty spartan.”

His cabin-mate was Surgeon Lieutenant Charles Best “like me a new boy … I remember him as a very kind man … and appreciated only later that he was one of the internationally famous pair of Doctors Best and Banting, the discoverers of insulin.”

That was in June of 1939. By September, Canada was at war with Germany, and teenager Chance was onboard HMCS St. Laurent making regular runs from Halifax to the Grand Banks on convoy escort duty. “This was before re-fuelling at sea was invented. We could only go as far as the Grand Banks then we had to run for home to refuel.” 

If accommodation at Admiralty House had been spartan it rated as luxurious when compared with the St. Laurent where “my hammock was slung in kitty-corner fashion over an oil fuel tank hatch and about six inches below a bright light that never went out.” 

Peter Chance survived the Atlantic and by 1940 was attending Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, England. In London, he tasted “The Blitz.” 

On completion of his courses, Midshipman Chance was assigned to the Royal Navy’s HMS Mauritius, a Colony Class cruiser. He was on Mauritius in Singapore on December 7, 1941, when the news broke that Pearl Harbour had been attacked. Three days later Japanese bombers sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse.

Other adventures were awaiting the young officer as he moved up the promotion ladder from midshipman to lieutenant to commander. He had earned his wings and served on HMCS Magnificent but is quick to point out “I never flew from her.”

He was on HMCS Skeena for operation Neptune on D-Day and later when she went aground and was lost. He served on many ships as a specialist in air control and command. He held 10 staff appointments including a period at Naval Headquarters, Ottawa, where it all started and where he retired with the rank of commander in 1970 to assume the position of Executive Officer at Osgoode Hall Law School. In 1974, he retired again, this time to Vancouver Island.


He still lives in Sidney as he awaits his 100th birthday on Nov. 24. And, if a cameo appearance on CHEK TV a few days ago is any indication, he can still recall with merriment details of high adventure that were far from humourous when they were happening. His most memorable ship’s doctor story was interspersed with chuckles when he told me of his first meeting with Surgeon Lieutenant Joseph C. Cyr who served on HMCS Cayuga when she sailed from Esquimalt for a 12-month tour of duty off the coast of Korea in 1951.

Lieutenant Chance had been suffering from a painful, badly infected, toe when “Dr. Joe” came aboard. His verdict on the new doc? “He examined, operated skillfully, the toe healed perfectly. We could have confidence in our surgeon.”

While on station in Korea, Surgeon Cyr earned respect from officers and men for his treatment of both crew and badly wounded soldiers evacuated from on-shore operations. Writing about it later in his memoir Commander Chance wrote: “Cyr calmly moved among the soldiers seemingly without a care in the world. He also won plaudits from Cayuga’s Captain – Commander James Plomer (cct) – for an emergency at-sea dental operation.

Fellow officers felt “Dr. Joe” deserved a medal and wrote a formal citation.

The response from Ottawa was received during a night bombardment of Korean coastal positions. It read: “Captain’s eyes only. Have reason to believe your Medical Officer is imposter. Investigate and report.”

The story made international headlines; the navy was embarrassed. Hollywood made a movie The Great Imposter; Tony Curtis played the lead and Ferdinand Waldo Demara – Surgeon Joseph Cyr unmasked – was invited to attend a Cayuga crew reunion a short time later. Waldo was dressed as a priest – and nobody asked if he was.

I end this short tribute with best wishes for Commander Chance as he closes in on 100. I thank him for his good humour and generosity of spirit – as “an officer and a gentleman.”