In 1972, my Dad and his sister Anne went to Ireland to visit their cousin Basil. They stayed on Basil’s family property near the town of Clones, in the far north of Ireland, anxiously close to the border of troubled Northern Ireland. Basil suspected that his farm foreman belonged to the IRA. One evening, Dad and Aunt Anne decided to walk over to the village pub. Basil warned them not to talk about the upheavals in Northern Ireland. At the pub, he said, you didn’t know who was on which side and it was best to just not bring it up.
So they didn’t. Instead, there in that border pub, the eager Irish patrons were full of questions for Dad and Aunt Anne. They wanted to hear all about the troubles in Montreal.
They were talking about the 1970 October Crisis, when the separatist group Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped two government officials. Details of this event, and all the controversies that went with it, can be found in other places. Canada’s brush with serious internal terrorism was blessedly brief. It began that October and was over by the New Year. But it lasted long enough to claim a victim, which was unspeakably sad.
I’ve heard the stories of those who were adults at the time, about how it felt to live in Montreal when the War Measures Act was invoked; for some it was a non-event, for others, whose relatives were picked up for no reason by the police, it was the stuff to make one angry. My 9-year-old memories just feel surreal: soldiers patrolling the streets near my house. It was unnatural, although there was actually nothing frightening about them. In this account of the event, I can relate to the casual collection of curious children in the photo.
It’s great to be able to say, about the place you grew up, that the presence of soldiers was unnatural. It’s a good thing to look back and see that a local crisis was so fleeting as to not define your whole childhood. Because meanwhile, children living in Belfast northeast of cousin Basil’s farm were not so lucky.