Marc-André Skelling – a story of courage and hope

Marc-André Skelling is in the fight of his life, for his life. The young man from East Angus, Quebec is battling Hodgkins disease, a type of lymphoma. Originally diagnosed in 2011, he initially kept this horrible disease at bay through aggressive chemotherapy while a bone-marrow transplant was unsuccessful.

In October 2014, the family issued a press release stating Skelling needed a compatible stem cell donor “born in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland)” and aged between 18 and 35, since some of his ancestors were from the UK. When asked where his ancestors were from, family spokesperson Isabelle Skelling told NUACHT that they did not know.

Recently the situation has taken a turn for the worse. In a May 6th Radio Canada report it was revealed that his name has been removed from the Héma-Québec bone-marrow transplant list after new cancerous cells were discovered. In terms of Mr. Skelling’s outlook, Isabelle Skelling stated that, although he is no longer on the transplant list “he finds it very important for healthy people to register to be a donor. Life is very important and very fragile. We never know when we will need a second chance as much for ourselves as for a loved one, or our own child.”

Thanks to an American experimental treatment, Mr. Skelling holds out hope of improving his condition. While the treatment is not yet approved by Health Canada, Mr. Skelling stated in the Radio Canada report that it will halt the progression of the cancer. Mr. Skelling also said he would not need to travel to the USA for treatment, but that it would come to him. While approval is pending, he began a new round of chemotherapy on May 21st to try to remove the “small mass” in his back.

Isabelle Skelling stated Mr. Skelling “has been fighting this cancer for four years. Every day is another day and he takes advantage. He said earlier this week he is going to fight again and it is going to be OK. He has been our hero for four years.”

You can contact Héma-Québec (888) 666-4362 or visit their website for more information on joining the stem-cell donation registry.

This article appears in the May 2015 edition of NUACHT, the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal’s community newsletter.


Changing of the Guard

2009 Walk to the Stone

Ken & his friend Don

At a meeting of the United Irish Societies of Montreal’s Elected Executive and Past Presidents on May 12th President Danny Doyle reported that longtime historian Don Pidgeon had declined to continue in the position, after which my name was put forward. I hesitated a moment. I mean, succeeding a man who has been the face of historical Griffintown since 1991, a man who speaks with absolute ease in front of audiences, a man who is universally respected within Montreal’s Irish community, a man who personally endorsed my nomination is both a humbling and a frightening prospect. After that moment of hesitation, I accepted the nomination.

Don rose through the ranks of the organization. He was Recording Secretary for two years in the mid 70’s before moving on to Vice President and then President. Despite his elevation to the ultimate position, Don is best known as the historian of the United Irish Societies.

I am both humbled and overwhelmed at my new assignment within the United Irish Societies. From 1928 to the present is a lot of history. So you can imagine the amount of history in the Irish community from the 1760s to the present. Overwhelmed is a good word.

I plan on using newer technology / social media to get my message to as wide an audience as possible. This is all so new to me that I continue to reflect on the value I can add to the United Irish Societies as its Historian.

All I hope in the coming weeks is that my words and actions make my predecessor, my mentor, my colleague, and my fellow members proud. I am a work in progress but I am confident that my friend Don will approve.

1856 Longueuil Explosion

Ken Quinn

Patrick Madden HeadstoneCote des Neiges Cemetery is chalk full of history. In a 2013 visit to the cemetery I came across many headstones that gave me pause to wonder. For example, one headstone reads






 Yes, *THAT* A.L. Van Houtte.

The one that caught my eye was one that read

“Sacred to the Memory of


who died by the Fatal Explosion at Longueuil

10th of June 1856

Aged 40 years

Native of the Parish of <illegible> Kings County, Ireland”

Who was Patrick Madden? How did he die? What were the circumstances surrounding the fatal explosion? A little research thanks to Google gave me some answers to my questions.

From his headstone we know Patrick Madden was born in Kings County, Ireland. Being 40 years old at the time of his demise, he was born…

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What a Year!

What a year!

The last twelve months (or so) have been absolutely fantastic.

At the end of April 2014, NDG Baseball fêted Lionel Geller as he moved on to the next chapter in his life after dedicating thirty seven years to the children of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace. The day of the intimate dinner, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman announced that Loyola-2 Field at Loyola Park will be renamed Lionel Geller field. This is truly a fitting way to honour such an icon.

In June I assumed the position of St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal Secretary, a position I was eager to do well in. We got the membership list in order, migrating it to an Access database from an Excel spreadsheet and trying our best to update members’ contact information.

However that gig was cut short in the Fall. There was some movement at the upper levels of the Society’s board and, after which, I was invited to continue sitting as an Officer of the corporation but now as a Vice President. It has been a pleasure to sit as a vice president. I continue to learn about the organization each and every day. My responsibilities have not changed all that much, although responsibility for the membership list remains with the new Secretary.

Also in the Fall I stepped away from my responsibilities with NDG Minor Baseball after dedicating some time as its president and director of communications. It was an absolute pleasure to be associated with the best Little League association in the province. The work those moms and dads accomplish for the good of their children and community is exemplary and it was a real joy to be a part of that recipe for success.

Now we all know that March is a very busy month in the Irish community. There are meetings, receptions, balls, luncheons, and parades. There are four parades that we generally associate with, in fact. The big Montreal parade, Hudson, Chateauguay, and Quebec City are all close to our heart. Unfortunately this Saturday we will not be able to attend the parade in Quebec City due to a scheduling conflict with the United Irish Societies’ Banquet.

My role in this year’s parade in Montreal was to act as a commentator for Bellmedia’s Bell Local production of the parade, along with longtime UIS member Richard McConomy, who has a background in acting to complement his legal career. His experience in this area put my mind at ease, even though prepared 18 pages of information on the various groups participating in the parade with the help of UIS Parade Director Patty McCann. In hindsight I may have overprepared for this assignment but it was worth the effort to keep my mind at ease.

Richard McConomy and Ken Quinn froze mightily in the performance of their parade day responsibilities.

Richard McConomy and Ken Quinn froze mightily in the performance of their parade day responsibilities.

The role as TV commentator took me away from walking in the parade. I have to say I had mixed feelings about not walking in the parade, the first time I failed to do so since I joined the UIS in 1992. Despite those mixed feelings and the freezing cold weather on parade day, I had an absolutely fantastic experience on the TV podium with Me. McConomy. His experience certainly made up for my lack of experience and general nervousness. I tip my hat to him, to roving reporter Catherine Cleland, and the entire crew associated with the production. If they ask me back next year I will gladly agree to do it. I may buy ski pants if the weather is this cold, though.

The Irish Are Coming!

The Irish in Montreal have been organizing celebrations since as far back as 1824, when Michael O’Sullivan and the members of the Hibernian Society took it upon themselves to organize, for the very first time, a public celebration in memory of Saint Patrick. Michael O’Sullivan is an oft forgotten important character in Quebec society. A search of the Internet will net you some very interesting information about O’Sullivan including his commission in the Beauharnois battalion of militia in 1812, cited in dispatches in 1813 for bravery related to the Battle of Chateauguay, and much more. At the time of his death on 7 March 1839, O’Sullivan was a leading member of the legal profession in Lower Canada, having been rewarded with the post of chief justice of the Court of King’s Bench, Montreal District.

The foundations laid by O’Sullivan in 1824 were further reinforced by the creation of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal in 1834, of which O’Sullivan is listed as a Vice President. The Society was a non political, non sectarian organization, charitable in nature, that was then given the responsibility of organizing the annual parade. This responsibility continued until the 1890s, when the Ancient Order of Hibernians assumed responsibility for the parade. They maintained this responsibility through the 1928 parade, after which the newly created United Irish Societies of Montreal grabbed the baton and have been running with it ever since.

In the City of Montreal many official activities take place – the Parade, the Charity Ball, the Annual Luncheon, the Irishman of the Year Breakfast. The pubs will fill with revelers in the weeks leading up to the festivities.

Whether you’re Irish, or Irish for a day, be sure to participate in the activities surrounding the St. Patrick’s Parade, which takes place on Sunday March 22nd.

Something Different To Do (Go Canada Go)

Some Christmases I work as much as I can and some I take as much time off as I can. This year the plan was the latter. Having not gone anywhere on vacation this past summer I took little time off and, so, had some time to burn before the end of the year.

For the first time since 1978 Montreal hosted the World Junior Hockey Championships , this time in conjunction with Toronto. In late summer or early autumn the idea to volunteer at the championships crossed my mind, given that they take place over the Christmas holidays. So, I sent my name to Hockey Canada.

Thankfully, I was accepted as one of the 1500 volunteers after police background check. The organizing committee treated the volunteers like gold. They were fed, had the opportunity to go to several of the Team Canada games, had a kick ass volunteer lounge (with massages and foosball!).

My volunteer role at the Bell Center was as an IT Volunteer, which entailed making sure people could print, unjamming printers, and whatever other IT related issues could arise. Truth be told, the IT setup was so well done that most shifts I sat around watching SportsCentre, Spengler Cup games, or Junior games.

Other volunteer roles included Accreditation, Transportation, Hospitality, Social Media, Media and so many more.

I enjoyed my time volunteering, not hard labour so to speak. The people I worked with were fantastic, friendly, and professional. If you have the opportunity to volunteer at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2017 when it returns to Montreal and Toronto you should do it. Or, if you’re in Finland next Christmas, volunteer then.

Go Canada Go!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Christmas Season is the most wonderful time of the year. People come together in friendship to enjoy their time together, giving pause to think about the importance of friends in a world too often preoccupied with career advancement and materialism.

For a certain segment of the population, Christmas is a lonely time. Void of friends or family, this segment goes about their daily lives isolated from the human interaction we all crave.

And then we need to think about society’s most vulnerable, the homeless and and the poor. The homeless struggle daily to survive the cold, harsh, Montreal winter. The poor struggle to pay their bills and to give a little extra to their families.

IMG_2167For forty eight years the United Irish Societies of Montreal has held a Christmas Draw to benefit families in need at a time of the year when they are at their most vulnerable. A project driven entirely by that organization’s membership, today eight thousand tickets are sold at $1 each with two thousand dollars returned in prizes. The proceeds of the draw feeds approximately sixty families, mainly in the South West, Verdun, and LaSalle Boroughs of Montreal

IMG_2710In a couple of weeks, UIS members and friends will gather to assemble and deliver their sixty baskets in under four hours. Their benevolent activities at a key time of the year makes a difference in a few lives.

So as we gather with friends over the holidays, remember those who are lonely or vulnerable. Go the extra mile. Volunteer at a food bank or church. Speak to someone you know doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Donate non perishable food to your local food bank. Make a difference.

Make this time of the year a most wonderful one.  And, please, if you plan on drinking please don’t drive.