Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tales of Technology: The First Shall Be Last

Mom was the first in our family to use a computer. Her 1970s library technician job required it. She came home every day tearing out her hair. But Mom soon mastered the highest technology of the time and spent the rest of her career using it.

Then she retired . . . and technology moved on. Years of innovation passed her happily by, and she entered her 80s without email, the Internet, or a cell phone. And then she had to conquer a whole new technology: the Mac. It came complete with a granddaughter to show her how to use it. But the hair tearing resumed. Mom had been a computer-use pioneer, but that skill was now irrelevant.

I wish, like my mother, that I could have merrily ignored advancing technology. But there is no stopping the inevitable. Like the rest of the planet, I eventually got a cell phone. One day, a text message appeared on my little Motorola RAZR. It was from my teenage daughter. I sort of knew how to construct messages with the letters on the numbered dial pad—letters that I chose by hitting the button one, two, or three times. Clumsily, I sent a message back. My daughter’s friends were very impressed. None of their moms knew how to text! I was Cool-Mom!

Then I retired . . . and technology moved on. For as long as my RAZR drew breath I saw no point in an upgrade. Very quickly, the BlackBerry and iPhones arrived. My daughter now wondered aloud why I still bothered to use such antiquated technology as three-letter texting. Her friends’ deadbeat moms were texting away on their easy-to-use smart phones. Now they were the Cool-Moms! I had been a texting pioneer, but that skill was irrelevant.

When I told Mom that story she said, “You’re catching up to me!” Perhaps she and I together, with the help of grandchildren, can avoid falling further behind. I also hope that, like her, I always have plenty of hair.





Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Katimavik: The Wood between the Worlds

Canadian writer Will Ferguson describes Canada as “ . . . not a country but a series of outposts.” One day in September 1979, 30 representatives of outposts from all over Canada (including me) gathered at the train station in Montreal. Boarding a bus, we headed down the St. Lawrence River.

In the C.S. Lewis story The Magician’s Nephew, two children arrive by magic in a forest full of little pools. They discover that these pools are portals, each leading to a different world. Our Katimavik bus, full of young people aged 17–21, was just like that wood-between-the-worlds: we were each a portal—a way for all the others to get a peek at the outpost we came from.

Our bus arrived in the wilds of the Quebec/New Brunswick/Maine border, and the group was divided into three smaller units. My little group settled into a house in Sully, Quebec, in the care of a group leader. After the shakedown (some people quit after a few weeks), we formed a functional, close-knit group of eight. For the next nine months, the eight of us travelled and worked together in three different regions.

Sully was a warm and friendly outpost. My group helped the little town renovate its movie theatre and set up its skating rink. We also spent a lot of time at the nearby base de plein air, clearing trails and preparing the grounds for winter. The Sully townspeople welcomed us and made a point of getting to know us. Toward the end of our time there, they put on a réveillon for us at the community centre. When my group and I stepped through that community centre door, it really felt like we had gone through a portal into a unique world. We ate tourtière, pulled taffy, and danced into the night.

Katimavik had a military option, and so our second rotation was at CFB Esquimalt in British Columbia. The navy was a whole other world worthy of a whole other story. Our military stint brought its own adventure, but I loved the two traditional Katimavik rotations the best.

Geneva Park near Orillia, Ontario, hosted our final rotation. There, we stayed in cabins by the shore of Lake Couchiching, enjoying its spring melt. We helped the outdoor centre get ready for summer by building beds, bird houses, and a nature shack. Our group leader Mary was from small-town Ontario. She made us laugh by directly translating an English idiomatic expression into French: “Donnez moi une fracture!” Our Quebec group leader, Joanne, often translated a French idiomatic expression directly into English: “You guys are falling on my nerves.” Such expressions reveal the challenge of being a Katimavik group leader. I admire Joanne and Mary for the cheerful and capable way they managed my group of rambunctious and willful youth.

My year in Katimavik gave me everything I wanted (work and travel) and added unexpected fringe benefits (portals). I’ve lost track of every one of my fellow Katimavikers. We disappeared into our own worlds—as we should, since even the children in The Magician’s Nephew knew that the wood-between-the-worlds was not a place to stay. A study of the Katimavik program reported that each dollar Katimavik spends generates a return of $2.20. This is notable, but Katimavik’s value to me is more profound than mere financial return. It was my temporary dwelling place: a marvelous land of discovery.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Burning Bubble

One fine day in May, 1976, I was in my favourite classroom window-seat at Chambly County, the local high school in the Montreal suburb of St. Lambert.  My older sister Kathleen reports that she skipped classes that day and hung out in the field behind the school.  My younger sister Mary doesn’t know where she was, except maybe in grade 7.  Our brother Murray was a few blocks away at Champlain College, the St. Lambert CEGEP-by-the-Seaway.

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of smoke down a side street.  Kathleen says that from the field she could see the smoke towering up in a thick, oily column.  But our brother had the best view of all: from his CEGEP library window, which faced the Seaway Canal, he got to watch the whole drama of Montreal’s (unoccupied) geodesic dome going up (“Magnificently”, he said) in flames.

That fire burned the flammable skin off the pavilion.  When it was over, only the globular metallic structure remained.  It stayed in that decrepit state for many years: I was married with children (visiting my parents and looking for an expedition) before it reopened in 1995 as a water ecosystem museum; without the skin. 

The dome was not the only dilapidated structure that littered the landscape of what became a ghost town on the Expo Islands.  These islands maintained their other activities: trails and swimming pools on the forested Île Ste. Helene; and, the Olympic Rowing Basin, Formula One racing, and cross-country-ski trails on Île Notre Dame. When my family went on wintry expeditions to Île Notre Dame, one of my favourite things to do was ski off-route and sweep in and out of the icy, eerie, broken-down structures.  It felt like we were exploring a lost civilization.  It’s no wonder that “Battlestar Galactica” (original series) did some filming there.

But long before the Expo site reached such a state, it was a favourite childhood expedition.  After Expo 67, the complex of pavilions remained open and was called “Man and His World”, a name you could get away with in the 60s and 70s.  In full view of our suburb, we could have walked there if we were capable of leaping the Seaway Canal. Instead, my Mom and us four kids would travel by Metro with a picnic supper to meet my Dad after work; and then, using our season’s passes, explore the site.  As my siblings and I got older and more independent, we scattered ourselves around the grounds, devouring our favourites.  

I loved the American pavilion (the doomed geodesic dome), with its airy interior and long escalator. The Czechoslovakian pavilion displayed glass-blowers and their impossible talent.  We swarmed all over the massive outdoor playground at the Children’s pavilion, and enjoyed the précis-version of War of the Worlds playing continuously at the Space pavilion.  But my absolute favourite was the Iranian pavilion; with beautiful blue and white-tiled columns on the outside, and friendly artisans on the inside.  This pavilion had a huge screen mounted in the main open space, which showed footage of the Shah and his family travelling in a carriage through cheering crowds.  It was like a fairy tale: a king, a beautiful queen and a cute little prince. It turned out to have all the substance of a fairy tale too: the institution of Iranian royalty was just as doomed as the geodesic dome, including the untimely ending. Fortunately for the royal family, their end involved exile, not incendiary destruction.

By the time I started losing interest in “Man and His World”, so, apparently, did the Powers-In-Charge.  I’m guessing that the city’s energy and money ended up in the Olympics.  The site slowly morphed from the bountiful summer destination of my childhood to the bleak, abandoned backdrop of my youth.  “Man and his World” closed for good in 1981, and most of the pavilions were eventually torn down.





Friday, August 10, 2012


Not one wardrobe malfunctioned during the half-time show of the 1977 Grey Cup game in Montreal. I know, because I was there; right there in fact, on the field with hundreds of other dancing girls. We were dressed respectfully in long black pants, long-sleeved white turtlenecks and thin beige canvas sneakers. These did nothing to keep out the cold; but that didn’t matter, since we were on the move with our balloons and scarves. 

The show was put together by the same team that, the year before, had choreographed the Olympic closing ceremonies. My two sisters and I were friends with a pair of sisters who had been in that show, with its own tale of wardrobe malfunction; although in those days this kind of thing was deliberate, and called “streaking”. When the call went out for girls to perform in the Grey Cup halftime show, these sisters talked us into doing it. We did not need much arm-twisting.  It sounded like a whole lot of fun… and at the end of weeks of practice, frustration, anxiety, tears and drama, it was.

We trained in a studio in groups of ten, each group performing in a box-shape. At our two day-long dress rehearsals at the Olympic stadium, all of these well-practiced boxes spread themselves out on the field.  I have no idea how we managed to remember where on the field we were supposed to be; and it’s miraculous that the choreographers got us all to dance in unison.  But on Grey Cup day, the show was a success.

Each of us arrived on the field with a colourful helium balloon clutched in our fists.  After a fast dance, the music switched to the slow-moving “Colour My World”; which was the signal to slowly let out our balloons’ lengthy string…releasing them into the air (to cheers from the crowd) at the end of the song.  We then performed the final fast dance with colourful scarves. These had been dispensed to us with instructions to stuff them down our pants.  As we leapt into our next routine, we whipped them out, thus cleverly giving the illusion that they appeared out of nowhere.

There was a lot more to that particular Grey Cup that I didn’t notice at the time; but word-on-the-street and the CFL Website easily make up for a teenage girl’s selective memory.  I remember that it was a cold day and that my hands froze during the balloon slow-release; which wasn’t remarkable to me because it’s usually cold in Montreal in November… and my hands usually freeze.  But that particular day was actually quite cold.  It was also the first blizzard of the year…. another detail that escaped my notice, since it usually snows in Montreal in the winter.   The Olympic stadium was still ten years away from actually having a roof, and so the snow ended up on the field.  Stadium staff put salt on the field, but as the snow decreased, so did the temperature, and the water left behind by the snow turned to a lovely layer of ice.  Therefore, one of the nicknames given to this Grey Cup game is “Ice Bowl”.

If I noticed at all that the football players were slipping and sliding, I would have figured that this is just typical of football.  But the Montreal Alouettes were quite clever with that ice, and gunned some staples into the bottom of their shoes.    I guess those staples roughed up the field nicely during the first half of the game, because us half-time dancing girls, though foot-frozen, didn’t slip and slide.

In return for dancing in the show, we got to keep our outfits… and were each given a red-and-white souvenir Grey Cup tuque.  I loved mine and wore it for years.   We were also allowed to stay and watch the whole game.  This was especially thrilling because the Montreal Alouettes won!



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Election Season

On June 28, 2004, I did my duty as a Good Citizen and walked to my local school to vote in the federal election.  I then forgot all about it, including who I voted for; because that’s the nature of my relationship with politics.   

It takes a lot of energy for me to make an informed decision at election time; which doesn’t leave much energy left over to actually remember my decision.  When making the informed decision, most of my information comes from my friends and family; who, as an entity, have a wonderful variety of views.  So varied are their opinions that, in a post-election discussion about our choice of Canadian leaders, I’m less likely to be asked the question “who did you” than to be confronted with “you didn’t!!”

Still, I’m glad that I entered adulthood with a strong sense of the value of the vote. All the life-long encouragement was there: adults dancing around the room and elections that don’t include thugs. And so, that summer day in 2004, I cast my energy-sucking informed vote.  Two and a half years later, I walked down the street again with the same purpose; in a snowstorm this time, and with a bit of a trudge.  Two and a half years after that, the trudge resumed, as I kicked dried and fallen leaves aside on the sidewalk to get to my polling station.  During that particular election campaign, our national late-night talk show host said, “We’ve been on the air five years, and this is our third election!  We need intervention!”  Sometimes being a Good Citizen takes some endurance.

The 2004 summer election came and went just like summer itself: embraced, enjoyed, over.  The 2006 winter election meant that there were political candidates waving at me from floats in the Santa Clause parade.  The 2008 fall election meant that my daughter’s grade 10 field trip had photo-ops with Jack Layton’s campaign bus at a highway rest stop.  

And then, two and a half years later, it was 2011 and spring…time for another election.  A spring election means that we’ve endured the chill long enough and it’s time to stop. 

In a case of nature-imitating-fact, spring in my city, Ottawa, failed to arrive in 2011; and there was weariness on a number of levels.   During that campaign, the most political thing I heard from my friends was when one of them, grumbling about our cold April, suggested we idle our cars to encourage global warming.

But on my trudge down the street that election day in early May, I noticed, for the first time that year, buds on the trees!  Earlier that year, due to events in the Middle East, the word “spring” had become especially metaphorical for the possibility of better things.  Now that the buds had arrived here in Ottawa, was the same about to happen to Canada?

The answer to that question depends on which of my family and friends you’re talking to; but that election certainly brought an end to election season.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good Citizen, Bad Citizen

On May 20, 1980, I was in Geneva Park near Orillia, Ontario, building multi-layered bird houses. These were destined to be placed around the park, in hopes of attracting bug-eating Purple Martins. Meanwhile, back in my hometown Montreal, Good Citizens flocked to the polling stations to decide the future fate of the Province of Quebec in Canada.  That day, my fellow Quebeckers set out to save Canada from disintegration.  I set out to save Geneva Park from mosquitoes.

I was not alone.  Every day, my six fellow Katimavikers and I walked a short, wooded path from our cabins to the Geneva Park workshop.  There, we outfitted the park and its conference centre with birdhouses and beds.  For all this work, we were paid one dollar a day; with the promise of a thousand dollars if we finished the whole nine months of the Katimavik program.  Katimavik was set up, among other reasons, to send groups of young people into communities to do volunteer work.  My group had been together since the previous September, working in three different Canadian locations at whatever job was handed to us.  All this volunteerism might qualify me as a Good Citizen… were it not for my glaring absence from the Province of Quebec that day in May.

When the Quebec government set the date for a provincial referendum on Quebec sovereignty, they made no accommodation for Quebeckers living outside the province.  If a Quebecker wanted to vote in the referendum, she had to go home.   The Katimavik organization sent a notice around to all its Quebec participants, telling us that Katimavik would pay our way home for the referendum but they wouldn’t pay our way back to our current job site.  If we chose to stay home (in other words, leave the program one month early), they would still pay us our thousand dollars.

I could have gone home and voted without consequence. But I was too lazy to leave my cozy little cabin on the shores of Lake Couchiching, and too cheap to buy a bus ticket back.

Fortunately, and despite their claims to the contrary, irresponsible youth are not the only beings in the universe.  Back in Montreal, the mother of one of my friends had become a Canadian citizen specifically so that she could vote in the referendum.  Until then, she had been a landed immigrant, unqualified to vote.  She cared enough about Canada to take the trouble to make sure she could weigh in on its affairs.  The Canadian-born adult was the Bad Citizen; the landed immigrant adult was the Good Citizen.

The outcome of that referendum kept Quebec safely in Canada; a fairly comfortable 60/40 in favour of “No” (to pursuing the idea of secession from Canada).  Fifteen years later, it was time to ask the question again; but by then I was no longer a resident of Quebec.  Canadians outside of Quebec could not vote in the referendum… but they could still speak!  Tens of thousands of them travelled to Montreal to rally in favour of keeping Quebec in Canada. 

I didn’t join them; for the possibly slightly more acceptable reason that I was deep into the care of three small children. But my Good Citizen parents, long since unfettered and still living in Montreal, attended that Unity Rally in Place du Canada.  A giant Canadian flag spent the day travelling around the square, and Mom says that when it passed over their heads it seemed to go on forever.  Three days later the referendum was held, and the outcome was an exquisitely uncomfortable 49.42/50.58 in favour of “No” (to pursuing the idea of secession from Canada).  When it’s that close, decimals matter.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


In 1965, an interesting experiment began at St. Lambert Elementary School: French immersion. A year later, I started Kindergarten at that school, remaining in the French immersion stream until grade 7. I learned the French of my European teachers, which eventually made me very jealous of my teenage friend Natalie. She and her friends from the French high school could speak Quebecois French—beautiful French, proper French—and I couldn’t.
The Montreal suburb of St. Lambert was not a natural place for an Anglophone to become skilled at proper French. This traditionally-Anglophone-now-in-transition community wasn’t changing fast enough for me; I would never have learned French on the street. Fortunately, I was young enough to learn French in school… but only just. My older brother and sister were too late for French immersion.
At St. Lambert Elementary, my Kindergarten teacher spoke only French to me and my little Anglophone classmates. I can’t identify the moment at which I knew French; as far as my memory is concerned, I always understood my teacher. My strongest memory is of the other kids, because I was scared of them. But, like any child, I got used to the school scene as the years went by.
Since I didn’t know any better, it was normal for unknown adults to show up at our school every year and set us all up in desks and chairs in the gym, where we were given a series of tests. Years later I found out that these adults were from McGill University, and their annual jaunt across the river to our school was all part of their ongoing research into the bilingual education of children.
The St. Lambert experiment was a collaboration of parents, the school board, and academic experts. Throughout our childhoods, my classmates and I were the objects of great curiosity: studied, filmed, and written up. Even my relatives were curious, often asking me to “say something in French.” For a bashful child like me, that was just like Pip, in Great Expectations, being commanded by Miss Havisham to “play!”
French Immersion only lasted until Grade 6; there was no immersion program in place at Chambly County High School down the road. In my last year of high school, some classmates and I were called to the cafeteria. A couple of adults were there. They told us that they had completed their study, thanked us for participating, and gave us each a signed copy of their book: Bilingual Education of Children; The St. Lambert Experiment by W.E. Lambert and G.R. Tucker. I was thrilled to read an account of a process that I was involved in but barely remember.
I didn’t know, for instance, that although by grade 4 our read-aloud French was perfect, we were still clumsy with spontaneous speech. That explains my reluctance to perform for my relatives. I made the hair-raising discovery that our testing had included questions designed to find out our attitudes toward French Canadians. Some details are best not remembered. Also hair-raising was the account of a discussion between the academic experts and Europeans about the idea of French Immersion for children. Some of the Europeans questioned it, saying “You’d be tampering with a child’s allegiances…” The academic experts were right to comment that, “These reactions reflect fundamentally different views of bilingualism…” Generally, however, the Europeans knew very well that a child could easily learn two (or more) languages at once. The experiment’s first teachers came from France and Belgium.
Knowing a second language is very enriching, and I’m grateful that I had this opportunity to learn one so easily. The result of my K-6 experimental French immersion education is that my French is good enough to speak with an adult, so long as they don’t get too philosophical. It’s wonderful to read Bonheur d’occasion in the original language, flawlessly order a “BLT, pain brun, non-griller” at the Tim Horton on the Eastern Townships Autoroute, and follow most of Bon Cop, Bad Cop without reading subtitles. Also, my bilingualism once allowed me to get a temporary, part-time receptionist job with the government at a crucial time in my life when “temporary part-time” was exactly what I needed.
My first Québécoise teacher arrived in grade 6, in my last year of French immersion. She was cool. She was young, wore pants, and told us to call her “Dianne.” High school French was vastly reduced: two hours a week in a class full of mixed abilities. But I had no complaints, because our Québécois teacher was cool. He was young, wore jeans, and told us to call him “Claude.” After the St. Lambert experiment, the French Immersion program took off and the Québécois themselves quickly moved into teaching positions… although not soon enough for me. If I’d been a few years younger, I would have had proper Quebec teachers, and learned proper French.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fall '76: Party Over

To me, there will always be a connection between the city of Mississauga and Quebec separatism.

November, 1976, brought an intriguing turn of events to my portion of the world.  By then I was 15, and was therefore—in the manner of 15 year olds—the only person in Montreal, possibly in all of Quebec, possibly in the entire universe, who knew exactly what these events signified. I just can’t remember what it was I knew.  But mine was certainly not the only opinionated teenage analysis bouncing excitedly around my Montreal high school the day after the separatist Parti Québécois was elected as our provincial government.  With René Lévesque as our new Premier, change was in the air.  It certainly came, but in the end, I was not much affected by it. 

Once I had noted and analyzed the election itself, I didn’t pay close attention to what followed.  The politics and economics of Quebec in the years after that election were significant; but they are, to me, like stories in newspapers (or better yet, editorial cartoons).   My siblings and I were on the home stretch of high school, and so we weren’t affected by language laws; and none of us had any vested interest in the effect that separatism was having on the local economy.  Besides, Montreal (and the Metro that took us everywhere) was still a great place to be.  La Ronde, Mount Royal and the downtown Cineplex (which was soon showing “Star Wars”) were unchanged by politics.

Most affected was my Dad, whose employer (DuPont of Canada) left town along with many other major companies. DuPont was the reason our family had ended up in Montreal in the first place. We could have moved away with the company; but Mom and Dad liked living in our Montreal suburb, and they didn’t see much point in uprooting a bunch of teenagers.  This is a good thing, because a move to Ontario would have meant two extra years of high school. Dad took a management position at the company’s Montreal warehouse, and we all stayed happily put.

But many of our neighbours and friends did move away; and we started getting Christmas cards from a mysterious land: Mississauga.

Friday, February 10, 2012


….which is what an Ottawa newscaster called the new President’s six hour visit to the Nation’s capital, one month after his inauguration.  

February 2009 is a long way from the summer of ’76;  but, having been struck by Mark Twain’s non-sequential approach to his own personal stories (“Discursiveness does not hurt an autobiography…”, he once advised his brother), it seemed only right to skip ahead to this event.  Montreal, where I grew up, had its parties.  Ottawa, where I settled, had them too, but for different reasons. I want to relate this memory while it, and this particular President, are both still around. 

When President Obama came to town, so did bus-loads of people; along with corresponding bus-loads of policemen.  I have been known to purposefully join the festive crowds that occasionally inundate Ottawa over significant foreign visitors (which is why I’ve seen the Queen twice more since 1967); but this February day was not to be one of those times.  I had other reasons to be downtown, as my oldest daughter and I set out to obtain a visa for her from the South African High Commission; something that was proving to be difficult and required a couple of stops.  So, armed with the “Obama Visit Survival Guide”, which I had printed off the CBC website, we launched ourselves into the heart, but not the purpose, of the event.

Downtown was crawling with fluorescent-green-vested policemen.  I chose my route carefully.  Nevertheless, wherever I went, I got the feeling that streets were closing up behind me like shadows in a nightmarish Dr. Who intergalactic library.  I finally ended up travelling along one side of the Rideau Canal.  The other side was the rumoured route of the President’s motorcade; rumoured because no one was officially saying… but Ottawans knew anyway.  Our suspicions were confirmed by the presence, all along that side of the canal, of the green vests.  As I drove, I saw people waiting; standing on the canal ice or in snow banks, which is how Canadians do celebrity-viewing in February.  I was sorely tempted to park the car and join them, but we had a schedule to keep.

At the end of the canal road, my hoped-for way to the highway was blocked by the ever-present green vests.  Along with every other driver that had been squeezed into that portion of downtown, I manoeuvred through back streets to get to a different on-ramp; one that had me crossing the canal on the highway bridge.  Traffic crawled up the on-ramp, further slowed by a policeman at the top waving traffic away from the lane next to the edge of the bridge.  But, on our way up, our sluggish pace allowed us a brief glimpse over the concrete wall toward the canal… and there was the President’s motorcade!

As I inched past the stern policeman, I took a second to take my hands off the wheel and clap in glee. 

It was a very good day:  I caught a glimpse of the presidential entourage, my daughter secured her visa, and the President thrilled everyone by departing from the text of his visit and buying himself a beavertail in the Byward Market.  He then walked over to a nearby bakery to get maple-leaf-shaped cookies for his daughters. 

When the people, the police and the President all left town, it was life-as-usual for everyone in Ottawa; everyone except the Byward Market bakery.  In the days after Obama’s visit, its sales of maple-leaf-shaped cookies went from 200 a week to 2000 a day; and it was swamped with orders for the cookies from as far away as Europe.  In the summer of 2011 they still had a big sign up identifying them as the place where Barak Obama bought cookies. The long-term after-effects of an Ottawa party can sometimes be a good thing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hangover '76

On the morning after the 1976 Montréal Olympics closing ceremonies, very early, my older sister, older brother, parents, and I piled into our rented car to drive to Trois-Rivières.  We were leaving my brother there to take part in a 5-week French-immersion program.  Our younger sister Mary had been whisked away by some of the ubiquitous visitors that always seemed to show up when Montreal had a party, and was enjoying cottaging with cousins in Tidnish, Nova Scotia.

As we drove down the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, and looked over at the unfinished Olympic stadium (looking incongruously like an alien space ship that had landed in a residential neighbourhood) we had the feeling that the city of Montreal was breathing a sigh of relief.  More likely, it was hung over.  The Olympics had been a splendid party.  Montreal had even been privileged to experience the frantic anxiety of an approaching event that one is not quite ready for; and the lost tempers that can result.  But, like Christmas and birthdays and any festivity you can think of, the day arrived, ready or not, and we had fun.

My 1967 memories of Expo are all expressed using passive verbs, because that’s what it was like for me: a five-year-old who was taken around to see the sights.  In the summer of 1976, I wasn’t taken anywhere, I took myself.  Along with various family members, I travelled by public transport all over Montreal during the Olympics, enjoying the crowded metros full of fit and foreign-looking people, and occasionally attending an athletic event.  We didn’t go to any of the sensational events; the tickets to those had been snapped up very early on.  But that didn’t matter.  The fun part was being out in the crowds, and then watching the Olympic dramas on TV.  Those that are foremost in my memory are Nadia Comaneci (especially notable was the fact that she was my age), East German female swimmers with their muscular arms and gold medals, and Canadian Greg Joy’s silver in the high jump.

The closing ceremonies (watched, by us, on TV) were great entertainment.  During the festivities, the huge screen inside the stadium played a live broadcast from Moscow: a cheerful welcome to the world to join them there in four years.  Welcome or not, much of the world didn’t end up attending the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union; because by then, welcome or not, the Soviets were in Afghanistan.

As with Expo 67, the urge to escape the excitement was strong; therefore, the vehicle that headed down the St. Lawrence River the morning after the party was a two-week rental, full of camping equipment.  Characteristically of my family, we had no plans beyond dropping off Murray in Trois-Rivières…but the four of us that were then left in the car settled on a beautiful journey down the north shore of the St. Lawrence, across the wide river by ferryboat, around the Gaspé peninsula and finally, to our surprise and everyone else’s, to cottage country in Tidnish; with the slam of a cottage screen door preceding Mary’s enthusiastic greeting.  It was a nice wrap-up to the busy weeks in an Olympic city: a peaceful sojourn with family by the shores of the Northumberland Strait.

But for Montreal, the after-effects of the party lasted another thirty years.  The specter of Olympic debt rattled around the background of my teen years like the tinny music coming from the AM radio in my sister’s room down the hall.