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: Autographed copies with a personal message are also available from the author by emailing:


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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 Autographed copies with a personal message are also available by contacting the author at:

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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:, or by contacting the author for a personally autographed copy at:

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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: Personally autographed copies are also available by contacting the author at:


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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: Autographed copies with personal messages are also available by contacting the author:

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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: Personally autographed copies are also available by contacting the author at or via the comment box on this website.










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Canada 150, Nunavut

Here are some photographs of Nunavut along with excerpts from  the chapter, Of Limits Unknown, about Canada’s youngest territory established in 1999:

While it comprises a third of the entire country and is roughly the size of Western Europe, its population is just over 30,000; that’s one person for every sixty square kilometres…This is a vast, majestic land; as an independent country, it would be the thirteenth largest in the world. Its people have lived here for over four thousand years. They are skillful, resourceful, affable, entertaining and proud of their culture and traditions. Yet, clearly, their homeland is changing rapidly.


…the highlight of our trip to Nunavut is to be a hike along the Akshayuk Pass, on Baffin Island, a lonely, 97-kilometre trough through the mountains between Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait traditionally used by the Inuit to move from one hunting ground to another. Today, Auyuittuq, “land that never melts,” is a park that covers 19,000 square kilometres of glacier-carved terrain…

Pangnirtung (is) the gateway hamlet through which we are to enter Auyuittuq National Park…an hour and a half up Pangnirtung Fijord, by outboard…After dinner we stroll around Pang, past the Hudson’s Bay Company’s old blubber station on the rocky shelf above the fjord.


A photogenic replica of a red and white whaling boat rests beside a restored company building, reminding visitors of the days when ninety-ton bowhead whales, now an endangered species, were killed with abandon in Cumberland Sound. Pang’s population of 1,325 is mostly Inuit, and they live in simple, box-shaped homes, most of them with snowmobiles pulled up beside them, attached to traditional wooden sleds, sleeping through the brief weeks of summer. The yards are littered with junk, especially anything made of wood, clearly a precious commodity here, where there are no trees, only hydro poles and criss-crossing electrical wires that fashion a surreal forest…

You can walk from one end of the hamlet to another in a little over half an hour. After that, in either direction, you are out on the tundra, alone with rocks, moss, sedge, and spreads of cotton grass, the little white tufts traditionally used to make wicks for the kulliq, the lamp that’s used to light igloos. Tramping around on foot is not, however, the preferred mode of transport in Pang.

…the tide is low when we finally set off in two outboards for the park. The wind is blowing hard, and it’s cold motoring up the inlet. The mountains are shrouded in fog, but on the black cliffs lining the fjord a torrent of bubbling white water suddenly tumbles out of the mist, twists as if on a downhill ski track, and plunges to the sea, a finishing line that turns from blue-black, to milk, to brown the closer we get to the park. At one point the clouds lift and we can see the front edge of a receding glacier in a mountain trough, but when we look up the river that twists beyond the head of the fjord we see no sign of the “glacier snout…about 200 feet high” that was recorded by an anthropologist in 1883…


(we) start looking for a place to land several hundred metres before we reach the park entrance. But the tide, which varies by as much as ten metres here, is whipping the water along the shore, and the ocean bottom is riddled with boulders that risk damaging the engine shafts and keels of the boats…There’s a clear majority in favour of heading back to Pang, and Joavee (our guide) seems relieved…Our hike in Auyuittuq National Park has been aborted before it began. Our plan to camp was already thwarted by the weather, but now we can’t even enter the park, because of the tide–and because of our neglect of the basic principle of living in Nunavut: the need for time, and for the patience to adjust to the rhythm of the Arctic…Joavee senses our frustration…”Okay, so tomorrow: I have a party I’m taking out to Cumberland Sound to see the icebergs. How is that for you?”

It’s sunny again at last, but the wind is still blowing strongly as we board our boat and motor out to Cumberland Sound…But then, when we reach the open sound, the wind surprises us by dropping completely, and before us is an enthralling view…a deep blue ocean without a ripple, heavily splattered with slabs of pure white ice. They are of every imaginable shape and size, like pieces of a very large, complicated puzzle laid out randomly on a gleaming sapphire board…Near a small iceberg that’s perhaps six metres high Joavee cuts his engines and we drift–alone, as far as we can see, in every direction, and in a silence broken only by the tinkle of ice against water.

Photo taken before the Sound was reached

We cruise to another iceberg not much higher than our outboard, but perhaps fifty metres in diameter. Joavee sidles up to it carefully and then throws his bow anchor onto the ice. He takes a pole and knocks some loose ice off the edge of the berg and then invites us to climb onto the floe…It’s a transcendental experience. We’re actually standing on an iceberg on a vast, empty, and silent sea. Looking around, there is no question that we are in the Arctic, and yet it’s warm and sunny with not a breath of wind, like a summer day in Ontario cottage country. We feel no motion, either; there’s nothing to remind us that we are, in fact, drifting slowly southward toward Hudson Strait and Labrador, on ice that has presumably broken away from the massive, melting shelf on Greenland. We’re not that far in time and distance from the nineteen men, women and children, including several Inuit, who floated down Davis Strait past Cumberland Sound in 1872, trapped on an ice floe for 196 days…Now we have had an experience as awesome as a hike to the Arctic Circle in Auyuittuq National Park would have been…at least we had an extra day left in Pang. Time is after all our ally, and the weather our friend…

Our first day in Iqaluit we walk farther east to the village of Apex, where the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post in 1949. When we get to the end of the road we climb a hill of spongy moss and strike out across the naked tundra along the Apex River. Snow buntings flutter low against the cliffs and sprays of purple dwarf fireweed and and yellow Arctic poppies light up the hard ground at our feet…


photo taken in Iqaluit, not along Apex River

The next day we hike the trails of Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, beyond the western end of Iqaluit…It was in 1576 that Martin Frobisher first sailed into the mouth of this bay, thinking he had found the Northwest Passage to the Orient. He reported his finding to Queen Elizabeth I, who claimed for England the area he described, and named it Meta Incognita, “of limits unknown.” What particularly fascinates me is that it was not until 1861, almost three hundred years later, that the American explorer, Charles Hall, sailed all the way up the inlet to the vicinity of Sylvia Grinnell Park, becoming the first to record that Frobisher was only a bay. How slowly the area changed before the Second World War, and how quickly ever since!

Where Nunavut is going is an important question this chapter addresses

The recipe for this chapter is for Arctic char, the way it is served at community feasts in Nunavut.

To purchase a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada, please go to:, or contact the author for a personally autographed copy at:


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Canada 150, Quebec

With the weather largely cool and wet in the east so far this summer, it seems appropriate in this cross-Canada tour to picture Quebec in winter. Here is such a view from Roaming the Big Land in a chapter entitled “Taking Stock:”

Like the poet and songwriter Gilles Vigneault, when I think of Quebec, I see winter.


I see my family strung out like fish on a line, herringboning their way up a ski trail…Evergreens at the sides of the piste are swabbed with cotton batten from the snowfall the night before, their broad, drooping branches casting dark shadows across a ski track that glistens in late-afternoon sunshine. White top hats cover the round boulders that rest on the bottom of frozen streams like ushers at a suspended wilderness wedding. It is silent except for the soft pad of our skis and the click of our poles as we gingerly take another step up the slope.

On the twisting streets of old Quebec City I see snowbanks so high they look like a newly erected line of defence against an anticipated Anglo invasion. Yet I can also see our mitten-and-toque-clad family tramping the cobbled, snow-packed lanes and pasageways, undeterred by this intimidating show of strength. Puffing clouds of steam, we’re seeking the best shop to buy our morning croissants aux amandes. Or, after dark, when gaslights somehow mask the cold and warm the heart, we are peeking through the frost-fringed windows of restaurants that invite us into rustic rooms with blazing, open-hearth fires and candle-lit tables. Which one to choose when all are so appealing?

Not global warming. Picture taken in June!

High on the bank of the broad, ice-choked St. Lawrence I see the mighty Chateau Frontenac, and “the best toboggan run in the world” floodlit on a winter night on the hotel’s famous Dufferin Terrace.

If, in my mind, I go inside, I am always in a huge ballroom filled with tables, mostly occupied by large families…Everyone is smartly dressed; there are lots of black ties and evening gowns. For it is Christmas dinner at the Chateau Frontenac, a long-standing Quebecois tradition. I hear music, singing, and laughter…and what is this? I hear bagpipes! In Quebec? Yes, even in Quebec. Bagpipes! What else would do to herald the arrival of a procession of waiters bearing baked Alaska, with peaks of golden egg whites like the mountains of Quebec itself, and the ice cream beneath evoking thoughts of a rich, enticing culture.

The recipe for this chapter is “Marooned Pasta,” a dish you can make from refrigerator leftovers when you are “snowed in” next winter.

Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada is available from Penumbra Press at, or from the author by emailing:


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Canada 150, Prince Edward Island

Happy 150th birthday, Canada!

On this day, it seems appropriate to offer an excerpt from “The Little Prince” about the conference in Charlottetown that set the stage for Confederation three years later:

Even today, the little island “resting on the waves,” as the Mi’kmaq described it, has a population of fewer than 150,000 people. Yet, for its size, Prince Edward Island has been home to a surprising number of interesting and famous people. There’s William Henry Pope, for instance, who was a colonial secretary and a delegate to the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, at which the talking and negotiating began that led to Confederation. When the Queen Victoria, bearing the delegates from Upper and Lower Canada (present-day Ontario and Quebec), unexpectedly dropped anchor in Charlottetown harbour rather than docking, it was Pope who was hastily dispatched to greet Sir John A., George Cartier and the others. A “suavely correct” gentleman, he was humiliated at having to depart from propriety and row out to their ship in a little “flat-bottomed boat with a barrel of flour in the bow, and two jars of molasses in the stern, and with a lusty fisherman as his only companion.” The next day, Pope, an enthusiastic supporter of confederation, hosted an opulent lunch of oysters, lobsters, and champagne, which helped break the ice, and created a convivial atmosphere for the ultimately successful talks. Another figure from that famous week is Lieutenant Governor George Dundas, the host of the triumphal ball on the eighth of September that concluded the conference. Guests arrived at the Colonial Building, the site of the meetings, at 10.00 p.m., danced until one in the morning, ate, then listened to toasts and speeches until four. Hard to imagine it happening on this sleepy little island where, today, everyone seems to go to bed for the winter not long after Labour Day…

St. Peters Bay is one of the loveliest areas in an island that is all about arresting scenery…At the mouth of the bay is the stunning Greenwich Park, which was added to the national park system in 1998. A boardwalk takes us across inland dunes, some of them spotted with reindeer moss, pale grey-green mats of lichen that look like clumps of old snow. False holly, rose hips, and goldenrod provide flares of colour in the brilliant morning sunlight. As the boardwalk crosses Bowley Pond, glittering like a freshly burnished tiara, I am reminded again that it is not just the constant nearness of the sea that makes P.E.I. so lovely, but the shimmering bays, estuaries, rivers, and ponds that appear magically whenever the ocean is not in view.

Beyond the cattails crowding the far shore of the pond we can see giant crescent-shaped “parabolic dunes,” higher than I recall having seen before. Then there is the soft, pink sand of the beach, sprinkled with marram grass, which is vital in holding the dunes in place. And finally there is the sea, with its ripples lapping lazily at the shore. No wonder Jacques Cartier, in 1534, declared the island “the fairest land ’tis possible to see.”…

On the Island there is really only one star–a princess, in fact. And it seems appropriate, for a picture-perfect province that’s a little detached from reality, that the person in question is a fictional character…Anne of Green Gables…

An incredible total of 250,000 people per year visit Green Gables, almost twice the population of P.E.I. No other tourist site in Canada except Niagara Falls comes close in terms of the number of visitors relative to provincial population. And that’s just Green Gables, let alone the full Anne package…

Along with potatoes and lobsters, it’s clear that it’s this spunky, freckle-faced figment of a vivid imagination that drives the economy…Montgomery’s…works have been translated into seventeen languages and published in over thirty countries. More than fifty million copies of Anne of Green Gables alone have been sold worldwide…it’s hard to imagine the Little Prince without the little princess in pigtails–and, at her side, the queen who gave her birth.

The recipe for this chapter is for “Princely Salad,” and it includes shrimp and sea scallops (lobster can also be added or substituted).

Hey, here is another good read for Canada’s 150th birthday year, available only in Canada. Sales to date are somewhat short of 50 million!

To order a copy, please visit:

Autographed copies with a personal message are also available from the author by contacting:


Posted in adult fiction, Anne of Green Gables, biography, Canada 150, Canadian travel, Charlottetown, Confederation, contemporary culture, food literature, Greenwich Park, humour, Parks Canada, Prince Edward Island, recipes, travel books | Leave a comment

Canada 150, New Brunswick

This cross-Canada journey continues with excerpts from “Big New Brunswick Dreams:”

Flat red and brown sand beaches run along the eastern coast of New Brunswick like a soft, broad highway from Charlo on Chaleur Bay to the Confederation Bridge on Northumberland Strait. In the official guidebook, these shallow shores of the gulf are described as having the warmest water north of Virginia, and this boast is repeated five times in the ensuing pages, lest anyone doubt the joys of a New Brunswick summer vacation. As we amble one stretch of this shore, I watch sandpipers scutter at the edge of small, curling waves, which, as they break, form chains of white foam that chug earnestly down the beach…miniature reminders of the locomotives that once steamed through the endless spruce forests of the New Brunswick interior. But it is the seagulls flitting above the beach that particularly grab my attention. They put me in mind 0f…Richard Hatfield’s years in office…I am thinking of the futuristic, gull-winged sports car his government financed to the tune of twenty-three million dollars in a vain effort to bring new industry to New Brunswick and help diversify its economy…

Ironically, Premier Hatfield brought a crate of fresh Atlantic salmon to New York with him for a dinner at the unveiling–a product that was symbolic of New Brunswick’s and the Maritime’s dependence on resources, the very condition the Bricklin was intended to help overcome. Wild salmon are in trouble now, too, but they have lasted much longer than the glitzy Bricklin, which fluttered to ground in September 1975, when the company went into receivership…

…we take an isolated road from Doaktown to Bouctouche, back on New Brunswick’s coast…At the intersections of Highways 116 and 126…we come upon several vehicles parked at the side of the road. A cluster of men is gathered around a makeshift stand with several dozen birchbark horns about fifteen inches long hanging from it. We approach the garrulous, moustached vendor, an Acadian dressed in an old camouflage jacket and green pants. They’re moose horns, we learn. Business is brisk, because next week is the annual three-day hunt.

“Here, try one,” the vendor says, and Dot blows gustily, but she produces nothing a moose could possibly mistake for anything other than heavy human breathing.

“You’ve gotta blow like you’re taking a hard shit,” the man explains. Dot tries again and does manage what might pass as the call of a very sick animal. “I sell them to people from all over. I sold one to this guy from England. Next year he comes back. I see him crossing the road, looking mad. ‘That horn you sold me, it’s no fucking good,’ he says to me, and then he grins. Like, there’s no moose in England, eh!”

We’re at Bouctouche now, not far from Petitcodiac. This is the birthplace of New Brunswick’s most famous industrialist, K.C. Irving, who, starting with a car dealership and gasoline bar, built a giant energy, lumber, and media empire. Our destination is the nearby La Dune de Bouctouche, a twelve-kilometre-long sand dune that stretches down the coast and shelters behind it a salt marsh that ‘s rich in flora and fauna. The entire dune is part of the Irving Ecological Centre, a provincial park developed by the family’s commercial empire, which began in the region…Walking along this gift from the Irvings, I’m reminded that New Brunswick’s economic history is not all about fish, lumber, and failed industrial projects. Oil refining in Saint John is one of the big engines of the provincial economy today, courtesy of K.C. and his successors.

Still, it’s Richard Hatfield I’m thinking about again, even as I enjoy this ecological legacy of the Irvings…As the Bricklin fiasco showed, he dared to dream and to dream big. I even like the fact that in the most serious of the scandals that brought him down he wasn’t just busted for possession of marijuana, but for having it in his luggage as he boarded a plane he was to share with the Queen and Prince Philip. Hatfield didn’t do things quietly and carefully. He was open, imaginative, and bold. He had faults, but he also had sass and class!

The recipes accompanying this chapter are: “Home-Smoked Salmon”; “Smoked Salmon Pasta”; and “Fiddleheads.”

To purchase a copy of Roaming The Big Land, please visit:

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