In the late winter of 1970, we got a phone call from Harold in Quebec. There was a farm house to rent for $75. a month across the street from Harold and Pauline and their family. We were ready to pick up and move to Quebec? We did it . I have always valued the experience, it gave us a perspective that those that haven’t lived there never get.
The FLQ crisis was in full swing, with daily bank robberies reported, to further their agenda. English speaking Canadians were leaving Quebec daily, and the luxury house prices in English areas, dropped drastically.
Alex charged into the community with some coaching from Harold who had studied French. He sold some grain bins, which he fabricated with an extremely limited amount of tools. He did so well with the French he knew, locals would soon lose him, because they thought he was French.
As fall approached, Alex bought hardwood, by the truckload, cut it into short cords, and peddled it into Montreal for the very wealthy who enjoyed multiple fire places. Also, some of his customers were the very, very poor. He came home one fall evening telling of one delivery in an upstairs apartment, that was ice cold. A mother and several children were huddle in bed, awaiting the wood, (landlords in Montreal were not responsible for heating.)
On October 5, 1970 James Cross, a British diplomat, was kidnapped. Five days later, Pierre Laporte, Minister of Labor in the Boruassa government was also kidnapped from his yard while playing ball with his son. It was discussed on the media everyday, that the FLQ was possibly holding him in a farm north of Montreal, which of course is where we were living.
During these tense days, in the middle of a dark autumn night, I awoke to stomping footsteps along our long wooden porch. I was very nervous about Alex answering the door. There was our friend Tom Laidler, in his hugeness, knowing very well that his arrival from Toronto at that time of night would be a scary thing for us.
Oct 15, 3,000 students at the University rallied to support the FLQ. At this time Bourassa requested emergency powers, to allow them to apprehend and keep in custody. This resulted in the War Measures Act being put into place, by Pierre Trudeau, announced later that day. I still remember, the probably by now famous statement of Pierre.
Question from interviewer, “Do you think you will win another election?”
He answered with a shrug.”just watch me”.
I wish more politician would be ready to lose elections for the decisions they make. Someone said, politicians make decisions that will ensure votes, a statesman makes decisions that have the good of the country in mind. There is no one politician that will always make the right decision.
The Canadian troops were all over the downtown, with special attention given to the residences of dignitaries.
On October 17, the FLQ announced they had executed LaPorte. His body was found stuffed in the trunk of Paul Roses car, after having been strangled.
Now, the police, with sweeping powers were busy, arresting and imprisoning.I recall the Conservatives, at that time, were quite upset about the possibility of violating rights and freedoms.
It came to our attention that there were a number of US army deserters and draft dodgers hiding out in the downtown. If discovered, they would have been taken to the US border and handed over to the military police.
My brother Harold and Alex went downtown and found five young men, who were rather traumatized. One of these was Tom Pitkin, who later married Nancy Morrison, Alex’s sister.
Several of them stayed in our house, one was from Panama. He had been in the US working, trying to better his family, and was drafted. Another, named Danny(not at all sure that was his name) and Tom stayed with us.
One evening, I asked Alex to take me to the laundry in Maschouche. Jonathan, just turning 3, stayed with cousins up the road, and we took Michelle (Shelly then) along, either standing between us in the front seat, or on my lap, cute and blond as could be. Danny, in a trench coat, rode along. When I was putting my laundry into the machines, Danny was darting in and out, using a pay phone. Sandy with a very small beard at that time and a black leather jacket was waiting in the car, with Shelly. All at once the police pulled up and directed us to follow them. The pictures in the papers of Paul Rose the suspect in this murder, had a beard and was wearing a black leather coat. I think Alex was laughing but I knew with the War Measures Act in place they could lock him up and figure out later what to do with him. Our American friend might have been his accomplice. He just looked guilty somehow. They took them in for questioning, while Shelly and I waited in the car. Luckily, Alex still had an Ontario driver’s license and his French was not up to par, so they let him go. I am not sure how our draft dodger made it out of there.
Eventually, we took our rag tag band of dodgers and deserters to Ontario and dropped them with Emmerson Mc Dowell and family and the community there that was more sympathetic to those who did not participate in or support the Vietnam war or war in general.
A huge snow storm hit that winter, the biggest I have ever seen. I just read this winter it was a record snow fall. Never have the Western Canadians seen such snow plows and blowers or snow for that matter. Our house was literally just feet from the narrow paved street and the plows threw snow on our porch.. Harold and Pauline and their children trudged down the road to spend the evening with us, because we had an oil space heater and they were out of heat. That was a memorable evening and I will never forget the sharing and sense of community we had with them
. We will never forget the grace and good humour of my sister in law Pauline, who sadly passed away maybe only 10 years later, when we were in Alberta. She spoke perfect French and taught me some phrases that would help me be a little more sociable with all the neighbours and their friends. In 1970 there wasn’t a language problem in Mascouche, it was simply French. Not an English news paper, magazine or greeting card in sight. I would go to the supermarket and pick up my items and hope I could get out without having to ask any questions. Sandy’s mom Marjorie was astounded that there wasn’t even an English greeting card in the local stores. It was a shock to her British paradigm
One of the lovely things, was having a local bakery deliver a warm French loaf for 23 cents, daily from the local bakery.
Our house was a classic Quebec farm house, with windows that were plentiful and generous, with the French windows that you opened and pulled toward you. They were screened and I just remember how much fresh air they allowed to circulate through the house. Our bedroom had a lovely large window that allowed the cool night air, perfumed with fresh cut hay to flow over us. I don’t know why only the French know how to make those windows. The interior walls were all wooden tongue and groove, had spacious rooms, and a tiny water closet in the corner of the living room. Also, there was a small room off the main living room where Sandy set up a large drafting board, where he drew all manner of machinery.
Alex/Sandy continued with his wood business. It was difficult to make enough to get ahead, and he became restless. One day, he had unloaded wood into a very grand home where he had been cautioned by the owner to be careful of the Porsche. So after many many trips from the truck into his garage, being so careful, he banged his hand on a door jam, which was nothing he would usually have complained about , but when the gentleman paid him $6.00 instead of the $16. he had promised, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.. He took advantage of Alex’s improper pronunciation in French.
January 1, 1971 we hatched a plan. The first time we got $300. beyond our expenses, we were going to go “out west”. I remember thinking it was a grand idea .NEXT : ALBERTA BOUND.