For those of you who are regulars, you will know I am now in Nova Scotia, spraining my ankles on shoreline rocks, slipping on the seaweed, walking the beaches, disappearing in the fog, dodging lobsters (I’m allergic), promising my daughter I’ll get that volleyball net up (like every year) and generally hiding from the world as best I can. I’ve been doing this off and on all my life.
No more. Of late, the new highway around Fredericton has allowed me to shave hours off the trip to Nova Scotia and the business was sold years ago.
The Saint John River Valley is a wonderful place to think on the road to redemption. It is the first introduction to the Maritimes. The radio is bad, the vistas are wonderful, you’ve been through your music at least twice since Cornwall, you and the wife are talked out, the volume on the GameBoy in the back seat is off, the pets are asleep or dead, and at last you know a bagpipe is within sight.
It’s the bagpipe thing and the salt air that get me.
When I hear a bagpipe, or think “bagpipe,” I want to immediately do something courageous and honourable, or lament something or someone.
Historically, of course, this generally involves war and death and, if examined too carefully, isn’t very honourable at all, particularly these days when war is getting a very bad name indeed.
I should say at this point that my wife does not buy into “bagpipe” mythology. She is generally anti-bagpipe on the grounds of the noise they make, which is certainly a legitimate position to take if you don’t want to go to war or lament anything. It takes a particularly tortured soul to be seduced by the siren song of the bagpipe.
In any event, as I was thinking “bagpipe” I realized I was thinking about Dalton Camp. If you don’t know of Dalton, I can’t help you. It takes a book and it has been written by Jeffery Stevens, entitled The player. Dalton died in 2002. He was one of those disappearing breeds of larger-than-life Canadian men (like, say, Pierre Berton and Peter Gzowski) who helped shape this country. Dalton was well-loved and well-hated in his time.
Down at P. J. Purdy’s bar at the Delta Fredericton Inn, there is a small plaque on the wall and an empty chair, commemorating the spot where Dalton held court for years, regaling young writers and political operatives about his time electing conservative governments across the country and, of course, his role in bringing down John Diefenbaker, the former prime minister.
Although Dalton wrote a column for the Toronto Star until the week he died, he did most of it from Jemseg, a speck on the map a few miles south of Fredericton.
And so with bagpipes in my head I took my daughter Jackie (she’s seven) to Purdy’s and read her the following poem, which is posted in what is called “Camp’s Corner.”
Welcome friend, this the place that Dalton Camp once used to grace
My lament, I realized as we returned to the highway, was not so much for Dalton whom I had met no more than half a dozen times and who lived his life with considerable gusto. It was for a country that is not producing these men anymore and is much the poorer for it.
Michael Atkins is the president of Northern Ontario Business. He can be reached at email@example.com.