October 24, 2016

Fire hydrants, metal boxes on intersection poles and a statue of Ben Kingsley ~ in Winnipeg

While in Winnipeg last month, Jeem and his lawyer friend, B.T. Mandelbaum, discovered that this is a friendly city. Truly friendly. Everyone seemed friendly. Winnipeg is not Vancouver.

They also discovered an exciting reflection of the multicultural diversity of Canada, of the First Nations, and our country's two official languages. And they found it on every street corner and in every coffee shop in Winnipeg. Again, this is not Vancouver.

However. They also were confounded by a couple of things.

First: what's with the poles attached to most of the fire hydrants in the city, especially in the residential districts? Surely to god the fire fighters can see the hydrants easily enough muttered Jeem. Why the poles then, offered B.T. Maybe a flag pole for Canada Day? suggested Jeem. That's just dumb replied his older, wiser lawyer friend.

The second question: what are these strange metal box contraptions attached to most stop-light poles at nearly every intersection in Winnipeg? At first B.T. thought they might dispense some sort of ticket for transit. Like a Pez dispenser added Jeem. The duo actually started to stick their fingers in these things until they noticed Winnipegers laughing at them.

In the end, B.T. came up with a logical answer to the first question, one that most Canadians would have recognized much earlier than the two from the Left Coast.

The fact is, said Mandelbaum, Winnipeg gets a lot of snow, and when the streets are plowed the snow piles up. It doesn't disappear later the same day as in Vancouver.  The poles show fire fighters where the hydrants are buried under all that snow. Ahhhh, thought Jeem, in admiration for his legal adviser, though in truth B.T. Mandelbaum had been disbarred years ago.

It took the help of an actor in Sherry MacDonald's play, The Seduction Theory, to answer the second question, without laughing at the ridiculousness of these two goofs from Lotus Land. Apparently, and Jeem checked it out for himself, given the weather of Winnipeg, these metal attachments contain the electronic speakers which aid the blind and visually impaired while crossing the street with the beeping noises we hear across Canada, and even in Vancouver. Hmm, thought Jeem. I see. And we were sticking our fingers in there, said B.T.

Questions. Answers. Sometimes they are both much simpler than they appear. But what in the world is a statue of the British actor, Ben Kingsley (born as Krishna Bhanji) , doing outside the Canadian Museum for Human Misery? Jeem and B.T. Mandelbaum never did find out.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.

October 20, 2016

My evening with Tommy Douglas

Years ago I spent the better part of an evening with Tommy Douglas.

At the time I was President of the Young Fellows Club of Weyburn and it was our 60th anniversary. The Club began as a service organisation formed in 1922 and it was a place of fellowship and community action for young guys mainly in their 20s and 30s. My father had been a member and so had Tommy Douglas, and they knew each other well apparently, though my dad was never a member of the NDP.

To highlight our Club's 60th Anniversary, and thinking big, we decided to write a letter to our most famous member, and invite Tommy Douglas to be the keynote speaker at our gala evening celebration. Tommy had retired from politics by this time and was living on Vancouver Island, and he surprised more than just a few of us by saying: yes.

Sitting at the head table I had Tommy Douglas on one side of me, and our local MLA, a Conservative, on the other. I kept calling our special guest Mr. Douglas and he kept telling me to call him Tommy. "Your dad called me Tommy, so should you." "But you two were about the same age Mr. Douglas." And we both laughed.

The Young Fellows Club is a group of young men dedicated to making a difference in their community, through service and by creating better citizens of themselves. It's not hard to see why Tommy Douglas was a member.

We had invited Tommy to tell us stories, and he didn't disappoint. He was a master storyteller, spinning yarns that softened hearts and fired up the belly. The message was always constant, his beliefs rooted in an earlier version of Liberation Theology.

Twelve years earlier, Tommy Douglas spoke out against the War Measures Act invoked by Pierre Trudeau during the October Crisis of 1970. At the time it was a courageous stand; few Canadians were willing to go against the draconian measures Trudeau and the Liberals unleashed upon the people of Quebec. I was a teenager in 1970 and Tommy's stand influenced me greatly in ways I only began to appreciate much later.

That night in Weyburn, I thanked him for his stand twelve years earlier, and we talked, however briefly, about the loneliness of standing for what is right when everyone says you're wrong.

A few years after his brief return to Weyburn, Tommy passed away. Today, October 20th, is his birthday.

"We are all in this world together, and the only test of our character that matters is how we look after the least fortunate among us. How we look after each other, not how we look after ourselves. That's all that really matters, I think."     
Tommy Douglas

Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray. 

October 17, 2016

Saint-Boniface & Louis Riel

Across the river from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (or Human Misery as some might say) is Saint-Boniface. At one time Saint-Boniface was its own municipality but it has long been a ward of Winnipeg. Its population is about 55,000 and it remains the centre of the francophone
community in Manitoba.

L'Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Boniface

Saint-Boniface has a old world charm all its own, and features historical landmarks like l'Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Boniface, Université de Saint-Boniface and Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface.

Université de Saint-Boniface

The Université de Saint-Boniface is a French language post-secondary institution affiliated with the University of Manitoba. Its origins date back to 1818 and it is Western Canada's oldest post-secondary educational institution.

A stone's throw from the university is Cathédrale de Saint-Boniface, which also dates to the early 1800s when it actually took the shape and style of a log chapel. The first cathedral was built in 1832 and it was destroyed by fire in 1860. Rebuilt a few years later, it was replaced in 1906, and that building was largely destroyed by fire in 1968. Today only the façade, sacristy, and the walls of the old church remain.

                                                                                                                                                                Within the cemetery of the old church we found the tombstone of one of Canada's greatest politicians, Louis Riel. Riel was born in Saint-Boniface in 1844. It is a rather unassuming resting place for the founder of a Canadian province, indeed for one so much involved in the early history of our nation.

Louis David Riel was the political leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies and he led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

Riel sought to preserve Métis rights and culture as their homelands in the North-West came under Canadian influence.The provisional government established by Riel ultimately led to the terms by which Manitoba entered Confederation as a province. But there were complications, including the execution of an anglophone soldier, and Riel went into exile south of the border.

In 1884 Riel was called upon by Métis leaders in Saskatchewan to voice their grievances to the federal government in Ottawa. Instead he organised a resistance movement that escalated into a full scale military confrontation: the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Canada used the new Canadian Pacific rail lines to send in thousands of combat soldiers. The rebellion ended with Riel's arrest and conviction for high treason. Rejecting many protests and appeals, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald decided to execute Riel by hanging. The order was carried out on November 16, 1885, in Regina.

Riel was portrayed for years in history classes as a crazy religious fanatic and a traitor against the Canadian nation, but that view has changed over time. He is now seen as a heroic leader who fought to protect francophone rights from the unfair actions of an anglophone central government. Sometimes seen now as a Father of Confederation, he was in fact fiercely committed to Métis nationalism and political independence.

Fascinating stuff. And if ever you find yourself in Winnipeg, see the Museum, but also walk around Saint-Boniface and see all that it offers, including the amazing story of Louis Riel.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2016 by Jim Murray.