Storyteller and Chartwell Stillwater Creek resident Samuel “Bernie” Shaw isn’t accustomed to having the tables turned on him as the subject—rather than the author—of the story. With seven published books and nearly 300 articles on subjects ranging from aviation in the post-Avro years to the history of the Ottawa Valley region to his name, he understands what it takes to make a good story come alive. Considerably more at ease talking about his writing than himself, the 86 year old has written 69 resident profiles over the past few years. The purpose behind this, he says, “is to gently introduce new Stillwater residents to the retirement community,” published monthly in the Stillwater News.
Originally from Britain, Bernie began his career as a meteorological technician, later moving to Canada in 1957 with his wife and two young children. Landing a job with Computing Devices of Canada in the Ottawa area as an engineering draftsman soon led to him working on the Avro Arrow project until it was cancelled in 1959. In the post-Avro years, Bernie was employed in the Aerospace Branch of the Department of Industry, where he wrote stories and articles about small aero-industry companies in a monthly publication by External Affairs. He managed a diverse range of development projects from research rockets to small aircraft. It seems that here, the seeds of a writer were sown.
In his 60s Bernie developed what he refers to as his “productive interest in writing.” Multiple articles on aviation history, such as “After the Arrow – A Trip Down Memory Lane,” appeared in the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (CAHS) Journal and other specialized magazines. Also fascinated with the early development of Canada, he wrote a notable book on the airmen who photographed Canada from the air between the two World Wars. Bernie’s self-described “opus” Photographing Canada from Flying Canoes was awarded Book of the Year by the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and can still be found in aviation libraries far and wide. In 1986, he left the industry department to establish his own consulting business.
The motivation behind his latest book, Us versus Them: Survival of the Male in a Retirement Home, written under the pen-name Sam Bernard, is to “make people giggle,” and that it does. Illustrated by Bernie’s son, Dave, the book takes a humourous look at male life in the predominantly-female environment of a retirement community. He offers practical advice to the male minority, including general rules for survival, rules of combat and how to entertain the troops with laughter. The book, Bernie admits, was written as a result of two years as a retirement home resident with “too much spare time” on his hands. He shares his insights with candour and a good dose of self-effacing humour, concluding with the statement “through a fog of male superiority, he reluctantly concludes that women are gradually but surely winning the battle of the sexes”.
When asked about his next book project, Mr. Shaw was non-committal, chuckling that first he would need to ‘recruit a new subject’. Regardless of where his writing takes him next, one thing’s for sure: Bernie is a natural-born storyteller whose keen sense of observation, humour and gifted writing ability are an inextricable part of who he is.