Posts Tagged ‘History’

Every so often I run into a quote that causes me to stop and reflect on the words.

I am currently reading William Manchester‘s first volume of his biography of Winston Churchill – The Last Lion.

In the section of the book concerning home rule for Ireland, Manchester uses a quote from Nietzsche that stopped me in my tracks.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

That one sent shivers down my spine.


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My maternal grandmother lived to be 100. We were chatting recently about what she must have seen introduced in her lifetime. She told me she remembered seeing the first car in the small town where she grew up and the introduction of electric lights. Since I am getting more advanced in age, someone asked what I had seen new in my six decades. Upon giving it some thought, I was a little surprised at some of the big and small innovations that had I experienced. In no particular order:

Jet Airplanes – A neighbour of ours in Toronto worked for American Airlines and when I was around 7 or 8, I was invited to go with their family to see the first American Airlines Boeing 707 land at Malton (now Pearson International). In what may have been a taste of the future, the plane was late and I never did get to see it. But, I remember the huge hanger and all the free food that was set out for the dignitaries.

Push-Button Phones – You had two choices for phones when I was young – a wall or desk phone. And they were rotary dial phones. Push button phones became popular in the early 1960s. I recall going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and seeing the Bell exhibit where two people could “race” to see who could dial faster – the rotary or the push-button phone. Of course, the push-button phone won every time and this was touted as a big marketing feature. In an early adaptation of the portable phone, Dad installed a 10 foot long coil cord on the kitchen wall phone – so you could walk around the kitchen and talk at the same time. It was the future!

On a side note, my father and I sounded very much alike on the phone. My Dad had the habit of answering the phone, talking to my girlfriend at the time and then exclaiming “Oh, you want my son”. My Dad had an interesting sense of humour.

Colour Television – As I mentioned in an earlier post, we always had a television in the house from the time I can remember. But in 1968, I went on a 10 day canoe trip with some buddies and came home to find a colour television in the front room. We had made the big time. Of course there was no cable at that time so you were at the mercy of the weather gods to how good a signal you would get, but colour television was a big deal – no matter that the colours weren’t always the greatest or the most accurate.

Records to Cassettes to CDs – I wish I had a picture of my first record player. It was from Eaton’s Department Store and the turntable sat vertically and folded down when you wanted to play a record. My parents were really quite understanding (that may be the wrong term) in that I could ‘customize’ my stuff. I installed jacks off the speakers so I could hook up a set of headphones. Hi-fidelity it wasn’t but it was mine. My first album was a Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles, which I won in a contest on CHUM-AM (I was in the CHUM Bug Club). After working at my first few part-time jobs, I purchased a proper stereo set. It was a Telefunken and I still have the speakers – they have stood up that well.

The Telefunken had a cassette deck which was huge because the next purchase was a cassette deck for the car. Now we could have our music on the road. I recently went through the cassette tapes made during the 70s and most are unplayable due to the tape deteriorating. I had some good music on those tapes. My first CD player was a Sony that I bought in 1985 for $500. It had no remote and had a single drawer for discs. Finding CDs at that time was a real challenge and whenever I went away, I was on the hunt. Sam the Record Man in downtown Toronto was a favourite haunt. And at that time, CDs went for around $20 where an album would cost around $8. But the sound was worth it! And the CDs were indestructible (or so we thought – there were some painful lessons learned around that point).

Computers – Probably the biggest changes over my lifetime have been in computers. I first started using mainframes in university in the early 1970s. My undergraduate thesis in 1975 was a computer dispersion model of pollutants from a point source on the Lake Ontario water front. The program was painstakingly typed on punch cards and then submitted to the computer centre to run. The output was on huge reams of paper. I made a mistake on one run and was greeted by a stack of printout over three feet tall and a note saying to “see the operator”. That run alone cost over $600 in computer time but the strange thing was that the geography department wasn’t on a budget for computer time that year so really no one cared. In fact, they asked me to run the program again with the same mistake (I had left out a period on one of the cards) so they could run up the numbers for the following year when they were to go on a budget.

I got my first computer in 1979. It was essentially a rack with electronic cards placed inside. The CPU, the video, the RAM memory was all on separate cards. The output was a monochrome CRT monitor and the operating system was CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers – a forerunner of DOS). I still remember getting very excited when I upgraded the RAM from 32K (yes K) to 64K. I went to an electronics supply store, bought the memory chips and installed them myself. Those days are long gone.

My first store-bought computer was the Commodore VIC-20. The programs were loaded by using cassette tapes. By this time I had moved to Edmonton, but every time I went back to Toronto, I would hit the computer stores to find programs that just weren’t available out west. It was an interesting culture back then – it was a very small group of people that were into computers at first and there was a do-it-yourself mentality around your equipment.

These were a few of things that I recall changing over my lifetime. So as I sit writing this on a quad core desktop with a 21 inch LCD monitor and Office 2010, I can’t but smile over what I have seen and wonder what my kids will experience during their lives.

(And the ironic part is that as I am writing this, I am listening to Jefferson Airplane from 1967 – some things just don’t get old.) 🙂

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All that is left of Artland, Saskatchewan

As with the shot of the first Formula 1 safety car, I occasionally get surprised by views on my Flickr account.

In September 2007, I spent a few days driving around Lloydminster Alberta. One the spots I passed through was Artland, Saskatchewan – or what was left of Artland. It is in east central Saskatchewan just west of Manitou Lake. It is an interesting area that has a lot of small hills and not very much productive land. I was travelling north on a range road and just past the CN line, I saw this monument and a historical marker. Pulling off the road, there was a plaque on a large boulder and the foundations of a number of buildings. Artland was a station on the railway line and had been prosperous in its day. I wandered around for a while and took a number of shots. I have been in a few abandoned towns and it is always a bit touching to think what once was.

The plaque commenerating Artland

I think there must be something about the name that intrigues people. I would have never guessed that 200+ people would be interested in the image or I would even stumble across such a place.

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My Dad was born in 1925. In 1941, at the age of 16, he enlisted in the Canadian Army. Just before his 19th birthday, he took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy. He was in the Royal Canadian Engineers and fought across France, Belgium and Holland. When the war in Europe ended, Dad volunteered to fight in the Pacific. He told me he was on the train going to Vancouver when the war in the Pacific ended.

He was keenly interested in the war. There were always books around the house on the conflict. I remember he brought back a pair of German binoculars. When my sister and I were arguing about who was going to use the pair – in a lesson worthy of Solomon – he broke them in half and presented each of us with one lens. Probably not the best way to solve the issue, but that was his solution.

I do remember he rarely talked about his experiences overseas. I heard from other friends, whose fathers had served, that this was common. When he was older, he would drop little tidbits of information, especially if we watching a program about the war on the television. But he never really opened up about his time in Europe.

In 1968, when I was 16, quite a few of my friends joined the militia (now called the reserves) for a summer job. It was one of the few times in my life that Dad said no. He said that joining the militia meant that I would have BMT – Basic Military Training – and if ever there was a need, I would be the first to be called up. At that time he told me he didn’t want me to ever have to go through what he had experienced.

To this day, I still can’t fathom what it must have been like to be a teenager in that situation. What he must of seen and experienced. And how it would have shaped you for the rest of your life. I think back what I was like at that age and how my boys were as they grew. I have no frame of reference for his experience. November 11 always makes me pause and reflect on how many people of his generation cut their youth short to “do the right thing”.

Dad and his sister Jean - Toronto 1941


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