With The Observer marking its 25th anniversary, it seemed like a good time to put into action longstanding plans to compile the columns of the late Allen D. Martin into a book. That long-discussed project is now a reality in the form of ‘My Side of the Dam: The retrospective 1996-2003.’
Martin, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 75, was a popular contributor in the newspaper’s early days, sharing his quirky observations and wry humour until Parkinson’s Disease forced him to step back from writing. Everything was fodder for the column, much to the chagrin of some, particularly his own family, who never knew what Allen might share with the rest of the world.
He was a well-known figure in the community long before the column – he was a long-time teacher at Linwood Public School, for instance, and served as a volunteer firefighter for 27 years – but his tales told from his side of the dam in Floradale certainly broadened his audience.
A man with a wealth of talents and a determination to share them all, Martin had many passions, including photography: he shot many a wedding, and enjoyed capturing nature.
“Nature was his big thing. He would watch a [cocooned] butterfly – he was up all night trying to catch it. So, he took the next one that he found and he watched as it took all the stages of the butterfly as it was coming to life. He just loved doing that, watching little things from nothing going to a butterfly. He’d stay up all night to do that kind of thing – a lot of it’s kind of magical,” recalls his wife, Pauline, noting that he also enjoyed singing and travelling.
“He was a witty guy. He enjoyed having fun,” she said of Allen, pointing to a facet of his personality many people recall – he was always quick with a joke. You could run into Allen at the bank, and he was apt to open with a ‘Hey, did you hear the one about…? ’
A teacher, a father, a firefighter, a photographer, a musician, an artist, Martin was a well-rounded guy who’s life began to change at 50 years of age when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Gradually, one by one, those roles slipped away. Martin retired from his teaching career. Similarly, his time with the Woolwich Fire Department came to an end. Writing started to become difficult too; first his penmanship and eventually his column became casualties to advancing illness.
The new book of Martin’s columns show him in fine form, however.
Early in the life of The Observer, the then-editor Brian Jantzi asked his uncle Allen to write for the paper. That evolved into a regular column, chronicling life in Floradale, his trips with Pauline as she drove a tour bus and anything else that crossed his mind, from the workaday to the humourous.
Reading the newly released book brings back lots of memories for Pauline.
“I’m sort of starting it, but I haven’t finished reading it yet. A lot of them I do remember from being in The Observer – I’d read them every week, of course.”
Revisiting the works, she has also found herself remembering some stories of trips and day-to-day adventures with her late husband.
Reflecting on Allen’s time spent working for the paper, Pauline says her husband had love for The Observer’s staff, including owners Joe and Pat Merlihan. But as the stages of his disease began to take over it was time to put down the pen and spend time with family.
“He enjoyed writing and did it for many years, but he just couldn’t keep on anymore because he kept getting the wrong keys in the typewriter and the computer, but he really enjoyed doing that and always was ready for the next one.”
The book has also been a walk down memory lane for Allen’s daughter, Sherri Martin-Carman
“Dad found that it really helped him writing the column. It happened to go full-time when he was leaving a number of his roles or key roles of life, such as teaching. He had gone on a disability leave part-time, so he was reducing the teaching load and he ended some roles with the fire department and handed off some of his roles in our local church. So he found himself with an incredible amount of time on his hands,” she said of Allen’s foray into column writing.
So, the opportunity to write a column and to have sort of a task to do something meaningful, that was a real gift to him at that part of his life. He describes it as a lifeline for him. He simply lit up when he was writing and thinking of topics. And then we learned, only really at the time he died, more about how he did a lot more than just write the column for The Observer: he was a big part in helping some of the networking with people and delivering papers and a few things earlier on. So, he was pretty engaged. It really helped transition him from his career into moving into early retirement because of the disability.”
“Allen really was a big part of helping us when we were starting out – he knew everybody in town,” said co-owner Patrick Merlihan, who put the book together.
“We talked about doing a book for years, and I’m so happy we finally got to do it. Working on the project and reading through those columns really brought back great memories of Allen being in the office when we were starting out. He was such a character.”
A character, indeed, as most people who knew him would agree.
“He lived life to fullest,” said Pauline, who said that’s advice she and Allen would always offer. “Enjoy life as much as you can – that’s what Allen would say, because he would say it can be shorter than you think. Then, if you haven’t done half the things you’d like to…”
‘My Side of the Dam: The retrospective 1996-2003’ is available for purchase through The Observer’s website.