The sorry tale of the first and LAST time I read a sad book in public.

The following is my response to reading:

The Last of the Curlews (1955)

by Fred Bodsworth

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The Eskimo Curlew, painted by John James Audubon. Frequently used as a cover image for the novel.

Charged with creating a reference inventory for the Interpretive Centre’s books one day, the cover of Fred Bodsworth’s book repeatedly caught my eye. I saved the book until last so I could read a few pages, just to satisfy my curiosity. My next hour and a half were quickly consumed (don’t tell Jennifer!) with reading The Last of the Curlews cover to cover. The concept of mass extinction is not uncommon for our area of Ontario, both the Eskimo Curlew and Passenger Pigeon had once been described as the most numerous birds in the world, with populations reported in the high millions.

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Eskimo Curlew on display at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Bodsworth’s book takes a different angle on the topic by providing a fictional account of the last of the Eskimo Curlews and the search – in vain – for more of it’s species. The overall theme of the book predicts the extinction of the Curlew, a full decade before the final confirmed sighting in Canada in 1963. Akin to the Passenger Pigeon, the Eskimo Curlew was wantonly slaughtered for food across the Americas, with as many as two million killed per year in the 1940s-50s.

An interesting mix of omniscient narration, and a peek into the instinct-driven mind of our Curlew, kept me reading intently. The solo migration between the Arctic and Patagonia highlights the Curlew’s strength, speed, endurance, and remarkable drive for survival. As can be surmised from the title, the narrator and reader alike can infer the ultimate outcome for our Hero.

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A lone Eskimo Curlew, as painted by Archibald Thorburn 

This book was an enthralling awakening to the reality of our influence on nature and I found myself much more sympathetic to the smaller cousin of the Curlew, the Whimbrel – featured in the Interpretive Centre’s current exhibit, Bird’s Eye View – as well as a deeper understanding and respect for birds across the world. Moving forward, this book raises issues relevant in contemporary conservation efforts. While the Eskimo Curlew is widely believed to be extinct (more on this debate in a future post), there are still species we can support through collaborative efforts, mindfulness, and lifestyle changes. In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the late Bodsworth:

“…Man is an inescapable part of all nature, that its welfare is his welfare, that to survive, he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside.”

        -Fred Bodsworth (2003) (RYELL, 2012)

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Fred Bodsworth (photo via Terry Smith)

Find yourself in need of a book to read, or interested in The Last of the Curlews? Drop by the Interpretive Centre during our opening hours, and cozy up in our space!

*Blankets and reading socks not included*

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Echoes of Echoes in the Darkness

For several days in 1987 the buildings of the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital were turned into nursery schools, police stations, classrooms, and hospital spaces for the filming of the miniseries Echoes in the Darkness.

Our copy of the book was signed by the author, Joseph Wambaugh, and given to a Toronto location scout who now works as a counselor at Humber.

But before the series, and before the book, there was a story behind the story.

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Wambaugh spent 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. His first novel was published in 1971, while he was still a police officer, but he soon turned to writing full time. He based Echoes in the Darkness on the real story of the sordid murder of Susan Reinert and her two children Karen and Michael in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Reinert, William Bradfield, and Jay Smith were all staff at the Upper Merion Area High School. Reinert and Bradfield worked in the English department and Smith was the principal of the school.

Bradfield was variously described as charismatic and cultured, or full of himself and egotistical by those who knew him. He was in a relationship with Reinert and was the sole beneficiary of her $730 000 in life insurance. When her body was found and her children went missing, he was considered the primary suspect, and was convicted of the murders in 1983.

In court, he claimed that it was Smith who had planned to kill Reinert.

A former colonel in the army reserve with a PhD from Temple University, Smith was seen as an erratic and antisocial person. He was already in prison in 1986 when he was later convicted of conspiring with Bradfield to kill the Reinerts. He was serving five years for robbing a Sears dressed as a security guard, and for several firearm and drug related offences.

The prosecution argued that Reinert had been drugged and murdered in Smith’s basement and he was sentenced to death by the electric chair.

In 1992 Smith was still on death row when an antique dealer, Mark Hughes, was hired to clean out John J. Holtz’s attic. Holtz, a police officer, had been the primary investigator in the Reinert case.

His attic contained an identical copy of a comb used as evidence in the trial, police notes that contradicted the testimony of the prosecution, and a letter from Wambaugh offering to pay Holtz’s partner Joe Van Nort $50 000 for information about the case before Smith had even been charged with it.

Hughes delivered the evidence to Smith’s defence attorney, believing it to be part of a police cover up. Because of the number of irregularities and conflicts of interest in the original trial Smith’s conviction was later overturned.

In a legal deposition given in the 90s, Wambaugh testified that he had a financial interest in Smith’s conviction, admitting:

“I didn’t think the book would work until something happened to Smith.”

Eventually Holtz admitted to accepting $50 000 from Wambaugh in return for Smith’s arrest.

Despite this, Wambaugh remains convinced of Smith’s guilt and of his own fair dealings in the case. Upon Smith’s death in 2009 he commented that:

“I do not celebrate the death of any man, but Satan does” and when later asked by The New York Times he reaffirmed this by saying that “A No. 1 draft pick has finally arrived.”

 

The Assembly Hall

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The auditorium on the second floor of The Assembly Hall. Photo from The Assembly Hall’s website, re-posted here with permission.

For this post, I wanted to write about the history of The Assembly Hall and its relationship with the Lakeshore Grounds. Like most students who attend the Lakeshore campus of Humber College, it is a building that I walk by frequently while on campus. I was interested in learning more about how the history of the building when the property was a psychiatric hospital.

Located at the corner of Colonel Samuel Smith Drive and Lake Shore Boulevard West, The Assembly Hall has become an entertainment and cultural hub both for the local community and for the Humber College community. Though the building has been renovated in recent years and now features a contemporary glass addition on its exterior, it was originally constructed to serve the Mimico Asylum. Much like today, The Assembly Hall was used for entertainment purposes for Hospital patients and staff. It was also used for religious worship on a weekly basis.

As part of what was known as “moral treatment” in the nineteenth century, the patients assisted in constructing The Assembly Hall – as well as the various other buildings in the surrounding area. Moral treatment emphasized the influence of the environment and what one did in that environment as a means of healing mental health symptoms. In particular, gendered labour assignments and assigned recreation events were emphasized. Female patients were tasked with domestic chores, while men were outdoors doing physical labour as part of their “moral treatment”.

When it was completed in 1898, The Assembly Hall was used for concerts, dances, and religious services. The main floor acted as office space and storerooms and the second floor, where the auditorium is located, was The Assembly Hall’s entertainment center. Today, these areas essentially serve the same purposes.

Today, The Assembly Hall is owned and run by the City of Toronto. It regularly holds art exhibits, plays, and other community and cultural programming. You can visit Assembly Hall’s website or Facebook page for more information about them and their events.

Black History Month

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Photo linked from JeanAugustine.ca

The month of February is Black History Month in Canada. This is a  month that recognizes the important contributions and history of the Black community in our country. I approached our Curator earlier this month and said I wanted to draw attention to several Black Canadians who I think everyone should know. One blog post cannot cover the long list of names I have read about recently, but I wanted to acknowledge a few that stood out to me who have made significant historical and social contributions to Canada.

The first person I want to highlight is Jean Augustine. I came across Augustine’s name when I first started looking into the history of Black History Month in Canada.

Jean Augustine is a former Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. It is because of her efforts that we now celebrate Black History Month in Canada. In 1993, she became the first Black female Member of Parliament where she advocated for cultural diversity, women’s issues, and immigration rights. In 1995, it was Augustine who brought forward a motion to officially recognize Black History Month in Canada to talk about the important contributions made by Black Canadians throughout our history. In December 1995, her motion passed with a unanimous vote.

A second Canadian that I want to highlight is Viola Desmond, a prominent citizen of Nova Scotia. She was a beautician and entrepreneur in Halifax who brought national attention to human rights with her famous court case:

One night in November 1946 Desmond decided to go to the Roseland Theatre to see a film while her car was being repaired. She sat in the “Whites Only Area” of the theatre. After refusing to go to the “Coloured Only” section, Desmond was arrested and jailed overnight. She was eventually charged with tax fraud, and ordered to pay a $26 fine. Despite hiring a lawyer to help overturn the decision, the charges remained until 2010 when the Nova Scotia government made a formal apology to Desmond’s family.

Viola Desmond will be the first woman to appear on Canadian currency. Her image will be on the $10 bill beginning in 2018. I think it is important to speak about Viola Desmond because she is a prime example of someone who saw an injustice and acted against it.

A third story that caught my attention is the story of the No. 2 Construction Battalion:

When the War broke out, it was extremely difficult for Black men to join the Canadian military. However, in July 1916, the very first Canadian Black Battalion was formed in Nova Scotia with a total of 600 men accepted for service. The No. 2 Construction Battalion was not given a combat role in the War – in March 1918 they were deployed to Liverpool, England, and then France, to work with the Canadian Forestry Corps. Eventually, some of the men joined regular units to fight on the front lines of the War. Many of these men were awarded medals for their war efforts.

It is important to acknowledge the war efforts of Black soldiers. When war broke out, there was much discrimination against people of colour by Canada’s government and military. These men were able to break through racial barriers, which shows that when you fight for something you believe in, changes can come.

This is only a small list of important Black Canadians in our history. I encourage our readers to do your own research and share what you learn with your family and peers. Some great places to start include:

Black History Canada from Historica Canada

Ontario Black History Society