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ABBATE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-05-12 published
Ottawa's 'dean of deputy ministers' cherished the ideals of good governance
In serving governments of all stripes, he set a standard among all upper-echelon bureaucrats. His greatest achievement was likely helping save Canada's railways by reforming the 'Crow rate'
By Gay ABBATE, Page▼ S12
Toronto -- The period between 1975 and 1992 saw great change in Canada's political landscape. There were more federal elections than most people cared to think about, and a revolving door of political figures that set the minds of voters spinning. Yet during this period of turbulent transition, Arthur KROEGER remained a key player in the Ottawa bureaucracy, a testament to his trustworthiness and his uncanny ability to be parachuted into any ministry and set it to rights.
Known as the "dean of deputy ministers," Mr. KROEGER set the standard for public servants during his 34 years working for the federal government, one of his greatest legacies being a reformed Crow's Nest Pass freight rate that allowed Canada's railways to survive.
For all that, Mr. KROEGER never gave thought to running for public office himself, in part because he was a very private person. In a speech entitled "In Praise of the Politician," which he gave in 1990 to the Empire Club of Canada, he spoke of the public scrutiny of politicians and their private lives. He complained that "public bitchiness" about those in public life "has gone well beyond any bounds of reasonableness in recent years, to the point where the good governance of the country stands to be affected."
He admired most of the politicians he met and for whom he worked, praising them for their long hours and for their sacrifices. The public impression that politicians are simply freeloaders on the public purse and that their sole interest is ego gratification is an erroneous one, he said.
Mr. KROEGER was happy to carve out his own niche, one in which he best served the Canadian public by helping to shape the policies that elected officials would enact as legislation. His role, he maintained, was to offer choices to the politicians whose job it was to choose. He was never a "Yes, Minister" type of civil servant unless he truly agreed with his bosses, said Ned FRANKS, Professor Emeritus of political studies at Queen's University. "He would not have been a good politician but he was a great public servant," Mr. FRANKS said.
Born east of Drumheller, Alberta., near the Saskatchewan border, Arthur KROEGER was the youngest of seven children of Heinrich and Helen KROEGER, a Mennonite couple who immigrated from what is now Ukraine in 1926. The KROEGERs were among 20,000 Mennonites who fled to Canada during the 1920s from the Soviet Union to avoid persecution by the Communists. The KROEGER family arrived with little to their name except for a set of carpentry tools, a wooden box full of family diaries and documents, and the family clock. They settled in the southeastern Alberta community of Naco on arid land others had abandoned as untenable. So, too, did the KROEGERs. They left what is now a ghost town to try their luck in what is known as Palliser's Triangle, an area of low rainfall that straddles three Prairie provinces.
Those early days were difficult for the KROEGERs and often there was little to eat. Meals were boiled wheat, beet peelings or lard sandwiches. Mr. KROEGER frequently went hungry as a child, said his daughter, Alix KROEGER. Helen KROEGER supplemented the family's finances by taking in washing. All the children helped out with the chores, with the milking of the cows falling to the youngest child. Often, as he went about his task, a barn cat arrived in hopes of a handout. As a young boy, Mr. KROEGER loved cats and would squirt milk directly into the cat's mouth, his daughter said.
The KROEGERs spoke Low German and Mr. KROEGER did not learn English until he started school. That deficiency never held him back. Upon graduating from Consort High School, he obtained a degree in English Literature from the University of Alberta in 1955. However, he had not arrived at university with a distinguished academic record. In 2004, he admitted as such in a convocation speech to graduates of the university. "I had shot pool, played hockey and hung around with my Friends," he recounted. As a result, he ended Grade 12 two courses short and had to make good in summer school.
After graduation, he spent a year teaching, only to discover that he did not enjoy the job and junked the idea. A former professor urged him to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship. He was successful, and soon he set off for Pembroke College at Oxford University to pursue studies in English literature. Two weeks into the term he switched to politics, philosophy and economics. He received his master's in 1958 and always remained grateful to his old professor. Mr. KROEGER framed the professor's note and hung it on the wall of his study.
From Oxford, he joined what was then the Department of External Affairs and served in Geneva, New Delhi, Washington and Ottawa. Over the years, he built up a reputation for hard work, clear thinking and astute management. Then, a few days before Christmas in 1974, he was suddenly launched into Ottawa's upper stratosphere.
Then prime minister Pierre Trudeau personally selected Mr. KROEGER and three other senior servants and appointed them to key positions in various departments. From Mr. Trudeau's point of view, he was just what he had in mind - "younger men with more flexibility," who could function in top government jobs. After struggling under the limitations of a minority government, Mr. Trudeau had that summer been returned to power with a majority and he wished to put into effect some lasting changes.
Then 42, Mr. KROEGER became one of Mr. Trudeau's bright new stars. He was moved from assistant secretary on the Treasury Board to deputy minister in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. While not entirely new to the department (in his Treasury capacity, he had supervised its spending programs), it was the first time he had any personal experience with the North since 1958, when he had set off for England. Unlike most transatlantic travellers who at that time took a ship from Montreal or Halifax, he had boarded a wheat-carrying freighter in Churchill, Manitoba, and had gone to Britain via Hudson Bay. Until he became a deputy minister, that had been his first and only trip to the North.
His spell at Oxford was significant in matters of the heart, too. While there, he met a fellow Canadian student, Gabrielle SELLERS, who was studying history on a scholarship. The two became Friends and both would join External Affairs at the same time she went to the United Nations in New York. They met again in Washington and married in 1966. They were to remain together until her death in 1979.
After leaving Indian Affairs, he went on to other appointments as deputy minister: Transport Canada (1979-83), Regional Industrial Expansion (1985-86), Energy, Mines and Resources (1986-88) and Employment and Immigration (1988-92). In the short period when he was not a deputy minister he took on other positions, including special adviser to the Clerk of the Privy Council.
It was at the Department of Transport in 1979 that Mr. KROEGER truly made his mark. The portfolio had just been handed to Jean-Luc Pepin and together they rolled up their sleeves and set about reforming the historic Crow's Nest Pass freight rate. The process was to take four years of debate, revision and much slinging of political mud.
To Mr. KROEGER, however, the reform was more a matter of good governance than of good politics. His analysis was that the railways could not go on losing millions of dollars carrying grain at Crow rates, but the farmers needed the railways to get their grain to market, so the government had to bite the bullet of change.
To settle differences, the department proposed to split the Crow rate subsidy of $650-million a year evenly between farmers and the railways. For a while, it looked as if the measure would go through without difficulty. Then Quebec raised its voice to denounce the changes as giving western livestock farmers an unfair advantage. The attack spooked the Quebec Liberal caucus and Mr. Pepin, already under fire from the powerful wheat pools in the West, retreated. That invited attacks by many Tory members of Parliament and their grain-growing constituents. Meanwhile, for reasons of its own, the New Democratic Party also weighed in and the row raged on for months.
For Mr. KROEGER, the whole thing began to appear very expensive. "Unfortunately, neither producers nor railways nor the federal Government can pay much more than at present," he told The Globe and Mail in September, 1982. "We have to acknowledge we may have a grain transportation system no one can afford."
Interestingly, one of his allies was his brother, Henry KROEGER, then Minister of Transport in Alberta. Many wheat producers in the province looked kindly on the reform and Henry KROEGER threw in his support. After his brother died in 1987, Mr. KROEGER forever kept above his desk a photo of the Canadian flag flying at half-mast at the Alberta Legislature.
In the end, the bill passed in November, 1983, after undergoing more than 80 amendments. As it happened, Mr. Pepin was not there to welcome it. By August that year, he had suffered too many black eyes and Mr. Trudeau replaced him with Lloyd Axworthy. His departure was a sad moment for Mr. KROEGER, who had developed a deep respect for his boss.
As things turned out, it would all go out the window anyway. The new rate was upheld by successive Tory governments but eventually it was eliminated after Jean Chrétien came to power in 1993.
Mr. KROEGER, however, never forgot. The Crow issue and the fight in the trenches alongside his friend Mr. Pepin left a lasting impression and he wrote a so-far untitled book on the subject. It will be published next year by University of Alberta Press.
In 1989, Mr. KROEGER was awarded the Public Service Outstanding Achievement Award and therein lies his legacy, say his numerous fans. Former prime minister Paul Martin, a long-time friend, said Mr. KROEGER had a huge influence on many politicians in terms of public policy and what was best for the future of Canada.
Mr. Martin was one of those who turned to him for advice. It was 1993, the Liberals had just won the federal election and Mr. Martin wanted to join the cabinet as minister of industry. A big mistake, Mr. KROEGER told him, and urged him instead to become the finance minister because that was where the power lies. "I resisted at first, but eventually gave in to his superior knowledge," said Mr. Martin. "He was right."
When Mr. Martin later became prime minister, he turned to Mr. KROEGER for his "great reservoir of knowledge" and asked him to serve on a transition team.
Mr. KROEGER never lost touch with his western roots or lost his western perspective, said Donald Savoie, professor of Public Administration at the University of Moncton.
Part of the task of the transition team was to shape how the new government would handle its dealings with the West. "You can't do one thing that's going to please the West, because there is no such West," he said. "There are many Wests."
Mr. KROEGER retired from the public service in 1992 but was not idle for long. The following year, he became Chancellor of Carleton University and served until 2002.
He was also visiting professor at the University of Toronto from 1993 to 1994, and a visiting fellow at Queen's University from 1993 to 1999.
A humble man, he never spoke of his accomplishments, said Huguette LABELLE, his long-time partner. The two met several years after Gabrielle KROEGER's death and became Friends. At the time, they were both deputy ministers. "We had a lot of the same views and values," said Ms. LABELLE, Chancellor of the University of Ottawa since 1994.
After his retirement, Mr. KROEGER began to delve into the diaries and family documents stored in that wooden box that survived the KROEGER family's trip across the ocean. From those, he pieced together the history of his family dating back several generations, highlighting its survival through revolution, drought and persecution.
His book Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada was published last year.
In 2000, Mr. KROEGER was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. The year before, Carleton University created the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs to administer its new undergraduate program in public affairs and policy management.
Unpretentious to the end, it left him tongue-tied.
Arthur KROEGER was born September 7, 1932, in Naco, Alberta. He died of kidney cancer on May 9, 2008, at the Centre Élisabeth-Bruyère in Ottawa. He was 75. He leaves his daughters, Alix and Kate, brothers Nick, George and Peter, and sister Anne. He also leaves his partner, Huguette LABELLE, step-son Pierre LABELLE and step-daughter Chantal LABELLE.
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ABBATE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-05-15 published
Expert on how Canadians vote among first to back electoral reform
Queen's University professor whose writings attracted the attention of politicians and political scientists believed that only proportional representation could fairly serve all regions of the country
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲▼ S7
Toronto -- On their first date, William IRVINE proudly informed Joanne PASCARELLA, his future wife, that he was "a true Canadian." She, an American who had never travelled to Canada, asked what he meant. He explained that he came from two founding nations: His father was a Scottish Protestant and his mother was a Catholic French Canadian. This pride in representing both solitudes instilled a life-long interest in how the country worked and helped him become a leading thinker on Canadian electoral reform.
"He helped move the question of electoral reform from the esoterical to the mainstream," said Prof. Kenneth Carty, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia and former student of Prof. IRVINE. "He set the agenda for further debate."
Born in Quebec City, the only child of a local debutante and a pilot who had once delivered mail across Manitoba in an open-cockpit plane, William Peter IRVINE spoke mainly French until he started school at 5. His father, who did not speak French, worked for the federal Department of Transport and travelled extensively across the country in search of new airport sites. Since he was rarely home, his son learned only his mother's tongue.
Prof. IRVINE's later bent for sovereignty stemmed from living in many parts of the country because of his father's job. After early schooling in Montreal, his high-school years were spent in New Brunswick, his bachelor's degree was attained at the University of British Columbia and his master's came from Queen's University in Kingston.
On the rare occasions when his father was home, the two would go fishing, an interest that was replaced by curling and golf when William went to University of British Columbia at 18. It was also there that he became interested in politics, majoring in political science and joining the student Liberals. He left the party when he began teaching at Queen's because he believed he needed to be objective.
One night, while working on his doctorate at Yale University in Massachusetts, he attended a party and met Ms. PASCARELLA, a young high-school teacher who taught U.S. history and Italian. They clicked immediately because they were both Catholic and shared similar values. They were engaged three months later - because they married in 1967, he liked to say she was "his centennial project," Mrs. IRVINE said.
After completing his doctorate, Prof. IRVINE received numerous offers to teach in the United States. Instead, he opted to return home and join the faculty at Queen's. Professor emeritus Hugh Thorburn, then head of the political science department, said he hired him because he was such a promising scholar and teacher.
During his 22 years at Queen's, Prof. IRVINE published extensively on political parties and elections and election reform. His 1979 book Does Canada Need a New Electoral System? attracted the attention of many political scientists and politicians interested in looking at better ways to choose a Parliament. He was a strong advocate of proportional representation as a way of ensuring that all regions of the country were equally represented. He also wrote for the Task Force on Canadian Unity and for the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada, which were established in 1977 and 1982, respectively, to study ways of better uniting the country.
In a 1980 article for The Globe and Mail, Prof. IRVINE criticized the existing system for enabling a party to win a majority of seats while receiving less than half the popular vote.
This winner-take-all approach leaves some regions overrepresented and others underrepresented, he explained. His work on electoral reform helped influence some provinces to move to a more proportional system, Prof. Carty said.
Prof. IRVINE took three one-year leaves from his teaching duties to study the European electoral system. In particular, he wished to learn more about the German and Swiss proportional systems, two electoral schemes he preferred over Canada's.
The time abroad was also an opportunity for the IRVINEs to travel, something they both loved doing. In 1977 and 1978, he studied at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. They toured extensively in Europe during what Mrs. IRVINE called "the best year of our lives."
Although he enjoyed research and writing, his great love was teaching, according to his wife and former students. "I'm getting paid for doing something I love," he told his wife. Prof. Carty, a student in the 1970s, said his teacher was "gentle, enthusiastic and committed." He thought not in the abstract but in the practical, said his wife.
Prof. Carty recognized his influence by dedicating to him the book Politics is Local: National Politics at the Grassroots, co-authored with Munroe Eagles, another former IRVINE student. In a letter to his mentor, Prof. Carty wrote that the dedication was a small expression of thanks for the opportunity to learn from him, which was the "making of us as teachers, as scholars and political scientists."
In the early 1980s, Mr. IRVINE began experiencing problems with balance and falling. Doctors could not find a cause. By 1985, while at the University of Manchester in England, his symptoms worsened and he began to limp and use a cane. He spent three weeks in hospital but doctors still could not identify the problem. After he returned home in 1985, he received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He continued to teach - sometimes using a cane, sometimes from a wheelchair - for another six years. It was only when his voice lost its power, and when he could no longer lecture, that he retired from teaching. He continued to do research on his computer at home until his fingers became too numb to use the keyboard.
In 1997, the IRVINEs moved to Toronto to be near their two daughters. At no time did he complain about his disease, Mrs. IRVINE said. "His strong faith helped him through it." He accepted his failing health and never felt sorry for himself, Prof. Carty said.
Always a news junkie, Prof. IRVINE loved watching news shows. His wife read The Globe to him every morning, always starting with columns by Jeffrey Simpson, another former student. Prof. IRVINE maintained his interest in the news of the day, especially anything to do with elections or Quebec, even after he entered a chronic-care facility in Toronto.
Family and Friends describe Prof. IRVINE as gentle and easy-going, a nature that earned him the nickname Sweet William, after the flower by that name, from one of his professors at Queen's.
William Peter IRVINE was born July 30, 1941, in Quebec City. He died at the West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto on April 23, 2008, from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 66. He leaves wife Joanne, daughters Margot (a university professor) and Marie (a lawyer,) sons-in-law John KOCH and Mark SHINOZAKI, and four grandchildren.
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ABBATE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-06-04 published
Activist began as angry young man and retired as 'an angry old man'
Born on the wrong side of the tracks, he spent a lifetime tackling issues of extreme poverty, health care and unemployment only to conclude that 'things are worse than they were when I started'
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲▼ S8
Toronto -- Bob COUCHMAN treasured a family anecdote of his mother as a little girl. Her parents, although poor, scraped together enough money early one winter to buy her a new pair of serviceable shoes. She put them on, went out to play and returned at day's end barefoot. She had given her shoes to a child with feet swathed in rags. Decades later, that same strong spirit of giving would become a hallmark of her son's life, taking him from working with street gangs and youth in the pool halls and back alleys of Toronto to the head of family service agencies and charitable foundations.
During a career that spanned 51 years, Mr. COUCHMAN was always "a connector, an agitator and an enabler," said his son Stephen - who, along with his sister Barbara, inherited his father's social conscience. Both offspring continue their father's work with social agencies and charitable groups, he in Canada, she in Portsmouth, England.
Mr. COUCHMAN's goal in life was to leave the world a little better and he worked tirelessly toward that end. In a speech in 2001 to the Yukon Family Services Association after his retirement as its executive director, Mr. COUCHMAN spoke of the progress made during his decades in the social advocacy field, such as universal health care, reduction in extreme poverty and unemployment insurance. But for him, the greatest advance was the social and health research into the functioning of healthy communities. And his greatest disappointment with this advance was society's failure to learn from the research, he said in that same speech. "Our discounting and even rejection of this research fuels my anger."
He went on to state: "In my early days, I was considered an angry young man, a classification which was certainly in cultural vogue during the late 1950s… As my career got under way, I found myself rebelling against the status quo and challenging weak assumptions. I now end my career almost as I began it. However, I now have obtained the status of an angry old man."
His conclusion, after so many years in the trenches? "And now I recognize, if anything, things are worse than they were when I started. I need another lifetime to keep kicking the system in the shins."
Mr. COUCHMAN wrote of his years dealing with social problems in his 2003 book Reflections on Canadian Character: From Monarch Park to Monarch Mountain. The title refers to his journey from his Toronto neighbourhood to the majestic mountain in British Columbia. The book, part memoir, is also a critique of how the social safety net has been allowed to deteriorate and how societal attitude has changed from the traditional one of neighbours helping each other, which he witnessed growing up. "Generally, the Canadian character has shifted from one of social responsibility and obligation to one another, to one of rights and entitlement," he wrote.
In a 1989 article in The Globe and Mail, he wrote that Canadians and their government must re-establish society's commitment to a social contract that provides for the essential needs of Canadian. He wrote that it was a sad state that philanthropic dollars meant to provide for creative service innovation, risk-taking research and the enrichment of people's lives had to be used to provide the basics of life for those with no other means.
As a crusader for social justice, Mr. COUCHMAN was not afraid to take politicians to task for their stance on social issues. He was highly critical of attempts by the Mike Harris government to reduce Ontario's deficit, in part, through welfare cuts. In 1994, he wrote in this newspaper that the welfare initiative was an "ill-considered policy generated by ill-informed minds."
Mr. COUCHMAN's sense of social justice extended to his personal life. When the Anglican Church that he attended in Whitehorse rejected same-sex marriage, Mr. COUCHMAN became an outspoken critic, warning that many parishioners would desert over the issue. Eventually, he was one of them, leaving to join the United Church.
Mr. COUCHMAN served on the boards of many organizations, including the United Way of Greater Toronto. He was a founding director of the White Ribbon Campaign, vice-chair of the Vanier Institute of the Family and co-chairman of the Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family in 1994.
The eldest of two sons born to Bob and Mary COUCHMAN, a working-class couple, he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in east-end Toronto. The family lived in the Monarch Park area south of Danforth Avenue, which was in those days the dividing line between the haves to the north and the have-nots to the south. Mrs. COUCHMAN was a homemaker, her husband a lawn-bowl repairman and a maintenance worker at East General Hospital. The family never owned a car and Robert was 16 before the family had a telephone. With only a single income to rely upon, times were lean. Even so, his mother continued her life of giving - when there was food on the COUCHMAN table, all the neighbourhood kids ate, too.
As a youth, Mr. COUCHMAN participated in some of the programs offered by the Broadview Young Men's Christian Association and, as a teenager, he volunteered his time, working with troubled youth. After completing Grade 12 at Riverdale Collegiate, he attended teachers college and then spent one year teaching in a one-room school in Etobicoke, west of Toronto. At 20 he started teaching at Ionview Public School in Scarborough, and five years later the Etobicoke Board of Education hired him as director of the department of student services. "He loved teaching but left because of the challenge of working with at-risk students," said his first wife, Jane COUCHMAN.
While teaching full time and working at the Young Men's Christian Association, he took summer and correspondence courses at Queen's University in Kingston, earning his B.A. He then obtained a masters in education from the University of Toronto.
He left the Etobicoke school board in 1974 to become executive director of the Family Services Association of Toronto. During his 15 years with the association, he helped create a camp for children with special physical needs and a domestic response team to address domestic violence. "Christmas was always about turkey, gifts and calls from the domestic response team," Stephen COUCHMAN recalled.
In 1989, Mr. COUCHMAN was named president of the Donner Canadian Foundation, which provides financial support to charitable organizations and to groups doing research in public policy and education. This position was quite a coup for Mr. COUCHMAN, said his friend Tom Brodhead, president of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. "You don't find social activists running foundations," he said. "He led Donner into some imaginative projects."
In 1999, Mr. COUCHMAN moved north to become executive director of the Yukon Family Services Association (since renamed Many Rivers), retiring in 2001, in part because of ill health.
He met his first wife, Jane BARKER, in 1959, in the Toronto church where he sang in the choir. They married two years later, had two children and divorced after two decades, yet remained good Friends. Four years after the divorce, he met his second wife, interior designer Carolyn MOORE, on a blind date. They married two years later, had a son and in 1996 moved to Atlin, a small community in northwest British Columbia, a two- or three-hour drive from Whitehorse. The couple went their separate ways in The move to the Yukon in 1999 was the realization of a long-held dream to live in the North, where he enjoyed backpacking, canoeing and cross-country skiing. He used his first teacher's pay check to buy a canoe and then purchased a Volkswagen Beetle to carry it up north. His love for the outdoors was rooted in the family's annual summer vacation in Muskoka. He also took part in numerous expeditions to the Canadian Rockies, the Himalayas, the Swiss Alps and Nepal.
Always a writer of poetry and a story teller, Mr. COUCHMAN turned his pen to plays, particularly murder mysteries, when he moved to Whitehorse. There, he also became a thespian, acting in his own plays.
After retiring, Mr. COUCHMAN continued to consult with various organizations on social issues. "He worked thoughtfully and quietly toward making a difference in the lives of thousands of people who will never know his name," said Stephen COUCHMAN.
Robert George COUCHMAN was born February 21, 1937, in Toronto. He died of a massive heart attack on May 3, 2008, watching a film with his son Michael in a movie theatre in Kingston. He was 71. He leaves his brother Bruce, daughter Barbara O'SULLIVAN and sons Stephen and Michael. He also leaves former wives Jane COUCHMAN and Carolyn MOORE.
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ABBATE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-06-23 published
Beauty with 'a fabulous, floating walk' was greatest Canadian model of her time
Discovered selling perfume at Eaton's in Toronto, she came to dominate her profession. She later opened an academy for aspiring models and a finishing school for young girls
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲▼ S11
Toronto -- Dorothy FLEMING/FLEMMING instructed generations of Canadian girls how to be young ladies, and taught aspiring models how to strut their stuff.
She instructed youngsters in the social graces and manners they would need to succeed socially: how to walk in high heels, how to get in and out of a car gracefully, how to correctly hold a knife and fork and the appropriate use of makeup. She trained would-be models on the best runway walks to showcase the fashions they would wear professionally. Many of her clients were older, frustrated housewives for whom she helped reinforce their self-esteem. Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING was eminently qualified for all these tasks. She was, after all, the most famous Canadian model of her generation and the owner of this country's first professional modelling school.
Many years after she retired from modelling, she was still considered an "idol." One journalist described her as "one model who everybody wanted to emulate." Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING, she wrote, "had it all: a dazzling smile, the ability to sell clothes and a fabulous, floating walk."
That walk was so memorable that many who saw her on the runway still remember it. "When I think of Dorothy, I remember the way she walked," said long-time friend Alix Larry, a former model herself. "She was an outstanding model and had an incredible walk."
Bev Fardell, a former student of Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING as well as a close friend, also remembers learning the floating walk because a proper walk was what she instilled in all her students. "The walk was not a wiggle, because you were not supposed to wiggle your bum," said Ms. Fardell, a model for 24 years.
As a top model, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING hobnobbed with the rich and famous. She flew across the country to assignments in the Eaton's department store plane and counted among her Friends such actors as Tyrone Power and Victor Mature. Actor-comedian Danny Kaye was a special friend. The two were introduced one summer when he was performing at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and she was in a fashion show there. A long Friendship ensued. "When he came to perform in Toronto, it was my job to pick him up at the stage door and bring him home to the family," said her son, Paul FLEMING/FLEMMING.
Raised in Toronto, she was one of two children of Douglas FLEMING/FLEMMING, a lifelong employee city employee, and his wife Agnes, a homemaker. The FLEMINGs lived on Glengrove Avenue in North York and money was tight. As a child, Dorothy and her brother, Douglas, would pick peas at local farms to earn extra money. After leaving Vaughan Road Collegiate in York, then a separate borough west of Toronto, she went to work at the Eaton's department store. It was there, while selling perfume, that she was discovered.
The tall, slim, beautiful, young saleswoman caught the eye of someone in the store's fashion department and Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING soon found herself modelling clothes and jewellery for a living. She was in such demand that even Eaton's competitor, Simpson's, also hired her to model their fashions. In 1949, she opened a modelling school in her Glengrove family home, later moving to a large house in Toronto's Forest Hill neighbourhood. The second location boasted a runway, makeup room and administrative offices. She also opened a hair salon at Yonge Street and St. Clair, but left the trimming and snipping to others.
In her 20s, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING had met and married Donald STEISS, an insurance executive. The marriage soon ended, but together they had a son, Paul, whom she raised as a single mother. She never remarried, telling Friends that she was having too good a time as a single woman. But she almost did tie the knot again. Many years after her divorce, she accepted a proposal from businessman Donald SPRINGER, but he died of a heart attack before their wedding day.
In the meantime, she got down to business. The Dorothy Fleming Modelling School and Agency was also a finishing school where girls from private schools were sent to brush up on their social graces. There was always a waiting list. Sarah Band, who took classes there at 15, recalls learning how to wear makeup and how to walk in heels. She said the girls wished to learn from Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING because she was a "brilliant teacher" whose critique was always delivered with kindness.
Ms. Larry was 17 the first time she saw Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING, although their Friendship began decades later. At the time, Ms. Larry was working at Simpson's and Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING was demonstrating makeup at Woolworth's department store. "She was the most beautiful vision that anyone could ever have seen," Ms. Larry said. "She was wearing a white uniform. The girls and I would run across the road during our coffee breaks just to look at her, she was so stunningly beautiful."
Perhaps because of her own failed marriage, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING earnestly believed that it was impossible for a woman to succeed at both a career and at being a homemaker. "A woman's greatest role is making a home, not a house," she once told a reporter writing an article about the role of the modern, seventies woman. "The executive who has a real house, not just the home, can truly say he is a successful man."
After seeing many executive wives in her school, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING concluded that a woman's road in self-improvement began not with new clothes but in the head. "Life can be so great if you think properly," she said in the article, urging women not to fall into a "housewife rut."
The answer, she said, lay in education. "The best thing we can do for a woman is to get her to change her thinking. She needs something other than her own problems to discuss with her husband when he comes home from work. When you think of yourself all the time, you're dead. The answer usually is that the woman needs to do things."
Her solution? "Set aside an idea drawer and fill it with things outside the home you want to do, courses you want to take, movies you want to go see - anything really."
In the mid-seventies, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING decided one day that she had had enough. She closed her school and sold the hair salon. By then, her son had purchased a farm in Lindsay, Ontario, where her own mother was already living, so she followed him. In retirement, she indulged in three of her passions: painting, charitable work and travelling. She took up painting watercolours, mainly still life, and proved to be an excellent artist, said her son. Several of her works adorn the walls of his Lindsay home.
Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING was known for her generosity to those in need. One year she made donations to 27 different groups, from animal-rights organizations to Greenpeace. She was particularly interested in organizations dealing with children and she sponsored countless youngsters all over the world.
She became deeply interested in the problems of Canada's native people after a conversation with then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila. Then in her 70s, Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING travelled to Labrador to see first-hand what the people there might most need. "Later, she spent months leaving the house with a card table under her arm and going to shopping malls where she set up the table, raised money and distributed literature about the plight of natives," her son said.
Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING beat two bouts of ovarian cancer during her life and remained very fit until the end. Exercise, followed by a portion of grapefruit, was a morning routine that Ms. FLEMING/FLEMMING devoutly followed.
Dorothy FLEMING/FLEMMING was born August 14, 1917, in Toronto, Ontario She died May 25, 2008, of bronchial pneumonia at Mr. Sinai Hospital in Toronto. She was 90. She is survived by her son, Paul FLEMING/FLEMMING.
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ABBATE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-07-11 published
Accidental mining engineer replaced his pickax with a pen
Told by his father to study mining, he became devoted to it and became publisher of The Northern Miner, where he suffered undeserved criticism during the Windfall scandal of 1964
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲▼ S8
Toronto -- Maurice (Mort) BROWN was tricked into a career in mining. He had been accepted to study forestry at the University of Toronto - or so he thought. Unbeknownst to him, his father had changed the application form to mining engineering, which he thought would provide a better future. He didn't tell his son until five minutes before he was to hop on the train for the long trip south from his home in Port Arthur.
"I screamed and hollered and was in tears, but there was nothing I could do," recalled Mr. BROWN, whose career in mining spanned more than five decades, taking him from the mines of Northern Ontario to the office towers of downtown Toronto and beyond. In the process, he replaced the pickax with a pen, chronicling major developments in the mining industry and the people who mattered in it.
He quickly came to love everything about mining, becoming the industry's biggest booster. "He had great enthusiasm for all things mining and all the people in it," said Stan HAWKINS, a friend for more than 40 years.
Mr. BROWN's greatest legacy to the industry may be the creation of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, in 1988, to honour those who contribute to and promote mining. The United States had its own hall of fame, and Mr. BROWN was anxious to establish one in Canada. It took many years of perseverance in the face of skepticism, but he realized his dream. The hall is located in the mining building at the University of Toronto, and Mr. BROWN served as the hall's chairman for its first four years. The night he himself was inducted as a member in 1993, he described mining as a "dirty, nasty industry that demands hard work" - but he would do it all over again if he could.
The low point of his career took place decades earlier, at the time of the so-called Windfall scandal. On the day the scandal broke and he discovered that several people whom he had trusted had betrayed him, "his hair turned white literally overnight," said his daughter, Sandra PULEY. "He was devastated. It was a horrible, horrible time."
It was the summer of 1964, and Mr. BROWN, then an assistant editor at the weekly Northern Miner, wrote a favourable article about a potential discovery in a mine owned by Viola and George MacMILLAN, a couple he considered good Friends. The MacMILLANs had drilled holes on property near Timmins, Ontario, near a site where a rich lode of copper had been discovered by another company the previous year. Rumours of another lode drove the stock of Windfall Oil and Mines Ltd. from 56 cents to $5.70 in a matter of weeks. But while the company's value continued to rise, purely on speculation, the MacMILLANs refused to announce their test results. The bubble burst when they finally disclosed that there were no metal deposits on the site. Thousands of investors lost everything.
The Ontario government called a royal commission and Mr. BROWN, among others, was called to testify. He told the inquiry that his positive article was based in part on an interview with Ontario's minister of mines, George WARDROBE, who tried to shift the blame onto Mr. BROWN when he took the stand.
Mr. BROWN described his numerous unsuccessful attempts to get a straight answer about the test results from both the mines minister and Mrs. MacMILLAN, a leader in the mining industry. Mr. BROWN was accused of profiting from buying Windfall stock. He did make $4,471, but told the inquiry that he also lost $5,578 trading stocks in other MacMILLAN-owned companies. And there was no policy at The Northern Miner forbidding him from buying shares in companies on which the paper reported. "They expect us to use discretion. They would take a dim view of any heavy trading," he told the inquiry.
Maurice BROWN, known as Mort, was the fourth of six children to William and Georgia BROWN of Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay. William BROWN worked on ships and was on the Noronic, a tour ship that sailed the Great Lakes, when it caught fire in Toronto Harbour on September 17, 1949. One hundred and eighteen of the 525 passengers perished. William BROWN saved countless lives by spraying people with water so they could run through the flames to safety.
After graduating from university in 1938, Mort BROWN went to work as an engineer at a gold mine near Geraldton, north of Lake Superior. He worked at other facilities, eventually becoming a mine manager. A year after graduation, he married Margaret GREEN, a young woman he had met one summer when she was a teenager. In 1947, Mr. BROWN was hired as mining instructor at Lakehead Technical Institute in Thunder Bay to develop its mining curriculum.
He was still an undergraduate when his interest was first piqued by The Northern Miner. He became fascinated by a major find at the Little Long Lac gold mine in Geraldton, and spent hours reading accounts of it. His interest in the paper would forever change his career path.
In his final year at university, Mr. BROWN, as president of the university's mining and metallurgical society, invited one of the paper's writers to address the students. Mr. BROWN was so excited by the speaker that he informed him he intended to join the paper's editorial staff one day. While working after graduation, Mr. BROWN submitted many articles to the Miner, each one accompanied by a job request. He finally received the call in 1949 and moved his young family to Toronto, the paper's headquarters. He worked his way up to assistant editor and then, on his 65th birthday, was named editor. He became publisher in 1985 and publisher emeritus two years later, not retiring until his 80th birthday in 1992.
During his 43 years at the paper, Mr. BROWN visited every mine in Canada and many others around the world, including the United States, Finland, the Caribbean and South America. In August, 1973, during a trip to Costa Rica to visit an old gold mine, he became deathly ill with a lung infection. Upon his return to Toronto, doctors diagnosed histoplasmosis, an infection caused by fungi from bat dung. He was placed in an oxygen tent. "We almost lost him," said son Russell BROWN. With his lungs permanently damaged, he was given a pension. However, he returned to his job at the paper and never allowed the disability to get in his way, his son said.
What finally did slow him down, however, was the death of his wife in 1998. They had been married for 59 years.
Otherwise, Mr. BROWN was renowned for his enthusiasm for life, which occasionally went too far. "He was foolhardy and reckless at times," said his daughter. "He always went with his heart instead of his head. He went feet first into situations." Such as the time, in his 70s, when he climbed a tree with a running chainsaw. He fell and broke his arm. Or the time he went camping with a brand-new car, a new tent and new stove. He set up camp next to a dead tree, which he thought would make a good fire. He cut the tree and, of course, it fell on the stove, the tent and the car roof. There was also the time he went into the car wash with all the windows open. But he was always able to laugh at himself because he knew it was his own fault, said Nean ALLMAN, a former colleague and now co-ordinator of the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
Ms. ALLMAN has her own story. She arrived at work one Monday morning to find a brown bag on her desk. Inside was a headless duck Mr. BROWN had shot on his latest hunting trip. "I knew you liked a challenge. I thought you'd like to pluck it and cook it," he told her with a twinkle in his eye. She did as he suggested. It was a very tasty meal, she said.
Maurice (Mort) BROWN was born November 11, 1912, in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario He died June 24, 2008, of cancer at Freeport Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario He was 95. He is survived by son Russell, daughter Sandra PULEY, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He is also survived by brother Burton and sister Audrey.
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ABBATE firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-07-15 published
Toronto lawyer survived D-Day, defended Lord Haw-Haw in Old Bailey
Wounded during the Battle of Normandy, he was reassigned to defend a Nazi broadcaster accused of treason. After returning to Canada, he practised civil law for 60 years
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲▼ S8
Toronto -- It was April 3, 1943, and Stanley BIGGS was on the Queen Mary, the ship transporting him and other Canadian soldiers across the Atlantic to fight the Nazis. As he passed the time playing bridge, a familiar voice came across the shortwave radio, announcing the imminent demise of the ship and everyone aboard.
"There are 5,000 Canadians aboard the Queen Mary hoping to reach Southampton by sundown. There is no way this will happen. The Messerschmitts are on the way."
The voice belonged to William Joyce, nicknamed "Lord Haw-Haw" by the British. The American-born Joyce had moved to England but fled to Germany just before the war. There, he became part of the Nazi propaganda machine, broadcasting weekly to England and Allied soldiers from 1939 to 1945. Joyce warned that German fighter aircraft would destroy the ship, but it reached port safely.
That was Mr. BIGGS's first introduction to Lord Haw-Haw. Seventeen months later, with Germany defeated, the two men sat just a few feet apart in an Old Bailey courtroom in London. Mr. Joyce was in the prisoner's box on trial for treason; Mr. BIGGS, a trained lawyer recovering from war wounds, was attached to his court-appointed legal defence team.
For long weeks in September and October of 1945, he did nothing but research treason laws dating back to the 14th century. In the process, he became an expert on the subject, writing several articles and giving speeches on the subject after his return to Canada. Of his involvement in the trial, he wrote in his memoirs: "It was a most interesting and worthwhile experience for a young lawyer to do research and to hear the presentation of argument for the Crown by the Attorney-General." The memoir, As Luck Would Have It In War and Peace, was released by Trafford Publishing (Victoria) earlier this year.
It was the duty of the defence team, Mr. BRIGGS wrote, "to research all of the relevant evidence we could find and to see that, if Joyce was guilty, he was not convicted except in full evidence with the law." During the trial, Joyce never spoke but kept looking around the courtroom as if expecting family or Friends to show up, Mr. BIGGS wrote. No one ever came. A jury convicted him of treason and he was hanged in 1946.
Stanley Champion BIGGS was not, in his own words, "a religious scholar, a cosmic scientist, a World War 2 history professional," areas of endeavour he considered beyond his abilities. The list of what he actually was is much longer: a combat infantry officer, a devoted lawyer for more than six decades, a poet, a school trustee, an environmentalist long before environmentalism was fashionable. He also devoted his life to the principle of doing good for its own sake.
He was born to the law, one of four children to solicitor Richard Atkinson BIGGS and Gertrude CHAMPION, the belle of Brantford, Ontario His grandfather, Stanley Clarke BIGGS, founded the firm of Biggs and Biggs.
Young Stan grew up on Roxborough Street in Toronto's Rosedale neighbourhood. He graduated from the University of Toronto Schools and then studied law at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1936 and then enrolling in the three-year law program at Osgoode Hall Law School. In 1939, he joined the family law firm and was called to the bar that June.
To celebrate, he and classmate J.F. BARRETT went to the world's fair in New York. A group of young ladies graduating from Bishop Strachan School in Toronto plotted to join them there. Among them was Mr. BARRETT's younger sister, Barbara, who clicked with Mr. BIGGS. The granddaughter of Sir Joseph FLAVELLE, a financier and meat packer who was well known for his philanthropy in Toronto, they became engaged by September and married the following June.
After the war broke out, Mr. BIGGS volunteered with the Queen's Own Rifles, leaving behind his wife, who was pregnant with their second son. After months of training in England, he was among the thousands of Canadian soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day - June 6, 1944.
The regiment landed near Bernières-sur-Mer at about 8 a.m., only to enter a maelstrom. A storm had just passed through the area and rough seas meant that all-important support tanks had been delayed. Unable to wait, the infantry was forced to go ashore unprotected, with the result that the Queen's Own Rifles suffered the worst casualties of any Canadian unit crossing the beaches that day: 60 men killed and another 78 wounded.
Mr. BIGGS, however, emerged without a scratch. He made it through 86 days of continuous front-line combat during the Battle of Normandy, and the long struggle to deny Germany's bitter attempt to halt the Allied breakthrough, until finally he was shot in the leg.
The machine-gun bullet that took him out of the fighting landed him in a courtroom. During and after his convalescence in England, the military decided to make use of his legal skills. Attached to the office of the Canadian Judge Advocates General, he prosecuted or defended soldiers accused of such crimes as assault or rape.
He returned home in December, 1945, with the rank of captain and resumed the life of a civilian lawyer. At first, he helped his father with his client list but also did pro bono work, defending accused who could not afford a lawyer. There was no legal aid system in Ontario until the 1960s.
Mr. BIGGS continued to practise law until 2004. "He loved the law," daughter Dinny BIGGS said. "He was passionate about the rule of law, about studying its background, the evolution of law and jurisprudence."
One of the highlights of his career was his involvement in the creation of the broadcaster CTV. He handled the negotiations that brought together the original parties who acquired the licence for a second national television station.
His client, Joel ALDRED, had originally sought the licence on his own. But with the Canadian Board of Broadcast Governors reluctant to grant one to a single entity, Mr. BIGGS helped him form a partnership with Ted ROGERS.
The new partners entered into an agreement with another group, headed by newspaper owner John BASSETT. The channel went on the air in 1961, but disagreements eventually arose between the two groups. Mr. BIGGS came up with a solution that allowed Mr. ALDRED to sell his shares while leaving Mr. ROGERS as a partner.
Mr. BIGGS continued his pro bono work throughout his career, providing free legal advice to numerous non-profit groups.
That list included the Queen's Own Rifle of Canada Trust, the Canadian Opera Foundation and the Toronto School of Art, which his artist-wife used some of her inheritance to help establish in 1968. In 1955, Mr. BIGGS was named Queen's Counsel. In 1995, he received the Law Society Medal, which the Law Society of Upper Canada awards in recognition of distinguished service in the law profession.
Not content to write just briefs, Mr. BIGGS also loved to dabble in poetry. During the war, he wrote The Queen's Own Rifles on D-Day, a poem that now hangs in the Canadian War Museum. He wrote the piece one day in 1944 when several dozen members of his regiment were killed and dozens more were injured during fighting.
Mr. BIGGS was also a landowner. During his lifetime, he planted more than 150,000 trees, beginning in the late 1940s, when he bought his first piece of farmland. He eventually sold that and bought a 40-hectare farm in Mono Township in Dufferin County, Ontario. The land was hilly and not suitable for crops, so he rented it out for cattle. For relaxation, he started planting seedlings, eventually turning the property into a managed tree farm. In 1991, he was recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources with an award for woodland improvement.
Humour was another important aspect of Mr. BIGGS's life. His was not slapstick humour but rather a keen wit, said his long-time secretary, Marjorie FOGG. "He always had cute little answers to things," she said.
Mr. BIGGS wrote of the importance of humour in his life in his memoirs: "Without the humorous twists in my exposure to life&hellip I think I would have cracked up long ago. I have always felt that the therapeutic value of good humour should be gladly welcomed."
Toward the end of his life, Mr. BIGGS prepared a final message for his family and Friends summing up the philosophy by which he lived his own life: "Live fully, share extremes, stay well, keep chuckling, have the thrill of dedication to good causes, be good on Earth for its own sake."
Stanley Champion BIGGS was born in Toronto on December 6, 1913. He died June 17, 2008, at Saint Michael's Hospital in Toronto after a brief illness. He was 94. He is survived by children Christopher, Barrett, John and Dinny, and seven grandchildren. His wife, Barbara, predeceased him in 2005.
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ABBATE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2008-07-19 published
Fiddler was a prolific composer and performer with a style all his own
Hateful of the violin as a child, he defied calls to conform and chose to blend such traditions as country, jazz, folk, South Asian and Scandinavian. 'I don't write music,' he said in 1999. 'I catch it as it goes by'
By Gay ABBATE, Page▲ A12
Oliver SCHROER arrived home from high school one day to find his mother vacuuming while listening to Pink Floyd music. "Hey Mom, how can I rebel if you keep listening to my records?" he asked. But rebel he did. The gifted Canadian fiddler and composer refused to be bound by what he considered the restrictions of classical instruction and, most importantly, by the limits of any one musical genre. Through his rebellion, he took contemporary fiddling music to a whole new level. "He opened up a whole new range of possibilities," said musician Anne LINDSAY, who played second fiddle in Mr. SCHROER's band, Stewed Tomatoes.
To Grit Laskin, co-founder of the Canadian Folk Music Awards, Mr. SCHROER was the ultimate musician. "His playing style of music was unique. It was his own style and physically what he did with his bow technique and the kind of rhythms and structure in the music he wrote - there was nobody else like him."
The Globe's music critic, Robert EVERETT- GREEN, referred to Mr. SCHROER's style as a "fusion of Ontario's fiddling traditions with the kind of architectural, string-crossing music of Bach's solo violin works."
For his part, Mr. SCHROER considered the violin more than a musical wooden box. "I think of my violin as a vibration generator, a drum, a sex partner, a confidant," he wrote. "We dance, we tell each other secrets, we pray. We make music."
A prodigious composer and music producer, as well as a master of the acoustic violin, Mr. SCHROER received eight Juno nominations during his 25-year career. He wrote more than 1,000 musical pieces, recorded nine CDs of his own compositions and produced 30 CDs for other artists. He also performed on more than 100 albums of new traditional, acoustic and popular music by other musicians. He recorded with such artists as composers Jimmy Webb and Barry Mann, singers James Keelaghan and Sylvia Tyson, acoustic guitarists Jesse Cook and Don Ross, and the groups Great Big Sea and Spirit of the Wind.
His most recent collaboration was with his childhood friend, the classical guitarist Liona BOYD. In late April, he played on two tracks of her new CD, to be released this fall. "He was an inspired musician," said Ms. BOYD. " Music reflects the soul of a person. You could tell he was a deep, sensitive person."
Mr. SCHROER was very iconoclastic and a global person from a cultural point of view, said his brother André SCHROER. Oliver SCHROER defied calls to conform, choosing to blend many musical traditions, including country, jazz, folk, South Asian and Scandinavian. "He was a very complex individual who in one way skewed authority and bombast but still had one foot in traditions."
Mr. SCHROER took little credit for his unique music. In his view, he merely kept his ears open to the wind. "I don't write music," he told The Globe and Mail in 1999. "I catch it as it goes by. It's all floating by for the taking."
Oliver SCHROER was born the third of four children of Hendryk and Irene SCHROER, German immigrants who had arrived in Canada in 1954. When Oliver was 10, his father, who worked in sales and management, decided to uproot his young family to the countryside. They settled in Markdale, Ontario, a village located in the Beaver Valley about 30 kilometres south of Georgian Bay and about 150 kilometres north of Toronto. It was while growing up in Markdale that he first met Ms. BOYD, who lived nearby with her family.
By then Oliver was already a budding musician, having played the recorder since he was 6. When he was 8, his parents switched him to the violin, which he did not enjoy playing and took every opportunity to get out of practising, including making a tape of the scales and exercises. "When my mother told me to go upstairs and practice, I would go into my room and play the tape," he wrote last year, after finally admitting his pretense to his mother.
Meanwhile, his parents were not musicians but they had an appreciation for classical music and resolved to expose their children to it. For a time, the only window to popular culture the children had was a weekly dose of The Wonderful World of Disney on television. Oliver's first intimate contact with popular music was when he was 12 and a friend of his older brother brought over a copy of the Beatles album, Abbey Road. His 16th birthday brought significant changes that would further expand his musical horizon: his father gave him a guitar, acknowledging his son was not interested in the violin. Later, Oliver went to Quebec on a student-exchange program and was exposed to the music of Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull and James Taylor - all of which he greedily soaked up. The guitar was his instrument of choice even after he enrolled in philosophy at the University of Toronto. There, he discovered the jazz music of Chick Corea and Lenny Breau.
It took 10 years for him to graduate from university. He never really settled to his studies and instead took time off for other pursuits. He bounced through a series of office jobs and played for a time with a country swing group called the Treverston Band. His first gig in 1982 earned him $30.
His violin, meanwhile, remained neglected on a shelf until the night a girlfriend persuaded him to learn square dancing. He took along his violin and was surprised to find a fiddler and guitarist playing for the class. The musicians introduced him to Irish and French-Canadian fiddling. He didn't learn much about square dancing because he spent most of his time jamming with the band. It was the beginning of his love affair with an instrument he had previously loathed.
He abandoned the guitar and took up the violin - this time an acoustic violin he painted blue - with one of the musicians he had met at the square-dancing class. One night, while playing in Eastern Ontario, he had a revelation that music was to be his life's work - not the law or academia as he had expected. "I hadn't ever had that thought before in that same way. This time it was for real," he once wrote. "If I could just do that, I would be so satisfied."
In 1987, he and a friend formed a jazz group called Eye Music. The quartet met with some success and was invited to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland the following year. In the early nineties he formed Stewed Tomatoes, which played across Canada and in venues ranging from small pubs to New York's Lincoln Centre. For a time, the group served as the house band on Stewart McLean's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program, The Vinyl Café.
In 1993, Mr. SCHROER established his credentials on the Canadian music scene with his first album, Jigzup. It was won rave reviews and earned him his first Juno nomination.
His best known solo albums are Camino and Hymns and Hers. The music for Camino was recorded in churches during a 2004 hike of the 1,000-kilometre-long Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route which meanders through the Pyrenees mountain region of France and Spain. For two months, he and friend Peter COFFMAN stopped at any church or chapel along the way that seemed acoustically promising. Mr. SCHROER would unpack his portable recording studio, take out the violin he carried wrapped in his sleeping bag and begin playing. For his part, Mr. COFFMAN recorded the adventure through photography. His pictures form a 28-page booklet that accompanies the album. Often while recording, Mr. SCHROER would have unforeseen accompaniment, such as the sound of children playing or people laughing. At one location in France, while playing The Lord's Prayer, the church clock started chiming. "I couldn't believe the fortune of that happening," Mr. SCHROER told the Globe in 2006.
Hymns and Hers followed Camino and shares some of the same deep emotion, although the sound is very different. Recorded after Mr. SCHROER was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2007, the album is a collection of introspective ensemble pieces, "Hymns and Hers is one of the most stunning records I've ever heard," said Mr. Laskin.
Mr. SCHROER's style of playing was as distinctive as his music. Four years of busking long hours in Toronto's subway stations resulted in tendinitis, a condition that has ended many a promising musical career. After taking a nine-month hiatus, during which he started composing music, he changed the way he held his bow.
In the process he discovered he could produce exquisite music, so he kept playing that way, said jazz singer and actress Michele George, a friend for 25 years. "He took something you could look at as negative and saw how it could work to take him further into a new way of making music and a way to hear music that wouldn't have happened had it not been for the tendinitis."
Mr. SCHROER's large stature in the music world was matched his physical appearance. Standing 6 feet 6 inches, with his mohawk, goatee and designer frames, he did not conform to most people's image of a fiddler. He enjoyed being outrageous and changed his hairstyle frequently for effect, his brother said. The mohawk was the favourite look. His goatee grew back bushier than ever. Over the past year, he would wear clogs - one red and one orange - just to startle people, his brother said.
Mr. COFFMAN said his friend was a wise man, but could also be silly, mischievous and goofy. Most of all he was inspiring. "He just made you want to go out and do great stuff. He was one of those rare people who expand your sense of what is possible."
Part of Mr. SCHROER's legacy is Twisted String, a project he launched about seven years ago with the idea of teaching young violinists. He was living and teaching in Vancouver and started the group after going to Smithers, British Columbia, to conduct a violin workshop. Smithers is located about halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, which means it is a 14-hour drive from Vancouver. As such, the children there would never have been exposed to a musician like Mr. SCHROER, said Emilyn STAM, who was one of his first students. Other artists, such as Miss BOYD, later followed in his footsteps to Smithers.
Mr. SCHROER taught his students that nothing was too crazy or wrong when playing the violin. "He told us to embrace any mistake and to turn it into something cool," Ms. STAM said.
He became a father figure for many of the students, and mentored them all as though they were his own children. "He taught us how to live life," she added.
Since then the original group has grown and several of his original students, including Ms. STAM, are now not only leading Twisted String but also establishing new groups elsewhere in the country. Some have gone on to form their own bands.
About two years ago, Mr. SCHROER was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a condition that inevitably leads to the leukemia that developed early last year. He moved back to Toronto to be near Friends and family, and to undergo chemotherapy. It was later learned that the cancer had spread to his spine.
Mr. SCHROER did not let the disease slow him down. During his chemotherapy treatment, he composed 59 musical pieces, one for each of his students in Smithers. Each tune had the person's name in the title and totally fit each kid's personality, Ms. STAM said. The tunes make up Smithers, his final CD, which he sent to each student at Christmas.
His last public performance was on June 5 in Toronto on what he dubbed the Last Concert on the Tour of the Planet. He played one solo to a standing-room-only crowd of 800 people.
He continued to work even as the end drew near. Doctors and nurses in Unit 14A at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto let him bring in a piano and other recording equipment into his room so he and his Friends could work, Ms. George said.
A final message to Friends and fans which he posted on his website reveals that he had come to terms with his pending end on this Earth. "Some people live very intensely and burn very brightly during their time here. I think I am one of those people. A shining star while I am here. So I look at my life as I have lived it, and I feel very satisfied with all I have achieved and gone through."
Oliver SCHROER was born June 18, 1956, in Toronto. He died July 3, 2008, of leukemia at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. He was 52. He leaves his mother Irene, brothers André and Ansgar and sister Martina.
A celebration of Mr. SCHROER's life and music is being planned for early September. Details will be posted on his website: http://www.oliverschroer.com.
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