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"Baffin" being refloated in drydock
launches equipped with echo sounders
did surveys in shallow waters
Because of my interest in electronics I got to know quite a bit about the DECCA navigator and struck up a friendship with the technician who took care of maintaining it. It did indeed have a nasty habit of miscounting the lanes and I remember on one occasion as we both watched the readouts he said laconically: "well, according to this we are now sailing up Barrington street in Halifax". That having been said however, it was far and away the most advanced position fixing system of its day with a resolution of about one hundred metres, the awful flaw was of course the occasional lapse when it added a quarter of a mile (or maybe several quarter miles) to each reading.
One of the features was the use of "magnetic amplifiers" as a substitute for valves (vacuum tubes), these devices had essentially an indefinite life as opposed to valves which had a strictly limited life and had to be replaced at some point, they also consumed a fair amount of power just to heat the filaments. Magnetic amplifiers were eclipsed by the ubiquitous transistor fairly early on, although at that time transistors were too temperamental to use in critical applications such as navigation equipment.
Fishing trawler coming in to Halifax
Autumn in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax
The Baffin was equipped with an excellent workshop for running repairs at sea and the ships carpenter let me use it in off hours to put together the cabinet for a portable record player. I bought a turntable and a loud speaker, and an amplifier in kit form which I assembled in the other facility, the electronics repair shop. Everyone seemed quite surprised when I finally played a record with it because electronics was not something that the average person messed with in those days. I was regarded as a rather unusual recruit anyway by the rest of the gang because I had a university degree, which no one else on board did, apart from the party chief Goodwill who christened me the "Baffin Boffin".
It was a life saver for me to have some of my kind of music on tap and it did a lot to relieve the tedium of life at sea. At the suggestion of Father Goodwill I started up a daily news sheet, the "Baffin Baffler". This involved writing up any news that was of general interest, e.g. the dates for the next shore leave or whatever, typing it all up (and perhaps drawing a cartoon or something for light relief) on a master plate and then copying it off in two colours (red and black) using the "A.B. Dick" machine, stapling up the copies and finally distributing them to the ships company. All that took about two or three hours after supper and helped to pass the time.
One piece of news in that October of 1957 was the launch by the Soviets of the first man made earth satellite, "Sputnik". It took everyone by surprise and of course the press was full of speculation as to the implications of this for the balance of terror in the cold war. Shortly thereafter they scored another first with another satellite carrying a little dog "Laika". As the "Baffin Boffin" I got many questions about space travel and what was possible and how did the satellites stay up and so on. I never imagined that the orbital mechanics which I had studied would ever be of any practical use and it gave me some satisfaction at least to be able to calculate the orbital period and velocity of Sputnik from the scanty data which came in over the newscasts.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald had been agitating for weeks for a public inquiry into the Baffin accident and finally one was scheduled, which meant a lot more preparatory paperwork. Because there was heavy pressure to salvage as much of the season's original production target as possible, the survey work continued right through into December, by which time the soft and balmy autumn had given way to gale force winds, driving rain and sleet, and bitter cold. The sea was almost always rough and sometimes it was too rough to get decent data. Everyone was relieved to hear the word from Ottawa that the season would end on December the twelfth, a titbit which I broadcast in banner headlines in the "Baffin Baffler".
The first Canadian winter
The December temperatures in Halifax were only marginally lower than those in any English coastal town, and as in England it was the damp cold that really chilled one to the marrow, so up to that point the Canadian winter weather had been no surprise to me. It was not until I reached Montreal on the journey back to Ottawa that I got my first taste of sub zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures as I emerged from the train into -5 degrees (-21 Centigrade). I only had a plastic mackintosh at the time and it instantly assumed the properties of a drainpipe. One of the first things that I did after getting installed once again in the YMCA in Ottawa was to go out and buy an overcoat, gloves, hat and earmuffs.
I was quite surprised at the Christmas decorations everywhere, both downtown in the shops and in the residential areas, which was so much more festive than I had been used to in England. We used to have some modest decorations, but not the strings of coloured lights around windows and on trees in gardens that I saw in practically every other household in Ottawa. I finally met up with Nick Cleary and we did a lot of catching up while I hunted for digs, because the YMCA was too expensive as a long term proposition. I settled for a small room on the third floor of a boarding house with laundry and two meals a day for $15.00 per week.
I had occasion to go and buy a bottle of scotch as a gift for someone who had done me a favour and thereby discovered the system for controlling the sale of liquor in the province of Ontario. The first thing you had to have was a liquor permit, that was easy enough if you had proof that you were over 21 (the legal drinking age at that time). Then you had to go to one of the provincial government liquor stores to buy the stuff. There were not (and still are not) the equivalent of the "Off Licence" shops in high streets in the U.K. The buildings where these liquor board outlets were housed were all made to the same pattern. prison-like stone structures, slightly sinister on the outside and not much better on the inside.
There were lists, framed and behind glass rather like time tables at a railway station, which displayed the product names (J&B scotch for example), the prices, and a product number which had to be entered onto a slip of paper and handed in to the cashier. After paying up front (with no receipt or other evidence of payment), another granite-faced individual would take the piece of paper and disappear into the hinterlands behind the counter and emerge hopefully with what you had ordered. I remember being struck by the attitude of these people, dressed in red jackets and grey trousers they seemed like members of a temperance society who had had to take jobs in a liquor store for want of something better, even though the very idea was diametrically opposed to their principles. The whole rigmarole gave the impression that the purchase of any alcoholic beverage in Ontario was considered by society to be a mortal sin, and that it was only tolerated by governments (and therefore legal) because of the revenue it generated.
That winter was without question the longest I have ever spent anywhere. January gave way to February and February to March with still no end in sight. By then there would have been crocuses and primroses in the fields and gardens in England. I had assumed that in Canada there would be virtually unlimited opportunities for skating, such a big country after all and so many lakes and rivers, not like the village ponds found on local heaths and commons (common land) where I came from.
I had brought my skating boots in anticipation, for which I had paid a prodigious amount a year or so before leaving the U.K. They were the first proper skates that I had owned where the boots had the skates actually screwed onto them permanently, thereby making the boots dedicated to that use only. This was considered a reckless extravagance in those days when the normal skating gear consisted of stout shoes or walking boots with clip on skates. Some came with a little wrench to tighten the four clips gripping the welt of the boot or shoe and the older ones consisted of a blade embedded in a wooden last which fitted under the shoe or boot and was secured to it by means of a screw going into the heel and a strap over the toe.
In fact I found that the only skating available was on postage stamp sized rinks around the city which were all only a fraction of the size of our village ponds and much less scenic. One of my boarding house mates who had a Volkswagen Beetle took me up to the shores of the Ottawa river at one point and then I realised why one could not expect to skate on rivers in this country as one did on village ponds in England, It was a river of ice alright, but there was not a square inch of it that was smooth and level. Months of below freezing temperatures turned the huge Ottawa river almost into a glacier with ice piling up all over the place.
The creaking and groaning of the vast expanse of restless snow covered ice was quite awe inspiring and something which I could not possibly have appreciated without having seen it at first hand. I spent a lot of evenings skating on the local rinks but soon realised that I was the subject of a lot of attention from the other skaters and the reason was my skates with toe picks. It turned out that the only men who wore those kind of skates in Canada were professional figure skaters competing in international events and it was patently obvious that I was not in that league. In the end I broke down and bought a pair of standard hockey skates to conform to local customs.
I had not paid much attention to television until this point but there was a set in the living room at my digs and I spent some evenings getting tuned in to it. I discovered the CBC, which at that time was the only Canadian TV broadcaster in the Ottawa region certainly, if not in Canada. I was disdainful of the transparently trite and totally unappealing commercials (..."Brylcreem, Brylcreem a liddle dab'll do yu"....."You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent"...), all of which it transpired were produced south of the border.
One brand new program was something called "Front Page Challenge" and appeared to be modelled practically word for word on the popular BBC "What's my Line". The BBC production had a panel of more or less celebrity challengers whose job it was to guess the occupations of the challengers, ordinary folk whose occupations were unusual for one reason or another. There was Lady Isobel Barnett, I forget now what she was famous for at the time, but her face appeared on ads for Morphy Richards appliances like toasters. Then there was the resident grouch, Gilbert Harding, who was rude, abrasive, and generally unpleasant. Apparently this increased the viewing audience, who tuned in with the vicarious hope of seeing yet another challenger insulted. There was another distinguished challenger (but I can't remember at this distance who on earth he was), and then there was the affable and ever diplomatic MC, the Canadian Eammon Andrews.
"Front Page Challenge" had an almost identical format, except that the raison d'etre was for the panel to discover the front page story with which the challenger had been involved. The caste of characters were from the same mould as "What's My Line", there was the fashionable and attractive lady (Betty Kennedy), the grouch (Gordon Sinclair) and a third distinguished man of letters (Pierre Burton). There was the equally affable and diplomatic MC, Bill Davis. As it turns out "Front Page Challenge" has survived longer than anyone could have expected (certainly longer than "What's My Line") and is now the in the incredibly venerable league.
Beyond that there were American Cops-and-Robbers and private eye shows like "Dragnet", "San Francisco Beat" and "Have Gun will Travel" with Jack Pallance as the private eye. Then there were some sitcoms like the schmolzy "Life with Father", starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, and "Lucy" with Lucille Ball and ex- husband Desi Arnez. I do not remember any arresting CBC drama productions, or presentations of live concerts, or opera. It seemed to be pretty much a wasteland of American pablum at that time and it took many years before that changed. The programming shown on French T.V. by contrast was created by the francophone organisation within the CBC (Radio Canada). It was a very different story, because they could not sit back with folded hands and import ready-made programming to satisfy their audience. As a result the shows were home-grown from the ground up and all with a distinctive Quebec imprimatur, of which more later on in this narrative.
Apart from some diversions like skating and investigating the limits of Canadian Television, the routine at the offices at the Hydrographic Survey was pretty soul-destroying. I was put to work computing triangulation networks by hand, that is to say by looking up the logarithms of angles in a giant book called "Shortredes Five Figure Tables", entering them into spaces on a form and then adding the columns of figures that resulted. after more consultation of the tables to find the antilog, the desired result was arrived at, or at least it was supposed to be the desired result. It was correct if a second calculation, running the triangle in the other direction, produced the identical figure. My batting average in the first few weeks was only about eighty percent and the other inmates lost no opportunity to wonder out loud how it was that someone with a university degree (in physics and mathematics no less) could not manage to compute relatively simple trigonometrical calculations without making so many..many errors.
The resident mathematician par excellence was a Dr. Paul Brunavs, he was in charge of making sure that all the survey data from umpteen different sources was self consistent and that all triangles, no matter in which direction they had been computed, or by whom, ended up all square, or in this case - all triangular. The closest thing that he had to a computer was an electromechanical adding machine which for repetitive arithmetic was a great deal quicker and more accurate than manual computation (especially mine). There was just one of these "motorcycles" as they were called available to our part of the organisation. They had their weak points and one was division. If for some reason the denominator in the computation turned out to be zero, then all hell broke loose and the machine would practically walk around the room as its heavy carriage rattled back and forth at high speed in a futile effort to evaluate infinity (the result of dividing anything by zero). More than one machine was reduce to a smoking ruin by errors of this sort.
I had a distant cousin whom I had never met until I got to Canada, she was the grandchild of another member of the family who had emigrated to Canada at the turn of the century. She had a teenage family and lived in Ottawa and I got on well with her and her husband, an ex-Mountie turned tax inspector. They bought a Motel in Windsor, about two hundred miles west of Toronto, and moved there in February 1958. I had driven down there with him once a few weeks earlier in his 1953 Ford, to share the driving and generally provide a bit of moral support, as he transported a full load of belongings from Ottawa. It was my first experience of driving a full sized North American car and it was a bit of a shock. the steering was slack and spongy by comparison with British cars and cornering at highway speeds required total concentration to stay on the road.
with the 1953 Ford in Detroit
One of the things that amazed me during that short expose of the U.S.A, was the cross-section that I saw of Detroit's finest. They all carried handguns, which of course I had never seen on policemen before, and they patrolled in pairs, presumably because of the gangs that roamed the city. They did not inspire confidence, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, scruffy uniforms and a generally rather hard-boiled and unsavoury appearance that made me wonder if they were any better than the criminal element that they were there to deal with. I was more than happy to recross the Bridge back into Canada.
Trans Canada Airlines Turbo-prop
Viscount at Ottawa airport, 1958
I almost felt as if it was my aeroplane and that everyone else in it was a foreigner, but I was impressed nevertheless by the very professional crew that TCA had trained to operate it, with their crisp and snappy uniforms and a general air of competence. After the usual preliminaries we were ready for takeoff and I was startled by the powerful thrust of the four Rolls Royce Dart engines as they accelerated us down the runway and suddenly lifted us off, with no apparent effort.
A familiar logo for a Brit
Time for a change
In the early part of 1958 the public inquiry into the Baffin mishap was held in Halifax and the net result was that Goodwill was effectively demoted and the captain and crew were exonerated. The Baffin which was designed as an ice breaker, was scheduled to go up to the arctic to Baffin Island for which it was named (as it then was) and the lists of the ships company were drawn up. I was on the list and the prospect of a full season dealing with arctic ice floes with that particular captain and crew did not appeal to me and I took steps to see what else I could find to earn a living. I scanned the civil service posters to see what was on offer and I saw one position for a "Range Scientific Officer" with the department of National Defence (DND). It was for somebody with the sort of degree that I had, to work on the development of electronic instrumentation for testing the performance of all sorts of conventional artillery and small arms weapons at one of the DND proving ranges in the province of Quebec, about 60 miles east of Montreal. It was two levels up, "TO-3" (technical Officer 3) from my TO-1 level which was worth a shot so I put in an application. At about that time the new Prime Minister of Canada, John. G. Diefenbake r, who had just squeaked into power a few months earlier with a minority victory, ending several decades of Liberal rule, decided to go for broke and call a general election in a bid to win an overall majority. The mayor of Ottawa at that time was a woman (a rarity in those days) by the name of Dr. Charlotte Whitton and she was running as a "Progressive Conservative" candidate for an Ottawa constituency. I was very amused at the term progressive conservative, and I still am, because conservative is the very antithesis of progressive in any context that one can dream up.
Diefenbaker at the opening of Parliament, 1958
The job market for young people in Canada in the 1950,s
Time was marching on toward the deadline for the next field season so I concentrated on checking out other job possibilities, Marconi wanted people to work on the "DEW Line", the chain of radar stations in the far north being built to provide "Distant Early Warning" (DEW) of Soviet missiles launches. I could have stashed away a small fortune by doing un-exciting work in isolation up there for a year or two while drawing a substantial salary with all-found. Bell Telephone wanted people with my sort of qualifications and so did other companies in the defence contracting business. It was a buyers market for young people with scientific qualifications in Canada in the late 1950's and in retrospect I was exceptionally lucky to have arrived at the right place at the right time. The job market in Britain for people with those qualifications was by contrast, fiercely competitive - one of the main reasons for the much lamented brain-drain from there. Quite apart from that aspect, the overall standard of living in Canada was streets ahead of what it was in England at that time, no matter what segment of the workforce one was in.
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