Brad’s Background

WARNING! What started out as a brief bit of background about yours truly got a little out of hand. That’s what you get from a writer. So, you are advised to proceed only if you are keen to learn details about my life that would only interest my mother.

Consider yourself warned.

Still with me? Good. Let me see … in the overall scheme of things I guess I would have to say that I am just a wanderer on a lifelong journey of discovery and experience (ok, you got me, I lived through the 60s.) Along the way I have worn many hats and walked in many shoes … often at the same time, as odd an image as that conjures up.

For 29 memorable years I was a College Professor (I’m now semi-retired), starting out at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytech Institute, then moving to Conestoga College in Kitchener. But I began my career as a Mechanical Engineer after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from Hamilton’s McMaster University in 1974 (around the same time as comedians Martin Short and Dave Thomas, and producer Ivan Reitman … by the way, did you know that McMaster was the inspiration for National Lampoon’s Animal House? No? Well, those of us from McMaster know it, and now so do you), and with a Master’s degree from UBC in Vancouver in 1977 (can’t think of any trivia about UBC, except to say that it’s breathtakingly beautiful and situated conveniently close to a secluded nude beach.)

After graduating from UBC, I drifted for a time between jobs and lifestyles before finding a “real job” (my dad’s words) as a Hydraulics Systems Engineer in the heavy machining industry in London, Ontario. That job took me to lots of far-away places (Sweden, The Netherlands, New Orleans, Buffalo … well I never said they were all exotic places) and got me outside a lot, which I really liked. But circumstances have a way of changing. Soon an alternate career path called (more liked grabbed me by the collar and dragged me away), leading me to teach Robotics, Computer Programming, and Control Theory to bright (well, mostly bright) young college students. I’m glad I heeded the call, as teaching turned out to be a highly satisfying and rewarding career. Not a lucrative one, mind you, but a satisfying and rewarding one. Oh, and the long summer vacations were great too (that’s just to rub it in the noses of people who, for some reason, hate teachers.)

During that period I also enjoyed the privilege of being recognized, along with my wife and partner Nancy, as an award-winning Software Designer/Programmer. Together we had developed a computer courseware prep & delivery program called Private School™ that was, if I may say so, far ahead of its time. It didn’t make us wealthy, but it did help pay for a minivan and camper trailer which we still use on those long summer vacations. Along the way, I also found time to write several college-level Engineering textbooks, some of which are still required reading today. Writing those books was a labour of love. I didn’t do it for the money (money?), nor because there weren’t other good textbooks available (there were plenty). I did it because I considered the spiralling cost of student textbooks (upwards of $150 or more each) akin to robbery. My students were able to buy my books for $12 each. Anyway, in the process I caught the writing bug. These days, with the free time that semi-retirement offers, I have decided to try my hand at writing fiction. In fact, I am currently in the process of writing my first novel, a speculative techno-thriller. Check out the rest of my blog for ongoing details about my upcoming novel.

In my late twenties, I lived by the ocean in the quaint fishing village of Terence Bay, Nova Scotia, near scenic Peggy’s Cove, west of Halifax. There I had the fortunate opportunity to become a professional singer/songwriter/guitarist, joining a four-man Celtic folk group called The Farriers and performing throughout the Maritimes for a few years. Later, after moving back to Southern Ontario, I continued to perform, but as a solo act. I still perform occasionally, whenever possible with my eldest son Robert by my side (he attracts the 18 to 25 demographic). But nowadays I mostly share my music for fun with the other talented folks of the Old Chestnuts Song Circle once a month at friends Jack & Lori’s lovely century home in Kitchener.

Fact is, I’ve been singing and playing ever since I was a kid when, along with twenty other musically-inclined lads, we performed regularly on CKVR TV in Barrie, Ontario as the Ross Caldwell’s Boys Chorus. Talk about your musical nerds! Over the years there were many other affiliations including a couple of rock bands (although those memories are a bit vague), some high school novelty acts, various choirs, and assorted musical ensembles. Whatever the style or venue, music and performing has always been, and always will be, an important and valued part of my life.

While living in Nova Scotia, besides being a musician (in the days when I helped attract the younger demographic), I supplemented my income by also working as an artist. I know it sounds almost cliché, but it’s true. All together, it wasn’t a great living, but it did put beer and donairs in my belly. These days I’ve all but put away my chalks and pastels, and now render most of my pictures on my trusty Nikon D40x digital camera. However, I do plan to try my hand at watercolours some day soon. I’ll let you know how that works out.

For the sheer joy of it, I am now a budding world traveler, with most of the world yet to see (right now I have my sights set on Machu Picchu, and possibly India … but I’ll settle for Seattle in the short term). Whenever I wish to experience the quiet, lumpy pleasures of the great outdoors I either ski, camp, or hike, usually with camera in hand. Actually, hiking has taken me to many fascinating places. When I lived in Vancouver in my young and foolish days, I climbed (more like scrambled) to the top of the Black Tusk, a 569 meter-tall spire of exposed volcanic rock that juts skyward high-up in British Columbia’s scenic Garibaldi Mountain Range (thank you Gail & Craig for inviting me to accompany you on that “little hike”). And I once hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer, sprinting the last 100 meters back up to the South Rim after the long arduous return climb. Ah, those were the days. I don’t do that anymore. My idea of hiking these days is strolling along flat, scenic trails.

I once drove a Honda Goldwing 1100 touring bike from Ontario, Canada to Southern California and back during the oil-crises days when the speed limit on many Interstates was still 55 mph. Unfortunately, I had to sell that bike when I found myself a victim of the recession of ’82. That was hard to do. If fortune chooses to smile on me again, I will someday own another motorcycle (heck, I’d even settle for a scooter). Let’s see, what else? Oh ya, I took flying lessons while I was still in university, learning to pilot a Piper Cherokee 180 single engine. Haven’t flown in the pilot’s seat since. But, despite all those adventures, I have not, nor will I ever, willingly skydive or bungy-jump (or at least I have no immediate plans to do so.)

For those less exhilarating moments, when I feel like putting my feet up and kicking back with a good book, I prefer to read plausible sci-fi (go Robert Sawyer!), techno-thrillers and historical-fiction. But I also enjoy nonfiction books about the sciences, metaphysics, new technologies, consciousness studies, and speculative theories. You see, in my old age I have become something of an armchair scientist & philosopher, as well as an ongoing student of human behaviour and nature’s unsolved mysteries. But my favourite subject, as you will discover if you dig further into my blog, is Nikola Tesla … the largely unheralded electrical genius of the twentieth century, and techno-geek icon of the New Age and Steam Punk crowds.

Of course, there’s so much more to tell. I once performed at the opening ceremonies for Toronto’s Ontario Place, and live on CBC TV, on stage in Halifax with the late, great, Canadian folk bard Stan Rogers, and on the same venue with country music legend Merle Haggard. I have sailed the calm inland waters of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, cruised the rough open seas of the North Atlantic to Iceland and Greenland, and passenged (if there is such a word) aboard the iconic Bluenose II fishing schooner under full sail. I have camped alone overnight in hostile Death Valley in the summertime, trekked the mountainous rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, and traversed the desolate rolling tundra of Alaska’s Denali Park. I have worked as a telephone repairman, carpenter, radio DJ, and in the hellish Rolling Mills of a major Hamilton steel company. I’ve been a corporate manager, a lumberyard lackey, and a movie theatre usher. I’ve socialized with the rich & famous in San Francisco, and was once pampered lavishly aboard a private luxury yacht in Puget Sound near Seattle. I have hitchhiked coast-to-coast across this great nation of Canada, and traversed it by rail, plane, motorcycle, and car more times than I care to mention. I have also visited all but five of America’s glorious States. In all, it has been a grand adventure, and it ain’t over yet.

So that, in a nutshell, is my life so far. Many successes, some failures, lots of questionable decisions, and plenty of luck. Yet, if asked what I would consider my greatest achievement, I would have to say that it is being father to the two most interesting, delightful, capable, amusing (how many adjectives are there?) young men I have ever had the pleasure to know … my sons Jeffrey and Robert. And, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), having the good sense to marry my best friend Nancy, the always surprising, endlessly talented, gentle, patient and loving woman who agreed to share my life with me. And I mean that sincerely, even though I know she’s reading this.

Well, that’s about it. I’m guessing you now know more about me than you ever wanted to. So, how about some payback? Maybe you can send me a link to your blog so that I can get to know something about you, too. Sound fair? Good, let’s do it.



6 Responses to Brad’s Background

  1. Dr Michael Mills says:

    Looking for info on the Ross Caldwell Boys Chorus brought me here……great to hear your story, see your photo and be reminded of those early years at Codrington before we went separate ways..l.still remember you delivering your papers on Cook Street talking to people in your Cockney accent while the Beatles were all the rage…..sound like that odd quirkiness to your character has taken yous very long way…..good to hear that you are enjoying your life…..

    Mike Mills, in Kerikeri, Northland, New Zealand…until the end of February…..

    • wordswithbrad says:

      Hi Mike,

      I certainly remember you too. From school, and the Caldwell Boys Chorus of course, but also from my paper route rounds. Yes, I was a nutty kid in search of an audience back then. Hope I didn’t frighten any little children.

      I too think back fondly to those days in the Caldwell Boys Chorus. I have searched the Internet for stuff, but there isn’t much of anything there. You were at Jon White’s reunion party in 2001, weren’t you? Ross was handing out CDs of some of our songs at the time. It was so good to see him, and everyone else.

      Sounds like you are leading an interesting life. What took you to New Zealand? I’ve heard such great things about that beautiful country. If you have the time, I’d enjoy hearing more about your travels.

      Thanks for commenting on my blog. There may be more stories of the Caldwell Boys Chorus to come later. It is good to hear from you. All the best, Mike.



  2. David Dymond says:

    Brad I remember you. My name is David Dymond and I lived on Rodney and Highland in Barrie. You lived on Highland Avenue. YOU even babysat me once. I have worked in the movie theatre business both as an employee and a theatre owner for over 40 years. Just one question, at which movie theatre did you usher at? Thanks!

    • wordswithbrad says:

      Hi David,

      Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, but I haven’t logged my WordPress account for several months.

      So good to hear from someone from Barrie. Quite frankly, I don’t recall ever babysitting when I lived there (we moved away when I was 16). Must have been coerced into it by my Mom.

      You asked what theatre I worked at. It was the Roxie. I worked there the summer I was 15 along side Gord Rose and Boyd Balkwell. It was just a job, but I did get to see Mary Poppins 27 times for free. Did you end up owning either the Roxie or the Imperial? I can still recall the smell and atmosphere of that old theatre. Good memories. Those places will be missed when they’re gone.

      Great to hear from you. All the best.


      Brad Nelson

  3. Rob MacDonald says:

    I understand you studied under Dr Chris Brockley at UBC. He was the best prof I ever had there , and one of nicest people I have ever met. Did you ever keep in touch with him? (I wish I had!) I am sure he is gone now, but I wonder if you had idea what he did with his retirement? Thanks.

    • wordswithbrad says:

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, Dr. Chris Brockley (or Cab, as his rusty hut lab technician Ernie Jones used to call him) was a true scholar & gentleman. I always enjoyed his company, and his classes were understandable, even interesting. Working under his tutelage for 3 years was a real pleasure. Unfortunately, after graduating from UBC, I moved to the east coast and subsequently lost touch with Chris. Those were the days before the Internet. But, like you, I too wish I had kept in touch. Maybe someone else reading this blog will know what happened to him.



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