By A. Boomer
A. Boomer is a CARP member who shares his experiences growing up middle aged, every two weeks in the CARP ActionOnline newsletter. He is back by popular demand with his new blog, The Middle Aged Guide to Growing Up, after completing his previous blog, the Caregivers Diary, which concluded upon the death of the parents for whom he cared. He deals with his finances, health, food and all the problems Boomers experience as they discover theyre actually going to grow old.
I’m a boomer, and I won the lottery. I was born white, male, Canadian, in the middle of the baby boom. It doesn’t get better than that anywhere in the world. But like all but a few Canadians, I’m not from here, or at least my family isn’t.
I come from a long line of Generation 5, British and Canadian. The first General commissioned in my mother’s family was in 1789. The first Canadians were legion – they all arrived brothers and cousins, from England and her outposts in the 1840s. A prominent biographer. The first Postmaster-General of Canada and later a Father of Confederation. The last Premier of the Northwest Territories and the father of Alberta.
My forebears were a little more modest. They sprung from a retired Major General, who carved out an estate near Peterborough. His son, born in Tounghoo, Burma, when his father was posted there, was my great grandfather.
He was a young medical student when he volunteered to go out west and fight the Red River rebellion in 1869. After he completed his degree and became an MD, he joined the Northwest Mounted Police, then headed up by Superintendent Sam Steele, as a surgeon.
He fought in the Second Riel Rebellion of 1884, and was present with Steele at Loon Lake, the last battle fought on Canadian soil. He followed Steele west to Fort MacLeod, where he was post surgeon. During his travels, he treated one of Sitting Bull’s favourite wives for TB while the chief was hiding out in the Cypress Hills. Sitting Bull was so grateful he offered the doctor a wife, something he already had.
There is a photo of the doctor and his wife and his little boy, my grandfather, at Fort MacLeod, at breakfast. The room is full of tchotchkes, there’s a big fringed lamp on the table and, amid the breakfast things, a large black cat. To this day, a large cat is often found on my breakfast and dinner table.
There are also photos of treaty day, when the Indians came to get their 5 dollars, their blankets, and cartridges and salt and flour. Tipis for miles across the bare prairie. Solemn chiefs in full war bonnets. Handsome Englishmen in tight uniforms lounging around, draped on a cannon.
The doctor died at the turn of the 20th century, leaving three boys, a girl and an incredibly stong-willed widow who had followed him across a wild continent. My grandfather, the oldest boy, took a job as cowboy on the Cochrane Ranche, a vast expanse of what was then still known as the Northwest Territories, of which his great uncle was Premier. The rest of the family headed home for Ontario and settled in the rural southwest.
My grandfather, now a young man, came back to Ontario to enlist in the first World War. He joined the brand new Royal Flying Corps and flew as an observer in two seat DeHavilland SE 5As. One of his brothers was gassed with the infantry at Ypres, another was an officer at Vimy. They were all officers. It was in the blood, as it were.
Grandfather came home, and as young man, landless, poor, but well-educated, took a job as the accountant at a pulp and paper mill in Port Dalhousie, and stayed there the rest of his life. He rejoined the army as a captain in the second World War, but, at his age, didn’t see service overseas.
His daughter, my mother, saw service overseas, though. She served in the RCAF as a Leading Aircraftwoman (not an officer, for once). She was stationed in Newfoundland, which was classified as an overseas posting, and her pay reflected it.
She was a bit of a piece of work, and got asked to fly with them to remote places by American bomber pilots. She spilled out of a bar in St John’s on her 21st birthday at midnight, only to find Operation Overlord had begun. She was thrown out of the Ritz Carleton in Montreal on VE Day for being too rowdy in her room.
Which leads to my siblings and I, Generation 5. None of have served, we haven’t had the opportunity. Oldest brother and I were both US draft-fodder (he got a lottery number, one that was never selected), but never had cause to fight for Canada.
It’s sad to see a family tradition going back two and a quarter centuries come to an end. I’m not sure the old family connections would get us into the officer corps anymore, anyway., so there will be no more generals in this branch of the family. Pity.