Sharp-eyed Reader

            A sharp-eyed reader of my last blog noted that I referenced being in Toronto in October 1951 and July 1953 even though in the early 50s it seemed I was living in PEI; I was both.

            My father worked for the CNR, which qualified us to travel free by train. At the relevant times I had two sisters and a brother living in Toronto, so in 1951 and 1952 my father took me along on trips to visit them.

            In 1953, still using a railway pass, I made the trip on my own. It was during this trip that I surreptitiously became an office boy with the Montreal Star (in their Toronto office) only to be ordered back to PEI immediately when one of my sisters blew the whistle on me.

 Ralph Branca Follow-up

            I mentioned last week that it was unfortunate that a fine pitcher like Ralph Branca was remembered mostly for giving up a home run. It was pointed out to me during our family dinner last Sunday that it truly is. Branca was one of only two Brooklyn Dodger players who made Jackie Robinson feel welcome when he broke the major league baseball colour bar on April 15, 1947. The other was Pee Wee Reese.

 Trudeau’s Ill-considered Castro Eulogy

            Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s praise-laden eulogy for Fidel Castro might have been fine to post on the Castro family’s obituary website as a private citizen, but as a statement from our Prime Minister on behalf of all Canadians it was completely inappropriate. Fidel Castro was a vicious, murdering, blood-thirsty, communist dictator who nearly thrust the world into a nuclear war in the fall of 1962.

             As bad as was Trudeau’s earlier statement that he admired the Chinese communist government, this was worse. Combining the two really makes one wonder about his judgement.

 The Musical Come From Away

            This week I saw the musical Come From Away at the Royal Alexandra Theatre here in Toronto. As hard as it is to imagine a rollicking musical comedy about the tragedy of 9/11 (and, for that matter, a mere 12 actors playing literally dozens of very different characters), both goals were uniquely achieved.

             The play is based on the extraordinary understanding, patience, and kindness of the people of Gander and surrounding communities when 38 planes were diverted to the huge Newfoundland airport and 6,500 passengers spent almost a week among the area’s less than 10,000 inhabitants.

             The staging is astonishing. It consists entirely of a dozen ordinary wooden chairs and a couple of equally ordinary wooden tables placed on a revolving section of stage, plus a slatted backdrop that doubled as a giant airplane. All the actors, in addition to playing multiple roles, doubled as stagehands. There was no intermission in the 1¾ hour presentation, which was a very wise decision because the incredible momentum of the play would have suffered from any interruption and especially a lengthy one.

             The authenticity of the band is also worth mentioning. It consisted of a fiddle, guitar, bass, mandolin, pennywhistle (I think, or some kind of flute) and a bodhran (Celtic drum).

             There were many times when it was difficult to decide whether to laugh or cry; but laughter always prevailed in this truly magnificent production.

 Sports-teams Air Tragedies

            While on the subject of air tragedies, last Monday, 19 players of the Chapecoense, Columbia soccer team lost their lives when their commercial flight crashed. Three players survived. 

             The worst sports-team crash occurred on November 14, 1970, when the chartered plane carrying Huntington, West Virginia’s Marshall University football team crashed as it approached their home airport. 37 players, 9 coaches, 25 fans and 4 crew members lost their lives. There were no survivors.

             The next worst was when the KHL’s Lokomotiv hockey team also lost 37 players in a plane crash on September 7, 2011. One player survived the crash but died shortly after in hospital. Seven other people also died.

             Although 23 soccer players from the Torino FC lost their lives in a plane crash in Turin on May 4, 1949, the first high-profile such tragedy that I remember took place on February 6, 1958, when eight members of the Manchester United soccer team died in a crash in Munich. 

            Also vivid in my memory is the crash in Brussels, Belgium, on February 15, 1961, that took the lives of 25 members of the U.S. figure skating team.