Caroling, caroling now we go Christmas bells are ringing Caroling, caroling through the snow Christmas bells are ringing Joyous voices sweet and clear Sing the sad of heart to cheer Ding, dong, ding, dong Christmas bells are ringing
I'm trying to get some decorating done, now that our choir concert is over and I have a bit more time. We had our closing dinner Tuesday night at a local golf club and it was really fun. Tonight I'm going to see It's A Wonderful Life- in play form- with two of my sisters. I don't know exactly what to expect but I'm looking forward to it. I'll report back on it later.
One hundred years have passed since Halifax was devastated by the explosion of December 6th, 1917. It will no doubt be on the minds of many around the country today, but for those of us who live in the area, it's something of which we are frequently reminded. There are, of course, many artifacts in local museums but one only has to walk through any of the older graveyards in the city, or pass by various memorials around Halifax and Dartmouth to have the tragedy called to mind, even after so many years.
It's gravestones like the one above that really get to me: whole families wiped out in a moment of time. Even after a century, it's a blow to the heart.
Continuing on the topic of cute kids, here's an update on some of the shenanigans that the younger generation has been up to: 1. Report cards came out recently, and one of my nephews got excellent marks in everything except "Speaking and Listening." Honest to a fault, he admitted to my sister, "Yeah- it's not the speaking. It's the listening." #knowthyself 2. Same nephew- who is in grade five- is trying to decide what to give the other members of his family for Christmas. In order to do this more effectively, he's given them all personality tests to fill out. 3. Another sister took her four boys to the playground earlier this week, on a very windy and cold day. Turning from putting the youngest in the baby swing, she found that the older three had all pulled off their coats to climb on the monkey bars. Aghast, she called, "Put your coats back on! What do you think you're doing?!" Her six year old informed her, "It's called being a man, Mom." 4. One of my sisters recently posted this picture of two of the cousins at a family gathering during the summer. I'm not sure what's going on here, but it looks pretty shifty:
While in Charlottetown last week, we visited St. Dunstan's Basilica. There has been a Catholic church on the site since 1816, but the present basilica was built in 1916 after the previous cathedral burned down in 1913. The Basilica is beautiful inside and out; here are a few pictures I took of the sanctuary:
The Basilica also houses an amazing Casavant pipe organ:
Outside St. Dunstan's is a statue of Father Angus Bernard MacEachern, who was the church's first priest. I did some reading up on Father MacEachern, and let me tell you, he was no slouch. At one time his parish included all of Prince Edward Island, the Magdalen Islands, Cape Breton Island, and the Northumberland Shore of Nova Scotia. This is a staggeringly large territory. The sanctuary contains the actual little dory which MacEachern used to travel about Prince Edward Island to administer communion. It is shockingly small- probably only about five feet long- and not one I'd wish to be in during rough seas:
St. Dunstan's namesake is Dunstan (909- 988), Abbott of Glastonbury, Bishop of London, and Archbishop of Canterbury. He was known as a reformer within the English church and devoted himself to rebuilding many abbeys and reestablishing monasticism. He was canonized in 1029.
There are a few amusing stories told about St Dunstan. One is that one day while Dunstan was playing his harp, the devil approached him and attempted to lure him into sin but Dunstan held him off by snatching up the tongs from the fire and grabbing the devil's nose with them. There's a little ditty about the incident: St. Dunstan, as the story goes, Once pull'd the devil by the nose With red-hot thongs, which made him roar, That he was heard three miles or more.
Charles Dickens also mentioned this tale about Dunstan in his work A Christmas Carol:
"Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose."
There's also a story about the devil getting Dunstan to re-shoe his cloven hoof. Dunstan nails a horse shoe onto the hoof, causing the devil a lot of pain. Dunstan eventually takes the shoe off, but only after making the devil promise that he will never enter a house which has a horse shoe over the door. This is supposedly where the legend of the lucky horse shoe got started.
"They [the dictators] are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home – all the more powerful because forbidden – terrify them." - Winston Churchill, 16 October 1938
I thought about Churchill's words this week past when I was listening to the now-infamous inquisition to which teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was subjected at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her crime? While teaching a class on pronouns, she showed a five minute clip of a debate on gender pronouns in which Jordan Peterson defended his refusal to use "ze" and "zer" to refer to transgender people. Worse, having shown it, she didn't condemn Peterson in the strongest possible terms but instead encouraged her students to discuss and debate the issue. For this, she was hauled before Social Justice Torquemada and his two besties and taken to task. She was reduced to tears by this trio of scolds who likened Peterson's refusal to speak non-words to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, and intimated that she- Shepherd- was no better than a Nazi collaborator for showing the clip in a neutral manner. That these prigs not only felt justified in doing this, but also thought that ordinary Canadians would pat them on the back for it shows just how radically left wing and divorced from reality academia has become. They actually seem to believe that it's their duty to instruct students how they must think on certain issues and to punish those who engage in "wrong think". It's not just at Wilfrid Laurier either; they're just the ones who got caught because Shepherd had the presence of mind to secretly record these sniveling cowards. Now, faced with an outraged public and disgusted alumni threatening to pull their funding, the school is backpedaling as fast as it can, issuing grovelling apologies for the treatment to which Shepherd was subjected. She is certainly due one, but what's troubling is that they don't seem to recognize what they should predominately be apologizing for: attempting to police thought and speech... for thinking that they have the right to tell people not only what they're not allowed to say, but also what they must be compelled to say. It's a positively Orwellian idea, and it must be pushed back against. Hard. Liberum oratio omnium.
My sisters and I stayed at this B&B in Charlottetown:
It's called Eden Hall and was built in 1897 for James Eden, a local wine merchant. He lived there until 1923, when the house was purchased by George DeBlois, a merchant and exporter who later became the Lieutenant Governor. The house was designed a by prominent local architect named C.B. Chappell in the Queen Anne revival style which was popular from roughly the 1870's to the 1920's. The original Queen Anne's style was the English architecture popular during the early 1700's (Queen Anne reigned from 1702-1714). Queen Anne revival style- which doesn't actually look much like the original Queen Anne stuff- is characterized by asymmetrical features, turrets, steep roofs, and sizable porches, all of which are in evidence on Eden Hall. Eden Hall is in the historic district of Charlottetown, and just down the street is another historic home which is now owned by the local heritage foundation and open to the public. It's called Beaconsfield House, and we paid it a visit while we were in town.
Beaconsfield House was built in 1877 for prominent local shipbuilder James Peake Jr. and has 25 rooms and eight fireplaces. In later years it was used as a residence for women attending Prince of Wales College and then- in the 1930's- as a residence for student nurses. It housed nurses for 35 years, until it was purchased by the heritage foundation in the 1970's. Here are a few pictures I took inside:
Just a short walk down the next street over brought us to Fanningbank, or Government House as it's more commonly known. You can't actually go in there, because it's the Lieutenant Governor's residence, so I took a couple pictures leaning over the hedge.
Government House was built in 1832, and is historically important because it is where the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 partly took place (meetings were also held at Province House, a few blocks away). It was at this conference that representatives from the British North American colonies met to discuss Canadian Confederation, which ended up occurring in 1867.
The picture below is of all of the delegates at the conference on the steps of Government House. The guy sitting on the steps in the middle is Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.
My nephews who are being home schooled showed me some of their work. Somehow, whether the subject was history or grammar (or anything else) guns, violence, and poop generally made an appearance. Don't even bother trying to tell me there's no difference between girls and boys.
"To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace." - George Washington
I'm off today- Remembrance Day- to go to a cenotaph service with some of my siblings and nephews and nieces. There are a lot of children in my family, and they are cherished and protected; the idea of something happening to one of them makes me have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My oldest nephew is fifteen and taller than I am (that's not saying much), and this week as I think on our past wars, I realize that many of the men who went overseas to fight were only a few years older than he is now. And this makes me think of what their families must have gone through, watching their boys march off to war, not knowing when or if they would return. This is one reason that I want the conflict of our time- with radical Islam- dealt with decisively and with finality. I don't want my nephews and nieces to be faced with the consequences of allowing it to fester and spread. I don't want what is happening in parts of Europe to happen here, and have our children forced to face that sort of threat here at home, where they should be safe.
That being said, I don't think that wanting children to be safe should result in shielding them from knowledge of war: its causes, costs, and results. It's a struggle sometimes to make these things age appropriate, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Come to think of it, my parents never worried about scarring the minds of me and my brothers and sisters... I can remember sitting on my Dad's knee as a preschooler, watching a documentary about the Holocaust. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't the best idea in the world, but at least we were never in doubt about the evils of Nazi Germany and anti-semitism.
It's no use expecting the school system to teach them, because this won't happen. Even when I was in school, and it wasn't quite the politically correct, morally bankrupt wasteland it is now, in my high school Canadian history course we didn't learn about the accomplishments of the Canadian forces, or about true Canadian war heroes like Wop May or Arthur Currie. Instead, our teacher went on ad nauseam about the conscription crisis in Quebec. Anything useful I actually learned about the wars I picked up through independent reading, in documentaries, and yes, in fictional accounts of the wars- movies and novels. One of my sisters is a substitute teacher, and she was at a Remembrance Day assembly at one school a few years ago and told me afterwards disgustedly that a student had sung John Lennon's Imagine at it. Some day I will write a post on just how much I loathe that creepy, evil song by that hypocritical jerk Lennon, but not right now. I'll simply point out that its message is a complete betrayal of everything our veterans fought for. And this message, that nothing is worth fighting for- not our country, our way of life, our family- is not one that I want my nephews and nieces to absorb. I want them to know what our values are, why they are important, and why they should be willing to fight for them.
I want nothing but the best for the kids in my family; I want them to grow up free, happy, and at peace. But I don't want them to grow up thinking that Canada became the country it is without great courage, sacrifice, and yes, violence. I don't want them to take our rights and freedoms for granted, or think that these things don't need to be carefully guarded and defended- with words, with deeds, and with force when necessary. Lest we forget.
Even Canadians who know little of their history have probably heard of Passchendaele. The ghastliness of this battle and the conditions under which it was fought evoke a sense of horror which echoes from that day to this, one century later. General Douglas Haig, the commander of the British armies in Europe, became convinced early in 1917 that if they could break through the German lines in Belgium, they could push to the coast and take the Belgium ports which were being used to launch U-boat attacks. He proposed a plan to mount an offensive in the Ypres salient, a part of the Flanders region which included Passchendaele ridge. Despite forecasts of immense loss of life, the plan was approved by the British war cabinet and the Battle of Passchendaele began in July.
British troops fought here for months but were unable to advance the line; nothing was accomplished but racking up huge casualty counts on both sides. By September Haig was being pressured to end the offensive but instead he doubled down, ordering Australian and New Zealand divisions into the fray. The result was the same: catastrophic loss of life with no ground won. For some time, the Canadians were spared participation in Haig's folly. After a series of victories including Vimy Ridge, they had been ordered to lay siege to the German-held city of Lens in order to draw enemy troops and resources away from the main offensive. As his offensive became an increasing military disaster however, Haig contacted Lieutenant General Arthur Currie- the Canadian Corps commander- and ordered him to bring the four Canadian divisions to Belgium and engage the enemy at Passchendaele.
Currie lodged a protest of Haig's order: he'd assessed the battle plan and was of the opinion that it would result in major Canadian casualties- he predicted about 16,000- for little or no gain. In the end, though, he had no choice so began planning the Canadian offensive. The battlefield, scene of months of uninterrupted battle, was a hellscape of mud, shell craters, and the unburied rotting corpses of men and horses. Currie oversaw the removal of bodies and building of roads over the mud, but only so much could be done. The Canadian assault began late on October 26 and for the next two weeks, the four Canadian divisions fought under some of the worst conditions imaginable; it rained almost non-stop, mud clogged their rifles, and there was a constant barrage of German shelling.
"The enemy and ourselves were in the selfsame muck, degradation and horror to such a point nobody cared any more about anything, only getting out of this, and the only way out was by death or wounding and we all of us welcomed either." - Private John Sudbury
On November 6 the third Canadian attack at Passchendaele was launched, and they took the ridge and the nearby village. They then, in a fouth assault on November 10th, took the rest of the high ground in the Ypres salient from the Germans, ending the Battle of Passchendaele which had been dragging on since July. Four thousand Canadian soldiers died in the battle, and twelve thousand more were injured... almost the exact number of casualties General Currie had forecast. As a whole, from July to November the British forces suffered 275,000 casualties at Passchendaele. Less than a year later, the British armies were ordered to evacuate the ridge and surrounding area. Passchendaele has become synonymous with the futility and folly of much of the action in World War I. The objectives were dubious at best, and not worth the cost in lives and resources. The men- like Haig-who ordered these battles were often incompetent and seemingly indifferent to the appalling loss of life which they required. Winston Churchill, who served in W.W. I, called Passchendaele, "a forlorn expenditure of valor and life without equal in futility."