19 April 2018

Just mulling over some things.

Just something I was mulling over.

Cicero wrote his friend Atticus of how the actor Diphilus took a potshot at Pompey the Great by repeating a line from a play: "nostra miseria tu es magnus"- "By our misfortunes are you Great." Pompey's reputation amongst the masses was falling by then, so the crowd loved the little smear, and called for multiple encores.

It's a great line. I wish whatever work it is from were still extant, but not so. "By our misfortune- by our misery- are you made great." It stayed with me for decades.

I was thinking of it a while ago when I ran into another post about some government somewhere overreaching into lives of families and people, as we become the ruled more and more to a class that increasingly believes they know what is best.

It usually isn't a powergrab as much as it is a reach into a vacuum. People increasingly seek their freedom, but never the price that comes with it. Burke wrote that with inalienable rights comes inalienable responsibilities. Spiderman says that with great power comes great responsibility. Neither are much listened to today. We are more like the Athenians descrbed by Gibbons: the one freedom they desired was the freedom from responsibility. Licence, not liberty. Someone somewhere is stuck picking up the tab for our mistakes. We tell the government to do it, even if it means they expand power into somewhere they didn't before,soemwhere they shouldn't now and wouldn't if we did as we are supposed to, then we try and tell them not to reach too far and wonder how things got to this point.

Only in our misfortune are they fortunate. Only in our misery are they great. Only in our weakness are they strong.

18 April 2018

Anybody out there?

My hit counter is showing zero hits for the last twenty posts.  Is it still not working, or have I finally succeeded in driving everyone away?

17 April 2018

Mother's birthday.

Today would have been Mom's 94th birthday. 

I loved my Mom, but when dealing with my mother, I often asked myself the question: "How did I get myself into this?"

A few years back, Mom had a problem with her roof. Her solution to the problem was to opine loudly in my presence: "Oh dear, the north roof needs needs to be re-shingled. It would be so nice if someone were to fix it for me." Then she would sigh loudly.

I hate roofing, so I held out for, oh, five whole seconds before I gave in. "Do you want me to take care of it?"

"Oh, would you dear? That would be so nice. When can you do it?"

"Next month."

"That's a long time away. How about next week?"

"Next week? Maybe I could..."

"When next week?"

I thought through my schedule. "Friday."

"Morning or afternoon?"


"Can you make it morning instead?"

So that Friday morning I was slugging it out on a hot roof. If any of you have ever done it, you know roofing is one hard, hot, lousy job. Plus I don't like heights. I would not have been up there for anyone other than Mom.

I finished and headed down, sweaty and filthy. "Thank you so much dear," she said. "I want to give you something in payment."

"You don't have to give me anything, mom." I just wanted to shower and leave.

"No dear, I have something I want to give you." She began rummaging through the domestic black hole that was her purse, until she found what she was searching for. "I want you to have this," she said, pressing it into my hands. "It's a ticket to the Angels of the Vatican exhibit at the AGO."

"But that's something you want to see. You should keep the ticket."

She became insistent. "No, I want you to have it." She wouldn't take it back.

"Thanks, Mom," I said reluctantly. "That's wonderful."

She continued. "As you can see on the ticket, the show ends tomorrow, so you'll have to go today. And since you're going today..." she began to rummage in her purse again, and pulled out a second ticket. "Would you mind taking me with you?"

As I looked down on my sweet, innocent mother, who was looking back at me with a blank expression that would be the envy of every card shark in Vegas, I knew I'd been had. She got me to fix her roof, and in payment she got me to take her to an art exhibit. I couldn't help but be impressed with her cunning. No wonder Dad never knew if he was coming or going.

She also got me to take her to other places. For some reason she never asks me straight out to take her somewhere, she just drops hints. For example, the time she got me to take her to St Paul's basilica went like this: "Oh, I've always wanted to go and see St. Paul's. I've been to nearly every other church in Toronto, but not that one. I've always hoped to see it before I die, and I'm not feeling to well these days. Sigh."

Don't give in, I told myself. Don't give..."Mom, would you like me to take you?"

"Oh no dear," she replied. "I don't want you to go out of your way just for me."

 Uh-huh, I thought. Wait for it.  5...4...3...2....

"But if you were to go there anyway," she said. "And you had room for me..."

So we went. It is a beautiful church. I became interested in its history and found some photos of the church as it had looked in the past, along with a few pictures of the original church to show her. "Thanks dear," she said. "Oh look, there's the paintings on the ceiling. I wanted to have a look at them, but I wasn't feeling well the day we went, and I couldn't look up without feeling dizzy. sigh."

Here we go, I thought. Don't say it, don't say... "Mom, do you want to go on another trip to the basilica?"

"Oh, I don't want to be a bother...."


"...But if we were to go, could I bring a friend?"

"Sure," I said.

"How about two? And, while we're at it, could we also go to..."

Mother knew I was a sucker. The same tactic had me driving her to Montreal- twice- to see Notre Dame there. I had been there first, and was showing her pictures of it.

"I've always wanted to see it," she said, looking down. "Ever since I saw an article back in the '40's in Time, but it was never open whenever I went to Montreal. Sigh."

Don't say it. "Mother, would you like me to take you?"

"Oh no, dear. I wouldn't want to be a bother..."


".. but if you were going anyway, and you had room in your car...."

Montreal. Twice.

I wish she were still around to sucker me again.

I feel I should be writing something today....

...but I don't know what.

I could go back over the Jubilee Riots thing, but I would prefer to let that sit a few more weeks before I revisit it.  I would like to add some pictures to that thing, because everybody knows, everything is better with pictures.  Hard to tell who owns the copyrights, though. Anything I would want to use should be public domain, but I would also need permission from the owners of the pictures.  it's complicated.

In my research for that I found a lot of other stories that could be told.  The story of Matthew Sheedy is interesting.  "The Murder of Matthew Sheedy: riot and murder in the streets of Toronto" would make a nice title,  but the story is difficult to tell accurately.  The problem I had throughout the Jubilee Riots- contradictory versions- is doubly so in Sheedy's case.

The facts are as follows: tensions were already running high on the day of the St Patrick's parade of 1858.  The night before, a group of Irish Catholics eating dinner at the National Hotel found their quiet evening celebration in honour of the saint interrupted when the hotel was surrounded by Orangemen and rocks were thrown through all the windows and shots were fired at the hotel.  Among the people assaulted was future Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Though many policemen were present, not one was arrested.

The next day a cart driver- who was also an Orangeman, drove his cart into the line of the parade.  In the melee which followed, Matthew Sheedy was stabbed in the groin, apparently while trying to help the police restore order.  He was taken to a nearby bar where he was treated by a doctor, then taken to the hospital.  He died the next day. He was married and all of twenty three.

An inquest was summoned to hear the events and recommend whether or not charges should be laid.  The jury consisted entirely of Protestants, many of whom were Orangemen.  The Catholic papers of the time complained about this, and the men on the jury were deeply offended that anyone would question their impartiality and ability to see that justice was done.  However, one of the jurymen would ask every Irish Catholic witness whether or not they were a ribbonite- a wearer of the green ribbon, symbol of the desire for Irish home rule.  It would be the only question he would ask the witnesses.

The coroner said Sheedy was stabbed in the groin with an instrument that left a diamond shaped hole.  He thought it was a knife.  Others argued it was a pitchfork.  Someone saw someone else with a pitchfork.  Others said it couldn't be him: the pitchfork was held by another.

The owner of the pub (And Orangeman) said he spoke to Sheedy as he lay in the pub at a time when there were no other witnesses.  He said Sheedy told him he had been stabbed accidentally by a friend, but he wouldn't say whom. Others spoke to Sheedy and said he claimed not to know who stabbed him, but he would recognize him if he saw him again.  Some say he gave a description.  Some said he gave another description of someone completely different.  One witness came in drunk and indicated he knew what had really happened, but he wasn't going to say.  he was sent to jail for contempt, and changed his story by the time he had sobered up.  Everyone saw something, and everyone else saw something else.  The juror continued to be concerned over who wore a green ribbon and who didn't.

Even the identity of the driver of the cart was disputed.  At first, all the papers claimed it was one driver, but that man wrote to the papers and claimed it couldn't be him, as he was turned back by the police before he could get near the parade.  The number of attackers that started the riot was also disputed.  It was a lone man who broke the parade line, it was a group of about four, it was a small group that came out of the cart and then they were joined by Protestants nearby who came at the sound of trouble and joined in.  The police saw nothing.

Faced with the incredibly contradictory testimony, the jury could not recommend the laying of charges on anyone.  The murderer of Matthew Sheedy remains unknown.

It would be impossible to accurately tell Matthew Sheedy's story.  The only information I could find on his life was that he died, the how being rather iffy.  It could be a story of how he was denied justice, but it is not entirely certain that he was denied justice.  The testimony was too varied.  if Sheedy did indeed know who stabbed him, he took that knowledge to the grave, and no one else knew for certain.  It could be a story on the vagaries of nineteenth century justice, and how it was reliant on unreliable witness testimony, but that would work.  It is popular in books that go back to study historical unsolved crimes to give a new theory as to who really did it.  It is as impossible to say who struck the fatal blow today was it was 160 years ago.

And what is the significance of his murder?  It was a spur to the police reforms which had already begun after the Fireman and Clown Riots of 1855.  It stopped the St Patrick's Day parade for three years.  But other than that, it was just something that happened to someone a long time ago.  At best, it is an example of the wrong person- an Irish Catholic- being in the wrong place- Toronto- at the wrong time- St Patrick's Day, 1858.  His death and the nothing that came of it was both a rallying cry and a warning to all his fellows for years to come.

16 April 2018

Good news

Frodo had his first Communion yesterday.  All went well, and I couldn't be prouder of the little guy.

9 April 2018


Today is the 101st anniversary of the Canadian capture of Vimy Ridge. My cousins and I have occasionally debated whether or not our Grandfather was there, and in what capacity. It's a little tricky to say.

Before I go on, here is a link to my older post detailing the battle in general.

He was in the area at that time. he had signed up in 1916, even though he could have sat out the war as he wass a skilled worker (he made fireworks) in what had been turned into a munitions industry. However, on a day in 1916 he and a group of friends headed down to the recruitment office and signed up. At the time he was thirty and his first son had been born a few weeks earlier. I don't know why he and his friends decided to sign up at that time. It may have been some patriotic fervour, it may have been a sense of adventure. It may have been a sense of shame that other men were fighting and dying and they were sitting safe at home. For all I know, listening to a cholicky baby for a couple of weeks made him feel like crossing an ocean and shooting someone. I know he couldn't have signed up earlier, at least not legally, as he fell below the minimum height requirement of five foot three. However, after the heavy losses at the Somme the British lowered their standards to allow men who were five foot one to join the military, and he could make that minimum with the help of a brick. (Incidentally, his father had signed up earlier, and had lied about both his height- he was shorter than his son- and his age)

My Grandfather was placed in the 120th City of Hamilton Battalion, which was a reserve unit. It was never intended to go into battle as a unit: it was a training unit for recruits who would then be transferred into other units to bring them up to strength. He had been called up to strength from his reserve battalion and placed in the 19th Battalian of the Fourth Brigade of the Second Division of the Canadian Corps. The 19th was involved in the attack at the south end of the ridge. The second division as a whole made the farthest advance that day, of about three miles. The Corps as a whole adopted leapfrogging tactics. Rather than sending the battalions out to achieve the most distant objectives, the command set up three lines- red line, green line and blue line. Off the top of my head I cannot say which was which, but it was the short, distant and long line. Some units were to advance to the short line and hold, other units were to leapfrog over their position and advance to the middle and hold, and others were leapfrog over those units and advance to the long line and hold. There were many back up plans about using these units as reserves, or the lines as defensive positions should the subsequent phase of the attack run into trouble, but the Second Division's attack went like clockwork and there was no need for plan b, c, etc.

Records show that the 19th battalion advanced to the short line and held as planned. Well and good, but here's where the situation gets a little complicated as regards my grandfather. I have two letters he wrote home, and a copy of a third. In the copied letter he signs his name, and then says "A Company, 19th Battalion." Here's the thing, I have a book written by Deward Barnes, who served in A Company, 19th Battalion, entitled "It Made You Think of Home". In the book he notes that he did not go over the top that day, as A Company was left out of the battle. This was due to a policy adopted by British Command in the wake of the disastrous Somme offensive. where entire battalions and regiments were wiped out (including the 1st Newfoundland Regiment at Beamont-Hamel). In order not to have entire units destroyed, the command would now leave one company of each regiment out of battle in order to have a core around which to rebuild the unit.

So, he was left out of battle? Well, maybe. He only signs that one letter from A Company, the others he does not mention which company he is in, and the letter that he does mention it was written months after Vimy at Passchendaele. Also, he was a runner, which meant it was his job to deliver messages between command and the units, and between the units, and so on. As near as I can tell, runners were sort of connected to companies, and sort of not connected to companies, sort of connect to command, and were apparently moved around a lot.

So, was he there? Certainly. Did he take part in the battle? I am not certain. My position is that it is more likely than not that he took some part in the battle delivering messages, but there is still a strong chance he didn't.

Would have like to have spoken to the man, but I never met him, and, according to my father and uncles, he never spoke of the war to anyone but other veterans.

2 April 2018

Pious tradition

This weekend, I attempted to resurrect an old tradition my mother used to do with us when we were children, and visit seven churches between Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil.  It is an old tradition, I have been informed, wherein those who cannot visit the seven patriarchal basilicas and stational churches in Rome may replace them with seven local churches, rather like the Stations of the Cross are for those who cannot visit the Holy Land and visit the real things.

Sadly, my attempt to resurrect the old tradition backfired, and every church we went to but one was locked at that time.

I am getting something of a mixed message here: this is the most holy and sacred time of the year, therefore let's lock all our churches.

Once again, we are in the hands of the insurance companies.