Image courtesy Otto Elmauer
March 22, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the suspicious death of Gerald Bull, an engineer who had worked out of the Eastern Townships whose main project, a ‘super-gun’ capable of extreme long-range firing, elicited the wrath and rejection of local governments and allegedly led to his assassination in Brussels in 1990.
Bull was shot twice in the head and three times in the back, reportedly by the Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, in a bid to prevent his continued development of a weapon commissioned by Iraqi forces. An estimated $20,000 in his pocket was left untouched.
Between 1960 and 1980, his 10,000-acre High Altitude Research Projectile (HARP) project and development site located in Highwater, Quebec, was the location for testing of his super munitions, including a weapon that fired artillery 180km into the earth’s atmosphere from a 119-foot long super gun, one of his own designs.
Following a funding cut from the Canadian Government and a stint in prison for allegedly violating a United Nations arms embargo by selling weapons to South Africa, a disillusioned Bull moved to Belgium to, according to a CBC report, become an arms consultant. While the mainstream media focused on the negative aspects of Bull’s munition designs, and his run-ins with Canadian and American governments in developing and implementing his project, he is remembered in the Eastern Townships as being a generous employer and his family contributing community members for two decades.
I have fond memories of visiting Bull’s former employee Otto Elmauer, an artist, draftsman, and over-the-top local character at his Mansonville home in the late 1980s. Over cups of strong coffee, Otto would happily discuss his artwork and architectural modifications to his home, and pretty much anything else all whilst leading you around for a personal tour.
The koi fish in his backyard pond were well nourished as were the myriad ideas that blossomed in Otto’s colour-commentary recollections. His house was an unending source of inspirational and innovative designs including bookshelves that doubled as doors. I don’t know all the finer details of Otto’s work for Bull but know that he had nothing but praise for him as a boss. When governmental funding was threatened, Bull would still make it a point to find work for his staff.
“I neffer knew iv I vould be designing a kitchen or a gun,” said Otto, on one of our last coffee and cigarette dates, long after he’d left his Mansonville home to live in a seniors’ facility. Otto passed away in the mid-1990s, leaving a troupe of friends, including my mom, to clear out his home of personal effects consisting of everything from books and tchotchkes to artwork and engineering drawings. While I declined some of his larger abstract canvases, I’m the proud owner of a number of gun-part renderings with Otto’s signature bearing the same pride of creation as his colourful oil-rendered abstracts.
Otto’s memories rotated the prism in shining a different spectrum of light on Bull, a man said to be tempestuous in his pronounced dislike for bureaucracy and authority, not at all unlike Otto himself.
Dr. Gerald Vincent Bull was buried in St. Bruno, Quebec in April of 1990. His headstone is inscribed When reason sleeps, Justice is badly served.