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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.


The last man


George Price is the last man.

It is Price’s sad place in history to be the last British soldier killed in World War One.

Private George Lawrence Price (#256265) has a further distinction of being the 60,661stCanadian killed in WWI.

The Armistice was signed in a railcar in the Forest de Compiegne at 5 am on the morning of November 11, 1918. Under the terms of the Armistice fighting would cease six hours later at 11 am. The time delay was needed to relay the message to the various military headquarters then down through the divisions, brigades, battalions to the front-line ranks as well as those smaller units and individuals hidden behind enemy lines and in rural and remote fronts.

Private Price was with a small advance unit trying to secure the village of Havre in Belgium. To accomplish their mission, they crossed the Canal du Centre into Ville-sur-Haine, where they knew a German machinegun unit was located. After taking cover in a local home, Price and one of his comrades stepped outside and into the sights of a German sniper 400 yards away. There is some variation about the exact minute, but between 10:50 and 10:54 am, Price was shot. Price was carried back inside by his fellow Canadian.

A young Belgian nurse, Alice Grotte, witnessed the shooting and risked her life to run to his aid. As Price lay dying he pulled a small crocheted flower that his fiancé in Saskatchewan had given him from his tunic and handed it to Grotte. Private Price died at 10:58 am, November 11, 1918, two minutes before war’s end. He was 25.


The dark, heart-shaped flower stained with George Price’s blood was preserved by a Belgian nurse who held him as he died. This is the last blood a British soldier shed in World War One. (Allan Lynch Photo)


Seventy-three years later, Price’s nephew, George Barkhouse of Kingsport, Nova Scotia, was in Ville-sur-Haine for the commemoration of the George Price footbridge over the Canal du Centre. Alice Grotte’s daughter returned the preserved flower, brown with Price’s blood, to Barkhouse.

The flower had been placed in a small frame, with a maple leaf and this inscription:

“On the 11 Nov 1918

On the final instant

Where [when] the peace is signed

You fell for us

The last victim of the sad conflict.


Thank you George Price!

A drop of your blood tarnishes this simple

Flower that you concealed on your breast.”

While news of the armistice moved swiftly around the world, Barkhouse says the runner carrying news of war’s end hadn’t reached Price’s unit when the shooting happened. So, as Price lay dying in a foreign land his mother and sisters were in the village of Church Street, now Port Williams, celebrating. They sang patriotic songs, danced, and like their friends and neighbours were happy and relieved that the killing had stopped. Unfortunately, they then returned home to the devastating news of George’s death. Barkhouse doesn’t know how the news was delivered to the family. Telephones were scarce and the Annapolis Valley was too far from Halifax for the military to send a team to deliver the message in person.


Barkhouse, who was named for his uncle and born 11 years after his uncle’s death, says his family didn’t speak much of George. Price’s death was too painful for his grandmother, mother and family. George had been the favoured son and brother. He was one of two boys and seven girls born to James E. and Annie R. Price. He was born in Falmouth, Nova Scotia, (outside of Windsor) and raised in Port Williams (between Wolfville and Kentville). As an adult he worked at a logging camp in Falmouth and later as a farmer labourer in Stoney Beach, Saskatchewan.

For those who believe in fate coming in threes, the sniper was Price’s third and final


June and George Barkhouse in Kingsport stand by the Minas Basin with the blood-stained flower his uncle gave to a Belgian nurse. (Allan Lynch Photo)


brush with death. Barkhouse says that when Price worked in logging, he was late returning to the camp one evening. He called for a man he saw standing down the lane to wait up. Just as Price reached him, the ‘man’ dropped to his four paws and went off into the woods. That night the bear wasn’t interested in Price. Price’s second temp with fate was September 8th, 1918 when he was gassed in an attack at the Canal-du-Nord.

George Price is buried in the St. Symphoriem Military Cemetery. Originally, he was buried near John Parr, 4thBattalion Middlesex Regiment, who was the first British soldier killed in WWI. Parr’s remains were later moved to a British war cemetery. In addition to the George Price bridge, there is a school named for him and on the 50thanniversary of his death and the Armistice, his comrades erected a monument near the spot where he was shot. It reads:

“In Memory of 256265 Private George Lawrence Price 28thNorth West Battalion 6thCanadian Infrantry Brigade 2ndCanadian Division killed in action near this spot at 10.58 hours November 11th1918 The last Canadian soldier to die on the Western Front in the First World War erected by his comrades November 11th1968.”

While many Canadians don’t know of Price’s story, June Barkhouse, George’s wife of 65 years, says that on one of their visits to St. Symphoriem, they met a woman placing flowers on war graves. That woman told Barkhouse, “all these years later, we don’t forget.”

DEVOUR the food film fest opens 2018 edition

The DEVOUR Food Film Fest started Tuesday night with their first Sip & Savour event in Kentville.

DEVOUR founder chef Michael Howell and Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow welcomed the sippers and savourers to a three-stop tour of local food and drink.

DSCN1006In the Harvest Gallery food-inspired art set the tone. DEVOUR managing director Lia Rinaldo introduces one of the short food videos aired at each stop.

The Surreal Gourmet Bob Blumer tweets from the Harvest Gallery.

Wineries, distillers, brewers, cider-makers and pubs were represented. Barrelling Tide Distillery served up cranberry cocktails. Among the participants are The Noodle Guy & Mrs Noodle Guy who dished up melt-in-your-mouth meatballs and artisanal pasta. Students from the Nova Scotia Community College culinary course served a pickle-and-marinade vegetable charcuterie table. Canada’s first gluten-free restaurant, Crystany’s Brasserie in Canning, served killer crab cakes. And Hills Grills served kumara curry and basmati rice.

There was more! It all firmed up the Valley’s position as the tastiest place in North America.


First Ritz-Carlton ocean yacht floated in Spain

October 9, 2018 – On Tuesday, with pennants fluttering in the breeze and long blasts of its horn the sleek un-painted brown hull of the first member of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection effortlessly slipped from its dry dock in the HJ Barreras shipyard into the harbour at Vigo, Spain..

From this splash, the first of three vessels comprising the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (RCYC) goes for a 12-month detailed outfitting process. That will be followed by several shakedown cruises in late 2019-early 2020 with “trusted travelers”. The shakedown process is longer than standard because, as RCYC Chief Executive Officer Doug Prothero says, “We will do more shakedown voyages than most in order to be full on-brand when we accept guests.”

Prothero is the Canadian who conceived and is in command of the Ritz-Carlton yacht experience. The idea is to bring Ritz-Carlton service to a yachting lifestyle on an ocean-going super-yacht.

He says, “Think of the casual luxury of a Ritz Carlton Reserve at sea.”

Prothero, from Port Stanley, Ontario, has had a 35-year career built around the water. Most recently he was Chairman of Sail Training International (STI), the 32-country organization, which trains young people to sail and organizes tall ships gatherings as well as a maritime finance consultant for Capital Canada Limited (CCL), a Toronto-based boutique investment firm. It was at CCL that he met Marriott executives who invited him to put together some sort of cruise product.

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection 3

Artists’ rendition of the completed Ritz-Carlton ocean yacht.

The vision is to be unlike big-ship cruising and use the freedom their size provided to focus on overlooked ports. Each seven-to-ten-day itinerary is designed so guests booking back-to-back cruises won’t repeat ports.

“This is a hybrid between yachting and cruising. We aren’t trying to get to seven ports in seven days. We’re more interested in a yachting lifestyle.” To accomplish this the RCYC will have the highest crew-passenger ratio on “the most expensive cruise vessel per berth ever built.”

Each yacht will be 190 metres (624 feet) long, with a crew of 236 attending to 298 passengers in 149 terrace suites. There are five suite styles, ranging in size from 29 to 100 sq. metres.

“We have two owners’ suites at the top. They have a 90-degree view starboard and aft,

Terrace Suite

Artists’ rendition of one of the five suite styles on the Ritz-Carlton ocean yacht.

and 90-degree view port and aft. They’re each 100 sq. metres with a 50 sq. metre terrace and a plunge pool. These yachts are designed so that most of these smaller suites can be interconnected with the one beside them, so if we’re on charter and somebody doesn’t need all 149 suites we can offer them a selection of larger suites.”

Yacht One will travel the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Northern Europe to Atlantic Canada-New England and Great Lakes. Yacht Two will focus on the Mediterranean for summer of 2021. The rest of the itinerary is yet to be finalized. They are considering whether to do a northern transatlantic crossing which includes Canada-New England or linger in Europe before heading to the Caribbean via the southern route. Yacht Three, which joins the fleet in 2022, will be positioned in the Pacific.

Big news for Halifax is that R-C Yachts will use it for turn-arounds, allowing guests to start or finish their voyage there. Traditionally Halifax is part of an itinerary requiring Boston, Montreal or Quebec City as a start or end point.

On-board amenities include an aft deck marina which acts as a floating beach and five dining venues: an Asian fusion restaurant, an international restaurant that will shift between French and Italian cuisines, poolside grill, seafood grill and Aqua, a concept restaurant by three-Michelin starred chef Sven Elverfeld. Aqua is an a la carte option, while everything else on board, including gratuities and bespoke land-based experiences are covered in the all-inclusive price.

All suites, all dining areas and even the service options – from bars to spa –have their own terraces.

The out-of-the-box thinking for the yachts started with the selection of Spain’s HJ Barreras Shipyard as builders. Prothero shunned the mainstream cruise shipyards for Barreras which typically builds highly complicated research vessels. “They have a lot of experience in specialty ships and we needed a highly customized build.” That customization extends to the technology, which will allow guests to control their suites and experiences from their smart phones.

Another break with tradition was hiring one firm – Tilberg of Sweden – to design the ship. “Most cruise ships have six or seven designers, this has one designer throughout the entire yacht so we’ve been able to get a really cohesive design plan.”



Playing with our food


Valley people have made food competitive. We grow giant pumpkins – over 1,000 lbs. – then hollow them out, decorate them and race them across a man-made lake in Windsor. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I live in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and here people play with their food. And they welcome others to join them.

Summer vacation may be over, but in the Annapolis Valley the fun ramps up in October. After several seasons of planting, tending to and harvesting crops and flocks, residents are ready to play. It’s only natural that the so-called “breadbasket of Nova Scotia” and most agriculturally diverse part of Canada would play with and celebrate food.

During October, Kentville’s population jumps up with the arrival of the Pumpkin People. Lawns, parks and fields fill with Pumpkin People and their cousins the Gourds. From October 6thto 29th 300 Pumpkin People hang out in town. This year’s Pumpkin People reunion has an On the Go theme, so their wardrobes, accessories and vignettes will celebrate transportation.

One of the Valley’s signature, truly world-class events is the Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor. The world’s craze for competitive giant pumpkin growing was the dream of local farmer Howard Dill. He developed the Atlantic Giant seed which has sold around the world and fueled this international phenomena.

This year’s event is on Sunday, October 14. At 11 am there are 6 & 12k canoe and kayaking sprints on Lake Pisiquid.  At noon the Parade of Paddlers leaves the Exhibition Grounds for downtown Windsor and then the start location on the Falmouth side of Lake Pisiquid. The parade consists of paddlers and their PVCs (Personal vegetable crafts). The regatta starts at 2 pm. This year there is a class for motorized and experimental pumpkins. All day there are miniature train rides and vendors set up.

October 14this also the last day of the 2018 season for the Magic Winery Bus which provides a double-decker London bus as your designated driver, offering a hop-on, hop-off service, to five of the wineries in the Wolfville – Grand Pre area.

October 17 is the Miner’s Marsh Pumpkin Walk. Miner’s Marsh. Students at the Nova Scotia Community College tourism class carve over 300 pumpkins which are lit and line a 1k walk in this Ducks Unlimited wetlands in downtown Kentville between 6:30-8:30 pm. Admission is by food bank donation. Rain date Oct. 18th. Service dogs only.

These are followed by the world’s tastiest event: DEVOUR, The Food Film Fest. DEVOUR is ground zero for the marriage and many manifestations of art and food. It’s been said that food is first visually consumed, then tasted. DEVOUR puts food on the big screen, then develops special meals based on the film themes. One year, after a documentary on oysters, instead of popcorn and soda, oysters and vodka were served in the theatre lobby.

The six-day festival (Oct. 23-28) comprises films, documentaries, seminars, workshops, special meals, galas, receptions and other food-based events like the Bubbles Bus, Street Food Party (from a cluster of food trucks), Mayors’ Bike Ride with refreshment stops, and an Everything Apple Express. Events are held in Wolfville, Kentville and Starr’s Point.

DEVOUR is an event that the late Anthony Bourdain attended.

dscn1111In addition to the scheduled events, the Valley offers a variety of other food-related experiences. There’s a weekly Saturday Farmers’ Market in Wolfville (with a diverse range of on-site edibles). Throughout the Valley are pop-up roadside farm markets, with shelves stocked with just-picked, just-pulled from the ground produce as well as home-baked pies, bread, squares and preserves. Many are on an hour-system, so bring cash. In small denominations.

Outside Wolfville you’ll find a corn maze and kids playground at Noggins’ Farm, a Pumpkin Maze at Stirlings and fresh cider at Elderkin’s. And from Windsor to Annapolis Royal there are any number of community breakfasts, lunches and dinners based on old recipes and local ingredients. They are real home cooking. Check out

The Valley in fall offers the addition beauty of fall colours with great light for photographers and painters, great tastes and fun things for friends and family to do. It makes playing with your food acceptable.

A brilliant Valley day

Saturday was another brilliant day in Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley. It was a sunny, warm day. Summer may be over, the kids back in school and adults returned to the office, but it was a gloriously lazy day of busy personal pursuits.

The Wolfville Lions Club hosted their monthly breakfast. Around the corner the weekly Farmers’ Market was packed with social shoppers, stocking up on fresh-from-the-field produce. Then wandering Main Street I saw dozens of mud-covered Acadia University students walking barefoot through the downtown. They had come from sliding in the harbour mud at low tide and were headed to the university gym to shower before hitting their dorms and town’s cafes.

DSCN0900All the sidewalk tables, chairs and cafes were packed with happy people sipping designer, free-trade coffees, some holding hands, others enjoying a local craft beer.

Wolfville is a lovely town, with tree-lined streets – even the shopping street – lush gardens and over-flowing store window boxes. There’s colour, scent, greenery, happiness and energy to the place.

DSCN0902One of the community’s older businesses, Herbin’s Jewellers, is sporting a fresh new mural, which employs a line from John Frederic Herbin’s writings. Herbin was a renaissance man who put the place on the map. He was an optometrist, jeweller, historian and author. He used the royalties from his books to compile the land for a park at Grand Pre, which is now has double UNESCO World Heritage Status as the site of the deportation of the Acadians (1755) and as the longest continuously farmed part of North America (many farmers here are the eighth and ninth generations on this land).

And for a final bit of lightness, many businesses communicate with humorous sidewalk signs.

Wolfville and the Valley is a pleasant place to be at any time of year.


Mona Parson’s exotic life

I went to the opening of The Bitterest Time: The war story of Mona Parsons.

I was at the back of the theatre and couldn’t take a good shot of the curtain call, but the play is about the amazing life of a Valley woman.

Mona Parsons was born in Middleton, joined the Ziegfeld Follies, married a Dutch millionaire, hid downed Allied airmen from the Nazis, was arrested by the Gestapo, sentenced to death, escaped imprisonment to walk across Germany back to Holland where she was liberated by the North Nova Scotia Highlanders from Halifax. After the war she married a general and moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Local author Andrea Hill-Lehr learned of Parson’s exotic, larger-than-life life and wrote a book about her.  Parson’s story inspired the Women of Wolfville to raise the funds to place a statue in her honour in a garden on the post office grounds. Now Hill-Lehr’s book has become the basis for the play.

Mona Parsons’ history proves you never know who lives down the street or around the corner from you.