Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS February 2 1998

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS February 2 1998

Opening Notes

A tidal wave of Titanica

BARBARA WICKENS

Titanic mania rages unabated across the globe, fuelled by the Hollywood epic about the ill-fated ship. In Canada alone, Titanic has raked in a record $23 million in the past five weeks. “It’s because the movie has so many ties to Canada,” says Famous Players spokesman Dennis Kucherawy. He cites the director, James Cameron, and the sound track featuring songs by Céline Dion—as well as Canada’s involvement in recovering bodies and parts of the ship after the 1912 sinking, which took place about 1,300 km east of Halifax.

That effort is being recalled at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax. There, curators have assembled an impressive array of Titanic artifacts—including the only intact deck chair, pieces of ornately decorated wood from one of the luxury liner’s sweeping staircases, and a logbook from a Newfoundland wireless station that details the last frantic radio calls from the ship before it sank. Tie permanent collection went on display in early December, timed to take advantage

of the hype surrounding the Dec. 19 opening of Titanic. The strategy has paid off: since then, more than 9,000 people have visited the museum, a 35-per-cent increase over the same time last year. Among other things, the exhibit documents the role that ships from Halifax played in retrieving bodies. About 150 Titanic victims—the largest concentration anywhere in the world—are buried in three Halifax cemeteries, where visits are also on the upswing. Dan Conlin, curator of marine history at the museum, believes that the intense interest in all things Titanic is because the tragedy is “a really powerful and compelling symbol of disaster. We all need symbols for when things go wrong.” As for the movie, Conlin gives it a “thumbs-up.” Despite a few historical qualms, he says that Titanic “stuck reasonably close to all of those really interesting eyewitness accounts out there.”

Winging it to Mexico

Butterflies are free—or at least millions of monarchs will be once a 795,000hectare Monarch Butterfly Model Forest is created in Mexico. Last week, the Canadian and Mexican governments signed an agreement to share equally the $2.4-

million cost of the area that will protect the butterflies. They migrate between the two countries, spending summers in southern Canada, and wintering in the mountainous southcentral states of Michoacán and Mexico, where impoverished residents hack away at the forest. “If things don’t change, smaller forests will mean a lot fewer butterflies,” says Steve Wendt, a scientist with Environment Canada. The plan will encourage a more sustainable use of forest resources and strengthen the region’s economy, so area residents, and the colorful butterflies, can both prosper.

The trades aim for the shiny brass ring

How much glamor is there in the dirty and often thankless job of being a plumber? Skills Canada, a nonprofit organization, is hoping to add some glitter to bluecollar work at the Canadian Skills Competition, dubbed the Skills Olympics, in Vancouver this May. “We want trades to be a viable, first-choice career option,” says Dale Oleschko, executive director of Skills Canada for British Columbia and the national competition’s organizer. More than 1,000 competitors are expected to vie for national titles and a chance to represent Canada at the International Vocational Training Competition being held in Montreal in 1999. Oleschko says Skills Canada is hoping to raise the status of trades such as welding, auto repair and plumbing. “In Europe, the average age of an apprentice is 15,” he says. “In Canada, it’s 28. We want young people to realize they don’t have to go to university to put themselves into a great-paying career.”

Secret Shangri-La

Sam Blyth has a dream job. As president of Toronto-based Blyth & Company Travel, which specializes in adventure trips to such far-flung locales as the Antarctic and Morocco, Blyth has the insider information on the world’s most exotic places. So where does he vacation? Abaco, a cluster of islands located at the northern tip of the Bahamas. But do not expect to find this tropical treasure in the Blyth & Company brochure.

“No, we wouldn’t list this place,” admits Blyth, 43, who visits Abaco at least once a year. “It’s off the beaten track, very idyllic, but also very basic. Our customers want luxury and adventure.” Blyth discovered his secret hideaway almost 30 years ago, when the island did not have electricity. ‘To me it was the Caribbean equivalent of Georgian Bay,” says Blyth, referring to the Ontario cottage district where he owns a home. Abaco may not have all the mod-cons, but for Blyth, it is his own private Shangri-la.

Private mail goes public

One letter, two investigations.

It all got going after Bruce Starlight, a former councillor of the Tsuu Tina Indian band, wrote to Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart in Ottawa last October complaining about financial mismanagement on the reserve just outside Calgary.

Stewart passed the information along to the ROMP, who began investigating the allegations. But a copy of the letter also ended up in the hands of band Chief Roy Whitney, who has launched a defamation suit and obtained a court order preventing Starlight, 50, from making further derogato-

ry comments about him. A spokesman for Whitney said an unknown person left a copy of the letter—bearing a “received” stamp from the minister’s office—under the chief's office door in Calgary. Now, Stewart has ordered a second investigation—this one an internal department probe—into the leak. “It’s absolutely inappropriate that Chief Whitney has this letter,” she says. “It didn’t come from me or through official channels.” Reform Opposition Leader Preston Manning said last week that Indian Affairs should at least pay legal costs for Starlight, who is unemployed and taking classes at the University of Calgary—whoever was responsible for the leak.

Passages

DIED: Former MP David Orlikow, 80;

of pneumonia, in Winnipeg. Orlikow, who was the NDP member for Winnipeg North from 1962 to 1988, is best remembered for supporting his wife, Velma, in successful lawsuits against the CIA and Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital in the 1980s. She was one of about 50 patients used unwittingly in CIA-funded mind-control experiments during the 1950s. She died in 1990 at age 73, from cancer.

DIED: Former Speaker of the Senate Guy Charbonneau, 75; of cancer, in Montreal.

A Conservative fund-raiser, Charbonneau was appointed to the Senate by then-Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1979. The former insurance executive rose to the Speaker’s seat in 1984, holding it until 1993.

DIED: Actor Jack Lord, 77, best known as detective Steve McGarrett on the TV show Hawaii Five-O, whose famous line “Book ’em, Danno!” ended most episodes; of heart failure, in Honolulu. Lord also directed and produced some episodes of the show, which ran from 1968 to 1980.

DIED: Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins, 65, whose 1956 hit Blue Suede Shoes became a rock classic; of stroke-related complications, in Nashville, Tenn. Perkins influenced the music of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

CONVICTED: Former Tory MP Carole Jacques, 37, who held the Montreal riding of Mercier from 1984 to 1993, and her former riding organizer Jean-Yves Pantaloni, 43, of conspiring in 1991 to obtain kickbacks from two firms seeking subsidies; in Montreal.

APPOINTED: Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, 49, as chief negotiator for the Canadian Red Cross; in Ottawa. Rae will work with the federal government on the transfer of responsibility for the collection and distribution of blood to a new agency.

SEPARATED: Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, 71, and his wife of nine years, Vancouver native Kimberly Hefner, 34, citing “differing interests”; in Los Angeles. Kimberly and their two sons, Marston, 7, and Cooper, 6, will reside in a house adjoining the Playboy Mansion.