RE­MEM­BER­ING BLISS

Late his­to­rian had strong con­nec­tions to P.E.I.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAN­DRA MARTIN AND JOHN DIRKS

Is­lan­ders gath­ered re­cently to mark the con­tri­bu­tions of Cana­dian writer – and friend to P.E.I. – the late his­to­rian Michael Bliss.

“Al­most all of us should turn off our com­put­ers and our smart­phones and look up at the real world.” Michael Bliss in re­marks at the 2012 UPEI con­vo­ca­tion

Is­lan­ders gath­ered re­cently to mark the con­tri­bu­tions of Cana­dian writer – and friend to P.E.I. – the late his­to­rian Michael Bliss.

An in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed writer and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor on Cana­dian af­fairs, Bliss was a “come from away” who spent nearly 30 sum­mers on P.E.I., a place he de­scribed as “a par­adise” and “idyl­lic.” The Land­mark Café was one of Bliss’s favourite places to eat with friends and fam­ily, so it was the ob­vi­ous choice for the gath­er­ing, led by John Dirks, a friend and col­league and him­self a long-time sum­mer res­i­dent of the Is­land.

Bliss, who died ear­lier this year, wrote 14 ground­break­ing books, in­clud­ing bi­ogra­phies of med­i­cal lu­mi­nar­ies, Fred­er­ick Bant­ing and Wil­liam Osler, busi­ness­man Joseph Flavelle, and an as­trin­gent and in­formed sur­vey of Cana­dian prime min­is­ters that was aptly ti­tled, “Right Hon­ourable Men: the des­cent of Cana­dian pol­i­tics from Mac­don­ald to Mul­roney.” Among his ac­com­plish­ments Bliss un­cov­ered the true ori­gins of the dis­cov­ery of in­sulin and due care in the prac­tice of medicine. His schol­ar­ship drew trib­utes from many, in­clud­ing UPEI his­to­ri­ans Ian Dow­big­gin and Ed Mac­Don­ald, but mostly guests re­mem­bered Bliss as a loyal friend and men­tor, a quick-wit­ted con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist and an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of Is­land arts and cul­ture.

CBC Ra­dio host Karen Mair played a tape from a com­mence­ment ad­dress Bliss gave when he re­ceived an hon­orary de­gree from UPEI in May 2012.

In his re­marks, Bliss ad­vised the grad­u­ates not to take them­selves too se­ri­ously and chal­lenged them to achieve a bal­ance be­tween their work­ing and per­sonal lives.

“Al­most all of us should turn off our com­put­ers and our smart­phones,” he said, “and look up at the real world.”

As well as his long-stand­ing af­fec­tion for the in­no­vate cui­sine pro­vided by Eu­gene Sauvé and his ex­tended fam­ily at the Land­mark Café, Bliss was ac­knowl­edged for his sup­port for The In­dian River Fes­ti­val in Saint Mary’s Church. The fes­ti­val ded­i­cated its July 16 per­for­mance to his mem­ory.

In­dian River Fes­ti­val board chair­woman Pat Hobbs, as well as Dun­can McIn­tosh, found­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor of Wa­ter­mark The­atre, and Pat Smith, of the Vic­to­ria Play­house, echoed this sen­ti­ment: Bliss not only gave money, he at­tended per­for­mances and brought friends and vis­i­tors along to swell the au­di­ence.

Bliss’s con­nec­tion to the Is­land came through his wife, the for­mer El­iz­a­beth (Liz) Haslam, whose fa­ther had grown up in Hazeldean, a Har­ris-de­signed arts and crafts farm­house on the Rat­ten­bury Road in Spring­field. In the 1990s, when her aunts were find­ing it “bur­den­some” to keep the place up, Liz Bliss re­called: “One of our [three] kids said we should buy the place. We all laughed ex­cept that the seed was planted.”

They closed the sale in 1991 and spent the first of many sum­mers there the fol­low­ing year.

“P.E.I. was at­trac­tive for many rea­sons,” she said, “fam­ily con­nec­tions, pas­toral and sea­side beauty and a great house — con­tents in­cluded.”

The Blisses sold Hazeldean ear­lier this year to a younger and more en­er­getic cou­ple, but planned to re­turn to the Is­land ev­ery sum­mer as renters rather than own­ers un­til Bliss suc­cumbed to vas­culi­tis (in­flam­ma­tion of blood ves­sels) in Toronto on May 18 at age 76.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Is­lan­ders gath­ered re­cently to mark the con­tri­bu­tions of Cana­dian writer – and friend to P.E.I. – the late his­to­rian Michael Bliss.

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