Tag Archives: ottawa

Happy Father’s Day!

In honour of Father’s Day, I’m reposting this piece from last year. All the best to those remembering their fathers today, living or dead.

 

Winnipeg, MB. 1920s
Winnipeg, MB. 1920s

The son of Russian Jews, my father was born to David Berkman and Vera Elstein in Regina Saskatchewan, 1924. I don’t have any pictures of my grandfather; he and Vera divorced when my father was very young and she apparently cut him out of surviving photographs. But his work as a furrier survives in photographs of my father in tiny fur coats.

StitchSCAN0296-SCAN0297
Winnipeg, 1920s. My father is in the front, with his uncles Morris and Louis behind him.

By 1934, they were living in Ottawa where my grandmother worked as a saleslady at the Madame Louise Hat Shop on Bank Street which was run by David, also the proprietor of Berk’s Dress Shop. Vera also worked with fur, and was an accomplished dressmaker. Unlike my maternal grandmother, she wore wigs, nail polish and makeup, exotic clothing, and was something of a style maven.

Vera and her mother Sarah (Alexandra) Meznekoff on Russell Ave in Ottawa. 1950s
Vera and her mother Sarah (Alexandra) Meznekoff on Russell Ave in Ottawa. 1950s

My father attended Lisgar Collegiate where he was known as Bunny Berkman, a nickname my grandmother gave him.

1940s, Ottawa
1940s, Ottawa

He was an excellent trumpet player and led a student combo that included Mort Katz, who still gigs around Ottawa.

LIsgar Collegiate Institute, 31st Annual Concert, Jan 1943.
LIsgar Collegiate Institute, 31st Annual Concert, Jan 1943.

After graduating from Lisgar, he went to Queen’s University as part of the class of Meds49 where he apparently had a very good time. The reverse of this photograph has a woman’s name, phone number, and address on it.

Queen's Football Game, Kingston. late 40s.
Queen’s Football Game, Kingston. late 40s.
Graduation from Queen's School of Medicine, 1949
Graduation from Queen’s School of Medicine, 1949

He did post-graduate studies in Cardiology at Georgetown University under Dr. Proctor Harvey, and returned to Canada to begin working at the Ottawa General Hospital.

He married my mother in 1958. I was born in 1960, my sister Frances in 1961, and my brother John in 1964. My parents bought a cottage in Quebec, north of Ottawa, in 1967 and we spent many summers there. My father was the main family photographer and so there are not a lot of photos with him in them. Here’s one of the five of us.

31 MIle Lake, Quebec. July 1968
31 MIle Lake, Quebec. July 1968

He was an introvert, but well-loved by his students, winning a teaching award at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. He was intrigued by technology, built a Heathkit television and audio components, learned to program on an early Apple computer, scoured record stores every Saturday for new jazz releases (sometimes taking one of us with him and often “losing” us), and continued to play the trumpet on his own and, from time to time, with his friends.

He died in 1986 of cancer of the duodenum, predeceased by his mother in 1980.

My new old friend

Kath and I met in high school. We were both in the concert band; I was a budding percussionist and she handled the tympani. We played keyboards in the stage band and travelled together to Cuba, playing music and night and sleeping during (much of) the day. It was on this trip that I developed an aversion to rum. (I’m okay with it now, almost 40 years later.)

Kath and me in Glebe Music Room (1977ish)
Kath and me in Glebe Music Room (1977ish)
Kath - 1978ish
Kath – 1978ish

We went camping in my father’s green Mustang and I recall applying press-on nails while sitting in the tent and then having trouble zipping my jeans. I also remember stopping for supplies in some small town, having trouble starting the car, and then being reminded by a male passer-by, that the car had to be in Park to start. Kath taught me how to roll cigarettes from Drum tobacco and how an introvert could be an outstanding actor in a high school musical.

We lost touch as we went our separate ways on graduation. We reconnected when she popped up on Facebook just over three years ago in 2010, some 30+ years after high school; we finally reunited in person in the summer of 2011 when she was in Toronto to help out a cousin and her twin toddlers.

That first meeting was in a little hole-in-the wall Asian restaurant on Danforth. She walked in with a cane and as she sat down, I asked her if she’d hurt her ankle or something. That’s when she told me about her MS, the reason behind her retirement from the federal public service. I’m not sure whether I showed it or not, but I was stunned. I’d been her friend for a year on Facebook and had no idea. Her timeline had been full of home renovations, dock diving with her dog Jennie, a cruise to Alaska, horseback riding in Davos. This was clearly the same, determined woman I remembered from high school, who wouldn’t let something like a chronic, incurable disease prevent her from finding her bliss.

It was one of those (re-)connections that make you feel like no time has passed. We made a date to see the Abstract Expressionist Exhibit at the AGO later in the week (she is an artist, and Rothko is one of her faves.) When we met there, she decided that she’d be more comfortable and steady in a wheelchair so she requested one and bopped around the gallery, answering pretty much ALL my questions about the works we were seeing. It was like having my own personal docent.

Since then, she’s become involved in various horse rescue groups in the Ottawa area, and became the crazily doting human companion to a gorgeous quarter-horse named River and a chunky Shetland pony, Lord d’Appleby, both rescued from the “meat-man”. I’ve met been introduced to both of them on various trips to Ottawa (I now keep some barn boots in my car!) and she’s working hard to train these equines so that they can be ridden by her (River) and children (d’Appleby – for therapeutic riding.)

Fast forward two years to last fall and she contacted me when she was coming to Toronto for a funeral of a dear friend of her mother’s. The Royal Winter Fair was on and she wondered if I’d like to go with her if she came down a day early. I’d never been but had noticed the ads for it over the past few years and agreed with pleasure. We spent some time on the exhibition floor (and Kath spent some money), LOTS of time talking (and eating), and then watched the evenings events.  She stayed with me that night and we met another friend from high school that we’d reconnected with (also via Facebook) for breakfast near the University of Toronto. She stayed the rest of the weekend with her brother north of Toronto, and then the two of us drove up to Ottawa on Monday.  I had been planning to spend some time with my mom and I also got another visit with Kath today.

It was probably in the five hour car trip that we shared the things in our life that are most important and concerning. We both have the same attitude about life: we care deeply about our family and friends, but need to find a zen-like, drama-free zone where we can spend most of our time. That life is happening now, not in the future, and certainly not in the past. We can only move forward and in doing so, try to accept what is on our plate with grace and a positive attitude. We’ve lived very different lives, both personal and professional. But now in our mid-fifties, we’re both kind of nesting. She’s renovating her house, loving her dogs and other four-legged friends, and helping her mother as she downsizes and struggles with health issues. Replace the four-legged creatures with a husband and grown sons, and that’s pretty much my life too.

She’d had a rough summer, with a bad flu while on a cruise which may have led to the flare-up of another chronic illness, a broken foot (that didn’t set properly), and the hospitalization of her mother. She was housebound for a while, with friends bringing her groceries, and she wasn’t able to get out to see her horse and pony for weeks. Her Facebook posts sometimes sounded down, but never out.

I spent some time with her later in the fall. We did some sorting and organizing of books and linens, went to her favourite Vietnamese restaurant for a late lunch, and then took the dogs for a long walk along the Ottawa River. She gave me some good advice about planning my kitchen reno since she’s almost finished with her hers.

A week ago, we got together again for a short visit and  Lebanese lunch at The Garlic King. Due to some health issues, she’s been taking it easy the past few weeks, but I wanted to see her and meet her new kitty Stella. I’m heading to Ottawa again next week and she’s told me to bring my skates so that we can hit the Rideau Canal. She uses a walker to skate, and I’ll probably be hanging on to it too as it’s been a while.

Kath and Stella
Kath and Stella
Kath and me with the Garlic King,.
Kath and me with the Garlic King.

So when people gripe to me about the downsides of social media, I just smile and remember how many new friends I’ve made and how many I’ve reconnected with. We’re planning a camping trip (or two) this summer to Sandbanks, where she can bring her beautiful dogs Jennie and Mollie to the dog beach.

[Edited to correct name of Kath’s pony!]

Seven Quick Takes

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Michael and his father headed off to Montreal last evening, with the SUV stuffed to the roof with his gear. He’s sharing an apartment with a second year music student that he met at a TSYO party, and today will be spent moving in his boxes and then shopping at Ikea to pick up some furniture and other necessities. He’s benefitting from his grandmother’s move and is the recipient of some kitchen tools and other things that either came from her apartment. He’s pretty excited about this new stage in his life. He’ll be back next weekend for one last private gig with the Weston Silver Band and then we probably won’t see him until Thanksgiving.
  2. I’d really like to get a Little Free Library to install at our place. We’re on a corner lot and have lots of space out front, as well as lots of books we’d be happy to share. I’m considering whether I want to build one from scratch, purchase an unfinished one to stain and decorate myself. The second option is probably more realistic though, so I’m going to look in to it this weekend.

    Little Free Library, ready to finish.
    Little Free Library, ready to finish.
  3. I am really interested in checking out hot yoga. There is a highly recommended group of studios, Moksha Yoga, that has a location near me, and Alex is game to go with me (he’s already tried hot yoga elsewhere) so I’m hoping to get to a class in the next few days.
  4. I am putting together a website for a colleague and want to learn how to make WordPress templates. Can anyone recommend some good resources for this? I’ve used WordPress for some time and am familiar with basic html.
  5. TIFF is fast approaching and they’ve been announcing films for a few weeks now. I need to start planning what I want to see, at least making a list with my secret rating system, so that when the schedule comes out (Aug 20), I can start building my calendar. I’m not a premiere/red-carpet gal (although I’m not averse to spotting celebs.) It’s a tough life, eh? I’ve purchased a total of 30 tickets for this years fest, and hope to take some arm-candy to a few, so I’ll probably see between 20 and 25.
  6. I’m heading up to Ottawa to see my mother for a few days next week. I’ll run some errands for her and get her out for a few walks while the weather is good. (Yes, I know you’re reading this, Mom, so get ready!) I also hope to see my friend Kath and visit her rescue equines, a lovely horse River (who I’ve met before) and her pony Lord D’Appleby (with whom I’ve only chatted on Facebook.)
  7. I’ve got a mountain of ironing to attend to today. (I know, who irons?) We’ve switched to cloth napkins for meals (I buy whatever nice cotton ones I can find at Value Village for a mix and match look.) I’ve been simply hand smoothing and folding them but they really need a quick press. Same with tea towels. And then there are the cotton shirts. With Michael gone, my ironing pile has dramatically shrunk though, and I’ve got the TV there where I can catch up on all the recorded goodness, so it’s really not that painful a chore. Plus, I have this most excellent ironing machine. So it’s all fine.

    Awesome Rowenta Steam Iron.
    Awesome Rowenta Steam Iron.

For father’s day. A little about mine.

Winnipeg, MB. 1920s
Winnipeg, MB. 1920s

The son of Russian Jews, my father was born to David Berkman and Vera Elstein in Regina Saskatchewan, 1924. I don’t have any pictures of my grandfather; he and Vera divorced when my father was very young and she apparently cut him out of surviving photographs. But his work as a furrier survives in photographs of my father in tiny fur coats.

StitchSCAN0296-SCAN0297
Winnipeg, 1920s. My father is in the front, with his uncles Morris and Louis behind him.

By 1934, they were living in Ottawa where my grandmother worked as a saleslady at the Madame Louise Hat Shop on Bank Street which was run by David, also the proprietor of Berk’s Dress Shop. Vera also worked with fur, and was an accomplished dressmaker. Unlike my maternal grandmother, she wore wigs, nail polish and makeup, exotic clothing, and was something of a style maven.

Vera and her mother Sarah (Alexandra) Meznekoff on Russell Ave in Ottawa. 1950s
Vera and her mother Sarah (Alexandra) Meznekoff on Russell Ave in Ottawa. 1950s

My father attended Lisgar Collegiate where he was known as Bunny Berkman, a nickname my grandmother gave him.

1940s, Ottawa
1940s, Ottawa

He was an excellent trumpet player and led a student combo that included Mort Katz, who still gigs around Ottawa.

LIsgar Collegiate Institute, 31st Annual Concert, Jan 1943.
LIsgar Collegiate Institute, 31st Annual Concert, Jan 1943.

After graduating from Lisgar, he went to Queen’s University as part of the class of Meds49 where he apparently had a very good time. The reverse of this photograph has a woman’s name, phone number, and address on it.

Queen's Football Game, Kingston. late 40s.
Queen’s Football Game, Kingston. late 40s.
Graduation from Queen's School of Medicine, 1949
Graduation from Queen’s School of Medicine, 1949

He did post-graduate studies in Cardiology at Georgetown University under Dr. Proctor Harvey, and returned to Canada to begin working at the Ottawa General Hospital.

He married my mother in 1958. I was born in 1960, my sister Frances in 1961, and my brother John in 1964. My parents bought a cottage in Quebec, north of Ottawa, in 1967 and we spent many summers there. My father was the main family photographer and so there are not a lot of photos with him in them. Here’s one of the five of us.

31 MIle Lake, Quebec. July 1968
31 MIle Lake, Quebec. July 1968

He was an introvert, but well-loved by his students, winning a teaching award at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. He was intrigued by technology, built a Heathkit television and audio components, learned to program on an early Apple computer, scoured record stores every Saturday for new jazz releases (sometimes taking one of us with him and often “losing” us), and continued to play the trumpet on his own and, from time to time, with his friends.

He died in 1986 of cancer of the duodenum, predeceased by his mother in 1980.

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My favourite babysitter

My favourite babysitter.

My mother met Lucille Boyer when she was asked to teach Sunday School at a Baptist mission at Preston and Carling in Ottawa. She taught from the Fall of 1949 to June of 1951, when she was interning at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Lucille was one of her pupils, apparently something of a wild child, and they have remained friends to today.

Ottawa Civic Hospital Interns. Spring 1950
Ottawa Civic Hospital Interns. Spring 1950 – Mom is left-most in front row (seated).

Lucille often babysat us when we were young. In this photo, she and her fiancé at the time, Don Campbell, had likely taken us out one Saturday afternoon while my parents got some shopping done. In the photograph,  taken in 1962, we’re parked on the Ottawa River Parkway in front of Don’s 1958 Pontiac. Lucille is holding my sister Frances and I’m standing. She and her soon-to-be-growing family spent Christmas Day with us through much of my childhood, and she’s in the Christmas photo I posted a couple of weeks ago.

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Postcard from the past

I’m in Ottawa this week helping my mom get settled in her new apartment and helping her sort through the stuff in her condo. One of the objectives that I have for myself this week is to go through a lot of the old photos and have her help me annotate them.

Central Park and Fifth Avenue Hotels, New York City
Central Park and Fifth Avenue Hotels, New York City

A couple of weeks ago when we were preparing for her move, I filled three shoeboxes with photos and cards that had been in her desk so that it could be moved. I opened up one of them this evening and right at the top was this postcard dated July 24, 1960, just two weeks after I was born. It was to my mother from her life-long friend Ruth. I had dinner with both of them earlier today. The card reads:

Dear Emily,
I hear Janet is just a pet. Mother was so enthused about meeting her, she must be a darling. I can hardly wait to see her. So nice that your Mother is with you for a bit. Any word of a housekeeper for the fall?
Went to see “The Best Man” yesterday – good play.
Love to all
  Ruth

Here is a photo from Christmas of 1963. By then, my sister Frances was born, and the three of us are at the left. Ruth, her husband Peter, and their eldest Jane are at the front. Ruth’s parents, known as Mr and Mrs WP are standing at the left. Family friends Don and Lucille are standing at the right. The picture is taken in our living room, my father (likely) behind the camera.

Christmas 1963.
Christmas 1963.

We had Christmas with this group through most of my childhood. My mother must have been very pregnant in this picture as my brother was born in late January, 1964. Ruth and Peter had another daughter, and Don and Lucille had a daughter and a son. Christmas dinners were at different homes each year, and we enjoyed spending these evenings eating a traditional meal and then playing games.

(The play Ruth mentioned in her postcard, “The Best Man” was a Tony-winning production written by Gore Vidal.)

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Gorgeous reno of Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa

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On Friday afternoon, I dropped by the museum to check out the newly renovated space. The original tower (that didn’t last very long) has been replaced with a gorgeous glass space. Interiors have (apparently) been returned to original colours.

Very nice integration of new with old, say, compared with the ROM, ahem.