John 57-58

My post about 1953 seemed to be a popular one.  I have another school photo from 1957-58 so I will tell you about that year, too.

Our family had moved from Mornington Ave to Victoria Street in London and I was going to Ryerson Public School. I would have turned ten that year.  I have a granddaughter older than that now.

When I look at the class photo (Grade 5) i can name all the kids in the photo. Some are just first names but 57 years later I still remember these names. Some of us stuck together through high school. Last  week, on Facebook, I saw a photo of some (I initially put the word “old” in here but took it out as they all looked pretty good and I was referring to the duration of our friendship, not the ladies themselves)  friends from high school and the girl with the ponytail and the white dress near the middle of the class picture was in the photo.  1957

I wonder what became of these schoolmates.  One of them became an Ontario Member of Parliament for several years. His brother was Premier of the province for some time. Where are you now, Alan Cotton, Sandra Hansford, Mina Orenstein, Phillip Somerville, Nancy Lamon, Diane Kendall, Susan Sherlock? I could list them all.

I think it may have been in grade 5 that I started my acting “career”.  I wrote, directed and starred in a class production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   Sort of the Kevin Costner (or maybe more like the Woody Allen) of my school.

I also remember one of the girls in the middle row putting her tongue on a metal pole in the winter on our way home for lunch and having an episode very similar to  Flick in A Christmas Story.  She left  little shards of tongue on the pole as she tore it off.

What else was happening in 1957? It seems that Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were popular – Elvis hitting it big on Ed Sullivan and then with his movie, Jailhouse Rock. That year he bought Graceland. When he appeared on network television they would only show him from the waist up, even when he was singing songs like Peace in the Valley. His pelvic gyrations were the 1957 equivalent of twerking and definitely not meant for children to see.

Queen Elizabeth visited Canada to open parliament. John Diefenbaker (Dief the Chief) was Prime Minister of Canada. The USSR put the first orbiting spacecraft into space – a two-foot big satellite called Sputnik. It was a big deal.

That summer I cut my foot on a piece of glass in Gibbons Park that summer. My Dad took me to a doctor friend of his to get stitches and I was pulled around in a wagon for a week and sat by the garage making Plaster of Paris frogs and cars and little soldiers.

dodge 1957 canada (7)At some point we had a 1957 Dodge – white with turquoise strip and huge pointed fins on the back of it. My mom, who used to sing in a band during the war years, got an advertising gig on CFPL radio singing about the “daring new Dodge”. I thought my mom was famous.


With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

My Grandparents lived a few blocks away on Grosvenor Street.  They were lots of fun.  Grandma Vardon played the accordion – earlier in her life she was a piano player for silent movies.  She also liked to have bonfires in her back yard barbecue pit – something that perhaps was not welcomed by the neighbours as evidenced by the occasional arrival of the fire department. I remember vividly roasting marshmallows over the fire as a hoard of firemen with hats and coats and hoses burst into the yard around the garage.

Bosnian Post(ers)

When I visited Bosnia in the spring the weather was particularly cool and damp. I wondered if my photos would be a bit dreary. I was looking through my pictures last night and realized that many of them held vibrant colour and they cried out to me for a poster treatment. So here are a few of my photos, posterized. I don’t usually tart my photos up this way but I kind of like these.  Enjoy a brief visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The hill behind Inat Kuča.

The hill behind Inat Kuča in Sarajevo.

The Mostar Bridge

The Mostar Bridge

Street in old Mostar.

Street in old Mostar.

This building in Mostar near the river was heavily damaged during the war. It has been shored up with timbers. Snapdragons grow between the bricks  on the window ledges.

This building in Mostar near the river was heavily damaged during the war. It has been shored up with timbers. Snapdragons grow between the bricks on the window ledges. In fact, I didn’t alter this photo. This is how it looked. Dramatic.



Sarajevo Market

Sarajevo Market

Coffee time.

Coffee time.

The old bridge - Stari most - from which Mostar gets its name.

The old bridge – Stari most – from which Mostar gets its name.

The Neretva River on the very scenic drive between Sarajevo and Mostaf.

The Neretva River on the very scenic drive between Sarajevo and Mostaf.


Me in ’53

I came across a couple of photos buried deep in my computer’s hard drive this week that were taken in 1953. I was six that year.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

I remember the circumstances of one of them. We lived in at 448 Mornington Ave in London, Ontario and this was a Halloween party for me and my friends in the neighborhood. It looks like we were all dressed as hobos. Hobo costumes may seem to be a bit unimaginative but they  were not expensive to create.




A television was a new item in Canadian homes. The first CBC television stations opened just the year before, in 1952. The local station had only 4 hours of programming per day and the rest of the time it was a black and white test pattern.

BookI am not sure if I had ever been to a movie. Play was in a sandbox in the back yard. My imagination would have been stimulated by picture books like Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and my favourite of all – Nursery Tales That Children Love.   I still have that book. I smells a bit musty but I treasure it as something from my childhood.  Inside the front cover is an inscription – “TO JOHN, FROM GRAMP.”  And I did love those stories. The Gingerbread Boy, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs.Sambo crop My favourite was Little Black Sambo – probably now banned as being politically incorrect.  But maybe it set me dreaming of Africa even then.

My mom (anyone who knew her will be able to image this)  had decided that to liven up the Halloween party we would all go down into the basement in the dark and she would pass around little bowls of stuff that were supposed to represent body parts. Cold spaghetti was brains. Peeled grapes were suppose to be eyeballs. My Mom was not as creepy as this now sounds. In addition she had decide to make the basement dark and spooky by tying a piece of colored cloth around the bare light bulb that lit the basement stairs. Mid way through the ghost story, the cloth caught fire. We abandoned the bowls of body parts and scrambled upstairs and outside to safety. I don’t think Mom tried that trick again.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

Earlier in 1953 Queen Elizabeth was crowned, her father, King George having died the previous year. I remember playing in the back yard on that June day and admiring the wooden nickel that we had been given at school to commemorate the occasion. I layed on the grass watching the clouds whiz by and knowing that something historical was happening that day but having no real sense of what if was.

I was the same age as Prince Charles.  I used to think that maybe some day we could be friends.  I did shake hands with him and chat ever so briefly when he and Diana visited Kingston in 1991.  That was as chummy as we got. Charles probably doesn’t remember the moment as vividly as I do.  His hand was not soft and princely but rough and more like that of a gardener. Mine was probably sweaty like so many others he had encountered.


The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The Stratford festival opened in 1953. My grandparents had friends in Stratford named Helen and Bob, who were somehow involved with the festival and  they attended early performances that were done in a big tent. They went to parties with the likes of Tyrone Guthrie and Alec Guinness who starred in the first production of Richard III.


Although I was only six, I walked to school myself. It was about eight blocks away and over a level railway crossing for the main CP line. Today parents line up in the schoolyard to scoop up their kids as they emerge from school. Innocence (or at least the feeling of innocence) lost and replaced now by paranoia and suspicion.

Johnny and Bobby  late summer 1953.

Johnny and Bobby late summer 1953.

My cat was named Tippy. My brother was/is named Bob. Both were about 18 months old. My grandparents were ten years younger than I am now and I thought of them as old.  I now have five grandchildren of my own.

I  was probably having fun at that Halloween party and have had a lot more fun over the past 60 years.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Labels and assumptions – and single stories

Pride parade in Uganda
Pride parade in Uganda

This blog has been surging up in me all day –more like festering, actually. It started with a Facebook post by one of my friends of a small group of courageous Ugandans having a Pride parade. Recently Uganda has passed laws that have made extreme penalties for homosexuals. These folks were risking a lot to openly declare their support for same sex relationships.

At the same sitting I came across a CBC article by Neil MacDonald talking about the power of words and their interpretation. He was referring to the name Redskins as a football team and how that carries a stereotypic racial connotation that is insulting and degrading to North American native people. He also, in the article listed all the initials that are now used to label in some way people of various sexual persuasion – LGBTTIQQ2SA – or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-spirited, and Asexual.  Are there any letters left? And does this really even include everyone? Can anything as complicated as sexual identification or feelings be reduced to a single letter or word? One single story to determine who we are?

I suspect that each person has their own sexual personality, as unique as any other part of them. No label or initial can adequately or accurately describe that. We are humans. Humans are all sexual (or perhaps asexual) but that is the extent of the categorization that I think can be made. What individuals do with their sexual feelings, as long as it is consensual and respectful, is their own business and really ought not to need a label. So can we get rid of all these restrictive labels, please? Give us back the alphabet.

In Uganda, there has been a lot of public propaganda against homosexuals, generally initiated by American-based, right-wing, Evangelical, Christian groups. Gays are depicted as people who chose their orientation and who are out to convert others to their depraved sexual practices. How silly is this? Yet, even the Ugandan government has reacted to this position by passing the recent draconian laws.

Now this presents a bit of a problem for me. Because as much as I abhor this position, just like I don’t think homosexuals should be labeled, I don’t want to label all evangelical Christians as hateful, bigots…or all Ugandans as intolerant. Unfortunately, however, our human tendency is to pick a descriptive label and then make general assumptions about an individual based on the label.

I am a male, white-haired, senior, Canadian physician. Describing me as that will help pick me out in a crowd from a young native woman. So using words descriptively has a purpose. But please don’t make any assumptions about who I am as a person based on that description. I might surprise you. (There was also a video on Facebook of three 70-year-olds dancing with a caption suggesting how awesome it was that they still wanted to dance, let alone to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.)

It was refreshing to have our recent election campaign in Ontario not even mention that one candidate for Premier is lesbian. No one cared. It was not an issue. She, herself, identifies publicly that way but it is not a label that pertains in any way to her abilities as a politician. And she won a majority government.

To end my afternoon I went out on my balcony to have a drink and watch a wedding unfold by the waterfront in front of my apartment building. Guests were arriving, all dressed up. Kids in suits and girls in party dresses. A big white limo drew up. The minister stood waiting for the couple to arrive. Bridesmaids walked down the aisle. There were flower girls. Everyone smiling.

Time for the bride to arrive. Out of the limo arose a young woman in a white strapless dress. She slowly walked down the aisle and stood at the front. Then another woman and her father got out of the stretch limo. Another bride. He walked her down the aisle and kissed her on the cheek and presented her to the other woman.

Two brides

I had assumed this would be a wedding with a bride and a groom. I was wrong. These two women exchanged vows with their friends and family supporting them in this commitment. The ceremony ended with cheers and applause.

I was surprised and reminded that I had made assumptions that were subsequently upended. I don’t know this couple but I wish them well. I am so glad to live in Canada.

Now this isn’t just about sexuality.  It refers to all labels that we might put on people, reducing them to a single story. In a Ted Talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story” (linked below…i highly recommend it), an African woman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says ” The single story creates stereotypes and the problem of stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete… the single story robs people of dignity… It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

P.S. As a result of my rumination today, I am going to try to be aware of when I am consciously or subconsciously labelling anyone, reducing them to a single story. I know I do. We all do. I am going to try to stop.


July 1, Canada Day, has rolled around again. My maple leaf flag is hanging proudly on my balcony and I am feeling lucky to be living in this magnificent country.

And once again I am happy to announce and promote the CanAssist African Relief Trust Canada Day Challenge. For the past two years, the Sasamat Foundation of Vancouver BC has helped CanAssist to accomplish infrastructure projects in Kenya and Uganda with a donation of $10,000 and a challenge to our donors. They also agree to match up to another $5000 in donations we receive in July that are allocated to water projects. This effectively doubles the impact that CanAssist donors can have.

imageThis year, if we accomplish this fundraising in July we will be able to buy rainwater catchment tanks and guttering for nine schools and one clinic in Kenya and Uganda and provide sanitation for one school as well. This will effectively benefit over 3000 school children as well as the patients and staff if the Ugandan Clinic. We will have all these in place by October.

I am really excited about this and I hope that CanAssist supporters are too. Your donation now, every dollar, will be doubled and put immediately to work to help Africans who are not so lucky to live where fresh water is available at the turn of a faucet. Typically, many school children in rural Kenya and Uganda have to fetch water from dirty water sources, sometimes a few kilometers away. Our sources report that girls are sometimes assaulted as the do their daily chore of getting the jerry cans of pond water that are used for washing, cooking and drinking. Having access to clean water at the school would allow them to concentrate on their schooling, avoid the risks of long walks alone to fetch water and will reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases.

Please help us accomplish this. Every dollar will be appreciated and every donation of $25 or more will qualify for an income tax receipt. And all of your gift will be spent in Africa. And if you agree that this is a wonderful way to celebrate Canada Day, share this with your friends. We Can Assist!

Donations can be made using a credit card and the secure link to Canada Helps that is on the CanAssist website – http://www.canassistafrica.ca or the link below.


Or by mail to CanAssist African Relief Trust, P.O. Box 1385, Kingston, Ontario. K7L 5C6