The 2014 that was on P.E.I.

Mary MacKay
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A possible movie deal and a First World War mystery are solved in two Guardian updates

A silver lining

Sometimes good things can come in bad news packages.

And that’s the exact gift Prince Edward Island’s Wharf Rats received in early December when they didn’t win CBC’s ComedyCoup’s contest during a Big Deal face off in Whistler, B.C.

Pretty much at the same moment this comedy crew realized another team had won the top prize of $500,000 in production financing for a half-hour special for CBC, there was an onstage whisper of a specific deal for them that could lead to a full-length comedy movie.

“You figure you’re going in for door number one and you get door number three; and we bid perfectly so we got all three prizes,” laughs Dennis Trainor, who with Robbie Carruthers and Jason Arsenault vied for the top prize in CBC’s 10-week online film accelerator competition.

From the moment they entered the online competition they were pretty much flying by the seat of their waterproof slicker fisher pants — a strategy that required some rethinking before the big pitch day in B.C. in front of a panel of industry professionals and an audience of more than 300.

“I think we just sort of had a bit of an epiphany that we had no idea what we were doing,” Trainor laughs.

“It was more like a rock show . . . and they said, ‘Be f**king funny, for gawd’s sake. Don’t be up there and be stale and dry.’ And we were the first ones; we had to open the show so it was difficult. We had a lot of pressure put on us.”

Fortunately, by this point in the comedy competition game, the Wharf Rats had gelled as a team.

“At this point we’d gotten to know ourselves better, to trust in our own gifts and instincts, and we were forced to capitalize on this . . . ,” Trainor says.

“(And) we stayed on Maritime time the whole time in Whistler. We didn’t switch the four hours ahead,” Carruthers says.

“We thought it would be better because we were all sleeping that way anyway, so we’d get up at four in the morning, start working early and go to bed at 7:30,” Trainor says.

“I drank one beer in the entire (process). This is our level of commitment,” he adds, laughing.

All told, the Wharf Rats had nine minutes to lay it on the line.

“In my honest opinion I think we knocked it right across the strait,” Trainor says.

In the end, B.C.’s Human Town team reeled in the top prize.

However, a little onstage whisper action between Trainor and a representative from CineCoup, which is the production company for the online accelerator competition, lifted that losing mood to high spirits.

“On stage the CEO turned and whispered to Dennis that they want to start a dialogue about making Wharf Rats into a movie. So we really feel like we won,” Carruthers says.

Nothing is a 100 per cent done deal at this stage. There are hurtles to overcome; the first draft of the Wharf Rats script is due March 1; after that the team will meet with the production company.

“We would like P.E.I. to be the backdrop to the prospective movie because it’s as much a character as any other character in the story from a visual perspective,” Trainor says.

If things come together, the project could begin as early as this summer.


The whole story

Unbeknownst to two men who lived a world away from each other, both possessed two halves to the whole story of one unfortunate First World War soldier.

John Daniel (J.D.) McIntyre of Mill Cove, P.E.I., drowned when enroute by ship to his wartime post in 1917 and was buried in the Netherlands.

However, his relatives on this continent, including his grandnephew Allan McIntyre of Massachusetts, never knew the actual location of his final resting place.

On another continent, Dutch researcher Mark Sijlmans had taken upon himself a personal project to give a voice and story to 27 First World soldiers, including J.D., who are buried in a cemetery in his hometown of Noordwijk.

A story that appeared in The Guardian in July detailing Sijlmans’ quest for information and images of the P.E.I. soldier was the catalyst that brought the puzzle pieces together.

“It’s always a very special moment because you’ve been looking for a person sometimes months, and suddenly when you open your email, you see his face. It’s what you’ve been working toward all that time,” Sijmans says of the day he received an email of images of J.D. from Allan McIntyre, who was born and raised in the United States, but as a boy returned to P.E.I. many times with his father to connect with his roots.

The story of J.D. came to light during this time.

“What I remember more than anything else is J.D.’s love for the woods on P.E.I. He wasn’t really so much a farmer as he was a woodsman. That’s where he wanted to be more than anything else,” Allan says of his uncle, who eventually enlisted in the Canadian Forestry Corps.

In fact, a tree on the McIntyre homestead in Mill Cove also factored strongly into J.D.’s story. Before the war he planted a white birch on the property. It appeared time and time again in family photographs over the years.

“It just seemed to be a place that the family would collect — in front of this tree,” Allan says.

“This tree was just John’s tree. Everybody knew it. It became this focal point you would see for years. By the time (my father and I) showed up some 50 years later it was this gi-normous tree with spreading branches that my sister and I would climb . . . . In so many ways, a tree couldn’t be any more appropriate memorial.”

However, when Allan visited P.E.I. in the winter during the 1990s, John’s tree, along with the abandoned family home, had been bulldozed by the new property owners into one big pile.

“And so you can only imagine the impact of that. I went back with a small saw and took a piece of the tree . . . . It had certainly a  finality to it, but there was still kind of this open thing in the back of my mind,” he says.

Shortly after The Guardian article came out in July 2014, Allan made contact with Sijlmans in the Netherlands and they began to put their particular pieces of the puzzle of the last days of J.D.’s life together.

One detail that was especially enlightening to Sijlmans was to discover that J.D. had albinism, which he theorizes is what might have led to the young soldier’s disappearance from the ship during his passage from the U.K. to France and the discovery of his body on a Netherland shore a month later.

“I knew he was seasick but I kept on wondering what caused him to fall overboard,” Sijlmans says.

“The weather wasn’t bad, but then Allan told me something that might be some kind of cause for the fact that he fell overboard and that was his poor eyesight, and that poor eyesight caused because he was known (to have) albinism . . . .”

“I know it was at total blackout on ships that were crossing the British channel because of German submarines and other hostile ships.

“I have a theory . . . that he perhaps took the wrong turn and fell overboard. I checked the lunar charts (for that date) and not to my surprise there wasn’t much moon on that night — that also supports my theory.”

Sijlmans and a history society in his hometown are hoping to one day publish a book that will tell the story of the fallen P.E.I. soldier and that of 26 other First World War soldiers from around the world who are buried in the same cemetery.

Allan McIntyre has plans to visit his granduncle’s gravesite in the future, with the idea of taking a boat from England to the Netherlands.

“I think that that would be exceptionally symbolic.”

Organizations: CBC, Big Deal

Geographic location: P.E.I., Prince Edward Island, Whistler Mill Cove Massachusetts Netherlands United States U.K. France England

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