Monday, September 30, 2019



When I see some jerk wearing torn jeans, I curdle inside with rage, since once I had to wear ripped pants because I was poor.
It's not fashionable but offensive to the many in Canada and millions in the world who are forced to wear torn clothes or even to go without and shiver through the night.
Thank heavens that none of my relatives or friends or neighbours think it's really great to show strips of their flesh with fluttering strands as a frame because I would have to fight the temptation regularly to tell them to smarten up.
What exactly is the appeal? To say I want to demonstrate to everyone that I really can afford to buy jeans that haven't been torn or beaten but I've decided not to even as I climb into the latest hot car that cost more than many families make in a year.
Now I confess that my hatred of this dumb attempt to be fashionable was born that day in Grade 5 when Miss Thompson asked me to stay behind when the class broke for lunch. She said that I wasn't decent  and I couldn't come back to class unless my grandmother fixed the crotch of my breeches because various parts were in danger of swinging in the wind.
So I trudged home wrapped in a cloud of mortification. I didn't dare tell my grandmother because she probably would slap me for being too rough on my clothes. So Joyce and Joanne, my sisters who also had embarrassing clothing when they went to their grades just ahead of me, came to my rescue with some scraps of cloth that they wove into a form of basket with clumsy stitches.
So I waddled back to school (there was no cafeteria) and the approval of Miss Thompson who stood at the class door and inspected me, apparently not noticing the threads and unmatched cloth that sprouted below the military grey breeches.
It was an awful few months with me waddling around with a scratchy crotch and the resulting stubborn rash. I only had one other pair of  breeches. which are the worst form of clothing ever to be inflicted on a boy, but that pair was for church. Then came spring and the freedom of short pants which were a lot cheaper than breeches so I actually had a second pair. And in the fall the grownup joy of long pants.
You learn to be careful with clothes and money and just about everything else if there is no cash around when you are a boy. Indeed in all of Chesley money was tight as the town limped out of the depression only to be hammered by war.
So I can't shake that past when some of the nostalgia is more sour than sweet, especially when I see some plump teenager lounging on the subway with flesh bulging out of the slashes at the knee as she ignores the pensioners standing around her.
The idea of paying $70 or $250 for jeans that have been cut in the very latest style, or so the ad says, or buying jeans that have been bashed by stones and washed within a thread of their useful life, is so offensive to me that I list it as one symbol of how screwed up a wasteful society can be when trashy fashion survives even when it is offensive to common sense.

Sunday, September 22, 2019



Once upon a time, say 70 years ago, minstrel shows flourished as church and various social groups rushed to blacken their faces and sing Stephen Foster songs as they repeated the old lines and verbal gimmicks that had clustered like barnacles to the shows over the decades.
It was one of the traditional ways to make money for a club. The only question about them in the communities like Chesley or Peterborough was whether you would go this year because it was an annual event that wasn't blessed with much change...or new jokes either.
There was one giant adult Bible class that drew members from throughout the GTA to Parkdale that had an annual minstrel show that was reviewed in the newspapers.
And then the shows went away, more from indifference and changing times than hostility. And then as a young reporter I found in my rounds that Stephen Foster songs were now considered bad and the entertainment world looked back on the popular Amos 'n' Andy radio show with white men acting with contrived black accents as cringingly embarrassing.
As a young father riding shotgun as my sons solicited on Halloween I ran into the occasional tot with a blackened face and thought that the family probably couldn't afford a mask. I didn't see anything terribly wrong about that because my first costume as a kid when I had to squeeze a nickel hoping to make it into a quarter was an old sheet and a face darkened with burnt cork. I'm not sure what I was supposed to be but I won a prize.
I suspect that there are many of us with similar histories. There has been an appropriate evolution in sensitivity and discrimination so that we now know that darkening the face with brown or black makeup is hated by minorities and even when we think the country has gone far too far in politically correct language and action, the ban on such makeup is appropriate even if we grew up in a gentler time when minstrel shows were fun and not anti-Negro.
I use the language of the past because I never heard the word black even from my aunt who was a missionary in Nigeria for several decades. And we called them Indians (the legislation still does) and anyone who used the word indigenous was an anthropologist in a lecture.
Back in the days when I was in charge of the entertainment department of the newspaper - although Glen Woodcock and his critics treated me as an interloper - Mary and I went to every opening night of theatre, even the experimental theatre when you squirmed on old pews.
So you will pardon me if not all my memories are sharp. I recall a Broadway revival at the Royal Alex when in the middle of something that may have been called Sons (or Songs) Of The Desert the actors gathered around a campfire had their faces painted green.
"Wotinhell?" I asked our theatre critic the next day. He explained as if I were a backward child that it was illegal in Ontario theatre to paint your face black so this had been the Mirvish solution to an essential part of the plot. Everyone in the theatre world knew that.
He then went on to scorn my love of Stephen Foster songs and minstrel show jokes. We then engaged  in a lively debate when I said I had grown up not hearing anyone slagging blacks but there were those whispered digs at Catholics and Jews and the most pervasive dislike of minorities had been the grumbling about Indians wasting all the money they got from us.
"But they do," he said, and for a minute I was back in my first newspaper job in the Yukon when just about everyone on the muddy main street of Whitehorse grumbled about that the day after the welfare cheques came.
So I had mixed emotions when it came out that the PM was stupid enough as an adult with a theatre background not to know that it was illegal on the stage and improper on any occasion with more status than a bar brawl to paint all his visible skin with ugly brown and then to drape one coated hand above the no go area of the attractive woman that he had in a death grip.
I'm not sure exactly when it became illegal and socially unacceptable to blacken your face but it was probably before Justin was born in contrived circumstances on Christmas Day in 1971. Now I realize that he didn't exactly have normal parents when it came to sexual rompings and go screw yourself attitudes but you would have thought that he would have picked up some clues since 1971 that theatrical oratory, groping and constantly playing ethnic Mr. Dress-Up would eventually catch up to him and leave him with a very red face.
But then that's the Liberal colour!

Saturday, September 21, 2019



It would have been difficult to have had a more confused and humble beginning when something called Ryerson Institute of Technology opened its historic and battered red door over two days because the politicians were busy the first day of classes when maybe 210 students launched the future university on its way.
Now there are 40,000 students and nearly 3,000 doing post grad, numbers so fantastic that back on Sept. 21, 1948, you would have been trundled off to 999 which old Torontonians will recall is what we called the Insane Asylum before it was, thank heavens, renamed.
It is very much the old city that we uncover when we poke at the entrails of a university that survived more perils than the heroine in any Saturday afternoon movie for kids in the 1940s and 1950s when Rye High kept clawing for life.
All it had on its side was a glorious (but publicly ignored) history because its home of St. James Square had been the nursery for more innovations in Canadian education and culture than snooty U of T that did its best, along with the other universities, to make sure the insult of Rye High flourished as if Ryerson was just a souped up high school.
I came along in 1955 when you had to be nuts, considering the general wackiness, to enrol. But I'm glad I did get sucked in by the glossy calendar that made the place look like a cross between MIT and Harvard. We survivors got a great education, especially for the rough world of Toronto newspapers,
I wrote the history of the early days on Ryerson's dollar but then had to publish it myself as Ryerson University A Unicorn Among Horses because as student president and member of many board advisory and search committees I often saw what the Ryerson administrators wanted hidden in a censorship frenzy.
One former president said the university was looking forward, which was a polite way of admitting that many, including him, wanted to forget the first years which were a mix of BS, high school, gifted and innovative profs, failed teachers marking time, and a despotic regime which would made old Russia look like a summer camp.
So the university turns a frigid shoulder towards my book - which you can get through Amazon in the various versions of Kindle etc. - not realizing that old grads like me think the young Ryerson was the equal of any university because it taught us that  survival and even success was up to us, not some tenured prof mumbling into his politically correct lecture notes.
My original manuscript was chopped and mangled and survives, barely, in the university archives, and the hours of tape with the pioneers such as H.H. Kerr were shunted to some nook when taping technology moved on. Yet the nostalgia is golden when my fading classmates gather in a flurry of remember whens.
Even H.H., the first principal/president, is remembered for his accomplishments rather than his stupidities like when he put our entire class on probation because the mother-in-law of a major reporter complained to the premier about us. (But that's another story.)
For almost a century, there had been a teachers' college at the Square. And one of the first public museums in Canada. And art school. And art gallery.  Various government ministries had started there. Air crew trained there for war, and when the war ended, the veterans came to patch their CVs. Then came the apprentices. And now, what? Everyone wondered.
Ryerson had to wait a day for even a modest opening ceremony for the unveiling of the next step towards newfangled technology because it wasn’t important enough to command immediate attention. It was a careful occasion but not a splashy one because the public wasn’t quivering with anticipation. Two weeks later, there was a brief mention in the Legislature about institutes in general but Ryerson wasn’t mentioned because skepticism was common and the Opposition indifferent because not much money was involved.
 So no band played, no bunting waved, and no one cut a ribbon when students walked to the first classes on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Just how many were there? Estimates ranged up to 250, with 210 as Kerr’s best guess. No instructors bothered much with Admit-To-Lecture cards and roll calls, just happy some had shown up.
The next day, the premier and an entourage of civil servants gathered at 3 pm. in the auditorium, then the largest space available because the biggest air force buildings were chopped up by partitions. Many didn’t realize the old hall was one of the most historic in the city.
 It was a cool, clear afternoon that made people hope that Indian summer would arrive soon before winter. Ironically, considering the delays it had caused Ryerson, the big news was the Berlin blockade. Kerr had had his staff beat the bushes for an audience of students. They were only at Ryerson because of the promise of new courses and must have been perplexed when the premier spoke as if the rehab programs for veterans were just continuing.
(George Drew probably was preoccupied with leadership manoeuvres but he never lost his blissful ignorance about the institute that he had allowed. Kerr remembered Journalism students interviewing him later in Ottawa and becoming upset when it became obvious that Drew was still hazy about what Ryerson taught and was surprised to find a Journalism school there.)
 It was left to two provincial officials to stress the new aims, to bring underlings in support, and to arrange for telegrams from well-wishers, including principals, in an attempt to convince the premier there was wide support.
 For Kerr, the stars of the occasion were in the audience, not on the old stage. Kerr thought fondly of the first students because “they were the real pioneers. They were taking a chance on a type of education of which they, and the outside world, knew very little.” For years his instructors talked about these “special” students, like the first student president, Tom Gilchrist, who became a CBC star as Gil Christie.
The second president also was remembered, because he was the biggest character there, among the students that is.
 Honest John Vail, as he liked to be known, used a top hat, stunts and a refreshing confidence to become a legend. Inevitably, when H.H. called in for a chat the new Students’ Administrative Council president — the preferred name at first because that was the name at U of T — he would mention Christie and Vail while the student sat nervously across the desk that had been used by Egerton Ryerson.  (I still remember his wintery smile while he tried his awkward best to put me at ease.)
 Vail also figured in an early problem which was a hint that campus newspapers would always give Kerr headaches. The first paper was just a mimeographed sheet but it infuriated him with its attacks on the administration. He figured his student leader was the best bet to unmask the ungrateful writer. Vail kept reporting he was getting close but he never found the culprit. Or so he told Kerr, who found out too late that Honest John, using Ryerson equipment, had been the secret critic.
 The students found after the first days stretched into routine that despite all the talk about new courses, there were no dramatic changes from the past. Rennie Charles had come from war to the rehab confusion which taught thousands and said it was a gradual transition “from some of the things we had been teaching.” There were also older faces besides the staff because there were still some veterans. They qualified because under Kerr’s rules, anyone qualified whom he wanted to admit. Besides, he thought it safer to keep them at the Square than have them go to the last rehab operation in Hamilton where they might be dissatisfied and complain to an MPP. Their presence also helped boost the numbers.
 Eventually the Square became a routine stop for celebrities and leaders. They would receive honourary degrees, open buildings and speechify. But none of this mattered as much as that humble opening ceremony when even if the premier was, in the language of students, clueless as to what really was going on, at least Drew brought his prestige. So the Conservative newspaper, the Evening Telegram, responded with a big layout on Page 3 which had the familiar picture of the Normal school but also, for three cents a copy, Helen Hutko fitting clothes on a dummy and H. Perryman repairing a clock.
 The feature began: “There isn’t a football team at the new Ryerson Institute of Technology on Gould St. There is no school tie and there are no dormitories. But apart from these few minor differences, Ontario’s most modern poly-technical school, officially opened this afternoon by Premier George Drew, has all the earmarks of a full-fledged university.
 No doubt U of T profs choked at that imagery. After all, some upstart with no campus and an aged complex surrounded by huts was called a full-fledged college, even if it was in the Tely and not that real paper for the academic world, the Globe.
The feature was speckled with errors, such as Ryerson was modelled after the Rochester Institute, and had 150 students and a staff of 60. It was also useful because it said there was room for 600 students, and practical experience would be considered in admission. The hours may be from 8.30 to 4.30 with no spares but there would be little homework because the system stressed the practical over the theoretical with little textbook work.
 It didn’t matter that Kerr had only one day of operation under his belt because he told the reporter Ryerson was a success because of all the promises for summer employment. He boasted that Electronics was the most popular course because it had “what is believed to be the first television camera in Canada, only part of the costly equipment needed in the course."
 Great publicity because it touched every point in his\ standard sermon: uniqueness, practicality, good equipment, industry support, and lots of jobs afterwards. Unfortunately it also left misconceptions about Ryerson being the right hand of industry with little use for textbooks. After all, Ryerson’s founding principles were that no industry could dominate and that every student had to take compulsory academic courses.
 Many students must have wished Ryerson really did have “little use” for textbooks as they made the annual costly September foray into the A and A store on Yonge. It served as Ryerson’s first bookstore, even keeping copies of the book lists for various courses behind the drawers of 78 records. And in the back, there was a soda fountain.
 The complexities of the novelty of Ryerson also proved slippery for a smaller Globe article the same day, but Kay Sandford fortunately hit on the angle that invested the new institute with traditions.
 “The Toronto Normal School, the seed plot of the Ontario educational system, will take on a new look and a new future today. The old buildings on Gould St., which have nurtured the spirit of Rev. Egerton Ryerson for 100 years, will be the home of the Ryerson Institute of Technology. As Ontario’s hub of the latest development in technical and vocational training, it may be a far cry from the famous educationist’s idea of higher learning, but it will be a lasting monument to the man who used his whole life teaching others how to live.”
 The Globe also said Ryerson would be “the right hand of industry” because it had training equipment worth $1.5 million. (A fortune in 1948 but probably a Kerr exaggeration.) The province’s only “polytechnical” school would have “60-odd courses,” the feature said. Another misconception that would haunt because there were actually 15 courses with 37 options, all supervised by the education department. What fed the confusion was that in the same buildings the same instructors gave shorter apprenticeship courses supervised by the labour department.
 The apprentices certainly helped Kerr meet his budget but their presence nurtured a PR disaster that tainted the main occupant of the Square as a trade school and hurt grads hunting employment. They certainly bugged Ryerson students who paid tuition when the apprenticeship students were paid an allowance to take the free training.
 Despite any confusion and flaws, the main coverage was that a bustling different school had opened where you could learn all about the chores of industry and then get a job. Ryerson was to enjoy a favourable “press.” Saturday Night was the first magazine to demonstrate this, devoting three pages and 14 photographs. It was helped later with all its grads in the media. But in 1948, most journalists had come up the hard way, climbing from copy boy to reporter to editor, and then they went to war. So Ryerson with its pragmatic history was more to their liking than the universities, which were just starting journalism schools.
 There were no major problems in the first year, although the lack of students hung like a pall. Kerr said: “It was quite an experience after the thousands upon thousands of rehab students. But it was expected because we knew that unless we were given six months to acquaint the public, enrolment would be small. So we had far too many teachers for the number of students.
 The largest class was in electronics, which had been popular in rehab days with a great demand and everyone getting jobs. The smallest was in printing, because school training in this area was new. The course wasn’t threatened because there was all that equipment and vets who had trained there earlier were now supportive voices in the industry.
 Everyone knew that they had to get the numbers up. Still, the happiest people in the first year were the instructors. It was a blessing for the survivors just to have a job. They knew they could handle anything that Kerr or the department or fate could throw at them.
And they handled it for 71 years as the student number grew 190 times even as the new barons of Ryerson ignored that it had all started with one old building that they rushed to destroy surrounded by dubious military buildings that no one wanted.
There was no hint as fall came in 1948 that this simple ceremony for something called RIOT would mark the beginning of the grandest accomplishment for a Square that has no rival in the country for what it has contributed to education and culture.
Why the guest of honour didn't even quite know what was being launched. Which, come to think of it, made it a typical political ceremony!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019



Journalists, like smart lawyers in a courtroom, should generally have a good idea about the answer when they pose a question.
Except this time I don't.
Once upon a time, I was part of the chorus of alarm about how zebra mussels were the great and growing menace in Ontario's cottage country and in all the streams and lakes that had anything to do with the Great Lakes.
The invasion of the mussels had transformed our rivers and lakes, plugging intake pipes, cutting hands and feet, and generally being a pain in other parts for boaters, swimmers and waders.
I didn't work in the Trent River without gloves and old shoes, that is if I didn't want to suffer countless paper cuts. In effect,  I used armour whenever I set out to repair the shoreline or a dock. And it was yet another reason for scaredy-cat kids not to go into the water no matter how much their sweating dad yelled.
But then the other day I swam out to one speed marker in the Northumberland Narrows which is ignored by 99% of the boaters, 100% of the Sea-Doos and 125%  of the OPP. Supposedly you are limited to 10 km/h (which is like a fast walk) which just happens to be the major speed limit close to the shore for most of Canada.
As I clung there (and a tidal wave thrown up by a passing yacht rolled over me) I noticed that on the barrel of the marker were a few zebra mussels. I can remember when there would have been several layers and if I had not been cautious, I would have tiny cuts that would have stung as if they were inflicted by a sword.
So I swam along the shoreline of Burnt Point when I returned to my cottage, watching out for personal water craft which are the bumble bee curse of cottage country, and found only a few mussels on border rocks which once would have been coated.
So my question for the experts who used to write about the mussel menace since it was imported from Europe in the ballast water of a freighter is whether the mussels are in a lull, part of a boom or bust cycle which is common to Nature, or whether they have eaten themselves out of house and home and are just going to go away, another of the great blights that were going to ruin the world but then petered out over time.
The Internet is still stuffed with features about the billions of dollars in damage that zebra mussels were inflicting on us. Plenty of coverage about how they were changing fishing even as they were killing off other species.
But no stories about how in recent years the zebra mussels just seemed to have largely gone away without anyone noticing. I hope that is true. It certainly seems to be the situation in my stretch of the Trent River, and I hope devoutly that it is true for much of Ontario.
But I really don't know! Do you!

Friday, September 13, 2019



Even if the Liberals were not led by a devious and obsequious drama queen, I would not vote Grit.
But since Pete Trudeau's family still has one skeletal claw on the party, it's easy to vote for a party led by a Tory who doesn't act as if he has cornered all the morality in the country.
My first brush with the Trudeaus came as a Dodger fan when Jackie Robinson smashed the colour bar in baseball when he was promoted courageously from the Montreal Royals, a team largely owned and controlled by Peter Trudeau's father. That was mentioned in the English press but wasn't a big deal.
My next contact came, although I didn't know it, as I squinted into the blizzard over the Yukon's Lake LaBarge (of Robert Service fame.) We had made two forced landing with wheels on the rotten ice. My story made the front pages of the country because I was covering James Sinclair, a major cabinet minister who years later became the father-in-law to Pete, the pirouetting PM, and the grandfather to our current PM.
I was in charge of the Tely coverage when the politician who always contrived vainly to be really different - like boycotting the honourable war and lying about his age - became leader of the county much to the shock of the people who really knew him.
As the Tely skidded into the mists, I had on my desk one of the sexiest pictures I have ever seen outside the famous Marilyn Monroe calendar picture. It was said by the photographer, who wanted the kingly sum of $600, to be 18 year-old Margaret Sinclair in a bathing suit on the beach in Tahiti where she met a much older man who said diffidently over drinks that he was the prime minister of her country.
I never ran that picture on Page One because such was the relationship between the Telegram and the Liberals that I knew they would sue or humiliate us if it was really some other voluptuous creature. I left the picture on my desk as I put out the final edition and walked out of the silent building that has just been destroyed by the Globe.
I never knew that in my future was a profane encounter between me and Margaret in Caracas when I came to the defense of the PM's private secretary when Margaret was calling him every possible obscenity in front of dozens of tourists in a hotel lobby.
I was irked and tired so I used the F word in every possible construction, matched vowel by vowel by Margaret who was so infuriated by me that she marched into the state dinner and gave a Nazi salute to the Maple Leaf flag.
Then on the plane home,  I coaxed her into singing the silly songs she had made up to serenade the wives of the leaders  of the countries we had toured, and woke the next day to find myself being vilified on TV and radio as Margaret insisted into every mike that I had told her it was all off the record. (She had waited for every last tape recorder to be fired up.)
I could go on, like the time she led an alternative march at a UN conference in Vancouver that was to highlight the pails of drinking water that women in the Third World had to lug home daily. I pointed out that she had an inch of water in her pail, while the cabinet minister assigned by the PM to escort her for the day was loyally carting a full pail. She flounced off on a profane cloud.
She flirted from famous Manhattan night clubs to rooms with suspicious smells in Toronto - often spectacularly without her panties -while her husband confounded friend and foe in Ottawa. I was slightly handicapped in trying to figure out what stunt he would pull next because he generally ignored my questions. We once had a conversation about his SCUBA diving with Fidel Castro which ended abruptly when he remembered he was actually talking to someone from the despised Sun.
On one walkabout at the Kortright Centre, Pete encouraged Sacha to go into the crowd and shake hands with another cute toddler who just happened to be my youngest son, Mark, and film of the kids made the National. The same secretary who I had defended in Venezuela whispered with relish that he was going to be pleased to tell the boss that it was a Downing kid just to watch him scowl because he was a great hater.
By the way, that same Sacha, the PM's youngest brother, is a film-maker who got into trouble with a flesh-eating disease while shooting a documentary in Madagascar and was rescued by a young film director from Toronto, Gordon Weiske. He was carried through the jungle on Gord's back to the medical help which saved his life.
After my friend Gordon related the story to me, I asked whether a friendship had sprung up as a result. "No," Gord said, "he never even thanked me,"
"Sounds like the family, " I said. "After all, you didn't have anything more to offer, like votes, or a private island for a free vacation."

Sunday, September 8, 2019



I have been watching out for game wardens for decades. I have even used them as a threat to fishermen hanging close to my point for days at a time. But I have only had one experience with them, and it was a nice one.
My grandfather had no fun in his life except for two days of fishing a year. He laboured putting the final finish on furniture at the big Krug Brothers factory in Chesley long after most retired because there were no pensions. Then he came home when he was 72, grey with fatigue, and died a few weeks later.
Every Victoria Day and Labour Day holiday, he dug worms in our second lot where he grew all the vegetables to feed us year-round and with bamboo poles for my two sisters and I clambered along the Saugeen banks fishing for bass, and if we were lucky, suckers.
The first stop was at the Three Sisters, three stumps that are still there decades later. He had fished first there with his five daughters, even though all we caught there were rock bass, more bones than flesh. If we were lucky, maybe a bucket mouth or more elite bass closer to the big dam.
By the time we got to Scone, a couple of kilometres from town, we would have a pail of fish, even real bass. Grandpa kept everything!
And then we would trudge back, chewing the last stick of Wrigley's Gum --the treat for the day--water sloshing over the top of the pail.
We met the game warden on the big bridge that has just had to be rebuilt. He was Mr. Sanderson (also my Grade 7 teacher with no first name because public school teachers in my day only had last names).
And he looked down into the big pail where there were a few bass that wouldn't be legal to catch for another five weeks. "Fine catch, Mr. Hoogstad," he boomed. Because he knew in a town of 1,800 where everyone knew everything about you that the jockey-sized man from Holland had taken in three orphans and had no money to do anything other than feed them and twice a year to go fishing.
So I remember Mr. Hetherington for that compassionate afternoon when he could have confiscated our humble gear and fined the old man for keeping a catch out of season.(He also once brought to class a large Snowy owl which stared at us with the hauteur of a dowager.)
For decades now at my point in the Trent River south of Havelock, the spectre of game wardens has hung over a few of us in our pursuit of pickerel, bass and muskie. Yet most cottage neighbours and the locals seem to pay no attention, just as they routinely speed far above the limit in the Northumberland Narrows.
The major reason for that is obvious. I have never seen a warden, or whatever you want to call them, at my point for the 39 years I have been the humble owner. And the OPP make a token appearance a few times a year, perhaps to get the dust off the boat.
Except you can still use wardens as a threat. One fall a boat showed up for five days and fished every daylight hour just feet from my shore. To hell with my privacy! So finally I stood there and said sarcastically that the five of them seemed to be doing quite well. They said they were from Ohio and came every year  to my point and fished for 10 days. "We catch our limit every day," one boasted drunkenly.
I said that meant they had caught more than 200 bass, walleye and muskie. Since the fishing regulations only allow you to have a fraction of that number in your possession, I said they must have great fish suppers every night back at the fishing camp.
They started to argue numbers of possession with me. I told them that they could debate with the game warden that I had called, and I was sure it would be OK. I walked back to the cottage and when I looked out, they were gone.
Indeed, they haven't been back.
They really had no excuse but I once said in an email to a friend who was appointed the provincial minister in charge of administering wildlife regulations that I find the regs to be as clear as mud. The minister sent my letter through the bureaucratic hoops and some official crafted an official reply in case I was going to write a column.
It was a lengthy defense of how complicated it was to set the rules for the various waters in this large province to protect the fish in the varying habitat. But at the bottom of the official letter, the minister scrawled agreement with my complaint.
Once upon a time I can remember when on the back concessions, farmers who did a little trapping and hunting did so with one eye peeled for the wardens. Shooting pike with a .22 in the spring creeks was normal practise.
 My late brother-in-law, Gordon Long, was overrun on his farm near Schomberg with deer eating his vegetables and cutting up his fields with their hoofs. He also appreciated venison. So if some big buck persisted in nibbling the lettuce, Gord would drop it with a crossbow and the thick bolt/arrow.
Why a crossbow? Because the theory with the area farmers was that a rifle shot or a shotgun blast might be heard by a warden who would come snooping. It wasn't just the threat of the fine and having your equipment confiscated. It wasn't unknown for a farmer to have a still above the pig pen that would mask the smell, and this was less than a hour north of the Big Smoke!
If you think that was unusual, you should know that years before just a short distance to the north there was a big swamp where rustlers kept their stolen cattle in the middle away from casual detection. One rustling ring was busted but they didn't get much punishment because their lawyer, one Nathan Phillips, got them a good deal. (Yes the same mayor they named a square after.)
As they sang on that TV show, those were the days, before we called wardens with the more PC title of  conservation officers and they weren't grizzle oldtimers but career people who may even have gone to college.
Now Queen's Park has changed the rules on pickerel. I am sure I will look them up if I ever catch a big pickerel again. Once my point was known around the area as the best place to fish and I was besieged by land and sea. But that has changed since the wonderful late autumn night when my cousin Dave Prescott and I practically had giant fish jumping into our arms.
Prescott is scrupulous and knowledgeable about the rules governing everything from Scrabble and golf to hunting and fishing. Except that night, we broke the pickerel rules and didn't realize it until months after we had consumed all the delicious fillets.
The fishing regs are still too complicated, and I still see fishing out of season all the time, but I have never been confronted by a game warden since Mr. Hetherington stopped Grandpa on the Chesley bridge.
Maybe wardens I mean, ahem, conservation officers, don't exist in any meaningful numbers since fishing is hardly high on the priority of politicians who are more carp than trout in their activities. The government has stolen the revenue from fishing licences to pay for their stupider promises - just like the taxes on our gas no longer go for roads, which was the original excuse - and it has closed most of the hatcheries that replenish the poor man's sport.
So it would not surprise me to find that most game wardens have vanished and the ghost of the threat is the only thing that stops those jerks from Ohio from coming every October and savaging all the fish around my Burnt Point.
I don't miss them at all. Neither does the great blue heron that flops down on the point to listen to classical music with me.  It is so peaceful then in cottage  country that I would even give a warden - I mean a conservation officer - a beer and not bitch about murky regulations.