DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> Tossing Pebbles in the Stream: 06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At Last the Summer Solstice

Well, Happy Summer Solstice. It seems summer has really arrived.

We are entering the festival season it seems. Aboriginal Day, June 21; St. Jean Babtiste Day, June 24, Multi-Cultural Festival, June 30, and Canada Day, July 1. These events speak to significant groups within Canada: First Nations people, French Canadians, Ethnic and Cultural groups, and on Canada Day, all Canadians.

Today is Aboriginal Day. June 21. First Nations people will be marking the occasion with family and community activities. Those of us who live close by First Nations Communities will be well aware of this and even joy in the activities. In Canada's Constitution the First Nations are recognized these include the Amerindians, (I live in the traditional territory of the Anishanaabek , {the Ojibwe,} if you prefer) the Inuit, and the Métis. I am particularly thinking of the Métis this year. Until they were recognized in the Constitution they were often overlooked at First Nations people and many out of shame or ignorance has let their heritage disappear. With a new sense of identity and respect for their heritage, many have rediscovered their roots once again identified themselves as Métis and demanded their rights.

A Métis Sash or Ceinture fléchée

Banner of St Jean Babtiste One of our local church is L'Église de Sacre Cour (note the sacred heart at the center of the banner.

June 24 is St. Jean Babtiste Day. In Québec is recognized at Le Fête Nationale du Québec, a nationalist holiday. Our local Franco-Ontarien community has begun to celebrate it more as a wider French Canadian celebration after the years of it being politicized by the separatists in Quebec. The French Canadians in Ontario have a long history of struggling to win a stronger presence within Canada and never sided with the Québecois and their nationalist dream of an independent Nation.

Ironically, it was at a Jean Babtiste celebration in 1880 that "O Canada" was first heard. It was to become Canada's National Anthem.

In Nova Scotia there is a Multi-cultural Festival beginning next week. Across Canada, such festivals are observed at many times throughout the year. In the major urban areas where there are such large ethic and cultural groups there are many rich festivals throughout the summer. This weekend the International Indian Film Awards is taking over the city. With Canada's large South Asian Community Bollywood films are very popular. That is happening in Canada is a recognition of the significance of the Indian Community in Canada.

The following week the colourful and very large Gay Pride Parade will take center stage. And so it goes throughout the summer from one ethic or cultural group to another.

A playful Canada Day banner. Even our pups can come out to celebrate.

(click on photo to enlarge)

Here is a previous Canada Day Celebration in Ottawa in front of the Parliament Buildings. This year, for the first time, I will be with the throngs in Ottawa. Lynne and I will be taking in the festivities and well as trying to catch a glimpse of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) who will be in attendance as part of their visit to Canada.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Flag: Our National Symbol

There are many things about Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party that irritates me. I will be very uncomfortable for the next four years of a majority Conservative government in Canada.

One of the most annoying things about Stephen Harper is how he has commandeered our National symbol, the Flag as his own. It dawned on me gradually during the election until I realized there was never a chance for a Harper's Conservative Party's sound byte that he was not standing in front of a Canadian Flag. No other leader of a party did this. This wrapping yourself in the flag is foreign to Canadian politics. You see it often in the US where I think Harper got the idea.

The flag belongs to the whole Nation and all Canadians. While Canadians often do enjoy waving the flag, it is never to the exclusion of others. We witnessed this at the past Olympics where the flag waving left some of us a little uncomfortable even though we recognized it was a symbol of inclusion for all of us. Such overt chauvinistic displays are awkward for some. When I suggested to Lynne that we should get a couple of small Canadian flags to wave when we go to Ottawa for Canada Day, she said , "No". Such a display was not her way. Also it is not mine either, although I do have a flag hung on my house's porch. I am a Canadian nationalist and definitely not of the Conservative kind.

You notice Stephen Harper has even adopted red as his colour. Not any red but the red in our flag. This is ironic as blue is actually the colour historically associated with the Conservative Party, as in "blue bloods", the establishment. The party in Ontario, in my youth was called the "Big Blue Machine". Red is often associated with the progressive end of the political spectrum. Remember the red flag of Communism or Anarchism. Ironically we still speak of Red Tories. These are conservatives that are conservative fiscally but progressive socially. They were very much a part of the former Progressive Conservative Party.

What is going on here.

I think there is a deliberate attempt by the Conservative Party to identify itself with our National symbols. Stephen Harper has relatively recently referred to the Conservative Party as "Canada's Party" , as if it speaks for Canada in ways other parties do not.

In the parliamentary system of government, the Prime Minister and his party has the responsibility of forming the government. It only does so as long as it has the consent of parliament. It does not fully represent the country, in fact even as a majority government it did not receive a majority of votes.

To represent the country as a whole, we have a Governor General, ( the Queen's representative) to represent the Nation. The party in power need to remember it has no divine right to rule. It has a serious and humbling responsibility to do so. It is in the American system of government these two functions: administration and national symbol is unified in the President. There are real strengths to having them separated. It allows one to oppose the government of the day and still be loyal to the country as a whole.

Notice in the Contempt isposter above the large blue "C" of the Conservative Party with a red maple leaf flag in its embrace. It is the same colour and shape of the maple leaf that sits in the middle of our Canadian flag.

The problem with one party taking as its own symbols of the whole country is it indicates that all others are outside the circle of belonging. Those who oppose the Conservative Party and its program are lesser Canadians. When the going gets mean, as iot will, non-Conseratives may even be seen as disloyal to the country, subversives, if you will.

Years ago, when Stephen Harper, got into federal politics he said he not only wanted to defeat the Liberal Party he wanted to destroy the Liberal Party. I am sure in this last election he thinks he has begun its destruction. His vision for Canada was to have basically two parties one of the right, the Conservatives (Canada's Party) and one of the the left, The New Democratic Party, which has replaced the Liberal Party as the official opposition. The Conservatives treat the NDP with contempt as those irresponsible socialists who cannot be trusted with the economy. (In fact, historically the New Democrats where they have formed governments provincially have been very responsible with the economy. In fact, it has been Conservative governments who have run up deficits. And of course, there was a Conservative government in Saskatchewan that was a criminal organization that saw many of its cabinet member go to jail. I think the Conservatives see the NDP as a more vulnerable and less threatening than the Liberal Party, which historically filled the centrist postion on the political spectrum.

Just before the past election the Conservative Party was found in 'contempt of parliament".
This is almost a unique event in parliamentary democracy. The Conservatives shrugged it off as just being outvoted by those who did not like them. It was much more serious than this. Such a dismissive attitude, in itself was contemptous of Parliament. It should have denied them of forming the government but they managed to deflect it's seriousness and convince their attitude to this judgement by parliament as the correct understanding of it.

With the Conservative Party laying claim to being the "Canadian Party", draping itself in the flag, and its willingness to treat parliament with contempt, the are well on the way to attacking a fundamental aspect of parliamentary government, the notion of the"loyal opposition".

I can imagine in the next election the Conservative Party claiming the opposition is out the destroy Canada and only the Conservative (Canada Party) can be trusted to govern. I hope politics does not degenerate to this level of discourse of " us and them". Time will tell. It may depend of the revival of the Liberal Party which is more representative of the political center in Canadian politics.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A New Family Member

This weekend my son and grandson came for a visit to do some chores at the cabin by the river and to show me their new dog. She is a white Labrador Retriever, cute as a button.

(click on photo to enlarge)

Heidi, Travis and the, as yet, unnamed puppy.

I guess the two dog are the long and the short of it. Heidi after easily accepting the new pup was quite willing to share sitting on the swing with her and Travis.

The new pup got a chance to explore a little around the cabin. She even dipped her feet in the river. The pup seems to be well socialized: she is very quiet and gentle and seems to like to follow Travis all around. I am sure the whole family is going to enjoy training this pup and having it in their life.

My son had a chocolate Lab for 15 years and a while back it's life with them came to an end. It was hard on everyone. It seems they are all ready to move on and enjoy this new pup, while having great memories of the life they shared with Hanna.

With the rain we have had this Spring the river is full. Last year after several years of Winter drought it was just a fraction of what it should be as a delightful river. The beaver ponds, marshes, lakes and rivers, even the Great Lakes, are nicely filled with water. We are ready for a sunny and warm Summer.

Monday, June 06, 2011

June 6, 1944: D-Day

"The German dead were littered over the dunes, by the gun positions. By them, lay Canadians in blood stained battledress, in the sand and in the grass, on the wire and by the concrete forts. I saw friends I had known, men who had joined the army in the first months of the war - and now had died in their first action here on the Norman beach. They had lived a few minutes of the victory they had made. That was all."

War is ugly and not a noble adventure. Those who glorify it and glamorize the Warrior is doing us all a great disservice. This is not to say that some individual rise to great levels of valour in battle and even risk and lose their lives for their mission and their comrades. Few wars are just wars. I believe the Second World War was a just war, a necessary evil in the face of an even greater evil. Even as a pacifist I recognize them and honour those who answered the call.

I take this day each year to learn a little more about " Operation Overlord", D-Day. It was an epic and heroic enterprise, for which failure was not an option.

Canada, along with Britain and the United States came ashore along 80 kilometers of Normandy Coast. A vast armada of ships, bomber, fighter and glider aircraft made the crossing of the English Channel. It was the largest such invasion in human history and a masterful logistical operation.

Who remembers the names of the beaches the various armies came ashore at? History in our society is not well taught in schools and yet for those interested there are great opportunities to learn a lot of history, on the Internet and through international travel to visit the actual places where great events took place. The Canadian troops came ashore at Juno Beach, with the British on either side to the east and west, Sword and Gold respectively. The Americans were coming ashore at the two Western beaches, Omaha and Utah beaches.

Canada's troops had a very challenging engagement with the German defenses. It was only less challenging that the Americans at Omaha Beach. In the spirit if the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War, the Canadian soldiers rose to the occasion and achieved their goal, with many casualities but less than expected, They moved inland further than any other military of that day. According to the historian John Keegan,

“At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.”

If you are interested in reading about the Canadians assault in Juno Beach go here,
where I found the two quotations I have used.

The Canadian soldiers who died in Normandy are buried in the cemetery , Bény-sur-Mer
I was surprised to learn that the Canadian prisoners of war who were murdered by the Germans under the command of Kurt Meyer, are also buried their. This historic event has fascinated me for many years. Kurt Myers was an SS Commander, who had a glorious career in the German Army, He fought in Poland, Greece, Russian and began his career in 1933 as part of the unit that protected Hitler. He was a dedicated Nazi ready to fight to the death for their cause. In Normandy, he ignored the laws of war and failed to protect the Canadian prisoners of war under his supervision at Abbaye Ardenne. He is the only German soldier than Canada tried for war crimes. He was sentenced to death which was later reduced to life imprisonment. In 1954, he was released do to ill health, a less than satisfactory resolution for some. There is a tribute video on Youtube if you are interested in such things. There are those who still admire him and his military achievement.

When I first met my neighbour whose last name is Meyer, I amused myself asked him if he was related to Kurt Meyer. He didn't know what I was talking about. When I explained the reference to him he said no his family was Dutch from the Netherlands Frisian area. I really did not think he was related to Kurt Meyer.

As an act of remembrance today, I recommend the video below. It is an encounter in the American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach between an aged American Veteran (101 Airborne) and a Frenchman who wanted to thank him for the US saving of France as he remembered it in his youth. I found it very touching. This is not an uncommon experience: the people of Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands remember and are grateful to the Allies sacrifice of their behalf. Anyone who has travelled to these countries will become aware it.

On Youtube there is a series of video that tell the story of the Canadian experience in Normandy. It is a interesting reminder of a time past when ordinary Canadians were called upon to rise to extraordinary challenges.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

I look forward to the day I can visit Juno Beach and the Canadian Museum there. How hard will it be to imagine the horror and chaos of that day so may years ago, June 6, 1944, while people and children enjoy the delights of the seashore, sand and sea.?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Alys Robi died at 88

I am sure few of you who read this blog are aware of Alys Robi .

She was a famous French Canadian chanteuse, who sang in English, French and Spanish. She was the first great French Canadian singer who cross over the barrier of the "two solitudes".
Her short singing career saw her perform in Canada, the United States and in Europe. She was a favourite in the 1940's for the Canadian troops in WWII. Decades later another remarkable child singer came out of Quebec to fame and fortune, Céline Dion

At age 5 Robi delighted her family and friends as a singer. At age, 13, a simple country girl, she left home to find a career as a singer in Montreal, singing in the burlesque houses, brothels and clubs (Montreal being an entertainment mecca of North American in those days. Those of us in English Toronto referred to it as Montreal, the Bad.)

I got interested in Alys Robi only a few years ago, when I learned that the father of a friend of mine has been a great love of Alys Robi, as well as an arranger of her music and help shape her career. He was Lucio Agostini, a famous Canadian musician, orchestra leader, and composer., who became well known in English Canada as the conductor of the CBC Orchestra, composing music for radio and television programs. He was an extraordinary musician in his own right. He told me once that he could read music before he could read words. His father had been a conductor and arranger before him. His son, Elio, my friend, played the drums when I first met him but never went on to do anything in music, He became a newspaper publisher instead.

Lucio Agostini and Alys Robi colaborated on music for her career which brought her to the attention of English Canada. They also had a great love affair, at least for Alys Robi did, Lucio did not at first tell her he was married and when he did he said he would not leave his wife for her which broke her heart. She went to the United States to overcome this great loss in her life and on the verge of being considered for a movie roll, she had a bad car accident. This accident and her lost love left her emotionally in trouble. She was diagnosed as being manic/depressive (bi-polar). Her father had her hospitalized and without her consent had her lobotomized. She spent six years in a mental hospital.

Alys Robi, never regained her singing career. She is one of the few people to survive a lobotomy and function at a high level. More often people that underwent this procedure ended up worse off such as Rosemary Kennedy, President Kennedy's sister, who was a difficult child but after her father had her lobotomized she was quite retarded as well as incontinent so that the family had her institutionalized.

Alys Robi managed to get out of the mental hospital and began singing again. She found acceptance among the gay community in Montreal and sang in their clubs. She also came to be appreciated and remember by veterans groups, for whom she also sang .

Alys Robi did a lot of work on behalf of former mental patients and was awarded for her work such than she became know as Lady Alys Robi. She became,in Quebec,famous for having survived a lobotomy as well as for being a wonderful singer. She wrote two autobiographies:
"Ma Carriere, Ma Vie" and "Un Long Cri dans la Nuit, Cinq Années a l'Asite". There was
also a film made of here life," Ma Vie en Cinémascope"
There are several videos on Youtube of her singing. I could have picked one of her latin songs like Tico Tico which were more famous but I preferred the two below as speaking a little about her life. There are few records of her singing except for this one from Gala Records.

"Laissez-moi encore chanter" (Let me sing once again)

"Plus je't'aime Je prie pour notre Amour" ( More than loving you I pray for our love)

I hope the various music awards held in Canada each year decide to honour this much forgotten Canadian chanteuse. Her life and music deserve to be remember by more of us.