Journalist Responsibility When Reporting on Death

What is a journalist's responsibility when reporting on death? A private list with a lot of Canadian journalists discussed this issue last week. It turned out to be a prescient subject. As the week went on, and journalists covering the Montreal Massacre continued naming the mass murderer instead of his victims, I got more dismayed. Given this, I thought I'd share my thoughts with blog readers about the kinds of questions reporters need to ask about their stories. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

As a baseline, I think that journalists and everyone else reporting on deaths have a responsibility to decide whether they should publish something or not.  If their work does more harm than good, they need to remain silent.

Figuring out this line can be difficult depending on the situation. I have three rules: begin by asking questions that determine the level of public interest and harm a story might do; focus on commemorating people; ask whether someone is manipulating you and if so, why; make sure that you are reporting news not propaganda; and remember that your responsibility is to the public interest, not the private one.

Begin by Asking Three Questions

As people who work in the public, journalists have always faced a hierarchical set of three questions that change whether a story will be published or not.

1. Does a story have a real public interest?

2. If it does, can publishing a story increase the likelihood that someone will act in the public interest?

3. Who gets harmed if a story gets published? Does the public interest supersede that harm, and if so, how? Answering these questions can be tricky, but anyone publishing something should not only ask these questions, but they should refrain from publishing something that clearly does more harm than good. How does that apply to reporting death? That's when the base rules really matter.

Mass Murders

With mass murderers, I tend to agree with readers who want journalists to avoid naming killers and the organizations they belong to. We faced the absence of this rule again multiple times last week. Writers and broadcasters continually named the person responsible for the Polytechnique massacre when the women he killed and the men he harmed remain anonymous. I've been trying to cover their stories instead.


I also want journalists and the police to continue keeping suicides anonymous. The anguish of the family and the tendency of copycats means that we shouldn't report suicides when they first occur. We need to write analysis, mental health awareness stories, and other stories later but not immediately after the death occurs. When we do write these stories later, we need to ensure we do so without causing unnecessary harm.

Individual Murders

Murders of individuals fall on either side of the issue. Sometimes, reporting murders is important so that the public knows to protect themselves, particularly when a suspect is on the loose or when the police are looking for clues. But that practice can be abused by the media, for sensational purposes or by the police, for manipulative purposes.


Wars need to be covered, even when they are street wars. Too often we don't know that these are happening around the world, and its important to be informed. This can be demoralizing when done badly however. Every day, a war takes place somewhere. If you want to know which places in the world are suffering, the Canadian Government offers a list of travel advice and advisories about conflict around the world. The Council on Foreign Relations operates a global conflict tracker that defines wars and other conflicts from a United States of America point of view. Wikepedia also has a page with current armed conflicts.

Accidental Death

We need to cover accidental deaths to prevent future accidents and to commemorate the lives of victims. Just be careful not to shame a victim.

Responsibility to Commemorate People

If journalists remember to commemorate individuals who take worthwhile action, they rarely stumble. Stories to commemorate people are almost always helpful, regardless of how those people died. There's fewer and fewer of these stories available, except when families pay to tell them. I think that's a shame.

Responsibility to avoid Manipulation

Too often journalists forget that there are multiple actors in every story, including our own emotions. The tendency of journalists to take an "unbiased" viewpoint hurts objectivity. People are always biased. I think it's more useful to make sure that readers know our biases rather than pretending they don't exist. Editors and publishers also have biases and making those transparent is crucial. It's tough to recognize how much manipulation of the media takes place. Journalists have always been among the many people manipulated by private interests, including the interests of the private owners of the media for whom we work. Our lack of success at that task has led to a dismal rating of trust by the public.

Responsibility to Report News versus Propaganda

The challenge of making sure that we report the news rather than participating in propaganda can be a challenge. We have a responsibility to our readers to do so anyway. Most of us continually face awkward situations. Our media bosses push for more pleasant coverage of advertisers. Advertisers ask us for favours. This is the constant advertising versus editorial dilemma, and advertisers have won. In the 1980's, the Toronto Star tried to take an editorial stand in the travel industry. It looked like the paper won that battle in the short run. I think we all lost the battle in the long run. Partly, because readers have different views about what they want in the travel pages compared to what they want in the news pages. There, they prefer to read pleasant travel stories. They don't want to know why they shouldn't travel somewhere. Nobody wants to read only negative material all the time, even though they want to be informed.

Responsibility to Protect Public Interest

Given that most media owners are private individuals, and the fact that publishers can simply pull stories if they don't like something, the private interests of a publisher usually win out if there's a conflict between a private and public interest. Journalists have a responsibility to avoid this. Even public media operators face private challenges, particularly as they try to raise funds, that can put the public interest in second place. The need to sensationalize stories to attract attention often works against the public interest. The editorial versus publisher fight became so idealized in the 90's and early 2000's that publishers realized that their best bet was to simply fire as many people as they can. That turned readers off and led to the demise or fall of many. Just look at where it led Postmedia. Then publishers realized that perhaps they could get readers back by sensationalizing stories in the way the Buzzfeed and Huffington Post do. Also, advertisers know how to get what they want. When they couldn't go to publishers to get something, they went to journalists directly. The Huffington Post publicized that issue when it cracked down on writers who were subsidized by advertisers, but the practice has long been prevalent. After all, someone has to pay. Those of us with more idealistic endeavours often find out that we are the ones paying. If not with money, perhaps with time and frustration.

Public Housing Story Example

Several years ago, I did a series of stories about the lack of hygienic conditions, the harassment of people who complained and administrative corruption in public housing complexes. While I was able to help some individuals, the practices that I uncovered continue to this day. People who complain still get kicked out easily, the process for having legitimate complaints heard remains long and convoluted, the number of spots in the system remains inadequate and the court system that handles complaints gets manipulated by bad actors. Plus, my stories added to public misconceptions about poverty and housing. I stopped covering that beat because it took too much effort for limited results. Every now and then, I think it would be worth while to cover again since few others are doing so, but I haven't yet figured out how to do so effectively without being demoralized about how bad things are. If you have ideas about how this subject can be covered more effectively, let me know. In the meantime, I hope everyone thinks carefully about their publishing responsibilities, regardless of how large an audience they reach.

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December 6: Montreal Massacre

Today, let’s remember Barbara-Maria Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Barbara and 13 other women died during the École Polytechnique Massacre on this date, December 6, 1989.

The 31-year-old nursing student got shot enjoying a cheap meal with her husband in the cafeteria. Newspapers ran a photo of her collapsed in her chair for days afterwards.

She and her husband had emigrated to Canada from Poland two years earlier looking for a safer life. A failed referendum left little room for solidarity activists like them.

Klucznik-Widajewicz spoke five languages and held degrees in engineering and economics when she arrived. She worked as a nanny and her husband worked overnight in a nursing home before they had enough to go back to school.

While he studied to be a psychiatrist, she studied nursing.

The Berlin wall came down a month before she died. The cold war ended. Europe was safe again. Would they go home?

We’ll never know where their dreams might have led. They died with her on December 6, 1989.

Her husband Witold Widajewicz spoke of his shock examining her body to a Gazette newspaper reporter a year after her death.

I opened the zipper and I found a hole in the left breast, the breast that I had kissed that day — one hole that finished everything, the American dream in this country,” said Widajewicz, then 30 years old.

We all empathized with his plight. Many of us remembered the photo of her slumped in her chair. The multiple bodies on stretchers rolled out of the school. All of it so horrific.

Poland repatriated Barbara’s body after she died. Her husband and all of Canada faced an enormous loss.

Too often, stories talk about the gunman, giving him a notoriety he doesn’t deserve. I’d much rather commemorate Barbara and her contribution. She’s the one who deserves to be famous and remembered.

Or, if we must say a man’s name today, why not weep for then engineering student, Sarto Blais? Sarto was at the Polytechnique that fateful day, but was unable to stop the shooter. The graduate killed himself in remorse in August 1990. His parents killed themselves ten months after their only son’s suicide. He and his parents deserve to be remembered too. We need to combat the mental illness that stems from trauma like the massacre.

Montreal, Quebec and Canada lost too many wonderful people 30 years ago today. On this, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, let’s remember them.

Remembering 11 women

In addition to Barbara, Sarto and the Blais, we also remember:

  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student

Remember Geneviève Bergeron

Geneviève Bergeron was a twenty-one year old second-year scholarship student in mechanical engineering that year. She sang in a choir, played the clarinet and loved swimming, gymnastics and playing basketball. Then Mayor Jean Doré knew her as the eldest daughter of Thérèse Daviau, who then served as city councilor for the Montreal Citizens’ Movement. As a teenager, Bergeron went door-to-door in 1984 to help Doré win his first election. She also babysat Doré’s 3-year-old daughter.

Her sister spoke to CBC radio reporter Laura Marchand for an article published today.

She was my hero,” Bergeron said, smiling. “I remember her as a sunshine. That’s what we used to call her: our Sunshine.”

Catherine had an article in Le Devoir in 2005 that you can still read today.

Elaine Audet, whose daughter attended FACE with Geneviève also wrote a letter about her.

Remember Hélène Colgan

Hélène wasHeleneColgana 23-year-old mechanical engineering student on the day she died.

Finding information about what she believed in is difficult. All I could find is references to three job offers she was considering at the time, including one near Toronto, and her desire to do a masters degree. There’s also a brief statement about her energy from her father Clarence in a book about the events.

That’s all the more reason to miss her now. Who knows what she might have accomplished had she lived.

Her brother Claude Colgan, spoke about her in French on a video.

Women Engineer Success

If you prefer to commemorate today looking at the future instead of the past, join Mary Wells in celebrating 30 successful women in the engineering field who graduated within three years of that time.

Wells graduated from McGill as an engineer two years prior to the Massacre.

Her tribute page “30 years later” gives us just a small sense of what Canada lost when so many women engineer students–and one nursing student and trained engineer–died.

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Pete Bradford and the Art of Making Vinegar

If you're looking for unique gift ideas for the holidays, this week's podcast "Pete Bradford and the art of making vinegar" might interest you. Pete is a cooper, which means he specializes in barrel-making. Spirits, wine, vinegar, pickles, hot sauce, soy sauce, and a number of other fermented goods get aged in wooden barrels. Every community in Canada used to have at least one person who specialized in making barrels because you couldn't survive the winter without fermented foods. Not too many people took up the profession recently, but Pete has three apprentices working with him, because he says that there's a lot of work available and he can't do all of it. He accidentally fell into vinegar-making, and foodies everywhere will rejoice. I highly vouch for his peach, raspberry and balsamic vinegars, which are being shipped around the world. Pete and I discuss how he came to be a cooper, the history of coopering, the challenges of running a creative business in Canada, the many products that need barrel-aging and his recent luck at finding and purchasing his grandfather's blacksmith's bench and vice from 1923. [thrive_link color='orange' link='' target='_blank' size='medium' align='aligncenter']Listen to my conversation with Pete here.[/thrive_link]   Canadian Vinegar Cellars I highly recommend a visit to Canadian Vinegar Cellars, which operates within the Black Prince Winery in Picton. These vinegar flavours taste amazing, and the company takes orders from their website. Here's the transcript of our conversation: Tracey [00:00:03] We are here at the Black Prince Winery in Canadian vinegar sellers, Canadian vinegar sellers, and we are talking to Pete Bradford. Bradford, like the town, Bradford D, NORAD. Yep. And we have just been doing a tasting of the most amazing vinegar I've ever tasted in my life. Tracey [00:00:23] And they all started by accident. So tell me about the beginning of your vinegar experience. Pete [00:00:31] Well, I'm. I'm a cooper by trade, so I make barrels. And the interest in the barrels has been going for my entire life. But I basically started getting a little real about it about 35 years ago and it was back at that time where I had spoken to a couple of guys in a greasy spoon restaurant where we had had breakfast and we talked about where we lived and what we did and all that sort of thing. And I expressed at that time that I was interested in becoming a Cooper. So as not we said our goodbyes and everything. And it was a number of months later where I got a knock at the door and there was a gentleman who had four barrels in the back of his truck and offered to give them to me. Pete [00:01:17] So I accepted that and had the barrels and not knowing what to do with them or what to do anything about them other than to look at them over a couple of month's time. Another gentleman showed up and asked me if I was interested in some bulk sherry that it started to go to vinegar on him. I said absolutely. So took it and put it into the four barrels that I had. And by basically the grace of God sat in the garage for twenty plus years aging into vinegar. And then when it came basically to disposal time and thinking about getting rid of this stuff, because I've forgotten about the barrels. I went to dump it and I tasted some of it and found it quite amazing. So it grew from that particular year of three barrels up to about six. Pete [00:02:08] And then it went to about 12 and then 30. And I'm now sitting at about 250 to 280 barrels full of vinegar. Tracey [00:02:16] Wow. Actually, just to go back to the beginning, because the Cooper is a person who makes barrels. Yes. And most people don't necessarily know that this is a an art that has been around since the 1800s at least, and probably the 1600s. Because you had to make barrels in order to keep anything preserved. So the kinds of things that preserve in barrels include wine and vinegar and what else? Pete [00:02:42] There's soy sauce that's done. Pete [00:02:43] And quite frankly, barrels actually go back centuries, thousands of years, probably. Well, back to the Romans and the Greeks. So it's been it's been a trade and a vessel that has been around basically since the beginning of civilized world. So it's ithree thousand years old. And then when it comes to the vessel itself, it like you say, it's used for wine but spirits are bourbon, whiskeys and rums. Soy sauce is done in it, which I'm gonna be doing a soy sauce this fall. Tracey [00:03:20] So I mean, a new experience. Yeah. Pete [00:03:22] I built small fermentors, wooden fermentors. So 500 litre fermentors. And I've got one right now that I'm gonna be doing a soy sauce this fall. Tracey [00:03:31] So you wont add wheat, so I can taste it? Pete [00:03:32]  I haven't got a clue how to make. Well, I'll figure it out like everything else that I've done. And yeah, but hot sauce and pickles and you name it. So just about anything that's fermented or that can be preserved. It has typically historically been put into a wooden barrel. Tracey [00:03:57] Now, as I'm a hiker, so I've done a bunch of hiking guides and people know that there are Cooper Lane's pretty much throughout Ontario and Quebec because Cooper was a traditional industry that people wanted to be part of. But how many Coopers are there in Canada now? Pete [00:04:13] I know of two Coopers in Nova Scotia and they are called White Coopers. So they make barrels out of spruce and pints of softwood. And one is a historical site at the new Ross Farms. Walter's a Cooper that that both Marla and I had met. We spent the day in his shop. Pete [00:04:31] And then there's another shop in the southern end of Nova Scotia. And they also are White Coopers. They make pails, buckets, small barrels for the fishing industry.  When it comes to wet barrels, so hardwood barrels for wine, spirits, that sort of thing. Right now, as it stands, I am the only one doing it in Canada. Pete [00:04:54] I've got three apprentices and one or two other people have learned from me in the past. But there are three apprentices right now on the go. Tracey [00:05:03] Wow. Awesome. So this particular tradition is actually going to be carried on. Absolutely. Pete [00:05:08] It was always a goal of mine. When I first started this to have a couple of people before I retire. So I've got about 10 years left in me to keep on plugging away at what I'm doing. But there will be at least three other Coopers. So I'm hoping that they're going to open their own shops and things will carry on and evolve. There's enough business in each province of Canada to have three or four cooperidges. If the right marketing is done and all that sort of thing. There was always way more work than I ever wanted to deal with. Tracey [00:05:39] All right. OK. And in terms of the Cooper side, you've got a Cooper side to your business and you've got the vinegar side to your business. So can you talk a little bit about how the vinegar side has evolved and where you're going from here with that? Pete [00:05:54] Well, the evolution of this of this mess that I've created. I learned old school when it came to learning how to make barrels. And I learned that from one gentleman outside of Kansas City, Dale. And I was I was fortunate enough to learn old school. So what I've kind of done with the vinegar is, is it's taken a big interest of mine. I'm not a drinker. I don't drink alcohol really at all. I have a glass of wine once in a blue moon or a beer. But I'm not I'm not a drinker. So I always thought it would be kind of neat to really progress with the vinegar, being a non alcoholic ingredient. So I've sort of studied what the Spanish and the Italians and the Portuguese do with the barrels and how they age vingegars and Solaris systems and cooling systems and how barrels are stacked and how that affects the aging of whatever is in the barrels, the temperatures, the environment and all those sort of things. So II love what the Spanish and the Portuguese do with barrels. So it's not just the vinegars, but it's ports and it's sherrys and olive oils and all of the different things. Wine is at the bottom of the list for me when it comes to barrels. No particular reason. It's just not where my interest really lies. But I find it fascinating what they do. So old school on the vinegar is too. So thus, you know, the peach vinegar has been in the barrel for twenty-five, twenty-six years. All of vinegar are aged takes five to seven years for the alcohol to dissipate. So every vinegar from a starting point is five to seven years old. Tracey [00:07:43] Now what's interesting about aging vinegar is in a barrel is that the alcohol dissipates to the barrel itself. And yet they don't leak. Can you talk a little bit about the the leaking versus... Pete [00:07:57] It's a little more icomplicated than that. There's, um, there's a starter, a mother that I use that I was given or traded for a number of barrels that I built for an Italian gentleman in trade for the starter. That starter is really what takes the vinegar to a whole new level. But it's the work that the starter does with the enzymes within the barrel or within the vinegar. So it's pulling air in. It's constantly stirring and drawing air into the wine, which increases the acidic value. So it's basically an over-oxidization of the wine to to increase the acid. Pete [00:08:43] And then it's the that's the water molecules of the water vapor plus the alcohol vapor that evaporates through the wood in the barrel, which is called the angel's share. So on a typical vinegar barrel, I lose anywhere from five to eight liters of vinegar every year out of the barrel. And that is water, primarily water molecules and some of the alcohol. Most of the alcohol is eaten up by the mother working away on the enzymes within the barrel that's constantly bringing churning air into the wine, which air evaporates alcohol. So I'm never afraid to pull the bung on the barrel five or six times a month. Whereas wine, you put wine in a barrel, you put the bung in and you leave it until you're at least tasting from it, which is anywhere from five to six to eight months down the road. So the barrels are constantly being opened. New fresh air is being brought into the barrel every time you open it and take the bung out, which regenerates and revives or gives the mother a little more energy to keep working. Tracey [00:09:51] And just for listeners as well, then you use mothers with sour dough used nowadays with kombucha, you use mothers with anything that you're fermenting over a long period of time and you want to have a starter. So when I was a kid, we used to call sour dough monster dough, because it actually has to eat all the time. And that's you feeding the mother. Pete [00:10:11] Right. Tracey [00:10:11] And so in this particular case, you don't feed the mother. The mother gets fed by opening the barrel frequently and getting the oxygen. Pete [00:10:18] And I'm increasing. So I've got I've got a mother barrel that I draw mother from. So when I'm starting a barrel, I take five liters of mother out of my mother barrel and put it in the barrel that I'm starting. But when I take five liters out, I'm also taking 10 liters of vinegar or wine that's coming in the door and putting it in the mother barrel. So every time I use the mother, I'm taking five litres out, but I'm putting ten litres in. One to feed the mother with fresh and secondly to increase the volume. So that 15 liters of mother that I got 14 years ago is now grown to close to six hundred and fifty to seven hundred liters of mother. Tracey [00:10:57] And I just want to say, that's because so many people don't actually prepare their own food, let alone actually prepare their own artisan products. So it gives you an idea of how basically once you start with abundance, you actually create more abundance. Pete [00:11:09] Right. Tracey [00:11:11] Absolutely. Absolutely. It's a very important concept in the world. You're either dealing with abundance or you're deal with scarcity and it's much more happy life if you can actually work on the abundance side. Pete [00:11:23] Absolutely. Tracey [00:11:24] So can you talk a little bit about your how you set up your life as an artisan. It must be kind of hard to make a living in Canada these days. What's going on? Pete [00:11:33] Yeah, it's it's a tough in any small business. And I don't have any experience outside of Ontario, but any small business working in Ontario is really tough. There's the labour laws and then there's all of thealth and safety regulations. And and, yes, it's all necessary, but at the same time, it's a tough go. Ontario or Canada is a hard place to have a small business. There's no question about it. Pete [00:12:01] I've been through my hardships. I went bankrupt not too long ago, was five years ago and basically lost everything. And it's kind of I think it's the entrepreneur thing. It's going to happen to you once or twice and you jump in with both feet. And if you get knocked down, you stand up, you wipe the dirt off your jeans and you carry on or you start over. So that's kind of what I've done. And, you know, as much as here, I am 60 years old and wishing that I had a retirement program or a retirement fund, which I don't. But at the end of the day, it's only money. And at the end of the day, you have to enjoy it. So I enjoy the people that I meet. I meet amazing people from all over the world. I get invited all over the world to go and do things and and be places. I haven't taken any of them up on yet. And I've met some crazy musicians and movie stars and artists and it all has to do with this. So I'm a believer in opening up everything to the universe and not to sound too corny or anything, because I hate sounding corny, but just if you open up and you let the good things happen, then the good things will happen. And the bad things that happen, you just got to kind of get over it and get on with it. So that lets sort of the way I look at it and I take on the day with a smile on my face and I hope I end the day with a smile on my face. And the ones that do that for me are the ones that I meet in between. Tracey [00:13:30] And in terms of your creative entrepreneurship, because that's basically that's what you are. You have both sides. Can you tell me and some of the challenges that shocked you about being on either side and the creative side or the entrepreneurship side? Pete [00:13:48] Wow. That's a that's a big question. Geez. Pete [00:13:56] With or without pullingsome industries into this. It's just been a tough go. Pete [00:14:07] And I think probably one of the hardest things that I found as a Cooper was you're Canadian, so you don't know what you're doing. I had that response from a number of different companies. Tracey [00:14:25] Is that because Coopers are considered a European trade? Pete [00:14:28] Yeah. Tracey [00:14:30] It's very typical for almost all our artists. Any artist creative person in Canada faces that. You know, the group of seven went to study in Europe. Pete [00:14:41] And then and then the other thing that that I but I always find it funny and I still to to do to this day, And that is you're a Cooper. What are you doing making vinegar?  Because vinegar is out there in the world as bad wine. No, actually, it's really good wine that just happened to go to vinegar. But but so when you're when you're a company that's developing and you're making barrels for different industries and they're learning that you age vinegar in barrels, then that's kind of an oxymoron or whatever you might want to call it. Tracey [00:15:20] We like to call it multi passionate. Pete [00:15:23] And and I call it a big o, whatever. Take your opinion and shove it. It doesn't matter to me. Tracey [00:15:31] Now, we were talking earlier about the different kinds of you don't actually do any advertising. You tend to get your attention from word of mouth and yet you're actually exporting you now your work to several different companies. Can you tell me which which work it is and how you divide your two businesses up and where it goes? Pete [00:15:48] Well, of the the barrels themselves, I don't do too much anymore. I've got three apprentices. I'm letting those guys learn that the recoopering skills. I'm not building very many new barrels at all. And that will change over time over the next couple of years. But in the end, it's only to introduce the apprentices to building barrels. They all have a lot to learn. There's way more to a barrel than just knowing how to physically make a barrel. As a matter of fact, that's the easy part. Tracey [00:16:22] It's even the sizing. There's three different sizes a barrel, right? Pete [00:16:26] There's like 30 sizes 30. So there's that. I mean, I'm pulling the number out of the air, but yeah, I bet there's 30 sizes. Tracey [00:16:32] OK, so how many sizes do you specialize in? Pete [00:16:34] There's a 24 to 30 litre Perkin. Then there's a 50 liter barrel, a 100 liter barrel, a 220 litre barrel and then a 500 liter. Those are the ones that I that I've typically done. Pete [00:16:49] And which countries are they going to, where are they going to? Pete [00:16:53] It's been Canada and some to the United States when it comes to barrels. And that's as big and as far as I ever wanted to stretch their reach. Any more than that, it involves more than one person and I'm only one person. Tracey [00:17:06] While we're here at Prince Black Prince Winery and they actually are one of the few wineries that have decided to use your barrels. So these are Canadian oak barrels. You have to do one of their Solaris. It's like a brandy, but it's more than that. Pete [00:17:28] In Prince Edward County, there's probably about 15, 18  wineries that have used my barrels in the past. Some of them still have a couple of the barrels that they're using and then some went down into the states. And that's pretty much as far as the the barrels have gone. Pete [00:17:47] When it comes to the vinegar, though, it's gone to Tokyo, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, there's about four or five states and pretty much across Canada. And it's the foodies and the people that kind of appreciate what you do and then there's chefs, pretty much every one of those places that I just mentioned. That's that's the reason why it's gone primarily across the ocean, it's different restaurants and chefs. Tracey [00:18:21] Now, these chefs are all taking, what, your peach vinegar or? Pete [00:18:24] Yes. Or they're doing that. They're doing the peach. And then the solara, the original one, which I'm down to, only about 10, 12 liters left in that, then that's the end of it. That's the 37 year old.  It's over the top. And then they take the peach, the rasberry and the the balsamic seem to be the three main ones that are that are traveling around now. Tracey [00:18:48] Yeah. I know the ones that are truly appreciate. Yeah. And how do you actually ship them? Pete [00:18:54] It's bottled and then packed in boxes. Most of the shipments are only small shipments, like two or three cases or even sometimes not even that. Maybe half a case to different places. And then there's other places. I did a big order in January and it was 400 cases and it went to Taiwan. And that representative has already contacted me back saying that they received it and he's liking and he hoping to put in an order twice or three times the size for December because he wants to take it to China and in Japan. Tracey [00:19:56] So then my last question and all of my podcasts are always this are do you. Do you consider yourself a Canadian? And if so, what does that mean to you? Wow. Pete [00:20:05] Yes. I am a Canadian. I'm a 100 percent Canadian. I'm very proud to be a Canadian. The generations of my family have been Canadian for six generations.  We started in Ireland and went to the East Coast, then to Goderich, Ontario and Dungannan, Ontario. Pete [00:20:25] So my great grandfather and my great great grandfather were both blacksmiths in Dungannon,  Ontario. The type of cartridge. My grandparents had a butcher shop in Goderich.  My father was a butcher before he became a vice principal for the Scarborough Board of Education in Toronto. Pete [00:20:42] But yeah, I take great pride in in the fact that my family was not in any of the military services because the services they provided were necessities in the communities that they were living in, which is the blacksmithing and the butchering. So I take great pride in that. And yeah, I've got my great grandfather's blacksmith shop. I just found his blacksmith shop in Dungannan four years ago.  And I managed to buy the bench. His name's carved into the back of the bench. George Bradford, 1923 is carved into the bench. I managed to get his blacksmith vice, which is part of it. And the blower from the the forge. So I. Yeah. And I'm a hundred percent Canadian. I love it. I wouldn't live any other any in any other place in the world. We've got the greatest country in the world. And yeah, either Canadians like to have fun. If they if they're given the chance, the opportunity to have fun. So. Yeah. Tracey [00:21:55] Thank you very much. I really appreciate your time. And I love, love, love your vinegar. Thank you for introducing us to your art. Pete [00:22:02] Very nice meeting. Good to meet you, too.  

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Visit Picton for insight into military ancestors from WWII

Imagine turning a corner and seeing rows upon rows of green painted wooden buildings as far as the eye can see. One minute, there was nothing. The next minute, an entire town appeared in front of me.

For just a moment, I shared a bit of the awe my ancestors must have felt on day one of their military training during WWII.

The experience took place while I was touring wineries near Picton Ontario last summer.

A former airfield and military base on County Road 22 operates as the Picton Airport and Loch-Sloy Business Park. It includes 54 historic buildings and six airplane hangars on 701 acres of land.

Local businesses rent space

The Prince Edward Flying Club offers “prior permission required” landing services for pilots.

Fifteen other business tenants rent space there too. I saw listings for carpenters, furniture makers, glass manufacturers, landscapers, mechanics, and stone distributors. There’s even a yoga studio on site.

Driving and walking through the park feels like taking a step back in time.

The Picton airfield originally opened on April 28, 1941 as a bombing and gunnery school for the war effort.

Canada, with the support of Britain, built new or expanded existing fields into more than 100 such facilities in less than four years.

The effort became known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Looking back it is difficult to grasp the BCATP in all its dimensions,” wrote J.F. Hatch, in his 1983 book describing the project. “In themselves, the statistics are impressive: 131,553 [plus 5,296 RAF and Fleet Air Arm personnel trained prior to July 1, 1942] aircrew trained for battle, through a ground structure embracing 105 flying training schools of various kinds, 184 support units and a staff numbering 104,000. When war was declared the RCAF had less than two hundred aircraft suitable for training, many of them obsolete. In December 1943 there were 11,000 aircraft on strength of the BCATP.” [1]

My ancestors Paul Emile Hurtubise, Jean Charles Mathieu and Richard Himphen all trained at Ontario-based military installations just like this one, although the ones they went to were in Camp Borden, Dunnville and St. Thomas rather than Picton.

Camp Borden still operates as an active military training facility. The ones in Dunnville and St. Thomas are long gone.

Picton is probably the last BCATP centre in existence—with original buildings and triangle airfield layout intact—anywhere in the world.

Heritage Structures Intact

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used the buildings and hangars for storage and equipment maintenance after WWII.

After that, the Royal Canadian School of Artillery (anti-aircraft) moved in to train anti-aircraft gunners, gunnery radar operators, technical assistants and artillery instructors. The first battalion Canadian Guards infantry unit also used the site for a while.

During part of that time, AVRO Arrow test models could be found in some of the hangars.

In 1969, the Department of Defense closed down CFB Picton and the H.J. McFarland Company purchased the land and buildings.

Loch-Sloy bought the site from the McFarland family in 1999.

Dreams for a Period Museum

That’s when the company began a slow challenging effort of reconstructing the former buildings into a period museum that they hope will eventually open full-time. They produced a fun video describing their dreams in April 2013.

Until that happens, you can arrange private tours of the site or contact them for upcoming public events.

I highly recommend the experience. It connects you to the past in a way that reading documents just can’t achieve.

– 30 –

If you want to read more about my WWII military ancestors and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, refer to the following stories:

Fairwell Sergeant Himphen

Evening Serenade

Shot Down Three Times

Vincent Massey and the BCATP


[1] Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, 222 pages.

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Kitty Freeman: WWII Heroine and Food Research Pioneer

Kitty Freeman: WWII Heroine and Food Research Pioneer

This week, we commemorate the public service contributions of trained dietitian and Montreal philanthropist Mary Catherine “Kitty” Freeman. Freeman was born in Prescott, Ontario 98 years ago Sunday.

During the war years, Freeman helped feed wounded soldiers using limited rations at hospitals in Liverpool, England and Bruges, Belgium . She described her experiences to Bronwyn Chester in 2004 for a newsletter article.

If someone became diabetic, for instance, you’d look after that,” she told Chester. “But mostly you did the best you could with what you had. We had 600 patients at one time, and to break the monotony of meat with a lot of fat in it, along with potatoes and canned and dried food, you’d just go out and buy strawberries.”[1]

Freeman frequently donated to McGill during her lifetime. She also left Macdonald College a million dollar endowment after her death on March 13, 2009. Today, a well-equipped 12-person food laboratory commemorates her contributions. Another $25,000 went to the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research.[2]

Clearly, the study of food and nutrition meant a great deal to her, perhaps because she grew up during the Great Depression.

As a young woman, Freeman pursued a Bachelor of Household Science from Macdonald College and dietitian training at Royal Victoria College.

She signed up for the Canadian Army’s Medical Corp as soon as she turned 21 and became eligible for service.

Freeman told Chester that she travelled from Halifax Canada to Liverpool England as the only dietitian on one of three Army hospital ships.

Hospital Ship Travel

Hospital ships carried wounded soldiers from Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax. There, trained technicians transferred patients to hospital trains sent to hospitals across Canada. Military personnel and soldiers then boarded empty ships, just as Freeman did. The ship then returned to Europe for more patients.

Painted white hospital ships displayed large red crosses on each side to indicate that they should receive safe passage.

You can see a photo of one such ship on Roger Litwiller’s website. We can assume that this photo shows a later probably larger ship than the one Freeman sailed on. The Lady Nelson hospital ship didn’t exist until April 1943. It boasted an operating theatre, x-ray machine and wards for 515 people. The December 1944 Index to British Warships document shows only the Lady Nelson in existence that particular year, only two years after Freeman’s passage.[3] That couldn’t be accurate, however. The Letitia hospital ship was refitted with 200 medical personnel and the ability to ship 1,000 patients in 1943 and continued to sail in 1944.

The Geneva Convention specified that enemy bombers and submarines weren’t supposed to target hospital ships, but there were no guarantees. According to Wikipedia, 25 hospital ships were sunk during WWII.[4]

Military Contribution

The hospital ship Freeman was on arrived safely in Liverpool with its two mates in 1941. There, her expertise became a much-needed commodity. Britain struggled to feed itself. Canadian exports accounted for 77% of the wheat and flour consumed in the country. The following year, rations would be introduced across Canada to ensure that enough food went overseas.

Freeman took charge of the military hospital food service. Later, they sent her to Belgium to perform a similar role in harsher conditions. After five years of service, she returned to Montreal. She immediately joined the staff of the veteran’s Saint Anne de Bellevue Hospital as a dietitian

She moved to Queen Mary’s Veteran Hospital before retiring in 1978.

According to a 2005 Veteran’s Affairs pamphlet, Freeman’s experiences were duplicated by many women of her generation.

No account of military service in the Second World War would be complete without mention of the contribution made by the four special branches of the nursing service – the Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Dietitians and Home Sisters. Also, the sisters who served on the hospital trains returning the wounded to destinations across Canada. The end of the Second World War brought the closure of military and station hospitals across Canada. A total of 80 nurses, 30 RCAMC, 30 RCAF and 20 RCN sisters joined the permanent force and served at military establishments across the country; many more staffed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospitals to care for hundreds of returning Veterans.[5]

We need to remember the service of these courageous women, including Mary Catherine Freeman.


[1] Chester, Bronwyn, “Fueling the Forces,” In Focus Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, McGill, Spring 2004, p15,, accessed September 24, 2019.

[2] “Generous legacy supports dietetic and nutrition research, CFDR Keeping in Touch, Fall 2009, p3.

[3] Index to British Warships, Division of Naval Intelligence, December 1944,, accessed September 24, 2019.

[4], accessed September 24, 2019.

[5] “The Nursing Sisters of Canada,” Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, 2005. Catalogue No. V32-146/2005 ISBN 0-662-69038-9 Accessed September 24, 2019,

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