Canada 150, British Columbia

Reaching the west coast at last, here are some excerpts from the chapter entitled “Looking For Utopia”:

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, British Columbia has been a magnet for groups seeking a new and better life, one that is isolated from the materialism and decadence of modern society. The most remote and least populated of the British colonies, it was, as British Columbia author Justine Brown has written, “a blank page” on which outsiders could inscribe their fantasies.”…It was Sir Thomas More who in 1516 developed the notion of Utopia…a state of being in which there is harmony among people, and between society and nature…nineteenth- and twentieth-century Utopians sought a similar kind of separation from the norms of mainstream society… More often than not, however, their dreams turned into nightmares, and their communal ventures crumbled in scandal and disillusionment…

The Utopian who intrigues me most…was Edward Arthur Wilson, who chose De Courcy Island, near the port city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, to establish his Colony of Truth in 1927.

In 1995, our daughter, Deb, and her husband, Tad started teaching high school in Nanaimo…later they bought a house at Nanoose Bay, north of the city…I was not aware of the area’s proximity to so much of British Columbia’s Utopian history, and especially to Wilson’s infamous colony of truth…Believing that the world would come to an end on January 1, 1934, he led the chosen few to his islands off Nanaimo in 1927, where they expected to survive the Apocalypse and usher in the age of Aquarius…He deified himself and then appointed a number of “High Priestesses,” with whom he engaged in ritualistic orgies on the beach. One of them…was  chosen to bear the holy child of Brother Twelve, who now saw himself as the god Osiris…Wilson was eventually purported to have murdered her… She was replaced by a lithe black-haired dominatrix from Florida called Madam Zee…When the expected calamity of 1934 failed to occur, Wilson’s colony collapsed, like so many other ill-fated communities, and he and Madam Zee fled on a yacht with much of the colony’s wealth…Nothing was ever heard of either of them again…

A stone’s throw from Deb and Tad’s house is the entrance to the vast Fairwinds development, a 1,350-acre astute investment in the long-term promise of the leisure industry…As I climb the highest peak…in the development I reflect on how far British Columbia has come from the time of Brother Twelve’s Colony of Truth and the other, less sinister Utopias, and yet how actively the search for the ideal community goes on…Fairwinds is…isolated from the violence, poverty, and crime of so much of North America. But there is at the same time an unreality about it, as there was with the experimental communities of old. I wonder if it will last. Will the developers eventually hack down the remaining forest in order to build more homes and more golf courses and other amenities to fill the leisure hours of the community’s wealthy residents? In the course of time will the current balance between society and nature that was central to More’s concept of Utopia, and to Fairwinds as well, be destroyed, and will the development as a result lose its appeal? In the end will Fairwinds, too, crumble… in this case as a victim of its own success? Will the original developers have vanished to other ventures by then, as Brother Twelve did, their pockets well lined with the hard-earned savings of those they have left behind?

I descend from my perch to share these thoughts with Dot, Deb, and Tad over dinner…and to discuss the plans for our impending trip to Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Our aim is to check out another contemporary version of Utopia.

The first leg of the journey from Nanaimo to Haida Gwaii is a seven-hour drive through thick forest to Port Hardy,…the second stretch…is a fifteen-hour ferry ride to Prince Rupert on board the ill-fated Queen of the North…The route passes close to some of the historic Utopian communities, and deepens our understanding of the extent of their isolation and the dedicated commitment required of their residents…

The next day we have an eight-hour ferry ride, largely through the open Pacific, to Skidegate Landing…It has taken us three days to reach Haida Gwaii, but our voyage is not yet over. From Queen Charlotte City on Graham Island…the only paved road on the islands winds eastward and then north 103 kilometres to Masset…so, armed with the tourist office’s “check list” of things to see and do, we proceed along this route in search of the soul of this particular British Columbian Utopia.

Although we discover that Graham Island has no structured Utopian communities, we find plenty of people apparently living simple lives, in harmony with nature and largely unencumbered by material needs..communities (that) are not driven by ideology or commanded by charismatic leaders with one or two loose screws, yet their residents clearly share some of the traditional Utopian values…

Still, not everything is quite as it should be in this northern Shangri-la. North of Tlell, we take “a wonderful hike” to the wreck of the 200-foot-long Pesuta. The shore runs to the horizon in both directions without a soul in sight. You are, as the guidebook says, “alone on the beach, with only the sounds of nature as company.” We are marvelling at this enormous emptiness…when we suddenly spot a black smudge crawling towards the water’s edge. At first it appears to be a bear that has lumbered out of the woods, but then we realize that it is moving towards us at an improbably fast pace, even if it has mistaken us for a school of beached salmon. It turns out to be an elderly couple on an ATV searching for agates to polish and sell. ATVs in Utopia?…

On our drive back to Masset from North Beach, Tad and I spot a sign on the right side of the road…”Dixon Entrance Golf and Country Club…only four or five people appear to be out playing, so Tad and I decide to look into the possibilities of having a round. The clubhouse is an old trailer, and when we go inside we discover that the course is run by volunteers and operates on the honour system. If no one is around, you just sign in–no reservations necessary–and drop your money in a box.

Some clubs are lying around that a Haida member tells us we are free to borrow. With a bit of loose change we buy some used golf balls from the pop machine, drop our ten bucks in the box, and head out to the first tee…there are no groups of four in front slowing us down, no one sitting impatiently in a golf cart behind us…making us anxious and prone to slice or top the ball. We can take as many Mulligans as we like, search for wayward balls in the tall grass for as long as we like, pause to admire the view across the rolling Pacific, follow the flight path of a tern, or search the horizon for a breaching wale…The Dixon Entrance Golf and Country Club. Utopia at last!

The recipe accompanying this chapter is for grilled salmon. It’s heaven!

Roaming the Big Land: Flavors of Canada is available in full by going to: www.penumbrapress.com or by contacting the author for a personally autographed copy: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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Canada 150, Yukon

Moving west across the territories, here are some excerpts from the chapter in Roaming the Big Land,” entitled, “Trekking for Gold”:

Late into the flight to Whitehorse…I struggle to catch a glimpse of Lake Bennett and Lake Lindeman, headwaters of the Yukon River…They are at the northern end of the famous Chilkoot and White Pass trails, which thousands of stampeders…attempted to cross in the winter of 1897, desperate to reach the unassuming creeks that tumble into the Klondike River, where gold had been discovered in the summer of 1896. Unless you were wealthy and able to reach the Klondike up river, by steamboat from the Bering Sea, these were the “easy” routes to an uncertain fate a thousand miles from anywhere…Altogether of the roughly 100,000 souls who started out, less than half that number finished the journey. The rest turned back, or else died en route of exposure, exhaustion, starvation, scurvy, accident, suicide, or murder…

For us the route in is easy: a two-hour flight from Edmonton, pampered by the solicitous staff of Air North. But our goal is the same. We’ve come to pan the creeks of the Klondike, although Dot, for one, has no illusions about finding a stake that has been overlooked for a hundred years and flying out with a fortune…

Whitehorse…takes its name from the churning rapids that used to bubble and froth along the Yukon River like the manes of charging horses. This was the last great hurdle facing the stampeders as they made their way to Dawson City. When the ice started to go out on Lakes Lindeman and Bennett at the end of May 1898, they pushed their handmade crafts into the water

and headed for the raging gorge known as Miles Canyon and the rapids beyond. There were over 7,000 boats in all, and their occupants had only a vague notion of the peril still in front of them. At least 150 of the boats and their gear were lost after smashing into rocks and capsizing in the turbulent water. Ten people drowned here, twenty-three along the full course of the river…

 

Apart from the SS Klondike at Whitehorse and the Keno at Dawson City,both now museums, the steamboats are all gone from the river. Altogether, more than 250 sternwheelers plied the Yukon between 1896 and the 1950s, as many as seventy of them at a time…Now there’s not a single vessel to carry passengers and their supplies in and out…When I realize this I feel rather anxious. If we make a big strike, how are we going to get our gold “out”?…

To get to Dawson City we have to take the tour bus, which travels the Klondike Highway once a week…it’s an eight-hour trip…There are only three of us on the big bus this day, so we sit up front next to Stuart, the driver, while a young Irish woman stretches out halfway down the coach, alternately dozing and reading…

“So how far is it from Whitehorse to Dawson anyway?” I ask.

“536 kilometres. You know, until ’82 you could drink in public in the Yukon. You could even drink and drive. Someone would ask, ‘How far is it to Dawson?’ and you’d answer, ‘Oh, about a six-pack’.”…

Lulled by the hum of the bus and the river of road running in

Yukon River at the turn off for Inuvik

front of me virtually to the horizon, I drift into reverie–back to the stampeders , as they closed in on Dawson…for most of them there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow–and those who did find it as often as not squandered everything on gambling, drinking, and whoring. If we hit paydirt, I promise myself, no drinks all around at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s. We’ll just slip quietly out of town…

Walking along Front Street, we find that Dawson still looks very much as it did in its heyday in 1898 and 1899, when a swamp by the river suddenly mushroomed into a city of thirty to forty thousand people…

On the back streets, colourfully painted reconstructions of some of the famous edifices of the gold rush era are open to visitors…There’s the Palace Grand Theatre, for instance, a beautiful restoration of the original, which was built in 1899 by the notorious “Arizona Charlie” Meadows, who, the preceding year, had cleverly operated a portable bar and casino on the Chilkoot Pass. In the days when Dawson sparkled like an imitation Paris, you could see anything at the Palace Grand from opera to wild-west shows. You could even see Charlie himself in fringed buckskin, at one end of the stage, shooting glass balls from his wife’s hand…

It’s a rough drive along Hunker Creek Road to Goldbottom Mine, some twenty-five kilometres from Dawson. We’re in the beat-up van of Deb Millar, a member of a local family of prospectors…

On a bench near Hunker Creek we put on rubber boots and roll up our sleeves. Deb hands us shovels and pans and we walk down to the bank, where there’s a small pile of pay dirt that’s never been worked. We load the shovels with several pounds of muck. “Make sure you include some rocks,” Deb instructs us. “Sometimes there are flakes of gold clinging to them.” We walk into the centre of the creek, where the frigid, ankle-deep water is flowing fast. “You have to keep shaking the pan all the time…”

Looking towards the site that started the rush to the Klondike

I encourage Dot to take her pan over to Goldbottom Creek, several metres away, so that I can take her picture with the narrow valley rising gently behind her where Robert Henderson made his strike.

When I return to my chair, Deb Millar comes over again to lend a hand. Suddenly, unmistakably, three dark yellow flakes appear at the edge of my pan.

“Gold!” I shout, and thrust out my hand.

“No! Don’t touch it. It’ll cling to the oil on your fingers and you’ll lose it…”

I carry my pan back to the bench, where I’m instructed to wet my index finger and touch it to the flakes one by one to transfer them to a small glass vial full of water. I hold the vial up to the light and everyone gathers around to count the flakes. You can see them unmistakably floating near the lid: seven flakes of genuine Hunker Creek placer gold!…

I’m not leaving empty-handed. I have my poke of gold!

The recipe for this chapter is for Stuffed Lake Trout. There are also cooking tips that Stu offered on the bus trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

To travel vicariously through more of Canada, order a copy of Roaming The Big Land at:  http://www.penumbrapress.com. Autographed copies with a personal message are also available from the author by emailing: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca.

 

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Canada 150, Northwest Territories

Roaming north to the territories again, here are some excerpts from the chapter, “North of Sixty”:

“So, what brings you to Yellowknife?” the CBC producer asks me on the phone…why are you coming in March. It’s still pretty cold here, you know…”

“We’re coming for the Caribou Carnival–to celebrate the end of winter.”

A faint laugh, maybe a snicker. Is it the carnival? Or the notion that the beginning of spring signals the end of snow and ice?

…our bed and breakfast (is) in Old Town on the shore of Yellowknife Bay, down by the float plane docks. We are on a narrow bay right across from the three-storey red and white box that is Air Tindi, and while we watch from the shore, men in heavy hooded jackets periodically walk onto the ice, remove covers from the wings and propellers of a small plane, and taxi out to Yellowknife Bay, blasting us with sprays of fast-flying snow. A line of what look like discarded Christmas trees shoved into banks of snow marks one side of the “runway,” warning cars, trucks, snowmobiles, skiers, and dogsled teams that this is one stretch of the bay they have to share with faster means of transport…

The Caribou Carnival turns out to be a very casual, low-key affair…Still, along with a hundred or so other souls and a half-dozen squawking ravens, we gather outside the Black Knight Pub on 49th Street for the official opening. The theme this year is Hawaiian, and someone in a grass skirt drapes us in leis as we watch the tug-of-war between the Yellowknife Fire Department and the RCMP detachment. On a table outside the pub there is a big anniversary cake with icing that depicts the blue Pacific, with a beach of yellow sand, umbrellas, and palm trees. There is also to be a Luau pig roast on nearby Frame Lake…we’re starting to get the picture. The carnival is not for tourists–indeed, apart from ourselves there don’t appear to be any around, except perhaps for two or three disgruntled Japanese, here principally to see the Northern Lights, which haven’t been putting on their usual show the last few evenings. No, the carnival is for the locals, a chance to forget about the cold and the lingering winter, to fantasize that they’re on vacation in an altogether different climate.

When the opening ceremonies are over there is an unorganized “parade”–a stroll really–down to Frame Lake, the centre for most of the activities. There a ring of army tents has been set up for adults’ and kids’ games, and to sell food and “Kar uh boo” T-shirts. In the centre of the ring there’s a performance stage…

The Diavik 150 Canadian Championship Dog Derby is held in conjunction with the Caribou Carnival, and it starts on Frame Lake on the first full day of the festival…

Hey, but wait a minute! These are not at all the solid, furry huskies we’ve always seen in pictures, pulling Inuit and RCMP officers through the woods and across the barrens. These are scrawny, short-haired mongrels, black, brown, white, and dappled, with awkward, spindly legs like the bandy pins of old men who are barely able to walk, let alone run. Their looks, however, are deceiving, for these are Siberian huskies crossed with German Short Haired Pointers, bred for speed, endurance, and especially the ability to handle the warmer conditions of today’s north…Today’s dogs can do fifty miles (80.5 kilometres) in under three and a half hours. And they repeat this distance on two successive days with little if any loss of speed. How the Mounties would have loved to have had them on the long, cold sled from Aklavik to Fort McPherson!…

That evening we get our own crack at dogsledding. From Beck’s Kennels, on the outskirts of Yellowknife, I drive a team of six across small lakes and through undulating scrub forest to a wilderness camp seven kilometres away. I have a foot firmly planted on each of the two runners that protrude from the back of the sled, and my hands grip a metal loop in front of me. Dot, decked out in a borrowed pale blue parka and wrapped in a blanket, sits on the toboggan looking like a pioneer settler making her first trip to the plot her husband has staked out deep in the bush…Ours is a quiet journey, broken only by the scrape of the wooden runners sliding across the snow, and the wind whistling past the sled. Sometimes, on curves, the sleigh tilts to a precarious angle and I lean hard the other way to right it. At other moments we bog down in heavy snow, and I jump off to push while one of my dogs dips his head and scoops up mouthfuls of white powder. Whenever there’s an apparent problem and we slow down, the lead dog turns and gives me what I take to be a disapproving look, as if he’s thinking, “Where the hell did they recruit this guy?” Never mind. Biting wind and tingling toes aside, I’m having the time of my life. I’m living a boyhood dream. I’m Constable King of the RCMP, and I’m hot on the trail of the Mad Trapper of Rat River.

 

The recipes in this chapter are for Caribou Stew and Bannock.

To take the full journey across the country, please order a copy of Roaming The Big Land: Flavours of Canada by going to http://www.penumbrapress.com. Autographed copies with a personal message are also available by contacting the author at: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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Canada 150, Alberta

Here are some excerpts from “Rocky Ride,” the chapter about Alberta in Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada”:

Alberta is like a thick, juicy steak ready to toss on the barbecue. There are two sides to it. The first side to be slapped face down on the grill to welcome us on this trip is the old picture, the easterner’s quintessential image of the province…

We are in Alberta’s famous badlands amid scenery one associates with the American West more than with Canada. This is Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the most important dinosaur fossil beds in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we pick our way carefully along the Badlands Trail looking for fragments of dinosaurs, I’m nervous about the reptiles and insects lurking in the sage and among the rocks. I wish that Dot and I were already in the Rockies, where we could leave it to our mounts to worry about the threats on the ground. It looks, after all, like the sort of place where we should be on horseback–straight out of an old-time western starring John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart. I’m sure some notorious bad guy is camped behind the hoodoo in front of me, his horse tethered to a rock and his six-shooter drawn, ready to blast us back to Ontario…

In much of downtown Calgary, however, we’re surprised and pleased at the sophistication and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Arriving late, we dash out to dinner at Antonio’s Garlic Clove, a neighbourhood restaurant on Fourth Avenue. There’s garlic in every dish, even in the ice cream and beer. Our waitress is Austrian and the busboy is from the Philippines. Hold on a minute, are we really in Calgary? This seems more like Vancouver, Montreal, or–dare I say it?–Toronto…

we take a long trudge out to the Stampede Grounds to have a look at the site of Calgary’s most famous annual attraction…We stand in awe beneath the black, muscular statue at the entrance…

The Stampede Grounds are a reminder that even in Alberta’s urban centres the first side of the steak is never more than inches off the barbecue. It sizzles away in the midst of contemporary sophistication. You can feel the old Calgary, for instance, as you wander through the downtown shops–places like the Alberta Boot Company, where there are racks and racks of stylish leather cowboys boots and Stetsons for sale, and at Riley and McCormick, which advertises itself as the “Official Supplier to Canada’s Real Cowboys.” It’s there, too, in the colourful names of local bars and restaurants, which belie the notion that Calgarians prefer to present a hipper, more contemporary image of the city: Badass Jack’s, Bottlescrew Bill’s. Bootlegger’s, Bufalo Bob’s, Buzzard’s, The Bull Pen, Cowboys, Coyotes, Moustache Pete;s, Powderhorn, Ranchman’s, One Eyed Jacks, Outlaws, and Wolfman’s…

At last we reach the Rockies, and Banff National Park, the sophisticated side of the steer once more: upscale restaurants, elegant shops, luxurious hotels, an outstanding museum devoted to the art and literature of the region, and people, tons of them, from all over the world…

we go to Lake Louise and hike the Larch Valley trail, high into the mountains above Moraine Lake, until the lake seems no more than a glitering turquoise puddle a child could cross in one bound…

From the lodge at Lake Louise we trek around the lake, and then climb past spruce and fir trees and clumps of forget-me-nots to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Then we traverse a narrow ridge until we are almost opposite the infamous Death Trap, below the Abbot Pass. It was here in 1896 that Phillip Abbot became the first recorded mountaineering fatality in North America, the victim of a mishap that had the ironic effect of drawing more climbers to the region. As we turn to start our descent, there’s a roar from across the valley that sounds like a large passenger jet taking off. A broad waterfall of snow is spilling down a mountain crevice. An avalanche!

As we admire Lake Louise from out mountain loft, I can’t help wondering how much longer it will give off its classic aquamarine glow. It is the rock flour in the water, a product of the grinding action of the Victoria Glacier, that causes it, like other Rocky Mountain lakes, to reflect the light in varying blue-green hues. As the glaciers recede, less rock flour is created. Will the lakes eventually lose their beautiful colours?

The recipe for this chapter is the perfect condiment for a steak dinner, “Mrs. Morse’s Mustard.”

To read more, you can order a copy of Roaming the Big Land by going to: www.penumbrapress.com, or by contacting the author for a personally autographed copy at: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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Canada 150, Saskatchewan

Continuing the journey across the country, here are some excerpts from “Queen of the West.”

It’s game five of the Stanley Cup final and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are leading the Ottawa Senators 4-2. We’re flying into Regina and the captain has just announced that although the seat-back television sets are normally switched off when the plane drops below ten thousand feet, he’s leaving them on so that we can enjoy the end of the game. Enjoy? There are groans from tail to executive class as the Ducks go ahead 5-2. It’s over. No way back now…

It’s 6-2 when we touch down, and the chatter around us indicates that most of the passengers have given up on the game. Still, the talk is all hockey, especially the irony of the fact that most of the people on the plane are rooting for the guys from our distant capital, despite the fact that there are more Canadians playing for Anaheim, including a hometown Regina boy, than for the Sens…Over 425 NHL players have come from Saskatchewan, more per capita than any other province, state, or European country…

It was at Battle Creek in the Cypress Hills in 1873 that drunken American whiskey traders and wolf hunters massacred at least twenty Nakota Indians, including women and children, in a dispute over a stolen horse. The slaughter prompted the government of Sir John A. Macdonald to dispatch troops of the newly formed North-West Mounted Police to the region to secure law and order.Thus began the famous, arduous Great March West by the Red Coats as they constructed a string of garrisons, including Fort Walsh, in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, from which they could chase away the whiskey traders and horse thieves, and provide protection and support for new immigrants, refugees, and the hapless First Nations people, who were struggling to survive in the wake of the slaughter of their buffalo. From 1878 to 1883, Fort Walsh was the headquarters of the NWMP…it played an important part in ensuring that, in the opening up of the Canadian west, unlike in the United States, the police arrived before most of the settlers, firmly establishing from the outset the principles of peace, order, and good government, hallmarks of Canadian political culture…

Before heading to the Cypress Hills we visit the newly opened RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina. Designed by the renowned Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, this striking building has a sloping roof that waves like a field of wheat or barley, and walls that are largely made of glass–an ironic, although unintended, reflection of the fragility of the force today…

As we leave Regina to travel across the prairies by bus…Dot and I are glued to the windows throughout fascinated by the subtly changing character of the prairie, which sprawls to the horizon on either side of the road. Around Regina it’s flat as a pan of brownies cut into large squares, with lines of spring-green icing where the banks of tiny creeks knife across it. By the time we get to Moose Jaw the prairie is gently rolling, but the fields are still planted with grain. Shallow lakes to the south, with broad white beaches of salt, make me reach for my water bottle; it’s been a wet spring, but the menace of drought looks ever-present. Beyond Swift Current we move into cattle country; farms gradually yield to enormous ranches and homes are rarely visible. In some fields, lean young horses run with abandon in wide circles, their manes flowing behind them as if they’re long-haired hockey players warming up for a game. Clusters of cattle gather at shallow watering holes and under solitary trees. Oil wells pump rhythmically like earnest fitness fanatics working out on stationary bicycles. The sky is a mix of blue and, in the distance, grey and black, where thunderclouds, etched in gold, are gathering; it’s as if the elements are posing for a classic prairie painting.

Two young women at the front of the bus who didn’t know each other when they boarded are chatting incessantly, and we catch snatches of their conversation. It seems they work in Regina but prefer their hometown of Moose Jaw, where the pace is distinctly more placid. One of them is a close pal of the girlfriend of Ryan Getzlaf, who has just won a Stanley Cup ring playing for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. It’s clear that their whole life revolves around hockey and the team. Back to the provincial–and national–passion.

To read about all of Canada, you can purchase a copy of Roaming The Big Land: Flavours of Canada by going to: www.penumbrapress.com. Personally autographed copies are also available by contacting the author at: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca.

 

Posted in Canada 150, Canadian travel, contemporary culture, family literature, First Nations, food literature, ice hockey, prairies, RCMP, recipes, Regina, Saskatchewan, travel books | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Canada 150, Manitoba

On the long trek westward, some excerpts from “Manitoba On My Mind” are up next:

We stand in the covered porch of Dalnavert House (built for Hugh John Macdonald, only surviving son of Sir John A.), waiting for a torrential downpour to recede. It doesn’t, so we make a mad dash south in the direction of the Assiniboine River and the park on its banks where the 1920 beaux-arts Legislative Assembly sits in all its majesty. Rivulets of water are rushing down the sidewalks and across streets making puddles that stretch from curb to curb. The Assiniboine and the Red are once again overflowing their banks…Winnipeg is Cree for “muddy water.” Now we understand.

While we are looking up at the Legislative Asembly Building from the riverbank, the rain miraculously stops and the sun peeks out, bathing the 3,640-pound Golden Boy atop the dome in brilliant light. Our eyes shift to the ground in front of us–to the over-sized statue of a middle-aged man wearing a

a long coat, bow tie, and waistcoat…It is a statue of Louis Riel, the first of several such monuments we encounter throughout Winnipeg…While admiring this forceful image of one of Canada’s most famous and controversial figures, I think…about how passionate Manitobans (have) always been about their politics…When you gaze at the determined visage of Riel, mouth drawn tight, eyes narrow and penetrating, you are face to face with the very embodiment of this Manitoban passion. This is the face of a man who fought relentlessly to defend and promote the interests of his people…

Near the cathedral is the Saint Boniface Museum, the oldest building in Winnipeg. It was erected…for the Grey Nuns, the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, who arrived at the Red River in 1844 after a fifty-nine-day voyage by canoe. I spot a poem in a frame on the wall; it was written by John Greenleaf Whittier…

The voyageur smiles as he listens

To the sound that grows apace;

Well he knows the vespers ringing

Of the bells of St. Boniface…

Happy is he who heareth

The signal of his release

In the bells of the Holy City,

The chimes of eternal peace…

I strike out on my own to wander through St. Boniface…following the course of the Red, I pass through fields leading to Whittier Park, where there is a replica of Fort Gibraltar, built by the Northwest Company in 1810. I’m several hundred feet back from the river, because the forest along the bank is covered in a thick coating of mud that accumulated a short while ago, when the river was running even higher. The broad band of trees along the bank look like long, slender fingers digging into the icing on an undercooked chocolate cake…

I’m hurrying now, because I’m running late in getting to The Forks, the famous spot where the rivers meet…After the fort, the river bends sharply to the left, and there is a long, straight stretch running to the Esplanade Riel,

where an airy suspension bridge over the river provides a pedestrian crossing from the centre of St. Boniface to the Forks. I’m alternately walking and jogging to save time. But now swarms of mosquitoes attack me. They’re buzzing about my arms and ears like bucksaws cutting logs in the wilderness. I’m sweating profusely and I’m very thirsty. But then, at last, I hear a distant ringing, and it grows steadily louder and clearer. A smile lights my face. The bells of St. Boniface have signalled my release.

It’s at The Forks that we first encounter Winnipeg’s Aboriginal roots, for this has been the traditional meeting place of the First Nations for six thousand years…In the 1880s The Forks became a centre for the railways, and an industrial wasteland. Winnipeg residents had no access to it for a century. But in 1989 one of Canada’s most successful urban renewal projects was launched, reconnecting people with the waterfront, so that today this thirteen-acre parcel of land along the banks of the two rivers is once more Winnipeg’s principal gathering place…Some four million people per year visit The Forks, making it the city’s principal attraction. A Torontonian can only marvel at the speed and creativity with which the restoration was undertaken…

I am particularly taken by the Oodena Celebration Circle, in the heart of The Forks, the principal reminder of the Aboriginal origins of the area…the Oodena Celebration Circle is a stirring symbol of the spiritual strength of our Aboriginal heritage, and The Forks overall is a reminder of the First Nations’ pride of place in our early history. But the reality of Aboriginal life in Winnipeg today is much different…

Winnipeg has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people of any urban area in Canada…Large numbers have gravitated toward the city over the past two decades to escape the poverty of the reserves. But many have failed to find life in Winnipeg any better; perhaps it’s even worse given the discrimination they often face…

Another neighbourhood where First Nations congregate is Winnipeg’s North End, again a district where poverty is endemic. On Selkirk, we pas the tottering Merchants Hotel. It’s the “Pride of the North End,” the sign says. A door lies open to a room stacked full of empty beer bottles. Tough-looking young men dressed entirely in black are loitering at the corner, leaning against the hotel wall or squatting on the ground, eyeing us like hunters assessing unsuspecting game. Some shops on Selkirk are boarded up; others look like the last thing they expect is for someone to stop in and make a purchase.

At Pritchard and McGregor, we pass the Ukrainian Labour Temple, which was built at the end of the First World War…and has long served as a rallying centre for the trade union movement. It also has the distinction of having been raided by police during the famous Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. On the facade is a carving of hands clasped, reaching across the globe, and the words, “Workers of the World Unite.” For many years Winnipeg North was the constituency of the distinguished and much respected NDP Member of Parliament, Stanley Knowles, at one time the longest-serving member of the House. How far Winnipeg and the rest of Canada are from the socialist Nirvana his party once sought!..

Can we build the perfect society, one that will shine as brightly as the aurora borealis, visible in Churchill, Manitoba, for over 240 days per year? Or is this notion just an ephemeral dream?

The recipes for this chapter are for Bison Burgers and Low-Fat Fries.

To cover Canada in full, please order a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada by going to: www.penumbreapress.com. Autographed copies with personal messages are also available by contacting the author: terdotcomm@sympatico.ca

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Canada 150, Ontario

Given the physical and population size of Ontario, this post includes excerpts from two chapters of Roaming the Big Land, one focusing on the urban and the other the rural character of the province:

First an excerpt from the chapter, “Coming Home”:


Peter Ustinov once described Toronto as “New York City run by the Swiss.” If that was once an accurate description, it certainly isn’t today. The virtues we once shared with urban Switzerland are slipping, and the vices we have in common with (a vastly improved) New York are mounting. Nor are we now, like New York, a “world class” city–if we ever were. Indeed,I think most Torontonians have the uncomfortable feeling that in terms of global ranking we have been slipping for the past twenty years or more, that we haven’t kept up with the pace of urban improvement in Western Europe, parts of Asia, and even the United States. Gone are the empty boasts one used to hear regularly from Nathan Philips Square about Toronto’s elevated status in the pantheon of cities. In their place is an atmosphere of anxiety and doubt about the long-term health of the city.

Flying home not long ago from Vancouver, I was sitting next to an Alberta businessman who, over drinks, observed, “You know, I can always pick out the Torontonians on a flight. They always look so damn smug.”..Another Albertan writing a piece in The Globe and Mail…asserted “As a Calgarian, I suppose I’m wired to despise Toronto…No amount of discovery on past visits has softened my instinctive animosity.” This hostile attitude seems to be widely shared, not only in the West but in other parts of Canada, even in areas of Ontario that are on the periphery. It is a product, I suppose, of the intense regionalism that has always characterized our country, but it is misplaced and unfortunate…

In Europe, people take pride in their principal cities, recognize that they have unique attributes that only a few urban areas in any country can possibly attain, and view these assets as important for all the country, not just the cities’ residents. It follows that, generally speaking, Europeans have a more generous attitude than Canadians toward the expenditure of public funds on the facilities of their largest cities, which is why most of them are flourishing while Toronto languishes. You cannot ask a city, as Canadians do of Toronto, to absorb forty per cent of the immigrants arriving in the country and to assume responsibility for an expanding range of services, and then starve it of the financial resources necessary to fulfill its obligations. Metropolitan centres such as Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver need the support of people and governments at all levels to make them work and prosper the way their counterparts do in other countries.

The recipe for this chapter is for “Pete’s Marmalade,” an 1853 Ontario recipe.

Now a piece from “After the Last Portage” about canoe-tripping in Georgian Bay and Killarney Provincial Park.

We launch our canoes into the Chikanishing River and paddle out onto the open Bay outside the boundaries of the park. First, we head north in the direction of the town of Killarney and camp on one of the humpback islands of polished granite and pine. Then we turn south for a trip up narrow Collins Inlet, where waterfalls of gleaming rock rush headlong into the deep, blue

gorge. The Bay is calm, silent, deserted. We have our pick from hundreds of possible campsites on the mainland and on the islands that are strung out for over 150 kilometres along the eastern shore of the Bay. With typical Canadian modesty,these are known as “The Thirty Thousand Islands,” although, in fact, there are many more than that, most of them uninhabited and many uncharted. For centuries, they offered shelter from the infamous wild storms of the Bay for First Nations, explorers, and voyageurs. Today they are destinations for picnickers and campers who come by outboard, canoe, or sailboat. Their rocks serve as tables and chairs, their leaning pines act as umbrellas that shield out the sun, and their clear waters offer refreshment for swimmers, and enticement to fishermen to try and land a bass, a perch, a pike, or a pickerel. Water, rock, and trees. What is special is not so much the elemental simplicity of this basic attire, but the stylish way nature has arranged these simple garments, especially when the Bay wears blue.

The recipe for this chapter is for “Portage Pasta.”

To read more, you can order a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada by going to: www.penumbrapress.com. Personally autographed copies are also available by contacting the author at terdotcomm@sympatico.ca or via the comment box on this website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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