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Remarkable Unknown Short Men of Canadian History

by Ryan Abbott

edited by Kevin Chong

Archibald Lewis Lee (b. 1830, Kingston, Upper Canada, d. 1899, Kingston, Ont.; 157 cm, 5’2”), personal secretary, speechwriter and dutiful assistant to Sir John A. MacDonald, first Prime Minister of Canada. Born in 1830 into a long line of shipbuilders, Lee rose above the dim prospects of his lower middle class birth to the maple-lined halls of power, albeit hidden somewhat in the darkened antechambers of history, as the right-hand man to the nascent nation’s first leader. Though Lee showed great promise in school, his father’s premature death necessitated he drop out to find work to support his mother and younger sister. At age 13 he earned a position as an errand boy in MacDonald’s law practice just weeks before the future Prime Minister’s first successful election, to alderman of Kingston’s Fourth Ward. Lee later recalled his initial duties included the frequent acquisition of rye whisky and cubed ice. He also signed for packages that arrived when the future Prime Minister was indisposed, asleep or blindingly inebriated, and was occasionally called upon to present excuses for MacDonald’s absences at community or city council obligations. This combination of tasks continued more or less unabated throughout Lee’s career as he rose to become deputy assistant in the Office of the Prime Minister during MacDonald’s lengthy tenure. As MacDonald’s reliance on the bottle increased, so did Lee’s responsibilities. He was known to have written several of the leader’s speeches in their entirety, some of which he sketched out on large, stiff sheets of white paper for MacDonald to cold read while tipsy at the podium. By all accounts, Lee invented the cue card. Following MacDonald’s reluctant removal from office, Lee retired from political life and returned to Kingston where he operated a successful bed and breakfast until his death in a trolley car accident in 1899. Not widely known by contemporary Canadians, Lee is tangentially immortalized (though not actually present) in the sculpture of MacDonald that sits outside the Legislative Assembly of Ontario at Queen’s Park in Toronto. The bronze work allegedly depicts a historic moment when MacDonald, after hearing of the acceptance of the British North America Act by Queen Victoria, thereby heralding the birth of a new country, stood solemnly, a slight grin melting his dour cheeks, cotton batten hair a-billow, pointed his index finger downward to an empty high ball glass on his cherry desk and proclaimed, “Archie, tha’ whiskey sour’s nae goin’ t’pour itself.” *** “Wee” Duncan Trevor-Knox (b. 1869, Glasgow, Scotland, d. 1938, Fish Spine, B.C.; 160 cm, 5’3”), early titan of Canada’s forestry industry. Trevor-Knox arrived by steamship on Vancouver’s shore in the chilled winter of 1887 and, absorbing the abundance of trees that stretched across the pine-lined horizon, exclaimed aloud in an excited lilting brogue, “Pulp-wise a grand fortune b’comes m’eh!” His route to the salty wet western province was uncommon for a Scot: he’d left Glasgow at age 13, an agile broadswordsman and mercenary who fought for hire in battles far from home, including the First Madagascar Expedition, the Tonkin Campaign, the Sino-French War and Third Anglo-Burmese War, until, exhausted and scar-ridden, he stowed away in the coal hold of a cargo steamer bearing 5,500 tons gross register departing Yokohama for the new world. He boarded with nothing but dust in his pockets and arrived weeks later in Vancouver’s port with a ten-pound note, a cross-peen hammer and a giant bleached bluefin tuna spine, fairly won in a 13-minute arm-wrestling match against the ship’s elephantine Mongolian cook nicknamed “El Tankard.” After reaching shore and spying the verdant hills and peaks surrounding the Vancouver port of call, Trevor-Knox traded his tuna spine for a carriage ride deep into the lush northern country. He alighted at 171 Mile House (now known as Fish Spine, B.C.) and hiked through the bush’s fir-spiked shield to a clearing where he built a small cabin that was his home for many years and later became the first office for Trevor-Knox Timber and Pulp, Incorporated, of which his ancestors remain majority shareholders. Known to all as a teetotaler. *** Louis Earl Cochrane (b. 1911, Corner Brook, Nfld., d. 1999, Montréal, Que.; 165 cm, 5’6”), caddie to the most celebrated golfers of the 1930s and ’40s, and later a respected poet. He became wealthier than the sportsmen whose clubs he carried after devising a scheme to sell advertising on their golf bags. Cochrane retired from professional caddying in his mid-30s and used his substantial earnings to purchase a soft pretzel stand in his hometown, which he renamed Cochrane Soft Pretzels. The spot quickly gained popularity, and, when approach by a businessman from Calgary with a request to franchise the brand, Cochrane agreed, and a Canadian quick-service food success story was born. Over the next decade and a half, Cochrane Soft Pretzels were a mainstay at malls and fairgrounds from Mount Pearl to Mount Pleasant. Cochrane’s fortune and fame swelled, he was featured on the cover of Saturday Night magazine and the Canadian edition of Life magazine, which lasted but two issues. Around this time his wife left him for a TV weatherman. A devout Catholic, Cochrane willed his substantial possessions to the church. After his death, by natural causes, in 1999, it was revealed that Cochrane had been submitting poetry to literary journals for over three decades under the alias Nick Hogan. A posthumous collection titled Thy Fairest Ways was released in time for the Christmas shopping season in 2001 and exceeded sales expectations. *** Sebastien Steele Greycastle (b. 1915, Lachine, Que., d. 2005, Osoyoos, B.C.; 160 cm, 5’3”), tightrope walker and organic farmer, born into comfortable middle class outside of Montreal to a Franco-Saskatchewanian father with parents from Toulouse and a South African mother whose father was a former member of the North West Mounted Police who fought with the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry in the Boer War. The young Greycastle did not find success in school, having been diagnosed early on as a troubled child when in fact his symptoms indicate one of the earliest documented cases of restless leg syndrome. Without the validity of this diagnosis, Greycastle’s scholarly career was doomed. He quit school at 14 and joined a traveling carnival, where for several years he carried the luggage of the support staff who cleaned up after the celebrated elephant Rombo. In the evenings, while the carnival was underway, Greycastle amused himself and his fellow workers by climbing the guy ropes that anchored the striped red and white carnival tent to the earth. One evening he was seen tiptoeing up the taut 45-degree cables by the carnival manager, who quickly fitted him with a uniform of garments borrowed from the niece of a barker: grey tights, pointed leather booties and a frilled cotton blouse. The next night Greycastle was the second-to-main attraction, scaling tense knotted twine from the dirt-covered circus floor to the upper interior of the spacious tent. By the following week his name dominated the marquee as Lord Greycastle, the Northern Prancer and Nimblest Man in Canada. For six years he toured the world, becoming the most famous Canadian of his era, performing for kings and queens, dukes, the deaf and dumb, on all inhabited continents, in every season. After his retirement he bought and ran a cherry orchard in Osoyoos, B.C., where he lived with his wife Madeline, a former model for T. Eaton & Company and Christian Dior, and raised eight children, who had 34 grandchildren and, so far, 19 great-grandchildren. Upon his death, a five-cent stamp was issued in his honour. *** Tane Bodnar (b 1943, Winnipeg, Man; 157 cm, 5’2”), producer and musician famous for developing the “Plains of Sound” technique of music production, in which each instrument is low in the mix, flat, even, uniformly blended, a single bland block of din, a pastoral patch of equality in which nothing individual can be heard regardless of the quality of earphone. Bodnar was given his first electric guitar and amplifier at age 11 by his father, a Ukrainian-Canadian scientist with the Canadian Space Agency who was a lead designer of the Canadarm, in particular the elbow joint. During high school the young Bodnar formed several influential bands — Wheat’s End, Glacier Lakes, Brandon City Jam — all of which toured throughout southern Manitoba, as well as North Dakota and Minnesota. After graduation he accepted gigs as a touring rhythm guitar player and sound technician for several acts, including the Frozen Zombies, Icy Brown Dogs, Brother, and the acclaimed Ice Beards. It was during a stint as a studio musician that Bodnar found his true calling. He was in the middle of a take when the studio technician suffered a heart attack and died. After the corpse was removed, Bodnar took control without hesitation, directing the startled musicians and flighty chanteuse with a crisp yet polite efficiency. The song that resulted from that session rose to number one on the charts in 42 countries, the first of many hits for Bodnar as producer. He has since produced albums and singles for award-winning acts in all genres. His production skills have contributed to 39 Grammys, 41 Junos, 27 American Music Awards, 18 Country Music Awards, 3 Oscars, 6 Tonys, 2 Cleos and an ESPY. Bodnar currently resides in rural Manitoba where he owns four freshwater lakes. *** Warren Hill (b. 1973, Calgary, Alta., d. 2009, Toronto, Ont.; 168 cm, 5’6”), entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded a string of successful ventures related to health and wellness, starting with his first fitness club in Barrie, Ontario at age 14. Hill was introduced to weightlifting as a teenager by his high school physical education teacher and within two months had a started a strength-training club that, despite board of education rules to the contrary, charged admission to use the school’s own equipment. When the club was shut down nine months later Hill shifted his focus to a thriving vitamin supplement enterprise that he ran out of his school locker, using the return address of the staff lounge for postal deliveries. He did not attend university, instead focusing on his business interests and bodybuilding. Hill collapsed during a game of pick-up basketball at the Hill Power Fitness Club on Bay Street in Toronto, just a few doors down from the hotel where he had been residing for the previous 20 months, occupying the entire 30th floor, estranged from his wife and two sons, with an impressive 360-degree views across Lake Ontario to Buffalo, New York to the south, of the setting sun to the west, to the inching trafficked landscape to the north, and of the placid rising sun to the east, which he would watch from his cozy breakfast nook while listening to talk radio each morning. His charitable foundation, with an endowment just a shade over $70 million, is now managed by his widow, who remarried last year to her long-time lover, heir to a pulp and paper empire, thrice elected most eligible Canadian bachelor, cigar collector, semi-professional windsurfer, Duncan Trevor-Knox IV (188 cm, 6’2”).