LEST WE FORGET. REMEMBRANCE DAY AT THE JAPANESE CANADIAN WAR MEMORIAL

For the past few years on Remembrance Day, I’ve skipped the crowds at the main cenotaph downtown in favour of the homespun but equally heartfelt ceremony at the striking Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park. Given the history of suffering Japanese-Canadians endured in their adopted land, I find it moving in a way that is different from the equally affecting remembrance at Victory Square.

The memorial is in a lovely secluded spot surrounded by trees in their dapper fall colours. Erected in 1920 on the anniversary of Vimy Ridge, after a successful fund-raising drive, it commemorates the 54 Nikkei who volunteered to fight, then died, for a country that denied them the vote. Such was also the racism in their home province that they had had to travel all the way to Alberta to sign up, after bigoted local recruiters refused to accept them as soldiers fit for the Canadian army.

“Without the franchise, they fought to prove they were Canadian, “ ceremony moderator Gordon Kadota told us. Another 150 or so Nikkei enlistees did survive the carnage. But not until 1931 was the government shamed into giving these few ethnic Japanese a special dispensation to vote, their willingness to shed blood for Canada notwithstanding. “Lest we forget,” intoned Mr. Kadota.

He went on to recount how Japanese Canadians were subsequently branded “enemy aliens” in their own land, interned or indentured, had their assets confiscated, and, even after World War Two ended, were banned from returning to British Columbia for another four years, or given the option of repatriation to Japan, That “offer” was taken up by many embittered Japanese Canadians. “It was like giving a condemned person a choice – gun or rope,” Mr. Kadota said: He added: “It’s often called ‘deportation’. It was not deportation. They were Canadians. It was the exile of a race.” After each mention of these events, he repeated: “Lest we forget”.

Of course, the soft-spoken but forthright moderator did not lose sight of the purpose of Remembrance Day. He noted the price paid by Japanese Canadians in conflicts in Korea and Afghanistan, adding again, “Lest we forget”.

Bombardier Darrell Penner played the Last Post, his haunting bugle piercing the morning chill. Somewhere around 11 o’clock, we bowed our heads for two minutes of silence. Piper Edward McIlwaine did a moving Lament, Darrell Penner returned to bugle Reveille, young Eileen Kitamura read out “In Flanders Field”, and David Mitsui, grandson of World War One hero Masumi Mitsui, proclaimed the Act of Remembrance.

Before the laying of wreaths, Mr. Kadota explained why he felt it necessary to include the dark history of Canada’s wartime treatment of Japanese Canadians as part of Remembrance Day.

“We are here to pay tribute to all the men and women in uniform,” he said, “but what I said before is a story that must be told over and over to every generation. Lest we forget.”

In common with Remembrance Day ceremonies elsewhere, numbers have been growing at the Stanley Park site. As many as 300 people ringed the Memorial’s small enclosure, a heartening contrast to the 10 or 15 observers who often showed up in the past.

There was an added poignancy to this year’s observance, along with being the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. “Since the last one, we have lost four of our veterans,” said Mr. Kadota.

Yutaka Kobayashi was one of them. His father Ryoichi had been wounded at Vimy Ridge. That service on behalf of Canada didn’t stop authorities from shipping him to the Tashme internment camp in the Kootenays during World War Two. Disheartened by his treatment at the hands of a country he had fought for, Ryoichi went back to Japan in 1947. Despite all that, while living in Japan, his son Yutaka joined the Canadian army four years later to fight in Korea. (Sometimes I feel we don’t deserve such people.)

And I was personally saddened to see that Minoru (“Min”) Yatabe was among those who didn’t make it to another Remembrance Day. He passed away a mere month short of Nov. 11 at the age of 96. I was privileged to have met “Min” when he journeyed here from Toronto to attend ceremonies at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in 2012. He was as lovely and cheery an individual as one could ever hope to encounter, still full of life. “Min” had been part of the small Japanese Canadian contingent who set aside the way their race had been treated and volunteered for overseas duty in the Pacific against Japan. The hidebound Canadian army had to be pressured to let then enlist by the British, who saw their language skills as invaluable.

(With “Min” and his wife Lydia, 2012.)

After meeting this remarkable Canadian, I wrote about him here. https://mickleblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/minoru-yatabe-canadian-veteran/

Although he arrived in Asia too late to see action before Japan mercifully surrendered, he was invaluable to the British, interrogating each surrendered soldier in their own language about possible war crimes. At one point, an officer told him to head out into the jungle to accept the surrender of an entire company. He stood up in a jeep, reviewed the defeated soldiers and returned the salute of their Japanese commanding officer, before the formal surrender. I asked “Min” if he hadn’t felt a bit weird, being ethnic Japanese, himself. He replied: “Of course not. They were Japanese. I was Canadian.”

RIP, Minoru Yatabe. A wonderful man and a great Canadian. Lest we forget.

 

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THE GINGER GOODWIN GENERAL STRIKE

At 12 o’clock sharp on Aug. 2, 1918 – one hundred years ago today –Vancouver transit operators stopped their streetcars in mid-route, drove them to the barns and walked home. The city’s normally bustling waterfront fell silent, as 2,000 burly stevedores and shipyard workers streamed from the docks. Construction workers refused to pound another nail or lift another brick. They joined textile and other union workers across Vancouver who were also leaving their jobs. It was the start of Canada’s first general strike and the beginning of one of the most memorable 24 hours in the city’s history.

 

The mass walkout was timed to coincide with the funeral of miner, labour leader, union organizer and socialist Ginger Goodwin, shot dead less than a week earlier in the woods above the coal-mining community of Cumberland. Goodwin, a former vice-president of the BC Federation of Labour, had been hiding out to avoid conscription to the killing fields of World War One, a war he and almost all segments of the BC labour movement vigorously opposed. With justification, they argued it was a pointless conflict that sent ordinary workers to kill each other, while politicians and leading citizens far from the fray thundered about patriotism, and the rich got richer on the profits of war. Goodwin had had his status suspiciously changed from “unfit to serve” to “fit”, after leading a strike for an eight-hour day at the large smelter in Trail. He was felled by a single shot from Dan Campbell, a special constable with a dubious background, who claimed he fired in self-defense. But the coal miners of Cumberland and the BC labour movement believed it was cold-blooded murder, and their rage was palpable. Campbell, later charged and acquitted of manslaughter, beat a hasty exit out of town to save his skin. Goodwin’s funeral procession was as large an event as the gritty, working-class community ever had.

Headed by a brass band, the line of mourners accompanying Goodwin’s white casket to the cemetery stretched as far as the eye could see. Years ago, I interviewed a sprightly, life-long resident of Cumberland who remembered witnessing the poignant procession as a little girl. She recalled how much Ginger Goodwin, who spent several years in the mines of Cumberland, was admired by locals, for his fierceness in standing up for the miners’ cause during their epic two year strike from 1912-1914 and his prowess on the village soccer squad. “My father would never hear a bad word about Ginger,” she told me.

When news of Goodwin’s shooting reached Vancouver, leaders of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council responded with a call for a 24-hour general strike on the day of his funeral. “The time for talking was past,” said council secretary Victor Midgley, as the directives went out. “Workers should use the only means of protest they had, namely to quit work for the entire time stated.” Added labour firebrand Jack Kavanagh: “Whether shot in self-defence or without a chance, it does not alter the fact that he was of ourselves and the least we can do is stop work for twenty-four hours to punish the employers.”

The strike set off a firestorm among the city’s elite and a large group of returned war veterans who were whipped into a frenzy, some suggest by the Board of Trade and Canadian Manufacturers’ Association.. Accused of being both “Bolshevki” and pro-German, the strikers were hysterically denounced for shutting down the city in support of someone dodging the draft, while Canadians were dying at the front. Fulminated MP Herbert Sylvester Clemens: “If organized labour is to ally itself with draft evaders and lawbreakers, all right-thinking elements in the community will have to take steps to fight their danger.”

It didn’t take long. That afternoon, a mob of several hundred ex-soldiers gathered outside the Labor Temple, which still stands at the northeast corner of Dunsmuir and Homer, its old lettering clearly visible over the entrance. After a few inflammatory “calls to arms”, they stormed through the doors and began ransacking Council premises. Books, documents, correspondence and other files were tossed out the window. Tables and chairs were trashed. On the second floor, they crashed through an office door to rush towards Council secretary Victor Midgley, who crawled out on the window ledge to escape their fury. As they jostled to get at him, their way was blocked by courageous Frances Foxcroft of the Telephone Workers Union, who would not be moved.

Eventually, the shaken labour leader was allowed back in and roughly bustled downstairs to face the raucous crowd outside. By this time the crowd with mayhem on its mind numbered more than a thousand. “That is the man that is at the bottom of all the troubles,” yelled a soldier. “Make the skunk kiss the good old flag,” jeered the throng. Midgley’s glasses were knocked off, his collar torn, until his lips finally touched the sacred Union Jack, his offer to address the vetereans ignored, and police were able to bundle him back inside the Labor Temple. Several other labour representatives escaped by clambering down the fire escape and dashing down the back alley. Longshore union delegate J. Thomas was not so lucky. He found himself caught in the middle of the crowd, where he was severely set upon until he, too, reluctantly agreed to kiss the flag. When police attempted to haul him away to the station, soldiers surrounded their car in an unsuccessful effort to grab Thomas back, with shouts of “Let’s take him ourselves!”

Then, it was off to the car barns to intimidate trolley drivers into resuming service, which actually happened shortly before midnight, and finally to a packed, rowdy public meeting of self-proclaimed patriots, where speaker after speaker were cheered for lashing out at Goodwin and local strike leaders. “They are just as bad as the man who got shot in the front or the back – I hope both” shouted one inflamed citizen, to a thunderous ovation. was a common sentiment. The lone attendee to vote against a resolution calling for them to be forced into military service overseas was physically ejected..

The next morning, with the waterfront still silent, the fired-up war veterans, still exulting over their “triumphs” of the previous day, decided to take on the longshoremen and force them back to work. It was not to be. This time, when they tried to assail the union hall ramparts at Pender and Hornby, they got a surprise. “Charging up a long set of stairs, they were met by longshoremen who beat them back using chair legs as staves,” wrote historian Irene Howard. A tense standoff ensued, until Mayor Robert Henry Otley Gale arrived. He convinced the agitated veterans to appoint a committee to talk to a longshoremen committee, ignoring their demand that the Labour Council’s Jack Kavanagh be ordered out of the city.

The upshot was that the rioters marched off to the Cambie Street grounds, the dockyard workers returned to their jobs at a time of their choosing, and leaders of the Trades and Labour Council agreed to test the persistent accusation that the rank-and-file did not support the general strike by resigning and calling new elections. All but one or two were handily re-elected. By Monday morning, everyone was back at work, except for 50 shoe factory workers whose employer demanded they apologize for their Friday walkout before he would allow them back in.

In the face of fierce intimidation, pro-war hysteria and mob violence, the remarkable success of the first general strike of its kind signified the increasing radicalism of the BC trade union movement, particularly in Vancouver. Less than a year later, the city’s unions walked out again, this time for an entire month, in a sympathy strike to back the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The horrors of World War One and the failure of rampant capitalism to deliver any kind of economic justice to those who did the work led more and more unions to embrace socialism as the only alternative to a broken system.

Ginger Goodwin would have understood.

ANOTHER GREAT FOLKING FESTIVAL

The line-up was skimpier than past years, Sunday clashed with the final of a riveting, month-long World Cup and the sun was hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum, but once again, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival cast its magic over me and thousands of other attendees with its annual mix of good vibes, a setting to die for and outstanding music. Even at my increasingly creaky and cranky advanced age, I found myself dancing, most notably at a wonderful, spirited workshop jam session involving Little Miss Higgins, Les Poules à Collin and Petunia & the Vipers. Thankfully, there were no cameras in sight, and the young people politely refrained from giggling. There were a few other highlights.

Ry Cooder. The 71-year old guitar and world music legend closed the Festival with an exhilarating set that, for the first time in memory, was allowed to go past the traditional 11 p.m. deadline. In addition to his slow, entrancing slide guitar and langorous vocals that leave you lingering on every word, Cooder’s set reflected his growing anger at what is happening in the United States. After drawing laughs with a derisive mention of their bully president in a song, Cooder told us: “You may laugh at Trump up here, but it’s not funny anymore.” Well known for drawing attention to those dealt a raw deal in life, his songs are developing a harder edge, as he gets older and more enraged. He’s re-worked Woody Guthrie’s classic Vigilante Man to include the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by a security guard in Florida. He’s also uncovered a terrific, finger-wagging song from 90 years ago by Blind Albert Reed, You Must Unload. It reminds “fashion-loving Christians….money-loving Christians….[and] power-loving Christians” that they must “unload” if they want to get to heaven. Called back to the stage for an encore, he did three more songs, including his joyful, rollicking, long-time favourite, Little Sister. Bliss from beginning to end.

Rodney Crowell. The consummate American songwriter, who was married to Rosanne Cash for 13 years, is not as well known as he should be, preferring to write songs that others turn into hits and releasing albums that are beautifully under-stated, rather than showy. But his long set on Saturday night was a treasure. It’s been a while since an acoustic artist was able to hold a late night Festival crowd as Crowell did. But with his straight-ahead, honest lyricism about busted relationships, dusty roads, the beauty of an empty landscape and the never-ending search for meaning, he cast a spell. Adding to the mix were two marvelous young musicians accompanying the master, Irishman Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle and Joe Robinson from Australia on guitar. As the sun set spectacularly over Burrard Inlet, it was all rather magical.

At the Sunday morning gospel hour, my perennially favourite workshop, Vancouver’s formidable soul mistress Dawn Pemberton tore the proverbial (open air) roof off the joint, with her exuberant, soaring version of Testify. She had us all standing and shouting out the chorus, while her own voice might have been heard within the Pearly Gates, themselves. Hallelujah, sister. You’re a true force of nature.

Dhakabrakha had to be seen to be believed. At times, the Ukrainian quartet appeared and sounded more like performers beamed in from outer space than anyone with a regular presence on Planet Earth. In defiance of the early evening heat, the three women in the group wore tall, conical fur hats, along with their flowery “peasant” dresses. As one would expect when suddenly confronted by space aliens, there was initial puzzlement among the masses. No worries. The crowd was quickly captivated by their high-pitched voices, odd sounds, traditional songs from rural Ukraine and a pounding rhythm. At the end, we rose as one to salute them. Wild.

(Lucie McNeill Photo)

Three Women and The Truth. TWATT, as they laughingly decided not to call themselves, were folk festival favourites, Mary Gauthier and Eliza Gulkyson, plus Gretchen Peters, whom I hadn’t heard before. If you feel like having your heart broken (in a good way), give Gauthier’s Mercy Now a listen. All three are accomplished feminist and progressive song-writers. But they also produced one of the best laughs at the festival, besides my “dancing”. Looking out over the large crowd, and the darkening North Shore mountains beyond, silhouetted by the setting sun, Gulkyson mused: “I feel like I’m in an alternate universe.” Responded Peters: “You’re in Canada.”

Why isn’t Alex Cuba more of a star? I mentioned his name to a few of my folkie friends, who gravitated towards the edgy likes of Wallis Bird and Carol Pope (both great, by the way….), and received blank stares in return. Cuba and his musician brother emigrated from Fidel-andia in 1999. Since going solo, the pride of Smithers, where he lives with his wife and three children, has got better and better. His fast-paced mixture of jazz, funk, pop and Latin rhythms has won him a Juno, two Grammy nominations and four Latin Grammys. He seems to enjoy every moment on stage, while maintaining a resolute cool. His hour-long set had us rocking. Late Sunday afternoon, in one of those inspired workshops, he and his band were paired with a lively, traditional Mexican band from Veracruz. With his electric guitar, groovy Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, Cuba seemed light years in hipsterdom from the rural, white-shirted Mexicans. But of course they meshed with obvious delight, highlighted by Cuba trading electric guitar licks with the cool cat playing the upright bass (!) for Son de Madera. An impromptu festival moment. Olé!

(Folk Music Festival photo)

Vancouver underground legend Art Bergmann was there. Now old enough to qualify for concession bus fares, Bergmann showed he still had bite. At shady Stage 2, expertly managed by the venerable Les Hatfield, he did We’re All Whores At the Company Store, a savage rewriting of Merle Travis’s famous Sixteen Tons. We joined in on the catchy chorus. Nothing like warbling criminals of capitalism” on a hot Sunday afternoon. When Just Duets concluded the “Change is Gonna Come” workship with a lovely cover of Steve Earle’s Christmas in Washington, Bergmann yelled out “Winnipeg General Strike 1919!”. Yo, bro.

There I was, sitting in the sun when a large shadow suddenly loomed over me. Turned out that my space was being intruded upon by an actual expert on space, the redoubtable president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Yes, it was my longtime friend Chris Gainor, making his annual Folk Festival appearance. No longer wearing his “Beer Not Bombs” button or T-shirt reading “As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist”, his outer space eminence was his usual jolly self, regaling me with tales of early Soviet cosmonaut Konstantin Petrovich Feoktistov…

Neko Case! ‘nuff said. Oh yeah, and a guy dancing with an IPad on his head. Perfectly normal.

And now a word from our sponsor. I’ve attended most of Vancouver’s 41 Folk Music Festivals, and never failed to have a wonderful time. Those who pooh-pooh or scorn the Festival don’t know what they’re missing. But, like most attendees, I’ve been a bit of a free rider. I haven’t always been a member and rarely made a donation. To be blunt,, I have not been paying my Folk Festival dues. But the Festival doesn’t appear each year by magic, and this year, with matters a bit more tenuous, I made a special offering to the Folk Festival gods. Because the board has lined up a number of people pledging to match all donations, my donation was then doubled. I invite everyone to do the same. It’s the least we can do, lest our beloved Festival fade off into the sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

ME AND WILLIE O’REE

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Every now and then, the National Hockey League, even under Gary Bettman, does the right thing. So it was with the recent selection of Willie O’Ree to the Hockey Hall of Fame. O’Ree, 82, was chosen under the hallowed institution’s “builder category”, as the first black to lace ‘em up in the NHL and a long-time ambassador for youth and hockey diversity. In recent years, the honours have piled up for the likeable O’Ree. Banners raised, arenas named, ceremonies, inductions to other, more local halls of fame, and in 2008, the Order of Canada. O’Ree has taken it all in stride, evincing little bitterness over the setbacks and racist taunting he experienced at times during his long hockey career, which lasted until he was 43 years old.

Most of that time was spent in hockey’s minor leagues, a respectable place in those days to earn a few dollars, followed by a summer job to fill out the year’s earnings. Back then, there was nothing pejorative about being “a career minor-leaguer” like O’Ree. And he was a good one. All told, he scored more than 400 goals over 17 seasons, most of them in the Western Hockey League, which included the Vancouver Canucks before they jumped to the NHL in 1970.

Willie O’Ree played only 45 games in the National Hockey League. I was lucky enough to have been at Maple Leaf Gardens for one of them, and I have very clear memories of that magical night. It was my best friend’s birthday, and, baby-boomer parental indifference being what it was, (“go out and play”), we went on our own to the Gardens to watch the Leafs take on the Boston Bruins.

That meant taking the mighty Grey Coach bus from our sweet home town of Newmarket all the way into the big city, about 30 miles distant. This was different from daytime trips with the parents. As a young teen-ager, I remember being awed, and slightly intimidated, by the bright lights and nighttime crowds swirling along Yonge Street, particularly outside the legendary Brown Derby Tavern. But we made our way to the nearby Gardens and plunked down $2 each for standing room tickets. That was the only way to get in, since Leaf games were always sold out.

At the Gardens, you could stand behind the blues, which were best, the greens or the greys at the top of the rink, which were worst. From there, you could barely see the distant players through the haze of cigarette smoke.

 

We lined up in the cold with the other standees. An hour before game time, they opened the doors. Everyone rushed through the turnstiles and dashed frantically up the stairs to get a good place. Rather than risk being crowded out behind the blues, we opted for the lesser greens. We may have been the youngest guys there, but we didn’t care. We were at the Gardens seeing the Leafs, our hockey heroes, for a paltry few dollars.

I also knew that Willie O’Ree would be in the lineup for the Bruins. His historic first appearance had been the year before, but he suited up for only two games, before being shunted back to the minors.. Now he’d been called up again, and the Toronto hockey scribes had been writing about O’Ree and what a curiosity he was, a black player in the NHL. So I was curious, myself, to see him, in addition to rooting for the Leafs.

I watched him closely in the warm-ups, noticing what a fast skater he was. He also seemed to have a good, hard shot, based on the noise the puck made cannonading off the boards when he missed the net. It was fun to see him on the ice. But the Bruins were a last-place team, and the game went well for Toronto. As an added bonus, Johnny Bower, my all-time favourite player, made one of the best saves I’ve ever seen, Despite losing his goal stick, Bower hurled himself full length across the net to deny the Bruins a sure goal. The crowd rose as one in a roaring salute to the greatest custodian of the pipes the Leafs ever had.

oree_willie_action3But back to O’Ree. He didn’t do much in the game. Indeed, during his 45 games in the NHL, he amassed only four goals and 10 assists, which was not enough to keep him in the league beyond the 1960-61 season. Watching him, you could tell he had the speed to be an NHL-er, and he didn’t shy from mix-ups. Yet, he had trouble hitting the net and making those key passes to set up scoring opportunities.

Only much later in life did O’Ree reveal that an early injury had left him virtually blind in his right eye. He had kept it a secret, figuring, probably rightly, that few teams would want him if they knew he had full use of only one eye. No wonder he missed the target so often. I wasn’t the only one to notice it.

Boston teammate Don McKenney recalled a magazine article on O’Ree headlined “King of the Near Miss”, which highlighted the number of his shots that sailed wide. “I’m sure his eye problem was the cause of that because Willie O’Ree was an excellent hockey player in every other regard,” said the skilled McKenney, who occasionally centred a line with O’Ree and Jerry Toppazzini. In the same 2007 interview, McKenney noted exactly what little ol’ teenage me noticed from my perch behind the greens: “He was extremely fast and had a strong shot.”

So not only was O’Ree the first black to play in the NHL, he might have been the first one-eyed winger, too. Remarkable achievements on both counts.

Playing left wing, as he did, forced him to turn his head over his right shoulder to see a pass clearly. In 1963, however, while with the WHL’s Los Angeles Blades, wily coach Alf “The Embalmer” Pike, an off-season mortician who presumably knew something about the human body, sensed something was wrong with O’Ree’s eye. He switched him to right wing. O’Ree began to score like gangbusters. His 38 goals led the league that year, followed by four more 30-goal seasons, including one at the age of 39. One is left to speculate how good Willie O’Ree might have been with 20-20 vision in both eyes.

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As hockey’s black pioneer, O’Ree is often called the Jackie Robinson of the NHL. It’s a poor comparison. Taking nothing away from O’Ree’s breakthrough, the two situations are miles apart. Whether NHL owners were biased against blacks is an open question, but there was no rigidly defined colour bar as there was in baseball, forcing some of the best players in history to play in the Negro Leagues. Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers caused a sensation. O’Ree’s first NHL game was treated as more of an unusual footnote than anything else.

Outside of the Maritimes, from where O’Ree hailed, few black Canadians played hockey. A handful did well in the minor leagues and might have been denied a chance because of their colour, but there were no obvious stars. O’Ree deserves every credit in the world for preserving in the sport he loved from boyhood (“I loved the feel of the wind rushing by as I flew along the ice.”) and making history by making it to “the show”.

Back in Toronto, after the game ended, my friend and I streamed out of the Carlton St. Cash Box, as sports writers liked to call it, into the late-evening crowds, and headed to the bustling, grim bus terminal at Bay and Dundas for the return trip to Newmarket. We sat quietly in the darkened bus, as the miles flashed by, tired but happy. , It had been a wonderful night. The Leafs won 4-1, with the Big M, Frank Mahovlich, and a young rookie, Dave Keon, among the goal scorers. My hero Johnny Bower was the first star, and I had seen Willie O’Ree.

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LADNER’S JAMES PAXTON, AKA “BIG MAPLE”: HIS HISTORIC NO-HITTER AND MORE

When James Paxton came out for the bottom of the ninth against the hometown Toronto Blue Jays, he was pumped. Three outs away from an historic no-hitter, the steely hurler from Ladner, BC was not going to lose it by nibbling around the edges of the plate with sliders and curve balls. He came right at the Blue Jay hitters with fast balls. Despite having already thrown 92 pitches and never having pitched a complete game in his six-year, injury-plagued career, they were his fastest of the night. One broke the 100 mph barrier (160 kilometres per hour in Ladner). All seven were strikes. Anthony Alford fouled out on the first pitch. Hot-hitting Teoscar Hernandez went down swinging on three blazing fastballs. And dangerous Josh Donaldson lashed the ball hard, but straight at the Seattle Mariners’ smooth-fielding third baseman Kyle Seager. He threw carefully over to first, and that was that. Game, set, match. James Paxton was in the record books with a no-hitter, only the second thrown by a Canadian in the major leagues since the dawn of time.** And of course, it was also the first by a Canadian pitcher on his home and native land.

As Paxton’s team-mates mobbed him on the mound, Blue Jay fans stood and cheered their fellow Canadian. Before leaving the field, he acknowledged the crowd by gesturing towards them with the big maple leaf tattooed on his non-throwing right arm.

Canadian players are no longer a rarity in the big leagues. But some, once they get caught up in “America’s Pastime”, tend to downplay their Canadian heritage. (Hello there, Joey Votto. https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/fellow-canadian-joey-votto-apologizes-after-dissing-james-paxtons-no-hitter/) Not James Paxton. He has remained true to his hometown roots in bucolic Ladner. “Games in Toronto are the only ones they see us play, so it’s awesome that it was on TV in Ladner,” he told a post-game interviewer.

His parents Barb and Ted, uncle Lindsay and aunt Lisa had gathered at the family home in Ladner to watch the game. As the innings rolled by, they nervously abided by baseball’s deeply held superstition that no-hitters are never mentioned until the final out, lest they be jinxed. But when Seager’s throw disappeared into first baseman Ryon Healy’s glove, the emotional lid blew off. “We were all out of our seats with tears in our eyes,” Ted told Bob Elliott of the Canadian Baseball Network. “There was a lot of hooting and hollering going on.” Not long afterwards, James’ younger brother Tom walked in the back door, after finishing his construction shift, eyes agog. “He was in the same bewildered state as the rest of us,” said Pops Paxton, who reminded Elliott that last week’s gem against the Jays was not his son’s first no-hitter. He tossed one against Ridge Meadows when he was 12 and still has the baseball at his home in Seattle.

Back at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, as low-key, modest and Canadian as possible under the circumstances, Paxton paid tribute to his team-mates for making his no-hitter possible with several outstanding fielding plays. Then he explained his heartfelt wave to the fans, despite all their Blue Jay jerseys: “I wanted to show my respect to the Canadian crowd, to show them I had heard them and I appreciated that…I’m just so honoured to be Canadian and throw our country’s second no-hitter. And to have it happen in Canada…I mean, what are the odds? This is very special.” He noted, ruefully, that the first time he pitched for the Mariners in Toronto he’d been clobbered for nine runs.

Paxton’s Canadian pride and purposeful maple leaf tattoo have led his Seattle team-mates to tag him with an actual nickname, beyond adding a lame “sy” to his name. He’s Big Maple. In the middle of the tattoo, as a further nod to his upbringing, there is a depiction of Bowyer Island, a wee isle five kilometres north of Horseshoe Bay, where his family had a cabin. “I’ve been living out of Canada for 10 years now, and it reminds me of my family and home.”

Canada has been a tad late to embrace the James Paxton story, perhaps because he plays for Seattle out on the west coast, far from the home of the Jays and the self-proclaimed “centre of the Canadian baseball universe”. Also diminishing his profile has been a frustrating series of injuries that have put him on the disabled list year after year. Until last year’s dozen victories, he had never managed more than six wins or better than 121 innings in a season. So the height of his pre-no-hitter fame may have been early this April, when a befuddled bald eagle lit down on Paxton’s right shoulder during the American national anthem. Video of the bizarre incident and the pitcher’s remarkable sangfroid were a huge hit on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxnx_VbN2A8 Some have suggested the eagle may have been channeling the spirit of his grandfather Lawrie, who died the morning of his grandson’s first major league start.

As it happened, I was there for that memorable game in the fall of 2013. Not by design, but thanks to tickets bought months earlier to complement a planned trip Seattle by taking in nine innings at beloved Safeco Field, a ballpark I never tire of. Expecting little from a routine contest between the mediocre Mariners and anonymous Tampa Bay Rays, I’d been pleased to learn that a pitcher from the Fraser Valley would be making his first appearance in “the show” that night. Even though I hadn’t heard much about James Paxton it was something to look forward to. And a fellow I met in the washroom before the game, one of many rooters who’d made the trip down from Ladner, assured me that Paxton was the real deal, despite his indifferent 8-11 record at Triple A Tacoma. “He’s hot. You watch him tonight.” The urinal guy was right. Showing no sign of nerves, Paxton pitched like a veteran and won the game. The memorable evening was made even better by running into his brother and uncle at the game.

You can read what I wrote here:

https://mickleblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/kid-from-ladner-hits-the-big-time/

I’ve followed his career closely ever since. I even have an autographed James Paxton baseball jersey. He donated it to a fund-raiser for local recovery houses, and there was no way I was going to be outbid! Savvy investor that I am, it’s surely now gone up in value.

The no-hitter and all the ensuing attention could not have happened to a more deserving guy. For those who think professional athletes are little more than pampered zillionaires, Paxton’s life and times in baseball are a testament to perseverance and sheer, hard work. Nothing has come easily. He inched his way up the ladder, with time in North Delta, the University of Kentucky and Alaska, before moving on to the illustrious Grande Prairie HairHogs, Clinton LumberKings, Jackson Generals, and finally to Tacoma, hometown of Neko Case. Gradually, he learned the craft of pitching, beyond simply throwing. Then, just when he finally made the bigs, he was stricken by injury after injury. Only 13 starts in each of 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he was sent back down to Tacoma, before being recalled. Last year, after not yielding an earned run in three starts, he was on the disabled list once more. In July he was 6-0, when, right on cue, a “left pectoral muscle strain” sidelined him yet again. Talk about being star crossed.

But “quit” isn’t in Paxton’s vocabulary. He’s come back more times than that pesky skunk under the neighbour’s porch. And lately, something has seemed to click. The game before his no-hitter, he struck out 16 batters on a mere 105 pitches, a major league record. Is the young man from Lander at last on the verge of showing the baseball world what having an “Eh game” is all about.

 

** (The first hitless game by a Canadian in the majors was tossed by Dick Fowler agains the old St. Louis Browns, while pitching for 82-year old Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics on Sept. 9, 1945. Even more remarkable was the fact that Fowler’s feat came on his first start after spending three years in the Canadian army. There’s nothing quite like baseball.)

 

 

 

 

SALUTING AND MOURNING THE PEERLESS, TWO-OF-A-KIND SEDINS

(Most pictures by me!)

The outpouring of admiration and affection for the incomparable Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as they played their final three games for the lowly Canucks, was like nothing I’ve witnessed in my more than half a century of following sports. Fans, scribes, commentators, competitors, all the way down to the referees and well, just about everyone, joined in the celebration and heartfelt farewells in a way that went beyond the usual tributes to the end of a great player’s career. They seemed to be an acknowledgment that, in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League, the Sedins were something special.

Image 22TImage 19They were not the equal of Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux, the Rocket, or some of the other NHL greats of the past, but they played the game as it had never been played. Their ability to find each other with a no-look perfect pass, whether behind the back, through a crowd or simply by directing the puck to a seemingly innocuous part of the ice where the other Sedin would suddenly appear was other-worldly. At times, they seemed hockey-playing aliens from another planet.

They did so without howitzer shots, blinding speed or bruising physical play, absorbing all the hacking and physical punishment from lesser players without retaliation.  Daniel and Henrik were the antithesis of Don Cherry and that old-school consensus of “the way the game should be played.” Rather they were all about Finesse. With a capital F.

Even during the Canucks’ difficult last few years and beginning to age, whenever the Sedins hit the ice, you knew there was still a possibility of magic, a play that left you gasping with its brilliance. It was a magic that came to be known as “Sedinery”, an uncanny combination of dexterity and puckwork that surely had something to do with the chemistry of being identical twins. At their peak, they made journeymen linemates into 30-goal scorers, if they knew enough to merely wait for the puck near the net, where one of the Sedins would find them with a pinpoint pass.

sedin-twins-nhl-gallery-6Yet it’s often forgotten that their success was far from immediate or inevitable. They were not Gretzky or Lemieux, who were dominant pretty much from game one. One look at the pair of red-cheeked, innocent-looking teenagers drafted by the Canucks, and you could see the problem. How could these seemingly fragile kids from beautiful Örnsköldsvik possibly survive the rough and tumble, often brutal NHL? During their sometimes difficult, early years, they were mocked by many. Belittlers included some so-called Vancouver sports personalities, who shamefully dubbed them “the Sedin sisters” for their endless cycling of the puck and allegedly being Swedish soft. They also took a beating on the ice. But they never whined, never complained. Their extraordinary strength of character saw them through it.

Realizing that what had worked in Sweden wasn’t going to cut it in the rough, tough NHL, through sheer hard work they gradually got it right, improving their skating and building up their strength and stamina. Teammates attested to their fitness. No one showed up at training camp in better shape, a status they maintained religiously throughout the rigours of an NHL season. While their artistry with the puck grabbed the headlines, few remarked on how many plays began with Daniel or Henrik using their physical strength and toughness to protect the puck in the corner or along the boards, before passing. I have never seen players more skilled at operating in such little open ice. By season four, their climb to hockey’s elite had begun. Even this year, at the age of 37, with an unending rotation of nondescript wingers, both still had more points than in any of those first four seasons with the Canucks.

Image 23.jpgOver the years, there were so many good times, so many nights when they would get on one of their dazzling cycles and absolutely mesmerize the other team, before chalking up another goal. In 2009-2010, Henrik won the scoring title and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. The next year, not to be outdone by his older brother, younger Daniel also won the scoring title, plus the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player. There were also the not so good times, of course, particularly the devastating loss in the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup final. And the last few years have been a challenge. But through it all, they never shied from the media or making themselves accountable when they had not been at their best.

In the three games that followed their retirement announcement, the way opposing players waited patiently for a last handshake with the Sedins before heading to the dressing room attested to the great respect they engendered around the league, a respect that extended to rabid supporters of the hometown Edmonton Oilers. At the end of their final game, they kept cheering as Daniel and Henrik skated around the ice, as if they, too, could not bear to see the end of their special talents. And, lest we forget the incredible, rollicking send-off in Vancouver two night earlier. Not only were there ovation after ovation for the local heroes, Daniel scored the winning goal in overtime, setting off a roar the likes of which hadn’t been heard since the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was his second goal of the game, each assisted, naturally, by Henrik, as the twins cranked up their game one last time for a story-book ending to their astounding careers.

The reception in both their home and enemy rinks was as much a recognition of the Sedins’ exemplary character. They didn’t trash talk, didn’t make excuses, didn’t bemoan bad luck. They both remain married to their high-school sweethearts and are raising their kids as normally as possible right here in Vancouver. They are common visitors to city hospitals and involved with select charities, without attracting attention to themselves. When the Sedins gave $1.5 million to BC Children’s Hospital, only at the insistence of the hospital was their donation made public.

Late in their final game against the Oilers, hearing broadcaster john Shorthouse announce for the zillionth time: “Daniel, back to Henrik, pass to Daniel…over to Henrik…”, a wave of sadness, swept over me, as it sank in just how much I will miss them. They were as much a part of Vancouver as the rain, unaffordable real estate prices and the North Shore mountains. Watching the Sedins over their 17 seasons with the boys of Orca is one of the absolute highlights of my many, many years as a hockey fan. I still can’t quite grasp the fact that the twins will not be lacing up their skates for another season, and sweaters 22 and 33 will be missing from the Canucks’ lineup for the first time this century. A magnificent chapter has closed, and we will never see its like again.

I do have one last, mischievous thought. For the longest time not even their coaches could tell the Sedins apart. Now that the tumult and the shouting have died, I can’t help wondering: did Daniel and Henrik ever switch jerseys, just for the fun of it?

Image 6.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

THE LONG GOODBYE

So, farewell then, Dave Barrett. A month after the remarkable NDP leader passed away, it was time for the public to bid adieu, formally and informally.

The official state memorial in Victoria came first, followed the next day by what was more a gathering of the clans at Vancouver’s Croatian Cultural Centre, not that far from where Dave Barrett grew up on the city’s rough-and-tumble east side. Both events were packed, befitting the immeasurable contribution he made to the province of British Columbia during his short 39 months as its first socialist premier. (Unlike today’s New Democrats, he never shied from using the term “socialist”.) Beyond his political legacy, there was an outpouring of real affection for someone who had such a long career, was generous with his time and compassion and never ceased battling for folks on the bottom rung of life’s ladder.

“He believed in wielding power on behalf of those who didn’t have it,” said former NDP MP and MLA Dawn Black, in a strong speech to the Vancouver mourners. “He made them feel like they counted, that they mattered.” Said Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter, hired, at 19 as executive assistant to Barrett’s Housing Minister Lorne Nicholson: “He was the only politician I know who would speak openly about ‘love’.”

Not surprisingly, each of the memorials was pretty much an NDP house. As Premier John Horgan observed, they were the sort of crowds where fund-raising buckets would have been passed around at the end, to be stuffed with coins and bills from those fired up by Barrett’s uplifting, passionate oratory.

Yet I was particularly struck by the words of our non-partisan Lieutenant-Governor, Judith Guichon, at the state memorial. I would hazard a guess that as a longtime Cariboo rancher, before her current vice-regal appointment, she would not have had much “truck or trade” with the NDP. Indeed, as part of the ranching community, she confessed to having grave doubts about the Agricultural Land Reserve when it was brought in by the Barrett government. Now, she observed, she considers the ALR a provincial treasure. “[Dave Barrett] displayed one of the true attributes of a leader; he made hard decisions,” said the Lt.-Govt, who made one herself last summer, when she gave John Horgan the chance to govern, rather than accept Christy Clark’s advice to call an election. “His vision far exceeded that of so many Canadians….The volume of bills, and the lasting nature of the changes wrought during the short duration of that first NDP government, is legendary.”

One of my political heroes, Bill King, also spoke in Victoria. King went from the cab of a locomotive to Labour Minister under Barrett and was arguably the best BC ever had. He presided over a bold new labour code that forever changed the nature of industrial relations in this polarized province, drawing interest and accolades from across North America. Tough as nails, King took no guff from anyone, whether it was the business community or segments of the labour movement, headed by the equally tough head of the BC Federation of Labour, Len Guy, who quarreled with King throughout because he felt labour should have got more. “Barrett,” King told the crowd, “was passionate, hilarious and at times impetuous. He was really a fireball.”

I missed Victoria, but did take in Vancouver, inwardly groaning at the long list of speakers despite assurances they would stick to their five-minute time limits. “New Democrats can’t say hello in under five minutes,” quipped John Horgan. But by and large they did, and the afternoon went by quickly, a warm, loving fitting tribute to what Dave Barrett meant to this province, and to the NDP.

(Premier John Horgan speaking during the Vancouver memorial for Dave Barrett)

I was glad that some recalled and rued Barrett’s defeat in his bid for federal leadership of the NDP in 1989. He lost on the fourth ballot to well-meaning but lack-lustre Audrey McLaughlin, in large measure because of a belief by eastern party members that the NDP had to elect a leader who spoke French in order to have any chance in Quebec. McLaughlin was bilingual. Barrett’s warning about the pending threat of western alienation was ignored. Under McLaughlin, the NDP was virtually wiped off the face of the map in the next election, a shellacking that almost certainly would not have happened with Barrett at the helm, one of the best campaigners the NDP ever had. (Barrett’s heads-up over western alienation turned out to be prescient, since the rise of the Reform Party was a major factor in the NDP’s poor showing, while the party went nowhere in Quebec. ) Horgan was one of those expressing regret at the party’s leadership choice. “Just think what would have happened if Dave Barrett had become leader of the federal party,” he exclaimed. Added Joy MacPhail, who was in the forefront of Barrett’s bid: “…the way he would have stormed the federal stage…I think to this day that he would have made the best leader.” The Ottawa press corps would have lapped up his humour and no-holds-barred, colourful presence.

But of course the major focus was Barrett’s unforgettable tenure as premier, which so changed British Columbia — almost all for the good. “He taught us that you could win by not compromising your views,” said former premier Glen Clark, no shrinking violet himself when he led the province. “He had an unshakeable belief that the power of government could be harnessed to make change.” Moe Sihota, the province’s first South Asian cabinet minister, referenced the historic election of black candidates Emery Barnes and Rosemary Brown and Frank Calder of the Nisga’a Nation in 1973. “He [Barrett] never thought that colour was a barrier.”

Andrew Petter remembered how the Barrett government was savaged by free-enterprisers, even those south of the border. A report on socialist BC by Barron’s Magazine called the premier ‘Allende of the North’. “He considered that a compliment.” (When Allende was shot in the Chilean coup that overthrew his democratically-elected, Marxist government, Barrett ordered the BC flag outside the legislature flown at half-staff.) “The lessons he taught me have guided me for the entirety of my adult life,” said Petter. “Dave, we would have been so much poorer without you.”

Dawn Black singled out two specific measures of the Barrett government that affected her personally. One was the banning of the strap, an enormously controversial move at the time. “I was strapped and I remember feeling so humiliated and feeling the powerlessness of a young person at the power of an adult.” She also pointed to the NDP’s often-overlooked role establishing the BC Cancer Control Agency. “I’ve had two kids with cancer. The [BCCA] provided them with the highest standard of care in the world, and that meant everything to me.”

(Speakers included, L to R, Gerry Scott, Andrew Petter and Joy MacPhail)

Somewhat to my surprise, the best summation of what Dave Barrett bequeathed to the province was delivered by BC’s forgotten premier, Dan Miller, who filled in as interim leader between Glen Clark and Ujjal Dosanjh. Miller moved from his job in Prince Rupert’s Cellulose pulp mill to work as Highway Minister Graham Lea’s executive assistant in Victoria.

Politics were different back then, said Miller. It wasn’t about brief sound clips and making the 6 o’clock news. It was about filling union and community halls to build support. “You had to fill the halls, and for that we had Dave Barrett. He was the only speaker I’d ever heard who could make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. He would read the audience, and then just take off.” On the night of Aug. 30, 1972, when the impossible happened and the unbeatable WAC Bennett went down in flames, bringing the NDP to power for the first time, Miller said the euphoria he experienced that night “has never been duplicated.”

Astutely, Miller likened the impact of the Barrett government to the profound changes that swept Quebec with the election of Jean Lesage and the Liberals in 1960, ending the long run of the socially conservative Union Nationale and its quasi-authoritarian leader Maurice Duplessis. What followed has gone down in history as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. “In the same way, Dave Barrett brought BC into the modern era,” said Miller. He added, with a wry smile: “Although you might describe his revolution as a noisy one.”

Marc Eliesen, imported from Manitoba to restore some stability to the chaos that often overtook the Barrett government, said he once asked Shirley Barrett why she stuck around with a husband so often away and so consumed by politics. She replied: “I want to see what happens next.”

Dave and Shirley were married 64 years, their affection for each other undiminished by time or Alzheimer’s. But the disease took his father’s famous voice, not his spirit, said son Joe. “We knew he was there in gestures and smiles and the way he looked at us. With my mom, you could see the connection between them, even when the illness was very advanced. It was quite beautiful.”

Dave Barrett (1930-2018). We will never see his like again.