Thursday, October 26, 2017



I remember a nice friend, who generally rode her bike to work as a researcher at Sick Kids,  accusing me of waiting until my son Brett went on his honeymoon to write a diatribe in the Toronto Sun against bike lanes.
You see, Brett often rode his bike to work. And she figured I was trying to avoid a family fight since he and his two brothers often challenge me on my views. (And then there's Mary who doesn't agree with me on anything.)
I would point out the friend was in an accident with her bike, but I don't want to rub in the fact that people with a doctorate aren't necessarily smart on everything.
I 'm not going to recite again the entire case against giving cyclists costly space on all our roads all the time because the facts already are 90% against them, even though councillors have chosen to ignore them for strange reasons which eventually will be seen as bizarre.
You can sample my attacks on bike lanes in There are even old Sun columns floating in the vast Internet memory. What makes what I have written pertinent to this major transportation issue is that it isn't the usual propaganda - fake news pickled with false facts - produced by activists and those who make a living off cyclists.
But today's point is that the frustrated worm that is the majority of Torontonians trying to get around in our awful traffic is beginning to turn.
The media, particularly the Star and to a lesser extent the Mop and Pail, are actually starting to run material that challenges the whole concept of giving unlicensed untrained uninsured cyclists access to costly roads provided by city and provincial taxes to move people and goods.
This crack in the fad may encourage more people to come out of the woodwork where they were driven by the politically correct who make attacking bikes equivalent to kicking babies.
The basic fact is that our major roads exist not as exercise paths but to move commuters, travellers, and commercial traffic. Unfortunately that's ignored by politicians, bureaucrats and police in their decisions and enforcement. And traffic is screwed.
 You would almost accept sensible adults biking their way without hassle. But drowning out their civility are the insolent snarls of in-your-face cyclists who have sublimated their failures and beefs into hostile assaults on anyone who gets in their way, be it car, bus or fellow cyclist.
I would argue to City Hall and Queen's Park that bike lanes and catering to cyclists, which is made out to be growing in popularity, is actually sinking in the polls as all those trying to get around this city look at the Mickey Mouse attempts at some bike lanes and all the cars and trucks hampered by them.
Oh, but they say, the city is for people, not for vehicles. Ever try delivering a fridge on a bike, or going from Eglinton and Islington to the Scarborough town centre in February....
Sorry, I'm returning to the arguments when today's theme is that the mood is growing against bike lanes. Any councillor or MPP or MP who doesn't realize how the people in their riding really think,  and not just the mouthy ones, is going to be out on the snarled roads looking for work.

Sunday, October 22, 2017



Our numbers are shrinking but not our memories of being the children of those who survived the Great Depression.
Our children have muttered cheapskates behind our backs as we save string in a ball or soak uncancelled stamps off envelopes or without even thinking use all the other parsimonious tricks that those who were young in the 1940s and 1950s learned from the frugal adults who rode out the Depression. They invented new ways to use stale bread and squeezed nickels into quarters. Around our little house in Chesley, we grew all our vegetables, just like they did on front lawns in downtown Toronto.
 My grandfather hadn't worked for years in the furniture factories that dominated the town. To get a pound of butter for the home-baked bread, he had had to mow the grass in the town cemetery for a day. When he got work again, we lived as if the Depression could strike again next week. If a sealer jar of the preserves we put down in the fall turned just a bit, we still ate it. If it was really bad, we fed it to the Leghorns in the backyard pen and watched them stagger. No turkey on holidays, just whatever scrawny chicken was at the bottom of the pecking order.
I laugh with the other pensioners at this newfangled green movement about composting and recycling because we have done it all our lives, and not just at the cottage where jealous townies protect their dumps as if they were Fort Knoxes.
When I got an email from Dave McClure who I first met in Grade One, and he talked about Depression survivors, it brought back those days with bittersweet emotions. Dave's family ran a mill at the town edge. I spent most afternoons on a crude raft on their mill pond on the Rocky Saugeen and my cruises there produce more fond memories than ones on the Caribbean. I remember playing baseball in one of their fields using dry cow flaps for bases and running into a barbed electric fence.
Dave's theme was "economically I grew up in a blessed generation." But then his family produced the town mayor and school board chair and were successes, certainly to this runt who they teased endlessly.
Dave pointed out that in the 1950s, the low birth rate caused by the Depression, and the post-war rush of an expanding economy, plus the benefit of a low cost-of-living, produced a surplus of jobs. Why there were even, Dave points out as a retired high school teacher, two jobs for every teacher..... Here's his story:
I entered Western in 1954, registered in six courses...for my year's fees of $310, and entered Huron College residence where I paid my 30-week fee of $480 for complete room and meals.
To pay...I sold my five shares in Canadian Breweries and emptied my bank account which had been partially filled by my summer job at Canada Packers, a Chesley farm produce plant. To augment my university costs, I worked each year delivering the Christmas mail. The pay was 92 cents an hour.
Many of us were very blessed to be accepted into the University Naval Training Division which provided us with training, uniforms, accommodation and all our meals for the five-month summer recess. The pay was $185 a month. In the summer of 1955, I received a letter from Huron College that I would not be allowed to return. I was an immature 17-year-old and because of my behaviour I deserved that letter from the bursar.
Undaunted. my mother and I drove to London. I stopped at the Free Press and bought a paper for five cents, opened it and read this ad 'Free room and breakfast in exchange for babysitting.'
My mother and I drove to 70 Base Line Rd. and knocked on the door. It was answered by a little woman with a babe in her arms and four little children beside her. I protested that I didn't think that I could look after a little one-month-old baby but my mother and the baby's mother agreed that I could do the job just fine.
So I spent the next two years tending and babysitting those children and changing diapers on the infant. The mother was Joan Smith, later Ontario's Solicitor General, and the father was Donald Smith, then president of EllisDon, and that baby was Geoff Smith who is now EllisDon president.
A surprise ending right out of an O. Henry story. Turns out they really were the good old days for some of us aging wonders. Just days after being kicked out of his college residence, Dave was housed and fed by a woman who became a major politician, whose portfolio included all provincial first responders, and a self-made construction giant who among other buildings built Toronto's convention centre and SkyDome.
Obviously I should have learned how to change diapers instead of just trying to pass high school before I paid my $148 as my first year fees at Ryerson.

Friday, October 13, 2017



This silly argument that Ryerson University needs another name because Egerton Ryerson's has been ruined by his harm to indigenous Canadians demonstrates how activists can ignore history when they contrive indignation about flawed leaders.
The taint comes from those residential schools for what were then called Indians. (And that name still exists in our legislation governing indigenous peoples.) The schools were awful in every possible way.
Canada's federal bureaucrats who acted in such a cruel paternalistic fashion in operating the schools displayed stunning ignorance and callous contempt for decades as they ruined lives and ripped apart families.
But to blame Egerton Ryerson after whom the university is named, saying he was the creator and significant operator of these residential schools, is to flaunt an amazing illiteracy about the man and his writings and his morality and how governments work.
Then to have this slop over like pigs' feed to urgings that his statue be removed from where it has stood since 1889 - the oldest major public statue in the city built from pupils' pennies and even foreign donations - shows that the bellowing activists behind these demands deserve an F for their malicious lack of research.
The idea behind residential schools started in New France with various religions long before Egerton was even born in 1803.  Egerton did recommend them many years later in an important report and also in a supporting letter in 1847 as he became the top education official in what was then Upper Canada. Two such schools did start a year later but were not run by him, were judged failures and  closed quickly.
It was only as Egerton retired as the top provincial education official in 1876 that supporting legislation was passed federally. He died in 1882 as the residential system was getting underway in a major way, run by an Indian Affairs bureaucracy in Ottawa which brooked no interference from 1867 on from provincial officials like Egerton and his successors.
So student politicians at the university where I am a graduate and was once the student president are blaming the indignities of residential schools on a man admired throughout North America for his pioneering work to make education available to all, not just the rich.
Yet this leader didn't originate the idea or implement the concept but is guilty mainly for being a minister who as a young man had worked as a missionary among tribes in southern Ontario and believed with all his might that children and his many friends among the natives - who included a man who lived with him in the family home in the vicinity of Dundas Square - would benefit from a general practical education with a generous helping of Christianity.
Now I may be the son of a woman who graduated from Toronto Bible College on her way to the mission field, and my aunt was a prominent missionary in Nigeria long ago when it was still all mud huts and not filled with oil millionaires and con men, but I don't much like education laced with religion.
Egerton was very much the Methodist minister in his debates and sermons and voluminous writings in wanting to mix the two as the basic recipe to prepare everyone for a good life. Yet if he is to be trashed for that, then the same activists must denigrate a host of  Roman Catholic and Anglican priests, indeed all religious figures in the new country. They all believed that everyone, certainly the natives too, would benefit from education with regular religious instruction along with a good dose of cod liver oil every Friday night.
(Since U of T is infested with activists fighting free speech under the politically correct banner, I expect to hear about Victoria University also mounting an apologetic plaque, just like the one to be placed beside Egerton's statue, to explain Egerton's beliefs since he founded Vic before building his marvellous nursery for education at St. James Square where his statue stands.)
As I detail in my book Ryerson University - A Unicorn Among Horses, Egerton's name was considered apt as the name in 1948 for the old complex about to house a new form of education which featured hands-on training as well as liberal arts and coaching in whatever innovations technology developed. After all, Egerton in his personal life demonstrated that he could do everything from farming to panelling the living room to building a stout skiff  to sail Lake Ontario.
I went into this in detail with experts on Egerton, and they never mentioned, along with the Canadian Encyclopedia listing, anything to do with residential schools. It just wasn't a major part of his important career. I have read hundreds of pages of his writings, and he seemed to produce a thousand words before lunch every day, and maybe a sermon, and found lots of praise for the natives with whom he was working, but nothing much on residential schools.
I have talked to educators about my book as it was published in the spring. In it, Egerton's work with natives and tenuous involvement with residential schools was mentioned briefly because, after all, it was a footnote in his stunning list of accomplishments.
David Crombie, an important Ryerson administrator before he became Toronto's most popular mayor and finally Ryerson's first chancellor, loved how my "outstanding" book brought back "warm memories" in an "exciting, sometimes rollicking saga about how ordinary people were given the freedom and opportunity to invent a new education as a unique Ryerson played an extraordinary role in Ontario."
Sylvia Sutherland, a Ryersonian through and through before she married David, an important Ryerson official before they went off to Peterborough (he founded Sir Sandford Fleming and she became mayor) called my book a "must read" on Facebook.
They are veteran politicians. I am a veteran at covering politicians. And we know what verbal stunts politicians will pull, even student politicians, to get noticed. But it would be appropriate,  occasionally, if they actually did study all the information and just not try to create phoney outrage over what one of the giant figures in Canadian history did briefly in a long career.
Residential schools have a deserved odious reputation because of how they were inflicted on natives as if their family structure and tribal relationship didn't matter. Ironically, according to the elite of the world and even in literature, the concept can be wonderful if the pupils are not mistreated and ripped from their parents. Just look at all the books, all the lore, about Eton and Harrow and UCC and all the "public" schools in real life, and the Hogwarts of literature. Many of us in unhappy childhood, and I certainly include myself, dreamed about being a boarder in a residential school instead. Except the native version in Canada did everything wrong and was a perversion of education.
When Egerton died in 1882, the newspapers were filled with editorials lamenting the loss of such a great man because the baby country had so few of them. I still think he's great even if we are into an era when disembowelling the reputation of our historic greats is routine procedure for any publicity-hunting jerk who wants to claim Egerton was a racist and Sir John A. was a drunk and look at what what Pierre Trudeau did with that guitar player.
None of us, including the Biblical Jesus, are safe from ridicule and condemnation when the activist use fake facts to exaggerate faults.
It is fitting that Egerton Ryerson's statue faces away from the quadrangle heart of the university where dwell craven administrators and petty student pols. As a noted champion in education and religion who never shied from a fight, he would be embarrassed by what is happening there under his honourable name.

Sunday, October 1, 2017



I went from sharing a battered desk and ancient typewriter, if I was early to work, then to offices shared with assorted characters, finally to what was supposed to be elite space.
In my journalism career, my fellow workers were often more interesting than the people I covered. And the buildings never made the architecture magazines.
 Along the way, I shared closet cubicles with Max, Bono and Dunf. No need to use their full names for those who were with the Sun when it really shone, but for the rest of you: Max Haines, Mark Bonokoski and Gary Dunford.
They were as different as night and day and summer, but for me they had one grand redeeming feature besides being fascinating individuals with their quirks, history and charm.
They could be devastating with snippet observations on the paper,  our colleagues, the opposition and life in general.
Max has just died. So that gentle smile which concealed a mind churning with caustic comments is still. He wrote about murder so well, I wondered if I should be careful about my rum-and-coke in the countless parties that surrounded the Sun "personalities" in the sunny days. After all, he was a graceful gentleman but he really wasn't that crazy about authorities.
As a political columnist who realized that many people didn't really like the horse trading and backrooms of politics, I found it useful before writing to bounce my insider information off of Max or Dunf because their sarcastic reaction anchored me on the ground where politics was despised. (I exclude Bono  because exchanging insights with him was like pouring more gasoline on a flamethrower.)
One thing is clear from the reaction to Max's death from those who worked with him for so long. There is a friendly nostalgia about his columns and his life. You see, in the business of news, where the stars are often not stars to the lesser lights, Max was as popular with his colleagues as he was with the readers.
To think that it all happened because he fled the underwear business after he bought a batch of bad elastic and panties started falling down all over the country. That loss was a great gain for all of us who love murder stories even when the latest Murdoch mystery seems a trifle strained.
The irony about the strange space once used by Max, Dunf and me was that some computer experts took it over, actually shovelling my files into the garbage. That was when I knew my days were numbered as the Editor Emeritus writing the occasional column from retirement.
I told Bono that I was going to phone Dunf to tell him of the loss of our weird eyrie but he observed that Dunf may not have much humour about it since he had been called to Toronto for a meeting where they fired him. Couldn't they have done it by phone?
I savour those days. The funny lines of Dunf who hung the nickname of "tiny perfect worship" on the city's most popular mayor, David Crombie. The Sunday that appeared, a group of us were travelling with Premier William Davis, who was to get a transit award in Miami, and everyone, including the premier, was passing the column around and guffawing about the bit where the mayor got lost in the shag carpet.
Now Max has gone on to spin mysteries for Saint Peter, Dunf is living in the great piney woods near Hudson's Bay, and Bono has just entered the sacred precincts of the Canadian News Hall of Fame.
Good for him. He deserves it. And I know something about halls of fame, actually having run this one briefly but resigning when members kept trying to get their friends inducted. I've been on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame and was head of city council's honours committee, all of which taught me that hall politics can be as weird as if the journalists were lawyers.
Yet the ultimate honour as every columnist knows is to have your fellow workers like your stuff and read your stuff and not indulge in the catty comments that surround pushy newcomers.
And I'm talking about real journalists, not the denizens of the world of fake news and trolls who pretend that anyone can write anything in social media and be as good as a real writer. Nope, folks, story tellers have been prized since caveman days, but to do it well takes skill and experience and talent, not just chutzpah.
The biggest fans of Max the story teller were the people who worked at the Toronto Sun. (Same with Bono and Dunf.) And there will be many sitting at his service who while they wait will recall their favourite piece.
There were many!
 The greatest accolade! Being liked by your peers!