Saskatoon rocks

Saskatoon rocks

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Privilege of Voting in Canada

I’ve voted consistently in elections – federal, provincial, municipal. We are so lucky that we have the opportunity. People in some countries don’t get the chance.

In Canada there have been various restrictions on voting in the past, e.g. only property owners could vote if they were male and British, conscientious objectors couldn’t vote at times, women and Indigenous people were denied the vote. For a more detailed history of voting in Canada, check out:

Whether you are frustrated with political parties in general, or leaders, or the process, we are still fortunate to have the opportunity to have voices in choosing our government. So vote because the alternative is dictatorship!

Some choose to vote strategically in terms of which parties they think might get in. But if you never vote for the party whose policies you wholeheartedly or mostly support, and if everyone thinks like that, then how will we ever get real change?

I usually make up my mind early on, based on the record of various parties, and the policies they have supported over a period of years. I do factor in the leader and whether I support him or her, but it’s not my first criteria. And whether I like the candidate in my riding comes much further down the line. And I mostly ignore the debates and the posturing of election campaigns.

At times I even vote for a party that I know has a snowball’s chance in hell of forming the government (unless hell is a frozen wasteland rather than a hot fiery furnace), because I do support their policies and I think they need to know that there are people who support them.

I’d like to see electoral reform (e.g. proportional representation), though I’m not holding my breath on that one. For more on various electoral systems see this 2016 article in Macleans:

I’m happy to hear that there was at least a 29% increase in voter numbers at advance polls this year for the federal election from 2015. I hope the increase in number carries through into election day.

Monday, October 21Vote!! (If you haven’t already done so.)

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Legends and Loss

My old hardcover Webster’s dictionary defines a legend as:

o   a story coming down from the past, especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable
o   a popular myth of recent origin
o   a person or thing that inspires legends.

I intend, in this blog, to write about all three.

Most of us are familiar with Greek and Roman myths of gods, goddesses and heroes that we learned about in school. More recently comics and movies have used a few of these stories and embellished them. Other people may be familiar with African or Asian legends, or the stories that Indigenous People tell in various parts of the world. I’m not going to write about any of those legends.

I can’t remember when I first heard about George Mallory and the various expeditions he joined in attempts to climb Mount Everest (Sagarmatha or Chomolungma; this mountain did have names before Europeans ‘discovered’ it). Sadly, if he and his young climbing partner Andrew Irvine hadn’t disappeared, few would probably remember them, unless they’d managed to reach the summit.

It is believed that on the morning of June 8, 1924, Mallory and Irvine began their climb from Camp VI toward the summit. The last picture of the two was taken by Noel Odell on June 6 at Camp IV. A couple of notes were sent down later by Mallory with porters explaining that they were going to leave early for the climb. Odell was climbing toward Camp VI and watching for them, though for a while the weather was too misty for him to see much. At 12:50 the mists cleared so that Odell could see the summit ridge and final pyramid. He wrote in his diary, “Saw M & I on the ridge, nearing base of final pyramid.” He said that he had seen two moving black dots. Later his sighting was challenged by others, and he also varied his account. At any rate, no trace of Mallory and Irvine was found for many years and no one knew whether they might have reached the summit.

Seventy-five years later an expedition set out to find the climbers remains. Other climbers remains had been found at various times, and there had been rumours. In 1933 Irvine’s ice axe was found in the area of their last known route. It was identified by three notches. In 1960 a Chinese porter reported seeing the remains of “an English dead.” In May 1999 Conrad Aker discovered Mallory’s body. However, Irvine has yet to be discovered, and the camera that the two carried has never been found, so there is no proof on whether they reached the summit or not.

Wade Davis wrote an amazing book, published in 2011 ‘Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.’ There are also lots of videos and other on-line resources if you’re interested in more on this.

You may be familiar with Stan Roger’s song ‘Northwest Passage.’ It has the words, “Ah, for just one time, I would take the Northwest Passage to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.” Songwriters play a part in creating legends. The search for a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific involved many explorers at various times, resulting in failures and claiming many lives.

One of the most famous expeditions was led by Captain Sir John Franklin. Between 1819 and 1827 Franklin was involved in overland explorations of Canada’s north, from the western shores of Hudson Bay toward Alaska. In 1845 Franklin set out to search for a northwest passage. His two ships, the Erebus (primeval god of darkness, son of Chaos) and the Terror carried 128 men. Interesting names for ships, considering what happened.

The last sighting of the ships was in late July, by British whalers, north of Baffin Island at the entrance to Lancaster sound. In 1847, when no further word had been received, search parties were sent out. For twelve years searches were conducted, but nothing was known until 1859, when Captain Francis Leopold McClintock’s expedition found skeletons and a written account through to April 25, 1948. The written account revealed that the ships became trapped in the ice. An old Inuit woman told McClintock about starving men who fell as they walked. Post-mortems conducted in the late 20th century on preserved bodies, found that botulism, scurvy, and lead poisoning may have contributed to the mental and physical decline of the crew.

In September 2014, the wreck of the Erebus was found off King William Island. Two years later the wreck of the Terror was found 100 kilometers north in Terror Bay.

Another legend that has fascinated me since I was a teenager is the loss of the Eagle of the Ninth Roman Legion. This fascination was sparked by reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s book ‘The Eagle of the Ninth,’ published in 1954. By the way, you can order the book from Indigo.

A Roman Legion was a military unit of the Roman Empire, usually composed of about 5,000 men, though I’ve seen various numbers. Each legion carried an eagle standard.

The Romans first invaded the British Isles (though the land was not called that then) in 55 B.C. under Julius Caesar. The Roman occupation ended around 408 – 409 A.D. Various legions served in Britain, including the Legion IX Hispania. Each legion got its name through various ways. The Ninth was probably stationed in Spain during the time of Augustus.
The Ninth Legion disappeared from surviving Roman records around 120 A.D. So, what happened to it?

The various groups that lived in the British Isles did not take kindly to Roman occupation, and though there was a certain amount of integration and intermarriage, revolts did occur. You may have heard the story of Boudica of the Iceni. (A story for another time and place, and more legends. Read ‘The Eagle and the Raven’ by Canadian author Pauline Gedge.)
In 60 or 61 A.D. there was a battle at a place called Camulodunum, which resulted in the massacre of the Ninth Legion. This was in the southeastern part of England. Supposedly the Legion was not totally wiped out and was again brought up to strength and moved north.

An inscription was found at York dated from 108 A.D. that credits the Ninth Legion with rebuilding the fortress there. This appears to be the last written record of the legion.
In Rosemary Sutcliffe’s version, the Ninth Legion marched north to deal with revolts (Hadrian’s Wall area).

Sutcliffe wrote, “Sometime about the year 117 A.D. the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eburacum where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes and was never heard of again.

“During the excavations at Silchester nearly eighteen hundred years later, there was dug up under the green fields which now cover the pavements of Calleva Atrebatum, a wingless Roman eagle, a cast of which can be seen to this day in Reading Museum. Different people have had different ideas as to how it came to be there, but no one knows, just as no one knows what happened to the Ninth Legion after it marched into the northern mists.

“It is from these two mysteries, brought together, that I have made the story of ‘The Eagle of the Ninth’.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

My Favourite Cities - Halifax Nova Scotia

I’ve visited Halifax, Nova Scotia four or five times and it has become one of my favourite places in Canada. Perhaps it’s partly that it’s on the ocean. All three of my favourite cites have water – ocean or river.

All of these cities are fairly small – both Victoria and Halifax in the neighbourhood of 400,000 and Saskatoon around 260,000. All of them have good urban walks and neigbourhoods that are convenient to downtown. They have history, museums and art galleries, older buildings, and great parks.

Point Pleasant Park in Halifax is at the south end of a peninsula, 75 forested hectares with walking paths. There are also various histories ruins. The city rents the land from the British government for 1 shilling a year (about 10 cents) with a 999 year lease.

The Martello Tower, also known as the Prince of Wales Tower, is located in Point Pleasant Park. It was the first and thus differs somewhat from later designs. It was meant to back up the batteries in Point Pleasant Park. It was completed in 1799. Later more of these towers were built in Halifax and other parts of Canada, as well as  in England. There they were intended to defend the coast against an invasion by Napoleon.

The Halifax citadel is located on top of a hill overlooking the harbour, originally built  in 1749 to protect the city. It was rebuilt three times but has never been attacked. One of the most exciting events here, is the firing of the noon cannon, a tradition since 1857.

There are also wonderful places to visit not far from Halifax, including Fisherman’s Wharf at Dartmouth, as well as other sites around Nova Scotia., such as Peggy’s Cove, and many beaches.

Universities, a great Farmers Market, good restaurants, and many wonderful walks are all reasons why I could live in Halifax.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

My Favourite Cities – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

When I was in Victoria in June of this year shopping at the market in the Fernwood neighbourhood, I got into conversation with one of the cashiers. When I told her that I was visiting from Saskatoon, she told me the following joke. “My West Coast friends don’t get it,” she said, “but another friend who is from the prairies does.”

A couple were at the airport waiting to go on a winter holiday, dressed in their t-shirts shorts. The wife looked over at another couple who were dressed in parkas and mukluks. “I wonder where they’re from,” she said to her husband. “Go and ask them.”

“You’re the one who want to know,” he said. “You ask.”

So, she went over and said, “Hello. I was wondering, where are you from?”

“Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,” they said.

The wife smiled and went back to her husband. “So where are they from?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “They don’t speak English.”

I got it, and thought it quite funny, because I’ve had the experience of being on the telephone with someone from the U.S. and when I say my location, they are struck dumb for a moment or two and often stutter.

Anyway, that’s my prelude to talking about another city that love. I’ve lived here continuously for more than 44 years, and for a few years before that while going to university. I have deep roots here, friends, favourite places and activities. In this blog I’m posting photos of a few of those places and activities.

Going by the calendar, the sights begin in January – cold and snow, but magnificent at the same time. They key is not to consider yourself trapped by the weather. There are plenty of events and activities.

After months of cold and snow, however, spring does come as a welcome relief for people and other creatures.

There are many wonderful places to walk and spent time.

The river and its banks, trails and parks are part of the attraction that Saskatoon holds for me. I also love the creativity of the people, some of which is planned and commissioned ...

and some of which is spontaneous.

There are many unique places to shop,

and meet friends for coffee or a meal.

I enjoy the animal life …

some of which is quite bold.

and some of which is encouraged by creative feeding.

Philosophy can be found not only in discussions with friends, but also along the street  

In fall the spectacular colours and lack of mosquitos provide a welcome prelude to the next season.

Saskatoon is a place to call home, a place to visit, a unique place with a rich history and culture.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

My Favourite Cities – Victoria, British Columbia

What is it that makes a city become a home? Living there for a period of time, of course, and loving things about it. I’ve discovered that more than one city feels like home to me, even if I don’t live there anymore.

I currently live in Saskatoon, but I’ve been travelling to Victoria since the 1970’s. Partly because I lived there for several months in the mid 70’s and because I loved so many things about it, that city is like a second home. This June I returned after not having been there for about ten years. There were changes, of course, but all my favourite things still exist.

Victoria is a city on water and rock with a moderate climate – often flowers are blooming in February. These are pluses. When I lived there, I didn’t enjoy the winter grey skies even if there was no snow (or rarely). Despite the winter cold of Saskatoon, I do like the amount of sun. Both Saskatoon and Victoria have good walks, and one can live in a neighborhood that doesn’t require owning a vehicle.

For me the Inner Harbour is the heart of Victoria, from where I can easily get to many of my favourite places. There you can look at people, boats, performers, and the Empire Hotel. It’s a short walk to the Museum and the Imax Theatre, Beacon Hill Park (big and varied, restful), James Bay (one of my favourite neighbourhoods), Fisherman’s Wharf, and downtown.

Fisherman’s Wharf is worth seeing for the creative houseboats as well as a few eateries. The day I visited this June, they were celebrating World Ocean Day with events for kids – displays, First Nations performance and music, activities, and information.

My favourite neighbourhoods are James Bay, where I once lived, and Fernwood, where my brother and his partner now live. Both neighbourhoods have a certain ‘funkiness’ as one of my friends names it.

We came to James Bay by accident. Had left Saskatchewan with an old truck because we wanted a new start. Drove to Saltspring Island where we had some connections and then I went into Victoria to stay with a new friend and to search for a place to live.  Everything I looked at was either too expensive, horribly dilapidated or too far away (we wanted to be close to the middle of the city. So my friend suggested putting an ad in the paper, saying young couple with child looking for a place to live. I can’t remember what other details I included, but it resulted in a phone call from a man who owned a small apartment building in James Bay. At the time, so-called hippies and counterculture people lived there and it felt very welcoming. There was a community school, which meant that classes and programs were offered after school for all ages and events such as a visit by Santa Claus were hosted. We often walked to the beach to collect treasures, could walk to the local laundromat, cafĂ©, and free store (where people left items for exchange). A part of my heart still lives in James Bay.

Fernwood in the present day has a lot of artists and when I visited this year, I was able to take part in their art walk, seeing all sorts of art as well as wonderful yards. There’s a local theater, The Belfrey (a converted church), restaurants, a local market, and other shops. The neighbourhood is close to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, as well as other attractions.

I also like Oak Bay, with its village street atmosphere – bookstore, restaurants, small shops. There’s the wonderful Willow Beach with a tearoom run by Kiwanis volunteers. Great views into the bay and a lovely walking path.

Whenever I return to Victoria, I must visit Munro’s Books, established in 1963 by Alice Munro’s husband at the time. I love that they keep not just the latest books by an author, but past published books. They have a great selection of many genres and a good sales table. Staff are friendly and helpful.

Murchie’s Tea and Coffee is close to the bookstore. I like to stop there for a snack or a meal – good food and quick service. It may look busy when you arrive, but the line moves speedily and there’s usually a place to sit by the time you get your food. The souvenir shop is great too, and this year I discovered that you can order products online!

I also love to wander the Government House grounds, which are free. The rose garden is a delight for sight and nose! This year, for the first time, I had lunch at the tearoom, which was delicious – salad and quiche, with an Italian soda.

I spent just a week this time and walked a lot – second-hand bookstores, Chinatown (Fan Tan Alley is fun), past Craigdarroch Castle (which I’ve toured in the past), and lots of lovely scenery. I could live there again, if it wasn’t so expensive! I could get to know even more neighbourhoods.

And if you love Victoria, too, try to get hold of the book Hometown: Out and About in Victoria’s Neighbourhoods by Anny Scoones, with wonderful watercolour illustrations by Robert Amos. (Available from Munro’s Books of course.)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book or Movie?

The first movie I ever saw that was based on a book was “Der gestiefelte Kater.” That’s German for “Puss in Boots.” Not sure how old I was when I got the book, but the movie (black and white) was the first I’d ever seen, and the most memorable thing was that just before the end the film broke. Was the movie a good adaptation of the Grimm’s tale? I have no idea.

It’s difficult to find out the name of the first book that was ever adapted as a movie – so many early films are lost to us. But there was “Cinderella” adapted by Georges Melies in 1899. You can  find it on Youtube.

Another black and white movie based on a book that I saw much later was Dickens “Great Expectations.” My impressions from the time are that it was a fairly faithful representation of the book. I can still vividly remember the graveyard scene between Pip and the convict.

I recently watched “The Giver” and though I liked the movie well enough, the book was much more nuanced and detailed, as well as different in several instances. The movie portrayed the mother as very cold, but in the book she wasn’t so one dimensional. I also liked that in the book the ending could be taken for reality or for a dream of dying.

I saw the movie of “The Giver” first and then read the book. The same was true of “A Man Called Ove.” Again, although I liked the film well enough, the book had more details that rounded the characters.

Often, I’ve read a book before seeing a movie. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was one such. I had read and loved the books for many years, returning to them regularly. I saw the attempt in 1978 of a mixed animation film directed by Ralph Baksi that was pretty bad. So when Peter Jackson came along, I went to the first movie with trepidation. But I loved all three, despite that fact that some of my favourite things had to be left out (movies can’t go on forever). I was hugely disappointed and hated almost everything about Jackson’s attempt at “The Hobbit.” The only things I liked were the dwarves singing in Bilbo’s hobbit hole, and the dragon. I did not go to see the other movies in this series.

In the case of Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient,” I like the book and as always, was awed by Ondaatje’s writing. But it wasn’t until after I saw the lush and passionate movie directed by Anthony Minghella that I truly appreciated the book. I went back and reread it. Despite differences between the two media, I think that in this situation (which doesn’t often happen) the two complement each other in the best of all possible ways. You should always both read the book and see the film in this instance.

Another wonderful adaption for me was the “Anne of Green Gables” series with Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth, in 1986. When you get something this good it seems silly and useless to try to repeat with a different cast, etc.

And then there are the adaptions where the book(s) are quite bad and the films or tv series are much better: The Vampire Diaries, The 100, Jurassic Park (the book was terribly written, the film pretty good).

What other book movie adaptions have I liked? The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Remains of the Day, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, The Grapes of Wrath, Little Women (1949 movie with June Allyson, Margaret O’Brian, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Cake Doesn’t Rise, Jello Doesn’t Jell, Story Doesn’t Work

Have you ever attempted to make Jello and it never does jell? It’s been a long time for me. The last time I made Jello (and it actually worked) was with my grandson some years ago because he wanted to try a dessert with gummi fish. It was OK, but reminded me why I don’t make or eat jello anymore. And when the stuff doesn’t come together there’s not much you can do, although I’ve heard you can try reheating, etc. But it’s probably best to throw it out.

Neil Gaiman says, (in the Intro to ‘Fragile Things’) “Writing’s a lot like cooking. Sometimes the cake won’t rise no matter what you do, and every now and again the cake tastes better than you ever could have dreamed it would.”

In this blog, I want to talk about the times when it doesn’t work. I’m thinking particularly of a fantasy that started out as a short story way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I entered it in the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Short Manuscript contest, and though it got no award, the judge mentioned it and said that she thought it would make a good novel. So I began writing more of the story.

I now have reams of that story because when I started I was using a manual typewriter, and later when I started to use a computer, I printed out because I was afraid of something happening to the computer. We didn’t have The Cloud then or even memory sticks. The characters went through name changes. I wrote about their ancestors and the children. I even attempted bringing the fantasy into the present and back out again.

To date, none of this conglomeration has felt like a story that hangs together. But I’ve not thrown it out.

Writing may be a lot like cooking, but if you don’t throw it out, it doesn’t, thankfully turn green or rot or start to smell (except perhaps metaphorically).

Anyway, I’ve kept it and keep thinking maybe some time I’ll use parts of it or I’ll have a revelation about it.

Virginia Woolf wrote once to one of her friends, "here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm.” According to her, once you did find your rhythm, the words and the story came.

I haven’t looked at those pages and pages for a long while. Maybe it’s time. . .