David’s Obituary

February 9, 2017
David at Age 20

David at Age 20

The following is set to appear in the Victoria Times-Colonist on February 11, 2017:

After the long goodbye of progressive dementia first diagnosed in 2000, David Nixon set off on his next adventure on February 9th at the age of 82. A resident of Victoria since 1977, David loved the city and often said it was the very best place in the world to be, and he lived in many places!

Predeceased by his parents, Glen & Ethel, and brother Russell, David will always be remembered by friends and loved ones, especially Sylvia van der Stegen and her brother, Rev. Al Tysick; Suzanne Olson; Laura Wright; Robert Rivoire; and his former partner, Ken Sudhues.

David lived a colourful life, starting at age 19: he was a clerk with the International Supervisory Commission in Indochina; a cryptographer at the Canadian Embassies in Bonn and Leopoldville; 2nd electrician at Wyndham’s Theatre in London; casting director for the Constance Brown Modeling & Talent Agency in Montreal during Expo 67; he framed Ted Harrison’s first show at Robertson Galleries and processed OFY grants in Ottawa; and, after moving west, he became “Our Mister Nixon” – the beloved china & crystal manager at Birks in Victoria. His final working years were spent having fun (yes!) with the BC public service. David’s last working day was Friday, December 31, 1999, which he thought quite auspicious.

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers' Medal

David at age 65, with his Peacekeepers’ Medal

There were dark times as well. David was purged from the federal service in 1961 on suspicion of being homosexual and therefore a security risk. This eventually led to his being hospitalized for depression and being further victimized as part of Operation MK Ultra through the tender mercies of Dr. Ewan Cameron in Montreal.

Through it all, David remained upbeat and treasured his friends. His participation in the ISC in Indochina led to David sharing the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize with other peacekeepers and he received his Peacekeepers’ Medal in late 2000.

No service by David’s request. A private gathering will be held later this year. Please raise a mug of strong coffee, a glass of good red wine, port, or cognac, or savour some quality dark chocolate, and think fondly of “Our Mister Nixon”. Many thanks to the staff of 3 Dogwood at Oak Bay Lodge for everything they’ve done for David. Arrangements through CARE Funeral Services.


Music, Lights …and an Ending

February 10, 2013

February 14, 1961

Dear Dad and Russ,

I don’t know if it’s the climate or not but I suddenly realized today that I haven’t written a single letter since just around Christmas! I also received your most welcome letter of February 7th yesterday which makes about three letters I owe you. Incidentally I’m over at the residence babysitting for the Bulls tonight and I brought along my typewriter as I thought this might be a good chance to try to get a letter off to you. I might also add that I will not hold myself responsible for typing errors because, believe it or not, I can only type on FRENCH keyboards now with any degree of accuracy and speed. Both my typewriter and our Telex machine at the Consulate have French keyboards and after typing on them for almost SIX months I know I find it almost impossible to cope with an English keyboard. Irene Bourque, our French-Canadian steno here, has an English keyboard so I do all of the French typing – diplomatic notes, etc. it seems that everything is upside down in the Congo!

Delighted to hear that my slides arrived and that you liked them. On thinking it over, perhaps it would be just as well if you kept them in Ottawa until I return because, as you say in your letter of January 8th, it is awfully small parcel to send all the way to Africa! Did all of them turn out? That is, are there 36 slides in the box? Last week, courtesy of Darryl Pentland and the Canadian Army Post Office, I sent you an exposed roll of Ektachrome colour film. I bought this film from Roger Bull, who got it in South Africa, and it’s one of those films that does not include the processing in the purchase price. Therefore, as it cannot be done here, I would appreciate it very much if you could have the film processed and made into slides in Ottawa. If I remember correctly, this film should include pictures of the Zongo Falls and also of a Sunday drive I took on the Brazzaville side of the river. Last Sunday, the first secretary of the Dutch Embassy and I took off in “I PRESUME” (still going strong!) for a lovely drive about 50 miles UP the Congo River to a charming little village called Maluku. The journey itself was very interesting as we passed through a great variety of landscapes – for the first few miles outside of Leopoldville nothing but rolling green hills as far as the eye could see, then we entered flatter and drier “savannah” type country, then gradually climbed up into the green hills until the road came out on a mountain side away above the river. The road followed the river for quite a few miles then wound slowly down through gorgeous tropical rainforest until it ended at Maluku. We ate our picnic lunch under a grove of palms on a sandy little beach with the Congo River and the hills of ex-French Equatorial Africa for a view.

Before I forget I must tell you about running into Sgt. Bob McIsaac over here – Bob and I worked together in Phnom Penh six years ago! I had him up to the house for lunch yesterday and we had a great time talking over the “good ol’ days”. Unfortunately, Bob had been stationed at Kamina and Elizabethville for the past six months then leaves for Canada next Thursday. In parting yesterday, we both commented that we would probably meet next in Tibet at the rate we’re going!

I am planning to put this letter into a large brown envelope that I’ve had ready at the Consulate for weeks now which contains two envelopes that have special “first day covers” on them. Please keep these envelopes and also the stamps you’ll find inside them for my own little collection. I meant to send them long ago but we have been very busy around here lately changing Consul Generals around which means a very busy time for all hands (and there are so few hands!)

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

January First-Day Cover as sent to Glen

On February 1st, Mr. George Hampson, acting Consul General after Mr. Wood left the Congo, decided to give a big farewell party for himself and the Bulls. He was sent here for six weeks from Accra and left Leopoldville to go on to Karachi, if you can follow that. However, the party was a howling success – 500 guests were invited and over 350 turned up. It was held here in the Residence garden so there was lots of room. Mr. Hampson appointed me “Master of Music and Lights”. The “Lights” part was fairly simple because it just entailed stringing hundreds of colored bulbs in the trees of the garden (a beautiful effect if I do say so). “Music” was a bit tougher but I finally solved it by engaging the local Salvation Army’s 20-piece brass band for the evening!! And were they ever good!! They had a terrific repertoire of marches, military airs, old English and Irish folksongs, a few stirring Salvation Army hymns, and American folk songs (“Swanee River” was a real showstopper – most of the Congolese present stops talking and started humming when it was being played! ) To round off the evening’s entertainment I asked (several days previous) if the band could play the Congolese national anthem and O Canada. The Congolese anthem was no problem as most of the members of the band are Congolese, but neither they nor the Consulate find a band score for O Canada. Fortunately a very good friend of mine from the Dutch embassy is a highly skilled musician (piano and recorder) so I invited him over to the Residence one evening with his recorder and while Roger, Marjory, Irene and I croaked through O Canada (all in a different key), my Dutch friend tootled on his recorder until many, many hours and laughs later, he had produced the written score of O Canada for the treble recorder. I presented this to Capt. Munn, the Salvation Army bandleader and, he told me later, for three nights running the native section of Leopoldville (where the Army has its headquarters) resounded to the strains of the Canadian national anthem being painstakingly rehearsed by the band. The band loved it and played it with great gusto and drum rolls and, I might add, note perfect! One other little job of mine was to find a Congolese flag the same size as the Canadian flag to hang in the garden. Unfortunately the Congolese flag is square and the Canadian one rectangular. I solved this by putting a team of seamstresses to work on the morning of February 1 and by four in the afternoon they had produced a rectangular Congolese flag. Some Congolese present that night commented that it look better than the square flag, so maybe I’ve started something!

The weather here continues perfect – not in the least like Indochina. There is quite a lot of rain but it falls irregularly and is accompanied by absolutely spectacular electrical storms. Unlike our storms in Canada, over here there is continuous lightning and thunder throughout the whole storm. It’s a bit nerve-racking at first but once you get used to it they’re really quite lovely to watch. The days are quite hot now when the sky is cloudless but a warm breeze helps to cut the heat and humidity is not at all uncomfortable. The real charm of this climate is that no matter how hot the day, it always cools off at night. With all my bedroom windows open at night and with no air conditioners in the house, I have yet to spend one night in the Congo without a sheet and the blanket over me! The sun sets early here – six o’clock in the evening – but the darkness seems to bring out a whole new world of its own. There are many night-blooming flowers here that absolutely fill the air with fragrance. Right now we are between the full moons and the night sky is crammed full of stars, most of which I’m sure we never see in Ottawa. One thing I’ve noticed over here for example are planets which are surrounded with a halo of light of their own. And, of course, when there is a full moon this place is like paradise, especially when viewed from the terrace of my house in Parc Hembise. On nights like that the sky is a deep blue and all the flowers in my garden are as colourful as in full sunlight. I can see the river gleaming down below and in the distance, the Hills of the French Congo. Last week when a few of us Canadians were sitting at a sidewalk café in downtown Leopoldville eating pizza and drinking a glass of red wine dressed in shorts, sandals, and open-necked cotton shirts, we all agreed that we didn’t miss shoveling snow one iota!!

Well, the Bulls should be home any minute now so I guess I had better close off for now. Please don’t worry if you have to wait a long time between letters – it’s so hard to get into a letter-writing mood over here – but I will try to drop you a few lines from time to time whenever anything exciting happens.

Lots of love, David

March 13, 1961

Dear Dad,

Really no time to write but wanted to get at least a note off to you because we are beginning to receive copies of Canadian newspapers with “stories” of what’s been going on here during the past two weeks or so.

Believe me, Dad, after reading some of these newspaper reports, I am darn glad I gave up the idea of becoming a journalist. I guess I hardly need tell you that the majority of these stories were grossly exaggerated and filled with sensationalism. And, I’m afraid, largely biased against the Congolese and in favor of the UN. Of course, I can’t mention in any letters all we know about these incidents, but rest assured that a great deal of the facts regarding recent incidents have been conveniently omitted or glossed over.

I went to a marvelous band concert yesterday afternoon given by the Salvation Army here in Leopoldville. As well as the Salvation Army band there was a Congolese choral group visiting from a nearby town (Kasangulu) saying beautiful Negro spirituals in French and English. It was a splendid success and a great pleasure to see white people and Africans working together so harmoniously. Naturally, there wasn’t a journalist in sight.

Sally Ann

I hope your holiday in Florida has been enjoyable. I hope to be able to take some leave before long, either to South Africa or Portugal, depending on what decision the department takes regarding our assisted leave facilities.

Must dash now and don’t worry about me at all!

Love, David

It was shortly after this that David received a response to his request for leave: “Request for leave denied. Nixon to return to Ottawa soonest.” Our David was apparently more than just good friends with someone at the Dutch Embassy and may have been indiscreet. Regardless the reason, he was recalled to Ottawa and, a few days after returning to his post in the East Block of the Parliament Buildings, he was summoned to an “interview” with the RCMP.

As David told the story, it was late afternoon and he was shown into an office facing a man at a desk in front of a west-facing window. The blinds were angled so that the sun was directly in David’s eyes, keeping the occupant of the desk in silhouette. From behind the desk came, “We have reason to believe that you are a homosexual. As such, you are a security risk and must be removed from the civil service. You have the option of resigning your position immediately or we will see to it that you are removed.”

With that, David’s career with the diplomatic corps was over. He was one of many hundreds of public servants purged from the early 1950s and on into the 1970s, merely on suspicion of being gay. There were many suicides. David contemplated it. Instead, he left Canada behind and moved to England, to take refuge with his lifelong friend, Sylvia.

To be continued…

Crisis? What Crisis?

February 10, 2013

November 23, 1960

Dear Dad & Russ,

You’ve probably heard about our little war here last Monday night. Fortunately it was an isolated affair and no Canadians were in the least way involved. I happened to be working late at the office that night and because of roadblocks and stray shells, etc., on the way up to my house, I just stayed downtown for the night on the sofa of the Canadian friend who has an apartment close to the office. Downtown Leopoldville was perfectly calm with people sitting out at sidewalk cafés, listening to music, etc.

Afraid I’m too busy to write much more. Seeing Louis Armstrong, climbing a mountain on November 11 with a Dutchman, an Englishman, a Portuguese, an American girl, and other bits of news will have to wait. Incidentally, I’m getting in lots and lots of swimming these days, especially on weekends.

Armed soldiers on hand to keep the peace at Louis Armstrong's concert in Leopoldville, November 1960 (AP photo)

Armed soldiers on hand to keep the peace at Louis Armstrong’s concert in Leopoldville, November 1960 (AP photo)

Nearly forgot – extract from recent letter from Sylvia: “Things couldn’t be better for me in London – have just finished a half hour film in colour to be shown in America, called ‘Hi Sylvie’ with James Devlin who did the lead in Walt Disney’s last film ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ and co-directed by Stephen Boyd who was one of the stars of Ben Hur…” Pretty good, eh?

Bye for now, David

November 26, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

Roger Bull is taking an Air Envelope to External Affairs when he flies to Canada next Monday so I thought I would include this note in the envelope for some fast mail service.

When you see Roger in Ottawa, I wonder if you would mind giving him the following items for him to bring back to Leopoldville.

  1. A pocket lighter – as long as it’s fairly airtight to avoid evaporation of fluid in tropical heat. There are no repeat no matches to be bought in this part of the world at the moment.
  2. A woolen sweater – I think my gray one, the pullover with the shawl collar, would be best. If time permits, could you possibly have it dry cleaned and mothproofed before giving it to Roger?
  3. Cigarettes – a couple of cartons of Rothmans king-size filter tips – large packages – would be wonderful. For a while here we could buy canned DuMaurier and Matinee but, alas, like the matches, supplies have vanished and now we can only get cigars or cigarettes with black tobacco.

Must dash now. I know you’ll like Roger and he will be able to answer any questions you might have about Leopoldville (and my house).

Lots of love, David

[Note: several photos used here have a strange colour to them thanks to local processing and cheap film. “Garland Film” turned out to be best avoided.]

A Villa in the Hills

February 9, 2013

October 17, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

The office is officially closed today (we are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving Day which we forgot to observe last Monday) so I thought I would take advantage of the free time to try to write you a letter.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring in your recent letters, Dad and I can’t remember if you asked any questions in them. Oh yes, I do remember about the stamps and I will get them off (uncanceled) very soon. I received a large envelope containing letters from Tudi, Nairobi and Sydney (date-marked Bombay!) and also my two drivers licenses for which many thanks. I also noted that you have sent by sea some bed linen and towels. Will probably take a month or two to reach me but I think I can get along in the meantime on borrowed sheets.

Don’t be alarmed at the thought of my having to buy a Jeep because Roger Bull let me have his for the sum of $300.00. This vehicle is a real classic. It is named “I PRESUME”, the words being stenciled on the front of the jeep just under the windshield. There is quite a history behind “I PRESUME” – it was first brought to Leopoldville in 1951, being driven here all the way from Israel. Since that time it has been passed back and forth between members of the American Consulate and the Canadian Trade Commissioner’s office. Before I took it over, it was borrowed by the UN for the use of the Canadian postmaster, Capt. Manck. While it was in the possession of the Canadian contingent of the U.N., a lot of work was done on it so that now it is as good as new and should last me for my posting here. It’s a very African-looking vehicle – dark red with brown canvas top, appropriately dusty and fully equipped for safari with gas and water cans and two spare tires on the back. Mind you, it sounds somewhat like a bomb, especially when driving downhill, but the reaction I get from the native population is superb. Children dance up and down and laugh; men and women stop whatever they’re doing and wave and smile when I passed by. The Congolese are individually very, very friendly and childlike. But they are slightly timid of white people, particularly when a white person goes swishing by in a huge American automobile. I quite often give rides to people I pass by on the road and they seem to love it and are most grateful. It’s good public relations, too, because “I PRESUME” also has “CANADA” painted on both sides of the hood, as well as a maple leaf emblem fore and aft.

First glimpse of "I PRESUME"

First glimpse of “I PRESUME”

Now about my accommodation. I have rented a villa in a lovely residential area known as “Park Hembise” (Ahm-bees) about 7 km straight up into the hills outside of Leopoldville. It is only a 15 minute drive from the office, however, because there was a good, paved road all the way. It is not in the least bit isolated – there is a Swiss family living next door, Swedes across the street and two very close American friends of mine, Mr. and Mrs. Bartholomew  moved into a house two doors away last Saturday. My garden looks into the garden of the Japanese ambassador’s residence on the next street and a few doors down from him some of the Canadian UN officers have a house. While Parc Hembise is quite a distance out of town it is not by any means bordering on the jungle. There are many more houses out beyond the Parc and about 10 km further on there is yet another settlement called the Djelo Binza where many of the Americans and Swedes live. You might say that Parc Hembise is Suburbia As It Should Be – there are no repeat no obvious telephone poles, the houses are all placed at odd angles on the hillside and set in spacious grounds with masses of trees and lovely well-kept lawns, all of the roads are winding and every few hundred feet wooded spaces have been left in their natural state, not to mention the numerous gullies that abound with wild parrots and a million other species of songbirds (one hardly needs an alarm clock – the morning music of the birds is enough to wake even the soundest sleeper). There is also a very good grocery store and a bakeshop in the Parc, as well as two gas stations (Fina and Texaco) so it is not necessary to go into town to do shopping. And the main attraction of life in Parc on bees is the coolness – it is about 300 to 500 feet above Leopoldville, there is always a cool breeze and at night I am mighty glad to have a warm blanket on my bed.

I will now try to describe “Villa Magalette” (Chez Nixon). It is a yellow stucco bungalow with a green roof and white trim. It is built on the hillside with the back of the house facing the road and driveways running down both sides of the house to the parking area underneath the terrace at the front. There is a hedge running along the road to give privacy and the grounds at the back of the house consist of three terraced lawns; the lowest terrace has three huge, “trunkless” palm trees – sort of like giant potted palms – and growing up beside the back porch there is an enormous Bougainvillaea plant which abounds with bunches of bright scarlet and purple flowers. The main entrance is at the side of the house and here, again, is another Bougainvillaea plant. You enter into a hall and on your right there is a small washroom (toilet and washbasin). To the left of the hall you pass through an archway into the living room. This room is the real attraction of the house. Two walls of the room are almost completely taken up with French doors opening onto the biggest terrace I’ve ever seen which runs along two sides of the house. The view from the terrace is magnificent. I can see the Congo River way down below and in the distance the hills of ex-French Equatorial Africa, stretching as far as the eye can see. And at night the lights of Leopoldville sparkle through the trees. The terrace also looks down onto the garden which consists of a large lawn and lovely trees. Back to the living room – the walls are beige, ceiling white, and the floor two-tone gray tiles (all floors are tile here for purposes of cleanliness and as a precaution against termites). In one corner there is a cupboard which opens up into a bar. In front of this there is a small round wooden table, inlaid with ivory, and a chair. In the centre of the room there is a glass-covered inlaid wood coffee table, two large easy chairs with foot rests, and a curved sofa that measures 12 feet across the back!! All throughout the house the ceilings are about 11 feet high with screened events up near the top to keep the place cool. Also, around one of the sets of French doors in the living room there are 12 screened vents covered with white wooden latticework – very attractive. The living room extends into the dining room which, again, is very nicely furnished with table, eight chairs, buffet and sideboard. The dining room windows look out onto the back garden and through the branches of the Bougainvillea plant. In both the living and dining rooms are crystal chandeliers and walls lights. Between the living and dining rooms there is another archway which goes into a hall. A door on the right of this hall leads to the kitchen – very big, with refrigerator, stove, cupboard, kitchen table with two chairs, double sinks and enough space left over to hold a dance. The kitchen door and windows look out onto the back porch with its four arches and Bougainvillaea plant. In one corner of the kitchen a door leads into a pantry which is a small room with shelves and cupboards along one wall. From the hall outside the kitchen door you go through another door into another hall. Opening onto this hall are two large bedrooms and the main bathroom. I’m using one of the bedrooms as a storeroom and occupying the room on the corner of the house with windows on two walls. There is also a door leading from this bedroom into the bathroom. And at long last I have a bathroom that a person can move around in!! I would say that my bathroom as easily as big as our dining room on Kirkwood Avenue. There is even a recess in one wall where I have a white table and potted fern. So much for the main part of the house. Downstairs there is what is known here as the “boys work area”. This consists of a good-size room with two washtubs, ironing table, hallway, shower and separate toilet.

Now about my staff. First of all, let me assure you that a house staff is not a luxury here – it is an absolute necessity. For one thing there is no such thing as a laundry as we know them back home. Also, to attempt to do one’s own housecleaning in this climate would be suicide for a European or North American. My staff consists of a houseboy and gardener. A “boy” incidentally is anyone who works in a house and is no reflection on the person’s age – my “boy” is married with three children, for example. There are good boys and bad boys. I was fortunate enough to get a real prince of a boy. His name is Ernest (of all things) and he arrives every morning at 6:30. I get up around 7 and wander into the dining room where my breakfast awaits me – usually a pot of fresh coffee, scrambled eggs, fruit juice (or fresh pineapple or papaya) and toast. After I leave for the office, Ernest washes all the floors, does the dusting, makes the bed, shines my shoes, presses my trousers, does the laundry and goes on his bicycle to the store to do any shopping I might want done. This comprises the normal duties of a houseboy. Now Ernest, fortunately, is also a qualified and excellent cook and takes great pleasure in his work in the kitchen. Where he finds the time, I shall never know, but when I arrive home at 12:30 Ernest has a huge hot dinner waiting for me. His steaks are superb, seasoned just right, he cooks a chicken that would make your mouth water just to look at it. He also has potatoes, fresh vegetables and a salad on the table and on weekends he usually prepares a large potato salad and a plate of cold cuts for me to eat on Sundays (his day off). I give Ernest 100 francs a week (about two dollars) to buy fresh vegetables and fruit from the native ladies who come to the door each day and he always seems to be able to buy enormous amounts of food and have quite a bit of money left over. A fresh, golden, juicy pineapple, for example, costs about 10 cents here and you can buy about three papayas for 20 cents. Ernest always serves my after-dinner coffee out on the terrace and then he disappears into the kitchen to wash up the dishes. In the afternoons he does the ironing. The other member of my staff is chap named Donatien, a friend of Ernest’s (this is very important here because if you had two boys from different tribes working for you, you might find a war on your hands). Donatien only comes three times a week to do the gardening and general handy-work around the house. He cuts the grass, rakes the leaves, plants gorgeous things in the flowerbeds and planters around the terrace and waters anything that he thinks might need watering. Donatien (who looks like Rudy Vallee in a minstrel show) is not nearly as bright as Ernest but he is a very pleasant happy-go-lucky chap who always has a cheery “bonjour patron” for me in the mornings. You are probably wondering about now just how much I must pay for the services of these two boys. Well, I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I pay them the standard salary for a houseboy and gardener – Ernest receives $42 a month, Donatien gets $20. In other words, my allowance for this post ($115 a month) covers my share of the rent ($50) plus the salaries of both members of my house staff – with three dollars left over!! The one and only disadvantage to this, of course, is that I am getting awfully spoiled – just a clap of the hands and the job is done!

Well, I think the time has come to go for a swim. I spent all day yesterday other place known as the FUNA Club, outside of Leopoldville and managed to turn a lovely lobster red but today is slightly cloudy so I think I can risk a swim without burning some more. The summer is truly upon us now – everything gets greener and greener by the minute and each day is just a little hotter than the one before. So will close for now. Received a long letter from Bob and Joan last week which I haven’t had time to answer so would you please phone them and give them my best.

Lots of love, David

Bedding and Licenses by Post

February 9, 2013

September 21, 1960

Dear Dad,

Just another wee note, I’m afraid.

By the end of the week I hope to be able to give you some news about accommodation. Have two places lined up but won’t tell you about them right now until I know something more definite. Incidentally, if at all possible, you might make some inquiries around town about sending me a parcel of bed sheets, towels, pillow slips and one or two blankets which I am going to need rather soon if I move into a place of my own. I don’t know exactly how it would be best and safest to send these things but perhaps if you were to get in touch with Mr. Benedict at the External Affairs depot on Yonge Street in Toronto he might be able to give you some information. The RCAF have been very kindly bringing our office supplies to us and perhaps if this channel is going to remain open, it might be possible to include a parcel along with another shipment. I think I already mentioned in an earlier letter that bedding, etc., is virtually nonexistent in the shops here because the UN have bought up everything in stock for their personnel.

Must dash now,

Love, David

September 28, 1960

Dear Dad,

A real quickie – I’m sending this off in an airmail envelope tomorrow via Canadian Army postal facilities, so I hope it should reach you without much delay.

Would you please send me, by return airmail, both my Ontario driver’s license and my German driver’s license. The German one is grey linen. I think you will find them in a folder marked “Nixon Car File” on the shelf in the closet in Russ’s room. I know my German license is there and I think I put my Ontario license there before leaving. If you can only find the German one, please don’t worry about the Ontario license, as I think a European license will do just fine. I am taking over Roger Bull’s jeep on Monday next, by the way.

Have terrific news about accommodation but it will have to wait, I’m afraid, until I have a bit more letter writing time.

Love Dave

David's German license, with Ontario license attached

David’s German license, with Ontario license attached

David's Congolese Driver's License

David’s Congolese Driver’s License – note the yellow attachment. One used to have to have an actual liquor license to drink or buy booze in Ontario. This one appears to have served another purpose in the Congo.

Adjusting to Africa

February 4, 2013

September 15, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

Afraid this won’t be much of a letter because time just doesn’t permit, but I did want to get at least a note off in tomorrow’s bag to Ottawa. Incidentally, mail seems to be getting through slowly but surely to other members of the staff here so if you would like to write to me okay is Emily, (addressing them to me C/O Canadian Consulate General, P. O. Box 8341, Leopoldville, Congo) using the regular airmail service, please feel free. The dip bag service is not very good here. Only two bags every month and they seem to take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to reach their destination.

I won’t go into details here about my grand trip over and my stay in Rome – that will have to wait until I receive my portable typewriter as this machine is very bad and has a French keyboard which makes typing rather awkward. If you received my postcard you will undoubtedly be as surprised as I am to find that Leopoldville is such a truly modern and beautiful city. I stayed in a hotel for my first few days here then moved into the Canadian residence with Roger and Marjory Bull, and Mr. Wood. It’s a magnificent house set in a private park (Parc Selemba) with a few other homes. Sort of the Rockcliffe [the upscale part of Ottawa] of Leopoldville, one might say. I have a room to myself with the terrace and a terrific view of the city and the surrounding hills. Will tell you more about the house next letter; I am still looking for an apartment – have a real nice one lined up but will not know for sure for about another 10 days if it is going to become available. What with the UN and all the foreign missions being established here, living accommodation is at a premium. For one thing, I understand that there isn’t a sheet to be had here in town as the UN bought them all up. So if you get an urgent request for bed linen, you’ll know what it’s all about.BullsHouse

The Bull family and their residence in Parc Selemba

The Bull family and their residence in Parc Selemba

I spent all last Sunday afternoon over at the UN swimming pool and Sgts. Mess with Darrell Pentland, and I’ve heard that one of my Indochina buddies from the Signals Corps is in the Congo but at the moment he is stationed in Elizabethville in Katanga province.

As far as the local situation is concerned here, I am sure that the reports you read in the newspapers are far more sensational than the real thing. Oh, occasionally we do hear gunfire coming from the African section of town and, of course, the streets were always patrolled by armed soldiers and surly members of the Force Publique who often stop you to ask for identification papers, but quite frankly this city is quite like any other city in so far as daily activities are concerned. Supermarkets are open, along with other shops, every day (I’ve been going to one of the local department stores on Saturday afternoons to browse through their rather good record selections) but prices, of course, are sky-high. There is no food shortage by the way, but certain commodities are rather scarce. There are one or two fairly good restaurants here but, again, you must be prepared to pay through the nose for anything digestible. Next letter I’ll tell you about dining at the zoo and one of Lumumba’s press conferences I attended. Also about a visit to the local Parliament buildings during one of their sittings (chaos!).

The Bulls will be returning to Canada around December and I’m thinking seriously of buying their 1952 Jeep from them as private transportation is a must here. The buses are not used by white people and the city is so spread out that it is impossible to get anywhere at all by foot. Roger said he will be willing to part with “I Presume” (the Jeep’s official title) for little money as it only cost him $400.00 two years ago and it’s been all over Africa since then.

Russ, how is the VW running? Don’t forget to put gas in it (occasionally).

Well, really must dash now,

Love, David

September 16, 1960

Dear Dad and Russ,

I wrote you a wee note for today’s bag so this will not be a letter.

Just thought you might like to see how beautiful the local postage stamps are. Please do not give these away as I would like to add them to my Indochina collection when I get home.

The envelope with "a few stamps"

The envelope: note that the older stamps have been over-stamped “Congo”

I would be interested in learning how long this letter takes to get to you via ordinary airmail channels. As I mentioned in my note, the dip bags from here are few and very slow.

I am very happy here – loving every minute of it. The past few days have been particularly nice now that “spring” has arrived, although there is every indication that it is going to be a long, hot summer!

Please give my best to the folks at the “Y”, Dad, and to any of the gang you might be speaking to. By the way, if you could take a minute to call Claudette I would appreciate it very much if you could apologize on my behalf for not having written yet and tell her that the wristbands she made for me are just perfect and the envy of all the other members of the staff. Did Bob and Joan get home alright? If so, please give them my love to and tell them I’ll write.

Love, David

On to Africa!

February 3, 2013

In mid-summer 1960, David was persuaded to rejoin External Affairs full-time and resume his role as a cryptographer, this time in Leopoldville, in what had up until very recently been the Belgian Congo. The transition from colony to independent republic did not go smoothly and Leopoldville was considered a semi-war zone. The UN had been called in and things were somewhere between chaotic and “hot”. And there was Our Mister Nixon.

David’s trip from Ottawa to Leopoldville was routed through Rome to Brazzaville, across the Congo River from Leopoldville in what was then French Equatorial Africa (now Congo). (NB: what was Leopoldville is now Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo – yes, it’s confusing!)

From Brazzaville, David’s chauffeured car (a 1959 Ford station wagon) was driven down to the banks of the Congo, onto a raft of logs not much bigger than the car (so David said), surrounded and sat upon by dozens of locals and their livestock (so David said), and propelled across the river by a pair of very large outboard motors.

On his out-bound journey, David was also a diplomatic courier, granted special immunity and carrying two diplomatic pouches (duffel bags) filled with sensitive documents for the new Embassy, one attached to each wrist with handcuffs! David’s description of visiting the washroom on an airliner with a duffel bag on each arm was truly hilarious!

David's Diplomatic Immunity

David’s Diplomatic Immunity

David was able to spend part of a day and one night in Rome (without the diplomatic bags attached) and took a few minutes to write home:

David's postcard from Rome

David’s postcard from Rome (Trajan’s Arch)

August 28, 1960

Dear Dad & Russ,

First half of trip completed. Rome is absolutely splendid and I’m sorry I don’t have more time here. Spent about an hour tonight seeing the Coliseum by moonlight – very impressive.

Love, David

David's photo of the Coliseum

David’s photo of the Coliseum

David's photo of the Forum

David’s photo of the Forum

The journey and accommodations were all first class and had certain  rewards:

David's certificate for crossing the Equator

David’s certificate for crossing the Equator with KLM


Looking across from Brazzaville

Looking across from Brazzaville

Ferry landing on the Leopoldville side

Ferry landing on the Leopoldville side

Once he got somewhat settled (and detached from the dip. bags), another postcard was dispatched:

DGN Leopoldville Postcard 1960

Postcard of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), 1960


September 2, 1960

Dear Dad & Russ,

Sorry to disappoint you, but THIS is Africa!! Will write when I get a chance – have been very busy past week. Moving in with Bulls [Trade Commissioner] today ’cause hotel not too good and food worse. I’m feeling fine and climate very nice so far – much cooler than Ottawa in fact. Leopoldville is a most attractive city although slightly deserted at the moment.

Best regards to all, David

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