This story has a sad ending.

Hello, this is Anne, Stan’s wife writing.  I guess I should say widow.  Yes.  I wrote it.  I am a widow. I know that he followed many of his followers and often shared your posts with me.  You were a part of his support family thus I share this sad news with you.

Stan had surgery to basically replace most of his aorta on October 24.  It did not go perfectly.  He never woke and and died on November 8.

He leaves behind me, 4 children and their spouses, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews and many many saddened hearts. And a garden.


Watching The Masters, Thinking About Parkinson’s

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Crocuses are a sure sign that Spring is on the way in Canada. Golf can’t be far behind. Photo Credit: The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2019

Kicking Back and Watching the 2019 Masters

Glued to my Chair

On April 14, 2019 I was glued to my chair in our family room watching Tiger Woods win his fifth Masters’ golf title and his 15th career victory in a “Major.” I certainly wasn’t alone as 18.3 million viewers joined me at the peak coverage time. According to Rob Schumacher of Golfweek USA Today Sports, a total of 37.2 million viewers worldwide watched either the live coverage or the replay. To put that into perspective the estimated total population of Canada in 2019 is 37.4 million.

These statistics do not tell a lie. There was tremendous interest in the final round of the Masters because Tiger had an excellent chance to win and a chance to repair many of the divots on his reputation. After all, 11 long years had passed since Tiger’s last victory in a major tournament – the U.S. Open in 2008 – and 19 years since he last won the Masters’ title. Over the past decade both his golf game and his personal life appeared to have gone south. Golf analysts, fanatics and duffers alike were of the opinion that it was extremely unlikely Tiger would return to his past glory.

I confess that I have never been a fan of Tiger Woods although I had to admit grudgingly to his superiority during his peak years. His ability to turn on the icy calmness; to fashion golf shots that left others staring in awe; to command his body and mind to work in sublime synchronicity; and to track down victory when victory seemed to be doing all it could to avoid him, was simply awesome. In the end it doesn’t much matter to Tiger whether I am a fan or not. He knows that when people say “Tiger” they are talking about him and no one else.

Tiger Had No Doubts

As I watched this 2019 version of the Masters it occurred to me that Tiger never doubted that he would win another title and the concrete evidence of that confidence, of his perseverance, commitment, dedication, work ethic, and psychological toughness was the long list of worthy golfers whose names lay strewn on the leaderboard under, not over or equal to, but beneath his name and score. In spite of the odds against him, Tiger conducted a clinic on how to play high-pressure golf at a level and intensity few of us can even begin to imagine.

I am no sports psychologist so it is difficult for me to conceive of the psychological toolkit that Tiger had to assemble and master such that his body and mind not only shared the same space but that each knew its own place. Over the last, lost decade Tiger has had to surround himself with family, golf professionals, physicians and surgeons, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, career advisors, and business/financial advisors, among others who all would contribute positively to his ultimate goals. Even for someone with abundant financial resources building a team is more difficult than it first appears. I have tremendous respect for Tiger’s ability to put those pieces together effectively.

I doubt that Tiger “wished” or “hoped” that he would win another Masters title and I would be surprised if he ever thought of it as a “fantasy”. Tiger might have imagined his victory but imagining (or visioning) is a technique many athlete’s use so that their movements are automatic, with consistency in the results. It is not the same as fantasizing. In a way, it is like the building and maintenance of neuro-pathways in neuroplasticity exercises for PwP.

Tiger’s Victory Was Not A Surprise … To Tiger

Tiger’s victory at Augusta was the culmination of a purposeful and deliberate process. He knew what his goal was and he knew what he had to do to get there. In other words, you have to have a plan if you are to achieve what most people think is impossible. And of course, you have to have to execute the shots to implement the plan. He did just that.

Where Tiger Woods’ career will go now is unknown but I am certain he has a plan … and not just a wish, a hope or a fantasy.

Diet, Exercise, and Attitude

There are many people who feel that Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) can overcome this debilitating disease, can delay the advance of its symptom’s and stop its progression to more advanced stages; that diet and exercise, especially intense exercise, are the keys to defeating Parkinson’s. While I think it is true that exercise and diet are important for us to live well when we have Parkinson’s, I know that diet and exercise does not cure Parkinson’s and at this stage we don’t have any evidence that poor diet and/or lack of exercise play any role whatsoever in causing Parkinson’s.

Yet there are many people who will point to Tiger’s success and say that he is an exemplar of the Power of Positive Thinking. Note: the following sentence is to be read as if it is dripping with sarcasm, to wit: “So all you PwP out there who are feeling sorry for yourselves because you have Parkinson’s, lose the negative attitude, stop being depressed and get with the program – knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it!”

Of course, it is silly to think that Parkinson’s is in any way analogous to professional golf when it comes to individual motivation. PwP are not in competition with other PwP although we may compare notes about the progression of the disease in our bodies to its progression in others; and we may set personal bests in terms of our activities, etc. No, we are in competition against a disease within our bodies; a neurological disease that causes our physiological system to misinterpret signals from our brain resulting in all sorts of strange and unanticipated muscle movements, juiced up with a wide variety of non – motor symptoms to add to the challenge. For PwP the world is a giant obstacle course through which we must use our mental faculties to maneuver our bodies. Our brain and/or body can become dysfunctional at any time, with only a moment’s notice. [Some might say jokingly that this describes their golf game!]

This may leave you wondering: Why should I care about what Tiger does?

Lessons From Tiger’s Success

Are there any lessons for PwP to be found in Tiger’s story? We could just say that it is not relevant and move on but I don’t think we should be quickly dismissive of the situation. Let’s take a closer look with a critical eye for lessons to be learned in a select number of items. These insights may not always be obvious but are worthy of our attention nonetheless. Consider the following:


Just as Tiger has done, we must develop a steely determination so as not to be fazed by the challenge no matter the odds. We will have many little victories along the way as well as some profoundly troubling and unexpected setbacks. We rejoice in the former and learn how to adjust from the latter.


We must be realistic about both the trajectory of our Parkinson’s and the end result. If we put our heads in the sand we will set ourselves up for disappointment and failure. Knowing where we are going and being able to make necessary and appropriate adjustments is a large part of the game. It was realistic for Tiger to think he could win another Masters. It is not realistic to think that I can cure Parkinson’s by strenuous exercise alone but it is realistic to think that exercise will improve my quality of life while living with Parkinson’s.


Sometimes things are not as they seem. This is not a golf course. Photo credit: The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2013

Team Building

Just as Tiger has built a strong and loyal team around him; people he trusts to provide him with the best advice; those with whom he can have honest, open discussion and debate; PwP need similar teams with family, friends, many different types of accredited health professionals, spiritual advisors, and people who know how to distract you from your immediate troubles so that you can relax.

Building an Ego

I am pretty sure that Tiger has a substantial ego. Most PwP I know do not. [I do not pass any judgment about myself on this matter.] Parkinson’s has a way of cutting you down to size very quickly and cruelly by inflicting upon you any number of indignities including incontinence and early dementia.

I have come to the realization that if we are to improve quality of life, we (PwP) must strengthen our ego at the level of the individual and develop a strong, sometimes obnoxious ‘collective ego.’  Parkinson’s is a 365+ days a year, 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week job. I hope you will forgive me for saying this but many times, it is all about me! I know it sounds ugly and conceited but PwP must embrace a more demanding and selfish approach. Meek and mild may win friends but if we don’t have an “edge” to make enough noise for our cause, our cause will go unheard, swallowed up in the din of others.

We must make enough noise to convince the following people to not just get on board with your plan but to adopt and modify the plan to ensure success:

  • Leaders who have power and influence within the Parkinson community;
  • Leaders who have money, technology and human resources at their disposal;
  • Government leaders with the capacity to fashion government policy, regulations and direction;
  • Corporate leaders who can apply the economic impetus for a concerted, cooperative and coordinated push for research in the interests of the common good instead of profit;
  • Leaders who are not afraid to step out of a market driven philosophy;
  • Leaders in community organizations and not-for-profit institutions who can maximize fundraising efforts and coordinate the allocation of scarce research dollars to those efforts that have the greatest potential for success;
  • Leaders who bridge these sectors and understand that international cooperation and coordination is superior to international competition when we are trying to find the cause, the cure and ways to enhance quality of life for PwP everywhere;

As PwP we should be demanding greater coordination and cooperation at several levels e.g., government/state, organizational/institutional. We should not be reduced to collective begging or issuing a meek plea for help in finding the cause and a cure for Parkinson’s.

Do you think Tiger grovels for much?


Know What We Want

Sometimes we have to speak up about what we want and we have to be more selfish about it. Still we have to be realistic and that means we have to be judicious in our demands. We must be diligent in determining what it is we want; why we want it; when we want it; and be able to articulate this clearly. Sometimes we ask politely, sometimes with some urgency, and sometimes we must demand, insist, and threaten. Yes, threaten. Please understand that I am talking not only about personal needs and wants here. There are lots of those to be sure, but I am talking about larger or higher level demands e.g., at the community or societal levels. Corporate entities must not be permitted to avoid communal responsibilities and obligations simply because these do not fit with their marketing plans or with their profit profiles. Boycotts are sometimes effective collective actions in such cases.

Societal Importance and Awareness

Golf is an extremely popular sport or game and professional golf is a very lucrative career if you. have the talent and abilities to win or be close to the top. Tiger Woods’ victory at The Masters victory earned him a cool US$ 2.07 million from the purse alone and even the 9th place finishers (Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay and Rickie Fowler) pocketed US$ 310,500. As a recreational sport, golf is quite enjoyable no matter what your handicap and according to Forbes Magazine, golf was a US$ 70 billion industry in 2015.

I have to confess that I am a fan of young Canadian golfer Brooke Henderson who has taken the Ladies Professional Golf Association by storm these past two years. At age 21 she has 8 tournament victories to her credit. So it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that more people are aware of what is going on in the golf world than are aware of what is happening in the world of Parkinson’s disease and the long search for the cause(s) and a cure.

Awareness is one thing and importance is another. I would wager that professional golf is more important to Canadians or Americans than finding the cause (s) or cure for Parkinson’s.

Can We Change The Channel?

Earlier, I stated that 37.2 million viewers watched Tiger Woods and the final round of the 2019 Masters.  If one-tenth of that number (3,720,000) possessed more than a passing knowledge of Parkinson’s disease e.g., able to name two or more characteristics or symptoms not including tremour, I would be extremely happy. Is that target realistic? At the moment, I doubt it but if it is to be realistic target, we would need to make some changes or take some actions to change the channel?


Changing the channel usually involves hard work and you may be tempted to look away

That is the challenge. Are you up for it? I shall explore this topic in future posts. Stay tuned.

Post Script

I leave you with one final thought for the day:

Parkinson’s is not a game. No one is going to choose “Person with Parkinson’s” over “golfer” as an occupation or lifestyle.

© The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2019

The Classroom on the Escarpment: Where does “The Road Past Altamont” go anyway?


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Altamont c.1950                 Photo credit: R.B. Marshall

Revised March 26, 2019


I often use this space to write about Parkinson’s disease and what it is like to be a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP). The only message I have about Parkinson’s in this post is that we Parkie’s are capable of serious, meaningful, and even frivolous discourse on many subject matters other than Parkinson’s. Today, I take you onto the Manitoba Escarpment for a walk around the “High Mountain,” complete with a glimpse into my own personal history.

Be forewarned this essay is a lengthy one so if you decide to proceed, you probably should make some tea, or get something stronger, and settle in.  

I am neither a literary scholar nor a historian of literature. However, one does not have to be an expert to read great literature, and to the extent that literature speaks to you, it is not out of place to comment on what is written on the page or what you believe to be between the lines.  I will be doing a bit of both as we put Gabrielle Roy and her classic work, The Road Past Altamont under a microscope with a sociological lens. 

Disclaimer  While certain positions and arguments presented in this article may be construed as controversial, it is not my wish to diminish the integrity of the good folks who reside in Altamont currently or who have ever lived there, nor is it my intention to misrepresent their positions, arguments, thoughts, or actions. My selected personal recollections arise predominantly from the 20-year period between 1950 and 1970.

Caveat  Gabrielle Roy wrote La route d’Altamont in French.  The version I am using here is a very fine English translation by a translator of some renown, Joyce Marshall (no relation.)  I believe however that there is always a degree of “misalignment” in any translation – a misalignment stemming from the “voice” of the work itself. Something written by a French Canadian or a Quebecois (there is a difference) in a French Canadian or a Quebecois voice will never be re – imaged perfectly in the brain of anyone other than a French Canadian or a Quebecois.  It is rather like the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathetically we may be able to acknowledge the situation others face but empathetically it is impossible to understand the deep visceral emotions from the outside. In short, my reading of The Road Past Altamont will evoke in me feelings that are quite different from those felt by a  French Canadian or a Quebecois reading La route d’Altamont and vice versa. I am not saying that all differences can be reduced to a matter of perspective but I am saying that some concepts have a degree of subtlety that can only be understood if one has lived the experience.

Geology, Flora, and Social Change in the Pembina Hills

The prairies are a product of all that has happened in the past just as each of us is a product of what has happened to our ancestors and ourselves through time. We tend to think that land masses and geological features are everlasting, but, in reality, change is the only continuing fact. Changes in the land occur more slowly than in our lives, but change leaves its mark on both.

Many nostalgic tales from the past suggest that there have been changes in the flora, not only of the Pembina Hills, but of the whole prairie region. When we examine the stories we find that they are not entirely larger than life memories but are based on changes that occurred and on the natural consequences of those changes. 

~ Dr. H. H. Marshall, Pembina Hills Flora, Morden and District Museum (1971) Inc. 1990

The two passages above are excerpted from a study of flora in the Pembina Hills conducted by Dr. Henry Heard Marshall. The book is quite technical and scientific as it catalogues and classifies some 530 species of flora in 84 families.  It also speaks to the processes of change in both nature and in human affairs. In fact, I find the approach inspires me to think of the social and political changes occurring on the Pembina escarpment as more than a collection of “larger than life memories” and random events. Each change has a dynamic which can be analyzed systematically to reveal the past, present and predicted future outcomes of human behaviours.

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Looking east through a ravine in the Pembina Hills toward the Lake Agassiz basin. Photo courtesy of the Joseph Henry Ellis Collection, University of Manitoba Archives,1941.

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looking west toward the Pembina Hills from the Lake Agassiz basin. Photo courtesy of the Joseph Henry Ellis Collection, University of Manitoba Archives, September 1942.

The Beauty and Mystery of the “High Mountain”

The following description of Altamont, Manitoba could not be more complimentary if it had been lifted directly from a cheesy travel brochure. In fact the news correspondent (name unknown) for Altamont penned this prose as an introduction to a story in the Manitou Western Canadian July 26, 1906  announcing Altamont’s first ever Sports Day to be held on Friday August 3, 1906. [1]

Altamont, meaning high mountain, nature’s garden of Manitoba, which with its hills and valleys, covered here and there with its numerous poplar groves, can rightly be called the most picturesque beauty spot of the province. It is situated 40 miles south of Winnipeg and 55 miles west of Morris, having an altitude of 1,500 above Morris. Nestled among poplar groves it is cool in summer and warm and sheltered in winter. Many springs and streams abound, thereby producing the best of water. It is a natural pleasure and health resort for summer and winter.”

Sixty years later La route d’Altamont by Gabrielle Roy is published by HMH in Montreal and its translation, The Road Past Altamont, is published by McClelland & Stewart in Toronto.  In this book Roy, one of Canada’s (Quebec’s and Manitoba’s) preeminent authors [2] also waxes poetic about the beauty of the hills and the mysteries of the roads around Altamont. 

“… the dirt road was perceptibly climbing, without pretense, with a sort of elation, in joyous little bounds, in leaps like a young dog straining at the leash, and I had to change gears in mid-hill. From time to time as we passed, a liquid voice, some flow of water over the rocks, struck my ear.”

“… hills are exciting, playing a game of waiting and withholding with us, keeping us always in suspense.”

“… they showed themselves to be covered with dry bushes, with small trees insecurely rooted on inclining slopes but warmed by the sun, shot with ardent light, the luminous tones of their foliage trembling in the sunlit air.  All this – the patches of scorched rock, the red berries on their slender branches, the scarlet leaves of the underbrush – was delightfully tangled together, almost dead, and yet meanwhile what a shout of life it gave!”

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© The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall)

Those of you who frequent my writings know that I spent my formative years in Altamont, Manitoba and I often use this small community on the edge of the Manitoba or Pembina escarpment [3] in southern Manitoba as a touchstone for my commentaries, opinions, and stories. Today I provide an interpretation that you may not have already heard about The Road Past Altamont. For some odd reason, I had never read this book and I thought it was high time to rectify this oversight. Santa heard my request and the Penguin Modern Classics Edition 2018 pictured here was in my stocking on Christmas morning.


Nice Christmas Gift!

Light Reading?

At first glance The Road Past Altamont appears to be a relatively ‘light’ read divided as it is into four interconnected short stories. I spent two leisurely days reading it through for the first time. After the first two chapters I thought, “This is going to be a fun book to review,” but as I delved into the last two stories I discovered a complexity and depth that I had not anticipated, along with an added challenge as I began to realize that this was not a straight forward ‘review’ but a serious commentary which might require a deep dive into the Manitoba collective psyche.

In the end, I read various sections of this text four or five times as the story Roy tells becomes more nuanced and indeed more intricate. Growing old is a theme with chameleon – like features where age is the determinant of perspective e.g., a teenage reader will see the images and feel the emotions differently than someone who is in middle age or someone who is a senior citizen … which I guess I am even if I am still just a young lad as I recollect my memories. I have concluded that if you wish to understand The Road Past Altamont in all its complexity, it would be ideal if you were: a feminist, geographer, geologist, philosopher, gerontologist, demographer, social historian, political sociologist, political economist, literary critic, social commentator, religious scholar, constitutional lawyer, expert in Aboriginal and Métis affairs, and an expert in social movements. I apologize if I have missed any essential specifications for this job. 

At first glance Gabrielle Roy treats us to an exploration of the interrelationships among three women across three generations within the same family as seen through the eyes of the youngest, Christine. The presence of an elderly male friend of Christine’s adds an element of adventure as well as a perspective that puts some issues into sharper, if not comic, relief.  The underlying theme of growing old and its multi-generational dimensions is never far from the surface.

Reading in the Proper “Voice”

My first challenge is to understand these stories as told by someone who is not my gender. Some may argue that it is not possible for someone of the opposite gender to transpose thoughts, analyses, feelings, and understandings from one gender to another. Put more simply as a question: can I, a man, know what Christine, a woman, is saying, thinking, feeling, etc.? Gabrielle Roy gives Christine a voice but can I read it (receive it) in that same voice, or is it only possible for me to filter it through my maleness?

A similar matter of “voice” arises if I read the English translated version when the original was written in French. I am afraid that my caveat above will have to suffice as an answer for this particular instance. 

These questions may seem too abstract or too obtuse to bother answering but I have always felt that the litmus test of a ”compleat” story i.e., a story that has all the elements necessary for it to approach perfection, is that it must be capable of being delivered and received with the greatest commonality possible. The storyteller and the reader [4] must share the lens sufficiently to make the story viable [5] and the reader can insert her/himself into the story with ease.

My Almighty Grandmother

In the first chapter, My Almighty Grandmother, Christine’s grandmother creates a doll (Anastasie) from the remnants of ‘this and that’ dredged up from ‘here and there’, which works well as a metaphor for the stitching together of a new life in Manitoba after Christine’s grandparents migrated from the also beautiful hills of the little Assomption River in Quebec. This accomplishment warrants, in Christine’s eyes, an elevation in her grandmother’s status to “God.”

The Old Man and the Child

Christine’s friendship with her elderly neighbour, Monsieur Saint-Hilaire is the perfect vehicle within which to explore the many thorny questions and fears that the young have about the inevitable conclusion of the aging process. The unlikely duo, 76 years difference in age, conspire to convince Christine’s mother to allow them to make a day trip by train to Lake Winnipeg. It is a most marvellous adventure and they explore the inherent qualities of the lake itself – its breath, its beauty, and its vast expanse defying the definition of beginning and end “because they are fundamentally the same.” In turn, the lake prompts a profound conversation between sage and pupil such that, while it is not possible to decipher exactly who is playing each role, it is Christine who goes directly to the heart of the matter.

“Is it bad to be old?” Christine asked. When the answer is unsatisfactory, she persists, “When one is very old, … does one have to die?”

The old man ventures that to die is natural. “The most natural thing there is. One has had one’s life. One has a sort of inclination now to go and see what it’s like on the other side.”

Christine prods further, “Ah! Because you’ve learned and loved enough on this side?”

Monsieur Saint-Hilaire surrenders the point by admitting,

“… Learned enough … loved enough … I don’t know. Perhaps one has never learned and loved enough. I would like just a little more time. I suppose one would always like just a little more time.”

Gabrielle Roy could easily have ended her story here with this understated affirmation of the human desire to defy nature (and God?) and to live past our assigned due date. 

As I said earlier, I did re-read large portions of the text in order to ensure that I was not confounding Christine’s story with my own interpretation of Gabrielle Roy’s text. It is critical to the storytelling itself that we view empathetically the changes that the relentless march of time brought for each of the three generations.


Never give ‘light reading’ to an academic. Look at all those tabs! Heavy thinking ahead!

The Move

Christine’s adventures continue in the third story, The Move, where, in daring defiance of her mother’s wishes, she accompanies her friend Florence and Florence’s father on a day’s work in the moving business. One tends to think of “moving on” as a moment in one’s life filled with potential and excitement but Roy reminds us that there is usually pain in moving on and the pain most often weighs the heaviest on the one left behind. There is no respite from metaphor in this chapter as Roy illustrates how the journey of the three generations leads to enlightenment prior to inevitable death. However, contrary to Monsieur Saint-Hilaire’s earlier musings about living just a little longer, the cost may be great if you are not walking hand in hand with the one you love. 

Mémère (Christine’s grandmother) chastised her dead husband for dying first and leaving her “alone on this western prairie, in exile.” Christine was quick to correct Mémère, “Manitoba isn’t exile … it’s home” … as if setting down the proof that the definition of ”home” takes at least two generations post-migration to change. In her own way, Christine was paying homage to the wisdom and courage of her grandparents when they opted to migrate from the hills of the Assomption River in Quebec to the valleys and folds of the Pembina Escarpment in Manitoba.

As a mere mortal I have no knowledge of whether there is sentient life after death, and as such I do not have the ability to comprehend the pain, or lack thereof, of those who die first. These are unchartered waters and fortunately for you, my own musings on such spiritual matters will have to wait for another time and place.

Through the magic of Gabrielle Roy’s ability to transpose her imagination onto the page in the first three stories, I found myself slipping, momentarily at least, into a coterminous existence with Christine, bypassing some ‘gender-brain barrier’ as if it is completely permeable. At the outset, I was not certain that Roy would be able to envelope me in a consciousness other than my own, in my role as ‘reader’ in this ‘storyteller – reader dyad.’ When it does happen it is brilliant but unfortunately the reverie of coincidental consciousness is rarely lengthy and never permanent, over powered as it is by the weight of the reader’s philosophical orientations and worldviews acquired over a lifetime of experience. In short, the more experience and knowledge the reader has and the more her/his ideas are set in stone ironically, the more the reader will think outside of the box the storyteller is creating. i.e., the reader thinks too much, and abandons the storyteller’s voice.

The Road Past Altamont

I was a few pages into the fourth and last story, The Road Past Altamont, the story that lends its title to this book, when I began to realize that I was consciously analyzing everything about this final chapter in a critical way – the moment the ‘voice’ of the ‘storyteller’ no longer lives inside the ‘reader’ is the moment that the story becomes subject to analysis, scrutiny, interpretation, and judgement. Christine and her narrative was no longer transporting me as much as my own narrative was. My life experience and knowledge of the Pembina escarpment, the “High Mountain”, the village and people of Altamont, and the political, economic, social, cultural, religious, ideological, and geographical contexts that produced the literary genius of Gabrielle Roy in The Road Past Altamont all came into play.

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This road is at the western edge of Altamont and goes north to St Lupicin. It doesn’t look to be hilly enough or scenic enough to match the road Gabrielle Roy describes. Photo c. 1982.

I am in no way implying that Gabrielle Roy has failed as a writer just because I abandoned Christine’s voice.  Ironically, quite the opposite is true.  As I slide seamlessly from Christine’s narrative into my own interpretive machinations it dawns on me that this may be exactly what Roy intended.  I must provide something value added in order to receive the maximum benefit from the “truthfulness” Roy is seeking.  It leaves me wondering, “Just how brilliant is Gabrielle Roy?”

The Beauty and Mystery of the “High Mountain” Revisited

There are many descriptions of the beauty and mystery of the “High Mountain” scattered throughout The Road Past Altamont. When speaking of her Uncle Cléophas’s farm Christine says:

“… [T]he air is good there. It is brisk. When I arrive at my uncle’s, I eat twice as much as I do here and I find everything good.”

“It is a beautiful day. There is only the wind in the aspens” … “But the wind isn’t blowing.” … “Yes it is in the aspens. Listen.”

“For as soon as you came out of this wood at my uncle’s you found yourself on the edge of an immense plain, quite open and almost entirely in crops. So that at my uncle’s I never knew which I liked best – the grove of aspens that sheltered us, served as a hiding place, and made us feel at home, or the great spread-out land that seemed to summon us to voyages.”

As the years pass Christine and her mother (Maman) began to make the long trek to Uncle Cléophas’s farm more often with Christine driving and Maman protesting loudly as they drove across the interminably flat, dreary, and desolate flood plain before reaching its western boundary marked by the blue grey hills of the escarpment. On these trips Christine was astonished that her mother disparaged the beauty of both the Pembina Escarpment and the long stretches of the flood plain, preferring instead to invoke sixty-year-old memories of the Assomption River in Quebec in a wistful and nostalgic longing for the hills of her youth.

On these treks to the farm, Christine would sometimes deviate from the usual roads and make their way through the hills guided by instinct and good fortune rather than sophisticated cartography. The path was in some senses predetermined as the roads followed a familiar checked pattern of one square mile intervals. If you grew up in a rural location on the Canadian prairies, you are almost certainly familiar with the Dominion Land Survey (DLS) begun in 1871 utilizing a large grid to divide most of western Canada into squares. In effect, it meant that there were roads (or road allowances if there was no road per se) every mile going each direction. These roads created a predictability of direction but not always an identifiable location, as they were largely unmarked.

In the days before Global Positioning Systems (GPS) became commonplace in our automobiles and indeed, in our pockets, the DLS grid established a commonly understood legal address for any property using section, township, and range e.g., on the figure below, Altamont is located partly in the NW ¼, Section 16, Township 5, Range 8, West of the 1st Meridian and partly in the SW 1/4, Section 21, Township 5, Range 8 W. The corresponding GPS coordinates for Altamont are 49° 23′ 11.49″ N     98° 28′ 48.01″ W


If you know the DLS address you should be able to get there. Of course, if you ask for directions you might hear the following in a dry, rural Manitoba drawl, “You can’t get there from here.” Or “You go to where the big white house used to be but that’s not it.”  Good luck.

While Christine and her mother did not possess a GPS to guide their journey to Uncle Cléophas’s farm, they probably had an inkling of the location if they knew the DLS coordinates. The thing is that once they entered the twists and turns of the valleys and hills intersected randomly by rivers, creeks, streams, ravines, gullies, cliffs, heavy forests, and rough terrain – all of which made road building difficult or impossible and denied advance in a straight line, forcing them to turn right when they wanted to turn left and vice versa – the checkerboard grid would become useless.

In fact, it appears that even on the flat open flood plain where you would think the DLS would be the most helpful, it did not guarantee that you knew your precise location. As Christine observes,

“Do you know the rectilinear and inflexible narrow roads that crisscross the Canadian prairie, making of it a huge chess-board, above which the pensive sky seems to have been deliberating for a long time over which piece it will move, if indeed it will move any. One can get lost there; one often does. Before me, meeting and parting in the same instant, stretched flat upon the grass like the arms of a huge cross, were two little dirt roads, absolutely identical and without sign posts, as taciturn as the sky and the silent prairie all around, which absorbed only the rustle of the grasses and, from time to time, the far-off trilling of an unseen bird.”

The first time they found the “Altamont Road” with its hills rising almost imperceptibly Maman was visibly excited and she enquired, “… did you find this marvellous road by mistake?” Then she began to worry that they would not be able to find it again. “There are roads, Christine, that one loses forever.”

“… the hills opened out a little and, lodged completely in a crevice between fir trees, a tiny settlement appeared, rather like a mountain village with its four or five houses clinging at different levels to the uneven ground. On one of them, a red Post Office sign. We had barely glimpsed the poor hamlet before it was hidden from our sight, though the singing of a stream, somewhere on the rocks, followed us for a moment longer. Maman had had time to catch the name of the place from the Post Office sign, a name that had fixed itself like an arrow in her spirit.”

Altamont looking west copy 1

Looking west on Market St. with Post Office on right. The “real” Altamont c. 1982

“It’s Altamont,” she said, glowing.

“Well, there’s your landmark,” I said, “since you’re determined to have something definite about the journey.”

“Yes,” she said, “and let’s never forget it, Christine. Let’s engrave it in our memories. It’s our only key to these hills, all we know for certain, the Altamont road.”

When they return to the farm the following year everyone, especially Maman, has grown older and the memories and themes are not the same. Cléophas defends the decision to leave Quebec for Manitoba … He says, “The west was calling us. It was the future then. Besides, it proved to be right. “

It was our future,” said Maman. “Now it’s our past.”

Maman claims to remember the hills of her youth in Quebec but Christine wonders,

 “… what was she [Maman] recalling exactly? The bygone hills she had not seen since childhood? Or the quite unexpected ones in Manitoba, which we had one day discovered, which had been the source of change I had observed in her, for, come to think of it, it was only since the reappearance of the hills in our life that I had noticed that attention to voices from the past that I found so bewildering and took her to some extent away from me.

Christine and Maman decide to take one last trip to Cléophas’s farm before Christine leaves for France. However, the drive is not as exciting or enjoyable as in the past. The hills are diminished; their spirit dampened; their beauty dulled. The bloom is off the rose so to speak. They drive in silence and Christine is concerned that Maman is falling asleep right in the middle of the hills. Inwardly Christine knows that her mother’s indifference is a consequence of aging, a process where “something is taken from them each day.” Maman defends her indifference by accusing Christine of losing the Altamont road. It seems to be a classic case where each generation blames other generations for the current state of affairs.

Christine wanted to understand the lure of the hills so she posed a question to Uncle Cléophas, “do you know the village of Altamont?

“Altamont!” My uncle repeated, tranquilly smoking his pipe. Queer little spot, Isn’t it? It’s been half dead for a long time. I’ve never liked that region. It’s too cramped and narrow. I have never been able to understand why, with the choice of homesteads on the level of easy prairie, anyone would look at that clump of hills. Yet it happened some fifty years ago. At least the region attracted some Scottish immigrants who, I imagine, found a smaller edition of the country they had left. But what folly! The Highlanders couldn’t make a go of it and scattered after a short while, some returning home, others going to the towns. An experiment that turned into a disaster, that’s Altamont.”

What’s that!?

Up until this last chapter Christine had carried me along in the current of the three generations, gently flowing for the most part, lazily swirling in few places, but threatening to break into white caps where they dive too deeply into the waters, dredging up memories that maybe should remain at the bottom, or have thoughts that are too prescient for comfort about the future. Nevertheless, the overall pace is neither hurried nor somnolent and the general effect is that I am encapsulated by beautiful stories about beautiful places and beautiful people. I was lulled into a very pleasant reverie following the stories to find that spot where time permits generations to converge.

Then wham! Something happened and it happened most specifically in Cléophas’s description (or is it a scathing condemnation?) of Altamont.

If you will, for a moment, return to my earlier comments about the ‘reader – storyteller’ dyad. Sometimes the ‘reader’ is not in concert with the ‘storyteller’ and even the most clever and carefully laid out plot can be subverted by a recalcitrant reader who takes the story off course, into another dimension, toward another truth. Gabrielle Roy had infused my consciousness with the storytellers’ voice – until Cléophas offers his view of Altamont. Was this diversion by accident or by design? Did Gabrielle Roy intend to invoke, evoke, or perhaps provoke certain memories, experiences, and knowledge with Cléophas’s description? Intentional or not, Uncle Cléophas abruptly awakened me to the possibility of another interpretation within the mysteries of The Road Past Altamont and unlocking it will require some explanation rooted in the historical determinants of life in Manitoba, particularly on the escarpment. Yes, we might have to go back a few years!

Explorers Pierre La Verendrye and his sons passed through the Pembina Hills c. 1738 in their search to open up new territories for the fur trade and new water routes to the lucrative markets of the far East.  Many of the French, Scottish, and English traders and their French Canadian employees who came to Pembina in 1740 and after inter – married with the Native Aboriginal population.  Their descendants are known as Métis. [6] 

Turbulent Times: The Riel Rebellions

The late 19th Century and early 20th Century were turbulent times in Manitoba. The Red River Uprising of 1869 was sparked by a proposal to transfer Rupert’s Land to the nation of Canada. Métis hunters and farmers feared for their culture and land rights and mounted a rebellion by creating a Provisional Government to negotiate terms on which Manitoba would enter confederation.  

The Red River Uprising also thrust Louis Riel and Thomas Scott onto the national stage, a stage some would argue, they have never left.

By November 1869 Louis Riel had emerged as the spokesperson for the Métis who had concerns about the manner in which the Dominion Land Survey (DLS) was proposing to survey and record Métis lands. As agreement on Métis land was a key condition for entry into confederation, it was understandable that Riel was instrumental in forming the Provisional Government to negotiate and secure the terms.

The powerful Loyal Orange Lodge (we shall learn more about this organization and its membership very shortly) vehemently opposed Riel and the Provisional Government of Assiniboia in 1870.  Thomas Scott, an Irish Protestant and member of the Orange Lodge, arrived in Red River in 1869.  It wasn’t long before Scott was arrested and jailed twice for actions against the Provisional Government. Scott was arrested yet another time, charged with treason, tried in a court martial, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed by a firing squad of the Provisional Government led by Louis Riel on March 4, 1870.

Scott’s execution created even greater outrage from the Orange Lodge and their voices joined many others in condemning the Provisional Government. Moreover the Orange Lodge called on the Canadian federal government led by Sir John A. Macdonald to bring Louis Riel to justice. The Orangemen reasoned that it was impossible for Scott to engage in a treasonous act against a government that was itself illegitimate, as they believed the Provisional Government of Assiniboia to be.  By definition then, Scott was not guilty of treason and his execution was nothing short of murder.

Two months later, despite this opposition from the Orange Lodge and its members in Ontario where Thomas Scott had been a member, the Provisional Government’s delegates obtained an agreement with the Canadian government to lead Manitoba into confederation as an officially bilingual province with a denominational public school system. The Manitoba Act received royal assent on May 12, 1870.

Central to this agreement, the federal government agreed to reserve 1.4 million acres (566,560 hectares) for the children of Métis residents of Manitoba …. 

History confirms that the Métis were correct to worry that this agreement was in jeopardy.  Moreover, some actions of the Canadian and Manitoba governments seemed to be not just unsavoury but duplicitous e.g., immigration policy favoured incoming white settlers (many of whom had not even arrived yet) over the negotiated and mutually agreed upon rights of the Métis.  While the Métis put their faith in the letter of the law the governments were attempting to disperse the Métis population and dispossess them of the land promised in the Manitoba Act. [7] 

Many of the new settlers from Ontario were supporters of Charles Mair and the Canada First Party, formed in 1868 as a nationalist party campaigning for exclusively British immigration through which they hoped to develop a Protestant, Anglo-Saxon “northern race.” [8]  Such ideas were not to bode well for the Métis.  

Charles Mair also organized the North-West Emigration Aid Society to provide assistance to new migrants. In particular, the Society advised those entering Manitoba from Ontario to cut across country from Pembina to Portage La Prairie avoiding Fort Garry altogether –  and avoiding, maybe not so coincidently, the stronghold of Métis leaders and decision makers. The Pembina to Portage La Prairie short cut took the settlers into land earmarked for the Métis by the Manitoba Act (1870) and by 1871 the settlers were acting like they owned the place. In addition to erecting shelters the settlers took it upon themselves to post signs re-naming the river known by the Métis as Rivière aux Îsles de Bois, to be the Boyne River, drawing on their heritage from Northern Ireland.

The upshot was that Métis reticence to engage in militant action to halt the settlers’ encroachment on their lands, coupled with such duplicitous settlement policies and practices by the Canadian and Manitoba governments, and the Ontario migrants’ sense of entitlement because they constituted some form of superior ‘northern race’, resulted in the promises made to the Métis being broken, and broken badly.

The creation of the Province of Manitoba with some protections for Métis culture and land solidified Riel’s status as a hero among the Métis and the execution of Thomas Scott by the Riel-led Provisional Government solidified Riel’s status as a criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government and English – speaking Canadians. In fact, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald sent an expedition to confront the Métis at Red River.  Protestant Ontarians, especially members of the powerful Orange Order, continued their cry for retribution for Scott’s death.

Riel remained in Canada though and was elected to the House of Commons in a by election in 1873 in the constituency of Provencher in Manitoba. Mackenzie Bowell, MP and prominent leader of the Ontario Orange Lodge, successfully introduced a motion to expel Riel.  Riel was re-elected in the 1874 general election but again never took his seat and was expelled once again. On February 12, 1875, the federal government adopted a motion granting amnesty to Riel conditional upon his banishment for five years from “Her Majesty’s Dominions” forcing Riel into exile in the United States. [9] 

Almost 10 years later, Riel returns from exile in the United States at the request of Gabriel Dumont and Métis leaders in the Northwest Territories (known today as Saskatchewan) to support the Métis in securing their land rights. He arrives at Batoche in July 1884.  The lessons from 1870 in Manitoba were not lost on Riel and the Métis this time around and they begin the task of negotiating permanent title to land for Métis in an effort to avoid the false promises contained in the Manitoba Act. 

The Métis sent a petition, also signed by several non-Aboriginal farmers to voice their dissatisfaction with the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway had not yet reached their lands to open up new markets, to the Canadian government in December 1884.  The government acknowledges receipt of the petition but takes no action.

The Métis at Batoche grow impatient and, at a meeting on March 5, 1885, they propose to take up arms to force the Canadian government to recognize their land rights.  At a second meeting on March 8, 1885 Riel proposed that they create a provisional government in the Northwest Territories. The proposal was defeated but a 10-point “Revolutionary Bill of Rights” was drafted to include Métis rights to their farmland.

Whatever you may think of the logic of the argument that Thomas Scott could not commit treason because the Provisional Government was illegitimate, the Orange Order successfully pressured the MacDonald government to seek retribution from Riel for the “murder” of Thomas Scott and to put a halt to the Métis unrest in the Northwest Territories.  The Canadian government responded by sending Major General George Middleton and 500 troops to Batoche. The Métis retaliated in turn by seizing the parish church at Batoche and formed a Provisional Government with Riel as President.

Parish Church at Batoche SK

Parish church seized by the Métis at Batoche  Photo credit: Stan Marshall

Fighting continued for two months with many skirmishes and two major battles – the Métis were victorious in the first but Middleton and his troops prevailed decisively in the second. Riel surrendered and the Orange Lodge got its long awaited retribution for Thomas Scott’s ‘murder’; Riel was arrested, charged with high treason for his role in assisting the Métis with their land claims, tried, found guilty, and hanged on November 16, 1885 in Regina.


Batoche SK

The Parish Church at Batoche Photo credit: Stan Marshall

I am getting a little ahead of myself but these are the agreed upon facts of the two “Riel Rebellions.” We shall return to Riel’s legacy a bit later.

Turbulent Times: The “Manitoba Schools Question”

The “Manitoba Schools Question” was another major political crisis that left a huge rent in the social fabric of Manitoba especially between Francophone Catholics and Anglophone Protestants. The outcome left Francophones with diminished language and religious rights within the province and within the school system. There is no doubt in my mind that a young Gabrielle Roy would have been aware of these issues and would have strong opinions.

I always find that a historical timeline helps me to understand related and complex events which take place over a relatively long period of time. [10]

The “Manitoba Schools Question”: A Timeline

1870 – Manitoba joins confederation as an officially bilingual province with a denominational public school system i.e., publicly funded separate schools for Catholics and Protestants.   In Catholic schools religious instruction was central to a child’s education. In protestant schools no religious instruction was given.

Almost immediately there are moves to erode Francophone rights 

1875 – The use of French in elections was abolished in ridings where Anglophones are in the majority.

1876 – The Legislative Council of Manitoba, seen by many as the guardian of minority rights, was abolished to cut expenses.

Note: The population of Francophones and Anglophones is roughly equal in the province at this time but the demographic trends were changing. French speaking Métis were forced further west partly because Métis rights to land per the Manitoba Act (1870) had been abrogated and partly because national immigration policies of the 1880s and 1890s favoured immigrants arriving from Britain.  In a very short period of time Anglo-Saxon Protestants occupied the lands previously settled by the Mètis. The result was that  Francophones were becoming a linguistic minority in Manitoba.

1890 – In March the Manitoba legislature passed three very significant Acts codifying the erosion of French in the province:

An Act to Provide that the English Language shall be the Official Language of the Province of Manitoba, abolishing French as an official language of Manitoba;

An Act Respecting the Department of Education eliminating the system of two sections of the Board thereby creating only one;

An Act Respecting Public Schools eliminating denominational schools such that if Catholics wanted religious education they had to fund their own schools in addition to paying taxes for the public schools.

1894 – Manitoba passes legislation to prohibit municipalities from making expenditures to schools outside the public system. The result is a further reduction in the number of Catholic schools.

It is important to note that for French Catholics the right to a religious education becomes a struggle of, and for, identity.

1895 – 1896 – The rancor subsides slightly amid attempts to find a non-legislated solution.

1896 Laurier-Greenway Compromise – On November 16, 1896 the Government of Canada and the Government of Manitoba reach a compromise, Terms of Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Manitoba for the Settlement of the School Question. The “Laurier – Greenway Compromise” allowed religious instruction in the province’s public schools, under certain conditions, for half an hour at the end of each day.  Also under certain conditions, Catholic teachers could be hired in the public schools, and French, like other minority languages, could be taught where numbers warranted.

This compromise hardly seemed satisfactory and concerted, vociferous lobbying and, on occasion, outright hostilities continued as French Catholics sought to defend their cultural, language and religious rights, and Anglophone pressure groups such as the Orange Lodge lobbied their Conservative allies to maintain English Protestant domination in Manitoba politics and cultural life.

Don’t forget the idea of a superior Protestant Anglo-Saxon “northern race’ as promulgated by Charles Mair and the Canada First party resonated strongly with the migrant settlers from Ontario who carried the principles of the Loyal Orange Order close to their hearts.  Judging from the three pieces of legislation adopted in the Legislative Assembly, in 1890, Manitoba’s Francophones, Métis and Catholics were being systematically and systemically stripped of their identities.

1916 – The Thornton Act – The question of language and religion in schools was squarely on the political agenda during a twenty – five year period spanning the turn of the century until the Conservative government in Manitoba passed the Thornton Act in March 1916 to make English the only language of instruction in the public school system. Instruction in any language except English was limited to one hour per day effectively banning French as a language of instruction in the public school system.  The French language teacher’s college in St Boniface closed and new teachers at the Normal School would be educated in English only.

The “Manitoba Schools Question” was a defining ‘moment’ [11] in the formation of the consciousness and identity of Francophones and Catholics.  March 1916 marks the

“point that Manitoba’s Francophones began organized resistance to ensure the survival of French in their province.” [12]

The struggle to preserve French Catholic culture and language has never completely disappeared from the Manitoba political and cultural landscape.

Enter Gabrielle Roy

So it was that in 1909 Marie Rose Emma Gabrielle Roy was born into a society fractured and wounded by conflict around language, religion and race. Sure, Gabrielle was only seven years old when the Thornton Act was passed in 1916 but I am certain that the consequences of the Act were both severe and lasting enough to continue as a topic of discussion in her educated, erudite, and politically active family for years after its passage. After all, she was born in St. Boniface, a predominantly French district, to parents whose backgrounds favoured advocacy for Francophone autonomy and the preservation of cultural heritage. Gabrielle’s father, Léon Roy, had Acadian roots in New Brunswick and her mother, Mélina Landry, was from Quebec.

Interestingly, Margaret Atwood interprets the Thornton Act and its consequences as a legislative “quirk” and a stroke of good fortune for Gabrielle Roy personally. 

“Roy’s family was francophone, but due to a legislative quirk she received a bilingual education. When Manitoba was established as a province in 1870 it was bilingual. However, over the decades the status of French as an official language had declined, and in 1916, when Gabrielle Roy was seven, Manitoba passed a law making English the only language of instruction in public schools. (This move was deeply resented by francophones, who saw it as a gross betrayal of the province’s founding principles.) But Roy attended the nun-run Académie Saint-Joseph for twelve years, where she was educated in both English and French. Thus not only was she fluently bilingual, she had access to the great literatures of both languages. For a future novelist, this was a tremendous advantage. [13]

I am certain that most of Gabrielle Roy’s contemporaries would not characterize this legislation as a “quirk”. 

Banished to the Manitoba Escarpment

Gabrielle Roy’s early schooling experience was remarkable for the fact that she failed her grade in 1921 and was banished for the summer to her uncle’s farm in the Pembina Hills of Manitoba. For whatever reason (let’s credit the magic of those Pembina Hills) Gabrielle found a new enthusiasm for education in Grade 8 and in 1923 she won the L’Association d’éducation des Canadiens français du Manitoba (AÉCFM) prize for best composition in French in the province. She will win this competition five times. She also wins a second place in the Grand concours littéraire, a competition hosted by Le Devoir in Montreal. In 1928 Gabrielle received the Lieutenant – Governor’s medal awarded to Manitoba’s best students graduating from high school.

The significance of the AÉCFM and the fact that Gabriel Roy won its literary prize five times must not be understated.

The dates 1916 and 1968 mark the founding and the disbanding of L’Association d’éducation des Canadiens français (AÉCFM) (Manitoba French-Canadian education association). The AÉCFM, which many authors describe as a parallel, francophone Department of Education, was directed from the shadows by the clergy. The association encouraged francophone teachers to keep teaching French and to keep using French as a language of instruction without letting the authorities find out, even if that meant lying to school inspectors. The AÉCFM also provided financial assistance to help future teachers pay for their studies. From 1923 to 1966, to strengthen pride in the French language in Manitoba, the association also held an annual French contest for students in grades 4 through 12 and published the results in the newspaper La Liberté. The most talented young Franco-Manitobans went on to represent their province at the Canada-wide competition, held in Québec. [14]

I find it difficult to believe that Gabrielle did not share or at least understand the orientation of the AÉCFM and its importance in the preservation of the French language in Manitoba, or that she was indifferent to current events. There is every probability that she was extremely savvy to the politics of education, language, and culture playing itself out in Manitoba, Ottawa, and London, England.

After graduation Gabrielle Roy attended Provincial Normal School for one year in Winnipeg achieving her teaching certificate. Recall that after the passage of the Thornton Act in 1916, English is the language of instruction at the Normal School.

Roy’s very first teaching assignment is in the small Métis village of Marchand in south eastern Manitoba bringing her into close contact with a minority Francophone society and its struggle for survival. The following school year (1929 – 1930) she takes a contract at École Saint-Louis in Cardinal, Manitoba which is very close to her uncle’s farm where she spent the summer after her failed year. Cardinal is on the edge of the Pembina Hills and is very close to Altamont and St. Lupicin. There is no doubt that Gabrielle Roy had an intimate knowledge of this small and well – defined area of Manitoba.


Cardinal to Altamont (9.3 miles), Altamont to St. Lupicin (5 miles), St. Lupicin to Cardinal (6 miles).

Uncle Cléophas

I have inundated you with a large quantity of  historical information so let’s take some time to re-orient ourselves to The Road Past Altamont.  

Shortly after Roy introduces Uncle Cléophas to us, I began to wonder about him. Sometimes authors play clever games when constructing characters. Uncle Cléophas may be entirely a fiction but I can’t shake the idea that Roy is pulling our leg a little, having a little fun in naming him. You see, from 1906 – 1959 there was a school district in Manitoba named Cléophas and interestingly, it was located very close to Altamont.  It was established in October 1906 and existed as a one-room school until 1958 when it merged with St. Leon Village Consolidated School District and later into Mountain School Division. [15]

Would Gabrielle Roy have enjoyed this little irony? I like to think that she would … and did, as she searched for the perfect name for the character who would proclaim that Altamont was an “experiment turned into a disaster.” I have to say that if Roy did this purposefully, I am enjoying it immensely but even if Uncle Cléophas was named innocently, I find the coincidence to be equally humourous.


Source: Yvette Brandt comp. Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980, Somerset 1981

For whatever reason, Gabrielle Roy choses Uncle Cléophas to wade in with a statement about immigration patterns in the Altamont area, a statement which is a thinly veiled attack on the intelligence and capacity of the Scottish immigrants who purportedly settled there. I think Roy purposely wrote a little misdirection into the plot here in order to support the fiction of Altamont as a mythical place.

In actuality, Scottish immigrants made up only a small proportion of new arrivals to that area. Moreover, Altamont was not the first port of call in Canada for most settlers who arrived in the first two waves from 1880 to 1900. These families consisted of a few Scots, a smattering of English and many Irish Protestants who hailed from the Ottawa Valley (Merrickville, Innisville, Fitzroy Harbour, Carp, and Kemptville) as well as Lucan in Southern Ontario and Williamsford in Grey County. [16]

The Loyal Orange Lodge (L. O. L.)

I referred to the Loyal Orange Lodge earlier when we addressed the fact that Thomas Scott, an Orangeman, was executed at Red River by the Riel – led Provisional Government. The execution sparked outrage among members of the L.O.L. who demanded the federal government extract retribution from Riel.

A few of the new settlers to the Altamont area came directly from County Armagh, acknowledged to be the birth place of the Orange Order, in the province of Ulster, Northern Ireland where problems existed between Catholics and Protestants.  Some immigrants were staunch Protestants and members of the Loyal Orange Order and they not only brought these long held ideas with them but they “passed these prejudices down a couple more generations.” [17] 

Many new arrivals were already members of Orange Lodges in Ontario so it is hardly surprising that they organized the Altamont L. O. L. No. 1741 in 1900. Talk of building an Orange Hall was in the air as early as 1898 and the hall was built and opened on November 5, 1903.  A sister organization, the Altamont Ladies’ Orange Benevolent Association (L. O. B. A.), was founded in 1914.

Altamont looking East5 copy 2

View to the east on Market St. with Orange Hall on left c.1950

For most of the next 100 years the Orange Hall served Altamont as the social centre of the community for meetings, socials, dances, plays, concerts, memorials, funerals, harvest suppers, many other events. The Orange Hall is no longer in existence and the Altamont Centennial Community Centre [18] is now the non-sectarian social hub of the community.

Two fundamental tenets of the Loyal Orange Order [19] put them into direct conflict with French Canadians, Catholics, and the Métis. The L. O. L. were unwavering in their commitment to the British monarchy and were equally strident that the Protestant way was superior. More bluntly put in the negative, the L.O.L. was opposed to Catholicism and to the recognition of French as an official language in any jurisdiction.

The L. O. L. was equally adamant that Louis Riel and the Métis Provisional Government at Red River were guilty of the murder of fellow Orangeman Thomas Scott. It is not difficult then to understand how English Protestant Ontario Orangemen, and Catholic French Canadians and Métis came to be on opposing sides of the Riel Rebellions and the Manitoba Schools Question (French as a language of instruction and Catholic religious instruction in schools), and official bilingualism in Manitoba (or in Canada or any other province for that matter.)

At the turn of the 20th Century, the issue of religion in the schools drew vehement commentary and resistance from the Orange Lodge as we can see from the opinions below, printed in the Manitou Sun March 15, 1906

“A number of Orangemen have condemned the Manitoba government for the manner in which popery has been allowed to influence schools in some portions of the province. … Roman Catholic catechism is being taught in several Manitoba public schools and it is high time the government enforced the school act. The Church of Rome has ever been an oppressor and wherever this church has power we see the big cathedral and the little cottage, the affluent priest and the downtrodden people….

“… in Europe we find the oppressive hand of Rome crushing the people and extorting their hard earned cash. This also is true of the province of Quebec. The sooner all Protestants awaken to the fact that popery is the enemy of freedom, the better it will be for our country”

It is not difficult to find similar opinions published in newspapers around Manitoba at that time.

The social climate into which Gabrielle Roy was born and raised in Manitoba, partly on the Pembina escarpment, was rife with division. Two generations later I began my formative years on the cusp of that same escarpment in a village where some people were still clinging to the old emotions and beliefs and where others were struggling to discard and discredit such ideas as divisive and harmful. That village was Altamont and the time period for my recollections here is c.1950 – c.1970. 

The Classroom on the Escarpment

When I was a young lad in the 1950s and early 1960s my father and I spent a fair amount of time wandering through the usually shallow waters of Roseisle Creek which, over several centuries, had cut a valley through the escarpment north of Altamont from a point just east of Cardinal (at Lyles Creek) to Babcock to Leary’s and Roseisle before joining the Boyne. [20] We knew the valley as Leary’s Valley named after the Leary family and their Brick Works located midway through what is usually identified as Snow Valley on most Manitoba maps. [21]

Roseisle Creek at Babcock Leary's Valley

The Classroom on the Escarpment, Roseisle Creek at Babcock

It seemed to be one of my father‘s family responsibilities to take me – the red headed hellion – into the open spaces where I could do little damage and provide some respite for my mother. On our meanderings, my father would tell me about the types of soils and microclimates that supported different flora and how these varied from the stream to the streamside to the higher levels of the escarpment and then down to the lower plains reaching out over the floor of Glacial Lake Agassiz

But geology, biology, and botany were not the only topics my father expounded upon as we made our way through the escarpment. He also ventured his views on current and historical events and the politics that made Manitoba unique. There was no set curriculum for my education on the escarpment. Just as our rambles led us in many directions and to parts unintended so did the discussions with my father.


North of Roseisle Creek the Rivière aux Îsles de Bois (as named originally by the Métis) runs off the escarpment through Carman to the east and out across the Red River Valley to the Morris River. I recall that my father was aware that the Rivière aux Îsles de Bois had been renamed the Boyne River by Protestant settlers [22] and he was sensitive to the fact that white colonizers had usurped not only Aboriginal and Métis heritage but had also taken lands that had been ceded to these groups by treaty and other agreements e.g., the 1.4 million acres that were reserved for the children of the Métis in the Manitoba Act of 1870.

I believe to this day that my father understood that breaking these agreements was wrong but I also believe that while he saw these actions as historical injustices, he thought they could not be undone, that reparations would be too costly and disruptive, and therefore impossible. The status quo remained … conveniently.

The Classroom on the Escarpment: The Loyal Orange Lodge

King William III crossing the Boyne to defeat the Roman Catholic forces of James II on July 12, 1690 at “The Battle of the Boyne,” has been a cause for celebration by Orangemen ever since. The Orange parades and picnic celebrations held every July 12 were very popular and well attended in Manitoba from 1850 until after WW II when the symbolism and the enthusiasm for organizing the parade and celebrations waned. Some analysts credit the decline to a social maturing in Canada, a decline in loyalty to the crown, and a change in anti – Catholic sentiment. These trends coupled with the likelihood that the concept of “lodges” was no longer a drawing card for young people led to a decline in Orange power in Manitoba after 1950. [23]

My father and I would often drive through Graysville, a small community on the Boyne River just 4 miles (6.4 km) east of Roseisle and equidistant (13 miles or 20.9 km) from Altamont to the southwest and Cardinal to the west. When we reached Graysville, my father always seemed nostalgic and exhibited a bit of reverence about something I couldn’t quite identify at the time. Perhaps, it was because “the home place” where my father was born and raised was not far away … or perhaps, as I know now but I didn’t know then, he was showing deference to the Graysville L. O. L. No. 1515 that had many members and was also home to Royal Black Preceptory No. 543. Although the Black Preceptory is a separate institution, membership in the Orange Lodge is a prerequisite to admittance to the Black Preceptory, effectively making it a second tier of the Order. [24]


“The Home Place” c.1930 on the escarpment between Deerwood and Roseisle. Photo courtesy of Western Canada Pictorial Index, University of Winnipeg Archives.

From my earliest days I knew that my father attended meetings of the Orange Lodge and my mother attended meetings of the L.O.B.A. in Altamont. These facts should not be surprising I guess, as my parent’s were Protestant and the Orange Lodge was the largest and most active social organization in Altamont at the time. I am sure it seemed natural to join the Lodge as my father and mother were newly arrived with few friends in the community.


The area within heavy black lines is the area we are considering in this post. The escarpment runs diagonally from southeast to northwest through Deerwood, St. Lupicin, Cardinal, and Notre Dame de Lourdes

I recall that my father attended meetings of the Lodge in other communities but the ones that stuck out to me as being special meetings were the ones he attended in Graysville. He always seemed to be especially hyped about attending those meetings. My father kept to his oath of silence beyond the Brotherhood and I never knew who attended the meetings with him.  

I am not aware of any other family member(s) who were (are) members of the Orange Lodge.  My mother’s family were Anglican and my father’s were Presbyterian United. There is some evidence that the Marshall family roots go back to Fermanagh County, Northern Ireland which would put us in Orange territory but family lore has it that we have more Scots’ heritage than Irish as we stayed in Ireland only for about 30 years before leaving for Hamilton, Ontario in 1834.

“The short stay in Ireland has haunted us ever since. We are expected to call ourselves Irish when in fact we are Scots who stayed only briefly on the old sod.” [25]

Nevertheless, there is concrete factual evidence that my father was a member of the L.O.L. in 1957 and 1958 at least as the Annual Return of Altamont L. O. L. No. 1741 to the Grand Lodge of Manitoba dated October 31, 1957 attests that my father was the incoming “Worshipful Master” of the Altamont Lodge for 1958.  I am not certain just what a “Worshipful Master” is or what he does but I shall be pursuing these matters in subsequent research. 

A question I put to my father more than once was: what happens in meetings of the Orange Lodge? What do the members talk about and what do they do? My father would deflect my question by saying that it was a secret fraternal society and the workings and business of the Lodge would remain with the membership. At other times, usually not in response to my questioning, he would remind me that the Loyal Orange Lodge was a “fraternal” society, a “benevolent” society engaged in “good works” in the community. They had a legitimate role in picking up the pieces that the capitalist society of the 1800s and early 1900s let fall between the cracks. There was no unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation had not yet been implemented to cover families where the breadwinner was not able to work because of injury, or heaven forbid, if the breadwinner was killed at work or as a result of an accident outside of work. Few families could afford life insurance or insurance any kind. Hailed out crops, barn fires, business fires, house fires, droughts, floods, health epidemics and many other calamities could strike any family with horrendous consequences.

My father did not say whether only Orangeman could receive this assistance or if Catholics or Jews could qualify if they were equally in need of aid. I suspect the answer would be that the Catholics and Jews had their own organizations including their respective churches and synagogues to care for them.

The Classroom on the Escarpment: Louis Riel and Thomas Scott

It almost goes without saying that my father had strong views on Louis Riel and the two “rebellions” and he offered his opinions freely to me.  Earlier I outlined the essential details of the Red River Uprising, the execution of Thomas Scott, and the battles at Batoche in 1885. I will not bore you by repeating details here but be patient as I must highlight the perspective my father held on these events

The story of Louis Riel in 1870 and in 1885 – years that serve as bookends on his period of exile in the United States – is one of the most compelling stories in Canadian history. It is a story of province building, indeed nation building, that ironically left the country divided into two opposing camps – Riel as hero or Riel as traitor. It is difficult to know the respective proportions of the Canadian population that would support each view today, but I suspect that ‘Riel as hero’ is trending as the winds of time have swept some detritus from the battle fields putting the Métis struggle for inalienable rights into sharp relief against the colonial self-righteousness and sense of entitlement held by the English settlers. However, I also suspect that any breakdown of hero vs. traitor will have strong demographic determinants centred on religion and language. The controversy that is Riel remains emblazoned on the collective Canadian psyche.

From what I recall of our discussions on the escarpment and elsewhere, I believe my father was heavily influenced by the Orange Order’s view of the world – a view with several interconnected mutually reinforcing features: Protestant faith was pitted against Roman Catholicism; English was to be the language of instruction in education and conversely French was not to be used in schools; Métis and Aboriginal People’s land claims were not in the category of inalienable Rights; and assimilation of minorities into the dominant culture and language was preferable to multiculturalism. 

The Classroom on the Escarpment: What was my Final Grade?

Of course there were no formal grades given for the lessons I received in the classroom on the escarpment but I confess that I was not a good student; or maybe I was not a good “Orange” student; or perhaps I was just a “bad son” – because I was attracted more to trying to understand the injustices the Métis faced e.g., why the white settlers disregarded Métis claims to the land that was allocated to them by mutual agreement in the Manitoba Act; why the settlers refused to return said lands to the Métis; and why Métis names for places and rivers e.g., Rivière aux Îsles de Bois, were changed by the settlers unilaterally and with no concern for the heritage of the Métis or Aboriginal peoples. I could not understand why the imperialist colonizers exercised their power as if it were absolute. Most importantly, I think, I failed to see how carrying Protestant – Catholic conflict from Ireland to the new world would have a beneficial effect on life in my small part of Manitoba.

Louis Riel monument 1971

Original statue of Louis Riel created by Marcien Lemay and Etienne Gaboury.  Originally installed on grounds of Manitoba Legislature in 1971.  It was replaced in 1996 and moved to St. Boniface College  Source: Government of Manitoba, Sports, Culture and Heritage

In 1970 a statue of Riel was commissioned as part of the centenary celebrations for Manitoba’s entry into confederation. A tortured looking Riel was hidden within two semicircular walls located on the bank of the Assiniboine River behind the Manitoba Legislature. By this time my father and I had long stopped our forays on the escarpment. I was being influenced more and more by leftist interpretations of the world at university and by a new cadre of student friends.

Judging from my father’s reaction to the installation of Riel’s statue in 1970, he still harboured considerable resentment towards the Métis at that time. He was not in favour of Riel having a statue period, and certainly not one that depicted him as a hero or as a “founding father” of Manitoba. My father took some glee in telling me that Riel’s statue was relegated to a spot behind the legislature; that the statue was grotesque and tortured and largely hidden from public view. My father was no art critic so I have no reason to believe that he was doing anything but recasting the views of the Loyal Orange Lodge. [26, 27]

Ideologically and politically, my father and I had been growing apart since the mid-sixties and I can pinpoint the date of the solidification of that rift as June 25, 1969 when the NDP won the most seats (but a minority) in the Manitoba provincial election. I had actively supported and campaigned for the NDP much to my father’s chagrin.

The NDP were able to form a government when Laurent Desjardins, a Liberal MLA, ironically representing the constituency of St. Boniface where Gabrielle Roy was born, agreed to cross the floor and sit as a “Liberal Democrat.”  Pledging support to the NDP seemed like a logical move for Desjardins, a move that was more than coincidental, as he had emerged as far back as 1961 as a champion of government funding for private and denominational schools. Desjardins was a Roman Catholic and a Francophone and regarded such funding as necessary for redressing anti-Francophone legislation that had been pursued by previous Manitoba governments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [28]  

It was common for my generation in the 1960s to be on opposite sides to our parents on many issues and so it was with me and my father.  In particular I landed squarely on the opposite side to my father on the Riel controversy.  Perhaps, “rebellion” is in the soul of each succeeding generation. In my case, the opposition to my father’s views revolved around my politics of collectivism/socialism vs. the entrepreneurial individualism of my small business owner father. This difference was to drive a real wedge between us; a rift that never healed entirely. These differences are stories for another time.

Change was in the wind in Manitoba as Francophones continued their struggles to keep and, in some cases, re-gain their identities complete with a unique cultural and linguistic heritage. Throughout the 1960s the Societé du franco-Manitoban was developing a stronger and more militant voice calling for French language rights in schools. In 1970, events such as the Festival du Voyageur in St. Boniface and similar festivals throughout Francophone Manitoba were fun festivals attracting tourists and boosting local economies but they were also venues to preserve Francophone and Métis culture and heritage, all the while highlighting and strengthening Roman Catholicism as its religious base.

At the same time the prejudices of the Orange Lodge and its members began to wane and, after 150 years of conflict in Manitoba, the social, ideological, religious, linguistic, and cultural terrain shifted once again. The province of Manitoba slowly began recognizing education rights in 1955, when the province granted the right to teach French between grades 4 and 6. This was gradually expanded until the right to full French education was recognized in 1970.  Struggles over education continued however, and the right of the community to manage its own full-French schools was not settled until 1994 when, as the result of a Supreme Court ruling asserting the rights of linguistic minorities to control their own education, the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine was created. [29] 

Untitled 4

The red circle denotes the area on the Manitoba Escarpment which is the focus of this paper. Source of map: J. D. Bamburak, Roadside Geology of Manitoba – a user’s guide to the province’s unique geological features, Manitoba Mining and Minerals Convention, November 20, 2010

On the Cusp of a Demographic Divide

Geographically, Altamont sits in the Pembina Hills on the cusp of the Manitoba escarpment just a few miles west of the flat fertile prairie that was once glacial Lake Agassiz.  Demographically, Altamont sits on the cusp of a watershed from which language and religion flow in different directions.  Predominantly  English speaking Protestants settled immediately to the south (Manitou), the east (Deerwood, Miami), and the northeast (Roseisle, Graysville) of Altamont; French speaking Catholics settled in communities immediately to the north (St. Lupicin, Cardinal, Notre Dame de Lourdes), to the west (Somerset), and to the southwest (St. Léon) of Altamont.

Map Demographic Divide 1

The “Demographic Divide”

The personality of each of these communities was in large part a product of the immigration and settlement policies of the 1880s and 1890s. These villages maintained these characteristics through the period that Gabrielle Roy was writing about the “High Mountain” as well as through the time period I was living on the escarpment in Altamont. In other words, for at least a century (1875 – 1975), what I call a “demographic divide” was evident on that part of the escarpment.

Francophones were approximately 50 percent of the total population of Manitoba when it entered confederation in 1870 but an influx of English-speaking Ontarians to southern Manitoba soon decreased the Francophone proportion to well below 50 per cent.  About that time there were many Francophones who left Quebec to go to the USA and wanted to return to Canada to settle in an area with a Francophone Catholic base. In 1874 the federal government approved Charles Lalime in Massachusetts as a “repatriation officer” for the Roman Catholic clergy run Manitoba Settlement Society.  Father Lacombe in Canada was already working as a settlement or immigration agent for Bishop Taché in the west.  While this strategy was not totally successful as a broad recruitment strategy it did have some success in creating some “islands” of Francophones in southern Manitoba [30] e.g., to the St. Léon and Somerset areas. 

Five Villages, Five Personalities

Let’s bring the demographics into sharper focus through a brief exploration of Altamont and four other communities I have selected because they are in close proximity to Altamont: St. Lupicin (3 miles or 4.8 km), Cardinal (3 miles or 4.8 km), St. Léon (5 miles or 8 km), and Somerset (5 miles, or 8 km). [31] [32]


Given the Ontario origins of the early migrants arriving in Altamont, it is hardly surprising that approximately 95% of settlers who arrived in the Altamont District [33] before 1900 were English speaking and Protestant. Both Presbyterian and Methodist services began in the district as early as 1878.  The Presbyterians built a church in 1897 while the Methodists bought and moved the former Mussellboro School into Altamont in 1903 to be used as a church. After unification of the two churches this building stayed in use as the United Church until 2018 when it was deconsecrated and sold.

The Anglican Church (Church of England, Parish of St. Barnabas) was established in Mussellboro in 1896. A church was built and consecrated in 1918 and remained in continuous use until the congregation moved their services to the United Church building in 2003, sharing it every other week. The old St. Barnabas church building was closed and deconsecrated in 2005.

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a Catholic Church in Altamont although there was a report that work had begun on a new Catholic Church building in 1900. [34]  I have not been able to find any subsequent record confirming its existence. Catholics who lived in Altamont generally joined parishes at St. Lupicin, Notre Dame de Lourdes, St. Leon or Somerset. 

The first school was built of logs in 1882 and named Mussellboro School No. 115. It was destroyed by fire in 1883 and replaced with a wooden structure in 1884.  In 1902 the Mussellboro area was divided into Altamont School District and Victory School District, each with a new school. The Altamont School had two rooms and expanded to four in 1924. In 1958 the school districts of Sylvan, Victory, Deerwood, and Altamont merged to become the Altamont School District.  The “old” school built in 1902 closed in 1961 and the “new” Altamont School opened in 1962 and closed in 1986.  As the number of pupils in Altamont declined, the pupils gradually were bussed to Miami, Manitoba until the Altamont School closed completely in 1986.  

St. Lupicin

The earliest settlers to the St. Lupicin area came from France in 1891 with others to  follow from France in 1893 and 1894.  After that, migration opened up from Quebec, Belgium and the USA. Migrants from the USA were usually French Canadians from Quebec who made a short stopover in USA before settling in Manitoba. By 1924 the population of St. Lupicin was 238 with 46 Catholic families, 28 French families, 15 French Canadian, 1 Métis French, 2 Flemish, 1 English, and 1 Swiss family. [35]

The first school was a log school built in 1898 and named “Faure” in honour of the then President of France. A wooden school was built in 1912 and moved closer to the community and by 1929 there were 66 students. The Faure School District existed until 1963 when it merged with Notre Dame de Lourdes.

Pumpkin Creek Tea Set final 101 IMG_3964

St. Lupicin sometimes goes by the name Pumpkin Creek. This tea set was purchased c. 2014 at a  craft gallery in a building we knew to be “Mary Lou’s Cafe” in the 1950s and 60s.

Priests from Notre Dame de Lourdes were serving the spiritual needs of the community as early as 1893. Faure school was used as a chapel until a chapel was constructed in 1908. The Parish of St. Lupicin was established in 1920 and a new church was built and blessed in 1939. In 1960 St. Lupicin once again became part of the Parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes. 


Cardinal’s existence can be directly attributed to the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway which established a line from Carman, Stephenfield, and Leary’s to Somerset. The NPMR passed over Philippe Cardinal’s farm in 1905. In order to take advantage of the railway, people formed a village at that spot on Cardinal’s farm. Philippe Cardinal was born in Quebec in 1852, emigrated first to the USA and then back to Canada at Notre Dame de Lourdes in 1888. By 1910 Cardinal had a population of 81 people in 16 families – all Francophone. The community was within the Parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes.

Cardinal School, a two-storey, wooden building within the St. Louis School District, until August 1933 when it became Cardinal School No. 2239 with its own school district. The school closed in 1965 and the district dissolved in January 1966 and students went to Notre Dame du Lourdes Consolidated School No. 2390. [36]

St. Léon

The village of St. Léon five miles to the southwest of Altamont has the distinction of being the oldest village on the Pembina Mountain. Its history is punctuated with several important watershed moments and events. For brevity, I have listed some of them below in point form. [37]

  • The explorer Pierre La Verendrye and his sons explored the region near St. Léon as early as 1738 in their quest for a route to the riches of the far east and to establish a fur trade and trading posts in competition with the Hudson’s Bay Co. 
  • The earliest settlers came from Quebec and the United States and arrived at a settlement called “La Prairie Ronde” before Archbishop Taché christened it St. Léon in 1878.
  •  Thanks to the federal government’s deliberate recruitment policies targeting the USA, the population of St. Léon exceeded 500 by 1881, mostly Francophones.
  • The Roman Catholic Church had established itself with a new building and rectory.
  • The years 1883 – 1885 are described as “glory years” for St. Léon. The flour mill and saw mill were in great demand and drew clientele from many surrounding communities.
  • Schools were established and despite certain legislation in 1890 and 1896, French was the language of instruction.
  • The Municipality of Lorne was established in 1880 and covered an area with both Francophones and Anglophones.  Reports indicate considerable dissension on matters of representation and language at Council especially in the St. Léon area.
  • Roads were not common in the area until 1900 so there was vocal support for establishing rail transportation routes to major shipping points such as Emerson.
  • The Canadian Pacific Railway missed St. Léon when it’s southern route took it through Manitou. The Canadian Pacific northern route also missed St. Léon going through Treherne. In 1889, the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway went through Altamont and Somerset missing St. Léon by a mere three miles. A shorter line of the NPMR was built from Carman through Leary’s and Cardinal to Somerset also missing St. Léon which seemed to be left high and dry in the fight for access to markets.
  • In January 1887 disaster struck when Mr. Messner’s store was destroyed in a colossal conflagration that left Messner ruined financially.

These events marked the end of “La vieux St. Léon.”

But St. Léon was not to be dead forever. Church and community, priests and citizens, business owners and patrons, bound by a common cultural, linguistic and religious  identity came together to begin a long journey back to health. There were ups and downs and you can read about those in Memories of Lorne. The upshot is that St Léon became the home of a Caisse Populaire and a Cooperative leading the way on a new movement of cooperatives in Manitoba. Known first as the St. Léon Coop and then latterly as the Pembina Cooperative, the Coop started as a grocery store but expanded over the years to include fuel delivery, construction (houses, commercial buildings, schools, churches,) a lumber yard, garage services (in Altamont in 1958), pig and hog operations and has led the way in administrative services for cooperatives.

Today, the population of St Léon is about 100 or 150 depending on which source you tend to believe [38] of whom 90 percent are described as being bilingual (French and English).


Historical accounts of Somerset describe it as being more “biracial” (English and French) in its beginnings. There seems to be some agreement that the Foster family was the first to settle there and hailed from Somerset, England. The Clarks and other English – speaking families arrived from Ontario c. 1880 – 1900. About the same time the first French families (Labossière) began to arrive came from Québec via the USA. 

An interesting and relevant side note is that Léon Roy (Gabrielle Roy’s father) is reputed to have built a hotel in Somerset. [39] If this is the case then the Roy family was very familiar indeed with this area of the country.

The early school system in Somerset seemed to be segregated into English and French classes but housed in a common structure.   

Somerset had only one school house, a two storey frame building. It housed both French and English pupils. The French occupied the main floor and the English speaking pupils occupied the upper storey. We met and mingled at recess and at lunch hour. There was no language or religious barrier. A satisfactory lease-lend arrangement where one picked up a smattering of French in return for English. [40] 

Children attend Theobald School initially before the Richard School was built in 1903. Richard School was subsequently extended and rebuilt 1952 and the Somerset Collegiate was built in 1963.  In 1959, the district was consolidated with Bertram School No. 2097 and Harmer School No. 415 to form the Richard Consolidated School District No. 1092. [41] 

In 1900 there were three Protestant Churches in Somerset: The Anglican, congregation was established in 1895 and the St. Barnabas Anglican Church was built in 1903. The Methodists moved a church into Somerset in 1906 just as their first minister arrived. The first Presbyterian  minister arrived in 1896.  First Protestant burial ground was in use in 1902. The first Roman Catholic Church was constructed in 1907 and the first priests arrive. A new Roman Catholic church was built in 1939.

In 1969 the population of Somerset was estimated to be approximately 640. In 2016 the population of Somerset was 437 according to Statistics Canada. [42]

When we review and summarize these five communities which all exist within a 50 square mile (5 miles x ten miles) area on the escarpment, we can see that while none of the five are identical to each other, it is also very apparent that one in particular is an outlier.  Altamont, with its Ontario, Protestant, Anglophone immigrant base complete with an Anglo-conformity orientation is absolutely different.

Community   Year*   Origin                      Religion        Language     Policy

St. Leon          1877     Quebec via USA       Catholic         French       Francophone

Altamont       1878     Ontario                      Protestant     English      Anglo – conform

Somerset       1880     Ont., Que. via USA   Cath., Prot.    Eng., Fr.     biling & bicul

St. Lupicin     1891    France                        Catholic          French      Francophone

Cardinal         1905    Que. via USA             Catholic          French       Francophone

*Year of first settler

French speaking settlers arrived in the region from different sources – Quebec, Quebec via the USA, and France with a few from Belgium. English speaking settlers came from Ontario primarily with a few directly from England, Ireland and Scotland.  St. Léon was staunchly Catholic and Francophone.  Somerset had the greatest diversity in matters of religion and the schools, and has origins that are closer to bilingual than the others. The early settlers in St. Lupicin were from France and had a natural affinity to their original parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes. Cardinal’s early settlers were from Quebec.

Consolidation of schools: Geo-politics at work

In 1958 the newly elected Duff Roblin Conservative government in Manitoba was faced with an educational system bulging with the baby boom generation and in need of drastic reform.  The province had 1651 school districts and 1410 one room schools, all controlled by 5500 school trustees.  Administrative efficiencies had to be found and ‘consolidation’ was the word of the day. It was a time of tremendous change with some new school divisions being created e.g., Mountain School Division was created on April 1, 1959; Some changed e.g., Altamont merged with Midland and began sending high school students to Miami, Manitoba in 1958.  Other school districts such as Cléophas merged and disappeared. 

Patterns of immigration and settlement i.e., language and religion were factors informing the decision-making process for consolidations.  I recall the discussion and debate at our house revolved around three particular issues: language of instruction, religious content in the curriculum, and distance to school. There is no question that the first two items outweighed the last factor by far.

The residents of the Consolidated School District of Altamont No. 115 (comprised of Altamont plus the School Districts of Deerwood No. 926,  Victory School District No. 1143, and Sylvan School District No. 137)  voted to join Midland School Division No. 25 on the eastern side of the demographic divide i.e.,  their votes flowed to a school in an English – speaking, Protestant School District where the driving distance is 13.2 miles (21.2 km) away.  The driving distance to Somerset is 9.6 miles (15.5 km) and to Notre Dame de Lourdes it is 11.8 miles (19 km). This information only serves to illustrate the point that cultural, linguistic and religious factors are strong predictors of social behaviour and decision-making outcomes. 

The consolidation of school districts also meant that large portions of the Municipality of Lorne were now in the Mountain School Division which was Francophone and Catholic. 


Schools in Mun of Lorne 1970 2

The consolidation of school districts had very real effects on the student population. It meant of course that those with the same or similar cultural traditions, religion, and language continued to associate with each other as they were placed in schools which emphasized the same curriculum. On the formal institutional side of things, the curriculum for Francophone Catholics was different from the curriculum for Anglophone Protestants. Beyond the Lord’s Prayer religion played only a small role in the day to day schooling of the English Protestants. On the other hand, for Francophone Catholics instruction in catechism was part of their public education.

Impact on dating, courtship and marriage

For school age children, especially teenagers, it was the informal relationships that were most affected by the demographic divide – courtship or dating behaviour as the sociologists would describe it. Propinquity or nearness is an important concept in the lives of teenagers ever in search of love, or some equivalent. Consolidated school districts provided a first screen in the dating and courtship game. Young people are most likely to meet and date those who are near to them in some sense e.g., attending the same school, speaking the same language(s), going to the same church. This fact was evident on both sides of the demographic divide. 

I do not have enough data at my disposal to make a statistically significant case one way or the other about intermingling or dating behaviour between Francophone Catholics and Anglophone Protestants.  Institutional screening of potential mates is one thing; the role of family pressure is another. I do know of instances where family elders stated in no uncertain terms that teenage sons and/or daughters were under no circumstances to become involved to the point of considering marriage with someone from the other side of the demographic divide.

I could provide chapter and verse here but I won’t because this is not a “tell all” book and I don’t want my commentary to be interpreted as mere gossip.  Suffice it to say that there were strong familial strictures in some Orange families on the “High Mountain” against marrying a Catholic. Sometimes the ways of the old world do travel across the oceans unblemished or perhaps it is more accurately said that sometimes the ways of the old world travel across the oceans retaining every blemish with which they started. To be fair, some young couples did swim against the tide in their families and marry across the demographic divide.  While these “mixed” Protestant/Catholic marriages did cause some strife especially among the older generations and I am sure that the family squabbles were significant, the issue seemed to fade with the arrival of grandchildren. 

Canadian “identity”

Over the years there have been several popular beer commercials which play on the theme, “I am Canadian…” referring to the uniqueness of Canadian life… as well beer. It seems that there is no universal understanding of the core characteristics of Canadian “identity.” In fact there is usually much debate about its specificity.  

Depending on your vantage point you may interpret “Canadian” in  vastly different ways and it has more to do with what you think Canadian society “should be” rather than what  Canadian society  actually “is” i.e., it is a political view and is indicative of the public policy you support. [43] Consider the following approaches: 

  • You may argue that there are two founding “races”, or three if you include Aboriginal populations.
  • You may agree with a policy of “Anglo conformity” where all elements of society from the time of immigration onward are designed to facilitate assimilation into the dominate culture i.e., English – speaking and Protestant, primarily.
  • Some politicians advocated for bilingualism and biculturalism and these approaches were very much a matter of national debate in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government struck the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in 1963 in response to concerns from Francophones that their language and heritage were being lost, absorbed or assimilated into the dominant English Canadian culture.  The Commission’s report advocated that the government should adopt policies to preserve the bilingual and bicultural nature of Canada. These recommendations were not popular with those who promoted Anglo-conformity; or who were Québec nationalists; or who were from minority nationalities;  or who were from Aboriginal Peoples. 
  •  Some argue that a Quebec nationalism or “Franco-conformity” exists in Quebec for immigrants required to assimilate into Quebeçois culture and the French language.  
  • Some Francophones outside of Quebec adopted a strong allegiance as Francophones and Catholics within their own unique regional communities. 
  • Some others including Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau supported the position that Canada is a multicultural country in a bilingual context (English and French). In fact, this position was a adopted by the federal Liberal government under Trudeau in 1971.

I will not pursue this analysis much further here as I cannot presume that Gabrielle Roy could see into the future.  Suffice it to say that the concepts of bilingualism and biculturalism were in the political air at that time Roy was writing The Road Past Altamont and I will assume, once again, that Roy was politically astute and aware of the implications different policies re: language and culture would have for French Canadians.  She would have not just an empathetic understanding but direct personal experience from being raised and educated in a milieu that placed a high value on the preservation of language and culture.

We must keep in mind that multiculturalism as a political goal was only just on the horizon in the early 1960s.  On the other hand there were many nascent political movements across the entire political spectrum from left-wing to right-wing in Quebec who attached themselves to Quebec nationalism as a preferable goal but political movements calling for Quebec independence and sovereignty were not fully formed until the 1970s.  This nationalism of the 1960s provided the impetus for French Canadians in Quebec to adopt an identity as Québécois distinct from French Canadians outside of Quebec. Most Quebec nationalists did not see a bilingual and bicultural Canada as possible. French Canadians outside of Quebec had to take up the struggle for a Francophone identity on a regional basis and that was the case in Manitoba in the 1960s.

I shall also take 1970 as a not so arbitrary temporal cutoff point for any discussion of policies and politics related to the identity of Francophones in any part of Canada. The Road Past Altamont was published in 1966 so in order to be true to the period in our analysis we must not invoke knowledge or events that have not yet happened.   

Searching for Truth on the Borderline

It is time I brought some closure (Finally! You say!) to this exegesis on Gabrielle Roy and The Road Past Altamont in which I have invoked: two Riel Rebellions; the founding of the Province of Manitoba; the Métis actions at Batoche which led to the founding of the Province of Saskatchewan; the tenets of the Loyal Orange Lodge; the Manitoba Schools Question; the consolidation of school districts; the policies of multiculturalism; the tragedy of the Métis land promises; the classroom that my father created on the Manitoba escarpment; my own personal recollections of life on the escarpment; the many related aspects of the four stories that comprise The Road Past Altamont; and the socio/cultural/political specificities of the period in which Gabrielle Roy was writing.

{Whew! I am surprised I made it this far, never mind that you made it this far!]

I embarked on this winding path a month and a half ago because I had not read The Road Past Altamont and I thought I should given that I had spent 20 of my formative years living in Altamont.  When I finally read the book, just after Christmas 2018, I was jolted awake by memories of my own travels on roads in the Altamont area.

Uncle Cléophas’s description of Altamont was the point at which I could no longer accept that my consciousness was contiguous with Christine’s as narrator, and I became reluctant to let the story unfold as a cleverly written allegory or metaphor about the aging process and the sensitivities, or lack thereof, experienced by successive generations. Instead, I felt compelled to insert myself actively into a deeper understanding of the story, an understanding not driven by a wish to question what Roy writes in The Road Past Altamont but rather an understanding of why Roy wrote what she wrote. I don’t have the luxury of being able to ask her as she died on July 13, 1983 but she did come very close to providing an answer in a 1972 interview on CBC Radio. [44]

In this interview Roy explains that she wants to stand on the borderline of any situation so that her view is not obscured. “The main engagement of the writer is towards truthfulness.” We cannot just take one side. If objectivity is central to Roy’s methodology then it makes sense that splendour should not obscure tragedy and vice versa.

To illustrate she tells the story of two birds. One bird sings pleadingly and tirelessly in defense of an unjustly accused prisoner and the other bird, a poet, sings beautifully between the bars of the prison cell. In Roy’s eyes, one is not more important than the other; they are but two ways to help or bring joy to the prisoner.

What does this all this “theory” mean in the context of The Road Past Altamont? Altamont was a village on that borderline, that boundary which Gabrielle Roy identified as a place to look for factors that will guide you in your search for truth. Altamont had no place to hide on the demographic divide. Unlike it’s closest neighbours, it was firmly in the Anglo-conformity terrain which meant that it had an entirely different world view – a world view shaped by its unique history. From my own personal knowledge of Altamont, I am fairly certain of this assessment.

I am less certain about where the other four villages fell on the typology of national policy but I am quite certain that their respective histories mitigate against the possibility that they would favour Anglo-conformity.  It is more  likely that each of the four had a tendency to bilingualism but it would require more analysis to make any informed judgement about their receptivity to multiculturalism.

Roy volunteers that both splendour and tragedy are at play in The Road Past Altamont. There comes a time when the generations understand each other but only when the preceding generation is gone and it is too late to reach out. Every generation is blind to this fact. 

A Life Long Quest for Independence:

It wasn’t until I became a parent did I realize that, from the moment of birth, children grow away from their parents in a lifelong quest for independence. For Christine, not even the closeness she felt for her grandmother who crafted, seemingly from nothing, a most beautiful doll, Anastasie; nor the exasperation she felt at her mother’s desire to return to the Assomption River; nor the almost Socratic relationship Christine had with the old man Monsieur Saint-Hilaire; nor the beauty of her uncle Cléophas’s farm; nor the secretive yet inviting call of the Pembina Escarpment itself; nor the beauty of the plains that lapped at the hills forming the shores of Glacial Lake Agassiz, could restrain the innate urge in Christine to leave those environs in favour of a career and a life in France. Christine followed the path of independence all children follow, as did I with my own father, as my own children are doing with me. It is tragedy and it is splendour.

My main thesis in this post is that while The Road Past Altamont is a fictional work, I find it almost impossible to believe that Gabrielle Roy was ignorant of the economic, political, social, and ideological contexts and forces of her time. Quite the opposite; she was likely to have been influenced greatly by that context, setting the stage for a complex portrait with many layers, painted one on top of another, as if waiting for the restoration experts to decide how all layers can be preserved for public exhibition without sacrificing the topmost layers.   Perhaps Roy has figuratively painted a pentimento with layers that are translucent, transparent, or thinly veiled and as each layer is peeled from the canvas, the succeeding generation becomes aware of the preceding generation – but too late as the aging process always takes us by surprise at which regret and remorse inevitably ensue. Christine’s mother sums it up,

“Apparently we don’t notice from day to day or year to year that our parents are growing old. Then suddenly we find ourselves before the irreparable.”

 At the end of the last trip Christine and her mother took to Uncle Cléophas’s farm, there are promises of a return to find the Altamont road once again. It was not to be. The circle of life closed tightly and Maman dies before Christine returns home from France.

The “Disaster” that is Altamont is both Splendour and Tragedy

I do not want to leave the impression that I eschew the main theme of Roy’s brilliant work – exposing the complexities and effects of the passage of time on successive generations. However, I do insist upon drawing your attention to what I believe is a cleverly concealed sub-theme to be revealed only in the chapter for which the book is titled, The Road Past Altamont.  

I am convinced that Gabrielle Roy did not intend to provide a photo-realist depiction of Altamont as much as she wanted to create a “study” in the manner that an artist sketches in order to understand how to overcome some particular challenges in rendering the proper likeness in the finished work; or perhaps Roy constructed the village as an effigy, a composite embodying the tragedy of how French, English, Métis, Aboriginal Peoples, Catholics, and Protestants came to live in such conflict within an environment of immense natural splendour on the escarpment. In today’s vernacular, Gabrielle Roy “outed” Altamont for its Anglo-conformity. 

Gabrielle Roy lived this tragedy; felt its effects. Forty years later, I began to live that very same tragedy but from the other side with my father providing the voice of the older generation. The hoary ghosts of earlier disasters were still there in 1970 but considerably muted, with everyday life continuing politely in that so Canadian, so Manitoban way, cloaking the divisiveness of language and religion in amiability so that economic activity is not impeded unnecessarily nor is the formation of sports teams prevented just because neither Francophone Catholics nor Anglophone Protestants have enough players to field a team on its own.   

Roy also lived the splendour of the Manitoba escarpment, as did I, where light and colours can ruffle through the canopies of the trees on the Ridge Road near the “home place” creating a trompe l’oeil of leaves flittering to the ground as though it is autumn and not spring. Millions of years of natural forces and energies created a stunningly beautiful geological landform upon which a mere few hundred years of inhabitation by humans has been superimposed to create ‘civilization,’ fallible as it is.  Is this an oxymoron or is it irony?

In The Road Past Altamont Gabrielle Roy deliberately chooses to hide the ideology and practice of racism, discrimination, and exclusion in plain sight, yet deep in the valleys and folds of the Manitoba Escarpment (at least that is where I found them) accessible via a road which some have lost, and which I found only by accident.

Post Script

My father was awakened to the significance of Métis and First Nations’ politics when he lived and worked in The Pas, Manitoba and most particularly when he lived in Cudworth, Saskatchewan just a few miles from Batoche – the scene of those significant battles between General Middleton’s soldiers and the Métis led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. On one of our many visits to Batoche c. 1995 my father confided that the Métis “weren’t asking for all that dashed durn much” in the Bill of Rights they presented to the Canadian federal government in March 1885. [45]  

This admission by my father was light years from where his mind was 25 years earlier, in 1970. I think one reason for that change was that as my father explored the quietude of the park and museum at Batoche, he could  feel the animosity in the air; hear the gunshots in the distance; smell the gunpowder; know the difference between being feared and being fearful as warring combatants on both sides lent their throats to the cause as they leapt into battle; read the Métis demands for himself; and understand that the Métis were fighting for a just cause, their cause.  Maybe lessons at “The Classroom at Batoche” had begun?


The South Saskatchewan River just above Batoche was also a battleground. The Métis strung wires across the river to knock the funnels off Major General Middleton’s steamers. My father found this tidbit to be hilarious. Photo credit: Stan Marshall c. 1999.

However, I am not convinced that my father’s transformation extended to bilingualism or multiculturalism. While he may have become more accepting of Métis and Aboriginal Peoples’ unique place in Canadian history and society, he also held some values that assimilation to the dominant culture was inevitable and preferable … but his position wavered from time to time and place to place. As a veteran of World War II he had difficulty conceiving of Canada as something other than  a country within the British Empire (Commonwealth) with an English speaking majority and a French – speaking minority.  For many veterans the Union Jack and the Red Ensign carried great symbolic importance as they were the flags the veterans fought under in the two great wars. Today’s stylized maple leaf, the flag most Canadians now identify with most strongly, did not make its first official appearance until February 15, 1965 amid some considerable controversy.  This was yet another area on which my father and I differed and once again, it is a topic for another day. 

Perhaps it is Gabrielle Roy’s consistent and insistent reminders of the fragility of the relationships among and between generations in The Road Past Altamont that fuels me to explore my father’s transformation in some areas and steadfast adherence to conservative ideas in other areas.  Sadly though, I have failed to heed Roy’s admonishment not to leave it too late, as most generations have done. My father died May 16, 2009 close to Batoche in Saskatchewan but far from the Manitoba Escarpment of his youth and mine.  Nevertheless, my father’s ashes, and those of my mother, are buried in the Altamont Cemetery, about a 1/4 mile east of the road that many have postulated to be the true “road” in The Road Past Altamont.  I have returned, in some senses, to where I started this post.

Altamont Cemetery cropped-IMG_3231-Copy-Copy

Perhaps my father has created a new classroom on the escarpment and is prodding me from beyond his grave to continue my analysis.  I dearly wish I could pick his brain for hints on where secrets are buried in the geology, geography and demography of the escarpment, even though we would undoubtedly land on opposite sides of most issues. But it is not to be; time, in the end, marches more quickly than we want or can.


APPENDIX A: Selected significant events in the life of Gabrielle Roy.  

Source: Chronology of Gabrielle Roy (1909 – 1983) compiled by Michéle Vanasse and Darcy Dunton.

  • 1883 Léon Roy moves to the parish of St. Alphonse, Manitoba. 
  • Created in 1870 on the heels of the first Métis rebellion, Manitoba was officially bilingual and had a confessional school system.
  • 1906 Emma Gabrielle Roy is born in St. Boniface, Manitoba
  • 1916 L’association d’education des Canadiens francaise du Manitoba (AÉCFM) is founded with objective to preserve the French language.
  • 1921 Gabrielle fails her grade and spends the summer at the farm of her maternal uncle, Cléophas, near Somerset, in the Pembina Mountain region of Manitoba.
  • 1923 In Grade 8 Gabrielle Roy wins best composition in the AÉCFM competition for all francophone pupils in Manitoba. She will win this competition for five years and will also win second prize in the Grand Concours Littéraire of the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. (Gabrielle Roy by Andre Vanasse 2004.)
  • 1928 Graduates High School and receives medal awarded by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba to the province’s best students.
  • 1928 Begins teacher training at Normal School in Winnipeg.
  • 1929 receives teacher certificate and teaches for several months in Métis village of Marchand in southeast Manitoba and for ten months at École Saint-Louis in Cardinal, Manitoba
  • 1929 -1937 Roy taught at various small communities in Manitoba including Cardinal (1929 – 1930 school year) near where her parents were married and where many aunts and uncles still lived. [Cardinal is situated a mere 15 km NNW of Altamont and is in close proximity to St. Lupicin (8 km from Altamont) (St. Lupicin is 9.7 km from Cardinal.]
  • 1966 La route d’Altamont and translation The Road Past Altamont are both published.
  • 1967 reacting to Charles de Gaulle’s speech (Vivre le Québec … libre!“) Roy issues a statement expressing her love for Canada.
  • 1967 Gabrielle Roy is named a Companion of the Order of Canada
  • 1968 Roy receives an honorary degree from Université Laval and is awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Medal.
  • 1971 Roy receives Quebec’s Prix David for her lifetime achievement in literature.
  • 1974 Gabrielle spends winter in Quebec City sick with asthma attacks.
  • 1975 Gabrielle spends time in Manitoba visiting her sister, Clémence, for the last time.
  • 1977 Gabrielle wins Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for Ces enfants de ma vie 
  • 1978 Gabrielle Awarded Molson Prize by the Canada Council of the Arts.
  • 1983 Gabrielle Roy dies in Quebec City on July 13.
  • 1983 Gabrielle Roy is named posthumously to the L’Ordre des francophones du Québec



[1] A similar story ran in the Somerset Century, July 27, 1906

[2] Gabrielle Roy was a member of the Royal Society of Canada (1947), the recipient of three Governor General’s Awards (1947, 1957, 1978), the Prix Duvernay (1956), the Prix David (1971), was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada (1967) and was the recipient of numerous other honours.

[3] The escarpment is formed by the shores of Glacial Lake Agassiz and rises some 200 meters above the lake floor that is known as the Red River Valley today.

[4] Consider “writer” to be synonymous with “story teller” and “reader” to be  synonymous with “listener.”

[5]  We must be careful not to place the onus entirely on the reader or listener to ensure the commonality of the lens – it is incumbent on the writer and storyteller to ensure there is fertile ground upon which the commonality can flourish.

[6] Dorine Brown ed,, Pembina Country: Land of Promise, Miami Museum Inc. April 1974 p. 25

[7] Allen Roughan makes a convincing argument on this matter in “The Confrontation at Rivière aux Islets de Bois,” Prairie Forum, v. 14, no.1, 1989.

[8]  Vigod, B. I., “Canada First,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015.

[9]  F. G Stanley, “Louis Riel,” in The Canadian Encyclopedia April 22, 2013 and updated by Adam Gaudy May 9, 2016.

[10]  For this timeline I have adapted information from Michel Verrette, “The Manitoba Schools Question,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, June1, 2016

[11]  Some moment! It has actually lasted close to 100 years.

[12] Verrette, op. cit.

[13] Margaret Atwood, Gabrielle Roy in Nine Parts, Mclean’s, 2017,

[14] Verrette, op.cit.

[15] Historic Sites of Manitoba, Cléophas School No. 1398, Rural Municipality of Lorne.

[16]  A quick look through Beula Swain, The High Mountain: A History of the Altamont Manitoba District and Beula Swain, Altamont: The Pembina Mountain will provide you with a long list of the families and the towns in Ontario from which they hailed.

[17] Yvette Brandt compiled, Memories of Lorne, 1880 -1980, Somerset, The Municipality of Lorne, 1980. p. 616

[18]  The Altamont Centennial Community Centre is the former “new school” which was built in 1961 and closed as a school in 1986.

[19]  Michael Wilcox, Orange Order in Canada, Canadian Encyclopedia, Nov. 30, 2016. 

“The Orange Order was founded as a political and religious fraternal society in the Irish province of Ulster in 1795. It takes its name from the Prince of Orange, King William III, who reclaimed Britain’s Protestant monarchy when his forces defeated those of the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne, 12 July 1690. The Order emerged in Ulster as a product of the rivalry between Catholic-Irish and Protestant – British ethnic groups. Its principles included allegiance to the British monarchy, Protestantism and conservative values such as respect for the laws and traditions of Great Britain.” 

[20]  Roseisle Creek joins the Boyne River at a point close to what is currently the western end of the lake created by the Stephenfield dam in 1963 .

Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) Dam Stephenfield 1963

[21] Geographical Names of Manitoba, Government of Manitoba, Geographical Names Program. 

[22]  The dam on the Boyne River at Stephenfield was built in 1963. However, I do  remember walking with my father along that part of the Boyne River prior to that date, speculating as to where the dam might be and how much acreage might be flooded. See Stephenfield Lake Watershed Management Plan

 [23] Graham A. MacDonald, Manitoba History Review: Cecil J. Houston and William J. Smyth,The Sash Canada Wore: A Historical Geography of the Orange Order in Canada,” Winnipeg, Parks Canada.

[24]  A detailed structure of the Orange Lodge and Royal Black Preceptories can be found at 

[25] “Not Because of Beginnings,” unpublished Marshall family document, no date,

[26] Manitoba History, “Practical Results”: The Riel Statue Controversy at the Manitoba Legislative Building

[27] A second less controversial statue was commissioned from a different sculptor and placed on the legislative grounds in 1996.

[28] Wikipedia on Laurent Desjardins 

[29] Emmet Collins, “Francophones of Manitoba,” Canadian Encyclopedia, November 28, 2017.

[30] André Lalonde, L’Église catholique et les Francophones de l’Ouest,
1818-1930, Départment d’histoire, Université de Regina

[31] All distances are straight line “as the crow flies” distances. Source:

[32] Much of the information for this section has been gleaned from Yvette Brandt comp. Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980, Somerset, 1981.

[33] Originally named Mussellboro (1884) it changed its name to Alta in 1891 when it was found that another community had same name. It was changed subsequently to Altamont in 1894.

[34]  Manitou Western Canadian September 12, 1900

[35] Yvette Brandt, op, cit. p. 191

[36] G.  H . Robertson, Historic Sites of Manitoba: Cardinal School No. 2239, Municipality of Lorne.

[37]  Lourdéon: CDC Re-vision Detailed Project Study Phase 2 April 2009 lists the population as 150.  The Community of St. Léon ( lists the population as 100 and further asserts that 90 percent of the population are bilingual (French, English).

[38] Yvette Brandt comp, Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980, Somerset, 1981 p. 153.

[39] Vi Foster in Yvette Brandt, op cit. p. 154

[40] G. H. Robertson, Historic Sites of Manitoba: Richard School No. 1092, Somerset, Municipality of Lorne

[41] Statistics Canada, Population and Dwelling Count Highlight Tables, Manitoba 2016

[42] Rosa Bruno-Jofre, “Manitoba Schooling in the Canadian Context and the Building of a Polity, 1919 – 1971,” Canadian and International Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, December 1999.

[43]  Gabrielle Roy, Splendour and Tragedy, Interview, CBC Archives, October 14, 1972.

[44]  Ibid.

[45] What do you say? Have a quick look at the Métis Bill of Rights 1885 at Virtual Museum Canada  or see Inter.Canada Métis Bill of Rights.


Archives of Manitoba, Government of Manitoba, Loyal Orange Association Collection, annual returns of the Altamont Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1471, Graysville Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1514, and Graysville Royal Black Preceptory No. 543

Atwood, Margaret, Gabrielle Roy in Nine Parts, Mclean’s, 2017 

Bamburak, J. D., Roadside Geology of Manitoba – a user’s guide to the province’s unique geological features, Manitoba Mining and Minerals Convention, November 20, 2010.

Brandt, Yvette, Compiled, Memories of Lorne, 1880 -1980, Somerset, The Municipality of Lorne, 1980.

Brown, Dorine ed., Pembina Country: Land of Promise, Miami Museum Inc. April 1974.

Bruno-Jofre, Rosa, “Manitoba Schooling in the Canadian Context and the Building of a Polity, 1919 – 1971,” Canadian and International Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, December 1999.

Canadian Encyclopedia, various sections.

Collins, Emmet, “Francophones of Manitoba,” Canadian Encyclopedia, November 28, 2017.

Community of St. Léon

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Roy, Gabrielle, Vol. XXI, 1981 – 1990

Ellis, Joseph Henry, Collection of Photographs and Documents held by the University of Manitoba Archives. 

Garr, Allen, Interview with Cecil Houston,: Orangeman’s Day losing glory, CBC Archives, Broadcast, July 12, 1984.

Goldsborough, Gordon, Abandoned Manitoba, Great Plains Publications, 2016.

Goldsborough, Gordon, More Abandoned Manitoba, Great Plains Publications, 2018.

Government of Manitoba, Geographical Names Program, Geographical Names of Manitoba…

Government of Manitoba, Sports, Culture and Heritage, Monument commemorating Louis Riel.

Grand Orange Lodge of Canada, sections on history, structure, and benefits

Historic Sites of Manitoba, Cléophas School No. 1398, Rural Municipality of Lorne.

Jones, Richard, “French Canadian Nationalism,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015.

Laing, G. and Julie Smith,”Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015

Lalonde, André, L’Église catholique et les Francophones de l’Ouest,
1818-1930, Départment d’histoire, Université de Regina

Lourdéon: CDC Re-vision Detailed Project Study Phase 2 April 2009.

McCullough, Alan B., “The Confrontations at Rivière aux Îslets-de-Bois” Manitoba History, Number 67, Winter 2012.

MacDonald, Graham A. Manitoba History Review: Cecil J. Houston and, William J. Smyth, “The Sash Canada Wore: A Historical Geography of the Orange Order in Canada,” Winnipeg, Parks Canada

Manitoba History, “Practical Results”: The Riel Statue Controversy at the Manitoba Legislative Building

Manitou Western Canadian, September 12, 1900.

Manitou Western Canadian July 26, 1906.

Marshall, H. H., Pembina Hills Flora, Morden: Morden and District Museum (1971) 1989.

Marshall, family document, Not Because of Beginnings, unpublished, no date,

Nodleman, J. N., Gabrielle Roy’s La route d’Altamont and Canadian Highway Narrative

Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) Dams in Manitoba.

Ricard, François, “Gabrielle Roy,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 20153. Allen

Roadside Thoughts

Ronaghan, Allen, “Confrontation at Rivière aux Îlets de Bois,” Prairie Forum, Spring 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1

Ronaghan, Allen, “The Confrontation at Rivière aux Îslets de Bois,”Prairie Forumv. 14, no.1, 1989 as cited in “A Brief History” Carman/Dufferin Municipal Advisory Committee

Roy, Gabrielle, The Road Past Altamont, Translated by Joyce Marshall, Penguin Modern Classics edition ©2018. Original La route d’Altamont ©Gabrielle Roy 1966.

Roy, Gabrielle, Splendour and Tragedy, Interview, CBC Archives, October 14, 1972

Scott, Bryan, Winnipeg Love 2019.

Shaw, Ron W. Canada First Charles Adam Mair (1831-1927), 2016.

Somerset Century, July 27, 1906

Stanley, George F. G., “Louis Riel,” in The Canadian Encyclopedia April 22, 2013 and updated by Adam Gaudy May 9, 2016.

Statistics Canada, Population and Dwelling Count Highlight Tables, Manitoba 2016

Stephenfield Lake Watershed Management Plan

Swain, Beula, The High Mountain: A History of the Altamont Manitoba District, n.d.

Swain, Beula, Altamont: The Pembina Mountain, n.d.

University of Winnipeg Archives, Western Canada Pictorial Index

Vanasse, Michéle and Darcy Dunton, Chronology of Gabrielle Roy (1909 – 1983) in Michele Vanasse, Gabrielle Roy: A Passion for Writing, Quest Books.

Verrette, Michel, “Manitoba Schools Question,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, June 1, 2016.

Vigod, B. I., “Canada First,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015.

Virtual Museum Canada, Back to Batoche.

Wikipedia on Laurent Desjardin

Wilcox, Michael, Orange Order in Canada, Canadian Encyclopedia, Nov. 30, 2016. 

Winnipeg Love by Brian Scott

 ©The PD Gardener (Stan Marshall) 2019



As If

Dance as if you give your body to the music;

Garden as if Mother Nature is your muse;

PD Gardener IMG_0105 copy

Photo Credit: Anne F. Marshall

Imagine as if you are freed of inhibition,

To paint as if magic flies off your brush strokes, and

To love as if mesmerized by Faeries.


“In the Gloaming” Artwork by Anne F. Marshall     Do you see the Faerie?

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener 2018)




Feature photo: Tulips are emblematic of Parkinson’s. Here the tulips are nicely highlighted by cherry blossoms. Photo: S. Marshall

In contemporary slang, “soul sucking” often means something excruciatingly tedious and depressing. I find it a little strange that soul sucking, an action that should strike at the very core of our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual being (our soul), should be defined so cavalierly. Is soul sucking merely hyperbole to describe anything that does not excite us?

There is a second definition which hits a little closer to the mark, “something that takes from you mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually and gives nothing in return.”  I think that soul sucking is more than a feeling, wrenching as it does something violently from the human psyche. Such a feat must require unfathomable power or even a higher order of life. What features of Parkinson’s could possibly be so destructive of one’s soul as to merit such a designation?

I am a Person living with Parkinson’s (PwP). Today, I will outline reasons why I think that Parkinson’s disease (PD) in its most pernicious form is ‘soul sucking’.

Warning: Some will say I am doing a disservice to the Parkinson’s community in this post – that I am too pessimistic – fomenting fear and causing depression. Far from it. I am merely saying to Persons with Parkinson’s and their families: Wake up! PwP must draw on their physical and emotional strength many times each and every day, at a moment’s notice and often in situations requiring every ounce of their reserves.

The trajectory of Parkinson’s is not pretty but we must not put our heads in the sand. We must know the grim realities if we are to face them effectively.

Caveat: The symptoms of Parkinson’s are not identical for everyone nor does its progression follow a predictable pattern for every case. In other words, not every PwP will experience each of the situations I outline below – but don’t be too quick to assume that they face only a few or that the few challenges they do face are negligible and/or manageable.

Why do I think that Parkinson’s is a soul sucking disease?

How many reasons do you need? My initial intention was to list the 10 top reasons but the list rapidly outstripped that number and I could not find good reason to edit these down to just ten.  I could have continued adding more but to maintain my sanity (and likely yours) I invoked closure on the list as follows:

  • PD robs you of intimacy. Parkinson’s renders even the simplest act of tenderness such as rolling over in bed and wrapping your arm around your lover almost impossible. Physiotherapy and exercise can help you forestall this problem but it often shows up long, long before you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The ability to be loving and tender in a physically effortless way – free from restriction and later free from tremor and uncontrollable muscle movements – are probably among the most disconcerting things I have ever faced. I resist with all my being the seemingly inevitable progression where my wife will identify more with “caregiver” than “lover”.
  • PD robs you independence. Parkinson’s is a progressively degenerative neurological disease that will gradually and at its own pace cause you to suffer from periods when you are no longer completely in control of your own muscles. Bradykinesia (slowness) and rigidity mean you have great difficulty walking or doing the most minor tasks of daily living. You will require care sooner than you think.
  • PD robs you of dignity and self – worth. Incontinence and/or constipation and/or diarrhea mean that you often are at the mercy of bodily functions that are no longer predictable or easily contained even with modern day sanitary conveniences. You will find your dignity under attack even when with your loved ones.
  • PD saps your body of its strength, no matter how strong you may be. You will suffer through periods when even trying to get out from under one thin sheet on the bed is impossible. You will look strong and healthy on the treadmill at 9 a.m. but at 4 p.m. you may not be able to toilet yourself.
  • Because Parkinson’s symptoms can arrive at a moment’s notice and leave just as quickly, people who don’t know any better will doubt your veracity; they will think you are faking it.
  • PD plays havoc with your emotions. It doesn’t matter whether it is the disease itself or the future you face that causes the volatile emotions, you will find yourself crying at inopportune and inappropriate times. I cry at serious and frivolous things equally. Hilariously, innocuous commercials on TV often trigger tears for me.
  • PD places a burden upon those for whom you care the most. When first diagnosed you will say that not much will change at work or at home. Wrong. Changes happen slowly at first but you will feel the need for help, for care. Your family, spouse, and friends will gradually start picking up the pieces you can no longer handle. As much as they will deny it, a burden (psychological, social, financial, economic, spiritual, temporal) does pass to them in that inevitable and unpredictable way that Parkinson’s has.
  • PD places you at risk for discrimination, intended and/or unintended. In effect you are disabled. Young onset PwP will face challenges in the workplace as well as in their families. Your condition will rule out life insurance and your children may find it impossible to arrange their economic affairs because they share your genes. Last year Canada was the last G7 nation to pass legislation prohibiting “genetic discrimination”. It will take some time for litigation to work its way through the courts to see just how effective that legislation actually is.
  • PD shortens life expectancy. Even though the studies are inconclusive as to how much some estimate it to be three to four years difference, and if you have Parkinson’s related dementia, lifespan is considerably shorter than that figure.
  • There is an oft repeated saying that “You don’t die from Parkinson’s; you die with Parkinson’s” The implication is that we should not fear death at its hands. As always there is a kernel of truth in such homilies but, equally as always, there is room for debate. If Parkinson’s causes you to have a problem swallowing and you choke on your food or aspirate your medication and develop pneumonia, is Parkinson’s culpable? If you have Parkinson’s related balance issues and fall from a ladder and die (it happens), did you die from the fall or is Parkinson’s culpable? If you have freezing of your gait and freeze in the middle of a high traffic area road, what is the cause of death? If you are a PwP who becomes depressive and commits suicide, is it Parkinson’s related? I think it is fair to ask the question of whether Parkinson’s should be exonerated in every instance. Perhaps, the “old saying” is founded on a statistical artifact rooted in the way cause of death is recorded?
  • It is a known fact that as you get older you become more at risk for falls. If you have Parkinson’s that risk increases drastically as most PwP have balance issues of some kind. Approximately 60 % of PwP will experience a fall and 39% will have recurrent falls. The most common injuries are fractures and 76% of PwP who fall require health services. Those numbers are quite high. The culprit may be faulty proprioception (the manner in which your body perceives itself to be in space) or fainting from Parkinson’s related hypotension (low blood pressure).  You will grow accustomed to attending meetings where many of your PwP friends sport cuts and bruises from falls.  I have not fallen yet (touch wood) but I live in fear of falling every day.
  • Excruciating pain can accompany PD even though many people think Parkinson’s to be a painless and mildly irritating tremor. Let me disabuse you of that notion in the strongest possible terms. Cramps, especially in feet, toes, and legs are very common and can strike at any moment without warning. Dystonia is a frequent travelling partner of Parkinson’s and its constant contractions of muscles causes extreme pain and muscle fatigue. I once experienced a muscle/tendon contraction in my left leg from my groin to the tip my big toe for 18 consecutive hours! It felt as if a piano wire was stretching through that length and it was being pulled so tightly that it was singing, buzzing or humming with pain. I have had severe bruising in my hamstrings from very minor leg movements.
  • Stan bruising 2 IMG_5462

    Honestly, I was only trying to get out of bed

    PD has no known cause and there is no cure. Dr. James Parkinson wrote his ground breaking essay The Shaking Palsy in 1817, two hundred  years ago! Over those years we have found neither cause nor cure. This fact alone makes it difficult to keep hope alive. Personally, I do not expect that a cure will be found in my lifetime.

  • After you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s you will ask the question: “why me?” Not surprisingly you will be angry and you will think of everything and anything that may provide an answer. Genetics? Possibly. You will begin to check your family history. Environment? Possibly.  Studies indicate that certain genetic codes are triggers for Parkinson’s upon contact with certain elements in the environment e.g., pesticides.  You will research the many connnections– exposure to pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides; the presence of metals and chemicals in the well water and water table; or exposure to gasoline fumes in enclosed spaces such as farm equipment sheds or machine manufacturing and repair industries. You will expend much energy being angry and you will worry about your family if they live in the same environment as you live. Your angst may cause you to have other health concerns as you carry on a fruitless search for the reason(s) you have PD.

    3 must read books IMG_5284

    Three must read books

  • PwP will be bombarded with missives, advice and solicitations from purveyors of dreams. These modern day snake oil salesmen have an elixir, a regimen, a diet, an exercise, a meditation technique, and any number of other remedies for Parkinson’s. They all swear that their discovery arrests the progress of Parkinson’s, if not to cure it totally and absolutely.  These dreams are but chimera, a promise that cannot be delivered.  To be fair not everyone will be a charlatan and some of the approaches do help our lives with Parkinson’s to be of improved quality but know this: there is no cure … yet. Caveat emptor applies to any forays you make into the world of those who sell the ‘elixirs’ and cures.
  • Many people think that PD can be easily managed with proper medication. They are wrong. While PD can be managed, it is not done easily. There are significant periods of time when you are in an “off” period with your drugs. They simply do not work with 100 percent accuracy and the timing of “on” and “off” periods may be erratic. The gold standard treatment for Parkinson’s is still a drug called levodopa which was developed over 50 years ago. There are other pharmaceuticals and drug delivery systems that can provide some relief and give the semblance of a decent quality of life for PwP but the public rarely sees the private anguish of the PwP driven underground by pain, involuntary muscle movements, and embarrassing non-motor symptoms. You will find yourself in successive and continual rounds of adjustments with your drugs. Be aware that there is no consensus among neurologists as to the most efficacious drug therapy or therapies.
  • IMG_3654

    My Parkie meds, clockwise from top: rasagoline, levadopa/carbidopa, pregablin, rotigotine patch

    You will become more knowledgeable than most  of your family and friends about the wide range of pharmaceuticals used to treat Parkinson’s. You will research and search for the most effective type with optimum dosage and timing. You will become fanatical about the possible interactions your meds may have with other drugs. You will seek advice from other PwP, pharmacists, dieticians, and other health professionals about the absorption rates of medications following and before the ingestion of certain foods e.g., protein. You will spend inordinate amounts of time and energy on trying to perfect your medication schedule such that it coordinates with activities in your everyday life e.g., meal times, or vice versa.

  • You will become conversant with surgical options for treatment of PD e.g., Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and ultrasound stimulation which can change, alleviate, and eliminate severe symptoms enhancing the PwP’s quality of life. However, you will also learn that it has limitations; not all PwP are candidates for such surgery and, contrary to reports in the popular media, it is not a cure. It does not stop the advancement of Parkinson’s. It will enhance your quality of life markedly but you will still have some symptoms and problems e.g., speech issues. You will know what a Duodopa pump is and why that change in the delivery of medications is so effective for some PwP. You will know how much it costs and how important it is to lobby for public coverage. The same goes for “the patch” – rotigotine delivered through the skin much like the nicotine patch to bypass the blood/brain barrier differently. At the same time you are studying and understanding these complex details becoming a lay expert in effect, others incongruously are watching and questioning your mental capacity because you walk slowly or have a Parkinson’s related speech problem.IMG_8068Sometimes life may appear very bleak.            Photo: S. Marshall
  • There is a significant probability that you will suffer from Parkinson’s related depression with clinical symptoms i.e., more than just “feeling down or low.” The same pathways and neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain produce dopamine (regulating movement) and serotonin (regulating mood). When those neurons die, we stop producing enough dopamine and serotonin resulting in depression for many PwP.
  • About 40% of PwP suffer from increased anxiety, which may result in depression as described in the previous point. More likely though it will trigger involuntary muscle movements (sometimes painful if they develop into cramps) which are difficult or impossible to control. It is as if signals from the brain are hi-jacked and sent erroneously to muscles in arms, hands, legs, and feet. Feelings of anxiety can arise from the most innocuous situations e.g., meeting friends for lunch, as it did for me this week, where I developed severe dyskinesia – like movements which became painful cramps in my legs – all in the space of about 10 minutes. Anxiety for many people manifests itself as increased tremor.
  • Estimates are  that 50% of PwP have hallucinations; they see things that aren’t there. These hallucinations may be from the Parkinson’s itself or from medications. The suggestion that I may develop hallucinations is so powerful that sometimes I look at things that are there and wonder if  they are not. It often takes several seconds to make a determination. Of course, once you admit to hallucinations, it is but a short leap for others to consider you cognitively impaired.
  • I experience vision issues. I see double … well … not exactly double but weird kind of double where there is a vague outline of overlap but not exactly side by side.  Neurologists an optometrists are not particularly interested, or knowledgeable, about vision issues so it remains unresolved.  It is complicated by the fact that I wear progressive lens glasses already and perhaps the prescription needs adjusting. In any case, vision problems are a real but neglected part of PD.
  • IMG_1297

    Sometimes I wonder why I can’t see properly. 

    Approximately 90% of all PwP experience some reduced intelligibility of speech over the course of the disease. Your voice may become soft and difficult to hear and your speaking rate may slow down. These changes have some obvious consequences e.g., it is harder to get a word in edge-wise in normal conversation as people are not that considerate about letting others speak. However, of greater concern is the perception that PwP with speech issues are either cognitively impaired or socially aloof. In fact, PwP do become less motivated to participate because they find that others either cut them off mid – sentence or discount the value of what they say. It is disheartening and hurtful to realize that your voice is not only reduced in volume, it is at the same time reduced in weight.

  • Approximately 50% of PwP develop difficulties swallowing. It should go without saying that this symptom is dangerous as you may choke, develop pneumonia or become malnourished or dehydrated. You will need the professional assistance of dysphagia specialists to treat this condition.
  • You will begin to understand that the concept of “progressively degenerative neurological disease” is just a fancy way of saying, “It ain’t going to get better; it is only going to get worse”. The literature says that PwP can expect to live another 20 to 24 years (assuming no dementia) after diagnosis during which time the disease will progress and your condition will deteriorate. You will spend the last few years of your life in a care facility and hopefully you, your family and the state have provided enough economic security to assure you comfort and dignity.
  • Within five years of your diagnosis you personally will experience many of the above symptoms and situations. You will meet many PwP facing other situations you are not.  You will come to the realization that many of your symptoms have been with you for a long time (maybe ten years of more) before your official diagnosis. At this point it dawns on you that your disease has advanced much further than you thought at the time of your official diagnosis.
  • Your obituary will say “ … after a long and courageous struggle with Parkinson’s …” or words to that effect. Most acquaintances will read these eight words with sympathy but Persons with Parkinson’s and their families will silently and reverently acknowledge you as a champion – someone who defied a soul sucking disease to reach your living age.


I have covered a lot of territory in listing the many features of Parkinson’s that I believe render it to the category of ‘soul sucking’.

You may think that I am overly pessimistic and not appreciative of the research, development and delivery of the many therapies that provide a better quality of life for PwP. My rejoinder is that such therapies exist precisely because Parkinson’s is soul sucking. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, see postulates that the incidence of Parkinson’s will reach pandemic proportions within the next 20 years. It states quite bluntly that the road to a cure is for the Parkinson’s community, especially PwP and families, to become aggressively vocal and DEMAND better treatments and a cure, following the precedent established by HIV/AIDS sufferers.

My hope is that my observations add weight to the discourse on the severity of Parkinson’s; it is more than just tremor. It is soul sucking!

If you think that I am wrong or that I have misrepresented any aspect of Parkinson’s symptoms, of Persons with Parkinson’s and their families, or of the professionals who work diligently to improve our quality of life, please speak up. Send me a comment at the bottom of this blog. Write a rejoinder in your own blog. The discussion will shed much needed light on the dark corners of Parkinson’s.


Rosa x Hope for Humanity  Photo: S. Marshall

One Final Note

It is my intention to write a companion blog piece that is tentatively entitled: WAYS TO LIVE WITH PARKINSON’S, A SOUL SUCKING DISEASE. Watch for it.

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener 2017)



A strange thing happened to me on the way to dance class 

Once a week Anne and I meet other Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP or Parkies), their lovers, spouses, partners, and/or caregivers to take a dance class. It is one of those regular, don’t miss it, kind of dates – but nothing salacious; after all we do meet in the early afternoon.

Today, I am going to tell you a little about the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and dance, as well as a few of the challenges that I faced on my journey to the dance studio.

If you have been following the research literature and the popular news reports about Parkinson’s disease, you will know that dance and other forms of coordinated, patterned movement e.g., Tai Chi, boxing, etc. are touted as the way to delay and/or obviate many of the symptoms of this pernicious disease.

The School of Dance

The School of Dance under its Artistic Director, Merrilee Hodgins, has long been front and centre in taking dance to the community in Ottawa and environs with special “Outreach” programs e.g., for learners with Down’s syndrome and for seniors and others in continuing care settings. It seemed to be a natural step for The School of Dance to expand this commitment to community by meeting the demand for dance classes for PwP. The School secured funding from the Ontario government to provide their “Connecting with Dance: Designed for People with Parkinson’s” program and at no charge to participants!

School of Dance Parkinsons Notice 2018 1

Our dance instructor, Maria Shepertycki, has impressive credentials in the world of Ukrainian dancing as a teacher, performer, and administrator – she is co-director of the Ottawa School of Ukrainian Dance. Maria also has formal training in ballet, which she has coupled with introductory and advanced training in both Toronto and New York with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Even better, Maria has formal university training in human kinetics and has worked extensively with PwP in both clinical and home settings utilizing a wide variety of both traditional and new therapies. It is wonderful to have a dance instructor with such knowledge, training, and experience in delivering therapies to PwP.

Musician Nenad Duplancic provides live music on the piano or keyboard in a valiant effort to ensure we Parkies don’t lose the beat. Anne has always emphasized the importance of live music as a tool the instructor and, by extension, PwP can use to refine our movements. The best part is that Nenaud makes our hour-long session more enjoyable with his on-the-spot changes to the beat and melodies, assisting us to dance our best. The time flies by.


Nenad Duplancic at Keyboard, Marie Shepertycki kneeling at his left, and the troupe practising with scarves (The School of Dance).  Photo: S. Marshall 2017

Connecting Dance and Parkinson’s

The truth of the matter is that I must dance because I have Parkinson’s disease (PD). No, PD itself does not transform me miraculously into a dancer or motivate me to dance, even though that may appear to be the case as I weave and bob and sway, my body responding either to the tremour and involuntary muscle movements that provide the most common stereotypical characteristic of the disease, or the dyskinesia of the side effects of my medication, or both.

You may get the impression that dance is a relatively new alternative to traditional exercises or therapies for Parkinson’s but it was being studied and implemented at least a decade ago and the movement (no pun intended) has been growing ever since.

Research indicates that dance is beneficial as a therapy for Parkinson’s and there are many dance programs pioneering this strategy in their own parts of the planet. I am not going to attempt to reference all programs but certainly special mention should go to the Mark Morris Dance Group Dance for their PD® program in New York and Dancing with Parkinson’s lead by Sarah Robichaud in Toronto. Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) has developed a program for PD called “Sharing Dance”. Working with researchers from York and Ryerson Universities, the NBS program is part of a study of how dance affects the brain in those who have Parkinson’s. In the UK the “Dance for Parkinson’s Project” led by Dr. Sara Huston and Ashley McGill at The University of Roehampton

… investigates the experience of dancing with Parkinson’s: how people engage socially and artistically, how dance may affect functional mobility, how experiences of dancing may affect everyday lives, what motivates people to dance and keep dancing.   Commissioned by English National Ballet  English National Ballet in 2010, the study (2010-2011 and 2011-2014) has tracked the company’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme in London, and its regional classes in Oxford and Liverpool. The research is unique in using a broad array of research methods to examine dance for people with this degenerative neurological condition.

Through the use of participant observation, one-on-one multiple interviews, focus groups, participant diaries and film footage, we have been investigating over a four-year period how the dance program affects people socially, within their everyday lives, what motivates them to dance and keep dancing and how participants engage artistically and technically with movement.

The evidence to date shows that if a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) dances, s/he can alleviate some symptoms, live with them more effectively, and improve quality of life. In short, dancing is good for PwP. More specifically, dancing improves gait, balance, coordination, flexibility, and may assist in overcoming some persistent problems for PwP e.g., freezing. Dance improves cognitive performance through learning the patterns of the steps and movements as well as keeping time to the music.

Dance helps us meet the challenge of cognitive impairment head on (so to speak) as well. All of us in the baby boom generation are rightfully concerned about cognitive performance as we age, but Parkies are particularly mindful, as we don’t wear cognitive impairment as well as those who can claim a little “forgetfulness” from old age.

There is more and more research and evidence that there is “brain plasticity” or “neuroplasticity” i.e., the brain has the ability to recover after being damaged. In the case of Parkinson’s that damage is done when the dopamine producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain die. What causes them to die? We do not know but it is likely that over 70% of those neurons in my substantia nigra were dead by the time I was diagnosed. The death of these neurons plays havoc with our neuropathways, the chain of neurons transmitting signals to and from the brain, such that even simple movements that most people do without thinking e.g., walking, get screwed up. Parkies are very familiar with the “Parkie shuffle” that is symptomatic of Parkinson’s.

It is important to remember that if the brain is plastic we can work to regenerate some of those pathways. Learning new dance steps and keeping time to the music not only strengthens existing neuropathways but develops new neuropathways as well.

Do Parkies Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum?

What makes PwP unique as dancers is that we each have very different abilities and are at different stages of advancement in the course of the disease itself. Even though the movements of the dance are patterned and choreographed by our instructor for our class, and we execute them in common, PwP cannot help but overlay shuffles, shakes, and sways peculiar to the inner rhythms (or arrhythmia) of each individual dancer. Only a Parkie or someone very close to a Parkie can truly appreciate that the related muscle movement disorders sometimes are out of body experience. This uniqueness does not mean that we should just go with our own movements. To the contrary, we dance to overcome those Parkinson’s signals and involuntary muscle movements; to develop a dancer who is precise, purposive and purposeful, in time with the music and faithful to the choreography.

Parkinson’s may want us to dance to the beat of a different drum but that dance provides us with false hope and then, no hope. Maybe it is ironic that Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys had a big hit with “Different Drum” in 1967 as Ronstadt was subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. She had retired from performing in 2009. I know the song is not about Parkinson’s but the line that sticks with me is “we’ll both live a lot longer if you live without me.” I dance to shed the cloying, clinging Parkinson lover who refuses to release me.

Parkies really are social people, you know; It just doesn’t seem like it some times

One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is slowness in the facial muscles resulting in delayed facial expressions such as smiles or frowns. They may also look off into the distance or not blink for long periods of time. This makes PwP seem aloof or perhaps “not all with it”. As Parkinson’s advances, we may develop a “mask” where the muscles in the face no longer work properly such that your face does not reveal any expression or emotion. So, if you tell a really great joke to a Parkie who has this symptom, it will not be evident that they have understood the joke or find it funny. It is disconcerting at first because in everyday social interaction we rely extensively on facial expression for feedback and cues for further interaction. Until people understand this condition they may think you are a “stick in the mud”, unsociable, or simply don’t like them. It is a pain in the ass, to say the least, to be constantly apologizing or explaining.

When you have Parkinson’s, you tend to carefully pick and choose your times and occasions to socialize. I know that I am reluctant to make a commitment to go to dinner, see a ballet, visit with friends or any number of things only to find that Parkinson’s has changed its schedule and I am hit with a full blown case of Parkie with uncontrollable involuntary muscle movements, tremor, Bradykinesia (slowness), rigidity, or even difficulty speaking or swallowing, or any number of other motor and non-motor symptoms. Sometimes the medication kicks in and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to say that Parkinson’s is predictably unpredictable on occasion. Nevertheless, it is not completely random either and I have begun to understand how to make adaptations, accommodations, and compromises.

Once Parkinson’s has advanced to a point where you can no longer hide its symptoms, you begin to curb the number and types of social activities where you meet people other than family. Why? Let me list some of the reasons:

  • Whether we like it or not there is a certain stigma to Parkinson’s and when people are told you have this disease, they often assume that you have cognitive impairment or even dementia.
  • Dementia is associated with Parkinson’s but it is not the norm. Estimates are that 24% to 31% of PwP have dementia and 3% to 4% of all dementia in the population is due to PD. The prevalence of Parkinson’s related dementia in the general population aged 65 and over is 0.2% to 0.5%.
  • Parkinson’s changes everything and you no longer have complete control of motor and non- motor functions. You sense that everyone is aware of these changes and you are embarrassed by the fact that you are not the same person you used to be. Of almost equal weight is your perception that you embarrass others.
  • Parkinson’s may cause you to walk or move in a manner that leads people to think you are drunk. This can result in less than satisfactory interaction with those around you at a social event where not everyone knows you personally.

As Parkinson’s advances I look for “safe places” to do whatever I have to do. I do not like to disrupt or disturb others and I don’t want to be constantly defending or explaining my behaviour nor apologizing for it. Of course, such “carefulness” results in a tendency to isolate oneself from your community. The more you do that the more likely it is you will succumb to depression. Approximately 30% of PwP do develop feelings of apathy, which can be a symptom of depression. We need to get out more, not less, but so many things seem to conspire against us that the goal is elusive some times.

Rarely do PwP gather with other PwP. We do have support groups for PwP and our significant others, organized by Parkinson Canada each month. They serve as places where we can obtain information from experts and learn from each other. But we need more than these occasions.


Marie Shepertycki (left) and Connecting with Dance Designed for Persons with Parkinson’s class (The School of Dance) 2017

Dance class is a safe place

Dance class designed for People with Parkinson’s is another of those “safe places”, this time meeting with other PwP in a setting that is not so focussed on the detail of the disease. The objective is to learn the moves and choreography, and integrate the beat and the music into our movements such that new neuropathways are developed, existing neuropathways are strengthened, and lost neuropathways are recovered. And we can do all of this without ever knowing, or needing to know, what the heck a neuropathway is. Dance class is dance class and because we are in a safe mental and physical environment with other Parkies, we don’t have to apologize for the way we move, how we look, or how we feel. Feelings of guilt seldom come into play, as it is a safe place for our lovers, spouses, partners, and caregivers to express their particular ‘dance’.

Dance class can be more … and will be more

The dance date I have each week with Anne is partly a social affair. We have fun. We meet new people and form new friends. We connect with some others we have known for a while, get to appreciate their talents and to know them and their families better. The School of Dance program includes time at the end of class which allows us to share ideas about Parkinson’s therapies, recommend neurologists, physiotherapists and other professionals and catch up on what is happening in the community.

For me, dance class is therapy for Parkinson’s and assists me to meet the challenges Parkinson’s presents each and every day. The world of dance, with which Anne identifies, knows class as fundamental practice and instruction on an ongoing basis. As such, maintaining, honing, and fulfilling “the dancer” within is the motivation to attend, and class becomes part of daily routine. These two approaches to “ class” are not far apart.

In fact, what we are doing in Parkie dance is to practice the basic movements (the syllabus.) It is here that smart instructors like Maria sneak in some movements from ground breaking therapies such as LSVT Big. Then we learn and perfect a set pattern of steps over the weeks. This approach is much the same as it is in performance dance – fairly far removed from those hoe downs in the hayloft on Saturday night – but we are not planning a performance. Thank goodness.

Tango Argentina

While it is true we will never perform the Tango like these professionals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nenad does play tango music and Maria incorporates a few moves into our choreography.  Photo: S. Marshall 2004

Back Story: I was a sk8ter boy: she did ballet (with apologies to Avril Lavigne)  

Journalists often talk about “the back story”, the historical context that gives rise to the feature story on which they are reporting. In this case, the back-story could be simply the fact that I have Parkinson’s disease and likely had it for some 10 years before my diagnosis 5 years ago. Parkinson’s is one of those diseases that gets progressively worse as time passes until it jumps up and demands to be recognized for what it is: an unforgiving, soul sucking disease. Well, I could go on and probably will in a later post and while there are many back-stories to this feature on dance and Parkinson’s, I will detail just this one very important story for me.

Perception of self is forged at a very early age and shaped mostly by family, teachers, and our play friends. What you need to know for today’s story is that my perception of self going back to my most early memories is that I am uncoordinated, born without rhythm and therefore can’t dance. For the past 60 plus years I have gone through life believing that I [choose one]: a) Cannot dance; b) Do not dance; c) Will not dance; d) Should not dance; e) Must not dance; or f) All of the above.

For all these years I believed that the correct answer is “all of the above”.

This view was reinforced at every turn throughout my life even though I was coordinated enough to be a pretty decent hockey player and good at most sports requiring foot work and good hand – eye coordination. I was an ice hockey kid – I lived and died for hockey. I did manage to play at the Junior ‘A’ level but that is a story to be told another day. I was a superior skater playing defence with great north – south and east – west agility on both sides in combination with good stickhandling ability and an eye for the net. Still, dance did not rest easily in my body and rested even less easily in my brain. In fact, I was (and remain) very inhibited about dancing to say the least.

Early in my life I accepted the fact that somehow musicality, beat, and rhythm had not found a receptive home in my soul. Its absence manifest itself in a body that is too stiff and in a brain that is equally rigid, resistant and incapable of providing neurological guidance to my muscles such that I feel I do not move gracefully through space. Except when I was playing hockey – a game where my movements were embedded in existing neuropathways such that my muscles moved without forethought and new neuropathways could be learned in the matter milliseconds by a brain hungry to transpose received information into the neurological code necessary to execute specific muscle movements.

By the way, I have met many other people (mostly men) of my age who were subject to this same criticism resulting in an ongoing reticence to dance, no matter what the occasion. Of course, the way out of this particular problem was to excel at something that required elements of those very characteristics that made one shine on the dance floor e.g., sports. Sports were a kind of ‘get out of dance free card’. If you were good at sports, it was OK that you couldn’t or didn’t dance. You would always be respected (by men mostly) as having the talent and skills to be an athlete of some repute.

Anne’s definition of a ‘dancer’ is someone who is able to move through space (on the ground or in the air) to music in a manner that defies true description and has the audience holding their breath or uttering spontaneous epithets of disbelief i.e., true dancers move through space better than other people that dance, and all dancers move through space better than those of us who move as if we are dancing to the tune of the periodic table in chemistry.

Anne has always been a dancer. From the time we first met over 20 years ago she would do an allegro across the kitchen floor and pirouette in the hallway. I can assure you that this joyfulness had nothing to do with having met me; she just LOVES ballet in particular and most other dance styles in general. She was inculcated into that world at a very young age and continued to attend ballet or modern dance classes for most of her life. There were a few years off to attend to having children and for her body (knees and feet) to mend because her brain did not comprehend that her body could no longer take the rigours of four or more full out dance classes a week.

Anne is happiest when on the floor or at the barre, or in this day and age watching a particularly inspiring dance performance clip from the Internet on her iPad and all I hear is “… holy sh–“ when the performance or the performer truly astounds her. I was going to say that Anne is an “aficionado” of dance but that would be too soft as a descriptor. Anne is a strident and critical analyst when it comes to evaluation of choreography and the execution of both technical and artistic elements of a performance. She is a bit of a “fanatic” on these matters. During live performances she has been known to voice such excitement and approval softly but audibly and the surrounding patrons of the dance appear not to be offended, as I suspect they agree with her and are thinking “ I wish I had said that.”

Fortunately for me, the dance of life and love does not always have predictable choreography or outcomes and she chose to be with me even though my “dance rating” was a colossal “fail”.   Thankfully, she saw that I had other qualities and that I was capable of appreciating dance from angles to which I had never paid much attention previously.

Anne and I never expected that I would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s but that is what happened and … surprise, surprise, … the breaking news is that I can dance! And I must dance! The silver lining in the diagnosis is that we now spend some time in a dance class where I can appreciate the importance of developing the dancer within – something Anne has known all her life.


Anne and Stan Marshall (aka The PD Gardener) Photo by Maria Shepertycki 2017

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? (With apologies to Alanis Morissette)

Is there a grand finale to this dance? I assume there is but I am quite uncertain as to the choreography. Parkinson’s disease can make my body dance independently of any commands sent by my conscious brain. Maria, our dance instructor, and Nenaud, our musician, along with Anne, my dance partner are doing their level best to coerce my brain and body to respond to an inner metronome cancelling out Parkinson muscle ‘mis-movements’, replacing them with a body and spirit that flows effortlessly through space. Still, I perceive that I don’t seem to have one miserable neuron in my body capable of consistently exciting muscles to dance in such reverie that it that can transport your mind to a unique place or state of being – but I am reminded often that “the benefit is in the work” so I just keep on dancing, my friend.

Finally I find it truly ironic that I now face my inhibitions about dancing and my inherent awkwardness by pursuing learned, patterned dance movements to obviate the involuntary dance forced upon me by my dopamine-deprived brain

Resources and References

Alanis Morisette, Ironic, 1996

Avril Lavigne, Sk8ter Boi, 2002

Dance for PD

Dance for Parkinson’s Project

Dancing with Parkinson’s

Earhart, G. M., “Dance as therapy for individuals with Parkinson disease,“ European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 2009 June; 45(2): 231-38

English National Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s

Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, Different Drum, 1967

National Ballet School

Parkinson Canada

The School of Dance

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)



Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post #2: Song Titles

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post #2: Song Titles” is now available.

“My lover thinks I have been sitting around wasting time listening to music from the last 7 decades. … It all started with an innocent thought about the geo–cultural origins of song titles.” Read more at



Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts: A new feature

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts is a new feature on this site devoted to well … “Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts” about Parkinson’s, gardening or anything really … but uncharacteristically for me, I have to say it in 750 words or less!  It is all explained in the first post which you can find here:  Short, Pithy, and/or Pissy Posts

Have a great weekend!

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

Prior to my last post, DIRECTIONS PART I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!, which is the first in a planned series, it had been over four months between posts. My instinct, even though I wasn’t raised in a family with a strong religious tradition, is to confess my sins i.e., apologize for my tardiness and seek your forgiveness. However, as I was reflecting on what words would be suitably contrite, I realized that this same lax religious upbringing permits me to conclude not only that I have no obligation to confess but equally I have no reason to apologize. I have done nothing untoward. Rest assured that I say none of this out of any disrespect for you, dear reader.

In November 2016, I wrote a piece that is truthfully a “Last Post” in that it was my reportage on the Celebration of Life for John R. Mills, a man who warranted the many accolades that were thrown his way at the best wake I have ever attended.  I know that learned intellectuals and professionals studying death and dying within all types of societies have researched, interpreted, analyzed and written about the grieving process identifying its stages and concomitant behaviors of the mourners. For the last four months I have been trying to come to grips with the reality that the strikes of the hammer on the anvil were hailing the blacksmith and farrier, beloved by all, to come home.

John’s death affected me in ways that I did not anticipate. He and I shared some quite personal moments in the months (even years) before he left us – moments that gave me insights into his life and his person; moments that give me the strength to face my own future with Parkinson’s, a progressively degenerative neurological disease; moments that help me better understand my own person; and moments that bring calmness to my spiritual self. Most of those moments will remain private and confidential but there are one or two that I feel I can share.

Sometimes there is no ‘option’ in option

During the last months of John’s life, there were many decisions to be made, difficult decisions; decisions no man or woman should have to face. He had sage and respected advice from physicians, health professionals, family and friends so he did not face the decisions or their consequences alone. Still, the final burden was disproportionately his to bear.

What turbulence is created in your intellectual and spiritual self when too much ‘hard’ medical data competes unfairly with too little ‘real’ time?  Some are tempted to call this problem a “quandary,” a ”puzzle,” or a “dilemma” for which there is no correct answer. Others see it as a kind of cost – benefit analysis where the positives and negatives (upsides and downsides) are totaled and offset to inform the decision – making process. Characterizing the problem as having a binary answer (yes/no) disguises the fact that the options under consideration are most often ‘options’ in name only and each option could be equally unthinkable e.g., living longer with a medically assisted but vastly diminished quality of life or dying more immediately from the ravages of your disease on your body and mind.

Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia”

The language of “options” also implies that we have a say in the matter; that there is ‘free will’ and we can, not change the course of history but, choose the course of history. The heading above is the epitaph (several slightly different versions are often quoted) that W.C. Fields proposed for himself in an article in Vanity Fair (June 1925.) I guess if Fields had the final say he would be alive in Philadelphia rather than in a grave beneath a headstone in Glendale, California.  Wouldn’t we all?  More likely, he would still be in a grave but in Philadelphia rather than California.

I do not deny the existence of free will for many actions we take, or do not take, in the course of life, but does free will always exist for life and death actions/inactions? If free will does exist are we fortunate or are we fortunate if it doesn’t? If there is no higher power than you, then to whom are you accountable? What if you, as the highest power, do not wish to die but your body and spirit can no longer sustain life? What if, at the very end of life, at that moment when our Soul is to be released from its material casing, we have no choice? How does that happen; who makes that decision? What if we do not have a Soul? The list of questions is interminably long.

Living with the dying and dying with the living sucks, doesn’t it? Or does it suck only if dying has greater importance or gravitas than life? The problem is that ‘not dead’ means ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’ means ‘dead.’ In relational terms each condition should be equal; each dependent upon the other being not present. As I only know and experience “aliveness,” that is the only condition about which I can speak and it turns out that I don’t know very much about it at all.

On the positive side, I know nothing about “deadness” and I am not even certain I ever will. This is not to imply that I will live forever but that there may be no consciousness for me after death. It is all very confusing and is very much a “black hole” into which the secret code of life is absorbed after death, never to be relinquished. Perhaps, being prepared to live and to “not live” (rather than “to die”) is the best we can do.

“Tell me a story”

What could I possibly say to John that would be at all helpful? The mind often boggles at times like this but John took the lead and on two occasions he lifted one hand slightly off the hospital bed to signal that he wanted to “say” something and although he was unable to speak without great effort, he signaled that everyone except me should leave. The first time was very private and personal and shall remain that way. The second time he wanted me to tell him a story. I had been sending John copies of my blog for quite some time and I knew that the stories resonated with his own experiences and that he appreciated the humour and context. So I stood by John’s bedside and spun a few stories that had been tumbling around in my brain but hadn’t yet made it into written and more polished form. Today, you are privy (pun intended, you’ll see) to some elements of those stories in a more organized form.

Nothing says Halloween like outhouses … and a potato?

I knew that John would appreciate the particular time period within which the stories are set as well as the many threads within the stories themselves. For me though, the significance of the stories lay in the telling and in the non-verbal responses they drew from John. In those brief few moments, I was thrilled that I was able to remind him of what it is like to be an eight year old boy – a boy who plugged Bob Lang’s sump pump hose with a potato on Halloween night, causing a minor flood in his basement which thankfully was unfinished and unfurnished.

I am sure those of you with sump pumps would like to take that boy and wring his neck, as water in the basement is not what any homeowner wants and a plugged drain pipe could overheat the sump pump motor and blow a fuse or trip a breaker. (See note 2) I suppose it could also start a fire if there was no thermal relay switch. My recollection is that the potato plug in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose caused only minor flooding. I heard no talk of fire or other damage.


Who plugged the sump pump hose with a potato anyway? Photo: S. Marshall 2017

It is well known that boys over the age of nine, teenagers and immature adults look forward to playing the “trick or treat” game on Halloween night. The idea is simple; if a residence or business did not give you a treat then they could expect a trick to be played on them. Sometimes the older tricksters did not even give the “treat” part a chance; they just went directly to the trick. Tricks came in a wide variety of forms: soaping windows was quick and easy to do but slow and labourious to remove; throwing hay or straw bales on a roof top required the strength of young men; anything that wasn’t tied down and was smaller than a car got moved; but the most common trick was to tip over the outhouse. Almost every house in Altamont had at least one outhouse; likely a “two-holer” but there are many with only one hole. I remember seeing a three-hole outhouse on my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid. I thought it was hilariously funny but you never know, perhaps the number of holes is determined by the size of family … or some other social or economic variable. I am sure someone has done an analysis and with power of Google I could find out but this not the time to wander too far from the subject matter.

Cottage outhouse

A “one-holer” outhouse was common for a residence  Photo: S. Marshall


A typical outhouse for a business with separate entrances for “Men” and “Ladies”   Photo: S. Marshall

Humour and Horror in the ”honey pit”?

Halloween is not all Hollywood, horror movies and Freddie Krueger. The horror of the “honey pit” predates the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and seems to have persisted over time. One recurring story is that a specific someone e.g., Ed Bulmer, Oz Jackson or Bob Hetherington, was in his outhouse when it was tipped over on its front, blocking the door. These images produced roars of laughter at each telling. Whether it is true or not is hardly the point. Strangely, I do not recall any women being named as someone, pants down, struggling to get out of an outhouse lying on its door in front of its “honey pit.” In fact, there are very few visual sightings of women entering or leaving the outhouses at any time and certainly none at Halloween no matter how strong the call of nature might be.

Sometimes the perpetrators got their comeuppance and one or more of those (no names will be provided here) tipping the outhouse inadvertently found himself (it was always a male) in the “honey pit,” having slipped during the deed. Even though I had been present at a few tipping events when I was young, I never witnessed such misfortunes – and it certainly never happened to me!  Still, it could not have been that hard for someone to nose out the truth after you have fallen into a pit of human excrement and piss, but perhaps like a cat that failed in its leap onto a precarious perch, you just preen for a second or two after falling and walk away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.

It is a safe bet that at least once in the last 130 years someone in Altamont was in the outhouse when it was tipped over and at least once a trickster did fall into the pit after giving the outhouse that one last mighty shove to break the centre of gravity.

The origins of Halloween go back thousands of years and bear resemblance to traditions of the Celtic harvest festivals. Interestingly, in the 1880s and 1890s many Irish immigrants passed through the Ottawa Valley (Merrickville, Carp) and other parts of southern Ontario (Lucan) on their way to settle in southern Manitoba around Musselborough which was founded in 1884 and later renamed Altamont. Undoubtedly, their Irish humour was fertile ground for tricks at Halloween and they relished the opportunity to regale one another with tales of forays on this night when the authorities turned a blind eye to minor infractions. It is not hard to see how stories of falling into the “honey pit” or of being in the outhouse when it was tipped over on its door, the only exit being over or through the foul smelling and disgusting looking pit, would become standard fare whenever they gathered.

I tend to think there is a kernel of truth in most stories that persist over time and the rumours associated with outhouse tipping are no exception. As if to prove this very point, the following entry in the book of memories for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Altamont was written 33 years ago and speaks to the general nature of these outhouse capers at Halloween.

“Halloween was always an exciting time in Altamont, especially in the days before in-door plumbing. It could be a dangerous time too. You had to be careful where you walked. More than one in–a-hurry, prankster found himself the victim of a fate worse than death, having fallen into an uncovered toilet hole.”

“Those outhouses must have been built well to survive the annual “pushing over.” Sometimes they were hauled out into the road and used to block traffic.”

“The most famous back-house in Altamont was also the most fortified. In fact, it still exists today. Bob Lang secured his one-holer with barbed wire. Most years he was successful in keeping his out-house at home.”

“Just when the boys were making some progress in getting his toilet over, old Bob would come running from his house waving his hockey-stick cane in the air. Everyone would scatter only to try again later.” ~ Allan Dawson in Memories of Altamont, 1984 -1994, compiled by the Altamont Centennial Committee.

Yes, Mr. Dawson identifies the same Bob Lang I referenced earlier in the sump pump potato plug incident. Bob seemed to be a target for many on Halloween. Perhaps, it was the challenge of his fortified outhouse and, appropriately enough, the danger of being ‘slashed’ by that hockey stick cane.

Memories of Altamont 1884 -1984 cover


John was a great fan of stories that had action and he loved it when the characters were hit quite literally over the head as part of the story line. It goes almost without saying that when I was fully engaged in the stories of the outhouse tipping shenanigans, John was more animated and his eyes were visible under their closed lids. I am not sure what he enjoyed the most: the idea of a general assault on outhouses at Halloween; the tipping and dragging of outhouses onto the street to block traffic; the possibility of someone actually being in the outhouse at the critical moment when its centre of gravity was breached; the irony of a perpetrator falling into a cesspool of piss and shit; or the idea, which I heard more than once during the outhouse raids, “Let’s set fire to the fucker.”

Fire was no stranger to Altamont and I am researching a number of fires over the 130 years of Altamont’s existence. As my research is incomplete at this stage I cannot delve into those events too deeply but let’s consider the following questions: What if the Halloween tricksters did set the outhouse on fire? What if the idea caught fire, so to speak? Would there be a conflagration of “shitters” the likes of which the world has never known? Not likely, but even though Altamont was small, setting fire to one or more outhouses in the community would make a statement far beyond the usual Halloween “pranks.” Flaming outhouses are sure to hit the news – even though cell phones were not yet in widespread existence and video of such events would be difficult to find. Rest assured the concept of mens rea would be applied and charges would be laid.

Environment, outhouses and Parkinson’s

In the 1950s and 1960s small villages and unincorporated Local Urban Districts (LUDs) such as Altamont did not have public utilities such as water and sewer. Only a few houses had septic fields and the “water utility” was an electric pump drawing water from a well on the property. But in truth most houses had no electric pump; no running water; no flush toilet; no septic field; and the waterworks was an old creaky hand pump drawing water from a well directly below.

Most people had outhouses where they went to “do their business” or “honey pits” into which they emptied a “honey bucket” from the house, a task I was given when I was about 8 years old, once a day, every day after my sisters had gone to bed. I can still recall the weight of the honey bucket in my hands, stink trailing behind me as I walked through the kitchen and back porch out into the back yard – the air fresh and clean until I passed through. The honey pit was located at the northwest corner of our lot beside our rhubarb and as far as possible from our well but still only a distance of 10 – 12 meters. Cleverly disguised as a squat wooden square box, the honey pit sat there innocuously and surprisingly stench free with a padlock securing the trap door entrance on its top. I always fumbled with the lock and opened it with trepidation as it was usually after dark and there were no lights in that corner of the yard. I don’t know, maybe I expected a monster with extremely foul breath and dripping with soggy toilet paper and excrement to jump out the moment I opened the hatch! I think dad must have tossed in copious amounts of lime to cut the smell and reduce fly and pathogen problems, as I was always surprised that the smell didn’t knock me over and there were few flies when I opened the door

Drinking water and water for bathing was drawn from wells that were dug only a few meters from the outhouses and honey pits. So how far should an outhouse be from a well? I thought this should be an easy question to answer. Turns out that it is not. At the one extreme, some municipalities in Canada prohibit outhouses outright. At the other extreme, unorganized townships have no restrictions or regulations whatsoever … build your outhouse wherever you want – and better yet, don’t tell anyone even if you do build one. It is the best thing about unorganized townships, ‘don’t cha know’ (facetiousness is dripping here). Other people argue that a “few feet” is OK as long as the pit is above the water table. I agree that deep wells accessing  underground aquifers far from the surface pits of outhouses would be quite safe.

Surely, the juxtaposition of drinking water sources and the storage and disposal of human waste does matter and close proximity does not make for a healthy environment. When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I wondered if sanitation issues and/or contaminated well water might be factors contributing to the development of Parkinson’s in an individual.

Well … what about the well?

The well in our house in Altamont was directly under the kitchen. It was a hole about five feet in diameter and about 15 feet deep. There was cribbing for the first five or six feet and the whole thing was covered by a large piece of 3/4 inch plywood forming a landing at the bottom of a set of stairs made from rough-hewn timber, leading to an unfinished basement. Occasionally my father would take the cover off to peer into the depths to determine the water table. About three feet to one side a separate hole about three feet deep housed an electric sump pump to keep the basement from flooding should the water table rise too high.

I have no idea how often a well should be cleaned if ever, or what should be used to clean it. I do recall one time my father cleaned our well. It happened one July when I was about 14 years old. It was a hot Saturday evening during haying season (it’s beginning to sound like a country and western song here) when I returned home from a long day of riding the hay rack behind a baler spitting out alfalfa bales in rapid succession. [Interestingly, the sway and rock of the hayrack across the field is not unlike the feeling that I currently experience with my Parkinson’s balance and peripheral neuropathy proprioception issues.]

I arrived home hot, sweaty and thirsty, thirsty, thirsty! I grabbed a tumbler out of the cupboard, went to our water pump in a small alcove just at the top of the stairs to the basement. I worked the pump handle up and down a few times to fill the tumbler with water that was not extremely cold but as cold as I was going to get. I tipped the tumbler up and let the water drain into my throat. About half way through the last gulp, a very big gulp I might add, I sensed that this glass of water was not all that it promised… or maybe it was more than it promised. I could feel something disturbing in my mouth. I suppressed the urge to swallow and I suppressed the urge to gag, although I don’t know how. Instead, I willed my self to spit the contents of my mouth out into the porcelain sink. A three to four inch long worm began wriggling across the slippery surface. I don’t know how I hadn’t spotted it before tipping the glass all the way to vertical but rest assured that I have pre-checked every glass of water I have ever had since then. It is something I will continue to do into the future. The worm in a glass of mezcal repels me and I can hardly look at it never mind have a sip!


A word to the wise: always check the bottom half of your glass  Photo: S. Marshall

Of course, my mother was extremely distraught by my account of the worm in the drinking water. The very next day, dad and a neighbour took the cap off the well, pumped it dry and with a rope around his waist dad descended into the well with a brush and sponges. He scrubbed the walls and cleaned the intake on the pump. It seemed to make my mother much happier if nothing else.

I doubt that a worm or two in your well causes Parkinson’s but I do recall that dad was concerned about high levels of arsenic and other contaminants in well water in the area. Even so, I don’t remember our well water ever being tested although I do recall dinner table conversation that it should be. In the end analysis, I think we were too poor to pay the test fee plus the shipping cost to Winnipeg. Dad likely relied on the tests that others in the community had obtained as being indicative of the readings that our well would have. In any case, I don’t think the arsenic was much of a problem but I cannot say the same for the chemicals and/or metals the ground water may have contained, although studies are inconclusive as to the consequences.

We lived in an agricultural area and the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were times of intensive usage of pesticides on farms, and I know that our father used these same practices in our gardens. (See Note 3.) As always there is considerable difficulty in obtaining reliable data for pesticide usage and funding for research on the health impact of pesticides on the population is relatively scarce. Still, since 2003 seven provinces including Manitoba have passed legislation banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic (non-essential) use. Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia are the holdouts. The definition of “cosmetic use” ranges from use on lawns only to use in all elements of landscaping. Most provinces have some exceptions.

Those initiatives and laws are all well and good but the 60 years between 1940 and 2000 were pretty freewheeling when it comes to pesticide usage. The current legislative bans and regulations come far too late for those of us in our 50s and 60s who are just now being diagnosed with Parkinson’s as we could have been exposed to the pesticide as many as 50 years ago. Indeed, it is much more likely that we were impacted by pesticide use than by the proximity of outhouses and honey pits to well water.

There is also a possibility that some metals, oil and petroleum products seeped into the ground from nearby industry. Whether it (whatever “it” is) ever reached the water table in our case I cannot say as the details were buried forever when our house and the industrial buildings were torn down and the area redeveloped.  In other words, none of these possibilities can be verified, no conclusions can be drawn and all speculation will remain just that, speculation.

I suppose that every Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) has asked two questions: what causes Parkinson’s disease and why me? Do you know that this year, 2017, is the two hundred year anniversary of Dr. James Parkinson’s famous work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, which established the disease as a medical condition named after Dr. Parkinson. After 200 years of study the question as to what causes Parkinson’s has yet to be answered.  Scientists are coming ever closer as they research proteins such as alpha-synuclein that misfold and form Lewy bodies that are present in the brains of all those with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless there are gaps in the research indicating that perhaps they  are not isolating the precise genetic factor and protein or that the cause is more multifaceted than we care to believe e.g., other factors such as environmental exposures may be complicating or confounding features of the cause(s).

Is there a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?

There are many references in the literature to the links between environmental factors and Parkinson’s disease. Could there be a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?  I suppose that anything is possible given that a definitive cause of Parkinson’s has not been isolated, but it is not probable. I have not seen research reports showing a correlation between the presence of outhouses or “honey pits” and the incidence of Parkinson’s or other neurological diseases. I am certain that it is not desirable to have human waste “honey pits” in close proximity to wells providing drinking water as it increases the likelihood that insects can pass diseases back to the human population. Nevertheless, I don’t think such proximity was a contributor to my Parkinson’s.

Pesticides are a trigger

Researchers have long suspected a correlation between the incidence of Parkinson’s disease and the presence in the agricultural environment of pesticides. The authors of a newly released (April 2017) literature review and meta-analysis conclude

“ …there is now strong evidence that exposure to any pesticide involves a ≥50% increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.” (Gunnarsson and Bodin, 2017)

Let’s be clear though, most research and considered academic writing on this matter is careful to highlight that environmental exposure to these toxins is not sufficient in and of itself to develop Parkinson’s. In order to develop Parkinson’s a person must already possess a genetic marker for Parkinson’s that is then triggered by the environmental factor. Neither exposure to toxins nor possessing the genetic marker is sufficient to result in Parkinson’s but together they may result in Parkinson’s. Not very convincing is it? But, on the other hand it is encouraging that we at least have some leads.

“In conclusion, this meta-analysis provides evidence that pesticide exposure is significantly associated with the risk of PD and alterations in genes involved in PD pathogenesis.” – Ahmed, H. et al. in Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Apr 13;90:638-649.

“As a neurogenetecist, I’m prejudiced to say that people have a certain proclivity that resides at the genetic level which predisposes them to environmental insults—whether they be pesticides, well water, living in rural areas, or trauma, possibly.” – Northwestern University neuroscientist Teepu Siddique as cited in The Atlantic, “The Brain of a Fighter” by James Hamblin, June 2016

There is also research, although not as strong as the chemical toxin research, that supports the conclusion that well water with high levels of iron, mercury, manganese, aluminum and other by-products of industry are linked to the increase in incidence of Parkinson’s disease. These metals leach into the water table or enter underground streams and aquifers to be drawn on through wells and consumed by the population as drinking water.

Summary offence (misdemeanor) or indictable offence (felony)?

Before I forget, we do need to return to the sump pump potato plug case to tie up a few loose ends. One of those loose ends is the question of whether the perpetrators of Halloween pranks were “mischievous” or “rotten to the core?” I prefer to think mischievous, as it was a different time then, a different morality. Pranks were expected on Halloween. Still, is a potato stuck in the sump pump hose a prank of a different order than an outhouse tipped or moved into the street to block traffic i.e., was the potato incident an “indictable offence” (felony) and the outhouse tipping a mere “summary offence (misdemeanour)?” I have bracketed the terms “felony” and “misdemeanour” even though those terms have been abolished in the Canadian legal system because they still evoke an intuitive understanding of the relative severity of the offence. I have my own view and when I asked John for his opinion his face brightened a little and I knew that he had experience on both sides of this question and there was a discussion to be had, if only he had the strength and ability to talk. I like to think that we wouldn’t be far apart in our interpretation.

Bob Lang's house front view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (front view) Photo: S. Marshall 1982

It seems that Bob Lang spoke to the parents of a different young boy (let’s call him “H”) accusing “H” (wrongly) of the prank. In keeping with their values of respect for elders and discipline for their children, the parents believed Bob and punished “H” accordingly despite his wailing and vigourous protestations that he was not guilty.


Does this look like a kid who would plug your sump pump hose?

At this point I could tell by some slight movements of John’s mouth muscles and the gentle squeezes from his hand in mine that he could identify with the first young lad who was in truth guilty not only of the potato caper itself, but also guilty of not confessing to the deed (a mischievousness but cowardly act of omission) after his friend (“H”) was wrongly accused and subsequently punished. I knew that John empathized with “H” who was wrongly accused – although I know also that John would find the fact that the wrong boy was punished to be tremendously funny especially if he (John) was the true guilty party.

Bob Lang's house back view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (rear view) where the sump pump hose was located. Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Straw bales burn better than outhouses

To my knowledge no one ever acted on the suggestion to set fire to the outhouses in Altamont at Halloween. However, I do recall that a number of straw bales were set on fire about a half-mile south of the village. It is a strong memory for me, not because I actually saw the bales blazing, but because an RCMP Constable later interviewed me as to my whereabouts on Halloween and whether I could say for certainty that I was nowhere near the burning bales. I was sitting in the driver’s side backseat of the RCMP cruiser while the Constable sat in the passenger side front seat with his clipboard (no computers on those days.) We were well away from others and thankfully well away from my father and his failing hearing – hearing that could be cured with faith-healer-like speed if the conversation was interesting enough.

A second Constable was rounding up a few other local lads to be interviewed in the search for the straw bale pyromaniac. I had no problem in convincing the Constable I was not in the vicinity of the fire … as I was busy sticking a potato in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose. The Constable laughed and said he had no report on such an incident and that I shouldn’t do that sort of thing.  At that moment I knew the policing arm of the state, rightly or wrongly, ranked a potato in a sump pump hose at Halloween to be similar in severity to outhouses tipped on their sides, stinking up the neighbourhood. i.e., they were summary offences at worst and forgivable on Halloween with no charges laid. Fire and arson, on the other hand, were clearly matters of a higher order – indictable offences –  and the RCMP were looking to lay charges.

The Constable dismissed me from the cruiser and called the next kid in line to jump into the rear seat. As fate would have it the next kid was “H,” the very same kid who was punished by his parents for the Bob Lang sump pump hose potato plug caper even though he was innocent. It is a good thing that ”H” did not know who was actually guilty of “his” crime and it seems that the Constable never mentioned it to him.  Perhaps “H” has been searching for the real potato prankster for the past 60 years?


This kid probably plugged the sump pump hose. He looks like a hood to me!

I never heard another word about the potato plug in the sump pump hose caper or the straw bales which “spontaneously combusted” in Fraser’s field. The petty pyromaniac pranksters (if alliteration for effect can be overdone, this is probably an example) were never found. If there are any outhouses remaining (and I believe there are many,) they continue to be “at risk” each Halloween. On the other hand, the risk of a potato in the sump pump hose attack is relatively low.

Is mischievousness only a children’s thing?

On Halloween nights there are acts of commission and acts of omission which fly beneath the radar of the legal system because they meet a reduced community standard on Halloween. The more that these actions bump against the outer edges of that community standard, the more humourous it is until there is a breaking point. Remember how your mother admonished you to stop waving that sharp stick because you will take someone’s eye out? It is exactly like that; it was all very much fun until Tommy lost an eye.

John R. Mills was a man who loved stories where the action is on the edges of acceptable community standards and/or legality – and the subject matter didn’t have to be as serious as murder either.  He had a keen sense of small-scale mischievousness and that mischievousness fuelled his ability not only to maintain a boy’s view of the world but also to engage in adolescent behavior from time to time during his adult life. I sense that we shared this connection.

On the other hand, what if I read John’s non-verbal responses incorrectly? After all, as a young man he was a member of the mounted force of the Toronto constabulary and he was a superior horseman and rider all his life, winning cutting championships in Kentucky and Kansas. Perhaps he was imagining himself in the role of a mounted officer with the power of a trusty and fearless police horse snorting underneath him as he provided crowd control on Halloween night. In the end it matters not as John was not one-dimensional in any respect and I know he would have revelled equally in a detailed account of police horse vs prankster on Halloween.

A larger moral message?

As I looked at John’s face, eyes alert under the closed lids, a slight smile on his lips, I knew that I had transported him to a different place, free from the weight of medical evidence, medical procedures and medical consequences – all of which pointed to him becoming a medical and demographic statistic of the worst kind.

I sense that some of you may be looking for a more meaningful lesson in morality to emerge from these small town shenanigans and my telling of those stories to John. Sometimes in life there isn’t an obvious moral lesson. Sometimes, when the conditions of life warrant, it is just a matter that we, like John, deserve a few short moments away from the serious (sometimes life and death) decisions men and women have to make. We should be granted that respite.

I could end this post here except for the fact that the end is not here … for those who wish to argue over whether actus reus (the act) and mens rea (you meant the act to have the consequences it did) were both present in the potato plug sump pump case and that a “duty to act” was breached in the act of omission (not confessing) such that a crime was committed… but because I cannot “plead the Fifth” in Canada I am just going to mutter “mea culpa” under my breath and move on … and I would suggest you move on with me except that …. the questions about Parkinson’s go unanswered if we do.


What causes Parkinson’s? It seems obvious to me that outhouses and poorly located “honey pits” are not high on the list of suspects. More and more the research data is leading us to the conclusion that pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are prime suspects as co-conspirators and should be investigated with increased vigour and resources. Think of it this way: the environmental violations of outhouses located too close to a water supply are summary offences or misdemeanors compared to the indictable offences or felonies that are negligence and misuse in the development and application of chemical toxins in the environment.

I am no lawyer but it seems we are closer to establishing that, at least for some portion of the Parkinson’s population, there is an actus reus but is there no agreement that there is mens rea by those who develop, manufacture, sell and use the toxins i.e., they did not intend that the chemicals to contribute to an increase in neurological diseases of which Parkinson’s disease is one. But should they have known? After all, they were developing chemicals that work by attacking the nervous systems of those pests they were trying to kill. Would that not twig someone to ask the question, what does this mean for human neurological systems? If it did, then did they find that it was without cause for concern? Did they downplay the consequences? Did they willfully ignore the signs? Is there an act of omission? Did someone breach a duty to act? Are we confident that there is no corporate interference with, and influence on, the research process?

There are so many questions, so little real time and so few resources. The weight of the evidence is beginning to accrue towards a conclusion that exposure to pesticides is related to Parkinson’s disease but don’t hold your breath for chemical corporations to step up and say, “mea culpa”;  to start making amends (reparations is probably too strong) through financial contributions to independent Parkinson’s research; and to defray the costs of pharmaceuticals and medical/therapeutic devices and programs which enhance quality of life for Persons living with Parkinson’s.  That would indeed be a radical change in direction.


Note 1:

Definitions:  An “outhouse” is defined as a permanent private privy used as a toilet and situated on a permanent privy pit usually 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) deep within which human waste is kept, maybe forever. The outhouse is located on private property or at a private residence and serves the sanitation needs of the owner and/or tenants. For further clarity, an “outhouse” is not equivalent to a temporary, transportable, commercial “port-a-potty” used on construction sites and at outdoor entertainment sites and fairgrounds. Such port-a-potties as the name suggests are built to be transported and have an internal waste holding tank that is designed to be emptied at a sanitation facility.


I do not advocate that outhouses be tipped at Halloween or any other occasion nor do I condone such action as serious injury and/or property damage may result.

I am aware through social media sources that port-a-potties are overturned as a prank from time to time. I do not condone such behaviour.

I do not condone the blocking of sump pump hoses in any manner. Serious property damage may result.

Note 2:  As I write this post we are experiencing very heavy rains in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Many homes have been flooded and their residents evacuated. It is not my intention to diminish the severity of these events by making light of the consequences of the potato plug in the sump pump hose. The situation as described, in Altamont at Halloween of that particular year is not comparable.

Note 3: I follow the convention used in most of the research literature and government documents where “pesticides” is an overarching concept that includes insecticides (insects), herbicides (plants and weeds), and fungicides (fungi.)

APPENDIX: Outhouses are a serious measure of health and sanitation

WaterAid reports that in 2015 there were over 65,000 Canadians (0.2% of the population,) mostly in rural areas who do not have safe reliable access to toilets inside their homes. The UK has over 500,000 (0.8% of the population) citizens without proper inside toilets. Interestingly, WaterAid claims the USA is approaching 0% of pop with just slightly over 36,000 citizens without adequate toilets, bettering both Canada and the UK.

Only 17 countries in the world – including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia – have reported that just about every single household in the country has a safe, private toilet. (WaterAid 2015)

These numbers probably represent the best-case scenario and unfortunately we will never know the actual numbers as the question on indoor toilets is no longer asked routinely on census forms in Canada and other countries. The Washington Post puts the 2014 estimate as considerably higher at over 1.6 million households in the US without adequate indoor plumbing facilities i.e., they do not have one or more of the following: a toilet, a tub, a shower or running water. In any case, many thousands of outhouses are still in use as the primary toilet facility for households, and many more outhouses serve as secondary or back up facilities for use when the indoor toilet is otherwise occupied.

When my parents moved to an apartment in The Pas, Manitoba in the early 1970s after our father got a job at the pulp and paper mill there, I recall how excited my mother was that they were on town water and sewer. In fact, it was the very first time (ever!) that our mother had lived in a home with running water and a flush toilet. Needless to say, she was thrilled!


Ahmed H, Abushouk AI, Gabr M, Negida A, Abdel-Daim MM, “Parkinson’s disease and pesticides: A meta-analysis of disease connection and genetic alterations.”

Alberta Environment and Parks,

Backcountry Canada Travel,

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Fact Sheet on Pesticdes

Canadian Journal of Neurological Science

Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba

Cottage Life

Grandpa Remembers: Tipping over Outhouses, July 25, 2010.

The Guardian, “Can you catch Parkinson’s?”

Gunnarsson, Lars-Gunnar and Bodin, Lennart,“Parkinson’s disease and occupational exposures, A systematic literature review and meta-analysis,” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Health and Environment, online first, April 2017

Hamblin, James, “The Brain of a Fighter” in The Atlantic, June 8, 2016

Kashatus, William C, “Outhouse has faded from region’s landscape,” in Standard Speaker, June 26, 2011

Law Lessons,

Mayo Clinic,

Parkinson, Dr. James, Essay on the Shaking Palsy, originally published as a monograph by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones (London, 1817). Republished by J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 14:2, Spring 2002.

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation,

Parkinson’s Saskatchewan,

Popular Mechanics,

Small Cabin,

Summers, R. (2010). Alberta Water Well Survey. A report prepared for Alberta Environment. (University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada).


Warick, Jason, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, Saskatoon, “U of S, prof under fire for Monsanto ties,” May 17, 2017

Washington Post,

WaterAid, IT’S NO JOKE: The State of the World’s Toilets 2015 Its_No_Joke_2015_the_state_of_the_worlds_toilets.pdf


© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017



DIRECTIONS: Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“

DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa


DIRECTIONS Part III: (Working title) Detours and your GPS 


DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond


This post is the first in a series called Directions: Taking the scenic route to Parkinson’s and beyond. I explore some of the ‘things’ that have changed, are changing and will change the ‘direction’ of my life. I know, ‘things’ is a very imprecise word and is overused to refer to almost anything (well, there you go, eh?).

Do you know that delay and equivocation in decision-making is one of the many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s? I kid you not. I am not going to blame all my procrastination on Parkinson’s but the title of this post eluded me for a very long time. It did not come easily. It rarely does but this time it was doubly difficult. I kept delaying a final decision and even now I am not convinced I have hit the right chord. You see, words are tricky things – double entendre, multiple meanings, concepts nested within concepts, different levels of discourse with different intellectual and cultural origins. Sorry, but lately I just can’t help but be amazed by words and language. It is as if I have been near-sighted all my life and then thrown abruptly into a world where my micrographia, an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, makes it impossible to read my own handwriting but is also, quite magically, a feature of enlightenment. It is all a matter of perspective.

At one point it occurred to me that perhaps I should follow journalistic practice and task someone else with the responsibility to decide on a title. I remember being amazed when I first learned that journalists don’t (at least in those days) write their own headlines. That explains why over the years I have noticed a few headlines that are out of sync with the text of the article. One of my favourites is an article reporting on the government of Sri Lanka sending a representative to an international meeting. The headline read, “Lanka plans to attend.” It is so nice to know that Ms. Lanka has sent in her RSVP.

Eventually, I settled on the title: Directions: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond. Of course, that was some time ago as I went through further periods of procrastination and indecision about the content and order of publication for the first few posts. Stay tuned as this is still a work in progress.

The idea of exploring the many different directions of my life has been tumbling around in my brain for quite some time. It should be simple enough, don’t you think, to articulate how I got to be the person I am … at this moment…. in this place… with a traceable historical timeline complete with events and documents? You would think so but it is never that straight forward, is it?   My research and rough drafts started out smoothly enough but it soon became evident that the process of uncovering, analyzing, interpreting and communicating the direction of one’s life is a daunting task and, dare I say, disorienting, unless you have a reliable metaphorical gyroscope to stabilize the entire endeavor.

Unfortunately, the temptation is to write a chronological account and that turns out to be deadly boring and resembles an application for life insurance. I quickly scrapped this approach. I once worked for someone who would comment on my work by saying, “I don’t know what I wanted… but this isn’t it.” There was never a reason given as to why it didn’t meet the grade or what I should consider doing to correct the shortcoming. The lack of feedback meant that I had to become skilled at listening, guessing, extrapolation, and interpretation in order to survive. While these are very useful skills they are quite inefficient as tools. Am I being reduced once again to a guessing game, but this time it is trying to figure out the nuances of my own life so that I can understand myself? Whoa, that sounds like I should be booking some couch time with a professional. We’ll leave that for the moment.

Taking a small step back, I can safely say that a chronological “listing” or cataloguing of ‘things’ that I think are important is not my primary objective. Oh, there will be ‘things’ and ‘events’ but they must be accompanied be “the ‘stuff’ of life” i.e., by whatever makes the static, dynamic. My trusty thesaurus suggests that “stuff” is a synonym for ”things” but that is not how I see it. For me “stuff” is what gives “things” life but you should also know that: “stuff” can lay dormant for years and be resurrected with one fortuitous nudge or change in ‘direction’.

While I am at it I may as well clear up a few other potential ambiguities. When I say the “direction” of one’s life, I do not mean ‘achievements,’ ‘goals,’ ‘legacy,’ or ‘good deeds,’ which can sum up one’s worth on earth. Neither do I mean ‘destination,’ or ‘defining moments.’ I am not trying to reach nirvana, to go to Mecca, or even to see Altamont, Manitoba one more time. And if I wait until I win the Nobel Peace Prize or equivalent before I consider my life to be worthy enough to bring into the spotlight, I will be waiting a long time. That doesn’t mean I won’t go places or that I won’t live a full, useful and worthy life such that people will speak well of me after I am no longer physically present; it just means that in as much as these form part of the ‘direction’, they are not influencing agents with the ‘stuff’ necessary to alter course, those ‘things’ (positive and negative) that have ‘nudged’ the ‘trajectory’ of a life onto a slightly different ‘track.’

Marshall house  in Altamont Manitoba

The house of my youth – both are now gone Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Being astute readers as you are, you know that the word “direction” has many meanings and nuances. For the sake of clarity, I rarely use the word “directions” to mean “instructions” so I will not be issuing recipes for matrimonial cake; or shop instructions on how to build a three – story 15 unit wren house; or instructions on how to make a snowflake quilt. When it comes to matters of life, each of these approaches would be tantamount to telling you how to live your life. No matter how much I might want to tell you how to live your life, I won’t. Rather, in this series I am content enough to expose the vectors of my own life such they convey a more complete understanding to me … and to others whose eyes may pass over these words.

The ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ I find most intriguing and insightful are usually small and maybe insignificant to others. Why they are intriguing may not be evident immediately and might be revealed only upon focused reflection at a much later time, but know this, the consequences of ignoring a small error in measurement in carpentry can be monumental when you get to the corner or to the top of the wall. The old saw (no pun intended), “measure twice, cut once,” has broad metaphorical applicability to all areas of life.

In sum, life is not a curriculum vitae or a compendium of artifacts; it is a force inherent in every aspect of being, no matter how exciting or how dull and insignificant it appears. This force is integral to every life as it establishes the ‘tendencies’ within the ‘direction’ of life. Or put another way, “I didn’t know that the little ‘things’ would turn out to be so big and that so many ‘factors’ can influence and change the parameters of the original course.” We shall leave aside the question of how the original course is set in the first instance for the moment. Right now, my task is to illustrate ‘stuff’ in the comings and goings of everyday life.

Altamont MB gallery_128_2013_75075

Altamont, Manitoba 1985 Photo: United Grain Growers

There is a Buddhist saying, ”Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” It has been echoed by many others including Ralph Waldow Emerson, Aerosmith, theologian Lynn H. Hough substituting slightly different words for “Happiness” e.g., love, religion, success, etc. I believe we should indeed enjoy the journey as life has a rather inhospitable destination (dead is dead) for those who do not believe there is a Heaven.

I prefer to think of this post as a journey along the Red or Assiniboine Rivers in Manitoba, especially in the spring and summer. In spring they overflow their banks seeking to breach every dam and flood every unprotected low-lying land with free flowing and often-undefined waters that carry danger as well as richness. Once the flood subsides and summer arrives there is no need to spend the rest of the journey treading water just to keep our noses clear. The rivers are now within their channels and meander with a lazy habit and we have time to contemplate the rush of earlier times. I have found that one of the most important questions we have to ponder is whether the river has determined our destination or have we navigated the river?

As regular readers know, neither my process nor thinking is linear. In keeping with that approach, I often do not have a self-evident point of beginning but begin we must, so read on to Part I.

DIRECTIONS Part I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!

“Stay werr you’re to, ’til I comes werr you’re at, B’y” is a saying that has almost become synonymous with Newfoundland and Labrador. [See Note 1) When you look at the words sitting rather alone and limply on the page, it doesn’t seem all that funny or profound. Still, when you catch it mid-monologue, swimming in a stream of consciousness and slang tripping off the tongue of a fast talking (not slick, just talking fast) descendent of the original Indigenous people and the Irish, French, Scots and English who came to the shores of “The Rock” in the early 16th century, the oratory is theatre, comedy, music and gospel with a smear of blasphemy and a nod to graffiti.

Near Cape St. Mary's

Near Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Photo: S. Marshall 2015

At my former workplace we employed highly trained and very skilled professional interpreters (English to/from French interpretation primarily) for our National Executive Board meetings. Occasionally the interpreters would apologize that they could not provide proper interpretation into French when Brother O’Leary from Newfoundland and Labrador was in a jocular mood and in full swing in English with his Newfoundland accent and slang. It had less to do with “salty” language than it had to do with Brother O’Leary’s version of the “English” language. Neither the interpreters nor the rest of us English-speakers could understand a word he was saying. We often joked that we needed a third interpreter for the English spoken in Canada’s youngest province. [See Note 2]

Now, the language and the accent on “The Rock” is such that some people recommend that you travel with an interpreter if you are a “Come from away” i.e., someone who is not local and therefore without a family heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, my lover and I found the locals to be quite tolerant and accommodating and would switch to an understandable form of central Canadian English, especially if a commercial transaction was imminent.

Near Cape St. Mary's NL

Do sheep and sheep dogs understand the language of Newfoundland? Maybe they are smarter than I am …. Photo: S. Marshall

Maybe it is my inquisitive nature but I find that the instruction, “Stay werr you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at, B’y” is one that begs the question…. well, what was the original question that spawned this response? The question undoubtedly was, “Where am I and how do I friggin’ get out of here?” The Newfoundlander is kindly offering assistance by coming to get you. I hope so because if you have ever tried to follow directions given by a Newfoundlander, you might inadvertently go “out on da neck” instead of “down da arm” or “up da shore”… or is it up da arm and down da bay? …. Oh, never mind. [See Note 3]

Of course there may be extenuating circumstances. For example if you are “some stunned” or are recovering from a “Screech In,” you might be a little foggy on how you got to be where “you’re to” or exactly where “you’re at.”  I don’t consider myself to be particularly dense and I have always gotten along well with the sisters and brothers from Newfoundland and Labrador but the night that I was “Screeched In” is indeed a little foggy in places and I am at the mercy of anyone who has a better recollection of what transpired that night than I do.

Is the “Screech In” a rite de passage?

An argument can be made that from a cultural anthropological perspective the “Screech In” is the celebration of a “rite de passage” which confers a new status on selected candidates. How and why the candidate has been selected is of no great relevance except that the selection is not random i.e., each and every citizen does not have an equal probability of being selected. This means of course that if selection is not random then it must be determined in some manner. For example, in many societies age is a determining factor and these ceremonies mark important moments as a child becomes an adult and accepts responsibilities as an adult. In this case, it appears that the candidate must have already achieved the age of majority (19 years old) in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony. Another determining factor is that the candidate must be a “Come from away (CFA),” i.e., a resident of someplace, any place, other than Newfoundland and Labrador, and you must have wandered by design or by accident into the territory of the Newfoundlander, and been selected (or even self-selected) to be a participant in a Screech In.

The significance of the CFA designation cannot be overstated. Newfoundland and Labrador is similar to many other unique social groupings – it is very difficult to penetrate from the outside. Once a CFA, always a CFA or so the saying goes. Even if you lived on “the Rock” for 40 years, it is likely that you will be identified as a CFA. With any luck, your children will not carry the designation but they might. I am reminded of a woman who lived in Altamont, Manitoba for over 50 years. She initially moved to this small village as a schoolteacher and when she married a local farm boy, she stayed. Together she and her husband built a successful business and raised a family. In spite of the lengthy time spent living in and participating in community activities, she could never quite escape that somewhat derisive moniker, “city girl.” If her ways didn’t quite mesh with the locals or if she didn’t know how to do something, it could be explained by saying, “Oh, she’s a city girl, ya’ know.”

The “Screech In” carries the promise of a change in status from a pure “Come from away” to “Honourary Newfoundlander.” Cultural anthropologists tell us that there is a period of ambiguity or disorientation called “liminality” when the subject has moved on from her/his old status and has not yet accepted her/his new status i.e., s/he is on the “threshold.” Everyone who has been “Screeched In” reports that they experience this period of fogginess and disorientation as they shed the pure “Come from away” status and accept their new status as an “Honourary Newfoundlander” or a “Screeched In Newfoundlander.”

All that for an asterisk?

The problem is that the whole “Screech In” thing is bit of a fraud if you stack it up against the measure of a bona fide rite de passage. It seems that in the mid-1970s a St. John’s nightclub owner named Bill Walsh and a few of his cronies cooked up a fake tradition and called it “The Screech Club” to attract out of province business. It was pure genius because what better way to attract tourists than to give these “Come from Away” a chance to become something they desperately wanted to be but could never become – a member of a unique, quaint, welcoming society where its citizens carry a sense of humour 24/7 for 365 days a year.

“Lard-Tunderin’ Jeezus B’y!” The clubs on George Street in St. John’s are usually packed with tourists all too willing to be screeched in – all too willing to be called to the altar of cod in a rite de passage which confers honourary status but no actual rights. Funny thing that; the ceremony provides the candidate with a sense of inclusion in a culture that specifically excludes her/him. The “Screech In” rite de passage admits you into the “Royal Order of Screechers,” a club to which native Newfoundlanders would never belong … and can never belong. The “Screech In” leaves you almost exactly where you started – as a CFA with an asterisk for the official statistics (CFA*) – a “Come from away, Screeched In.”

Armed with your certificate attesting to your status as a “fake” Newfoundlander, you are now welcomed with generous and open arms in all ports and as an added bonus you can watch with a new appreciation the many fine comedians from “The Rock” who have dominated Canada’s comedy venues and television shows for decades. Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Malone, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Tommy Sexton, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Bob Joy, John Sheehan, Jonny Harris, Diane Olsen and many others have established Newfoundland – style comedy and political satire not just as entertainment for the masses but as mandatory education for the elite.

My God, there is no cod

I personally was “Screeched In” at an odd ceremony 20 years ago in Marystown in the Burin Peninsula late on the night of the “scoff n scuff” (dinner and dance) of the annual convention of our Newfoundland and Labrador Division. An “appointed” representative (a native Newfoundlander) of all that is good and wholesome in NL ushered us into the dance hall, accompanied by suitable music (“I’s da b’y wha builds da boat…”) and a huge outburst of hands clapping, boots stomping, and voices hollering and hooting. Those of us who were “Come from Away” were directed to form a circle holding hands as we did so. The Officiant, wearing the traditional yellow sou’wester and slicker, solemnly called the congregation to order and began the liturgy of the “Screech In.” I don’t recall everything about the service but some elements still wash through my memory banks at high tide.

Officiant (addressing all who are “Come from Away”): “Do ya want to become Newfoundlanders?”

“Come from Away” (collective response): “Yes B’y!”

At this point each “Come from Away” is called forward individually and his/her name clearly stated for the record. The Officiant proceeds to tell the assembled crowd a few amusing “lies” or stories that must have been true because no one could ever make up such ridiculousness, about that particular person (clearly, the Officiant had been briefed in advance.) At the time I was an Executive Assistant to our National Secretary Treasurer so there was much joking about how important it is to “follow the money” [little did they know how close this jesting was to the truth about some practices within the National Secretary Treasurer’s Office – more on this at another time perhaps.] Also, a few shots were taken at my “landlubber” and “mainlander” origins in Manitoba and the Canadian prairies.

Officiant (addressing each “Come from Away” by name): “Are ya a screecher?”

Come from Away: “ ‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” [Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”]

Newfoundland Screech

The bottle was full like this one when I started…. Photo: S. Marshall 2017

At this point the liturgy directs that the Come from Away must to kiss a cod. Sometimes the cod are not in plentiful supply so there are a few acceptable substitutions e.g.,“Newfy steak” (baloney,) the rear end of a rubber puffin, or any other ugly non-cod fish that can be found. In this particular case, a helpful Newfoundlander with a warped sense of humour had located a package of frozen capelin (a small fish that spawns on the shores of Newfoundland.)

Officiant (getting into the spirit of things): “I decree the capelin to be sacred for the purpose of this Screech In.”

Officiant (after a brief pause to consult with a group of locals acting as advisors): ”The absence of a proper “Host” (the Cod) and the sanctification of the capelin can only be granted if the “Come from Away” not only kisses the capelin but also bites its head off.”

There was uproarious laughter and hooting from the assembled throng. I suspect that alcohol was a major factor in this decision but as the Officiant decreed it, it must be done, and it was done.

One of the Officiant’s more thoughtful advisors provided a tin bucket into which the “Come from Away” could spit the head of the capelin if s/he chose not to swallow it. The bucket also proved to be a suitable vessel for depositing anything else that came up to accompany the head of the capelin.

To my knowledge not one “Come from Away” actually swallowed the capelin head but to our credit (I think) each of us did bite the head off. It should be noted that each “Come from Away” was given a shot of Screech, which s/he was required to down before kissing and then biting the head off the capelin. The Officiant’s advisors, being naturally helpful, were ready with a second shot of Screech so that the taste of the capelin could be washed from our sophisticated “Come from Away” palates immediately after spitting the capelin head into the bucket – and after we finished gagging of course. The bucket again proved to be handy for a few of the “Come from Away” group immediately after the second shot of screech hit her/his gullet.

Certificate of Screech In Stan Marshall 1997

Kept my certificate just in case ….

Officiant: “You have honoured the body and blood of our ancesters and the great God of the Cod so by the grace of the ghost of Joey Smallwood [the last founding Father of Confederation as he was premier of NL when they joined Canada in 1949] and the authority vested in me by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, you are hereby enrolled in the Fraternity [and Sorority] of Screeched In Newfoundlanders.”

Once you have received your certificate it is advised that you carry it with you whenever you return to Newfoundland and Labrador as proof of your “Screeched In” status. Failure to have your certificate on your person is equivalent to revoking your status and it is mandatory that you experience the “Screech In” ceremony once again to bring your status up to date.

If you are an astute critical thinker, and not too foggy, groggy or stunned, you will know that come the morning there are questions that will need to be answered – no, not the questions that I usually ask in sequence after a night of celebrating e.g., “Where are my glasses? Where is my wallet? Is there any money in my wallet? Where are the painkillers?  But first things first, before you go to sleep or fall down where you are, your most important task is to remember that there are important questions that need to asked. I enumerate only a few of them here to start the process because I find the more that I think about these questions, the more questions I have.

  • Does it really matter if a rite de passage originated as a crass marketing tactic to fill the pockets of nightclub owners and the distillers of Screech and other beverages?
  • Is it possible or even desirable to be a candidate in the same rite de passage more than once e.g., can you pass into adulthood twice?
  • Is it possible that the “Screeching In” ceremony is more for the amusement of the native Newfoundlanders than it is for the Come From Away (CFA)?
  • Does a steady stream of CFA celebrants kissing cod (or biting the heads off capelin), drinking screech, singing, dancing and otherwise being made to look the fool tickle the Newfoundlander’s funny bone (that place at the back of the elbow where the ulnar nerve rests against a prominence of the humerus.)
  • Can a “Come from away” ever learn the language of Newfoundland?

So many questions, so little time … for a chucklehead like me to learn a new language and hatch a plot to exact revenge by dressing up like a mummer at Christmas… wait I am getting carried away. One thing I know is certain; it is pointless to try to get the last word in with a Newfoundlander.

Still flappin’

The celebration of the “Screech In” for the newly minted Honourary Newfoundlanders in Marystown continued for at least another four hours. I recall the President of our NL Division (let’s call him Wayne because everyone else in NL does and they wouldn’t want us to stand on formality) dancing a little jig as he stepped to the Convention podium first thing the next morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed with not a hair out of place while the rest of us were “all mops and brooms” and looking like we had been “hauled through a knot hole.”

Wayne addressed the assembled delegates at 9 a.m. sharp with an informal report on the dance the previous evening. He had supervised the entire event personally to ensure it was a huge success and to win a bet with the National President at the time (let’s call her “Judy” because everyone else does) that he could keep her dancing until the band “gave’er up” and that was at 4 a.m. Wayne relayed that he was glad he hadn’t taken his shoes off when he went to bed because when he woke up in the morning, he looked down and his feet were “still flappin’.” I dies at ‘im [translation: he is some funny guy.]

I didn’t know it at the time but Wayne’s professed experience of continuing the dance all night even after going to bed, was to be my future. I wake up often to find one or both of my feet “flappin’” as my medication has worn off.  These involuntary muscle movements are more than mere tremours which many of us identify as being Parkinson’s; they are strong, constant, persistent, repetitive and painful muscle contractions over which I have little or no control without pharmaceutical assistance. I sometimes use some meditative techniques but they are successful only to a limited degree in some speciifc instances.

Don’t get me wrong; Wayne’s little joke is still very funny in context but it is not quite as fun or funny if you consider what a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) feels and faces upon waking with feet ‘flappin’.” Nothing is absolute, as they say, and thank goodness there is room for humour in many things that we may think to be sad, painful or grim. Sometimes flappin’ feet can be funny and fun and it makes us laugh when our two kittens think it is a game and pounce on my feet as I kick and wriggle under the covers.

As long as the arse isn’t outa ‘er

You know, the highly expressive language of the Newfoundlanders is exactly what I needed to help me identify, clarify and sum up my objective for this series of blogs. My goal is to begin to understand of how I got ‘here’ from ‘there.’ What happened along the way? Have I passed through the requisite rites de passages on my journey to my present status in society? How many of those events were real and how many were fake and does it matter if they were ‘meaningful?’ What kept me on course and what threw me off course?

Usually when a Newfoundlander says that the “arse is out of ‘er,” s/he is referring to the fact that the economy is in hard times and that things have gone wrong, very wrong and probably out of control. I hesitate to think of what that means when applied to the direction of a person’s life. I am counting on not hearing, “The arse is gone right clean outa ‘er,” when I continue my journey to explore the factors that hold my life together.

We’ll continue the quest in these and other questions in Directions Part II: No mea culpa here, coming soon to


Note 1: On December 6, 2001 the Constitution of Canada was amended to change Newfoundland’s official name to Newfoundland and Labrador. In keeping with that change, I will use the full Newfoundland and Labrador assignation when referring to the political entity, the province. However, when I reference the cultural entity that is Newfoundland, I will use the short and original form, Newfoundland.

Note 2: It is nice to be referred to as young and I bask in this moment as Newfoundland came into Confederation as Newfoundland in 1949, the year in which I was born. It became Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001, see note 1 above. For those who are asking: Nunavut became Canada’s youngest Territory, not a province, when it separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

Note 3: Shaun Majumder is a comedian of note and a native Newfoundlander. He has a very funny bit on what happens when you ask for directions to a pharmacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Be warned that this clip does contain mature language and explores some mature themes. It can be found at


Martin Connelly, ”Why I won’t be screeching” in The Morning News

Shaun Majumder, Newfie Directions, on

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017



DIRECTIONS:   Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond    

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“    


DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, Outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa