Grosse Île – a poem


Grosse Île

by William Gibson

We are guided through the Reception Hall,
lose the sound of the St. Lawrence River.
Gape at the baggage cages,
the immigrants’ luggage and clothing
packed on these
for disinfection
in the steam and sulphur
boilers.

Our guide explains why the shower stalls
have wire mesh roofs.
To keep the people from climbing out.
I look inside the galvanized grey casing
and stare at the shower tube and the three
wrap-around shower pipes
and I step back.

Later we walk down the trail
to the Irish cemetery
from 1847,
the famine year,
the big death year.

There is still one building from then.
One old cover shed still there.

Later I read how the government debated
the costs of sheds to cover the immigrants,
to get them out of the tents and the open air.
Not enough money for milk and bread.
For medical supplies.
The doctors and nurses, the nuns and priests
falling sick, dying.

How the St. Lawrence was full of ships
anchored, waiting with their sick, and dying
with their dead lying in the bunks of the crowded
stinking lower decks.
Where family members were too frightened.
To touch their own dead, for burial.

I read the list of those who died.
Unknown Dutch man
Unknown Irish child
There was one William Gibson,
Captain of a ship out of Liverpool,
his ship with sick and dead
in 1847.

NOTE: Grosse Île is an island in the St. Lawrence River downstream from Ville de Quebec. It has had a fascinating history including biological weapons research during World War II (anthrax), but less alarmingly, it was the quarrantine immigration station for Quebec. In other words, it was Canada’s Ellis Island. Actually Ellis Island was America’s Grosse Île. Irish and other immigrants entered Canada at this point at the time of the Potato Famine, 1848. It continued to be used as an immigration depot into the 20th century. Today you can visit the island, Parks Canada manages the island. It is a moving experience to tour the site.

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saw Havana the other night


Pollock, I miss him so much, directed this gem back in the previous century. Set in Havana just before Castro took over from Batista, Jack Wild (Robert Redford as a professional card player) encounters revolutionaries Lena Olin and Raul Julia/ All hell breaks lose. Alan Arkin is perfect in support as a casino manager who tries to steer Redford’s character away from his romantic interest in Olin. Havana is a beautiful romantic old school high quality film that bombed at the box office when released. I went to see it way back then and loved it and could not understand its failure. Watching it on the movie channel late one night last week I was overwhelmed at its quality. If you can grab the chance to watch it, do so, you will not be disapporinted.

Peter Dexter’s novel “Train” from 2003


A great read is Train by Pete Dexter from 2003. It is a novel set in California with two main characters, Lionel “Train” Walk and Miller Packard. It is a story about race and golf, sex and murder, work and play, love and hatred, dogs and flamingos. Supporting the main two is a host of memorable personalities. There is a character called “Plural” and another called “Sweet” and a woman photographic artist called “susan” with no capital “S” and no last name. And then there is Nora and much of the story turns around her. This is an American story that deals with a lot of elements: trust, talent, potential, betrayal but mostly it deals with how to  hope, how to discover its limits and its cracks. How to see them, how to ignore them. Dexter is a phenomenally gifted writer. To be sure, read this book or The Paper Boy, Deadwood, or Paris Trout.

green peace


this is “my front yard” about ten feet from Georgian Bay and is the former beach line – my dog likes to run around down here after his swims – a family of mink live and play and around here and Canada geese come in to graze

I took this shot this morning while testing a pair of old lenses on my Pentax dslr K10D – finding out that my old trusty Vivitar Series 1 18-35 mm zoom lens works very poorly on the K10D, a shame since it performed well on my old film slr from Pentax, the PZ-1, One of the reasons for buying Pentax is the ability to use old lenses on the new DSLR. I will try out some other old Pentax lenses from my collection and see how they work out on the new camera.

log building Discovery Harbour at Penetanguishene


I did a little time travel today by visiting the Royal Naval and Military Establishment otherwise known as Discovery Harbour over in Penetanguishene, Ontario, on Georgian Bay in Lake Huron. It is a good long stroll to walk the site and there are many buidlings. I have visited this plac emany times over the years. I guess the first time was back in around 1958 when Queen Elizabeth visited. in fact, the Royal yacht Britannia came into Penetanguishene Harbour.

The roots of Discovery Harbour can be traced back to his Majesty’s Naval Establishment on Lake Huron. In 1793, Sir John Graves Simcoe noted the strategic importance of Penetanguishene Bay as a potential site for a naval base. Here, the steep-sided, deep water bay would be an ideal spot for the protection and maintenance of ships and could serve as a vital transport link from York to the northwest. The events surrounding the War of 1812 provided the spark to construct an active naval dockyard at Penetanguishene. By 1817 the British Navy, anxious to patrol and protect the Upper Great Lakes against a future attack, began construction in earnest.

The Naval Establishment would soon become a permanent home to the warships H.M.S Tecumseth and H.M.S. Newash, put in ordinary by storing their rigging and armament and maintaining their 70-foot hulls. Other vessels including the supply ships Bee, Mosquito and Wasp, were kept busy transporting cargo and supplies. By 1820, the base maintained over 20 vessels, supplied British posts to the northwest, and housed over 70 personnel, including officers and their families, sailors, civilian workers and soldiers. The Naval Establishment was also the winter home of Lieutenant Henry Wolsey Bayfield early in his surveying career, and provided a stopover for Sir John Franklin en route to his second polar expedition in 1825.
The Military Establishment

As relations with the Americans improved, the British began to gradually withdraw their naval commitment for the defense of Canada. In 1828, a large military force was moved from Drummond Island when that territory was ceded to the Americans. Many soldiers and settlers then made their homes at Penetanguishene as they joined the small military contingent, which practiced drill and remained ready for war. By 1834, the Navy shipped out and the base was now fully a military one, maintaining daily drill and garrison routines. Impressive Officers’ Quarters and Soldiers’ Barracks were built as the Military provided the defense of the post.

Meanwhile, the officers, their families and French traders took an active part in the life of the first permanent residents of the community and were joined by British Army pensioners who settled in the area. You can read many of their names in today’s Penetanguishene telephone directory!

Pentax K10D with Pentax FA 28-80

In Bruges, In Brilliant


You have to see this movie. I just finished watching the DVD and it is in my top three of the year. Farrell is brilliant. Brendan Gleeson is briliant. This is a black comedy about two hit men lieing low in Bruges after a job in London has gone wrong. Perhaps the most interesting character in the film is the town of Bruges itself, a medieval architecture wonderland. Much more than original, a touching story with full, deep characters. Highly recommended.