I’ll be 76 this year and while I’m still fascinated by what the future may hold in store for me, every so often, I reflect on some of the things I’ve seen over the span of my life.
When I was born, Canada consisted of nine provinces and two territories. In 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador ceased being a British territory and joined Confederation as Canada’s tenth province. So that means the last Father of Confederation, Joey Smallwood, was alive during my lifetime. Fun fact: The call letters of every radio and television station in Canada start with the letter “C” except one. St. John’s Newfoundland station VOCM was in existence before Confederation and they kept their call letters. Today, Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, the Northwest Territories having been split and the eastern portion is now called Nunavut. I remember the great debate over choosing Canada’s now familiar maple leaf flag. I also remember I was opposed to it at first for I had served in the military under the red ensign, but I now embrace it fully. I remember Expo ‘67, the world’s fair held in Montreal during Canada’s centennial year and the excitement throughout the country at the time. I remember the dark days of the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) invoked the War Measures Act to put an end to the bombings and kidnappings. British diplomat James Cross and Quebec’s Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte were kidnapped. Mr Cross was later released, but M Laporte was murdered. Eventually most of the FLQ members involved were arrested and served time. I remember when Canada had a female Prime Minister – Kim Campbell. Her government didn’t last long, being brought down on a non-confidence motion.
Internationally, I remember hearing and watching much from news reports. The conquest of Everest (I’ve always had one question about that: if Hillary and Tensing were the first people to climb to the summit, how did the Sherpa guides know the safest path up unless they’d done it before?; the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. One memory I have of that is the nuns telling us we couldn’t sing “God Save the King” any longer and spending a good hour getting us to properly sing “God Save the Queen”. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was on leave from the army when that got serious and expected to be recalled every time the telephone rang. I remember the Kennedy Assassination and where I was (sitting at my desk at work in Toronto). The rise and later fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Soviet-style Communism. Man landing on the moon. I remember that when Armstrong took that small step for man, I was sitting in my car in an A&W in Scarborough Ontario.
This is but a small glimpse into my memories. I have more obviously, but won’t go into them. And, as I said back at the beginning, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. We do live in interesting times.
Last night I watched a CTV special on the Cuban missile crisis. You can look it up in the history books or online if you’ve never heard of it. All I’ll say, to pique your curiosity, is that those events are the nearest the US and the USSR ever came to World War III.
But, watching that drew my mind back to October 1962 and the events in my life during that month. I was in Vancouver B C during the early part of October at the army personnel depot awaiting my discharge papers (medical discharge). Just before Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving – early October), Vancouver was visited by Pacific hurricane Freda. The depot had its own power station, but for some reason, the only form of energy available in the kitchens was steam. Worked out great in some ways – I could have all the tea and coffee I wanted – not so great in others. I swear I’ll never eat steamed sausages again: once was enough. On the Monday I decided I’d go into the downtown area. Later in the afternoon, knowing all they had at the depot was steamed foods, I decided to stop at a coffee shop for something to eat. Counting my money, I realized all I could afford was coffee, so that is what I ordered. It wasn’t until I saw all the turkey dinners being brought in from the kitchen that I even remembered it was Thanksgiving. No turkey for me at Thanksgiving 1962. My dinner consisted of a cup of coffee.
A couple of days later my papers arrived and I was soon on a train back to Toronto. It was during this trip the Cuban missile crisis began and quickly escalated. By the time I arrived home, the Soviet freighters carrying the missiles were headed straight for the US blockade and the world was simultaneously holding its breath and crossing its fingers. Keep in mind that during this time I was still technically in the army, but on final 30 day leave. My stepfather was also in the army, member of the Royal Canadian Regiment (I had been in the Royal Canadian Engineers) and we were both aware that the telephone could ring at any time ordering him to his post and me to the nearest army base. Fortunately, the confrontation at sea never happened, but it was a very nervous time for my mother, my stepfather and myself and we’d jump every time the telephone rang. In early November I finished that final leave and was officially out of the armed forces.
If you ask people in their mid to late sixties, I’m sure you would get some fascinating stories of their October 1962. Mine isn’t that fascinating, but I still remember it clearly. And every Thanksgiving, I have a cup of coffee and reflect on what might have been all those years ago.