50 Years of Aislin The enduring character of Nick Auf der Maur

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Like any enclave, English Montreal has produced its fair share of characters. Witness Nick Auf der Maur, a man who personified conciliation in the anglo community, a boulevardier, humorist, raconteur, columnist and politician. Nick moved comfortably among Montreal’s diverse downtown circles.

Nick and I met in the late 1960s in a Crescent St. bar called the Boiler Room. Because mutual acquaintances had been pressing us to get together and because we were both cantankerous, each was prepared to hate the other.

We didn’t. Instead, we got royally drunk. I had no idea I was about to become Nick’s official cartoonographer, producing dozens of drawings of him over the next 30 years. We became fast friends and I served as best man at his 1976 wedding. We also took many memorable trips together. Our jaunt to Cuba in the ’70s stands out: it’s where we both lost our leftist-leaning innocence.

Feb. 6, 1988: Nick Auf der Maur and sports writer Tim Burke throw away their Gazette security passes in 1988 after joining the renegade tabloid the Montreal Daily News.

Auf der Maur’s life of excess finally caught up to him 1998 when he died at age 55. With his passing, the anglo community became suddenly less colourful. Nick’s funeral was attended by 3,000 people of all political stripes; some sported Donald Duck ties in honour of Nick’s love of the Disney character.

Thankfully, we won’t forget Nick anytime soon. In addition to our personal memories, there is a small alleyway — or ruelle – next to Winnie’s (one of his favourite Crescent St. bars) that has been renamed in Nick’s honour. Further, shortly after Nick’s death, retired Gazette editor David Bist put together an exceptional collection of Nick’s columns along with tributes from his friends and produced a book simply titled Nick: A Montreal Life.

One of my favourite pieces in the book, written by the late journalist Benoît Aubin, included these words: “It was clear on Auf der Maur’s departure that he — and his attitude and his friends — represented Montreal’s best hope of coming together as a complex society, instead of falling apart as a series of disjointed ghettos.”

Terry Mosher’s new book, From Trudeau to Trudeau: Fifty Years of Aislin Cartoons, is in bookstores. The McCord Museum is hosting a 50-year Aislin retrospective through Aug. 13.

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