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Archive for January, 2012

Blood on the Moon

Written and performed by Pierre Brault

Directed by John Koensgen

Great Canadian Theatre Company

January 17-February 5, 2012

At approximately 2:30 a.m. on April 7, 1868 Thomas D’Arcy McGee was shot in the back of the neck at close range at the door of the Sparks Street boarding house where he resided while in Ottawa. One of the founding Fathers of Confederation, the politician, journalist and poet died within seconds. James Patrick Whelan, a young tailor, was charged, tried, convicted and executed for McGee’s assassination. Was justice served?

This is the question that playwright and performer Pierre Brault asks as he takes us on a fascinating journey back in time to explore justice through the perspective of the man charged with the crime, and with a contemporary lens. Brault humanizes Whelan by giving him a voice. The one-man play has multiple characters and Brault easily and convincingly transitions from one character to another. The 75 minute production is a captivating story that works on both an intellectual and an emotional level. The stark scene lighting and simple set decor – a chair, and the sound of weather and an Irish ballad contribute to the emotional impact of the play.

Did James Patrick Whelan kill Thomas D’Arcy McGee? We don’t really know and the play leaves us with questionable doubt. Whelan was tried and convicted on circumstantial evidence. Much of the evidence against him, including the sole eye-witness testimony, was discredited. He was suspected of being a sympathizer of the Fenian Brotherhood – a militant group that opposed British rule in Ireland and planned to hold Canada hostage – but this was never proven. Whelan’s trial lasted 8 days. The case was heard by Chief Justice William Buell Richards. He was defended by John Hillyard Cameron and prosecuted by James O’Reilly. Prime Minister John A Macdonald, a friend of the late Thomas D’Arcy McGee, sat next to the judge. Whelan was found guilty and sentenced to hang. The case was appealed and the same judge, who now sat in the higher court, cast the deciding vote in favour of his earlier judgment.

James Patrick Whelan was publicly hanged on February 11, 1869. According to Brault, it took 7 minutes for him to die. Despite a morning snowstorm, more than 5,000 people showed up for the execution. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Canada.

Blood on the Moon was originally produced in 1999 for the Ottawa Fringe Festival and expanded in 2000 for a production at the National Arts Centre. It’s toured in Canada and Ireland. It was remounted on short notice for this production at the GCTC. It’s a fascinating exploration and I encourage you to go see the play.

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Wild Women Expeditions Temagami Canoe Trip 2005

Speech 4: How to Say It

Challenge, camaraderie, and confidence, aka, I slept on moose scat

Imagine canoeing in crystal clear waters, portaging along ancient native paths, and facing fear on a rugged ridge as the sky explodes in a ferocious storm. Picture setting up camp on the shores of a pine forest, smelling the smoke-tinged scent of supper as it cooks over a crackling fire, and savouring the flavours of a soulful vegetarian feast. As dusk approaches and vision begins to fade, fancy being startled by the eerie wail of a loon as her song shatters the evening silence. (sound effect of loon song)

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests, tonight, I want to share a special adventure with you.  It’s a story about the challenge, camaraderie, and confidence that I discovered on my first backcountry canoe trip. Eight women of varying ages, strangers, most of us, until the preceding night,  put our trust in ourselves, each other, and a ninth woman, our guide, as we set off into the Temagami wilderness on a 3-day Wild Women Expedition.

It’s an early August morning and the warmth of the sun caresses your skin. There’s quiet excitement and collaboration as nine wild women with four canoes carrying eleven large essential packs enter the lake on that clear calm morning. We are sisters-in-arms as we ply our paddles through the dark waters past mangled trees on small rock islands. Majestic Mother Nature soon stirs up the wind and the whipping waves lash against our boats. The Matagamasi headwinds make paddling arduous and manoeuvring our crafts requires an artful alliance between women and paddles. I am enlivened and content.

We reach land and my joyous spirit soon descends in despair. Confidence deserts me on a craggy cliff. My mind whirls in vertigo. I am immobilized on this rugged rocky ridge. I struggle with fear and the canoe that I’m carrying as I try to will myself forward. This rocky ridge – a perilous goat path, a shelf along the slope of a craggy cliff – is as high above the ground as a skyscraper and as narrow as a diving board. Majestic Mother Nature unleashes her ferocious fury. Violent relentless rains pour down, thunder roars through the air, and lightning pierces the now grey sky. My portage partner and I nestle on the slope, crouching beneath the cover of our canoe. As my fear dissipates hers mounts – she endured a childhood strike. Lightning is her demon. As the storm rages we talk, we sing, we yell, and we laugh. Finally, the storm subsides.

We don’t reach our Wolf Lake campsite this day. Our guide is wary of the weather and we setup a makeshift camp on a sheltered shoreline. The ground is blanketed in moose scat. We pitch the tents, gather water and kindling and soon the aroma of coffee and food stirs our hunger. We relax over a magnificent meal and marvel at the mysterious lament of the loons. We end our first day tried and tired. The moose scat is as soft as a feather bed.

Over the next two days we portage past waterfalls and lagoons and through the world’s largest old growth pine forest. Although the packs and canoes are heavy, the expansive serenity of this solitude summons our strength, stamina and self-confidence as we hike the 6,000-yr-old paths.

Imagine gliding through tranquil turquoise lakes. In these crystal clear waters you can see all the way to the bottom – 30-ft below. It’s mesmerizing. Paddling gently, we approach the 500-yr-old native pictograms painted high above the waterline on a weathered wall of rock. The bewildering beauty of this rugged natural landscape is mirrored in the clear calm lake.

We pick wild blueberries, share stories, swim, stargaze, savour every meal, and listen to the soft sweet sound of the songstress among us. The birds listen, too. We are free spirits amid the beauty and mystery of the wild.

Three days, nine women, four canoes, and eleven packs. Challenge, camaraderie, and confidence were found in the Temagami wilderness. I slept on moose scat and I felt the freedom of being a wild woman.

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