NOTES FOR AN ADDRESS BY SENATOR JIM MUNSON IN CAMPBELLTON, NEW BRUNSWICK
Imagine the year being 1960. Imagine being at the Restigouche Golf Course. Imagine a warm summer day. Imagine being 14 years old and imagine being with your dad.
Looking at my father and gazing at the Restigouche river I said: “how could we leave such a beautiful place like this.’’
As I mentioned the year was 1960. It is hard to believe that was more than 45 years ago. But Campbellton was my home, 5 Patterson street was my home, the Memorial Gardens was my home and the United Church was my home.
Of course some might argue that Boudreau’s canteen was my real home on my way to and from King Street School.
Bubble gum never tasted so good. Kik Cola never tasted so good, Dulac and Hatfield potato chips never tasted so good.
And that the idea of going somewhere would be what I call riding on the Maisey train. The Maiseys were train engineers who would shunt cars to and from the wharf. What a treat to be sitting in the front and watching my world go by. Campbellton was my world and now we would be leaving for Saint Lambert Quebec which was another world away.
But Campbellton has never left me.
As we celebrate what I like to call the 175th anniversary of my Dad’s church, I have been thinking of the values of a small town and what this town meant to me and what it still means to me.
My nickname was Mini Munson and to be candid I was full of mischief, whether it was Sunday School, King Street School or Andrew Street school I tested the patience of many teachers.
As the Reverend would sometimes say “Jim is riding for a fall.”
But as I stand here before you, I have so many memories of what a small town means. What cornerstones a person has in his or her life and how these building blocks matter in all the journeys we take.
The Campbellton Tigers and Buddy Hellyer on a Friday Night. Exchanging coins with sailors on the ships that would come in and wondering what it would be like in their countries. Waiting for the train in mid afternoon to pick up the St John Telegraph for your paper route and wondering what was in the news today. Listening to the World Series on your crystal radio set and imagining being in a major league baseball park. Climbing Sugar Loaf Mountain, it might as well been Mount Everest . Or listening to a supply teacher in Grade 7 at King Street talk constantly about China and dreaming maybe one day you will live there.
In the manse at 5 Patterson street, I would look out at the river below me and wonder where it would take me.
Little did I know the journey would take me from Tibet to Tokyo, from Belfast to Beirut to Beijing and many many places in-between.
Growing up in a town like Campbellton in the 50’s, you were allowed to dream. Maybe because we didn’t have television, you were allowed to dream. What I know is that in my home and with encouragement of mom and dad, we were expected to read. And pay attention to the world around me.
At that point, I was delivering the Campbellton Graphic, the Tribune, the Saint John Telegraph, the United Church Observer and for those who still might remember: Liberty Magazine. Liberty competed against Macleans. Sometimes I was late in my deliveries. Why? I not only delivered the papers, I read them. My old friend Fergie Fullerton and I had a pretend Radio Station. I also listened to the real one CKNB and again listened to a world beyond my borders.
The Dominion time Signal at one o’clock had a special meaning. It meant you were home in bed and mother had just rubbed more Vicks Vapour rub on your chest to help your wheezies or cold.
What could be more comfortable?
Camp Chaleur on a summer night or going to musicals like Oklahoma with you mother at the Paramount Theater. Or better still playing softball with Peter Maher in the park down by the wharf.
What could be more invigorating than playing hockey in freezing temperatures with the brothers at the Academy Rink? Better still it was under the lights. Or making that first road trip to Bathurst as Peewee hockey All-Stars. There may have been Ron Carrots Vermette, there may have been George Chief Berube and there was the always great Jackie Parker but to be Mini Munson and playing hockey in the 50’s in Campbellton where else would you rather be. Who could friends with names like Fergie Fullerton, Porky Vye, Jackie Chedore, Heather Dickson,Ann Hutchinson and Gwynie Henderson. Who could have doctors, like Macleanen, Macpherson and Rice. Who could caddy for brothers like Allan and Bill Miller, or Hugh or Bill Gorham? And where would find the likes of a Charlie Van Horne.
Or being terrifed by a town character by the name of Meow Shaw.
There really is no north shore like the north shore.
Throughout all of this, there was a mother, a father, a brother and a sister who helped me cope with being a preachers’s son.
It was not always easy, but the church and family were always very important. Neighbours were important. This community was very important.
My father loved his church and I know his church loved him. I think back to his relationship with Gladys Macdonald. As many of you know Miss Macdonald was the organist who was in many ways the backbone of Sunday services. I was in her choir, but I wasn’t allowed to sing. It seems my voice had a tendency to waver and wander into different sounds.
Beyond Tyros and Sigma C, there was always going to church with your mom.
One of my most endearing memories is getting humbugs from Dad just before the Service would begin. My mother reminded me recently of a service back in the 50’s. I looked up at her.
I think I was 10. She said I was cute. Any way I looked up to Dora and said. “That’s the 200th word dad said since he said finally”.
To this day, she still smiles at the memory. I also smile at the memory. I feel so fortunate that I can still share those memories with a 93 year old mother.
And she is also with me here today in spirit., my brother is with me in spirit, my sister is with me in this room, and from my very personal perspective, dad’s spirit is everywhere.
My father loved his congregation, the men and women and especially the children were his family. The gentle nature of the man was quite apparent whenever he baptized a baby.
The stern nature of the man was when he had to deal with me.
But this was the late 40’s and the early 50’s when building a relationship meant building a new church. Mother said he would pour over the architectural plans at night. He was committed to his church. And he was committed to seeing it paid for before he left Campbellton.
If there is one enduring memory it is that of seeing the mortgage burnt at a special ceremony.
Sadly as we all know, dads church as I like to call it was destroyed by fire in 1980. The new church was officially reopened on September 27, 1981.
You can never destroy the spirit of a people, especially people from the North Shore.
As an appreciation from a time so long ago, I have returned with one of the hymn boards from Reverend James E. Munson’s church. It is a rather convoluted story on how I managed to get my hands on it, but now I feel it is back in its respectful place.
And I know Reverend Trudel that you and your congregation will find it a place.
This is a community which helped shape my values, my hopes and dreams. These are simple basic home town values which matter, a community which cared for its seniors, a community which cared for its neighbours, a community which cared for its children. That’s the way it was in the 50’s and I am sure that’s the way it is today.
When I worked for Prime Minister Chretien as his Director of Communications, he would say: “You know Jimmmmay, you have something in common, we are both from small mill towns, I am from Shwanigan and you are from Northern New Brunswick.”
I would respond that at least I am telling the truth about who I am and you’re not. He would look at me in that Chrétien way and say “What do you mean?’’
I answered “You call yourself the ‘the Little Guy from Shawinigan’. In fact you’re over 6 feet tall. I am the Little Guy from Campbellton and I am telling the truth.
And if the truth be known, I feel very fortunate to have seen the world through eyes of a reporter. First in my travels with Pierre Elliot Trudeau and other Prime Ministers and then as a foreign correspondent
In my travels as a journalist and now as a Senator I have focused on the “Rights of the Child.”
When people talk to me about the Stories I covered, there is always the issue of the Massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
The assassination of Indria Ghandi, the First Gulf war, numerous hijackings, troubles in Belfast, Beirut or Tibet and the jungles of Cambodia.
I can recall in Tiannamen watching students die, it’s an image which still haunts me.
Yes I was scared and yes I wondered how a little boy from Campbellton could be so far away from home. Away from your mother rubbing Vicks Vapour rub on chest, away from the Grade 7 teacher who talked about China in the 50’s and away from your friends exploring Sugar Loaf Mountain.
But the way I have always looked at life is through the eyes of a child.
And it is children who have been the victims of war, it is children who have been victims of natural disasters and it is children in Africa who are the innocent victims of HIV Aids.
As I witnessed history, I would sometimes think of the children in this community who didn’t have what I had at the manse at 5 Patterson Street.
I will never forget going to homes at thanksgiving or Christmas with my dad carrying special hampers of food and other goods prepared by the United Church women. Of making sure my dimes were put into Home Missions and overseas envelopes. Of understanding First Nations
people through a woman named Mary Wiset in Cross Point. Of watching Hungarian refugees particularly children come through our town in 1956.
In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, I had as I mentioned a front seat to history.
But this witness would sometimes stop and think what more can I do than simply report on a story and then move on.
I remember one afternoon in an orphanage in Phnom Phen Cambodia where a Canadian woman was caring for babies, many of whom were deformed. I thought these are the stories that really matter.
I remember being in the mountains of Gansu province in China. A CIDA or Canadian International Development Aid Agency project had just been completed and now clean water was being pumped into a village.
I remember closer to home watching the children of Davis Inlet sniffing gasoline, a slow suicide right in front of my eyes.
And I thought these are the stories I must pay attention to these are the stories in the global village which really matter. The neighbour next door is who we share this world with and we have to help our neighbour.
That is what my Campbellton was like in the 50’s that‘s what Campbellton taught me, and today as a Senator, I work with Special Olympians, athletes with intellectual disababilities, SOS Children Villages, a group that works with orphaned and abandoned children around the world, Youth and Child Friendly Ottawa, and families with autistic children. As a member of the Human Rights committee, I continue to pursue the UN covenant on the rights of the Child.
You know Saturday night at the manse was a quiet night. I would listen to the sound of the typewriter in my Dad’s study. Through words and deeds, he tried to make a difference. Through words and deeds I am trying to make a difference. Through words and deeds, Campbellton has made a difference in my life.
It is what community is suppose to be, French, English and First Nation people living in an environment which must be shared. The 50’s were a more gentle time, Ice Cream at Gormans or Hendersons drug stores, movies for 17 cents at the Capital Theater, being the paper boy or watching a hockey game at the Nadeau’s across the street on a cold winter Saturday night.
The image on the screen may have been a blurry black and white screen. But the image in the room was crystal clear. It was about the Nadeau family welcoming the little ministers son across the street into their home.
And that’s why neighbours matter, that why Campbellton matters and that’s why it matter so much to me to be here today.
Rev. J.E. Munson would be proud of this moment. I know my mum is proud of this moment. I know my wife Ginette is proud of this moment.
From Campbellton to Cayro, from Campbellton to Calcutta, there is one thought that I always keep in mind.
I don’t know who wrote it but I always keep this saying close to my heart: “Seek wisdom through the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.”
That’s the way I have looked at the world.