We Were There

Eyewitnesses recount Canadian milestones

January 1 2000

We Were There

Eyewitnesses recount Canadian milestones

January 1 2000

IN JOURNALISM, THERE is no substitute for being there —seeing and hearing, smelling and touching an event. From the accounts that follow, people clearly treasure being a witness to history. As the character Chauncey Gardner put it in the 1979 movie Being There: I like to watch.”

Terrified by the Red Scare

When 30,000 workers launched a general strike in Winnipeg m May 15, 1919, it paralyzed a city—and shocked a continent. The Winnipeg uprising, which took place just 18 months after the Communist coup in Russia, led some pundits to declare that the Red menace had crept into the Manitoba capital. Those fears were obviously exaggerated, but the general strike—which was fought over such concerns as the right to a living wage and collective bargaining—proved to be a watershed in Canadian labour relations. The climax came on June 21—quickly dubbed Bloody Saturday— when striking demonstrators tried to topple a streetcar near the comer of Portage and Main and then set it on fire. The Mounted Police fired volleys into the crowd, killing one man and wounding another who died later, and injuring several others. Witnessing the mayhem was Claris (Brownie) Freedman, then a 10-year-old girl visiting her father’s clothing store. Freedman, now 90 and still living in Winnipeg, remembers the day.

THE FEDERALISTS' NARROW VICTORY in the October, 199s, referendum dramatically showed our two solitudes

MY FATHER HAD A MEN'S clothing store at the corner of Rupert and Main. We were standing, looking through the door window. I guess we must have been told something was happening. I remember seeing the streetcar overturned and a crowd of people. It turned over and then went on fire. I don’t recall what happened after that.

When I look back on it, I think it was a pretty horrifying sight for young people to witness. Everybody was obviously very angry.

I was only 10 and I don’t remember anything about the politics of the time. I know now that there were people out of work, that they didn’t have enough to eat. I think the general strike created a strong labour movement here. I knew Gloria Queen, whose father, John Queen, was later mayor of Winnipeg. He went to jail because he was very active in the strike. So we heard a lot about that later on, about various people who went to jail. But I don’t think we heard anything about the general strike in our schools or discussed it. Even in our history classes, I don’t think we talked about it at all.

More than 1,000 perished

It was the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history. At about 1:30 a.m. on May 29, 1914, in thick fog on the St. Lawrence River near Rimouski, Que., the Empress of Ireland, en route from Montreal to Liverpool, England, was rammed by the Storstad, a Norwegian freighter, and sank in just 14 minutes. Nearly 1,500passengers and crew were aboard— only 465 survived. Among them was 26-year-old Salvation Army Capt. Rufus Spooner, one of some 150 Salvation Army members destined for an International Congress in London. In 1957, four years before he died, Spooner recalled the horror.

MOST OF THE FOLK WERE IN their beds. There was a heavy bump that woke me and my friends, and almost immediately we felt some list of the ship. Three of us went along the corridors and we saw water pouring in through the portholes. When we went on deck, the

‘I was out of touch with my French-speaking neighbours’

Like many people across the country, Jonathan Goldbloom vividly remembers Quebec’s nail-biting sovereignty referendum on Oct. 30, 1995. Goldbloom, 44, a partner in the Montreal public relations firm Columbia Communications Group Inc., helped organize federalist rallies in Montreal at which Prime Minister Jean Chrétien spoke, including the huge pro-Canada rally held on the Friday before the vote. On referendum night, Goldbloom anxiously watched as the pro-separatist Yes side took an early lead.

GOING INTO THE FRIDAY RALLY, for the first time I really felt that my country was on the line. And then the hopeful thing of the campaign leaders telling me that it had turned and we were back on top. The spin that I was getting was: “OK, we’re out of the woods. This is working.” And so there was that positive note that carried me through to voting day on Monday. The Prime Minister’s Office was telling me, well, we’re at 54, 55 points, there’s nothing left to worry about other than getting the vote out. So there was a sense of happiness, of joy, which lasted for the remainder of the campaign.

By referendum night, I was optimistic that we were going to win. I went to a party at a friends house where there were 60 to 80 people, most of whom had not been involved as intensely as I had been in the campaign. I was exhausted—as you are with any campaign. I’d given it all that I had, and I was sitting there and the results came on the television. And it’s the first time where I’ve been totally unprepared. To start watching the results and to see that we were losing, and for the first hour we didn’t know. It was a sinking, dreadful feeling that something that you’d fought for so long and believed in was going down the tubes.

I certainly was not in a talkative mood. There were a lot of accusations directed at the organizers of the campaign, including myself, of, “You did this wrong, you did this wrong, you did this wrong.” There was anger.

As the tide turned and I had this sense of relief, there was also this real sense that I didn’t understand my neighbour. That I was out of touch with what was driving the majority of my French speaking neighbours. And that there was a real disconnect between my life and the life of someone who lived not just in Chicoutimi, but in other parts of Montreal island. That I really didn’t get it. And I think that’s a message that is still with me.

I’ve never understood why anglophones vote en masse

Lawyer Gilles Gaumond, 53, is a longtime sovereigntist and the Parti Québécois regional president for Quebec City. During the 1995 referendum campaign, Gaumond hoped his area would deliver a strong pro-sovereignty vote, approaching 60per cent, to propel a province-wide victory. Instead, the Yes side won only 55 per cent of the Quebec City ballots—and 49.4 per cent for the province as a whole.

I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING to win, certainly on the provincial level. There was an enthusiasm among people that I met, not just supporters, but among people I met on the street who knew I was a member of the PQ and that I was for the Yes.

I said to myself: “If I win, I’ll go walk that same night on the Plains of Abraham around midnight. I’ll go visualize a bit the country that were going to have.”

The first hour we said to ourselves: “Its unbelievable! We’ve got it.” And then we asked: “Will it hold until the end?” I was confident. Why? Because the polls, even the ones inside the party, had us winning. But I have enough experience to know that at one point it can come apart. And that was the fear: will it come apart? And finally, it slowly began to come apart.

In 1980,1 was less certain of winning. And I thought there is time to convince people. And now I, too, am getting older. So I say to myself, we are starting to have less time. We can’t have a referendum every year.

In the end, I didn’t go to the Plains. It was a big disappointment and not just because of the work we had to start again. I felt a great sadness because of my three children.

And there’s a thing that I don’t understand and I’m still not able to express yet. How is it that were not able to achieve sovereignty? There aren’t many obstacles left. Globalization has solved all the commercial questions. Why is it that we are so ambivalent?

The other thing that I’ve also never understood is why anglophones were so monolithic in that regard. I’ve never understood that. They vote en masse. They vote solidly in the same way. I’ve never understood that point because I’ve also always considered them as Quebecers.

‘THEN, I VENTURED OUTSIDE, and the streets were absolutely empty. Not a soul around.’

Ship was listing so quickly and the fog not lifting that you could not see things very clearly.

I was fortunate and went down and picked up four preservers and managed to get back up the steps somehow and gave away the preservers. The list was so bad, lifeboats could not be lowered.

I sat on the side as the vessel began to sink and went down almost like a stone. A great swirl of water took me head over heels, round and round. The next thing I knew, I was swimming in the water and a woman placed her arms around my neck and, for some reason, she let go, and I don’t know whether she was saved or not.

I started to swim towards some wreckage and got to an upturned boat, more dead than alive, and waited for developments. Eventually, a lifeboat picked me up and took me to the Storstad.

I love the sea, but I am so aware of how the sea can be so cruel.

The devastation of Halifax

Hugh MacLennan’s first successful novel, Barometer Rising, is set in 1917 during the Halifax explosion, which devastated the city, killing nearly 2,000 people. Another 9,000 were injured by the blast from the collision of a munitions vessel with a relief steamer in the harbour. At the time, MacLennan, then 10 and living in Halifax while his doctor father served overseas during the First World War, was about to leave home for school. The three time Governor General's Award-winner recalled that morning seven decades later, at age 81. (MacLennan died in 1990 at 83.)

IN THE WINTER OF 1917, the south-end schools of Halifax didn’t start until 9:30 a.m. to save electricity. So when the explosion occurred at three minutes after nine, on Dec. 1, I wasn’t yet in the classroom where I would normally be. My first thought was that it was a bomb. I had been tending the furnace at home when I felt this terrific shock. That was the first thing. Then I raced upstairs to a bay window, where I saw all these objects flying through the air. The whole floor jumped up then, and all the windows came in, and my pants split open, even though I wasn’t touched by anything. If I had been four steps forward of where I was, my head would have been knocked off.The complete northwest side of our house buckled. My mother thought it was an air raid, so she herded us all down to the basement.

Then, I ventured outside, and the streets were absolutely empty. Not a soul around. Suddenly, one of those trucks that had solid wheels at that time came careening down. This was opposite the Public Gardens. It was reeling from side to side and there was a man in the tailgate with both hands on his face and blood squirting out between his fingers. The truck hit a tree and he was thrown out. I ran over, but he was dead, and the person driving the truck was also dead.

A wonderful thing did happen at Camp Hill Military Hospital, where the wards were. That hospital was about a quarter of a mile long, and when the first shock came, every soldier in every bed knew what it was.They had heard plenty of explosions before. Every one of them rolled out of their beds instinctively, and went under them, at the same time shouting to the doctors and nurses to do the same. Then the windows burst inward with the glass shards flying in all directions. Not a single person in those wards was injured. It still amazes me when I think of it.

Tears for Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Scholar, diplomat, economist, adviser to successive presidents and author of more than 30 books, John Kenneth Galbraith has been called “Harvard University’s most famous professor.” An American citizen since 1937, the 91-year-old Galbraith retains strong memories of growing up in Elgin County in southern Ontario. Here, he recalls the local reaction to the death of Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1919—and impressions of Laurier’s successor, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

IN MY DAY, THE SCOTCH of Ontario were fiercely Liberal, a reaction to the fact that people of English heritage were Conservatives. My father was an enormous admirer of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. When he died, I remember the neighbours all came spontaneously to our house, and grown men were in tears. It was something, really, when you think of it, all those devout Scotch mourning the loss of a French-Canadian so deeply.

Shortly after, in about 1919,1 went to listen to William Lyon Mackenzie King making one of his first speeches after he replaced Laurier. One of the virtues of political speeches is that you seldom remember what was said for very long after. What was important was that as Liberals, we just sensed we were in the presence of greatness: King had to be, because he was a Liberal leader.

My father, in the United States, would have been called a political boss. In Canada, he was simply the permanent head of the Liberal party in the riding of West Elgin. In those days, looking for a crowd, a politician would go to an auction sale, where the auctioneer would allow a little time to make a political speech. I went with my father to an auction one day near the Thames River. My father, as there came a pause in the auction, got up on a large manure pile to speak, apologizing profusely for speaking from the Tory platform. I don’t remember the reaction, but I rather think the apology was taken for granted.

In those days, people used to move regularly between Ontario and Michigan, and would cheerfully vote on both sides of the border, for the Liberals on one, and the Democrats on the other. No one ever felt there was anything wrong with that. Rather, they would just say that, for the greater good, they were ensuring that the best men won on both sides of the border.

Feeding the Depression poor

Few countries felt the Great Depression of the 1930s as keenly as Canada. More than one-third of the nations labour force was unemployed as thousands of men crisscrossed the country, often hitching rides on freight cars, in search of work. Marion Jamieson, 80, remembers how her community of Carleton Place, Ont., 47 km west of Ottawa, reacted when these men came knocking.

CARLETON PLACE WAS THE TYPE of place people didn't lock their doors, a close-knit Irish-Scottish settlement right on the railroad, and a junction town. In summers, unemployed men would go west to look for harvesting work by riding the rails. We never really knew where they were coming from, but they stopped to transfer onto trains going west. We always had people coming to the door. My mother would set up tables on the back verandah because we didn’t know them—they were perfect strangers—so we’d feed the men out back. We put out whatever we were having—sandwiches, some soup. All the men were offering to mow the lawn or chop wood. They weren’t sponges. Whatever needed to be done, they would offer to do for a meal. They were so hungry.

My mother and aunt would make great big wash boilers full of vegetables and soup bone to ladle to people. One thing that the Depression taught me was how vulnerable people were, and people shared what they could. You were aware when you were more fortunate than your neighbours, but you helped each other. It made you a little more understanding that people could go through hard times through no fault of their own. Those were hard times, but they were gentler than now.

Weaving the safety net

Mitchell Sharp, now 88 and an adviser to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, first came to Ottawa from his native Winnipeg in January, 1942, to work in the federal finance department. By the end of the Second World War, he was an assistant deputy minister, and later, as a Liberal politician, held a variety of portfolios, including External Affairs and Finance. Here, he recounts the mood in wartime Ottawa—and how the “New Canada” began.

BEFORE THE WAR, governing Canada was the business of a very small group of people, and it was not complicated. The war changed everything. We had a real sense of mission. Our job was twofold: to carry the war successfully—there was no consideration of losing—and to plan the postwar period. That was when we first discussed family allowances. The motivation was not only to give women some money, but to stabilize wages. As well, we had the first discussions about things like old age pensions and unemployment insurance. Until then, the only support that existed was that, at age 70, a man or woman could get $25 a month from the provinces—on condition they had nothing else, no car or house.

We all felt we were planning a New Canada in a whole new world. We looked at the idea of a universal pension. I remember when it went through, I went to [minister of national health and welfare] Paul Martin, who was a big supporter of increased benefits, and said: “Paul, you must be feeling pretty good about this— $40 a month for everyone, and no means test.” He just looked back at me and said: “Mitchell, now I want medicare.”

The gangsters of Saskatoon

In the 1920s, during American Prohibition, Moose Jaw, Sask., became known as “Little Chicago. ” Notorious gangsters like Al Capone and his henchman “Diamond” Jim Brady often visited the Prairie city of14,000 and its easy supply of alcohol that was linked by rail to Chicago. Among those who encountered the American gangsters was barber Bill Beamish, who cut Capone's hair. Beamish died in 1972, but his daughter, Nancy Gray, remembers the legends.

DAD HAD CUSTOMERS WHO came almost daily for their shave-and-hot-towels service. There were three chairs and a shoeshine stand. He would work eight to 10 hours in the shop and then he would take his black bag, similar to a doctor’s bag, and make house calls. He had his regulars, like the two Canadian Pacific Railway presidents who wanted to be groomed in their private cars.

He was summoned more than once to the city’s underground tunnels to give Al Capone a haircut. Somebody would come by the shop in the day and say that Al needed his services and then an evening time would be arranged. Dad said he was well paid for his services and for his confidentiality.

He waited until he knew that Capone was dead [1947] before he ever told anyone. He told my older brother in a very matter-of-fact way. He never elaborated. He never even told my mother. My father really could keep a confidence.

Those underground tunnels were a holdover from earlier days and thought to have been built by illegal Chinese immigrants who used them as hideouts while they tried to raise the $500 head tax. Later, bootleggers expanded the tunnels to suit their own purposes. Laurence Mullin, now 89, encountered this underworld as a child.

THERE WERE FIVE OF US BOYS who had a paper stand at the corner of River and Main. The police chief would come along and stop his horse and make a remark like, "There's going to be a storm." That meant there was going to be a raid. We would all take off to our tunnels and deliver the message.

Every time we took a trip into the tunnels we would make 10 cents or a quarter. You couldn’t see in them because it was so dark. The space was just big enough for boys to crawl through them. The floor was dirt. At the end of the tunnel, there would be a door with a cover over it and you had to tap on it to let them know you were there.

Sometimes, I’d stay in the gambling rooms but the smoke would be so thick you could hardly see. That’s where I met Diamond Jim Brady. He was good to us boys, the kind of man that I always thought I’d like to be. He dressed in fancy grey suits. He looked real good. He had nice shiny shoes and two diamonds in his front teeth that sparkled.

The odd time, he would get up from the table and talk to us. He mostly instructed us to follow the straight and narrow path, and not to make the choices that he did. He told us not to smoke and not to drink.

I saw him again a few years later when I was hauling booze down to North Dakota. He was playing cards when he recognized me and said: “I hope you’re not in this racket. Quit while you’re ahead.” So I did, and became a farmer.

Alberta’s liquid gold

It was the day that changed Alberta’s modern destiny—from a have-not province to one of Canada’s economic powerhouses. On Feb. 13, 1947, Imperial Oil, which had already drilled 133 dry holes in Western Canada, finally hit the mother lode. Shortly after 4p.m., the Leduc No. 1 drilling rig 24 km southwest of Edmonton, roared into existence, sending forth a mushroom cloud of smoke and flame over the rapidly darkening prairie sky. Ben Owre, now 80, worked the Leduc No. 1 rig that historic day.

IT WAS COLDER than hell. We had swabbed out the hole and then the oil started coming out. It came maybe 10 or 15 feet into the derrick and we just shut the valve and let it blow. We switched it into the flare line and lit it. There was a helluva fire. The fire went right up and there were great big smoke rings that blew into the air—oh, maybe 50 or 60 feet wide. Perfect smoke rings, like my Dad used to blow with his pipe.

Everyone was pretty excited. After all, we had drilled all these holes that were dry, eh? But we didn’t realize it was as important as it turned out to be. All of a sudden, there were pipelines going in all over the countryside, and drilling rigs popping up here, there and everywhere. It expanded way north of Edmonton, into the Peace River area. All the time, we were opening up new country, new roads. Farms and homesteads opened up where before there was nothing but bush. Every company, every business around, boomed. It made millionaires out of a lot of people. I wasn’t one of them.

IT WAS VERY SCARY. We had no food or water. It was getting harder to breathe.’

A Yes vote in a plebiscite to join Canada

After two raucous referendum campaigns, Newfoundlanders on July 22,1948, voted narrowly in favour of Confederation with Canada. A negotiating team, including pro-Confederate leader Joey Smallwood, later Newfoundland’s first provincial premier, then went to Ottawa to bargain the Terms of Union under which Newfoundland would become Canada’s 10th province. Agreement was reached in December of that year, and 3 V2 months later, on March 31,1949, Newfoundland officially joined Canada. Gordon Winter, now 87, is the last surviving member of the seven-man Newfoundland bargaining team and, in that sense, the last living Father of Confederation.

SMALLWOOD WAS THE MOST AVARICIOUS of all of us because he figured he was going to be premier and wanted every concession he could get. I was committed to sign the Terms of Union with Canada because the people had voted and that was what they wanted. But the thing had to work-1 wasn’t going to sign and come home and find out that it is a first-class mess because the arrangements were not going to work. Over and above that, if the federal government had said, “When you come into Confederation, you’ve got to give Labrador to Quebec,” we would unanimously have packed our bags and said, “Thank you very much, but we are not going to agree with that.”

After we signed the Terms of Union in the Senate chamber, former prime minister Mackenzie King turned up for the party. He knew Smallwood, but he had never met me. He said, “Well now, Mr. Winter, you must be proud of what you’ve achieved.” And I said, “Yes sir, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but I’m going home to a family business which is run by my father who is staunchly anti-Confederate and all my business associates in St. John's are all anti-Confederate, so it is not a place I am going back to with great joy and glee for that reason' And Mr. King said to me, "Well, I'm an old man now, but I would say this to you: With all the years of my life I've never known anything worthwhile that was achieved other than in the face of very considerable opposition."

Dad put the Union Jack at half-mast, but he wasn’t the only one in St. John’s who did that. Certain people were wearing black armbands and the archbishop of St. John’s cast a pall over the whole thing because of his implacable opposition.

Nothing in this world is ever done perfectly, certainly nothing politically. Politics is the art of the possible and that was the only way it was possible to do it at that time. In this case, the end did justify the means.

Fighting for the Maple Leaf

In 1964, Tom Earle covered the six months of bitter debate on the proposed new Canadian fagas the CBC’s senior parliamentary radio reporter. Earle, now 72, remembers the Feb. 15, 1965, Parliament Hill ceremony when the Maple Leaf finally replaced the Red Ensign.

BY THE TIME THE NEW FLAG was unveiled, I was fed up with the never-ending opposition of John Diefenbaker, as I suspect were many in the PC party. Diefenbaker was a natural leader of the Opposition—always fighting ghosts and making prime minister [Lester] Pearson’s life a living hell. The flag issue fitted in perfectly with their mutual dislike of one another.

It was a chilly day, but a crowd of about 10,000 still gathered to watch the raising of the flag in front of the Parliament Buildings. Inside, in the Centre Blocks Hall of Fame, Pearson said: “AÍ Canadians, as good patriots, will fly with pride our national flag.” Everyone’s eyes were on Diefenbaker and when the flag was finally hoisted, Diefenbaker dabbed his eyes, wiping away tears at the loss of the old Red Ensign. Diefenbaker called the new flag “Pearson’s Pennant.”

There was such emotion on that day. Pearson said: “God bless our flag—and God bless Canada.” At last, it was over.

The 1956 Springhill disaster

Two years before the Springhill disaster of1958 that captured international attention and killed 74people, Ken Melanson, now a 62-year-old underground supervisor at the Springhill Miner’s Museum, was caught in another tragedy at the Nova Scotia mine. Thirty-nine people died in that tragic accident on the afternoon of Nov. 1, 1956.

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL INDIAN SUMMER DAY. I was working at the west wall at the 5,700-foot level. At seven minutes after five, the mine exploded and sent a huge ball of fire up to the surface, blowing the buildings. It killed several men above and many in the mine, and trapped us below the fire. I was 19 and scared. Thank goodness among us was an old miner who had survived an earlier explosion. He came up with an idea. The mine was full of damp, dark gas and getting very heavy, but there was compressed air that wasn’t affected because it was on a different slope. He hooked an air hose up to that level, and we cut notches in it to breathe and that kept us alive.

We were down there from Thursday until Monday morning. It was very scary. We had no food or water. Most of our lights burned out. It was getting harder to breathe. I had little hope of getting out, especially when some of the miners began writing their wills out.

There were over 50 where I was. I’m not that religious, but I guess everybody prayed down in the mine. There was one fella, he went insane. We had a couple in there had been gassed bad and never even knew they were in the mine, but they survived. I lay down there and would think: “If I could just see that blue sky again and breathe that nice clean air.” How little money and everything mean when you are buried down in a place like that.

The general manager made a press statement on Saturday morning that in all probability there was no life below. But there was a gentleman up above watching the air gauge and he saw it fluctuate and said that there were men alive. Later that Saturday morning, the dragger men found one gentleman who was alive at a level above us and they got to him and he said there was life below.

I got out on Monday morning, I went for my pay on Thursday, and I had been paid one hour’s pay for being trapped in a mine since the last Thursday.

Fondly remembering René

From 1963 to 1966, Montrealer Eric Kierans, now 85, served in the Quebec Liberal cabinet of Jean Lesage alongside future separatist premier René Lévesque. After the Liberals lost the 1967election, he pushed through an anti-separatist motion at the party’s annual convention, which effectively drove Lévesque out of the party.

IN 1963, WHEN I WAS president of the Montreal Stock Exchange, I gave a speech in Windsor, Ont. One fellow criticized [natural resources minister] Levesque and Quebec. And he was very racial about it. So I went for his throat, saying that he didn’t understand that there were two founding nations and that things had worked pretty well until the Second World War, when the financial power was put into executive hands at the federal level. A newspaper carried a story about how I had stuck up so aggressively for Lévesque. And that afternoon, he called. We went for a helluva good lunch. He was surprised to discover that an Anglo understood how Ottawa had unilaterally broken the Constitution by keeping the income tax revenues that the provinces had temporarily turned over during the Second World War. It was not an emotional argument: it was rational. We became close.

Why then did we break? Well, Lévesque always knew that I believed the situation with Ottawa had to be rectified. But he also knew that I said: “Look, if Quebec separates, that will break up the country. And this is too good a country—and it is going to get better and better. So the one thing that I will not accept is to have it broken up.”

But Ottawa had manipulated things so that it was always nine provinces against one. René’s attitude really began to change in early 1966 when he was social affairs minister and I was health minister and we went to a federal-provincial meeting. Every level of government was running the welfare system—cities, provinces, Ottawa. Al we said was: “We want the administration to be in one place—and our recommendation would be with us.” Ottawa wouldn’t even consider our request. From then on, he didn’t trust the feds on anything.

In the summer of 1967, he began to meet with others to discuss separation. I got a phone call from a reporter who told me what they were demanding. I said: “There is no way that the Liberal party is going to do that.” I decided to call Lesage. He seemed ambivalent. Finally, I said: “Jean, we had better settle this once and for all. Ae you Canadian, yes or no?” There was a silence. Then he said: “Of course I am.”

At the party convention in mid-October, I gave a speech saying: “We are at the point now where we have to say what we stand for and we have to lay down clear lines of conduct. It is understood that others will have different ideas. But they will not use the Liberal party as their weapon in order to break up this country. Let them go out and dig their own trenches.” René was standing at the back. There were about 1,000 people there, but I was looking at him. And everybody knew it. He left. The vote was actually on a procedural issue in order to test our strength. It went about 800 to 50. It was a landslide. Lévesque resigned from the party.

But we always remained friends. At the national assembly, when he was an independent member, we would go and have a beer and talk. And I remember that in 1975 he was very discouraged so he asked me to lunch. He said: “My problem is that I don’t know whether to go back to journalism or what I should do.” Then he said: “If I did quit, who do you think would be the best replacement?” He gave me about half a dozen names. [Business professor and Parti Québécois financial guru Jacques] Parizeau wasn’t one of them. I asked about him. No, no. René wouldn’t consider Parizeau.

Regrets over the War Measures Act

On Oct. 5, 1970, members of the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped the British trade commissioner in Montreal, James Cross. Five days later, another FLQ cell kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. The Quebec government appealed to Ottawa for help, and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, citing an “apprehended insurrection, ” invoked the wide-reaching War Measures Act, the first time the law had been used in peacetime. Under the act, many civil liberties were suspended and more than 450people were arrested and detained without charges. Robert Stanfield was leader of the Opposition during the October Crisis and, in a November, 1986, interview, he voiced regret about his own actions at the time.

ONE NIGHT, AFTER THE HOUSE, Mr. Trudeau invited the NDP leader [Tommy Douglas] and my-self and [Créditiste leader Real] Caouette to go to his office. He told us that they had decided to impose the War Measures Act and that they were going to introduce a resolution in the House the next day. This took me completely by surprise. He stated in general terms why they were going to do this— the menace they thought there was and why they thought it was necessary, but in very general terms.

Mr. Trudeau made an explanation to the nation on TV that night and I spoke following him, and I said we wanted, in effect, more information. I did not come out against the imposition of the War Measures Act, but I expressed in the House and on TV the many concerns about it.

Then, Pierre Laporte was killed, and this intensified the emotions. I was getting telegrams and phone calls from people in Quebec, particularly English-speaking people, saying obviously I did not understand what was going on, the menace, and so on.

I remember any time I would go into Ontario, I would be surprised by what I considered to be the small importance Canadians seemed to attach to civil liberties and the willingness with which they were prepared to see the government kick Quebecers around.

Anyway, it became pretty clear, particularly following the death of Laporte, and I think we might have also said that in view of the assurances of the government that it would in due course make available the information on which its decisions were based, that we would let it go through. Much to my annoyance, the government never gave the information. It became increasingly clear as time went on that there were very few people in Quebec involved in this violence, a few cells, mostly kids, young people. There was nothing really to indicate that there was ammunition piled in the sense that spokesmen for the government talked about. In other words, the information the government said it had, which, if it were free to give, would convince us all, in fact, did not exist. The government and the police really had very little information as to what was going on. I think one of the reasons the government moved was because they did not know what was going on. I think that was not a very satisfactory reason for suspending civil liberties.

I wish personally I had done what [deputy NDP leader] David Lewis and Tommy Douglas and those fellows did. They voted for their convictions. I guess I put concerns about the party a little far forward.

Imprisoned without rights

Robert Lemieux was one of more than 450 Quebecers detained under the War Measures Act during the 1970 October Crisis. Of those jailed, most were released within two weeks without being charged, or if charged, without having the charges heard. But Lemieux, then a 29-year-old Montreal lawyer who had represented FLQ members, spent four months in jail before being set free. Now 58, Lemieux practices law in Sept-Iles, 725 km east of Montreal.

THE POLICE ARRIVED in the middle of the night. I was in my apartment at the Nelson Hotel where I lived, 30 seconds from the courthouse. They came in the night without explanation.

We arrived at the basement of Parthenais prison. We were held 21 days without any communication with the outside, without a radio, without clothes. The lights were on 24 hours a day. It was hell in terms of imprisonment. It was a downtown building with 14 floors. The last three were a prison—there is no outdoor court.

They said it was the War Measures Act so we didn’t have the right to appear in front of a judge within 24 hours. We didn’t have the right to post bond. We didn’t have the right to be informed of the grounds for our arrest. You can’t imagine anything more arbitrary.

They had five of us appear in court for a conspiracy to overthrow the two governments (Quebec and Ottawa) from 1968 to 1970. The case was thrown out. There remained against us charges of having been members of the FLQ under the War Measures Act. Finally, we were set free on bail on the remaining charges four months later. And we never underwent our trial because they never proceeded with those charges.

Banquet diplomacy

While at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar during the 1920s, Roland Mich ener—who died in 1991 at age 91— became friends with Lester Pearson. Nearly half a century later, Pearson appointed his old friend as governor general. Lt was 1967, Centennial Year, and that summers Expo 67 brought a steady stream of foreign dignitaries to Montreal and Ottawa. These official visitors were wined and dined according to protocols that took their toll on at least one host. In July, 1976, Michener recalled the prime ministers reaction to the formal entertainment.

PEARSON USED TO complain about having to eat so many dinners. He had to come to my dinners. He was duty-bound. And I gave a dinner for every head of state, so there were about 20 dinners. And if it wasn’t a head of state, I gave a lunch and Pearson gave the dinner. That was the protocol. So that he had to eat two meals for every guest, and I had to eat only one. I didn’t have to go to his lunch or dinner as the case might be, but he had to come to mine. And I remember one night we were having dinner, and I always had the [visitors] wife on my right and my wife had the visiting head of government or state on her right, Pearson on her left, and Maryon Pearson on my left. And they brought in a beef Wellington, a great big chunk of beef all covered with pastry, and Pearson said: “Oh, Your Excellency, not again!” He said: “I love it, I can’t resist it, but I eat too much for my country.”

‘The helicopter said it had lost her off the radar’

Early in the morning of Feb. 15,1982, the world's largest offshore oil drilling rig, the Ocean Ranger, disappeared beneath the seas some 315 km east of St. John’s, Nfld., after being buffeted by nearly 18-m waves and winds of 145 km/h. All 84 people aboard perished, and the tragedy remains the worst In offshore oil drilling history. Just eight kilometres away was John Whelan, then a 22-year-old radio operator on the SEDCO 706 rig. Whelan, now a radio operator on the Hibernia platform, vividly remembers the horrific storm.

IT STARTED OFF BEING A NICE, CALM DAY. By late afternoon, we started getting into a storm, which by 6:30 had developed into a major storm with some really huge seas. Around 11:30—I had to get up and work at 5:30 that next morning-1 went into my room, which was adjacent to the radio room, and tried to get some sleep. The night radio operator came in around 12:30 and told me that the Ocean Ranger was transmitting mayday distress calls.

I came out and attempted to contact the Ocean Ranger on the radio and there was no response. So we started to relay their mayday distress to all other stations and we contacted our offices and set up satellite lines to shore. Our helicopter contractor had been notified and they were getting a couple of flights in the air. The first arrived around quarter after one, and at that point they did have the Ocean Ranger on radar.

We were working out a scenario where the helicopter would go and land and pick up 20 people and come to our rig and go back and take 20, and there was another flight coming up after him that would go and take 20 and go to another rig. A couple of minutes later, the helicopter pilot called and asked if we could get the supply boat to go in and check and see if she’s landable. So the supply boat went in and said she had a very severe list, but it was still possible to land the helicopter. We went ahead with our plan, and about five minutes later the helicopter came back and said that it had lost her off the radar.

There was a pretty solemn mood in the room.The whole hallway was lined with people; everybody on the rig was up listening. I had a lot of really good friends there.There were supply boats en route to the field. At that time, there could have been lifeboats and rafts with survivors. We were very much into a search-and-rescue mode.

I was on the job for the next 24 hours. Around 6 o’clock that morning, we recovered the first body, and at that time we had four search-and-rescue helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft and coastguard boats. We did a major search of the area. We managed to recover 22 by that evening.

I’ve been out in plenty of bad weather since, but I’ve never been out in a storm that would equal that.

The scary market crash of October, 1987

Investment banker Tom Kierans, 59, was the president of McLeod Young Weir Ltd, now ScotiaMcLeod Inc., during the October, 1987, stock-market plummet. In one week, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 13 per cent; the Toronto Stock Exchanges 300 composite index toppled more than 14per cent—slicing a breathtaking $47 billion from the value of Canadian stocks. Kierans remembers Black Monday, Oct. 19, when the Dow Jones lost 22.6per cent of its value, nearly double the Oct. 28, 1929, loss that triggered the Great Depression.

IT WAS PANDEMONIUM. It was the biggest meltdown since 1929. What happened is that we didn't have a market: to have a market, you have to have buyers and sellers. And all we had were sellers. The bottom was falling right out of the market. So I walked the floors, all the time, calming down the brokers because they had to advise their clients. One afternoon, the lights flickered—and I think it was the New York Stock Exchange that shut down. It was the “triple witching hour”: the time of the week when people who traded derivatives had to settle up. And there was so much selling of shares that the market couldn’t handle it. It shut down. This was beyond anybody’s experience. We had never seen anything happen like this. There was dead silence for about 30 seconds. People just held their breath and stared at the board. The fear was palpable.

'WE HAD A JOB TO DO, but some fishermen were overcome by their emotions’

Fourteen innocent women

On Dec. 6, 1989, 22-year-old engineering student Heidi Rathjen hid in a darkened student lounge at the University of Montreal’s Ecole polytechnique during Marc Lépine’s shooting rampage. “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists, ” the reclusive 25-year-old yelled before opening fire on female students in a classroom. Lépine killed 14 women, including 12 engineering students—and wounded 13 others before killing himself. It remains the worst shooting massacre in Canadian history. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Rathjen, now 32, co-founded the Coalition for Gun Control with Toronto university professor Wendy Cukier. After years of lobbying, they helped persuade Ottawa to adopt tougher gun legislation in 1995. She remembers the tragedy.

I PULLED OUTA REPORT for school that I had to do and started working on it in the student lounge. And then a guy came in and

just said: “There’s a guy with a gun, there’s a guy with a gun.” We just didn’t believe it. But then we started hearing gunshots. Somebody called the police. And we just waited and waited and waited. Sometimes the shots were close. Sometimes they were far. Sometimes there was silence, until the police escorted us out 43 minutes later. There were the police, and blood on the floor, but I could not bring myself to believe anybody had been seriously hurt, much less killed.

It was only when we went over to my friend’s apartment right after to watch the news that we started believing that something terrible had happened. I think it really struck me when I recognized two names of girls I knew on the list of deceased. I knew these girls and they were just like me. And I sat where they sat and I studied what they studied. That’s where the depth of this tragedy sunk in.

Swissair Flight 111

On Sept. 2, 1998, Robert Conrad rose before dawn, boarded his boat, The Jubilee, and spent a busy day fishing of Peggys Cove in Nova Scotia. It was after 9 p. m. when the 52-year-old commercial tuna fisherman finally returned home. About an hour and a half later, Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the same waters, killing all 229 people aboard.

I JUST CAME IN AND PLOPPED DOWN in the TV room, and in no time I was out. It was about two hours afterwards that a newscast awakened me. Then, as I became aware of the details, it became apparent that this tragedy was large and it was in our backyard. By that time, it would have been getting on towards midnight. It took me a 10-minute drive to get to my boat. I just left the cove and started looking where the accident may have occurred. Boats were congregating in certain areas. We proceeded for survivors first, but it very quickly became a search for victims. I think there were 16 or 18 that night.

It was a mechanical thing at first. We had a job to do and we did it. But some fishermen were overcome by their emotions. The memory that will be with all the fishermen is the terrible mangling that occurred with the victims—it was not pleasant and not something you want to describe, and you try to forget it, but you cant.

I wanted to be there for a purpose, which was simply finding a victim and being there for that person—in my case a litte child—to grasp that little body in my arms and be with it. That seemed to take much of the edge out of the horror. There was a tender time as well as a horrible time.

I was there until about dawn. I wasn’t impacted until returning to port. Then the emotions began to surface. I remember my first emotion was one of tremendous anger. I didn’t know at what or whom. I was just extremely angry and didn’t understand why. When I began to be aware of this tremendous anger, as a Christian, I began to think: “I know who is responsible for this in the long haul. This is Lucifer, the arch-enemy,” and I still feel that way. The other emotion, profound sorrow, persists to this day.

In one way, it has been a good experience: it has taught me, and I’m sure many, many others, to take a little closer look at what life is all about.

Rejoicing for the birth of a new territory

After a quarter of a century of patient, dogged negotiations, the 26,000 residents of Canada’s eastern and central Arctic celebrated the birth of the new territory of Nunavut (meaning “our land” in Inuktitut) on April 1, 1999. And no one had more reason to celebrate than Nunavut’s first premier, Paul Okalik. For the 35-year-old Inuk, April 1 was the culmination of a dizzying few months. On Feb. 12, Okalik was called to the bar; three days later, he won a seat in the first Nunavut legislature. Then, on March 5, Nunavut’s 18 other MLAs elected him territorial premier. Okalik relives the day Nunavut was born.

THERE WAS A LOT OF PRIDE and a lot of joy. We knew from this day on, we would have our own government and that we would be able to do things differently to help our people. As one of the elders said: “You are not dreaming anymore; you are living that dream.”

It took me a long time to come up with the speech I gave that day. It was difficult to find the right words to express the gratitude we felt for the people who had gone before us and also to look to the future and let the world know where we were headed. We are the poorest jurisdiction in Canada, but also the largest in terms of land size. We have the highest unemployment in the country. We have mineral and fisheries potential that are largely untapped. If we can develop those resources, I’m sure we can do quite well. And once you start to do that, a lot of the other problems begin to go away.