Early morning, April 25, 2007


A prompt this week to write about something in a health-care context brought out this story which, despite having been told over and over in my head, had heretofore not made it down in writing.

It wasn’t quite 5:30 am and Janice was already waiting for me on the main floor of Union Station. Her husband Randy, who drove her in from Ancaster, needed to get to work but first back to his parents who had been drafted to baby-sit the two kids.

Janice and I hugged, exchanging exasperated greetings, then continued the conversation from late the previous night.

Our brother Craig had been walking to his home in Montréal’s Le Plateau neighbourhood, arms weighed down with food and other birthday party necessities for Claude, his partner of sixteen years who turned 54 that 24th of April 2007.

As Craig approached their three-storey stone walk-up, he tripped and fell, almost instantly smashing his head on the sidewalk. The owner of a small store directly across the narrow street saw Craig go down and rushed to his assistance. He was clearly unconscious, his head bleeding profusely. She called 9-1-1 and eventually Craig was taken to the city’s well-known Neurological Institute (think “I smell toast, Dr. Penfield!”)

Claude was contacted at St. Luc Hospital, where he worked, and he rushed to the Neuro calling my sister Lynn in New Brunswick on the way. Janice phoned me after hearing the grim news from Lynn. They decided that Janice and I should go and stay with Mom at this critical time; that having seen Craig and Claude just a couple of weeks earlier over Easter she would be upset enough without rushing to Montréal. So Janice and I took the train to Kingston and then a taxi the eighty kilometres or so to Perth. Janice phoned Mom from Kingston, gently breaking the news and giving Mom a bit of time to absorb some of the shock before we got there.

I couldn’t believe it. Craig and I had both survived HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s, watching many loved ones die. But not like this!

Over the next few days Lynn kept us up-to-date on Craig’s condition which was critical at best. When our uncle told us he had to be in Montréal over the weekend, and offered to take any of us along, Janice and I decided to go.

The drive up the steep hill of University Street from the Ville-Marie Expressway seemed to take an eternity, not that traffic was especially bad but because of the pits of anticipation in our stomachs.

George dropped us off at the front door and Janice and I found our way to the Reception area of the Critical Care Unit. The hospital screamed, “Demolish me!” with its cracked interior walls and historic odours. Lynn stepped out of Craig’s room.

“I just want to prepare you as best I can for how you’re going to see Craig,” she said. “Whatever descriptions I’ve been able to give you over the phone this week really don’t count for much in person.”

She was right and, one at a time, Janice and I found out.

I went in first, Claude walking over in tears with a big hug and kisses on both cheeks. He made small talk in his broken English until I asked a few questions.

One of the first things I noticed about Craig was how the swelling of his brain had inflated his face to a preposterous size. His eyes were wide open and couldn’t shut even if he wanted them to. There was a large flap of gauze on one side of his skull, taped at the top but left unattached at the bottom to let the emergency surgery to relieve swelling of the brain do its work.

The most telling piece of equipment in the room, which was expanding his chest and belly the way his brain swelled his face, was the respirator and its associated oxygen pump, which rhythmically forced air in and out of Craig’s chest because he could, and ultimately would, not breathe on his own.

The artificial breathing made up in noise what the strained but quiet breathing of Claude and I did not.

Claude stood closer to Craig and shouted the news that Janice and I had arrived, at which point he gave the “thumbs up” sign. I eventually saw that to be his only method of communicating, and I now wonder if it wasn’t just some involuntary impulse of the brain.

Claude and Lynn reviewed what doctors had told them. Craig was in no pain, and no pain relief was necessary. They could tell this by the fact that he wasn’t restless at all. It almost went without saying that pain sensors in his brain were damaged, if not destroyed. Even in their earliest assessments, the doctors had told Claude and Lynn that if Craig survived he would not be the same person.

Janice and I stayed for an hour or so and then we all walked back to Claude’s (and Craig’s) place on de Grand-Pré. It was a cathartic walk, one which we would repeat, through the edge of the McGill campus, around Molson Stadium, and up Park Avenue, cutting across Fletcher’s Field to avenue Mont-Royal and Boulevard St-Joseph.

When Janice and I again visited Craig the next day before our ride back to Perth, I had a very tearful intuition, if not realization, that this would be the last time I saw Craig.

One attempt to see if he could breathe on his own had already failed. Staff hoped to try, or at least Lynn and Claude were certainly going to encourage another try, in the next few days. We were all in agreement, as much as feelings can be, to accept the results.

Ultimately the attempt failed and, while Lynn and Claude were out of the room having lunch, Craig died on May 9, 2007 – six days shy of his fifty-second birthday which that year also happened to fall on Mother’s Day.

That unimaginable Sunday was spent travelling to Montreal with Mom for the funeral service the following day. Then on Tuesday it was back in to two cars for the drive to Perth where a sunset burial was held at Scotch Line Cemetery next to the plot owned by Mom and Dad.

Later that spring, Claude bought a headstone with Craig’s birth and death dates as well as Claude’s birth date. The inscription described Claude as Craig’s “compagnon de vie”, the first openly gay – and surely among the first bilingual – grave-markers in the town’s three or four cemeteries.

Chaplin Craig et Claude

“Neuf couleurs au vent” by Daniel Buren


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Montréal’s steadfast, enviable care for public art, as a community (elected and unelected alike), is no better exemplified than in what flaps gloriously in the breeze just off the south-west corner of Parc La Fontaine in another little park unto itself – Place Urbain-Baudreau-Graveline.

Nine rectangular banners are fixed on individual brushed aluminum poles with vertical stripes of green, red, yellow, blue and black.

Originally commissioned by the Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal (CWC) the work, by Daniel Buren (1938-), originally from les Hauts-de-Seine, France, was presented in Québec City during festivities held to mark the 450th anniversary of the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1984. It then made its way to Montréal in September of 1996.

Neuf couleurs au vent is known as a sculpture in situ, and on a gusty day I can state from personal experience that it makes a gentle, almost nautical-seeming, alarm clock – should you be staying close by as I do when in Montréal!

The sun shines again on my final day in Montréal


I`ll soon be aboard an evennig train home. Oh, but I love Montréal!

Today`s highlights in Montréal: lunch at Le Club Sandwich, les jardins botaniques and refreshments at Marché Maisonneuve


Craig`s timing


When Craig died five years ago today he could not have ordained that his memory would loom large during this week each year as the award in his name is presented at today`s Convocation ceremonies of United Theological College.

He would not have chosen, for Mom`s sake at least, to die so close to his birthday, either, this Sunday – yes, Mother`s Day, just like it was in 2007.

But it is what it is.

Skies are considerably brighter in Montréal today.

While the sting of the first few years of grief has lessened considerably, this is one of those days when missing Craig is quite a bit more intense.

Montréal gives me the rainy day treatment – it`s all good!


I started out at Le Château Ramezay where flashes are not permitted so my luck with photos was limited. After dodging showers in other parts of Old Montréal I took in some of the public art available in the city`s beautiful Métro system. (I cut the tour short so did not get a representative sample.)

Then I walked the rain-soaked neighbourhoods of Le Plateau, ending at Saint Louis Square, not far from Claude`s.