Special Updates

A Needed “Safety Procedure”

I think we can excuse BC Premier John Horgan his brief flash of temper a few days ago when he lamented “an unwelcome intrusion by the federal government” into the provincial fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

He does have a lot of other issues on his first minister’s plate more challenging to resolve than a decision by Transport Canada to restore a standard public safety procedure that bans automobile drivers from remaining with their vehicles once parked and secured onboard a BC Ferries vessel for a journey time longer than 30 minutes.

Back in May, it was felt that by “self-isolating” car drivers for the always busy 90-plus minute runs between Vancouver Island and Greater Vancouver, ferry travellers could make an impact in the battle to “flatten the curve.”

Transport Canada, the regulatory body for such matters, agreed to give it a try. Back in May, it lifted the rule ordering car drivers and any passengers to vacate their vehicle and retire to an upper deck for the voyage. With “self-isolating” in place, automobile drivers have been able to snug down once parked, and nap, snack on homemade sandwiches, read a good book, or, if duty called, catch up on a little office work.

Complaints were minimal until early August when someone remembered why drivers had been banned from the lower car decks in the first place. The regulation was imposed years ago as “a safety measure.” What better time of the year than August to recall it was on the second day of that summer month in1970 that we were reminded that our ferries were not immune from the perils of the sea.

On August 2, 1970, the unthinkable happened in Active Pass – the narrow scenic passage between the Gulf Islands linking the mainland port of Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. The weather was fine, the tide near slack. At around 11 a.m., the newest vessel in the BC Ferries fleet, the Queen of Victoria, en route to Swartz Bay with a relatively light load of 500 passengers and 150 vehicles, signalled its position by whistle and radio and requested a response from nearby traffic.

There was no radio response as the ferry navigated the twisting channel and was confronted by a Russian freighter, the Sergey Yesinin, bound for Vancouver with a full cargo of steel. Regulations of the day demanded freighters obtain clear rights of passage through the pass and at cautious speed. A subsequent inquiry established the Russian ship did not have permission to transit Active Pass and was travelling at high speed when it rammed the ferry midship.

The ship’s owners accepted full responsibility for the crash that saw the Sergey Yesinin knife into the port side of the ferry crushing to death three passengers. One, a 17-year-old girl from Allendale, New Jersey, standing near the main deck rail, presumably watching the almost touchable Gulf Island scenery float by. Below her on the car deck, George Hammond and his wife Ann, having opted to stay with their car for the journey, were attending to their restless seven-month-old son, Peter. Mr. Hammond had just lifted the baby from their Volkswagen and passed the child to his mother when the freighter struck. The baby was killed instantly. Mrs. Hammond was taken to hospital by Coast Guard hovercraft but died from her injuries.

At time of writing, Transport Canada appears to have made no response to Premier Horgan’s outrage that on September 30, the old “safety requirement” will be reinstated on three Greater Vancouver to Vancouver Island routes as well as between Comox and Powell River, and Tsawwassen and the southern Gulf Islands. Drivers will again be ordered to leave their vehicles and travel on the upper decks, better able to escape a similar or worse disaster that we pray will never occur.

I’m hoping Transport Canada adheres to its “safety requirement.” It is a regulation in place to lessen the chance of bad things happening. It’s not unlike the “buckle up and live” legislation we used to hate when seat belts laws were introduced and were initially considered such a nuisance.

Next time you are muttering about leaving your vehicle to languish upstairs on your ferry ride, take a moment to remember Active Pass 50 years ago and a moment of unanticipated terror that took the lives of travelers below decks – and could have been so much worse.

A Summer of Discontent and Birth of an International Star

The summer of 1979 was not the happiest for the members of the BC Legislative Assembly, and it was made more acrimonious by the debate to establish the municipality of Whistler. They had argued their way through most of July and were now, reluctantly and acrimoniously, on the verge of violating the time-honoured adjournment of the House for the sacred holiday month of August.

Traditionally, politicians would be in their home ridings playing host to family visitors or vacationers in the thousands, flocking west to seek a mountain to climb, a lake to fish or a Pacific Ocean beach to dream on. But not this year; not this summer, as they gathered each weekday – sometimes morning, afternoon and evening – to hammer out new laws they hoped would please the people. And each evening, the MLAs with young families would be reminded that summer was fleeting fast; the opportunities to build a sandcastle or two with son or daughter soon to be lost.

Historically in the Legislative chamber, government and opposition MLAs sit two sword lengths apart to make sure attacks are verbal only. Debate rules are supposed to confine discourse to courteous language, but that is a convention rarely enforced by the Speakers. As such, Hansard – the source of my research and verbatim record of everything spoken in the House in session and relatively new in the BC Legislature in the 1970s – had become a receptacle for far too rarely erudite English but many a spiteful phrase.

And so it is in 2020 – with a frightening pandemic tugging our souls; with fires, floods, high winds and an always pending “Big One” threatening; with daily newspapers and their reduced news diet of gruel so thin even Oliver Twist wouldn’t ask for more; and with our ration of political pottage, sporadic and lacking in “coherent content” – I turn to an old 1975 BC Legislature Hansard for a look at MLAs facing another day without the distraction of a pending family outing.

Here I find Dave Barrett sticking needles into Alan Williams, then MLA for West Vancouver-Howe Sound and Minister of Labour in Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government. (Under House rules, Dave can’t name another member, only the riding he represents). So, he says: “My very long fellow member … once a Liberal and now a Socred – politically re-born, having seen the light of A plus B and now Minister of Labour, sanctimonious to the nth degree – this secret closet Socred who nurtured his whole political career … (while) waiting to burst forth as a butterfly in the Social Credit cabinet …”

Earlier in his dissertation, Dave had referred to the member from Yale-Lillooet as a “commie pinko.” No one knew what on earth was meant by the slur, but Minister of Forests Tom Waterland, a quiet-spoken chap, was chuffed enough, and unwise enough to ask the Speaker to request an apology and withdrawal because he found it “very offensive to be referred to as any kind of socialist.”

And Dave, never one to miss a proffered target, found it hard to hold back a grin as he responded without hesitation: “On behalf of all socialists, I withdraw the remark.”

Here are a few thoughts on the debate I cherry-picked as a change of pace from COVID-19 and life’s other continuing disasters. The debate centred on the Resort Municipality of Whistler, a community that was an amazing BC story. Having been present on site as the first roads were being shaped and having been there for many events before it became a municipality moving towards international status, I’m an unabashed admirer of the jewelled community.

It’s a story I hope to tell more fully before being called for my big sleep. The debate recorded in Hansard that I have referred to was bad-tempered and ill-mannered. The “special resort municipality” legislation was debated and condemned by the NDP in every way, shape, and form. But it was not originally a Social Credit government idea. That honour belongs to the NDP’s Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Lorimer, who placed the idea on the table during Dave Barrett’s brief tenure as premier. The NDP government lost power before it could be developed further. When the Socreds took over with Bill Bennett at the helm, the creation of a “special resort municipality” was dusted off. It was embellished, polished and brought back, centre stage, on the legislative agenda.

Hansard records that one of the first things Alan Williams did when the debate reached its most strident pitch was to congratulate Lorimer “for his earlier foresight” in introducing the “special resort municipality”  thinking the Opposition NDP  now attacked as a betrayal of democratic rights.

The legislation survived; so has democracy and Whistler continues to prosper.

Union Made and Keeps us Strong

There was a time when Labour Day, which occurred in spring every year, featured long public parades of craftsmen and tradesmen proudly celebrating their skills and services. But that was back in the 1800s, usually early in May, with the festive day ending with a community picnic, political speeches praising the workers, games and competitions, and the picnic dominated by home cooking.

By the end of the 1800s, the May festivals began to develop as a trade union celebration, usually organized to follow annual labour movement conventions held in New York in early September. By 1872, the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor (with the US spelling of “Labor” carefully noted) were actively organizing the first Monday in September as the day preferred to put organized labour on proud display.

Canadian branches of both organizations followed suit. Toronto was on board in 1882; Hamilton and Oshawa joined a year later in ‘83. Montreal followed in 1886; St. Catharines, ’87; Halifax ‘88; Ottawa and Vancouver 1890; and London, Ontario in 1892.

Together in organized strength, 50 labour organizations began in 1894 to lobby their national governments for recognition of an annual “labour day.” The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital in Canada (1886-89) had already recommended Ottawa establish a “labour day.” In May 1894, Prime Minister John Thompson introduced legislation calling for a review of the established May holiday, but the House declined the opportunity and, without debate, passed an amended holiday law establishing the first Monday in September as Labour Day.

It received Royal Assent on July 21, 1894. A short time later, the United States recognized the same dates for Labour Day – or, as they would insist, Labor Day.

The decision to designate a national holiday to specifically honour organized labour may seem a penny-ante issue requiring simple decisions when compared with today’s existing international affairs and the problems that shimmer and threaten. But, think for a moment back to the times when the “labouring classes,” working for a lot less than a living wage, were growing restless.

Big business was aware of the restlessness, but not willing to do much about it. In fact, it was not willing to do anything that might cause a reduction in their profits. A day off work – without pay, of course – wouldn’t be too bad if it kept the galley slaves happy. And, if a parade, a few games and a picnic were thrown in and it was called Labour Day … well, no problem. Crumbs from the rich man’s table could always be provided.

Big business made the concessions – and fought every step of the way, going forward with challenges that organized labour met and conquered. The battle in the 1800s for a day called “Labour Day” was but a skirmish in the perennial struggle between labour and management; however, along the way, the workers learned the true meaning of one of their oft- used slogans – “the union makes us strong.”

And, management learned how strong the labour movement was when those managers took a moment to see what happens when the men and women working in the engine rooms of commerce are mistreated.

It was in St. Petersburg in 1905 that four members of a small legally-formed trade union sought to present a petition to the Czar protesting the firing of the four workers. They were joined by several hundred protesters who, by all eye witness accounts, marched peacefully until riflemen opened fire and sabre wielding Cossacks swept through the marchers leaving 200 dead and many wounded.

It was 1905 – some 12 years before March 8, 1917, when the Czar turned his military on a crowd pleading for food. They slaughtered 1,300 before defecting en masse and joining the rebels in revolution to complete the overthrow of the Czar and his government and create what became the Soviet Union.

In our corner of North America, labour and management reflected on the revolution and chose a different course, albeit not always a peaceful one. Historically, government officials, management and union leaders stand guilty of bad decisions, which led to bloodshed, death and injustice.

But, by and large, we haven’t done too badly and can be justly proud of celebrating another Labour Day, still together, even if we celebrate a bit nervously this year with violence and death common place and threatening worse.

“Obscure” — But Once Champions

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when the people elected to serve their fellow citizens in parliament did everything in their power to prevent the reasons for their decisions being made public. They didn’t mind the ultimate decisions being distributed, but they didn’t want the sometimes-shaky reasoning behind those decisions made public.

Andrew Sparrow writing in his book, “Obscure Scribblers, a History of Parliamentary Journalism,” claims the British House of Commons “tried to stop the publication of debate reports for more than 100 years, not because members were shy about having their names in the papers but because they realized that being reported would render them accountable.”

A week ago, I quoted one of the more outspoken and articulate Members of Parliament, one William Windham, Minister of War in the 1700s when England was at war with France, and a small group of men were gaining modest public readership for their reporting of parliamentary debate. Windham was feeling the sting of criticism from this coterie of scribes once banned from the Chamber, but now, to Windham’s alarm, exercising more freedom of speech than anticipated.

They wanted a return to the good old days when citizens could listen to debates if they could get one of the scarce tickets permitting entry. Reporters could report, but with great care – or risk serious punishment. In 1798, according to Windham, the limited circulation of those pamphlet-sized reports was a daily threat to the life of the government. 

Windham and his followers viewed with dismay what they regarded as an abuse of free speech, even when what was being relayed to the public from the House of Commons was basic reporting on what had been said and by whom. It was a system of reporting that eventually developed into what is named today “Hansard,” the verbatim record of daily debate in western democratic parliaments around the world; a daily record revered for its accuracy.

Windham had no respect for scruffy scribes or 1798 debate publishers. He felt open reporting of debates seriously threatened the elected representative government first dreamed of under the Magna Carta and still fragile. One day he asked parliament what its aim could be in supporting open debate publication and wondered if there could be something sinister behind a move to make parliament more democratic.

He answered his own question by saying the only aim debate publishers could have “must be that of changing the present form of government, and of making it more democratical, for it was calling every day on the public to judge the proceedings of parliament. By these daily publications, people learned to look upon themselves as present at the discussion of parliament and sitting in judgment of them.”

We can look back on these old fights between opposing politicians and most politicians and the press, and be thankful we have come out of it so well. For all their faults, governments mighty and modest serve us reasonably well. But heaven forbid that we should stop complaining when they screw up, as they do from time to time. Like Windham did when saw a critical news leaflet.

When it comes to the press, I’m biased. It was such a vital part of my life for 75-plus turbulent years and enjoyment beyond description. I was fortunate to be a reporter when that is what I was supposed to be – writing just the facts; an opinion columnist when my job was to voice my opinions; and a daily newspaper editor when I shared editorial page responsibility with the publisher and had a talented news writing to consistently made me look a lot better than I was in a treasured occupation.

I’m glad I was where I was when I was. But I’m saddened in recent years to see the press, once the giant of all published news, toppled from its once lofty pedestal by a mob of seemingly always angry, undisciplined, disciples of social media.

By Sufferance

A bit of a kerfuffle shaking the dust from filing cabinets in the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery. Seems that the worthy inmates of that venerable institution recently voted to uphold an earlier rejection of a Gallery membership bid from Rebel News Network Ltd.

That, trumpeted the National Post – the flagship of a once-powerful newspaper family – was a travesty of justice, a betrayal of all that is holy in the battle for free speech and a free press.

That was a bit much coming from a newspaper chain that has recently presided over the disarmament of a once-proud army of active journalists and amalgamated (read: gutted) the editorial staffs of the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal … the heavy hitters out west.

Maybe the faded ivory towers of once-great newspapers brought back dreams of grandeur and persuaded remote control bosses that now would be a good time to win a second Pulitzer award. After all, the Edmonton Journal got to grasp a share of a Pulitzer – the first-ever awarded outside the USA – way back in 1938 because it went to bat for a relatively unknown political columnist named Donald C. Brown, who had been charged and found guilty of “scandalous misrepresentation.”

(After being overruled by Ottawa and challenged by many others. Social Credit Premier William Aberhart withdrew all charges).

The National Post was roaring to the defence of Rebel News that had a hot reputation for ill-chosen language, controversy, and inaccuracy. The Post argued that even though the Rebel’s publications could be a little wild at times, their breaches were not severe enough to justify withholding Gallery access from its staffers.

The Gallery executive disagreed. It held firm in its demand for high professional standards. Then, the Post flexed its national muscle and played what it thought was an ace card: “Grant Rebel certification or we will pull our reporters out of the Press Gallery.”

As of this writing, the Gallery hasn’t budged. It has carefully weighed the quality of Rebel’s work and found it wanting. And, if it maintains that position of refusing to endorse journalism it regards as not just inferior but dangerous, the National Post editorial writers will have learned a fundamental lesson about newsgathering.

It might help them if they spent a few hours reading about how our system of parliament got started. It wasn’t easy. That was because the last thing members of parliament wanted was publicity of any kind about what they were debating and how they were debating.

The first House of Commons did everything it could to prevent publication of debates and reports. Historians figure it took close to 100 years before MPs got used to telling the people what they were up to. Back in 1798, British MP and Minister of War William Windham, lamented that the naval mutiny of the previous year had been caused by “parliamentary reports of an evil nature.”

Windham also waxed eloquent on the theme that newspaper writers “were not the best judges of political affairs” and that the great unwashed public was “not the most discerning class of society.”

He lamented that when he moved around town, he saw newspapers “being carried everywhere, read everywhere, by persons of inferior capacities, and in common alehouses and places frequented chiefly by those who were least accustomed to reflection, to any great mental effort.”

Fast forward 200 years to April 2002, and British MP Peter Mandelson is ending a long television interview with comments on the value of press interviews. “I think that those who report politics … I think they are a very inward-looking, very incestuous bunch of people who are overly preoccupied with process rather than policies. As a result, we are not getting the coverage of politics that the voters deserve.” 

As a reporter or columnist for 60 years or more, I always think at such times of my old columnist hero Bob Considine. He taught me long ago that “whenever readers call in to accuse you of being a bum, always consider the possibility they could be right.”

I share that Considine thought for the benefit of those who defend the spiteful spread of malicious, racist, unfounded hate and those who defend such evil as justifiable “free speech.”

One of the worst things to ever happen to “the press” was its description in 1787 by Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate. Pointing to the Gallery where they sat, he proclaimed that there were “Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” Arrogantly, we believed him; many reporters still do.

But only until we remember the alternative quote believed coined by Rudyard Kipling but first used, with permission, by his cousin Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in a speech in London on March 18, 1931. At least two major newspaper publishers were in the audience to hear his message that they held “power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

The press retains its position in free world parliaments today as defined by Sir Barnett Cocks, when he was Clerk of the House of Commons in the 1960’s. “The press,constitutionally and historically, is here on sufferance.”

A sobering truth.

Before We Had Any “safety nets”

Starting to feel a little “stroppy” with all this wearying COVID-19 stuff? Can’t shake hands, no hugs. Staying social distances apart from your closest and dearest. Wearing a mask if you’re anywhere near a crowd – and a crowd is more than two or three people.

Has any generation before today ever had such a restrictive lifestyle, such day by day, stressful living conditions?

Take a deep breath before you answer because the factual answer is that although we are a generation in frightful crisis, we have never had it so good. We have never been so cared for; never had a government so determined to keep a dollar in our pocket if health protection restrictions have shut down our job or are threatening the survival of a business.

Last week in this space, I reminded readers of times when life was really tough and those who lived well cared little about those less fortunate. I was talking about the days before Canadians, and a few other maturing nations started to become aware of the concept of community responsibility and recognize the need to prepare for disasters before they happened.

Young folk groan when grumpy old men start talking about the past. They shouldn’t because if we ever forget how bad we old folk were to each other when we were young and uncaring, we might find our world slipping back to those dark times.

You know … those were the times before we had Employment Insurance and before we had Old Age Security pensions (pitiful though they remain). It was a time when company pensions were few and far between. Those were the days when you couldn’t get a cent in compensation for on-the-job injuries, and health care was unaffordable for millions.

When I wrote last week of 148 coal miners dying in 1887 in a series of massive explosions on Vancouver Island, did you wonder what happened to the dozens of instant widows created by one negligent workplace act – an ill-placed explosive charge? Did you consider what happened to all the children left fatherless?

Mine owners were not entirely without pity. They had an old understanding with miners’ wives made widows. If there were male children in the family of working age, they would get selection privileges if they applied for the vacancy created by the death on the job of their father.

In mining accident records, it is not unusual to find 13- and 14-year-old children as breadwinners.

I have focused on Nanaimo in BC because I once lived and worked there, not because it was the only province caring less for its miners than it did for the value of the product of their labour. (Alberta topped BC in accident magnitude. In 1915, 189 miners were killed at the Hillcrest mine.)

Among the more bizarre BC mining tragedies shamefully scattered along the provincial timeline is the May 9, 1915 explosion at Southfield Mine, South Wellington.

Just before noon, a controlled explosion was fired too close to the old flooded Southfield Mine. Official reports bleakly note the shot “broke through into the old workings … As a result of this inflow of water, 19 men lost their lives by drowning.”

A coroner’s inquest followed the first investigation into the Springfield drownings. It was followed by manslaughter charges against two mine officials and finally heard before a jury on October 27, 1915.

And, that prestigious jury cleared the two officials – Mine Manager John H. Tomkin and Chief Inspector of Mines Thomas Graham – of all legal responsibilities. Graham resigned as chief inspector; Tonkin returned to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Within two years, the “drowning pit” was closed with all workers being transferred to the new Morden Colliery, which is now a historic park and dedicated to all deep pit miners whose dangerous work sustained the mining industry and kept the rest of us warm in winter.

Far more important is the “safety net” they and their miners’ union started to build so long ago, and we now take for granted.

Today, as I have written before, we are living in an “inconvenient,” but not hard, time. For a look at hard times, Google the Report of the BC Minister of Mines 1887; the Ladysmith and District A Tragedy of Error; and anything written by Lynn Bowen about mines and miners.

When Coal was King But Far From Proud

The troubles started in Extension, a small mining community a few kilometres south of Nanaimo in August 1912. Two coal miners were fired when they complained to management that unacceptable levels of explosive gas existed at the coal face. One of the workers headed north seeking a job in the mines of Cumberland only to find he had been blacklisted – not just in Cumberland but throughout Vancouver Island.

When the Cumberland miners heard of his plight, they proclaimed September 16th, 1912, a study day and downed tools to discuss the challenge to already hazardous working conditions. The following day they found themselves locked out and were informed they would remain locked out until they signed contracts vowing to end job action, quit their union, return to work and never again engage in trade union activity. 

The agreements, contemptuously called “yellow dog” contracts, saw the Cumberland miners stay off the job – and every other miner at every other pit on the Island followed in support of what the history books would call Vancouver Island’s Great Coal Strike.

It was a time when coal mining was the primary industry on the Island with large and small operations digging for the vital fuel from Ladysmith to Fort Rupert (Port Hardy). For months, mine owners were content to leave their mines silent, but by August 1913 – with stockpiles depleted and demand from ships, railways, and steam-driven heavy industry growing – they needed to get back into production. But their miners, concerned for decades about safety on the job as well as poor pay, were in no mood to compromise.

Their memories of a seemingly endless stream of disasters, from single deaths to the 150 dead in the Nanaimo No.1 mine explosion and fire in 1887, kept them implacable in their demands for greater safety. The workers were not always right in their beliefs or justified in their demands, which included an irrational ban on Chinese workers. But, their cries for more excellent safety and better social conditions in the mining communities were hard to deny.

But, deny them the mine owners did and, with the tacit agreement if not outright support of government, they brought in small armies of strike-breaking miners from San Francisco and as far away as Italy. Striking miners living in mine-owned houses were ordered to vacate and were evicted by “special constables” if they refused. The strikebreakers were to be the new occupants and were encouraged to defend what they were offered and provided with sticks and clubs and told to fight back when threatened.

In Europe WW1 was raging with horrendous battle casualties. On Vancouver Island striking miners and imported strike-breakers engaged in mine-head or street corner clashes with miniscule fatalities but many broken heads and limbs.

On August 5th, a group of strikebreakers attacked and stabbed a striking miner. The assailants were subsequently arrested, but only after demands from a delegation of miners who complained of double standards in the enforcement of the law. On August 11th, a large rally virtually took over Nanaimo to protest the presence of strikebreakers, and the following day, 800 strikers and their families marched in a similar protest in South Wellington. That protest led to the expulsion of “the scabs” from the Wellington area and encouraged the protesters to march on to Ladysmith, where, as August 13th dawned, the protest turned violent.

When one protester began to sing “Hurray, hurray, we’ll drive the scabs away,” he was arrested and jailed in Ladysmith. A report published by the Simon Fraser University Labour Studies Program tells us the miner was freed by his wife, “a veritable Amazon in build, vigour and strength” who rallied a group of strikers and marched to the jail where “wielding an axe she freed her husband.”

Rioting continued through the night with homes and other mine company property destroyed. It culminated in a bundle of dynamite being thrown into the home of strikebreaker Alex McKinnon who was badly injured as he tried to protect his children from the blast. It took more than a year before two perpetrators were brought to trial, and it was revealed that they were neither strikers nor strikebreakers but two citizens “who were drunk and had allowed their participation to go too far.” They were sent to prison.

On August 20th, 2011, (when I wrote this original column) – there was a day of remembering Vancouver Island’s mining industry at the Morden Colliery Historic Park a few kilometres south of Nanaimo.

Morden had never earned a high degree of fame for production or notoriety on the mine-tragedy scale. And only the weather and time damaged head-frame at the pithead of Morden Colliery plus a few other structures remained as bleak ruined monuments of British Columbia’s coal mining industry, gaunt reminders of the men who had worked the coal seams – and all too often, in their hundreds – died in the dark.

In April 2019, the provincial government approved a grant of $1.4 million to restore and preserve the Morden Mine coal tipple, the only one surviving in Canada and one of only two remaining in North America.

It remains a work in progress but is open to visitors this summer. Google “Friends of Morden Mine” or go to Facebook or Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park for how to get there, and up to date visiting times. If you would like a fuller picture of what life was like when coal was King and coal barons brutal, find a copy of Three Dollar Dreams by Lynn Bowen – and understand why a restored coal tipple is a worthy monument.

When “for ever” Is Sometimes Shorter

When, in the late 1600s, the government of England proclaimed the 29th day of May should henceforth, “be kept forever as a day of thanksgiving for redemption …” it was voicing bizarre evil.

The English Civil War (1642-1649) was fought between the royalist forces loyal to King Charles I and the parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. The Royalist were defeated at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 and Cromwell declared Britain a republic and went on to become it’s Lord Protector. Following his death in 1658 the monarchy was restored and Charles II became king on May 29, 1660.

We can be thankful that, although it remained unchanged for 200 years, it doesn’t seem to have been more than a brief tear drop in the great clock of time. I am not referring to today’s traditional month of May holiday celebrated these days on the “Monday preceding May 25” and so ordered by Queen Victoria.

My lament is much more dramatic with a dazzle of handsome cavaliers, superbly mounted, riding through the night to protect a bonny Prince Charles from Oliver Cromwell’s hard-faced “Roundheads.”

Early morning – 3 a.m., the record keepers say – Prince Charles with a party of 60 loyalists is on the run, survivors of the Battle of Worcester hoping to find a night’s rest with sympathizers. Instead, they are advised Cromwell’s troopers are already searching for them locally.

The Prince and two officers are advised to select one of the large nearby oak trees in which they could hide throughout the dawning day before continuing what was now a dash for the coast and the safety of a ship to Europe. It was some 30 years before Charles – then King Charles II – could tell his story to the great diarist Samuel Pepys.

A local supporter led them to “a great oak in a plain place where we could see all around us. It had been lopped some three or four years before and was grown out very bushy and thick and could not be seen through. And there we sat all day …”

The only facts history can guarantee for that night of high adventure are that Charles was on the run in that specific area; that he did avoid capture; and that he found sanctuary in Europe. And, there are claims that acorns from oak trees in the geographic area of the incident provide positive genetic links.

One day, an enterprising tree specialist may track down such a link and plant a clinically proven seedling out Elk-Beaver Lake way – a bona fide descendant of King Charles II confirming the early settlers’ approval to the name given to the chosen district of Saanich on today’s map. It was known as “the lake district’ when they moved in, changed to Royal Oak by common usage as they settled in.

But, then again, there’s a “but” for everything and quite a few to attach to the Glamourous Charles II, who came back to England from exile in 1660 to finally claim the crown he was denied when he hid in the oak tree.

His nemesis Oliver Cromwell had died during Charles’ exile in 1658 and was honoured by a state funeral at Westminster Abbey equal in magnificence to any bestowed on any Monarch before him. His son Richard replaced him, but an army revolt quickly ended his leadership career, and Charles II was back home, king at last.

The new king moved fast on a fearsome journey of revenge. One of Parliament’s first decisions under Charles II was a response to royal demands that Cromwell, dead and buried in Westminster Abbey two years earlier, be disinterred and brought to trial for the murder of King Charles I.

Two of Cromwell’s advisors, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, followed the same Parliamentary fates. All three were found guilty. Their corpses beheaded and placed on 6.1 metres (20-feet) poles at the entrance to Westminster Hall, where the trial had been held.

And what has all or any of the proceeding to do with the opening paragraph of this piece that May 29 “be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny …”

It is interesting to wonder what Queen Victoria was thinking in 1859 when she authorized “the full and formal abolition” of the Bill to Celebrate the Birth of Charles II and basically replaced it with the holiday and birthday party for whoever sat on the English throne.

When Royal Rights Are Wrong

When King George III died on January 29, 1820, he had lived and reigned longer than any preceding monarch; and only two – Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II – have since surpassed him.

“Farmer George,” as he was fondly known early in his reign, was 81 years and 239 days old when he died and had been King for 59 years and 96 days. He is best remembered as the “Mad King” who lost England’s American Colonies in his descent from vigorous leader to the darkest shadows of mental illness.

In 2020, we may be a little kinder in our description of our leaders than we were when George III was blundering his way through history. “Mad” is far too harsh a pejorative when questioning the conduct of a royal – or doubting the sincerity of the president of one of the world’s once-great countries, a president who appears to dream of being royal.

So, we may well shake our heads and mutter madness when we recall King George informing his realm: “Once vigorous measures appear to be the only means left of bringing the Americans to a due submission of the mother country – the Colonies will submit.”

But, we can only wonder about President Donald Trump’s mental ability when we hear him bluster similar threats to state governors – that if they don’t start roughing up “black lives matter” protesters in their towns and cities, He – the Lord High Executioner – will send in the National Guard to sweep the streets.

If we have read any histories of the rise and fall of the British Empire, we may have stumbled across another King George gem that resembles a Trump twitter: “A traitor is everyone who does not agree with me.’’

I realize we are getting a little late in the American presidential election cycle; still, I think it would be a great idea if CNN and the U.S. newspapers started a series of articles on the USA Declaration of Independence and the 27 “grievances” attached that made sure England understood what was bothering the colonists in the new world.

Taxes, as always, were of paramount concern, but how they were imposed and collected were more important than the amount of the tax.

Grievance 1: “He (the King) has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

Grievance 2: “He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

Grievance 3: “He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

To read the next 24 grievances, go to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grievances_of_the_United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

There is a clear theme: “You, King George, set us up to look like a government, but all our decisions depend on your final say — and we have no appeal …” It’s a form of phony democracy Donald Trump would love to institute – and tries to impose from time to time. Readers with the patience to riffle through all 27 of the Grievances will notice how easily “would-be-king Donald” could be substituted for “mentally challenged King George.”

I leave my final thought on the loss of the American colonies to Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. It’s a few years old but thoughtful, honest, mentally sound and stands up well: “We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time – and the manner – of yielding what it is impossible to keep.”

A Fashionable Fight

It was in 1977 that the Government of British Columbia awakened the residents of Lotus Land with a new law. And I mean, awakened.

On a specified but not too distant date if you drove a motor vehicle in BC in would be mandatory to be safety-belted in. And anyone who wanted to ride with you would also be strapped in.

Later refinements would widen the straps and buckles

to create  safety seats for infants and slightly older youngsters. And full adult safety seats would have to be available for any passengers. There were hefty fines for law breaker.

The new law designed to protect travellers on highways being made increasingly hazardous by careless drivers, was not welcomed. Drivers, whose accident rates were making the safety requirements essential, regarded the “buckle up or be fined” regulations as punitive, and the speed with which they were being brought to law a threat to democracy.

But the government stayed firm, insisted that it was driver’s and their ever mounting medical plus car repair costs that made the seat belt safety program not just needed –but essential,

The debate continues and, of course always will because people don’t like to be told that sometimes the only way keep costs in check is to curb their bad behaviour. And if the people, who should know better, continue to misbehave, then tough action to get their attention is required.

We appear to have arrived at one of those “tough love” checkpoints in the current pandemic now staggering the world and at present defying science. In the past the men and women of science have won most of their major battles with the ills that plague us.

For sure it’s true they haven’t won them all, but where they haven’t yet won they continue to fight with some success at slowing down some diseases which once were unchecked; and I do believe they edge ever closer to the day when we can claim another victory.

In the present battle they have asked for our help. They have asked us all to give them a hand by wearing a small face mask. And some of us are responding by doing just that – but we do get a bit indolent out here where we complain if the sun doesn’t shine every day.

So, anyway, I wear a face mask on the rare occasions when I venture forth into the ever-wider world. My own doctor tells me it helps, and I need to believe his advice,

I regret that I still walk with the minority when it comes to masks – but I have great hopes for a mass conversion. I read in the New York Times a view days ago that Gucci had designed the mask Billie Eilish wore at the Grammy awards. It maybe all the medics need to boost their cause for a growing use of face masks.

All that is needed now is for women to realise that a face mask fashionably associated with a blouse, dress or jacket can be most attractive. Men won’t be far behind as they search for the “rugged” look.

And our health care workers will be delighted.