The Ten Commandments – Canadian Style

  1. Thou shalt refer to ice hockey as hockey. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Stanley Cup holy and undefiled.
  2. Thou shalt refer to gridiron football as football and to round ball football as soccer. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Grey Cup holy and undefiled.
  3. Thou shalt revere the salmon.
  4. Thou shalt revere maple syrup and not scream when thou dost see the price that they are trying to gouge for it.
  5. Thou shalt hate the American President and love the Canadian Prime Minister, no matter who they are and what they do, lest they become one and the same person.
  6. Thou shalt revere the CBC and revile the CBS, even if the shows are much the same.
  7. Thou shalt honour the memory of Ypres and Dieppe but not think  too carefully  about what actually happened – nor why.
  8. Thou shalt quake and tremble before the Lord, thy God, or if the Lord is busy at the time, before his deputies – the politicians of Quebec.
  9. Thou shalt apologise.
  10. Thou shalt glory in being right when that occurs and in being wrong when that occurs and film a documentary on both occasions with harmonica or accordion music.

Take these two tablets and if thy people will not heed, come back up the mountain, eh?


Secede From Success

I suppose I should be grateful to the people of Quebec. I might not have felt so in 1957 when I lived in Montreal and had to endure the indignities of Grade 5. The school system was split between English-speaking teachers and French-speaking ones and there were times when the kids were the football between the teams. Thankfully they had to teach English literature in English and mathematics in numbers and the odd intrusion en Francais could be endured.

Later, the pressure to teach every school child in Canada some French extended out as far as Alberta and British Columbia and I got at least two years of basic grammar in the early 60’s. I can fumble my way through a French magazine if there are pictures with short captions. If there are girlie pictures I fumble slower.

But they did contribute enough political whining and pressure to raise a great debate about ” Bi-culturalism ” and we school kids got onto the gravy train. We wrote essays, made speeches, and in some cases collected free trips to Ottawa to pretend that we were the future of the country. We were overwhelmingly snot-nosed, mealy-mouthed, and cynical, and I guess that if we had pursued that course over the time one of us could be Prime Minister of Canada right now. Come to think of it…

I didn’t win the Ottawa trip on the strength of my speech, but I won a job at the local newspaper doing anything that no-one else wanted to do. I loved it, and it has given me a taste for writing, photography, and cynicism ever since.

Secede? Oh the political pundits sometimes come out with the business of Quebec seceding from Canada and becoming an independent nation. They toy with it every few years…just long enough to get more federal money. The awkward thing is that the rest of Canada may see it as a good idea one day and take them up on it.

On one condition. Quebec gets Trudeau. All the Trudeaus…

The Little World – Nowt Boot A Trick – Part Four

Light pours from the heavens like liquid gold.

It pours from old-fashioned street lamps like tallow candles, and from mercury-vapour fittings like the cold green smell of death. Sodium lights remind us of sleazy bars and painful treatments for public diseases. Is it any wonder that I drive with my eyes closed?

I mention these sorts of horrid illuminations because I am eventually going to have to provide one or all of them for my street modules. I can remember all of them in Canada and Australia in my childhood and youth, and they contribute no little part to the authenticity and temporality of a model scene.

Doll house makers are favoured with a number of small light fittings for their structures – ornate candelabra and modest side lights – library shades and even fluorescent fixtures. The larger size of the scale makes it easy to get good lighting, as long as you can provide a suitable voltage. But the dollhouse street lamps are big, and for the most part are patterned after Victorian or Edwardian prototypes. Unless one is modelling the older parts of Montreal or Toronto, there is little use for them – and certainly no use for a prairie city in the 1950’s.

Fortunately there are perfectly good grain of wheat bulbs on sale at the electronics stores for a modest sum that can be pressed into making tungsten-filament street lamps for the 50’s. The holders, shades, and brackets will have to be scratch built, but many of them were of fairly utilitarian style anyway. A production line to make a dozen would be wisest – dull work, but best to have a stock of them.

The mercury-vapour light that started to make inroads into the cities about 1960-62 will be another matter. They were green, cold, and a lot brighter than the old lamps. Here I think I am going to have to go to more specialist suppliers to get coloured LED bulbs ( and learn how to wire them up ) for both the mercury and the later sodium lights. Green and orange should be reasonably easy to achieve but again the fitments will need to be even more modern. The heads of a modern street lamp can be very streamlined castings indeed. Even the light poles are frequently octagonal tapers with a preformed swooping shape – this is unlikely to be do-able with a metal tube, and some sort of resin casting may be necessary. Fortunately for most modern lights, there are a variety of DC gel/acid batteries available on an inexpensive basis from Jaycar and other stores. And one can generally find a leftover mains charger from somewhere with whatever weird little voltage is needed.


Detroit 56


The paint job and licence plate of this car at Gillam Drive this year set up a train of surprising echoes in my memory – ’56 was one of those years.

It was the year my dad set a world record. It was the year he cheated death. It was the year I got beaten at school. It was the year his business failed. It was the year we saw Detroit.

The world record was for the deepest fresh-water dredging operation. The fact that it was nearly impossible to do led to the business failure. The fact that my father decided to leave his former employment and pursue it meant that he was not aboard a Trans Canada Airlines DC – 6 when it hit the side of a mountain in British Columbia – his successor in that job was…


The school beating was from the principal, for the crime of talking in line. It was the only instance of corporal punishment in all my cschool career, though I was beaten up many times on the playground. The officious unfairness of it still rankles, though it pales into insignificance compared to the sort of abuse Australian high school teachers in the 1960’s regularly got away with.


The Detroit visit – after the business failure – was as part of a relocation to Montreal for new employment. We went on a guided tour of parts of the Ford Motor Company plant and were shown rolling mills, casting shops, and assembly lines. I could not admire the rolling mills enough. Detroit was , indeed, Motor City.


Okay – the other memory evoked by the ’56 Chevy you see here involved the colour. That is a scheme favoured in the mid-50’s for many things…and it was the exact shade of pink*and black that our bathroom was. I often think that it influenced us here at home when we chose the tiles for the bathroom and laundry, though we stuck to pink alone and avoided black. If I were to rebuild I think I would bring the black back…


Please note the details: the custom tail-lights and fin extensions, the pinstriping and graphics, The extremely neat – very stock – interior, and the six-cylinder engine. Proof that not all cool customs need to have enormous V-8’s sandwiched into their engine bays and that effective rodding does not need to chrome everything in sight or poke pipes out through the bonnet.


Many thanks to the owner for opening the passenger’s side door for a clear interior shot. This is always a welcome thing for a reporter.

* Mamie Eisenhower liked pink, and it was therefore fashionable.


The Baron’s Palace


Every city in Canada had them when I was a kid – Calgary, Toronto, Montreal. The baron’s palace. That building that had been put up in the heyday of British Imperial Rule and was intended to house transplanted nobility. Or at least transplanted money.

I don’t mean the various actual official buildings – Government House, The Barracks, Parliament House, etc. No – I mean the Scion’s Palace – the colonial foothold that provided relief for someone who had too many sons in England. The Remittance Man’s Fortress. Olde Englande’s Greene Ande Pleasante Shore Somewhere Awaye Frome The Reste Of The Familye…

We had one down on the Elbow River – a half-built set of baronial walls that never got above chest height. A relic of some relic who drank away the money needed to finish it. We populated it with ghosts around Halloween but the rest of the time it was Cowboys and Indians ground for the kids.

I have just been rounding the Swan River here in Rossmoyne and have discovered our very own Baron’s Fief. I have no idea to whom it belongs but I can make a few shrewd guesses*. The suburb has gentrified up on an exponential scale over the last 40 years and can now not be approached without a platinum credit card, a sense of reverence, and a small phrase book in the oriental languages. For all this, it is a pleasant place and as yet they have not walled it off or installed laser cannons. Lesser mortals are allowed on the river beach – but I wouldn’t fancy their chances of camping out there and fishing for prawns on a summer night. There is only so much indulgence in the resident’s association.

One day I will go to look at the Taj Mahal in Nedlands or Peppermint Grove – the unfinished and unpaid-for palace of what was stated to be an extremely rich Indian family who declined to complete it. I believe there was some difficulty with industrial or financial matters that saw an end to their ambitions, but the thing is still too new to have ghosts. As they have decamped there would seem to be a psychic as well as fiscal vacancy there so we shall see.

Note: Someone channelling William Randolph Hearst…I hope he names it Rosebud.

Do I Make You Nervous, Eh?




I read all sorts of articles about Canada and Canadians in Australian magazines and newspapers. And I speak to many people who have visited Canada or at least take notice of the travel posters. There seems to be a general view that Canadians are polite and quiet. Actually, you can read that as…dull. I cannot help but think that it is a smokescreen put up by the Canadian government to lull the rest of the word into a false sense of security. I’m not sure why this is done – Ottawa never seems to have plans for world domination. In fact, I don’t even think they really have plans for dominating Quebec.

Of course sometimes the screens that form this false front are shifted and you get to see glimpses of the real Canada. The sniper from the Canadian Army who makes the longest-distance kill ever with a rifle. The Sergeant At Arms for the Canadian parliament who shoots a terrorist dead with a pistol inside the parliament building. The Vancouver hockey riot. And the periodical Montreal or Toronto mass student murder.

If you look closer and know the signs you can see other agents of Canadian horror amongst us in Australia ; the foulmouthed visitor to a trade conference who makes the delegates squirm in their seats, the executive monster lurching through local boardrooms, the marooned ski instructor. For that matter there is…me. I have not had an opportunity to stalk through the parliament buildings with a pistol…or a writ…but I have applied for permission from the police for a pea shooter and a bag of dried peas and I plan to cause a reign of terror at the local swimming bath change rooms.

I will say this for Canada – it is an equal opportunity pit of horror. Immigrants from Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean are given ample assistance to cause trouble, along with native Canadian indians, women, and a number of unfriendly sects from central and eastern Europe. No-one need feel constrained when it comes to complaining about English-speaking caucasian men and no-one ever IS constrained. The Trans-Canada Guilt Line was completed a long time before the railway or the highway, and a great deal more traffic goes over it every century.

Now, some of the people here in Australia actually do know the truth. You can tell – when they find out you are from Alberta or New Brunswick or Newfoundland they leap up with a squawk and run away. A sensible reaction, I must say. Others fall into the trap of thinking they are being clever by saying how they could tell we are Canadians because we don’t sound like Americans. The fact that we do sound like Americans escapes them – they willingly go deaf just to ingratiate themselves with us. Fat chance – we will still strip them of their assets, trousers, and sense of security as soon as it becomes convenient.

They have no idea how bad it is going to become. One day we will stop slapping them with Cirque de Soleil and let the rest of Quebec loose on them. Then, when Montreal is empty, we’ll change the locks and they won’t be able to get back in…


The Christmas Howitzer

Artill001 copy

I haven’t had a Christmas Howitzer since I was nine – and sometimes I get really nostalgic when I think back to it. It was a lovely piece and I thought the world of it. I wish I had it now

Of course it wasn’t the only artillery piece I owned. At one stage or other I remember a British 3″ AA gun on a wheeled carriage,  a 155mm split-trail howitzer, a 155 M2 “Long Tom” with a towing tractor, and a 13″ Civil War mortar. I remember being outraged when I was compelled to hand the 155 split-trail over to the Mexicans in a good-will gesture but it was a presidential decree on the promise of re-supply and the Christmas Howitzer was the result.

It came from Burlington, Vermont in 1957 and was delivered to Montreal on Christmas morning of that year, complete with ammunition. There must have been very few like it in Canada, and I really never saw an exact copy , though there was a simplified split-trail version several years later. I got the self-propelled variant with a half-track carriage and full remote firing command systems. Of course this meant greater maintenance to make sure that the electrical supply was available, but with adequate forward planning you could get enough supplies.

The operation of the piece was a political nightmare as you had to make sure that there was an adequate international crew to man it-  the US policy at the time was that an American had to be in charge of the ammunition and official permission had to come down a long chain of command before it was fired. The Royal Canadian Air Force had similar restrictions on the Bomarc missile batteries in Quebec and Ontario and the RCAF units that later were tasked with firing Genie missiles never knew if they would be released for their use. As I was born in Maryland but had lived in Canada, I was considered safe to operate it.

In any case firing was possible only after all civilians and animals had been cleared from the range. Given the terrain and nature of Montreal this more often than not meant domestic animals rather than wild ones. I believe this has changed now – I haven’t been in the place since 1959 but I think that with a noticeable increase in Quebec separatists they might not require a clear range before detonation.

In any event the howitzer functioned well – if you had electrical continuity you could lay and train it to a fine degree and the firing interlock never failed. Of course, with the easing of cold war tensions and the removal of Soviet troops from the Fulda Gap, the need for such a piece has disappeared – I hope it has gained a place in the Artillery Museum.