Grand River Branch

United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

 

 

 

 


Selected Reprints from the

Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches



"Fireside Chats Of Historical Content"

Gary Peters, February 1996, Vol.8 No.1, Pages 14-18

 


 

     Christmas 1956. Almost forty years and half a lifetime have passed.  I seldom remember the unique gifts and special events of yesterday's yuletide seasons.  That particular Christmas morning was not so different from many others before and after.  I was sixteen then, always excited by the Christmas season then, and like my brothers and sister, arose early to open the gifts.  Good memories are like a mirage -- isolated and vivid, but so often unstable and disconnected.  The harder we chase after them, the more they seem to flee our grasp -- the illusion beyond reach.  But that morning so long ago has remained in my North American "white male memory".  I walked into the living room early in the morning, shortly after seven and there it was, leaning tall and proud near the tree -- a long beautifully blued barrel, a fine, polished stock and firearm.  Yes!  At last!  My very own "Cooey" .22 calibre single shot bolt-action rifle.  I had come of age.  I was now a member of the adult free citizenry.  The outdoor hunting jaunts with my father or older brother, the training in gun handling, dad's intoned moral instructions on the wise use of the firearm and respect for the game laws -- all were preparation  and I had passed the tests.  The privilege of owning and using a hunting gun -- it was one of the stages of growing, one of the ancient rites of passage, like baptism, confirmation or marriage.

 

 Cooey .22 calibre single shot bolt-action rifle

  Gangway groundhogs!  Here I come!  Heck, I couldn't wait for spring.  I had acquired a hunting license in September, hoping to hunt waterfowl in the fall.  Christmas that year came early in the week and on Boxing Day (Wednesday, if my memory is correct) my older brother and I and a neighbour, Joachim Wilhelmy, donned our winter clothing, stuffed our pockets with ammunition, removed the bolts and with guns in hand, proceeded to walk out of town into nearby farmland.  In those times, we knew many of the farmers as friends and neighbours.

  We were living on Forest Road in Galt (Cambridge).  New subdivisions had sprouted after the war and the old meadows and woods where we had so often explored and played were rapidly disappearing.  We walked up Gladstone Avenue past Berkeley Road.  Children were tobogganing and a few waved as we passed them on the roads or sidewalks.  A "Chevy Belair" drove by, its occupants barely noticing us.  They were too busy with their own seasonal visiting to be in the least bit concerned with three armed teenage squirts nonchalantly hiking up the city streets into the country.  Out through the new subdivisions as we went, trudging through the snow until we entered the path on the way to "Barry's Cut", up the CPR track and into the fields and woodlots near Orr's Lake.

  It was a cold day with light flurries.  We were well dressed for the occasion and full of energy.  The fresh country air and the mere freedom of wandering with my new gun was an invigorating experience which I will never forget.  A jack rabbit scurried across a field into brush along a split rail fence.  I fired, fully expecting to miss and was not disappointed.  The rabbit lived to see another day.  Around four o'clock we made a small campfire in the woods, talked for a while and as dusk approached we doused the fire and headed home.  Shortly after six, as we were walking down Gladstone Avenue in the darkness, a police car passed.  The constable slowed briefly to study us and he drove on to presumably deal with matters of greater urgency.  How times have changed!

  I was raised in a family where the men, of old Upper Canadian stock, had long inherited the social customs an practices of hunting.  In the late 1940's, Dad and his buddies would often gather around the dining room table on a Friday evening, to display and compare their shotguns, check the "chokes", and talk about last Saturday's hunt.  Grandpa once told me of his famous attempt (near Peterborough in the 1890's) to down a crow with his father's powder musket.  It seems he overloaded it and the recoil knocked him backwards over a bridge right into a creek.  According to the story he did get the crow!  Only a few years ago, I read in the Illustrated Atlas of Norfolk County that my great-great grandfather, John Ostrander, onetime Reeve of Middleton, was considered a "mighty hunter -- following the deer for days, and often killed three a day".

  From the late 1950's and into the early 1970's, I would take every opportunity to hunt with my father and brothers.  We always looked forward to the opening of the "duck season" in the fall and the annual trip to the cottage on Lake Eugenia.  Sometimes we hunted game birds on the farms east of Galt and once, I went on a deer hunt in Haliburton.  Fortunately, I never saw a deer on that expedition and still have doubts that I could have fired had one appeared in the sights of the gun.  In the summer, I would still wander through the locals fields on the prowl for groundhogs or other "varmints".  Yet by the early 1970's my days as a hunter were coming to an end.  University was time-consuming and there were too many other distractions and high priority matters which required attention.  I sold or gave away my firearms before leaving the country in 1973.

  Using borrowed guns, I hunted occasionally with my dad and younger brother in the early 1980's.  However, I seemed to be losing my trigger touch.  Furthermore, the government was finally encroaching on the now touchy domain of private gun ownership.  Bill C-51, the introduction of mandatory Firearms Acquisition Certificates and stringent new regulations covering the storage and transportation of weapons signalled the end of an era.  The continuing  urbanization of the rural landscape in Southern Ontario was squeezing the traditional hunting locations.  A powerful, but probably necessary trespass law was introduced by the provincial legislature about 1982 and it placed further restrictions on hunting practices in the province.  The new environmental movement was rapidly changing public attitudes.  Hunting became a "bloodsport" morally offensive and something that civilized people logically shunned.  Like the slaughterhouse, hunting became a hidden societal sin, a grisly activity carried out furtively and in secret.  For me, "the gun in the meadow", as a vestige of Upper Canadian rural life, had come to an end.


"Games Laws

Are unknown in this country.  Deer are numerous in the woods, and you may shoot every one you meet.  Venison, in some parts of the province, especially Kingston, is abundant in its season......

 

  Bears and wolves are not so numerous as they were, though many are still killed every year. -- Foxes continue in great numbers; and as in Europe, are frequent and great robbers of hen roosts.

 

  Pheasants are in plenty, but of a smaller size than in England.  Partridges are scare.  Pigeons, of a great variety of species, visit the country; they are seen in spring and autumn in flocks that darken the atmosphere.  Ducks and teal are abundant; and woodcocks are numerous.  Hunting, shooting and fishing are free to all. "

 From A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819, by James Strachan, (Aberdeen : by D. Chalmers & Co., for James Strachan, 1820).

  Fish, fowl and game animals, large and small -- they were seemingly abundant in the early years of Upper Canada.  People were obviously scarce.  The principles of conservation, of legal protection for wildlife and their habitats were unknown.  The opposite in fact, was often the object of settlement policy.  Bears and wolves were considered rather undesirable creatures and were systematically killed.  Local game, whether on four feet or of the winged varieties, were eaten in great quantities.  Listen again to another voice from the past.  William Radcliff, and Irish settler immigrated in 1830 and settled near Adelaide (east of London).  He wrote in December, 1832 to Arthur Radcliff of Dublin:


"  You will be impatient to hear of the shooting; an interesting topic to a good sportsman like you.  The time has been, when I should have considered it paramount to any other; but, would you believe it? -- I have not even had time to think about it -- no one, however, goes into the woods, or anywhere on business, without his fowling-piece; and game, of one sort or another, is generally brought home.  My preoccupation has almost entirely precluded this, as, being my own architect, I cannot leave the building for an hour -- my entire success in the shooting way can, therefore, be reported in a few words -- in riding through one of my lots, a partridge got up, I dismounted, when another rose, which I shot flying -- a great feat here, where they never attempt any thing beyond a sitting shot.

   This is the only game I have yet brought home -- a finer bird never came to table -- infinitely larger than our grouse, of the same form, but remarkably white in the flesh, and with the plumage of the common partridge.  They are called pheasants, and are most numerous; I have no doubt that there are a hundred conveys within two miles of this house, but, alas, I have no dog -- what would I not give now to have old Grouse? "

From "William Radcliff, Esq., Upper Canada to Arthur Radcliff, Esq., Dublin" in Authentic Letters from Upper Canada, with an Account of Canadian Field Sports, by T. W. Magrath; edited by the Rev. T. Radcliff (Dublin : William Curry, Jun. and Co., 1833).

  These observations and letters from early Upper Canada betray a curious and almost universal myth which was turned on its head by, among other things, the Spanish philosopher Josť Orteg y Gasset in his fascinating belle-lettre Meditations on Hunting.  No matter where we live, there exists the natural tendency to believe that game was more plentiful fifty or one hundred years ago than today.  If we were to move further back in time to a pristine land unseen and untouched by the human hand, would we not expect to find a world teeming with wildlife, a superabundance of game?  Hunting, fishing and food gathering would be near effortless.  Fish and game populations fluctuate under a variety of pressures but most game animals (something like jobs in a modern economy), have always existed in states of relative scarcity.  Even in the non-human world of prey and predator, the pursuit requires time, effort, cunning and the carnivore's reward of a full belly is never guaranteed.

   Nevertheless the corollary is also true.  Even in prehistory, human communities impacted on the environment, often to the detriment of species which served as the food supply for hunter-gatherer societies.  William Radcliff and Thomas Magrath came to the heartland of North America and found a rural, sparsely settled and somewhat egalitarian society free of the aristocratic game laws so common in the British Isles and Europe.  In Upper Canada, as in the rest of North America, hunting and guns had long been "democratized".  Neither musket nor quarry remained the privilege of the leisure class.  the seeming abundance of most game was a natural perception, but then as now, the dangerous depletion or extinction of wilderness animals by human activities, was foreseen.  the vast reduction of the western buffalo herds, the death of the passenger pigeon and other effects of over-hunting awakened governments and hunters alike to the need for serious controls.  Well before the close of the Victorian era, the first tentative steps were taken to limit and protect wildlife from any excess of the "venatic arts" so popular in a rapidly growing population of armed males.

  Does anyone recall the "forgetful hunters" cartoon in an old (ca. 1953?) issue of the Saturday Evening Post?  The boys have packed their gear, food and of course, several cases of "vital beverages" in the trunk of the car and are about to leave.  The "Mrs." calls frantically from the front door "Oh boys, boys -- don't forget your guns!"  I know neither the author nor the exact source of this gem and much less am I knowledgeable about the infamous North American hunting trip which, according to popular conception (or misconception), invariably mixes guns and beer.  Like most stereotypes, this belief certainly contains a grain of truth, but it is less true today than fifty or even one hundred years ago.  Firearms and alcohol have always been an explosive mixture.  A survey of the unofficial archive pertaining to the origin and development of our provincial game laws and licensing systems, suggests that the various regulations may have been minimally influenced by special interest groups which were only remotely concerned with wildlife management.  Hunting licenses were never too far removed from the quiet but watchful eyes of the police and the sheriffs.  The most powerful pro-feminist movement of the last century -- the Women's Christian Temperance Union was ever wary of the drunken male, especially when guns were readily at hand.  Hunting licenses were among the first products of the rationalized bureaucratic state.  It is certainly true that they were ninety-nine percent game control, but they were also one percent gun control.

  In the labyrinth of ancient north European languages lie the linguistic sherds of many present-day customs and habits of the heart.  Hund, the German word for "dog" predates by untold centuries the Middle English dog, dogge or the Old English docgaDocga may actually have been a breed of Hund.  Hound seems to be derived from Old English hund, the same as Old Frisian hund, hond or Old High German hunt and similar to the Old Norse hundr.  Originally, a hound meant simply a dog in the general sense.  Today we associate the term with specific breeds which are intended for the chase.  Thus we have bloodhounds, greyhounds or foxhounds.  As a verb, "to hound" someone is to relentlessly pursue or harass the person.  The Old English noun hunta (the hunt) and the later verb form huntian (to hunt) are derived from the older Teutonic variants conveying the idea of seizure or capture.  Clearly, the root hun- dates to prehistoric times and "hunting" is somehow related to the domestication of wolves or wild dogs.  Was the dog originally the "one who hunted or captured"?  Linguistic archaeology raises as many questions as it answers, but the close relationship between the Ontario duck hunter and his spaniel is older than recorded history, at least as old as the early Neolithic period when dogs were first domesticated.

  George Washington, evidently following a successful hunting party, wrote in his journal: " we cleaned ourselves (to get rid of ye Game we had catched ye night before)".  Whether or not George and his companions were wallowing in goose feathers is unclear.  However, "game" as a collective noun for the wild animals and birds which can be legally hunted, has a very old usage in the English language.  The word can be traced to Old English gamenGaman in the ancient Germanic tongues refers to game, sport, mirth or merriment.  German linguistics identify it with the Gothic  gaman which derives from the compound  ga- a prefix meaning participation or communion plus man, a human being or male person.  A note in the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the fusion of the prefix with the root man had occurred in prehistoric times and the word even then had ceased to be perceived as a compound.  In the Paleolithic era, long before women planted the first seeds of the agricultural revolution, men had developed disciplined, cooperative methods to pursue their prey.  The origins of human community are obviously mysterious and complex, but hunting no doubt played its role.

  Hunting probably underwent a transformation in character during the Neolithic age, when agriculture and animal husbandry took root.  The hunt as the focus of community subsistence, as mere economic obligation, gave way to the chase as a mix of necessity and diversion.  A sport or a game contains the germ of a civilizing idea -- the deliberate handicap, the prejudice of fairness and the application of rules of justice in human and non-human affairs.  Thus in prehistory, the possession of weapons was subject to strict social controls.  The well-placed javelin, dealing its death blow to the deer, could also be an instrument of murder in a different situation.  The raw, untamed hunt, biased in favour of men by the advent of dogs and projectile devices, was slowly civilized and restricted.  Hunting became a privilege of the tribal leadership and eventually of the European upper classes.

  The Middle English verb sporten, short for disporten (to disport), meant to divert oneself in harmless amusement, to engage in any delightful pastime outside the world of harsh necessity.  Even into the last century, the word sport conveyed notions of play and restful recreation, devoid of our modern sense of technical self-control and extreme competition.  By the late 1800's and certainly by the turn of the century, a semantic shift began to appear in the common use and understanding of the terms "sport" and "sports".  Today, a sport is a highly organized and often politicized activity.  An athlete (no longer a "sportsman") is supremely concerned with the mastery of the mind and body through scientific technique.  Sports are symbolic extensions of our capitalist and urban world.  Dominance and power, the subjection of play to necessity and the disciplined control and defeat of the weaker adversary are notions very remote from the ancient, contemplative and quiet world of the wilderness hunt.  Ironically, the hunter is imprisoned in a linguistic anachronism.  Referring to hunting as a "sport" and to oneself as a "sportsman", is to preserve original meanings at the price of social and moral exclusion.  The ethical dilemmas of hunting cannot be faced without historical and prehistorical insights.

   Somewhere in Ontario, a log cabin inn once displayed a stag's head over a grand arch leading to a patio.  It was summer, probably near the end of the Second World War and, as a young child, I remember especially the eyes and the antlers.  The head seemed alive, the deer ready to spring from the wall and crash to freedom through the pine doors on the far side of the dimly lit room.  Such trophies, triumphs of the taxidermists' art as much as of the hunt, were not uncommon in old Ontario.  they are less visible today.  the new environmentalists and the growing respectability of the animal rights activists have altered public sensibilities.  But is the stag's head or the great salmon over the fireplace mantel merely a trophy or is it an echo of magic and ritual from prehistory?

  In recent times the intellectual armory of many disciplines has been brought to bear on the mysteries of human origin.  A German scholar, Walter Burkert traces the beginnings of animal sacrifice in early Greek religion to prehistoric hunting rituals.  In his Homo Necans : The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983), a work of considerable scholarship, Burkert notes that human intraspecific aggression in prehistory was transformed in the hunt when "the quarry became a quasi-human adversary, experienced as human and treated accordingly", (p. 20).  Hunting generally focused on the great mammals whose resemblances to humans were vividly apparent.  In prehistory, the bones and skins of a downed animal were often "reconstituted" in magical rituals.  The shock and guilt of killing was "followed by reparation, destruction by reconstruction", (p. 38).  Some North American Native tribes long practiced the custom of praying for the soul of the animal about to be sacrificed in the hunt.  Long before the stag's head appeared over the arch in the Upper Canadian log home or inn, prehistoric people collected the bones of their kills, raised the skull or the antlers and actualized the order of life and death.  The power to kill was always balanced against respect for the living and the cycle of nature.

  Authentic hunting (without the silly, technological toys), is similar to such other "re-creative" activities as wilderness canoeing, horseback riding, the reconstitution of historical military units, or the recovery of obsolete crafts, arts and forms of work.  When recreation becomes "re-creative", it becomes something other than sport in its modern meaning.  Hunting and other traditions of historic mimicry seem to be motivated by a natural compulsion to explore our pasts, to relive them and to temporarily escape the soft tyrannies of modernity.  I was raised with the traditional language which described hunting as a "sport" and the hunter as a "sportsman".  I never thought of hunting as a sport and I recoiled from any self-definition that invoked the word sportsman.  Ga-man I understood and felt in my bones, sport, in its current use, never seemed appropriate.  When I hid in the lakeshore reeds with a shotgun awaiting the dawn on a crisp and beautiful October morning, I was escaping the artifice and despotisms of modern civilization.  Squeezing the trigger was never frequent and besides, I was a dismally poor marksman, especially with birds on the wing!  The memories still bring feelings of an old and untrammeled pioneer freedom which I will probably never again experience.

  A friend in university once berated me for engaging in such primitive and bloodthirsty behaviour and suggested that I take a camera into the field and "hunt" with film.  Well yes, but such modern, morally correct advice misses an understanding.  Neither my father, my grandfathers nor my more distant Upper Canadian ancestors hunted with cameras.   For the men in my own family, the hunt was an integrated process of shooting, preparing and eating fowl as an unstated form of cultural preservation and restoration.  we hunted to rest the soul and to search for a way of life long vanquished by the over-organized world of the twentieth century.  One does not hunt to kill.  It is the other way around.  One kills in order to have hunted.  The goal of the hunt is not the goal of the hunter!  The thought is taken directly from Ortega and it is only bizarre and horrifying to those who have never experienced hunting -- the beauty and excitement of being immersed in nature, the shock of death in the wilderness, the communion of evening rituals from cleaning guns by the hearth to preparing the birds for a Thanksgiving dinner and finally, the meal which concludes and vindicates the hunt.  Is hunting, at least within its legitimate confines, a primitive act?  Yes!  Is it necessary and always immoral?  No!  On the contrary, hunting traces the essence of being human to its very origins.

  Wilfrid Laurier University psychology professor Donald Morgenson delivered a strong indictment against Hunting in a 1987 Kitchener-Waterloo Record editorial (Dec. 19, 1987, A7).  He observed that...

" [S]tudies of hunters indicate that the hunter's kill is an advertisement of skill and a measure of success: not food but trophies to display before their fellow hunters...

  In our own time, few if any argue that we hunt, shoot or even fish for food.  What compels hunters is the so-called "sporting element".  And since modern techniques have provided the hunter (often a person with no traditional hunting skills) with awesome weaponry, animals suffer severe handicaps.  the "sport" of hunting becomes a mockery.

  [H]unting is cruel, unnecessary... and morally degrading to those taking part... If hunting appeals to sadistic tendencies, and in many instances it clearly does, then hunting should be made illegal."

 

  Similar views are held by Canadian activist, Darryl Davies.  Hunting, he noted in an interview given to the Wiarton Echo is "a murderous barbaric activity" and he recommends that it be banned thus permitting Canada to follow the lead taken by Great Britain.  Such a move would help us to be "culturally distinct from the lurid example in the United States... I don't see wildlife as a renewable resource... if hunters want to eat deer meat, let's set up a deer farm".  Interestingly, Mr. Davies was recently employed with the federal government, in the Ministry of Justice, apparently as a personal assistant to the Minister, the Honourable Allan Rock.

  Some hunting is unethical and should be be ended.  A few hunters are undoubtedly deficient in their craft and should not be trusted with firearms.  Big game "trophy hunting" is already under extreme pressure from many quarters and will likely die a lonely death in the not so distant future.  Still, should all hunting be declared illegal?  Is creature compassion only the prerogative of the urban apartment dweller or the weekend skier?  Is hunting a pseudo-heritage, a false tradition with no redeeming values to offer our civilization or even our young people?

  A sage of long ago once remarked that a great error is a beautiful error, because it exhibits a great truth.  The maxim is another variant of the medieval idea of the "beautiful Lie".  I am not certain of the source of this remarkable aphorism, but it may have been first stated by the 13th-century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas.  If so, Thomas was no doubt speaking of heresy in matters pertaining to Christian theology.  In a parallel sense, I would concede that the opinions of Professor Morgenson and Mr. Davies also exhibit a great emotive truth, even as their views, at least to me, point to a grave and dangerous deception.

  The truth of which I am speaking may be called "zoophilia", or a love for living creatures.  Zoophilia is not a logical truth statement.  It points to a beautiful "axiom" of primitive, experiential ethics.  Compassion for wildlife and the natural world is morally commendable, something like having a healthy intellectual appreciation for the fact that two plus tow equals four.  Zoophilia is as old as humanity, as ancient as the Stone Age hunter who saw the beauty of the deer and who also had to confront the writhing, bloodied mammal at the moment of its death.  To love the creatures of field, stream and meadow, especially the colourful birds and the furry mammals and to be revolted by the intentional killing of an animal are perfectly normal responses.  Zoophilia cuts across the boundaries of culture and time and has always acted as a break on the necessary exploitation of animals.  Zoophilia is powerful, absolutely vital and yet oddly trivial.  In the split second before a hunter squeezes the trigger, the zoophilic impulse can explode faster than a bullet and a creature's life is spared.  At that moment, the hunter is once again made aware that daylight and darkness always lie just the other side of Eden.

  Zoophilia is an ordinary human attribute, but when it is objectified, exaggerated and claimed by an elite, its consequent distortion manifests itself in a great error.  Zoophilia, isolated from natural and cultural necessity, becomes a fanatical ally in the technical and bureaucratic depersonalization of nature.  The degradation of the environment and the destruction of aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies in the Americas are direct results of the Western European tradition of subjecting all of the human and non-human world to the mastery and control of the scientific and political will.  How ironic, yet predictable that the zoophilic response, the poetry of our most primitive altruism, should be co-opted and tamed by the engineers of the human race.  How tragic that a complex of natural emotions should be politicized and sent into battle against hunting, a cultural and pastoral heritage which has so much to teach us about the integration of community and nature.

  The human zoo?  I do not mean to be viciously cynical or sardonic.  After all, modern zoos are rather pleasant places for the inhabitants.  They are near perfect communisms.  Every species has its place and there is a place for every species.  Population control is never a serious concern.  There is a space for every individual and an individual for each space.  The animals need neither hunt nor forage.  they receive nutritious free food, excellent free medical care and ample time to indulge in all the pleasures of life.  crime is almost non-existent.  On the rare occasion when Jumbo or Leo gets out of control, those strange hairless bipeds quickly subdue the offender with magic tricks.  Jumbo or Leo mysteriously vanishes and is soon forgotten.  The resident of the zoo lives a raptured life and ends it in a humane and civilized death.  The animals of the zoological habitat have everything they could possibly desire, except one important thing -- freedom.  The zoo is a prison.  Do we create zoos as ideal images of our own urban communities?  Do we really wish to live in perfectly controlled, technical utopias patrolled by armed guards in blue uniforms?  Should the vast wilderness areas be reduced to national parks, regimented under the iron will of some Huxleyan anti-utopia?  Quite obviously, I am horrified by such a vision and yet our Dominion and most other nations are inexorably moving towards such hideous parodies of political community.

  Hunting is one of the most striking ways in which men, women and children learn that chance and natural necessity are integral to the formation and continuance of a normal society.  Structures, rules and the basic mechanisms of social control (including control of weapons), traditionally evolved in the hunting party.  Hunter-gatherers fostered and gave central priority to social values which emphasized communal sharing rather than acquisitive and competitive economic organization.  A sane community is reached by many roads.

  Nevertheless, "re-creational" or heritage hunting is declining in Canada.  It seems likely that both non-aboriginal hunting and the private ownership and use of firearms will be legally abolished in Canada sometime in the next century.  This transformation from a democracy of hunting and firearms use to an "aristocracy" of the same, is well underway.  Within thirty to fifty years, guns will be available, as in much of the world, only to the rich, the powerful and the politically well-connected.  Of course, there will be thousands of small arms of the most offensive varieties -- deadly machine pistols, automatic rifles and assault weapons -- almost all in the hands of the police and the army and a few hidden by the unsavoury sorts who inhabit the criminal underworld.  Our descendants will be living in a "policeman or disciplinary state", to borrow an expression derived from the remarkable insights of the British social historian, V. A. C. Gatrell.

  One Sunday morning in February 1994, I was visiting my father who was in the hospital in Galt and only a few weeks from death.  He had been suffering from Parkinson's Disease for several years and his health was now rapidly deteriorating.  I wheeled him up the hall to a solarium overlooking the Grand River.  The day was slightly misty, the river was quiet, iced over except for a pool claimed by a small flock of geese resting before their flight.  I helped dad out of his wheel chair and steadied him as he gazed across the river where he had played and once hunted when he was very young.  I asked him if he would once again "like to get our guns and go hunting".  It remains in my memory as the last question and the last brief conversation which we had.

  His voice was almost gone, but I could hear his reply.  "It sure would be great to get out there one more time.  You bet, let's do it!"  I said nothing.  We watched the quiet flow of the Grand and tracked the Canada geese as they flew westward towards the horizon.  The scene took me back to a lake, to another place and time.  It was an early fall morning in October and we hid in the bushes waiting for the rustling of the ducks flying low across the water.  A thin layer of mist swirled here and there over the long dead trees which poked their tops above the surface.  The distant rustling suddenly became a cacophony of flapping and honking.  Track a target, tap the trigger!  The crack of the gun momentarily silenced the music of nature.  Did I hit the bird?  Did I deliberately miss?  The memories of hunting are feelings, senses, sights, sounds and smells.

  It was later on Sunday that I took my dad back to his room and said goodbye.  My father died on March 17, 1994.  He was elderly and weak, but to the last still had the capacity to remember the call of the Ontario wilderness, the freedom and the pioneer culture of the Upper canadian hunt.  I never answered my dad that Sunday morning, but I can now.  You bet!  Let's get our guns and head for the lake just one last time!