Friday, December 17, 2010



Current commentary: The world we live in... My God, the world we live in... We sit on the cusp of innovative genius and Kafka-esque irrelevance. I think Kafka is winning, which isn't to say it all isn't somewhat funny.

This story that I wrote in 2004 reminds me of Bob Mellor, the curmudgeonly editor who mentored my fledgling reporter status with the Low Down. I quite missed him when he passed away. We disagreed fundamentally on a number of issues. He was more right wing and I was more left wing. Just as one example I remember being horrified the day he wrote an editorial where he "composted" the mayor (digging a hole and burying him), but in retrospect, as I am somewhat older, it was a bloody funny editorial, cutting and to the point. (And I have to give credit to then mayor Perras for accepting political satire with some grace that didn't involve lawyers.) Of course, it's a very different world we find ourselves in now in Chelsea... the "lawsuit happy world of the privileged" almost closed down freedom of speech in the region but that of course is another story for another day but I certainly gain comfort in knowing there are a few people left in the world who will do what is right even when it scares the hell out of them...

Mellor taught me not to give a flying damn really and encouraged my fearlessness which at that specific point in my life was in short supply. Now, whenever I write a column or a story demanding an unflinching kind of courage I recall the "composted mayor" and find the courage. The only problem of course is that I'd rather be a humorist. In other words, I choose to be happy. For now...

I am content to watch the politically astute and the rationally gifted handle the dark side of Chelsea. I've done my bit I figure. And more than once. But then again I have some kind of inherited genetic tendency to protect the little guy. I think it has to do with my Cape Breton heritage... the place where the first unions in Canada were formed. So I say I'm a humorist... but that's today. For now... And 7,000-taxpayers-handling-a-double-digit-million-dollar-water/septic-thing-on-Old-Chelsea-Road-largely-for-the-benefit-of-developers-determined-to-change-the-rural-nature-of-the-region-at-such-a-juncture-in-the-history-of-world-economics and all-the-shenanigans-going-on-at-all-sorts-of-different-levels-by-all-sorts-of-people-to-rationalize-such-behaviour... well... I'm doing my best to remain quiet. It ain't easy. But dammit... I'm going to be happy if it kills me. And it probably will.

The reason this story reminds me of Bob Mellor is that I sent it to him on a whim... all 2,369 characters... and he spent the better part of a week turning my 2,369 word story into 600 words. Editing at its finest! Mind you, when I'd call him about some story or another, he'd be cranky as all get out. When it was all done he said he couldn't talk as he was "in the cups" implying of course that the work on my story drove him to drink. But of course, that was his hobby... down at the Black Sheep gathering the real news because the local pub, he said, is where all journalists need to go if they are worth a tinkers damn. It's a good thing that he fearlessly edited this piece down and ensured its publication because I believe this was the story that turned me into a humorist. It is also the story that many of my fans (okay, fan... named Colleen) remember as their first and favorite. Here it is... unedited...


This column is no longer available on the website. It is contained in the new book available for a mere pittance from

7 April 2004 Valley Voice

PAINTING: Passages / S. Shawcross / Oil on canvas / 30 x 24 / $1195

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Saturday, December 11, 2010



Current commentary: I've never really understood how foolish and self-serving we can seem as human-beings. And I can't discount myself as one. The green movement is a privilege. As obvious a point as this may seem, it is amazing the number of people who fail to appreciate the fact, never mind the irony. If you do not have a dishwasher or an expresso machine, you don't need to use it less often to cut down on energy consumption. If you send your recylables to China, it then becomes their desperately poor natives who must cope with the toxic leftovers of first-world consumption. If you don't have the money to buy a product, you don't have to worry about it's environmental friendliness or what to do with it when you're done. I remember being in Budapest once where I noticed a large number of worn men wandered the roadways picking up bits of metal and glass. They weren't city workers which is what you would expect. I remember thinking at the time that poverty is the truest expression of recycling. At that time I suppose I became an apologist for my country, for my own privilege to be sipping red wine at a road-side stand while they scrambled to survive in their post-communist world. The two solitudes of Chelsea may have nothing to do with English and French, but of the rich and poor... a sad microcosm of the first-world we live in... the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the impossible gaping chasm between the two... sometimes acutely evident in the rising affluence of Chelsea. The poor have always hung their clothes outside to dry. They have always bought second-hand clothes. They have always kept the thermostat down. Sometimes the green movement seems more like a trendy hobby of "poverty for the wealthy" where they get to pick and choose their sacrifices. The poor have no such luxury. Watching the antics of zealot-like supporters of the green movement living in monster homes here is, at least, a source of amusement to the poor. There is always that.


I’m one of those people who actually reads the Chelsea Express, the newsletter sent to residents on a monthly basis from the Municipality. I find it interesting and if the truth be known, I’ve often found it downright helpful with all its tips and what not.

Why, I remember that time when they stopped taking our garbage every week and decided to do it every two weeks. The hints they gave us were beyond compare, like that one that told us to put our garbage in the freezer until pick-up day. I tell you. These are tips that dreams are made of. And its all there for free in a monthly newsletter.

Take the latest issue. Right there, smack dab on the front page not far below a picture of the Mayor receiving yet another environmental award for sustainable development is yet another helpful directive from our powers that be… Well now, it would have been hard to miss the article. It has a title called “Idling… think about it!”

So I did.

And you know, I’m a little confused. Now, far be it for me to suggest that there is anything wrong with the concept of idling your car for only 30 seconds in winter. If this is what needs to be done to save the world, heck, I’m all for it. Bring on the idler police. Bring on the committees. Bring on the bylaws. Let’s time our neighbors as they idle. Who could have anything against saving the world?

So I tried it, of course.

I might have caused an accident. I’m not sure of course. I couldn’t see really. Don’t get me wrong. I scraped the windshield with my new power purple-handled scraper from Wal-Mart. I turned on the defrost. There was condensation freezing all over the inside and outside of the window. But darnit. I only had 30 seconds to get that car in motion. So I held my breath. I got all the way to Hull before I actually could see out the window. I figure I must be doing something wrong. Why would the municipality tell me to drive all the way to Hull with a windshield full of ice? That’s not like them.

Then it dawned on me. How foolish can I be? I just didn’t think the whole darn thing through. “Think” about it. So I figure anybody who can preach a 30-second idle on a Quebec winter morning has got to be living with a heated garage. Mind you, I’ll have to get a bank loan to do all this. But then I’m sure the bank manager understands that if I cut my idle time down by five minutes per day I can help the Municipality reduce its carbon emissions by 2.32 tonnes annually. In fact, I’ll put that down on the loan application. Who would say no to that?

7 January 2004 Valley Voice

PAINTING: Rose Village / S. Shawcross / Oil on masonite / 17 x 15 / SOLD


Friday, December 3, 2010



Current commentary: The following letter to the Editor (June 2003) was written in response to an advertisement in the paper by a man fresh from visiting Guatemala wanting to rent land in Wakefield to construct a teepee where he could illustrate a "lifestyle embracing traditional migratory patterns of portable housing". Just the terminology made me laugh. The irony was not lost, at least for me but then again I'm kind of strange that way. A generation of First Nations are driven out, another generation passes and a third generation arrives, all ready to build teepees. History laughs. I still see Larry Vincent busily wandering about and every time I see him I think about the teepee and get very cranky. He must think I'm a cranky old soul. Well... maybe I am... I suppose I have a bit of an issue with the sanitization of multi-culturalism where we build buildings to show off our culture as if it was a dead thing and not living and breathing in our very midst without room for expression. It isn't hard to realize why the extraordinarily popular (and possibly profitable) Native Festivals of Wakefield are in fact in Wakefield, far from Chelsea's madding crowd. But that is another story and I digress...


The Editor,

I read with interest in The Low Down to Hull and Back (June 4) Mr. *****’s wish to rent some land in or near Wakefield in order to construct a teepee for the summer. Now I don’t know how they do things in Guatemala but he’d better be careful in the God-fearing hills of Shangri-la, aka Chelsea. You can’t just pitch your teepee here on the way to Wakefield. Just so you know.

Precedent has already been set against such reckless alternative lifestyle behavior here in Chelsea aka Unceded-Algonquin-Territory. Take a lesson from Larry Vincent, who once put up a teepee next to his store back in ’96 on the side of Hwy 105. It was all part of a joint business venture to provide native foods, crafts and a cultural information gathering place to clear up misconceptions about native Canadians.

You know, this wasn’t just any old teepee. It was quite the sight to see nestled under the trees with a view past the houses down to the river. They held a sacred ancient ceremony and erected flags as an invitation and welcome to all peoples. Within the week Larry had to take the teepee down because it had something to do with zoning by-laws, complaints and other such things. Larry must have failed to mention to the authorities that he was simply “illustrating a lifestyle that embraced traditional migratory patterns of portable housing” as Mr. ***** explains. I’m not sure it would have made a difference.

We can’t just have random teepee building whenever the mood strikes someone. Can you imagine? Where there’s one teepee soon there could be teepees all over the place. They could start cutting down trees, lighting fires, beating drums, roasting venison and chanting at all hours of the night and day. They could start putting up signs in none of the official languages and living God-knows-what kind of lifestyles as they dip their oars in our Gatineau River.

Suffice to say, the way I see it, if a Genuine-Article-First-Nations-Native-Canadian-Algonquin-Indian from the area can’t put up a teepee, well then I imagine neither can Mr. *****. Oh it’s more than zoning by-laws. Any good Indian could tell you it takes 12 poles to build a decent teepee and here in On-the-Way-To-Wakefield you can only cut down 10 trees a year on any given property.

Now I could be wrong about all this so on the off-chance they let Mr. ***** into Chelsea-on-the-way-to-Wakefield just remember: Don’t cut down more than 10 trees. Don’t build a fire. Don’t put your canoe on anybody’s property and for godssakes, don’t take a leek no matter how you spell it.

11 June 2003 Letters to the Editor


Painting: Blue Cow / S. Shawcross / Oil on canvas / 16 x 20 / SOLD
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Friday, November 26, 2010



Current commentary: This item was originally published in June of 2003. The rapid change that occurred between those years and present day is astounding to think about. I began writing for the Low Down originally as a reporter at a precipitous time in Quebec's history. The loss of the PQ to the Liberals in 2003 marked a change in the lives of Chelseaites. The fear of separation now somewhat allayed brought new people to the region. A seven minute commute to downtown Ottawa, low housing costs and the natural beauty of the region was now within reach of many people who, no longer threatened by the "Separatists", began arriving in increasing numbers. With them they brought change. The Municipality started and encouraged the "Green Lifestyle" to such resounding success they could hardly keep up with the housing permits. At one point Chelsea had the fastest growing community in Canada. The Municipality's green regulations were at first amusing to the long-time residents who could not quite fathom the whole shenanigans but then could only watch helplessly as the forests were razed and the monster homes started going up. Now, in 2010, the commute is longer, the traffic is as bad as it might be in Ottawa, the prices of houses here began competing long ago with Ottawa's higher priced neighbourhood of Rockcliffe and the developers have moved in. Taxes no doubt will soon follow. In seven years since I wrote this piece Chelsea has become a very different animal. It would be a mistake to believe that, with the recent extension to Highway 5, what has happened and is happening to Chelsea will not be happening in Wakefield and points beyond. Whether that is good or bad is subject to interpretation.


You gotta love ‘em—the fine lawmakers of the Municipality. It can’t be easy building a model caring community. Now I don’t mean to complain really. Trouble is, and I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I’m finding it so darn difficult to keep track of the rules and regulations coming down the pipe.

I can’t remember, for example, the diameter and number of trees I can cut down on my property this year. I’m worried that I might have to drown half my litter of hamsters to keep within the five-pet limit and my darn dog might not pass her basic obedience course. I’m getting downright confused about whether toxic DEET can be used on plants or me, never mind if I can put two chairs on my lawn with a for-sale sign on them or if two chairs could constitute a garage sale that I can only have twice a year…

Imagine the poor Municipality’s ordeal of trying to police the rules. Heavens. Mind you, I’ve noticed that an interesting method of policing without the burden of hiring extra help is already happening.

It’s certainly human nature that taxpayers will end up policing each other. This way we can build a close-knit and caring community of like-minded people. We can all take comfort in knowing, as we gaze across the long wild grasses of our lawns, to our neighbor’s yard that they too believe in removing their temporary garage before the deadline and would never think of building an apartment in their basement for an elderly parent or a down-on-their-luck offspring. It’s such a comfort to know we all think the same here in our model community, newcomers and old timers alike.

Sometimes I get to thinking there must be a better way for the Municipality to do all this policing and eliminate the threat of neighbors not reporting on each other because people are funny. They sometimes like each other and wouldn’t dream of pointing out their neighbor’s flaws. The truth is that people will not completely take municipal by-laws to heart unless they have a) the threat of force or b) the threat of public humiliation.

I thought maybe the municipality could bring back public floggings outside the municipal buildings for those who don’t meet the septic system standard, but then I threw that idea out because it would entail hiring someone to do the flogging. Then I thought… what about a stockade… one of those wooden contraptions you can put peoples’ head and hands in so that the good citizens of Chelsea could pay to throw tomatoes at anyone who builds too close to the road or neglects to remove their temporary garage.

There’s nothing like a hanging or a flogging to get a community out and meeting each other. I can’t think of a better way to create a caring model community. Who needs a picnic for community-building when a hanging will do just as well, eh? ….

4 June 2003 Valley Voice

Painting: Laurentians / S. Shawcross / Oil on canvas / One of three panels / $700 complete
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Weekday in Chelsea in Winter

This week's video:

Here in Chelsea according to the last census over 6,000 people live in blissful greenery along the Gatineau River of Quebec. In reality the people who live here number closer to 352. Three hundred are seniors living in houses built from cottages built by themselves or their grandparents or their great grandparents. Two are street people who will never be called street people because we have a plan to have more trees than streets. The other fifty are an odd-assembly of artists, store owners, stay-at-home parents, disabled people and people lost on their way to Wakefield. Which is not to say there are only 352 people wandering about the Municipality during the day. There are 3,835. One thousand one hundred are nannies. And 34 are doggie daycare walkers. The other thousand are maids but you don’t tend to see them. Two hundred are having flirtations far from the city at an out-of-the-way French restaurant. Five hundred are people skiing who have called in sick for the day. Two hundred are real estate agents and 160 are befuddled land developers and surveyors. Twenty are shut-ins who must watch winter from the windows. Eighteen are government workers and two are Hydro Quebec workers. One hundred are odd-jobbers or craftsmen who fix door knobs, sinks and driveways. Five hundred work from home in a self-made cubicle or are cooks, teachers and day-care workers. One is a reporter.

Between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., 3,835 souls are in Chelsea. Along with these are the 10 dogs who have escaped their fences and are racing happily along the highway in pairs usually. About 340 volunteers, mostly seniors, take on various projects within the vicinity of the churches, libraries and community centers between the hours of 10:00 and 3:00. During the lunch hour and at various times during the day, children can be heard playing on the school grounds or in some small park areas. There are approximately 1300 dogs who spend the day howling and barking or sleeping on front porches and in back rooms. All of the cats are sleeping near a heat source. On various days, crows can be found fighting over garbage.

At approximately 11:30, 240 people get into their mini-vans and cars and go to lunch in the city. Only a few odd cars pass through between 1:00 p.m. and 3:30. Deer and bear tend to cross the road at this time. At 3:30, 1200 latch key children are dropped off along the roads and by-ways and 100 go home to a stay-at-home parent. One hundred and fifty are left in after-school activities until their parents pick them up. At approximately 4:00 p.m. a long column of fast-moving traffic snakes endlessly up highway 5 and up the 105 usually stopping at the super mailboxes. On any given day along the 105 car accidents will occur at predictable curves and intersections. At 6:30 p.m. there is relative silence again and the raccoons will tend to forage if the weather is fine enough. If the weather is fine, about 1500 people will go back into the city to shop or otherwise entertain themselves or participate in community classes and will return in sporadic bursts after 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. when the stores and buildings close.

If the weather is not fine, along the various streets lights in living rooms flicker from the television sets and later the sounds of toilets flushing and lights being turned out echo down the quiet streets. 1300 people have managed to walk or let the dog out before turning in. Between midnight and 3:00 a.m. some cars with music thumping wake the dead as they pass by. Occasionally an ambulance or a cop car. But they are usually quiet when there is no traffic. At approximately 5:00 a.m. the joggers and the walkers can be spotted along the paths and roadways. The traffic begins to build with tradesmen leaving earlier and the mini-vans and cars following on their heels. By 7:30 a.m. the snake rushes into the city until all is quiet at about 9:30 a.m. At this time, the dogs that can, will escape the confines of their fences in pursuit of trees and grass and the scent of wilderness caught wafting in the wind.

Originally published 16 March 2003

Painting: Northern Lights / S. Shawcross / 24 x 24 / Oil on canvas / SOLD

Acknowledgements & Dedication

This book is for George Budziszewski.

Lord knows I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t dedicate this book to George. But I guess I would do so anyway because he is after all, my inspiration, my strength, my best friend and the love of my life. Words of course can never express…


I would like to thank Farley Mowat for being the calibre of man he is: wise, funny, kind and supportive. He represents one of the best this country will ever see. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my book and fulminations and for inspiring this revised edition.

There is not a day that goes by that I am not grateful to my parents, Roy Tilden Shawcross and Amelia Victoria MacNeil.

I’d like to thank Nikki Mantell, publisher of the Low Down to Hull and Back News for the opportunity she has given me to share my voice. I will always remember Bob Mellor fondly. I do miss him. Thank you to Barb Levitan for helping always and for having faith in me despite my bad housekeeping. Now I am amazed that I have any friends, family or acquaintances left at all because as a humor writer these poor souls are often the target of my midnight search for a story line or a character and to those I express my undying gratitude if not apologies. (But then again, what can I say for heavenssakes… if you’re going to be so darn eccentric then of COURSE I’m going to write about you eh?) Now you all know who you are and you all know I love you all dearly. Don’t make me list you here! Oh… alright… not in any particular order of course… Theresa Winfield, Jo-Anne Oosterman, Linda Bardell, Stella Michaud, Heather Paterson, Bob Hughes, Kitty Mantell, Barbara Levitan Preston Wilson and the other members of the Wednesday afternoon Happy Gang, Dain and Michaela Moore, Royanne, Amelie, Lisa and Danielle(y) Shawcross, Avrah Levitan, Sasha Smirnoff, Oliver and Julia Przednowek, Emily Michaud, Liam O’Grady, Arthur Blank. Adrienne Herron always wise and supportive and whose photographic skills are a blessing indeed. (Particularly when charged with the misery of taking a picture of me who so so didn’t want to have my picture taken… Thank you.) Also James Kellaris you wit you! If I’ve forgotten you, oh for heavenssakes… I’m old. It’s not that I’m not grateful but it’s more likely because I’m getting forgetful. I would of course like to thank the Municipality of Chelsea for their fodder: politics and pundits were ever thus.

But here is the important thing: I should never have written a column poking fun at Todd Evans because it was through his column I was able to discover Frances Curry and Chelsea Books publishing arm. Forgive me Todd. Thank you Frances. And to my faithful readers (I think that’s plural) my sincere thanks for having negotiated your way through the texts of many a trial and error while I found my voice (which when I think of it I’m still looking for but never mind all that….)

22 November 2006

“The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.”
--Mahatma Gandhi


When I first starting writing for the Low Down to Hull and Back News newspaper I had no idea there was so much going on in the small vagaries of life in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec even though I’ve lived here over twenty years when I think of it. I know that these Hills have the best of what we would call the “stuff of life” with all its rewards, trials and tribulations. I hope you enjoy my first foray into publishing my humor collection. Sometimes who you are dictates where you live. Sometimes where you live dictates who you are. By publishing this, I hope to add to our collective understanding of what makes us who we are here in the Hills and why we probably still live here. Many of the pieces included here have not been edited to fit. Included here also, are a few pieces that have not appeared in the Low Down to Hull and Back News due to their length. Enjoy.

Foreword by George Budziszewski

Born of frustration, wit and life out of time in a world gone mad with self-absorption and incongruity. The progeny of a humor opinion piece, “… but never mind all that”, is also the signature refrain that joins seemingly disjointed streams of consciousness together as rivers on their way to some cosmic ocean as it were. Sylvia Shawcross is that proverbial voice crying out in the wilderness, pointing the way toward common sense, away from the head scratching confusion that so often makes our world. Cutting through contradiction and condescension of the powers that be in a series of vignettes which amount to mini philosophical treatises, the reader is taken outside the box. Indeed, the reader is invited to entertain the possibility that there may not be any box at all. Whether it’s in deciphering the goobledygook of the latest community group’s ten-year anniversary report, or understanding that your systems and functions need to be reprogrammed to comply with ten-digit dialing. Not to be out done by the local government, elected by popular acclaim because no one gave a damn, and their edicts on how many pet hamsters can be permitted on any given property, or how many trees of a designated trunk circumference can be cut while maintaining the pristine beauty of the local arboreal environment. It’s a pristine green beauty easily affected by such unsightly structures as temporary car shelters left standing after the spring thaw, but not by the great big blue recycling bins on wheels provided free of charge after the latest tax increase. Lets not forget about traffic calming coercion and suggested neighborly spying on those who do not tow the line. Not to mention the connections between Stephen Harper and Adolph Hitler, Einstein’s theory of relativity and corporate time management, the Middle East and global warming, or the seal hunt, skin beauty and the execution of Chinese prisoners.

And if it’s not the powers that be that provide grist for Shawcross’ mill, it’s the sands of time, identifying with all of us who see more time behind us than that which remains in front. And with age comes the awareness of the increasing speed of life in general and the ever increasing myriad of hi-tech blitherbloos on the market replacing obsolete ones in ever quicker succession, as any call to the local blitherbloo box store will illustrate. The upbeat voice on the phone says, “how may I redirect your call?” And any request you may have is met with the response, “No problem!”, followed by endless commercials as you wait. Then there are the positive thinkers, perpetual youth in spandex and the endless possibilities of choice at the local coffee boutique. Choice is good, so more choice has got to be better, n’est pas. Then there is the mad dash to god knows what, with people honking because you don’t leap into the intersection the nanosecond the light changes, tailgating, cutting off, and ever popular high beams.

It’s been said that there is wisdom in madness, or maybe madness in wisdom. It may well be only a function of perception in that what is wise to one is only perceived as madness by another and what is madness to one is only perceived as wisdom. Perception may be reality, but is reality only perception? Are there many truths or is there somewhere underlying the confusion an absolute? The function of humor at the very least is to shock one out of that assumption of understanding, to unexpectedly force one to examine preconceived notions, to shake up the complacency borne of arrogance’s, self-absorption and a need for security, to boldly go where no man has gone before. But Star Trek aside, humor shocks by juxtaposing elements that seem on the surface to be in opposition, but are dialectic. It’s the shock value, the ah-ha moment, proposing something at variance yet preserving plausibility that cajoles the characters and plots of everyday life and thereby reveals something hitherto unseen. Sometimes, for Shawcross it’s just a rant, drawing one’s attention to look for truth here and not only where the light is good. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, or something like that.

George Budziszewski
1 January 2007