Saturday, June 27, 2009
I remember the entire camp carrying benches from the dining hall to the shaded stand of cedars beside what we called Chapel Bay. The morning had an evidently different air about it as the boys were all required to wear clean T-shirts and jeans or shorts.
The Catholic kids had already gone on their bracing boat ride to Honey Harbour for Mass.
Program Directors distributed the song sheets and got everyone's blood and lungs going with a couple of hymns. Evelyn Halcrow, wife of the London Y's General Secretary, then offered a fine solo in her mezzo-soprano. Perhaps "His Eye is on the Sparrow" or "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" or "Will Your Anchor Hold?". Only the worst of the camp clowns would giggle.
Then one of the senior campers would read something selected from the Psalms or Gospels. Here in a former time I found the Y.M.C.A. behaving like a Young Men's Christian Association. This was before political correctness in the community re-fashioned the organization into purchase-of-service. Once, men such as D.L. Moody and Sir George Williams had been involved, and young people had been given Bible study, reasonable accommodations and training in life skills.
At the appropriate moment John Halcrow (J.J.) would take to the lashed birch pulpit with the simple cross nailed to the tree just overhead. Whenever you heard him speak, you knew that you were in the presence of a real Toastmaster - loud and clear tone, eye contact, interspersed humour and a point or two of focus which you would not forget, all honouring character and Christ.
One message dealt with the giving of talents and calling to account before the Master (Matthew 25: 14-30). The emphasis was not so much on yield as it was on doing one's best. A good thought for these young people acquiring new skills and competitive challenges at Camp Queen Elizabeth. On other days John would often be found carving and painting small totem poles for the kids, or going down to the free-swim area to encourage some young candidate in a swim-test.
Mr. Halcrow watched over me in later years in staffing and board of directors assignments. His example of courtesy, good cheer and sincere application to the job was duly noted.
Life and career separated us and I learned too late of John's passing and funeral. I could only send Evelyn a simple letter of condolence and assurance of the happy reunion which would follow. I also named a number of the young people of my acquaintance who had benefited from knowing the Halcrow's.
A friend of mine from Chatham attended a Y function at Ottawa where Evelyn was presented with a national honour recognizing John posthumously for his many contributions to youth and the social fabric of London. He told me that Evelyn had button-holed him saying, "You tell Doug that I still have his letter right here in my purse."