Thursday, April 25, 2013

Joanne's Journal: April 25, 2013


Edition No. 12

Quote of the Day

"Some folk want their luck buttered."

- Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet
From The Mayor of Casterbridge [1886]

On this Day 

On April 25, 1792, the French national anthem, La Marseillaise (The Song from Marseille), was written and composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.  A simple French army officer and a republican during the Revolutionary Wars, he wrote the song while stationed in Strasbourg, France.  It was originally titled Chant de guerre d'armee du Rhin (War Song of the Army on the Rhine) and Rouget de Lisle intended it to be a marching song for his comrades. When soldiers from Marseilles introduced it to Paris during the French Revolution, it took on it's familiar title, La Maraillaise.  In 1795, The French National Convention adopted La Marsellaise as the national anthem of the Republic.  As for Rouget de Lisle, he never wrote another song of prominence and died in poverty on June 26, 1836 in Choisy-le-Roi, in the suburbs of Paris.

Rouger de Lisle in 1792

Below is an 1849 painting by French artist Isidore Pils (1813-1875) of Rouger de Lisle singing La Marseillaise.  It is entitled Rouget de Lisle chantants la Marseillaise (Rouget de Lile singing La Maseillaise).

On April 25, 1917, Ella Fitzgerald, Queen of Jazz, was born in Newport News, Virginia.  For more than half a century, she was the most dominant female jazz singer in the United States.  Known as the First Lady of Song, she had an amazing vocal range.  During her magnificent career, she received 13 Grammy Awards and sold more than 40 million albums.  Plagued with health problems, Ella died in her Beverly Hills, California home at the age of 79.  The 96th anniversary of her birth is being commemorated today with a Google doodle.


On April 25, 2009, Beatrice Arthur, died of cancer at her Los Angeles home at the age of 86.  The tall, deep-voiced actress had a long stage career before finding success on television.  She really made waves when she appeared on All in the Family as Maude Findlay, Edith Bunker's outspoken liberal cousin.  Her exchanges with Edith's bigoted husband, Archie, proved so popular and entertaining that Bea was given the lead in her own sitcom, Maude, in 1972.   Bea was also known for her portrayal of Dorothy on The Golden Girls alongside Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty.

In 1966, Bea Arthur won a Tony Award for her performance as Vera Charles in the musical Mame.  She also received an Emmy Award in 1977 for her role as Maude.

Bea Arthur

Roses and Thorns


ROSE: To Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario for showing some support for the  province's beleaguered horse racing industry.  The industry was abandoned by Wynne's predecessor, former Premier Dalton McGuinty, when his government foolishly reneged on the it revenue sharing agreement with race track casinos.  Unfortunately, a great deal of damage has already been done and many jobs have been lost.   A great deal more is needed to save the industry and to ensure that it has a future in Canada's most populous province.  What Wynne has done is not enough, although it is a start.  What happened to horse racing and horse breeding in Ontario should never have happened in the first place.

ROSE: To the Toronto Maple Leafs for finally making the playoffs after a nine-year drought.  The bar is set much lower now than it was when there were only six teams in the 1960s.  Back then, it was unthinkable for the Leafs not to make the playoffs.  It was a given.  The only question was whether they would bring home the Stanley Cup or not.  It's 2013 now and this city is starved for Stanley Cup success.  If only Leaf Nation could restrain its enthusiasm until the team actually gets close to winning the Cup.  A big celebration along Yonge Street after one victory in the first round of the playoffs would be premature.  Knowing, Leaf fans, however, it's likely to happen.

ROSE: To the good citizens of Boston for facing the horror of two bombs exploding in their city with fortitude and a sense of community.  They stood tall  in the wake of the tragedy that befell their city during the running of the world-renowned Boston marathon.  A special commendation to the law enforcement officers and emergency services personnel who served Boston during its time of crisis.


THORN: To the Conservative Party of Canada for its scurrilous attack ad campaign.aimed against new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.  The negative ads appeal to the lowest common denominator.  They accuse Trudeau of being in way over his head   They portray him as an inexperienced drama teacher who is not ready to lead the country.  These ads demean politics in this country and they breed public cynicism.  Although the Conservatives are not the only party that has used such ads, they use this tactic much more often and much more viciously than other parties.  They also use  hard-earned taxpayers money to fund flyers with those negative ads.  Disgusting!  I hope Canadians will ignore the ads and take time to look at the facts.

The Conservative Party is guilty of character assassination.  The Tories are not attacking Trudeau's polices.  They are belittling him and bullying him.  They did not waste any time.  The moment he was chosen leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, they unleashed a pack of vultures on him.  Let's set the record straight.

1. The Tories present Justin as "young" Trudeau.  This is absurd.  He is a 41-year-old married man with two young children.  He is older than Joe Clark was when he became PM in 1979.  Theodore Roosevelt was 42 years old when he was sworn in as President of the United States.  John F. Kennedy was 43.  Despite Justin Trudeau's youthful appearance, he is by no means too young to assume the office Prime Minister of Canada.

2.  The Tories say Justin is not experienced enough to be Prime Minister.  Here are the facts.  Trudeau has been a member of the House of Commons for the riding of Papineau since October 14, 2008.  He has never been a cabinet minister because his party has not been in power.  The Conservatives sneeringly describe him as a drama teacher.  Although he did coach drama (and what's wrong with that?), he taught several other subjects too.  According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, "From 1999 to 2002 Trudeau taught a number of subjects (eg, drama, French, English, social studies and math) at West Point Grey Academy and Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver."

It seems as if the Conservatives have a real problem with the teaching profession.  For some twisted region, they appear to enjoy demeaning the profession.  Similarly, the U.S. Republicans take great delight in putting down Barack Obama's past as a community organizer in Chicago.  

What about Stephen Harper's own background before he became Prime Minister?  What were his great accomplishments.  He was not widely travelled.  He called himself an economist because he had an Masters degree n Economics from the University of Calgary.  Did that really give him the right to refer to himself an economist?

I do not write this as an apologist for Justin Trudeau.  Trudeau's policies are fair game.  If the Conservatives want to criticize his positions on various issues, that's fine and dandy.  That's what democracy is all about.  It is not about bullying and distorting the facts.  Even if such gutter tactic sometimes work, that doesn't mean politicians should use them.  It doesn't mean it is right to use them - unless you subscribe to the amoral dictum that the end end justifies the means. Who is advising the Tories?  The ghost of Machiavelli?  No wonder the public has a low opinion of politics and politicians.

THORN: To the members of the United States Senate who voted against a measure last week that would have extended existing  background checks on purchases of guns.  Although most of the Republicans in the Senate behaved as expected, four Democratic senators voted against the amendment.  Those four Democrats should hang their heads fin shame for thumbing their noses at the victims of of the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School and their grieving families.  The feckless four are Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich, of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana.  Shame! Shame! Shame!  They could have carried the bill to passage.

The gun control amendment was due to the commendable efforts of a bipartisan group of senators to reach a compromise on the matter.  Republican Pat Tooney of Pennsylvania had the courage to oppose the majority of senators from his own party on the issue. On April 10, 2013,  Tooney  and Democratic Senator Joe Machin of West Virginia announced a deal on an amendment that would exempt all "personal" transfers of weapons between individuals, but would close the notorious gun show loophole and also include mandatory background checks on Internet sales.

Although held in high esteem by the National Rifle Association, Tooney denied that he was not concerned that his support of new gun control initiative, would lower his reputation with the gun advocacy organization.  He said, "What matters to me is doing the right thing, and I think this was the right thing."  Senator Tooney was one of only four Republicans had the integrity and good sense to back the background check amendment, but those four should be lauded.  The other three were Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Mark Kirk of Illinois.  Kudos to that quartet.of Republicans who did the right thing.

Despite U.S. President Barack Obama's best efforts, the vote on the gun control amendment fell six votes short of passage in the Senate.  The final tally was 54 to 46.  Sixty votes were needed for passaage.  It is interesting to note that according to information released by the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, all but three of the senators who scuttled the gun control measure have accepted money from firearm lobbyists.  The foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog, discovered that the National Rifle Association has donated $800,000 since 1990 to 40 of the senators who voted against the gun control amendment.  Much of the money was given during the campaign leading up to the last election.  As the office of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it, "Today's gun bill vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have in Washington."

This isn't over yet, though.  President Obama will not let the matter rest - for the sake of the innocent who have lost their lives.  "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," the president declared.  He exhorted supporters of gun control to continue the struggle.   In the words former Democratic congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, a survivor of gun violence: "If members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the Senate."

Riddle Me This

I an at the beginning of eternity,
the end of time and space,
the beginning of every end,
and the end of every place.
What am I?

Answer: The letter "e."



Wouldn't it be great to see a Toronto-Montreal matchup in the NHL playoffs?  The Leafs and Habs haven't met in post-season play since 1979.  We won't know if it's going to happen until Sunday, April 28 when the Ottawa Senators face the Boston Bruins in a game that was delayed by the Boston Marathon bombings. That game will determine the final order in the NHL Eastern Conference.  A Leafs-Habs match-up in the Stanley Cup final would be even better, but it can't happen because the two teams are in the same conference.


April is not even over yet and the high hopes of Toronto Blue Jays fans are fading rapidly.  What a miserable start to the season for our home team!  If the Jays' record doesn't improve soon, something has definitely got to give.  As the losses mount, Rogers and the Blue Jays executives have got to be extremely worried.that the team will fall too far behind to catch up.  Rogers has too much money invested in the Blue Jays to just sit back and write off this season.

- Joanne

Monday, April 15, 2013

How Barry Keenan Kidnapped Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Almost fifty years ago, on December 8, 1963, 19-year-old Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped at Harrah's casino resort at Lake Tahoe, along the border of California and Nevada.  His ordeal lasted until December 11th, when his famous father arranged to pay a ransom that was reported to be $240,000 U.S. It was the most sensational kidnapping case in the United States since the abduction and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby son in 1932.

Franklin Wayne Sinatra, known as Frank Sinatra, Jr. or Frankie, was born on January 10, 1944 in Jersey City, New Jersey.  He is the only son of the legendary singer Frank Sinatra (Francis Albert) and his first wife, Nancy Barbato Sinatra.  Named after Franklin D. Roosevelt who was President of the United States at the time of his birth, Frank, Jr. has an older sister, singer/actress Nancy Sinatra (born June 8, 1940), and a younger sister, television producer Tina Sinatra (born June 20, 1948)

By 1948, Frank Sr. had ended his association with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and was determined to become a respected film actor.  In  order  for him to actively pursue a Hollywood career, the Sinatra family moved from  their New Jersey abode to Los Angeles.  After the move to L.A., Frank began a tempestuous affair with movie actress Ava Gardner.  The family was torn apart when he left Nancy for the sultry starlet.  After much scandal, Sinatra and the 29-year-old Ava wed on November 7, 1951, just ten days after his divorce had become final.  Frank Jr, was only seven years old at the time of his father's remarriage.

The three Sinatra children remained with their mother in their Bel Air mansion and only saw their father sporadically.  As Frank Jr. confided to the Washington Post in 2006, "He was unreachable.  He was travelling,or off making some movie . . it was only on rare occasions when we saw each other."  In 2012, he  told Nick Duerden of the British newspaper The Guardian that Frank Sr. was a good father as much as it was within his power."

In 1963, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was a music major at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).  Although a talented pianist with a fine singing voice, he found himself living in the shadow of his legendary dad.  It was difficult to escape the comparisons.  He bore the Sinatra name and his resemblance to his father was unmistakable.  In addition, he had chosen to be a crooner, not a rock and roll singer.

When offered a job as a vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the young Sinatra jumped at the chance.  He saw it as a golden opportunity to emerge  from his father's shadow and achieve something on his own.  Thus,  he dropped out of UCLA to embark on a 36-week nostalgia tour with the revamped Dorsey's band (Tommy Dorsey himself had died in 1956).  The band was scheduled to perform at various hotels and resorts around the world.

Frank Sinatra, Jr.

The kidnapping of young Sinatra was planned perpetrated by three rather inept and inexperienced criminals - Barry Keenan and Joseph Clyde Amsler, a pair of 23-year-old former high school classmates, and John Irwin, a 42-year-old house painter.  Keenan and Joe Amsler, an aspiring boxer, had grown up in Los Angeles together and had attended University High School (The school's alumni includes an impressive who's who of celebrities - Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Jeff Bridges and Elizabeth Taylor for example).  Keenan, a UCLA dropout, was clearly the mastermind of the operation.  He recruited Irwin, his mother's former boyfriend, as a third partner.

Barry Keenan is the son of alcoholic parents who divorced when he was a toddler.  His father, John Keenan, was a stockbroker and Barry was also keenly interested in the world of finance.  In fact, he was a financial whiz kid.  In 1959, at the age of 21, Barry became the youngest member of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange and was able to accumulate a significant fortune.  A streak of bad luck, however, exhausted his financial resources.  After a short-lived marriage, he went through a bitter and costly divorce.  An injury from a 1961 car accident left him with chronic back pain and an addiction to Percodan, a prescription painkiller.

Keenan's finances took another hit when the New York stock market crashed on May 28, 1962.  It was dubbed "the Flash Crash" and the Dow Jones Industrial Index fell 7.5 per cent that day. Unemployed and desperate for cash, Barry devised a scheme to obtain some ransom money form a big name celebrity.  The celebrity he chose was Frank Sinatra, one of the most famous entertainers in the world and a friend of then-President John F. Kennedy.

Young Barry Keenan

Barry Keenan now

The kidnappers had originally intended to capture Sinatra Jr, while he was performing at Arizona State Fair.  The fist plan was never carried out because the group felt too unprepared to go through with it.  They then decided to abduct Frank Jr. while the Dorsey Orchestra were booked at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on November 22, 1963.  Their second plan fell awry, however, due to the shocking assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on that fateful day.  The Dorsey band's show at the Ambassador was cancelled and there was heightened security across America. Ironically, JFK's brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated at that same Ambassador Hotel during his 1968 campaign for the presidency.

After their scheme to kidnap Sinatra Jr. in Los Angeles had been thwarted, the amateur abductors set their sights on a new time and place.  Harrahs casino resort in Lake Tahoe.became their next target.  It was their last opportunity to kidnap the singer before he and the  band headed for Europe.  The plan was put into motion on the evening of December 8, 1963 as Frank Jr. supped on a room service meal in his hotel room.  The singer's dinner companion was John Foss, 26, a trumpet player in the Dorsey band.. The two musicians were relaxing prior to their scheduled 10 p.m. performance.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door of Room 417.  It was Barry Keenan, claiming to have package.  He was invited into the hotel room and Sinatra Jr. instructed him to place the box on a nearby table. Amsler, who had been hiding outside the hotel room, quickly entered.  Dressed in parkas (there was a blizzard outside), the two men abducted Sinatra Jr. at gunpoint and blindfolded him.  The singer was then forced into a rented white Chevrolet Impala and driven to Canoga Park, an area of Southern California's San Fernando Valley.  As for John Foss, the trumpeter was bound and gagged and left in the hotel room.  He escaped from his bindings and called the police.

At the time of his son's kidnapping, Frank Sr. was filming Robin and the 7 Hoods with his "Rat Pack" buddies, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.  He was, however, at home in Palm Springs when informed of his son's abduction.  Stunned by the news, Sinatra immediately called a press conference and offered one million dollars for the safe return of his son.  The abductors actually demanded $240,000 and they insisted that Frank Sr. communicate with them via payphone.  During the abduction, Sinatra stationed himself at the Mapes Hotel in Reno, Nevada.  He also contacted Attorney General Robert Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

On the morning of December 11th,  Keena and Amseler set out to retrieve the ransom money which was dropped off by an FBI agent.  During their absence, John Irwin was left in charge of Frank Jr.  Irwin panicked and released his  hostage unharmed on the Mulholland Drive overpass of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles.  Sinatra Jr. kept walking until he was able to flag down a police officer.  He  was driven to his mother's Bel Air home where he was greeted by his relieved family and a large contingent of reporters.

The FBI quickly apprehended the three kidnappers.and they were brought to trial just three weeks after the abduction.  Keenan, Amsler and Irwin were represented by renowned Los Angeles defence attorney,  Gladys Towles Root.  Although the flamboyant Root dressed in outrageously large hats, tight garments and furs, she was one of the most skilled female criminal defence attorneys of the 20th century.  She specialized in sexual assault and murder cases and was known for her razor-sharp cross-examinations.  At the trial, the defence portrayed Sinatra Jr. as a co-conspirator in his own abduction and tried to create the impression that he had willingly participated in a hoax to further his career.  Root asked rhetorically, "Was this the publicity he had been looking for to make ladies swoon over him like poppa?"

Gladys Root

The three defendants were convicted and received lengthy prison sentences for the kidnapping - although they were only incarcerated for a small portion of the time.  Barry Keenan and Joe Amsler were sentenced to life plus 75 years imprisonment while John Irwin received 16 years.  Amsler and Irvin were released in 1967 after serving three years.  Keenan was released in 1968 after just under five years at the maximum security prison at Lompoc, California.  Barry Keenan was deemed to be legally insane because he suffered from a mental illness and heard voices.  He apparently believed that his kidnapping plan had received God's blessing and that it was not immoral because he intended to eventually return the ransom money.  In 1998, Barry told People magazine that he had thought he would "borrow" Frank Jr., invest the ransom money and pay back Frank Sr. with interest.  He claimed that in his "demented state," he viewed the abduction as a "business deal."

The kidnapping story made headlines worldwide and the Sinatras had to deal with rumours that Frank Sr. had staged his own son's abduction as a publicity stunt in order to jump start Junior's fledgling career.  The rumours proved false but the innuendo was hard to take and hurt deeply.  "The criminals invented a story that the whole thing was phony, Sinatra Jr. told the Guardian last year.  "That was the stigma put on me," he added.  So, although Frankie was not harmed physically, he was hurt psychologically.  He was subjected to constant ridicule on late-night talk shows and was made to feel as if he were the one being accused of a crime.

Frank Jr. performing

Despite the terrifying kidnapping ordeal, Frank Jr. and his father remained distant.  They did not really bond until 1988, when 44-year-old Frank Jr. was performing in Atlantic City.  Frank Sr. phoned him and unexpectedly asked him to conduct his band for him.  The surprised younger Sinatra, accepted the job.  He joined the elder Sinatra's staff as musical director and concert conductor and spent the last seven years of his father's career touring with him.

After suffering a heat attack in February 1997, Frank Sinatra, Sr. discontinued his public appearances. He died of a second heart attack at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, California on May 14, 1998.  Ol' Blue Eyes was 82 years old at the time of his passing. About two months after his death, his son's kidnappers finally admitted that Frank Jr. had nothing to do with the kidnapping and that they were sorry for their actions.  They reportedly attempted to sell the movie rights to the kidnapping saga to Columbia Pictures for more than a million dollars  Meanwhile, Frank Jr.'s attorneys filed suit against Barry Keenan, Joseph Amsler, John Irwin and Columbia Pictures in a Los Angeles Superior Court to prevent the kidnappers from receiving any financial game from the sale of the movie rights.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. remained a bachelor until the age of 54.  On October 18, 1998, just months after his father's death, he married Cynthia McMurry.  The union was short-lived and the couple divorced in January of 2000.without having any children. Frank Jr. does have a son, Michael Francis Sinatra (born March 1, 1987), from an previous relationship. Michael is a 26-year old college professor who resides in Japan.  His mother is  Patricia Ward Fisher, a former employee of the Sinatra family.  Although Sinatra, Jr. is rumoured to have fathered three other children, Michael is the only one he has publicly acknowledged as his child.

Frank Jr. is now 69 years old.  He continues to perform with his band in a show called "Sinatra Sings Sinatra."

Frank Jr. in 2008


* Are you wondering whatever happened to Barry Kernan, the young man who dreamed up the idea of abducting Frank Sinatra, Jr.?  Keenan, born in 1940, is still living.  He is 72 or 73 years old.  After his release, he became a wealthy real estate developer.  His book about the abduction of Frank Sinatra, Jr. is due to be published this year.  All proceeds are to be donated to charity.

* What happened to the $240,00 in ransom money?  J. Edgar Hoover stated that $168,927 of the ransom money was recovered at Joe Amsler's apartment.

* Joe Amsler, Keenan's accomplice in the Sinatra kidnapping scheme, died on May 6, 2006 in Roanoke, Virginia due to complications from liver disease,  Amsler was 65 years old at the time of his death.

Joe Amsler

* The story of the kidnapping was made into a 2003 television movie on Showtime.  It is titled Stealing Sinatra and stars David Arquette and Willam  H. Macy.  The film was nominated for a Primetime Emmy.

* One of Barry Keenan's closest friends was Dean Torrence of the pop duo Jan and Dean. Needing cash to fund his kidnapping scheme, Keenan approached Torrence, then riding high with the hit single "Surf City,"  He revealed his plan to his friend and requested money.  Torrence gave Barry $500 and dismissed his story as a fantasy.  When Keenan was released from prison in 1968, Torrence held a fundraiser for him.  The two later became partners in a chain of burger restaurants.

* In 1980, Keenan married Sasha White whom he had met in the late 1970s while developing White Bluff Ranch, a resort community in Lake Whitney, Texas.  Sasha and her parents, developers Bob and Marce White, were instrumental in helping Barry fight his addiction to alcohol and painkillers.  The marriage, however, ended in divorce after only three years.  In 1998, Sasha told People magazine that she did not know that Keenan abducted Frank Sinatra, Jr.  "I just thought he was this handsome, charismatic go-getter," she stated.

- Joanne

Editor's Update (March 17, 2016):  Frank Sinatra, Jr. passed away yesterday, March 16, 2016.  In a statement to the Associated Press, his family announced that the singer had died suddenly of cardiac arrest while on tour in Daytona Beach, Florida.  He was 72 years old.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Who is the real Laureen Harper, wife of Canada's Prime Minister?

Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister of Canada since February 6, 2006.  Since that time, his wife Laureen has remained steadfastly out of the spotlight.  In many ways, she is similar to her two predecessors, the reluctant Sheila Martin and the very private Aline Chretien.  Canadians have never really gotten to know the spouse of their current prime minister.  U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama has a much higher profile and greater recognition in this country than Laureen Harper. The U.S. First Lady only has to change her hairstyle to create a buzz here and in the United States.

It is not really fair, however, to match the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister with America's First Lady.  Last month, when Mrs. Harper granted a rare sit-down interview at 24 Sussex Dr. to Kathryn Blaze Carlson of the Globe and Mail, she he made it very clear that she does not wish to be compared with Michelle Obama.  "She's the First Lady of the United States, and it's a defined role," she told Carlson.  "I'm the wife of the Prime Minister - there's no First Lady in Canada . . . {The Prime Minister's wife) can have a big role, a small role, whatever."

So far, Laureen has done exactly that.  She has defined her own role and has chosen to play it safe.  It is a carefully crafted role and it has been shrewdly executed.  This prime minister's wife has not stirred things up or rocked the boat.  Nor has she uttered anything that has been deemed extremely candid or remotely controversial - unless you count the 2008 incident in which she informed the National Arts Centre in Ottawa that she would be unable to fulfill her role as honorary gala chair.  This occurred the day after Stephen Harper remarked that events such as fundraising galas don't resonate with "ordinary people."

More worldly and well-travelled than her husband, Laureen Harper has displayed a fondness for motorcycle riding and a penchant for rescuing stray cats.  Prior to becoming the wife of Canada's 22nd Prime Minister, she worked hard to establish herself as both a talented graphic artist and a successful businesswoman.  She is also an active volunteer with such charitable causes as the CIBC Run for the Cure and the Ottawa Humane Society.  In September of 2006, she participated in a fundraiser for the CanWest Raise-a-Reader Day literacy program just after the Harper government had cut $17.7 million from the human resources department's Adult Learning and Literacy Skills Program.

Laureen will talk about her hobbies such as photography or gardening.  She'll discuss her favourite charities. Any deeper insights into her beliefs and her personality have not been revealed.  Canadian have no idea what makes her tick. Whatever free spirit she possesses, she keeps well under control - at least publicly.  The slightest sign of any Margaret Trudeau-like behaviour would be quickly suppressed by her husband and the Conservative Party.  It would never be countenanced.  Her role is to enhance and soften the rather stiff image of her husband. This she has performed with great aplomb.        

Laureen Harper was born Laureen Ann Teskey on June 23, 1963 in Turner Valley, Alberta, a tiny rural town located south-west of Calgary.  The eldest of three siblings, she grew up on a ranch in the Rocky Mountain foothills surrounded by cattle, horses and numerous dogs and cats.  Her mother, Barbara was a housewife and her father, Dennis, was an electrician.  Being raised in such an environment, the youngster developed a deep affinity for animals.  Her parents sheltered many critters, preventing them from being destroyed.

With plans to become a journalist, Laureen attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary.  She ended up switching to photography and discovered that she had an aptitude for computer-generated graphics.  After graduation, she embarked on a journey to Africa with a youth group and travelled through 13 countries.  During the six-month excursion, she became romantically involved with a young New Zealander named Neil Fenton.  Upon returning to Canada, the couple married in April of 1985.  Laureen found employment as a graphic artist with GTO printing and Fenton aspired to be a restaurateur. The marriage collapsed, however, and the two separated in 1988.

Neil Fenton is now the chairman of 10Duke, a computer software development company based in the United Kingdom and Finland.  He is the founder of the cutting-edge company which creates new applications for online technology,

After the breakup of her first marriage. Laureen became heavily involved in a new Western-based political party called the Reform Party of Canada, a right-wing movement founded by Preston Manning, son of long-time Alberta Premier, Ernest Manning.  It was at a Reform Party assembly in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1990 that Laureen first became acquainted with Stephen Joseph Harper.

In 1991, as her relationship with Stephen Harper became more serious, Laureen completed the legal documents to finalize her divorce from Neil Fenton.   That same year, her parents also divorced after 29 years of wedlock.  According to a profile of Laureen Harper in Maclean's magazine (August 13, 2007) by Anne Kingston, religious differences contributed to the breakup of the marriage of Barbara and Dennis Teskey, causing their eldest child to take a dim view of organized religion.  She and Stephen Harper, an evangelical Christian, do not share the same religious beliefs.

In the federal election of October 25, 1993, Stephen Harper was elected to Parliament.  He represented the Reform Party as a member of the House of Commons for the riding for Calgary West.  Not long after, on December 11, 1993, he wed Laureen Teskey in a simple civil ceremony. They were married by a justice of the peace before a small group of family and friends in Calgary. Harper found an apartment in Ottawa while his new bride remained in Alberta to manage her graphic design and desktop publishing business.

In April of 1996, Laureen gave birth to the couple's first child, a son named Benjamin.  A second child, their daughter Rachel, followed in 1999.  The Harpers insist that they are an ordinary family and that they are typical parents.  Ben Harper, who celebrates his 17th birthday this month, is reported to be a strapping 6 ft. 3 in. tall and plays competitive volleyball.  Last January, the teenager's Twitter messages were locked when a reporter informed the Prime Minister's Office about it.  The reporter, Laura Stone of, stated that she told the PMO for "security reasons."   She said she "wanted to show what the account was like - it's a teenager's voice."

Laureen did not move to Ottawa until 2002, when her husband became Leader of the Official Opposition and the Harper family moved into Stornoway, the official residence in the Rockcliffe Park area of our nation's capital.  In 2006, she became the chatelaine of the Prime Ministers's residence at 24 Sussex Dr.  Until that time, she had been referred to as  "Laureen Teskey." In January of 2006, however, a Canadian Press dispatch proclaimed that henceforth she would be known as "Laureen Harper." in her capacity as the wife of the Prime Minister.

Harper family 2012 Christmas card

The Harpers share an interest in conservative politics and a fondness for cats. Stephen Harper, however, suffers from asthma and can not share his wife's love of the outdoors.  Laureen will turn 50 years old in June and she and the Prime Minister will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in December.  Reflecting on her impending milestone birthday, she told the Globe and Mail that she doesn't feel old.  She then added, "What's 50 supposed to feel like, anyway?"

EDITOR'S UPDATE (April 25, 2013) - On April 23, The Canadian Press reported that Laureen Harper had no advice on raising children in the public eye for new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie.  In fact, she said she could probably take lessons from Sophie.  "I wouldn't give her any advice." Laureen was quoted as saying.  "She would walk down the street and people know her.  I walk down the street and nobody would know me."

EDITOR'S UPDATE (January 26, 2016) - Since I posted this article in 2013, I have noticed that many people have performed Google searches to determine whether Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, are separated or divorced.  Perhaps they have been trying to find out if there is any basis to rumours they have heard about the couple.  At any rate, I have seen many key word searches on the subject of the Harper union.  

Although I cannot comment on the health of the Harper's 22-year marriage, I can say that Stephen and Laureen are not officially separated or divorced as of this writing.  It says a great deal about Canada that people would even have to do a Google check to find out if their prime minister (now former prime minister) is separated or divorced.  That certainly wouldn't be the case if an American president divorced or separated while in office.

Since the defeat of Stephen Harper's government in the October 19, 2015 election, Harper and his family have returned to Calgary, Alberta.  For the time being, the ex-PM remains a Member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary Heritage and commutes to Ottawa.

-  Joanne

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pancake time! Elmira Maple Syrup Festival and Photos

Yesterday I visited Elmira, Ontario for the town's annual maple syrup festival.  It is the largest one-day maple syrup festival in the world.  Elmira has hosted the event since 1965 and it seems to be attracting larger crowds every year.

I arrived with family members at about 11.30 p.m. and we enjoyed some tasty pancakes just after the noon hour.  They were so good  . . . but very filling.   For those who don't like pancakes, there is plenty of other food.available at the festival.  The main street, Arthur St., is filled with booth after booth  of delicious chow and other goodies.

There is an antique show at the arena where one can purchase some interesting collectibles and retro items.  There are also bus rides to the sugar shack. I did not go the the sugar shack but I hope to do so next year.
By the way, next year will be the 50th anniversary of the festival.

Elmira is located southwestern Ontario.  It is situated in the Township of Woolwich, in the the Municipal Region of  Waterloo.  It is 15 km. north (9.3 miles) north of the city of Waterloo, Ontario.  According  Statistics Canada census data, the population of Elmira was 9,931 in the year 2011, making it the largest community within Woolwich township.  Elmira is Mennonite country.  It was settled mainly by Mennonites who still make up a significant portion of the town's population today.

Here are some photos I took at the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival.

- Joanne