Tuesday, October 30, 2012



If the city and province gang up and shove a marvelous new casino into Exhibition Place, it will kill the annual Ex, the largest in Canada, and wound, probably fatally, all the events that happen there outside the fair in August, such as the Indy race, Sportsmen's and Boat shows,  CHIN picnic, One of a Kind craft show, and trade shows.
So the casino complex would be a flowing pot of gold,  bringing in up to $168 million annually for the city, according to a report with estimates, guesstimes and wishful thinking produced under city manager Joe Pennachetti,.
But this molten gold would kill the Ex.
Don't believe any nonsense from city councillors such as Mark Grimes, the inept chair of the Exhibition Place board of governors, which is the fair's landlord. That board is so awful in stewardship.  you would think it was a creation in a Dickens novel. (Grimes is one of the worst councillors at City Hall for missing votes. He's missed around 25%, which may, come to think of it, be a blessing.)
I just can't believe that Paul Godfrey would be one of the keys in this threat to a Toronto, indeed a Canadian, tradition.
I have known Godfrey since 1965 when I published the first of millions of Godfrey pictures in the media.  As a columnist,  I covered him as the best Metro chairman we ever had, and then reported directly to him from 1985 to 1997 when I was Editor of the Toronto Sun and he was the boss.
So I know him as a gifted man and as a loyal friend.  He works tirelessly to help family and friends. I can't believe a man who cares so much for his home city would preside over the ruination of an event that began in 1879 and lately has drawn around 1.5 million people a year while it has put millions into the civic treasury.
Let's not kid the troops at City Hall, or the people of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. There is no way that you can take a quarter of the land of Exhibition Place and plunk some casino complex on it without killing everything else that happens there.
All you have to do is look at the soccer stadium there to see in concrete and steel how city politicians can screw up comparatively simple projects.  Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment took the public to the cleaners, and shook tens of millions out of our pockets before we were thrown aside like a used Kleenex.
The stadium cuts the grounds in two and has never lived up to the promises about full use during the Ex.  And we didn't need it until City Hall screwed up. The old Grandstand was okay and demolished using millions that had been paid by users for its repair. The only reason was insiders worried that if it continued to exist, they wouldn't be able to make grandiose plans for a big new stadium for the Olympics and the NFL
If that is what we havc got in the past from city officials, Exhibition bureaucrats and councillors such as Grimes, there is not the slightest hope that they would do any better when it comes to saving the Ex and the grounds from a casino octupus which would wrap taxpayers in its tentacles and squeeze until we coughed up all sorts of hidden and costly concessions.
Meanwhile, the provincial government, which has demonstrated its incompetence by ruining everything it touches from electronic health to power generation, doesn't even offer up Ontario Place which could be a casino site providing the existing landfill was augmented with new acres, just like all the other land that has been created from the lake starting within a foot of the Lake Shore.
Why ruin the success of the Exhibition when any size and type of casino can be built largely on the failure of Ontario Place? The CNE directors showed united intelligence when the board passed a motion in September opposing a new big casino on top of the Ex.
There actually was a plan created by Tony O'Donohue, the municipal engineer, author, councillor and former mayoralty candidate, which would have given the city millions if it allowed more land to be created beside Ontario Place. It made a lot of sense, so naturally the politicians killed it.
Readers may remember that I have written often about a casino because as a former president of the CNE and vice-chair of the board of governors, I have had a seat in the first row of the boxing rings as provincial and municipal politicians have duked it out over the years about anything and everything at the Ex and Ontario Place.
I moved the motion for a CNE casino, chaired the casino committee, met with provincial officials about the CNE casino and know that the casino, which gives the Ex a transfusion each year of several million dollars, has never been a problem for the police or the neighborhood.
It is no surprise that most city officials do not worry about such problems in the latest casino report which is filled with glowing figures about all the money and jobs that would flow to the city. The city's medical officer of health complains that there is a public health issue with addicted gamblers,  but addicted gamblers don't have to drive far now to throw away their money.
If you shoved it south in the lake off of Ontario Place, it could be a great benefit to the city, and hassle-free, providing there is careful public supervision of the project and there is an immediate solution to the parking of six thousand or more cars.
Gamblers aren't about to ride transit. And the area would choke, as it does now if it's a big day at the Ex and there is also an event at the Rogers Centre, when all those vehicles arrive.
Transit to the area can be improved, which is easy, and the existing road network can be improved by, among other things, getting rid of that stupid southerly extension of Dufferin St.
 But parking's the key.
The politicians must also deal up front with what they will do with all the mllions. For starters, the Ex must be compensated for the loss of its profit from a casino which is used to bankroll all sorts of free entertainment. A good chunk of the profit should go to Toronto transit and Toronto health care, not just be dumped into general revenues to pay for the latest wet dreams at Queen's Park and City Hall
What I can see happening is that Exhibition Place and Ontario Place would be combined under one board with provincial and municipal representation. The casino would be built largely on landfill and stilts beside Ontario Place. The underground garage at the Ex would continue but the main parking would be in one giant garage on the existing Ontario Place parking lot and on landfill, and in a garage to the west, also on landfill.
City council has just passed a motion seconded by Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday which would allow the conservation authority to supervise landfill around Ontario Place.
Rob Ford and Godfrey and MGM and the new premier must not be allowed to bamboozle us, to wave an imaginary magic wand and pretend that some giant casino and pleasure centre can be dropped on Exhibition Place without squashing the life out of the old lady of the lakeshore.
So we can save millions by eliminating the duplication in the administrations of Exhibition and Ontario  places. We can form a smart democratic body to run the whole pleasure and convention complex by creating enough new land for parks and parking that doesn't kill or cripple any present use. But we can only do that if we get much better planning and thinking than had been devoted to this issue so far by every stakeholder, from Queen's Park and City Hall to that silent board of governors.
Perhaps Godfrey should give up his present successful jobs in publishing, gambling and private and public boards  and bring this new Ontario Exhibition Casino  to fruition as his last great contribution to his city. After all, he needs a legacy more than he needs money!
I wrote a column once suggesting Godrey resign from being the boss of the regional municipality and become the waterfront czar and supervise, as an able pragmatic instigator,  the development of a new attractive unified water's edge for Toronto. As great as Chicago's! I must have made a persuasive case, apparently, because Gina, reading this column at breakfast, demanded to know from her husband just what was going on with this job as czar.
Better late than never. Better, actually, than playing any role in the destruction of the Ex and its home which has survived for more than a century even when politicians didn't give a damn.

Friday, October 26, 2012



There are so many things wrong with the delivery of health services in Canada that it is offensively dumb for the Ontario Medical Association to run its big mouth and recommend that we pay more for food that it thinks is harmful, after the bureaucrats have slapped gruesome pictures on the packaging.
What is ludicrous about all this is that with food that really is near the responsibility of the doctors of this province, in the hospital, they are miserable failures, unless the idea is to keep hospital food so bad,  people would rather starve than gain a pound.
Mary and I now spend too much time in and around hospitals. I had spent one night in hospital in my entire life (even being delivered by my father, a doctor, at home) before my three months in two American and two Canadian hospitals last year.  Since then we have averaged a visit to hospital every month.
This has shown Mary and me that there are too many things wrong with a system that wastes your time and mangles your records and makes you wait for months as just another anonymous cipher because it is conducted to the advantage of the providers, the staff,  and not the consumers, the patients.
Trust me on this! I caught in time that the nurse?? had brought the wrong insulin, insulin so powerful that an endocrinologist said it would have put me in a coma. I ended my ordeal in hospital hell last year with three bed-sore ulcers so deep that I had to wear an air pump 24-hours a day for five months and have 130 visits from home-care nurses until they healed after 10 months. The time I slid out of a special bed and they didn't find me for two hours crammed face-down in a corner etcetera etceta etcetera
Why doesn't the OMA deal with all the graduating doctors who take advantage of the incredible costly education that we provide them, plus the incredibly expensive facilities that we provide them, and yet they persist in flocking to urban centres that already have enough doctors and leave great expanses of the country without enough care.
Why doesn't the OMA stop being just another protective labour union for its members and start allowing doctors educated in other countries to become doctors more quickly in this country.
Why doesn't the OMA deal with hospital boards and the ministry which try to sneak by with using as few RNs as possible (and that stands for Real Nurses) in favour of cheaper pretend nurses  who are educated only in knowing how to open Band-Aid box.
And yet the OMA wants to make a main target the junk food because they say it's bad for you, arguing correctly that fatter patients aren't as healthy and therefore are expensive for the rest of us because of all the resources that they devour.
Of course the same fatter patients also die sooner, meaning they don't need health services as long as those healthier people who live a lot longer and therefore use a lot more medical services later to keep them going even as their healthier bodies start to wear down simply from age and not diet.
The irony is that doctors and hospitals, who are giant hornets' nests of red-tape nonsense, would appeal to  bureaucrats for extra taxes and ugly pictorial crap that have already been inflicted on cigarette marketing. (And failed miserably with the addicted.)
C'mon docs, the government will hire a new infrastructure to run all this, and in the process skim off a hefty chunk of the new taxes that will be shoved into general revenues. That's the history of how governments work in Canada on everything from gasoline taxes to fishing fees.
If you really really deep down believe that increased taxes will work in making people eat healthier, why not go all the way. Make your neighbours who dine routinely on Big Macs pay a penalty tax every time they use their OHIP card and the scale beside the office nurse shows that they are too heavy.
I don't take credit for that last argument. Others have created it. Just remember the warning in debate theory that if in any major public issues you can easily take the change to a ridiculous conclusion, the smart thing is not to institute the change. In Latin it's called reductio ad absurdum.
After all, once you decide to punish people and their choices of food by imposing more government costs and regulations, why not go all out and charge them for doctor visits and hospital visits, and if  they're lucky enough to have lived long enough to be a pensioner, charge them for  prescription drugs.
The trouble with too many doctors is they were mark hounds in school who never took the time for the delights of an icy cherry coke and a cheeseburger just dripping with grease and, therefore, taste.
So they figure that a little dose of social bioengineering mixed in with a good sleep and some hefty taxes, plus pictures of fat people in their coffins on every bag of chips, is just what the doctor ordered to save money and time so they can concentrate on the things that are really important, such as buying fine wine and doing research on plastic surgery on toe warts of mice.
Doctors are important, valuable people. I treasure my doctors. But I expect them to concentrate on my body and how it is working. Health education is important but not when the activists want to punish us with new spending and laws if we don't obey. Every time the Toronto medical officer of health wants to rework our daily commute because Dr. David McKeown argues that lower speed limits would be safer, or diet zealots argue that school cafeteria food should be healthier, therefore driving kids to those heavens for junk food, the  local hamburger joint, I wonder why they don't have a real list of priorities including education that doesn't come mined with Big Brother costs.
(Actually Dr. McKeown, speed isn't the key essential to most Toronto traffic accidents. And when the police put radar traps in areas where they will make a lot of money, they are just cash registers, not safety measuresl)
At the top of any medical list of priorities should be the importance of mental health. And nothing makes people happier than less government. It must have been nice in the caves when there were no Stop signs and you could even eat the fat on the dinosaur leg without someone yelling at you about your blood pressure.
You can just feel endorphins coursing through your system when you feel good, which is generally when Big Brother is not yelling at you and trying to pick your pocket at the same time, hoping you feel so guilty, you won't tell them to take a flying leap into a septic tank.



I rarely see a hitchhiker. Yet as older readers know, it was a common way for young people, even women, to get around in the 1950s and 1960s.
Now we see it mainly in old movies, or when a transit strike hits and the papers print big signs that you can hold up when you're trying to get a ride because you don't have a car.
The hit of my hitchhiking career came when a cousin, friend and I hitchhiked to New York City wearing our RCAF Reserve uniforms. Which was probably against the rules. We really didn't have any problem getting rides despite our number.
It was a wonderful quick trip in 1955 despite a record heat wave. We even rode in the back of a truck, just like in the movies and cartoons. During the three of us cramming ourselves again and again into  cars, I lost my wedge cap, and in the military, that really is a no no.
Since the three of us were the lowest rank, AC2, we had no insignia on our sleeves. And since I was  brazenly without a hat, it appeared to an American officer waking past me that I was some high unknown rank of an ally attended by two aides. Since we were around 16, that really didn't seem likely upon real examination  but it was still good enough for me to get three free tickets that night to the huge Broadway hit, South Pacific, and I was on the aisle about six rows back.
I routinely hitchhiked up north to see the girls from school working at the lodges and resorts. I occasionally had to suffer by the side of the road for an hour or so, but if it rained, the next car picked me up. Often the couple wanted some company on routine trips in Cottage Country. So hitchhiking 400 or more kilometres on a weekend was routine, and not one friend or adult found it strange.
After we bought our cottage on the Trent River, I can remember warnings in the 1990s, and maybe there was even a sign, telling you not to give rides to hitchhikers in the Warkworth area because of the chances it was an escapee from the prison there. Then I heard it was all a ploy by the guards' union because the prison had just got its first female warden and the guards were trying to embarrass her.
Girls would be in more danger, of course, but there is safety in numbers and where you stick your thumb out. My wife thought nothing of hitching to work as a young office worker if the Hamilton bus was delayed. But that was in daylight on busy streets. Yet a woman that I knew all the way back to Grade One remembers that she used to routinely hitchhike home 70 km when she was a nursing student and she had only one bad experience. She always did it with a fellow student and they had a rule that they would never get into a car with only young guys. But one day, it was raining and two men came along and they got in and they took them down a side road and borrowed/extorted $2  from them along the way. (This was in the Fifties.) They jumped out of the car the first time it slowed  and swore that they would never tell anyone. She did it most weekends for years.
I suppose hitchhiking has always been against the law for some strange reason, and I was told that cops would check you out if they found you with your thumb out at the side of the road, but it never happened to me. I probably hitchhiked more than 100 times and never had a bad experience.
I would imagine that outside of America, which United States should remember has more than one country, hitchhiking is still as common as it used to be here.
In Cuba, for example, there are a lot of people standing by the side of country roads, waiting for buses which don't run that often because gas is costly. Then an ancient truck will appear, every possible person will climb aboard, so the truck looks as overloaded as one of those trains in India as it grinds  slowly down the road.
It used to be that you did a lot of hitching when you were a backpacker but lately you hear more about several backpackers pooling and renting a battered cab when they can negotiate a low rate.
My oldest son, John Henry, says he really only hitched on three occasions in his many months of wandering half the countries of the world.
The first was in Alsace when he drew a sign and was picked up in a minute and taken to the train station where the girl from across the street was living. Everyone spoke only French, so they couldn't tell him where she was.
Then one Sunday he was in northern Finland and no buses were running to Haparanda, Sweden. Drew a sign, two men who didn't speak English picked him up immediately, and took him home for dinner by the grandmother before delivering him to the Swedish railway station. He still uses a hand-made fishing knife they gave him as a letter opener and I use their filleting knife when I clean fish.
He was in Inverness, Scotland, when he was picked up by a man from Texas who drove him around the whole ness before delivering him back to the hotel.
My youngest son,  Mark, who still does a lot of travelling from his home in China, says he never hitchhiked regularly in his rich world travels which included Cambodia just after the slaughter of the innocents. He just didn't think it was safe.
Mark hitched once in the Pyrenees. He was picked up in the Tunisian Sahara desert, in the area where Lucas filmed Star Wars, by three chaps in a small truck who were drinking beer. But there was nothing to run into except sand dunes and Mark had some protection because he spoke excellent French, a main language there.
He hitched in Aqaba and was given a ride along the Red Sea by a cement truck driver who asked in his bad English whether Mark had a "peepee." Nope, not a homosexual advance because fortunately Mark, who knows a lot about languages, remembered that Arabs don't differentiate between bs and ps, and the driver just wondered in his small talk whether Mark had a baby.
Mark really tempted fate by hitchhiking in the West Bank and was picked up by a Jerusalem shop owner and his assistant who were going to the Dead Sea for a noon-hour swim.  It''s not a good idea for civilians to do that there but the young soldiers do it routinely. Of course they are carrying a rifle, even at the urinals.
I suppose that in an era when we even drive kids to high school - when I was a pupil no one got a ride  even if they lived just outside of town -  it would be considered a terribly dangerous thing to do to expose them to strangers.
And insurance companies would be opposed, because they oppose just about everything, and then there are the transport companies that probably would fire a driver who decided to pick up a companion for the dark hours when he was just trying to stay awake.
(I remember the reports to the Ontario Safety League when I was a director that an alarming  percentage of truck drivers on the Toronto-Montreal run "rested" their eyes for a startling period several times on a night trip.)
Still, in a day which has almost institutionalized car pooling by giving corporate and tax incentives, and parking lots are built at cloverleafs just for commuters, why can't we set up some sort of rudimentary organization for hitchhiking. What an efficient use of resources. However, that probably wouldn't work because bureaucrats screw up more than they succeed, and part of the charm is just walking to a road, sticking out your thumb, and being taken somewhere FOR FREE. Why some times they would even buy you a hamburger and milkshake.
The good old days often weren't, but they were when it came to hitching. Just imagine how quickly drivers had to size you up as they drove near you. We now know from Malcolm Gladwell's huge bestseller, Blink, that people make up their mind about you in the first few seconds of meeting you. That so many drivers did that routinely just as a glance through a windshield says a lot for the nicer tenor of departed times. Less suspicious, more interested in helping, just plain friendlier.
In a way, the raised thumb should be remembered as one of the nicer things about life. Instant trust, both by the hitcher and the driver. I miss that in our suspicious world.
Remember the old hit TV police series Hill Street Blues where the sergeant dismissed the cops after the roll call saying "you be careful out there.:
Still a smart idea. But we've taken it to such an extreme that things that we used to do routinely, like hitchhiking now seem as dangerous as coming the mane on a lion.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012



I wasn't surprised to hear that apparently a police woman acted as a decoy in the westend to capture a man who was molesting women.
It's the traditional way to snare a pervert.  Even journalists have tried to do it.
Back in the mists of my memory, I worked for the Toronto Telegram, which proved daily that it was one of the best large newspapers in the country when it went toe-to-toe, and edition to edition, against the Toronto Star.
Yes the Globe was around, and it occasionally showed flashes of being as competitive as the Star-Tely feud, but it was the Star we wanted to drive into a swamp.
The same swamp where it was rumoured that the Globe threw its papers in order to keep its circulation up in its home city where it was a bad third.
Back in the mists, there was some jerk sexually assaulting women in the westend where the blocks are very long and very dark at night.
Sad to say, this was before the Metro Police employed female constables. Actually, the first were just used to direct pedestrian traffic across Queen St. between Eaton's and Simpsons, and then the cop brass finally broke down and used women as real cops.
The cops were having no luck in stopping these assaults, mainly because they didn't have any females  to use as decoys.
So one night at the old Tely at Bay and Melinda, when news was really slow, Doug Stuebing, a gravel-voiced Night Editor, decided to take news creation into his own hands, and maybe even catch a bad guy in the process.
Stuebing had been a major in the second world war and still played baseball and hockey with reserves who were half his age. He had been nimble enough to be considered for quarterback at U of T., that is back when they actually had real football teams. So he may have looked like a little sack of laundry but he was no patsy.
Now Stuebing had a clutch of daughters, and his wife, Eileen, who bossed him around, used him as a dressmaker's dummy when she was pinning dresses together.  It was rumoured, but not to his face, that he could make a pretty frock himself. So he wasn't exactly a rookie when it came to wearing dresses. Heels, however, were another matter.
Stuebing put on one of the nicest dresses in the family closets, crammed his feet into the high heels, put on a terrible wig and a worse hat, and then teetered down a long block in the westend. Ray McFadden, also a veteran, was assigned as the photographer to drive Stuebing to the possible crime scene and to be useful as a witness, maybe even a bodyguard..
McFadden parked around the corner at the end of the block but could still see Stuebing limping along. He had a two-way radio connecting him back to the office where we all buzzed with excitement and lewd comments about how much luck our boss was going to have.
I'm sure the veteran police reporter, Bert Petlock, who I used to fill in for when he gave in to his hypochondria, told some cops what we were doing and that they thought it was a really dumb idea about which they would officially deny having any knowledge. But the Tely was the Tely and cops really didn't want to pick a fight with a big aggressive newspaper. And in those days, there was a closer relationship between cops and reporters.
So Stuebing is walking erratically , moving from pool of light into the shadows to the next pool from the streetlights. And then a car slowed to the curb and a man yelled out: " Hey sweetie, where are you going so late at night? Lt me give you a ride?"
Stuebing looked over and decided that the predator would not be saying anything to warn his victims about his presence before he attacked. So he ignored him and kept trying to walk.
The driver persisted. And McFadden  was telling us in the old battered office that Doug had a live one.
Stuebing kept walking. The driver kept trying to lure him into the car.
Finally Stuebing, convinced this guy was just cruising for some action, and couldn't be the man who had been attacking women for weeks, told him in his voice destroyed by cigarettes to beat it, to fuck off.
The driver said: "Oh, so you're one of those queers. I'll fix you, you sick bastard."
He jumped out and Stuebing in those stupid shoes tried to run away. But a heel caught and turned and he fell, the furious driver on top of him.
McFadden screamed into the mike that "Doug's being attacked. Call the cops." So we called the cops and all the Tely guys on duty jumped into  cars and roared off to the rescue.
Stuebing is face down with the driver flailing away, an awkward position to defend yourself when your dress has ridden up around your neck. But he is still nimble despite being much older than the attacker, so no real damage had been done by the time  the rescuing cavalry arrived, led by McFadden swinging his Speed Graphic like it was a scythe. And the big box frame and steel knobs of the  Graphic was not something you wanted shoved in your face. McFadden and I later shared an apartment and I learned that under the debonair exterior, that charmed the ladies, burned an anger that I wouldn't want to face in a fight.
So McFadden and Stuebing probably could have cooled the situation by themselved. But the cops arrived like a cavalry charge, because they were monitoring from a deniable distance, and then the Tely troops came roaring up. delighted at this break in routine.
The driver had so many people grabbing at him that he was suspended in the air. And then he almost went into shock. He went from yelling at some honey on a quiet street to being furious at being "tricked" by some cross-dresser to being used as a punching bag by what seemed an enormous crowd of cops, reporters and photographers..
It was determined that he was not the sexual predator who was arrested later, without the help of the Tely.  I can't swear to it but no assault charge was laid mainly because there were embarrassing aspects to the whole affair for everyone.
All the rowdy Tely staffers concluded afterwards was that the next time we tried to trap some predator, and get a Page One Exclusive that would drive them nuts at the Star, we should wear running shoes.
And then we went across the street to the Cork Room where after a few drinks, we figured we had made all of Toronto safer for women of all ages.
Many years later, I wonder what happened to this rowdy wonderful side of Toronto newspaper competition when a Night Editor would put on a dress to serve as sexual bait and fistfights with the guys from the other newspapers were not unusual.

Monday, October 22, 2012



My cottage is on a quiet point on the Trent River south of Havelock. Peaceful, I say, although some days it seems Burnt Point is under siege from cottage developers trying to ignore the great stretches of shore that are really more swamp than ideal frontage
Around the Trent, the Latin motto of caveat emptor, meaning buyer beware, should be reworded caveat cottage emptor.
The west side of my point faces across Burnt Point Bay. On the far side there is now a new attempt to flesh out a development that started decades ago in fits and starts.
I Googled the development on the Internet and came up with a professional presentation, filled with chirping birds and flowing strings and pretty footage for something called Lake Seymour Estates. Funny, I thought, where does that name come from when Seymour Lake is at least a kilometre away, and this development is plainly on water called Burnt Point Bay. That  was considered a better name by the locals than the first name of Mud Lake, which was what the bay looked like when the canal system was built around 1880 and farms and woods here were flooded.
On the stretch of the Trent between Healey Falls and Hastings, there are many expanses of river that are just skins of water over weeds, rocks, stumps and logs.
I double-checked on the official charts of the Canadian Hydrographic Service, a branch of the federal  environment ministry, and sure enough, on Small Crafts Chart 2022, the name for the water beside Lake Seymour Estates is Burnt Point Bay, and Seymour Lake, not Lake Seymour, is a couple of stretches of water to the east through a narrows and some islands.
I rather like the name of my point but I guess developers don't think it is fashionable enough.
I noticed too when I checked the charts that all the water around this latest development is rated as "foul" or "stumps," just like almost all the river around Nappan Island, which has a developer sniffing around, and also around much of Hardy Island, which has had preliminary work done by a developer.
I have some relatives who really don't care whether they can go into the water at a cottage but I just can't understand buying a place like that. And if you plan to dredge away the weeds and rocks and stumps, it is plain that the Lower Trent Conservation Authority will not allow you to touch "wetlands" in any way, and, of course, that is what most of the shoreline is.
I know an owner of a parcel of land on the east side of Burnt Point Bay who plans to try to sell at least two big lots. The water there is so shallow, I have had to get out of a canoe and push it into deeper water.
The interesting thing about Lake Seymour Estates is that a visual presentation starts with some lovely pictures of the shore at the hamlet of Trent River which is a couple of kilometres away and has no geographic relationship. This includes a large two-storey white "heritage" cottage on a little island which is praised for its lovely landscaping, giant pots of flowers and nice porches.
According to the owner of this show place,  there is not the slightest relationship to the development that is now including pictures of it in the Internet presentation. And the shoreline around the show place, lined with giant boulders, is so superior to the actual rude shore around the so-called Estates, the comparison is laughable.
The show place has been famous for more years than the Trent Canal has existed because the central part of it was built in 1850, long before the canal came along and flooded its apple orchard.
The owner and I spent a pleasant time yarning about developers and councils and the pressure of the developers and how some of us get hassled or blocked by inspectors and others seem to build more with a lot less effort.
Fall has moved in along my stretch of the Trent. The trees flame with glorious colours. Of course they are no match for the glossy pictures and vivid imaginations of those who would like us to forget that under great expanses of the Trent as the sun burns its way to the horizon is all the stuff that swimmers and boaters hate. 



Just an ordinary Saturday afternoon with a touch of rain as I returned from the cottage.
Then radio 680's traffic report, which occasionally gets it right, said that 401 was basically stopped from the Don Valley to 400. So I went south on the Don Valley parking lot, which is usually crazy to do during daylight hours.,
The DVP was hiccuping with more traffic trying to flow in from all sides, including bullying their way in from lanes that dumped into the lanes filled with drivers who were actually obeying the rules about merging.
We all jerked our way south but just before the Gardiner, the overhead sign said it was slow from downtown to beyond Jameson.
So I took the Lake Shore which turned out to be molasses -like in its flow, and then there were the problems of all the cars  trying to get up to the Gardiner.
The Lake Shore stopped completely south of the Ex so I headed up into the Ex only to be met by drunken yokels hitting my car with banners as they left the latest losing soccer game by the local side.
I was heading north on Dufferin when it stopped, so I cut over to Tyndall where I once lived.
 I pride myself on my knowledge of streets in that area because of all of my years of working and living there. Fat lot of good my insider knowledge was. King was stopped so I headed up to Queen, which was stopped westbound too.
And then I realized that I was experiencing the Toronto phenomenon known as gridlock when out of the blue all the traffic jams come together in one smelly mess and block an entire chunk of the city.
All the escape routes have now been ruined by stop signs at every corner. And in addition to this deadly measles epidemics, there are No Turn and One Way signs that can turn a few blocks into impenetrable mazes.
I actually drove up a street north of Queen where all the escape routes were marked with No Entry signs. So I drove back down and noticed that the mouth was not marked with a No Exit sign of warning.
Finally I got to Dundas and figured I would cut over on Howard Park to High Park. I laughed so I didn't cry when I found that this escape route was blocked by an accident involving a streetcar and ambulances, fire trucks, cars and cruisers.
Finally I was lurching over speed humps north of Bloor and, gritting my teeth, came back down to Bloor West Village where only idiots try to drive on a Saturday.
The whole misadventure took over an hour from the 401-Don Valley intersection to my home near Royal York and Bloor.
I was so mad, I was almost catatonic. The wear and tear on me and the car at least wiped away the memory of the three or four fender benders that I escaped by a gnat's eyelash.
You read the news stories of the incredible waste of time and energy and money due to the horrendous traffic in major cities from Beijing to London to Manhattan to Paris to L.A..
I have driven in all those cities, and can report sadly that the stats are right,  that T.O. is now the sorry king of the gridlock that can hit without warning just because a major accident or road repair triggers the collapse of the road system as if it were potholes paved with cardboard.
My worry is that our politicians and traffic officials have become so inured to all the howls of protest at our traffic that they really don't do that much.
They spend more time moving a few hundred people by bike than tens of thousands of people by cars. They lament all the cars with only one person in them but that's the standard number on a bike.
The cops harass motorists with cash register speed traps and whether cars stop completely at a stop sigh, but cyclists routinely speed through red lights and the wrong-way on one-way streets. But that the heck, the other day I saw a cop on a bike doing exactly the same.
No wonder businesses and stores and people move from the core. Downtown may be filled with condo towers and pedestrians and cyclists but that's a misleading shell of activity because the real growth is out further, and in the suburbs and the surrounding Greater Toronto Area. Two out of every three Torontonians chose the suburbs. And the population of the GTA matches that of the downtown and suburbs combined.
The planners plot and the gLiberal politicians make their 10-speed way to City Hall and most of us each day prefer to live elsewhere than their beloved screwed-up Central Business District.
Away from exorbitant parking charges. Where the traffic jams have not yet blossomed evilly into gridlock that can strike unexpectedly, even on a Saturday at 3 p.m. when everything was going so well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012



I was touring Linc Alexander around the Ex in a golf cart when we ran into five black women. They were what we used to call foxes. There's probably a new term but these were five young ladies dressed in the latest fashions who carried themselves with sexy grace.
"Hullo ladies," Linc bellowed out. He was 78 and they were probably 25, but there was something about the size of Linc and his clothes and his easy manner that caused them not to brush him off.
They couldn't quite figure out who he had been, but, as one told another, he WAS famous. And they buzzed with excitement at meeting a famous black guy who was being chauffeured around by some old fart who wore a security card saying he was CNE president.
And I explained that Linc had been the lieutenant-governor and the federal labour minister and they were quite impressed even though I doubt they knew what a lieut.-gov was, or fot that matter a Conservative or cabinet minister. But I bet they told a lot of people that they had met this old black dude who seemed to be really important.
 Linc beamed and charmed them because he loved women. (And women were charmed by his dash.) And they giggled and we roared off, only to be stopped again and again by people of all ages and all skin colours who actually knew who Linc was.
 Linc talked to everyone. Linc smiled at everyone. Linc liked everyone. And they responded to him. There is a genuine love for Linc in this province which dwarfs that exaggerated acclaim given that  other guy who just had a state funeral.
What a guy! He loved the Ex because there were more than a million people he could talk to. So every year he phoned for his ride around the Exhibition, and the GM, David Bednar, was pleased to get the call.
I'm sure Linc thanked us for golf cart service but he didn't make a big deal of it. He rather expected that after a lifetime of service, after a lifetime of not ever having driven a car, meaning that if you wanted him at a function in Toronto, and many organizations did, you had to pay for the limousine or cab that fetched him from his beloved Hamilton.
It was worth it too. He was an original board member of what used to be called the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.  Linc brought a candour to the annual selection. Vim Kochhar, the former senator, wanted only three inductees each year but Linc was famous, after the chairman David Crombie reminded us all of this rule, for nominating at least five people. And he got away with it bccause we would end up breaking the only-three rule by an inductee or two.
I started telling my colleagues on the board that it was the Lincoln Alexander gambit, although Linc never used his full name and encouraged others not to. And then we inducted Linc into the national hall for disabled Canadians, just one of the many honours that showered on him over the decades.
One day I heard a rumour that when Pete Trudeau, the PM, had snarled "fuddle duddle" in an angry debate in the Commons, he had really said "fuck off", and the reason Hansard and various officials and some media had conspired to pretend it was "fuddle duddle" was that it would be a national scandal if the public knew that the prime minister had yelled "fuck off" at the first black MP in the country's history.
It was glossed over at the time, and another MP was also said to be the target, but everyone there that day knew it was Linc who had got under Trudeau's thin skin. The words "allegedly" were used about the incident, and Linc merely told reporters that Trudeau had mouthed two words, one starting with F and the other with O.
Linc was not that circumspect when I asked him. He was blunt but didn't say his skin colour had anything to do with it, even though he had had more of his share of discrimination as he grew up, the son of a railway porter who lived in a small row house which might as well have been in the middle of the tracks rather than on the other side.
He served with the RCAF and was only a corporal because the air force in those days didn't run around making Negroes officers even when they were in the middle of the second world war. Much later he was given the honourary rank of colonel to review troops.
He loved to do that even when he was finding it hard to walk or even stand. He was reviewing the Warrior's Day parade in 2000 along with the chief of the defence staff, and I was there too as the CNE president.
As each band and group of aged warriors passed, medals glinting in the sun, we would stand. I hoisted Linc to his feet by secretly grabbing his elbow. Then he started to sway. He was 6' 3'' and 220 pounds, and it was like a gnarled oak shaking in the wind. I stood closer and held the back of his uniform. Linc took it with grace after I explained that we couldn't let him fall off the Bandshell stage on his face.
At one point, a female veteran in her mid-70s slowly and painfully limped by us using two arm canes.
"Good for you girl," Linc shouted. And he cried. And I cried, and swore that we would never again force our veterans to march through the Princes' Gates and most of the way through  Exhibition Park to be reviewed at the Bandshell. We made the route much shorter the following year and ended the parade inside the Coliseum where the vets from Sunnybrook in their wheelchairs would be protected from the weather.
It was what Linc expected us to do.
I suspect Linc deep down was a real Luddite. He was chancellor of the University of Guelph for five terms and the university thanked him by providing a car and driver and then, one year, a computer. He didn't even know how to turn it on, so he asked if I could arrange a tutor. I volunteered to drive to Hamilton but he figured he could find help closer to home. And I suspect he did, because Linc was not bashful about asking for help because as an agreeable pragmatist he expected help.
Ontario has been blessed with its royal representatives like Linc, who was Canada's political Jackie Robinson and like Jackie conducted himself with grace in the rude face of insults. He led by example, tall in the saddle, never by being militant or preachy about black discrimination..
 John Black Aird looked like a corporation lawyer born with a silver gavel in his hand but he was warm and generous, learned sign language and even played floor hockey with the kids at Variety Village despite a back in chronic pain. He had been maligned as a Grit bagman but was touched by his new popularity in the media and kept an editorial I had written about him framed beside his desk at Aird Berlis.
James Bartleman has done wonderful work in explaining the crippling depression that has him as one victim. He arranged to ship hundreds of thousands of books to empty native libraries in the north. He wrote a wonderful and candid autobiography and after I praised it, enlisted me for advice on his next  books on foreign service which are quite insightful. (He also loved the Ex and I found him one day wandering the midway with a son, not asking for a ride or free tickets.)
Like Linc, Bartleman had humble beginnings, and like Linc, he had to fight discrimination since he was born to a native mother in a wigwam beside the town dump. For both, university was the the launching pad, Linc from McMaster thanks to a veterans' program, and Bartleman from University of Western Ontario thanks to an American benefactor he worked for in cottage country.
Then there is David Onley who has perservered despite the return of his polio. David was an able researcher for the provincial Liberals who helped me in my attacks on a costly Tory scheme for futuristic transit. He wrote a bestseller on space, which got twenty times more sales than the typical Canadian bestseller, and was a stalwart at the early Citytv. I remember his father, a noted municipal solicitor, crying as he related to me the latest accomplishment of his crippled son about whom he had always worried.
Some of our royal reps have been very rich, some came from backgrounds where log cabins were a step up, and some had to overcome handicaps in mobility and prejudice.
But all of them have brought a lustrous honour to the position that was just supposed to be symbolic..
If only we could say that about our premiers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012



I was the kid editor in the discussion on whether we should hire an older reporter when Doug Creighton,  my agreeable boss, voted no on the grounds he was "burned out."
I blurted out that he wasn't burned out,  he just wouldn't take the shit any more.
Creighton, who was the best publisher I have ever seen, regarded me thoughtfully and said I was probably right. Both Doug and I when we became older were bosses, so we didn't have to take the crap that newspapers, and indeed a lot of businesses, routinely dish out to their older employees. But we could see what was inflicted on veteran employees who are given crummy assignments and have their hours and vacations routinely changed by kid/editors who were probably still in diapers when these reporter got their first bylines.
I was 25 when I became an editor and then was an editor in some form or other for more than 30 years.
There is nothing like confronting a reporter twice your age who was killing Germans when I was in public school to make you tread carefully.
Newspapers in Toronto are rowdy competitive beasts that trampled egos and shred tempers. So I thought a little civility in the middle of the battles was the decent way to survive.
 Perhaps I went too far. When I was City Editor of the old Toronto Telegram (and that is a key position on any major paper)  I was gently sending a grumpy beat reporter out to do a "much better job" when he snapped at me about why I was being so polite when obviously I was unhappy. So I said that if he wasn't out the door in the next five seconds, he was fired.
Occasionally there should be steel inside the velvet .
I am not sure my family would agree with what I have just written and indeed anything I would say  about being diplomatic in the face of someone screwing up.  They would claim I have a short fuse. And I would argue in return that I just won't take the shit any more.
BUT!!!! The waitress, the receptionist, the builder, the mechanic etc. are entitled to expect that I will not explode at the first goof. But don't keep it up.
Unfortunately, it has become difficult during this incredible period of poor service not to become someone perceived as a crank, a crotchety old geezer prone to snapping at people because they keep screwing up routine chores.
Don't you become cranky when.....
You wander a store looking for a clerk....
Find the dentist's receptionist has screwed up an appointment three different times...
The clerk supposed to help you decides to answer the phone when you have taken the trouble to be there in person....
The bank at the noon rush has only two tellers, and they are deep in conversation about their dates...
The phone call just at the critical point of the TV movie is from some jerk ignoring the do-not-call ban...
The best part of the TV movie is edited to make it fit into the assigned time...
The TV commercials continue to blare, despite the government ban insisting they can't be louder than the programs...
The lout lounging in the rear exit of the bus calls you a stupid old man when you squeeze by and then some woman objects when you tell him to f.... off...
The idiot who has just put a lure into your boat tells you he has the right to fish your dock even if you are standing there...
Wrong number at 4 a.m.....
Renovation crews that place their big steel bins almost across the road....
That is when I become a crotchety geezer who remembers that the good old days some times were actually better and service staff were not armoured with righteousness and expected to be told off when they goofed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012



So you wanted to know what happened to my beaver....
My reply is dedicated to the grandson who regarded the beavers who set up light housekeeping in my boathouse as being as cuddly as a kitten and gave me a picture for Christmas of one sleeping on its back with its paws in the air as if it were a hamster.
All this is prompted by a recent story about a crazed beaver attack near Washington. It is not clear whether the beaver was driven nuts by the presidential election campaign or just was rabid, the beaver that is, not the presidential candidates as far as we can tell. It would be tough to pin one of them down long enough to test, for rabies that is, not the truth.
An elderly woman was bitten by a beaver weighing 33 pounds (that's 15 kilos in that strange foreign measurement) and the beaver just wouldn't let go even when it was battered for more than 20 minutes.
She was seriously injured with a huge chomp  out of her calf and a thumb nearly bitten off. Naturally she has to have those painful rabies shots.
The beaver is dead. It was shot after it was not deterred by having two paddles broken over it in repeating beatings by a friend, a rescuer and paramedics. It just kept attacking as paddles splintered and its eye was gouged with a stick.
What was really frightening about the story detailed in The Washington Post is that authorities were said to find the attack rare and the first in the Fairfax County area in nearly a dozen years. Good heavens! I've been attacked by a squirrel that was probably rabid and a fox that was acting strange, which is generally a warning, but I thought I was safe from beavers as long as they just stuck to cutting down my trees.
This story is food for thought for all those who think the beaver, the industrious pest, should be a national symbol for the country that was developed largely on its skins.
I have been busy at the cottage wrapping my trees in wire and coating bark with all the old pepper spices that I can find. The wrapping in the fall and the unwrapping in the spring has none of the joys of Christmas giving and all of the hassles of wire cuts in hands, arms and legs.
But every time I have been lazy and not bothered with a few trees, they are dropped by beaver even though there are woods all over the place filled with succulent trees. I have lost at least 12 mature trees,  including a lovely stand of silver birch. Last winter, despite my precautions, I lost several willows and bushes. The main toll lately was a lovely 12-year-old evergreen because I hadn't put metal protective shields high enough around its trunk. The beaver just stretched and ate.
I have written about how disconcerting it is to go in your dark boathouse and as you are about to stand on what appears to be an abandoned old rug, it moves. So you retreat to the door and a very large beaver shuffles by you to the water. Next day, a smaller mate was there.
Nothing worked. I played classical music 24-hours a day. Apparently the beaver liked the classics. So I tried rock. Probably the beaver played air guitar at the sound.   The beaver kept showing up. I left lights on. Nothing. Just the usual insane charges of Ontario Hydro.
One day I was in a rush, forgot about the beaver and charged into the boathouse, stepping right on it. I was so mad and off balance that I grabbed an old oar and hit it. It ignored me and moved slowly to the water. So I ran to my gun safe, took a very old, very reliable Cooey .22 and ran back. The beaver was swimming slowly in the middle of the Trent River. I deliberately shot lower than the beaver,  not wanting to skim a bullet into a fisherman. It may have skipped into the beaver because there have been no beaver sightings in the boathouse for months.
But, in a sight that can turn a cottager's blood cold, last weekend there were two big sticks floating in  the boathouse slip, both stripped of bark with the telltale gnawed ends.
A warning, a calling card from nature! So I went out and wrapped more wire around my trees.
In my 32 years at Burnt Point, I have cut down six dead trees and the beaver have brutalized 12 big ones and many saplings. I have planted 10 trees, eight of which have survived, and then there were the 20 fast-growth experimental trees I got from the provincial government, none of which survived my sons cutting grass and winter.
So far it's been a draw with the beaver.  So I hope that rabies in beaver stays south of the border, along with their presidential politics.

P.S.  My cottage neighbours at Burnt Point have listened to my beaver stories with amused tolerance....until now.
Beavers have been leaving their lodge across the Trent River, which is surrounded by acres of wetlands and bush on Nappan Island, swimming across the strong currents of the river, waddling through the cottages that line the point, and cutting down trees behind the cottages.
I have lost none because I have been, as I wrote above, armouring all my trees with wire fencing, even barbed wire. But in the last two days, beaver have dropped two poplars in two days across the cottage road. The neighbour that used to have those trees is now down to one out of a grove of six.
So our beaver may not have rabies but they are nuts. Can you imagine going to all that work when with a lot less effort, they can cut down trees closer to the lodge, stripping off some of the bark as if it were candy, and abandoning 95% of the tree?
So this is an open appeal to all hunters and trappers (and trappers are still around, my brother-in-law used to trap only 50 kilometres from Toronto) to come to Burnt Point and rid of us all the beavers and, just to really make the trip pay for itself, go after all those flying manure spreaders, the other great symbol of the country, the Canada geese that leave little mounds of excrement as their calling card.