Our Communicator Stories


Joe MacPherson

After reading the very interesting adventures, of some of my former colleagues, in what I remember as the Department of External Affairs, (Communications Division) back in the mid-60s, in the old East Block location. After pondering whether I should, "step into the breach", and tell my own somewhat embarrassing story. It was not until our friend John Kruithof reminded me that my story would die with me if I didn't share it while I am still living. So here goes. I hope at least some of you get a giggle out of my tactical misstep.

Although my story begins, seven years before I was sent to New Delhi on my first posting as a Communicator in the Spring of 1967, I will try to spare you some of the gory details leading up to this adventure.

As many of you will know the OLD Canadian High Commission, was located on Aurangzeb Road, in New Delhi. The High Commission compound, if one could call it that, consisted of three buildings as one sees the building, from the street, three buildings were visible. The building housing the communications center would be on the left while the Consular Section and the office of the Military Attaché, would be on the right. The centerpiece, facing Aurangzeb Road was the Chancery, housing the office of the Canadian High Commissioner (then Roland Michener).

As was the custom, during my time there, the High Commissioner, was in the habit of welcoming new arrivals. On my third day in New Delhi, an appointment was made for me to call on Mr. Michener at 2 PM. At 2 PM sharp, I knocked on the main door of the Chancery and was greeted by the High Commissioner himself. He invited me in and asked me to have a seat near his rather "spiffy" looking desk. (a personal observation, probably from one of North America's premier manufacturers; Gibbard of Napanee, Ontario).

He began the conversation by welcoming me to New Delhi and for approximately 20 minutes we exchanged small talk about my background before entering External Affairs. I found Mr. Michener to be a very cordial host. After what I considered to be a polite period of time, I suggested that since he was, no doubt, a very busy man, I should take my leave and return to work.

At that, he stood-up and walked me to the front door. It was during that short walk that I opened my mouth and inserted both feet firmly therein. (Made it dang difficult, to continue my walk to the door).

On our way to the front door, I noticed an almost life-sized portrait of the recently deceased Right-Honourable Governor-General Georges P Vanier MC (who had expired just days before I left Ottawa. Vanier passed on March 5th, 1967).

The portrait of the Queen's representative in Canada, was hanging over a large FAKE fireplace. In the portrait, Mr. Vanier was dressed in full regalia complete with a feather- adorned hat. It was a very impressive site indeed. As I turned to look at the portrait, I made what turned out to be a major faux-pas. I said, something to the effect that, "he (Michner) would look elegant in a uniform like that". He did not respond to me but just smiled.

As I walked back to the communications center, I met my supervisor Trevor Chapel, coming towards me, "almost running", heading "hell-bent" for the front door of the Chancery. His face looked as though he had just had an encounter with the devil herself. Believe me, there was no grass growing under his feet. I turned around just as he entered the front door of the Chancery from whence I had just come. I thought nothing of it at the time, but did wondered at his haste and the ashen appearance of his face.

What I was not aware of, until I returned from a cross-posting to Washington DC almost two-years later, when I was ushered into the Signal Masters office, where an incredibly irate, Trevor Chapel, went up one side of my frame and down the other.

It was then that I realized why he had so hastily "run" towards the Chancery office, two years previously. What I was totally unaware of, and what he dared not tell me, at the time, for fear of giving away what turned out to be the Canadian equivalent of the state secret, was that, the day after I arrived, a doubly-encrypted message arrived from Ottawa (for the High Commissioner's EYES ONLY) asking Mr. Michener if he would ACCEPT an appointment as the Governor-General of Canada.

Apparently the ink was barely dry on message, when this new upstart Communicator, made his comment. From what I understand, the High Commissioner, " jumped to the conclusion", that Trevor had shared the information with the Communicators, which of course he had not. Apparently this was simply too much of a coincidencd for Mr. Michener to reach any other reasonable conclusion.


To put this charade into an understandable context, requires some background information that hopefully will explain how this debacle could have occurred. Please bear with me! To accomplish this, I will need to turn back the clock to my last year in high school about seven years before being posted to New Delhi.

As part of our grade 12 civics program in high school, the Principal and some of the teachers, thought it would be an excellent learning experience for the students, to hold what is sometimes called a "Mock Parliament" (or in more gentile parlance, a "Model Parliament").

Accordingly, two rows of desks were arranged facing each other on opposite sides of the gymnasium floor. At one end, between the two rows of seats, was the chair of the. "Speaker of the House".

What we did not know at the time, was that the Principal had invited our local Member of Parliament (MP), to roleplay as Speaker of the House. Each of the grade 12 students acted as members of the government (Ministers) or as members of the loyal opposition. I was assigned the, "dubious honour", of being Minister of Defence Production" (a cabinet post at that time).

All was going well, until it came time for me to, "make my debut speech on the goings-on in my Department". As luck would have it, my microphone, "crapped-out", just as I rose in the House, to make my speech.

Pandemonium broke out as teachers scurried, "hither and yon" to try to find a replacement microphone. I stood up, and said, "don't worry, I'll speak up", and carried on with my prepared speech. After all "crap happens", and I didn't think it was such a big deal.

After the model Parliament was over the MP, came over to me and congratulated me on what he termed my, "composure". Until that day, I had no idea who this man was or what party he represented in the House of Commons. When he asked me if I had planned to continue my education at his alma mater, nearby, "St. Francis Xavier University", in Antigonish. I categorically replied, "no way, I've had enough of sitting in classrooms to do me for a lifetime". I went on to compound my abrupt reply by saying, in effect, "that I was planning to join the Navy. As a university educated PhD himself, and a former Associate Professor at Colombia University in New York, he was noticeably unimpressed at my choice of a career path. It was at that point, that we parted company.


After being in the Navy for two years, and having had some very disappointing experiences, I went into a barber shop in my hometown while I was home on vacation. As I sat in the barber's chair, I noticed that the man in the chair beside mine was none other than my MP Dr, Stewart. Thinking that he would not remember me from high school, I did not acknowledge his presence, neither did he acknowledge mine.

Since he had been in the chair before I arrived, and was finished before me. I was literally "blown away". when he approached my chair and said, "So, Joe, how is the Navy treating you"? He quickly surmised, by my response, that the my answer was, "not very encouraging".

It was at that point that he asked me if I had time for a coffee, he said he wanted to hear more about why I responded in the way that I had. Needless to say, I was only too happy to oblige him as we departed the barber shop and headed for a nearby restaurant. (this was in pre-Tim Hortons days).

Several coffees later, I had given him a synopsis of what had transpired in my Navy career thus far. To cut to the chase, he was very sympathetic to my cause and asked me to write him a letter at his parliamentary office, outlining what had happened. (I had been recommended by no less than three Captains on the HMCS Fort Erie, in response to requests I had made, for a transfer from the Sonar to Radio Branch and which were all subsequently denied (by the Commodore of Personnel Atlantic Coast - COMPERSLANT) each time without so much as an explanation.

Without going into the excruciating details, and three Ministerial Inquiries later, all of which were successful, and which is why I subsequently ended-up in the Communications Division of External Affairs as a Communicator.

Needless to say, I was most appreciative of my MPs successful intervention, through the Minister of National Defence, Paul Hellyer and as he suggested later on in my short Navy career, I got the hell out of the Navy as fast as I could after obtaining my trade Group II Radioman certification.

Fast-forward three more years, I was now at the [Park Lane? Hotel] in Ottawa awaiting my departure for my first posting to New Delhi. I thought it appropriate, to invite Dr, Stewart to dinner to thank for his efforts on my behalf. He graciously accepted the invitation

During small-talk over dinner, he casually mentioned that my future High Commissioner, was about to become the Governor-General of Canada. To me, I thought it was a done deal and that there was no great secrecy surrounding that fact. Had he even remotely hinted that the matter was to be considered confidential, I would have had the good sense to keep my "trap" shut. Since confidentiality was one of the hallmarks of our employment, I would never have put poor Trevor, the High Commissioner or my MP on the horns of such an unfortunate dilemma.

I know that at least two of my former colleagues (the British Columbia BARD of all things NDP and socialism, and a former New Delhi supervisor, will deduce (incorrectly) that my hasty departure from External Affairs, in December of 1970, was brought about by this incident. The fact is that in December of that year, I won a competition as an Administrative Officer (AS01), in what was then the Department of Communications in the Radio Regulatory Branch, ending up in 1985, as the Canadian Delegate to the NATO, Civil Communications Planning Committee (CCPC) as Senior Advisor (NATO Telecommunications) at a significantly higher rank.

This provided me the opportunity to visit numerous European countries, at which my wife Joy, was able to accompany me (at our expense of course, and not on the taxpayers dime). During that period, I obtained a BA in History from the University of Waterloo.

In 1996, we moved to my native Nova Scotia and initially settled in Shad Bay, finally moving to Halifax city in 2018. All in all, for the most part, I have had an incredible life and have enjoyed traveling extensively to various parts of the world.


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Last Updated November 5, 2023
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