Editor’s note: former Prime Minister Paul Martin spent his boyhood in Ottawa, the son of then-Welfare Minister Paul Martin, Sr. In a March 24, 2010 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, Martin spoke of those early years. Following is an excerpt of his remarks)
My father came from a very poor family. He had spinal meningitis as a boy; he was totally paralyzed on the left side of his body. As a young child he had to be carried about in a wagon. As an adult his left arm was in very tough shape – he couldn’t play sports – and he was blind in his left eye.
His parents took him to the shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre. Once, in Montréal, he told me, “Let’s go to mass on Sunday at the Oratory.” He took me to the back where all the crutches were, and he explained my grandmother had taken him there to pray for his recovery.
Dad and I used to love to go fishing. He was very worried about casting a lure. If he ever lost his right eye, he wouldn’t be able to see. We used to enjoy going for long drives; it’s one of the best ways for a father and son to get together. He had no sense of direction and was perpetually lost, which I inherited, by the way. He’d pick up hitchhikers when we drove around Essex County, so the hitchhiker could tell their family that Paul Martin had given them a ride.
Our house was in Sandy Hill. I’d walk home from school, past the Soviet Embassy. I liked to throw stones at the Embassy, my way of demonstrating for democracy. One time the staff called the police, and of course I took off. The third time they caught me; it must have been an embarrassing moment because I heard about it from my father at home. That was fine; I’d struck a blow for democracy.
I had polio when I was 8. I came home one day and didn’t feel well; it felt like a plate was in my stomach. Everyone knew of the summer epidemics then. My mother took me to the hospital, and thank heavens she did, because I’m not sure I’d be here today.
I was told I had a 1 in 10 chance of recovery. My parents were devastated, because of my father’s illness. They put thirty of us in an infirmary. I remember one boy pointing to an iron lung and saying, “You’re either not going to come out of here, or you’re going to spend the rest of your life in one of those.” I still remember that.
If you’re my generation, you were used to seeing kids in leg braces. These were children that had polio. In grade school, every class had a child in leg braces. After I began to recover, I remember my mother telling me she’d been told by the doctor: “You can’t upset him. You can’t upset his nervous system.”
I liked baseball. My favourite baseball had no cover on it, and I lost it. I came home and was very upset: I’d lost my favourite baseball, and oh, my gosh, this was awful. The next day I came home from school, and there was my baseball in front of the house with the cover off! I learned many years later my mother bought a new baseball and took the cover off, and left it in the yard for me to find. She just wasn’t going to let me get upset.