A Triumph at Ridgeway

On June 1, I had the honour of appearing at the very first Ridgeway Reads Literary Festival, held in the delightful little town just west of Fort Erie. It’s so attractive that it just might prove to be a southern bookend matching Niagara on the Lake at the other end of the Niagara Parkway. (And the Farmers’ Market offers great pies!)

For this inaugural event Mary Friesen and her Ridgeway team had put together a sparkling series of authors, including Charles Foran (Mordecai: The Life and Times), Andrew Westoll (of Taylor Prize-winning fame), Olive Senior (Dancing Lessons), Richard Wright (Clara Callan, etc.) David (D’Arcy McGee) Wilson, and Phil Hall, whose book Killdeer was up for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize.

I had the pleasure of giving my show on the opening Friday night, introduced by Rhyming Barb, who concluded her vote of thanks by asking me for another “chapter,” because to provide it no one would be “apter.” Ogden Nash clearly did not live in vain.

We had to leave after Charlie Foran’s marvellous Saturday morning talk on my old sparring partner Mordecai (his letters to me would continue our duel more in sorrow than in anger, wearily beginning, “Gibson, Gibson”) because Jane had a high school reunion to attend in Cambridge. This meant that we missed the following wonderful event in Ridgeway, closely described by an anonymous observer very similar to my friend David Wilson.

Later on Saturday there was a formal unveiling of a mural celebrating the 1866 Battle of Ridgeway, against Fenian invaders from the south. A high point of the official speech (by, I believe, the Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson) was when he praised the literary festival: “This is a wonderful event, with some of Canada’s best-known writers. One of them, who gave a most enjoyable talk last night on stories about storytellers, was [short pause] none other than [slightly longer pause] Doug Wilson.”

Several people in the crowd shouted out, “No, no, Doug Gibson.” But my triumphant role (as in “Fred Gibson”) was established once again.

Stephen Leacock was apparently directing the events around the formal unveiling of the mural. First, the procession to the mural was delayed because the two regiments involved in the original battle (or, more correctly, the original headlong retreat) were unable to agree on which of them should lead the way. The gallant men of the Queen’s Own Rifles stood firm against the equally determined soldiers from the 13th Hamilton Regiment. After a long stand-off (possibly longer than their appearance in the actual battle, before both regiments ran away) the Hamilton men picked up their marbles and went home.

My anonymous observer’s account continues: “Second, the Town Crier immediately led the parade through the back alleys of Ridgeway, without waiting for the dignitaries to arrive, and without paying any attention to the prescribed route along the main street; deaf to all cries to wait, he pressed on fearlessly and relentlessly.”

“Third, when the Queen’s Own and the dignitaries finally made it to the mural, it turned out that the cover over the mural had been tied down so tightly that it couldn’t be removed. Eventually, the ropes were cut,  and someone leaned out from the window above the mural to catch the cover as it billowed in the wind, and to haul it in like a ship’s sail.”

Where, I want to know, were the Knights of Pythias in all this?