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Authors: John Demont

A Good Day's Work

BOOK: A Good Day's Work
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ALSO BY JOHN DEMONT

Citizens Irving: K.C.Irving and His Legacy

Coal Black Heart: The Story of Coal and Lives it Ruled

The Last Best Place: Lost in the Heart of Nova Scotia

Copyright © 2013 John DeMont

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Doubleday Canada and colophon are registered trademarks

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
DeMont, John, 1956-, author
A good day's work : in pursuit of a disappearing Canada / John DeMont.
eISBN: 978-0-307-36802-7
1. Labor—Canada—History. 2. Professions—Canada—History. I. Title.
HD
8104.
D
46 2013     331.0971       
C
2013-902639-8

Cover design: Five Seventeen
Cover image: History Collection, Nova Scotia Museum

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Vilaly Korovin.

Published in Canada by Doubleday Canada,
a division of Random House of Canada Limited

www.randomhouse.ca

v3.1

To Lisa Napier

PROLOGUE

I
LIVE
in the city where I was born. This is, mostly, a happy state of affairs. I've moved around, but Halifax is a good place to be because of what it is—easy on the eye, a little crazy, naturally laid-back without being drearily tranquil—and what it was. A kind of personal archaeology is possible here. Those possessing a certain frame of mind can glimpse the ruins of the past amid the structures of the present. I'm not talking about the stuff that tourists, guidebooks in hand, seek: the mouldering buildings, the scenes of ancient bloodletting, the unassuming corners where this guy and that started before going on to great things. Halifax, by Canadian standards, is an old place. There's a ton of that kind of history around for those who want it. It's just not what I need.

What I need when my forebrain bulges, and the dog knows enough to give me a wide berth, is to tread the landscape I walked when I was young. I realize I'm not alone in this. My research—well, I asked a few people—has shown me that the yen surely seems to grow as time passes. It's not surprising. The day will come when the fog of dementia descends on your elders and people your age start to take their leave. Eventually university kids hold open doors and call you “sir.” And your hamstrings become so tight that only by laying turtled on your back can you pull put your socks on … at this point I think it's perfectly natural to want to breathe the air you breathed when life was all out there, waiting for you.

I'm lucky because I just have to walk out the door. Then I'm immediately on terrain where every house, street, building, patch of playground grass or chunk of schoolyard concrete, on the right day can summon up the pang of memory. From the ages of six to nine I lived in a small, slant-roofed, white wooden house with my parents and younger brother about three minutes east of where I now live. Sometime in 1965 we packed up and made the eight-block drive in a fin-backed Buick to where the street was a little wider and the lots a little bigger. For the rest of my school years that is where we lived: in another white wooden house in a neighbourhood where everything mind-blowing I remember about childhood happened.

The house at 1681 Cambridge Street is a khaki colour now and, of course, smaller than it seemed at the time. When I stroll by alone, as I sometimes do, it's like I'm some kind of ghost looking into the second-floor window where my bedroom used to be. In my mind I see my dad standing in the den, simultaneously watching
The Wild Wild West
on the black-and-white
TV and continuing a lifelong quest to groove his golf swing. Out in the kitchen, past the living room where no one sat and the dining room where people seldom ate, I picture my mom, slim of figure, hair in a Donna Reed pageboy, putting away the supper dishes and taking the occasional pull on a Player's Mild smouldering in an ashtray. Then my memory takes me out the back door to the then-unpaved lane that ran behind our house. I see a crewcut kid and my little brother, hear the smack of the horsehide baseball landing in the Rawlings leather gloves and smell the salty evening air.

In my mind it is 1967, because that's probably as good a reference point as any. Do you remember '67? When, at a hundred, Canada seemed to be suspended midway between the old and the new? The year of Expo, Man and His World. A time when Canada's economy was shooting on all cylinders and we as a country were as prosperous as we'd ever be. This place, even an eleven-year-old could see, was coming of age. We had our own flag. A hockey team in Toronto—back in the Precambrian days when only six NHL franchises existed—was on its way to winning its last Stanley Cup.

I know, I know: revolution was in the air. The streets of America were aflame. Che was dead. Israeli tanks rumbled into Gaza Strip. In Canada, Quebecers were jazzed by the notion of independence and the young luxuriated in the pot-befogged coffee houses of Toronto's Yorkville. But Pierre Berton labelled 1967 Canada's “Last Good Year” for a reason. The truth was that in 1967, if it was great to be alive, then to be a young boy living in a comfortable house on a pleasant street in Halifax made you want to get up and do the Mashed Potato.

SOMETIMES I take out a black-and-white picture of James Grant's 1967 grade six class at Sir Charles Tupper School. We did not look like people about to set the world ablaze. With a few exceptions—a pair of Jewish brothers, two girls with French-speaking parents and one young woman with an English accent—we were startlingly uniform: the pasty-faced descendants of Celts and Brits, as befitting a province settled mainly by English, Irish and Scots. This is how hick a town we were: an Australian-born kid landed in our midst a year or so later. We nicknamed him “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” after a show we watched on television.

Looking at that school picture, I find it hard to imagine him really caring. We wore glasses with Coke-bottle lenses that magnified the eyes like Jerry Lewis's in
The Nutty Professor
. This was before orthodontists owned islands in the South Pacific, so most of us, I'm guessing, had teeth like dragons. Some of the girls would later in life join wacko religious cults and pair up with bad men. Yet radical fervor did not seem to simmer among these wearers of pleated skirts, knee socks, penny loafers and regulation navy blue jumpers. Or for that matter among the boys, all of us yearning to be as flinty-eyed as Linc Hayes in
The Mod Squad
, as spectacularly as that ideal contrasted with the sports jackets, ties and cardigans—the bowl cuts and wet-down-with-spit side parts—that live forever in that class photo.

We were, largely, Sunday-school students. We Sang “O Canada” at the start of every school day and, in many cases, still said the Lord's Prayer before we hit the hay at night. Somewhere nuclear missiles sat in silos ready to exterminate
entire generations. But in these innocent times my buddies and I mostly wanted to debate the merits of Mary Ann on
Gilligan's Island
versus those of the daughter with the go-go boots on
Lost in Space
.

BOOK: A Good Day's Work
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