Last week’s Column Six shocker for our own John Chick
When I saw the headline — “The Boy, the Man, the Mountie” —and first few paragraphs of last week’s Column Six, I took some interest given the subject matter. My late father, after all, had been in the RCMP for 35 years. Yet even the first mentions of “Aunt Gladys” in Margaret Ferguson’s piece didn’t clue me in to what was ahead.
It wasn’t until I reached page 12, and saw the photograph of Jim Currie on his wedding day, in his dress uniform, that it clicked. Jim Currie was my godfather. It’s a small world indeed.
It seems that the author—Jim’s cousin Margaret—is an acquaintance of our esteemed editor’s spouse, leading to the story in last week’s newspaper.
I read her article with delight, recalling all I’d been told about Jim’s upbringing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at what his adoptive mother, Gladys Ansley, and her five sisters had operated as a home for mentally-challenged children, in a stately house along the Niagara River Parkway. That mansion is today the Riverbend Inn, although pictures of the Ansley Sisters still adorned the walls the last time I visited for dinner in 2012.
Jim — or “Jimbo” — was a little older than my dad, but their paths first crossed as rank-and-file Mounties in Alberta in either the late 1950s or early 1960s, long before I was born. Joined by another absolute legend—John Bentham—the trio became good friends.
As a young child, my first memories of Jim date to my dad’s brief posting to Ottawa in 1983-84. By then Jim had returned from most of his overseas forays and had risen to the rank of superintendent, working with my dad out of the fortress-like RCMP headquarters on Alta Vista Drive. An unmarried man in his early 50s, he lived in a luxury bachelor pad popular among diplomats and other federal government employees along the Rideau River. Because the condo had an indoor pool, Jimbo would sometimes pick me up in that silver, Mercedes-Benz sedan he bought from the West German pavilion at the 1970 Expo in Osaka, and take me over for a swim.
As a world-traveler and a deeply caring man, he was an early donor to charities along the lines of Oxfam. I vaguely remember being at his house, and him showing me a picture of an East African child he sponsored.
“This is your brother,” he said.
I was too young to understand the whole logistical aspect to that, but those being the days of “Live Aid” and so forth, I got an early introduction to the act of charitable giving. Another time, Jim, my dad and I packed into the Mercedes and drove the two hours to Montreal for my first Major League Baseball game. After lunch on Sherbrooke Street, the Cubs beat the Expos by a score I cannot recall. Yet the main impression made on me that day was the concrete-donut vastness of Olympic Stadium—a heinous crime against the already-dubious field of brutalist architecture that still stands.
A few years later, my dad had been re-posted to Hong Kong, where we got a phone call. Jimbo was getting married, a borderline shocking development for the man-about-town. That summer we flew back to Canada—via a non-stop 18-hour flight from Seoul to JFK that also doubled as my first visit to New York City.
Jim and Ola got married at St. Thomas Church, on Ontario Street, with the reception at the Whirlpool Golf Course. Most of the wedding party was housed at the Pillar and Post, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Despite living virtually everywhere else, Jim had always maintained an attachment to the Niagara Region, and his mother Gladys, then in her 90s, resided in St. Catharines.
That visit proved pivotal for me in retrospect. By now, my dad was neck-deep in the Narita/Air India bombing investigation (as for Jim, a big part of my dad’s RCMP work took him to Japan, albeit some 15 years later) and he was considering early retirement. My parents’ enchantment by the idyllic nature of Niagara-on-the-Lake quickly led them to searching out real estate in the area, with cost considerations ultimately leading them to Fonthill instead.
Tragically, within two years of getting married, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and died at the far-too-young age of 58, shortly after the passing of Gladys, at 100. Some of Jim’s ashes were deposited in the Niagara Gorge, immediately across from his boyhood home, and the enormous front lawn he once cut with a push-mower.
My dad and another Pelhamite, Dell Clark, devised a secret indicator invisible to the naked eye to mark the spot where the ashes were scattered, but that information remains classified.
My godfather was also generous enough to leave me a portion of his inheritance, which later helped pay for my post-secondary educational ventures.
More than 30 years later, my dad and John Bentham have also long since passed away. I like to imagine the three of them are perpetually having drinks somewhere, engaging in the boisterous discussion and laughter I could hear from down the hall as a child. I also fondly remember Jim’s widow, Ola, after she gifted me MC Hammer’s seminal album, “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.”
Thanks very much, Margaret, for a blast from the past, and proof of how small this world is—and as a reminder of Gladys Ansley, an angel of a woman, whose life should be a model for others. ◆
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