If You're Too Busy To Go Fishing—You're Too Busy
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Apr 1952, p. 315-329
McGillen, Pete, Speaker
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Item Type
Some introductory remarks, then a description of the speaker's job. Some personal reminiscences and anecdotes. Conservation and what that term means. How conservation applies to each of us in the matter of health and proper care to assure that you will have the maximum of content and happiness for the longest time. Modern wildlife management as 5% wildlife management and 95% managing wild people. The success programme of the propagation of muskies. Some fishing stories. An example of our indifference and neglect in the condition of the trout streams in southern Ontario. The long time required to correct such conditions. A parallel story in our own lives. An analogy of trout streams to our own bodies. A pleasant prescription. Responsibility implied in democracy. Conservation of natural resources our responsibility, conservation of health our business.
Date of Original
3 Apr 1952
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Full Text
An Address by PETE McGillen
Outdoors Editor, The Telegram
Thursday, April 3rd, 1952
CHAIRMAN: The Third Vice-President, Mr. John Griffin.

MR. GRIFFIN: Members and Guests of the Empire Club of Canada: We are to hear an address today by Mr. Peter McGillen, outdoors editor of The Telegram. (Sorry to be so formal Pete, but the dignity of our Year Book, in which these words will appear, demands that I call you Peter at least once.) Mr. McGillen is the only full-time wildlife editor on the staff of any paper in Canada. A former city editor of the Peterborough Examiner, he began writing for The Telegram in 1949 and his widely-read column now appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. An ardent conservationist, he is noted for his efforts to awaken city people to the crying need for proper care of the priceless natural heritage God gave this great Dominion. An able conversationalist, he is well qualified to converse about what he would have us conserve. Pete McGillen!

MR. McGILLEN: Mr. Chairman, Reverend Gentlemen, and Gentlemen:

Every time I get in front of an audience, I think of a little boy who was selected to be valedictorian at a high school commencement. He had memorized his speech, he knew it from A to Z. He started like this: "Mr. Chairmain, ladies and gentlemen, Abraham Lincoln is dead". Then he stopped, he had forgotten every word he intended to say. He tried a second time, "Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, Abraham Lincoln is dead." Still it wouldn't come. In desperation he tried a third time, "Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, Abraham Lincoln is dead--and I don't feel so good myself."

The reason I feel like that little boy is because of a menace you have here in Toronto. It is one you should warn us outlanders about--the taxi drivers. Strangely enough, these same taxi drivers go to heaven when they die. I learned of it this way: Two clergymen died and went to heaven--as was to be expected. The first walked up to St. Peter, and St. Peter said, "What did you do on earth"? "I was a clergyman." "How long?" asked St. Peter. "40 years". Then St. Peter said, "Stand over there, I'm too busy to deal with you right now." The next clergyman stepped up and went through the same routine. "What were you on earth?" "I was a clergyman for thirty-five years." "Stand over with that other fellow, I'll deal with you two later."

Then in bounced a third customer. He walked up to St. Peter, who said, "What did you do on earth?" "I was a taxi driver in Toronto", the newcomer replied. "How long?" "15 years". With that, St. Peter said: "Go right in and take the best seat in the house." When the two clergymen heard this they were provoked, and rightly so. They walked up to St. Peter and said: "This is an outrage. We devoted our entire lives to the glory of God and saving souls from the devil. In walks an ordinary taxi driver, and he gets the best seat in the house, while we're kept waiting." St. Peter said, "I'll have you two gentlemen know, that that taxi driver scared the devil out of more people in 15 years than you did in 75."

And after dodging them for three years I'm inclined to agree with him.

I just returned from a trip to Cleveland. I went down there to see what kind of a Sportsmen's Show they had. I discovered that their main show was not even as large as the boat show at the Toronto Sportsmen's Show. They said they hoped to sell 150,000 admissions during the week. I'm certain that almost a quarter of a million saw the show right here in Toronto. I have heard so much about American aggressiveness and business ability, that it is heart-warming to note that the good Canadian business judgment of Frank Kortright, Clive Betts, Mr. Morrow, and my good friend Tracy leMay, with a few others, have produced the best sportsmen's show in North America. Gentlemen, you can be proud of them.

America, the United States, is a strange country, strange in that it is one of the few countries with two capitals, Washington and Key West. I can't get over their money problems; in Cleveland they wouldn't accept Canadian money, but when I came to Buffalo, a sign over a gas station said, "Canadian dollar worth $1.02 at this station."

I have never met a Democrat, I don't know how they ever manage to elect a Democratic President. Perhaps only the Republicans have enough money to spend a holiday in Ontario. The odd thing I noticed was their animosity towards President Truman. I hold Mr. Truman in high esteem, as I did his predecessor, Mr. Roosevelt. This animosity seems to have extended into the army. A colonel was addressing an American regiment in Korea and he said, "Gentlemen, tomorrow we hit the enemy. Tomorrow we see action. Are there any questions?" A G.I. spoke up and said, "Yes, sir, I would like to know how to tell the difference between a North Korean and a South Korean". "Now that's a good question", replied the Colonel. "Perhaps I better answer it with an illustration. Let's say you are in a fox hole on one side of a heavily-travelled road. You hear someone in a foxhole on the opposite side of the road. You don't know whether it's a friend or enemy. Just call out 'Stalin's a so-and-so'. If they are friends they won't shoot." The G.I. replied, "That's very simple," and the unit went into battle.

A week later, the Colonel was inspecting a casualty clearing station when two corpsmen carried in a wounded soldier. It was this same G.I., and believe me, Gentlemen, he was a mess, all mud and blood and cuts. The colonel exclaimed, "What in the world happened to you?" The G.I. replied, "Colonel, it was just the way you said it would be. I was in a foxhole at one side of a road. I heard a noise on the other side, and I yelled 'Stalin's a so-and-so.' The other fellow yelled back, 'So is Truman'. I jumped out to shake hands with him and some jackass ran over me with a jeep."

I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about my job, if for no other reason than to make you envious. Surveys in the United States have shown that sportsmen spend more in one year than the total revenue from all gasoline stations. They also show that 85 per cent of newspaper readers are interested in outdoors topics, from the apartment dweller with his window box garden to the big game hunter. You can take all your rugby players, your hockey players, your baseball players and your lacrosse players, add to that number every man, woman and child who pays admission to those games; lump them all together and you haven't one third the number of people who are interested in hunting, fishing, vamping, birdwatching and the many other non-competitive outdoor pastimes. But how much consideration does this great galaxy of readers get in the newspapers today? Ten years ago there were nine outdoor columns in the newspapers of Canada. Today there are 33, not even one in three. You may take what I am going to say as a plug, but it is nonetheless a fact, that I am the only full-time outdoors editor on any newspaper in Canada, and it seems to me that my chief, is the only newspaper publisher in the country who realizes that everything we eat, almost everything we wear and 90 per cent of our building materials, come from the top ten inches of the soil. We are not teaching our children today of the fundamental rules of conservation of our natural resources. We are doing a good job of teaching them that everything comes from industry, and there are times when I wonder just what we are teaching them. In an east end school a few days ago, a teacher asked a 12-year-old boy "What was the great anniversary observed last year?" The boy stood up promptly and said, "Labatt's Golden Anniversary."

I am fortunate in having a job that does not interfere with my fishing and hunting, but if the time ever comes when it does, I will write another column--and I won't write about the wildlife outside of Toronto, and believe me I won't miss those outdoor theatres. Outdoors Editors have more to do than just write about hunting and fishing. They have the responsibility of trying to keep urban dwellers from getting mixed up in their sense of values. I was born on a farm, and a few days ago when walking up Yonge Street I had reason to recall it. I looked into a shoe store window and saw a beautiful pair of men's shoes. Beside the shoes was a showcard that read, "The ultimate in foot comfort--$22.95". My mind did a flashback to the days when I was five years old. Our farm was a quarter mile off the main road, and it was my job to go down to the corner and get the mail from our mail box. I remember one hot July day walking down that stretch of dusty, sandy country road. The sand like velvet, oozed up between my toes. I came to a spot where towering elms cast a shadow over the road. Here I found the sand was cooler, so I dug my toes down into the sand and found it even more delightful. I walked on down and got the mail, then walked back, revelling in that pleasant walking, enjoying to the full every step I took. Gentlemen, that was the ultimate in foot comfort, and it didn't cost a cent.

Gentlemen, conservation is a word that has wide application and meaning, but in the last five years it has become a hackneyed, much-abused term, glibly used by many who hunt and fish, few of whom have any idea what the word means or what it entails. To some short-sighted naturalists, conservation means not killing anything, of saving everything. But do you realize that you can let a tree stand until it rots and has no value. There are hunters who think that conservation means a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so they break every law and take all they can before someone else beats them to it.

Conservation means wise use, intelligent management of our renewable resources, that which will do the most good to the greatest number over the longest period of time.

And it has other applications. Conservation applies especially to each of you in the matter of health, proper care to assure that you will have the maximum of content and happiness for the longest time.

Modern wildlife management means, 5 % wildlife management and 95 % managing wild people. This is an unfortunate situation but true nevertheless. Modern wildlife management puts the emphasis on improving the habitat of fish and game so that Nature has help doing the job she can do better than anyone else. Artificial devices in the main have not proven successful. Even hatcheries are not the answer. They have been found too expensive, but today hatcheries are the opiate of the people, when the government would much sooner spend the money on habitat improvement. The answer is to help Nature.

The one instance where man seems to have improved on Nature's programme is in the propagation of muskies.

So many stories have been told about this fabulous fish, that when Americans came up here, they figure if they tangle with a muskie and don't break an arm or lose a finger, they are lucky. I've met many of these Americans in my home town of Peterborough. One had a police billy in his hip pocket; another was carrying a standard softball bat which after all is good equipment if one is going after muskies. The third had a Luger pistol. He reached into a shoulder holster, pulled out the gun, and said, "McGillen, no muskie is going to get away from me." It didn't. Eight shots through the head of the muskie, and the bottom of the canoe, and he swam ashore towing the fish.

Shortly after the ice has gone out of the lakes and rivers, the muskies pair up and move into the shallow waters to spawn. They will swim right up into a flooded farm field in less than ten inches of water. The female lays the eggs or the spawn and the male swimming along beside her deposits a milt or sperm on the spawn. The sperm must touch the egg within a very short time, otherwise fertility does not take place. After the spawning, the fish swim away, and leave the spawn to be preyed on by every fish in the shallows, sunfish, perch, rock bass, mudcats, suckers, bass, pickerel, pike and even other muskies. Shore birds and turtles also feed on the eggs. Because of this high degree of predation, we only get about a 25 per cent hatch under the best conditions. The fertile eggs are down in the crevices of stones or in deep weeds. In about 12 days, depending on the temperature of the water, the eggs hatch out into what is known as a tiny fry or minnow. To each fry is attached a food sac, and for the first two weeks of its life the little fish is nourished by absorbing the food in this sac into its system. Then it starts to feed on single cell animal plankton, tiny water fleas, water beetles and up the scale of marine life, until three or four weeks has gone by when it is a fingerling, three or four inches long. By that time it is feeding on other minnows. Only the yellow pickerel is more carnivorous than the muskie. It must be deposited in the egg stage, otherwise the tiny fry would eat each other. From the cradle to the grave, so to speak, 98 per cent of everything the muskie eats is other fish. You may wonder what the other two per cent consists of. A muskie will eat swimming mice, tiny muskrats, and wild ducklings. An old guide told me he saw a cottontail rabbit swimming. He saw a muskie come up and take it down as a food. Don't let anyone tell you that a rabbit or a squirrel can't swim. They swim well, but only when forced to. At Trout Lake near North Bay, I saw a muskie come out of the water its full length trying to catch a partridge that was flying across the lake. It didn't succeed. Another time, I was trolling in Little Lake in Peterborough. I saw a kingfisher dive into the shallow water and come up with a perch in its beak. A kingfisher pauses momentarily on the surface of the water and flutters its wings to get rid of the excess water. As it did, up came the jaws of a huge muskie, and there was one blue feather left, to show where the kingfisher and perch had been.

The young muskie grows very rapidly. Born in April of this year it will be 9 to 11 inches long by October.

Incidentally, my mind hops back to those Americans. One in particular I remember. He came to Bobcaygeon with his wife. I think you will agree that 99 women out of a hundred are pleasant, congenial, easy to live with, nice to go fishing with. This woman was the exception. She had the worst temper of any woman I ever met. But the old fellow had driven all the way from Cleveland, he was determined to go fishing. He hired a guide and the three of them went out on Pigeon Lake to fish. As luck would have it, the woman hooked the first fish, a muskie. She had never seen one before. The fish came in about three feet deep, and the woman looked over the side of the boat at this underwater monster, a miniature submarine, with the beady eyes of a tiger showing anger not fear, with the head of a wolf except for the ears, or so she thought. The shock was too great, the woman fainted. The guide got excited and shouted at the American, "Will I land the fish, sir?" The husband said, "Nothing doing, let her land her own blankety-blank fish. Sprinkle some water on her and revive her." The guide did as he was told, and believe it or not that woman battled the muskie right up to the side of the boat a second time. As she did, the muskie zoomed out of the water, "stood on its tail", is the expression fishermen use. This was too much and the woman fainted a second time. Well, they had to land the fish themselves, and they came ashore holding this beautiful fish. The woman was still in bad humour--they went home the same day. Six months later I heard the end of that story. The woman had obtained a divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty--and it is the first time in the history of the North American courts that a Kawartha muskie was named corespondent in a divorce action.

Because of the value of the muskie to Ontario's economy, the provincial government built a hatchery at Deer Lake near Havelock to artificially propagate muskies. To carry out this work, they net the fish in the spring, and after going through a series of nets, the muskies find themselves in a holding or pound net. The operators go alongside these nets in flat-bottomed boats, river driver's punts. In the bottom of the boats are large white-enamelled dishpans, spotlessly clean.

Now just imagine that I have a female muskie in my hands. I am wearing white cotton gloves, soaking wet so that I won't harm the fish. I run my thumb and forefinger of my right hand down the stomach of the fish towards the vent. If the spawn is ripe, it pours out into the dish. Then very carefully, and quickly, the female is returned to the net, and a male fish is taken out. It is stripped of its sperm or milt in exactly the same manner. Water is then poured into the dish. A few white infertile eggs float to the surface. The rest is a yellow golden mass of fertile spawn. This is then taken to Deer Lake Hatchery, placed in huge glass jars, much like the candy jars that were common in grocery stores 30 years ago. Water is flowing through the jars, and the eggs are kept there until they hatch into the little fry I told you about. Then the fry is transferred to screened trays with fresh water flowing through them and kept there until the food sacs are absorbed. Then 80 per cent of the fry is returned to the lakes, from whence the spawn was obtained and deposited as new stock. The idea being, that the larger a fish is on deposit the better chance of survival it has. Into those ponds is poured thousands of soft sucker minnows and thousands of soft carp minnows. Also, they place limbs of trees with heavy foliage to hide one little muskie from the other. Even with all this food, and the tree branches, they only get one fingerling for each ten fry, the others have been eaten up by their brothers and sisters. Then the fingerling are deposited in the lakes as new stock, being placed in the heaviest weed cover where they will have the best chance of survival.

I shouldn't pass up a chance to tell you a story about two of your own members. I'm sure they would have told you before, but perhaps they figured you wouldn't have believed them. It concern Tracy leMay, whom you all know is active in the Toronto Anglers. He has been a friend of mine for some time, and the other member is Bill Bosley, who wanders around the country helping municipalities with their assessment problems. I tried to tell Bill that his name should be Beausoleil--beautiful sun. They came to Peterborough, looking for muskies. I sent them out to Pigeon lake, where they rented a canoe and started to troll. They trolled for six hours and didn't even get a nibble. Suddenly Bill, who was in the back of the canoe, said to Tracy, "What time is it?" Tracy took out his watch, a nice stem-wound job, probably a Westclox. But just then Bill dropped his paddle and in reaching for it gave a lurch, and away went the watch into 40 feet of water. They went home minus the watch or fish and very disgusted.

Next July first they were back at Pigeon Lake again. They rented a canoe, dropped a bucktail troll into the water, and had not been trolling more than five minutes before they hooked what must have been the grand-daddy of Pigeon Lake muskies. It was so large they couldn't land it in the canoe, so they slugged it over the head with a paddle, towed it ashore and hauled it up on a sand beach and stood there admiring it.

Suddenly Tracy noticed a lump just back of the gills but before I proceed I better tell you how a fish breathes. It takes water into its mouth, passes the water through its gills which move back and forth like the leaves of a book. The gills remove the oxygen allowing the fish to live, and the water passes out under the gill covers. In other words, the gills of the fish are the lungs of the fish. Well, when Tracy noticed this lump, he let out with some big words. He said, "Bill, you can't eat that fish, it's got sarcoma or carcinoma, or some parisitic growth." But Bill is the type of fellow who never wastes anything, so he took out his jack knike and dug into the lump. He found the watch they had lost the year before--and that fish breathing had kept that watch wound up and it only lost one minute in 12 months.

One of the main reasons why the muskies are not too numerous in Ontario is because of human greed and selfishness and the indifferent and lenient view far too many people take of infractions of the fish and game regulations. The man who robs a grocery store or your neighbour's car is a thief and is regarded as such. The poacher is in the same category, but he is also stupid, because he is stealing from himself--he is cutting off his own nose.

Another sample of our indifference and neglect is the condition of the trout streams in southern Ontario. First we removed the forest cover, that stimulated flash floods, followed by drastic reduction in volume of flow and high water temperatures in summer, erosion from the water sheds and in the main banks lead to silting of gravel riffles where the trout usually lay their eggs. It also leads to filling of deep holes, leaving the stream short of spawning beds, food and cover. These are the conditions that limit trout production in southern Ontario. Then to add to the trouble we have widespread pollution. A half century ago there were thousands of good trout in streams, but in another quarter of a century these same streams are not only going to be useless for trout production, but are also going to be open sewers because of pollution. We have no legislation to curb this pollution effectively. I do hope that within the next few years that suitable legislation is enacted to stop this modern day curse. It takes a long time to correct such conditions, because we didn't take precautions down through the years.

There's a parallel to that picture and it concerns many of you.

You know the odd thing about human beings is that they are all rugged individualists. Nothing can happen to them, it always happens to the other fellow. In this mile-a-minute economy we have created, we have a monster that is forcing us to live in tune with it. We are victims of this civilization, not happy parts of it. Far too many businessmen, and I do hope you don't think I am being presumptuous, just because I say you lay too much emphasis on profits and pay too little attention to your health. I submit to you that I have discovered the way to live. We can't all be outdoors editors, so I'm going to take the liberty of telling you a few plain facts.

Conservation of health is paramount if a man is to have happiness and contentment. The deterioration of a trout stream is just what is happening to many of your bodies--pressure, work, hurry, push, speed--all part of our modern day living. These are the factors that lead to coronary thrombosis, hypertension, gastric ulcers and nervous breakdowns. You can avoid all these by systematically adopting a policy or programme of resting and playing in this Florida in Ontario, right at your door. Two weeks or a month in Florida during the winter is not enough.

The onset is insidious. It is the old story of Nature not being heard, you pass up the warning until it ruins your disposition, your will and your thinking power. The first thing you know you area medical cripple.

There are far too many of us who think all we need do to restore the former abundance of nature is to rub some mysterious Aladdin's Lamp. Gentlemen, there is no magic way to restoration. It is a long hard trail and the longer corrective measures are delayed the more it will cost and the longer it will take. Nature won't be hurried.

Similarly the longer you delay establishing good living habits the more it will cost you in the end. Believe me, there is no panacea, no cure-all. These fine doctors we have in Toronto, can't work miracles. You have to help them as you go along.

And that is just what I am going to tell you about today. My prescription is pleasant. Did you ever find an out-of-the-way trout stream, not a soul near you, a purling, rippling stream, and all about a great symphony of music in your ears? The stream is pure and clear, you know the trout are waiting, challenging your skill, the unexpected can happen. You drop a fly carefully--let it fall like a wisp of tired smoke. As soon as it touches the water, whammo you have a trout! The fight is on. The beautiful coloured body flashes in the stream. Do you mean to tell me that at such a time you are going to worry about whether the stock you bought is going up! I defy any business worries to enter your pleasant state of mind.

Or perhaps you are in a boat. You toss a bass bug see a bronzeback zoom out of the cool depths and smack that lure, then dance on its tail across the water. The rod bends, the reel sings, and worry and pressure, gentlemen, are a million miles away.

Do you think you would worry then about whether you are going to get that contract?

Or it could be a tackle-smashing pike or muskie, that will take all the line of the spool of your reel, then lie on the surface 70 feet away and look at you with baleful eyes as if to say, "Just try and reel me in!"

Gentlemen, you are so far away, so far removed from worry that it is ridiculous to make a comparison. My advice to you is to do those things. Go back to your boyhood, revel in all those carefree jaunts and experiences you had as a kid. These are the medicines your doctor will prescribe in liberal doses to ward off disease.

I sometimes think many of us are like a certain Mr. Smith who used to go to New York on business. He would never take his wife with him, and many the time he remarked that New York was the deadest place in the world. "All I do all day is make my calls, then read a magazine until I fall asleep."

One day he told his wife he was going to New York, to have his bags ready. When he was ready to go, his bags were packed, but his wife had packed hers too. He said, "What's the idea?" His wife answered: "Well, I've always wanted to go to New York, I think it would be fun." "You'll be sorry", Smith replied, "New York's the deadest place in the world." But she went, as wives usually do when they make up their minds.

They arrived in New York, took a hotel room, and the next day he went out to make his calls. He returned at night carrying a magazine. His wife said, "You can throw that book on the chesterfield, we're stepping out. I found a night club advertised."

Smith said, "I never could find any fun in New York", but by this time his wife had called a cab. When the cab stopped at the night club, the doorman opened the door, Mrs. Smith stepped out, but when Smith got out, the doorman said, "Why, Mr. Smith, I didn't expect to see you back so soon." The wife raised her eyebrows but said nothing. When they went up to the hat check girl, she said very sweetly, "Good evening, Mr. Smith; so nice to see you again." Then down to the dance floor where dinner was served. Over came the head waiter with outstretched hand. "Well, well, Mr. Smith, my best customer, same table, late supper, some champagne." Smith nodded his head, and still Mrs. Smith was silent. As they were eating out came the line of chorus girls to do their song and dance. As it happened they had to pass Smith's table on the way off-stage. The last one in the line, a tall stately brunette, reached over and patted Smith on the back saying, "Hy, Smitty, are you going to buy champagne for all the girls again tonight?" Mrs. Smith almost choked and the headwaiter noticed Smith was uncomfortable, so he said, "Do you want your cab, Sir?"

As soon as they were in the cab, to lapse into the vernacular for a moment, Mrs. Smith blew her top. She said, "You cheat, you double-crosser, you two-timer, I'll never believe you as long as I live, I won't, I won't, I won't!" The cab driver, hearing the commotion, turned around, pushed the curtain back and said, "Say, Smitty, let's get rid of this dame, and get one that will believe you."

Smith thought he was fooling his wife, when, in reality he was only kidding himself--and that's just what too many of us are doing as far as our fish, fur, game and forests are concerned--and also as far as our health is concerned.

Gentlemen, I'm no alarmist--I don't work for that kind of a newspaper. But statistics will show you, if you take the trouble to look, that many, many of you are heading for a lot of heartaches later in life because you are not being as sharp about your health, as you are about your business.

Deputize your responsibility, exercise only token control. Give more responsibility to those younger up-and-coming boys under you. Make your employees take holidays too. A sick employee is a liability. His efficiency is cut in half, and the bad effect he has on the rest of your employees makes it important for you not to have him there.

Democracy implies responsibility. I don't need to remind you that you are fortunate to be living in this democracy. Therefore conservation of natural resources is your responsibility--conservation of health is your business.

Gentlemen, if you are too busy to go fishing, believe me, you are too busy.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Tracey LeMay.

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If You're Too Busy To Go Fishing—You're Too Busy

Some introductory remarks, then a description of the speaker's job. Some personal reminiscences and anecdotes. Conservation and what that term means. How conservation applies to each of us in the matter of health and proper care to assure that you will have the maximum of content and happiness for the longest time. Modern wildlife management as 5% wildlife management and 95% managing wild people. The success programme of the propagation of muskies. Some fishing stories. An example of our indifference and neglect in the condition of the trout streams in southern Ontario. The long time required to correct such conditions. A parallel story in our own lives. An analogy of trout streams to our own bodies. A pleasant prescription. Responsibility implied in democracy. Conservation of natural resources our responsibility, conservation of health our business.