(With apologies to Kipling’s “Ballad of Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House”)
As I sat upon the doorstep
Of Bunkhouse Number Two
Big Jim, the One lounged down ‘longside
And cut him off a chew.
This is the story he told me,
As I tell it to you.
“Twas tougher then than now, me boy,”
Along this old canal;
But the Spirit of the Big Ditch
Held young and old in thrall.
The men often whined, “We Cannot,”
But the Spirit said, “Ye Shall.”
When they huddled in the shanties
After a twelve hour day
On the reeking piles of gumbo
(That cursed sticky clay).
They were nigh onto exhaustion,
Dyin’ to hit the hay.
But they’d sit around like we are,
And smoke a pipe or two,
And swap the most amazing yarns
Or curse the heavens blue.
They was a mongrel, jumbled lot
That Old Canal Crew.
There was Charlie Loo, the Chinee cook,
“The Senor” from Tampico,
The Greek which we called Louie,
Tall Hans from old Saro,
A guy from far-off Hebrides,
“Slow Sam” from Idaho.
There was Jake Tike, the scar-faced Red,
And his ugly leering sneer,
He was always stirring trouble
When the big Boss wasn’t near.
And there was Mike, the Irish lad,
With eyes still bright and clear.
Michael was fresh from County Clare,
New to the life of the camps,
New to the hard-boiled ways of men,
New to the wiles of scamps.
He gave credit to everyone—
Even that gang o’ tramps. Continue reading “CANAL CAMP BALLADS No. 1: The Great Saint’s Medal By Jimmie Loftus” →
To the Workers Who Met Death On Canal Construction
It was inspiring, grand, impressive !
An event for the great to behold,
When thousands on thousands witnessed
The leviathan entrance unfold !
Long are the approach of the hour,
From areas distant and near,
Came eager, expectant people,
To gaze from the bank, tier on tier.
The foremost voice of our country,
Through receptive air channels hurled,
Cried forth the great shipway’s importance
To an audience girdling the world.
About what were some of us thinking―
We who stood on the grassy banks―
As scintillant invocations
Inspired the close-serried ranks?
We were loved ones, friends and companions
Of men crashed, or hurled, to their doom.
By the sudden snap of a tackle . . .
Collapse of a defective boom—
We stood on the sward and remembered . . .
Yes, we heard suave sentences flow.
But we knew—despite the orations—
To whom highest tribute should go.
There were those of the people present . . .
Remembering . . . stifled a sob
For the hundred and more of workers
Who went to their death “on the job.”
Originally published in The St. Catharines Standard, Monday August 8, 1932, p4.; published just after the new canal was opened.
Source: Dennis Gannon, 2017