Archives for: March 2007


Permalink 12:45:47 am, by Email , 149 words   English (CA)
Categories: Ask The History Buff

Ask The History Buff

Earlier this past week we wrote an introductory bio on poet Sylvia Plath. We were first introduced to this fascinating woman by our good friend Andy, and therefore dedicated this entry to him.

This got us to thinking, why not ask our readers who they would like to see and entry written on. It can be a historical figure, or event, and we have wide ranging categories to choose from, perhaps even a film based on history.

Not only may we have the fun, and challenge to learn, and write about something new, but in return we will be happy to dedicate, and link the entry back to you if, and when we use your suggestion.

So go ahead, your imagination, and the skies the limit, leave us a comment, and let us know who or what you'd like to see featured in this blog!


Sue & Matthew



Permalink 12:13:04 am, by Email , 735 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, Sports & Sports Entertainment

The Toronto Maple Leafs - Are They Cursed?

Bill Barilko

Sue and I were both born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1967...then a large city, and now a megalopolis.

This ('67) was also the last year the beloved Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup... the National Hockey League's championship.

This has been a very long drought for a team that is considered one of the premier squads in the league... not to mention, one of the wealthiest.

It wasn't the only time, however, that the Leafs have had poor luck... and some would say, one of those "bad times" was with cause.

In 1951, game five of the "best of seven" for the cup, Toronto defenceman, Bill Barilko tapped in an overtime goal taking the buds to their seventh championship. Barilko's number, on the back of his team's jersey, was #5... so five won five.

Barilko had a reputation as someone who was always smiling... a practical joker. He was beloved by his team mates... and respected by his by his opposing numbers.

The team Toronto was playing for the cup that year was the venerable Montreal Canadiens... their boss, Dick Irvin, loathed Bill. "I hate that Barilko so much," he once said. "I sure wish we had him with Canadiens."

Barilko was bone fide hero... born in Timmins, Ontario to Russian immigrant parents, he was the shining star of The Toronto Maple Leafs.

The same year he tapped in the winning goal, on August 26, he joined his dentist, Henry Hudson, on a flight aboard a small floatplane to take a fishing trip to Northern Quebec. On the return trip, the single-engine plane disappeared.

The owner of the Maple Leafs at the time, Conn Smythe, a well known "skinflint", did an unusual thing... he offered a $10,000.00 reward, "Dead of Alive" for Barilko.

To quote an article in "The Beaver", a Canadian history magazine,

He (Smythe) had been golfing when he heard that Barilko was missing. It had cut him like a knife. As the search proceeded he had spent time watching films of the Leafs' Cup triumph and told the press gathered at camp: "I can't get over the way that Barilko stood out." The young man from the north had been his "bounce boy," the unflagging spirit of the team.

Barilko, Hudson, and the plane stayed missing... and during the time, the Leafs failed to win a cup.

For over ten years, the men were missing... the team's progression was faltering... and tales of "ghost planes" trickled through the Northern parts of Ontario... the yellow single-engined floatplane... buzzing overhead before vanishing into the sky...

Was it Barilko and Hudson letting folks know they were still "out there"? Was it wild imaginations? Was it wishful thinking for a home town hero?

Either way, the Leaf's losing streak seemed to stay on a downward roll... and much of it was said to be the curse of Barilko.

Finally, in the 1961/1962 season, under coach Punch Imlach, the Toronto Maple Leafs started to turn things around... curse or no curse, they seemed to be a winning team... and in Spring 1962, The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated The Chicago Blackhawks and regained Lord Stanley's mug.

Not incidentally, just five weeks after this win, a pilot named Gary Fields from the Lands and Forests office in Cochrane, Ontario, thought he spotted something "glimmering" in the brush below him while en route to James Bay... upon investigation, the wreckage of the small aircraft lost over a decade before and two skeletal bodies were discovered. Barilko and Hudson had been found...

Since then, Barilko's "number" (5) and jersey have been retired from the Leafs... he is still said to be (by those who remember) the greatest team-mate and defenceman in the history of the sport.

...but did the practical joker play a roll in a decade of sliding games and disastrous seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs? Did his spirit fly-over the heads of unwitting witnesses from Sudbury to North Bay?

...and also, as mentioned, who's responsible for the drought that has lasted Sue's and my entire life?

Some might say Harold Ballard... long time owner of the buds...

...but is it?

Either way, the superstitious in the 1950's and early 1960's had to wonder... was the lack of a championship team the "curse" of Number 5?

...and does it help that the Toronto Maple Leafs now play at Air Canada Centre in Toronto... known locally to many as "The Hanger" in reference to it's aviation moniker?



Permalink 12:08:11 am, by Email , 1268 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, Heroic Women

Molly Brant

Molly Brant
Image above from The Molly Brant Foundation

In a patriarchal, white-European society, women were not often venerated, thought terribly highly of, or acknowledged publicly for their contributions... the concept of a Native or First Nations woman even less so... tack on the "rumours" that she was the white man's (whom she lived with) mistress and boy howdy, things should get rotten...

You'd assume then that this aboriginal woman living with a white man (not married in a European church) in the mid-to-late 1700's would be... well... pretty much neglected, forgotten, and unacknowledged...

With Molly Brant, you'd be dead wrong.

Mary "Molly" Brant came into this world in (roughly) 1736 in the Mohawk Valley of (then the Province of) New York... the older sister of warrior Joseph Brant and daughter to a Mohawk father and an Iroquois mother.

Molly's rise happened when she became "housekeeper" to Sir William Johnson at age 23, he was a trader and also Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Indian Department's Northern District.

Now, let's not split hairs... It's very clear that Johnson was quite taken with Molly... so much so that there are rumours and some thoughts that they were married through a traditional Mohawk ceremony (not, although, acknowledged by the European community)... and Johnson was a good husband and eventual father of his and Molly's nine children. It was reported by one of her biographers that Molly... "was as highly respected by the Indians as was her husband, and she was as versatile. He could dance, painted and naked except for a breach clout, around a fire with his native friends, and she could entertain the cream of white society graciously and properly in the grand rooms of Johnson Hall, with their Chippendale furniture and fine china."

It should also be pointed out that Iroquois Clan Mothers were no slouches and considered very highly by the tribe...

Therefore, Molly wielded almost automatic influence... and it seemed, this transcended through the racial and territorial divides. This would play greatly into her future.

In 1774, rumblings in America were starting. Some of the colonists wished to cede from Britain to form a new nation... what isn't well reported is that many did not... in honesty, modern historians feel that 1/3 wanted to break the bounds of the British crown, 1/3 didn't really care and were too busy scraping out a new life in the colonies, and 1/3 remained loyal to King George.

Sir William and Molly both went to work... they did everything in their power to keep the Iroquois and Mohawk nations loyal to the crown... and with some justification. Their efforts were not in vein as most of the aboriginal nations sided with Britain in realising that the "new" nation's colonists were hungry for land... their land... and it wouldn't be pretty.

Sadly, also in 1774, Sir William passed away... but in his will, provided for Molly and his children. Molly set up a store in Canajoharie and managed to eek out a decent living for herself and her kids.

Within a year, the rumblings turned to violence as The American Revolution came to a full boil.

Here's the next part some of my readers to the South of the Great Lakes won't like... Mel Gibson was WRONG. The movie The Patriot was fictional... Most historians, in America and other places familiar with the time of the American Revolution know that in fact, it was the Loyalists that were treated worse than most. Patriots literally burned them out, tarred and feathered folks loyal to Britain, and worse...

Molly provided safe haven for fleeing loyalists (running from those zealous patriots) saving literally hundreds and ensuring their safe passage into Canada and she helped supply arms to those fighting to maintain the Crown in North America. She even gathered intelligence to aid the Loyalist armies in their efforts.

Joseph, Molly's brother, also became famed for ambushing and killing 800 rebels with only 400 warriors and a handful of white militia at the Battle of Oriskany which also pushed the Mohawks into a more warlike stance... this pushed almost all the tribes, save the Oneidas and some Tuscaroras to the British cause.

The Patriots craved revenge and George Washington himself dispatched eleven regiments to "chastise" the Iroquois. The Mohawks, with Molly, fled this army North into Canada where Molly still worked to keep the tribes loyal to the Crown.

Molly, firmly believing in Sir William's ideas, continued her work. Although she could not initially sway the Iroquois to the British side, they did stay neutral. The Mohawks, on the other hand, did side with The British thanks to Molly's efforts.

The war ended in 1783... and Molly and the tribes were to face a more ignoble fate. In the peace agreement between America and Britain, the natives were completely left out. The Iroquois lands ceded to America as they were South of the Great Lakes.

Still, for her many efforts and bravery, Molly was given a pension and a house in Cataraqui (present day Kingston, Ontario) from the British where she and her children lived. This was for her "uniform fidelity, attachment and zealous services rendered to His Majesty's Government".

Her brother Joseph and the Mohawks settled in the area at Grand River, Ontario, where the Mohawks (Six Nations) still reside.

To give you an idea of how well thought of she was, in the 1790's, the "old enemy" (America) came to ask for her help. The U.S. government came North to ask that she help tensions that were growing in the Ohio Valley. Molly was not interested in helping the Americans (as she realised that the real reason they wanted her to slow these rumblings was to achieve a land grab from the natives in that area) and she contemptuously refused.

None-the-less, she and Joseph did work to avoid bloodshed and tried to convince their Western brethren to negotiate with the Americans... but it was all for not.

In 1794, the natives fought and were slaughtered by the Americans under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne at The Battle of Fallen Timbers... this action would lead to the rise of Tecumseh (and his brother, The Prophet) and the Natives falling in with the British a few years later during The War of 1812 (The American War).

Saddened and relegated to the fate of her people, but continuing to be a well respected "diplomat", she finished her years in Kingston dying in 1796.

A late-eighteenth century writing from a visiting European gives us an idea of her noble bearing during her later years...

In the Church at Kingston we saw an Indian woman, who sat in an honourable place among the English. She appeared very devout during Divine Service and very attentive to the Sermon. She was the relict of the late Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the province of New York, and mother of several children by him, who are married to Englishmen and supported by the Crown.... When Indian embassies arrived she was sent for, dined at Governor Simcoe's, and was treated with respect by himself and his lady. During the life of Sir William she was attended with splendour and respect, and since the war receives a pension and compensation for losses for herself and her children.

A woman of uncommon bearing... someone who stood and was counted and did more than many men... respected by all parties... friends and enemies... men and women...

She left a legacy of loyalty that stayed with the Iroquois Confederacy for generations.

"Her Story - Women from Canada's Past" by Susan E. Merritt
Gala Film's War of 1812 Site
Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation
Wiki - Mary "Molly" Brant



Permalink 12:25:24 am, by Email , 11 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, War And Conflict, Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday: Military Re-Enactment Society Of Canada

For a list of other Wordless Wednesday participants please click here.



Permalink 12:40:00 am, by Email , 188 words   English (CA)
Categories: Sports & Sports Entertainment

André The Giant

André the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and Mandy Patinkin The Princess Bride (1987)

André The Giant was born André Rene Rouissimoff in France. He was a professional wrestler that suffered from a genetic disorder that resulted in gigantism.

He made his USA debut in 1973 at Madison Square Garden. André was so successful that he continued wrestling more than 300 days per year, acquiring a large fan base over the next 16 years.

Known for his immense good nature, and equally large appetites, he loved both food, and alcohol. It is estimated he could consume 7,000 calories per day with the latter.

In 1987 André The Giant played Fezzik in the film version of The Princess Bride. It was one of his most favourite, and proudest achievements, and he carried a copy of the film with him wherever he travelled.

André suffered serious health problems because of his size, just under 7ft tall, and approx. 500 lbs. He passed away on January 27th 1993 due to a heart attack at the young age of 46. He was cremated, and his ashes scattered at his request at his beloved horse farm in North Carolina.

Rest in peace...Gentle Giant.....



Permalink 12:30:27 am, by Email , 464 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture

Sylvia Plath

October 27th, 1932 - February 11th 1963

"Dying is an art like everything else, I do it exceptionally well."

By the age of five Sylvia Plath was already writing full poems. At the age of eight she had one of her poems published in the Boston Herald. As a teen she was already a seasoned , and veteran writer. Sylvia's short stories were being published by teen magazines of the day, and she won through a magazine fiction contest two Smith poetry prizes. At this time Sylvia attended Smith College on a scholarship.

While still a student Sylvia obtained the position of guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine. While she is described as a sensitive, intelligent person, it should also be noted that she was in turmoil, and during this period made her first suicide attempt.

Sylvia underwent both psychotherapy, and electric shock treatments.

Graduating from Smith College in 1955 she continued with her pursuit of academic excellence at Newnham College, Cambridge England on a Fulbright fellowship.

Sylvia married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956. She was committed to making her marriage to Ted work, but he was moody, and adulterous, and eventually in 1962 he abandoned her, and their two young children.

Throughout this emotional turmoil Sylvia kept writing, her talents being amply displayed in her book of poetry The Colossus, and her semi autobiographical book, The Bell Jar.

It was very cold in London, England during the winter of 1963 where Sylvia, and her two children lived in a tiny, dark flat. While the little family were sick with the flu, Ted meanwhile was playing around with a young lady in Spain.

One night in February Sylvia left some food, and milk for her children in their darkened bedroom while they slept. She opened their window, and sealed off their bedroom door with towels, and tape.

In the kitchen, Sylvia took some sleeping pills, and proceeded to sit on the floor with her head by the oven door. The gas turned on full.

In the morning she was found by her nurse, at her side a suicide note that read, "Please call Dr. Horder." At the age of 30, Sylvia Plath had passed on.....

After her death a collection of Sylvia's poetry was published, Winter Trees, Ariel, and Crossing The Water astounded the literary world. And it is for these that she is truly honoured, and remembered.

At the time of her death Sylvia's divorce had not been finalised, and the rights to all her works went to Ted. In 1981 he published The Collected Poems, and Sylvia received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Sylvia is buried in the new cemetery adjoining the Church of St. Thomas Becket in Heptonstall, a small hilltop village above the town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, England.

For Andy.

See also:

Italian Poet Gabriele D'Annunzio

Thomas Chatterton



Permalink 12:30:39 am, by Email , 1104 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana



When Rousseau first thought out the term Noble Savage, one might think that he had Crowfoot in mind... but there was little savage about Crowfoot...

Born in 1830 into the Blood tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy in what is now Alberta, Crowfoot was a born warrior. Before he was 20 years old he had been in 19 battles with other tribes and had been wounded six times.

It was in 1865 that Crowfoot made a name for himself with the local white population after the battle at Three Ponds. An Oblate missionary, Father Albert Lacombe, was visiting a Blackfoot camp when it was attacked by Crees. Although greatly outnumbered and despite casualties, the Blackfeet held off the raiders for several hours during the night. Just before dawn Father Lacombe tried to get between the lines to call a truce, but he was not recognized by the Crees and was wounded by a ricocheting bullet. When the battle seemed lost, Crowfoot arrived with a large number of warriors and the enemy was soon routed.

Crowfoot went out of his way to avoid confrontation with the white settlers and with other bands... even conflicting with other warrior chiefs and providing escorts to traders to avoid native raiding parties.

In the 1870's, American traders started using whiskey and repeater rifles for barter and, in response, the North West Mounted Police (The Mounties... and soon to become The Royal Canadian Mounted Police...) was formed and sent into Canada's Western regions. In Crowfoot's own words, "If left to ourselves we are gone. The whiskey brought among us by the Traders is fast killing us off and we are powerless before the evil. . . . Our horses, Buffalo robes and other articles of trade go for whiskey, a large number of our people have killed one another and perished in various ways under the influence, and now that we hear of our Great Mother sending her soldiers into our country for our good we are glad."

Unlike what was happening in the United States, the police and military were welcomed into the Native territories without issue and with open arms. Crowfoot himself forging friendships with James Farquharson Macleod, then assistant commissioner of the NWMP. Because of this, white settlement went hand-in-hand with Native presence in the West.

For his loyalty and his influence with his people to respect the police, Mcleod ensured the rights of the Blackfoot were maintained.

In 1876, the plains tribes and the U.S. calvary were at odds... The Sioux attempted to convince Crowfoot and the Blackfeet to join them in their efforts and in turn, the Sioux would help them eradicate the NWMP.

Needless to say, Crowfoot said "no"... in fact, he warned the Sioux that if they attempted to come into Canada, he and his tribe would join with the police and drive them out.

For his stance and loyalty, he gained fame and respect in Ottawa and even gained the notice of Queen Victoria in England. He was a genuine living hero.

After some disastrous defeats, the Sioux did come to Canada... but Crowfoot realised they had come as refugees... and worked hard to make them comfortable. He even met with Chief Sitting Bull and made peace with the Sioux... Sitting Bull even named his own son Crowfoot in respect of the great leader.

In 1877, Crowfoot was instrumental in negotiating Treaty no.7 which allowed for European expansion into the West and maintained native rights as best as could be negotiated.

In Crowfoots own words, "While I speak, be kind and patient. I have to speak for my people, who are numerous, and who rely upon me to follow that course which in the future will tend to their good. The plains are large and wide. We are the children of the plains, it is our home, and the buffalo has been our food always. I hope you look upon the Blackfeet, Bloods and Sarcees as your children now, and that you will be indulgent and charitable to them... The advice given me and my people has proved to be very good. If the Police had not come to the country, where would we be all now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few, indeed, of us would have been left to-day. The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter. I wish them all good, and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied. I will sign the treaty."

In 1881, the Blackfeet and Crowfoot were also lobbied by Louis Riel's men and the Metis to join in the rebellion... sensing that this was a lost cause, but also remembering that the Cree (led by his own adopted son, Poundmaker,) and Metis had strong ties to the Blackfeet, he opted to stay neutral... and eventually, declared his loyalty to the crown... which, again, considering the might the Blackfeet would have added to the conflict, was much appreciated by the government.

At the end of the rebellion, Louis Riel was hung... and Poundmaker was sent to jail. Through his connections and good name, Crowfoot was able to secure Poundmaker's release in 1886... although, sadly, Poundmaker would only survive a few months after his release, dying of an illness in Crowfoot's camp.

Due to his assistance in helping with the Canadian Pacific Railway and ensuring that the rails ran "coast-to-coast" without native issues, he had been given a free lifetime pass to ride the rails... and after the Metis rebellions, he travelled to Ottawa and Quebec where he was treated like a beloved and heroic diplomat... popular with both the people and the government.

His countenance, diplomacy, and overall ability to do what was best for his people led to Canadian settlement to progress West without issue and ensured his people's welfare... although one could argue that things went downhill fast... but, there was never a universal "armed conflict" with the Natives and European settlers in Canada.

Crowfoot did see the degeneration of his people's life... the destruction of the herds... the loss of good hunting grounds... and was very saddened by it all... but he maintained his diplomatic efforts even heading down to Montana where he tried unsuccessfully to arrange a peace treaty with the Assiniboins.

His last years were spent close to his camps and his people... he passed away in 1890 and is remembered as a great diplomat and brave warrior chief.

Without Crowfoot, Canada's history with the aboriginal nations would be much different.

Much thanks to The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for the help with the above article.



Permalink 12:58:20 am, by Email , 2263 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, War And Conflict, Americana



His worst enemy said of him that he was, "the Moses of the family, really, the efficient man."

The same enemy also described him as, "one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things."

So said William Henry Harrison of Tecumseh.

The Shawnee warrior, born in (probably) 1768, was a force to be reckoned with. He started life in Ohio Country (in what is now U.S. territory) and was a member of the "panther clan" of the Shawnee.

Tecumseh was a warrior... born and bred. The biggest influence on his life was his elder brother, Cheeseekau, who was a paternal figure as Tecumseh's father died when he was an infant. Cheeseekau taught his younger brother to hunt with bow and arrow (ingraining a contempt for guns as they frightened away the deer,) and to fight with a tomahawk... and most importantly, to loath the white men... especially Americans who they saw as truly the people out to grab their ancestral lands.

Tecumseh fought with his brother against the frontiersmen rising to band leader after the death of Cheeseekau in the Cherokee war in 1792.

Interestingly enough, however, Tecumseh had a very closer friend in a young fellow named Stephen Ruddell, a young white settler who became a Methodist missionary to the Shawnee. Ruddell was adopted into the tribe after a battle during the American Revolution. It's through Ruddell that we see the beginning of Tecumseh's well known mercy's origins... While a white prisoner was slowly burned alive at the stake, Tecumseh rose and delivered a speech to all around that he would never again allow such barbarity in his presence.

Tecumseh avoided the drink as he saw the damage it could do (through the trials of alcoholism throughout the tribe and his younger brother's - The Prophet - successful battle against it,) and even managed to stave off being swayed from his course by love and sex. Tecumseh was, for all intents and purposes, all business and wanted nothing to make him stray from his course.


He did almost give up for one woman... a young white girl named Rebecca Galloway. She spoke Shawnee and taught him English. She introduced him to The Bible, Shakespeare (apparently his favourite was Hamlet,) and taught him, although he wasn't terribly happy about it, how to "act" in polite European society. He was genuinely taken with Rebecca... and even asked for her hand in marriage.

I should interject, Tecumseh was apparently a very handsome man. He was a lithe five-foot ten-inches with an oval face and fair features... thus he was not someone who women said "no" to a whole lot... and Rebecca did NOT say no.

She did, however, say that he must give up Native customs and ways and adopt the white man's ways...

Needless to say, this didn't work to well for the proud warrior, and reluctantly they parted... but after this, he was determined more than ever to stay single.

Tecumseh's goal was an "Indian Confederacy"... the same dream of Pontiac before him.

He traveled astonishing distances preaching his vision of a confederacy to any tribes that would listen... and made good headway.

He and his brother, The Prophet, ended up setting up a permanent settlement named "Prophet's Town" near the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers in present day Indiana.

This did not sit well with the new governor of the newly established Indiana Territory, the aforementioned William Henry Harrison.

Harrison negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which many local chiefs sold over two-million acres of land to the new territory... which did not sit well with Tecumseh.

Tecumseh took the concept that all native land was almost communal between the tribes argued that the treaty was invalid as it was only a portion of the elders and chiefs making the deals... not all.

Tecumseh and other elders/chiefs met with Harrison at Vincennes in 1811... and this is when Harrison found out about Tecumseh.

White settlers had long dealt with the aboriginals as "children"... which, by what was considered "civilised white society" was how they were viewed...

Harrison tells his interpreter to tell Tecumseh that "His Father" (meaning Harrison,) wanted him to sit by his side...

"MY FATHER!" shouted Tecumseh, "The Great Spirit is my father! The Earth is my mother - and on her bosom I will recline." and sat cross-legged on the ground surrounded by his warriors.

Harrison delivers a speech to the natives blaming the British for their ills and making promises to the Natives about their treatment and rights... which, once he was finished and the translation begun, Tecumseh lept to his feet and called Harrison a liar and a cheat... his warriors, in turn, started readying for a fight.

Harrison's men quickly gathered... they outnumbered the Natives and had more arms and proceeded to force Tecumseh's departure.

The next day, Tecumseh apologised and asked to see Harrison in the native encampment.

Harrison came and found Tecumseh far less angry and almost skittish. They sat on a wooden bench and Tecumseh started talking to Harrison in quick, almost nervous speech... edging closer and closer to Harrison as he spoke. Harrison was forced to move... and move again... until he was at the edge of the bench and complained.

Tecumseh stopped, laughed, and let him know that NOW Harrison understood how the Natives felt about their lands.

Tecumseh, seeing the writing in the wind, went to his allies, the British at Fort Amherstburg (or Fort Malden... present day Windsor) and asked for assistance should the fight come... The British give no promises... but say if they "must", they will help... but they try to curb the native's anger to wait for the right moment... and also to spare angering the much stronger Americans towards the British in North America at the time.

Tecumseh's brother, The Prophet, is far more leery of the Americans and wants to fight right away... Tecumseh wants to build his force and only go on the offensive if they must or at least, when they are best prepared.

Harrison realised this, and when Tecumseh was off trying to build his tribal confederacy to the South, he knew The Prophet might strike... it was something he was almost counting on.

Claiming the growing aggressive stance of The Prophet, Harrison send troops towards the Indian Territory... and even build a blockhouse, "Fort Harrison", in disputed territory. A "demonstration of force" to let the natives know that he means business. The reality is, Harrison is really only here to further his own ambitions.

In October of 1811, Harrison leads a force of two-hundred and fifty men from the U.S. 4th infantry towards Prophet's Town. They encamp less than a dozen miles away.

The Prophet, expecting an attack at any time, sent negotiators to suss out the Americans intent... both sides feel that a battle is in the offing.

Finally, early one morning at the American encampment, a band of warriors attack the Americans.

Through surprise, the natives gain an early advantage... but not for too long... Two days later, Prophet Town is overrun and reduced to ashes... what's left of the native survivors flee to British territory. The Battle of Tippecanoe is often thought of, with some truth, as the first battle of The War of 1812 (The American War).

Tecumseh, on hearing of this, is reported to have said...

I stood upon the ashes of my own home, where my own wigwam had sent up fires to the Great Spirit, and there I summoned the spirits of the braves who had fallen in their vain attempts to protect their homes from the grasping invader, and as I snuffed up the smell of their blood from the ground I swore once more eternal hatred - the hatred of an avenger.

The mission that had him away from Prophet's Town to the South was a failure... but in it's ashes, he found his Northern confederacy was intact... and ready to assist him and his cause.

When America, who was now using the "aggressive stance of the natives" as one of their reasons to go to war with Britain finally declare full war, Tecumseh and his native confederacy joined the cause with the British and Canadian forces.

Tecumseh fought bravely and hard in almost every battle he could. He was both considered a savage and a good civil soldier.

He kept the native warriors in check. He ensured the safety of captured Americans and was known to fly into a rage and even weep when he found out about any indignity or brutality shown to a wounded man or prisoner by his warriors.

He was both feared and admired... he took full advantage of the "reputation" of the savage natives and tried constantly to avoid needless violence or bloodshed... but when called on, could be as brutal and vicious a fighter as any... it was after the fight that gained him his popular reputation on both sides of the war.

By sheer presence and with the power of his voice, he managed to calm blood-lusting braves and get them into order... he could also equally get them built-up for battle with a rousing speech.

He was also know as a fair man... one who, no matter who it was, if he felt someone was being "cheated" or mistreated, would step up and take control.

The British command, needing the native allies, allowed him almost full control in many situations, and with his power amongst his people, they were very accommodating.

General Brock was a favourite of Tecumseh... Brock's smart efforts and carefully planned moves (while still being agressive) were admired by Tecumseh... Brock said of Tecumseh, "A more ... gallant Warrior does not, I believe, exist."

Tecumseh said of Brock, one simple statement... "This is a man."

With Brock's death at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Tecumseh had little use for the new British command... who were often vacillitating and not aggressive enough for the Shawnee... even going as far to tell General Proctor, after he allowed the natives in his command to slaughter defenseless prisoners and American wounded, that he should "Begone! You are unfit to command; go and put on petticoats." which, for natives, was the WORST insult one could hurl.

In the late Summer of 1813, things were going badly for the British... and Tecumseh saw reversal after reversal... and he wanted to fight and advance.

He convinced command to allow him and his warriors and a group of British regulars and militia to make a stand near the river Thames in Upper Canada in October... According to reports, the battle was fierce, but over the fire one could hear Tecumseh urging on his warriors... until his voice suddenly stopped.

Tecumseh was dead... killed in battle.

His body was never "officially" found... he has no grave. Many of the Americans, upon the completion of the battle, claimed they had the body or had seen it. One American was seen skinning an Indian's corpse to make razor-strops that he would claim were made of Tecumseh. When he was told by someone who knew Tecumseh that he had the wrong man, he replied no one would know the difference.

Legend says he was spirited away by fellow warriors and buried in an unknown location to avoid his body being desecrated.

At the time, the average American loathed the natives. They were seen as savages and allies of the hated British... but in the upper echelon of American society, they knew that he was a real leader... capable of brilliant speeches and a passion that was admirable no matter what.

In a very short time, his legend had outgrown the old animosity and he was hailed as a "Noble Savage" on both sides of the border... his reputation for kindness, honesty, justice, and above all, humanity were (and are) well respected.

Sadly, Tecumseh's dream of a native confederacy never saw the light... in fact, at the war's end, the peace treaty between America and Britain didn't include the natives at all.

Tecumseh was original... and he is considered a hero by many to this day.


"Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it is his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them."

"Then listen to the voice of duty, of honor, of nature and of your endangered country. Let us form one body, one head, and defend to the last warrior, our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers."

"When Jesus Christ came upon the Earth, you killed Him. The son of your own God. And only after He was dead did you worship Him and start killing those who would not."

"Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself."

Of note:

- Tecumseh refused to let a "white man" ever paint or draw his image. The picture at the top is a "best guess" based on descriptions and memories.

- Although it's pronounced a million ways, in Shawnee, it would be "Te-Cum-Suh" or "Te-Cum-Sa" or "Te-Cum-Say"... all will do... just not "Te-Cum-See"!


The Invasion of Canada and Flames Across the Border by the late Pierre Berton
Wiki Entry - Tecumseh
Gala Films - War of 1812
Britannica - Tecumseh



Permalink 12:22:36 am, by Email , 1585 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, War And Conflict, Going From Here To There

Wilfrid "Wop" May

Wilfred Reid May

There's very few things that are obligatorily "Canadian"... One of the lesser knowns to most people is a very proud tradition amongst aviation enthusiasts... The Canadian Bush Pilots.

Canadian pilots are considered the very best in the world... with an unflinching tradition of being level headed at the worst of times and literally "flying by the seat of their pants"... Even recently, the tradition of the Canadian pilot has come to the fore as someone who will do the seemingly impossible with an unflappable demeanor.

Then again, the "bird" on the Canadian Air Force's badge is the albatross... a great flyer and a LOUSY lander... but never so bruised as to not fly again.

Many believe, with good measure, that this tradition of aviation gumption comes from one man... Wilfrid Reid May.

Wilfrid May was born in 1896 in Carberry, Manitoba and was raised and educated in Edmonton, Alberta.

His "nickname" of Wop was not from derogatory origins, but from a young cousin who had trouble with the name "Wilfrid" and it came out "Woppie"... which was shortened to "Wop" which stuck throughout his life.

During World War One, Wop joined the army and became an adept gunnery instructor and rose to the rank of sergeant. When his unit was shipped to England, he and a friend applied and joined the Royal Flying Corps.

In a humourous note, the man who would define the term "Bush Pilot" and be integral to Canadian aviation history would, on his first flight, not only destroy his own plane... but another as well in a collision!

Still, the R.F.C. took a chance and Wop May started training to be a pilot.

During the war, he served in a flight with the newly formed Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) under a fellow Canadian and former school chum, Roy Brown... Brown had the enviable record of not losing any pilot under his command. A rare thing in those days.

On a morning patrol on April 10th, 1918, a small group of Fokker Triplanes attacked Brown and May (and their group). Unknown to anyone at the time, May chose his target... it was Wolfram von Richthofen, cousin of The Red Baron who was also one of the attackers.

The Red Baron, seeing his cousin in trouble against May, flew to assist... in doing so, Brown, seeing May in trouble, flew into attack.

All the planes ended up being at a very low altitude with Wop being chased by The Baron who was in turn being chased by Brown...

Officially, Canadian Roy Brown shot down The Red Baron that day... although there is some debate (and very good evidence) that he was shot down by Australian anti-aircraft gunner, Cedric Popkin. Either way, it sealed Brown's fame... and in turn, assisted Wop into the limelight to a lesser extent.

By war's end, Wop May had shot down a confirmed thirteen aircraft and four "probables"... and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Wop opened up May Airplanes Ltd. with a rented Curtis JN-4 or "Jenny" and set up what they called an "Air Harbour" (Canada's first airport) just North of Edmonton. They flew publicity flights and can hold the other title of being the first barnstorming company in the world.

May Airplanes also served the police (RCMP) with air reconnaissance when seeking criminals on the run in the vast wilderness.

In 1924 May Airplanes Ltd. failed and Wop was forced to find "real work". He first married Violet Bode, and then moved to Dayton, Ohio, to work in an assembly plant for cash registers. While there, a shard of metal pierced his eye in an accident which damaged his vision and would continue to plague him until the day he died.

Deciding, at this juncture, that flying was his only calling, he went home and formed the Edmonton and North Alberta Flying Club and became a flight instructor.

During this time, in 1928, a man working for The Hudson's Bay Corporation in Little Red River, Alberta, fell ill and was diagnosed with diphtheria. This was a multiple problem as mass infection could wipe out the settlement and, at the time, there were no roads to the town. Even the nearest telegraph station was miles away.

None-the-less, word did get out and made it to Edmonton... a pilot was needed to rush diphtheria vaccine to the settlement... May volunteered.

He and fellow flying club member, Vic Horner, set out in January flying in an open-cockpit aircraft and proceeded through rough winter weather, freezing temperatures, and heavy snows... they stopped to refuel once at Peace River who, sadly, did not have any aviation fuel... so they used standard petrol. The plane, now sputtering and choking on the not-as-clean fuel pushed on and eventually arrived at Fort Vermilion near the scene of the outbreak. The life saving medicine was delivered, but they found May's fingers had literally frozen onto the control stick of his aircraft and his eyelids, en route, had frozen open.

After a very brief stay, Horner and May made their way back to Edmonton and were rightly hailed as heroes. Their flight had made news across Canada and was called, "The Race Against Death".

May used his newfound fame to help establish an airline servicing Northern Canada that would eventually be called "Canadian Pacific Airlines".

Like other's I'd written about here, you'd THINK this should be enough for one person in one lifetime... and you'd be wrong...

In 1932, a gentleman named Albert Johnson (otherwise known as The Mad Trapper of Rat River) was on the loose and hiding from the law in the wilderness. May was put into service with a new monoplane with skis. He found out how Johnson had been hiding from the RCMP... he was using caribou tracks to hide his own. With this information, Johnson was tracked down and, after a brief firefight, killed.

For all his achievements, Wilfrid "Wop" May became an Officer of The Order of the British Empire in 1935.

At the outset of WWII, Wop was called in again. It had been decided that Canada was a logical choice to train commonwealth fighter pilots (a legacy that lasts to this day as CFB Cold Lake, Alberta and CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan are the main NATO fighter training schools) and May was put in command of No.2 Air Observer School in Edmonton and was made supervisor of all the western piloting schools.

Wop, amongst others, also supported the idea of women pilots helping in the wartime effort... the idea that women pilots were every bit as good as men and could be utilized was an idea that seemed to be a good one... it wasn't long before the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) and RAF did enlist women to act as "ferriers" and deliver aircraft to locations in and around Britain and Canada. Despite opposition from a vocal lot that women had "no place" in this dangerous venture, May and others argued they did have a place and would be a strong arm in the fight against Germany... and these women were instrumental in aiding the war effort. Click here to see a BRIEF video about one of these amazing women pilots.

May also had another issue he helped deal with... Edmonton was a "jumping off point" for large shipments of ferried aircraft and supplies going to Russia during the war. Some of these aircraft would crash leaving pilots down in the tundra of Canada's North. The idea came that jumpers could be parachuted to a crash scene, stabilise any injuries, and then help these pilots out of the wilderness. In a joint program using American "smokejumpers", May was instrumental with setting up the Para-Rescue team... precursor to (and later reorganised under Canadian military command) as Canadian Search and Rescue. In 1947, Wop May was awarded the Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm by The United States Army Air Force for this team's inception.

For this part, I'm going to borrow a bit from an amazing website, The Chronicles of W.R. (Wop) May... which I hope they don't mind me using...

In June of 1952, Wop May was hiking with his son, Denny...

On June 21st, we headed to Provo, and to the parking lot for Timpanagos Cave, and started up the steep trail. About half way up my Dad said "I can't go any further, you go on ahead and see the caves and I'll head back to the car". I started up the trail and he called me back saying "take my picture to show people I got this far".

I headed on up the trail, and on coming out of the caves, found my Dad lying dead. He had suffered a stroke, but he made it all the way to the top...

Wop May - Last Photo

He was 56 years old.

An extraordinary life... an extraordinary man... an extraordinary legacy.

Side Note Gleaned from Wikipedia...

On October 6th, 2004, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity located a rock on the south slope of the Endurance Crater on Mars. The 1 metre (3.3 foot) rock was given the name wopmay in May's honour.


Wop May, Bush Pilot by Iris Allan
National Pride Website
The Canadian Museum of Civilization
University of Manitoba
University of Alberta
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
Wiki Entry - Wop May

...and of course, the site I hope isn't mad at me for purloining information... I did send a couple of e-mails with no response... but the information was so good, I took the risk...

The Chronicles of W.R. (Wop) May



Permalink 12:05:15 am, by Email , 868 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, Heroic Women

Madeleine de Verchères

Madeleine de Verchères

Madeleine Jarret Tarieu was born on February 3rd, 1678 at her father's seigneury in Verchères, Quebec... she was the fourth of twelve children in the family.

In these early settlements, the seigneur was responsible for most things on their property including fortifications and defence... but who would know that Madeleine would play an important role herself in this... and at the tender age of fourteen.

In 1692, while working outside the fort's walls with other settlers, a cry went up...

"Fly, mademoiselle, fly! the Iroquois are upon us!"

Forty-five enemy warriors were approaching, firing muskets at the Europeans.

Knowing that there was only one professional soldier in the fort to protect the woman and children (including two of her younger brothers) and with her father and the men away on business in neighbouring community, Madeleine ran into the fort and, taking command, brought everyone into action.

The soldier recommended a "suicide" move of igniting the powder stores... better to go in a blaze of glory and possibly take out the enemy warriors then succumb to possible defeat and probable capture and torture... but Madeleine would have none of it, she fired the fort's cannon into the attacker herself. According to her own account, this cannon round "...fortunately had all the success I could hope for in warning the neighbouring forts to be on their guard, lest the Iroquois do the same to them."

Like many women of her age in the new colonies, she was already trained in how to use a musket, and set up her position... placing the guns inside the fort within sight of each other. She then quieted the cries of the women and children inside the fort so as not to let the Iroquois know of the possible vunerability.

Then, she planned a careful ruse... If anyone inside the fort could carry a gun, they would, and would march along the defensive walls, occasionally letting a shot go into the natives now laying siege. This fooled the natives into believing the fort to be heavilly guarded and therefore making them wary of a full attack.

"I went up on the bastion where the sentry was... I then transformed myself, putting the soldier’s hat on my head, and with some small gestures tried to make it seem that there were many people, although there was only this soldier."

For seven days, she rarely slept, never changed her clothes, sounded bugle calls and orders to keep up the ruse... and hoping beyond hope that eventually, her calls would attract any possible nearby French soldiers to assist her in holding the fort. During this time, it is said, she never laid down her weapon.

I will let Madeleine finish the tale through her account to the Governor of New France, the Marquis de Beauharnois she penned in 1716

On the eighth day (for we were eight days in continual alarms, under the eyes of our enemies and exposed to their fury and savage attacks), on the eighth day, I say, M. De La Monnerie, a lieutenant detached from the force under M. De Callières, reached the fort during the night with forty men. Not knowing but the fort had fallen, he made his approach in perfect silence. One of our sentries hearing a noise, cried out: "Qui vive?"

I was dozing at the moment, with my head resting on a table and my musket across my arms.

The sentry told me he heard voices on the water. I forthwith mounted the bastion in order to find out by the tone of the voice whether the party were savages or French. I called out to them:

"Who are you?"

They answered: "French! It is La Monnerie come to your assistance."

I caused the door of the fort to be opened and put a sentry to guard it, and went down to the bank of the river to receive the party. So soon as I saw the officer in command I saluted him, saying:

"Sir, you are welcome, I surrender my arms to you."

"Mademoiselle," he answered, with a courtly air, "they are in good hands."

"Better than you think," I replied.

He inspected the fort and found it in a most satisfactory condition, with a sentry on each bastion. I said to him:

"Sir, kindly relieve my sentries, so that they may take a little rest, for we have not left our posts for the last eight days."

Madeleine's fame for her deeds lived on... and still do. The image of the fourteen-year-old girl, dressed as a soldier, defending her home, her family, and her people is an enduring one... even if it's not one that's well known beyond the Verchères area and parts Quebec...

She lived to the age of 69 gaining a reputation running her family's seigneury as "The Landlady from Hell" for her strict ways and tough treatment of her tenants... perhaps still thinking back to her bold military days in her early teens.

Madeleine died at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade and was buried on the 8th August, 1747, underneath her pew in the parish church.

Madeleine de Verchères

"Her Story - Women from Canada's Past" by Susan E. Merritt
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
The Franco-American Women's Institute



Permalink 07:01:38 am, by Email , 1642 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, War And Conflict

Irish-Canadian Hero James FitzGibbon

James FitzGibbon

If I may quote a little bit of "Flames Across the Border" by the late Pierre Berton...

Lieutenant James FitzGibbon and his Bloody Boys are in hot pursuit of Dr. Cyrenius Chapin, an American surgeon from Buffalo whose band of mounted volunteers has been plundering the homes of Canadian settlers along the Niagara River. Leaving his men hidden near Lundy's Lane, FitzGibbon moves up the road seeking information about Chapin's movements. Ahead he spots a fluttering handkerchief: Mrs. James Kerby, wife of a local militia captain, is trying to get his attention. She runs to him, urges him to flee: Chapin has just passed through at the head of two hundred men.

But FitzGibbon does not retire. Up ahead he has spotted an enemy dragoon's horse hitched to a post in front of Deffield's Inn. He rides up, dismounts, burtsts into the inn. An American rifleman covers him, but FitzGibbon, who is wearing a grey-green fustian overall covering his uniform as a diguise, clasps him by the hand, claims an old acquaintance, and having thus thrown the enemy off guard, seizes his rifle barrel and orders him to surrender. The man refuses, clings to his weapon, tries to fire it while his comrade levels his own piece at FitzGibbon. FitzGibbon turns about and, keeping the first rifle clamped in his right hand, catches the other's with his left and forces it down until it points at his comrade. Now FitzGibbon exercises all his great strength to drag both men out of the tavern, all three swearing and calling on one another to surrender.

Up runs Mrs. Kerby, begging and threatening. Up scampers a small boy who throws rocks at the Americans. The trio continue to struggle until one of the dragoons manages to pull FitzGibbon's sword from it's sheath with his left hand. He is about to thrust it into his opponent's chest when Mrs. Deffield, the tavern keeper's wife, who has been standing in the doorway all this time, a small child in her arms, kicks the weapon out of his hand. As he stoops to recover it, she drops the infant, wrenches the sword away from the American, and runs off.

FitzGibbon throws one of his assailants against the steps and disarms him. The other is attacked by Deffield, the tavernkeeeper, who knocks the flint out of his weapon, rendering it useless. FitzGibbon mounts his horse and, driving his two prisoners before him, makes his escape two minutes before Chapin's main force arrives.

Meet "The Colonel Hisself", James FitzGibbon, born November 16th, 1780 into what might be considered a "lower-middle-class" family in Glin, County Limerick, Ireland.

Semi-literate, but an omnivorous reader/learner/student, FitzGibbon enlisted into a local Yeomanry at age fifteen where he soon made Sergeant. He then joined the 49th (The Green Tigers), a red-coated British regiment where he caught the eye of his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Brock (soon to be General Brock commanding all the forces of Upper Canada.)

He saw action Egmond aan Zee, Holland, in 1799. He served as a marine in the battle of Copenhagen (1801), for which he received the Naval General Service Medal. In 1802, FitzGibbon landed in Quebec with the 49th Regiment; he remained in Canada for 45 years.

Brock did what he could, helped FitzGibbon gain promotion without using the traditional "purchase" methods to Sergeant Major, then Ensign, then to a Lieutenant in the green jacketed Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles... FitzGibbon also improved his education with self teaching... The orderly room, he remarked once, was his high school and the mess room his university.

Brock also taught him how to treat the men... as a lady would her piano - that is put them in tune (good humour) before I played upon them. FitzGibbon, like Brock, was a popular and well liked commander.

FitzGibbon's task is to do the most with the least... act as a guerilla in the Niagara region with a hand-picked squad of forty-men... his "Bloody Boys"...

Where a lot of Canadians might know of FitzGibbon is when a beddraggled, worn, and foot-sore wife of a militia man from Queenston appeared at FitzGibbon's headquarters at the DeCou (DeCew) house near St. Davids... a treacherous and dangerous thing to do... especially for a woman... but none-the-less, she arrived with the help of some friendly Caughnawaga natives.

This woman let FitzGibbon know that the Americans planned to attack his headquarters and take his men. She found this out while she was forced to serve them dinner at her home in then occupied Queenston.

That woman's story would be re-told often... sometimes including her leading her cow all the way (not entirely a myth... she did, perhaps, take it part of the way... but not all the way as it would have been impossible... and her memory of the story got a little muddled as she aged...) but either way, Laura Secord had alerted FitzGibbon and his men of the American advance.

They selected a good ground near a place known as Beaver Dams, and with about 400 Caughnawaga and Mohawk warriors and 46 "Bloody Boys", attacked. The battle raged for three hours mostly between the Caughnawaga and Americans before FitzGibbon rode out towards the American lines with a white handkerchief flying. He "explained" to the American commander that he had a force of 500 battle-seasoned red-coats in reserve and more "savage Indians" were expected at any moment... and worst of all, he couldn't promise to control the natives once they were there.

At first, the American commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Boerstler demanded to see this main body of British soldiers, but FitzGibbon played the bluff back saying that he was not there to prove his word, but to try and ease the bloodshed that was inivetable from the Native warriors.

Boerstler surrendered.

Just as the American troops were lining up and grounding their arms, British Major De Haren and a small troop came up to the scene... FitzGibbon had to act fast... first, as De Haren was his commanding officer, if he took control, he would take all the credit for the victory... secondly, if his subterfuge was discovered and the American's realised that there was only a small force "capturing them", they would re-seize their weapons and... well...

FitzGibbon was not Brock's disciple for nothing...

He stepped up to De Haren's horse, laid his hands on the horses neck, and in a firm, low voice he said, "Not another word, sir; these are my prisoners.", stepped back and loudly said, "Shall I proceed to disarm the American troops?"

De Haren can only agree.

Native leader John Norton was reported to have quipped, "The Caughnawaga Indians fought the battle, the Mohawks got the plunder, and FitzGibbon got the credit."

FitzGibbon went on to take part in many scrimmages and battles... and at the end of the war, was made Captain of the Glengarry Light Infantry.

The Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles were disbanded in 1816 and FitzGibbon went on half-pay until 1825 when he sold his commission. He became a militia colonel in 1826.

FitzGibbon also stayed on in public life in Upper Canada taking many positions of civil service.

He is largely credited for keeping a riot at bay when he quelled his fellow Irishmen who were working on the first Welland Canal and were fed up with the lack of pay. His presence and speech turned them back to their labours.

He was also instrumental for stopping the "Types Riots" in York (present day Toronto) when, as constable, literally walked through the rioters (who, according to eyewitness reports, literally stopped in their tracks) to the head of the fellows attacking the presses of William Lyon Mackenzie and put a stop to the troubles.

His wit, courage, strength, and overall mythos were his greatest assets in the fledgling city and province.

He was also to have been in charge of the militia during the rebellions of 1837, but Sir Francis Bond Head, in an incredibly bad move, decided to put Allan McNabb in his place... FitzGibbon knew that Mackenzie and his rebels were close to attack, but Bond Head and McNabb vacillated... this sent FitzGibbon into a deep depression... but when they finally decided to act, FitzGibbon managed to get the militia out, line them up, and put a stop to the rebelion post haste.

In later years, he continued to serve in whatever capacity he could within the civilian and militia ranks... but debts and issues plagued him. Even with the citizenry of Upper Canada giving him a reward for his service of 5,000 acres of land in the province, it wasn't enough to keep up with his old debts which included things like his commissions and even his horse and uniform.

He finally took a post in England in Windsor Castle as one of the "Poor Knights of Windsor" (The Military Knights of Windsor) where he spent the last of his remaining days... although, he did read every newspaper and notice he could find on his adopted land over the ocean and still had family living in the Canadas from his marriage to Mary (neé Haley), with whom he had four sons and a daughter.

Of note, one of FitzGibbon's sons died in one of the more gruesome deaths recorded in York... He was sitting on some bleachers near St. Lawrence Market taking in some speeches when the bleachers gave way and collapsed into the cattle-butchers area below... he was impaled on a meat-hook.

With his pensions paying off his debts, FitzGibbon died at 83 and was buried in the crypt of St George’s Chapel.

A Canadian hero... full of swash and buckle... with a commanding presence... and yet, many don't know him or his deeds.

Flames Across The Border by Pierre Berton
James FitzGibbon - Defender of Upper Canada by Ruth McKenzie
A Veteran of 1812 - The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon

Historica Video Minute on Laura Secord



Permalink 12:56:37 am, by Email , 927 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana, Americana, Heroic Women

Harriet Tubman Davis

Harriet Tubman Davis

I can think of no way to put this, but to quote the first bit from a MARVELLOUS book called "Her Story - Women from Canada's Past" by Susan E. Merritt... Thank you, Ms. Merritt... your books are in all my stepdaughter's bookshelves.

Harriet woke in her seat with a start. The two white men across the aisle were talking about her.

"Wonder if that's the woman they're lookin' for?" said the one. He pointed to a wanted poster in his hand.

"Let's grab her," whispered the other. "Look at the size of the reward. Says here they'll pay $12,000 for the capture of Harriet Tubman."

Harriet coolly reached into her shabby bag and pulled out a book. She opened it and sat very still, pretending to read. Across the aisle, the men looked disappointed. "That can't be the woman," one of them muttered. "The one we want can't read or write."

Harriet Tubman rode the rest of the train trip in peace. "Guess I'm holding this book the right way up," she chuckled to herself.

Meet Harriet Tubman, born into slavery in Maryland in 1820.

The question you might wonder about is why $12,000 was offered for her capture... at a time when $12,000 was literally a "King's Ransom"?

Harriet was one of the most famous conductors of the Underground Railroad... that trail of escaped slaves that made their way North into Canada and freedom from the fields and homes in the Southern United States.

Being a conductor was a very dangerous business. It would mean certain and painful death if discovered, but such was Harriet's hatred of slavery that she took the risks.

She started early and at the age of fifteen, she assisted a slave to escape. For her efforts, an overseer tried to crush her skull with an iron weight knocking her unconscious for several days. When she recovered, she had a deep dent in her forehead and suffered with blinding headaches and a form of narcolepsy for the rest of her life. These sudden blackouts could happen anytime and she would fall asleep in mid-sentence and even while standing up.

This didn't deter her from helping others after she escaped herself.

Once free in the North, she helped many and even took on jobs to earn money... with which she purchased things like her first gun to assist her with her journeys.

"Nobody asked whether I was a man or woman when they put an axe in my hand or tied me by the waist to a mule," Harriet once declared, "I've been doing man's work all my life. I'm not afraid."

Harriet became the most famed and succesful conductors during those terible times... rescuing family after family, slave after slave, ending her dangerous trips in what became her home, St. Catharines, Ontario.

Farewell old master,
This is enough for me,
I'm going straight to Canada,
Where coloured men are free.

Despite the way being filled with slave hunters looking for fugitives, Harriet made the journey South and then North to freedom with refugees around eleven times... taking a route filled with hardships... having to wade through icy water... wandering through darkened woods... using disguises and forged documents to bring her "passengers" to freedom.

"If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more."

If any of them turned to cease their journey, Harriet would pull out her gun, level it at their head and say, "Dead men tell no tales. Go on or DIE!" because, had someone given up and was caught, they'd most likely be "pressed" for information to stop the freedom train to Canada.

Harriet figured, with some evidence, that had she or any conductors been caught, they'd be burned alive as an example to other slaves not to attempt a run or to assist their people in heading North.

Harriet's fame even spread through the slaves in the South where she was known as "Black Moses" for leading her people to freedom and safety.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, she returned to America and joined with the Union Army to work as a nurse, scout, and spy. During this time, she became the only woman in America to plan and conduct an an expedition against the enemy. Known as the Combahee River Raid, it was a resounding success.

At the end of the war, when slavery was abolished and the need for the railroad ended, Harriet moved from St. Catherines to Auburn, New York near many of those she helped to freedom.

She married Nelson Davis in 1869 who was in the 8th Colored Infantry Volunteers during the war, but his health was poor and he passed away in 1890.

She struggled to make ends meet by selling vegetables door-to-door that she herself grew.

An author named Sarah Brandford wrote a book of her exploits in 1869 which gained the attention of Queen Victoria and in 1897 sent Harriet gifts of a black shawl and a silver Diamond Jubilee medal.

She remained active raising funds for schools for black children and was even an early suffragette and worked towards gaining the right for women to vote.

A month before she died, she said to a friend...

"Tell the women to stand together."

Harriet Tubman Davis passed away on March 10th, 1913... she was ninety-three...

An extraordinary woman of courage and conviction... she fought through oppression, slavery, disabilities, a lack of education and made a huge impact on many lives... and the history of North America itself.

"I never lost a passenger."

Harriet Tubman Davis

Historica History Minute on the Underground Railroad



Permalink 12:13:46 am, by Email , 2500 words   English (CA)
Categories: Canadiana

William Lyon Mackenzie

W. L. Mackenzie

The fellow above is probably more famous in Toronto than other places... but he put into motions the wheels that would change the way Canada and much of the British Empire would be governed for years to come.

William Lyon Mackenzie was born in 1795 in Dundee, Scotland and emigrated to Canada in 1820 where, without a doubt, he left an indelible mark.

He initially settled in Queenston and set up a printing shop and newspaper... but moved in 1824 to the growing city of York (also the provinces capital... and now named Toronto) and started a new paper.

The Colonial Advocate was much more than just a news sheet... to be honest, it had Mackenzie's wit and biting commentary on the political situations of the day... which weren't too good for "The Little Guy".

York and Upper Canada were under the silly-but-far-too-firm thumb of a group of people known as "The Family Compact". Basically, the older, wealthier citizens basically ran every political and service situation in the province... and never did they let in "outsiders" unless forced to by the crown in England.

It was so bad that Mackenzie noted, in one of his more humourous articles, that in order for a fictional landed immigrant to get his papers in order, he needed to speak to a provincial clerk... in order to get his grants in order, he needed to speak to the land registrar... in order to get his banking in order, he needed to speak to the financial administrator... and even to buy his new hat, he needed to speak to the finest haberdasher... oddly enough, all these fellows were one man... "Mister William Allan".

Mackenzie busted the chops in his press about these "upstarts", reminding them that "back in dear old England", they were not the hoity-toity folks they made themselves out to be... "Boot blacks" and "Butcher's assistants" he reminded the ruling oligarchy what their TRUE roots were... not so high and mighty as they'd like to believe.

Mackenzie appealed through his wit and writings to the common man... so much so, that he became a member of the provincial legislature with an overwhelming majority.

The problem was, Mackenzie may have had a large following with the common folk, but was absolutely reviled and genuinely hated by the ruling classes. They saw to it that although he had a "say" in politics, it didn't last... finding every reason in the world to bar him from setting foot in the provincial parliament and government sittings.

This, of course, simply spurred more editorial venom from his newspaper which eventually got so bad, it led to an incident known as "The Types Riots". A gang of city-youth and supporters ransacked and destroyed Mackenzie's presses... and were determined to ransack and destroy him bodily as well! Had it not been for the intervention of another less-than-popular-with-the-ruling-folks York personality, the already mentioned James Fitzgibbon, it's a given they might just have succeeded. Mackenzie was basically trying to "stand his ground" (really meaning instant beatings from the group) but Fitzgibbon literally used his sheer presence to walk through the crowds and, kicking and screaming, drag Mackenzie to the safety of the town jail.

Fitzgibbon, from all accounts, had little love of Mackenzie who he thought was more than a little cuckoo, but none-the-less, and as acting constable, managed to raise the money from the very families Mackenzie loathed (most of who's sons were responsible for the riot) to replace the presses... This avoided serious consequences for the young men and allowed Mackenzie to continue his efforts... Fitzgibbon's double-edged sword didn't really make him many friends, but it was fair and just.

Growing more and more frustrated, Mackenzie (now being expelled from the provincial legislature and his rightful seat six times... mostly for flying into a rage on the floor...) finally had enough. He thought the only way to dislodge the Family Compact and the resident and even more unpopular Lieutenant Governor General at the time, Sir Francis Bond Head, was to do it with strength.

During this time, in 1834, Mackenzie ran and was successful at becoming York's (Toronto's) first mayor... as a lesser known fact, he was responsible for the city's first sidewalks. Sadly, not enough power to really make the changes he knew had to happen.

Now, before going too far here, Mackenzie REALLY wanted to avoid any sort of violent confrontation... and he was not an anti-monarchist... he was only an anti-Family Compact man... and wanted representation on the provincial level by popular vote without disruption.

To this end he did go to London... and met with then (extremely unpopular) Tory Prime Minister The Duke of Wellington who thoughtfully told him that he saw "Canadians" as "His Majesty's Loyal Yankees".

Okay, before I move forward... Many American assume (incorrectly) that Yankees ONLY came from above the Mason/Dixon line... sorry to say, this is not accurate. All Americans, before the American Civil War, were proud to be Yankees and "Yankee Doodle" was a popular marching tune in 1812 for Kentucky riflemen! "Yankee", to many Canadians and Englishmen, is a general pejorative for all Americans... The Confederate Forces during the American Civil War were hoping for Britain to come in on their side... Ergo: The South weren't those awful "Yankees" the Brits and Canadians hated so much... and that's how the name became ONLY synonymous with Northerners... despite it being a coverall earlier on.

...moving on...

The Duke's words stung... and Mackenzie was in a fit of pique. It was Rebellion or nothing!

In 1837, he rounded up 800 "patriots" and started to plan his attack on York... the provincial capital housed the main armourments for the militia and he figured, take those, and it's all but over... Bond-Head and the Family Compact would have to sue for peace.

Interestingly enough, Fitzgibbon knew of the plans... had warned Bond-Head and tried to muster the militia early under his command. Bond-Head, not believing the news, told him to relax and called up Allan McNab, a member of the family compact to command the York militia SHOULD anything come up thus removing Fitzgibbon from his post. For three days, Fitzgibbon laid "sick" in bed... realistically, he was ticked and depressed... McNab had little military experience and every day they didn't check the rebels, they could grow stronger... and he was feeling helpless about it.

Finally, in December, Mackenzie put his bold plans into operation... He rallied 400 men North at Montgomery's Tavern (near present-day Yonge and Eglinton) and was to meet up with Napoleonic War veteran and fellow "patriot", Anthony van Egmond, who would lead the other 400 West from the area around present day Todmorden Mills. The plan was to meet at a central location and then on to Fort York to grab the militia's arms... when they would be joined by rebels from London (further West) headed by a fellow named Charles Duncombe. A three-pronged attack by a large group of patriots!

The problems started immediately... First issue was Anthony van Egmond lost his nerve... he felt the plan and operation foolish and didn't bother to muster his troops... thus half the forces for the patriots never even made it across the Don River from their homes.

The next problem was a small group of militia officers, headed by Colonel Robert Moodie, were behind the rebels and saw the road blocks they'd set up... the men rode through them to warn Bond-Head of the advance... Moodie was killed, but his comrades managed to make it in time... more than enough time...

With McNab still in Hamilton, Bond-Head could only do one thing, in a panic, he called on Fitzgibbon.

Oh, again, I should interject... there was a considerable force of British Red Coat regulars in Upper Canada... but in the Autumn of 1837, another much more bloody and sad rebellion failed in Lower Canada... and Bond-Head thoughtfully sent these well-trained warriors off to assist in quelling that rebellion... thus leaving York defended only by the militia.

Fitzgibbon mustered the militia and had them out and in column heading to the tavern... 300 militia faced 400 patriots...

...but the patriots were not trained... and the militia, under the firm hand of Fitzgibbon, fired a few volleys that wreaked havoc on their ranks... they fired a few canon rounds at the tavern... the patriots turned and fled. Mackenzie was now a wanted traitor... his rebellion shattered in a few short hours.

Oh, by the way... the vacillating McNab did also fight that day, turning the forces from London around in Hamilton.

Mackenzie, however, knew the game was up... he mounted his white pony and raced for sanctuary South of the border... he raced without pause to a cemetery near the Niagara river, boarded a small boat and made tracks safely to America.

Once there and reasonably safe, Mackenzie wasn't through... he was a patriot... and with many of his fellow patriots now under arrest and two eventually being sentenced to hang, Mackenzie was not about to give in so easily.

Oh, the two gentlemen who would hang... Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews... Their exectution was considered by most to be a very unpopular move with pretty much the populace as a whole... even one of York's more famed residents, Joseph Sheard, who was a carpenter and builder refused to build the gallows for the men saying to the government, "I'll not put a hand to it, Lount and Matthews have done nothing that I might not have done myself and I’ll never help to build a gallows to hang them", but they were built by others and they hung them anyway.

On December 13th, Mackenzie set up a "provisional government" in Rochester, New York, (and eventually, moved his HQ to Navy Island... but we'll get there...) for what he declared to (eventually) be "The Republic of Canada"... heck, he even had a flag designed! Two large white stars (one for Lower Canada, the other for Upper Canada... which he saw entering the American union at the time) on a field of blue... below, in red letters on a field of white, the word "LIBERTY". He mustered the aid of a little steamer ship named The Caroline which he saw transporting troops and supplies for his cause. Mackenzie's plan was to muster American supporters and planned a new attack.

Of course, Allan McNab also got wind of this and had two-thousand, five-hundred men waiting in Chippawa for him.

For two weeks, McNab and his men watched as Mackenzie built up his supplies and men on Navy Island (in the middle of the Niagara River above the falls... and American territory...) but didn't act. They didn't want to incite an American response to something on their own soil...

Finally, on December 29th, Andrew Drew, a former Royal Navy commander who had served under Lord Admiral Nelson, picked a group of men and quietly made their way to Navy Islands... they found The Caroline, quietly attacked her guards, sliced her hawsers, set her on fire, and let her drift, ablaze, over the falls... and went back over to Canada.

Truth to tell, however, it's more likely that The Caroline ran aground on a small island and burned into the water... but the image of the burning Caroline going over the falls is much more romantic... and is the "popular" version told even then.

The official American reaction was initially anger... Americans had been hurt and killed in the raid... American property destroyed! Drew was "charged" with murder in a New York court and found guilty in absentia... The US federal government eventually sent General Winfield Scott in to quell the issues on the American side... The United States weren't (officially) too thrilled with Mackenzie's exploits and didn't want a war with Canada and Britain... so it was "put to bed". were the dreams of The Republic of Canada...

Mackenzie eventually abandoned Navy Island and his plans for "The Republic of Canada"... his troops were experiencing fire from the British on the Canadian side which prompted this decision...

He initially went to Buffalo, but was still so incensed over the lack of American support for his cause, he left Buffalo for New York City. While en route, he was arrested by the Americans for breaching neutrality laws and spent 18 months in jail. While there, and with his newfound understanding of the Glorious American Republic's political workings... those that he so wished to mimic in his own republic, he wrote a book that was quite popular in the States condemning the graft, corruption, and general misdeeds of American politicians... and the system itself.

Mackenzie had come full circle and realised... the grass really wasn't that much greener... The same problems existed, but instead of a small group of pseudo-peerage running things poorly, in America, it was a small group of the very wealthy running things poorly.

Believe it or not, this rebel... this warlord... this traitor... was granted access to come home to Canada six years after his arrest in New York under a general amnesty in 1849. His supporters ended up winning his arguments and Queen Victoria enacted "Responsible Government" for the colonies... thus, the Governor Generals of Canada would now be selected by the elected parties... not appointed by the crown. The Family Compact ended with a whimper and the force of Vox Populi had won...

His followers (which had actually grown in number) bought him a modest town home and welcomed him back in grand style... these same folks would also eventually place a huge memorial in the Toronto Necropolis for Lount and Matthews... the two men that were hanged for their part in the rebellion.

In 1851, Mackenzie was again elected to provincial legislature (again, remember... the traitor... the rebel... the man who led an armed revolt... he's now back in government!) where he served until 1858.

Mackenzie, the rebel... the firebrand... one of the true fathers of responsible government... died in Toronto in 1861... and is buried in the Necropolis... the same burial ground as his Lount and Matthews.

It's quite striking, really... most Torontonians only know this man by his painted image on the College Street subway station... that "old guy", I've heard him referred to.

They also have a small inkling of him thanks to the house that was bought for him being a museum now... but it's more of a "pioneer village" type home in downtown Toronto where the guides concentrate on furnishings and how it's "heated" rather than the man who inhabited it.

Mackenzie was an oddity in Canada... a little crazy, perhaps, but not one to acquiesce to the ruling authority.

...and although his methods were extreme... his and a handful of others paved the way to a good democratic government in Canada.

His importance was vast... despite the fact that many only are aware of him for his grandson... William Lyon Mackenzie King... who was Canada's prime-minister throughout World War II and beyond... in fact, King was Canada's longest termed Prime Minister...

...but where would he be without Grandpa?



Permalink 10:17:27 am, by Email , 105 words   English (CA)
Categories: Americana, Arts And Culture

Walt Disney

Walt Disney started the Laugh-O-Gram Corp. of Kansas City, Missouri in 1921 with the help of investors to the tune of $15,000 US. A hefty sum in those days.

However, there were problems from the get go. Issues with his New York distributors of the animated fairy tales, caused Disney's backers to pull out, forcing him to declare bankruptcy two years later.

In July of 1923 Walt packed up his belongings, one pair of pants, a coat, one shirt, two pairs of underwear and socks, and some drawing materials that he had managed to squirrel away, and left for Hollywood, California...

....the rest as they say is history.....



Permalink 04:19:55 pm, by Email , 835 words   English (CA)
Categories: Hollywood Babylon, Arts And Culture

Richard Jeni got me to thinking...

On the Double-Decker Bus Blog, I had to report another suicide... this makes two in recent months.

Richard Jeni

Comedian Richard Jeni, best known to most as Jim Carey's (Stanley Ipkiss) buddy (Charlie Schumaker) at the bank from the movie The Mask is reported to have killed himself and was found today.

As I said, this is the second suicide I've had to report in so many weeks as professional grappler Mike Awesome (of ECW, WCW, and WWF/WWE fame...) had only a few weeks back, hung himself.

Mike Awesome

According to Robert Wilkins in The Bedside Book of Death, although suicides are committed for a variety of reasons, the most numerous are to avoid ageing, senility, or pain and although many people associate mental illness with suicide, it's almost impossible to gauge if this is a correct assumption. Cyril Joad (1891 - 1953), once said, tongue-in-cheek, that in England, you must never attempt suicide lest you be regarded as a criminal if you fail, or a lunatic if you succeed.

Alternatively, in ancient times, the Roman philosopher Seneca (5-BC to 65-AD) once said, "Do you seek the way to freedom? You may find it in every vein of your body." Suicide by the ancients was seen as an honourable way to meet one's end.

In fact, no where in The New Testament is suicide explicitly forbidden. Many feel that the early martyrs and even Jesus, knowing their fate, were in fact suicides.

Still, in the more modern Judeo/Christian orthodoxy, suicide is frowned upon... to the point that suicides were not to be buried in consecrated ground... meaning they were usually buried outside the church yard.

In different cultures and through history, self-murder is seen in many different lights... from the Japanese Hari-Kari or honour suicide to the Indian Suttee where a wife self-immolates in the funeral pyre of her cremating husband, the most common reason in North America and Europe is the Poor Me or You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone suicide.

Now, before I get started, PLEASE NOTE that in the two cases above, it's less than likely that this was the true causation... but there are historical precedents for this...

The Poor-Me and You'll-Miss-Me-When-I'm-Gone suicides are usually portrayed in a fairly romantic light... Romeo and Julliette being prime examples...

Probably the best case to talk about is Thomas Chatterton (1752 - 1770) who wrote medieval poetry on parchment paper using ancient hand and even Chaucer-like spellings. He was SO good at it, he actually managed to pawn off some of his writings as authentic to Horace Walpole... who, when he realised he was being duped, threw all his wrath at poor Chatterton.

Feelings snubbed, condescended to, and overall becoming a pariah to those who he sought for attention, he wrote a couple of suicide notes, a last will and testament, containing attacks on his worst enemies... but did not complete his "mission".

Instead, he was fired from his job and ousted from his home.

Chatterton then set out to London to try again... and things initially seemed good. He even found a supporter in William Bingley, editor of a weekly publication called North Britton.

As Chatterton's work for North Britton were about to roll off the press, Bingley contracted rheumatic fever and passed away suddenly... leaving Thomas high and dry again.

His high hopes and possibilities now gone, Chatterton drank a significant amount of arsenic... and was found by his landlady...

Henry Wallace, a painter and writer, did a portrait of the scene...

The Death of Chatterton

The young man, his hopes and dreams gone, lying on his bed finally at peace...

Of course, this painting is fiction. Arsenic is NOT a pleasant way to go. Chatterton's landlady said his face was "horribly contorted"... so not the image one would want for a "romantic death".

The whole trouble with the Poor-Me and You'll-Miss-Me-When-I'm-Gone deaths is, how would the REAL victim (the person committing suicide) know?

Realistically, we ALL should know that ALL problems are temporary... and there will be laughter and happiness at some point in the future, regardless of what we THINK is so awful...

Honour can be mended...

Taking oneself out of an equation is robbing those who they may not WISH to be hurt of their presence...

Most people who are "targets" of suicides (the you'll-be-sorry) mourn... but not forever... so that misses the point and is a "quick fix".

Realistically, in my opinion, there aren't many great reasons to "end-it-all"... all things are curable in one fashion or another... and even a "terminal illness" can be fought... and that fight might help the NEXT person along.

Despite our ancestor's willingness to "dive on their swords" and more modern types ASSUMING that "ending it all" in some way might help a cause or have a desired affect... it doesn't. Better a live voice to keep up a fight than a martyr.

Still, my feeble words are not enough... and history is sadly strewn with the bodies of those who, for whatever reason, assumed that the fastest solution to all problems is death.



Permalink 04:58:26 pm, by Email , 201 words   English (CA)
Categories: Kings And Queens, History In Film & Television

The Tudors As You've Never Seen Them Before

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII

From the fine folks at Showtime (same people who bring us Dexter - and I love that show!) The Tudors, a new series that will debut on April 1st, 2007.

I wish that I could say I am enthusiastic about this show, but to be honest I have my trepidations, in part I guess because I am so passionate about the subject matter. You can read of my love affair with Elizabeth I on the Paranormal Blog. I guess I could be considered a wee bit of a Tudor "snob," which the very name of this blog should be a huge clue to the gentle reader.

Firstly, is it me or is anyone else bothered by the fact that our lead actor does not even have the golden red hair that was almost a trademark of Henry? See, I told ya I'm picky!

Well I will be tuning in with fingers and toes crossed. Americans for the most part have a very warped sense of who Henry VIII this show could potentially warp it even more.

Watch for a review of The Tudors right here at the most aptly named of blogs, Pastyme with Good Companye!

Permalink 12:06:27 am, by Email , 80 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture

Beatles Soup

Decades ago the Beatles "were bigger than Jesus," heck they were even bigger than Britney Spears or Paris Hilton today!

An enterprising American business approached the Beatles with a scheme to sell their used bathwater to fans. The Fab Four turned down the idea of bottling and cashing in on their sudsy supply, but not everyone turned down such offers.

Rudolph Valentino's valet supplemented his own income by selling vials of the matinee idol's bathwater for $20 bux a piece.




Permalink 07:00:00 am, by Email , 522 words   English (CA)
Categories: Going From Here To There

You knew I couldn't resist a little "cross promotion" of a sort...

You might think our personal quest to rescue Regent Low Height #3 is a quest to save a REALLY old double-decker bus... but of course, it's not that old in the grand scheme of the old buses that ran the streets of London and other places...

In fact, in 1857, Le Compagnie Générale des Omnibus de Londres (the company which would eventually become "London General" and then "London Transport",) was running horse-drawn coaches with an open-upper deck through London's main roads...

Click here for more information on these buses...

Granted, most people when they ask me about the first "double-decker" really want to know about motorized buses... the first one to ply the streets of London was a steam powered bus operated by Motor Omnibus Company in 1899. The first "petrol" (gas) bus was run by the Motor Traction Company which ran a 12 horsepower Daimler bus in 1902. London General didn't take the "petrol plunge" until 1904 when they ran an American Fischer petrol-electric chassis mounted with a double-decker body.

Of course, London wasn't the only place to run double-deckers... as the bit about the "American Fischer" tells you above... The Toronto Transit Commission right here in our home town had five double-deckers... and they ran right passed where we live today!

The buses, one Associated Equipment Company 404 (AEC is the same company that built the bus this site and blog are really about, RLH 3,) and four Fifth Avenue Bus Company models ran the route from Annette down to Humber along Runnymede... basically to the West side of Sunnyside.

Most major American and Canadian cities ran double-deckers at some point... until the urban landscape changed and electrical wires and other hazards made it more-or-less impossible to continue their use.

Granted, with London's recent decision to eliminate the venerated Routemasters from their routes, it's likely that at least Toronto would have gotten rid of them long before because of the issues with wheelchair access amongst other things.

On a positive note, however, double-deckers will SOON be back in regular (not "tours only") service in the Toronto area through GO Transit who will shortly take on new twelve Dennis Trident buses...

Credit - Paul Bateson
Above - Photo Credit to Paul Bateson

The picture above is the "borrowed" Dennis Trident GO Transit used to test the waters... If you look near the rear doors, you'll see the "GO" logo on a window...

So, as a living bit of history, GO will be bringing the first double-deckers in regular service to our neck of the woods since the 1930's!

Of course, we hope to have OUR bus, Regent Low Height #3, also plying the fair streets of Toronto soon... with some help, of course... click here (opens a new browser) to read about that.

...and never let is be said I lack a historical angle on the other blog... Click here (opens a new browser) to read all about Regent Low Height Buses in general!

Did double-deckers run in your town? My best advice to find out is to "Google" your local transit authority and add the word "history" into the search... you may be surprised that they did indeed run these wonderful vehicles...



Permalink 07:33:56 pm, by Email , 96 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture, Health And Sciences

Send Him To The Clown! Why Laughter Is Not Always The Best Medicine

The great 19th century pantomime clown Joseph Grimaldi has been compared to both Charlie Chaplin, and Richard Pryor in that he too used humour as a means of dealing with life's more traumatic issues, such as addiction and poverty.

Once whilst visiting a local physician a rather gloomy Grimaldi was told he needed amusement to cheer his spirits. In fact the doctor ordered that he go out and see the comic Grimaldi, "he will make you laugh, and that will be better for you than any medicine."

The patient was not impressed stating, "I AM Grimaldi."

Permalink 07:04:02 pm, by Email , 63 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture

Artist Capit Soldi - Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

Artist Capit Soldi was very poor. He could not afford proper furnishings for his apartment, so he decided he would paint some instead. The walls of his home were decorated with paintings of chairs, and tables, even window curtains! Eventually he managed to acquire a real table and two chairs so he was able to entertain guests in his otherwise unusually appointed rooms.



Permalink 09:04:23 am, by Email , 138 words   English (CA)
Categories: War And Conflict, Arts And Culture

Italian Poet Gabriele D'Annunzio

Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio pictured above on the right with Benito Mussolini.

To say that D'Annunzio was a weird duck is putting it mildly. His fascism aside, he often found unusual inspiration for his poems, such as keeping stillborn babies pickled in jars on shelves in his study! He loved to outrage and shock the Italian establishment, which he believed was harmful to his country.

On august 9th 1918 the skies of Vienna were filled with coloured bits of paper, in red, white, and green. These had been dropped by the Italian air Force. The squadron responsible for this was led by none other than poet Gabriele D'Annunzio.

The paper bits were a bit of a propaganda coup, as written upon them were these words:

"Viennese, we could now be dropping bombs on you. Instead we drop a salute."



Permalink 12:36:35 pm, by Email , 213 words   English (CA)
Categories: Hollywood Babylon

Clara Bow - Nasty Rumours

In an era where the "leaking" of a naughty home-made tape has built entire careers it is easy to forget that not that long ago something similar would have destroyed one.

Clara Bow was a rapidly rising silent screen star when in 1927 a nasty rumour surfaced that she had slept with the entire USC football team.

The story was started by one Daisy Devoe, Bow's private secretary. The secretary had been fired for attempting to blackmail the actress. Devoe got her revenge by selling an "inside scoop" on the private life of Clara to the notorious New York tabloid, "Graphic."

Not only did Devoe start the USC football team rumour, she also stated that Bow was having affairs with Eddie Cantor, Bela Lugosi, and Gary Cooper amongst other celebs of that era.

The tabloid story destroyed Clara's career. Paramount Studios refused to renew her contract with them, and she spent the bulk of her life afterwards suffering from a series of nervous breakdowns in mental institutions.

Author David Stern managed to track down the surviving members of the USC football team while researching his biography entitled: Clara Bow Runnin' Wild. They admitted that they were often invited to Bow's parties, but claimed innocence of the nasty gossip. Bow apparently never even served alcohol.



Permalink 09:14:23 am, by Email , 156 words   English (CA)
Categories: Americana

Demon Drinks - Prohibition In The USA

Prohibition in the United States appeared to have had the opposite affect on people than that which it was intended. More people than ever started drinking alcohol, and highly resented the heavy-handed legislation. As a result there were quite a few home-made concoctions being sold, some of these actually quite frightening!

In 1928 a total of 34 people in New York died over a four-day period as a result of drinking alcohol that had been distilled from anti-freeze, and paint.

Some distillers resorted to using alcohol from cosmetics, hair tonics, and in one reported case "Parisienne solution for perspiring feet, 90 percent alcohol!"

These home-made products had some interesting names as well. Rot Gut, Kentucky Tavern, Pebble Ford, and the lovely Coffin Varnish, to name a few.

According to "Let Them Eat Cake," by Geoffrey Regan, one cautious consumer had his bootlegged liquor tested by a chemist, only to learn the alarming news that, "Your horse, must have diabetes!"



Permalink 07:00:00 am, by Email , 533 words   English (CA)
Categories: General

Consider this a "historian sticky"...

History is a funny thing... it can be exact, or it can be left to interpretation. Actually, all things are "open" to an individuals interpretation.


That said, it is a given that some historians out there are going to feel the need to correct our horribly inaccurate postings.

Sounds bad, doesn't it.

Well, the truth is that our postings are not inaccurate. They are based on our understanding of things and our sources... if you disagree with this, that's fine... but remember: You're "truth" and our "truth" are both probably not the truth.

Unless we were there, we are all reliant on third party information and sources... and in history, more often than not, they do not agree.

Even diaries and accounts of historical events and people can be "off"... and as a good historian, before you comment, you should remember that.

We (here at this blog) are MORE than happy to learn... and will admit mistakes if they are made... but we will always ask for sources and we will always want to research things for ourselves before making a public mea culpa statement. Even then, I can't promise a mea culpa for everything we find information that counters what we thought was right... if there is information that supports both sides. I mean, you DO have the right and ability to comment on any of our posts... and you can give your argument/data there publicly too.

For those that have no idea what I'm talking about, let me give you a North American question to ponder...

Who won the War of 1812 (the American war)?

Was it Canada? After all, "we" repulsed an American invasion.

Was it Britain? It's a given that without British regulars, Canada would be a "state" today.

Was it The Natives? Without their help, the British and Canadian forces wouldn't have had a very necessary "extra-arm".

Was it America? After the war, they were finally taken seriously by Europe and they did have good victories in battles on The Great Lakes and in New Orleans.

The REAL answer, like it or not, is no one won... The natives really lost as they're wants and needs were dashed... but the final outcome, decided in a signed and ratified peace treaty that WAS signed before The Battle of New Orleans (but thanks to slow ships, didn't catch the British nor American forces before the battle,) was effectively "Status Quo Ante Bellum" - Everything to return to a pre-war status.

That said, I've had BRUTAL arguments with Americans who swear THEY won. There's an equal amount of Canadians who say WE won... and both are adamant about this "fact"... and have things to support their arguments.

Who's right?

To be frank, no one's right... or wrong...

So, before you comment, note, e-mail, or otherwise write to us to decry our poor intelligence on a particular subject, PLEASE have your sources ready for us to look over. I promise that we didn't write an entry to "attack you" personally or anyone you know... and please note, history IS subjective.

We are all colleagues in the study of the past... and colleagues can disagree and continue to work together and help each other...



Permalink 12:07:36 am, by Email , 98 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture, History In The News

Wagner In Drag?

Portrait photograph of Richard Wagner, Franz Hanfstaengl (1804-1877), Munich.

Apparently so according to a BBC news snippet:

Forget all the blood and gore of the Ring cycle, the composer, Richard Wagner, appears to have had a feminine side. A letter published this week has suggested that the creator of the Neibelung was not averse to donning a frock in the evenings. The letter, from 1874 and addressed to a Milanese dress shop, asks for something "graceful for evenings at home" with "a high collar and trimmed with puffed flounces".

I wonder what Hitler and Mad King Ludwig would have thought?



Permalink 02:38:18 pm, by Email , 112 words   English (CA)
Categories: Arts And Culture

James Whistler - Mama's Boy

At The Piano, 1858-59, The Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio

James Whistler was an American born painter. One day he was cornered by a very snobby woman from Boston. She asked the artist, "Where were you born?" Whistler replied that he had been born in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The lady apparently made a face upon hearing this, and asked, "Whatever possessed you to be born in a place like that?"

Without missing a beat, the rather witty Whistler said, "I wished to be near my mother."

And here she is...Whistler's Mother...

Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, 1871, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Reference: Let Them Eat Cake, by Geoffrey Regan (c)1994, 2001



Permalink 12:31:44 am, by Email , 576 words   English (CA)
Categories: Kings And Queens

Queen Isabella Of France - She-Wolf Not!

Isabella returns to England with her son, Edward III

Treachery, Murder, and Adultery in medieval England

Often my passion for history collides with my passion for ghost stories and folklore. This was the case with Queen Isabella who was Queen consort of King Edward II and lived between the years circa. 1295 – August 22, 1358. Her poor demented soul is said to haunt not only Castle Rising her primary residence in the last years of her life, but the ruins of Christ Church where earlier stood Greyfriars church and her tomb, now sadly lost over the course of time.

History and more specifically male historians have not been kind to her. In all of English history I cannot think of a more vilified Queen of England, and therefore ghost stories aside, I must admit I was highly intrigued by her.

Isabella more likely known as Isabelle in her time violated the mores of the world in which she lived and therefore was largely condemned because of it. She fled a loveless marriage in which there was good evidence to suggest she may have been murdered had she not. Taking refuge with her brother the King of France during what was supposed to be a mission of peace, she developed a bond with an enemy of her husband. Roger Mortimer and Isabella quickly and quite openly became lovers in France. They would later launch the only successful invasion of England since the time of William the Conqueror, and place Isabella's young son King Edward III on the throne.

Mortimer and Isabella were also implicated in the murder of her husband Edward II in what history recorded as the most vile and horrific of ways. They were accused of sending the famous order "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est" which depending on where the comma was inserted could mean either "Do not be afraid to kill Edward; it is good" or "Do not kill Edward; it is good to fear".

Too be honest I did not think I would find anything redeemable about Isabella, however in my search for reading material I came across Queen Isabella, written by historian Alison Weir. Through Alison's impeccable research I realised that yes this Queen was flawed, but certainly not the insane murderess that she has been billed as.

In fact Alison Weir puts forth a plausible theory that King Edward II may not have been murdered at all, but fled to Europe, where he lived as a hermit for an additional 20 years.

In my opinion Isabella was judged foremost on what was perceived to be her immorality by those who were her contemporaries and beyond. Perhaps in the 21st century we may not look so harshly upon her.and some of her actions.

The last years of her life were spent quietly in retirement, and during this time period she was considered almost an elder stateswoman. She reportedly attended the court of her son Edward III and doted on her grandchildren.

If there is "something" haunting the ruins of Christ Church in Newgate, shrieking out it's torment or Castle Rising in Norfolk it is surely not Queen Isabella.

I will blog about Isabella again at a later date. What is written above is merely the gist of her story, however since this is a blog and not a website I feel it is sufficient to whet the appetite of the reader without getting overly lengthy.

Further Reading:

Queen Isabella, by Alison Weir (c) 2005 ISBN 0-345-45319-0


Pastime with Good Company

Pastyme With Good Companye

Welcome to the blog of amateur historians Matthew James Didier and Sue Darroch. Partners in life and in crime, we endeavor to entertain you with snippets from our combined historical research. Past time with good company indeed, as we shall introduce you to Kings and Knaves, Queens and Mistresses, Cons and Heroes, from our collective past......from events well known to those perhaps all but forgotten, we will do our best to bring you interesting historical factoids from around the globe. It is our belief that through understanding our past we will all gain a better perspective on our future.

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