Monday, October 22, 2007

How your family heritage can lead you to strange places . . .

Back in 1990, when I took over the operation of Ste. Anne's Bed & Breakfast from my brother and his wife so that they could spend more time raising their family, I moved into a room above the kitchen that was known as the nursery. It was a small room, sparsely furnished, but it was all I needed; it always had a nice breeze coming in from the lake and it was nice to wake up to the smell of breakfast cooking downstairs. The room came furnished with an antique dresser that had at one time belonged to my paternal grandmother. As I explored the dresser, I found that the top drawer contained a gun, similar to the one in the picture. I'd seen this gun before - probably in my dad's top drawer, so I wasn't too alarmed. As the story goes, this gun had belonged to my grandfather - my namesake - who had been involved in a number of ventures in the Niagara Falls area - at one time owning the Clifton Inn (so I guess you could say that I had innkeeper's blood in my veins). At one time he worked for Gooderham & Worts selling booze, but with the onset of prohibition, my grandfather became a bootlegger for the same outfit. I never knew this grandfather, so it's hard to say when he came into possession of this gun, but my guess is that it was during his days as a bootlegger. I have a feeling that he ran with a pretty rough crowd. For years, the gun sat in my dresser drawer and I didn't think much of it. We never had any ammunition, so I wasn't worried about an accident. On one occasion I remember using it as a prop at a Murder Mystery dinner we had, but other than that, it maintained a pretty uneventful existence, certainly as compared to the days when it travelled around Niagara Falls in the glove compartment of my grandfather's car. Then came the great Canadian gun registry (or billion dollar boondoggle as it came to be known); an interesting piece of legislation for many reasons, but in my case it effectively turned me from a mild mannered collector into an out and out enthusiast. As a good citizen, I filled out the paperwork so that my government would know that this gun existed. A few months after filing, I got a phone call asking for more details on this gun. As I described it, the person on the other end of the phone told me that I had a restricted weapon, as determined by the length of the barrel. In order to legally own a restricted weapon, I needed to take a hunter safety course so that I could get my non-restricted licence, and then take a firearms safety course so that I could acquire and own firearms, and then take another test so that I could own a restricted weapon. The alternative was to turn this piece of family history in to the local police department or have it rendered inoperative. To get the ball rolling, I bought the text book for the first course and tried to study it. On first blush, it had much more detail than I cared to learn about hunting and firearms in general, so I put it in a pile of things to do on a rainy day, where it collected dust for several years. I also locked up my gun in a safe place. This past weekend, I finally got motivated to take the hunter safety course, step one. I found myself in a classroom full of men and women aged between 12 and 70 all of whom were pretty keen about hunting. My mother was quite disapproving - "guns are for killing", she lamented, but I persisted, and by golly, I really enjoyed the course. I'm not sure that I'll ever take up hunting, although I suppose every time I order a cheeseburger, or chew on a rack of lamb, I'm exercising my place at the top of the food chain, we just don't like to think about the messy bits. The other contradiction for a peace loving Canadian comes when we pay our taxes, when in effect we are buying weapons for the police and the military to use for but one purpose. As a result of my little adventure, I do have a new found respect for firearms and the people who use them, and I can hang onto a little bit of my proud Irish heritage without breaking any laws. Did you know that the greatest number of deaths caused by firearms in Canada is suicide (over 80%), and did you know that the greatest threat to wildlife is loss of habitat? If I've piqued your interest in hunting, click here.

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