By the river

My late father Cecil George William Chapman DSO was born in Hillsborough, NB in 1918. He attended University of New Brunswick (“Up the Hill”) in Fredericton, NB for undergraduate studies (electrical engineering) from which he graduated at the end of the Great Depression when he was 21 years of age. Having lived through that entire era naturally explains a great deal about my father whatever its reverberations may have been.

The Great Depression (1929–1939) was an economic shock that affected most countries across the world. It was a period of economic depression that became evident after a major fall in stock prices in the United States. The economic contagion began around September 1929 and led to the Wall Street stock market crash of October 24 (Black Thursday). It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century.

Harshly affected by both the global economic downturn and the Dust Bowl, Canadian industrial production had by 1932 fallen to only 58% of its 1929 figure, the second-lowest level in the world after the United States, and well behind countries such as Britain, which fell to only 83% of the 1929 level. Total national income fell to 56% of the 1929 level, again worse than any country apart from the United States. Unemployment reached 27% at the depth of the Depression in 1933.

Sometime during the Great Depression (or so I have been told) my paternal grandfather made an offer to buy 301 Woodstock Road, Fredericton, NB. Reportedly the offer was rejected out-of-hand by the real estate agent who proclaimed, “I wouldn’t present that offer to the owner!” to which my grandfather replied, “Well, if you won’t, I will.”  And he did.  He bought the house.

Not long after my grandfather bought Woodstock Road, my father joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (1939). My father would have spent at least several years living at home at 301 Woodstock Road adjoining the St. John River nearby the University of New Brunswick. I know he had volumes of memories of life on Woodstock Road, notably including maple butter and oysters (straw-laden wooden boxes of which were in my memory annually delivered fresh-in-the-shell to his home in Ottawa for Christmas). My grandfather was a fishmonger, a silver fox rancher and a maple syrup pioneer.

It occurred to me today that my father and I share a riparian heritage. His young life began by a river, my old life has ended by a river.  While I have lived in Almonte for almost 50 years it is only since we recently moved into our apartment at the end of Spring Street that I am fully cognizant of living alongside the Mississippi River. Until now I have lived within walking distance of the River, on either side of it; but it is only now that I have the daily advantage and stimulation of looking directly upriver from our withdrawing room.

The riparian connection, as you might reasonably speculate, is but one of many similarities my late father and I share. If this observation sounds axiomatic – and I don’t doubt that it is – I nonetheless have only at this very late stage of my life cottoned onto the surprisingly many similarities that exist. One connection between us is automobiles and driving (though I have never acquired his related mechanical skills). Nor have we ever shared the allure of hunting or fishing.  And gardening is right out! But otherwise we’re a spitting image of one another. I won’t venture to delineate the similarities but they are so profound that I repeatedly catch myself rolling my eyes from their regularity.

While one of the most obvious similarities my father and I share is automobiles (and his father drove a Packard limousine) not all our personality traits are so tolerable. Mine in particular leave much to be desired.  Thriftiness for example is not a characteristic I share with my father (or with anyone else for that matter).  As for his achievement of this pinnacle of economy I blame the Depression; and his overall lack of ostentation. In my defence I have a more theatrical bent. But as I have aged, I have descended commensurately more closely to his mutuality.  Indeed it is a native process which I find almost alarming because it is a purity I really hadn’t ever anticipated.  For most of my life I imagained that it was my mother and I who drew stronger parallels. She for example tended more to the profligate. But now I think otherwise. The modification is a favourable progression because I would never have been able to impute my father’s cultivated manners and regimental deportment.  My mother, though she never once embarrassed me for any reason whatsoever, was far more spirited than my father. For the record, my father bought both me (his first born child) and his first born granddaughter (my niece and goddaughter) our first car. The three of us carry many similarities.

Although my father never presented himself to me with any perceptible degree of emotion, I think he was secretly proud of me.  I believe he especially admired the decision I made early in life to withdraw from the urban vernacular to the rural environment.  This at least is my perception; and naturally it (that is, the approbation of Almonte) is one which I have never contradicted.  Almonte to me is the supreme height of desirability. Only as lately as today as I chatted at length with a former contact on nearby Johanna Street, I relived one thousand cheerful memories. Both the chap’s wife and his daughter were former employees of Bank of Montreal where I initiated and sustained my banking alliance throughout my entire career. They together wrote the book on banker/client relationships. I simply cannot speak highly enough of them both. Yet they are but illustrative of the ubiquitous bona fides and sunny recollections which have coloured the long history of my life here. I won’t suggest it is connected directly to the river, but the bounty of life here and in New Brunswick seems to be related somehow to that critical element of life; viz., water.