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You Mac or Harmac?

You Mac, or Harmac?

Harmac, for you out of towners, is the pulp mill in Cedar that for the last 50 years or so has provided the world with fine newsprint and Nanaimo with a signature aroma. It also provides the town’s signature joke, one that every thirteen year old male delights in. “Is that you Mac, or Harmac?” (When it comes to maturity, thirteen is about it for a male.)

Well the same question is still being asked, but no one’s laughing. I’m talking about what has become known as The Big Stink in Cedar, a mysterious smell that shows up unpredictably like the Lone Ranger, causing its victims to wonder not only who was the masked man, but why does he smell so bad.

The smell strikes when least expected, at a Sunday picnic down on the river, a family BBQ, softball tournaments are nice, and worst of all at your youngest daughter’s outdoor wedding, where Uncle Ernie, two beers in, zinged everyone on the groom’s side with the “U Mac/Harmac” question, which didn’t go well with the bride’s support team.

The smell, for the uninitiated, resembles a cheap cigar being butted out in a loaded diaper. Should you wish to duplicate this experiment at home, remove baby from diaper before proceeding.

Keep in mind Cedar is sensitive about smell. Understandable when your perimeter is secured by a pulp mill on one side, and a garbage dump on the other. No wonder long-suffering locals are upset.

No one more so than our local RDN guy, who is pointing his finger, in addition to a well plugged nose, in the direction of a Duke Point composting company. But what’s this? The compost company is fighting back, in effect using Uncle Ernie’s line, “It ain’t me Mac, it’s Harmac.”

Dialogue between combatants, after being subjected to the Slightly Corked truth filter where everything is either blown out of proportion or dutifully modified, plays to the tune of Abbott and Costello, and goes something like this:

Our guy: You stink.

Compost guy: No, Stinks on second

Our guy: No! You stink.

Compost guy: How many times do I have to tell you, Stinks on second

Our guy: Well. Who’s on third?

Compost guy: How would I know, the wind’s blowing the wrong way.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Vancouver, ever the opportunist, throws his nose ring in the game with, “Hey guys, since it stinks over there anyway, how’d you like to process our garbage?” To which I say, “Not now Gregor, we’re squabbling.”

To settle this dispute, the Regional District has brought in a professional odour detector. A man to stick his nose in other people’s business, now there’s a career most people haven’t thought about. Odour detection, where people go when the pest extermination classes are full.

Now you might be asking, how does one get to be an odour detector? If you’re not asking, don’t worry, I’ll ask for you. I suppose it’s like every other career choice, it gets down to aptitude, and as everyone knows, aptitude can show up at a very early age.

Teacher: What do you want to do for a living Billy?

Billy: Well, for a start I’d like to smell your armpits. A sniff or two at your laundry room would be nice. And flatulence, I’ve always been fascinated with flatulence. And then I’d… Silence as cone of silence lowers over Billy.

Well, I say this is an important job, one that we shouldn’t trust to an outsider, regardless of how many armpits he’s smelled. We should have a local guy do it, and then I thought, why not me? I’ve spent the last 40 years with my nose perched over a wine glass assessing aromas, who has better qualifications?

So it’s off to Duke Point, there I discover many a suspicious looking property, tall smoke stacks, tarped piles and leaking vapours. One place in particular is locked down like Doctor Evil’s headquarters. If Bruce Willis goes missing, that’s the first place we should look.

I also learned that smells are crafty, it can be very hard to tell where they’re coming from. Which can be a good thing in the event of an accidental release of flatulence, say at your wife’s Christmas office party, especially after her stern warning about misbehaving.

Compounding matters, and any wine taster will tell you this, once you become accustomed to a smell, it can disappear. You might get freshly deposited cow pie on wine #3 six times in a row, and then, presto, where did the cows go?

Hold on. Deep thought. Why are we trying to get rid of the smell? Why don’t we exploit it? Think about it. The smell is headquartered at the top of the long slope exiting the ferry terminal, perfectly situated to snag BMW driving fat cats rolling in from Vancouver, the very same guys who tried to fast talk us into taking their garbage.

Payback time. We’ll establish a market area much like the Cedar Farm Market, but specializing in all matters malodorous. The arts and craft community can gather together to offer a variety of products designed to help you through a bad smell. Crocheted facemasks, hand carved nose plugs, seminars on bad smell protocol. Hell, the kids can even get in on the fun with hand painted clothes pegs, nose pegs we’ll call them.

And let’s leave them laughing shall we, that’s always good for repeat business. And nothing promotes laughter and good feelings better than a joke. That’s why we’re building a gargantuan sign, and just above the Welcome to Nanaimo part, in letters Stevie Wonder couldn’t miss, the joke this city made famous: (You guessed it. Or at least Uncle Ernie did.) IS THAT YOU MAC, OR HARMAC?

If you should have BMW yuppies to entertain, try B.C. produced Cassini Pinot Noir, approximately $20, try the Wheatsheaf.


– Delbert is the co-proprietor at Mahle House. Read more at



About the author: The Boss

The Boss

Marina is Editor of TAKE 5 Magazine.

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