AuthorBruce Ricketts

HomeArticles Posted by Bruce Ricketts (Page 6)

David Milgaard – A problem in the system

At the tender age of 16, David Milgaard was accused of raping and murdering Gail Miller, a young nursing aide in Saskatoon,Saskatchewan. He spent 23 years behind bars while his mother, Joyce, launched a one-woman campaign to free her son. Nicknamed by Homemaker Magazine as the “Gumshoe Mom,” Joyce took David’s case right up to the Supreme Court, along with lawyers Hersh Wolch and David Asper. In 1992, the court ruled that keeping David Milgaard in prison would constitute a miscarriage of justice, given the fact that the original witnesses, who had spoken up against him, had since retracted their testimonies. They were frightened and confused teenagers at the time of Miller’s death, and had been coerced by the police into fingering David Milgaard. Although a serial rapist by the name of Larry Fisher had been operating in Saskatoon, and even lived in the very building that Milgaard had visited on the day of the rape, the police insisted on focusing their attention on David.

After the historic Supreme Court decision that freed Milgaard in 1992, he was left in a state of legal limbo. His lawyers, family and supporters continued their battle to exonerate him. It took five years for DNA to prove conclusively that Milgaard had not killed Gail Miller and two more years for David and his family to receive a $10 million compensation package, and an apology from the government of Saskatchewan

(You can view the entire transcript of Justice Edward P. MacCallum’s Judicial Enquiry into the Wrongful Conviction of David Milgaardon line at .)

Notes on this story:In 1992 Sigrid MacDonald took on the task of co-coordinator of the David Milgaard Support Group in Ottawa. She ran the
group with Joyce Milgaard’s advisement, and with the invaluable help of her niece, co-coordinator, Ann Augstman. The Milgaard meetings were small but the supporters were ardent.

One such supporter was Louise Ellis, a freelance journalist who fell in love with Brett Morgan, a jailhouse snitch, at the Supreme Court hearing.  She went to bat for Morgan, a self-confessed murderer, fell in love with him, hired lawyers to expedite his release from prison, and took him into her house.  Nine months later she went missing.

D’Amour Road is a novel that Sigrid wrote and dedicated to Louise.  It is a fictional account of a woman who falls for a man with a criminal history. You can read more about it at

Bruce’s Notes:I became aware of Sigrid’s connection to this story a few months back when I met Sigrid at the opening of Baico Books in Ottawa.  I encouraged her to write this story, as Milgaard’s case is only one of many examples of how justice can go askew and convict the wrong person.  There is no easy solution to these miscarriages of justice but it important that we learn from the mistakes.

Continue Reading

Gerhard Herzberg Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Gerhard Herzberg was born in Hamburg, Germany, on 25 December, 1904 and died in Ottawa on March 3, 1999.  He was married in 1929 to Luise Herzberg (He was widowed in 1971.) and was the father of two children. I was honored to meet Dr. Herzberg in the 1980s at the National Research Council Labs, on Sussex Drive, that bear his name – The Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.  At that time, he was Canada’s only living Nobel Prize recipient.  He was awarded the 1971 prize for Chemistry.  You never would have guessed it when you met him.  He was not the stodgy person you would have expected.  He was fun to talk with.  When Herzberg retired from NRC in 1994 he was retained as a Distinguished Research Scientist until his death in 1999.

His official Nobel biography was published in the Les Prix Nobel en 1971, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1972

Herzberg received his early training in Hamburg and subsequently studied physics at the Darmstadt Institute of Technology where in 1928 he obtained his Dr.Ing. degree under H. Rau (a pupil of W. Wien). From 1928 to 1930 he carried out post-doctorate work at the University of Göttingen under James Franck and Max Born and the University of Bristol. In 1930 he was appointed Privatdozent (lecturer) and senior assistant in the Physics Department of the Darmstadt Institute of Technology.

In August 1935 Herzberg was forced to leave Germany as a refugee and took up a guest professorship at the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Canada), for which funds had been made available by the Carnegie Foundation. A few months later he was appointed research professor of physics, a position he held until 1945. From 1945 to 1948 Herzberg was professor of spectroscopy at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago. He returned to Canada in 1948 and was made Principal Research Officer and shortly afterwards Director of the Division of Physics at the National Research Council. In 1955, after the Division had been divided into one in pure and one in applied physics, Herzberg remained Director of the Division of Pure Physics, a position which he held until 1969 when he was appointed Distinguished Research Scientist in the recombined Division of Physics.

Herzberg’s main contributions are to the field of atomic and molecular spectroscopy. He and his associates have determined the structures of a large number of diatomic and polyatomic molecules, including the structures of many free radicals difficult to determine in any other way (among others, those of free methyl and methylene). Herzberg has also applied these spectroscopic studies to the identification of certain molecules in planetary atmospheres, in comets, and in interstellar space.

Herzberg has been active as President or Vice President of several international commissions dealing with spectroscopy. He was also Vice President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics from 1957 to 1963. He held the offices of President of the Canadian Association of Physicists for the year 1956-57 and President of the Royal Society of Canada for the year 1966-67.

Herzberg was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1939 and of the Royal Society of London in 1951. He was Bakerian Lecturer of the Royal Society of London in 1960 and received a Royal Medal from the Society in 1971. He was George Fischer Baker Non-Resident Lecturer in Chemistry at Cornell University in 1968, and Faraday Medallist and Lecturer of the Chemical Society of London in 1970. He is Honorary Member or Fellow of a number of scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Optical Society of America and the Chemical Society. He is also a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada. He has received many other medals and awards and holds Honorary Degrees from a number of universities in Canada and abroad, including one from the University of Stockholm.

Continue Reading

Canadian Poppy Coin Threatened the US

Try as you might, you can’t make up stories like this unless you work for the “Twilight Zone”.  It has been stated more than once, by very smart people that to control a population you must keep them on edge. The following story (also reprinted by Fox News) on May 9, 2007) was reported by Associated Press.

“Poppy Coin”, Culprit Behind U.S. Spy Warning WASHINGTON (AP) – An odd-looking Canadian coin with a bright red flower was the culprit behind a U.S. Defense Department false espionage warning earlier this year about mysterious coin-like objects with radio frequency transmitters.

The harmless “poppy coin” was so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. Army contractors traveling in Canada that they filed confidential espionage accounts about them.

The worried contractors described the coins as “anomalous” and “filled with something man-made that looked like nanotechnology,” according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The silver-colored 25-cent piece features the red image of a poppy — Canada’s flower of remembrance — inlaid over a maple leaf. The unorthodox quarter is identical to the coins pictured and described as suspicious in the contractors’ accounts.

The supposed nanotechnology actually was a conventional protective coating the Royal Canadian Mint applied to prevent the poppy’s red color from rubbing off. The mint produced nearly 30 million such quarters in 2004 commemorating Canada’s 117,000 war dead.

“It did not appear to be electronic [analog] in nature or have a power source,” wrote one U.S. contractor, who discovered the coin in the cup holder of a rental car. “Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire-like mesh suspended on top.”

The confidential accounts led to a sensational warning from the Defense Security Service, an agency of the Defense Department, that mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

One contractor believed someone had placed two of the quarters in an outer coat pocket after the contractor had emptied the pocket hours earlier. “Coat pockets were empty that morning and I was keeping all of my coins in a plastic bag in my inner coat pocket,” the contractor wrote.

But the Defense Department subsequently acknowledged that it could never substantiate the espionage alarm that it had put out and launched the internal review that turned up the true nature of the mysterious coin.

Meanwhile, in Canada, senior intelligence officials expressed annoyance with the American spy-coin warnings as they tried to learn more about the oddball claims.

“That story about Canadians planting coins in the pockets of defense contractors will not go away,” Luc Portelance, deputy director for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote in a January e-mail to a subordinate. “Could someone tell me more? Where do we stand and what’s the story on this?”

Others in Canada’s spy service also were searching for answers.

“We would be very interested in any more detail you may have on the validity of the comment related to the use of Canadian coins in this manner,” another intelligence official wrote in an e-mail. “If it is accurate, are they talking industrial or state espionage? If the latter, who?” The identity of the e-mail’s recipient was censored.

Intelligence and technology experts were flabbergasted over the warning when it was first publicized this year. The warning suggested that such transmitters could be used surreptitiously to track the movements of people carrying the coins.

“I thought the whole thing was preposterous, to think you could tag an individual with a coin and think they wouldn’t give it away or spend it,” said H. Keith Melton, a leading intelligence historian.

But Melton said the Army contractors properly reported their suspicions. “You want contractors or any government personnel to report anything suspicious,” he said. “You can’t have the potential target evaluating whether this was an organized attack or a fluke.”

The Defense Security Service disavowed its warning about spy coins after an international furor, but until now it has never disclosed the details behind the embarrassing episode.

The United States said it never substantiated the contractors’ claims and performed an internal review to determine how the false information was included in a 29-page published report about espionage concerns.

The Defense Security Service never examined the suspicious coins, spokeswoman Cindy McGovern said. “We know where we made the mistake,” she said. “The information wasn’t properly vetted. While these coins aroused suspicion, there ultimately was nothing there.”

Numismatist Dennis Pike of Canadian Coin & Currency near Toronto, Ontario, quickly matched a grainy image and physical descriptions of the suspect coins in the contractors’ confidential accounts to the 25-cent poppy piece.

“It’s not uncommon at all,” Pike said. He added that the coin’s protective coating glows peculiarly under ultraviolet light. “That may have been a little bit suspicious,” he said.

Some of the U.S. documents the AP obtained were classified “Secret/Noforn,” meaning they were never supposed to be viewed by foreigners, even America’s closest allies. The government censored parts of the files, citing national security reasons, before turning over copies under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Nothing in the documents — except the reference to nanotechnology — explained how the contractors’ accounts evolved into a full-blown warning about spy coins with radio frequency transmitters. Many passages were censored, including the names of contractors and details about where they worked and their projects.

But there were indications the accounts should have been taken lightly. Next to one blacked-out sentence was this warning: “This has not been confirmed as of yet.”

The Canadian intelligence documents, which also were censored, were turned over to the AP for $5 under that country’s Access to Information Act. Canada cited rules for protecting against subversive or hostile activities to explain why it censored the papers.

Continue Reading

History of the Chinese in Canada

Debates of the Senate (Hansard) 1st Session, 36th Parliament, Vol. 137
Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Hon. Vivienne Poy: Honourable senators, I speak today about a group of Canadians who, over a period of 211 years, helped to build this great country. It is the story of the Chinese Canadians. I will start with a mystery story and go on to what happened before and after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, and to the end of legal discrimination. The first Chinese arrived in British North America in 1788, brought by John Meares from the Portuguese colony of Macao in South China, where Meares was selling fur pelts to Chinese merchants for use in mandarins’ robes. The group consisted of 50 to 70 labourers, carpenters and shipwrights. They arrived in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, in early June. While Meares continued trading southward, the Chinese shore party set to work constructing a small schooner, the North West America, and building a two-story fort. Spain disputed Meare’s land grant by virtue of prior discovery, attacked the fort and seized the North West America and other ships. The fate of the Chinese carpenters and shipwrights was a mystery. According to some accounts, they were captured by Spaniards and taken to Mexico. Other reports indicated that they lived with the Nootka people, and then moved inland with native wives to begin their own settlement. Whatever the case, within a generation or two their identities were lost. Another 70 years were to pass before the Chinese appeared again in British North America.

Before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923: Despite a decree issued in 1712 by the Ch’ing Emporer K’ang-hsi that anyone who intended to stay abroad should be summoned back and beheaded, the Chinese emigrated en masses by the middle of the nineteenth century because of the population explosion in South China and peasants who had trouble in Guangdong province. Up to 90 per cent of the peasants lost their land. Since there was no industrialization in China, the surplus landless population had to look elsewhere to seek economic opportunities.

With the abolition of the slave trade in Europe, European colonists badly needed labourers to work in their colonies. In China, the declining Manchu government of the Ch’ing Dynasty was forced by the European powers to open treaty ports. The commissioners of Great Britain and France pressed for legislation with respect to the emigration of coolie labour. In order to stop the kidnapping of Chinese men by coolie crimps along the coast of Guangdong, emigration was regulated. However, the kidnapping continued.

The discovery of gold in California, and later in British Columbia and Australia, gave great impetus for Chinese men to emigrate. In the first eight months of 1850, 50,000 Chinese men emigrated to California. In 1858, with news of the discovery of gold along the Fraser River, thousands of Chinese moved north into British Columbia from San Francisco. Those who came as gold miners did not realize that the Chinese were not allowed to work the mines until the white miners had moved on.

In British Columbia, when the individual miners left and the “rush” was over, they were replaced by mining companies, many of them Chinese. Many Chinese also went into service industries for the mining towns. Victoria became the main centre for Chinese immigrants in North America.

At that time, Canada did not exist as a country, and the Chinese, despite discrimination, had the same full legal rights as the white residents. The Aliens Act of 1861 provided that the aliens, resident for three years within the colony who took the oaths of residence and allegiance, had the rights of British subjects.

In 1860, the London Times wrote that:

…no distinctions were made against them – that is – the Chinese in these colonies… the great bulk of the population is very glad to see them coming into the country…

An article in the Victoria British Colonist in 1861 stated:

We have plenty of room for many thousands of Chinamen… there can be no shadow of a doubt but their industry enables them to add very largely to our own revenues…

However, agitation against the Chinese began when B.C. began to experience economic hardships. By 1866, good claims in placer mining were difficult to find, and the Chinese were often perceived as competitors who were willing to undercut white miners’ wages.

On July 20, 1871, British Columbia became a province of Canada. In its first session after joining Confederation, the province passed an amendment to the Qualifications of Voters Act to disenfranchise Chinese and Indian voters. Even though the Chinese were not removed from the voters’ list until 1875, in January 1873 they were prevented from voting in Nanaimo by being physically barred from the polling stations. The Colonist applauded the act as sensible, and referred to the Chinese as “heathen” slaves who had no right to stand side by side with other Canadians at the ballot box. This event, honourable senators, happened 13 years after the birth of the first Chinese in Canada.

In May 1873, the first anti-Chinese society was established in Victoria.

Up to the end of the 1870s, the federal government did not heed the anti-Chinese petition from British Columbia. Sir John A. Macdonald told the members of Parliament from British Columbia that if they wanted the railway, they would have to accept Chinese construction workers.

The Leader of the Opposition, Alexander MacKenzie, stated:

…the principle that some classes of human family were not fit to be residents…would be dangerous and contrary to the Law of Nations and the policy which controlled Canada.

Canada had become dependent on the Chinese as a cheap source of labour. Chinese workmen were paid $1.35 per day, as compared to white workers at $2 per day.

In order to adapt to a hostile environment, the Chinese mobilized whatever resources were available to them, including remote kinship ties, which helped in their survival in a foreign land, as well as in building ethnic businesses. Chinese culture played an important role in the adaptation and survival of these immigrants in Canada.

Between 1881 and 1884, Chinese labourers were hired to work building the Canadian Pacific Railway. Seventeen thousand Chinese arrived in Canada to fill the severe labour shortage during its completion. Chinese labourers were paid half the wages of white labourers. Railway contractors found them through Chinese companies that recruited them from China, Hong Kong and the United States. Henry Cambie, the surveyor and engineer for the CPR, described them as “trained gangs of rock men, as good as I ever saw.”

Chinese labour was indispensable to the economic development of British Columbia, as shown in the royal commission of 1885.

According to Sir Matthew Begbie, Chief Justice of British Columbia:

I do not see how people would get on here at all without Chinamen. They do, and do well, what white women cannot do, and do what white men will not do…. They constitute three-fourths of the working hands about every salmon cannery; they are a very large majority of the labourers employed in gold mines; they are the model market gardeners of the province, and produce the greater part of the vegetables grown here; they have been found to be absolutely indispensable in the construction of the railway….

B.C. politicians were pressing the dominion government to act on what was defined as a public menace, the Chinese. Prime Minister Macdonald frankly told the House of Commons, in 1883:

It will be all very well to exclude Chinese labour when we can replace it with white labour, but until that is done, it is better to have Chinese labour than no labour at all.

This proved that legislative control of Chinese immigration was inevitable the moment the CPR was completed.

Many people died building the railway. On the 350 miles connecting British Columbia to the rest of Canada alone, 700 Chinese people died. This means that two Chinese workers died for every mile of the railway. Life was terrible. Accidents were frequent. Living conditions were so poor that no medical attention was given to the Chinese. Winter was particularly harsh for these men from southern China who were not ready for the cold. There were reports of epidemics and scurvy killing hundreds along the railway. When work was completed on one section in the Fraser Canyon, Chinese workers were fired, leaving them in destitution, in towns along the tracks.

With the completion in 1885 of the CPR, thousands of Chinese were out of work. Many headed towards the Prairies and Eastern Canada. A thousand went back to China. Most stayed in B.C. In the same year, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, imposing a $50 head tax, with few exceptions, on every person of Chinese origin entering this country. The tax was increased to $100 in 1900.

Canada Chinese Immigration Act

According to the Royal Commission of 1902 on the question of Chinese and Japanese immigration, it was decided that no head tax was to be imposed on the Japanese, and the head tax on the Chinese was increased to $500.

From the beginning until after the Second World War, the Chinese remained marginal in Canadian society. The removal of citizenship rights, their exclusion from immigration and the restrictions on occupational competition were legally sanctioned by the state and were formally institutionalized.

Chinese exclusion had inadvertently benefited many interest groups and became a means for consolidated union organizations, as well as winning political support.

Economic exclusion persisted until well after the Second World War. Opportunities were so limited that the Chinese started their own businesses to make a living and to give employment for their own people. In 1895, the Chinese Board of Trade was formed in Vancouver.

Dominion of Canada Chinese Note

In 1907, anti-Asian riots swept through Vancouver’s Chinatown. The riots occurred when a branch of the Asiatic Exclusion League held a rally on the night of September 27. Speakers at the rally called for a white Canada. The fear of discrimination caused some Chinese to move east at the close of the 19th century. Most who settled in the prairie provinces and Eastern Canada became owners of small businesses and market gardens.

Wherever the Chinese went, discrimination followed. In 1882, a smallpox alarm in Calgary led to the destruction of Chinese laundries by a mob of 300. Over the next few decades, in three provinces, Chinese residents were disenfranchised, and restrictions were imposed on locations of Chinese laundries, while white residents complained that these laundries lowered the value of their properties.

In the Supreme Court appeals case, in 1914, Quong-Wing v. The King, on the prohibition of Chinese employees in hiring white women, Judge Davies ruled:

… the word as used in the statute… Chinamen as men of a particular race or blood… whether aliens or naturalized…

During the First World War, Chinese labour was again needed in this country. In 1917, employers in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan proposed importing Chinese workers to relieve the labour shortage. In the same year, the War-time Elections Act stripped the Chinese of the right to vote federally. In the last two years of the war, the Chinese employment situation improved and the immigration level increased up to 4,000 annually. Chinese communities prospered.

At the end of the war, there was again alarm among the white population, not only because of the increase in immigration, but also because the Chinese were moving into new occupations, as well as land ownership and farm operations. Even Chinese-owned restaurants that served western-style foods were under attack.

I now turn to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. By the early 1920s, the Canadian economy was in a recession as a result of the closure of many wartime industries, and war veterans returning looking for work. Again, resentment against the Chinese was high. The Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, in 1923, which stopped immigration from China for the next 24 years.

When the exclusion act went into effect on July 1, 1923, Dominion Day, Chinese Canadians called it “humiliation day,” and refused to have anything to do with Dominion Day celebrations for many years.

During the depression, the Chinese in Alberta received relief payments of $1.12 a week, less than half the amount paid to the rest of the population in need. Despite that, many prairie farming families owed their lives to the credits given to them by the Chinese store owners in their purchase of daily necessities during those difficult years.

Despite great adversity, the growth of ethnic businesses among the Chinese in the 1920s and 1930s reflected their successful attempt to set up an economic niche by avoiding competition with white workers and businesses.

During the Second World War, 500 Chinese men served in the Canadian army. Some became secret agents serving in the British Special Operations Executive, mainly in South East Asia where they worked behind enemy lines. An example was Douglas Jung, who in 1957 became the first Chinese-Canadian elected to the federal Parliament. Jung was born in Victoria, but his father had to register his birth with the Canadian immigration authorities. He was given a document with the words, “this certificate does not establish legal status in Canada.”

When World War II broke out, Jung and his brothers enlisted. While one of Jung’s brothers went into Normandy on D-day and another became a pilot with the RCAF, Jung was instrumental in gathering together from across Canada 12 Chinese Canadian soldiers who volunteered to serve in the Pacific. Their operation was so secret that only two senior Canadian officers at Headquarters, Pacific Command, knew of their existence. Their mission was given so little chance of success that it was code-named “Operation Oblivion.”

The group served with great distinction and four of the 12 received military medals for bravery in the field. No other Canadian military formation had received such a high proportion of decorations.

Regarding the end of legal discrimination, at the end of World War II the Chinese Canadian veterans lobbied for the right to be recognized as Canadian citizens. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947, making it possible for the wives of Chinese Canadians, and their unmarried children under the age of 18, to immigrate to Canada. In the same year, they regained their right to vote. It was only the year before that the Chinese in B.C. were finally allowed to work in the professions as lawyers, accountants and doctors, et cetera.

When the Liberals took office in 1963, it was clear that Canada’s immigration policies needed to be reworked to end discrimination. On October 1, 1967, under the government of Lester B. Pearson, a “points system” to Canadian immigration was introduced. This was the beginning of a new era of Chinese entries into this country, and more educated Chinese moved to Canada.

In 1971, the official national policy of multiculturalism was introduced, and Vancouver’s Chinatown was designated a historic site. The Immigration Act of 1976, which came into force under Prime Minister Trudeau, further reflected changes in Canada’s immigration policy which effectively brought about the end of institutional discrimination in Canada.

However, attitudes are much more difficult to change. In 1979, CTV aired the program, “Campus Give-away,” accusing Canadian universities of accepting Chinese students with higher qualifications than white Canadian students, and thereby spaces in the area of higher education were being taken up by “foreign students.” The program implied that students who looked Chinese were foreign, regardless of whether they were Canadian born, naturalized or visa students. This program sparked nationwide protests in the Chinese community and led to the formation of the Chinese Canadian National Council in 1984. The council then launched a campaign to get redress from the Canadian government for past payments of the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants. The CCNC lobbied cabinet ministers and a rally was organized in Ottawa in 1992.

In a letter to six cultural communities, including Jewish, Chinese, German, Indian, Italian and Ukrainian, dated December 14, 1994, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Sheila Finestone, stated that the government would not grant financial compensation for the requests made. However, an announcement was made for the establishment of the Canadian Race Relation Foundation to work towards the elimination of racial discrimination.

Government legislation can only set up legal parameters but has no control in the way people think, despite the fact that, since the 1950s, many Chinese Canadians have distinguished themselves in many fields and professions, both nationally and internationally, and Chinese businesses and investments have brought great prosperity to this country. In July, 1995, Deputy Mayor Carole Bell of Markham, Ontario, made inflammatory remarks that the residents of Markham were being driven out by the Chinese and their businesses, which caused great furor in the Chinese community. Attitudes are difficult to change. The difference today is that when the Chinese move in, property prices go up.

The ancient Chinese book, The Art of War, written by Sun Zi about 3,000 years ago, said that it is more effective to attack the mind than to attack a city. In the same context, honourable senators, it is more effective to change people’s attitudes towards racial discrimination through education than to change the laws of a country.

As a proud Canadian, I would call upon my honourable colleagues to work together towards this goal.

Continue Reading

Malaria in Canada?

Malaria is an infamous killer throughout much of our world’s tropical areas; it kills or debilitates millions each year, and its economic impact is devastating. But most Canadians might have difficulty imagining malaria outbreaks in Canada. But, in the 1800s, particularly along the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers, malaria was rampant.

The Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers flow through Eastern Ontario; the Rideau flows North from the Rideau Lakes to the Ottawa River, the Cataraqui flows south into Lake Ontario, near Kingston. They both flow through a rugged, post-glacial landscape, dotted with isolated lakes, ponds, wetlands, swamps, fens, bogs, and so forth. These sluggish and stagnant wetlands were ideal breeding grounds for the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria.

Of course, in the 1800s, no one knew that malaria (often called ague) was a infection transmitted by mosquitoes. The suspected cause of the disease is reflected in the name malaria: it was widely believed the cause was ‘bad air’, or ‘mal aria’. The theory was that malaria was caused by the ‘bad’ air found around swamps. Today we know that malaria is caused by a microscopic parasite carried by mosquitoes, and the bad air around swamps is methane gas.

When the 1800s dawned Eastern Ontario was sparsely settled, being too remote and too rocky to attract homesteaders. But the War of 1812 changed all that.  At that time, most settlement in Upper Canada (now Ontario) was along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and the Great Lakes, and, with few roads, transport was mostly by boat. With the United States of America lining the other shores, the transportation routes were vulnerable to attack, particularly along the St. Lawrence from Kingston to Montreal. After we won the War of 1812 (in 1814), this transportation vulnerability was addressed.

The particular problem was military communication between Montreal, Ottawa, and Kingston. Anything shipped from Ottawa to Kingston or westward had to travel down the Ottawa River to Montreal, then up the St. Lawrence River to Kingston, in full view of the Americans. With Ottawa as the Capital, this situation could not continue.

To solve this problem, the British Royal Engineers, under Colonel John By, constructed the Rideau Canal system, which links Kingston and Ottawa, using the Rideau and Cataraqui Rivers. From 1826 to 1832, a series of locks, dams, canal sections, and other engineering marvels was built to form a 220 km canal that is still used today; ironically, many tourists on the canal today are Americans it was built to protect us from.

It was during the construction of the canal that malaria ran rampant. Each summer the ‘ague’ returned to ravage the population. There is no accurate count of those who died, but the numbers certainly were high. The only treatment at the time was quinine, derived from a tropical tree bark. Unfortunately, few labourers could afford the drug. (Bye the way, some of us today may sip a ‘Gin and Tonic’ on a warm day: the ‘Tonic’ contains quinine, and was originally designed as a malaria treatment for British troops in India).

One of the worst malaria areas on the Rideau Canal was Jones Falls, known today for its beauty. In 1826 it was a remote wilderness of rock and swamp. Colonel By’s crews built an amazing set of four canal locks, as well as the Jones Falls Dam, the largest in North America!, and a marvel in its own right. But, every July and August, work all-but stopped, due to the ague. Many workers left the area altogether, and those who stayed were too weak to work.

There is the tale of one worker, who said he would go to his deathbed smiling, not because he thought he would go to Heaven, but because he knew Hell would be a lot easier than working on the Jones Falls Dam.

By the 1900s malaria had died out in Eastern Ontario, after we learned to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds. Today all that reminds us are the locks and dams, and graveyards, of the Rideau Canal.

How did malaria break out in Eastern Ontario? It seems likely there were two strains of malaria at work, one temperate strain and one tropical. The tropical strain would have been brought to Canada by British soldiers, particularly Royal Engineers who had built railways and dams in India, and were brought to Canada to build the Rideau Canal, and the other developed here.

Continue Reading

First Airmail Flight

There is a plaque at the corner of Brentcliffe Road and Broadway Avenue in Leaside (Toronto), Ontario.  It was erected to commemorate the first airmail flight in Canada which took place on June 24, 1918. A flight that almost failed. The air war over Europe during WWI took a heavy toll on pilots.  More than a few had “touched the face of God” and not returned to talk about the experience.  By the last months of the war, the number of recruits had dwindled significantly.  Captain Brian Peck volunteered to perform a aerial demonstration over Montreal to spark the interests of recruits to join the Royal Flying Corps.  He, with a passenger, Cpl, E.W. Mathers, flew a Curtiss JN4 from the Leaside Aerodrome to the Bois Franc Polo Grounds near Montreal.  His planned air show on June 22, was cancelled due to poor weather.  He planned to return to Leaside the next day.

Two members of the Aerial League of the British Empire, G. Lighthall and E. Greenwood, were determined to make the Peck’s return flight the first air mail delivery in Canada.  They had contacted the Postmaster General in Ottawa and were given 120 letters, with special stamps reading “Inaugural Service via aerial mail – Montreal 23.6.18”.  Unfortunately the inaugural flight was delayed until June 24 due to a heavy rainstorm.  When Peck wound up his plane on June 24, his passenger held the mail on his lap.  The plane lumbered down the polo grounds and slogged its way off the ground.  The extra weight added before takeoff made the plane so heavy that it could not get above 40 feet altitude.  It flew so low that it had to manoeuvre beneath telegraph wires and around obstacles.  It burned so much fuel that the plane was landed in Kingston where they took on regular auto gas.  The gas resulted in a sputtering engine and loss of power.  Peck landed again at Deseronto, less than 30 miles later, to drain the fuel tanks and bring on a load of aviation fuel.  At 4:55 PM, after nearly 6 hours in transit, Peck landed in Leaside and delivered the mail to the Toronto Postmaster.

For almost 45 years the reason why the plane had so much trouble carrying the mail was hidden from the public.  In 1954, in his book, Canada’s Flying Heritage, Frank Ellis told the story.  Prior to his flight to Montreal, Peck was asked by a friend to bring back something for a wedding.  It was a time when Prohibition was in place in Ontario.  Peck had loaded his plane with cases of Mull Scotch.

By the way, on July 9, 1918, Katherine Stinson delivered the first airmail in Western Canada.  She also became the first female pilot to deliver airmail in Canada.

Continue Reading

Tim Buck – Canada’s Little Communist

I am not a fan of the Communist political system. But I also admit that I not a dedicated fan of the philosophy of Capitalism either. Communism in Canada is a late 19th and early 20th century thing.  That is not to say that Communists do not still offer up their ideas in Canada today, they are just not as influential as in the early part of the 20th century. Why, you may ask, were they influential in the early 20th century.  Welcome to the Depression Era of Canada.

Most people will tell you that the Depression started in Canada on October 29, 1929 when the stock market collapsed under a credit crunch.  A day known now as Black Tuesday.  However there was no one event which precipitated this unprecedented period of squalor, unemployment and untold hardship which lasted for a full decade.

During this decade, men were forced into concentration camps (referred to by governments as “Relief Camps”) where they worked for starvation wages doing meaningless labour in conditions that would get you a call from the Humane Society if you treated a dog the same way.  It was a decade when the sight of a policeman beating a man or woman with a night stick would be commonplace.  It was a time when, if you had no money because you had no job or job prospect, you were in contravention of the Criminal Code – you were a vagrant.  It was also a time when the governments, federal, provincial and municipal, abrogated their responsibilities to Canadians by not leading with compassion but rather reacting with malice.

Capitalism was breaking down and into that vacuum stepped Tim Buck, Canada’s Little Commie.

Tim Buck was born in 1891 in Beccles, England.  He was described in Pierre Burton’s book on the Depression as, “short, wiry, quiet spoken, clean shaven and well read.”  “(He)… looked more like a shoe salesman than the cartoon stereotype of a bearded, bomb-throwing Bolshevik.”

He was working as a machinist’s apprentice when he learned about and became a devout socialist.  In 1910 he emigrated to Canada because the steamship fare was cheaper to here than to Australia.

In 1921, following a career of as a strong and activist union member, he helped for the Communist Party of Canada (CPC), which he would lead from 1930 until he died in 1973.

During the First World War the government of Canada enacted an amendment to the Criminal Code which made it a crime to subvert the government of Canada.  It was known as Section 98.  In 1929 they amended the section to make it illegal to belong to any group that “may” subvert the will of the government.  In other words if you belonged to a group that is peaceable and not interested in “taking over” the country, the Government of Canada, through the amended Section 98, could declare that you may one day try that and throw you in jail.  All you had to do is say the wrong words, in the opinion of the government, and it was off to the slammer for you.

I love democracy at work!

By the summer of 1929 in Canada, police surveillance and harassment of Communists was giving way to public beatings.  A riot in Queen’s Park in Toronto, provoked by the police, in the summer of 1929 was the beginning. By 1931, as the Depression deepened, more and more Canadians were beginning to listen to what Communists were saying.

Something had to be done to help the millions who were suffering.

The CPC offered a simple program: the establishment of non-contributory state run unemployment insurance; a seven hour work day; and a national minimum wage of $25 a week. Petitions in support of these proposals were widely circulated.

In June 1931, five members of Montreal’s CPC were sentenced to a year of hard labour following their conviction on a charge of sedition. They were guilty of having urged 300 unemployed workers to organize and demand that the authorities relieve their hardship. The meeting was broken up by 150 police.

Two months later, on August 11, 1931, the Communist Party’s offices in Toronto were raided; Buck and seven colleagues were arrested. Although Buck and the CPC had been operating in the open for years, they were now seen as a threat that needed to be suppressed.

The trial took place in November 1931. The crown’s chief witness was John Leopold, a five foot tall RCMP officer, who’d been an undercover member of the CPC from 1921 to 1928, when he’d been expelled. Leopold testified that the Communists planned the overthrow of the existing order through the use of force.  Buck argued that there had never been any violence as a result of the activities of the CPC. Whatever violence there had been had been instigated by the authorities. In a closing three-hour speech in his defense he said, “When we are charged with teaching or advocating force or violence, we point out that if the workers are learning anything about ‘force or violence’ these days, they are not learning from us. We do not consider it necessary to teach or advocate the use of ‘force or violence.’ We do not believe that governments, systems of society, or states are overthrown by a conspiracy — but rather by undeniable forces.”

Buck and his companions were found guilty of a “crime” and sentenced to hard labour at Kingston Penitentiary.

In 1932, a few months after Buck was incarcerated, a riot broke out at the Penitentiary.  Buck was not involved and he did not budge from his cell during the riot.  While he sat and listened to the maelstrom that ensued outside, eight shots rang out and eight bullets entered his cell via the window and barely missed Buck.   Was it collateral fire or was Buck being targeted?

The authorities denied targeting Buck but I wonder…?

In fact, in late 1933 an embarrassed Hugh Guthrie, Minister of Justice, admitted in the House of Commons that shots had in fact been fired into Buck’s cell — but just “to frighten him.”

In 1934 Buck was freed from prison and took up his leadership of the CPC.

From 1929 to 1939, Canada was in the grips of the Depression.  Over 3.5 million people were unemployed.  Hundreds of thousands of people moved about the country by riding the rails.  Hundreds of thousands more worked for peanuts in the Relief Camps.  Farmers lost everything including their homes and farms when a drought which began in 1928 deepened and no rain fell on the farms of southern Canada for almost 11 years.

Canadas Little Communist Tim Buck

Canadians needed leadership and its governments offered them nothing.

The leadership vacuum was filled by people like Tim Buck and the CPC.  Other organizations that were spawned during this time were: the CCF party which later became the New Democratic Party; and the Social Credit governments of Aberhart and Manning which ruled Alberta for 36 years.

Tim Buck was a pivotal person in the history of Canada.  During the Depression of the 1930’s he saw injustice and tried to address it with his communist ideals.  The governments at the time saw Buck as a subversive and, in their fear, tried to undermine his efforts.

Who is to say that Buck was wrong.

I urge readers of Mysteries of Canada to read more about Tim Buck and the stories of the Depression Years.

Continue Reading

Madge Graham – Canada’s First Lady of Flight

Madge Graham was the model for my grandmother.  Poppy, as she was known, was ahead of her time and a die-hard adventurer. In 1919, a women’s place, according to Madge, was in the cockpit of an airplane being a navigator for her husband, Stuart Graham, Canada’s first bush pilot.On her maiden flight a crew of three, Stuart as pilot, Madge as navigator, and Bill Kahre as mechanic, flew a wooden flying boat, the Curtiss HS-2L flying boat, at tree-top level from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Grand’Mère, Quebec. The aircraft had only very basic instruments: a compass, an air and wind speed indicator and a turn and bank indicator. The noise from the engine made conversation impossible so Madge rigged up a miniature clothes-line to send messages between herself and the two cockpits.

The 800 mile trip took five days and nine hours to complete with crowds greeting them at every stop.  But not everyone was impressed.  Admiral Byrd (the first man to fly the Pole) declared, “Flying seaplanes over land is suicide and taking a woman along is criminal.”  (An enlightened bugger wasn’t he?)

But Madge Graham was not Canada’s only female aviator.  The Canadian Aviation Museum tells us the following:

In 1928 Eileen Vollick became the first Canadian woman to obtain a private pilot’s license. She was just nineteen when she asked a flying instructor: “Can a girl learn to fly?” On her first flight she recalled that she “felt quite at home, fear never entered my head.”

Several women followed Eileen’s example. By 1932 over twenty women from all over Canada had gained their private pilot’s license. This included Louise Jenkins, who bought her own airplane, a Puss Moth, and registered it “CF- PEI” in honor of her adopted province, Prince Edward Island. Not all women had this kind of money. When Gertrude De La Vergne, the first female licensed pilot in Alberta, applied to fly the mail she was told that a women pilot was unsuitable. If women were allowed to fly, they were expected to limit their role to enjoyment. Jobs for Canadian women in aviation were impossible to find in the 1930s.

Many women took day jobs to finance their passion for flight. Oneexception was Amelia Earhart, a famous American pilot. Amelia had celebrity status: girls kept scrapbooks of clippings of her many historic flights. In 1932 she set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to become the first women to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.

Amelia was the president of the first chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an all women’s pilots’ organization. Several Canadian women tried to join but were disappointed to find that the organization was limited to American pilots. In 1936 a group of Vancouver women pilots founded a female flying club called ” The Flying Seven”. This group delighted crowds with their daring stunts and rallies.

The Flying Seven was active in the late 1930s. When the Second World War was started in 1939 they went to the local Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) office to volunteer. But their services were not required. However much women had proved themselves as capable pilots, society still believed that a pilot’s job was “inappropriate” for a woman.

My Grandmother would have been proud of them all.

Continue Reading

Sanford Fleming – The Father of Standard Time

I do business all across the world.  I have a series of clocks over my desk set to the time zones of Vancouver, Tokyo, Ottawa and London.  I blame it all on Sir Sanford Fleming.  Sanford Fleming was born in Kirkaldy, Scotland in  1827.  He emigrated to Canada at the age of 17 and settled in Quebec.  Using his mathematical mind, Fleming settled in as a surveyor.  But he wouldn’t stop at drawing maps, he wanted to build a railway.  In 1858, as the chief engineer of the Northern Railway, he proposed the idea of a great rail project stretching to the western coast of Canada.

After providing the original survey for the great national railway project he decided that he would be part of the team to actual build it.  Although headed by Van Horne, Fleming made a significant contribution to the project.  So much so that he is the bearded gentleman holding the sledge hammer, standing next to the young boy in the famous “Last Spike” photograph.

In 1851 Canada issued the first adhesive-back stamp, a three-penny beaver stamp (first class postage, if you can believe it!).  Sanford Fleming designed it.

But that’s not what I will remember Sanford for.  In order to help the transcontinental trains run on time, he devised the concept of Standard Time and splitting the world into 24 time zones.  His concept was adopted in 1884.  See our article on What Time is it in Canada to see a map of all the time zones in Canada.

Continue Reading

The Value of a Gold Prospector

The prospector is the most useful man to commerce and the most valuable man of civilization. Political economists tell us that next to agriculture, mining is the next greatest industry. This is true from the viewpoint that if our soil were untilled, famine would stalk the land.From the monetary standpoint, however, the mining industry is the greatest in the world. the truth of this assertion becomes apparent when one considers that mining gives us the standard of value by which the price of everything is produced by the brain and brawn of man is measured.

Abandon mining and the value of every commodity would be insignificant, humanity would sink back to the barter-and-exchange age, and financial paralysis would lock in its vice-like grasp the industries of mankind. It would be the greatest calamity that ever befell the human race, and in less than a century, civilization would revert to barbarism of pre-history, when primitive man knew nothing about copper, gold, silver, iron, lead, zinc and other mineral resources of Mother Earth.

Those who decry mining are ignorant of history.

If they knew anything about metals, they would know that all business, all industry and all human progress depends on mines. The wealth from the mines, from the dawn of time, is the epic of human advancement – of man’s heroic march along the path of progress.

Show me people without mines and I will show you people deep in the mire of poverty and a thousand years behind the procession of civilization. It was the mines that made the greatness of the past, that made Egypt great, that made Rome great and, in modern times, that have made Spain, England, Canada and the U.S. rise beyond the dreams of avarice.

The greatest benefactor of the human race has been the prospector. The most beneficent men of all time are the far-seeing men whose brain and brawn developed the Earth’s mineral resources.

These are men who poured the golden streams of mineral wealth into the lap of civilization, into the channels of trade, into the avenues of commerce and into the homes of happiness.

All honor to the miner. All hail the prospector. found at Prospector

Continue Reading