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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