Thursday, August 14, 2014


Late at night, when I turn off the TV, my mind fills up with memories. Last night, I suddenly remembered Dr. Maurice Bourne and his wife, Lil.

Dr. Bourne was a customer at my family's international newspaper store, Metropolitan News Agency at 1248 Peel Street in the heart of Montreal. He had his dental office just around the corner on St. Catherine Street, close to Frank de Rice's famous spaghetti house. Dr. Bourne was Montreal's first dentist of "colour".
Maurice was a handsome, soft-spoken gentleman with salt and pepper, short curly hair. We saw him often in the store, but we didn't have a personal friendship - until something happened that brought us close in a very meaningful way.
My sister, four years younger than me, who is a VERY private person, would have a  fit if she knew I was about to tell this story. But after all these years, I want to tell it. I don't believe in "coincidence" and if the memory of Dr. Bourne came to me so insistently, I believe I am supposed to tell it now.
My sister, S., was seeing a well-known Montreal political figure. He was highly- regarded in Montreal's English-speaking community. A charming gentleman. My family is Jewish, Caucasian. Yes. This gentleman, whom I will now call R. was Negro.
Dr. Harry Ballon, the highly esteemed Montreal surgeon, a leader in the Jewish community and chief surgeon at the Jewish General Hospital, had been our family doctor for decades - since I was about 14 years old.  While my relationship with Dr. Ballon was that of a very nervous young patient, my brother, Stephen, a teacher, was very close to him. Stephen gave Dr. Ballon lifts to his downtown office in the Drummond Building from his apartment in Westmount. He looked to him for advice, as a father figure, I think.
My sister, S. seemed to be quite friendly with Mrs. Ballon, the doctor's wife - because, one day - in the 1960's - S. asked me to accompany her to Mrs. Ballon's apartment. Apparently Mrs. Ballon found out about S. and R. and she wanted to talk to my sister about it.
I remember sitting in the Ballon's small but classy apartment as Mrs. Ballon told my sister that she had to give up her relationship with the Negro gentlemen. I couldn't believe my ears.
Mrs Ballon told us that she was not prejudiced, but the world was. In fact, the great singer Paul Robeson had played that baby grand piano beside us there in her living room. She was not prejudiced. But everyone else was, and if S. continued seeing R., she and he were going to suffer.
My sister and I returned to our home at 4995 Prince of Wales in NDG, where, in October, 1996, our younger sister's daughter, Dawn McSweeney, would bring more than embarrassment to our family by robbing me and my aged parents. Details at I digress for the sake of "the whole truth".
It must have been late afternoon when S. and I got back to the house. I can't say how S. felt, but I was outraged. My mind was working like a jet engine. What can we do about this? Who has a right to scare you away from love?
At the time, Cliff was out of the picture. Our romance had not yet happened. I had not yet met Percy Rodrigues. I needed to talk to Negro people about this. I needed support. I was not going to rest until I had a chance to bring justice into this story.
I remembered Dr. Maurice Bourne. He lived nearby in Cote St. Luc. I had never spoken with him about anything personal. I had never phoned him. I plunged in. I phoned and the Bournes, Maurice and his dear wife, Lil, asked us to come right over.
The Bournes welcomed us. We explained the situation. I can't remember the details of our conversation, but Maurice and Lil gave us some personal insights into what Negro people have to live with among Caucasians. They were so kind about it. There was no anger or hatred in them. They were gracious about the way so many White people treat Negroes - just as, many years later, I found Percy and his wife Almeada to be. I would not be so nice about it. The bigotry and hypocrisy outraged me. It still does.
That visit with Dr. Bourne and Lil did not keep my sister with the man she cared for so deeply. I don't know what happened between them. My sister is not known for her courage in such matters. She is very intelligent, well-educated. She writes her Letters to the Editor about politics under a nom de plume. She hides - as my mother always did.
I don't know if she lost her nerve, but years later in the 1970's - when Cliff was engaged as the resident pianist at The Astor Lounge in St. Catherine Street across from Eaton's, Cliff and I sat at a small table with R, and talked about our memories. We had all known each other for a very long time.
And that was when R. told us why he and my sister did not marry. This was his reason:  I remember this so well.  R. said that his mother had always told him that, if he didn't have anything to offer a woman, he should not drag her down with him. He said that, at the time, although he was prominent in politics, he had little money, and he would not bring my sister into his situation.
Gracious? I don't know whether this was R. just being the gracious gentleman he was, or if it was true. I just know my sister didn't marry him. Years later, he did marry an elegant Caucasian woman.
Since then, R. has died. And Dr. Maurice and Lil Bourne, I am sad to say, both died much too soon due to cancer. So much tragedy. Such precious friends gone.
I think it's important to talk about such things. We need to see the truth and tell it. How else can we ever heal? How else can we ever expose injustice and stop the ignorance and the fear and the cruelty? How else can we stop covering up for all the "nice" people who say they are not bigots? How else can we teach children to embrace all the good, talented, wonderful people they don't know?

Dr. Maurice Euegene Bourne

Montreal's first Black dentist, Dr. Bourne practised from 1950 to 1985. He did wartime service in the Dental Corps and later established a free dental clinic at the Negro Community Centre. Dr. Bourne was an active member of the Montreal Negro Alumni Group and the Montreal Dental Centre, and was dental consultant to the Sun Life Insurance Company.
Dr. Maurice Eugene Bourne


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