Fridaywill mark the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of President Kennedy. Almost everyone on the planet who is over sixty knows where he was the moment the news broke.
For the publisher it was a desk at a college in Varennes, diddling rather than listening, waiting for liberation, we left earlier on Friday, the Montreal bound bus leaving at three thirty, the overcast day, was there a slight drizzle on the Saint Lawrence that day? Then Brother George barging into the class: “Le president est mort, c’est Johnson qui le remplace,” (The president is dead, it’s Johnson who is taking his place) in his slight Franco-American accent. Brother George was trying, with some success, to teach us English, using Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary songs telling us tales of living in the USA. Was there another country for him? Quebec was simply a part of the French experience in the Americas after all. For the then 12 year-old publisher, something was amiss. Johnson could not be president, he was a Quebec politician.
Class broke up, finally, and it was the face of the Provincial Transport conductor that told us that there was indeed something happening beyond our control. Always jovial, even transporting us, he looked gloomy. The mood was worse in Montreal. The bus terminal, always noisy, seemed silent, even the announcements being muted, the announcer whispering the next bus leaving.
Coming home, father had bought the special edition of La Presse. Only those who understand the process of printing a paper back then can appreciate today that achievement.
And then we started watching TV. Hour after hour, was it Henri Bergeron who took over the Radio-Canada broadcast, the perfectly bilingual, Manitoba born announcer almost lip synching Walter Cronkite, but in French? Then, when my parents had gone to sleep, rearranging the rabbit ears to tune WCAX.
Waking early on Saturday and Sunday. Then witnessing, like millions live and hundreds of others in Europe a couple of minutes later, when Telstar 2 had its 18 minutes of windows to radiate in Europe, someone dying in front of our very eyes. How many people had witnessed a murder before Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald?
It would take years before we would see President Kennedy being killed and, only in the last couple of years, with high quality scan, can we see what really happened in Dallas.
Americans, those in their mid to late seventies and over, see that day as one of a loss of innocence, the end of Camelot. Here in the most integrated border community in America, the impact must have been huge, a different perspective to the first global event, the day that instant news became the norm, the harbinger of CNN in a way, of filling the air with trivia when the smallest disaster struck or endless batters when a royal baby is expected, then born.
In a way, our modern civilisation started that day. Having witnessed a live murder, hundreds of hours of Vietnam coverage, we were ready a couple of years later for Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch gore and the rest.