Today I was again thumbing through Dave Williamson’s 2012 illustrated history of RRC, Changing People’s Lives. So many memories, but—sorry Dave—so many gaps.
The book does mention Dave’s 2001 anointing as “Prince of Princess” . But that rather disingenuous footnote masks a darker little secret. To a little known RRC band of secessionist conspirators, our Prince was better known as “The Pope” .
It all started innocently enough. Not long after his crowning, the King’s Head Pub had become a handy watering hole and a tepidbed of clandestine bellyaching sessions with the new campus Facilities Manager, Ron Barnes, and media whiz, Richard Edwards. Before long, they were joined downtown by the truly subversive Peter Komarnicki, then Dave’s most trusted lieutenant. That’s when talk of shaking off the shackles of the “Tower” (better know as 2055 Notre Dame) really took off. Peter quickly recruited moles from the highest levels of the college: Leslie Walsh (RRC Governor 2003-2005) and her successor, Guy Dugas (RRC Governor 2005-2007). Now the ongoing weekly “draft” of a secessionist manifesto (it was a pub, remember) progressed in earnest, minions frothing at the mouth for a “campus libre”.
I think it was Peter who quipped at one of our huddles, “Is the Pope Catholic?” To which one of us replied, “Does a bear…?” And so we were christened: the Pope and Bears. The King’s approvingly seditious bartender (ironically, also named Dave) would religiously reserve us a table every Thursday. Once all Bears had assembled, our communional beer, fries, and holy malt vinegar would miraculously appear.
Over the years, assorted sympathetic but less committed subversives slipped in and out of our orbit: Mary Macintosh, Will Miller, Joanne Vermette, et al. But the last true zealot to be admitted to our conclave was Gail Shimonek, the real street-fighter of the group. By that time, unfortunately, there wasn’t much fight left in the rest of us. Ever enigmatic, even Dave seemed to be flagging as he approached retirement from RRC in 2006. Papal visits were becoming less frequent. Then Peter retired in 2007. Sure, he continued to attend regularly, but the spark had clearly left him too. The wheels finally fell off with the release of Changing People’s Lives in 2012. Judas! Dave had clearly succumbed to temptation. Just how many pieces of RRC silver had it taken, I wonder.
It marked the end of an era. So began the slow decline of both the Bears (we’re all getting old) and the King’s. Our turncoat Pope was more often than not off gallivanting happily with other word-slingers-for-hire; Dave the bartender eventually slithered off to start a B&B on Vancouver Island; Sleeman’s Honey Brown (my old go-to) fell off menu and the fries were now made from frozen potatoes. Is nothing sacred?
I retired in 2012, dreams of secession dashed, followed by Gail and Leslie the following year. Since then, the three of us continue to meet with Richard, the only other original conspirator, whenever we find ourselves in Winnipeg at the same time. We are now content to wax nostalgic, only occasionally at the King’s Head and not necessarily on Thursdays, though these days mainly via Zoom (appropriately virtual). We pray for one more papal apparition.
I keep a bottle of malt vinegar at the ready.
Some nights, we all swear we can still hear the angels cry, “Vive le campus libre!”
This is another contribution to our “Celebration of (Retired) Life“ series. We encourage you to contribute any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA.