Category Archives: Unassigned

On the cut and thrust of surgeons and conductors.

Hector Berlioz conducting a choir. Gustave Dore, 1850.

Hector Berlioz conducting a choir. Gustave Dore, 1850.

Arrogance exists for many reasons and comes in many forms. Interestingly, the bed rock of arrogance is often  insecurity. In recent years I’ve been under the knives of surgeons, all of them arrogant. Though rarely more than skilled craftsmen, forever replicating the same procedure, surgeons appear convinced of their pre-eminent place in the medical profession. Their work is performed in theatres under bright lights. Only after aides have prepared the patient, does the freshly scrubbed surgeon make his entrance, arms half raised as if bestowing a blessing.

Personally I think anesthesiology is where it’s at and the anesthesiologists I’ve met have been thoughtful, interesting people. The last one to put me under, played the Saxophone in his spare time. They’re also the people that insure my survival during the cutting and hacking.

Conductors of symphony orchestras are the surgeons of the music world. They too consider themselves pre-eminent in their field. Their work is done under similar conditions, players perform the critical tasks needed to replicate the conductors’  repertoire. When everyone is attentive and quiet descends, Maestro makes his entrance, poised, with baton rampant.

A few weeks ago my wife and I attended a Toronto concert by the Mariinsky Orchestra from Petersburg, Russia. The Marviinsky Orchestra is a misnomer because four orchestras known by the same name exist in the Marviinsky Theatre complex. The orchestra we were to hear was in the midst of a tour and had prepared two programs. Ours was all music by Stravinsky. A  3 1/2 hour extravaganza with two intermissions, the works were played in the order written: the complete Firebird Ballet music, 1910; the complete Petrushka Ballet music 1911; and Le Sacre du Printemps, 1913.  It was a marvelous trip hearing these three works in succession and the band could play loud as well as seat-edge soft.

The playing was uniformly good and the clarity of voices was stunning. I was disturbed by the lack of physical movement from the orchestra players, most noticably in the strings who sat motionless except for their arms and fingers. No one was swaying. There was no evidence of anyone digging into the music. Are there excuses for playing dance repertoire without moving? Go figure. There was an exception. The bass drummer, who doubled on small tambourine and gong, was the oldest member of the section and its best musician. He was into the music, always. I waited for him by the stage door, but finally gave up and reluctantly conveyed my congratulations to him via another member of the orchestra.

These were antiseptic performances with some startling affects. There was only one moment that  transcended all others, totally captivating. Near the end of Petrushka there are groups of 5 eighth notes in rhythmic unison for brass and timpani. The Marviinsky voices were so exquisitely balanced, they created a bell-like sound I’d never imagined possible. Gergiev is the artistic director and principal conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre complex. He had brought the youngest musicians on this tour so they’d gain experience. Their next stop was Carnegie Hall where a stage hands’ strike would be settled just before Mariinsky‘s concert. (The average take home pay for a Carnegie Hall stage hand? – $ 400,000.00 US. New York is an expensive town.)

The other disturbance was Gergiev. He did not use a podium or baton, which created intimacy. From shoulder to wrist, his conducting motions were generally reserved, but his fingers flailed above as if defying anyone to follow him. He strode on and off stage with a “I can do anything swagger”, bowed curtly, turned and began his phalangial oscillations. Gergiev even conducted the flutist’s solo in Petrushka. An unnecessary imposition of either control, or arrogance, or both. He was showing off and if I could conduct those three works from memory, I might develope a bit of haughtiness myself.

Fortunately I met a local Deep Throat after the concert. He was one of eight Torontonians hired to fill out the Mariinsky wind section. “It was crazy. Madness”, he said, describing a one hour rehearsal given the locals for Le Sacre. That was it.  Deep Throat said, “We couldn’t figure out his beat. Once I came in early, but he didn’t say anything.” Deep Throat ruefully shook his head and joined his wife for the ride home.

Oh, one thing more. Of the seven Mariinsky contra bass players, five gripped their bows German style. Two used the French grip. I didn’t hear any difference. C’est la vie.

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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Unassigned


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Admiral Edward Boscawen and a Drumming Tradition.

Edward Boscawen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1755.

Edward Boscawen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1755.

Admiral Edward Boscawen,(1711-61) joined the  British Navy at the age of 12 years and remained in its service for the rest of his life. Though he died young, he achieved one of the great careers in British naval history. One example of his success came as commander of the British Blue fleet during the investment of Fortress Louisburg, July,1758, thus providing a staging area for Gen. James Wolfe’s campaign against  Québec City. Boscawen was nicknamed “Wry-necked Dick” due to a habit of cocking his head to one side, as captured by Reynolds in his portrait above.

During the French West Indies campaign, Boscawen took part in capturing the island of Guadaloupe. Lasting from January to May of 1759, the battle resulted in the British wresting Guadaloupe from the French.  In the first Treaty of Paris (1763) France regained the West Indies by relinquishing its claims to Canada.

In his book, As If An Enemy’s Country, Richard Archer wrote: After the conquest of the island of Guadaloupe during the Seven Year War, Admiral Edward Boscawen procured 8 or 10 boys whom he gave to his brother, at the time the commanding officer of the 29th regiment. Boscawen thought the boys would be attractive and exotic ornaments and made them drummers, starting a tradition that continued until 1843. [1.]

Were these Afro-Caribbean boys the genesis of exotically clad Negro or Blackamoor drummers in Britain’s military bands?  After a conversation about Boscawen a scholar friend, David Waterhouse did some research and sent me the following report:

Blackamoor first appears in Lord Berners’s translation of Froissart (1525), referring to two blacke Moores richely apparelled: so already there was the tendency to dress them up.

British Band in St. James courtyard. c. 1790.

British Band in St. James courtyard. c. 1790.

Meanwhile, I think I have tracked down the immediate source of your story about Admiral Boscawen. Hugh Barty-King, in his The Drum (London: The Royal Tournament, 1988), p. 57, says:

“But the man who brought a spate of black drummer appointments in the British army was a naval man, Admiral Boscawen. Being in the Caribbean at the surrender of Guadeloupe in 1759, he cornered ten West Indian boys and brought them home in his ship. Once in England he presented them to his soldier brother who commanded Thomas Farrington’s Regiment, the 29th Foot (late The 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment). Permission was obtained from King George III to retain them as drummers, the last of the line dying in July 1843. From then on it became The Thing to have black drummers in British military bands and dress them more and more fancifully…

There is more, both before and after this passage: Barty-King refers to Moorish drummers in the 4th Dragoons as early as 1715.

David sent me the lenghty entry on Adm. Edward Bascawen from the Dictionary of National Biography, published by Oxford University Press in 60 volumes in 2004. There is no mention of him being associated with negro, black or Blackamoor drummers.

“Stories containing incorrect information persist. They are repeated over and over. I don’t know Hugh Barty-King. What was his primary source? You must go back to the primary source.” David Waterhouse

And so gentle reader, until  a primary source is found, we must take the Boscawen story as written by Archer and his probable source Hugh Barty-King, with a grain of salt.

True or not, I believe all the accounts above about Blackamoor and black drummers had to do with Snare Drummers only. Boscawen’s battle for Guadaloupe predated the famous print of a British Band in St. James courtyard by perhaps thirty years and by nine years the disembarkment of the 29th Regiment at Boston. Therfore my next question is, when and by whose order did British bandsmen begin playing Bass drums, Cymbals, Triangles,Tambourines,Tenor drums and the Jingling Johnny? This instrumental component was referred to as the Janissary by British band musicians. [2.] Surely, they were meant not for combat, but for Pomp and Circumstance only.  A Janissary was not with the 29th Regiment in Boston,[3.] as it certainly would have created a sensation and been reported.

Post script:

The Court-marshal and execution of Adm. John Byng (1704-57) was a very controversial and dark affair in British military history. Adm. Boscawen, a strict traditionalist, signed both orders in 1757. Notables including The First Lord of Chatham, William Pitt (1708-80), came to Byng’s defense, but George III refused to repeal the judgement.  Byng knelt on a pillow and instructed the guardsmen to fire when he dropped his handkerchief.

The shooting of Admiral Byng.

The shooting of Admiral Byng.


[1.]  See Archer, Richard under Sources.

[2.] The Janissary, meaning New Soldier, was formed in Turkey by an Ottoman sultan sometime during the late 12th century and disbanded by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826. Young men and boys were kidnapped or otherwise recruited from countries outsideTurkey and trained for duty as bodyguards for the sultan. The Janissary and their music were encountered by the west during European crusades which began in 1096. After their defeat at the second battle of Vienna in 1683, Turkish music instruments were collected from the field of battle by European soldiers. As a sign of respect, Suleiman I sent the Polish hero, Jan Sobieski now King John III, whose cavalry threw back the last Ottoman attack, a troop of Janissaries and its musicians. Not much time passed before composers such as Gluck, Haydn and Mozart made use of the new and exotic Janissary sounds.

[3,.] This was the British occupation referred to in the title of Archer’s book. The Bostonians considered themselves British citizens loyal to the King and were not amenable to being occupied by soldiers. As Archer said: The presence of a standing army was alarming enough to the citizens of Boston, but having armed Irishmen and  Afro-Caribbeans in their midst was a nightmare.


a.) Anderson, Fred: The War That Made America: A Short  History of the French and Indian War: Viking  and The War That Made America Llc and French and Indian War 250 Inc. 2005.

b.) Archer, Richard: As If An Enemy’s Country, The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2010.

c.) Fisccher, David Hackett: Washington’s Crossing: David Hackett Fischer, 2004 and Recorded Books, 2004.

d.) Philbrick, Nathanial: Bunker Hill, A City, A Siege, A Revolution: Penguin Audio Books.

e.) Tourtellot, Authur Bernon: William Diamond’s Drum, Doubleday and Company Inc, 1959.


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On 23 July I posted an article titled Sibelius corrected on the music of Sibelius as interpreted by Evgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, in 1991 renamed the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, today conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.

In that article I posted two audio clips from Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7  Op.105 recorded in 1965 which demonstrated the Russian trombone and trumpet sound 25 years before the Berlin Wall officially came tumbling down in June 1990.

Attached below are three further audio excerpts from Mravinsky /Leningrad recordings, Capriccio Italien Op45, recorded 1949 and Arabian Dance from the Nutcracker Ballet Op.71, recorded 1949, all written by Tchaikovsky, all demonstrating what I like to think of as the Russian and Mravinsky love for loud percussion.* First and second are the Arabian Dance and third the tambourine in Capriccio. In this latter excerpt one does not hear the sound of Tambourine jingles, but the “Thwacks” on its skin head are impressive.

Arabian Dance

Arabian Dance

Tambourine Capriccio

* There is much food for thought in these recordings. Everytime I played the Tambourine in Arabian Dance (Danse Arabe), I was constrained by the thought of having to play very soft. This was re-enforced on occasion by conductors signaling me to play softer still. But think, women all over the east and in India, accompanied their dancing with the Tambourine. The melody is soft and sensual, the Tambourine is the sparkle. It should be featured. Why attempt to blend its metallic percussive sound with whispering strings?

The end of Capriccio Italien is in four parts, a triple time Presto, an Allegro maestoso and the Presto again with a duple time coda. The Prestos are Saltarellos, a fast Italian dance dating from the 14th c. accompanied by bagpipes or button accordian and Tambourine. Other notable uses for the Saltarello were by Mendelssohn in the 4th movement of his Symphony No.4 “Italian” and Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture.


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SIBELIUS Corrected

Some years ago my wife and I visited friends in Tampere, Finland. We attended a concert by the Tampere Philharmonic and the programme began with a performance of the Sibelius (1865-1957)1st Symphony. Excepting Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and of course Finlandia, I had heard very little music by this revered Finnish icon. Further, I was not particularly interested in hearing his music, ignoring it as I had for instance, the music of Carl Nielson. Though relegating both to some distant and dim back burner, their flame never-the-less refused to go out, eventually demanding attention.

In Tampere, Sibelius grabbed my full attention.  My good friend, Tiina Laukkanen has been the timpanist of the orchestra for over 20 years. (See my article, “Helsinki & Tampere Finland”.) The 1st Symphony begins with a soft timpani roll and the house was quietly awaiting its sound. The audience reminded me of one I had encountered at a new music concert in Reykjavik, Iceland. Before the concert a man addressed the audience. I had never heard the Icelandic language spoken and was over awed by its archaic sound. In my imagination, we were transported back to the time of the Icelandic Sagas. We were in a church and excepting the speaker’s voice, complete silence reigned. The atmosphere of complete attention was palpable.

The performance of Sibelius was met with the same attention and I began to learn a bit about the spell the music of Sibelius has cast upon his devotees.

Not long ago I purchased a CD of Mravinsky recordings with the Leningrad Philharmonic, Melodiya MCD 223, The Mravinsky Legacy, Volume 4. Evgeny Mravinsky conducted the Leningrad Orchestra for fifty years, 1938-1988, and is credited with establishing the orchestra’s great precision and control of dynamics. I listened to the single movement Sibelius 7th Symphony, recorded in 1965 and I, in the word of my friend Bill Cahn “Epihed”, (from epiphany) when the trombone heralded forth its first solo. It sings again near the end, this time accompanied by an equally bold trumpet.

SIBELIUS Corrected

SIBELIUS Corrected

And so, the purpose of this article? Why has this stentorian style of playing disappeared? The Leningrad Orchestra now has modern brass and wind instruments and players and conductors are favouring an homogenist style in keeping with modern practices. Perhaps. But listen again and ask yourself, “Wouldn’t it be thrilling to hear a blatant, unabashed declaration such as this, pealing forth from a modern symphony orchestra?”

Recently Tiina sent me the symphonies and other famous works of Sibelius recorded by the Bourenmouth Symphony Orchestra directed by Paavo Allan Engelbert Berglund (1929-2012).*  I had been reluctant to commit to a particular conductor and orchestra and Tiina solved my dilemma in one fell swoop. All the performances are worthy listening, but for entry level Sibelius explorers, the relevatory rendition of Finlandia is recommended.

* EMI Classics a 1012 compilation of recordings made between 1972 and 1982.


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U S Open Golf ala 2013

Taming the Donkry by Eduarso Zamacois  y Zabala, 1868

Taming the Donkey by Eduarso Zamacois y Zabala, 1868

Schadenfreude. It crept up on me mid-day Friday during the second round.. I’ve been watching US Open golf tournaments for many years, but had never experienced such delight watching the trials and tribulations of professional golfers. I shamelessly giggled at my TV screen as putts swerved by cups, tee balls flew into hinterlands and the usually laser-like shots with short irons managed to wind up, well, anywhere but There. (Phil Mickelson had five wedges in his bag.) By late Sunday afternoon I knew I’d witnessed the most dramatic and satisfying major tournament of my life.

The scene was Merion Golf Club, one of the good ole goodies, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. Built on 112 acres and measuring just  6,996 yards, Merion is short by today’s standards. The  average length of PGA tournament courses today is around 7,500 yards, often built on hundreds of Better Homes and Gardens gated community acres. Many golfing  aficionados were predicting low scores at Merion.

Merion had real US Open rough. If a fairway was missed or an approach shot went astray, both as common as divots, awaiting was deep, snarly, inpenetrable stuff into which pant cuffs disappeared and, if lucky, a ball could be advanced 100 yards, usually less. Trying to hit a little flop-shot onto the green could result in leaving the ball in “the shit” as they say, or sending it completely over the green into more shit.

Merion’s East Course opened in 1912 and was designed by an amateur golfer and club member. He had never designed a course for golf and never did again. Merion’s greens were not particularly fast by US Open standards, but now they were old and tricky with very subtle undulations. Often the pros couldn’t see the breaks, even when three feet from the cup.

Merion, though short, is also tight. One 3 par hole played from 90 to 115 yards and pro after pro came up short of the green, “in the shit”. I watched all four days and if I had been able to place bets against pros accurately hitting a 100 yard shot or sinking a putt of almost any length, I’d now be a rich man.

75 of the world’s best professional golfers missed the 8 over par Cut. Tiger Woods ended his quest to tie Nicklaus in major tournament winds at 13 over par, K. J. Choi the same. Adam Scott, the new wunderkind and Sergio Garcia fell on their five irons at 15 over par. It was a blood bath. Oh my.

U.S. golf tournament attendees yell,”Go in the hole” the instant a player strikes his tee ball and applaud every final putt, even those for triple bogey. The pros usually touch the bill of their caps in acknowledgement. This week, it was difficult for them to acknowledge applause or anything other than the sinking queasiness of humiliation. They sometimes looked embarrassed and they were obviously suffering. The big names feast on adulation and first class perks. They hit the ball 350 yards, no problemento, and create more spin on a ball than a dragster, but even when gearing back with 3 woods and driving irons, they couldn’t keep it on the short stuff, and they couldn’t sink a putt.

And then there were the amateurs who “went low” and got to play on the week-end. 20 year old Michael Kim was just five strokes off the lead after the third round. Yikes, that’s not good for a multimillionaire ego, particularly when it’s commiting sepuku on national television.

The winning score was 1 over par. The last guy to finish in the money was 28 over par. The over all purse was $ 8,000,000. The winner collected $ 1,440,000. An American, Kyle Stanley, finished last with a score of 308, 28 over par and earned $16,325.00.

Which brings me back to Schadenfreude.


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TorQ Ensemble: Morphy, Rolfe, Reich and Cage.



Years ago, I read a National Geographic article about a newly discovered tribe in the wilds of South America. The tribe had no predators, their children were raised communally, abundent  supplies of food were always within arms reach, they did not work and the men spent much of their time lazing in hammocks. Their average lifespan was 30 years. Scientists  reporting on tribe’s seemingly idyllic existence, speculated their early deaths were due to boredom. The tribe had no music or dance. None at all.

Beyond this cultural anomaly, music and dance are universal, historically percussion being the prominent music purveyor. From the single rhythm Inuit and native American Indian frame drums, to the complex percussion ensembles of Africa; from Turkish hand drums and Korean Samulnori ensembles, to Brazilian Samba clubs; from Indonesian Gamalans and Caribbean Voodoo drums, percussion instruments provide the heart and impetus to dancers.

Composer John Cage comes first to mind when I think of percussion and dance in North America. A prime emxaple is Cage’s CREDO IN US (1942), a work for percussion whose original choreography is not extant. Throughout the United States and Canada, Cage’s music and populal misconceptions about his ideas on improvisation, have led to a multitude of annual collaborations between university dance and percussion departments.

I’ve participated in my share of these collaborations, some of them free-for-all wastes of time. The best were choreographed by professional teacher dancers, but in recent years I’d not been aware of professional percussion ensembles pursuing this creative medium. Until now.

On May 3 and 4, 2013, TorQ percussion quartet gave three sold out concerts under the name New Manoeuvers in the Dancemakers facility of the Distillery District of Toronto. TorQ had asked Jacob Niedzwiecky, Louis  Laberge-Côté, Lauren Van Gijn and Linda Garneau to choreograph works for their student dancers by Janes Rolfe, a TorQ commission, a recent work by Steve Reich, a new work byTorQ member Daniel Morphy, and a classic John  Cage quartet dating from 1942.

Dancemakers performance space is a rectangle. The audience and performers are separated by a long, wide area covered by a dancer’s floor. There are about 70 bleacher seats for the audience and across the way, there seemed to be adequate space for TorQ. The acoustic was altogether satisfying and percussion sounds rang true.

The program began with the premier of Janes Rolfe’s, Why You. Jacob Niedzwiecky named his choreography Meek, Bent and MIld.  Rolfe intended his music to be one continuous movement, but the choreography, employing ropes, required pauses, which to my ears, hindered not at all the music’s effectiveness. The music is ebulliant, well orchestrated and constructed. It  is reminiscent of moments in John Cage’s early percussion works and his Sonata’s and Interludes for prepared Piano. But only reminiscent. This is a unique work and was delightfully danced. TorQ should keep Why You in its quartet concert repertoire.

Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet is just a couple of years old, but I’ve had the opportunity to hear it a number of times. It doesn’t appeal to me as, say, his Music for Pieces of Wood. His quartet sounds to me like a “Toss-off”. But one  problem is how its been played.  It seems Reich’s music for percussion is always played mechanically and loud. These  interpretations aggravate me and after a short time I’m compelled to say, “Enough already. I get it”. Still, as music for dance, Mallet Quartet worked. The vibraphones were played with a lilting swing which, though loud enough, was a human touch. I still think this work is of little significance, but TorQ’s interpretation made listening tolerable. The dancers were Michael Caldwell and Jordana Deveau. Michael Caldwell was the star of the duo, self assured, polished and thoroughly musical.  Jordana was a great partner if just a touch less compelling. I had not expected to see student dancing of this calibre. Their performance of the Louis Laberge-Côté choreography Three Times Two, gave the Reich work its raison d’etre.

For me and I think the audience, the work that stole the show was Daniel Morphy’s Dance Cycles # 1 having the choreographed name of Restless / Reverie. Morphy’s music and the dance were seamlessly blended into a time stopping bouquet of sound and movement. As the music begins, dancers enter stage left and right with small hand-held tuned gongs, each stroke timed to the dancers personal count. The effec of their slow swirls creates magic. At the end of the work Morphy plays on small resonant metal percussion, a long diminuendo that carries the ear and the performance to rest. A gem.

Percussionists have an important relationship with John Cage and his music. Cage’s early works, all written for percussion, is the core repertoire for North American percussion ensembles. Of those works, Third Construction is generally considered to be his finest creation and I was very interested to hear it with dance. Linda Garneau named her choreography Reconstructions: an architectural study and was satisfyingly danced by Mia Delina. I was infatuated by TorQ’s  performance. There’s a wooden tongue drum solo mid way that is very soft. It was played softly, but at half tempo. A startling effect, something akin to a reverse “Warp Speed, Scotty”. From that point to the end, TorQ was passionate and exciting. TorQ has recorded this work on BEDOINT RECORDS.

TorQ’s programme was refreshing, musically satisfying and exciting. All in all, a significant evening of memorable entertainment. In the case of New Manoeuvers, collaboration between percussion and dance created an artistic success. One that could bear exploration.


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The S.S. Sørlandet, Norway, 1927.

The S.S. Sørlandet, Toronto Harbour.

I remember school trips consisting mainly of visits to a local library or museum. When my daughter was about 12 years old, her school class went to Mexico for a week. Now my granddaughter is taking off for 9 months aboard a three masted sailing ship built in 1927 and is crossing the Atlantic Ocean 3 times whilst completing her grade 11 schooling. She and 59 other kids, grade 11 to collegiate freshmen, will have a chef , a professional crew of 12 and a teaching staff of 10.

This adventure has been managed by Class Afloat, a Canadian school offering fully accredited education to high school and 1st year university students since 1984.  The ship, pictured above, was built in Norway. For those interested in nautical minutiae, the S.S. SØRLANDET’s length is 64 m, its beam 9 m, its draft 4.5 m and its mast 30.5 m – there are three masts so I don’t know what that means.  Admittedly a bit concerned about our granddaughter’s safety, my wife and I visited the Tall Ships while they were docked in Toronto harbour.

The map of Lucie's voyages.

The map of Lucie’s voyages.

We met Lucie, her father and Eden, one of her best friends and a fellow student at the Etobicoke School for the Arts who will also be taking the voyage. During the past two summers, Lucie had spent time aboard the much smaller PATHFINDER plying the Great Lakes. She loved those experiences and now she was literally counting the days until she and Eden joined other students from around the world for this great trip. They will make 3 ocean crossings and visit 23 ports in 18 countries. Lucie and Eden talked at length with veterans of last year’s voyage, including a friend working the PATHFINDER desk. The day helped to assuage our fears. This wonderfully complex and handsome ship has been plying the oceans for 86 years and still looks to be in immaculate condition. Encouraging too is its metal hull.

The S.S. SORLANDET and  the PATHFINDER docked in Toronto at Harbour Front.

The S.S. SORLANDET and the PATHFINDER docked in Toronto at Harbour Front.

NOTE: Click on images above to enlarge.

Lucie Quinlan, coloured pencil, Bonnie Sheckter, 2010.

Lucie Quinlan, coloured pencil by Bonnie Sheckter, 2009.

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Posted by on June 25, 2013 in History, Unassigned


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