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Archive for August, 2011

Hi everyone:

This is the first of a two part blog entry – originally published in August 2011, but then revised in January 2015 in honour of the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, a man I consider to be the greatest person of the 20th century. If you read both this entry and part two, I think you’ll understand why I feel this way. It wasn’t my intention to divide this in two, but as I started writing, I began to realize that I had written far too much for one entry. People have often teased me that I write long e-mails and other lengthy stuff. Guess the word “concise” isn’t part of my vocabulary. It’s been said jokingly that the legendary author Charles Dickens wrote in such detail that it would take two chapters just for one of his characters to climb a flight of stairs. I know there are times when I am guilty as charged. And although people are good-natured about it, I fully realize that I really should learn to be more concise and get my points across more succintly. But this time isn’t one of them.

So without any further adieu, I give you part one of “Sir Winston Churchill’s 5 Lessons for Living”. To read part two, use the link found at the top of this page. Or you can get there by clicking on this link As always, feel free to share both of these blog entries with anyone you wish. As I write this in January 2015 the world is remembering Sir Winston 50 years after his death. In some small way, I hope both this entry and part two can serve as my heartfelt and affectionate tribute to one of the most remarkable people not just of the 20th century, but indeed of all recorded history. Rest in peace, Sir Winston, and thank you!! Thanks as well to all of you for reading this prologue, now on to part one!

Who are your role models? I’m sure we all have people in our lives who inspire us and drive us forward to live our lives to their fullest potential. Sometimes they might be family or friends. Or maybe it’s a religious, political or historical figure. Perhaps my greatest role model was and continues to be Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during the Second World War, when his nation stood alone against the menace of Nazi Germany. Even now as I write this revised edition in January 2015, some 70 years after the war ended, and 50 years after his death in January 1965, Sir Winston is still remembered and honoured around the world. People still find hope and inspiration in his stirring speeches that rallied the British people to what he called “their finest hour”. His writings, such as his History of the English Speaking Peoples and his classic multi-volume history of the Second World War are still bestsellers today. In fact, those books are only the beginning. Churchill has an incredible legacy that will live for generations to come. I will explore this legacy further both in this entry, and also in part two – you can also learn more from a great new Web site launched in January 2015 as the world remembers him 50 years after his death. Take a look at: Churchill Central

Even as a child, Churchill was one of my heroes. When Sir Winston died at the age of 90 in January 1965 I was a grade 2 student at Victoria Park School in St. Lambert, Quebec (a suburb of Montreal). My teacher, Mrs. Taylor, happened to be a family friend, and one evening she phoned my mother to tell her that she was worried about me. I was normally a typical eight year old, full of life and energy – but she had noticed that for the previous couple of days I had been acting very sad and depressed and she wanted to discuss this with my mother.

When Mum told her that my sadness was due to the fact that Sir Winston had died, Mrs. Taylor was stunned. After all, one wouldn’t expect an eight year old child to react that way. At that age, we’re more interested in all the typical things that kids do. But I suppose what shocked Mrs. Taylor and others who realized how sad I felt was that instead of being a typical eight year old, I was being rather “grown-up” in that I was mourning the passing of one of the most important people of the twentieth century. It’s hard to explain why I was so inspired by Churchill at such a young age – looking back across the years, I think a lot of it was because I have always been a student of history. It was always my best subject in school, and when I did my BA at McGill University, that’s what I majored in. From that perspective, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Sir Winston, reading some of those incredible and powerful speeches that rallied his people, or being so moved and impressed by how he led the British people through such a stressful period of their history.

And so it was that on the morning of Saturday January 30 1965, instead of playing outside with my friends or watching the Saturday morning cartoons as most kids my age would have done, I spent the day joining millions of people in London and around the world remembering Sir Winston. As my mother will tell you even all these years later, I got up long before sunrise that day (after all, with the time difference between London and St. Lambert, the funeral coverage got underway at something like 4:30 a.m.!) and I was basically glued to our family television set for hours. Except for the occasional trip to the washroom, I watched it all with almost no interruption. Mum even brought my meals to me and set up a small table in front of the television so that I could eat and drink without missing a thing.

It was incredible to watch – a full State Funeral as the man so richly deserved. The first State Funeral given to a former Prime Minister since William Gladstone’s service at Westminster Abbey in May 1898. London hadn’t seen anything like it since the funeral for the Duke of Wellington in November 1852. Both funerals were highlighted by all the pomp and ceremony that only the British can do so very well. Like Churchill, the Duke of Wellington was a war hero, and later became Prime Minister. In his case it was the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the historic victory at Waterloo in 1815. Both services were held at St. Paul’s Cathedral and featured solemn military processions viewed by over a million people.

In Churchill’s case, the procession began from Westminster Hall (where over 300,000 people had filed past his coffin during three days of visitation) and stretched for over a mile. The slow march wound its way through the streets of London and took an hour to reach St. Paul’s, on the same gun carriage that had been used for the funeral of Queen Victoria some 64 years earlier. The simple and yet powerful funeral service inside that historic church was attended not only by Queen Elizabeth II, but by 5 other monarchs, 15 heads of state, and hundreds of other friends and admirers. The Queen’s attendance in itself was a remarkable act, by tradition the Sovereign would not have been present for the funeral of a commoner, but Elizabeth felt it was important that she be there. The service itself, again like the Duke of Wellington’s funeral, was taken from the Burial of the Dead as contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and for me was highlighted by a heartfelt and stirring rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. I’ve never been able to find out why that hymn was included in the funeral liturgy. Given that it was written by an American (Julia Ward Howe), perhaps it was chosen as a tribute to Churchill’s American heritage. Maybe it was the stirring words and powerful emotions that we all feel every time it’s sung. Or as some have noticed, it was probably chosen because it was a hymn he loved and had sung many times in the past.

I like to think that it was the former. Sir Winston was always proud of his dual heritage, so while we may never know for sure, let’s assume that’s why it was decided to use the hymn as part of his funeral. After all, as he pointed out during his speech to a joint session of Congress during his December 1941 visit to Washington where the Arcadia Conference co-chaired by Churchill and President Roosevelt allowed for British and American leaders to plan their common strategy against Nazi Germany – “If my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own!”. That hymn still gives me goosebumps even today, perhaps because I always think of him whenever I sing it. And one final thought about all this – just as Sir Winston loved the American people, the feeling was definitely mutual. As one example, on April 9, 1963, President John F. Kennedy together with the American Congress announced that Churchill had been proclaimed an honourary American citizen, the first one to be granted such status. In fact, only six other people have ever been awarded this title including Mother Teresa and Raoul Wallenberg. Kennedy’s predecessor in the Oval Ofice, Dwight Eisenhower, offered a moving and poignant tribute to Sir Winston when he learned of the death of his longtime friend.

When the service ended with a lone trumpeter playing “The Last Post” followed by “Reveille” from the Whispering Gallery, there was the final procession from St. Paul’s down to Tower Hill Pier, where his coffin was placed on a naval launch (the “Havengore”) which carried him down the Thames one final time. It is especially poignant that as the ship passed the docks of the Pool of London, the mighty cranes used to load and unload the ships that come to the British capital from around the world were dipped in salute to the great man. Churchill was given a 19 gun military salute (in tribute to his office of Prime Minister) and in the skies overhead the Royal Air Force remembered him with a special fly-past. A short time later, the launch arrived at Festival Pier and his casket was loaded onto a train at Waterloo Station that took Sir Winston to his final resting place at Bladon, within seeing distance of his family’s ancestral home at Blenheim Palace. As one Web site devoted to the funeral mentions, the train was hauled by a locomotive named after him and as it passed through towns along the way, the tracks were lined with mourners wishing to pay their final respects. A remarkable man who shaped his world as no one else ever has, before or since. To paraphrase his “finest hour” speech – even if there are human beings on this earth a thousand years from now (or more), people will still say that Sir Winston Churchill was the finest of them all.

Like most people, I don’t remember much from when I was eight year old. But I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. Given that all this happened on a Saturday I returned to school the following Monday and I’m sure that Iwas back to my old self shortly thereafter. Years later I had the opportunity to buy a vinyl record of the entire funeral service. I’m not sure if I still have it somewhere in my world. I haven’t seen it for years. It might be in a box at my mother and stepfather’s home in Mississauga. Today, thanks to the Internet it is possible to watch Sir Winston’s funeral on video from various Web sites.

OK – I know someone out there reading this is bound to ask. No, I haven’t watched the funeral in its entirety while online, but I have watched sections of it via YouTube and other video sites. Some sites do place geographic restrictions on material, to the point where if you are reading this outside the UK, you may not be able to watch the entire service. But this doesn’t mean it’s not available at all, a search using Google or similar search engine will offer links to many places where you can learn more about the funeral and watch video coverage. To cite just a couple of examples, first here’s a link to the BBC archives and their page about the Funeral, including a short video presentation. Second, a series of video clips from the Funeral – as published by Daily Motion

There is one final sequel to all this, which took place in July 1972 – seven years later. I had the opportunity to visit London with my family as part of a month long trip to England and Scotland. A couple of days after our arrival we decided to go sightseeing, and one of the first places we visited was – you guessed it! St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s often been said that you should never run in a church, but as soon as we entered the building, I ran straight up the centre aisle and stood exactly where Sir Winston’s coffin had been on that cold January morning. As I stood there gazing up into the Cathedral’s majestic dome, my mind went back to that service. And to the camera shots looking down from the Whispering Gallery at his coffin. Now I was in that exact same spot. With more than a few tears in my eyes as I paid my own silent tribute to a remarkable man. Later on in our London trip we visited the Houses of Parliament. Outside the entrance to the House of Commons was a statue of Sir Winston, which was dedicated in 1969. Naturally I stopped to look at it, and was surprised to hear someone ask me in that distinctive Cockney accent if I knew who that was. When I answered that it was Sir Winston Churchill, his answer was something like “The best Prime Minister we ever had.” He was right, of course!

As the years rolled by, and I grew from a child to a teenager and then to an adult, Sir Winston continued to be a role model and a hero to me and he still is today. But now it’s not only because of the way he rallied the British people or his many other achievements.Those of you reading this who know me fully realize, I have had more than my share of anxiety, depression and other negatives that have weighed heavily on me. When I started to confront these issues and search for answers to improve my life, I was rather shocked to discover that Sir Winston himself had suffered from many of the same problems. Just as I experienced, his childhood was not very pleasant. Churchill’s parents never understood him and did little to encourage their son. He also struggled in school, and in summation there was little evidence from his early life of the greatness Sir Winston would later achieve. But he resolved to overcome these obstacles and in many ways he became a self-made man. He learned through courage, perseverance and dedication to raise himself to the highest levels he could. When viewed through this lens, it makes his many accomplishments all the more remarkable.

This marks the end of part one of this blog entry. Although I had originally wanted to do all this in one entry, this would be much too long and unwieldy. So I think it’s best to stop here and we’ll take a short break. Thanks for reading this – see you for part two. When you’re ready, just click on this link and you’re be there in seconds. Have a super day!!

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Hi everyone:

I’m glad you’re still with me, thanks! If you read part one of this blog entry then you know that Sir Winston Churchill has been a role model for me all of my life. As I am sure he is for many of you as well. In part one, I told you about how his death 50 years ago in January 1965 and in particular his funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London a few days later had a profound effect on me. I then offered a sequel of what happened when I visited London with my family seven years later in July 1972. Being able to offer my own tribute to him at the very spot at St. Paul’s where his coffin had been placed during that funeral service was a very emotional and powerful experience – something I still remember today, some 43 years later. As I grew into adulthood, he continued to be inspiration for me, especially when I began to confront my own anxieties, fears, depression and other negative elements – and discovered that Sir Winston had experienced many of the same things. Which gave me even more reasons to admire and respect him.

I am releasing a revised edition of this entry in January 2015 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his death, and I think it’s a fair bet to say that over time, Sir Winston’s life and legacy shine brighter than ever. To explore all this further, let me commend to my readers a Web site launched earlier this month to celebrate all this and much more: Churchill Central – Honouring Sir Winston Churchill 50 Years After His Death Now that we have set the scene, it’s time for the heart of this two part entry. Let’s now look at what I call Sir Winston Churchill’s 5 Lessons for Living. I think it’s powerful stuff, but maybe it’s best to put it all out here for you to read and then let you be the judge. But first, a short explanation of how I was inspired to share this with all of you today.

One Saturday morning earlier in the summer of 2011, after one of our monthly Burlington Coffee Group networking meetings, I visited the Indigo Bookstore in the same plaza as the Williams Fresh Cafe, where the BCG meets on the 4th Saturday morning of each month (as an aside, if you want to know more about our group: send me an e-mail at any time. And what should I find on one of their sale tables but yet another biography of Sir Winston. This one’s called “Churchill”, written by Paul Johnson and published in 2009. As part of the Epilogue was a section that you might call Sir Winston’s Lessons for Living, divided into five sections. In the end, I chose not to buy the book but instead decided to write down the basic elements of what Johnson talks about so that I could discuss them here and now. And at long last, dear reader, you have come to the reason for this blog entry. I wanted to share with all of you those five points. Here we go!

Always aim high. Even if you don’t reach your target, you will still achieve something worthwhile. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Reinforce the things you are good at and recognize the skills and talents that you have been given. Beware of failure – learn to conquer your aversions and ignorances. Rise above those weaknesses and don’t let them get the better of you. Turn those weaknesses into strengths and negatives into positives. Do all in your power to reach your full potential and you’ll be a better person.

In Sir Winston’s case, as I mentioned back in part one of this blog entry, his childhood and adolescent years were not promising. He was a poor student and his academic prowess certainly gave no hint of what his life would ultimately become. And since his parents never encouraged him to succeed and make something from his life, his childhood wasn’t the greatest. But in spite of these and other obstacles he aimed high and eventually succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. For example, he conquered his aversion to math and in the end passed his courses with little trouble.

It may surprise some reading this, but Sir Winston also had a slight speech impediment not unlike that of his father. Just like the other obstacles that he confronted, this was something that Churchill constantly worked on through the years. Some thought it might be a stuttering problem, but as at least one Web site notes it more likely was a lisp. But even this he turned into a positive. It often showed up in his many dictations transcribed by his secretaries, and as that above Web site notes, it was considered “charming” by those who heard them. And like all good orators, Sir Winston knew the proper cadence, rhythms and pacing that are just as part of any speech as its content. It certainly comes through whenever we hear him and did little to detract his basic message on each occasion.

But in spite of these and other hardships, Sir Winston’s childhood wasn’t all bad. Fortunately, even at that young age, he had a gift for the written word and was an excellent communicator. He worked hard at improving those skills too and it paid off in spades later on and in ways too numerous to mention here. Just think not only of those wartime speeches, but also of the many books and other writings that will remain part of Churchill’s amazing legacy for generations to come. By the way, did you know that he published more works than William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens combined? He was also an accomplished artist and his paintings came to be highly valued and can still be seen today around the world. We all know about his incredible leadership as Britain’s Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945, but even now, 50 years after his death, his footprints are all over the global map. For example, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1, Churchill played a key role in establishing the countries of today’s Middle East and their boundaries (indeed, some have said that he coined the term “Middle East”), including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. Not only was he present with Stalin and Roosevelt at the great conferences held at places like Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam that shaped postwar Europe, but he foresaw the eventual collapse of the USSR, the reunification of Germany, the end of the Cold war and the rise of today’s European Union. I could write so much more, but there aren’t enough words to accurately discuss Sir Winston’s impact on our society, and why he will be talked about for generations to come – take another look at: Churchill Central

There’s no substitute for hard work. Sir Winston was a tireless worker. I suppose he had to be during the war years when as Prime Minister he represented that fighting spirit and tenacity that his country so desperately needed. The British people needed a strong leader to inspire them on to the victory that ultimately came in May 1945. As Johnson and many other biographers have noted, Sir Winston often worked in what we might consider “non-traditional” business environments. For example, it’s well known that he usually spent his mornings working from his bed. Dictating memos for his personal staff, making phone calls, and so on. He was even known to sometimes hold important meetings while soaking in the bathtub. Hmm – I wonder if any women were in attendance, or were those sessions just for the guys? I suppose we’ll never know for sure 🙂 He was definitely not your average “9 to 5” guy. Sir Winston worked crazy hours (it was not uncommon for him to summon people in the wee hours of the morning when most people would be asleep), but his incredible drive, energy and bulldog tenacity to get the job done that propelled both him and his country forward, especially during the war years.

Sir Winston worked tirelessly on those famous wartime speeches, going over his messages time and again to make sure it was exactly the way he wanted. The fact that those speeches inspired his people then and still do today proves that his many hours spent writing them more than paid off. One of the best examples might have been the one he delivered on June 4 1940 which culminated in those famous words: “We shall go on to the end… We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills…We shall never surrender”.

But he was wise enough to know that his speeches needed to be more than just words. Sir Winston knew that and backed it up with action and a never-say-die attitude. He would routinely work long hours, and was well known for sleeping for a couple of hours at a time, including short “cat-naps” during the day.

His dedication and commitment also meant that in many cases he would travel long distances to meet people, even if it wasn’t in the most convenient locations or if he wasn’t in the best health. But if he knew that a personal meeting would help get things done he was more than willing to make the effort. The fact that he did so was always appreciated by the others in attendance, and no doubt contributed to achieving the desired results.

In point number two I think his message for us is to work hard every day. Give everything you do your absolute best effort. We all make mistakes in life, but in spite of that don’t settle for anything shoddy, or second rate. If memory serves, I think Sir Winston once said like something like “I am easily satisfied with the very best”. Even if he didn’t actually say that quote, I know he would have related to it. Rather than settling for mediocrity, give the task every ounce of energy you have. Just like the Japanese management concept of “kaizen”, always look for continuous improvement and strive to the best you can be in every aspect of your life.

He may have been a hard worker and put tremendous energy and commitment into everything he did, but Churchill also believed in balancing work and leisure time – something we can all lose sight of at times. He knew that we need to pace ourselves and don’t get overtired. As Johnson describes this part of the five points, Sir Winston believed that the right combination of work and rest would allow you to remain fresh in both mind and body. Leisure time, as well as the importance of conserving and managing your energy properly also lets you remain focused and stay sharp, so that when you resume the task you can do so with renewed passion, commitment, and be able to do your best work.

Don’t let mistakes, personal difficulties and similar aspects of life get you down. I really like this one. For someone like me who suffers from anxiety and depression it’s easy to harp on the negative. To flash back to times when I made mistakes, or when negative thoughts and feelings would overtake me. To replay over and over in my mind those bad times. And it just makes me feel worse and more depressed than ever. So this is something I can really identify with, and I’ll bet that you can too.

But while it’s easy to put all this down in a blog entry, or for you to read these words right now, it’s hard to actually do it. I know from experience that it takes a lot of work to break that cycle of despair. To banish the bad times and focus on the good ones. But it’s critical that I do this as part of working on my self confidence and giving myself a better self-image. While I don’t claim to be a psychiatrist, nor am I an expert on other elements of human behaviour, but I believe we’re all “damaged goods” to some degree, no human being is perfect. The difference between us as human beings is how “damaged” we really are and how we chose to deal with our situation. But the good news is that we’re all “works in progress” and that every day gives us a chance to improve ourselves.

As I noted before, Churchill also suffered from many of these same anxieties, depression and related things. But he learned to rebound from those dark times and to carry on. He knew that all those things I just mentioned above were true and needed to be practiced every day. Johnson notes that Sir Winston had incredible recuperative powers and was able to bounce back from physical illness and other setbacks quickly. He displayed courage and fortitude all those his life. Johnson wisely notes that Sir Winston’s life in part was an exercise in how courage can be displayed, reinforced and passed along to others.

I think the lesson here is to move on from the dark times and find ways to put all that behind us. As I said above, it’s not easy to banish those dark times but I know in my heart that I have to try every day. I have no choice, and neither do you if you want to improve yourself. We should work at being more resilient, to bounce back from our mistakes and to learn from them. Just as Sir Winston did, we all need to work on characteristics such as courage and fortitude – and pass them on to others.

This concept sounds very much like the idea of “Personal Resiliency”, as outlined by one of my favourite speakers at HAPPEN, Dick O’Brien. It would take pages to explain the concept of PR (remember that comment about Charles Dickens in part one? No, I won’t offer a long dissertation about PR now – another blog entry perhaps?), but the essence of “Personal Resiliency” is that we can’t control much of what happens to us in life. But we can control how we react and deal with those events. Somehow, I’d bet that Sir Winston would agree with that concept!

Waste as little time as possible on the meanness and negativities of life. Another one we can all relate to, but I think for most of us this is easier said than done. Johnson notes when writing about this section, there is nothing more draining or energy-zapping in life than negativities such as hatred, anger or malice. I couldn’t agree more. Stay away from these things. Don’t plot revenge against someone who caused you pain. Life is too short to hold a grudge, feel resentment or bitterness against anyone. Choose your battles wisely and learn how to fight them constructively. But when that battle is over, regardless of whether you feel you won or lost, turn the page and move on. Learn to forgive those who have hurt you and be sure to offer forgiveness if you have hurt others. Replace enmity with friendship, especially if in the end you agree to disagree with the other person. Johnson also notes a perfect example of that final point. Even though the Germans were Sir Winston’s bitter enemy during the war years, he delighted in reaching out to the German people as friends once the conflict was over. As many have noted, his quarrel was with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, not with the people. Churchill himself stated that in his memoirs when he remarked: “my hatred died with their surrender”. Although many of his contemporaries felt Germany should be severely punished and made to suffer as a result of the Nazi era, Sir Winston had compassion for the people and whenever possible supported efforts to improve their lives and to heal their nation after six terrible years of war.

He practiced those qualities in other ways too. For example, during the 1930’s he fought many personal and political battles with leaders such as Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. When Churchill became Prime Minister, it would have been easy to use his office to gain revenge on them. But instead, he did the opposite and treated them with respect and friendship.

In spite of Chamberlain’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, Sir Winston insisted on keeping him in his War Cabinet, and often gave him updates especially as Chamberlain’s health deteriorated. Johnson notes one example during the Battle of Britain when the RAF had a particularly good day and shot down many Luftwaffe fighters. Churchill phoned Chamberlain and advised him of the good news. He didn’t have to do that, and most people in Sir Winston’s position probably wouldn’t have. But he felt it was important to keep Chamberlain informed, and I would wager that he appreciated Churchill’s kindness in doing so.

In the case of Stanley Baldwin, the two men would sometimes do lunch together when their schedules permitted, and were seen to be very cordial and friendly. As Johnson noted Baldwin had his own health issues, which meant that these old political adversaries probably had much in common. No doubt those times helped to cheer up both men and gave each the courage to go on in spite of difficult times both for themselves and for their country.

Fill your life with joy and happiness and always take the time to share those qualities with others. After all, if you followed the previous steps and those negatives are gone from your life, why not fill those empty places inside you with joy and happiness? Or as Johnson puts it,the absence of hatred leaves room for joy in your life. And share that joy with others. Surround yourself with positive feelings. Sir Winston had a very witty sense of humour and was not afraid to tell a joke and/or share a laugh with others. Given the burdens of his life and in particular his own struggles with depression and other forms of mental illness, laughing and enjoying life must have been a struggle for him. But he did it and it made him a better person. May that be said for each of us.

Thanks for reading this, and as Sir Winston himself often said about the business of life and his own struggles of perseverance and determination: We must just KBO, which stood for “keep buggering on”. Words to live by and something we can all take to heart.

Just as Churchill was and continues to be a role model in my life, may his example inspire you to reach “your finest hour”.

Thank you for reading both of these blog entries. Now that you have reached the end, or as Sir Winston might proclaim if he were reading this, “the end of the beginning”, I hope you will understand my lifelong admiration and respect for a man whose like we may never see again. Until next time!

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Hi everyone:

If you are a regular reader of my blog entries – then you know that last August I wrote about the Hamilton Mardi Gras Festival, and in particular my thoughts and feelings about it all after watching the Parade wind its way through the streets of downtown Hamilton and over to Bayfront Park for the celebration that followed (as only people from the Caribbean can do it!) And I noted that if I felt up to it, if I didn’t have other plans for the weekend and the weather co-operated, I just might have another run at it in 2011.

As I write this, it’s Saturday afternoon (August 6), and I did indeed watch the 2011 Festival Parade earlier today. And I thought it might be fun to offer a sequel of sorts – some comments about this Parade and how it compared to last year.

In many ways, it reminded me a lot of the 2010 edition. Once again, there were lots of amazing costumes, spectacular floats and of course lots of infectious music and dance that echoed off the buildings of downtown Hamilton and got many people in the crowd up and dancing to the rhythms. A lot of fun – a “jump-up” to be sure. Some things were rather different from 2010, and it’s fun to examine them as well.

For openers, the Parade route was different from last year. In 2010, they went from Hamilton City Hall down James Street and eventually used one of the sidestreets just north of LIUNA station and the railway tracks to wind its way over to Bayfront Park. This morning, however, the whole thing moved a block west to Bay Street. I can see why this was done for a couple of reasons. First, Bay Street offers a more direct route from the City Hall parking lots that serve as a staging area for the participants. Second (and probably the most likely reason for the move), James Street has been under repair for much of the spring and summer of 2011, especially the section from King Street (at Jackson Square) all the way north for several blocks down to York Boulevard.

I suspect much of this repair of James Street has to do with the renovation and rebuilding of The Lister Block, one of Hamilton’s oldest and most historic buildings, which is located at the corner of James and King William Streets – and which corresponds with much of the section of James that is being repaired. Over the years, perhaps as a microcosm of downtown Hamilton itself, the Lister Block had fallen into disrepair and had become a major eyesore. But during the past couple of years, the building has undergone an extensive renovation and repair – to the point where it now looks good as new and ready for its official re-opening this fall, when the plan is for the building to house City of Hamilton offices. I salute and applaud those responsible for this project, and I sincerely hope that the Lister Block renovation will serve as a catalyst for similar projects in Hamilton’s downtown core, something which this city sorely needs.

As an aside, I find the fact that the City will be using the office space in the Lister Block as opposed to the private sector rather interesting – given that our City Hall recently underwent its own renovation and upgrade. You would have thought that as part of these renovations to City Hall that provision would have been made to house all City staff there. But I guess not. Maybe it wasn’t feasible to do that, especially if our municipal government is large enough that it can’t all be located at City Hall. Regardless of the reasoning behind it all, the Lister Block will also serve as office space for the City. This could, I suppose, lead me into writing another blog entry about this particular issue – but for now I cite this here if only as a possible reason why the 2011 Parade chose to use Bay Street instead of the James Street route they used last year.

Second, I noticed the Parade seemed to feature more participants from outside the Caribbean. For example, everything started with a float representing Hamilton’s Filipino community. Hmm – I know the Phillipines consists of many islands (just like the Caribbean), but they are located in the Pacific Ocean. Still, it was nice to see their contribution. Later on, a rather large group from Nigeria entertained us for some time. Now of course none of this is meant to take away from the “Islanders”. Our Caribbean friends were still greatly in evidence, especially the people from Jamaica and Trinidad – who seemed to form the majority of the Parade’s content. But I think it was great to see people from other parts of the world get involved, perhaps this is a trend that will continue in future years, especially as the Festival continues to grow and evolve.

Things were also different from 2010 because of how I chose to experience the Parade. In 2010, I started out watching it from Jackson Square, and basically let the whole thing carry me along James Street over to Bayfront Park, where I watched all the floats come in and then gradually made me way back home. This time, however, I decided to stay in one area and just watch the Parade go by. That one area was in front of the Federal Government building on Bay, directly across the street from Copps Coliseum.

I sat on a couple of park benches in front of the building for most of the Parade, but sometimes I would get up and watch the floats and bands do their thing. It took just over 2 hours for everything to go by (the Filipino float that opened the Parade came by us at about 11:15 and the final section appeared just before 1:30). I found the logistics behind it all interesting in that there were many gaps between the various elements. I suspect the organizers did that on purpose so that each musical section or other group (such as the Centro Internacional de Adoracion – a Spanish speaking Christian church who formed the second unit after the Filipinos) could have their chance to showcase themselves. I thought it was a great idea and I commend the organizers for doing this. I’ll bet that anyone from the Caribbean reading this will tell me that these “gaps” are normal in a Parade like this, and provide enough room so that everyone gets their own space. I found it all rather fascinating. It was as if the music, costumes and dancers just kept coming in waves, and while each group certainly had their own identity, the combined kaleidescope of sound and visuals was really fun to see and hear. A wonderful experience that made the day memorable for all of us.

I noted above that it took just over 2 hours for the entire Parade to go by us, but it seemed like far less time. It went by rather quickly, and it only seemed like many of us in the crowd lining both sides of Bay Street had settled in when it ended. Unlike the 2010 edition, when I followed it all down to Bayfront Park, this time I chose to stay in the area and watched it all disappear out of view. As the Parade ended, I crossed the street, headed into Jackson Square to run a couple of errands at some of the stores in the mall, and eventually came home.

The weather? It turned out to be fine for the entire Parade, although one couldn’t help but notice that the skies were gradually clouding over as the morning wore on, and the winds picked up noticeably over those 2 hours or so. But no rain. And in fact, it didn’t start raining this afternoon until about 4:00, by coincidence just before I started writing this entry. I hope the gang down at Bayfront brought along some umbrellas and other rain gear. Considering the rain was in the forecast, I’ll wager they did.

That’s all for now. Once again, I offer my sincerest congratulations to the Festival organizers, and I wish them well. I saw a couple of signs noting that 2011 marks the Festival’s 10th anniversary. That’s great, and I hope this event continues to grow and expand in years to come. I also noticed some references to the Toronto Caribbean Festival (yes, that’s what the Caribana Festival I talked about in last year’s entry has turned into – seems the organizers can no longer use the name “Caribana”), and I hope there is a growing dialogue and networking between our Festival here in Hamilton and the much larger one in Toronto that usually takes place on our Civic Holiday weekend (the previous one).

I’ll bet this idea is a no-brainer for many people reading this, but I hope that the Hamilton Festival can play off the Toronto one, and can become a “doubleheader” of sorts. In that I wonder if many of the same musical groups and other participants will be part of both Festivals. The same thing could happen from a tourist perspective too. I know that thousands of people come to Toronto from all over North America. I hope that many of them decide to stick around for a week and then join us in Hamilton. Why not? Seems like a natural to me!

Time to wrap this up. I wish everyone involved in the 2011 Hamilton Mardi Gras Festival the very best of everything. I hope that it’s a wonderful, memorable and fantastic weekend for all of you. Going forward, may the 2012 Festival and those beyond be even better. Will you see me again watching the 2012 Parade? Who knows! A lot can happen in one year, but if things work out right you just might see me in the crowd.

My best to everyone reading this. Until next time!!

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