Montreal 1963-64: The Dark Time

David’s return to Canada in early 1962, via Boston on the “Wienertor”, was at the urging of Sylvia. He had arrived on her doorstep in London seeking employment and a way to try to understand what had been done to him the year before, when he had been ordered home from a posting in Leopoldville, summoned to an “interview” with the RCMP, and confronted with the accusation of being a homosexual and a security risk, unfit to continue working for the federal civil service. He was one of thousands purged from government, RCMP and armed forces from the early 1950s until the 1970s simply for being a suspected homosexual.

[This purge was covert, despite having support from Parliament. Its roots can traced to the defection of Igor Guzenko in 1945, which prompted the government to be ever more vigilant against security risks within its ranks – possible Soviet agents, communists, etc. – but it eventually expanded to include others who could be considered risks. Homosexuals were suspect because of their “character defect” and assumed susceptibility to blackmail.]

Unable to find meaningful work without references from External Affairs and unable to discuss the reasons for his sudden departure from the civil service, David moved to Montreal in the hope that a change of scene and culture could help him start over. Already in a deep depression (according to Sylvia – one of the reasons she urged him to go home), David’s mood did not lift after his move. He finally decided to seek medical attention and was referred to a psychiatrist. That psychiatrist, in turn, referred David to a clinic at the Allan Memorial Institute, part of McGill University.

"Ravenscrag" the Allan - today

“Ravenscrag” – the Allan – today

Sometime after being admitted to “the Allan”, David came to the attention of its director, Dr. D. Ewen Cameron. Dr. Cameron was doing experimental work for the RCMP and the American CIA, using combinations of drugs and other treatment in order to effect behavioural changes in patients. Once under Cameron’s “care”, David underwent at least 36 grand-mal electroconvulsive (shock) treatments in quick succession, was prescribed doses of drugs including Seconal that were far beyond the doses normally associated with treatment of depression, and possibly other treatments.

This particular phase of David’s life, even the timing of his admission and treatment, was indistinct for him for many years. The only things he was sure about was that he had checked himself in sometime in 1963 and checked himself out – against the wishes of those running the clinic – sometime in late 1964. David recalled that he left the Allan feeling “blank”. He had little recollection of where he had been, who his friends were, where he had worked – it was all pretty much gone. Through talking to his brother, his father, and the friends he could remember, reading his letters from overseas, and looking through his photos and slides, David was able to reassemble some memory of his past life. Whatever treatment he’d received at the Allan achieved some level of security for the government: David said that every time he tried to visualize the cipher machines or codebooks he’d used in his time with External Affairs, it was as if a hand pushed him away and he could never picture them for more than a fraction of a second before being “redirected”.

[In the early 1990’s, the Conservative government under Brian Mulroney offered a compensation package to those who had been affected by Dr. Cameron’s treatments. David obtained the application and wrote to the Allan for a copy of his file. Several hundred pages of photocopies arrived not long after with a note saying that these were just David’s clinic records. All records belonging to Dr. Cameron had been destroyed – by him – shortly before his death. David’s doctor read through the file and noted the numbers and strength of the drugs given. He then shook David’s hand and congratulated him on still being alive. As it turned out, David didn’t qualify for the compensation package – he wasn’t damaged badly enough. Obtaining his file from the Allan at least gave David firm dates about his admission and release, allowing him to put a few more pieces in the puzzle of his earlier life.]

Our Mister Nixon was made of stern stuff. Not long after getting out of the Allan in late 1964 and piecing his life back together, David was once again in the job market and had his usual amazing luck at finding something extraordinary. But not before taking himself on a journey to celebrate not only the end of his ordeal, but of turning 30 – officially “old” – in December that year. He’d already been to Asia, Africa and a good chunk of Europe. Where would this survivor choose to celebrate the start of his new life as a 30-year old?


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