Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS February 10 1997
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS February 10 1997

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS

Eastern aftershocks

In February, more than 900 McDonald’s outlets will distribute free copies of The Halifax Explosion, a comic book about the deadly blast on Dec. 6, 1917. The full-color book is the first in a series from True North, a joint venture between the CRB Foundation and publisher McClelland & Stewart.

The comics—based on the foundation’s popular Heritage Minutes, historical vignettes that have been on television for six years—are intended to make Canadian history accessible to today’s youngsters.

Even so, some Haligonians and historians are unhappy with the depiction of the explosion that killed 1,600 after the French munitions ship Mont Blanc, loaded with benzol and TNT, collided with the Belgian relief ship Imo in Halifax harbor.

Janet Kitz, who has written two books about the explosion, says the comic contains a number of factual errors, including embellishment of the role played by telegraph operator Vince Coleman. “There’s just

no reason to have this type of inaccuracy when the accurate story is dramatic enough,” says Kitz. Annie Welsh has a more personal objection to the comic book. She was just 23 months old when the explosion killed her mother and five-year-old brother in

their home. Welsh, who was found by a soldier searching for his own lost children, says comics are usually reserved for funny topics. “It’s nothing to laugh about,” says the 82year-old. “It wasn’t a comic when my mother and brother died. And a lot of other people lost their loved ones.”

A golden legend

When an unemployed former forest technician took a chainsaw to a rare golden Sitka spruce on the Queen Charlotte Islands in late January, he cut into more than he anticipated. Thomas Grant Hadwin, 48, declared in a widely circulated fax that he felled the 300-year-old giant to express “rage” towards “university-trained professionals.” But those most shocked by the act were the islands’ Haida inhabitants, for whom the 50-m tree, which got its rare coloring from a genetic defect, was a living relic of tribal legend.

According to Haida tradition, the golden spruce was once K’iid K’iyaas, a young boy who, with his grandfather, was the sole survivor of a storm that killed everyone else in their village. As they began their trek to a new home, the grandfather warned the lad not to look back. But the boy disobeyed and was instantly rooted in the soil. “The tree is part of our culture,” says Haida local Beryl Parke. “I felt like I lost a family member.” However, the tree may live on. Foresters at the University of British Columbia have revealed that cuttings from the spruce were secretly propagated there in the 1960s, and that two saplings sharing their parent’s coloring are growing on campus. UBC has offered the two trees to the Haida. Hadwin, meanwhile, will appear in court in April to face charges of mischief.

Sinking feeling for the royals

This was supposed to be the year to burnish the British Royal Family’s public image: celebrations to mark the Queen and Prince Philip’s golden wedding anniversary; a marriage, perhaps, for third son Edward to the by now wellvetted Sophie Rhys-Jones; and,

most mercifully, a truce in the Charles and Diana slugfest. So imagine Her Majesty’s sinking heart last week when the daily papers landed at Buckingham Palace, carrying reports of a public row over whether British taxpayers should pay the $ 130-million bill to build a

replacement for the royal yacht Britannia. The ship is 44 years old, and another refit was deemed too expensive. In a burst of pre-election enthusiasm, the normally spendthrift Tories agreed on Jan. 22 to pay for a new yacht. But they had ignored the convention of getting all-party backing for policies affecting the Royal Family,

and opposition Labour was not amused. Leader Tony Blair said there would be no public money for a royal yacht in a Labour government’s first budget. The Queen was suddenly said to be “dismayed” at finding herself at the centre of a national debate over whether to spend taxpayers’ money on the monarchy.

Bighearted Brian

When he left the Prime Minister’s Office, Brian Mulroney was extremely unpopular with the masses. But those who know him personally are well acquainted with his thoughtfulness to friends. The latest example of Mulroney’s largess came when he learned that Nick Auf der Maur, a colorful Montreal columnist, had been diagnosed with throat cancer. On the weekend that Mulroney’s lawyers were thrashing out a settlement with the federal government over his libel suit, Mulroney called Auf der Maur several times and began working the phones arranging medical help and advice. “That’s what I found astonishing,” says Auf der Maur, 54, who is undergoing radiation therapy. “He was doing a lot of stuff while his own world was in flux.” Mulroney also arranged to get Auf der Maur in to see noted Montreal cancer specialist Dr. Phil Gold. Says Auf der Maur: “He’s got a real heart.”

No friend of gays

Last year, Reform party MP Bob Ringma of Nanaimo,

B. C., provoked a barrage of criticism when he declared that employers should have the right to send a black or homosexual employee to the back of the shop if they made customers uncomfortable. Since then, Reform Leader Preston Manning has been trying to downplay suggestions that his party is extreme. He recently gave his first interview to a gay and lesbian publication, the biweekly newspaper XTRA! West in Vancouver. Some excerpts:

XW: Would Reform be willing to accept any type of state-sanctioned same-sex partnership?

£ Manning: Our defini| tion of family and mar| riage does not include I homosexual unions. If I people who have a de\ pendent relationship, whether homosexuals J or other, want to come and argue with Parliament that their relationships should be recognized by the state, they should be free to do it.

XW: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?

Manning: Well, I’ll be really frank with you, I do not think a gay or lesbian person would be attracted to the Reform party because of our policy on sexual politics. But if members of your community are concerned about jobs, taxes, bashing, crime, the lack of law, unity of the country, the deterioration of the social safety net, then in Reform they will find something attractive.