THE ISLAND’S PREMIER ATTRACTION

When you drive in the Maritimes in late November, you take your chances. Snow and ice are likely to feature in the weather forecasts, and fingers remain cold and crossed. When we set out from Fredericton to head north to PEI, via Moncton, we knew that we — or rather, the heroic Jane, our driver– faced difficult times.

But we made it. This time, after my earlier visit to downtown Moncton ( where I saw Northrop Frye’s avuncular statue encourage young Library visitors —“Hello, Mr. Frye”— as recorded in ACROSS CANADA BY STORY) we avoided Moncton. We also ignored the Acadian shore, where my visit to Shediac in the midst of a Festival du Homard had once turned me into a fervent Acadian. Sadly, this meant, too, that we missed the David Adams Richards territory to the North and West, near the Miramichi. Resolutely, with tough driving in store, we headed straight for Port Elgin and the PEI bridge.

Crossing Confederation Bridge at any time of year is always thought-provoking, and I can report that the November Northumberland Strait waters looked very cold indeed. Then, safely landed on the Island, we drove admiringly through the well-populated land  (Farms! Barns! Fields!) east to Charlottetown.

We soon found the Dundee Arms Hotel, the subject of an earlier blog about Louis Armstrong. When Jane found our walk around downtown chilly, and returned to the warmth of our hotel, I continued to stroll through Canada’s history (“Ah , they’re fixing the famous Confederation Building, in time for the next tourist season”), and my own history.

I dreamily re-visited scenes from my earlier visits, including the Art Gallery event, when extra chairs had to be rushed in, and the restaurant Mavor’s, in Confederation Centre where the post-show dinner had taken place. That was where Professor Don Desserud told me the story of how young Jack Hodgins learned to read from studying comics in his Vancouver Island home, only to learn that the comics were in Finnish. Of course, my readers know that Jack had a huge impact in this distant province .  When I gave my STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS summer show in North Rustico ( in what is now The Watermark Theatre) our host, the excellent Duncan McIntosh, recommended that we dine at Maxine Delaney’s restaurant. Later, Maxine came to our show, and shyly revealed that she had chosen the name Delaney after, um, reading Spit Delaney’s Island, by my friend Jack!

The remarkable Richard Lemm was our PEI host. Richard and I have been friends for almost 50 years, ever since he worked for Bill Duthie’s remarkable bookstore in Vancouver. Then Richard’s always-interesting path took him to The Banff Centre, where he taught in the Creative Writing Course, alongside Alistair MacLeod and W.O. Mitchell.

You want stories? Just get Richard started, and you’re in for a fascinating time, all the way up to his continuing career as an enthusiastic Professor at UPEI. He’s such an active fellow that until recently he was a dashing figure on the basketball court. Now– just last week, in fact — he has accepted a brand-new knee, so who knows where his athletic talents will lead in the future. We all wish him well.

Richard not only speaks and writes engagingly about our literary figures, he organises author tours brilliantly, so he deserves credit as the creator of our Maritimes Tour.  He had arranged for our Charlottetown show at the Carriage House, run by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. On a chilly night it produced a warm crowd of book-lovers. As usual, I tried to mingle with the audience (I use terrible lines like, “I’m Doug, I’ll be your waiter tonight,”) and I really enjoy the chance to meet and chat with them, breaking down the distance between them and the fancy-pants guy in the blazer on the stage. I like it, and I think they do, too.

As you can imagine, I didn’t rush over the role of Lucy Maud Montgomery in the show, although I might have spent more time boasting about my potato-growing youth in Ayrshire, where the potatoes are justly famous.

But I was delighted when, just after I was introduced by my very complimentary friend Richard, a member of the MacLauchlan clan quietly joined the GREAT SCOTS audience. It was Wade MacLauchlan, the Premier of the Province.

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SATCHMO WAS BLACK IN CHARLOTTETOWN

We’re just back from a very enjoyable tour of the Maritimes, with six universities hosting six shows in seven hectic days. It was such fun that a detailed account of our 1,100 kilometres of driving (thanks, Jane!) through sun, rain, ice, sleet and snow to these warm academic havens will soon follow. Watch this space. (And watch for the delayed CBC Sunday Morning show about Hugh MacLennan in January.)

But first, a story that may shock you. By 1958, Louis Armstrong was world famous as a superb jazz artist. He had toured for thirty years, had appeared in many movies, and his trumpet and memorable vocals had inspired millions of music-lovers.

At home, however, as a black musician, raised in the South, he knew the sting of prejudice. As he put it, “I played in 99 million hotels I could never stay in.”

But then he came to Canada.

July 1958 saw him arrive in Charlottetown as “LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS ALL-STARS in The Greatest Musical that ever hit PEI.”

The recent CBC radio description by Matt Rainnie tells us that the show played to “2,000 people at the sports arena on Fitzroy Street — about the same size as the one he had played the night before in Halifax.” All very good. Except when he and his band went to stay in The Charlottetown Hotel, there were complaints. Apparently some white guests (described to me as “Americans, possibly from the South”) objected to sharing the lobby and the elevators, and possibly the air, with “Negroes”.

And the hotel caved in, and moved the musicians out of the hotel!

This almost unbelievable incident was hushed up until recently, when the historian Jim Hornby brought it to light, and presented an apology on behalf of the city.

There was one mitigating factor, which we, staying in The Dundee Arms, were thrilled to hear about. Apparently Satchmo and his ejected colleagues were warmly welcomed at “The Dundee Apartment Hotel”. So warmly, and with such genuine enthusiasm, that when he learned that his hotel hostess, Lorette Perry, was having her birthday the next day, that morning the most famous trumpet in the world came blasting down the ornate stairs, playing “Happy Birthday To You.”

We got to know those stairs well, lugging our bags up and down, to and from our bedroom, and on our way to The Carriage House, where we gave our show, hosted by Richard Lemm of UPEI.

The coincidences continue. The Carriage House was where this summer Jim Hornby revealed the disappointing details about The Charlottetown Hotel, before apologising on behalf of the city. And before concluding with a rousing jazz concert by local artists!

My thanks to Jane’s cousin, Norman Finlayson (another cousin!) for his help in  researching this story.