“Starving Armenians in Picton Ontario”

The A.R.F Regional Council of Canada (Qortsateer  Գործադիր) decided to hold a seminar and delegated me to find a suitable location between Toronto and Montreal. I found a small resort called Lake on the Mountain on an escarpment overlooking Lake Ontario close to Picton. Although the small resort did not have the amenities for a seminar, the natural beauty and the affordable price were hard to resist.

Being off touristic season (I think it was in the Fall of 1966?) we had the whole place to ourselves. It was like an exclusive private club gathering. Apart from the basic sleeping accommodation of a one-story motel and a few old cottages backing onto the small lake at the back of the escarpment, it had a small dining room right on the edge of the ridge overlooking Lake Ontario that served as the meeting room.

It was the first such a seminar by the Qortsateer with limited attendance maybe just over forty people. The lecturers were Prof. Setrak Minas a law professor from Boston and the president of A.R.F Central Executive USA East Coast, Prof. Shake Minassian a Sorbonne-educated historian from Montreal, and Prof. Onnig Keshishian a professor of political science from Massena NY.

Prof. Setrag Minas a second-generation Armenian American, probably in his late fifties to early sixties spoke in English about the need for effective lobbying activities in general, and especially the need to establish a lobbying organization in Washington DC.

Prof. Shake Minassian born in Beirut Lebanon spoke in English and Armenian about the challenges of keeping the Armenian identity in the diaspora in general, and in North America in particular. She drew parallels between the activities and experiences of the French and North American Armenian communities and emphasized the need for the Armenian schools for the preservation of the Armenian identity.

Prof. Konig Keshishian (the youngest of the three) also originally from Beirut Lebanon spoke in English and Armenian about the new ways and means to engage the youth in local political activities as citizens of the country they live in, and the need to shed the isolationist “ghetto” mentality.

I remember Onnig challenging an Armenian by saying “Ոտքը վերմակին համաձայն երկնցնել” “Extend the feet according to the blanket” that basically implies be cautious and do not challenge the norms. He emphasized that it is time to “extend the blanket”, “Վերմակը երկնցնել” rather than bend the knees when growing and go beyond our comfort zone and be more daring in our activities.

The limited space and the intimacy, turned the whole seminar, especially the question periods into heated discussions that were very lively, informative, and educational. Especially so for most of us, the younger generation, who were new immigrants from Middle Eastern countries.

Late Saturday night after the seminar session was over,  Viken Ajemian wanted to go to a restaurant but he had more than his share of his favorite whisky and I volunteered to drive to Picton about a twenty-minute drive from the resort. Few others joined us and suddenly my station wagon was “packed”.

It was passed midnight and being off touristic season, Picton looked like a ghost town. We could not find any restaurant and stopped at a variety store to inquire about where to find an open restaurant, or as a “last resort” maybe purchase some snacks.

Everyone got out of the station wagon seven or eight of us. When we asked the store employee where to find an open restaurant, he said the owner of the next-door restaurant just purchased cigarettes and maybe he might be able to accommodate such a crowd.

When we banged on the door of the closed restaurant the surprised/scared owner hesitantly opened the door and angrily said he was closed but when we insisted and said something like we were “starving” (probably more than once) he said he had just finished setting the restaurant for breakfast and could serve us only scrambled eggs and bacon.

While he was busy preparing the breakfast we were chatting and laughing out loud in the Armenian language and the restaurant owner inquired what language we were using. After a while when he had the breakfast ready he yelled out loud “Starving Armenians, the dishes are ready, come and pick them up”. We all burst into laughter for a long time and had to explain to the bewildered restaurant owner that, he had just repeated a very old saying coined by American missionaries for Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.

When we returned to the resort it was a clear night and the full moon shining on both lakes made the place look magical. When we got out of the car one of the guys said somebody must have died while we were away pointing to the Armenian flag the Երագույն “Yairaqooyn”. (The rope of the Armenian flag that we had raised on the flag post had loosened up and it was flying in a half-mast position). While I was raising the flag someone yelled “Բարեւ կաց”, (Attention) and stood stiff in a saluting position.  Just another nostalgic moment from the “good old days”.

Zohrab bebo Sarkissian


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