Goodbye friend. A tribute to Ruth Kovac.

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I met Ruth Kovac nearly 40 years ago. We were both enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course and so began a four decade long friendship that was rooted in our common desire to help others in their time of need.

Ruth always sought out opportunities to give back to her community. We volunteered our way up through the ranks at Cote Saint-Luc Emergency Measures Organization in the 1980s, responding to hundreds of medical emergencies, helping those who were sick or injured and organizing CPR courses.

We decided together with my friend Mitchell Brownstein that the best way to make a bigger impact and help more people was to run for public office. The three of us were elected to Cote Saint-Luc City Council in 1990. Ruth developed expertise in many civic areas, but she excelled when it came to Parks and Recreation and Urban Planning. For years she championed these departments working closely with staff of all levels.

Councillors Glenn J. Nashen and Ruth Kovac enrolled at the Emergency Preparedness College of Canada 1991

She was a fierce defender of Canadian Unity and proudly wore her Maple Leaf flag but never forgetting her rich Dutch heritage.

Councillors Ruth Kovac and Glenn J. Nashen

Ruth and I worked closely on seeking recognition of Paramedics in Quebec, on getting CPR into school curriculum, on acquiring Automated External Defibrillators in our municipal buildings and vehicles. One of our biggest efforts was promoting bilingualism, especially on emergency communications from the government and also from companies doing business in English-speaking areas across western Montreal. She continued this gargantuan effort most recently with Harold Staviss.

Celebrating demerger victory (June 2004) with Ruth Kovac, Anthony Housefather and Mitchell Brownstein

Ruth and I fought for pioneering No-Smoking bylaws in the early 1990s and for promoting the first mandatory municipal cycling helmet bylaw in Canada. We also worked together to make Cote Saint-Luc first to require residential sprinkler systems for single family homes.

Whether it was her beloved Mount Sinai Hospital, where she served in several leadership positions through the years, or Canada Day festivities in Cote Saint-Luc which we co-chaired numerous times or the annual blood donor clinic that she chaired year after year, she put her heart and soul into every activity that she touched. And my, how she touch a lot of organizations and people.

Our seats were side by side for all 24 years that we served together on City Council. So, she jokingly referred to me as her “Council-husband” and she affectionately became my “Council-wife”.

We co-chaired so many projects and events and together with Mitch, Dida Berku, Allan J. Levine, Isadore Goldberg, Harold Greenspon, Richard Schwartz we became a Council family. We supported one another’s ideas and projects and always tried to seek consensus. Sure, we all fought a bit behind closed doors, but we always emerged as friends and colleagues for the benefit of our beloved City of Cote Saint-Luc. Ruth would have it no other way. She would stick two index fingers to her lips and blast out an ear piercing whistle to catch our attention. “When we go out there, we are united,” she would blast. And so it was.

Councillor Ruth Kovac greeting new citizens on Canada Day with Councillors Sam Goldbloom, Glenn J. Nashen and Steven Erdelyi

She was one of the few who got along quite well with Mayor Lang, respecting his perspective and experience and often playing the diplomat in connecting divergent opinions.

Ruth agonized over each new development, every exterior home renovation, each zoning bylaw and amendment. Box loads of cheques would be sent before each weekend to her house to cross-check invoices and ensure that our city operated smoothly and transparently. She would read through stacks of paperwork and only sign the cheque once she was satisfied that staff met her expectations in due diligence. She took this responsibility very seriously and made it a full time endeavour.

Celebrating another victory: Ruth and Peter Kovac

Every year or two we would travel, along with a few other council members, to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conferences across this great country. Ruth proudly represented our city, region and province and loved engaging with councillors, aldermen, reeves, mayors, provincial and national legislators. She would have no issue walking up to anyone and starting a conversation. She loved to boast about our amazing services back in Cote saint-Luc and to learn from others. She developed acquaintances across Canada and would reach out from time to time.

Ruth with the Boys in Blue. She always admired Constable Vincent Di Angeles of PDQ 9.

Ruth banded together with Mitch, Anthony Housefather and me as the co-chairs of the Cote Saint-Luc demerger committee. We fought mega-Montreal and against all odds we succeeded in reestablishing our City of Cote Saint-Luc. The four of us worked very closely on numerous files and projects, with Anthony as our new mayor along with our new colleagues Mike Cohen, Steven Erdelyi and Sam Goldbloom. The council family evolved and worked so well together, succeeding at major expansion with the new Aquatic and Community Centre which Ruth championed with gusto, like she was building her own house.

Ruth Kovac actively involved in the development of the Cote Saint-Luc Aquatic and Community Centre in 2011

We typically greeted each other with a goofy, “Hello friend.” We chuckled each time.

Ruth developed a great working relationship with successive police commanders from Neighbourhood Station 9, which we fought to protect from closure, together with Anthony and Mitch. We won.

She relished in her relationships with directors and managers and all city staff. She remembered everyone’s name and always gave a cheery hello to all as she entered City Hall.

Councillor Ruth Kovac with Commander Bissonnette and Director Jordy Reichson

And we fought to save our Emergency Medical Services from being wiped out by the merger madness. And won again. Ruth was determined to do the right thing, she would say. “Listen to the people,” a quote she’d remind us of from one of her political favourites.

Councillor Ruth Kovac even convinced her husband, Peter, to join vCOP. Seen here on Canada Day 2012.

Somehow, she managed to carry out a very full council agenda for three decades, all the while raising her three children with Peter and then taking an active role with her grand-kids. And she was so devoted to her mother, Ilse, bringing her everywhere she needed to go. But Ruth would rarely miss a meeting, was always prepared, did her research and got ready for discussion and debate. She was a wise and thoughtful woman of balanced and sage advice and kept a calm head about her.

She would berate Anthony and me for not wearing ties, for being too casual. She’d offer to take us shopping for more formal attire. “You need to dress smart, look sharp,” she’d say. She liked to think of herself as old fashion, but she was really quite avant guard.

Ruth was always so proud of those around her, especially when she worked to see Anthony Housefather elected as our Member of Parliament

Ruth never backed off from a battle. She pulled herself together no matter the odds and gave it her all. She handled her bout with cancer in the same way, preferring to keep it as her secret for the very longest time. And throughout this period she attended her council meetings, read the reams of required documents even when she was too weak to lift them, responded to emails from constituents and posted city announcements on her Facebook page. Most others would likely have thrown in the towel. Given up. Not Ruth. She slugged it out to the very end. As she always did.

I’m so lucky that I had one last chance to sit and talk and laugh and cry with Ruth last Thursday and together with Anthony and Mitch send her flowers to share online for her very last Shabbat, as she made a weekly habit of posting beautiful flowers to share with her world and to send messages of pace and togetherness.

As I left her home my eyes swelled with tears at the thought this could be my last, “Hello friend.” Luckily, I had never had to deal with such a suffering friend or the prospect of loss. Ruth, knew this and in her own generous way made it easy for me, and for others. She told me she was at peace with her circumstances, was proud of her accomplishments and those that we achieved together. She couldn’t ask for more than the beautiful family that she and Peter had raised and the wonderful friends that surrounded her nor the supportive community that comforted her. I told her that her legacy would carry on for generations and that I was proud of all she had done for so many people.

Ruth pushed me to go beyond my limits. She enriched my life. I will forever be grateful for our friendship.

Goodbye friend.

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Cote Saint-Luc loses a civic giant

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Mitchell Brownstein, Anthony Housefather, Ruth Kovac and Glenn J. Nashen tally up results in leading the city to victory in the demerger battle

Ruth Kovac passed away this morning.

Cote Saint Luc City Councillor, champion volunteer, wife, mother, grandmother- Ruth was a woman of extraordinary accomplishment who was deeply loved. Our council was like a second family and having been co-chairs of the demerger campaign with her we felt exceptionally close.

At times Ruth could be like a second mother or sister but she was always an exceptional friend. Nobody was more pragmatic. Nobody more driven and nobody cared more about the community she loved in.

CSL demerger co-chairs, 10 years later: Mitchell Brownstein, Anthony Housefather, Glenn J. Nashen, Ruth Kovac

Up until last week she was responding to resident emails and proposing improvements in her City and at her synagogue. She even arranged for remote viewing of High Holiday services so those who were home unwell could watch.

We have lost a leading light of our community and extend our deepest sympathies to Peter, Debbie and Anthony, Jeff, Tammy and Jason and her entire family.

We love and miss you Ruth.

All our love, Mitch, Glenn and Anthony

Celebrating demerger victory (June 2004) with Ruth Kovac, Anthony Housefather and Mitchell Brownstein

More:

Longtime Cote Saint-Luc City Councillor Ruth Kovac passes away, CTV News

‘She was one of a kind’: Côte Saint-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac passes away, Global News

Obituary: Longtime Côte St-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac, Montreal Gazette

Côte Saint-Luc mourns the death of longtime city councillor Ruth Kovac, CBC News

Ruth Kovac: A personal tribute to a warrior, The Suburban

Beautiful Laurentian bike ride through history on Ptit Train du Nord

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If you’re headed up north with bikes for the day, weekend or vacation you must already have heard of the Ptit Train du Nord recreation path that runs more than 200 kms from St. Jerome to Mont Laurier. Indeed, it is part of the Trans Canada Trail that spans the entire country. Our family has enjoyed the trail for years, choosing different segments most weekends. We used to pull the kids in a bike trailer till they finally managed two-wheelers on their own. What a fun family outing, sometimes lugging picnic lunches, other times stopping at the ice cream or sandwich shops along the way.

I had read about a newly paved section and decided to make that our Labour Day outing so we packed up the bikes and headed up the 117 to St. Faustin-Lac Carré.

The St. Faustin train station was built in 1893

The old train stations at each town are a delight to explore. Well preserved and exhibiting old photos of yesteryear, I can just imagine what it was like to take the voyage by train from Montreal, way up into the Laurentian Mountains. On today’s journey, I imagined my dad’s train ride to St. Faustin station in 1940. He vacationed in Lac Carré at Cantor’s Square Lake Inn, for just $15 a week!

Cantor’s Square Lake Inn, St. Faustin, Qc. Samuel Cantor, his wife Rachel, and brother Myer Cantor bought the Inn in 1935 and owned it together until the death of Myer in 1945. When Rachel died in 1961 the Inn was sold. It burned to the ground one year later, never to be rebuilt.

The St. Faustin-Lac Carré station is a meeting point in the town. The grounds are well groomed with outdoor artistic pieces, playground, a petoncle court and even a metal tree with heart shaped red locks with the names of lovers and their important dates (haven’t seen that since Paris). There is a lovely café and a couple of ice cream shops to suit your taste.

We decided to ride from St. Faustin to St. Jovite, aka Centre-Ville Mont Tremblant, a distance of 12.5 km. The asphalt was smooth as can be and most of the northbound ride was slightly sloped downhill so I enjoyed the breeze and sights without pondering the return uphill trip. In 30 just minutes we arrived at our destination. Along the way we saw beautiful views of the Riviere du Nord which hugs the trail much of its length.

There’s wildlife, farms, lovely old homes and places to stop and relax along the way. We saw butterflies and ducks on this trip. Previously we’ve seen deer.

I decided to explore and take pictures on the slower southbound climb. I hope you’ll enjoy my shots and come and see for yourself.

Many thanks to the good folks who maintain the Ptit Train du Nord and to their sponsors who provide the funding for this magnificent, free recreational gem.

Happy Cycling!

Lovely old Quebec homesteads to see along the Ptit Train du Nord
Riviere du nord, as scene from the Ptit Train du Nord, St. Faustin – Lac Carré
Beautiful colours and gorgeous homes along the bike trail
The views while cycling along the Ptit Train du Nord
Judy and Barry enjoying the warm breeze on the trail
Lovers locks in St. Faustin – Lac Carré
The Millette farm, passed down through the generations
Famille Millette farm equipment preserved for younger generations to explore
Old dam wheel to control water levels along the Riviere du Nord
Plenty of distraction for the little ones along the trail
Barry studying all the trail options in the Tremblant area
Step down into Lac Carré

Life is a cabaret ‘ol friend, come to the cabaret

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What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play!

Another smash hit has reached the stage as curtain’s went up last night on the latest production from the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society: Cabaret.

“The contrast between the over the top musical numbers and the stark reality of the injustices occurring outside the cabaret captivated my attention [years ago] as it still does today,” said Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “We need to be leaders and speak out in defence of human rights. Cabaret has given us all that opportunity.”

Once again, it’s hard to believe that this is local, community theatre as the entire production, from costumes, set and design, to choreography, acting and live music exceed expectations by leaps and bounds.

Cabaret is not for the light-hearted. The theme is raw with drama and emotion in pre-war Germany. The burlesque-style night club acts are raunchy and lewd. The actors play with your spirits from eccentric to despair, from hopeful to hopeless.

“…There was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany and it was the end of the world…”, wrote lead actor Calder Levine who played the role of of wide-eyed American Cliff Bradshaw. His command performance in portraying his love for the English Berlin nightclub doll, Sally Bowles, played by the extraordinary Jeanne Motulsky, was musical and magical.

Jeanne Motulsky

Speaking of music and magic, the ever so talented Motulsky returns for her sixth show with the CSLDS. The Communications grad from Concordia University is headed towards production in film and television. As I wrote following her stellar performance in last year’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “her future looks bright.” Motulsky captured the audience with her incredible voice and stage presence, particularly performing “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Cabaret”. Sensational.

The entire show is tied together by the unbelievably talented Craig Dalley who plays The Emcee. Returning for his fourth show with CSLDS, Dalley captivates your attention from the upbeat beginning, singing the well-known, “Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome” opening theme to Cabaret, right to the very end, deep in the darkest places humanity has gone, some 80-plus years ago.

Dalley’s talent, not to mention his sexually provocative leather clothing, profane language and naughty gestures will have you laughing, and then crying. What a job he did with Money Makes the World Go Round! He can sing. He can dance. And he can control the audience and the stage. Fantastic.

Linda Babins (Fraulein Schneider) and John Kovac (Herr Schultz) play an adoring, mature, tentative couple. Babins is a longtime member of the CSLDS team while Kovac returns to theatre after a 40 year hiatus. The two hit it off in song and dance with an air of confidence – she as a stodgy, serious German woman and he as a whimsical, fun-loving older gentleman – a German Jew. You’d never know he stepped off the stage for four decades but thankfully he’s back!

While it was hard to cozy up with Edward Le Vasseur who played the role of red armband toting Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, I’ll admit that he was faithful to his increasingly angry character and the more I despised him the more I realized what a strong actor he was.

Finally, Maria Jimenez deserves praise for her beautiful voice as her back lit profile steamed out from an old fashioned gramophone. Dreamy staging indeed. In the role of Fraulein Kost, a bit of a loose lady (as if any of them was anything less) she was very funny as her many sailor boys sauntered out of her room.

Artistic Director Anisa Cameron with CSL Mayor and CSLDS Founder Mitchell Brownstein

There are so many more praiseworthy cast members who entertained the gala night audience with impressive choreography and delightful musical numbers.

The five-piece live band adds to the experience and really gives the feeling of actually being in a live cabaret. They were great.

A show like this, especially community theatre, doesn’t just come together with a heck of a lot of hard work and incredible talent by the creative and production teams under the direction of the absolutely incredible, dedicated and tremendously talented Anisa Cameron.

(Mini shout-out to backstage crew members Nicole Nashen and Naomi Salama).

“As a theatre director, I felt compelled to produce this show. It seems Cabaret has only become more and more relevant to what is tragically happening in our own province and country, in North America and around the globe. Cabaret stands as a seductive, staggering and stark lesson in the dangers of complacency, denial and willful ignorance in the face of unbridled nationalism and the rise of a fascist tide. Never again is now, said Cameron.

CSLDS partnered with the Montreal Holocaust Museum in providing educational panels to understand the historical context in which Cabaret takes place.

Israeli Consul General David Levy was also instrumental in providing informational panels about diplomats from several countries who went against their orders and laws in doing the “right thing”, in rescuing thousands of Jews from the grips of the Holocaust.

CSLDS’s Cabaret is sure to be another sold-out smash success, worthy of an eventual Montreal English Theatre Award for its production value, quality musical arrangements and its thought-provoking message of using the past to influence the future.

So what good is sitting alone in your room? Come to the Cabaret!!

Cabaret runs through June 16 at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium in Cote Saint-Luc City Hall on Cavendish Boulevard. Tickets and information at CSLDramaticSociety.com.

Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society Spring production of Cabaret

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May 10, 2019

The Montreal Times, by Stuart Nulman, EntertainmentTheater

For this year’s edition of their annual spring production, the Cote St. Luc Dramatic Society (CSLDS) will present an acclaimed Broadway musical with a more somber, adult twist to it, as it takes place in Berlin circa 1931, during a time when Germany and the rest of the world were in the grip of the Great Depression, was facing the steady, violent rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, but at the same time was enjoying a thriving – yet decadent – entertainment scene.

“Cabaret”, which was originally produced on Broadway during the mid-1960s and became an Oscar-winning film in 1972, will run for 21 performances at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium, 5801 Cavendish Boulevard, from May 29 to June 16.

Based on the stories of Christopher Isherwood, “Cabaret” focuses on Sally Bowles, an expatriate American singer who is the star attraction at the Kit Kat Club, which is the focal point of her world during these turbulent times in Berlin.

“Cabaret is one of my favorite shows. I love the club scenes and the musical numbers there. However, I felt compelled to produce the show since 2017 in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville,” said Anisa Cameron, the CSLDS’ longtime director who is helming this production. “I find Cabaret more relevant right now because it answers the question of what I can do as an artist to make much more sense in today’s world. This is the perfect show that illustrates what can happen in the face of the apathy and willful ignorance that affects events which are swirling around us.”

Cote St. Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, who also doubles as a producer for the CSLDS, will not perform onstage for the first time in a long time, as was his custom. This time, owing to the serious nature of the historical context of “Cabaret”, has engineered a partnership with the Montreal Holocaust Museum to help create more awareness of the events in Germany that led to the rise of Hitler, and the start of World War II and the Holocaust.

“The Montreal Holocaust Museum will set up an exhibit in the front of the lobby with photos to show what really happened in Germany during the period that Cabaret takes place in,” he said. “We are also having high school and CEGEP students attend performances of the show, in which they will also get the chance to meet with Holocaust survivors following each show. Cote St. Luc has always been a leader when it comes to protecting human rights, because we believe that diversity creates a better world. And education is very important to reach out and show people what lessons history can teach us.”

Ms. Cameron is quite impressed with the overall feel of “Cabaret”, especially the musical numbers that are performed by the eight women, three men and one non-gender binary transgender man who make up the club’s chorus. “The numbers will definitely knock your socks off,” she added. “And to really help create a genuine feel for the Kit Kat Club in Berlin during the early 30s, audience members will have the option of purchasing special tickets that will give them access to actual cabaret-style seating, which will include beverage service and an opportunity to interact with the cast during the show.”

To create a buzz for “Cabaret” before opening night, members of the troupe will be performing a selection of musical numbers from the show at certain senior residences in the area, including Maimonides, as well as special preview mini performances at the Beth Zion Synagogue on May 21 and the Cote St. Luc Men’s Club.

And on May 29, the CSLDS will kick off its run of “Cabaret” with a Gala evening that starts at 6 p.m. at the Cote St. Luc Council Chamber. The opening performance of “Cabaret” will be preceded by a presentation of live musical numbers of certain songs from previous CSLDS productions, as well as a screening of a video featuring 96-year-old Holocaust survivor Margaret Newman, who will be present at the Gala to answer questions following the screening. Tickets for the May 29 Gala are $150, and proceeds will be used towards the cost of bringing high school and CEGEP students to see “Cabaret” during the run of the show. To purchase tickets to this event, go to bit.ly/CSLDSTickets, or call Ryan Nemeroff at 514-485-6806, ext. 2022 or via email at rnemeroff@cotesaintluc.org.

For information about “Cabaret”, or how to buy tickets, go to www.CSLDramaticSociety.org.

The driving force of a Mensch: Harold Cammy

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Harold Cammy (right) with McDonald’s entrepreneur and philanthropist Pierre Brunet at surprise retirement party, Dec. 2018

Much has been said about Harold Cammy who takes his retirement after serving the city of Cote Saint-Luc for a remarkable 45 years. I’ve known Harold for most of my life and he has known my family for just as long. My reminiscence here is upon Harold, the character, as there’s not much I can add to the long list of accomplishments and achievements which can be read at some of the links below.

I begin my comment with Harold’s concluding ones, in his farewell address posted online:

We have the ability to be “kind” to people, to be “responsive” to people, to “support and assist” people because that is what a City and its staff should be doing. Making someone’s day just a little bit better…a little more enjoyable.

It doesn’t take a great effort to be kind and helpful…it just takes a little empathy, compassion and understanding of human behaviour.

“People will not always remember all the good things you do for them, but they will always remember how you made them feel about themselves”.

Harold and Beverly Cammy

We can learn a lot from Harold’s wise words. They are prophetic and introspective, philosophical and visionary. He lead his career, and obviously leads his life by these words. Many of us would be better off if we walked in Harold’s direction.

Indeed, whenever I would come across Harold during my many years as a City Councillor there was always a positive, cheery exchange. Always smiling, he would have the uncanny knack of making you feel important in his world, and invariably you’d walk away being a bit happier yourself.

A people-person by nature, Harold wouldn’t forget to ask how the family was doing, usually by name. ‘How’s George?’, he’d ask about my father. ‘Send him my regards,’ he’d say. ‘Say hello to Judy,’ my wife.

I was most always on the receiving end of peppy one-liners, a quick joke, a greeting or a comment from Harold. I’m sure he had plenty of reason to be gloomy or dreary over the years, but he chose the path of positive reinforcement: A firm handshake, eye-to-eye contact and a warm smile. He chose kindness and compassion. He chose to be charitable and he brought us all along. He was and is a real Mensch.

I salute Harold not only for his praiseworthy efforts for the residents of Cote Saint-Luc over these past 45 years, but for his kinder, gentler and humbler ways. This unpretentious career professional touched more lives than we can imagine. We’re all lucky to have benefited from his generosity of spirit and his acts of kindness.

Judy and I wish you a wonderful retirement, Harold, and many years of good health and continued happiness for you, Beverly and Lacey. I will always remember how you made me feel.

 

N

 

 

Read more:

Mike Cohen’s blog and Harold’s retirement memories

Canadian Jewish News, Jan. 10, 2019

 

100 Years of Remembrance and Saluting my dad for his service

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This Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the end of hostility in World War I, the War to End All Wars.

This week we also mark 80 years since Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which notoriously was the beginning of what became known as the Holocaust, or Shoah.

Sergeant George Nashen, Royal Canadian Air Force, 1944

My father, George Nashen, 95, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from December 1942 to April 1946 and was stationed at RCAF Overseas Headquarters in London, England for nearly three years. Luckily, he was not called up to the front lines. But his buddies were. Some never returned.

My father enlisted in December 1942 with several of his friends from Baron Byng High School, and was shipped off for two months of basic training in Toronto where the RCAF had taken over the CNE Fairgrounds. From there he was stationed at the Rockcliffe Airbase in Ottawa from February until August 1942 and then to Halifax where they boarded the Queen Mary cruise ship that had been commandeered to transport troops.

“We were 26,000 troops and 1,000 crew members crammed into the ship for the four day crossing to London, England,” my father told me. “There were 54 troops to a room and we took turns sleeping, 27 at a time slept on the hammocks lined up three high in nine columns,” he said. “It was so uncomfortable and there were so many disturbances that I chose to sleep in the hallways and stairwells. But the ship would list from one side to the other every seven minutes as it curved to avoid sailing in a straight line to escape any pursuing German U-boats. I remember the empty Coke bottles rolling bake and forth in the halls and hitting the walls preventing any rest there as well,” my dad said.

RCAF Aircraftsman 2nd Class, George Nashen (1943)

“In London, we slept in the Canadian Legion Hall until we could find an apartment,” my dad reminisced. There were no barracks in the city as they couldn’t chance losing so many soldiers in a targeted German bombing raid. “One night a bomb fell right outside the Legion Hall and blew in the doors and windows. As the glass flew and the ceiling collapsed I immediately rolled under my bed to take cover,” he said. “I yelled out to my buddy, Mel Nicol. ‘Are you alright Nic?’ Mel Nicol was real joker and responded, ‘I’m not sure, I’m looking for my leg’. Of course, he was just fine,” George said.

George and Mel eventually rented an apartment at Queens Gate Gardens about a 30 minute walk from Harrods, where the RCAF set up their administration and accounting division. We often joke that my father served in women’s lingerie during WW II, in reference to the department in Harrods where the Accounting Office was located. They were paid $2.50 per day subsistence allowance for their lodging and another $1 for food.

As an Aircraftsman 2nd Class they received $1.30 per day. Dad used to send $10 per month back to his Mom in  Montreal to save for him. Upon his return, three-and-a-half years later he had saved up about $300.

George Nashen in front of the Cote Saint-Luc cenotaph in Veterans Park 2012

One night they were awakened by a bomb blast and heard that the nearby hospital was hit. Mel and George raced over to offer their assistance only to find out that 30 babies had been tragically killed. “It was the saddest day of my life,” my father said.

Back at Harrods he was busy taking care of Airman Pay Accounts to ensure each of the troops received their salary. Daily Routine Orders were meticulously entered for the tens of thousands of airmens’ accounts, all manually, of course.

My dad lost his best friend in battle. “Jay Singer was like a brother to me,” my father recounts. “Jay and I were inseparable from kindergarten through Baron Byng High School. Jay was an air force pilot from the age of 19. His plane went missing while laying mines in the Baltic Sea on June 15, 1944. Jay was just 22 year’s old when he died in service. I’ll never forget him.”

Jay Singer

Jay Singer

 

My father endured the bombardments and hardship of everyday life in London but fortunately was safe relative to so many others. The thick, dark clouds that hung over the city many nights from fog made it impossible to see right in front of you. My father recounts as he would feel his way along the walls of the buildings on his way home, counting off the number of doors and turns in the road to find his way home.

One night a bomb fell at a pub just outside of Harrods and some Londoners were killed. The next day, a young Princess Elizabeth, came by to visit and offer her support. My father watched excitedly from the window as the future Queen made her way along the street.

My father returned home in April 1946.

Three generations of Cote Saint-Lucers: George, Glenn and Jeremy Nashen 2013

Each year, I ask dad to take out his medals and his beret and to teach my own kids what it meant to serve Canada as a soldier.  They listen in amazement at his stories of 70 years ago, as they reflect on their lives in the best country to live in, Canada.

WWII veteran George Nashen, 93, deposits the wreath on behalf of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 97 at the Cote Saint-Luc Cenotaph in Veterans Park. Accompanied by his grandson Cory, son Jeff and vCOP Phil Mayman. (Photo: Darryl Levine, CSL).

Each year on Remembrance Day, I salute my dad, and all those who served, who paid the ultimate price, who sustained injury and who were lucky to return just like George. His bravery and commitment, and theirs, to stand on guard, to liberating those who had their freedom taken from them so many years ago, to keeping Canada glorious and free, shines like a beacon to my kids and our entire family.

With my dad on Remembrance Day (Jewish General Hospital, 2014)

We’re proud of his accomplishments and grateful to still have him, and my mother, as our bridge between our past and our future.

 

George and Phyllis Nashen at their 95th and 90th birthday party (June 2018)

 

 

More:

A day of remembrance, honour and appreciation in CSL

In tribute to my father, the soldier

Councillor Mike Cohen’s blog

The JGH Remembers

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