Wednesday, May 30, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Day 5 - Photos from along the way

Day 5 - April 25, 2012, From Vancouver to Victoria (“Swoosh!”)

I landed in Vancouver at 9:35 a.m., took three photos once off the train, nabbed the 9:45 bus to Vancouver Island, and - “Swoosh, I say,” with a few seconds to spare - I was on my way.

[“My first ‘Vancouver’ photo.”]

[“My second.”]

[Upon the ferry: “The skies are low,
but my spirits are high.”]

[“Peace to all.” Or, “Two more cans
of Guinness, please.”]

[“The ship’s bell tolls for thee.”]

[“My last photo from the ferry ride to
Vancouver Island. Great ride.”]

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more Photos from along the way

Photo Poser 7

Recently I noticed that I often flash the 'peace sign' when my picture is taken. I'm either trapped in the sixties or ordering two more cans of Guinness. You decide.

[Photo by a waiter at the 2010 Wiarton fish fry]


Please click here to view Photo Poser 6

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Chasing my dad Part 9

[“And then, as I envisioned men and caves and stoves made from scrounged petrol tins, I came upon an important photo and serious paragraph, one closely after the other, and they struck me as timely and informative.” May 25, Chasing my dad PT 8]

I knew I held treasure in my hand as soon as I read the name ‘C.Levett’ under a faded photo from Sicily, 1943. I also held the knowledge in mind that I was meeting for the first time Dorothy (Dot) Levett, age 90 and very likely the widow of C. Levett, in two days.

And very shortly after turning from the photo to the next page in ‘Combined Operations’, I knew I’d stumbled upon another treasure.

The first paragraph in a story entitled ‘Combined Operations in Sicily and Italy’ (reminiscences of a Canadian LCM Flotilla Engineer Officer) was littered with priceless gold coins: “Hey boys, here’s the best buzz that I’ve sprouted in weeks!” called ‘Eppus’ Murphy to the boys in the mess at a certain base in Scotland, (i.e.,) Roseneath, early in the month of March, 1943. These same boys, Canadian sailors who had been in Combined Operations for well over a year, were not impressed with this sudden announcement.” (pg. 90)

I rolled the coins happily around in my mind as a pirate would in his hand. I knew a ‘buzz’ was a rumour about upcoming operations or assignments, often started by sailors who received a mere hint of good information from usually tight-lipped officers. I knew ‘Eppus’ thanks to a story my dad wrote about a man and his pet monkey in the Norwich Gazette in the early 1990s. I knew Dad had eaten meals in the same mess, at about the same time, so felt the ‘Canadian sailors’ surely included one dear to me.  

Of course, without being there (though they were in the 80th Flotilla together), I can’t be sure Dad was in the group of sailors listening to ‘Eppus’ share the best buzz in weeks, but a subsequent paragraph filled me with even more satisfaction.

[“Part of the crew of The Silver Walnut”]

The story writer, a Flotilla Engineer Officer, met with other Officers of the Flotilla after their trip from the UK to Sicily by way of South Africa, and relates the following from a late night bull-session: “Dave, one of our Officers in charge of a goodly number of Ratings, spent ninety days on the trip, while others of us had arrived in five or six weeks. His particular ship had unfortunately encountered engine trouble and several times they were floating with both engines stopped in the middle of nowhere with probably unknown numbers of enemy subs lurking in the same waters. However, some providence brought them into port safely at last. There was great rejoicing on their arrival, for we had begun to fear that if they did arrive (i.e., any later), it would be too late for our first operation.”

I felt more gold coins were mine to have and to hold. Officer Dave was most likely Sub./Lt. Dave Rodgers from the S.S. Silver Walnut, a ‘dud’ of a ship (so said my father), that continually ‘encountered engine trouble’ on its way around Africa to Port Said, Egypt. 

[“The S.S. Silver Walnut. A dud or dandy?”]

In his memoirs, Dad recounts several stoppages aboard the Walnut that would shatter the confidence of any sailor in their ship. About one such incident he writes the following: “We spent eight or nine days in Cape Town, maybe longer, then started out with the old Silver Walnut again. Stop, stop, stop - and damn it was hot! Our middies turned yellow from white because of the sun. We couldn’t step on the deck, it was so hot.” (pg. 29, “DAD, WELL DONE”)  

I recalled other aspects of his writing. For example, though Dad said the Silver Walnut was a dud after his first inspection of the ship, he later changed his mind and spoke highly of it. After finally reaching Egypt and learning that many of his friends were suffering greatly as a result of dysentery, contracted in the desert, he mentioned a Silver lining in his ship’s slow transport.

And the best gold coin of all? I was aboard a train taking me toward the Esquimalt Naval Museum, at which I was meeting the museum curator, by prior arrangement, and see a rare Navy hammock, one from the Silver Walnut from 1943. It was the hammock given to Sub./Lt. Dave Rodgers when he went aboard the ship. It was the one he returned to the Canadian Navy in 1986 at a navy Reunion in Australia in the hope it would become a valued artifact.

["The ship's crew from 1943 is neatly listed
above the insignia of Combined Operstions"]

Since the hammock’s return to Canada, I think it has become a very important Navy artifact. And though my father never saw the hammock, he was delighted to see pictures of it taken by other members of the Walnut’s crew.

In my mind, it was one artifact I very much wanted to see during my fifteen-day trip west since very few tangible items remain from that era. The Walnut is gone, most of the sailors aboard are very likely gone, and footsteps grow fainter with each passing day.

At about 9 p.m. on Day 4 of my trip west, I closed the book ‘Combined Operations’ after finishing the Flotilla Engineer Officer’s contribution. I tried, without much luck, to get comfortable in my Economy class seat. A sound sleep eluded me, but not heart-warming thoughts.

[“Look at who are listed together! D. Harrison,
Ont., and E. Murphy, Sask. Good night!”]

Gold coins I had in abundance.


Please click here to read “GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Chasing my dad Part 8

Favourite ‘photo from along the way’ (and video)

Thankfully, I’m on summer holidays at the moment (they started early), so I have time to look at the 1,400 photos I took during my trip to Vancouver Island.

“My favourite photo, so far”

“My favourite video, so far”


Please click here for more Photos from along the way

Zoom w a View: “Gibbons Park, London”

At times yesterday afternoon, during a very very hot spell, the bike path and Gibbons Park was almost deserted.

One old timer, far away, occupied his own shady space. Cool.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more Zoom w a View

Ollie and Me: “We need more seeds”

Ollie doesn’t mind going for a bicycle ride with me even though his legs are longer than his perch in the bike trailer. And I don’t mind hauling him on London’s bike path system - we have miles of good path starting near my front door - although a couple of the hills I encounter force me to jump off and push the bike to the crest. (I just need a bit more practice!)

While I parked the bike yesterday at Ivey Park, at the Fork of the Thames, Ollie rushed down the riverside stairs and tossed seeds at the ducks. By the time I joined him quite a crowd of geese had joined him as well and the seeds were almost gone.

I’ll take twice as much seed next time because he liked the idea of feeding the ducks in Gibbons Park too, then jumping through the water at the splash pad. 

Note to self: Twice as much seed; wear swim trunks.

[Photos by G.Harrison]

Please click here for more Ollie and Me

Monday, May 28, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Day 4 - The mountains came with music

Day 4 - Tuesday, April 24: The Rockies with a little bit of musical accompaniment

Before I wander off on another trip I will purchase a few more camera cards so that I can record live action in 30 - 60 second clips more often.  

In an earlier post I mentioned that a small group of singers entertained folks in ViaRail’s Skyline car one afternoon. The following video records a few highlights.  

[Photo and Video by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view More photos from along the way.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Workshop: Old lumber won't go to waste

Four or five boards from an old barn were revealed when I tidied up The Annex recently, and though my scrap box is full, and a wee burn in my backyard fire pit is on the agenda, the barn board became four school-house-style birdhouses.

Sanding and assembly went quickly today; the cooler temperatures helped me work at a steady pace, minus one short break for tea.

By Wednesday the four houses will have a small bell tower and a coat or two of light-coloured wash, like two others I finished a week or two ago.

Steady as she blows!

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more from The Workshop.

It Strikes Me Funny: On the Prowl

The phone rang this morning and I was busy with something, but it kept ringing, and when it got to the third ring I thought I'd better answer because my wife might want to tell me her ETA for lunch had changed. I looked around the corner from my office and saw the nearby phone cradle was empty.

The phone rang for the fourth time, and I grew irritable because I had to rush to the second-nearest phone of five in the house. I grew more irritable after answering the phone. Someone tried to sell me The Toronto Star in words and sentences bunched so tightly I couldn't get a word - even a syllable - in edgewise. "Wouldn't you like to try it just for weekends?" the woman asked after I finally was able to say I already had a daily paper and that I was fine, thanks. "No, I'm still fine," I said, but I really wasn't because I knew that after I hung up I would have to look for the missing phone. It might be in the workshop, I thought, because I'd been in my outside shop yesterday and recalled taking the kitchen phone, the missing phone, with me. I could still see it in my mind's eye on the bench beside the shop door. I slipped into my cut-offs, old rubber boots I'd shortened ten years ago with a box cutter, grabbed keys for the outside door and went outside, dodging drops of cold rain from the eaves as I went. I was ready to blame drops, that fell down the back of my neck, on my wife because she wanted a house with eaves. But I stopped myself. She had found my all-purpose metal scrapper last night after I couldn't find it.

The house detective always wins, I thought, and walked into the house, but I felt certain she must have misplaced the phone and it was my turn to win. After checking several rooms I did find the phone, lined up neatly beside two remotes in the TV room.

And who was the last person to watch TV last night? Me. I'd left the nearest phone to my office the farthest away when I really needed it. I returned it to its cradle and stopped prowling.      

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more It Strikes Me Funny

The answer to Photo Poser 6

In a recent post I asked readers to think about where certain photos (from my trip west) actually came from.

The answer to the question is... Hornepayne, a small town way north of Sudbury.

Maybe you already knew that! And if not, now you're a whiz.

[Photo by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view other photos at Photo Poser 6

Saturday, May 26, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Day 4 - Photos from along the way

Day 4 - Tuesday, April 24: The Rockies and a waterfall

While travelling through the Rockies I spent a good deal of my time in the Skyline car, which has an upper deck to maximize the view (which would be ‘to the max’ on a clear day).

I happened to visit the Skyline while a fellow with a banjo and a singing mate were performing their rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s ‘Freight Train’.

“Freight train, freight train, goin’ so fast,
 Freight train, freight train, goin’ so fast...’

The song seemed to fit as we rolled along.  

But... too bad the fellows didn’t know Gord Lightfoot’s ‘Canadian Railroad Triliogy’. I woulda loved that one!

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view More photos from along the way

Zoom w a View: Belt tightening measures

In my most recent column I write that I started going out for walks more regularly for reasons related to fun, fitness and vanity. Perfectly sane reasons, right?

About the vanity part I say the following:

"I'm on the last notch of a hand-tooled belt I bought for $5 at Quigley's Leather Works (London) in 1969, and I don't want to hang it up any time soon. Have you seen the price of a good leather belt these days? Yipes."

["The last notch! The belt must be shrinking with age"]

As a result of that statement a reader contacted me who has a unique connection to Quigley's old shop, i.e., the son of one of the long-term employees, who recalls sitting atop piles of tanned leather as a boy when the tanning and leather works trade was a going concern at 1 Beaufort St., London. In his email, D. Russo says my $5 purchase would cost me $100 today.

["How many of your investments have increased twenty-fold?"]

He writes, "They don't make belts like that anymore as the leather they use is not the same quality of leather as in the past."

["They don't make them like they used to!"]

At $100, the belt would be one of the most expensive pieces of clothing I have, with my old suit and best shoes retaining the lead. (I have no idea what all the stuff in my bottom drawer is worth, but I bet all together it ain't 100 smackers!)

[Photos by G.Harrison]


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Friday, May 25, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Chasing my dad Part 8

On Tuesday, April 24 (Day 4 of my trip west) I wrote only a few words in my journal after making the switch from Sleeper Plus class to Economy. But now, as I look back at my journal, I’m not surprised by my uncommon brevity.

At 3:35 I wrote, “We’re about 45 min. out of Jasper and heading on last leg, i.e., thru Rockies to Vancouver. stunning scenery.”

And 25 minutes later I wrote my last note of the day: “All is well. $$ well spent. Get Pat to Vancouver to enjoy Rockies.”

Mountain tops, long valleys, and so many other scenes held my attention for several hours. However, though the scenery kept me from making lengthy journal entries, many thoughts were on my mind. 

A recent email from my older sister Dale provides a hint about their nature: Dad had some very profound experiences while at war, and it must have been very difficult to adjust to 'normal' life when he returned. I can see why these experiences would have a very strong effect on him. Imagine leaving the very good friends that you had made during very difficult times. Those people became your family, and then you went back home and never saw most of them again, if any. Dad did see a couple, as we remember Chuck Rose, and of course Buryl McIntyre.

While parts of a vast mountain range rolled by, I thought of Dad, and what feelings he might have had about the view outside his own train window in 1944. I thought about his relationships with his navy buddies, baseball team-mates, his wife and five children, especially with the son who was trying to follow a few of his footsteps. I thought about his war years, and not if he had carried baggage, but how much, and how it - and its various, nefarious treatments - interfered with his development as an adult and father.

[“Norwich Maroons, Senior League Champs, 1949”:
Doug Harrison, third from right, back row]

At some point in my reverie I pulled out a book called Combined Operations (a companion to ‘St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945, Vol. 1 and 2), not to read anything specific about Dad (some of his recollections appear in Vol. 1 and 2) but to read about WWII operations in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, places where he had been continuously involved in the loading and unloading of landing barges and often involved in the dodging of bullets.

In a chapter entitled ‘Sicily and Italy: July 10, 1943 - September 3, 1943’ I read details that described how deeply Canadian personnel were involved in so many deadly serious actions, in the ferrying of all manner of men and supplies to beach fronts, under conditions that would challenge most brave, grown men.

A description of action that occurred offshore Sicily on July 9, 1943 follows: At fifteen minutes past one (a.m.) the wavering columns of flat-bottomed craft set off for the beach seven miles away. The night was black and the sea was very rough. It was windy, wet and cold. The soldiers huddling against the gunwales became sea sick; buckets came freely into use. Even some of the Naval stokers, working throttles amid the fumes of their torrid little engine rooms, began to feel the effects. Seas washing over the sides called for constant bailing... A searchlight knifed out from land, swung toward the craft, and illuminated every man’s face in a white glare. Then it swept on, apparently having revealed nothing to the watchers ashore. (pg. 81 - 82)

[“Life on Sicily, not all peaches and cream”: photo website]

I turned pages quickly. I recalled my father clearly in similar situations, thanks to his own memoirs. When the chapter’s author mentioned living arrangements of sailors on Sicily’s shore, I remembered the cattle caves Dad lived in with dozens of other members of his Flotilla.

[“Over the side, boys!”: London Free Press, 1944]

And then, as I envisioned men and caves and stoves made from scrounged petrol tins, I came upon an important photo and serious paragraph, one closely after the other, and they struck me as timely and informative. I could barely believe my good fortune and the next day I mentioned both in my journal as “a fine pair of coincidences”.

About the photograph I wrote the following: While reading a section dealing with Sicily 1943 I came across several sections reminiscent of Dad’s memoirs, so I was ‘into it’. Included was an old photo of a group of men at Sicily. I’d looked at it before to see if Dad appeared. No. But, lo and behold! The photo includes C. Levett. And who am I meeting in Courtenay (in two days)? Dot Levett. C. Levett is likely Chuck Levett, her husband, a man she met in Courtenay at a dance in the Native Son’s Hall. !! It will be a treat to show her. (pg. 89) 

[“Chuck Levett (centre), Sicily, 1943”]

Finding the photo was thrill enough, but it also answered a question, formed a month earlier after reading an email (from a curator at a museum in Courtenay) that said “the late Chuck Levett... was in the RCN with your Father.” 

The curator was telling me what Dorothy (Dot) Levett had told her, but I didn’t know if Dot meant Chuck was simply a Navy man too, like my Dad, or if he had served alongside my dad in Sicily or Comox. With the ‘Combined Ops’ photo in hand, I knew Chuck had at the very least been in Sicily, as had Dad. It dawned on me as well that I had in my possession a book containing photographs and information that Dot, a 90-year old widow, might never have seen. 


And, about the serious paragraph. More to follow.


Please click here to read “GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Chasing my dad Part 7

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Zoom w a View: Goose on the loose

 Canadian Geese in Harris Park enjoy the surroundings enough to raise families there.

I'd do the same, I suppose, if I could live on grass.

I like the idea of running around barefoot all day.

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view more Zoom w a View

Photo Poser 6

During my trip west I spotted a structure that had many broken and boarded-up windows.

I discovered someone had painted a series of pictures related to local landmarks.

Some paintings possessed vibrant colours, others appeared the worst for wear.

Where do these paintings, or pieces of folk art, appear? Do you possess a ticket stub from the Lyric Theater?

[Photos by G.Harrison]


Please click here to view Photo Poser 5

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN”: Day 4 - Photos from along the way

Day 4 - Tuesday, April 24: Edson to the Rockies

Aim and click. Aim and click. On Day 4 I spent a lot of time repeating the same actions, along with dozens of other train passengers. I’d packed three cameras. I wanted to get my money’s worth.

[“In Jasper I switched to Economy Class and survived”]
With each passing mile I encountered scenes like I’d never seen before. Money’s worth? Don’t tell Via Rail. I would have paid more!

Had I travelled by motorcycle as I’d initially planned I would have not only needed twice as many days but three times as many camera cards. If I stopped the bike to take pictures I may have stayed in several spots for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, made some tea, made some phone calls. Gosh, I may never have made it to Vancouver Island.

In Dad’s naval memoirs I recall only one line that referred to the beauty of the views he’d seen during his own train ride west, or of the views from Comox, a small town only 30 minutes away from Mount Washington. Perhaps he could find no words to describe the scenes he had seen 30 years before penning his memoirs.

What words can I use? What words come to mind?

[Photos and a few words by G.Harrison]
Please click here to view more Photos from along the way