Our most recent MCHS picnic took place on July 26, 2023 in Stratford, Ontario
We had an enjoyable high school get together, with lots of interesting conversations and great food, on a pleasant summer day in Stratford, Ontario, on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. We had previously met in Stratford on September 30, 2020.
Each of us (there were eight of us) brought their own picnic lunch and we also had great treats – cookies, cupcakes, brownies – to share. Our picnics have been regular events in recent years. Before the picnics, we used to meet indoors for lunch, but things got changed after COVID-19 appeared on the scene.
Our previous Malcolm Campbell High School picnic before this one was at Lynn and Mike Legge’s house in London. Our next picnic is set for Tuesday, August 29, 2023 in Toronto, and we’re also planning a picnic in September or October in Woodstock. Our picnics are open to all MCHS grads and staff (no matter what year you were there) and their families and friends. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to be on our picnic email list. If MCHS grads are travelling from elsewhere in the world, such as on vacation, and their schedule can manage it, they would be most welcome to join us for a picnic.
1950s and 1960s Studebakers
For the July 26 picnic we met on the front porch of a house near the Festival Theatre in Stratford. It was a hot day but cool in the shade. We had been concerned about what the Air Quality Index would be on this day, as the air pollution level had been very high earlier in the summer, the result of smoke from forest fires in Quebec, but the air quality turned out to be fine.
We met on a front porch where the arrangement of furniture meant that we were not able, on this particular occasion, to sit as one large group. For a future event in Stratford, we can ensure that we meet as one conversational group, as has been the case in previous years such as when we used to meet at Mandarin restaurants (in Kitchener and Toronto) during the pre-COVID era. I mention this by way of noting that on this occasion there were some conversations that I would have missed.
In one of our discussions, Dan Cayer spoke about a Studebaker that he owned many years ago. His comments reminded me of a 1951 Studebaker that I saw at a car show in Stratford on June 18, 2023. The classic car in question, based on my online research, was a 1951 Studebaker Champion 4 Door Sedan. If I recall correctly, Dan said that his 1960s-era Studebaker had featured a huge, powerful engine at the front; there wasn’t much weight at the back – and as a consequence, the handling on the corners wasn’t awesome.
Celebration of life event for Ron Spearman
In news updates, of which we had many, I was pleased to learn from Zenon Levitzky that the celebration of life event, for his son-in-law Ron Spearman, who had passed away on May 17, 2023, had been a significant and memorable occasion for all who attended. Ron had a deep connection, built up over many years, to his local community; this connection was readily evident, as Zenon mentioned, in the memories shared at the celebration of life event.
This year we have a lot of zucchinis growing in our backyard garden in Stratford. We are looking forward to some recipes that regular MCHS picnic attendees, Gina Cayer and Lynn Legge, are sending to help us figure out how best to prepare some great garden-to-table zucchini dishes. My wife May Jolliffe and I are always keen to learn about such recipes.
In other news updates, we also spoke about pickleball and summertime boating pursuits on the Great Lakes. Many opportunities for summertime recreation are available for us in Southwestern Ontario, where quite a good number of MCHS grads now live since leaving Montreal.
Books MCHS grads are currently reading
At the picnic, Scott Munro mentioned a book by Jared Yates Sexton he’s been reading – The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia and the Coming Crisis (2023). As Scott has noted, the author goes from Roman times to current times on this one. Also interesting for Scott was a book by Mary L. Trump – The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal (2021). Scott has commented, “Anyone who thinks that America must be over the Civil War by now might think again after reading this.” At the links in this paragraph you can find blurbs and reviews, at the Toronto Public Library website, for these books.
We also spoke about 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (2018) by Robert P. C Joseph. An excerpt (Chapter 3, Tightening Control, p. 53), regarding the origin story of the residential schools system, reads:
The goal of the schools was to “kill the Indian in the child,” but tragically it was the children themselves who died in overwhelming numbers at these schools. It is estimated that 6,000 of the 150,000 children who attended the schools between the 1870s and 1996 either died or disappeared. The numbers are not precise because no one kept accurate records: not the schools, the churches that managed the schools, or the Indian agents. Children died at the schools from disease, malnourishment, and broken hearts. Many children who escaped from their residential school died on the journey to their home community.
Political history of Saskatchewan
Among many other topics of interest, we talked about many aspects of history. I have, with regard to Canadian history, wondered for many years about what accounts for certain features of political development in the province of Saskatchewan.
At the picnic I mentioned that I’ve recently come across a book by Dale Eisler – From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation (2022) – that has been helpful, in enhancing my understanding of the history of the Prairie provinces. A sentiment, strongly underlined in the book, is that the oil and gas industry continues to have a very strong level of support in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As I understand, this continues to be the case, even a year after the book was published.
The support appears to continue to be strong, even in the face of record-breaking heatwaves and increasingly frequent and destructive forest fires. The book highlights public opinion research which documents that the scientific evidence, which underlines that climate change is the direct result of carbon emissions resulting from human activity, is accepted by a significantly smaller segment of citizens of Alberta and Saskatchewan – especially among rural residents – than elsewhere across Canada.
A Short History of Canada (2001, 2017)
We spoke as well about A Short History of Canada, Fifth Edition (2001) by Desmond Morton. (I refer to the fifth edition – a seventh edition, published in 2017, is also available.) After the picnic, I borrowed the fifth edition from the Stratford Public Library. I was interested to compare how this book addresses the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. I would describe the approach as anodyne – not likely to provoke dissent or offence. In a sense, it’s a book that keeps a person’s connection with history at a certain emotional distance. It’s a form of official-sounding history, in my view, which presents the past, for a general reading audience, as akin to a grocery list of facts: the connection to one’s everyday life may be largely absent. John Vaillant, in contrast, in Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast (2023), describes the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company in decidedly more acerbic terms – he notes (p. 33) that the fur trade
shaped Canada’s creation myth and set the tone for how extractive industries continue to operate there. Through this lens, Canada in general, and Alberta in particular, could be seen not as a “state in the guise of a merchant,” but as a merchant in the guise of a state. This colonial model, which systematically commodifies natural resources and binds local people to the trading post system with company store-style debt, has replicated itself in resource towns across the continent.
I would argue that The Short History of Canada (2001) is an anodynic – that is, in the way of an anodyne, relating to relief from pain – account of national history, of the kind that you can expect from a widely read historian based in Toronto. It is a voice that is widely adopted, when a person writes about history for a general audience. By way of contrast, I would argue that Fire Weather (2023) is the kind of suitably acerbic – that is, sharp and forthright – commentary that you can expect from a best-selling author from Western Canada.
The voice that Dale Eisler adopts in From Left to Right (2022) also manages to present a voice which, again, is more than a grocery list of facts. In the latter case, the voice is of a nature which underlines that history entails a configuration of forces – the comprehension of which requires a certain sense of nuance, a sense that there are several kinds of histories that a person can choose from, when describing a certain period or episode from years gone by.
Ubiquity of vintage car shows
I shared an earlier version of the current post with the MCHS lunches email list that we’ve had in place for several years. In response, a member of the list commented, “It must be the season for car shows.”
The comment prompted me to think about what a great purpose such classic car shows serve. They bring people together; they operate as a form of heritage preservation – on wheels. Many of the owners of such cars are in their seventies and eighties. Props (such as 1960s-era cars) from the past may be literally a way to help a person keep in good shape mentally and physically, judging from research by the social psychologist Ellen Langer among others. I’ve highlighted this feature of productively reliving the past in a post about Langer’s work:
An excerpt from the post reads:
An Oct. 22, 2014 New York Times article is entitled: “What if age is nothing but a mind-set?”
The article describes an experiment in which a group of subjects in their senior years, who had graduated from high school many decades earlier, were provided an intensive array of sensory cues – such as music from the 1950s, among many other cues – that enabled them to experience their “younger selves” from their high school years, over a period of five days.
They were instructed to imagine that they were in their teens once again. All manner of suitable artifacts – vintage radio, black-and-white TV – were provided to help them to experience themselves as their younger selves.
The resulting mind/body effects – people sat taller, their sight improved, and their minds appeared sharper – that are described in the article are of interest.
It may be argued – as a member of our email list has noted – that our high school picnics (which can also be characterized as mini-reunions) may serve a similar purpose to vintage car shows taking place everywhere.