samedi 19 février 2011

The fugitive

The Boss had called me to his office, a very rare occurrence. When I entered, the crown attorney was also there. Something was brewing. Turned out a 17 years old boy had run away from Boys’ Farm and Training School in Shawbridge near Montreal. Of course an arrest warrant had been issued. Nothing special here, I thought to myself.

However, things were not as simple as it seemed, they almost never were in that job of mine. They explained that the boy had been located in Niagara Falls, Ontario. That was the catch. Out of money, without any family out there and with nowhere to go, he had asked for help to the local police. They had called the Ontario Provincial Police; they had called the Québec Provincial Police and the Q.P.P. had called the Court.

The big hitch was that the warrant had been issued under article 15 of the youth protection act of Québec. It was not valid in Ontario where the boy was overage for youth protection measures to apply. The limit in Québec was 18 but it was 16 in Ontario. The Q.P.P. could not go get him…and the Ontario police forces did not have jurisdiction. To make matters worse the boy had committed no offenses in Niagara so they could not hold him. Would I go get him?

I said yes…but I can not foot the expenses, you will have to give me an advance. Highly unusual a request it seemed. After consulting with the authorities in Québec City, it was accepted that I would get said advance covering the return trip for me, the one way trip for the boy and our meals. I gave a receipt and agreed to provide proof of expenses and refund any exceeding amount. Niagara, on humanitarian grounds, agreed to hold him till next day at 1PM.

It was a beautiful summer morning when I boarded the first train to Niagara via Toronto. I got to Niagara at noon. I walked to the police station close by the train station. I could hear the falls rumble but could not see them. At the police station I produced my identification papers; the warrant was useless and stayed in my pockets.

I was taken to the cells and met my ward. He was sprawled on the cot. He looked at me and said:

-You think you’ll take me back to Shawbridge?


-Got handcuffs?


-Got a gun?

-Who do you think you are, Al Capone? Let’s go we have half an hour to catch the train.

He got up, he was almost a foot taller than I was and more athletic. He picked up his meagre belongings. I stopped on the way to the station to buy him some shoelaces. Once on the train, not a word was said before the wait for the transfer to the Montreal train in Toronto, some two hours. He asked for Coke and some chocolate to what I agreed.

When we boarded the Montreal train, it was meal time. I told him that we were going to the dinner room wagon. He looked really embarrassed; he was dirty not having had a change of clothes for several days…but he also was starved. The survival instinct was the stronger. He ate heartily and his tongue loosened a bit.

Dad was in jail for a good long time and mom was always drunk. Very young, around 6, he had been taken away from his parents though he kept in touch with them. He had more than enough with being “protected” and wished nothing more than to fly on his own. The 6 or 7 months before turning 18 were just too long and he ran away.

-I’m still not sure I’ll go with you all the way to Montreal, he added, I did not comment.

We walked back to our seat. It was now pitch dark and the train suddenly stopped for no apparent reasons since we were in the middle of nowhere. After an hour or two being stranded, he asked to go to the rest room.

-Two benches back near the door, I said.

-You are not coming with me?

-Can’t you pee by yourself?

-I could make a dash for the door and escape.

-You could. I’ll run the risk.

He got up, went right to the exit…and stopped. Walked back to the rest room and came back to our seat.

-You were fair to me; I’ll be fair to you.

When finally the train resumed its way and we got to Central Station, he asked: “Before you take me in, can I call Mom?”

Did I say that I never saw the falls…then.

dimanche 13 février 2011

Monsieur André


  Diplomé en pédagogie de l’université de Patra ou d’Athènes, je ne sais trop, et recyclé en coq sur les cargos au long cours, M. André débarqua à Montréal en 1924. Comme il se doit, il se trouva un emploi de plongeur au New London, restaurant grec coin Notre-Dame et St-Laurent.

Bientôt, il se retrouva directeur-enseignant à l’école grecque Evangelismos coin Clark et Sherbrooke ouest. Il y maria une de ses institutrices, celle de français et d’anglais. Rapidement, en bon grec immigré à Montréal, la restauration l’attira. Il se fit un métier de remonter des restaurants en déclin. 1933 le trouve à Chicoutimi, avec un fils de deux ans (moi) et un autre en route. La famille Sampson, un nom grec tronqué, lui a confié la gestion du Café populaire, rue Racine, en face de l’hôtel Chicoutimi. Ni Paul Bocuse ni Michelin ne l’ont visité, encore moins évalué, pourtant le Café prenait du galon et bientôt tout Chicoutimi s’y retrouvaient pour le lunch et même pour le souper (le dîner auraient dit les français). Les réguliers ne manquaient pas de saluer M. André (Costopoulos était trop compliqué, il était M. André pour tout le monde, y compris les notables).

On y trouvait,donnant sur la rue Racine, la salle à manger et une salle à dîner à l’arrière avec une vaste fenêtre ouverte sur les activités du port et la rivière Saguenay. D’ailleurs, le port était une source non négligeable de clientèle. Outre les cargos battant tous les pavillons possibles apportant la bauxite et autres composantes de l’aluminium pour l'usine d'Arvida, deux fois par semaine de mai à septembre, les grands bateaux blancs de la Canada Steamship Line déversaient un flot de touristes américains. Ces derniers pendant les manœuvres d’accostage lançaient des sous aux flos (enfants dans le langage local) agglutinés sur le quai et qui se battaient littéralement pour les ramasser.

Nous étions trois, le fils du pâtissier grec (oh! Ses brioches aux raisins du mardi!), le fils d’un ingénieur de l’aluminium et moi, tous bilingues. Nous restions à l’écart de la mêlée. Bientôt, les premiers débarqués nous approchaient curieux et nous demandaient invariablement : «What, you don’t play with the others? » Évidemment nous répondions en anglais. Quand nous avions répondu aux questions, les dollars nous tombaient dans les poches. Je suis déjà remonté du quai avec une moisson de 10$, une somme énorme en 1938 ou 39, et pas de bleus ni de vêtements déchirés.

Nous ne manquions pas de diriger les touristes vers la rue Racine…et le Café populaire à la fin de « l’audience ». M. André, mon père, ne s’en montrait pas mécontent.

Paul Costopoulos, mardi, 8 février 2011

vendredi 11 février 2011


Du poivre?

Fin août 1948, le clan routier André-Grasset effectue son camp d’été volant. Nous arrivons, à pied bien sûr, à St-Roch-de-Mékinac en provenance de St-Tite-des-Caps, mieux connu aujourd’hui comme la capitale québécoise du western. Denis et moi avons été désignés pour tremper le potage du soir. En route, nous nous sommes procuré des légumes, le boucher du village nous a fourni un os à soupe assez bien viandé et l’eau pure et fraîche abonde.

Le feu est monté, la marmite remplie à ras bord est accrochée à un trépied improvisé au-dessus du feu ouvert. Bientôt un délicieux fumet se dégage de la chaudronnée en ébullition. Quand vient l’heure du repas, tout est fin prêt. Nous remplissons les gamelles de l’odoriférant mélange.

Les gars remarquent vite des petits grains noirs flottant sur la soupe. En 1948 le poivre est rare et coûte une fortune. Les gars s’extasient devant notre débrouillardise et ce goût si délicat, si rare et nous complimentent à tour de bras. Nous n’avons pas eu le courage de leur dire que la poignée de bois de la marmite avait pris feu…

Paul Costopoulos, jeudi, 3 février 2011

dimanche 6 février 2011

Black and white

We had snow and wind overnight, several inches. But that is nothing compared to what some others recieved. However nobody was surfing on that wave.
This construction, I'm told, is a squirrel nest, has survived, to my knowledge, at least 6 years since I first saw it above our backyard. It could also be a bird of prey's, we have many around here.
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vendredi 4 février 2011

All end’s well

March 17th 1955, Québec’s national hero and identity symbol Montreal’s Canadiens hockey star, Maurice Richard, had been suspended for three games of the finals for arguing with a line judge. The gesture had been perceived as francophobe and the decision taken by a kangaroo court. Clarence Campbell president of the N.H.L. dared come to the Forum for the following game. Montrealers of all allegiance considered it a slap in the face. Campbell was pelted with everything the spectators could lay their hands on. The police had to escort the gentleman out of the place and drive him to safety.

The crowd poured on Ste-Catherine Street and began venting its rage and frustration on everything in sight, smashing cars, store windows, attacking tramways all along the street heading east. Montrealers are not rioters…but Campbell’s arrogance had been too much. Amongst the crowd there were foreign students attending various higher learning institutions. One of them spotted a ring in a smashed jewellery window. Not thinking any further he picked it up, as a souvenir, and stuffed it in his coat pocket.

The ring was not the only thing picked up, he to was picked up by a nearby policeman and, being a minor since he was 17, was taken to the juvenile court detention centre. Needless to say we had a very busy morning of the 18th. The student was an Anglophone and was called before judge Nicholson..who called me in to look at the whole matter and report to him as soon as possible.

While the judge was speaking, a police liaison officer asked to be heard. The boy was from a well healed and powerful family where he came from. Overnight his father had cabled the jeweller the value of the ring, 3000$ (of 1955). Judge Nicholson gave him a good verbal drubbing and wished he would enjoy his new ring. I was spared the case.