CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT

 

Origins

It has been said that we are all shaped by the passions, insecurities, and peculiar talents of those ancestral couplings that perforce dictate the nature of our species’ survival. The only argument that I might put forth to challenge this widely held assertion is my own observation that the universe occasionally exhibits a penchant for the arbitrary or indiscriminate. Certainly, I am aware that my personal outlook runs counter the notion of a humanistic blueprint, to which we are all unwittingly subject. However, I offer no apologies for this minor heresy and, in fact, find it amusing to observe that in the instant when perceived fate and aberrant circumstance intersect, predetermination often fades, and the horizons of belief are frequently redefined.

Having experienced this phenomenon personally, I cautiously submit that humankind’s ascendancy appears to be more a matter of luck or, if you prefer, cosmic coincidence. Any other extraneous influence, which might exhibit traces of cognitive planning, seems both ineffectual in application and superfluous to the end result. Although this might seem only logical, my mind hesitates to commit itself irrevocably. The admittedly debatable nature of this insight tends to cool my resolve and twist any irrevocable conclusion that I might otherwise be inclined to draw.

Certainly, given my doubting inclinations, I proceed through life with a degree of irresolution. That a nagging question still abounds concerning the status of an omnipotent creator (one who controls the great dual wheels of time and destiny) is, for me at least, unavoidable. In this regard, even the notion that such an entity exists in reality is fraught with point and counterpoint arguments. This quandary, which overlays all human actions with a fine mist of uncertainty, is well beyond any mortal’s meagre ability to resolve, let alone comprehend.

The realization that humankind is comprised of imperfect beings is hardly profound or even unique. Accordingly, being one of the masses, my understanding of reality and my place within it is crippled by a lack of indisputable (or understandable) data. It therefore follows quite naturally that I will always encounter more questions than answers when delving into such arcane topics. I suspect that if a resolution to these musings exists, it is deliberately hidden between lines of hitherto indecipherable code. A code, it might be said, which defines with deliberate forethought all that we are or hope to be. Why it must be so, I cannot say.

And there, my friends, is the rub. The theory, espoused by a surprising number, that we are all enveloped by randomness and chaos rather than coherent structure, is unappealing and perhaps even frightening. It is certainly an inelegant philosophical outlook that adds little to one’s peace of mind. For all my intellectual posturing, I am loathe to accept that life and the living exist without purpose.

To be open on this point, I am by breeding, if not deep desire, predisposed to acknowledge the possibility of a creator. Despite my rhetoric to this point, in some hidden crevice of my mind the idea persists that perhaps a universal and fully excogitated plan is responsible for navigating my course through the universe. On that point and notwithstanding the soothing characteristics inherent in such contemplation, I ultimately find myself incapable of discerning the substance and subtle nuances of the great operating manual of existence. I am therefore devoid of rigid conviction, theological or otherwise. However, I am not beyond the idea of wishful thinking.

When one considers the emotional question of a time-restricted universe, the postulation (put forth with much vitality of late) dismissing God’s existence, is most unsettling. Also, if we are not in thrall to some form of choreographed evolution, what then drives the engines of civilization? It is difficult to believe that chance and luck, while being seemingly influential components, could ever really hold sway where the strands of human development weave their eternal tapestry. In this regard, the concept of a divine manifesto seems difficult to refute and ultimately gains some cautious momentum in the minds of many searchers.

That said, for every step I take along the path to faith, I encounter the clinging vines of academic doubt. Perhaps I am afflicted by some pernicious form of intellectual hubris. In pondering this affliction further, I inevitably find myself cast adrift amidst the turbulent and often murky oceans of thought derived from the inescapable vagaries of man’s questing nature. Unfortunate though this lack of a definitive tenet may well be, it does perhaps explain why I have seldom felt at ease with the timbre and resonance of my life.

For me, the notion of celestial fatalism, while not beyond a possibility, fails to explain the existence of free will. Consequently, institutionalized belief systems, while representing embraceable concepts for most, impart too few rational explanations for my liking. I wish with all my heart that it were not so. In the simplest of terms, I cannot see my way to the truth of things. And so, an inner search continues.

My family, being the closest thing to an observable yardstick that I might utilize for the purpose of illustration, has most certainly been the unwitting beneficiary of random fortunes stemming from each and all of those contentious human dogmas, be they fideistic, philosophical, or secular in composition. It is not surprising that, when viewed as a whole, my blood relations appear to be a gumbo of human peculiarities. Where, one might ask, is the common thread that logically binds the whole? It is to this question that I now turn.

Much like my personality, this minor chronicle is fraught with inconsistencies. It flows with brazen determination amid the hills and valleys of historical interpretation, and is highly subjective in its conclusions. Having provided this warning, and in accordance with my own idiosyncratic ideas and minor prejudices, I shall attempt to illuminate the somewhat convoluted events surrounding my family’s life and times. What underlying motivations or influences are present will, I believe, become obvious to all - or not. Therefore, with an eye to the greater issues of the day, please allow me the great honour of beginning this journey of earnest, if unintentionally histrionic recollection.

Pater Familias – Britain, 1885

James Oliver Brighton, my father, was a reasonably devout protestant man. Fortunately, as far as my own existence is concerned, he lacked the blind conviction or exclusivist outlook that often accompanies that definition. At the age of twenty-two and being something of an introspective individual, James was confronted by a choice that, once taken, would define the substance of his life. A life, I might add, that was perhaps ill matched to the sensibilities of the age.

In those early days, it was routine for his mother and father to insist upon the fulfilment of their immediate needs and expectations over any desires that he, their third son, might be harbouring. Consequently, the young man quickly realised that however well conceived a personal decision might be overall, it would still draw close scrutiny from his domineering parents. As he inevitably discovered with a frequency that was consistent and therefore predictable, one was expected to follow the script as written, and any deviation was unlikely to be tolerated.

Despite this fact (and as we all know), rules are often meant to be broken. The thrust of the matter was simply this: James’ intellectual flexibility inevitably put him at odds with his family’s neo-Calvinist leanings and oppressively staid Victorian inclinations. However, that is not to say that the youngest Brighton deliberately sought friction or disharmony within his family circle. My father was no social anarchist or misanthrope. He was just different.

I should also mention that unlike his parents, James Brighton did not lack for a sense of humour, personal warmth, or even a sliver of passion when the occasion warranted. As was his wont, he usually reserved these facets of his personality for those few individuals considered either intimate friends or cherished loved ones. Sadly, his parents fell into neither category.

As the youngest of the Brighton siblings, my father seldom spent much time in the company of either parent and actually derived a greater sense of emotional attachment from those servants and trades people who were engaged at sundry activities within his household. Because he was seldom called upon to uphold the family name at occasions of some ceremony, James developed a peculiar and steadfast individualism intrinsically dissimilar from that of his older brothers. Over time, this personality trait would prove to be an insurmountable difficulty where harmonious interaction with the family was required.

With the advent of adulthood, James Brighton found himself in the unhappy position of being the odd man out when discussions of inheritance inevitably arose. Despite the bitter jealousies that often accompany such acrimonious circumstance, my father exhibited an unexpected yet pervasive sense of relief at his exclusion from such matters. Cultivated by a familial atmosphere of disaffection and apathy, which could easily be discerned within his parent’s attitude, the young, frustrated maverick became eager to move on with his life unencumbered by the ties of familial responsibility. As a result, he would often jest, in a self-deprecating manner, that he was little better than an unwanted bastard and was therefore fundamentally free to choose his own road and destiny. Unfortunately, as time would demonstrate, this insight proved somewhat premature.

James’ father, Joseph C. Brighton, had built an enormous fortune as a commercial fishmonger (although this plebeian descriptor was never used in his presence) in the city of Ipswich on England’s eastern extremities. The financial success that he experienced at this endeavour provided him with an opportunity to invest in the mining of coprolite, a form of fossilized dung used extensively in the manufacture of fertilizer and explosives. The monies arising from these ventures allowed him to dabble in politics, with the result that after several years of modest expenditure, he was successful in securing a seat in the English Parliament.

Naturally, due to his pretence of entitlement, the man ran on a Tory platform with strong undertones of British unionism (unionism, as used here, refers to the continued amalgamation of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland under the moniker of the Kingdom of Great Britain). England, as he defined it, was a nation of giants. That glorious land of his forefathers had no reason to explain its actions, evolve socially, or bow in deference to anyone, except perhaps the Almighty. In his narrow view of the world, Joseph Brighton was simply incapable of perceiving a future where men would one day fly or, even more confounding, women were granted the vote.

As the senior Brighton was able to retain his seat through several subsequent elections, he was duly appointed to a cabinet position as a recompense for solid, if uninspired consistency. In this the average voter, like democratic people everywhere, assumed that in view of his common roots and stated ideals, the man was one with them. The truth of the matter was very different.

Far from considering himself a commoner in any sense of the word, Joseph Brighton despised the social class from which he had arisen. Recognising the success of this slight con, my grandfather did nothing to disabuse his constituents of their quaint if naive notion. Consequently, they continued to vote the incumbent politician into office with a dependability that beggars the imagination. Given the predictability of this ongoing and gleeful state, the man naturally revelled in his assessment of the ordinary voter as a rather vapid, if elemental component of the democratic process. In this regard, the word philistine, in its negative context, would often cross his mind and spring forth from his lips.

As time went on, Joseph Brighton’s status grew exponentially through both the accumulation of wealth gleaned from commercial enterprise, as well as those powers that naturally emanate from the attainment and retention of political office. It was only logical for him to crave a knighthood and the accompanying honours implicit with that standing. In this, the Machiavellian cynic was not to be disappointed.

Difference of Opinion

Upon graduating near the top of his law class at Oxford University in 1887, the youngest Brighton took the balance of that year to ponder his various career options. This vacillation proved somewhat troublesome in that it was perceived by his father as a lack of motivation and maturity. The impatient older man decided to force the issue by introducing a tangential element into what should have been a natural progression of events.

Because his son was then twenty-four and an eligible bachelor of a desirable upbringing, Joseph Brighton pointedly attempted to suggest specific matrimonial alliances. To the patriarch’s strategic outlook, the correct mating arrangement would afford the family an even greater national prominence then it had enjoyed up to that moment. In light of that realization, it was considered an unthinkable error to squander such a convenient and valuable opportunity through indecision or some lack of energy.

The elder Brighton’s cynical attitude and expectations flew in the face of his son’s desires. Because of the divergent nature of his personal aspirations, James had little option but to stand firm to his own vision of the future. Displaying an unexpected degree of intransigence, he politely, but resolutely, removed his candidacy from consideration whenever the uncomfortable question of dynastic politics was raised. This deflection was accomplished with some skill and logic. By fervently insisting upon the need to establish a viable career prior to the interpolation of any life altering elements, my father preyed upon his parents’ parallel expectations.

It should be noted that the young man’s attitude had less to do with a dislike for the state of marriage, but rather because of his disinclination to form any sort of commitment until he had firmly set his own sail to the winds of fortune (he also had an unexpressed desire to experience something of the broader world). James’ self-imposed hesitancy possessed a certain reasoning that proved unassailable in the broader context of his father’s wishes. Additionally, this career stance proved to be a convenient stopgap by providing a degree of relief from the odious and time-consuming courtship rituals of the day.

As time went on, the two Brighton generations would often spar verbally (although an intense argument was considered beneath either of them) over this issue of family fortunes and responsibilities. As noted, according to my grandfather’s definition, marriage was merely a convenient means of securing political or commercial support that would eventually translate into power and advantage for the Brighton clan. Love, companionship, sexual congress, or any combination thereof, could easily be purchased elsewhere should the need arise.

These emotional or physical contrivances had very little to do with a successful pairing.

“James, you are a young man of privilege. You must be brought to understand that with the implicit benefits of that description, a cost is to be expected. That consequence is now upon you,” stated the elder Brighton.

“I will not mince words. Your mother and I fully expect you to accede to your assigned role regarding the family’s long-term objectives.”

My grandfather, sensing his son’s ongoing recalcitrance, finally decided to confront the issue head on. As expected in such family interactions, negotiation had very little to do with what would follow.

He continued, “You have greatly benefited from your family’s place in this society. Do your duty.”

As one can plainly see, the master of the ‘House of Brighton’ was not above using guilt as a debating tool. My father, being a man of some sensibilities, was not immune to the sting of this unsubtle inference.

Despite the increasing pressure, my father refused to bend or compromise on any significant level. With his mind firmly resolved against any infringement to his freedom and sense of self, the youngest Brighton would always prevail against the dark forces of character subjugation. However, by refusing to acquiesce to his father’s desires, a new reality became evident. In forestalling the inevitable, he could sense a growing rift developing between himself and the older man. This dividing point, if left unresolved, could well prove destructive in the long run. Additionally, he recognized that time was not on his side. It therefore became incumbent upon him to find a compromise solution to the escalating nature of the dilemma. Otherwise, his minor victories could be legitimately described as essentially pyrrhic.

Finally, having reached a decision regarding his future, James Brighton presented the powers-that-be with an alternative of sorts. This option was a reasonable compromise that offered both parties the opportunity to save face and regain lost perspective.

The solution was as simplistic as it was workable. He, that is my father, would leave England and attempt to establish his fortune in one of Britain’s growing colonies like Australia, India, or perhaps Canada. The rub being that if he was unable to create a viable life for himself by the end of his second year abroad, the irrepressible young man would return home and bow to his elder’s wishes.

Far from shunning the proposal, my grandfather readily agreed to the plan. He surmised that the experience would finally force his unyielding offspring to accept the notion that the world was a pitiless and uncivilized place. Once reconciled to this fact, the young man would undoubtedly acknowledge his obligatory responsibilities to the family’s preordained game plan. At least this was the anticipated outcome by which the deal was struck.

Despite his own extraordinary rise from relative obscurity, my grandfather professed little faith in his own son’s ability to become a self-made man in kind. As a result, he fully expected my father to ‘throw in the towel’ and return to the family embrace well in advance of the proposed time frame. This misconception only underscored how very little the elder Brighton knew or understood his own progeny. In a strange way, Joseph Brighton’s low estimation of his son’s drive and resourcefulness would ultimately work to my father’s great benefit.

The Way Across

After several weeks of indecision, my father chose Canada as his destination of preference. The reason for this unlikely choice was due to the changing of the seasons. As it was by then the early spring (in the northern hemisphere) of 1888, he unaccountably assumed that summer in Canada would be neither too hot nor too cold. Generally he abhorred heat and humidity and attempted, where at all possible, to avoid these uncomfortable climatic conditions. As India and Australia were perceived as having these environmental aspects year round and in spades, his decision appeared to make the most sense. His June arrival in a sweltering Nova Scotia would come as a rude awakening.

The Atlantic crossing had been uneventful, boring, and something of an anticlimax. As his ship approached Halifax’s bustling harbour, James Brighton was surprised to see heat vapours ascending from the city’s roofs and streets. In particular, the waterfront piers and jetties shimmered brightly under the auspices of an inhospitable sun. His previously cocksure attitude was, for the first time, showing tiny fissures of self-doubt.

Halifax, an old and venerable city, possessed one of North America’s premier harbours (the city was founded in 1749 by controversial Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis). After the defeat/expulsion of the Acadian and Mi’kmaq populations (made famous by Henry Longfellow’s famous poem Evangeline), Halifax had acted as a British military bulwark for more than one hundred and fifty years. With the advent of the 19th century and a declining British military presence, the city had found temporary financial salvation during the American Civil war. By providing a conduit for arms and supplies to both the northern Union and southern Confederate parties in that struggle, Halifax was able to establish a sizable commercial sector.

When his vessel finally pulled into its berth, James discovered that the mild ocean breeze abruptly disappeared and, in its place, an aspect of uncomfortable clamminess predominated. The languid air mass, resulting from the high temperature within the port, made energetic movement onerous and breathing difficult. To add to his dimming view of the new enterprise, the unavoidably foul odour of rotting fish assailed the senses. Trapped by the becalmed air and the geographic anomalies of the city itself, the all-pervasive smell created a rebarbative atmosphere. It did not help that his boat had docked next to a wharf whose solitary purpose was the rending of cod and other bounties of the Atlantic.

Gazing about the port, James Brighton’s enthusiasm for the ‘Canadian’ adventure faded to near nothingness. In a rare moment of self-annoyance, he chastised himself for his poor choice of a destination.

“So this is Canada? How could I have been so delusional?”

Although this initial impression of Canada (or Halifax) was unfair and unsubstantiated, it was certainly understandable. Wiping an overly moist brow with his handkerchief, he continued with his internalised monologue.

“The place makes both Ipswich and marriage seem almost desirable by comparison. The heat is truly unendurable. If Toronto is anything like this, I won’t last a week!”

Then an even darker thought.

“It is possible that I’ve made a terrible error. Perhaps my father was correct after all.”

Prior to leaving England, James Brighton had initiated a correspondence with several Canadian businessmen and professionals. His father, through long-established commercial and embassy relationships, had provided him with some of these contact names. Three of the connections proved to offer little by way of substance. However, as luck would have it, the fourth one, an Ontario law firm, held out some hope for gainful employment. This then was the opportunity upon which the neophyte lawyer ultimately set his desperate sights.

The only difficulty was getting to his ultimate destination: Toronto.

Because his liner went no further than the port of Halifax (the more convenient point of entry would have been Quebec City), my father transferred himself and his baggage to a much smaller vessel for the continuation of the trip. This odd decision was primarily based upon the logical if erroneous belief that it was doubtless cooler upon the open water than in an enclosed, stuffy Pullman car. Regardless, at that point, it was too late to turn back.

Unfortunately, the trying climate of Halifax was not a localized affair and its influence afflicted most of eastern and Atlantic Canada. Consequently, the high temperature was little affected by the shimmering blue water of a relatively becalmed maritime route. In spite of his personal aversion for this form of environmental schism, he soon began to acclimatise to the debilitating nature of the heat.

With the last stage of his voyage underway, James shrugged off his discomfort and began to enjoy the scenic nautical course up the coast, through the Strait of Canso and into St Georges Bay. Passing through the Northumberland Strait and rounding the Gaspe Peninsula, the St. Lawrence River estuary soon presented itself. It was a once in a lifetime experience. His enthusiasm, although initially dampened in Halifax, grew exponentially with each passing day. Because there existed plenty of time before his appointment in Toronto, the unhurried Englishman began to revel in the unaccustomed freedom afforded him by a leisurely lifestyle. Unencumbered by the pressures of family, James began to observe a positive change in his own personality. This new state of mind augured well for the future.

As the trip continued, he found himself awed by the rugged yet pristine nature of the shoreline to which his small ship clung. Canada, from his vantage point upon the small steamship, fulfilled many of his stereotypical visions of a large, mostly untamed wilderness. This quaint but unsubstantiated vision would be challenged upon arrival at the esteemed and vibrant city of Quebec. In particular, the Citadel, a sizable fortress adjacent to St. Lawrence River, offered an impressive sight for locals and tourists alike.

Because my father had a passing knowledge of the city’s history, he found himself visualizing the masses of English ships and troops that had, little over a century before, languished below the guns of the apparently unassailable French fortress. Due largely because this massive structure and its cannon had once easily dominated the city and river, it took no mental stretch to visualise the difficulties faced by the attacking English force. That summer confrontation of 1759 had proven to be a test of wills for all involved.

Recalling the story from his school days (with an understandably prejudiced viewpoint of events), my father knew that the Battle of the Plains of Abraham had been fought here during the Seven Years War. The struggle for Quebec City had pitted the French commander, Marquis Louis de Montcalm against the English General Wolfe. This historically important attack was, at the time of its occurrence, lauded as typical of British military expertise. In reality, the English triumph had been a near run thing and, should ultimate victory have been granted the French, the resultant English dominance of North America might not have come to pass.

While this one bloody encounter did not immediately end the struggle (the later French victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, merely prolonged the fighting), the successful British attack in mid-September of 1759 changed forever the mechanics and political structure of the continent. In less than twenty-five years, Wolfe’s triumph would lead indirectly to the formulation of the renegade United States of America and her estranged sister, the Dominion of Canada.

With his boat finally secured at a wharf in Quebec City’s harbour, my father transferred himself and his baggage to a train for the last leg of his journey to Toronto. Travelling roughly parallel to the St. Lawrence River, the railed vehicle passed through Montreal and made for the town of Kingston in the Province of Ontario, where it stopped briefly to take on fuel and passengers.

Despite his extensive education, James Brighton was unprepared for the true nature of his newly adopted homeland. He was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that Kingston was an expansive-minded town bustling with activity and purpose. This insular perspective of Canada had led the young man to believe that it was still in the throes of a ‘frontier mentality’ with a hardy, if unsophisticated, society. The idea that any smallish Canadian urban centre could develop a thriving commercial, political, or military existence and subsequently maintain it for well over a century seemed rather improbable at best.

Actually, the town was far more urbane than he would have expected for a centre of its size and location. Originally built as a French fur-trading outpost and fortress in the late 1600’s, Kingston was then called Fort Frontenac. In the summer of 1758, the fort’s French garrison was forced to surrender to the English and Francophone influence in the area waned thereafter. This became especially true by the 1780’s with the arrival of the so-called United Empire Loyalist. These English monarchists, having fled the United States after the War of Independence, sought protection in Upper Canada. As history explains, Kingston’s location near the border fit the bill perfectly.

By the time of my father’s arrival, the town’s usefulness as a military bulwark had mostly dissolved into a historical footnote. Despite this fact, a nearby fortification named Fort Henry, which dominates the heights above the city, still appeared both impressive and threatening. This installation had been built after the war of 1812 as a protective shield affording the region a reasonable degree of security from her southern neighbour. Additionally, Kingston’s early strategic importance can also be determined by the fact that a naval facility had been built adjacent to the town with a military college in close proximity. Both had been established by an act of the Canadian Parliament.

My father knew few of these facts at the time. His affinity for the small metropolis was based upon a natural appreciation for Kingston’s attractive surroundings and friendly atmosphere. Upon some reflection, the thought occurred to the youthful traveller that his snobbish viewpoint had probably been disproportionately influenced by one salient factor. Within the country of his birth, it was a generally accepted concept that England, as the Anglophile homeland, was not only the centre of a global empire, but also a glowing touchstone within the political and societal world in which she dwelt. As such, nothing could possibly compare to her erudite nature and grandeur. It followed quite naturally that her ‘colonies’, being often remote or socially insular, were unrefined or simply derivative. Canada was no exception and this belief was carried by many incoming British immigrants.

Kingston, the one time the first capital of the ‘Province of Canada’, proved to be something of an enigma for the new visitor. By refuting many of James’ preconceived (and ill-informed) beliefs about his new home, a positive image slowly began to emerge. The lovely and well-ordered town was representative of this new understanding, as it enjoyed an established public-works system as well as a commercially vibrant infrastructure. In the future, when a brief respite was required from the arduous routine of work and (much later) family responsibilities, the town and its adjacent ‘Thousand Islands’ would become

the young fellow’s vacation destination of choice.

During the final stage of his trip, James struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller. The man, a talkative Anglican minister, was effusive in his praise of all things’ English. As the train passed the town of Port Hope (just east of Toronto), the minister mentioned that fellow lay preacher and occasional poet, Joseph Scriven, had resided in the town prior to his death in 1886. My father, puzzled by the need to know such information, asked why the fellow should be worth noting. The minister, happy to provide a related if minor ecclesiastical education, explained that Scriven had written the lyrics to the famous hymn, What a friend I have in Jesus. Observing his companion’s enthusiasm, my father feigned interest, but chuckled silently to himself.

Despite having spent more hours in transit than he had bargained for, the young man’s train finally pulled into the unfinished three-domed Union Station in the City of Toronto. Because the new arrival dressed in the latest London style and exhibited the hauteur of a moneyed gentleman, several Hansom carriage drivers immediately competed for his exclusive services. Choosing one at random, my father directed the fellow to deposit him at the recommended Queen’s Hotel on Front Street (he quickly realized that he could have walked to the hotel, as it was virtually across the street). Frowning while he paid the grinning carriage driver for the fellow’s laughable services, my father turned and entered the opulent foyer of the sizable Toronto institution. Once at the front desk, the exhausted traveller requested a small room for an indeterminate period. As it turned out, this impressive building would become the young man’s home away from home for the next five or so months.

Upon settling into his small but well-decorated room, the weary lawyer paused to reflect upon the enormity of the step he had undertaken. Despite occasionally questioning the wisdom of his decision, James Brighton realised that over the next short while, the future of his cherished independence depended upon a successful and ongoing implementation of his plan. If he were to have any control over his life going forward, the issue would be decided in this remote place called Toronto. It was here that he would make his stand.

Lonely at the Bottom

Because his appointment for an interview was fixed for June 20 (a full three days hence), my father decided to spend this time investigating the layout and nature of the budding metropolis. In this undertaking, he found that the equine-powered street railway was ideally suited for the purpose of sightseeing. Like the town of Kingston, what he observed came as a visual and mental epiphany.

The verdant city, whose contentious final name (tkaronto in Mohawk) variously means “where the trees stand in water’ or ‘meeting place’, sits on the northern shore of western Lake Ontario. Its location features a natural harbour (although much dredging had been required to utilize its full potential) sheltered by a grouping of islands of varying sizes. Prior to the inundating effect of two great storms in the early to mid 1800's, the islands themselves had formed a continuous if narrow spit of land, that could be more correctly described as an alluvial peninsula. Adding to the flavour of the landscape, several rivers had created modest but visually appealing valleys and watersheds as they meandered through, or were in close proximity to the city.

During the War of 1812, the Americans had ransacked Toronto, or York as it had been called at the time. This disaster occurred in April of 1813. Fortunately, despite suffering modest damage, York was held for only six days before the Americans retreated. Subsequent to that event, the settlement had been rebuilt into a modern commercial and financial centre and was eventually incorporated as a City in 1834. Additionally, due to the fact that it was now the capital of the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto had become the natural home to a plethora of governmental, administrative, and bureaucratic institutions.

The city’s inhabitants were predominately Anglo-Saxon and extremely conservative. ‘Toronto the Good’, as the city was proudly nicknamed (it had also acquired the unflattering moniker of ‘Hogtown’ due to its large pork producing business), was governed by dour, god-fearing Protestant men who believed fervently in Britain and her universal right to rule an empire. Having previously instigated lively discourse with individuals from Quebec City, Montreal, and even Kingston, James found Toronto’s cool reserve stood in stark contrast to those less stifled interactions. Even given his upper-class education and rearing, he marvelled at the regimented and law-abiding nature of the city. Coincident to his arrival, Toronto was experiencing an impressive expansion and many sizable building projects were in evidence. The city was replete with potential and one could easily sense the latent possibilities of the place. The young man’s expectations had been much lower.

The metropolis had a thriving business community and was home to one of North America’s largest retail and catalogue businesses called the T. Eaton Company. In addition, keeping faith with its old world roots as well as a minor penchant for fine whiskey, the city had a large distillery area under the control of the venerable Gooderham and Worts label. About thirty kilometres to the east of the urban centre lay the town of Oshawa. An industrial gem supporting Toronto’s commercial growth, Oshawa was home to the sizable McLaughlin Carriage Works, purported to be the largest such business in the British Empire. James Brighton actually remembered riding into London in one of their handcrafted vehicles some years before.

It many ways, Toronto ideally suited my father. As he himself was not inclined towards frivolity or undo shows of excitement, the controlled energy of the city matched his manner rather perfectly. However, this generalization was only partially accurate when applied to the city’s intrinsic human substrate. As James Brighton was soon to discover, the carefully crafted veneer of a traditionalist-minded Toronto was misleading. The very soul and future prosperity of the city would be influenced by many coalescing elements that, over the course of time, determined its growth and pride of place for Canadian urban centres. With an almost daily influx of immigrants including Irish, Jews, Germans, and Dutch, the city was evolving, albeit slowly, in interesting and unpredictable ways. Although not fully appreciated at the time, these diverse religious/ethnic groups gradually began to modify or broaden the city’s staid English and Scottish civic character.

When the day of his interview arrived, my father anxiously left his hotel and, after catching a westbound trolleybus, duly arrived at the appointed time and place. Critiquing the impressively designed limestone and brick office building that housed the firm of Marshal and Stewart Barristers, he became quietly enthused by the prospect of working in such a modern facility. Upon announcing his arrival to the busy receptionist, James Brighton was immediately ushered into the presence of Alistair Stewart, a senior partner in the firm. Sitting behind a large and ornately carved desk, Stewart put down his copy of the Empire (soon to be the Mail and Empire) newspaper and removed his glasses. With little formality, the firm’s de facto chief got right down to cases. My father quickly learned that Stewart was not a man to suffer fools gladly.

“What do you know about resources and minerals and the like?” enquired Stewart in a gruff but incisive manner.

My father replied that his familiarity with the topic was primarily based upon the somewhat random and cursory knowledge that he had acquired from his early school years. Any specific information that he possessed was merely a matter of osmosis or happenstance.

Stewart paused to look the younger man over and then passed judgment. In handing down his edict with no preamble, the senior man stated only what was obvious and germane to the situation.

“Brighton, I haven’t got time to teach you the lay of the land, so you’ll have to teach yourself. You appear capable of at least that. As I see it, you’ve got two weeks to become an expert in Canadian geology or you’re of little use to me or this firm.”

Pausing to light up a cigar, the older man leaned back in his chair and winced as he inhaled. He then offered an insight to the young pup standing nervously before him.

“We do much more than the standardized practice of law here. We provide extensive information and consulting services to our clients. As one might realise, this menu of activities necessitates that we commit to a high degree of investigation and research - not to mention expense.”

The senior partner glanced at my father to see if he was paying close attention. Reassured, he continued with his brief and summation.

“Further to that point, we must be cognizant of those relevant external influences that could affect an enterprise’s stability and growth over time. While our client’s certainly know the mechanics of their own ventures, this firm provides them with an insight, or overview, of the world markets. It is this strategic advantage that they occasionally lack.”

“That is where M&S adds value and separates itself from other rank-and-file law firms. But to accomplish our goals effectively requires intelligence, resources, and commitment. These are not easily realized,” explained Stewart while once again peering over his glasses to discern if his new apprentice fully appreciated the underlying substance of the lesson.

“As I understand it, your father is involved in the business of mining coprolites. I therefore assume that you must have a layman’s understanding of that industry,” queried the law firm’s nabob.

When my father explained that Joseph Brighton was a shareholder and board member with no practical, hands-on management responsibilities for the

venture in question, the senior barrister coughed derisively. For a full minute, Stewart rubbed his temples as if in pain.

“Young man, while I do not advocate lying, I would suggest that you need to be less brutally honest and more circumspect. You’re in this office to impress me, not make me question my decision to hire you.”

Stewart dabbed his moist brow with a handkerchief and said, “As I have already indicated, we have an important client meeting in two weeks. This essentially means you have that precise length of time to become fully aware of your duties here, as well as adept at the process of carrying them through to a satisfactory conclusion. I alone reserve the right to determined what defines “satisfactory’. Either you electrify me with your vigour, or you may as well begin packing for the return trip. See Mrs. Greenfield and she will settle you in.”

With Stewart’s disappointingly harsh viewpoint having been emphatically stated, the interview was concluded and my father was abruptly dismissed. He had virtually no idea as to the area of ‘resources and minerals’ that he was expected to master. Nor, for that matter, had anything been discussed concerning what his remuneration would be for those professional services that he would now render. He sensed that the latter issue would be decided upon after the projected client meeting a fortnight hence.

Setting about his task with an urgency born of mild panic, my father scrambled to interview anyone in the office who could shed some light upon the forthcoming meeting. He quickly discovered that the new client was Northern Mica Mines and they were looking to undertake a major acquisition in Quebec. This was fortunate as he had extensive knowledge of corporate acquisition law and merely needed to define any Canadian peculiarities as it applied to the principally Francophone province. Like most issues since his arrival on Canadian shores, this proved less straightforward than he initially assumed.

Because a privately owned company was attempting to purchase a publicly traded corporation, the mechanics were slightly more intricate than an out and out purchase. Added to this was the interrelated nature of the local stock market, which was itself experiencing a transition of sorts. As rivals TSX (Toronto Stock Exchange) and the Standard Stock and Mining Exchange inevitably stepped on each other’s competitive toes, they could not avoid introducing a slight level of confusion into the mix. Finally, because the Quebec Company was an unhappy bride, its management was utilizing regional Quebec law in order to squelch any possibility of a takeover.

The final obstacle was simply the matter of digesting all the pertinent information about the usages, nature, and complexities of mining mica in Ontario and Quebec. For this process, the frantic lawyer turned to various sources. These included such institutions as the city hall archives, the federal and provincial government services departments, and, as a last gasp, the public library. Very soon he discovered that while the future of the mica industry was a bit brighter than its past, the mineral was in no way a valuable resource. Mica’s utilization as an electrical heat resistor created steady but unimpressive sales figures. This was perhaps why the Quebec Corporation’s market value was deflated. It thereby appeared to offer a unique purchase opportunity. That realization aside, the production and sales figures that he was able to glean presented an oddly disturbing overall picture.

The afternoon before the scheduled meeting with Northern Mica Mines, Alistair Stewart called his new employee into his office to determine what, if any, information had been assembled.

“Well, Brighton, what tidbits have you brought me from the land of mines and minerals?” asked the older man with an impatient air.

“I have assembled every scrap of legislative and historical information that is relative to Northern Mica’s takeover bid. I believe that it is organised sufficiently to appease tomorrow’s attendees. As well, I have also included a separate overview for your private perusal,” responded my father cautiously. “I may well be overstepping my bounds by its submission, but I stand by the conclusion it draws.”

“You mean the conclusion that you yourself have drawn. Unlike the great Sherlock Holmes of fiction, I don’t particularly believe that facts alone always point us in the correct direction. Instinct can be a valuable ally. Let me see what you have produced.”

For some twenty minutes, Stewart studied my father’s private synopsis. Finally, removing his spectacles and rubbing his chin unconsciously in thought, he slowly looked up at his employee and exclaimed, “Good Lord, man! Have you been standing there all this time?”

The question was somewhat rhetorical as no real answer was required.

“Okay, sit down and explain the process that brought you to this disturbing conclusion.”

For the next hour, the junior lawyer explained why the takeover of a publicly traded Quebec mica corporation by a privately owned Ontario mineral company was ill advised and financially wrongheaded. During the entire recitation, Stewart’s grey eyes never lost their intent focus upon my father’s perspiring face.

“Mica is a mineral that is common in many parts of the world. Principals among them being the United States, India, some African protectorates, and, of course, Canada,” stated the young man.

Despite having confidence in his research, James Brighton’s nervousness did not abate as his presentation proceeded. Consequently, he was forced to silently deal with a persistent tension headache, which robbed him of much of his verbal eloquence. Adding weight to his suffering was the fact that the ceiling fan did little to dissipate the day’s heat.

“Although the price per ton has remained somewhat stable, there seems to be very little opportunity for an incremental sales increase based upon that factor. In spite of the mineral’s continued use in electrical equipment and building materials, global demand that has not increased in conjunction with industrial output. One might assume that this state is probably due to mica’s abundant availability and a relatively low overseas extraction cost, with which we cannot effectively compete at this time.”

My father paused briefly. Peering up over his notes, he once again noted Stewart’s hawk-like eyes boring into him as if he was some morsel of meat soon to be torn to shreds. With no opportunity for a brief adjournment, the young man soldiered on.

“By attempting this takeover, Northern Mica is potentially buying a business that has very few customers outside of Quebec itself. In addition, the Quebec firm seems to be experiencing a drop in output, which may be signalling a depletion of the mine’s resources,” James quickly explained.

“If that was not enough, Northern Mica will be paying a premium for a specific type of mica for which there is very little demand overall. Should mica prices drop significantly over the next few years, or an alternative to mica be found, the corresponding debt load incurred by this purchase could well force our client into bankruptcy.”

In thankful conclusion, my father finally explained, “Looking to the future, Northern Mica, as parent, may itself experience a downturn in sales or margin. Should historical demand decline, the impact upon the company’s ability to fulfil debt obligations will be dire. In my humble opinion, this transaction serves no practical purpose. That is, of course, excepting the peculiar rationale of Northern Mica’s owners. Aside from vanity run amok, I see little logic behind the takeover.”

Alistair Stewart sat in silently, staring glumly at the young man before him. He then swivelled his chair towards the window, which faced west across a broad street called University Avenue. The declining sun’s glow reflected brightly off the dust particles floating in the air of the lawyer’s office. Apart from the muffled noises filtering through from the outer offices, the room became deathly quiet. Anxiously awaiting some response from his employer, my father sat rigidly, anticipating his sentence. Strangely, neither a positive nor a negative reaction was forthcoming.

“That will be all for now, Brighton,” said Stewart finally.

As my father stood to leave, Stewart turned once more to face him and added, “I want you to personally present your perspective tomorrow at the meeting. State the facts the same way that you did today and allow no one to interrupt you. That includes my partner, Peter Marshal. Is that understood?”

His question was poised in the form of a command. To James Brighton’s perceptive mind, something was amiss and it had nothing to do with the issue at hand.

“And James, do not mention your abrasive but well-founded conclusion regarding the egos of those involved. Thank you.”

Nodding his understanding, the young lawyer beat a hasty retreat from the room. Once back in his small office, my father collapsed into a corner chair. A furrowed brow indicated his level of stress. James Brighton had the distinct feeling that the next day’s meeting would prove a definitive turning point in his ‘Canadian’ adventure.

A Meeting of Minds

The following morning, the boardroom was filled with businessmen, lawyers, bankers, and a few extraneous fellows of questionable relevance. It soon became apparent that these ‘outsiders’ were secondary investors brought in to provide funds should the bank decide not to take up the bulk of the investment loan. A dense cloud of blue smoke permeated the atmosphere, as virtually everyone indulged in a pipe, cigarette, or cigar.

Peter Marshal, the firm’s other senior partner, stood happily in a group of Northern Mica’s owners and consultants. Puffing blissfully on his pipe, the man appeared to be in his element. Holding forth upon the brilliance of the forthcoming semi-hostile takeover, Marshal’s excited voice could easily be heard over the omnipresent hubbub. The man’s exuberance aside, his tone appeared to lack some aspect of sober oversight. This element, which my father deemed essential for the role of any consulting lawyer, seemed a puzzling lapse of professional judgement. Only later would the reason become clear.

Positioning himself at the head of the table away from the milling crowd, Alistair Stewart sat quietly thumbing through his documentation. Looking up and spying his new apprentice, Stewart raised his hand and indicated that James should sit down in the empty seat next to him.

“Brighton, I spent some additional hours last night re-examining your synopsis of this takeover and I believe you’ve got it right. Although by no means a certainty, it is reasonable to assume that under certain scenarios, this transaction could well be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, it’s not our money at risk. We can only present the facts for what they are,” said Stewart in a hushed voice, lest the negative context of his words was overheard.

“As often happens in this excitable world, both events and circumstance have a way of escalating beyond rational understanding. If one might be permitted to call it such, a ‘momentum of desire’ becomes unavoidable. This is precisely what you and I are faced with here today,” stated Stewart while placing a meaningful glance and nod down the room at his beaming partner.

“You’ve done a fine job and I now consider you part of this firm – assuming that the firm survives this meeting,” stated Stewart adding a cryptic aside.

“When I give you the word, stand and deliver.”

Finally, once the meeting was called to order, Jim Marshal stood up and began a preamble to the day’s agenda. He had no sooner introduced himself than Stewart politely interrupted. Marshal, although frowning, begrudgingly conceded the floor to his associate. A peculiar state of tension immediately became apparent as Stewart took the centre stage.

“Gentlemen, I am known to most of you as a cautious and pedantic lawyer. I believe that this reputation has, far from being a negative thing, accomplished much for me over the course of my career,” postulated Stewart from his position at the head of the table.

“That being said, I do not believe that it serves anyone’s best interest to massage or fondle a client’s desires, especially where large sums of money are involved. Before we begin, I must apologise to my partner, Jim Marshal. He has not had the opportunity to assimilate some relevant and critical data concerning this takeover. The information came into my possession only late yesterday and I therefore think that it is essential that we pre-empt the agenda of this meeting in order to digest the contents of this report.”

One could well have heard a pin drop in the room. Everyone stared at Stewart in perplexed and uneasy silence. Marshal, who sat hunched over with a distinct scowl upon his face, seemed particularly perturbed. To be fair, the man had every right to be incensed by the unfathomable behaviour of his associate. Because he had been the mastermind behind the deal, Marshal could not conceal his embarrassment at his partner’s unaccountable disruption. After all, Stewart had merely been invited to attend as a courtesy and therefore the

show was certainly not his to control. The blind-sided partner must have wondered what his associate could possibly be trying to accomplish.

Judging by the overall reaction, my father suspected that Marshal’s relationship with Stewart had not been as tranquil as one might have assumed. Certainly, any remaining goodwill or friendship that the two men maintained as a condition for working together was quickly dissolving as the meeting continued.

Turning to my father, Stewart indicated that he should rise up and address the assembled businessmen. Without the questionable benefit of a rudimentary introduction, the young lawyer stood and presented his summation to an increasingly perplexed (and hostile) audience.

“It has been my assigned responsibility to delve as deep as possible into the mechanics, both legal and fiscal, of the purchase of Arc Minerals of Quebec by Northern Mica Mines of Ontario,” explained the young man. Before continuing, he paused briefly to study his bound notation pad. The notes were purposely itemized according to the salient points of the takeover. Due to the possibility that nervousness might overpower his memory or impede what oratory eloquence he possessed, the pad was to act as a visual insurance policy.

“Within this mandate, I took particular care in addressing certain specific issues regarding financing and future profit or loss scenarios. As I am not a trained accountant, I will therefore restrict my observations to the raw, cumulative figures as they relate to this undertaking. If nothing else, they should provide food for thought.”

Forcing his anxiety aside, James Brighton launched into a very detailed blueprint of the deal. Upon finishing the overview, he began to dissect its various components and used the data that each part provided to project the future viability of the takeover. Finally, having talked nonstop for almost forty-five minutes, the young lawyer pulled the various strands together to create an indisputable picture of a merger that teetered on the brink of disaster. As he reached his grand finale, murmurs of outrage and displeasure arose from the assembled throng. Regardless of the intrusive nature of the background noise, my father continued his ‘lecture’ to the bitter end. He then sat down to catch his breath and calm his mind.

Upon the conclusion of the presentation, Roy Henderson, the president of Northern Mica, immediately jumped to his feet and demanded an apology and withdrawal of the synopsis. The man was incredulous, declaring with some vehemence that the projections were absolute nonsense. He also stated that Stewart should be ashamed of himself for allowing such drivel to be presented. Nor did my father escape censure due to his lowly status. It was strongly suggested that whoever was responsible for writing the assessment be immediately drawn and quartered. Failing that, he should be fired post-haste and without remorse. Henderson did not mince words in his condemnation of those involved in the perceived ambush.

Standing up at the end of the boardroom table, Stewart calmly waited until the room had quieted down. Coughing lightly to clear his voice, he then observed, “The negative reaction to this report is understandable. I, for one, was disappointed by the obvious conclusions that the numbers delineate. However, the data has not been manipulated or distorted in any way.”

“It should be clearly understood that we are merely presenting the salient facts as they exist at this juncture in time. Certainly by right of ownership, any general conclusion or precipitate action going forward is strictly and emphatically within the purview of Northern Mica.”

Removing his glasses and laying them carefully on the table, the senior lawyer continued, “Consequently, all ramifications stemming from your decision here today are, once again, necessarily yours by default. This firm, in

good conscience, could not shirk its responsibility by ignoring those issues brought forward by this rather important investigation.”

At this point, Roy Henderson ordered the room cleared of everyone except the principles. A degree of confusion ensued as everyone hastily gathered their papers and took their leave. Once outside the boardroom, my father was greeted with cold shoulders or icy stares by the other ejected participants. Because it was unlikely that anything of substance would be forthcoming in the short term, many of the men retreated to a local pub in order to acquire lunch and discuss the now uncertain fortunes of the deal. The new lawyer cum pariah, uninvited and shunned, nervously returned to his office.

With late morning soon dissolving into afternoon, the principles remained sequestered within the confines of the boardroom. As the lazy sun cast longer and longer shadows across the floor during its slow ebb towards the western horizon, the meeting room door finally flew open and the senior executives quickly departed in separate directions. An indication that the private session had failed to resolve the issue could be seen in the irritable attitude exuded by the weary men.

Not sure whether to leave or stay, my father opted for the latter course of

action. However, after an hour or so of nervous pacing, he realized that apart from the cleaning staff, no one else was around. Before exiting the office for the journey back to his hotel, James tidied up his file-festooned desk and re-packed his briefcase. The simple fact was, the newly-blooded lawyer was unsure if his job still existed (or ever really had). As such, taking his personal sundries and files with him seemed a sensible idea under the circumstance.

While walking slowly through the now silent lobby, the young lawyer was surprised to find his boss still present and waiting for him at the exit door.

“Well, my boy, it has certainly been a nerve-wracking day. I must say that you did very well under fire,” complimented Stewart with a wry grin.

“Assuming that you have nothing scheduled for this evening, I would like to extend an invitation for dinner at my home. It will give both of us an opportunity to get better acquainted, and I can disclose the outcome of today’s private session. I think you deserve at least that.”

Taken aback by the unexpected generosity of the invitation, James Brighton didn’t respond with the immediacy that the offer deserved. Sensing the young man’s hesitancy, Stewart smiled benignly at his new apprentice.

“Come now! You’re surely up for a good home cooked meal?” Stewart conjectured with a grin. “My daughter is a chef par excellence and I’m certain that you must be tired of hotel food.”

“It would be an honour, sir,” said my father, recovering from his surprise. “I hesitated because I’m hardly dressed for such an occasion. I doubt that I have time to get home to...”

Stewart cut him off in mid sentence and assured the firm’s newest employee that there would be no formality that evening as, no doubt, they were both exhausted from the day’s activities. Taking up his cane, the senior lawyer directed my father to an awaiting carriage. As the two men rode off into the approaching night, the younger man began to breathe easier. Perhaps, he thought, the trial-by-fire was at an end.

“It should be easy sailing from now on,” concluded James with a hopeful, if naive conjecture.