Monday, January 11, 2010

In This Frozen Country

The pretty young woman is my great grandmother, born Mary Ann Whelan, known as Polly. The fellow with the Lanny McDonald is my great grandfather Neil McLean, youngest of eight children, namesake to our first McLean to come over to Canada. His father had settled up by Barrie, married and farmed there and then, over twenty years and those eight children later, moved to the Bruce peninsula. Almost immediately after that one of the older brothers, Malcolm (Uncle Mac), sailed across Huron and into Superior, heading just west of the Soo to a brand new settlement at the mouth of the Goulais River. Soon after his parents and at least two brothers followed. When the younger Neil passed in 1929 he was survived by Malcolm as well as two sisters and a brother who lived on the Prairies. Another brother, John, drowned in Lake Superior. His body was never recovered. One other brother and one other sister are mysteries, at least to me, although the story becomes clearer every passing year.

The younger Neil died at 54 which is young for a McLean. My grandfather passed in an accident just short of seventy but his brothers and sisters were all long lived and tough. His youngest brother fought in the second world war, fathered eight children of his own and made his living as a trapper. He lived into his late eighties. The remaining four made it into their nineties, including my great aunt Dora, who lived to be ninety nine, and my great aunt Gladys who was at the reunion in June, looking spry and drinking a beer.

Neil's own brother Malcolm lived into his nineties in a small house on the family property on the Goulais, Uncle Mac was a kind and gentle man and is actually remembered by the youngest of my own father's siblings.

Some crazy shit.

For some reason when winter comes my thoughts turn to these people and the lives they made for their family a century ago. Winter in most of Canada is awfully tough even now and all of those years ago it must have really been something. I have an uncle who was born on a train in a snowstorm as my grandmother hurried to the Soo from Franz. When they reached town her and her newborn were pulled on a sleigh to the hospital, the roads were impassable due to the storm. As for Goulais, well its a half hour on the Transcanada today and then another twenty minutes down the old road to where my great grandparents farmed, right at the mouth of the river. One hundred years ago in the dead of winter they may as well have been on the moon.

And yet one thinks that they made the best of it. There is a short history of the town that I read this past summer and it was a close knit community. Polly's table was known to always have food and drink on it and the farmhouse was a centre of the social fabric of the town as folks would make their way to the mouth of the river for cards and some music and some food and probably, knowing my family, a few drinks. The river was there and one guesses that there was skating and hockey games there and sledding in the surrounding hills.

This past weekend on the cold Friday night neighbours tramped up the street and came into our home with a bottle of wine. As the kids played we ate and drank while the wind roared outside. Saturday morning I was up at the crack of crow's piss and took the two oldest to skating lessons in a rink that was nearly as cold inside as it was outside. Saturday night I played hockey myself and had a couple of pints at our tiny local, surrounded by muttering Irishmen plotting their own nights. And then Sunday it was to the park and back on the rink as neighbours tore down the hill in the sunshine.

In short, it was glory and all that winter can be and except for the Thai food, the Australian wine and Irish beer and the Japanese car it really was probably not all that different from live on the river a century ago. Or so I'd like to think anyhow. ;)


Haven't given up on the Oilers or on writing about them. There's just so very little to say. MacKinnon writes in the Journal about how the club has a big decision looming. What the hell is the decision? They're terrible and Carolina is coming up hard. Hemsky is gone and so is Khabibulin and Comrie is still in the iron lung. The opposition is keying on Penner and whoever lines up with him and the results are as expected. And when it comes down to it even if Tambellini wanted to start dumping contracts the guys he would want to move are immovable. So his decision is either to stand pat or to start trying to move guys that would likely help the club win a little, like Souray. Some decision.

It remains a fucking disgrace.

Naw what I wanted to talk about a little are a couple of pieces of old news.

The WJC ended with a bang last week with an exciting final. Of course the media is trying to find an angle and right now it seems to be that the Americans are coming and that they are going to dominate hockey in a few years from now. Every time the Americans win anything this is what the media comes up with and forgive me for suppressing a yawn, considering that they now have three medals in the last thirteen years at the WJCs. This isn't to say that the Americans aren't quality, indeed with the Russians and Czechs and Slovaks struggling more and more I would guess that they may be our primary rival in the years to come. Considering that this Canadian team was a poor one in my estimation and that they still only lost in overtime I would not worry too much.

Overall the tourney was a dull one. Nearly every game lacked drama and if the American goaltender Lee had not been so shaky the final may have been a blowout. The Americans looked terrific, fast and hard charging, while the Canadians were no great shakes from their goaltending all the way out. Allen was awful, the blueliners were slow (I don't rate Pietrangelo at all, other than the big goal on NYE I thought he was pretty poor actually) and up front they had Eberle, Hall and a good showing by the Luke Adam line and then a bunch of meh. Kadri left me cold, especially with the ridiculous throat slashing gestures, and the rest of the forwards just seemed to get very little done. I was left wondering why Seguin was not kept as a thirteenth forward.

Oh well, you can't win them all.

The other big news was the Canadian Olympic team selection. Unlike 2006 which was an absolute mess (Bertuzzi? McCabe? No Crosby or Staal!) this went pretty well according to form. You can certainly quibble over individuals here and there through the roster but I don't really see any that are out and out terrible. Bergeron was slightly controversial but the guy is serious quality at both ends of the ice, imo. he's no Rob Zamuner. The San Jose guys are always going to get questioned until they actually do something but its pretty well impossible to ignore them and I do remember a time a few years back, BJT, when Patrick Marleau had a great playoff, the year before the lockout. I would have guessed that if Ryan Smyth had stayed healthy that he would have made the team but as I said I have few quibbles with the forwards.

On the back end I worry a bit about Niedermeyer. Everyone assumes that he wil get it together. Lets hope so. Green was the big omission in many eyes but I think it was Bob MacKenzie who expressed my biggest reservation about him. I liked him as a seventh man to run the PP but my biggest fear is that an injury would move him up to the top six and I don't think he can handle that.

The biggest surprise to me was Bouwmeester's omission I guess. What do I know though? I haven't followed much of the league outside of the Oilers this season. I presumed he was a shoo in and would have taken him in place of Niedermeyer or Boyle I think but I guess with either of those you get the puck moving and the experience in the big games.

A lot more speed on this club, a lot more offence from the back end and a lot more talent than 2006 so here's hoping that they can get it together and bring some life to what has been a dreary winter, hockey wise anyhow.


kanadienkyle said...

Good stuff as usual Pat. I am getting into researching some family tree stuff and it is fascinating. All sorts of interesting shit, from an aunt left on a doorstep to a farm lost and regained in a card game during a week long blizzard. Even found some married cousins.

Good call on the World Juniors, but I am sure the loss is easier to take north of 49. Most of my friends here are not hockey fans, but that didn't stop a barrage of calls and text to rub my nose is it.

Team USA was full value and Coach Blais is a hell of a guy, quick with a beer and story. He deserves it and my hat is off to him.

hunter1909 said...

Re the Oilers - This season is making me feeling metaphorically as drunk as one St Patrick's night when I drank some weird kind of real ale all night, and ended up yelling as passing cyclists, yapping loudly to a pair of good natured Micks on the bus ride home(they probably could have killed me if they were in any kind of a mood that night), then, to top it off, crawling up the hill to my place on my hands and knees, losing my fave college sweatshirt in the process.

One wonders what they're going to to do, the management. Are they really going to trade away their first round pick, for some "established" player? Or will they go after Jagr etc over the summer, like this is some kind of pre-Pronger ready to make the finals situation?

I've been wasting some of my spare time lately reading up on the dynasty. The team that knew how to win. The team that uncovered and developed gems without the AHL(Tikkannen), the team that knew how to neutralise Bourque(give him the puck all night then hit him), all the while having two excellent goalies, in case the first guy got checked into the boards in the finals, like what happened to Fuhr in 1984.

In all likelihood it's going to take years for the OIlers to compete properly. Yikes.

Black Dog said...

Hunter - yeah Yikes indeed. The pisser is that they ahd a SCF team and they pissed it all away in about a year. Unbelievable.

As for the dynasty club they were one of a kind. The best that ever was as far as I am concerned.

Kyle - good stuff, although I first read it as the aunt who was the pot in the card game.

Since I began researching I have discovered a lot and made a lot of sense of what makes my family who they are today. Its pretty interesting.

As for the WJC when we were out on NYE my uncle called the Americans as the better team even after they lost and I'm inclined to agree. And Blais did a terrific job putting the team together and coaching it. they fully deserved it.

And it is easier to take when you've won five in a row too. I was happy when Eberle pulled off his heroics but before that I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Can't win them all.

Baroque said...

You're lucky to have reasonably accessible genealogy records - too much of my family is too recently in the US to have a lot of records, and many of the records in Poland and Germany were destroyed or lost over time, I'm sure. I have no idea where the Irish part of my family came from, either.

But the little I do know is still interesting. The best part is getting an entirely different perspective on people and realizing that your late great-aunt with arthritis and a keyboard in her apartment that she would always let us play with was once a 17-year-old girl growing up in Chicago, carrying her shoes in her hands as she came home from some speakeasy so her parents wouldn't wake up at the sound of her heels on the stairs. And my father has stories about his late uncle who was a rum-runner during Prohibition and a US Marshal with a propensity for perforating the vehicles of Klansman who were trying to stir up trouble afterwards.

If I don't get going my nephew and niece aren't going to have any stories more interesting about me than ones involving sledding down the snowbanks or playing with Lincoln logs and Lego blocks - which might not be an entirely bad thing, come to think of it. :)

kanadienkyle said...

Pat, agreed on Team USA. They were better to the naked eye and I suppose a loss won't kill us once in a while.

It really wouldn't have been surprised if my aunt was in the pot, as she had quite a life as well. From orphan to unwed mother to May-December marriage to widow to land owner and finally married into our family. Crazy stuff. And I checked with Dad, it wasn't the farm that was being played for but rather the mineral rights on the farm.

Baroque, am having the same problems trying to find records in Poland. Tough stuff. I have made some friends via Facebook and they are a huge help from time to time. Maybe give that a try?

Go Oilers?

Black Dog said...

Baroque - yes its true, your last statement. I had a friend who told me once about attending seders (sp?) here in Toronto and essentially with one exception there was nobody over fifty and they were not back in Poland. They were long gone.

Give me a dull and peaceful life any day.

Different countries and faiths present different issues. The French Canadian side of our family has been traced back to the 1400s and the only reason it does not go back further is that taht is when the village church burned down. On the other hand trying to track down the McLeans before they arrived here is pretty well impossible. Too many of them and the records are relatively shoddy.

Thanks for your stories guys. Entertaining.

Scott Reynolds said...

Great story about the family and the homeland Pat. Really enjoyable. With the Olympic squad I find myself questioning the forwards they've taken out of the Eastern Conference (except Crosby). I think a large part of that is not seeing the guys play quite enough and my provincial home's long-standing teaching that you should never trust easterners.

Pete. said...

For Christmas, my dad made me up a DVD from an old VHS cassette of interviews with aging relatives; it was commissioned by some cousin in 1998 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family's arrival in Canada. Very cool, especially because almost everyone interviewed is dead now.

My great-aunt, who was 94 at the time of the interview, told a story about her father coming back from a supply trip to Edmonton in the middle of winter, in about 1910. One of the horses had been lagging and acting strangely, and about 10 miles from the homestead, it suddenly dropped dead. My great-grandfather had to physically move the dead horse out of the way (and he was over 50 at the time, but luckily was one of those Slavs built like a fridge), then take up one half of the yoke (or whatever you call it) in order to entice the other horse to move, and walk home through the miles of snow, tugging at his side of the loaded wagon to keep things running straight.

"He had to be horse," said my great-aunt cheerily, in her thickly accented English. These people were mind-bogglingly tough.

Alice said...

And we make do fretting over whether we have just the Right winter tire on our 4wd-equipped car.

People who settled this country had balls, period.
You head up from the Soo, summertime, still feels like you're in the Middle of nowhere.
And you have a car, and tel, and some idea on a map where the hell you are. Then you sit at the campfire and put your mind back, imagine the first Europeans canoeing through here, not a clue what's beyond the next bend and nobody else to call on come what may. No zipping over to Home Depot for some supplies.

And it's not that long ago, the age of Franklin, Cook.
Now we debate whether Women's Studies should be renamed Gender Studies.

I have to guess that's a sign of progress?

Black Dog said...

Thanks Scott. Hey you can trust us, pal. Trust me. ;)

Pete - that is an awesome story, just terrific.

'He had to be horse.'

But yeah what they went through, oh my God. The brutal winters, the backbreaking physical labour, the illness. I could not imagine the pain of losing a child or my wife and yet for these people it was fairly commonplace.

Balls, indeed. Gigantic ones.

Ming said...


There's a good memoir written by a long-tooth Edmonton writer about growing up on the bitter prairies in wood homestead shacks that you might enjoy--called 'of this earth' by Rudy Wiebe.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Ming, I will check it out.

Bruce said...

Haven't read Wiebe's book yet but my wife has. Have heard lots oif good buzz about it from her and others.

I'm still a little disappointed that my man Marty St.Louis was left off the Olympic team. He's a playmaker in both senses of the word.

Black Dog said...

Bruce - yeah St. Louis would not have been a bad choice.

One comment I saw from Yzerman that was heartening was that they wanted guys who played tough competition on this club, not the guys who play the patsies.

What type of competition does Marty play? I have heard soft in the past but I don't follow Tampa at all so ....

Anyways if he does maybe that played a part in it?

Bruce said...

Well he's always on the first line so how soft is the comp likely to be?

He does benefit from good ZoneStarts, but so will Canada.

Black Dog said...

I think when Richards was there he and Vinny got the softs whenever Tortorella could manage it, thats by memory mind you and of course Richards has been gone a couple of years.

I barely see Tampa so times may have changed and of course with Richards gone now he probably sees tougher minutes anyhow.

Anyways I like him and think that he's one of those guys who could have been on it and there would have not been a squawk, same as Carter, same as Smyth if he had been healthy.

Bruce said...

No shortcomings in the depth dept. for Canada.