Category Archives: Uncategorized

Another delicious day in the Annapolis Valley

The Minas Basin and a tiny corner of the Annapolis Valley from The Look Off. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Lookigng across the dykelands towards Blomidon – and the Look Off. (Allan Lynch Photo)

It’s been a delicious day in the Valley. This has been one of those days that kills any desire to leave Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. It’s a day to bask in the warmth of community and sense of community.

I started with breakfast at the Wolfville Lions Club with school friends Sue and Jane. Boy Scouts served and cleared tables. A retired RCMP officer sold raffle tickets. The local MLA stopped by to say hello. Other strangers just wished us a “Good Morning” and chatted. It this were America it would be a modern Mayberry, a place people dream of, but we live in. After breakfast I strolled to the Wolfville Farmers’ Market, where I saw this woman with greens strapped to the back of her bike. That’s very Wolfville. On a previous stop a saw this guy leaving with a backpack full of fresh vegetables.

My next stop was at the Deportation Cross at Horton Landing. Nearby cows stand guard on the Planters’ Memorial. To reach the Cross you drive the Old Post Road from Grand Pre. The road is like a green tunnel, past century homes housing the fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and ninth-generations of the families who built these places. This is all within the boundaries of UNESCO World Heritage’s Landscape of Grand Pre. It has a great continuity. And respect for the natural world.

This year’s roadside art installation at Evangeline Beach. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I then scooted across the dyke road to Evangeline Beach to see the new annual roadside art installation. Each year a local couple showcase their creativity on this roadside brow.

After that I attended the open house at the Kentville Research Station. First there was the barbecue hosted by the Greenwich Volunteer Fire Department. They were more than happy to make my burger extra crunchy. Then a wagon ride around the research station grounds.

The research vineyard.

Studying trays of vegetables for container farming in the North. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The grounds are fenced off and usually open only to plant scientists who have hundreds of on-going research projects. One is looking at the benefits of introducing carbon to plants to speed up growth. They are doing an amazingly diverse range of research. One orchard has 1,100 types of apples! There’s a research vineyard with seven types of vines. They are studying container farms for Northern Canada.

In Downton Kentville, The Devil’s Half Acre motorcycle event brought hundreds of bikes to town. At one time the community had so many taverns that it was known as The Devil’s Half Acre. Then, Edward, Duke of Kent, who was in charge of garrison in Halifax and Commander of Canada (a title all current Governors General hold) came to the Valley. As a royal duke and father of the future Queen Victoria, it was unseemly for his to visit a place of low repute. So in his honour the Devil’s Half Acre became Kentville.

While the two-wheel crowd are focused in town, a fleet of Mustang owners roamed the roads. And on foot, Geocachers gathered in Wolfville.

And it was the launch of this year’s Uncommon Common Art. You could bring or buy a t-shirt and progress to have a colour silkscreened on it at each of three stations: Willow Park, Waterfront Park and Clock Park. Each stop flushed out this year’s logo. And, being a green event, t-shirts are dried on the grass between each silk-screening.

This time of year, with bushes and trees in blossom, gardens blooming and fresh greens pushing out of the ground and trees the Valley is painfully beautiful. No one the early settlers called it an Arcadia.

Canadian connections to D-Day

The wide open beach at Juno Beach. Canadians arrived at low tide and have an even wider open space to cross. (Allan Lynch Photo)

A path from the beach leads to a German observation post. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Speaking in Portsmouth this morning at the National Commemoration for the 75thanniversary of D-Day, Her Majesty The Queen said, “The fate of the world depending on their success.”

Large contributors to that success, the victories of WWII and WWI came from Canada. Canada supplied men, arms, materials and resources to Britain and her Allies in both world wars. Convoys from Halifax and Sydney were Britain’s lifeblood. It’s important to remember.

Here are some of the ways Canadians participated in D-Day:

  1. The invasion was conceived at a meeting between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt on battleships moored in Placentia Bay, in what was then the Dominion of Newfoundland.
  2. Planning for the invasion was conducted by 700 generals, admirals, air marshals and military staff housed at the Chateau Frontenac and Citadel at the 1943 Quebec Conference.
  3. Of the 10,743 Allied missions flown in the invasion, the first mission flown and the first of the 25 million bombs dropped were by 431 Squadron the Canadian Pathfinders.
  4. Among the first people on the ground were the 6thAirborne Division of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion. They dropped to the ground at 12:45 am June 6. They blew up their objective, a bridge over the River Dives, three hours ahead of schedule. Then spent the next two days dug in behind enemy lines, keeping the German 15thArmy from retaking the position and fortifying the invasion beaches.
  5. Of the many inventions and innovations to aid the invasion,

    Flags fly over Juno Beach.

    Imperial Oil’s top asphalt scientist, Charles Baskin, developed a prefabricated airstrip which enabled military engineers to lay down a full, functioning runway in 24 hours versus several weeks using traditional construction methods.

  6. Normandy was chosen for the invasion because of the lessons learned by military planners from the Dieppe Raid, which was so costly for Canadians. Among that important information was the immobilizing impact of beach “shingle” on caterpillar tracks which propel tanks and armoured vehicles.
  7. On the first day of the 11-week invasion, Canadians were the only Allied force to meet their objectives.
  8. 60% of the prisons taken by the Allies in the initial phase of the invasion were captured by Canadians.

    Major George C. Baker from Kentville, Nova Scotia, helped design communications equipment used for the invasion.

Canadian veterans returned from the wars and didn’t speak of their contribution and experiences. They looked forward, not to the past.With the passage of time surviving veterans realized their silence meant their – and their comrades’ – contributions were lost.

One lost story is that of George C. Baker of Kentville, Nova Scotia. Mr. Baker was my first publisher. In civilian life he owned a series of community newspapers, a printing company, was a consulting engineer and simultaneously served as the head of the Public Utilities Commissions of three provinces.

In 2014, reading his obituary I and our community learned he had been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his role in the invasion. Mr. Baker’s engineering brilliance changed the communications equipment used in executing the invasion and war. Good communications saves lives. An invasion miscommunication resulted in the US mistakenly bombing the Second Canadian Division in the Falaise Gap area.

Receiving the MBE for his role in the D-Day invasion.

From the invasion to war’s conclusion Mr. Baker personally managed the communications for three infantry and two armoured divisions. In his posthumously published memoir he told how a group of Canadians, without the use of the Enigma machine, broke the German codes.

He wrote Jack Anderson’s Special Wireless Section “solved the German tactical code every day by 11 o’clock in the morning. The section was able to do this because of German fondness for routine. Every morning a German aircraft went to the same designated spots in the English channel, made the same weather observations and reported in the same form. The cryptographers knew from our own radar and weather data what the messages contained and that made it a routine matter to break the code.”

A sign on a hedge leading to Juno Beach shows on-going appreciation by residents of Normandy and France for their liberation. (Allan Lynch Photo)







An Acadian trinity

The Herbin Cross at the Grand Pre National Historic Site. (Allan Lynch Photo)

A familiar sight at Easter is the image of three crosses on a hill. Well, Kings County has it’s own historic crosses representing an Acadian trinity.

The first is the Herbin Cross at the Grand Pre National Historic Site. It was originally constructed on what had been the parish cemetery of stones thought to come from the foundation of the Church of Saint-Charles-des-Mines.

Saint-Charles-des-Mines was the church where 418 men and boys of the village of Grand Pre were summoned at 3 pm on September 5, 1755, to hear the King’s Orders and learn of His Majesty’s final resolution of the Acadians. After the reading the order of deportation, the church became a temporary prison while the fleet of transport ships gathered nearby at Horton’s Landing.

The final resolution was for the Acadians to forfeit their lands and livestock. They were allowed to keep their money and any chattels they could carry that wouldn’t impede movement on the transports. Colonel Winslow, who oversaw the reading and imprisonment, noted it was “a day of Great Fatigue & Troble”.

Originally the Cross was a bare stone construction erected in 1909 to mark the cemetery. In 1925 a bronze plaque was added and dedicated to John Frederick Herbin, the Wolfville jeweler, optician, poet and author, who was so passionate that the story of his mother’s people would not be forgotten that he compiled the land for a commemorative park for both these local landing-owning Acadians and the more than 10,000 people across the Maritimes who became refugees. Grand Pre was the first wave of what became several years of deportations.

Most people come to Grand Pre and miss a couple of points. One is the plaque on the road to the park which commemorates The Attack of Grand Pre in 1747 which left 71 British soldiers dead. The Valley is so pretty it’s easy to forget that places like Grand Pre and Annapolis Royal are some of the most blood-soaked soil in Canada.

The Deportation Cross on the shores of the Minas Basin. Blomidon is in the background. (Allan Lynch Photo)

If you hike or bike you can follow the old railway tracks that border the park to the Minas Basin shore. In a car take the Old Post Road which passes the attack park, to Horton Landing.  A secondary route is to backtrack to Just US! Coffee by the 101 exit and take the first left to the end. There is a farm on your right. On a fence post is a small wooden cross, which is a marker to the second part of the trinity, the Deportation Cross.

The French Cross in Morden on the shore of the Bay of Fundy. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The Deportation Cross is the actual site where Acadians from the lands around Grand Pre and as far away as Piziquid (Windsor) and Gaspereau, were forced on to transport ships to be deported. It’s believed this is also the spot where over 100 years before, the Acadians first stepped ashore to begin their community in Les Mines. Nearby is a cairn for the New England Planters who came ashore here to take possession of the abandoned Acadian farms.

The Deportation Cross is here at the request of the Societe Nationale de l’Acadie, who wanted it to be as close to the final deportation point as possible. It, like Grand Pre, are sacred grounds where Acadian exile began.

The final part of this triptych is in Morden, on top of the North Mountain, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Acadians from the Annapolis/Port Royal area, having heard of what happened to their Grand Pre cousins, turned to their Mi’kmaq friends for help escaping impending confinement and deportation. The Mi’kmaq brought them to the area of Morden to hide. It offered fish, game, isolation and a perch to watch what Bruce Murray in his novel about pre- and post-deportation life, PIAU, Journey to the Promised Land, calls “prison ships” transport their Acadian kinsmen to parts unknown.

In the little bayside park across from the Morden Community Centre is the French Cross. The Acadians who came to Morden broke into two groups. One stayed, one risked the journey across the Bay of Fundy to hide in the forests of what would become New Brunswick. Those who risked crossing the Bay survived, while most of those who remained in Morden perished. In the spring of 1756 an Acadian man, Pierre Melanson, aided by a young Mi’kmaq boy crossed the Bay seeking aid for the survivors. On the return trip Melanson died. History isn’t always full of happy endings, but it shows the perseverance, inspiration and innovation it takes to survive extraordinary events.

These Acadian crosses can be visited at any time of year. When that road trip happens will determine what the local add-ons will be, from snowshoeing the Harvest Moon Trail in winter or cycling it in summer. Or there might be a community breakfast or meal happening in the Morden community centre when local residents sell crafts from hooked trivets to driftwood trees and stone pictures.

For one of the prettiest drives in the province, drive highway 221 along the base of the North Mountain. This is a quiet road with a brief rush of morning and late afternoon traffic of school buses and farm equipment. One of the surprises of this drive is the road to Victoria Harbour offers an optical illusion like Moncton’s Magnetic Hill, which makes it look like your vehicle is rolling uphill.

This Acadian trinity offers a backyard discovery of a major world upheaval that is unimaginable to those of us who grew up here. The Acadian deportation may have happened over 260 years ago, but around the world people are still losing their homes and being forced into exile. History does repeat itself.


Trafalgar Tour’s Real Britain is cruising without a ship

Mounted groupTrafalgar Tours have tweaked their Real Britain tour to make it a better experience. Several years ago I did the seven-day version of Trafalgar’s Real Britain tour.

We overnighted in London, Bristol, Chester, Edinburgh (2 nights), York and London.

It was a well-paced trip. Mhairi, our Scottish-sounding, but Irish-born, cruise director-Lifeguard on foot cum-guide, filled us in on the history and attributes of what we were about to see and/or experience. Since she has appeared on stage, she occasionally broke into song relative to our location.

This was not my first trip to the United Kingdom, but it was one of the more relaxing visits. I didn’t have my usual angst about keeping to the correct side of the road. I didn’t have to figure out an itinerary, how to get there or, conversely, how to get un-lost. Basically, everything, or as much as I wanted done for me, was done. Days began and ended with bellmen collecting suitcases from or delivering them to my room. If we were checking in to a hotel, there was no lineup at registration filling out the same forms we filled out at the last property, just a table full of room keys awaiting us. Check-in, check-out, and attraction admissions were all expedited for us. For a week, the most I carried was camera, carry-on and coat.

Like a ship-styled cruise, this tour took us to a variety of destinations. At each stop, Mhairi provided us an overview of the place, walked us past waiting queues, introduced us to any local specialist and advised us on top local draws for our free time. Free time is another attractive aspect to this tour. Whoever developed Trafalgar’s itinerary, I thought, showed a deft hand in how they managed group time so that we saw and experienced the highlights people at home would be quizzing us on while also allowing us to linger over a place, plate or passion.

For example, the Real Britain tour starts in London. A local, city guide, Tony, toured us around the city core providing an overview of London. I thought it a handy introduction for first time visitors and useful for returning visitors. It spares first-time visitors from acting like a ping-pong ball bouncing all over the city trying to take it in.

Changing the Guard

Naturally one of the top must-sees for visitors is the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. This doesn’t happen every day which can cause disappointment. Our tour began on a day when the guard change wasn’t scheduled, so Tony took us to Horse Guards Parade, where mounted soldiers in plumed helmets with drawn swords, sit motionless outside the former army headquarters in Whitehall. There we saw the oft-overlooked mounted regiments change guard. This morning the Blues and Royals replaced the Life Guards.

Their horsemanship is stunning. Not only do the soldiers – who, it is important to note aren’t merely ornamental, but are in active service – control their mounts in a crowd, they get them to back up and move sideways. If you’ve ever ridden you know how hard that is to accomplish.

From Horse Guards Tony walked us up The Mall to the Palace. While others continued on with Tony for his afternoon walking tour, I opted to explore the city on my own.

On the road

Roman baths at BathOur first day on the road took us to the mystery of Stonehenge, then to Bath, where, after lunch, we explored the ancient Roman baths and Jane Austen fans basked in their heroine’s hometown.

Trafalgar’s revamped Real Britain package has expanded to eight nights and nine days. The itinerary switches Cardiff for Bristol. Other than a cool welcoming pub dinner presented by Trafalgar Bristol was merely a place to sleep. Cardiff, as capital of the principality, offers more to see and do, so is an enhancement to the experience.

One of the optional add-ons is a private tour of Cardiff Castle. His reminded me of a Welsh ad campaign that boasted: 600 castles, no Starbucks.

Switching an overnight in Liverpool for Chester is the next change in the itinerary. Chester is a timbered town, encircled by a Roman wall. It is one of my favourite stops. The new itinerary offers the photogenic opportunities and backgrounds of Tudor timbered buildings, plus a thousand-year-old castle and Georgian architecture in the market town of Ludlow.

An optional add-on is a Famous Sights and Fab Four tour of Liverpool. This would be a no-brainer for Baby Boomers. Liverpool is a vital, interesting city than most independent travelers wouldn’t think to visit, so this, like the whole week, provides a taste of the art and architecture with the added attraction of a musical pilgrimage.

From Liverpool, the itinerary follows a familiar route. There is a half day in the Lake District (which never gets old) and a pass-by of Gretna Green (a popular place for young couples to runaway to for a fast wedding – we happened to catch one bride in white dress running across the lawn on our travels).

Scottish delights

Edinburgh view from castle

View of Edinburgh from the castle. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Our next stop was Edinburgh, where we had two nights. That gave us time to explore the city, Castle and Royal Mile. While some shopped, I joined John, a 60-something engineer, to find The End of the World Pub which his dental hygienist in Connecticut had recommended.

Among of our Edinburgh options were a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia and a traditional dinner in an historic setting. The new itinerary has a third dinner show option.

Back in Britain

Our last night on the road was in York, where we arrived to the peeling church bells of York Minster (no second ‘i’). York Minster is both spiritual and superlative. It took 250 years to build, is the largest church in Northern Europe, one of the world’s oldest churches and has the largest medieval stained glass windows in the world.

A costumed guide provided a walking tour through the medieval city. Followed by a farewell dinner.

Shakespeare graveOur final drive day took us to Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-on-Avon. Much of the day was driving, so in a way, it was like the usual cruise sea-day. We stopped for a photo op at Anne Hathaway’s cottage, then went into town to visit Shakespeare’s birth house where in the gorgeous gardens, young actors perform sketches from his works. On the day we visited it was snippets from Romeo and Juliette, and Merchant of Venice.

From Stratford we returned to London for a final, free night of the tour. I learned from my fellow travelers that, like cruise passengers, they enjoy the experience and convenience so much they repeat it. Several couples had transferred to this tour either from a 14-day Best of Italyor 11-day European Travelertours. Others had used Trafalgar to see Spain, Portugal, France and imperial capitals. Those of us who were new to the experience are ready to do it again.

I like that, in addition to the service and convenience, the itinerary provides room for individualization. For those who curl up their noses at the thought of a coach holiday, this type of packaging is a real vacation in that it simplifies the travel process, with the details done for you.

Boating in Britain

Barge and balcony

A narrow boat cruises past a waterside pub in Birmingham, the ‘Venice of the north’. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The world loves to cruise and Britain offers unique self-skippered cruise adventures. In an ultimate toys-for-boys experience, I’ve cruised Britain’s inland waterways on a narrow boat near Birmingham and had a cabin cruiser to travel to golf courses ringing Lough Erne in Northern Ireland.

Narrow boating was my first experience at playing skipper. Fortunately, you don’t need to know much, if anything about boats. To begin, the canals are little more than a meter deep and only five or six boat widths wide, so there’s precious little chance of being lost at sea.

The most work with having a narrow boat is working the locks which take you up or down to the next section of canal. A friend who took his young family on a narrow boat holiday advised me to make sure the boat’s front windows are closed when opening a lock. His rambunctious children twice managed to soak the boat’s living room.

For me, the narrow boat was a luxurious way to travel because it allowed me to step back from deadlines, schedules, appointments and the other urgencies of working life to travel the English countryside at an 18th century pace.

The waterways have a four-mile-per-hour speed limit, making this slow travel. The low speed limit helps prevent shoreline erosion while allowing you to bask in your surroundings. There are over 6,400 kilometres of inland waterways in Britain. Most were constructed in the 18th and early 19th centuries, before the invention of railways, as a way to move goods to market. Since early narrow boats/barges were pulled by teams of horses and oxen, the canals are lined by “tow paths”, which are now used by cyclists, joggers, hikers and local fishermen.

This speed means if you are in a group, you can break up so that some walk, jog or cycle the tow path, alongside the boat. Or rush ahead and wait for the narrow boat to catch up. The canals are laid out to let you float past quaint villages, through pastoral farms, fields and forests without the wheel-gripping angst North Americans have for driving on the other side of the road. Cost-wise it is about the price of a rental car and hotel.

I began my experience at Alvechurch, near Birmingham. The Alvechurch marina, where I picked up a brightly painted, 54-ft.-long narrow boat, is conveniently located across the street from the train station. My narrow boat had small decks fore and aft, a full bath, bedroom, and a large room containing galley, dinette (which converts to a double bed, much like a motorhome), living area with little French doors to the fore deck.

Before novice boaters are unleashed on to the canal system, there is a short orientation on how to operate the narrow boat.

narrow boat moving

Turning a narrowboat around the Birmingham basin. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Narrow boating may not be rocket science, but it can be a little tricky. Moving the rudder arm right or left is simple enough, but you’re standing at the very back, guiding something that, in my case, weighted 13.5 tons. Jim, my boatman said, “Remember, there’s another six feet at the front beyond what you can see.” Important to know when anticipating a turn, mooring and entering a lock.

Steering I learned is a matter of nuance. Abrupt, panicky, over-correcting, last-minute moves sent me sideways. Fortunately, narrow boats are solidly built, with steel hulls. They’re sort of like long bumper cars, hit something and they bounce off.

It was a relief not to be driving. I was free to putter along at my own speed, daydream, bird-watch, gawk at architecture, peek into backyards and chat with passing boaters and pedestrians. I moseyed past turreted manor houses, glided under humpback bridges and escorted by ducks and a swan floated along aqueducts over a highway filled with speeding transport trucks.

I went through the 2.4-kilometer-long King’s Norton Tunnel, which echoed with the

narrow boat in basement

A narrowboat cruising through the basement of a Birmingham building. To the right of the boat are two waterside pubs and a restaurant. (Allan Lynch Photo)

creaks of the boat and the sound of water dripping from the overhead Victorian brickwork. It had a certain gaol-like atmosphere. In Birmingham I cruised through the basement of an old warehouse and moored for two nights in the city-centre Gas Street Basin, making the boat my downtown apartment.

The only crunch on the canals can be around locks, where you may have to wait your turn. There is a surprisingly complete range of services along the canals, from water stops and signage to cafes and pubs as well as waterside communities.

My turn around point was the Black Country Museum in the village of Tipton. In theory I should have been able to back my narrow boat into a small T-shaped intersection then power up to glide forward. Sadly, while I excelled in theory, my practical application was wanting. My feeble, failing attempts provided endless entertainment for the experienced boaters.

One of the museum’s costumed guides tried yelling directions from the shore. Finally, exasperated by my continuing failure to employ his directions, he crawled out on a tree branch, dropped onto the boat roof, then took control of my rudder. In minutes he had me completely turned around, ready to head out into the main waterway.

My other self-skippered experience was a mid-week cruise to golf courses in Northern Ireland. A friend and I had a 32-ft cabin cruiser. It had two bedrooms, two baths, kitchen and saloon and a substantial wheelhouse deck. There are six courses bordering Lower Lough Erne and another three on the Upper Lough. A longer cruise itinerary has access to 20 courses. Away from the fairways, we motored to several of the 154 islands which populate the lough, exploring ruins and mysterious memorials, took in the Marble Arch Caves and dined and drank at a number of restaurants and pubs which line the Lough.

Both the cabin cruiser and narrow boat have a variety of options in terms of duration of hire packages (weekend, mid-week, week-long and longer) and a selection of boats with accommodations from two people to 12.

All boats are equipped with dishes, linens, soap, shampoo, etc. Guests can pre-order groceries.

Both styles of cruising are a doable adventure for most people.

For information about waterways and boat companies, check out:

A Canadian locked in The Tower of London

Kate Frame

Canadian Kate Frame can smile because while she is occasionally locked in The Tower of London, she gets to leave. (Historic Royal Palaces Photo)

Kate Frame may be the only Canadian ever locked in the Tower of London. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Raleigh and Rudolf Hess, Frame’s incarceration was temporary and voluntary. Frame was, and is, periodically locked in The Jewel House with The Crown Jeweller, to oversee the care and preservation of The Crown Jewels. She isn’t permitted to touch the jewels – that is reserved for The Sovereign and Crown Jeweller – but she does survey the environmental conditions under which they are kept.

Frame is Head of Conservation and Collection Care at the Historic Royal Palaces. Her original title was Head of Conservation Housekeeping. She is responsible for the care and conservation of all interiors and collections – the paintings, murals, sculpture, furniture, giltwood and tapestries – at The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, Banqueting House and Hillsborough Castle. She also oversees the Royal Academy of Needlework, which is responsible for historic and ceremonial garments.

Frame’s job is to straddle the centuries in the utilization of science to preserve history.

Aside from maintenance of the actual palaces is the care of the collections which comprise hundreds of thousands of objects on display in over 700 rooms visited by four-and-a-half million people each year. Those numbers create real concerns about damage caused by moisture, airborne particles and dust.

kew palace 2

The lesser-known Kew Palace is where the not-so-mad King George resided. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Adding pressure to the position, 95 per cent of the items on display are the property of Her Majesty, The Queen. Frame has regular meetings with The Queen’s Surveyors, the experts who advise Her Majesty about her collections. “Essentially anything here is in trust to us to preserve. We meet with Her surveyors quarterly. I do a whole series of reports on activities, and we get their support in agreeing to the balance between active use and preservation. So there is a lot of liaison, a lot of permissions, a lot of layers to go through.” Pointing to a chair in a gallery at Hampton Court she said it took 10 weeks to get permission to move it so the sun wouldn’t fade the fabric.

guard and guns outside jewel house

A guard and guns outside The Jewel House at The Tower of London. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Traditionally, the Sovereign has always had a housekeeper to manage their palaces. Frame’s title carries the conservation moniker because her job involves “all those good housekeeping things that protect collections from physical or environmental damage.”

In frame’s world every action triggers a reaction, whether its the vibration caused by running students on fragile 500-year old tapestries purchased by Henry VIII to keys scraping against wooden doors to dust. Dust, surprisingly, is one of her biggest challenges. She smiles when she explains that after serious consultation with experts they determined the best way to clean giltwood is with a small brush made of the tummy hair of German goats. “Given that these (objects) are hundreds of years old and they’re touched every day by hundreds of bristles we have to minimize that erosion from cleaning by selecting what is determined to be safest.”

Minimizing cleaning damage also extends to studier objects, like brass door knobs. “We could polish them everyday, but we would have no brass knobs left after 100 years. So we just do a light wiping, de-greasing and light waxing. We try to avoid polishing as much as possible.” So five days a week four staffers spend four hours a day gently wiping down thousands of door knobs.  And then there’s the issue of how to unlock a door. “We have huge key rings – mine is this big (she positions her hands as if catching a beach ball) – and all the keys bash against (the door). Those are the types of procedures we negotiate with staff. It’s hard for people to be careful. They have to understand what the repercussions are.”

While this seems a bit fanciful and extreme, it’s this attention to detail and long-term vision that landed Frame one of the top three conservation positions in Britain (the National Trust and English Heritage round out the triumvirate). Prior to working for the Historic Royal Palaces, Frame was the head of conservation for Heritage Toronto, responsible for 70,000 artifacts in 17 buildings.

White Tower

The White Tower within the Tower of London contains a stunning collection of medieval armour and weapons. Frame is responsible for it as well. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Her pinch-me position came about as sort of a lark. She applied for the position without any real expectation of being considered for it. Toronto conservation colleague and friend, Sandra Lougheed, recalls, “I thought she had a very good chance of getting it. She’s a smart woman, she’s very organized, she works hard, she can manage many things concurrently, she speaks very well, and she can relate information to other people in a really clear easy to understand format.”

That was 20 years ago. First Frame spent a decade working for Heritage Toronto. Her career path which lead Frame to an attic office above the Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court began as a fine art student at the University of British Columbia. During a year studying French at the Sorbonne she was shown the Louvre’s restoration gallery. “There I realized you can actually touch these things. So I then went on this mad campaign to find out how I could get to the point that I was going to be sitting in the Louvre.”

Told the best courses were in Britain, Frame managed to gain admission to the University of London’s Institute of Archaeology. “It was a general object conservation science-based course. We either went to museums and worked on the collections, or we went to archaeology. I did both because it was exciting to do archeology in Greece and Italy, and as the winter came,” she smiles wryly, “I moved more towards museum work” – out of the weather.

Hers is a complex mission because she has to convince layers of bureaucracy to agree to adopting new procedures in ancient settings. The bureaucracy includes the Historic Royal Palaces trustees, English Heritage (which represents the British government’s interests), The Queen’s on-site supervisor, plus Her other surveyors, and the government department which insures the collection. Diplomat is another aspect of her job.

For all the worries of her job, the comic relief comes from those evenings locked in the Tower of London. She does it less now, but early on, once the Crown Jeweller removed the jewels from their display cases Frame has squeezed into a narrow case to clean the interior which is the closest this housekeeper has come to doing windows.


A WWI nurse remembers


In a Flanders Field the poppies grow … they grew when Col. John McCrae wrote the poem. They continue to grow.

“At the beginning of the war we would go down to the station to see the men going off to the front. I remember leaning over a gate and waving to the troops as they went by, and the men would all run to the train windows and try to wave to us,” says Alice Margaret MacKinnon.

In January 1992, 96-year-old MacKinnon, suffering from arthritis developed from sleeping in damp trenches during World War One, sat in her room at the Veterans’ Memorial Building, Camp Hill, recalling her war experiences.

Swept up in the patriotism of the period and a desire to contribute to the war effort, the then 18-year-old MacKinnon, entered the war-time nursing course offered by London’s Saint Bartholomew Hospital. “I was always interested in helping people, but never thought of being a nurse. I didn’t even know if anybody in our family had even been in a hospital,” she said.

The training was short and to the point. “We never did any of the unnecessary work they (other nurses) had to do: cleaning and things like that. We had to learn only things that were absolutely necessary, like how to do dressings and comfort the soldiers. I knew very little about the medicines except they were very scarce. If you were constipated you had a ‘Number 9’, and if that didn’t do the trick you had a dose of castor oil.”


A display at the Imperial War Museum in London. The IWM was created after WWI so that people never forgot the madness and cost of war.

Before she saw front-line action, MacKinnon had vivid recollections of zeppelin raids on London. In WWI, warfare from the air was a new phenomena that brought the war to the homefront. One evening as MacKinnon prepared for a bath the air raid sirens sounded. “I took a look out of the window. It was a zeppelin. It was so close I felt as if I could have touched it. The zeppelin put its light on as they went along to see where to drop bombs. You tell that story to someone and they say, ‘why didn’t they shoot it down?’ But you couldn’t do that. They had all London under them. The gas or oil or something would do damage.”

When her training was completed, MacKinnon was offered a position on a hospital ship. “We had to telephone our mothers for permission because we were so young. I had never used a telephone before. We didn’t have one in the home. My father was town manager (for Hitchin, near Manchester) and said everyone in town would be calling him, so he wouldn’t have one in the house.”

“Mother wouldn’t let me go on the hospital ship. But she would let me go to France. So I went to France and the ship was torpedoed! The people were saved though. But we didn’t hear a thing at the time. You never heard anything. You’d read a newspaper and didn’t believe a word you read” because of the lack of information or overly positive stories, which were undermined by published lists of the dead.

Before leaving for France MacKinnon worked at a military hospital in Woolrich. “It was a large hospital with corridors and wards and a big cemetery too. I used to hear the bagpipers playing their dirge, and then when they came back they would play something cheerful.”

In 1915 she was posted to Etaples, near Vimy Ridge which was the main depot and DSCN9145transit camp for the British Expeditionary Force. She remained there until war’s end. In Etaples MacKinnon encountered a prohibition against dancing, keeping diaries and taking pictures. The strict regulations were in case of capture by the enemy, and in response to “the Crimean War when too many officers were accused of neglecting their duties for a social life.”

For nurses their only break was an occasional Sunday afternoon tea party which the Colonel stocked with eligible young officers. There were occasional invitations to restaurants, but MacKinnon, who didn’t drink, complained, “The men always seemed to like a bottle of wine and then get a bit fresh. I wouldn’t have anything to do with them.”

Trips to the seashore were curtailed by the threat of mines in the water.

Zeppelins continued to be a threat. “I saw the zeppelins again on the coast. They went along the coast and took pictures of the inlets. Oh, they knew everything.” While MacKinnon could often hear the big guns at the front, she was mostly worried by bombing raids. Not surprising since several Etaples hospitals were bombed and strafed my machine guns. Since nurses’ accommodations were next to the hospital she and other nurses would occasionally sleep outside under the trees. If they were on duty when an attack occurred, they had to remain calm for the sake of the patients, even if some of the men crawled under their beds. She says, “After awhile some trenches were dug around the hospital for us to sleep in, but they would be pretty damp. They (the enemy) bombed us sometimes. We were very, very lucky (because the enemy’s poor targeting saved her hospital) but oh, it was so nerve racking. If you were on night duty you just stuck it out and hoped for the best.”

“Another bad episode happened to a lot of horses, which were evidently tethered for the night not far from us. A bomb hit a good many. The noise was terrific! I never knew a horse could scream. It was the most horrible noise lasting a long time. In later years I heard a similar noise when an elephant had been hit on a train track in Africa. The horse screams were so bad you hugged the ground to deaden the sound.”

In Etaples each hospital ward held 20 beds. Beside each bed was a small table. There was a hard wooden chair for the nurse and an oil stove in the centre of the ward for heat. While patients received three sparse meals a day, the night duty nurse’s ration mostly consisted of horsemeat, sausage and potatoes. Butter was a rare treat.

MacKinnon’s patients, she remembers, “were all so glad to have a good bed to rest on after being in trenches and to be cleaned up. One lot of men I had, the Queen’s Own Highlanders, were taller than the beds, they were all over six feet, and they all had their feet over the end of the bed. I would walk down the aisle and feet would disappear under covers.”

Feet were a big concern during the war. MacKinnon recalled the hospital saw as many patients suffering from life in the trenches as battle wounds. While she never saw any of the soldiers who were victims of mustard gas attacks, they went to a special ward, she mostly dealt with blindness, shell shock, tetanus and foot problems. “There were all kinds of foot trouble from standing in trenches. They would get wet and freeze. We had to be very careful because you mustn’t put them near any heat. It must be cool.”

At the hospital MacKinnon recalled convoys of wounded would arrive with no advance warning. Just as suddenly, patients would be evacuated to England. “It was never mentioned when they were going. Everything was so quiet, you never opened your mouth about anything.”

Mail was also heavily censored. “One letter Mother wrote came crossed out. She had been watching out of the window soldiers drilling and they blacked that out. Basically you wrote about your health and if you were alright.” Smiling she says, “My parents wanted to know if I was still there.”

Having to delouse soldiers coming from the trenches, it was only natural that she once shared their experience. “It was a terrible itch” and sent her roommate screaming from their room. Another time she learned how cold France can get when she almost cut her gums with the frozen bristles of her toothbrush.

At the Armistice, MacKinnon found herself not celebrating, but feeling guilty. “There seemed to be one final battle. What a day it was! I think I had to work harder than ever and I forgot it was Mother’s birthday. She never got over it that I didn’t remember.”

The armistice did bring one immediate change. Dancing was again allowed and Alice happily took to the floor, doing them all: highland flings, reels, squares, waltzes and quadrilles.

It was at the front that she met “my special”, Hugh MacKinnon, a Canadian medical officer who rose from private the rank of Major. After being de-mobbed Dr. MacKinnon bought a house and established a medical practice in Halifax. Once  he was in a position to provide for a family he sent for Alice. She arrived in Canada in 1920, one of the first of many thousands of War Brides. During WWII Alice continued her war service by volunteering with the IODE to provide care packages for and entertain members of the Merchant Navy.

She and Hugh had four children and 15 grandchildren. He died in 1974, age 92. Alice died in 1999 at age 104.