I – Ka-Ching-a-Ching

              anyone lived in a pretty how town

              (with up so many floating bells down) (1)

And how the Smirk hated Anyone, and how he hated pretty How Town! And there were how so many How Towns in Dis-United States of America. It wasn’t fair.

What reason did Anyone have to be merry, for he was poor enough? And what reason did the Smirk have to be sad, for he was rich enough? How rich was he? Well, he was born not only with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he was born also with silver fondue forks and golden oyster knives and ivory-trimmed platinum corkscrews in every orifice of his body, that’s how rich he was.

It was the night before Christmas, and he was deep in the frozen heart of Texas, near Waco, where the Wackos live. It was the state of Dis-Union that believed in revolving credit, and revolving cylinders for guns, and revolving doors for its lethal injection chambers.

It was Christmas Eve, and the FBI surveillance showed that Anyone in How Town was far too happy. The people were joyful and the coloured lights were dancing and even some ecclesiastics were gay.   But what really bothered him was the noise.

THE NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!   The clink of coins on collection plates, and the ka-ching-a-ching-ing of the cash registers, and the swish of visas on the card swipes. It was all about Christmas, and the Smirk, well, he hated Christmas, 165 days a year, or maybe it was 635 days a year, for the Smirk had no head for numbers.

But the Smirk had a very photogenic head, perfect for Mount Rushmore, and he often pictured it up there, carved in stone, with a magnificently low brow, a granite gaze, and a lip so crooked you could hang a skunk from it.

But the NOISE! Oh the NOISE! For it was the noise of people giving and forgiving, of meeting and greeting, of blessing and redressing. And how he hated that! For the Prez (which was the Smirk’s official title) was the master of taking and raking, of holding and hoarding, of grabbing and of stabbing.

So he ran to his vault and he pawed through his outfits. There was the tall ten-gallon hat, which held 430 litres Canadian, for so had he calculated. There was the cutesy vest trimmed with whooping crane feathers and spotted owlskins and parts of other soon-to-be-extinct animals. And there were leggings made from the lovely skins of reindeer, the one chap called Rudolph, and the other, Vixen.

And then the Smirk had a WONDERFUL, just AWFUL IDEA! He had fooled millions of Dis-United people. He could fool Anyone!

He could be Santa Prez!

1 Apologies to e e cummings and to all the other authors and lyricists I plundered.

II – Ring-a-Ding

So Santa Prez hopped into his armoured Humvee and was away like a flash! He whipped up the horses and he spun the wheels in a whirly way and the wind whistled through the longhorns strapped on the hood.   And he chanted, “Here comes Santa Prez, Here comes Santa Prez, Bringing you Santa Prez pain.” And in howtime he was in How Town where Someone and No One and Everyone ran about clinking and chinging and swishing.

Oh what a NOISE! What a NOISE! The kids they were caroling and the bells they were chiming and the snow chains were jingling.   And the chestnuts were roasting and people’s toeses were toasting and the snow it was glistening, so glistening it was hard on the ears.

And the policemen were smiling and the merchants were chuckling and the lovers were laughing, and Santa Prez hated them. He just HATED them! For in his 58 years (2)2 he had managed a snicker, and he had now and then squeezed out a snigger, and had once forced out a chortle, but the height of his mirth was a smirk.

Now, he had spent his years wisely, for at Yale he had learned to pick locks, and at Harvard business he had studied to pick pockets, and in his first months in office he had perfected the art of picking his nose.

So Santa Prez ran through the malls and he snatched up the purses, and he emptied out cash boxes, and he cut up the credit cards. He was on the point of stuffing the last ATM into his Humvee when a small voice spoke to him, but when he whirled about there was No One. There was only an Old Man, begging a penny for his hat, and good King Wenceslas, with faggots for the fire slipping through frozen fingers, and a Mary and a Joseph looking for lodging. So he was right ̶ there was No One.

Then Someone spoke. It was little Sally Ann, in her pretty blue bonnet that she got from the margarine company for sending in three box tops.   And in her hair were scarlet ribbons, scarlet ribbons for her hair, woven from the breadman’s twist-ties.

“Please, Santa,” said Sally Ann. “Please, Santa,” she said, “you forgot these.” And she tipped the few coppers from her kettle into his loot sack.

“I’ll send you a receipt,” said Santa Prez. But he lied. For that was the third thing he was good at.   And as he lied, he scooped the penny from the Old Man’s hat, and he kicked the faggots off the sidewalk, and he directed the lodge-seekers to the Holiday Inn, because he knew it was full.

Oh he was a scraping, scroogey, covetous old sinner, was Smirk, and hard and cold as flint. The cold within him froze his heart and nipped his humanitarian impulses and shriveled his magnanimity. No warmth could warm him, no words could move him, no laughter heal him.


But, enough flattery. He had finished the job. He had extracted all the Cheer from Christmas, the Joy from dish soap, and the last Glad from garbage bags.

He had pulled the plug on happiness.

And after he had visited all the other how towns, he looked upon his Creation, and he saw that it was real good.

And silent night came down on How Town, and the sleep of heavenly peace.

2 Coincidentally, George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, turned 58 on July 6, 2004. But he wasn’t counting.

III – Sing-a-Ling

As the Smirk raced for his ranch, it came upon a midnight clear, and he could hear a noise, a sort of nice noise, a reverential noise, like angels singing, touching their harps of gold which, it seems, he had overlooked in his hurry.

How Town was behind him, its dark streets shining, in everlasting light. He should’ve bought more shares in Con Edison.

And to drown out the singing, he chanted his soul song:



On the twelfth day of Christmas

Dick and Donald3 sent to me (3)

Twelve oil fields pumping . . .

Eleven pipelines piping . . .

Ten tankers leaking . . .

Nine sheiks a-dancing . . .

Eight maids a-mopping . . .

Seven swans a-dying . . .

Six geese a-praying . . .

Five . . . golden . . . rings . . .

Four oily birds . . .

Three frenched hens . . .

Two mourning doves . . .

And a market in a money tree.

Over the Continental Divide and down the Mississippi Valley and up the Texas Panhandle he raced, thirty-three thousand miles he raced with his load, and it was a quarter past dawn when he dumped it.

Then the Commander-in-Thief consulted his intelligence, which he had done twice before, with mixed results. There was the time he was reading a children’s book, which he never got to finish, because some towers were burning (4).   Then he tackled more challenging material, such as the fiction generated by his disinformation agencies, and more recently, Archie comics.

The electronic bugs recorded a new sound in How Town, but the sound wasn’t sad. It was glad. After all he had taken and raked in and grabbed, could there still be cheer in Christmas?

He had to see it for himself, so he whizzed back in fright through the bright morning light, and he saw it, boy oh boy oh boy!

In pretty little How Town with up so floating many bells down there was JOY oh JOY oh JOY! The rich and the poor and those with real jobs were embracing One Another as if money didn’t matter. And churchmen were joining temples and templers were visiting mosques and mosquers were plucking banjoes in the subway. Races were blending colours and cultures were breeding harmony and linguists were speaking in tongues. And worst of all, WORST OF ALL, the Republicans and the Democrats were supporting Each Other’s resolutions. It was a NiGhTmArE!

Then the Smirk knew he had missed Something. He hadn’t taken Everything. He had thought they didn’t mean Anything. He had failed to capture all the hearts of Re-United States of America.

The hearts had been on offer, but he had taken only the mean ones, the flinty ones, the ones as small as ice cubes.

And he sensed a change in the air, the peace in the wind, the goodwill settling around him, and some of it touched his cold, cold heart, and thawed it three degrees.

Now, if you think the Smirk gave back his load, if you think he would part with even one sack of his loot on this special day of the year, you’ve been watching too much Disney. This is no fairy tale.

But, as he was leaving, he did put a penny back in the Old Man’s hat.

3 Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld acted as key players in President G.W. Bush’s war on terrorism. Cheney, as Vice-President, fully supported the initiative, and will forever be associated with “enhanced interrogation” techniques against prisoners. Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, helped launch the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan which are still playing out today.

4 On September 11, 2001, President G.W. Bush was actually reading a book aloud, which exercise he reluctantly gave up when he learned of the aerial attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City.

#     #     #

[Republished from The Annals of Goshen by this author.  This story originally published in December 2004.}

Posted in GOSHEN STORIES, WRITING | Leave a comment


Tuktoyaktuk is 8,928.64 kilometres from Sydney, Nova Scotia, by road.

He was unshaven, ungroomed, and most unlikely unwashed, so I pulled over, cracked the window, and asked him how long he had been hitching.

Since yesterday, he said. He had stopped thumbing at 5:00 o’clock, and resumed at 9:00 this morning. It was now 5:00, and overcast, and soon darkness would fall. He was positioned on the corner of Pelletier’s Gas Bar on the Lake Helen Reserve, and traffic was heavy. I helped him stow his luggage.

I had passed him on the way to TBay this morning, coincidentally at 9:00 this morning, and he did look familiar: unshaved, ungroomed, and so on. Some mutt was prancing around the car, scratching at the door handles. So it turned out I was dealing with a pair of hitchhikers.

I have a soft spot for hitchhikers. After I graduated high school, I didn’t own a car. I got around by bumming rides. Come summertime, I’d leave my wife and family and bum a ride to Queen’s University to take courses. Many a night I spent on a lonely road before I found a driver with a generous streak. They found it in their hearts to give a lift to a bum who was unshaven, ungroomed, and unwashed. Thanks to them, I am an educated bum today. And today I was in a position to give a pair of scruffy ones a lift.

I told him I could give him a lift to Beardmore, otherwise I’d be letting him off in the middle of the bush when I turned down my road. He accepted by offer. The mutt snuggled up on his lap.

Where was he headed? Labrador, he said. Yes, he’d be cutting away from Highway 11 and heading through Val d’Or. Then through Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. He had an appointment in Sydney, N.S. Well, not an appointment, exactly, but he’d been there before, at Ed’s Books, and he thought there was a good chance that Ed would have a copy, a second-hand copy (for this traveler bought only used books) of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch.

Then, he volunteered, he’d turn around and head back to Whitehorse. And visit the second-best second-hand bookstore in the country, Well Read, in Whitehorse, Yukon.

He didn’t like busy highways. Said he had better luck on lonely roads. And he didn’t like passing through big cities ̶ too much walking to get through them. I pondered this information. The corner at Pelletier’s Gas Bar is one of the busiest stretches on Highway 11. Still, it couldn’t be avoided. He muttered something about there being a better chance of being robbed if you took Highway 17 and got past the Soo. Besides, he was often hassled by cops on busy highways.

So, I said, you live in Whitehorse? No, he said. I don’t live anywhere. He picked up odd jobs for short times but otherwise he was always on the road. Winter and summer.

I asked the name of his mutt, a skinny, friendly, long-haired creature about 25 pounds light, which never stirred from his lap. Platypus, he said. I asked him to repeat the name: Platypus. Had the dog since it was a puppy four years ago. I’m Edgar, I said, and you are . . . ? Axl, he said. That’s the name I use. And he spelled it for me.

So, I said, what’s the name of that bookstore in Sydney again? Ed’s Books and More, he said. There was good chance he could pick up a used copy of The Naked Lunch. His mother, he said, who lived in Montreal, wanted a copy.

No, he never bought books new. And no, he never ordered online. Had never heard of AbeBooks. But his mother might be interested.

What did he expect to find at Well Read Books in Whitehorse? There’s always something by Hunter S. Thompson, he said. Or a Jack Kerouac. Or some other authors and titles I had never heard of.

Where had his hitchhiking taken him? Last month, he said, he had been in Tuktoyaktuk. Last November he had travelled the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. So you saw the Arctic Ocean , I said. No, he said. But since then the road had been extended some 150 klicks to Tuk, which is on the Arctic Ocean, so he went to check it out this past July.

Platypus really enjoyed the Dempster, he could run around the tundra without fear of traffic.

The canyon of the Pijitawabik.

Meanwhile, I volunteered as a tour guide. I extolled the virtues of the Pijitawabik Palisades as we drove through them. Mist had descended, obscuring the peaks. I described how the canyon had carved through the lava flows, creating columnar pillars. I pointed out Pijitawabik Bay, the southeastern arm of Lake Nipigon, the sixth Great Lake. Occasionally my companion emitted an appreciative grunt. That was all the encouragement I needed. I love this country.

Once past Macdiarmid, I swept my arm across the vast area devastated by the Great Beardmore Fire of ’99. Some 50,000 hectares of still-stunted second-growth dominates the landscape. I pointed out my favourite white pine, which still stands head and shoulders above the second-growth. I pulled over at the Beardmore Unconformity.

The Beardmore Unconformity is exposed in a rock cut on the east side of Highway 11, with that magnificent white pine as a marker. Here is exposed the basement of the Precambrian Shield, of the earth, actually. They are metasedimentary rocks, 2.7 billion years old. On top of these rocks is a thinner layer of light-coloured rocks covered by dirt and vegetation. These are sandstone rocks, 1.3 billion years old. Between the top and the bottom layer, 1.4 billion years of rocks are missing. Where is the missing middle layer? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, or flowing in the rivers, or being deposited in the Great Lakes or on the continental shelf of North America, long time passing. In other words, who knows?

The Beardmore Unconformity.

It was five minutes to 6:00 when we arrived at Beardmore, just before Beardmore closed for the night.  Axl expected to spend the night in the bush, so he wanted to pick up something from the liquor store to keep him warm. While I unloaded the luggage, Platypus cavorted on a nearby piece of grass. Platypus was a good dog. She never strayed into traffic lanes.

Axl returned with a pint of rye tucked into his elbow. Axl turned down the remnants of a meal of battered fish, and turned his nose up at a tin of cat food for Platypus. I left him my package of apple turnovers.

The two hitchhikers posed for my camera.

As I passed them, Axl was striding down the sidewalk towards to the edge of town, and Platypus was frolicking alongside.

And I’m thinking, Maybe it’s time I renewed by acquaintance with Kerouac. Or maybe even Thompson. Or that Burroughs guy.

Wonder if that guy is related to the author of the Tarzan series.

. . . Still so much to learn.

Posted in GREENSTONE, LIFE AS IT HAPPENS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

IN SYNC WITH SELWYN (Chapter 6 of 6)

Access on foot to the Agawa rock face is a narrow ledge sometimes washed by waves during storms.

Red Ochre

According to Selwyn, in 1957, when he was almost 50 years old, “I finally discovered what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

In the meantime, he had left his high school teaching job, and made a marginal living by illustrating textbooks, teaching landscape painting, doing art therapy, and painting murals on commission. By sheer serendipity (or synchronicity), he landed a super summer job. With his family, exploring by canoe in Quetico Park, he recorded eleven pictograph sites as watercolour paintings. Pictographs became his obsession for the remainder of his life. It is this career which brought him a measure of national and even international fame.

He took photographic slides of sites. By experimenting with rice paper and crayon, he learned to reproduce the exact size and detail of pictographs. His searches took him north to Great Slave Lake, west to the foothills of the Rockies, east to Nova Scotia, and south to Minnesota. Often he travelled by canoe. For the first few years, he was a lone researcher in the field. By the late 1960s, several others had joined him. “I have visited, as of 1978, exactly three hundred and one rock art sites in Canada and the adjacent American states. I have personally recorded all but nine of these.”

His writings on rock art include Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (1967) and The Sacred Scrolls of the Southern Ojibway (1975) plus several other published articles. Selwyn died in 1979. A plaque erected near the Agawa pictographs pays tribute to the father of rock art research in Canada.

Who painted these ancient pictographs? And why? Answers are still pending. Who taught the artists that red ochre mixed with fish oil or even spit would bind to rock faces? Pictograph sites are usually associated with near-vertical rock faces beside waterways. What are the subjects of the paintings? Some are obviously representational of people and animals and objects. Others depict mythical creatures (such as Mishipizhiw, the Great Lynx) and supernatural beings (such as Maymaygwayshi, little hairy men sans noses).

Agawa pictographs.

I examined my first rock painting at Terrier Lake while on a canoe trip north of Nakina.

Terrier Lake, north of Nakina.

They were palm prints. Selwyn does not explain how he found this particular site, but he recorded his impressions: “A poor site . . . two handprints, a possible human, a few dots and lichen-spotted abstractions”.

Since then I have heard of other sites within a day’s travel, but I’ve never had the urge to launch my canoe and search for them. Selwyn records sites on Lake Nipigon (in Gull Bay, and at Echo Rock), Red Rock (west shore of Nipigon River), and at Agawa Rock (northeastern shore of Lake Superior).   The Agawa pictographs are a tourist attraction, but the one time I stopped, ice and snow patches covered the path down to the shore, and I didn’t fancy my chances on a slippery ledge. There are rumours of a pictograph site on McKay Lake, southeast of Longlac. And some day I might visit Barbara Lake, east of Beardmore, and look for a site never mentioned by Selwyn.

How did I come upon Selwyn Dewdney’s book Daylight in the Swamp? My next novel (working title The Manitou Firebird) describes an inciting incident on the banks of the Pic River. I had already bushwhacked my way, through swamp and blackflies, to the site. I had discovered a delightful little falls tumbling into a creek leading to the Pic. And my research online had led me to Dewdney’s book and the chapter “Packing on the Pic”.

Synchronicity is a spiritual phenomenon. One looks for and recognizes meaningful coincidences in one’s life. Selwyn and I both had prairie connections, we both learned to love canoeing, and we both felt a strong attraction to the Northern bush. These are mere coincidences.   What are the chances that we were both destined to visit remote Terrier Lake and gaze at red ochre handprints? Strong coincidence, but not necessarily synchronicity.

What are the chances that a book title would forge a bond between by a writer and a reader, and evoke memories of a prairie childhood, of adolescent adventures, and of half a lifetime of researching and writing about the boreal forest?

The title of Dewdney’s memoir came from a “questionable bush poem”. How did it come about that at every turn of a page I found myself in sync with Selwyn, with his thoughts, with his feelings, with his experiences of a lifetime?

Rock art is associated with red ochre. Red ochre is associated with the spirituality of prehistoric artists. Pictographs in red ochre have been painted on rock walls on every continent except Antarctica.

It is fitting that the ashes of Selwyn Dewdney have been committed to Lake Superior by his four sons. Agawa Rock overlooks the spot. On the rock is a huge animal with crested back and horned head.

Mishipizhiw. The Great Lynx.

It is fitting that the pictograph is painted in red ochre.

May he rest forever in sync.

Rock art is universal.

Posted in WRITING | 1 Comment

IN SYNC WITH SELWYN (Chapter 5 of 6)

Peninsula Harbour, 1884, during construction of CPR.


“Packing on the Pic was, well, no picnic.”

So began Selwyn’s tale of swamps that proved to be the bane of his so-called “summer vacation”. He had landed a job with General Timber Company, packing supplies into bush camps in the valley of the Pic River. The Pic, an Ojibway

Vintage kicker.

name for “mud”, flowed into Lake Superior. It lived up to its name. Boats with small outboard motors (“kickers”) had to dodge hidden deadheads, i.e., submerged waterlogged timbers.

Leaving the river camp, “I would take the first load by kicker down the river to the landing, wrestle the load onto my back, then tote it two miles into the bush camp, or even beyond that to a new advance camp another two miles deeper into the bush. On one typical day, I brought in a thirty pound leg of ham, twenty-five pounds of fresh meat, and thirty pounds of assorted groceries.”

He describes the worst obstacles: cedar swamp and second-growth fire slash. Thickets of cedar produce a multiplicity of low-level branches which, dying out, leave sharp spikes. “They specialize in ripping shirts, pants, socks or skin with equal impartiality.” Deep pockets of muskeg promote many a fall into the muck. In burned-over terrain, encountering barriers of fallen timbers, the packer trips constantly, unable to peer through the opaque leafy screen of young poplar. He was following a line blazed by timber cruisers.

On that first day, returning with an empty pack, rain soaked him thoroughly, and he had to master the art of travelling upstream in an empty vessel, without ballast. “When the base camp came into view I would sometimes burst spontaneously into song. A hearty meal, followed by an evening of drying clothes and washing socks, completed a full day.”

Old-time logging camp in Northern Ontario.

Selwyn did not lack for companionship. Two packers soon joined him in his travails. At the river camp, company included a cook, a clerk, and sundry workers (Selwyn mentions two experienced timber cruisers assisted by two high school kids acting as tally men, and at another time, the head cruiser). Cruisers, by the way, conducted traverses in order to locate merchantable timber and estimate quantities. Such company relieved “the incipient claustrophobia of constant travel through dense forests”.

And he did find free time. He explored the

Nama Creek Falls today.

bush, and sketched. “Sketching bush subjects provided me with occasional hours of pleasant absorption. My oil sketching followed the Group of Seven method then in vogue at the Ontario College of Art.” On one memorable day, he discovered Nama Creek. After a hot and tiring trek through swampy ground, he emerged “on the bare rock to find a cascade of water so refreshing, so beautiful, I knew immediately that I would paint it. I made some sketches and two years later completed a large canvas called Nama Creek.”

Towards the end of summer, he thought more and more of pulling up stakes. “At such times”, he wrote, “the only thing that kept me on the Pic was our need for money. Irene and three little mouths awaited the fruits of my labour.”

Selwyn did see more of the country than swamps and a muddy river. When he had travelled north on the CPR at the beginning of his “vacation”, he dropped off at Heron Bay, “a hotel, a store, and not much else”. Looking for a job, he ended up at Peninsula ̶ “a coaling stop on the CPR with a marvellous view of Lake Superior” ̶ and a bunkhouse for General Timber. “Soon I would be going up Pic River where I would pack grub for the camps at four dollars a day all found . . . ‘All found’ meant that the company would supply food and accommodation.”

It would be years before Selwyn had an opportunity to explore the Lake Superior North Shore. “Whenever I visited these places on the Superior shore, the steep shores, huge hills and vast stretches of open water glimpsed between headlands never failed to impress me.” He would recall the iconic painting by Lawren Harris, one of the Group of Seven, titled North Shore.

Selwyn never mentions the history of logging on the Pic. Logging began in the Lower Pic Valley in 1916, targeting large white spruce. Drives were conducted on the Lower Pic and its tributaries. Different operations began cutting accessible spruce and balsam stands for pulpwood, which were boomed at the mouth of the Pic (Selwyn describes his encounter with rafts of logs) and towed to Wisconsin. In 1937, General Timber Company obtained the cutting rights for the Pic watershed. General Timber was a subsidiary of Marathon Paper Mills of Wisconsin.

River drive near Chapleau.

After spring break-up, supplies reached the bush camps on the Lower Pic by the river, and after freeze-up, by a winter road paralleling the river. Selwyn never mentions the major change in 1943 in cutting operations (which, incidentally, he never described), the year of his memorable vacation. General Timber began operations on the Upper Pic by constructing a supply depot at Stevens on the CNR. The company constructed roads from the railway to access the Upper Pic and its tributaries. In 1944, Marathon Paper Mills acquired the licence for the Big Pic concession on condition that it construct a 250-ton-per-day bleached kraft pulp mill at Peninsula. Thus Peninsula acquired the name Marathon. River drives continued. Thereafter, logging on the Lower Pic was phased out and terminated completely in 1947, the year the new mill began operation.

Storage pond on Pic River near Heron Bay.

You may wonder why, in Chapter 11, titled “Packing on the Pic”, Selwyn never mentions his battles with blackflies and other flying pests. He spends considerable time in Chapter 3, “Bush Apprenticeship” detailing his ordeals. He systematically describes his experiences with sand fleas (a.k.a. no-seeums), mosquitos, blackflies, bulldog flies (a.k.a. moose flies), deer flies, and dogflies.

The bush man lumps all these pests under the rubric of flies. To give you the flavour of his description, here is his account of the dogfly: “Always on the exposed ankle. Invariably you don’t expect it. Invariably the little nipper, a dogfly, escapes. Indistinguishable from a small housefly, the dogfly can bite through heavy bush socks with mysterious ease. There’s no swelling or itching afterwards, just that one absolutely savage and completely uncalled for nip. Being too brief to provide any nourishment for the dogfly, I must assume the nip is just its way of being sociable.”

After spring break-up and until just before fall freeze-up, flies are an inevitable fact of life in the bush.

Hardly worth mentioning.

Afternoon Sun-North Shore-Lake Superior”, by Lawren Harris.

Posted in WRITING | 1 Comment

IN SYNC WITH SELWYN (Chapter 4 of 6)

Canoeing in Marshall Lake, north of Nakina.

4 ̶ Through a Glass Darkly

After a hiatus of five years, the haze clears, and I can see my way clear to finish this post.

Selwyn Dewdney’s memoir suggests the origin of its title, Daylight in the Swamp. In the Preface, his son Keewatin references the title as “the last line of a highly questionable bush poem”. By “questionable” he means “off-colour”. By bush poem, he means the following:

Let go your c–ks, and grab your socks,

It’s daylight in the swamp!

I heard that ditty more than sixty years ago. One morning that summer, from my bunk in a coach on Canadian National Railways, my eyes popped open at that rude wake-up call. Our group of high school Air Cadets was travelling from Northern Ontario to the west coast to Camp Abbotsford, B.C. During those two weeks, that ditty was burned into my memory banks.

That ditty has a long and venerable history. Apparently, in the nineteenth century, it was sung out by camp cooks and bosses in the tall timber stands of Michigan and Wisconsin and Minnesota. At some point, military types appropriated it, and soldiers and sailors and later, airmen, made it their own wake-up call. More recently, to accommodate gender fairness, women substituted “t–ts” for “c–ks”.

Exactly when Selwyn, and later, his son, learned it, is questionable (meaning, there is no answer). It’s unlikely that Selwyn, growing up near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, learned it as a kid, his father being an Anglican minister and all. Attending college in Toronto, Ontario, he may have heard it as a frat boy, even though he was a missionary in training. Spending summers as a student minister on Lac Seul, and making canoe trips to many rough camps, he was undoubtedly exposed to rough language. He even canoed solo a couple of times to Red Lake during the 1920s mining boom. And later, in Northern Ontario, as a traverse surveyor, he spent weeks at a time beyond the pale of civilization, and may have himself uttered the lines to get his crew moving before breakfast.

The point is, that the phrase “daylight in the swamp” is part of our vocabulary. At every opportunity, we jumped into swamps and wallowed there in the muskeg and among the black flies. I have hundreds of photos of the swamps I have known. Selwyn painted countless landscapes featuring swamps and, yes, black flies. We are both creatures of the swamp.

The haze is lifting. It is less of a mystery now why I have written extensively of experiences stemming from my trips into the wilderness, and why Selwyn found his life’s calling, around age 50, seeking out Aboriginal pictographs painted on remote rock canvases of Northern Ontario.

Reading Selwyn’s memoir, I find my memories intersecting with his. I too was born in Saskatchewan (I in 1940, he in 1909). As a kid, I too cavorted in a slough (the prairie name for a marshy lake). I too moved to Northern Ontario (I at age 13, he at age 15, to Kenora). We both fell in love with the bush, and explored it at every opportunity. At some point, we became avid canoeists (my motto, on my business card, was “Have Paddle, Will Travel”). We both switched our college studies (I from engineering to the arts, he from theology to arts). We both became qualified teachers, I specializing in English, he in painting.

We both began our careers as teachers. I married my life partner, Olga, in 1959. Selwyn married Irene in 1936. For the first few years of our marriages, we struggled to make ends meet. I had a son, Rob, and a daughter, Laura. Selwyn had four sons: Donner, Keewatin, Peter, and Christopher. Children of both families grew up familiar with canoeing. Both families dreamed of retiring to a lake in the wilderness.

But, summertimes were always hard. A teacher’s pay cheque did not stretch to cover the two months that we were effectively unemployed. I went away to take ungrading courses, borrowing to cover expenses. Selwyn took on summer jobs. Somehow, we each managed to squeeze in some days of vacation.

So it was that in the summer of 1943, when I was only three, Selwyn found himself up to his armpits in swamp and black flies.

Tom Thompson’s “Northern River”, more appropriately called “Northern Swamp”. My favourite painting.

Posted in GREENSTONE, MY EXCURSIONS, NATURE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Radio-Canada called me up for information on the Longlac church that burned down yesterday.  I was able, in the short time available, to put together this account:

Indian Point in 1946. Two-storey building is the school, building to the left is the church.

At age 36, Father Joseph-Marie Couture was ordained as a priest in 1922, soon mastered the Ojibway tongue, and conducted missions by canoe, dog team, and snowshoes in roadless communities in Northern Ontario. At age 47, he took flying lessons, acquired his first plane, a Gypsy Moth, and flew 4000 miles that season, acquiring the sobriquet “The Flying Priest”. In 1940, he gave up flying and visiting his 36 missions to take up residence in a new presbytery in the tiny community of Longlac.

RC church on the Point 1935-40. Building on left is Father Couture’s residence.

Father Couture still had nine missions to visit along the railway line, but it took five priests to replace him. On April 1, 1948, the old church on Indian Point (a projection of land on the north shore of Long Lake) burned down. Father Couture, seriously ill at the time, expired on March 4, 1949. People came from hundreds of miles to pay their respects.

New Church of the Infant Jesus after 1950.

Construction began almost immediately on a new Roman Catholic church on the Point, part of Long Lake Reserve #58, which opened in 1950. Father Couture’s remains were laid to rest in a vault in the basement of the Church of the Infant Jesus.

Deteriorating church in June 2013. Photo by Peter Ferris.

At the end of the century, on May 7, 1997, the church closed. It stood empty, succumbing to the elements, until it burned down on May 23, 2018.

May 23, 2018. Photo by Kevin Kinzett.

Posted in GREENSTONE, LOCAL HISTORY | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments


A pair of walkers with escort vans on April 23.

“Always walk facing traffic.”

That’s something I learned at my mother’s knee. When walking down a road, always face the traffic  ̶  that is, walk on the left-hand shoulder.

So when I encountered two walkers on Monday who were walking with their backs to me, that mantra echoed. I was heading from Wildgoose Lake to Geraldton, a distance of about 10 klicks.

Shortly thereafter, I passed a newly placed “Bump” sign. Probably Ministry of Transport workers, I thought.

Shortly after that, I encountered another “Bump” sign and a pair of walkers, also facing away from me. When I was about to pass them, they waved without looking back. They were cued by the noise of my engine.

Soon another pair of walkers appeared. Waved to me without looking back. I noticed they were carrying flags or banners. By the time I arrived at the junction leading into town, I had passed six pairs of walkers on the right-hand shoulder.

I was getting worried. I popped into the OPP detachment. Eventually I spoke to a constable. This was a dangerous situation, I said. And wasn’t there a law compelling walkers to face traffic? Not that he was aware of, he said. But he undertook to warn the walkers.

I imagined a scenario where walkers are meeting a highly visible vehicle. At their backs, a vehicle is rushing at their backs but they can’t hear it over the noise of the vehicle they are meeting. At that moment, a walker steps to the left, into the driving lane, to avoid a roadkill. Only the roadkill survives.

Downtown, I mentioned the situation to half a dozen people. Everyone knows, they said, you always walk facing traffic. And no, someone said, there is no law. It’s something one learned from one’s parents.

Walkers with flag of Island Lake FN.

Returning home, I drove out of my way to meet some walkers. This pair of walkers was accompanied by an escort van, which was plastered with signs such as “No Meth” and “Stop Meth”. They were members of a group of 40 walkers. A few walkers from Island Lake First Nation in northern Manitoba, troubled by the curse of crystal meth in their communities, began the march on March 28 to raise awareness. After a thousand klicks, they arrived in Winnipeg, and found others willing to join them. They made a decision to march to Ottawa.

I wished them luck.

Silently, I wished that constable luck in contacting all 40 walkers.

They plan to reach Ottawa in 13 days.

Pray that no one steps aside for roadkill at the wrong moment.

Postscript ̶ I was unsuccessful in finding a credible GoFundMe page, but the walkers’ Facebook page is “SUPPORT and Raise awareness Walk #StopMeth for Islandlake” (sic). On April 23, they reported 4,401 members, and three days later, 4,465, but nobody accepted my application for membership.

Cover of the group’s FB page.

Posted in GREENSTONE, LIFE AS IT HAPPENS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


2 ̶ Snowplows

Snowplows are adept at spreading garbage.

Last Wednesday morning, I stacked my week’s garbage at roadside. We don’t have curbsides. We live in the bush. Overnight a blizzard had deposited ten or twelve inches of snow in our driveway. Sometime during the night, a plow cleared the main access road so that at dawn there were only two or three inches of snow uncleared. However, our driveway was plugged solid. I deposited our bag and bin at roadside, there being to other location to leave it.

The bag and bin were solid black. No way to mistake it for snow. The next time I checked, the bag and bin had been relocated several metres down the road. One had been hoisted over the snowbank into the ditch.

Fortunately, most of the contents were intact. Not so the last time. A month ago, also after a snowstorm, another plow knocked the stuffing out of my bags and bins This was the work of a small blade on a pickup truck contracted by the municipality to clear the windrows from seniors’ driveways after the big plow had cleared the access road. The small blade had clearly targeted my garbage and smeared it over heck’s half acre.

Ravens would never do that. Ravens may be aggressive, sure, but they are not bullies. Ravens can tell the difference from a snowbank and a bag or bin. And ravens pick up garbage, not spread it.

In that hour I spent with the wild birds, I observed the courtesies they offer one another. When a raven swooped down to the dinner table, the chickadees scattered to give it free rein. As soon as it flew off with a beakful, they swarmed the feeders again.

Only once in that hour did both ravens show up simultaneously. Still, The Young ‘Un clearly deferred to Old Moss Bill. In that hour, only one quarrel broke out. The Young ‘Un managed to snag two slices of bread, but, they were the last two slices. As soon as The Young ‘Un took off, Old Moss Bill was on his tail. The aerial ballet stretched over several minutes as Old Moss Bill tried to make him drop it. Clearly, Old Moss Bill was outraged at The Young ‘Un’s disrespect for his age and seniority. The Young ‘Un won that bout.

Then the two ravens took turns retrieving the meatballs I had scattered.   The Young ‘Un remained skittish. I suspect that he sensed my presence. He approached the meatballs a dozen of more times, and retreated as many times. Finally he would pick off a meatball and fly off. Old Moss Bill captured up to six meatballs to The Young ‘Un’s one.

Both ravens grappled with two or three meatballs before settling for one or two. On the last run, Old Moss Bill succeeded in taking off with three meatballs. Three meatballs! Payback for The Young ‘Un that took the last two slices of bread.

As I said, winter brings out the ravens and the snowplows.

Each specie performs a useful function.

Only one is welcome at our bird feeders.

The other one, well . . .

The other one needs to learn table manners.

Posted in GREENSTONE, NATURE | 3 Comments

RAVENS & SNOWPLOWS (Chapter 1 of 2)

1  ̶  Ravens

Winter in the north wouldn’t be the same without them.

Ravens to collect and dispose of garbage. Snowplows to spread it over all Creation.

I spent a good hour today watching our ravens clean up the garbage around our bird feeders. I put them out there ̶ meaning both the garbage and the feeders. Birds have a tough time of it in our winters. And we live in the bush, miles from the tasty packets of garbage that townspeople pile on snowplowed sidewalks for their convenience. The ravens’ convenience.

I call them “our” birds but these birds below to no one. These are wild birds. Even the cute and chirpy chickadees who practically poke their beaks into my hands when I am filling the feeders. The ravens are more skittish. Two of them showed up today. One I named Old Moss Bill, because he seemed to have a crust of white coating his bill, possibly acquired from the bread slices I scattered on the snow, or the snowbank he was shovelling.   Old Moss Bill had a tattered undercarriage, maybe from too many belly landings on rough terrain.

The second raven was smaller, more groomed. I say smaller although he was still a good size, hefty enough to carry off a young rabbit. Imaginatively, I thought of the young one as The Young ‘Un.

What was I doing laying out garbage on the snow? I was laying out a feast of out-of-date frozen foods. Or, more accurately, I was trashing items in our freezers that I could not confidently date within a few months. Olga, my helpmeet, subscribes to the philosophy of “waste not, want not”. If we can’t eat it within a day or two, she freezes it. Also, some of this stuff was bought uncooked at bargain prices and purposely frozen until a rainy day. Or until some day when we she discovers it at the bottom of a freezer and opts to take a chance on thawing it. I don’t have her confidence.

As you might have guessed, I am now batching. Olga has been in hospital for a month now with no prospect of coming home soon.

So, Old Moss Bill and The Young ‘Un were having a ball. They took turns stalking the dinner table, eyeing it from every angle and at every level. Eventually they each performed a graceful landing. Old Moss Bill was the braver, for he strutted right up to the table and selected the choicest tidbits. The Young ‘Un was more wary, making several tentative moves before snatching a beakful. Then each flew off in a different direction to cache its loot.

I admire ravens. I admire their fearless aggression, their intelligence, their resourcefulness. I admire them when a couple of them gang up on a lone eagle that passes too close to their nest. I admire them when they scour the lakes and the bush and the improved game trails (some of which go by the name of roads) and pounce on the teeniest morsel that may contain sustenance. Nothing escapes their scrutiny.

And they can recognize garbage when they see it. It may be smothered in black plastic bags and stowed in hard-shell bins, but they can still find it. They don’t smell it, for many a time I find them ravaging a bag or knocking heck out of a bin that contains nothing edible.   I’m talking about wild bush ravens here. They are resourceful.

The town ravens have it much easier. Once every seven days they congregate on their favourite streets and sidewalks. There the homeowners have left their garbage in stacks at curbside, and the feeding frenzy begins.

Ravens are experts in garbage collection and garbage disposal. But what are snowplows adept at?

Posted in GREENSTONE, NATURE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

ANGLER & PRISONERS OF WAR (Chapter 5 of 7)

Japanese POWs arriving at Angler

5 ̶ Japanese Prisoners

On February 24, 1942, the Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King, as a war measure, proclaimed the coastal region of British Columbia out of bounds to all Canadians of Japanese descent. In an unprecedented mass evacuation, 22,000 people ̶ men, women, and children ̶ were ordered to move(6).

The evacuation began on March 16 under the auspices of the B.C. Security Commission, and was accomplished by the end of the year. The men were ordered into road construction camps, or to work in approved sectors, or to prison camps. The euphemistic term “internment camp” was occasionally applied, but prisoners were confined to barracks, paid paltry wages, fed scanty meals, and endured the loss of all their homes, goods, property, and choices of livelihood. Families were torn apart.

All Japanese Canadians soon recognized their predicament: “It no longer matters whether a person is a national, a naturalized Canadian,or a Canadian citizen by birth, everyone goes regardless.” (24 Apr 1942)

On July 21, 1942, 638 men got off the train at Angler, Ontario, and the gates of Camp 101 closed behind them. The former inmates, German prisoners-of-war, had already been relocated.

The most complete record of the men’s experience at Camp Angler comes from a book by Robert K. Okazaki(7), one of the official record-keepers. He was 25 years old, single, a mill worker for Port Alice Paper and Pulp Co. on the B.C. coast. He was earning fifty-one cents an hour, a better-than-average wage.

Camp Angler POWs carried the label of “troublemaker”. Their crimes: refusing to report to work camps, resisting the mass evacuation and breakup of families, and speaking up. Robert Okazaki and others created an organization to promote keeping families together, which they called Nisei Mass Evacuation Group. Even behind barbed wire, they kept the faith and kept up their ̶ entirely peaceful ̶ resistance.

Camp Angler held males aged 18 to 45. Japanese POWs fell into two groups. The largest group, the niseis*, born raised in Canada, were unquestionably Canadian. The isseis**, born in Japan, were immigrants to Canada. After three years’ residence, they were eligible to apply for citizenship, becoming naturalized citizens.

The government of Mackenzie King treated the isseis as military POWs, subject to rules of the Geneva Convention for prisoners-of-war.

The niseis, on the other hand, being Canadian by birth, were treated as civilian POWs, with fewer rights. A huge proportion of the niseis ̶ feeling betrayed and abandoned by their adopted country ̶ sought to renounce their citizenship and demanded repatriation to Japan. They were denied, and still treated as POWs.

Divided loyalties led to conflicts between prisoners, let alone to wrenching internal conflicts. By the end of the war, only a handful of Angler prisoners were successfully repatriated.

All internees were deemed to be POWs. Standing Orders : Camp #101, issued April 29,1942, and applying to German prisoners, were carried over to apply to the Japanese internees. Officials seemed to use the terms “prisoner”, and “prisoner-of-war” and “internee” interchangeably.

POWs gathered outside the gate

Uniforms ̶ “The pants had a red stripe down both legs, and on the back of our uniforms was a twelve-inch red circle . . . The circle was actually a target for the guards to shoot at should they try to escape!” (23May 1942)

Labour Outdoors ̶ The conditions were mostly unpleasant, ranging from brutally cold winters to fly-ridden summers. “. . . The temperature dropped below minus sixty degrees, but we still had to take turns working! . . . Some of the men . . . are being hospitalized.” (16 Dec 1942) “Mr. Pipher and the Army are aggressively enticing up to enter outside work programs . . . Everyone refusing to work outside the camp will be ordered to cut wood every day!” (9 Sep 1943) These orders did not stick.

Discipline ̶ “Even though we are civilian P.O.W.s, very strict military rules have to be obeyed in this camp.” (30 Jul 1942) “Seven naturalized Canadian internees and one issei internee were placed in detention by the Army for not signing their Asset Declaration Forms . . . The men were ordered to go to work and return to the detention cells each night.” (19 Feb 1943)

Guards ̶ “Sergeant-Major Kennedy . . . has a very nasty and sarcastic attitude about our presence here, and he continues to add unnecessary outside work in the freezing weather.” (30 Mar 1943) “Some of the camp’s military personnel are despised because they make life very difficult for us.” (7 May 1943) On the other hand, the records make fleeting allusions to reasonable and kind-hearted officers and soldiers. “Most of the guards here are only fluent in French, and they have some difficulty understanding English. This produces a lot of communication problems and misunderstandings between us and the soldiers.” (14 Aug 1943) “The guards are so strict that even uttering a curse word under our breath will land us in detention, so needless to say, the holding cells are very busy . . .   [In one incident] [prisoners] were ordered to clean up the entire detention hut floor on hands and knees, and . . . to wash it once more! . . . The mean guards . . . ordered them to wash the floor a third time!” (29 Oct 1943)

Outside Work ̶ From time to time, POWs obtained permission to work outside; e.g., “About 40 or 50 men were released to work in logging camps at Port Arthur and Neys, Ontario.” (1 Dec 1942)

Cold Weather ̶ “Each winter day here at Camp #101 brings with it temperatures below minus 50 and howling winds . . . ” (25 Jan 1943) “This is our second Christmas in captivity. The severe cold, fierce winds, and barbed wire have all but killed our holiday spirit . . . Our captivity still seems so unbelievable, just like a bad nightmare.” (25 Dec 1943) “Winter’s bitter cold and fierce winds have swept into our camp for a third year . . .” (Dec 1944) “When the temperature is near minus twenty, we often greet each other with ‘My, it’s warm today!” (Feb 1945)

Unpleasant Labour ̶ “About one-hundred of us had to unload coal from the train, unload and deliver food, and clean-up the Officers’/guards’ mess halls, the barracks, kitchen, dining area, and the outer grounds. Lt.-Col. Ellwood offered to pay us ten cents per day per man . . . ” (19 Aug 1942) The Camp Leader asked for twenty-five cents, and a stand-off ensued. The records do not clearly indicate the negotiated wage settlement, but some evidence suggests it was twenty cents. “The most despised job is unloading coal from the train. In teams of five, unloading near the freight doors is fine, but we get covered in black coal dust when we have to go inside the car! . . . [The Camp Leader] asked Commandant Kippen to either excuse us from work or provide warmer clothing on the very cold days, but [was refused]” (16 Dec 1942)

Good Times ̶ “. . . We are happy with our Christmas festivities! We have received . . . cash donations . . . parcels . . . gifts . . . permission to buy three-thousand bottles of beer at fifteen cents each.” (25 Dec 1942)

Gifts ̶ “[The Camp Leader’s] endless negotiations with the military has secured the release of our money confiscated at the Immigration Building [scene of Nisei Mass Evacuation Group demonstration in Vancouver]. We hid the cash from the Army and wasted no time banking it for the internees in dire straits.” (25 Dec 1942)  From time to time, POWs found themselves beneficiaries of gifts and cash donations, which the Camp Leader was charged to distribute. Some donors were evacuees still in B.C. camps, Japanese Red Cross, Roman Catholic Church, Fairview Buddhist Church Women’s Organization, Y.C.M.A., Canadian Red Cross, individual ministers, Canada Packers employees (likely POWs from Angler), and the Spanish Consulate (the protecting power of Japanese internees),

Lack of Food ̶ “Our food shipments are being short-changed.” (19 Feb 1943) “. . . The train carrying our food supply is stuck once again [by heavy snowfalls]. We are stretching one day’s rations over two, sometimes three days . . . I don’t like having this constant hunger pain . . . ” (5 Nov 1943) “With food rationing becoming a daily occurrence, we are finding it difficult to maintain our training. Most meals now only consist of potatoes and two slices of bread.” (1 Jan 1944) “. . . Just once, I’d like to eat and eat to my heart’s, and stomach’s content.” (20 Apr 1944)

Medical Care ̶ “Too many internees are suffering from frost-bite. There is also an unusually high number of cases involving appendicitis, gastro-intestinal disorders, and the flu . . . Some hospital improvements have been made, but we are lacking basic equipment such as hot water bottles.” (27 Jan 1943) “This evening, one German P.O.W. was placed into our detention cell. I heard several rumours about his escape from another camp, and that he was here to get some dental work done (but we don’t have a dentist)!” (10 Mar 1944)

Amenities ̶ “. . . It was decided the internees will be supplied with the necessities of life, soap, razors, toothbrushes, and towels. Worn items will be exchanged for new ones . . . ” (13 Oct 1942) “. . . We have started to watch movies twice a week . . . We must pay $4.00 from our canteen fund for the second movie.” (22 Feb 1943)

Mail ̶ “Every month, each of us is issued four post cards . . . We are also permitted to write a total of twenty-four lines over three letter-size pages . . . ” (21 Jun 1942) ‘”Until today, one letter and one postcard was allocated to every man each week, but . . . we will only be receiving three-hundred letter papers and postcards for four-hundred and thirty-one internees!” (13 Mar 1944)

News Censorship ̶ “The newspapers issued to us have all the war stories cut out . . . ” (22 Aug 1943) Radios were forbidden.

Appreciation of Nature ̶ “[On the train’s approach to Angler] I saw rolling hills and a white blur of daisies besides the tracks. To my left was the endless horizon of magnificent Lake Superior.” (21 Jul 1942) “Our first autumn frost today! . . . The scenery reminds me of my youth when I spent hours wandering through Japan’s beautiful countryside gazing at all the autumn colours.” (24 Aug 1942) “Huge Timber wolves, alone, or often in packs, are roaming outside the camp in search of food! . . . At night, as I listen to their plaintive howling, I think of their freedom!” (17 Oct 1943) “After a long, cold eight months, the winter is finally giving way, and we welcome the warmth of the spring sun.” (20 Apr 1944) “I am surprised to see the sun’s bright rays come beaming through the frozen windows. We seldom see the sun during this time . . . ” (1 Jan 1945) “. . . Almost every night in the northern sky, the Aurora Borealis blazes across the sky . . . It is so beautiful, I’m glad IT can’t be held captive by the government!” (Feb 1945)

Physical Health ̶ “Commander Ellwood eventually banned our [military drill] exercises, so we took up running, and despite our heavy army boots, we circled the compound fifty times, a good twenty-five kilometres each day! . . . We also encouraged everyone to play baseball and other outdoor sports. We skated in winter, and with a few talented judo and kendo internees, we’ve really delved into these two sports!” (16, 17 Jun 1943)

Work Indoors ̶ All internal work was performed by POWs. “A small memento was presented to each of the men who staffed the following departments: Barber Shop, Canteen, Education, Fire Suppression, Hospital, Kitchen, Library, Office, Physical Fitness, Quartermaster, Mail, Recreation, Shoe Repair and Tailoring.” (30 Dec 1943)

Wood-Cutting Stand-off ̶ “. . . Beginning on January 17, men from each hut must cut wood for camp fuel every day. All day-work is compulsory.” Everyone refused. The isseis, being true POWs, were exempted by the Geneva Convention. The niseis cited lack of wood-cutting experience, the dangerous conditions, and the brutal cold. They protested being still denied reunion with their families. The Commandant ordered “no movies, no beer, no judo or kendo, and no music practices”. (15 Jan 1944) The decision to ration coal (essential to heat the huts) was negated after water pipes burst, and the Camp Leader lodged a strong protest. When the Commandant gave in is not recorded.

Personal Development ̶ “Many of our younger men are busy studying school texts . . . [They] should be in a proper educational program.” (20 Apr 1943) “I [Okazaki] am interestedin the German language and literature, so I have been very intently studying for the upcoming exam . . . Although the Recreation Hall is a bit small, we use it as a Dojo and practice four days each week . . . [tackling] very necessary Kendo elements . . . Judo students are excelling at their sport.” Others are painting and writing Japanese poetry, and engaged in band practices. (27 Mar 1944) “Today, a notice . . . arrived . . . Two men passed university exams, and sixteen passed high-school exams.” (31 Dec 1944)


Kendo group at Angler posing with their homemade white birch shinai

Camp Newspaper ̶ “. . . The first edition was published today! In English bold-type: ‘The Angler Chronicle’ . . . It was six pages of 8 1/2 x 14-inch paper, full of camp news, world events, and sports . . . The paper will be published bi-monthly.” (23 Jul 1944)

Camp Morale ̶ “The strict regulation of our camp life has eased, and the guards are much more friendlier with us now . . . ” Anecdote of a blueberry-picking expedition. (31 Aug 1944) “Now that the war has ended, the Commandant’s attitude has abruptly changed for the better! The guards are friendlier, more kind, and helpful.” (Sep 1945)

Deaths in Camp ̶ “Mr. Masanao Shirakowa, a 46-year old issei . . . who had been hospitalized in camp, passed away this morning.” (2 Oct 1944) “Mr. Kisao Kanesashi, a 51 year old issei . . . passed away in the camp hospital today.” (24 Jan 1946) Camp records refer to five deaths: one man passed away in Winnipeg Hospital en route to Angler via Camp Petawawa (23 May 1942), one in Espanola Sanitorium (8 Mar 1943), one in Winnipeg Hospital (13 Feb 1945).

War News ̶ “Today, our guards told us that Germany had surrendered to the Allied forces in Europe . . .We are now permitted to read uncensored newspapers.” (2 May 1945) “The U.S. Air Force has dropped an ‘Atomic Bomb’ on Hiroshima and the city has been completely annihilated.” (6 Aug 1945) “. . . Japan has officially surrendered as well.” (Sep 1945)

Future Prospects ̶   “The days go by slowly, and our confinement time marches on, but I hope an end to this madness comes soon.” (1 Jan 1944) “I have a picture that I pinned to the wall, near my pillow. It was taken six years ago and in it, my father’s face is still young, my brother looks every bit the typical school kid, and I stand beside Mas [my brother], my eyes shining with a young man’s dreams of the future! How different we must look today?!” (1 Jan 1945) “[In a letter] my mother . . . suggests we dedicate ourselves to helping both Canada and Japan. She wants us to think very carefully about our future . . . ” (Dec 1945)

Uncertain Futures ̶ “Five months have passed since the war ended . . . Rumours are circulating, but we don’t know for sure where we’re going, or when . . . We have no homes to return to, and no country to call home.” (1 Jan 1946) “My final records show that over 170 men signed to repatriate, about 100 men are going to remain in Canada, and approximately 130 refused to sign either form [to repatriate or to stay].” (Feb 1946) “I am especially sympathetic to the younger internees who have lost four vital years of their formal education . . . It seems such a waste . . . I wonder if our cause helped our community at all? I mean, for all the suffering we’ve endured . . . (Feb 1946)

At Long Last ̶ “Mas and I (P.O.W.s A543 and A544) are . . . scheduled to leave on April 29 . . .” (April 1946) “Mas and I have been ordered to move to London, Ontario, and work at the Federal Steel Foundry.” (27 Apr 1946) “About 150 men . . . didn’t declare when they wanted to live . . . Rumours are they’re heading for Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The repatriates still don’t know when there’s departing . . . (28 Apr 1946) “Finally, the day of our release has arrived! . . . We are leaving with too many bad memories, too many tragedies, and too few good recollections.” (29 Apr 1946)

29 April 1946 — “I cannot put into words the emotions of the moment, for how can one even try to say good-bye to four years of loyal friendships and brotherhood. Four years of sharing the pain of isolation, and four years of being hungry all the time! . . . The government issued . . . my brother and I . . . eleven dollars each! [“consolation money”] Among the guards at Angler, Staff-Sergeant Ward has consistently been one of the more friendlier and understanding veterans ever since we arrived . . .

“Now outside the gate, we walked onto the curling rink and discarded our very worn and faded P.O.W. uniforms. The dark blue shirt with the red target circle on the back, the pants with the red stripe down the leg, and the cap . . . Ever since we arrived at Petawawa, our civilian clothing had remained in our suitcase and bags . . . in a sandy corner of the rink . . . Our clothes . . . were damp, creased, and smelled of mildew and mould!

“I stopped for a moment and glanced back at the barbed wires and barracks . . . The once menacing machine-gun watch tower looked old and forlorn . . . Angler P.O.W. Camp #101 is now history . . .

“The future is very uncertain and my inner voice is telling me I must be strong to face the unknown . . . But for now, as I breathe the cool air over Lake Superior this morning, it seems more refreshing, and almost calming. So this must be the sweet taste of freedom . . . AT LONG LAST!!!”

Never during the war, or after it, did Prime Minister Mackenzie King express any regrets over the treatment of Japanese Canadians.

Not until 1948 were the last controls on their population lifted, and they were allowed to vote again.

In 1988, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, on behalf of the Canadian government, apologized for the wrongs committed against Japanese Canadians during the war. The apology came with symbolic redress payments ̶   too little, too late ̶ but better than the eleven dollars paid to Robert K. Okazaki in 1946 for five years of wrongful servitude. Okazaki published his memoir in 1996.

Postscript ̶ “Although Canada has in the past, treated me, my family, and my community with harsh, uncaring disrespect, I still treasure the friendships of numerous good people I have encountered and the many happy times I have experienced here. I feel good about myself, and I hope that my small contributions to society have helped make this country a better place to live in. This story is one of my contributions.” (1996)

* nisei – pronounced as NEE – say

** issei – pronounced as EE – say


6 Japanese Internment: Banished and Beyond Tears. Online article.

7 Okazaki, Robert A. The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp ‘101’. Private printing: Robert K. Okazaki, 1996.

Burial of Masanao Shirokowa in Angler cemetery