Monday, February 27, 2017

Remembering the Farm: How I met your mother Part III

I seem to be on a roll so will just keep going.

We wanted a house to rent when we moved from North Battleford to Saskatoon for me to go back to U of S. Hospitality was a tradition in both families.  There were a lot of kids in University that we knew well and wanted a place they could come to escape the pressures of class.  Finding something we could afford was another issue.  We had people looking.

WE "lucked out".  A colleague of friends of ours in the autobody business had bought a small house next door to where they lived and was looking for renters.  Small was the operable word; Story and a half, 16' x 24' with a front and back porch. Kitchen and living room down and two bedrooms (no closets) up. The bathroom was drop your drawers and back in small.

It had belonged to a slumlord and looked it.  When we saw it, professional cleaners had been through it twice.  Your mother cried all night after we saw it but we knew it was right.  The landlord offered us 6 months free rent and guaranteed us possession for 24 months if we would make it habitable and sale-able.  We had a blank check for materials (within limits).

Ella and her mom went to work while she looked for a job. The previous renters had two large dogs which they kept in the front veranda and it was rank.  Kettles of boiling water made it livable except on the hottest of days.  They painted, wallpapered and mactac'd.  The basement and back yard were full of junk.  We borrowed the landlord's van and hauled 21 loads to the dump.  I painted the basement; we planted grass in the yard and straightened the back fence then painted it. We painted the house trim.  The landlord gave us two more months free rent.

Wedding gift money was for a Queen sized bed.  Being newly weds we worried only about the bed. However, the stairwell would only take a 48" bed so we slept on that for two years. We were smaller then.  We had no stove or fridge. Never thought about that.  Your mom's brother-in-law had been going to SIAST and just happened to be finished his courses and sold us cheap his avocado green stove and fridge.

About one month into renos the house was livable and your mother got work as the Campus Parking Secretary, so we renovated on weekends only.  One of her jobs was assigning parking spaces. Universities hate cars.  Parking lots especially for students were so far away from the main campus, it needed LRT connections. Professors and staff got closer parking but not always to their liking. One prof tried to pull rank on her and another tried to bribe her.  You can imagine how that ended.

The Green Meanies (campus police) also reported to her.  I dropped her off and then went to Animal Science Building, parking always where I was not allowed.  Campus Police had strict orders from your mother to find our car and tow it away.  She would deal with me after. How hard they looked, I don't know, but they never ticketed or towed me in two years.

The Parking Office finally got too busy even for your mother so she hired a woman she had worked with years back as assistant.  They were two of a kind.  There was no need to communicate between them, they just knew and did. When they left after two years, the university hired four people to replace them.

We would drive out to the farm on weekends sometimes and your Grandparents L would come down from North Battleford for church on Sunday and to the farm for dinner.  It was at one of these meals your Grandma L announced that one should never kick a gift horse in the teeth.  This nearly finished my mother.

The first year at Christmas, we went to the farm. I had digestibility trials underway and had to feed my steers in the morning and collect their manure before we could leave.  (Digestibility being what goes in minus what comes out).  Your mother came to help so we could get finished faster.  She had more towels wrapped around her luxurious long dark hair that the Ayatollah but that faint aroma seemed to cling.  My mother's sisters and their husbands pretended not to notice.

Your mother wore a clingy backless black dress she bought at Army and Navy (aka Antoine's) for $25.  She saw the exact dress for many times that amount in the window of THE most expensive women's shop in town. Was she ever proud of herself.

The second Christmas, your mother was four months pregnant with Bronwyn.  Dad and I spent Christmas morning hammering grain for the livestock (don't ask, please) and we didn't get in for dinner or gift opening until 4:00 pm.  The day after Christmas we butchered chickens.  Dad had bought about 50 from a neighbour, where they were killed and plucked.  They were then brought home to clean and package.  Your mother, four months pregnant remember, had never cleaned chickens but she was game and helped my mother.  That night she threw up for hours.  We did not go back to the farm for Christmas for several years.  It almost ended our marriage.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Remembering the Farm: How I met your mother Part II

There are a few things I could have added to yesterday's post but they were extraneous to the main story so here they are today.

Bay Boys were not well paid.  HBC, over the centuries, did most of their recruiting in Scotland.  By mid 20th century, recruiting focused on Scotland, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, which might give you an idea of their respective economies.

I had asked your mother to marry me in July but she said it was not official until she got an engagement ring.  She finally got her ring in October. The only asset I had was a 66 Dodge something with a slant 6 engine and a holed gas tank sitting in the farm yard.  The Ag Rep in Wilkie bought it for, I think, $250.  I bought a money order for that amount and sent it to Birks Jewelers  in Edmonton with a letter explaining that it was all the money I had and what could they do in way of a solitaire engagement ring and a plain wedding band. In due time I got a box in the mail with a lovely set of rings.  The diamond was twice as big as I expected.  I am sure that someone at Birks sent me far far more than I paid for.

When I came out of the North, I had no money.  The nurses had arranged a medivac and I got a free ride out by accompanying this lady on her way to the hospital in Edmonton and looking after her on the plane. I borrowed $400 from your mother to cover wedding expenses - tux rentals for my brothers and I, new shoes, etc.  I didn't marry your mother FOR her money but I did marry her WITH her money.

I had a job working calving out 750 heifers at a ranch south of Battleford about half way to Wilkie.  My shift was noon to midnight.  The day before the wedding I worked a double shift to get an extra day off.  At the wedding rehearsal, I was sick with flu symptoms: chills and  head ache. I wore my knee length arctic parka to keep warm.  My one brother showed up in a green velvet smoking jacket and my other brother, who drove in from Hudson Bay where he was doing a practicum for his Conservation Officer Diploma, came in coveralls with a hunting knife strapped around his middle.

The reason your mother broke up with my friend was that he was "too nice, too easy going".  Which was true. He was and is a wonderful human being I am proud to have as a friend. With your mother's, uh, 'strong' character she knew she would walk all over him and make his life miserable.  (This apparently was not an issue for her as far as I was concerned). Not that it did my friend any good.  He married a woman of, uh, 'strong' character, anyhow.  Whether she walked all over him and made his life miserable is up to him to say. He seems to have thrived.

We did rewrite the wedding vows. Took the "obey" thing right out of hers.  I thought I should add it to mine but she said I couldn't. We got married on a Sunday.  I said there was no point wrecking an entire weekend.  Not appreciated.

We couldn't afford to go anywhere on our honeymoon except to bed, which was fine by me.  We drove into Saskatoon to the long since torn down Pioneer Motel on 22nd street W and rented a room for three nights.  We got ready for bed and my nose started to pour blood rather profusely, which was happening regularly at that time.  I am in the bathroom bleeding into the sink and your mother is lying in bed suffocated with laughter making unprintable remarks about wedding nights.

For all that we had known each other for 17 odd years before we got married, we had never been on a real date.  So on our honeymoon we went for dinner and a movie.  The movie was "The Way We Were" with Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford. It was boring so I went to sleep.  When it was over we went back to our cheap motel room.  I told everyone that we slept together after our first date which totally mortified all the old ladies.

In case you are wondering what became of the letters we wrote each other over the months and years were were courting, you needn't look for them.  When we moved from Cumberland House to Kindersley in 1979, we took the Labatts Blue two-four box full of them and in a small ceremony at our burning barrel, consigned them all to ashes. There was no way we wanted you to ever see them.  Unlike emails which once committed to the ethernet remain forever, real letters can be controlled. Sorry.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Remembering the Farm: How I met your mother

The last Sunday in May 1956 was warm and sunny with the lilacs starting to bloom. Your mother, 7 in March, drove with her parents from Viscount to our little church in Cavell, where her father ministered that day.  She was the cutest girl I had ever seen, in my 8 years going on 9 in September. I fell for her like Charlie Brown for the Little Red-Haired Girl.  With roughly the same result.  The family went for dinner across the street to my Aunt and Uncle's and she never came with her parents to Cavell again.

The family moved from Viscount to North Battleford in 1960.  I would see her once in a while at Easter and at the eight days of church meetings held the first week of July every year.  (They were dubbed "Camp Meetings" from the by-gone days of evangelists coming to an area, setting up a huge circus tent and people coming from miles around, camping out, while they attended services).  Most people went to North Battleford for the entire week, except my folks who were pretty hit and miss when I was in my teens.

By the time I got there, all the cool kids, of which your mother was one, had already formed cliques.  So I hung out with other loners and outsiders, which was good.  We did not get along.  Your mother considered me a hayseed with no social skills, which was correct.  I considered her more than a little stuck-up, which years later I was to learn was merely a cover for shyness. I still thought she was very cute.

University came and went, along with other girlfriends.  I moved to Ontario.  Then in 1971, I moved back to the farm. There were a number of young people my age at North Battleford so I would drive the hour to visit, skate, play ball or what ever.  I saw your mother more frequently then.  She had gone from cute to beautiful but was dating a friend of mine.  THE RULES are that you cannot even approach the girlfriend of a friend.

So that September I hatched a nefarious plan.  We would host a wiener roast in our pasture and invite the young people from several of the Churches around such Rosetown, Saskatoon, North Battleford.  I wrote to your mother to organize the kids from North Battleford (long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive, stamps were cheap). Foot in the door. We continued to write periodically.  Her friend worked for my dad that winter and she would come down to see him occasionally.

Things were not going well between your grandfather and I.  The French Foreign Legion having been disbanded, the only choice left was the Canadian Arctic.  Company of Adventurers trading into Hudson's Bay aka HBC or Here Before Christ were hiring "Bay Boys" on a regular basis.  My girlfriend at the time, a friend of your mother's from Edmonton, was working temp at the Northern Stores HQ in Edmonton and got me an interview. I was on my way to Inuvik.

So I was writing boy-friend letters to the girl in Edmonton and friend letters to your mother. I was careful to get them in the right envelopes, unlike your father's Uncle Joe, (which is not just another blog post but an entire book should someone have nerve enough to write it). 

The two girls accompanied your mother's aunt and uncle on a trip through the western states as far as Texas. They crossed into Mexico for a day, either at Nuevo Laredo or Ciudad Juarez, I forget which. My girl friend's following letter was filled with all the exciting sights and sounds of Mexico.  Your mother's with the contrast between the terrible poverty on one side of the road and the huge wealthy mansions on the other.  I knew then I was writing the wrong letters to the wrong girl.  She broke up with my friend the spring of 1973 and I immediately wrote her a long letter.  It was more de Neuvillette than de Bergerac but it did the trick and was apparently not unexpected.

I flew out for a month's holidays in July.  Your mother met me at the Edmonton airport and we were insufferable inseparable while I was home.  She came out to the farm with me.  We went for a walk up the north lane and she parked on a big rock and said "Well, are you going to ask me?" So I did.  Then I went back up north to Cambridge Bay. More letters and a monthly phone call at $70.

She flew up at Christmas 1973 to visit and see how I lived.  One of the nurses had gone home from Christmas so she could stay at the Nursing Station.  Normally a PWA 727 made the direct flight from Edmonton to Cambridge but she ended up on a Lockheed Electra going via Coppermine. It was storming very hard when they flew over Cambridge Bay and visibility was nil.  The pilot circled three times and would have had to go back but a light appeared in a break in the clouds and he pulled it into a steep dive and set it down.

She quickly sized up the situation and made an offer I could not refuse.  We would get married in April 1974, I would go back to University and she would work to put me through for my MSc.  Then she would stay home and raise a family.  So we did and I did and she did.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

DNA, like diarrhea, runs in your genes

My computer has been down for a few days.  WiFi wouldn't connect.  Took it into the shop and said the WiFi wouldn't connect, though the TP-Link adapter had worked for a month.  Went in today to check.  He said the computer Wi-Fi didn't work and he couldn't fix it. I had told him that when I went in. Oh, well.  In despair, I brought it home, fired it up and the TP-Link worked.  And is still working.

This was the blog post I was working on when the WiFi disconnected, so I will pick up where I left off.

Where people came from, how they got there and how they got to where they are now has always fascinated me. My theory was that everyone came out of the Asian Steppes because there was nothing to do but fight and flirt, and in the winter it was too clod to fight. Fortunately my brother Stan is very interested in where languages came from and how they got to today's polyglot.  Languages and people tend to move together so we both read many of the same books.

These are the books my brother recommends on the movement of peoples out of Africa (linked to Goodreads.  I have read four of them. He says there are no recent books that he could find which surprised him.  Given the advances in the past decade there should have been some.  Stay tuned.

The development of DNA analysis was a huge breakthrough in understanding the origins and movement of people.  Up to that point it was all based on archaeological evidence only.  Combining archaeological, genetic, and linguistic findings provides a more complete picture but refutes many commonly held assumptions.

1.      The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey  -  Spencer Wells (2002)
2.      Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins – Steve Olson (2002)
3.      Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors  – Nicholas Wade (2006
4.      The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry  – Bryan Sykes (2001) 
5.      Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland – Bryan Sykes (2006)
6.      Out of Eden, the peopling of the world – Stephen Oppenheimer (2004). 

DNA analysis is now cheap enough that people can use it to satisfy their own curiosity - where did their ancestors come from, who are they related to, etc. This link is a great primer for people who are just learning about genetics. From DNA to Genetic Genealogy - Genetics 101 for total beginners. This link has highly detailed information. Genetic genealogy

This article in my email jarred me into finally begun digging information on DNA for family treeMatch making: DNA testing, sometimes a gimmick, can also be a godsend for genealogists.
What I am most interested in is NOT finding more relatives but rather the countries where my ancestors may have originated many generations ago (not “Europe” but narrowed down much more than that) and  mtDNA and Y chromosome analysis can go a long way back.

The Irish Hingstons can (likely) trace their antecedents to the son of James Hingston, organist to Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.  He was apparently given land in County Cork in the mid-1650s as part of Cromwell's Irish settlement program.  There are serious genealogists working on this so I will not worry too much about it.  

However, my maternal grandmother's family, Bielby, originated in Yorkshire.  Their name comes from the name of a village which derived from Old English for White Farm.  The Russian word for white is belyy, as in Belarus (White Russia). Scandinavians also known as Varangians traded up and down the river systems from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Scandanavians also raided, traded and settles in Yorkshire.  Some could have been the same people.  So, could I perchance have Varangian blood lines in my background? That would interest me.

Finding relatives may be important to people whose knowledge of their ancestry is limited.  Millions of people were displaced during and after WWII, for example.  Birth and death records tended to be kept in churches in Europe, years ago and many of those records have been destroyed. 

I found three commercial laboratories doing DNA analysis for genealogical purposes though there are likely more out there. 
Extending Family Trees with DNA Testing This guy wants to sell you stuff, sort of a consultant but the website has useful information. He recommends these three DNA testing companies for Genealogical DNA tests; he says do all three as they each have different data pools.

One of these day, I might just do that. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grocery Shopping

We went for groceries yesterday.  We go about once a week so try to buy what we need to last us.  It had been a long while since I priced out our food and other in CAD/USD, today seemed like a good day to do it. We spent about $90 USD or $120 CAD (roughly 2x old age pension). The table below is incomplete but was all the items I could read or figure out.

The pork ribs were actually pork loin as we just had it as chops for dinner. The coffee beans were the most expensive in the store. Tanya says I am the only one who drinks it so I should get the good stuff.  Dobrodar cheese is a hard Polish cheese which is as close to cheddar as we can get.  We prefer Old but they did not have it this trip. There are three or four kinds of blue cheese available in bulk and a couple as prepackage. Regular bread is highly subsidized, as is flour.  Good flour is hard to come by, i.e. that will rise well.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Canadian Constitution and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

American obsession with, and constant litigation over, their constitution has always amused me. Canada has a constitution.  I know this.  When I was young it was called the British North American Act of 1867. I didn't know until I looked it up that it is now called the Constitution Act 1867 which along with the Constitution Act 1982 make up the Constitution of Canada.

Most Canadians are vaguely aware of the fact we have a constitution. I suspect only recent immigrants seeking, or having just received, Canadian citizenship could quote you any of it, other than it does say somewhere in it "Peace, order and good governance". You can't get much more Canadian than that.

The Constitution Act 1982 repatriated our constitution from Britain to Canada
This will make Americans smile but from 1867 to 1982 our Constitution was controlled by the British Parliament.  The Act created Canada from four British colonies, two of which were already united, Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec).  Canada could not change its constitution without going through Britain which of course never refused that I know of.  It did get to be embarrassing after a while. Canada certainly wanted it on home turf and Britain definitely wanted to be rid of it.

The Amending Formula was the sticker and took forever, I suspect, because Quebec wanted a veto on everything and was not about to get it. This formula finally agreed on by everyone (but Quebec?) required the approval of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces with at least 50% of the population of all provinces.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is embedded in the Constitution Act 1982, possibly unlike the American Constitution and Bill of Rights (confession: like Trump, I have not read them), actually does mention God. It has had general approval of Canadians though it has been criticized from the left, right and centre.  So it is close, which only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and it is functional. My guess is that if you were to ask 10000 Canadians what it says, only the politically active MIGHT be able to tell you anything.

The Charter, which will celebrate 35 years in April has resulted in at least six major social changes in Canadian life. "Particularly since the charter's equality rights section came into force, the courts have overturned many laws that they felt went against the charter. But it is also the case that governments have won more often than they have lost on charter challenges before the Supreme Court."

1. Limiting Police Powers in wiretapping, burden of proof and disclosure obligations, to name but three changes which strengthened the rights of the individual.
2. Women's Reproductive Rights - the Morgentaler case which effectively legalized abortion in 1988.
3. Recognition of LGBTQ Rights up to and including same sex marriage in 2005.
4. Linguistic Rights for Francophones Outside Quebec - access to French schools, school boards and even hospitals. 
5. Strengthened Aboriginal Rights, recognizing historic aboriginal rights and ensuring consultation in resource development or other changes which affect them unduly. 
6.Judicial Activism the charter "amounts to a significant transfer of policy making to the courts," especially in an area that could be described as "morality issues."

There have been and will be challenges going to the Supreme Court but not every 15 minutes and no one gets too excited about them. Here is a list of notable Supreme Court Cases from 2000 to present. The only one that struck me off the top was R vs Latimer, who went to school with my brother.  I might have heard of some of the others but would need reminding.

The Constitution Act 1982 has a very Canadian section called The Not Withstanding Clause. This was included to mollify the provinces which were terrified of losing some rights they previously had prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and was the only way that agreement was ever reached to repatriate the Constitution at all.

Essentially it allows any government Act to ignore rights guaranteed under the Charter for up to five years, after which time it lapses or the Act can be renewed. It has not been used that often. Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Yukon Territory have invoked The Not Withstanding Clause.  Quebec invoked it after the Supreme Court struck down their French only language law on outdoor signs but let it lapse after five years. Alberta invoked the clause in a private members bill to define marriage as heterosexual only; this was bounced by the Supreme Court which ruled that only Parliament could define marriage.

Nothing very exciting.  Our Constitution works, more or less; our governments work, more or less; our parliamentary system works very well; our voting system works, more or less but could use some improvement to be more inclusive.  Our governments spend more time governing than social engineering which helps immensely. We have our share of Republican Jesus Christians and White Supremacists but one hopes that they never get the upper hand.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

So the Liberals Scrap Vote Reform

The Liberals have gone back on their election promise to make 2015 election the last one based on First Past the Post (FPTP) and institute some form of Proportional Representation (PR).  People didn't think it was fair that a party garnering 40% of the national vote should get 54% of the seats in the House of Commons and form a majority government.  They have a point.  However, as I wrote in a blog post just after the election, PR comes with its own problems and is not necessarily an improvement or even more fair.

I am not disappointed that we will stay with FPTP, just as I (and any right thinking person), was not disappointed when Jean Chretien did not repeal the GST (VAT).  It was one of the things Mulroney got right, along with replacing the dollar bill with the Loonie. I can debate NAFTA.

The NDP (always the bridesmaid, never the bride) is furious, of course.  PR was their ticket to the alter. They see PR  as virtually guaranteing a minority government, with the NDP holding the balance of power. So instead of being governed by a majority with 40%, Canada ends up being governed by a minority with 20% of the popular vote, whether seats are distributed by provincial popular vote or national. Or back to the polls we go.

Data source,_2015
This assumes that voting patterns stay the same as in 2015, which of course, they will not.  People will feel confident that their vote "will count" and may well vote their true preferences, the argument for PR in the first place. That means there could be a major shift in party seats in the House. Without a cut off (3%, 5%?) some of the 18 oddball parties I never even heard of could get seats and might anyhow. We could easily see the rise of far-right (provincial-based?) parties and I can think of just the provinces in which that could be likely. Coalition governments, here we come.

I was informed that over 90 countries use some form of PR. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use proportional representation, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Check out the list linked to above and see how many of these countries you would be comfortable if Canada were governed as well as they are. 

PR Voting type by Country (
To be fair, the Liberals did examine the issue.  How well, I cannot say, as it was not on the top of my priority list at the time.  They did set up a website with a questionnaire which I filled out.  The questionnaire was bitterly criticized by many who could not or would not understand it (Canadians at times are no brighter than the denizens of other lands).  In  a nutshell it asked for desired outcomes: how did you want the House of Commons to work.  Based on your answers it slotted you towards PR or FPTP. Simple really but I think people were expecting a rough poll of what kind of PR system they favoured. Needless to say, the questionnaire did not shed any light on anything.

I favour two possible solutions.  First is ranked ballots or transferable votes.  This would, it is claimed, see the Liberal Party governing forever.  Second would be Two-round voting (as is used in the French presidential election).  A run-off election is followed in two weeks by a final election between the top two candidates where no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the first round. Based on 2015 election results, a final vote would have been needed for 205 out of 338 constituencies. Not PR but it does guarantee MPs with over 50% of the popular vote and most likely majority government.