Tag Archives: Erie Canal

Welland Wave

Great Lakes ship enters Lock #3 of modern Welland Canal

… and leaving Lock #3, near St Catharines Museum   [Photos taken August 2022, during recent visit to Ontario]

It was a Thursday afternoon in Ontario.  To be precise: the 20th of June, 1912, on the Niagara peninsula – between the lowest two of the five Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario), in the City of Thorold, population 2,300. Five local lads from Thorold, ages 5 to 7, took off for some afternoon amusement.  Using branches from trees, some twine, and hooks made of bent pins, they strode off with their make-shift fishing equipment to try their luck at a nearby creek.

Fishing at the creek. At least that’s what they told their mothers.  As children often do, they did something different.  Only slightly different. It seemed such a trivial fib. They actually went over to the Welland Canal, so they could watch huge ships transit while dipping their lines.  Whose idea?  Probably George Bretherick, age 7, as he had fished there regularly with his father on Sundays.  Linked to fresh water by the canal and feeder streams, the canal boasted a healthy population of perch, several types of bass and other finned aquatic vertebrate possibilities.

The oldest was David Bouk.  Seven years and 9 months old.  Third child of Lycurgus and Elizabeth Ann. David, his parents and siblings were all born in Ontario; the parents were of recent Dutch and German ancestry. Recent enough that census workers recorded it. Older sister, Nina Elizabeth, age 9.  Younger sister, Edith, age 5. [in records family also shows up as Bourk and Bourke]  — *All ages herein are as of June 20, 1912, unless stated otherwise


The official start of summer was still two days away. The weather was finally pleasant, after a brief spring due to a long and brutally cold winter; still one of the coldest and deepest ever recorded. All five Great Lakes had frozen solid; only recently had their surface turned fully liquid. An ice-bridge had formed over nearby Niagara Falls, giving the appearance it had frozen solid. It would lead to tragedy. [1]  Canadians generally relish winter – especially cold ones.  Outdoor activities – like hockey on frozen lakes and rivers – are the stuff of life.  For immigrants, though, it was tough.

Spring 1912 was cursed as well.  The rivers, creeks, streams, and lakes were frozen and full … then heavy rains bore down.  The rivers and streams all melted and flooded.  It was a mess.  The warmth and clearness of summer were so very welcome.

Moms were glad the long cold winter and cool spring were over.  Bedspreads, blankets and carpets could be beaten free of grit, dust and hair outside.  Laundry drying could go outside too.  Small gardens were planted.  Life moved outdoors.  Get the house good and clean.  Windows open.  Get out the new factory-made version of the good old Shaker Broom; properly flat for efficient removal of all sorts of family life’s detritus. [2]

Hints of summer had been coming since winter ended – only about a month ago it seems, at least by temperatures.  The day was pleasant, high around 70, with clouds suggesting some light rains.  For young boys it’s: Let’s go out and play!

The Games of the V Olympiad were in mid-stride in Stockholm – where Jim Thorpe was winning the Decathlon, taking early steps toward the title “Best Athlete of the Twentieth Century” – long before that city was associated with a certain Syndrome; the Stockholm Syndrome.


George Bretherick.  A few months past seven years old.  He’d just immigrated the year before, from England, near London.  His father, George Sr, had come a year before that to find work.  Coming across together with young George were his mother, Ellen (also: Mary Ellen), and siblings Leonard (sometimes John Leonard) age 4 years, 11 months, and infant Ernest, 2.  Leonard loved to tag-along with his older brother, as he did this day.


Like most years of the era, there were already plenty of disasters with large ships <link>. Contributing factors were the infancy of radio and weather forecasting.  Also, the growth in commerce led to bigger and more powerful ships; which meant bigger steam boilers, engines, crank shafts and propellers. Fresh in everyone’s mind was a “disaster for the ages” that had just occurred. In April a certain unsinkable ship struck an iceberg in the Atlantic, unbelievably at 41.7 degrees north latitude. That’s further south than Chicago, and even parts of California.  Not unsinkable.

Five very young boys went out to play for the afternoon.  There would be some goofing around.  Some fishing.  Stories shared: some from their parents, some secrets from older siblings. Two were 7-years old; the other three were 5-years old (well, one was only four years and eleven months).

The Welland Canal was Canada’s answer to the challenge of water-borne transport between its largest cities and the upper Great Lakes – the awesomely powerful falls that tumble over the Niagara Escarpment betwixt Lakes Erie and Ontario posing as a most un-navigable barrier to all shipping.

The US completed the 369-mile Erie Canal in 1825, linking Buffalo (on Lake Erie) to Albany, NY on the Hudson River – and thus to New York City. Its completion gave a huge jolt to making NYC the commercial and financial powerhouse that it is even still today.

Canada’s effort to bypass the great falls required a bit less distance: only 27 miles. At first this required a tortuously slow 40 locks. By 1912 the Welland Canal had been re-built twice.  First, because the gates were wood and quickly deteriorated.  And later because of the need to accommodate vastly larger ships, and to incorporate powered operation of gates.  By 1912 there were only 26 locks.  Today, there are only 8.  [Most of the locks from the 3rd canal can still be seen today.  <link>]

       Welland Canal Manifestations

                     Years        #Locks     Ship max. Length,ft

        1st    1829-1845       40                   ~100

        2nd  1846-1886        27                   130

        3rd    1887-1932       26                   200

         Modern 1932-             8                   750

Modern: some locks have two-way capability

From Lake Erie, the canal traverses the Niagara Peninsula, roughly on a south-north line, to Lake Ontario, with a water surface some 250 feet lower than Lake Erie’s.

Strategic location of canal on Great Lakes seaway. Pin shows approx location of Lock 22 on the 3rd Welland Canal, near Thorold..


It’s hard to understate the significance of the Welland Canal. It’s contribution to commerce — to jobs and trade — was and is titanic. Today over 3,000 ships traverse it yearly (but only during ice-free months).  Thanks largely to the Welland, Toronto is Canada’s largest city in both population and economic power.  That’s a status it has enjoyed pretty much since the first Welland Canal opened to traffic.


William “Willie” Jack: 5 years, 5 months old.  He had just arrived from Scotland, near Glasgow, with his family the year before.  It was a big load of Jacks that came over on the steamship Lake Manitoba. Father Hugh, mother Martha, and a stable of siblings: James, 20; Janet, 18; John, 17; Anne, 16; Robert, 15; Martha, 12; Susan, 11.  Willie was the youngest.


Young boys going out to play, or fish, alone for several hours? That would never be permitted today.  Yet, when I was a lad – I’m thinking mid- to late-1960s – we often left the house with our bikes, bats and ball gloves, only to return just in time for dinner, or as the first evening stars began to twinkle in the twilight.  Extrapolating back to that earlier time, I can see how this was accepted without even a scoff.  They were just going down to the creek to fish, skip stones and catch crayfish, right?  In reality they went out to play and fish along a shipping canal.  What’s the harm?

Ah, the Canadian Steam Surveyor CSS La Canadienne.  A star-crossed ship.  She started her life in 1880 named the “Foxhound” in Glasgow, Scotland,  Built by Robert Duncan, she measured 154 feet in length, displacing 400 tons.  She was soon bought and renamed “La Canadienne” and sent to Canada for coastal fishing patrol.  In 1906, she was re-purposed for Hydrographic Surveys along the St Lawrence River.  [This is mainly mapping coast lines, rocky outcroppings, and depth soundings].

In June, 1912, she was ordered to go to the upper Great Lakes, into Lake Superior, for surveys there.  The transit was cursed.  Traveling up the St Lawrence River she was going through the Cornwall Canal when she collided with the steamer Britannic headed the other way.  Temporarily sidelined.  Several days. Damage was minimal and each ship proceeded: the Britannic to sea and La Canadienne across Lake Ontario to the Welland Canal.   On this Thursday she was behind schedule; worse, the canal traffic was backed up.  She’d have to wait her turn to go “upstream”; none of the canal’s locks were large enough to take such large craft both-ways all day long.

The final boy of the five was William Wallace.  Five years and one month old.  With a name like that he had to be a Scot; and he was indeed, born in Dundee.  And this day, maybe he was Braveheart.  This family is the most cloaked. Facts were scarce. Wallace is a very common name, as was his father’s, Peter. Wallace is also a very popular name for Scots.  I had hoped that his mother’s unusual name, Elyabrel Tiffany, would help. No dice. As they don’t appear in 1911 census records, I presume they also just arrived.  Many Scots came to Canada at that time.  There is barely any record of this family at all.  Not even in Scotland.  And not in the next Canadian 1921 census. But one certain official government document proves they were there in Thorold. [3]

Four of the five boys and their families were all very recent arrivals to Thorold.  Along with the more established Bouks they all appear to have lived close to one another, in an immigrant-based community of various origins: Dutch, English, Scots, Germans … and a few Canadians.  At that time the great Welland Canal ran right through town, near locks 19 through 24 (locks numbered from north to south). It appears that much of Thorold was little more than a shantytown for laborers and their families — for those who built, and also for those who worked on, the canal.

After lunch, and maybe a nap for some, the boys dreamed up and executed their plan … slinking to the canal, near Lock 21. It must have felt exhilarating! An afternoon of innocent adventure, cloaked in mild deception. Fishing on the canal! Big, big boats going by!
[Map with key features and locks of third canal shown.]

Each of the four manifestations of the Welland Canal has had more than its share of catastrophes.  During the construction of the 4th canal (1913-1935 …

Third Welland Canal overlaid on modern day map; arrow shows location of lock #22

with interruptions for the Great War) there were an astounding 137 recorded deaths – and many serious injuries.  At today’s Canal Museum, in nearby St Catharines, there is a commemorative monument and plaque to honor them.  Many of the workers were from immigrant families, like those of Jack, Wallace, Bretherick and Bouk. Of course the first three canals also had many injuries and fatalities among the workers.  [A good summary of the human cost here: <link>]

June 20, early morning – The sun rises early and well to the north of east this time of year.  Finally, La Canadienne eases into Lock 1 in St Catharines’ Port Dalhousie, the canal’s northern terminus. The Port is an extension of Martindale Pond, an ersatz estuary at the mouth of 12 Mile Creek created for the 1st canal, and still used in 1912 for the 3rd canal. Take her slow and easy.  Power down.  Secure the boat to snubbing posts on either side as the lake-side gate is closed.  When secured, valves are opened to allow upstream water to fill the lock, flowing through inlets. La Canadienne is raised until the water level in the lock matches that of the upstream canal segment. The upstream gates open. She’s released from the posts.  It takes perhaps 10 minutes, and on she steams on to the next lock.

The Lake Ontario terminus for the fourth and current Welland Canal is one mile east of that for the first three canals, Port Dalhousie. That’s Port Weller, about 10 miles west of the one of the most beautiful little cities I’ve seen: Niagara-on-the-Lake. The old downtown is truly like a trip back through time. Seeing the great falls is on most bucket lists. If you go, take the time to see this nearby city too.

The boys were at the canal in time to see La Canadienne transit Lock 21.  So big!  All ships must creep along; both between locks, and, especially important, within the locks.  This surveyor ship, which surely appeared massive to the boys, fits within the lock easily, with a margin of 24 feet. Its 154 ft bow-to-stern length is well within the nominal typical ship length for 1912, at 178 ft. Surface water in the lock churned a bit in a few places, appearing like boiling water, an effect of upstream water gushing in through pipes beneath and unseen.  The most obvious effect was the raising of La Canadienne. It all must have seemed like magic. The churning slowed as she was lifted the last few feet. Done! The upstream gates swung open.  She was released from the snubbing posts.  And then, on she went, toward Lock 22.  This must have been a really exciting thing for young boys to witness.  I still marvel at such things today.

Now the fishing can truly commence. The homemade “hooks” were dunked into the water. The boys waited for the next huge ship to come up while trying to pay attention to their lines.

A few minutes later, at about 3:30PM, La Canadienne steamed gently into Lock 22.  Just before the downstream gate commenced closing, the usual orders were given along the lock and aboard the ship: secure the ship to the stubbing posts, … and drop speed to full stop. All per usual. This was, after all, the 22nd lock of the day.

And yet … Somehow the timing was off.  The ship was not secured.  The ropes were not on the snubbing posts. Power was still feeding the props. La Canadienne continued creeping along at a few knots toward the forward gates – the gates that held back millions and millions of gallons of water exerting pressure on the gate that rose to 750 lbs per square foot.

It took just moments for the captain to realize the mistakes. “FULL ASTERN!!.”

Alas, too late.  Simple physics was now in charge; there was nothing any human could do.

It’s nigh impossible to instantly alter the momentum of such a large craft in water.  La Canadienne banged into the upstream gate of Lock 22, generating an ominous sound — between a thud and a clang — from the collision of metal on metal

The momentum of the large ship generated enough thrust to damage the gates. They cracked opened a bit. The seal was lost.  Even slight damage and slightly cracked open gates were enough for the upstream water to force its way completely through.  With the unexpected suddenness of an earthquake, the water burst through the gates completely.  The monster was unleashed.  A massive and powerful wave surged into the lock.

The water swept over and past La Canadienne. Then into the downstream gate, which was just beginning to close.  La Canadienne was lifted and tossed – pitched and rolled as if she were in a high seas storm – then carried past the gates, down toward lock 21.  On the way she was hurled violently against the canal’s bank, the rocks puncturing her hull.  She came to rest there.

Such a torrent of water.  The scene repeated at Lock 21.  It surged on. Then 20.  Then 19.  The surge continued on, slightly smaller at each lock, until the destruction ended at Lock 18.  Along the way craft were flung about, the smaller of them suffering structural damage.  Surrounding farmland was inundated.

Near Lock 21 it’s likely that none of the boys heard the first sounds of the unfolding disaster.  Or at least thought little of it; none had spent much time at the canal, if any at all, for most.  But surely they must’ve heard and finally reacted to the excited, panicky yelling that followed, as La Canadienne flew out of the lock.  And then … the ominous roar of the wave. From Lock 22, the wave raced to the upper gates of Lock 21, about 800 feet away. Here it resulted in a new huge wave as it crested the gate and plunged into the lock.

The older boys, George Jr and David, probably reacted first. Sensing danger they got up to run, yelling at their co-conspirators to run, run, run!  They ran downstream along the bank, away from the noise, from the commotion, and from the giant wave. It was all too late.

George escaped mostly unscathed.  David was washed into the canal, to be rescued by an alert government employee, Hugh Maguire – a surveyor. The other three? The youngest? The waves swarmed over them and swept them away.

Leonard Bretherick and the two Willies, Jack and Wallace, were simply gone, washed to the weirs of a side pond. Their bodies were eventually found.  But not on that day, that awful, awful day, June 20, 1912.

The death certificates for all three read “Drowning.”  It might as well have read “Carelessness.”

Some mournful witnesses said the boys would probably have been better off running toward Lock 22, so as to escape the 2nd wave caused by the surge from cresting the gates of 21.

All families remained in the area for some time, except for the Wallaces, for whom there is no additional data.  Archival research suggests existences for each family that might well have been lives of quiet desperation.  More children born, more children lost — including a Jack family infant (Matthew Hugh) who perished at only 25 days old from marasmus, i.e severe malnutrition. One patriarch spent his last 6 years in the 1920s alone in a “House of Refuge”, what we would call a Poor House, a place for the indigent, the lonely and seriously infirm, all under government care. Eventually, I suppose, many of those offspring moved away upon reaching adulthood, the world offering wider horizons than life along a shipping canal.


There was an inquisition, of course.  I cannot find the results.  It seems there were few consequences. La Canadienne was raised and towed downstream to port for repairs.  The many gates of the locks were repaired or replaced in several days.  La Canadienne was back in transit in a week.  She did not make it to duty on Lake Superior until August 7th.  She served out the remainder of her existence on Lake Superior, performing soundings and mapping its enormous coast line.  She’d have more major accidents, too; the most disastrous was running aground near Port Arthur on Thunder Bay, in September 1916, presumably during a storm.  She was soon retired and sold off – her crew required for service in the Great War.

This surely ranks as the most tragic accident on the Welland Canal.  Yet, surprisingly, many details are obscured by the thickening fog of history…  soon to be lost behind the veils of time. I felt compelled to bring the the story and its circumstances together, saving them from history’s dust bin, as best I could — to weave the dramatic saga factually and tenderly, from several points of view: human, parent, historian, researcher, story-teller.


Joe Girard © 2022

Thank you for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com


Jack Family Grave, Thorold, Ontario

Welland Canals’ features and locks, first thru third, Yellow =1st, Red=2nd, Blue=3rd; overlaid on modern google map.

[1] Daring tourists and thrill seekers walked across the Niagara Falls ice bridge. Until the fourth day of February, 1912, when it collapsed, with three falling to their eventual deaths. [Buffalo News]  [Explanation of how the ice bridge forms, and invites disaster, here] [A short video describing this horrific tragedy. https://youtu.be/80VB-0TonpU]

[2] The Shaker Broom: https://slate.com/human-interest/2012/06/broom-history-how-it-became-flat.html

[3] That document is little William’s death certificate.


Author’s Reflections:

I do apologize.  I had difficulty putting this story together in a way that flows and connects the the converging threads of history in a properly fitting manner.  But one must stop researching and re-writing at some point.  Then it’s hit “publish” or “delete.”

The main reason for this underachievement is that I spent countless hours trying to find background information, which was quite time consuming.  Historical archives I combed through included old newspapers, census data, death certificates, grave site searches and immigration records.  The most difficult was tracing the paths of families who either modified their last names, or whose names were erroneously recorded by government officials.  And, it seems, one chose to be ghost-like.

From my review of newspapers I was struck by several recurrent themes.  First, the incident at Welland Canal was reported coast to coast, in small towns and large cities.  From Nananee to Toronto in Ontario.  And from Montreal to Victoria across the continent.  I perused the Saint Louis Post Dispatch; it even occurs there.  More astounding – the articles appeared on June 21 – the day after the tragedy.   This is certainly testament to the near instant communication via wire services that were in place.  Each article, save that in the St Catharines Daily Standard, were brief and nearly identical, with bothersome little errors.  “If it bleeds, it leads … screw the details … then move on …” seems to have been the news business motto long before late 20th and early 21st century news.

And the papers gave me some blind alleys, as they found multiple ways to spell names, and different times.  One had 1927.  Another August 1.  Census data were unsteady too; but at least it was archived.

I was also struck by the brevity of the newspapers – many just 12-24 pages long.  There seemed to be a lack of news to report, or perhaps paper shortages.  Most font was very tiny.  Also, they carried far more advertisements that we see today; I guess that mostly happens digitally now a-days.

A third striking theme was the fascination with US politics in Canada, as well as the US.  The Republican Convention was about to begin in Chicago.  The consensus seemed to be that Taft would get the nod over Roosevelt (he did), then go on to victory in November (abysmal failure; he finished third).  On the Democratic side there was fear that they’d nominate an un-electable radical.  This concern was especially raised by long-time Democratic firebrand William Jennings Bryan.  In the end they eventually (after 46 ballots) chose Woodrow Wilson, somewhat of a dark horse and political neophyte.  Of course he won, and went on to re-election.

This in-depth endeavor of discovery left me feeling a bit sour.  It took so much time, with the result that I found these families lived lives of desperation, with much sadness, emptiness and disappointment.  Finally, it gave me negative feelings about myself.  Why haven’t I spent more time on efforts like this for my own ancestry?  My dad and my second-cousin, Anola, put much effort into this a few decades ago.  Yet I’ve only pushed it forward a tiny bit.  I owe this to my own decedents, as well as my many cousins.

I stumbled across the beginnings of this story at the St Catharines Museum, which is dedicated to the regional history, a lot of which includes the canal(s).  Facts there were few, and a key fact (year of event) was quite incorrect.  Yet, I persisted.

I have to acknowledge some excellent resources. First my wife, who found visual resources and encouraged me to use them to help tell the story.  She found many typos in the early drafts.  Sadly I re-wrote several times thereafter, and many probably remain.  I also acknowledge the following on-line resources:

Ray of Resolution

1900. The Games of the II Olympiad are underway as part of the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. The Track and Field events are being conducted in the stadium of the Racing Club de France Football. It is not the fancy stadium or field we would come to expect of Olympic Games decades hence – Racing Club plays in the 5th tier of French national soccer (football). But, it is conveniently located close to the fairgrounds.  Not far away, just under a mile, and across the historic River Seine, the 1,000-foot-tall Eiffel Tower – built as an awe-inspiring eye-catching fascination for the 1889 Fair – is in view.(1)

June 16. Ray stands beside the bar as required for this event: the standing high jump. No running approach or adjustment of feet position is permitted.  He takes a moment to gaze at its World Record height; so prodigious a height that, if cleared, it would have sufficed to earn a medal in the regular running high jump in the previous Athens Olympics. He begins his unique routine, breathing slowly and deeply, focusing his attention, gradually folding his lanky legs into a deep squat, stretching his powerful quad, calf, and glute muscles.  As his squat deepens, he begins to swing his arms, farther and farther, back and forth. Then – suddenly! – he explodes almost straight up.

Standing High Jump, Ray Ewry

Would it be Ironic that a man who came to world prominence labeled as “The Human Frog” would have the most life-altering circumstance of his entire life crash upon him during a silly race involving frogs? Because, after Ray Ewry’s performances in the II Olympic Games – winning three Olympic Championships in all three standing jumping events in a single day – that’s what the French media and fans called him: La grenouille humaine. And the name stuck.

I have found that a firm definition of the word Ironic is difficult to pin down, although many English speakers use the word often.  As Merriam-Webster states: “The word irony has come to be applied to events that are merely curious or coincidental …”  Best fit might be when a word’s, or a phrase’s usage – or a real-life outcome – is far different than what one would expect. Or as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said (of something completely different): “I know it when I see it.”

Ray Ewry was that man of world prominence. 

Standing High Jump, Olympics,  Ray Ewry

He was born in October, 1873, in Lafayette, Indiana. That’s the seat of Tippecanoe County, lying along the Wabash River, and contains its companion waterway: the Wabash Canal.  The river, the canal, and even the county fair and fairgrounds provided entertainment for young Ray.  But his life wasn’t even close to easy.

Much of America and Europe went through a canal building craze in the early 19th century.  These ambitious waterway constructions facilitated the transportation of goods and product.  In America grain went from the breadbaskets of the heartland to oceanic ports and thence to other American cities and to the world. Canals also facilitated the flow of all sorts of necessities to the heartland: forged machinery, stoves, clothing, boots, even sawn lumber and fine European clothing and furniture.  (One tip-off regarding canal building and its significance is the number of inland US cities with the suffix “-port” in their name, such as Logansport, Gasport, Middleport, Brockport, etc.  There are at least 4 Lockports, of course all near canal locks: one each in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and New York states).

US Major Canals, circa 1853

Thousands of miles of canals were constructed. The Erie Canal is probably the most famous and enduring.  It opened in 1825 and traversed northern New York state for some 360-plus miles, connecting the four Great Lakes above Niagara Falls to the Atlantic Ocean … and thus helped make many cities along those Great Lakes  become commercial and transportation hubs (Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, etc.), and also helped make New York City into the gigantic hub of commercial trade.  That’s a status it enjoys to this day.

Of the significant but lesser-known canals we consider the longest North American canal at nearly 500 miles: the Wabash & Erie Canal.  This canal network connected Toledo’s Maumee Bay, at the western end of Lake Erie to Evansville, Indiana, on the right bank of the mighty Ohio River.  From there transportation to and from the Mississippi and to the Gulf of Mexico was possible.

With construction beginning near Toledo in 1832, and finally reaching Evansville in 1853, the canal’s long-term future (as for many other canals) was doomed before it was completed, even though it had been in use since the first few miles of the big ditch were dug.  The steam powered “Iron Horse” was the next transportation rage.  Fueled with coal and using rapidly developing steel technology for engines, wheels and rails, the railroad would almost immediately surpass and suppress the potential of canals for convenient transportation.

1904 Saint Louis.  The Games of the III Olympiad are underway, again as part of a World’s Fair.  The Track & Field events are occurring on the newly constructed Athletic Field of Washington University (now known as Francis Olympic Field).  Again, the field lacks much of the glamour and size we’d grow to expect in future decades. The University is in the process of moving from downtown Saint Louis to just across the city limits.  Its many buildings and grounds are still works-in-progress.  Just a few yards away from the Athletic Field, the World’s Fair is using the University’s new Admin Building as headquarters for its massive spread of 1,270 acres of exhibitions – the largest Fair until Shanghai over a century later, in 2010.  And just a bit further away the Ferris Observation Wheel, at 264 feet tall with a capacity of 2,160 passengers is clearly visible.

August 29.  Ray stands at one end of the Long Jump pit.  His feet are on the ground; this is a standing jumping event.  He’d need one of his better jumps to secure 1st place and a gold medal (the 1904 Olympics were the first with gold, silver and bronze medals).  He gazes out to a spot well over 3 meters away, to world and Olympic record distance.  Fellow American Charles King has already broken Ray’s Olympic record at 3.21 meters.  Ray quiets his pensive, disciplined mind and begins his now well-known routine.  When he leaps, his explosiveness surprises no one.  When he lands –  properly not falling backward – the crowd roars its appreciation.  Ray has set a new World and Olympic Record at 3.47 meters (11 feet, 4.6 inches) – and won himself another Olympic championship.

Ray Ewry, Standing Long Jump, 1904 Olympics, Saint Louis

Unlike Paris, the Olympic events are spread out over several months; yet like Paris, most of the athletic (track and field) Olympic competitions were crammed into just a few days.  In Paris, all of Ray’s events were held on a single day; in Saint Louis his events spread out a bit.  Yet, Ray won three golds again, sweeping the standing jumping events, between August 29 and September 3.  Although he set a record in the Long Jump, his other numbers were off from his personal best – a trend he had begun to notice in his training.


Not much detail is known of Ray Ewry’s early life in Lafayette, except that it was profoundly difficult.  I found little.  He had one sibling, a sister, Mabel, a few years younger.  His father, George, was prone to drink. His mother, Lizzie, died of “consumption” (now known as tuberculosis) when he was only 5-½ years old, and his sister was still a toddler.  Sodden with alcohol and sorrow, Ray’s father was unable to deal with the duties of sole parent, household management, and employment – so he turned to his friends and neighbors, the Elisha family, to raise his children. Mary Elisha became Ray’s and Mabel’s mother. Mr. George Ewry then vanished forever. Ray was an orphan.

Little was known about diseases – including hygiene and sanitation – even late into the 19th century.  And little could be done for what was known.  Thanks to Hooke and van Leeuwenhoek, the prolific lives of bacteria were certainly known, yet Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was decades away, and widespread use of it even further.  Viruses were unknown, although they were proved to exist in the 1890s; yet they were so small they were little understood until well into the 20th century.

In Lafayette Indiana, like many other places, children frequently played in, and splashed about in, fetid waters.  Ray Ewry often did such when he was not off playing at the county fairgrounds.  He’d jump and swim in the Wabash Canal or River. All the kids did.  No one really thought much of it.

2021. It’s still the time of coronavirus, or Covid-19, although – hopefully – the end is nigh. Or at least major relief.  Tokyo will host the Olympics with essentially zero spectators.  Of the countless types of viruses, there are a tiny fraction that can have horrible effects on humans. But a tiny fraction of a very large number is still a large number. Among this vile fraction are a set of three that can cause conditions that terrify anyone: the polio viruses.

These are three similar but distinctly different polio viruses. Call them variations on a gene.  All are highly contagious and are different enough that vaccines must contain three different antigen triggers.  Thankfully two types are considered to be fully eradicated from the earth, and the other is found only in remote places – mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Much as with Covid-19, the vast majority of people who got infected with a polio virus suffered very mild-to-no symptoms; some medical sites say 95-99%.  Of those with symptoms, most might have felt like they had a mild cold, or flu, and feel achy for a few days, or maybe a week. Perhaps a slight fever. And then it was gone.  [Also, like Covid-19, these asymptomatic infections can spread the virus]. What history and imagination conjures up for us is the one-in-two hundred or so who suffered some sort of paralysis. The onset of paralysis was usually some time – several days, or even a week, or more – after the body had seemingly “beaten” the virus. Overwhelmingly such paralysis victims were children: from very young to adolescents.

The odd adult case has a most memorable example.  Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the US, was stricken with polio paralysis at age 39 – the year after he had unsuccessfully stood for Vice-President as the Democratic Party nominee.  About 75% of such polio paralysis victims eventually get most, even all, capability back in their stricken limbs and muscles.  Roosevelt was among the minority who did not.

Sadly, for those who do recover, there is a high incidence of PPS – Post Polio Syndrome.  After many years, even after decades, the previously afflicted muscles begin to slowly weaken, and may eventually fail altogether.  The biological mechanism is not understood, as the virus itself is long gone from the body, and – now that Polio is nearly totally eradicated thanks to diligent vaxxing of all children – the phenomenon may never be understood.  Perhaps the aging body just “remembers” the condition and reverts back to it.

There are other infectious diseases that can have long-lasting effects, long after the infection is beaten.  One is caused by the genus of streptococcus bacteria.  Bacteria are much larger than viruses, but just as devious.  They are frequently “opportunistic”: the body generally fights them off well, but they still strike hard when the body is run down, perhaps fighting another infection (often viral), or there is a large cut or scrape to the skin, as often happens to young boys.

Strep bacteria have distinct proteins on their cell coating which the human body’s immune system identifies as antigens: something to attack and kill.  But sometimes the body is too run-down to fight the bacteria off quickly, or perhaps, after the age of Fleming, the use of antibiotics is delayed.  When strep hangs around the body for a while, the immune system gets over-programmed to attack the marked bacteria’s protein in its cell coating.  Unfortunately, that protein is very similar to other proteins that the body needs, such as in the muscles of the heart. And tissue in the joints.  The result is Rheumatic Fever.  It is usually a life-long struggle.  It’s an auto-immune disorder: the body attacks itself.

It was probably not uncommon to suffer such an infection along with a viral infection … like polio.

1906, Athens. The International Olympic Committee has decided to hold another Olympic Games competition to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the first modern era Olympics, also held in Athens.  Dubbed the “Second International Olympic Games of Athens”, they were the first clear forerunner to the much spot-lighted and hyped-up Olympics we know today.  Well planned, highly promoted, and separate from a World’s Fair. The track and field events are held near the center of ancient Athens, in the Panathenaic Stadium, a magnificent edifice, fully worthy of the Olympics, which remains today the only stadium built entirely of marble. So magnificent, in fact, that it was used as a main venue for the 1896 and the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, as well as 1906.

Olympic Stadium, Athens, Olympiakó Stádio Athinon

Ray Ewry successfully defends his Olympic Championship in two events, the standing high jump and standing long jump.  After the 1904 games, the standing triple jump was removed from the Olympic event list, for which Ray and his aging body were grateful.  A tad discouraged by failing, yet again, to reach the height and distances of his previous performances, Ray nonetheless takes the time to scoop up some soil from the Athenian Olympic field and take it back to America.

June, 1881.  School is out.  Ray and his friends spend many muggy days playing in and around the old horse and wagon trails, taking time to splash about to cool off and “rinse off” in the fetid waters of the nearly abandoned Wabash Canal, part of the lengthy Erie & Wabash canal system.  Catching a few frogs was not out of the question.  Such “boy things” were commonly done, and no one thought much about it.

In June Ray caught a bad cold, perhaps a flu, with fever, chills and aches.  His greatest fear was missing the Tippecanoe County Fair.  To him the Fair’s highlight would be the Wheelbarrow Frog Race, to be held on July 4th.

Such “Frog” races were rather new to America, and especially Tippecanoe County.  Apparently the highly entertaining, laugh-a-minute race idea came along with immigrants from Italy.  The general idea is that each contestant gets a wheelbarrow (with low sides, or even no sides) and a frog.  Place a frog on each wheelbarrow and run.  Race distances were from a few hundred yards to a mile.  You must complete the race with both a wheelbarrow and a frog upon the wheelbarrow to win.

Frogs are generally placid and stay put … until the slightest bump or turn occurs.  Whereupon they jump off, and the unfortunate contestant must discard their wheelbarrow, stop running the race, and start running after their frog – hopefully retrieving it quickly.  It was not uncommon, and considered within the rules, that contestants would bump each others wheelbarrows.

Fortunately for Ray, he recovered from his summer “bug” after a few days, and Mary Elisha allowed him to participate in this hilarious half-mile race.  A bunch of young boys with small wheelbarrows and frog aboard (perhaps caught in the canal) took off from the starting line.  Along the dirt race path each participant, of course, had his frog escape from time-to-time: that’s the whole idea and the source of the fun.  Sometimes boys would catch each others’ escaped frogs (rules say one needs “a frog” to win, not “the frog you started with”). It was such fun for all of them and for the spectators!!

While chasing his escaped frog Ray began to feel tingling in his legs, like something he’d never felt before.  Each time the frog escaped and he chased it down, the tingling experience was of short duration; yet, each time it was longer and more intense; and each time he ignored the funny tingling and began running the race again once he had his frog aboard his wheelbarrow.  Coming down the home stretch Ray felt like he had a chance to win. The leader was just a few strides ahead. He ran and pushed as hard as he could.  No sense risking losing his frog now.  At full stride, the tingling returned.  It turned to weakness. The faster he tried to run the weaker his legs became.

With what seemed like the whole county watching, Ray fell face first onto the race path.  Had he stumbled?  Horrified, Mary Elisha and others watched as he tried to get up and complete the race.  But Ray couldn’t get up.  His legs were completely paralyzed.  At 7-½years old.

1908, London.  The Games of the III Olympiad are again, and for the last time, held as part of a World’s Fair.  The IOC had found, from experience in 1900 and 1904, that holding the games concurrent with such a grand Fair was not consistent with their vision for the future of the games…  especially after the success of the 1906 games in Athens, which stood alone, and shone greatly.

The 1908 games were awarded to Italy, to be hosted in Rome. Unfortunately, the catastrophic 1906 eruption of Vesuvius had stressed the Italian government greatly, and they backed out as host of the games.  London, which was to host another grand World’s Fair in 1908 (they had hosted what is arguably the first modern World’s Fair, in 1851) would now host the Olympics for the first time.  [Rome finally hosted the Olympics in 1960, and the achievements of Wilma Rudolf there are not without remarkable parallels to Ray Ewry.  London hosted again in 1948 and 2012].

At the astonishing age of nearly 35 (for a track and field athlete) Ray Ewry again defends his Olympic title in both the standing Long and High jumps, eking out height and distance just barely ahead of 2nd place.  Quietly both proud of his achievement and also a tad disappointed in his slipping numbers, Ray takes home the last two of his ten Olympic first place awards.  He is 10 for 10, winner of 10 events and undefeated in his Olympic career.  Unheard of even today for a multiple gold medal winner.

1881-1891. Young Ray is distraught and discouraged by his condition: Paralyzed and bed-ridden.  Mary Elilsha refuses to give up, reaching out to doctors and medical centers far and wide.  There is full consensus: this is a life-long condition.  Ray is forever paralyzed.  But one doctor provides a glimmer of hope: perhaps some physical therapy could possibly help.  It might well have just been a simple kind thing to say to a grieving “mom” like Mary.  No sense heaping more grief on her, and Ray.

Mary runs with this advice.  She finds a woman with a therapy background willing to spend time with Ray.  Some research suggests her name was “Kate”, but the source is not firm. Nevertheless, she quickly moves past massage and assisted range-of motion stretches; she improvises with a peach basket, cutting two holes in the bottom and hanging it from a rope suspended over a pulley on the barn.  Ray, wheelchair-bound, was lifted into the basket, its height adjusted with the pulley so that his feet barely touched the ground.

“Push Ray, Push!”

Day after day, month after month, year after year, Ray spent endless hours in the basket.

“Push Ray, Push!”

Slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly, the basket was lowered – first by Kate, then after she had left, by Mary Elisha.  As it was lowered, although unknown to Ray for some time, he could support ever more weight, and this allowed him to flex his legs, exerting his muscles over greater range of motion.

By the time Ray reached his senior year in high school, he was still using crutches. But he could get himself into and out of the basket, raise and lower it himself, and he was growing in several ways.  Ray was growing stronger – much stronger.  He was also growing to be quite tall, now reaching 6 feet. And he was a superior student.

By the end of his senior year he was walking.  After 11 years of paralysis.  He enrolled at nearby Purdue University and started participating in the track club.  He continued his own training and therapy, keeping careful notes, and training with the club.

In 1894 Ray completed a degree in engineering, and moved on to a few years as an Associate Engineering Professor at Purdue.  His intellect and his physical prowess were catching a lot of attention.  Since freshman year, Ray began winning track events, although at a club level and against mostly regional schools.

Ray Ewry and the Athenian Olympic Stadium. At right his Olympic shirt bears the Winged Foot insignia of the New York Athletic Club

Later in the 1890s, Ray got the opportunity to move to the New York area, with a position designing and building ships for the US Navy.  As a coincidental bonus, he was also offered a sponsored membership at the exalted New York Athletic Club, where he could continue training and competing.  It was they who sponsored his participation in the Olympics. And provided a training site for him.


1910-11. Despite his age, Ewry had every intention of competing in the 1912 Olympic Games, in Stockholm. He continued his training and kept meticulous notes.  Outwardly upbeat about his chances of qualifying to be on the US team, inwardly and in his notes his mood was a bit darker.  His joints ached; not just his knees and not just when he trained.  It was everywhere. And he could feel his leg muscles weakening, despite his disciplined workout and training regimen.

It’s hard to tell the difference between the effects of aging and the combined effects of Post-Polio Syndrome and Rheumatic Fever.

In 1911, aged 38, while training for the Olympic tryouts, he suffered a knee injury.  These had occurred before, and he always recovered and worked through them.  Not this time. He just could not get through it this time.  After a few months of further training and therapy Ray decided it was time to retire from competition (although he remained active in the sport for decades, both coaching and judging at events).

After a very distinguished career with the Navy (as a civilian) Ray was recruited by the city of New York City to help further develop their water supply infrastructure.  The large city was still growing, and they would soon need not only more water, but better systems to deliver it.  Ray spent a lot of time over the next decades touring the state, inspecting and directing implementation of his designs, many of which are still providing steady, faithful service today.

Along the way, Ray married a local Lafayette girl, a lass named Nelle Johnson, several years younger than he, who had taken kindly to him when he was young, shy and struggling with polio paralysis.  They had only one child, a girl named Mary Elizabeth, who usually went by Betsy or Bets.  Sadly, Betsy got very early Alzheimer’s, and all of her memories of her father were lost.  Her only son (I think, and thus Ray’s only grandson) Thomas Carson,  a music industry professional, compiled much of Ray’s lesser-known history through much personal research. His work was a great resource to me in writing this essay. [2]

Ray passed away in 1937 just before his 64th birthday.  One would normally think that is quite young for an athletically accomplished man who attended faithfully to his health.  I can’t find the circumstances, but it seems it was a quick slide at the end and might well have been negatively affected by the health issues of his youth … which followed him  through most of his adult life.

In 1928 Ray Ewry was invited back to Purdue to be present at the dedication of the new Ross-Ade Football Stadium.  As Purdue’s most accomplished athlete ever (and perhaps most accomplished engineer), he was the guest of honor.  For the ceremony, and unknown to almost everybody, Ray brought with him a small jar of soil from the Olympic Field at Athens, still untouched after more than two decades.  For the surprise highlight of the dedication ceremony, Ray spread the hallowed ancient Olympic soil upon the stadium field of his Alma Mater.

Ewry’s Olympic record of ten championships held up for many decades. In fact, so far, it has only been broken once, by the superhuman Michael Phelps, who has won 23 gold medals.  He broke Ewry’s record of 10 when he won his 7th through 14th Olympic Gold Medals at the Beijing Games, in 2008.  However, Phelps is not undefeated, as he won zero medals in 2000 (at Sydney, age 15) and has 28 overall medals (also the most ever) against “only” 25 golds.

It should be noted that several decades later, in 1949, the IOC decided that the 1906 Games were not “Real Olympic Games” and purged all records of those games from their official list. Most historians of athletics disagree, however, and they do indeed count these games and awards, since they were highly attended, highly promoted as Olympics, and set the trajectory for how the games evolved. So, officially, I suppose, per IOC (and Wikipedia and others) Ray Ewry has only eight Olympic championships. But I am with the consensus of historians: we emphatically say ten!

Thank you, Ray Ewry, “The Human Frog”, for showing us that anything is possible if we keep pushing our boundaries and continually try to better ourselves, even in times of strife, viruses, and disease… and beyond.

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Footnote (1) Today, the Tower is only visible from this site if one peers carefully between trees growing in the park and new buildings built later in the 20th century. Here is a painting of an aerial view of the 1900 fair, which was likely made from a sketch that was made by an artist aloft in a balloon.  The athletic field is the green space across the river. It is possible that the old Theirs city wall, which was quite close to the park and fields, could have obscured the view, despite being heavily damaged during the siege in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

1900 World’s Fair. Athletic Field is the green space across the river. Arial Painting by Lucien Baylac, based on Balloon observations.  The Observation Wheel (Grande Roue) was about 354 feet tall, higher than the huge wheel built by George Washington Gale Ferris for the 1893 Fair in Chicago, and also used at the 1904 Fair in Saint Louis.


Footnote [2] Thomas E Carson V, Ray Ewry’s grandson, wrote a biography about Ray, called “Unsung.”  It was the culmination of decades of work in which he interweaves Ray’s bio with his own nearly epic pursuit of the details of Ray’s life, as well as his medals.  There are many, many sources on Ray.  But, to the benefit of me as a writer and you readers, Mr Carson’s book provided much of the rich contextual detail about Ray that made his story much more “human.”  Thank you sir!

Carson is also a published fiction writer, and I believe you can find his works (including some serials based on a main character named Drum Bailey) on Amazon and elsewhere.

Mr Carson may not be Ray’s only grandson, but some genealogy searches turned up no others.


Various sources, among so very, very many …

Before Leaping To 10 Golds, Athlete Beat Polio : NPR

Ray C. Ewry | American athlete | Britannica

Biography of Ray Ewry <small>(1873-1937)</small> – TheBiography.us

The Ray Ewry Sports Engineering Center – Ray Ewry Sports Engineering Center – College of Engineering – Purdue University

Ewry begins Olympic career with 3 titles in 1 day in Paris – Washington Times

What I Learned on Spring Break, 2016

O Canada,

or: What I did (and learned) on my Spring vacation.

Niagara Falls!?!  Slowly I turned. Step by step.  Inch by inch.

My wife and I, along with two very good friends (Dan and Kristy Weprin) flew in to Buffalo.  We then took 13 days over the end of May to circumnavigate Lake Ontario, counterclockwise.

Niagara - American side, from below

Niagara Falls – American side, from below

Here’s a bit of we did.  And a bit of what we learned.

Niagara Falls is cool.  Very cool.  In fact, while we were there, it was cold.  Frigid even.  It snowed on us (May 15).

Niagara has three (3) A’s in it.  I did not know that.  I always thought it was “Niagra.”  See!?! I’m not perfect.

The Canadian side of the falls is way, way cooler than the US side.  That’s because 90% of the water flow goes over to the Canadian side, over Horseshoe Falls.  If you go, do the really dorky touristy thing and take the Maid in the Mist boat ride.  It takes you right up to the brink of the tremendous waterfall; you get covered in mist, … and sometimes snow.

Also, make the trip up to Niagra-by-the-Lake (Ontario side).  Just lovely and nice micro-brewery in an old Anglican church too.

Socks will wander.

What causes socks to go missing indefinitely? By an unintended experiment, I determined that this mysterious phenomenon has nothing to do with your own house.  It has nothing to do with your own hamper, nor you washer or dryer, nor the gremlins in your house.

May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day

May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day

Yes, I lost a sock on this trip.  Of course, I have no idea how.  As it has not reappeared, I deduce that this is a problem for socks in general, wherever they may be.

Socks just want to be free.

According to my research conducted to date on this subject, I’ve learned that May 9 is National lost sock Memorial Day. So the problem isn’t me — it’s the socks!! I guess we’re supposed to hang Wind Socks in front of our houses, in place of flags, in a sort of memoriam for all those who have served in sweaty, smelly, confined shoes. And then gone missing.

The Big Ditch. A Really, really big ditch. A 363 mile ditch.

Buffalo embraces its history as the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825 and changed the trajectory of North American History.  In the downtown area you’ll find a fun little micro-brewery called “Big Ditch”, which has a fine menu of foods as well as beers.  [Come to think of it: … is there a microbrewery that isn’t “fun”?]

If you don’t like feeling really cold, avoid Buffalo when the temperature is around 40F, the humidity is high, it’s cloudy or dark, and there’s a stiff breeze off the lake.  Must suck to be a Buffalo Bills fan.

Nearby is Lockport, where the westernmost locks on the canal are located.  They have a fun little museum and we were fortunate to see some pleasure craft pass through at the very start of tourist season.

Thousand Islands?  Is that the salad dressing?

At Lake Ontario’s eastern extent she gently drains into the St Lawrence River.  So gently that the transition is marked by a zillion islands of all manner of shapes and sizes.  Some with houses on them; some with castles.  Ok, there aren’t a zillion.  There are 1,864 islands.  Somehow it got the name Thousand Islands. Some are in Canada; the rest in the US.  The river’s main channel is the border.

It’s beautiful.  Do the dorky touristy thing and take the three hour boat tour, with the side trip to Boldt Castle on Heart Island.

Oh yeah…  Apparently the salad dressing does trace its roots to the 1000 Island area.  There are many unverifiable stories on how it originated, but the best bet is that this beautiful area is where it all started.

Canadian Beef is just the Best

Just trust me.  I’m not sure how they do it.  And if you can, get Dan Weprin to grill it for you.  Outside.  At sundown.  Then life is perfect.  We chowed down a lot of fine Canadian grain-fed beef.

Canadians are fat

OK, not to the same extent that folks are fat in the US; but disturbingly, a very large percentage of Canadians are … well … very large.

Muffin tops, jiggly arms, roly-poly bellies, ample behinds … Canadians have it all, and they don’t seem shy to show it off. It might have something to do with all that great beef. Sorry Canada, but we saw it in big cities like Ontario and Toronto, and small towns like Perth, Renfrew , Calabogie, Mamora and even Peterborough (where the world’s tallest hydraulic canal lift is located).  Of course, this is not a scientific study.  Just our observations based on about 10 days in Ontario.


Indians are fat, too

A few of the places we visited were typical tourist attractions: Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands, Toronto, even airports.  Here we always crossed paths with many East Indians. I’m talking now about “India Indians”, like from India.

Indians are fat.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not the beef.  Maybe it’s a bit unfair: any Indian wealthy enough to travel from Mumbai to New York and Ontario probably has access to more than a few extra calories.  Still, my previous image of Indians built around old pictures of Mahatma Gandhi is seriously shaken.  I’ll try to say something nice: most of the weight seems confined to the mid-section and buttocks.

It’s not a big deal (sorry for the pun).  It’s just that I’m getting sick of hearing how fat Americans are when I’ve seen the same things in Canadians, Indians, British.  It’s more of a First World Problem.

Speaking of Indians.  The first leg of our flight home was spent with a group of about 40 very enthusiastic and excited Indians … probably part of their dream trip to America.  I was able to discern that they were from Mumbai.  I’ll stop now and just say this: Indians have a very, very different concept of “personal space” than do Americans.

By the way, through our son Aaron we have a friend who an Indian-Canadian.  For the record, he is not fat.

Moving along.

Joe has a body image problem

“But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for the Lord sees not as mortals sees; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” — 1 Samuel 16:7

OK, I admit it.  I practice appearance-ism.  Yes, that’s a real thing.  It’s not that I judge people on that, per se, it’s just that I can’t help myself but to notice it.  Yet, I have an excuse and a reasonable cause: I live in Colorado – probably the healthiest and thinnest population in the US.  The peer pressure here is subtle, yet intense.  Everyone’s always talking about their workout routine, recent bike ride, which 14-er* they’ve climbed or will climb.  There is a subtle persistent pressure here to stay fit and healthy. [*A 14-er is a mountain peak at over 14,000 ft in elevation; Colorado has 57 of them].

I need to get over this.  People get heavy.  They get a tummy.  Everyone is beautiful, created by God in his image.  (oh gosh, did I just say that? Is God really fat? Is God a “he”?  Yes … No … and, probably, No)

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez*: Ontario still has Town Criers

When we travel we prefer to not schedule every day from dawn to dusk.  We like to leave time for serendipity.  You never know what you might find. Plus that way, you don’t feel guilty for sleeping in late, taking a nap or turning in early.  {Those can be serendipitous too. 😉 <sly grin and wink>}

[*- Oyez is pronounced “OH-YAY” – it is apparently the old French imperative for “to listen.”  I guess it’s like “HEAR YE”, or “Listen up, y’all, I got something important for you to know.”]

Competitor at the Ontario Town Crier Championship. Perth, Ontario, 2016.

Competitor at the Ontario Town Crier Championship. Perth, Ontario, 2016.

One day we made a side trip to Perth.  Why?  I guess because we have a son who lives in Perth, Australia.  Perth (Ontario) is named for Perth, Scotland.  Turns out the Brits were eager to have the region settled and developed after the struggles of the War of 1812 – when those nasty Americans were beaten back.  In fact, we learned that Canadians have a very serious (and different) view of that war than we do.

A settled and economically developed area is easier to defend:  Put people in a position to gain and lose something and they’ll fight.  Britain and British Canada were so desperate to settle the area that they even permitted – in fact they recruited – Scots and Irish to settle the area.  That’s how Perth got settled and got its name.

Well it was Victoria Day Weekend. Even though Victoria was a British Queen, and died in 1901, this is a huge 3-day holiday Weekend in Canada.  Who knew?

Over these three days – in addition to fairs and shows and the shops opening for the season now that all of the big-city folks were getting out of Ottawa and Toronto – Perth hosted the Ontario Provincial Town Crier Championship.

Yes, the Town Crier Championship.

We watched much of round two (out of three). While the others in our group lay in the shade, I braved the 30C temps and sunny skies to sit in the front row.  What a gas.  There were other sites to see, coffee shops and micro-breweries to visit, so we moved on when the round was barely half over.

[Learn more about Ontario’s town crier guild here at http://www.towncrier.on.ca/]

Words: some spellings and pronunciations are different.

Part of this I had expected.  My mom, who started her schooling in Alberta, was always proud of the “u” in flavour, colour, and neighbour.

But there is a bit more.  The Business center of a city is the “City Centre.”

The “pro-“ in process rhymes with the “pro-“ in professional.  But the “pro-“ in produce rhymes with the “pro-“ in product.  Or something like that. It could also be like “aw”.

And then there’s “out”; as in about, outside, let’s go out.  It would take a while for a US English speaker to get this one right, but the “OU” in Out is somewhere between “OH” and the “OO” in “food”.

The word “again” is often, although not always, more like “ah – gain” (rhymes with “a- grain”).

When in a restaurant or pub, do NOT ask for the bathroom.  Do you take a bath there?  And don’t ask for the restroom either.  It’s simply the washroom.  I kind of liked that.  I don’t intend to bathe or rest there; just relieve myself and wash up.  It’s a washroom.

If you mess up and ask for the bathroom or rest room, a Canadian will smile and politely say something like: “The *WASHROOM* is just down that hallway, on your left.” And they KNOW you are from “the States.”

In casual conversation, it’s polite to turn a statement into a question with a form of Canadian “up-speak”.  For example, “It’s lovely weather today, eh?” It conveys a sort of coziness and a “it’s nice to be around you, even though you might be a stranger” sort of feeling.

Which reminds me of the old joke on how Canada got its name.  They put all the consonants in a hat and started pulling them out.

“C – eh?

“N – eh?

“D – eh?”

“Sounds good.  C-A-N-A-D-A”

The use of “The”

There is only one future.  Canadians say “in future I will try harder”.  No need for “the.”

When someone is injured and they need hospital care, then “someone is in hospital”.  No need to say “the”, unless you know specifically which hospital, then you may use the definite article. “Joe is in the St Albert Hospital.”

They may over use the letter U, but save by using less of “the”.

Toronto is a big, big city.

Canada is a really, really big country; more than 20% larger in land mass than the lower 48 United States.  Yet it has a population of only about 35 million. The US is pushing 320 million.

The population of the Toronto metro area is over 6 million.  That’s kind of insane.  That would be like if the largest city in the US (New York, New York – so big they had to name it twice) had a metro population of well over 50 million!! JEESH.  All of California only has 38 million.

And Toronto is really, really crowded.  Difficult to get around due to density.  I don’t need to go there again.

Airports in Canada

I once wrote an essay about O’Hare Airport in Chicago, saying it was one of the very few airports that had an IATA* code wherein none of the letters reflected either the name of the city it served, or the name of the airport. [https://girardmeister.com/2015/03/14/ord/]
– [*IATA: International Air Transport Association].

Well now I know of another one.  Toronto’s main international airport, Pearson International, goes by YYZ.

Turns out codes for Canada’s airports have a curious history, connected to radio, telegraph and weather station history.

Almost all Canadian airports start with “Y”, and the history is as quirky as it is Canadian.

Weather is important in Canada.  It can be violent, swiftly changing and also life changing.  As communication improved (first telegraph, then radio), weather stations were attached to each telegraph, then radio transmit/receive station.  These generally had two letters.

When airports came along, they tacked on the weather identification.  If a weather station had an airport, it got a “Y” in front (for Yes); if there was no airport, it got a “W” (for Without). “X” and “Z” came along for places that are rail stations, marine stations, or where confusion with a US airport could occur. Seems to me the opposite of YES (Y) should be (N); oh, those Canadians.

The original commercial airport in Toronto, Billy Bishop Field, is on an island out in the harbor, oops, harbour.  It’s IATA identifier is YTZ.  So the middle “T” is for Toronto; the “T” for Toronto was taken.

Pearson International is named after former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, who’s also the winner of the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.  It is the very large international airport that most Toronto commercial passengers and cargo pass through – which is actually in the municipality of Mississauga, a “small” Toronto suburb of about 725,000.

Pearson got the designation YYZ. Turns out that “YZ” is the old Morse station code for the town of Malton, which is now incorporated within Mississauga, and where Pearson Field is located.  In fact, Pearson Field was originally known as Malton Airport, from its opening in 1939.

When Malton Airport arrived, it simply became a telegraph/weather station with “Why, YES, [“Y”] it does now have an airfield”, so another Y was just attached to the front of pre-existing “YZ”. It became YYZ, which Pearson simply inherited for simplicity. I have no idea how – and cannot find out why – the YZ somehow stood for Malton.

Must make sense to someone. I hope it’s a little less confusing for you now.

The Canadian Healthcare system is not all Rainbows, Lollipops and Unicorns

Sorry to dump this disappointment on you.  While on vacation I was in steady communication with my cousin who lives in Edmonton.  He suffered an aggravated assault in mid-March and has been trying to get treated for some very serious shoulder injuries.

In talking to other Canadians and locals, I’ll say this. First, if you have basic needs like stitches, a physical, a bad cold or flu, a sprain, a strain, then you can get great treatment almost right away.  Second, for non-serious and non-basic needs, you will definitely get the care you need if you can wait for your deviated septum repair or knee-replacement for several months, or years.  But, thirdly, if you have serious needs that require medical attention right away, well – good luck unless you are rich, are a famous hockey player, or are in parliament.

My cousin waited over 10 weeks for the MRI that confirmed his injuries.  Ten days later the surgeon said “good luck, get PT*” and never asked for a follow-up visit. [* PT = Physical therapy, which Canadians prefer to call Physio Therapy]

Seven weeks after that his special-needs PT finally began.

Subsequently he has incurred new damage, largely due to the slow diagnosis and treatment.

Still, it’s a great country. They are our faithful, peaceful and mostly civilized neighbours to our north. In fact, I’ve been back since and will likely visit often in future …

I wish you peace and hope you have a safe rest of your summer.

Joe Girard © 2016



Various sites chime in on IATA codes in Canada, eh?