Hip and tragic at the same time

Last night was a remarkable evening in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The Tragically Hip – a home-town band that gained national popularity and became a Canadian treasure had a nationally televised concert will likely be their last.   Lead singer, Gord Downie,  diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, led the band on a sort of “last stand” tour across Canada that culminated in the final concert in Kingston on August 20.

The arena was full and the downtown core in Kingston was packed – really packed – with people from far and wide who watched and sang and danced to the concert streamed live on a large screen in Market Square.   Similar gatherings were held across the country.  This was a big deal for Canadians.

Three things stood out for me about this event.

Pano2Firstly, this had the potential to be a huge security risk.  Over 25,000 people jammed into a market square and flowing into the neighbouring streets and the Prime Minister glad-handing people in the street would not only be a terrorist’s dream in some places but the potential for a few drunk yahoo’s to disrupt it was almost unavoidable.   But it didn’t happen.  The crowd was orderly and … Canadian.   Yes there was the occasional, or not so occasional, waft of marijuana.  But that only led to more singing and dancing and air-guitaring.  There was security around but not that evident. No guns on display.  People checking bags at the entry points to the venue were wearing t-shirts, not uniforms.  Everyone was polite. The energy was all celebratory.

PMSecondly, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau,  an acknowledged Hip fan was there to celebrate with us.  He walked through the mob in Market Square just before the concert and shook hands and took selfies and smiled in his jean jacket and Tragic
ally Hip T-shirt.  His visage only appeared once on the TV screen during the concert when Downie acknowledged him.  And the grip Trudeau has on Downie’s shoulder in the photo of them hugging before the concert was real.

Enlight1Last, but not least, was the courage and determination and resolution that Gord Downie showed in not wallowing in his sorrow and illness but living life to the fullest despite a dismal prognosis.  I was tired from standing the three hours for the concert in the square., How exhausted must he have been after dancing and singing his way through the concert, the last of several this month, despite his recent surgery, radiation and chemo treatments for his cancer.  This, to me, was really something incredible and an example to all of us not to give in to our troubles, but to live every moment fiercely.  We are all dying at some point.

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”  Buddha



I’m back

I have been on a bit of a blogging holiday for the past couple of months.  Not like me, is it, to run out of things to say.

Maybe I thought that you needed a break as well. A summer break.

But I am back and will try to catch up.  Photos and reflections. Kingston, Canada and beyond.

Stay tuned.  I am waking up from my summertime hiatus.  Back.  But hopefully lacking vengeance.

How to enjoy summery weather in Toronto

Although the end of May in Canada is not usually thought of as summer, this week has had spectacular weather and we are all emerging from hibernation in shorts and sandals and sunscreen.

I am to work in Toronto for the next few days.  One might think that the heart of the city is not the place to be in 29 degree weather but Toronto’s waterfront offers a delightful opportunity to inaugurate summer.

I ventured along the Harbourfont and ended up with a beer or three in a big Muskoka chair (Canadians will know what this is) on the patio of  a busy establishment called Amsterdam.  Last year I had sat in the same place and ended up having a great conversation with a guy who was traveling from Italy to North Amercia for the first time.  After a couple of beers we ended up wandering through the downtown so I could point out some of the landmarks.  Federico is still a Facebook friend and I will send him this so he can recall our visit.  

Enjoying a summer refeshment wit h a new acquaintance from Brazil.

This year there were four guys from Brazil sitting next to me.  One was visiting and three had recently moved to Canada. One was a musician and another a resident in cardiovascular surgery at U of T.   We shared some drinks and lots of conversation. I liked hearing about Brazil and they found me somewhat unique – a born and bred Canadian in Toronto where almost everyone has a different ethnic background or is an immigrant.  (I heard this week that there are 142 mother tongues spoken in Toronto apart from English and French.) Diego, the lawyer from Brazil, talked me into getting a Go-pro camera.  Usually this kind of camera is used to video sports activities like skiing or windsurfing or sky-diving.  Not sure if a video of me walking to Starbucks will be as exciting.
One of our main topics was the huge yacht that was tied up right in front of us.  The name of the boat was Big Eagle and under the name it said “Kingston”. Not Kingston Ontario for sure.   Turns out this 52 meter (172 ft) yacht, flying the flag of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is privately owned, had come from Florida and was heading to Chicago.  We googled the boat to find that it sleeps 14, has a crew of 10 and rents for $140,000 a week plus expenses, which might include filling the 104,000 liter fuel tank.  You can find it’s current position here

On my way back to my hotel, I grabbed a Beavertail, my favourite being the one with sugar and cinnamon and lemon.  Can’t get much more Canadian than eating a Beavertail under the CN Tower. 

Throwing way back this Thursday…

In the past couple of weeks I have been finding lots of information about my 8th great grandfather – that is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.  That’s a lot of great’s!


My eighth great grandfather was baptized in this church in 1611.

His name was Robert Jordan.  Born in England in 1611, five years before the King James version of the Bible was printed. He was baptized in St Swithun’s Church, Worcester, England on January 12, 1611. This church still stands (having been renovated several times) and the church tower dates from the time of Robert Jordan.  He was well educated, graduating from Oxford university in 1632. I am not really sure if he actually graduated since he was only 19 but he is listed on the Oxford University Alumni list in that year.   When both his parents died of plague in 1637 he cashed in his inheritance and set out for North America, landing on the coast of what now is Maine. Somehow in all of this he also became a priest with the Church of England although there is some speculation about whether he was really qualified for this.

He ended up at Richmond Island, not far north from what is now Portland Maine.  There he quickly became the local Church of England cleric.  He soon married Sarah Winter.  Now Sarah was the only daughter of John Winter, a businessman who managed the shipping business of a local landowner.  It seems that Mr. Winter was anxious to marry his daughter off to someone respectable and when the previous minister set his amorous sites on another woman, Winter basically had  him fired.  When Robert Jordan arrived he was fair game.

But it would also seem that Robert had some ambition to become better financially connected so Sarah was a prize all around.

Soon after  Robert Jordan was named executor of Winter’s will, the businessman died. Jordan wasted not time in scooping up property and an inheritance that left him well off for the rest of his days.  It is intriguing to see my 8th great grandfather’s signature on a court document from 1663.

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This is the baptismal font brought to North America by Robert Jordan in 1637.

He was also no stranger to controversy.  Despite being warned by the local Puritan community not to “practice”  his Church of England clerical role, he continued to baptize and marry people using the Book of Common Prayer.  For these actions he was charged and jailed twice, in 1654 and 1663.  The baptismal font that he brought with him from England in 1637 is currently on display at the Portland museum.

He saved a woman from being killed as being a witch sometime before the Salem witch trials of 1992.  It seems that the Puritans of the district were pretty much convinced of the evil acts of some women they labeled as witches


Rev Robert and Sarah Jordan lived in this house in New Castle, New Hampshire.

Robert and Sarah had a eight children, one of whom was Dominicus Jordan, my 7th great grandfather.  He, too, has an interesting history, ending up being scalped by Indians and his family kidnapped to Quebec.  Another story.

The district where Robert ended up owning a large plantation was overwhelmed by Indians (they had not come up with the Native American term yet) and Robert and Sarah had to move to  New Hampshire for safety. The home where he and Sarah lived (39 Wentworth Road, New Castle, New Hampshire) still stands. He died there in 1679 at age 68 (the age I am now).


The Jordan family      Coat of Arms.

There are now hundreds of descendants of Robert and Sarah living around the world.  There is even a Family Trust set up in their name by their very extended family.  Story has it that the Jordan name originated when Richard the Lion-hearted awarded the name to  Sir William Deardon, a 12th Century knight,  for bravery during the Crusades (and at the Jordan River).  He was apparently knocked off his horse but bounced up to overcome his opponent.  Hence the Latin Motto on the Jordan  Coat of Arms – Percussa resurgo – Struck down, I arise.   Reminds me of Corey Hart’s Never Surrender.   Not a bad motto.




It’s not just about toilets…

A couple of weeks ago I inadvertently got caught up in the toilet/gender furor that has been making the news. Sort of.

IMG_3822 copyMy friend, Pierre, was in town and it was a wonderful spring afternoon. We sat on a patio with a pitcher of beer and then decided to take a walk along the lakeshore.  Soon I realized that the beer was making its way to my bladder and a stop would be necessary.  Unfortunately, the washrooms by the park were closed.

“No matter,” I said, “There are washrooms in the hospital across the street. Let’s head there.  Quickly.”

We bounded into the hallway behind the hospital lobby and  there were some washroom doors ahead. I glanced at the sign above one of the open doors and thought that the hospital must be providing gender neutral or shared washrooms.  Right with the times. No matter to me, I was in a hurry so I scooted into the toilet.  Pierre, a few paces behind me, said he would use the washroom as well.T header

I went into one of the two stalls and quickly started to use the toilet.  I heard (what I thought was) Pierre come in behind me and enter the adjacent stall.

“I was ready to explode,” I uttered over the washroom stall wall.

No answer.

“Guess this is like a transgendered washroom.  We are right up with the times.”

No answer.

I started to think that something was wrong here.  The person in the next stall was awfully quiet and I imaging cowering by that time.

toilet2I zipped up and went out into the hall to find Pierre standing there.  “I used the Men’s washroom,” he said, pointing to the sign on the wall beside the door I had just emerged from.

In my hurry, I had bounded into the women’s washroom.

We left quickly.

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Now this has amused me but also has made me think about all the furor over the laws to restrict use of washrooms in North Carolina (and some other states) for transgendered people.  It astounds me that lawmakers can be so wrought up about this.  It also points out just how ignorant these people are about who transgendered people are.

The guy on the left, 29-year-old Benjamin Meltzer is a transgendered man.  With the new law in North Carolina he would be required to use a women’s washroom.


photoThe woman on the right is 33-year-old married trans writer Janet Mock.  Should she have to use a men’s washroom?

The lawmakers who are espousing this law argue that “little girls should not have to be exposed to men dressed up like women in their washrooms.”  This arguement is nothing but stupid. Their daughters might be more traumatized by having someone like Benjamin Meltzer come into the washroom because the law says he must use the washroom that corresponds to his birth gender.

Once again, I am glad to be Canadian.  In contrast to the narrow-minded approach of some US State politicians,  this week our federal Canadian government introduced a bill to ensure rights of transgendered people. This is about human rights, not just gender.  Hooray for our federal government for continuing to take a compassionate approach to minorities and people who might be vulnerable to intolerance. ( I must point out that President Obama  is not one of these narrow-minded thinkers and he must be equally frustrated to hear the rhetoric being spouted by some other politicians.)


I am overdue to take a trip to visit friends who live in North Carolina – wonderful, intelligent, tolerant, understanding people.  But I can not bring myself to drop one tourist dime in that state given their current law.   I am starting to wonder what I might feel  about visiting anywhere in the US if Donald Trump gets elected as president.  I worry about the current political climate in the USA – obviously a lot more than I worry about going into the women’s washroom to relieve myself.




Leaving orange-haired Juror 10 behind

For the past few weeks I have felt like Tobias Fünke.   Tobias, one of the dysfunctional family on Arrested Development, fancies himself an actor and is an understudy for the Blue Man group but he never gets called.  He must, however, always be on the ready, just in case.

For my role as Juror #10 in Twelve Angry Men,  our director wanted me to colour my hair.


As Charlie Aitken in August Osage County with Amie Bello as my dear wife,  Maddie Faye.


Last time I did this for the role of Charlie in August Osage County, everyone thought I looked like a porn star.  People were asking me if I was having a mid-life crisis or had a new girlfriend I was trying to impress.  And despite my barber’s assurance that it would “wash out in a couple of weeks” it took more like three months before I was rid of it.


So for this one, I chose to plaster in colour every night and wash it out after the show.  The colouring turned out a bit more orange than I had originally intended 10 3a_pp crop2but it suited my character, an obnoxious, intolerant, racist, Trumpish fellow who said so many really nasty things about others that it sometimes made the audience squirm with uneasiness.  When one of the other jurors threatened to “split my skull” after I made a bigoted tirade, the audience laughed with relief. They really didn’t like me.

Yesterday, after the show closed, I set out to clean up my bathroom which had red splatters on the walls, looking like someone had been shot in the room.  The bathtub needed scrubbing, too, and I found orange fingerprints on my walls near light switches.  I am throwing out one green shirt that has a collar embedded with orange.  The show is over and this fellow, Juror 10, is being retired.

angrymen2We had a great run with this production.  It was a tight cast with fourteen fellows that all got along and brought different characters to the jury room.  Our director, Claudia Wade, was a loving  and guiding “Mom” to us all and drew out performances that seemed to impress the Domino Theatre audiences.

As usual, after a show closes, the next week or two will seem a bit hollow.  I have been used to four rehearsals a week for the last couple of months and have grown to be great friends with the other 13 guys who made up the cast.   We shall have to plan a reunion soon to yell at each other.



Spring walk in the woods

Saturday May 7 was a delightful sunny spring day, perfect for a walk around Lemoine Point, in Kingston, Ontario.   Trilliums had poked their heads through the leaves, buds were swelling on the trees and the birds were singing enthusiastically.   Here are some photos I took on my walk around the trails.

Sky2aChip 1bullrush1aShore 2bbird2_editWalk in woods

trillium 2

And for a couple of minutes of combined sights and sounds of my walk through the forest press play on the video link below.


Spring reflections in photos -Pt 2

Yesterday I posted some spring photos. Several of the pictures I took had interesting reflection in the smooth lake so I have grouped them together here.  Part 2.  You can see yesterday’s other photos here if you missed them. It delights me that I have been able to take all these photos within about 10 minutes of my home in beautiful downtown Kingston, Ontario.

Island Queen 2

Reflect 1Reflect 2WIFDucks PosterDelta reflect poster


Celebrating Spring in Kingston Ontario

Exactly three weeks ago I posted a blog with some photos I took along the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Kingston. (You can see them here) The lake was still covered in ice – enough, in fact, that people were out playing hockey and walking and ice-boating on the lake.

Today is Easter Sunday  – March 27.  It is a gorgeous sunny day. The ice is gone from all but a few corners of the lake. Folks are out with their kids and their dogs and cameras and even a couple of boats are in the water.  What a difference three weeks makes.

Here are some photos I took today, some of them from precisely where I took pictures of the ice on March 6.  I am happy today to be celebrating spring in Kingston.


Photo 1H



JoggersTime 1SplashHarbourCity hallOntario St

Smiles and tears – Remembering Dennis

I love visiting schools in Africa. The kids are so warm and friendly and joyous and welcoming.  No exception last month when 20 CanAssist supporters visited 10 schools in Kenya  and Uganda on our expedition to CanAssist associate communities.

Our last stop was at Hope for Youth School near Mukono, Uganda.   It was so much fun.  Even though the school was not open yet after a winter break, students (past and present) and teachers and community members came out to greet us and, once again, we were feted with song and dance and even a skit about how CanAssist is helping with latrines and sanitation in Africa.

We were all up dancing and clapping, lead by a young fellow who was a recent graduate of Hope for Youth and now in high school.  With drumming by the students and Dennis Sserugo rhythmically blowing on a whistle we hooted and clapped and danced together. It was joyous.

We were saddened to learn from the school that Dennis was been killed this week in a motor vehicle accident.

Hello John,

With deep sorrow I bring to you sadDennis1_edit news of the passing away o our dear student Dennis Sserugo, the boy who was blowing the whistle in the traditional dance during your recent visit. He was studying in Secondary school and was being sponsored by on family in Nanaimo.

He was hit by a speeding taxi that swayed off the road as he was walking to school with his friends in the morning hours. The taxi ran off and they could not trace it. He did not die instantly, so uncle David, our school administrator did everything possible to rescue Dennis by taking him to Mukono health center where they could not handle him. They referred them to Mulago main referral hospital in Kampala and they were recommended to use an ambulance. Immediately they reached Mulago hospital, Dennis was pronounced dead from internal breeding.

As you may have some knowledge about our systems, getting a car from our village to Mukono health center, then the process of getting an ambulance and the distance from Mukono to Kampala with the usual traffic jam on the roads, you could really see that probably, he would have survived. 

He has been among the children who stay with my mum and has been a hard working boy, who had the desire and motivation to become a Doctor. We will miss him but we thank the good Lord for his life until now.

If you can, please help and pass on the message to a few friends whom you visited with, some may remember him.  

Peter Nsubuga

This news has touched those of us who revelled with Dennis a few weeks back.  In Canada, with good roads, available emergency services and accessible trauma centres, he may have survived his internal bleeding.

My global family has suffered a loss and I mourn with them. But I also will remember an afternoon of great fun we all had together not that long ago. And Dennis, blowing that whistle.

CanAssist will soon be constructing a kitchen facility for the Hope for Youth School.  We will make this addition to the school in Dennis’ memory.