ROLLING WITH THE R’S
Back in the 1930s Canada had one of the most efficient ice breakers in the world – the C.G.S. MONTCALM. It was used to break up ice in the St. Lawrence River. Steel and coal were shipped from Sydney and Louisbourg. In the winter Sydney Harbour would freeze so solid that no icebreaker could break the ice so all shipping was directed to Louisbourg Harbour, which was open all year around.
When the C.G.S. MONTCALM sailed into Louisbourg Harbour it was a very exciting moment for the townspeople went to the docks to greet her. She was the most powerful, magnificent icebreaker in the world at the time.
The MONTCALM’s crew were mostly all French from Quebec. The Captain was English and his Chief Engineer was a six-foot, curly red-haired Scotsman from Scotland.
All the crew would attend social events in the town. The Catholic Parish was about two miles from the town. They would put on card games of 45s and make a social evening with the ladies of the church supplying the sandwiches and cookies.
I had never played cards and my friend Margaret Murphy, whose father owned a local grocery store, asked me to go to the card game. She dealt me a couple of hands to show me how to play, so I agreed to go.
The weather became quite mild all day and that evening it started freezing rain – at 6 o’clock everything was sheer ice, and wet. Margaret had her father’s old Chevrolet to take the Captain and Engineer to the card game.
So they were at the store sitting around the old stove talking to Margaret’s father when we stopped the car at what was supposed to be the sidewalk. There was a hill going up to the store from the sidewalk that had an incline of about six feet. It was sheer ice. I went down before I could stand up. Then Margaret went down. It ended up we crawled up that incline on our hands and knees. I opened the door and left it open for Margaret as she crawled up. This took some time with me waiting with the door open for Margaret. There was a conversation going on between the Captain and the Engineer as they walked to the car. The Captain was telling the Engineer he spoke French very well for a Scotsman. “The only thing I noticed is that you roll your ‘r’s’.” As he said this he slipped and landed on his bottom and slid down to the car.
Marg piped up, “Anyone would roll on their ‘r’s’ tonight. You can’t stand up.” We tried not laugh as the Captain picked himself up. Marg’s father took the ashes from the stove and threw them over the little hill so they could get back to the car. I am sure Marg could only drive about five miles an hour and we were a little late.
We got to the hall and everyone was waiting to fill the last open table. We hurried to the table and everyone would ask why we were late and why we were laughing. When we told them, they howled laughing, too. In 45s, when you win at one table you go to the next. So every table heard the story and laughed heartily.
The priest, Father Doyle, was not amused, as this was a card game, not a
Circus. There were players that were card shark players that had nothing else on their minds but o win and there were the players that went for pleasure to help with the church funds. Finally Father Doyle asked one of his parishioners what was so funny. He was told the story and he laughed so much he had to go back in the kitchen to straighten himself out.
The game was over and prizes handed out. Everyone started the lunch; it was then more of a circus. Father Doyle said that it was not in good taste for some people at the game to be laughing so heartily when others didn’t know what the laughing was about.
Finally Captain O’Hearn stood up and explained it to everyone and the Chief Engineer stood up and said, “I am so happy that I rolled on my r’s as it made a very entertaining evening for all.”