In anticipation of Canada Day – Number 1 A+ Canadian Charles Seymour Wright!
He grew up in Toronto and did his undergrad in physics there – surveying northern Ontario in the summer – and was doing postgraduate work at Cavendish Labs in Cambridge when the call went out for scientists to join the Terra Nova Expedition. When his friend Griff Taylor got accepted and Wright didn’t, they walked the 50 miles from Cambridge to the expedition offices in London in one day, armed only with pockets full of boiled eggs, to prove how hard they both were. It worked.
As a New World colonial amongst Brits, he was constantly ribbed for being “American” – in fact his nickname “Silas” comes from a joke of Birdie’s:
Silas struck me one day on the ship as a typical Yankee name and in a happy moment I called him Mr Silas P. Wright of the Philadelphia Educational Seminary. Since then he has never been called anything but Cousin Silas or Silas.
He took it in (mostly) good humour, though, and continued signing his letters to expedition veterans as “Silas P.” for years afterwards.
As his life’s work was mainly in Britain, for the British – and largely classified military work at that – he doesn’t get the credit he ought to, as an outstanding Canadian, but he was on the leading edge of radar and oceanography amongst other things. Despite having a life in the UK, he retired to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, and in 1975 his ashes were scattered in the sea around there, so: Canadian to the end.
Aside from that, he so perfectly embodies certain Canadian personality traits that I recognise from family and friends – ready snark, resourceful outside-the-box problem-solving, ability to step outside oneself and the situation, casual demeanour and coarse language belying serious dedicated competence, clear-headed directness, scorn for timewasters, etc etc – that it makes me wonder whether the much-debated “Canadian identity” might actually exist, beyond “not being American.”