By the early nineties, HAO had joined the Internet Age. Kanata became known as Silicon Valley North and during the dot com boom era, there was an influx of people with high technology skills. The HAO benefited from members with this expertise. Members progressed from the embryonic National Capital Freenet internet service provider (ISP) operating out of Carleton University to the more sophisticated commercial service providers. This allowed HAO to communicate easily not only locally but nationally and internationally, thus perpetuating the exchange of humanist ideas. The introduction of listserves was particularly practical in making announcements about meetings and events to members. Eventually web sites were developed giving access to anyone interested in humanism in Ottawa.
Around the same time, social events were introduced to members. There was a tendency for many members (but not all) to lean more to the intellectual side of humanism. It proved difficult at first for the group to understand that humanism can be so much more than only meeting to listen to an interesting speaker. The advantage of social settings permitted members to get to know one another better, and this resulted in some romantic or platonic friendships. Enriching their circle of friends allowed members a chance to relax and express their opinions, whereas in other areas of their lives, they couldn't openly admit their non-religious views.
Members learnt from the Internet about other groups celebrating the Winter Solstice. Since having a Christmas party was taboo, having a Solstice party in December was a logical choice. Solstice parties eventually became very popular but at first, trying to explain to Humanists what a pot luck supper was, could be likened pushing an elephant up hill! Despite their shortcomings, there is one thing church groups do very well, and that is organizing sumptuous feasts.
Fortunately, this was something Humanists eventually emulated! Everything did not always go smoothly, such as the Solstice party where musical chairs were played. The music played and then stopped and everyone sat down. Around and around they went, sitting on the chairs every time the music stopped. After a while the players began wonder what the point of the game was. It had to explained to them that there had to be one less chair than participants until only one player was left!
Other social events included relaxing at a restaurant, pot lucks in private homes, movie nights, picnics at the beach and summer BBQ's.
Humanist picnic at Fitzroy Provincial Park 1995 .
HAO member Richard Thain displaying his BBQ skills for HAO members
HAO annual BBQ in the back yard of a member's home.
When a Friday 13th occurs in December, the Solstice Party turns into a "Superstition Bash." Members court fate by opening umbrellas indoors, walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, throwing salt over the shoulder and hanging horseshoes upside down, etc!
One Solstice Party turned into an "Oscar" night. Earlier that year, members got together to film The Metamorphosis of Edgar Scrimshaw. Borrowing a video camera from a member, the crew set out to shoot the humanist version of Charles Dickens' immortal story of A Christmas Carol. This humanist account was not ashamed to make use of poetic licence. One scene called for a statue of the Virgin Mary to appear in a shot.
A church in downtown Ottawa had the perfect sculpture in its garden and without asking for permission, the cast and directors sneaked into the grounds and started filming. The scene was almost finished when a priest came out of the church and demanded to know what was going on. Everybody, cowardly, disappeared, except for Angela Beale who concocted a story line about how a film was being made that depicted the protagonist (played by Trevor Banks) who, fallen from the wayside had then "seen the light." This wasn't a lie exactly and the priest seemed satisfied with that explanation. But he presumed Angela was talking about a sinner having found salvation through Jesus Christ. Wisely, Angela didn't contradict him!
The movie wasn't nominated for any Oscar but in December of 1998, the HAO put on a presentation worthy of a Hollywood production. Members got to see the film and then they voted for best actor, supporting actor and so on. The winners got a rose and runner ups got a carnation.
Some of the "stars" of The Metamorphosis of Edgar Scrimshaw
The late Peggy Krachun (who played Tiny Tina), composed and sang this song for the film:
A Humanist Song
Why does life have to be so hard?
Why won't we just let each other live?
Never hurting, never judging, never forcing our own ways.
Help and understanding, that's all we need to give.
There are those who say we have a Master
Whose laws can be harsh and unkind.
They say that we must trust Him, let Him lead us by the hand,
Close our eyes and minds and follow blind.
But see the beauty of this world around us.
What can it be for but to enjoy?
Why turn light to darkness, why turn love to hate?
Our time here will all too soon go by.
And we don't need some distant higher being
To show us the proper way to go.
If we just look at the faces of the people that we touch,
Listen to our consciences, and ask the living earth.
They will tell us all we need to know.
Embrace our humanness and we will grow.
Why does life have to be so hard?
Sadly, Peggy passed away after a brave fight with cancer. In honour of Peggy, the HAO held an auction to raise money and in January of 2002, Steve Zabarylo, Peggy's husband presented the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre Foundation with a cheque for $2,000.
This was quite an achievement for a group of about 100 members and one that HAO members can be proud of for making the effort.
January 5th 1998, appeared as a mild day starting with freezing rain. Within a few days the ice had thickened on trees, and tall standing poles. The weight of the ice bent and snapped millions of trees and brought down thousands of kilometres of power lines and telephone cables, over a hundred transmission towers and several thousand wooden utility poles. Over several days, the storm destroyed an electrical system that had taken decades to build. This became known as the Great Ice Storm of 1998 and spread over eastern Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic provinces and the northeastern United States. The spectacular scenery of the ice storm displayed nature at her most beautiful but it also proved how destructive she could be.
Homes were left without hydro power for weeks. It was so bad that on 8th January, the Canadian government declared a state of emergency and called in the military to help clear debris, assist in restoring power, provide medical assistance, evacuate residents, and canvass door-to-door to make sure everyone was safe.
Communities rallied around to offer support including the HAO. Ottawa Humanists had by now become so sufficiently interwoven that they could help each other. The listserve was particularly valuable in getting the word out as to what was needed. Those members whose homes had the power restored first quickly responded to other members by opening their homes for people to take showers and to keep warm. Members also visited homes and provided hot meals and wood for burning. The storm was significant in the history of HAO because the association had now achieved that community spirit and was more than just a monthly meeting to listen to a lecture.
HAO members further showed their generosity when one of their members received a death threat from Islamic fundamentalists. This member (named withheld) had long been a critic of Islam. Members provided a serious of "safe houses" for their colleague, moving him around from house to house until he was able to settle at an undisclosed location. He still continues with his fight in exposing Islamic extremism.
HAO members turned out to be a talented bunch. Many of them had a high calibre of writing skills and their letters were often published in the local press. Some of these members lent their abilities to the publication of Humanist Perspectives (formerly known as Humanist in Canada.) Member Earl Doherty had his first book, The Jesus Puzzle published by Canadian Humanist Publications. Henry Beissel is well known for his published plays and poems and many other writings. In the age of information technology, the HAO had many members with expertise in computer technology, enabling the HAO to take advantage of producing newsletters, electronic documents and membership data bases. Musical talent was another accomplishment that can be added to this pool of exceptional people. A Humanist in British Columbia, the late Pat Hutcheon wrote the inspiring words Amazing Life and HAO member Dan Mayo put these words to music to the tune of Amazing Grace:
that carves a course through me,
to futures yet uncharted from
some long forgotten sea.
No master hand defined my fate.
No gods created me.
Stardust and ocean current sparked
the genes that led to me.
O'er eons of uncounted time,
like shifting dunes of sand;
from grasping paw on groping limb,
evolved the human hand.
Amazing hand, how great the tools
that humankind could wield.
How wide the world that hitherto
from animals was sealed.
But symbols were the crucial key
that opened culture's gate;
for language carried consciousness,
and knowledge in its wake.
Amazing power of human thought
that carves a course through me;
to futures yet uncharted from
some long forgotten sea.
These photos show members voicing their concern over the destruction a forest. In the spring of 2002, Ottawa developers cut down 15 acres of native forest in error at Carp Ridge, near Ottawa. HAO member Dan Mayo, in his capacity as a Humanist Officiant, gave a requiem service in honour of the fallen trees on Earth Day, April 22, 2002. The service was at the request of the Green Party of Ontario.
Dan gave a speech stressing the value of trees to the global ecosystem and to our future. After Dan had spoken, a moment of silence was observed.
About half a dozen people attended the "funeral" service, including a representative from one of the developers. "Woodman Spare That Tree" was read as a young white pine was planted, a symbol for the start of reforestation on the site.
HAO with HAC, celebrated the 40th anniversary for both associations on October 18th, 2008 at the Extended Stay Deluxe Hotel on Cooper Street. Comedian David Pryde entertained the crowd with his jokes about family life and living without religion.