I also had a shot at doing a BA, or rather studying history. I wanted to study Montreal history, but the only thing available was Quebec history. Unfortunately, it was taught by one of the early incoming Marxists—or a reasonable facsimile—and my thorough grasp of Montreal folklore was constantly at odds with his teachings. Ron Rudin was from Cleveland, Ohio, and had found that few Canadian historians were teaching Montreal and Quebec history at the time. So he busied himself teaching a subject that would be very much in demand as all Canada began to fret over "what Quebec really wants" and did so for the next 40 years.
I rather enjoyed the classes, treating them as press conferences where I questioned his assumptions that were based in the oppressed-oppressor mode, in which most, if not all, motivations were monetary.
But I did not enjoy marks from the Marxist. Despite my hard work, which should have made me top of the class or near it, given the drag-assed majority in it, I was given a low 70 for my term paper on the Rebellion of 1837. In it I argued that far from being an economic class war between the English and the French, the true irreconcilable difference was religious, between Protestant and Catholic. In my paper, Krupp-plated with footnotes, I argued that religion was the impetus of colonisation in the Americas from the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 in Massachusetts and Quebec in 1608. The financing was religious, and the stated mission was to Christianise Indians. Economic questions were vital as a means of sustaining these colonies, but the raison d'etre was religion, with the Coke and Pepsi of Christianity fighting the Thirty Years War at the time. Perhaps understandably, given my hostility, he simply refused me entry when he started his Montreal history course the next semester.
But Rudin was right about a few things. Even after casting a forensic eye over his contention that religiosity had all but disappeared by the time the British came in 1759, I could find nothing to dispute this. I therefore accepted his wholly original observation that with Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Wishful Thinking in the intellectual saddle in France, Quebec was no longer in the throes of the religiosity that dominated life 150 years earlier. Rudin told the class that in the latter years of the French regime, the "clerics were voted 'round the table and out the door" of all the important councils of state.
And that, of course, was the plinth upon which he based his class warfare thesis for the rebellion of 1837. But he also backed another thesis, by the bitter French Canadian historian Michel Brunet, who was famous for his "decapitation theory." In this, I found him right and wrong simultaneously. Right that after the Battle of Quebec Heights, the civil and military officer corps left for France, hence social "decapitation." But Brunet's disapproval notwithstanding, the Roman Catholic Church became the leaders of French Canada with the blessing of the rapidly depleting British forces, which numbered 5,000 for the battle but had less than 900 to garrison the new holding, as the rest were needed to secure the restive American colonies.
As the Church was not sympathetic to rebellion—unlike the Irish Church in this respect—the British were happy enough to accord to priests whatever powers they had lost under the fully secularised French regime. Thus, I argued that Quebec—unlike France—became religious over the 60 years before the Rebellion of 1837. By this time, with the American Revolution bringing in migrating United Empire Loyalists as well as British immigration, Montreal was soon an English majority town, and Protestant to boot.
When Rudin rejected me for the Montreal course, I abandoned further study. If I had to get a degree in the subject I would have to agree with a Marxist to get it and that was not worth it. What's more, as a grade eight dropout knowing what I knew, I was amazing, but as a BA knowing what I knew, I would be ordinary.
Throughout this period, Concordia University Magazine continued to be produced. Except for the cover, it was a black and white production. When it had been in its Extra mode, Joel had an outstanding original cover, featuring a decorative red frame bleed like old Time magazine, and several black and white photos on a yellow field accompanied by headlines and subheads with page numbers. The red, black, white and yellow combination was a most arresting feature, as was its cover design.
But when he was ordered to change the name from Extra to Concordia University Magazine, he became mulish when I argued that he keep the design he had. I cannot remember what he said in refusal, but I imagine it was something like “the first design belonged to Extra” or something adamantly silly like that.
Finally, my "World War III - International Terrorism" piece came out. I had to link it to university life more than I wanted, but I got in touch with the American University of Beirut in 1975 while a civil war was in full tilt. The result was respectable, managing to run through the slalom of objections without knocking over any poles, but my efforts were twisted away from an intended global focus.
I did attend a conference on terrorism at the University of Toronto in the course of researching the article, which was interesting though not vital. For months I had been summarizing newspaper accounts of terrorist incidents and found that I was more knowledgeable than almost anyone there in terms of what was going on in the field. Most of the speakers were saying how terrible it was, led by the former Irish Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O'Brien, and a couple of high-ranking RCMP officers. On the other side, there were those saying how necessary it was: A pro-IRA professor from a college in Boston, with a permanent look of rage on his face, promoted a "just war concept," and a knot of young leftists from the States were "into rad crim," that is, radical criminology, which meant the cops were mostly wrong and the terrorists were mostly right.
I was disappointed, because I was interested not in the rights and wrongs but the win-lose aspect. My point was that terrorism moves the parameters of political discussion. It establishes itself as one of two extremes on a political spectrum; and as it establishes its position more forcefully through violence, it moves the mid-point of the argument toward itself. Something I had come to call the "middling syndrome", a fallcious will to find compromise at the mid-point of two opposing arguments. Pushed to its ridiculous limits, if A wanted kill all rich people and B wanted to kill none, then to be fair to both one should kill half.
In this way yesterday's defender of the status quo, i.e., not killing the rich, moderates his stance coming closer to that of the terrorist, perhaps even calling him a less incendiary name such a "militant". Thus, centrist opinion, to keep to its sacred middle, shifts away from the ruling regime to occupy the now-shifted middle ground, becoming more pro-terrorist than it was before.
Of course, terms like "terrorist" are partisan sneers and smears of the regime. Terrorists traditionally start as "bandits" if rural and "criminals" if urban. Only when they establish their political bona fides do they become terrorists, and then growing stronger by avoiding eradication they become "guerrillas," and then "insurgents" when they can deny the regime's security forces territory and provide for themselves though taxation in areas they control. The right to tax is the right to govern.
In recent years, indicating the shift in centrist opinion, the use of terms like terrorist, guerrilla and insurgent has morphed into the inclusive 21st century term "militant," a term we used to describe to British trade union rowdies in Margaret Thatcher's day. This indicates the pro-terrorist shift in centrist media opinion described above.
As I was the only one with research to share, I was listened to politely, but with the focus on rights and wrongs, we didn't have much to talk about. There was a time when I contradicted the Mountie speaker, when he let loose the usual king's-pawn-to-king's-pawn-four move, saying that terrorism never prospers. I pointed out that many a terrorist has made the jump from scaffold to pedestal, citing the case of Louis Riel, a terrorist we hanged 90 years before, who now stood in heroic bronze in front of the Manitoba Legislature. Flustered and angered, the Mountie said the RCMP was not pleased about that, and I could see from his angry face and the faces of his colleagues that he was telling the truth. It was about the only thing new I learned from the conference.
But the biggest kick I got out of the trip was when the 300 delegates laughed at my joke. It was as the conference gathered in plenary session to hear Conor Cruise O'Brien speak and submit to audience questions. I had read his States of Ireland and recalled him saying that "moving from the north of Ireland to the south was like leaving a republic of yelping, snarling dogs into a silent kingdom of cats." I then asked him in the U of T's magnificent amphitheatre whether he saw a way for there to be peace between them. He said something noncommittal, so I gently chided him with a joke, about which I remember nothing. What I do remember is that 300 people laughed at it. What a shock—what an upper! I could see how that could become addictive.
By now we had to abandon our hippie lair on McKay and occupy the basement of an apartment building a block and a half away at the corner of Bishop and de Maisonneuve. It was kitty-corner from the main Sir George block, the massive 12-storey Henry F. Hall Building, which probably accounted for 60 per cent of the Sir George floor space, with the 40 per cent scattered about in accommodation in nearby downtown streets much like what we had on McKay.
Our hopes of remaining well away from the high administration did not last long, and our sojourn in the basement of the handsome red Welsh stone building ended. Our new Sir George home at Bishop Court was the only building at Sir George to match the grandeur of Loyola’s. Both were built before World War I, Bishop Court in roughhewn red Welsh stone, which was said to be brought to Montreal as ballast but later cut to build many a stately home in Belle Epoque Montreal. Sadly, its north face was scarred with ugly painted brickwork in grey, the result of de Maisonneuve Boulevard slashing its way through a dozen blocks between St Catherine and Sherbrooke in 1966, demolishing houses in its path to accommodate the new Metro.
When we were moved upstairs on the same level as the top administration, for quite a while Joel occupied a grand office and was the master of all he surveyed. While that gave him some satisfaction, as he so lusted after being important, he was unhappy because it wasn't doing what he wanted to do - run an editorial operation, designing publications with a free hand.
Greer and I did what we had to do at Loyola, and fulfilled our duties to FYI and the magazine, covering the university senate, where I noted that our deep-timbred rector, who was such a little man for such a big voice, had a marvelous way of limiting student questions at contentious Q&As, the inevitable painful 15 minutes at the end of senate meetings. His trick was to extend the answer to every question as long as possible, a skill of which he had become the paramount master. He managed to keep questions down to three or four by prosing on eloquently yet noncommittally in such a way that it was near impossible to get a quote from his answers, however interesting the question might be.
A lucky break came my way in the Olympic Summer of 1976, when Concordia, even more so Loyola, went into summer hibernation. Eric Johnson, the bright chipper lad who used to work for the Information Office, but sickened of its fratricidal atmosphere, disappeared to pursue his other love, golf course greens keeping. He called to ask me if I could recommend anyone for three weeks' work at C$500 a week as a reporter on the official daily newspaper of the Olympic Village, Le Village.
After learning that the job had nothing to do with sports, about which I know nothing, I recommended myself, figuring I could handle what little university work that crossed my desk in summer. I was a little worried about my encounter with the Le Village editor, John Mill, as we had had a run-in 10 years earlier over my coverage of the second Rolling Stones concert at the Montreal Forum, but he took me on, realising there were few if any competent journalists he knew who could slot in for only three weeks that summer. Curiously, in the course of the two weeks of the Montreal Summer Olympics, the Rolling Stones did make a "whirlwind tour" of the Olympic Village, as many other notables did. So often in fact, that "whirlwind tours" became a near daily routine assignment. And when the Rolling Stones came for theirs, Mill, who with his dark thin moustache looked a bit like a fretful, nervous Adolf Hitler, made it clear that I was to stay clear of the Stones and told Johnson to inform me.
The traditional "two solitudes" with the French staff persisted. Johnson told me they were quite shocked to see me, as they had been told that the former literary editor of the Gazette had come from the university. "They expected a toney old man wearing a scarf," said Johnson, adding that the French guys were layabouts who did little or no original work but only translated stuff the English produced.
I only visited the Olympic Stadium once when no one was there to speak to someone who wasn't there either. Other than that one look in daylight, I saw it again only a year later to watch an Expos baseball game. In the dark, it seemed they were miniatures playing on a pool table.
It was my Olympic summer in more ways than one. I lived in the McGill Ghetto, six miles away from my west Loyola office, where I regularly went by bicycle. Unfashionably, I favoured a three-speed girl's bike with a basket over standard handlebars, and a back carrier sturdy enough to carry a passenger, which I frequently did. I preferred a girl's bike for several reasons. I dismissed the classic argument that a boy's bike was stronger. While conceding it was, I felt that by the time the bike needed extra strength, the rider needed it more.
The other reason was ease of mounting. Especially when there was a load on the back carrier, it was easier to put one's leg through the frame than over it. Also, when encountering an obstacle such as a curb stone, it was easier to lift the bike over it without dismounting than having to dismount and remount.
I also favoured the Sturmey-Archer three-speed gears rather than the more popular Derailleur 5- and 10-speed system. I had no interest in speed, which was the Derailleur's sole advantage. I also rejected the ram's horn handlebars, whose purpose it was again to improve speed. The key convenience of Sturmey-Archer was that one could gear down while stopped while the Derailleur system could only change gears while in motion. And in my experience, dodging in and out of traffic, one frequently came to a halt in high gear and when the obstruction was cleared, one usually wanted to start in low gear. This was impossible with the Derailleur system.
Thus mounted, I pedalled out to Loyola first thing, checked the mail and made whatever necessary arrangements with Greer and Gabrielle, and then pedalled 12 miles east to the Olympic Stadium. A couple of times a week, there would be reason to go back to Loyola at the end of the day, but most of the time I was free to get on with the Olympic job, which was fun and challenging.
The Olympic Village included two buildings: the village building itself, a 23-storey purpose-built apartment complex to house the athletes; and within the super-secure compound with its security fencing and concertina razor wire, a large girl's school dubbed the International Centre for the duration. Like everyone else in the compound who was not an athlete, my Le Village office was quartered in the International Centre.
The place was security-mad and with reason. Only four years before the Summer Olympics endured the Munich Massacre, when Black September terrorists murdered 11 Israeli Olympic team members along with a West German policeman. So the village building itself, which to most suggested a pyramid but to me looked more like a dreadnought, was made to look all the more nautical with sailors peering through binoculars from different decks on the lookout for terrorists. Below and at every stairwell and on every floor, there were walk stations and the sounds of buzzing frisking devices.
It was within the compound that we were to find our stories. My taste for the bizarre was soon rewarded. My fall-back plan was to go to the various services offered by concessionaires in the International Centre and ask them what the international tastes, demands and problems were from the various athletes wanting and needing things.
One of the stories had nothing to do with them but with the fact that we were lodged in a girls' school and there were cops wanting to frisk us every 30 feet. The pub, such as it was, occupied an area outside the front door, made up of a collection of tables al fresco. Problems became apparent and immediate after two or three beers, not an uncommon intake for the average Montrealer.
The problem was that it was a girl's school, so beyond a small male toilet near the principal's office, the industrial-scale toilets were wholly female, that is, without urinals. Not that that mattered, as males, stout fellows that we are, have suffered the lack of urinals in the home since the dawn of time. The real problem was that it being a girl's school, there was only one lavatory per floor per wing. This had been anticipated by assigning each floor according to sex: girls on the first, or ground floor, boys second, and girls third.
It became a huge pain to be frisked at front door, then to be frisked again before you went upstairs and frisked again as you reached the top to do your business on that floor. As night wore on, and the International Centre lost 95 per cent of its female content, few bothered going upstairs and instead endured the first frisk and ducked into the female john.
A few days later, when the Games were fully under way, I noticed a man going in and a woman going out of a toilet with nary an untoward glance. Your intrepid reporter immediately got into full investigative mode, witnessing men and women emerging from separate stalls where they had done the dirty and arrived at the sinks to wash up and leave the facility without protest. Further enquiry confirmed my growing suspicion that the practice was pandemic. And popular! I was soon telling the world that I had discovered the birth of the unisex john at the 1976 Montreal Olympics Games.
I did touch greatness when I met Jesse Owens, who in 1936 embarrassed Hitler by winning five gold medals at the Berlin Games, beating his white supremacist betters. I met him during his "whirlwind." I arrived first and was introduced, but soon became part of a scrum. As I could not say anything controversial, I let the other guys, who were sports reporters from the world press, ask the questions. Owens is trotted out at each and every Olympics, I was told, and he clearly found it tiresome. He answered questions listlessly. But I got enough for my cheery bullshit story. Checking on Wikipedia while writing this, I learned he was a pack-a-day smoker and died four years later of cancer.
More fun was lunch with the Irish team and Lord Killanin, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and therefore royalty as far as everyone at the Games was concerned. I was mad keen about Ireland at the time, which was central to my study of terrorism. I remember writing a jolly, even heart-warming, story about the lunch, with the team doctor chiding his lordship about taking a second helping of super-rich cheesecake, and the team loudly slagging the doctor and cheering on the obese Irish peer as he slyly swallowed a large second helping.
One thing I noticed but never wrote about was that the Olympic Village was not a happy place and grew more unhappy as the games progressed. Before their individual events, athletes were keyed up and nervous; afterwards, most of them were losers, and this loser majority grew with every passing day. What's more, athletes could not, in that crazed maximum security environment, go out and have fun in what is one of the world's best party towns. The Communist bloc athletes were guarded by their own minders, then there were the Olympic security people who confined all athletes to the village and the International Centre. Athletes had the lowest level of pass of anyone except for spectators, who had no passes, but tickets to events.
One of the more amusing encounters was with the Olympic hairdresser. We had to dredge up at least one story a day, and it was my habit to canvas the concessionaires, the gift shop, the banks, the telephone service operators, the coffee shop and the hairdresser. And it was the hairdresser who had a sad tale to tell. He was a dapper and immensely proud little man who reminded me of David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie movies. He was in a flustered state. He had been severely tested and examined to ensure he was, as he claimed to be, an expert in the hairstyles of the world. Having done so, he was now to be laid low by the beauty of Montreal women.
"Can you imagine!" he said, despairing. "The whole Russian team!?"
But let us begin at the beginning. First, it must be accepted that what makes a star athlete often makes a handsome man. This is not true of the female. There will be those who might lust after skinny gymnasts, but theirs is not a universal taste. And it is safe to say that girls, who are good at throwing cannon balls, spears, running around in circles or jumping over things seldom are promising pin-up material.
That is to say, the prettiest girls by far were the ordinary clerks and gofers who staffed the International Centre. The plainest of them—and no one comes to mind in that category—topped any of the female athletes. Remember, what marks the Olympics is that it is a gathering of sporting events that no one pays to see—except every four years.
Being something of a Montreal chauvinist, blithely, even rudely, dismissing the Thames and the Seine as a trickles of piss compared to our mighty St Lawrence, I can assert with confidence that Montreal women easily top the lot—though I confess to being occasionally gobsmacked in Dublin, but that discussion must wait for another day. Given the circumstances of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, it is understandable what happened next.
What distressed our traumatised hairdresser was the female athletes’ demand for the hairstyle any hairdresser in Montreal could have provided, and indeed, did provide, and that was the page-boy look that was universally popular that summer. And that's what every girl from around the world wanted.
It must be recalled that the Soviet Union, the Communist empire, was in full and evil blast. Under rules governing the Russian team, anything they brought back would be confiscated. But when one girl turned up with her page-boy haircut, they all trooped down to the hairdresser en masse and hurriedly got their hair cut, betting that Communist minders would not confiscate a hairstyle.
Pretty soon, my weird three weeks was over and there was still all of August left. I decided to start my own local weekly newspaper with the Olympic money. Thus, the Ghetto Ferret was born. Using a polaroid camera and typesetting at the then dormant McGill Daily print shop, printing on white bond foolscap, we began unsteadily but showed steady improvement. Our controversial issue was Concordia Estates (no relation to the university, but the owners did not complain if one made the false connection), which was knocking down a massive number of houses and putting up a shopping centre, a couple of high-rise apartment blocks and a hotel.
There had been a citizen's committee organised to oppose them, but the Concordia Estates owners were old line communists from the 1930s and '40s—not known to me at the time but known to my mother, who lived on Jeanne Mance adjacent to the project. Not that we paid much attention to it at the time, just thinking that they had abandoned their left-wing cause to make money. It had happened often enough before.
But there was more to it than that. Unbeknownst to the bona fide members of the protesting Milton Park Committee, ex-commies infiltrated the protest group with their own members, who were as inconspicuous as possible, rarely showing up and voting with the majority when they did, so as not to be noticed. But one night during a holiday weekend when a meeting was scheduled but very few bona fide members were present, these ex-Bolsheviks and their lackey running dogs realised they had a quorum—and a majority!—and with that, voted to accept Concordia Estates’ latest offer, which had been rejected by the membership at an earlier meeting. Having accepted the offer, they voted to disband the Milton Park Committee out of existence then and there. And it was all perfectly legal. It was so much like the Bolsheviks splitting from the Mensheviks and taking over the whole shebang and becoming the Communist Party in 1917. When the bona fide members got back, they were stunned, disappointed, but chose to do nothing.
That was all water under the bridge by the time of the Ferret. We did a critical story on them for our first edition, which did very well financially because Concordia Estates bought our 2,000 copies at 25 cents each. Actually, we—my girlfriend, Sensible Susan, and my doctor's wife, Frazzled Fran, who happened to be an ex-Playboy Bunny—put out the paper from our quaint little farmhouse that had survived all the construction and demolition for 100 years and was still standing in the back lane between Durocher and Aylmer in the heart of the McGill Ghetto.
My mother got involved and wrote a piece on a traditional Chinese laundry. We interviewed Mrs. Vincent, then in her 70s, across the lane, where she lived in a free-standing two-storey house. There was an account of a wedding when Dr. Henry Morgentaler, Canada's leading abortionist, was the guest of honour.
We went on for eight weeks, when we received a blow that was survivable but hurt a lot. That was having Nick Auf der Maur say he was running provincially for the Democratic Alliance. Photographed in front of a billboard where we had him eclipse the bouquet the sign was advertising with only the giant word "Avec!" visible, it was a perfect shot—and perfectly wrong in the light of his decision not to run.
Concordia was starting up again, and I had a steady job there. I was depressed by the timing of the Nick climbdown. Moreover, we were still losing money. But what I failed to appreciate was that we were losing less and less money, and because of the money we were bringing in from the news agents in the corner shops, we had a healthy cash flow. I have often wondered whether I should have continued.
Back at Concordia, with the Ferret now dead and buried, we were faced with new situation. Joel no longer occupied the big office. He was replaced by one David Allnutt, who was one of these hateful Anglo francophiles who applauded and encouraged evil language laws that sought to reduce if not eliminate the influence of the English-speaking minority. Without antagonising him, I stayed clear as much as I could. Joel resumed his old position of publications officer, though Allnutt changed the name of FYI to The Thursday Report, which was a better name than FYI. I said nothing, not wishing to anger Joel.
My big project, and one on which I look back with fondness, was the Laying Up of Colours of the 199th Irish Canadian Rangers at Loyola Chapel. It started with an almost offhand remark by Stirling Dorrance, who told me that Phil Shaughnessy, the Loyola Safety Officer, complained that the regimental colours in the chapel had disintegrated during an attempt to clean them, and wondered if they could be restored and put back. Dorrance was just delivering a woe-is-me moan, an FYI so to speak, but I said I would look into it.
The more I did, the more I was intrigued and the more I saw potential for maximum publicity. First the story: Because the Irish had a troubled relationship with England, the Scots got the regiments and the Irish got the pubs. What Irish regiments that existed were reliably Protestant. Canada had a dose of continuing Irish recalcitrance when the American Fenian Society raised a ragtag army in 1866 to attack Canada and hold it to ransom Ireland's independence. It was a bit like the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion with similar outcomes. But the idea was similar. Had the ventures prospered, the US would have taken credit and very likely taken over. As they didn't, the US disowned them.
But by 1910, the Canadian Irish had proven their loyalty. They were sold on the Conservative agriculture minister D'Arcy McGee's belief that Canada was a "peaceable kingdom," and he was elected on that basis but was assassinated by a Fenian in 1868 for his trouble. His death occasioned the biggest funeral procession in Montreal's history.
With loyalty to the crown more than evident, there was considerable pressure from the Irish voting bloc to raise a regiment as a social accoutrement—to make the St Patrick's Ball something approaching the grandeur of the St Andrew's Ball, to show the community had come of age. Parallel to this was the development of Loyola College, which had hopes of gaining a status approaching that of McGill.
In 1914, when the Germans attacked Belgium and Britain was in the war, so was Canada. And the door was open for the Montreal Irish to raise a regiment, called the 199th Duchess of Connaught's Irish Canadian Rangers. Curiously, if not ironically, the Duchess of Connaught was born Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, who was wife of the Duke of Connaught, Prince Arthur, who was Canada's Governor General from 1911 to 1916.
All went as expected. A battalion was quickly raised and was soon sent overseas to England in 1915, but it was still in England waiting to deploy in France when the 1916 Easter Rising broke out in Dublin. After that was defeated, 90 Irish rebels were executed, enraging the Montrealers training in England. There was something of an internal lockdown in the case of the Irish Canadian Rangers. Shots were fired and the mutiny—if that's what it was, as officers were involved—was brought to an end with terms. They were that the regiment would agree to march on a goodwill tour of Ireland, which would be filmed, and all would be forgotten.
Part of my prep work was locating and sending for the propaganda film from the Imperial War Museum in London with its completely false title, "The North and South Irish at the Front." Being Canadian, they were not strictly Irish, much less from the North and South. Nor were they anywhere near the front but cheered by boys and kissed by girls as they marched through Ireland.
Everyone had a good time in Ireland, but when it ended, they arrived back in separate drafts. Each draft was sent to another Canadian regiment, principally, the Victoria Rifles on Cathcart Street and the Royal Montreal Regiment on St Catherine in Westmount, already stationed in England at the time.
It meant the end of the Irish Canadian Rangers and Irish hopes of having a regiment of their own to bolster their social standing, which was rising high at the time. From Montreal to Baltimore, there was a great Irish arc that grew from the 1847 potato famine. They were the first peasantry to arrive in North America who spoke the language of the ruling class, and as such made ideal policemen and firemen. They came at a time when the North American urban population was growing to the point where it had a substantial criminal class and many firetrap tenements to keep emergency services busy.
With guns on their hips, local political power was achieved in short order. Things went well for them in Canada, too. In the States, because local loyalties contributed to the causes of the 1861-65 Civil War, individual regiments, with longstanding traditions of local loyalties, were no longer wanted. But in Canada, this was not the case, and the country was festooned with little militias whose principal purpose was as much to enhance the status of the communities they represented, be they geographic or cultural or even special interest. There was in the 1890s even something called the Montreal Bicycle Regiment. They had the added benefit of being private-public partnerships. Lord Strathcona, aka Donald Smith, who made his fortune in the Hudson Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway, outfitted a cavalry regiment, the Lord Strathcona Horse, on active service in the 1899-1902 Boer War. The regiment is still part of Canada's regular forces.
But the Irish Canadian Rangers were no more and its commanding officer Lieut.-Col. J. V. O'Donahoe, was no more and returned to Montreal with the regimental colours, laying them up in the Loyola Chapel because it was from the college whence the officers came. And there the colours hung, the green Regimental Colour and the King's Colour, a Union Jack with the regimental badge at its centre with the classic Irish regimental motto, Quis Separabit—"Who Will Separate Us?"
A few years before my project, the Victoria Rifles were disbanded and their troops added to the Royal Montreal Regiment. The handsome Vics' downtown armoury was handed over to Le Regiment de Maisonneuve in another move to reduce English influence and increase that of the French.
I had a few things in my favour. First, neither David Allnutt nor Joel cared, which meant I had a free hand. I knew the staff of the Gazette and the Star, following the American defeat in Vietnam, would be indifferent to hostile about making much of a military parade at Loyola. But I knew that the Southam chain had appointed a new publisher at the Gazette, one Ross Munro, the famous World War II Canadian war correspondent who was given the honour of a postage stamp 20 years later. I wrote him a personal letter, noting his interest and expertise in military affairs, telling a bit about the history of the regiment, lamenting the lack of sympathy in the press for the sacrifices of the past and hoping he could see to his way to ensuring that our efforts at commemoration were not entirely overlooked. I signed it as Executive Director of the Loyola Alumni Association, a title I still held.
There was in the alumni association an approved flag maker, so that was quickly sorted. I found the Royal Montreal Regiment most cooperative, even anxious to participate. Ditto the Department of National Defence and the federal government generally, as the crucial Quebec election of November 15 was coming, in which the separatist Parti Quebecois would defeat the incumbent Liberals. The feds were anxious to show the flag and highlight what presence they could in Quebec.
Not wanting to stir up resistance in the Information Office, where I feared blockages if the project looked to be of the scale of the Psychic Symposium, I was helped another way by the coming provincial election. Allnutt, having been one of the Liberal premier's assistants and something of an expert on Anglo Quebec, was too busy on the phone or in meetings with his Liberal cronies to bother with me.
To maximise publicity, I stuffed folders, or press kits as they were sometimes called. Pictures, diagrams, pamphlets, posters, as long as they were germane. Nothing annoys a journo more than having to examine material that serves to promote something that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. And always have something immediately useful on top if you can. That may be difficult when one has a difficult client who often insists on an aspect of the story in which the public should be interested but is not. In such cases, I use an "Editor's Note" at the bottom, which can be lifted and used as the press release one would have written if allowed to do so.
I did not face any of these "internal PR" problems, such as having to highlight aspects of the story because someone, for some entirely unrelated reason, deserves to be in the story, who would not otherwise be, or if someone who is vital to the story does not want his name in the press release. Then one writes the "internal PR" press release, has it approved and sends it out with the Editor's Note appended.
By chance I knew a barmaid in the Loyola Faculty Club who looked like Playboy Bunny material and was also a corporal in the Signal Corps, and I got her and Sig's permission to employ her as an orderly on the day. I did not know what I would do with her but was sure that something would turn up—as indeed it did when a 93-year-old veteran was recruited by the Loyola Alumni Association. I then had my military Playboy Bunny wheel him about and touchingly cover him with blankets to shield him from the November chill. He was a cheerful old goat who knew the drill.
The army threw in the Royal Canadian Artillery Band, though I was turned down when I asked for a contingent of officer cadets from College militaire royal du Canada (CMR).
Before the day itself, I put stacked posters on my front bicycle basket, squirting glue on the back of each before pasting them on lamp posts, along streets around Loyola and the length of Sherbrooke to Westmount Park. In large bold type the poster headline read: "Muster the Irish!" Below, I appended a large-letter invitation for all to attend.
Rather cheekily, I also pasted posters on Premier Robert Bourassa's campaign billboards that covered the back of city buses. He was the one who had brought in the first of the repressive language laws. Right on the face of the smiling premier, I pasted my "Muster the Irish" sign. I could catch up to buses easily on my bike and soon had his face covered on all of them running west of Claremont on Sherbrooke.
My trickiest trick was, knowing where journalists lived in NDG, pasting posters on poles around their homes, where they might park their cars. Trickier still was poster pasting between the Montreal Star and the Press Club and the Montreal Gazette and the Press Club. Journalists would walk through obscure streets to get there. They would have no reason to think that these streets were any different from other streets and would therefore conclude that these posters must be everywhere. And arriving together at the Press Club they would reinforce each other’s opinions of what they had seen.
Before the parade started, I got the biggest speakers I could get and played the Royal Marines massed drum solo "Beat Retreat" on a loop so it played for the better part of an hour before anyone arrived. I also had a piper skirl around the acoustic perimeter where the sound of the massed drums were faint.
I managed to get the surviving priests to concelebrate the mass. I got a few Sir George Golden Key students, who looked nice in their maroon blazers and knew how to make themselves useful when people needed to be guided to and away from this and that amid the crowds. The RCA band formed up in front of the chapel. And the troops, about 80, marched the colours from the Jesuit Residence to the chapel where alumni stalwarts took them and bore them in where the priests and their minions took over. A good number of politicians came. It was probably the last time Canadian troops paraded the Union Jack—as the ICRs regimental King's Colour—in Quebec. Joel turned up wearing an orange sweater, probably just to be off-colour in his passive aggressive mode.
It was quite a success. Because of the election it got national TV coverage and goodly press coverage too. One of the Kennedy brothers, who later produced the National Film Board “docudrama” Valour and the Horror about Canada’s role in World War II, approached me and asked in an unfriendly way: "McCormick, did you just dream this up?" I smirked and shrugged. I was pleased to be addressed as "Captain" by an important member of the Loyola Alumni Association. But the best reaction was one from a Golden Key girl called Sullivan, who said: "I really like your events!"
Soon election fever took over as the November 15 election unseated Premier Bourassa, brought Rene Levesque to power and intensified the Quebec question. Not long after that, there was a dispute over my possession of a pocket tape recorder that Joel wanted and took with Allnutt’s support. In a rage, I threw my typewriter on the floor and was fired.