Sunday, April 7, 2013



I read all the nice comments about Fergy Brown, who deserves any praise that anyone has to offer, but all I could think of after his death was the day he bombed a pub.
No, he bombed it, he didn't get bombed in it. No, not that day....
Fergy, the veteran York politician and mayor, was an agreeable delight at the big regional council of Metro. He knew political BS when he saw it. After all, he was from a very modest suburb that didn't have time for grandiose politics. But unlike too many Toronto politicians  (insert any name, there are hundreds) he would not explode into verbal histrionics but contented himself with a few cutting sentences
And a few bitter asides. He would make sure in the City Hall lounge tthat I had heard the crap too. Oh yes, he appeared a gentleman, and he sure was, but privately he had seen too much nonsense over the years from politicians who didn't give a damn for any voter. Everything was aimed at self-promotion so they could con the voters for another term.
Life wasn't easy for the immigrant kid who dropped out of York Memorial High School but, like many dropouts, rescued his life through military service. He joined the RCAF in 1942 and became a bomb aimer, what many call a bombardier. He was with 189 Squadron, 5 bomber group, when his crew went out on a training mission.
Decades later, Fergy would give an embarrassed laugh when I would coax him to tell the story again. He never went into detail but what he did that day was drop the practise bombs on a pub. No, not just any old pub but the one near the Lincolnshire air field. He wasn't exactly popular the next time the chaps went for a brew.
I joked that among his medals there should be a miniature beer stein.
And Fergy's medals were not exactly forgotten around the drug store he started after the war which became a neigbourhood centre where Fergy dispensed medicine and advice.
After all, York was the kind of place, from Mount Dennis up to the leafy streets of Weston, which was a great place to go to high school, as I did, where there were the kind of feuds and dynasties that you usually find in a town. There were the Tonks and the Nunziatas and Fergy vs. Phil White.
 Chris Tonks was a good mayor for several years until an undeserved scandal tarnished him and cost him the family home. His son Alan became York mayor and then Metro chairman and now is the area's Liberal MP.
Fergy kept tangling with Phil White, also a pharmacist. And White was one of the great jerks. I wrote a few times that when Fergy was off in the RCAF, White had removed himself to South America to avoid service. Not exactly a popular thing in the eastern area of York with the big synagogues of Beth Tzedec and Holy Blossom.
But White shrugged off my criticism of his war by saying I hated him. Which was true.  He lasted for eight years. Then Gayle Christie and Fergy, mayor from 1988 to 1994, made us forget the odour.
It turns out, however, that Fergy wasn't the only mayor from Toronto to accidentally drop bombs.
That came out when I was trying to unearth the details of one of the strangest flights from the Island Airport.
Allan Lamportl. Don Summerville and Eddie Sargent liked to get together and have a few "pops" and argue about the war and political idiots and just shoot the shit.
Lampy, of course, was the famous city politician who was mayor and is remembered now for his Lampoonisms and his name on a second-rate stadium.
 Summerville was briefly mayor before he died playing goal in a charity hockey game, and is remembered with his name on a big east-end pool. (His name is generally misspelled in flashbacks.)
And Sargent was mayor of Owen Sound before he became a Liberal MPP who kept getting expelled from the Legislature and is remembered with his name on a parkway. A picture of the pepper pot is on the right.
The trio were, as they say, overly refreshed one day when they rented a plane from the Wong brothers and proceeded to fly east without paying much attention to air traffic controllers while arguing about who was the better pilot. Apparently there was the occasional laughing scramble over the controls of the Cessna.
They spotted Petawawa and decided to plop in for a visit. They landed and found "Pet" virtually deserted. A point that Sargent made the next day during Question Period while the Tory benches kept pointing out that the government had nothing to do with military bases. Then Sargent was challenged for proof they had actually landed there. He produced the formal sheet of "Orders of the Day" which they had stolen off the main bulletin board.
The story didn't get much coverage by news reporters but to a daily columnist this was a tasty fruit cake. I kept probing Sargent, a stormy figure out of Grey County, and he finally, with a malicious grin, told me to ask Summerville about bombing the Ex.
Summerville confessed that on a bombing practise run in Toronto before he was sent overseas he did accidentally trigger the bombs too soon and dropped them on the Canadian National Exhibition rather than out in Lake Ontario. Fortunately the Ex was not on.
Summerville wasn't even mayor for a year but when he died, he got a rare state funeral, City Hall version. His bier was in the old council chamber, and even the Star, which didn't think Summerville was their type, said there was an extraordinary viewing. His wife Alice was an alderman for years because of the power of the Summerville name in the eastend where they had owned two theatres.
I talked to these four convivial mayors by the hour. What a rich life they had had. An hour with Lampy sipping his favourite champagne and me with a rum and coke was a delightful way to cover politics. But the only time the mayoral mad bombers got rather vague was when I asked about what damage they had inflicted and what discipline they received. But then they may not have been disciplined at all because the C.Os. were laughing so hard. Besides, they were practise bombs that didn't explode but were rather heavy to replicate aerodynamics. Still, they were the last thing you would want to come down on you while ordering another draft.

No comments: