(Also see the Conclusion.)
My dear friend and former neighbour for 22 years, the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen, died on 12 September 2017, the year Canada celebrated its 150th birthday and the year he turned 96. Mr MacEachen passed away at St Martha’s Hospital in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He had studied at St Francis Xavier University and returned to StFX to teach Economics. He owned a house across the street from the campus, a few steps from my house. In fact, Allan J.’s backyard ran into mine. I didn’t fully own my backyard. We therefore shared the backyard and a barn.
In other words, this post isn’t about Allan J. MacEachen, a foremost Canadian politician and also a statesman. It is about the extraordinary gentleman who lived next door to me and about a very dear friend. Let us begin with the barn.
That barn was quite the building. It could have been used as a garage, but it served as storage space. That is where we kept our gardening tools, a lawn mower, ladders, scaffolding, not to mention picks and shovels and tires. Paul mowed the lawn. To be precise, Paul mowed three adjoining lawns: Mr MacEachen’s, Dr Cecil MacLean’s and mine. Dr Cecil MacLean, a graduate of the Sorbonne, was Chair of the Department of Modern Languages. Initially, he was the Carnegie Chair of French.
The barn was somewhat special. For one thing, it had a hidden room. How else could it be so long a building on the outside, but not very deep inside? I was perplexed and I decided to investigate matters. I found a small door, hidden behind an apple tree and vegetation I had to cut my way through. The door had been left unlocked, so, I climbed in and explored. After it was found, I had a lock installed on the door. It was no longer hidden. The next time he came from Ottawa, Mr MacEachen was introduced to his collection of antiques. He was very interested and had some of these antiques refurbished.
I enjoyed looking after our backyard. In the summer, I filled a white urn with red flowers and put a tall green plant in the middle. I sat the urn close to his back door, which is where he parked the car. Finding the right place for this urn was not easy. I walked back and forth until I found what I believe was the best location. I also loved delineating the driveways, his and mine. I had gardeners put little white stones, crushed marble I believe, on one side of the two adjoining driveways. On the other side, we had a very long hedge which I trimmed so it wouldn’t scratch Mr MacEachen’s car.
The Drive from the Airport: poor Mr MacEachen
Before flying down from Ottawa to Antigonish, Mr MacEachen would phone me, or Pearl did. Pearl Hunter was Mr MacEachen’s secretary and, to a large extent, a colleague.
She died on 22 July 2017, which must have saddened Mr MacEachen enormously. We had a marvellous lunch together a few summers ago. There were four of us: Allan J., Pearl, Craig Smith, who was Mr MacEachen’s devoted and constant companion after Mr MacEachen suffered a stroke in 2004, and there was little me. How thoughtful of Mr MacEachen to invite Pearl!
Sometimes, when I knew he was coming to Antigonish, I called in our cleaning ladies: Adèle and her sister. Both lived in Pomquet, a nearby Acadian community. As well, on one occasion, I drove Mr MacEachen’s car to the airport to pick him up. I arrived at the airport safely and on time. However, on our way back to Antigonish, we stopped to eat a doughnut at a Tim Horton‘s and, as we left, Mr MacEachen said that he would drive the rest of the way. Based on this one event, one can tell Mr MacEachen was a born diplomat. He was much too polite to tell me I was a poor driver and I didn’t ask why he wanted to drive.
The Frozen Pipes
One day, when Mr MacEachen arrived home, his heating system had failed and the radiators had burst. I was in Sherbrooke, Quebec, visiting with my family. As for Mr MacEachen’s tenant, Joe, he was also absent. Poor Allan J. could not sleep in his house. He went to see Cecil who considered sending him to my house. But what about the stuffed rabbit lying on my bed: a Steiff rabbit. Mr MacEachen went elsewhere. When his tenant left, I started visiting the house every day. Yet, there was another incident, which is my main story. It is about the intrusion of a raccoon.
That event is an event to recall. The fellow–I called him Stokely in memory of another raccoon, found his way down the chimney to the bottom of the fireplace. The fireplace was in a beautiful room which the raccoon damaged extensively. The door to that room was closed, so I did not open it during my daily visit. As a result, Allan J. was the first to see the damage. In fact, the raccoon was still in the chimney. We blocked it from the room, but Stokely lived there. I said to Mr MacEachen that I would look after everything with the help of good friends.
Claude said that we would have to smoke Stokely out. Smoke him out? Wouldn’t that hurt him? No, he said. We used Cuban cigars, perhaps a gift from Fidel Castro himself. I protested. Imagine, history going up in flames so a raccoon would leave his comfortable nest in a chimney! But Claude insisted. We only needed a few cigars. Claude had made a grid that would block the chimney. I believe Richard was with us, waiting to see the raccoon emerge and leave. When Stokely came out, he looked in every direction and ran to safety. Richard told Claude to drop the grid.
I had to throw several cushions away and called in professional cleaners. I also had to replace one of the curtains. It had to be custom-made and Mr MacEachen always ran the risk of paying what I called the senatorial fee–by then Mr MacEachen was a senator. The curtain was sown shabbily and I have always regretted not making it myself.
There were other backyard adventures. For instance, the alarm system Mr MacEachen had installed was sensitive and would go off if a curtain moved. The Company would then phone me and I’d run to the house and inspect, sometimes fighting my way through heavy snow. But all was always well.
A Kind Gentleman
Mr MacEachen was very considerate. After Dr Cecil MacLean died–Cecil and I were always together, he told me he would protect me. I did not learn until much later that I needed protection. He knew that I lived alone and went to bed early so that fatigue would not prevent me from teaching the next day. At Christmas, he asked if I had a place to go and brought me a gift. He also made sure I was not left alone on my birthday.
One July, the week of our birthdays, I drove to Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton, where Mr MacEachen had a house. He had invited members of the Robichaud family and a relative of his, a priest. It turned out the Robichaud family knew one of my father’s best friends. As for the priest, he had been in Rome when my mother’s cousin taught theology at what was then called the Angelicum.
Mr MacEachen also toured my house. I had told him that my bedroom was the smallest room in the house. Why was I depriving myself of larger quarters? I led him from room to room. As he looked, he seemed reassured. The house was small but it was a jewel, the smallest room in particular. I had a beautiful blue house, covered with cedar shingles. Many of you know that this is the house I sold during the Summer of 2002. I had fallen ill because my workload had become too heavy.
Mr MacEachen tried to prevent me from selling the house, but I thought it was too late to cancel. Two years later, my disability benefits were terminated. So, once again, Mr MacEachen tried to help me resume my career, but the Vice-President did not listen to him. I wanted to return to my office and it was available. However, I was being sent elsewhere. No, I had never been remiss in my duties despite chronic fatigue syndrome.
They didn’t know me, but Mr MacEachen did.
I knew a more private Mr MacEachen, but I agree with Justin Trudeau. Mr MacEachen (6 July 1921 – 12 September 2017), “made this country.”
He is Canada’s “father of medicare.” The Medicare Care Act was passed in 1966, fifty-one years ago.
The man who said to me: “I will protect you,” protected all of us Canadians. He knew about the social contract and lived it. Citizens pay their taxes and their government makes sure they are safe. Mr MacEachen made sure Canadians were safe.
The Government of Nova Scotia celebrated Mr MacEachen’s life on Sunday 17 September 2017, at the Keating Centre, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish. His funeral took place at Stella Maris Catholic Church in Inverness, Cape Breton and he was buried in the parish cemetery.
May you rest in peace, Mr MacEachen. You have built a country and will always be remembered.
- Canada’s Honourable Allan J. MacEachen: Nationhood and Leadership (3 July 2017)
- Canada’s Honourable Allan J. MacEachen; Nationhood and Leadership (12 August 2011)
Sources and Resources:
I have moved to my new apartment, but it was a difficult and lengthy move, longer than I anticipated. My challenge was downsizing. The apartment I have bought is spacious, ±1056 sq ft (±98.1 sq meters), but it has fewer rooms than my former apartment. I had to give furniture, books and clothes, but I still have everything I need.
Given my age, this building is a safer environment than the building I left. It has elevators and it is situated within walking distance of a small market place and a café.
The time has come to return to my weblog. I have missed you. I still have boxes containing books to unpack. Some of these books will be given, but I am having bookcases built to house the ones I am keeping.
Love to everyone ♥
© Micheline Walker
20 September 2017