Before the Falls
Hugh Lee Pattinson’s daguerreotype of Niagara Falls was a difficult endeavour (“Niagara Falls, 1840,” July/August). At the time, the image-making process was inordinately time consuming, and the apparatus required to create photographs was extremely cumbersome, weighing in excess of thirty kilograms. Fortunately, Pattinson had travelling companions to assist him.
A little on what readers saw that couldn’t have fit in your brief description: the image you printed is, of course, laterally reversed. Table Rock is on the left when it should be on the right. The Canadian Falls also appear closer to the shore than they would today. This is due to erosion: there has been around ninety metres of erosion since 1840. The small figure to the lower left is widely believed to be Pattinson himself. The image also appears in an aquatint, published in the mid-nineteenth-century book Excursions Daguerriennes, which was engraved from the same daguerreotype but published prior to its wider discovery. Until this image was recovered, it was not known whether the figure in the aquatint was part of the original image or had been added for effect by the engraver, a common practice at the time.
The photograph you printed is but a small part of a much larger project. Discussion is underway with the Niagara Parks Commission on the creation of a commemorative device to educate visitors to the Falls, who to this day imitate Pattinson, entirely unaware they are carrying on a tradition that began nearly 170 years ago.
No mention of “Courage” by the Tragically Hip in Nick Mount’s tribute to Hugh MacLennan (“On Hugh’s Watch,” July/August)? The article lacks perspective.
In “The Whole Schmier” (July/August), Brian Mulroney is portrayed as nothing more than a cartoon villain, a common approach in coverage of the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. That commentators are upset by the former prime minister’s failure in judgment is understandable. But it is dangerous for them to overplay Mulroney’s—or any politician’s—mistakes and failures, while offering no respect for his important accomplishments and the tremendous personal sacrifices he made to lead the country. To err is human, and Canadians, especially journalists, would do well to remember that our politicians are human, since this has repercussions for national politics. If Canada’s best and brightest have to fear public crucifixion for errors in judgment, they’ll be unwilling to sacrifice their families, careers, and reputations for the good of the country.
When I read “The Merchant Banker” (July/August), two images came to mind: The first was a table full of people passing around thick slices of pie and consuming them ravenously. With every bite, bits of filling and pastry crust explode and fall to the ground, where average Canadians wait to gather up the crumbs. The second image was of an operating room where the doctors congratulate themselves on a job well done, even though the patient has died. Witnessing the financial crisis wearing on, while the government fails to take decisive action on behalf of those who are out of work, I realize that my visions were prescient.
Thanks for the informative article on promession (“Decomposting Bodies,” July/August). The most important difference between promession and other disposal methods is that the former allows the healthy return of nutrients to the earth. Natural burial, in which conventional preservation methods are forgone, is often touted as the green alternative to standard processes. But despite its long lineage and the wild, unmanicured appearance of natural cemeteries, bodies disposed of in this way rot rather than compost below the surface. Surely this has more of an “ick factor” than promession.
Patrick McNally (online)
Eastbound and Down
I thought it fitting that the Woodward’s building developers would commission a public artwork celebrating an earlier occupation of the neighbourhood (“At the Gastown Riot,” July/August). While the development’s “affordable” units half-heartedly fulfill the promise of mixed-use housing, these are clearly luxury condos aimed at transplanting the privileged aura of West Hastings to the beleaguered Eastside. I also wonder about the ethics of Douglas’s painstaking recreation of the event, in the parking lot of the Pacific National Exhibition, three kilometres away from where it occurred. It would have been too inconvenient to position another set of cordons and baton-wielding police on the other side of those paddy wagons, to keep the current residents of the Downtown Eastside from interfering with Douglas’s meticulously composed mise-en-scène.
I picked up the July/August issue of The Walrus and would like to congratulate you on your “merit only” policy, since there is not much one can do about the dearth of quality writing and artwork by women, as well as interesting women to write about. I was delighted to see contributors Patrick, James, Sam, William, Lauchie, Joost, John, Christopher, Nicks F. and M., Michael, Randy, Misha, Jasons L. and S., David, Thomas, Tom, and Graham, and to read about Mark, Phil, Stan, Richard, Robert, and Hugh. A fiction issue, especially, should focus on quality alone. Joe, Lee, and Stephen are fine writers.
However, I am not entirely without hope. It seems a few women managed to make the grade: Leigh Kamping Carder wrote about Stan Douglas; Georgie Binks’ piece took up a good three-quarters of a page; there are three excellent illustrations, by Selena Wong, Robin Cameron, and Kate O’Connor; and the fiction section included a two-page story by Rivka Galchen. Good for us!
I look forward to more stimulating, non-discriminatory issues of The Walrus.