On the road again

On the road again

A columnist goes in search of his father's legacy

June 2 1997
On the road again

On the road again

A columnist goes in search of his father's legacy

June 2 1997

On the road again

A columnist goes in search of his father's legacy


Last summer, Charles Gor don, a columnist for Mac lean's and the Ottawa Citi zen, and his wife, Nancy, did what many Canadians dream of doing: they discov ered Canada. They drove from Ottawa to Newfound land, then rambled west across the country to Van-

couver Island and back east across the top of the Prairies to Ottawa. In three months, they covered 24,863 km (and got lost a number of times). Along the way, they visited the home of Anne of Green Gables in Prince Edward Island, caught a ball game at the Big 0 in Mont real,found the place where Canada's lead ing socialists, including Charles's father, King Gordon, signed the Regina Manifesto in 1933, and explored a submarine in the West Edmon ton Mall. Their odyssey is described in The Canada Trip, published this month by McClel land & Stewart. The following excerpts are from chapters titled "Only in Saskatchewan" and "Follow the Yellowhead Road."

Today we have both a deadline and a mission. The deadline is to be in Gull Lake, Sask., in time for dinner. That’s about a three-hour drive away. The mission is to find the Regina Manifesto. know it was signed here in Regina in 1933 at the founding convention of the CCF but not where. I have searched all the books I can find on the subject. None of them says where the Regina convention was held. I figure we have about four hours to find the Regina Manifesto before we have to hit the road for Gull Lake.

The Regina Manifesto has a connection to Lake of the Woods, at least in Gordon lore. The way my father, King Gordon, told it, he and Eugene Forsey and someone else, perhaps Joe Parkinson, were driving to Regina for the convention and stopped at the [Gordon family] island. They had the Manifesto with them, which had been written by Frank Underhill. Upon looking it over, they decided it needed a punchier ending. “How about this,” one of them said. “ ‘No CCF government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth.’ ” Great, they all agreed, and in it went, the phrase that would haunt the party forever, as a symbol of its radicalism and scary intentions.

Whether the story is true or not, I’m fond of it.

We begin by driving to Regina’s Wascana Centre, the huge park south of the downtown area. The park is vast and impressive. It con-

tains the Saskatchewan legislative building, the University of Regina, the Mackenzie Art Gallery, the Diefenbaker homestead, and much more. There is a lake that failed to impress Sarah Binks, who might have been away from Willows a bit too long at this point. She called Wascana Lake “a mean little puddle; I could spit across it.” But it looks fine to us, as do the trees around it. The view from the legislature steps, where we start, is of a formal garden and hedges, to a lake and across it to downtown and its bank towers.

The tour guide tells us that the legislative building is the largest in the country. Saskatchewan, like Manitoba, thought it would be a much bigger province than it turned out to be. This building is very much on the Manitoba model: lots of marble, a rotunda with balustrade. The marble comes from Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Quebec and Cyprus. ‘There’s not enough marble in the world to replace what we have here,” he says.

We go into the library, which was once the legislative chamber, and I see my chance to find the Regina Manifesto. The guide is patient while I make my inquiry. The librarian does not ask me for my I.D. or tell me to fill out this form or come back tomorrow. She just tries to answer my question. Not only does she not think I’m crazy, she knows where to find the Regina Manifesto. Namely, on the Internet. The Manifesto, she was told just the other day, is now on-line. She calls it up on her computer. There it is, but not

Reprinted with permission from The Canada Trip, copyright by Charles Gordon, published by McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto.

even the Internet can tell us exactly where in Regina it was signed.

There is some consultation with other librarians, all of whom seem rather interested in the challenge. Eventually they suggest I go downtown to Tommy Douglas House, which is the headquarters of the NDP, successor to the CCF.


The tour continues. It is somehow incongruous to see all this grandeur, all this marble, in what we often think of Canada’s most unassuming province. The guide blames Saskatchewan’s first premier, Thomas Walter Scott. One of the things he did was change the building’s original brick design to tyndal limestone. Another thing he did was put a red carpet in the legislative chamber, even though red is the traditional color of upper houses, because “he decided that he was going to make his chamber better than any other lower house in Canada,” according to the guide.

The building departs from tradition in many ways. There is a statue of John Diefenbaker in the rotunda, even though he never held provincial office. His nose is shinier than the rest of him and the guide explains that this is because he was polished with brass cleaner even though he is bronze. After the nose, the cleaner realized a mistake had been made and switched to something else. Diefenbaker, of course, was a politician who kept his nose clean anyway.

Just inside the door at Tommy Douglas House is a statue of Douglas done by Joe Fafard, which is much smaller than life, which was small anyway. Once again I am surprised pleasantly by having my Regina Manifesto question taken seriously. No one says “Why do you want to know?” They just think it’s an interesting question. One person drops her other duties to look through files. Among the things she comes up with is a list of guests at the 50th anniversary celebration in 1983. Representing the 1933 Montreal delegation are Frank Scott, Eugene Forsey and my father, all since gone. There is still no indication where that first convention was held. “Call Pemrose. She’d know,” a woman suggests. So they call Pemrose Whelan, whose husband Ed was Tommy Douglas’s campaign manager. Pemrose says the convention was held at the old city hall. Oh, I say, that’s where we had dinner last night. It was a nice Italian restaurant whose pasta was made “with Saskatchewan-grown durum flour,” according to the menu. But no, it’s not that old city hall. It’s another old city hall, where the Galleria, a shopping centre, is now. The Galleria is where the car has been parked. Perfect.

A voyage with Capt. Susan

In Edmonton, the Gordons stop at a famous shopping mall.

West Edmonton Mall tries hard to become more human. But it can’t, at the same time, abandon its previous goal, which is to become more More. It is in this context that I assess the fact that a replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria is in a big pool, along with some dolphins and a submarine. People are standing watching this, and why not?

There is More here, to be sure. We walk by the wave pool and look in through a window. It is apparently the World’s Largest Indoor Wave Pool (the world’s largest outdoor wave pool being the ocean). There is a change room downstairs and a complete list of things you can rent, in order to make the wave pool experience in the shopping centre more meaningful, such as a family cabana for $19.95, a towel for $3, a yellow inner tube for $5. You can also go on a water slide here or bungee-jump. What I find bizarre about it is not the fact that there is a wave pool in a shopping centre but that people are sitting around beside it, in bathing suits on lounge chairs, reading, as if on a day at the beach. Do they know that those are electric lights overhead, that they are indoors?

There is only one way to have a unique West Edmonton Mall experience. I must ride the submarine. Nancy, somehow declining to join me, walks offto buy a newspaper and is unable to find one store, amongst the 800, that sells them. Meanwhile, I pay my $13 and, after a nervous trip to the washroom, stand in line for the next trip, which I'm told will be in 10 minutes and I’m supposed to be there 10 minutes early. Heaven knows why. Anyway, there I stand, realizing that I am set-

ting myself up for the ultimate humiliation—namely, to be seen by someone I know, standing in line to ride a submarine in a shopping centre. There is no way that I can pretend I’m doing something else. I'm lined up on a gangplank kind ofthing and the submarine is coming in for a landing. I can see it, its top at least an inch below the surface of the water. What would I say if I were to be spotted? “Oh, hi. Did you know that this is the absolutely best place, acoustically, to hear the Peruvian pan flute band?”

Before we depart, our captain, Susan, describes the submarine’s safety features. “Although we are in a mall, we are governed under the laws of the Canadian coast guard,” she says. There are life jackets, fire extinguishers, a two-way radio (“Can you describe your exact position?” “West Edmonton Mall.”) and flares. Then we are off, on a 20-minute odyssey, or whatever you call it in a mall. The submarine takes us past tanks of Hawaiian, then Australian, then Atlantic fish, then a tank with some baby sharks in it, then Alberta trout. It is a kind of aquatic version of multiculturalism we are being exposed to here. We see a giant turtle and then, as we continue slowly around the track, a replica of a 5-m white shark, then the side of the Santa Maria, then a mock-up of a submarine like ours being attacked by a giant squid. I completely forget my claustrophobia. Then we see a representation of the Lost Civilization of Atlantis, the representation consisting of some broken statues. This gives me a sudden flash of insight into decision-making at the mall: if they don't know what to do with something but don’t want to throw it out, they can dump it into the pool and let the people look at it from the submarine.