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(May 1-3, 2014, was reunion weekend for graduates of the Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing. Our class, the Class of 1964, celebrated the 50th anniversary of our graduation. Please click on the photos for a larger version. The quality of the photos is not consistent.)

Friday morning: The Livingston Hall Coffee Party

There was a glass case just outside the lounge in Livingston Hall. I was waiting for my classmates and I was looking at our class’s memorabilia which was on display.

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“Who are they?” I heard someone ask.

“They’re nurses who used to work here. They came back for a reunion,” said another voice. “They used to wear proper uniforms and a cap.” After a few disparaging remarks about how nurses have changed, he went on. “They were real nurses,” he said fondly.

The questioner was a young man in uniform – probably a porter – and the middle-aged man answering the questions was from housekeeping. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he said to me.

I assured him I was and we had a lively conversation about what Livingston Hall used to be like. They were interested to hear that it was our home as well as our school – I pointed out the nearby elevators and told them about our rooms and some of the fun we had there, as well as the more difficult times.

There are many highlights of our reunion weekends but the visit to Livingston Hall always stands out because it takes us back to a more familiar place than some of the other events. It’s there that our memories are waiting.

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So many of us, for example, remembered Miss Herman, ever-vigilant, with her tape measure to make sure we didn’t have too much leg showing on our way to work. I was an expert at turning my waistband so my apron was a good two and half inches shorter than it was supposed to be. I wasn’t nearly as good at avoiding Blanche but on the days I did, I always had a better day.


When a few classmates and I walked along the corridor between Livingston Hall and the hospital lobby – with a stop at the Hop Shop, of course – we slowed down to pay homage to Mrs. MacLeod near where her office was. A little further on, we remembered – by name – our evening and night supervisors. We remembered some more fondly than others.

Since graduation, we’ve lost 12 of our classmates. There are some we’ll always remember as the girls they were when they left us, far too soon. Others, lost more recently, are still mourned, still causing us to say, “I can’t believe it. It seems like only yesterday that we talked.” Whenever we meet, our missing classmates are there, if only fleetingly, because in some small ways, we ask time to stand still for that kind of remembering.

Thursday evening: Reception at the Omni

We had 56 members of our class attend our reunion – an excellent turnout for a class that graduated 108 students 50 years ago. We were in varying stages of mobility and health and, as we’ve observed before, some of us are instantly recognizable having retained at least some of our identifiable characteristics. Others of us must try to keep our nametags front and centre to try and minimize any embarrassment and to avoid those awkward whispers of, “Who is that anyway?”


Our sense of fun remains intact and we enjoyed the Omni. Our Thursday reception, the first point of contact unless we had run into each other in the lobby, was a party of perpetual motion and musical chairs as we tried to talk to everyone at once.




Friday evening: Dinner at the Omni

We all went to dinner wearing funny glasses, emblematic of the 50-year class. We stayed up late, got up relatively early, commiserated with those who are going through a rough patch, admired photos of grandchildren, new digs, momentous life events. We talked and talked and talked.

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In the end, we behaved like the sisters we are. Sisters, not by virtue of blood or relationship, but sisters in life experience and in shared memories.


Because we don’t want it to be over, we’re all prepared to do it again, whenever we can.


St. Joseph's

On Sunday, October 17, Brother André Bessette, founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, was canonized and is now Saint André. Thinking about him made me remember this lovely poem, written by Raymond Fraser. The poem first appeared in the collection Waiting For God’s Angel and it was also included in the selected poems, Before You’re A Stranger. Ray said I could publish it here — and here it is. I’m sure you’ll like it.

St. Joseph’s Oratory

It’s like a festival day Sunday afternoon at St. Joseph’s
although it was cold today when we went
the church and the yard were alive with various people
families and sweethearts, priests, pilgrims, urchins,
      old folks
they came by foot up the long pathway or drove in
      family cars
or came in pilgrim buses making a special tour

the restaurant that looks like a beach house was full
with people eating hotdogs and French fries and
and the souvenir shop was crowded
we went into the church Sharon and I and looked at
      Brother André’s heart
and at his robes and shoes and rubbers and his hat
and photographs of him
and we saw him in the wax likeness in his bedroom and
      his office
and dying in the hospital
we saw his picture everywhere on magazine covers and
      souvenirs and colour slides
and we saw the place where he’s buried without his
beside two coin boxes
while we were there a young husband and wife placed
      their infant
on his casket and said some prayers
there were long rows of candles climbing halfway up the
some lit and others waiting to be lit for a donation


we rode the escalator to the unfinished basilica with its
      massive organ
that thundered terrifying Catholic music
and its Egyptian-looking arches

earlier we’d been to the downstairs chapel where a
was giving a sermon in French
while tourists walked in and out
giving the place the once-over
we didn’t buy any relics or grace or merit of any kind
we saw in the guest book at Brother André’s tomb that
      Adam and Eve
had been there because they’d signed their names and
      they were from Montreal
when we left the church we went to the cafeteria and
      had hotdogs
and hot chocolate and then we went up to Brother André’s
      original little chapel
and looked at his room upstairs
we saw his statue of Christ with torn bloody flesh looking
something from a chamber of horrors
bloody and gouged like he’d been torn apart by lions
and we saw Brother André’s extra bed where he kept a
      friend for company
because of the visits he had from the Evil One which
      must have been harrowing
and then we went home half-froze from waiting for a

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