Carrot, Lemon Creme and Chocolate

First, Happy Birthday Grandma J, Grandma B, and Aunt Myra!!!

Second, Yep. Count ‘em… 3 Cakes! For 11 people. My mom wanted things to be equitable, 3 birthday girls means three cakes!! That and she wanted to use her cake plates (of which she has, coincidently, 3…;)).

The morning began with a trip to the grocery store. Our intention was to prepare a simple, yet elegant menu… Chicken and Pork Skewers (with veggies), Salads Galore, Rolls and an array of ‘easy’ appetizers. Over the years, my family has hosted many a gathering and party. And just when we think things are going to be simple, we realize that there is still a lot of work ahead. Lesson # 1- No matter how many parties you throw the amount of work remains the same – chopping, garnishing, errands, re-arranging the fridge dozens of times to make room, setting the table, coordinating pick-ups, etc., etc. Yet, even though it can be a little stressful at times, there is usually a great deal of fun had and the end product seemingly always comes together.

I must admit to being a little tired and less focused than I usual am during the party prep process. I think that my mind is processing just how much I have seen and done… while knowing there is still much to come. I have travelled 1000s of KM and had very full days… that has to have a little bit of a toll on your body, even if you are loving every minute of it! I think the return to the familiar also played a role… my body instantly relaxed and knew it could rest. I think it wanted to take full advantage…;). That, and toobe honest, I wanted to chat more so than I wanted to work. The once a week phone chats left much to be desired on the ‘news’ front. I only had the highlights, not always the full story. And though I am an effective multitasker… talking is one ‘task’ that well, is not easily ‘multi’ed. “Less talking, more chopping” became the mantra of the kitchen…;). We would have more time for that later…

Before we knew it, it was GO time. The guests started to arrive and the visiting began! It was so great to get caught up with everyone and to see them face to face. It had not been all that long since we had been together, but when one is further afield than normal, it always ‘feels’ like a long time. Lots of stories to hear and share… always good to do these sorts of things over a feast! Everyone enjoyed themseleves and the Grandmas/my aunt seemed quite pleased with their gifts and celebrations. Of course, there were leftovers abound – in particular cake – so everyone left with care packages in tow. Lesson # 2 – no matter how many parties you throw, you will always make too much food!

After the festivities, I tagged along with my sister and brother-in-law back to their place. We watched a childhood favourite – Wonder Woman – which is far more risque than we remembered…;)… and played a round of “Scene It”! Most fun, even though, as always Preston won!!! I always like going to my sister and brother-in-law’s house… in a way it feels like that ‘secret club house’ we all had as kids. A place to hang out, chat, etc. on our own.. only now, there are more snacks, comfortable couches, and central air conditioning involved! Good times…:).

Tomorrow, my parents and I are spending the day together… AND, one of my dearest friends, Jordan, will be coming down for a visit! We will be heading to her hometown the next day, just outside of London, for an Art Show and a visit with her parents. Stay tuned for these and many other adventures…;).

Hooray for… Cellphones?!?

On-board the Canadian, I and other passengers are in the home stretch. Though not my last “train trip”, it will be my 6th and final leg aboard Canada’s ‘premiere train experience’ (as the brochures put it). Half of the trip was spent in the now very familiar landscape of the Canadian Shield and the other in the mixed forests and sometimes urban sprawl of the southern arm of the province. I, in my usual fashion, really enjoyed just staring out the window and quietly reading… all the while getting more and more excited about seeing my family and friends. As quickly as history was made (*kidding*) in Sioux Lookout with trains running on time, proud tradition returned – the train was late… 2 1/2 hours. This created for a little bit of d’oh like sentiment as I would need to ask the parentals to come into town a little later than expected. And for others, this sentiment was far more intense as it would mean missed connections, late arrivals to engagements, and in some cases potential loss of accommodations. I again was thankful for my early lessons in train travel… you get there when you get there.

I was also thankful for my cellphone. A statement I thought I would never find myself writing. Now don’t misunderstand me, over the years I have become accustomed and in certain instances dependent on having one… but never have I really found myself thinking, “Gee, I am really glad that I have this piece of technology in my life, it makes things so much easier!”…;). Unlike days of old, I was able to connect with my parents and pinpoint my ETA. And upon arriving in a crowded station – the Canadian is a BIG train – I was able to once again call and track down my mother by having her describe her surroundings. See, technology saved the day. Without it, my parents wouldn’t have known when I was coming and I would have been left for not on the streets of the T-dot…;). Okay, Okay, maybe things just wouldn’t have gone as smoothly. But you can see why I might have been having a little love-in for the technology and how it has definitely impacted how these types of things go down.

After big hugs… my mom and I headed out to find my dad who was circling the block in the car. He hates Toronto. I mean, I am pretty sure he was a silent partner in the production of the documentary “Let’s Hate Toronto”. Ever since I was a child, I have been hearing his anti-toronto rhetoric and witnessed his disdain whenever he needed to venture into its vast borders. I was super glad he made the trip in… it had been months now since I had last seen him. He soon pulled around the corner and with four ways a-flashin’ we scooted into the car. Phew… a trip to Toronto relatively unscathed ;) and I could tell that Dad was glad that we hadn’t spent any great length of time there and were speeding along on the highway heading West towards home.

It was after midnight when we arrived at the homestead. So, it was a quick visit before my parents turned in. I must admit that it felt a little strange to be in the house. I had slept in 27 different beds over the last two months and seen so much… and now I was in a place that was ‘mine’ and really quite familiar. I knew where everything was, I could open the fridge whenever I wanted to, I could make a snack in the kitchen, answer the telephone if it rang, do laundry without having to put correct change into the machine, etc. etc. I expect that this sentiment will be even greater once my adventure comes to a close, but it was there nevertheless. Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy to be ‘home’ and couldn’t be more excited to see my family… just took a little getting used to.

I made a snack, watched a little TV, and then I too hit the hay. I realized that one’s mind is always two steps ahead while ‘on the road’. It is interesting to go to bed without the “I will have to ask where this is” or, “Don’t forget to reserve that”… check list. Tomorrow will be a big day! Grocery shopping, errands, preparing culinary delights, and hosting a birthday party for my wonderful grandmas and aunt. Some extended family will also be coming over…. I am quite excited to see everyone.

Until then…

Big Nickel and Beds of Nails

No, my bed and breakfast did not decide to add medieval torture devices to its antique collection… I just visited Sudbury!

The rains came to Sioux Look Out… we are talking deluge!  I spent the day running in and out of stores, visiting the local museum – it is a two room portable STUFFED to the rafters with relics from people’s basements, old bush camps, and even retired military outposts… fascinating!! – and wound things up with a snack at the Fifth Avenue Bar and Grill (sounds pretty swank, but remember this is NOT New York!).  So, in spite of the rain, I had a great final day in the Northern Tip of Ontario.  I am also pretty sure it was a day of historical significance my friends… the train was on time!

I hopped on-board the Canadian and started my 17 hr journey south… close to half of the Vancouver to Toronto trip is winding through Ontario.  Gives you an even greater appreciation for the sheer size of our nation, and its provincial/territorial parts!  Crystal, my car attendant, was very friendly and I enjoyed talking to her throughout the trip.  The Canadian acted as our guide through the beautiful landscape that is the Land of Lakes and Rocks and (as usual) had some interesting folk gracing its cars on the voyage.  I dined with one couple from the States, originally from the UK, who were very active in operating a heritage train museum!  Stuart was in his element and really enjoyed the 1950s cars.  He had many a tale of the ‘golden age’ of rail travel… great to have the chance to hear them and talk about our own experiences ‘riding the rails’.

That evening, I was thinking that the rails were not so ‘golden’ as I did not sleep well at all.  For some reason, the ‘gentle rocking’ felt more like ‘violent thrashing’.  I got up for breakfast a little angry at the Canadian… but we quickly made up as we passed by a lake with the sun’s reflection dancing across the water… surrounded by trees and its basin carved out from the Canadian Shield.  Some argue the best scenery is found in the Rockies… I’d say the whole ride is pretty darn beautiful!

Sudbury is a city of about 300,000.  Who knew?!?  I had it pegged for about 100,000.  Now they say that includes all of the outlying areas that were engulfed by the city limits during a period of amalgamation… I have been in those outlying areas and let me tell you, there was not 200,000 people living there ;).  Sudbury has emerged as a hub and continues to play its role as gateway to the North.  Once viewed as an eye sore – smoke stacks and mines are what most people associate with the area – it has ‘greened’ up in recent years and is really quite a nice place!

Sudbury and I used to be pretty well acquainted.  My family has camped in the area dozens of times and we used to head to Sudbury to run errands that the general stores/tackle shops couldn’t satisfy and to escape the elements if they proved to be too much.  I mean, how many games of crazy eights and yahtzee could one family play as rain pelted their tent trailer and high winds blew over their dining tent… 127, and then it was time to pile into the car.

Sudbury was a reminder that ‘civilization’ was not all that far way!  One of the highlights for us, besides having lunch at Hungry Bear along the French River (okay maybe just a highlight for me…;)) was Science North!  Science North, as the name implies, is a large Science Centre with hands-on exhibits galore – including a bed of nails, among other really neat things – and fantastic presentations of what makes our wacky world go round.  I only have one beef with Science North.  When I was 6, the exhibit which is supposed to be able to predict how tall you are going to be said that I would be 6’2″.  Well faithful readers, I am 5’9″!!! Just a little off…. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that Science North is as COOL as ever and still has the exhibit which fills small children’s head with delusions of being uber tall.  I was tempted to take them aside and say… “Over 20 years ago, this exhibit said I was going to be tall too… and look at me!”.  I refrained…;).

I also took in the Big Nickel (Canada’s 5 cent piece… the original metal, Nickel (obviously), played a huge role in Sudbury’s development) or Dynamic Earth as it is now known.  You get to travel down into the depths of one of Canada’s largest mine shafts and learn about the composition of the earth, the mining industry, and what life was like down here for the workers.  Quite interesting!

My accommodations were at the Parker House Inn and Roastery. This cute little place just outside of downtown proved to be awesome!  My room was bright and fun… a nice place to put my weary feet up.  There is a roastery/coffee shop attached to the Inn which serves the usual suspects and light meals.  Breakfast, though continental, was hearty and definitely was a good source of fuel for the day.  If you are ever in town and wanting to avoid the commonplace hotel… I highly recommend!

The last few hours of my time in Sudbury were spent wandering downtown and running a few errands – Sudbury has a mega mall 150+ stores… so my few little pit stops were made easy.  I trekked out to the train station to board the Canadian for the last time.  I will be meeting my parents in Toronto and will spend a few days at the homestead with them before heading to the East.  Looking forward to it – The Birthday of the Grandma’s – one turned 85 and the other (the one who lived in Winnipeg) turns 93 – an art show, and a night out with my sister/brother in-law are all on the agenda.  Stay tuned!!

Land of Lakes and Rocks – Sioux Lookout Part II

Turns out that in addition to Lakes and Rocks… Sioux Lookout is also home to conferences.  Hence, I was only able to stay at the Best Western for one night.  I moved to the Sunset Inn and Suites (just down the road) for my second night.  They have indoor waterslides! When I was growing up, this is what defined 5 star accommodations…;).  Though tired and reminiscent of our 1973 Bon Air Camper in terms of décor… it was comfortable and a roof over my head.  A step ahead of where I had been only a little over 12 hours ago.

 After completing the switch…  I set out on my day.  I explored the main drag, read my book on the beach, walked the waterfront trails, and had a bite to eat at a restaurant called Knobby’s… which was next to the marina.  Knobby’s has a spectacular view of Pelican lake and looked like a cottage on the inside… pine everywhere!  Like many restaurants in Northern Ontario (for some reason), it is also home to a gift/craft store and ICE.  Quirky and a nice place to spend an hour…

Later in the afternoon, I connected with Maylynn and Janete.  “We’ll come pick you up and we will have supper”.  Walleye wrapped in bacon, noodles, stir-fried veggies, and a cauliflower salad… very tasty indeed!  I must also tell you that it was wonderful to be enjoying some home cooking… with great company to boot!  We cleaned up and then it was off to explore.

We drove out to Ojibwa Provincial Park.  Maylynn and Janete had recently been camping there.  And interestingly, many of their friends camped their for much of the summer.  The outdoors are truly a way of life… and with just a few weeks of precious ‘summer’, people really take advantage of it.  We walked a little down by the lake (Little Vermillion) and enjoyed some chocolate that Janete had stashed in her purse.  “This is our favourite.  We drive to Dryden to get it!”.  My taste buds could definitely justify the drive!

It was then on to the shores of Abram Lake… From our vantage point we could see the MNR beach and many of the homes/cottages along the lake.  Just beautiful northern scenry… maybe it is because I saw so much of it when I was younger (we camped a lot!)… but it all felt very familiar and comfortable to me.

The sun was starting to set… we drove along some of the back country roads to see some of the “monster homes” of Sioux Lookout.  We made one last pitstop at Frog Rapids, which connects Pelican Lake to Abram- it is a popular fishing venue and Maylynn’s favourite spot to cast her line.  We watched for a few minutes (no big ones!) and then headed back into town.

 I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends.  We vowed to look each other up should we be in each other’s areas again… I sent them a gift basket (yes, there is a gift basket store in Sioux Lookout!) as a token of appreciation for all they had done.  Seemingly inadequate in my mind… but all I could think of.  I hope to one day be able to return the favour to them or another set of travellers who have seemingly lost their bed and breakfast owners…;).

Tomorrow, it is on to Sudbury… Looking forward to being in the land of the Big Nickel!

TrevorTheTraveller in The Case of the Disappearing Bed & Breakfast Owners

Leg # 4… A relatively short trip this time round but the highlight came when we left the prairies behind for the Canadian Shield.  Rivers, Lakes, Forests, Rocks… all seemed to instantaneously spring up from the plains.  Beautiful ride, which was spent speaking with a TV/Film producer, a Special Education Teacher traveling with her family from small town Saskatchewan, and a couple from Germany. 

 The train stopped in Minaki, the site of my mom’s family’s cottage while she was growing up.  From what I have heard, many a fun time and adventure were had there!  Kind of neat to catch a glimpse of the village… and the lake of course!

 Soon there after, and only 2 hours later than expected, I arrived in Sioux Lookout.  I picked up my bags and started to make my way up the hill towards my Bed and Breakfast.  Or so I thought… more on that in a second.

 Sioux Lookout is a town of 5,000 or so situated in the Northwest of Ontario.  Surrounded by Lakes… Pelican, Abram, and Little Vermillion, and Forests the area is filled with scenery that many would envision when they think of Northern Ontario.  Including floatplane docks, dozens of fishing boats/fisher-people lining the shores, and spectacular sunsets.  There is a reason they call this region – Sunset Country!

 Although small, Sioux Lookout is a hub of services for the area.  It has a hospital, association for Community Living, Multicultural Youth Centre, a recreation complex, arena, and a long term care facility.  There are also ambulatory clinics, two taxi companies, and several stores and restaurants.  And thankfully for me, a number of hotels…

 You see, the plan was to stay in the Bed and Breakfast in town.  However, when I arrived at the door, there didn’t seem to be anyone home.  I knocked… no answer.  I rang every door bell I could see.  Still, no answer.  Concerned that perhaps I had the wrong address, I pulled out my cell phone. Dead.  My laptop, with little battery power of its own, would also therefore be useless.  Thankfully, my Northern survival skills kicked in…;).  I remembered that people plug in their cars here during the winter.  SO… I found a parking lot near the adult learning centre (if anyone was going to have wireless) and ‘plugged in’.  I looked like an international spy!  Sure enough, I was up and running… my investigation showed that I had the right place.  I punched some numbers into the memory of my cellphone and like a superhero not wanting to rouse to much suspicion about their secret identity (in my case… ‘tourist’), I packed up my equipment and sauntered on.

 I decided that I would call one of those cabs I had seen and make my way to the Best Western, which was advertised on one of the benches.  Just as I was about to call, two women in a car pulled up beside me.  “Are you trying to stay at the Bed and Breakfast?”  So much for going incognito…;). A little taken a back… I answered yes.  “I think they are away.  But we can call if you want.  Hop in?”.

Hop in where, I thought.  Their car?  “Ummm, no that’s okay”, I replied while thinking…You are STRANGERS.  Elmer the Safety Elephant would be very disappointed in me if I got in your car. 

 “Are you lost?  We just saw you and thought that if you were trying to stay at the Bed and Breakfast that you might need help?”.  At this point, the black flies were eating me alive, I was tired, and I didn’t get the sense that these women were axe murderers.  After a few brief exchanges, swatting bugs like a mad man, and contemplation of the fact that there were now enough witnesses and I was in possession of a well formulated escape plan….;)… I decided to stick it to Elmer (this time anyway…) and ‘hop in’.

 Janete and Maylynn both had recently immigrated to Sioux Lookout from the Philippines.  Both commented on how much they “love it here” and have really taken to the outdoors.  In fact, they were just on their way back from a fishing expedition when they spotted me.  They were excited to hear that I had seen a great deal of Canada and I was glad to answer their questions.   Their kindness, hospitality, and good nature will never be forgotten. 

 We arrived at their apartment and Janete promptly offered me a wide array of beverages and snacks.  “Don’t be shy…” she said.  I was indeed hungry/thirsty, so was quite glad for a slab of banana cake and a bottle of water.  They then made a flurry of phone calls to confirm what we had thought… the bed and breakfast owners were indeed on vacation.  “We will drive you to a hotel.  The Best Western is the best”, Maylynn said after hanging up the phone.  “But, we will have supper first”. 

 A feast of fried Walleye – Maylynn goes fishing EVERY night, so there was plenty in stock -, rice, and veggies.  We chatted about how they came to Sioux Lookout… Janete had come as a Nanny and now works in residential care/services.  Maylynn was sponsored by her workplace to work in health care.  Both had made many friends and commented on the joys of small towns. 

 After supper, we did a quick driving tour of the town… “Now you will know where to go!”, said Janete.  On the way, they pointed the government housing that serves as accommodations for members of the First Nations community living in town.  “Many of them came into town when their drinking water went bad”, she explained.  The reserves here are mostly remote and economically desolate.  With high unemployment rates and many in ill health, the government has arranged for housing closer to the ‘urban’ centres to allow for increased access to services. 

 My privilege has been something that I have always tried to remain cognizant of… naturally, on this adventure, my appreciation for what I have, opportunities presented to me, and support systems has increased 20 fold (even though it was pretty high to begin with).  As we continue our drive, my mind commits to better understanding how in a nation with a daunting percentage of the world’s fresh water supply, that we have people living with little or no access to potable water.  That, and ensuring that I continue to bare witness to and contribute where I can to sustainable solutions for the many living in abject poverty right under our noses….

 We pull up to the Best Western and after checking in, I say good night to Maylynn and Janete.  We made plans to meet after they finish work tomorrow… “We will show you around!”. Northern Hospitality at its finest!!

The Golden Boy and a Cemetery Full of Bachelorettes – Winnipeg Highlights

So, you are probably wandering. with the list of ‘les doit voirs’ from Jean Yves, if I ever made it beyond the grounds of the Legislative Assembly.  Good news!  I also made it inside.  Afterall, he wouldn’t want me to miss seeing the ‘Golden Boy’, who sits atop the dome of the building.  Inspired by Hermes, of Greek mythology fame, the Golden Boy represents the future of Manitoba.  Running through the fields of wheat to embrace the West and social progress.  Like Hermes, he carries the torch and a message of hope… a message which cannot be ignored.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Golden Boy is like 30 ft tall and has  a weight measured in tons to boot! ;).

The Legislative Assembly is an architectural marvel.  Like Saskatchewan, it was built in anticipation of a provincial population of nearly 15 million.  Manitoba got a little closer… but as we know, Canada as a whole is only standing at 33 million.  So, a little ways to go for us all yet in terms of our early provincial population targets, eh?

 Columns of marble, grand stair cases, elaborate carvings… no expense was spared!  In fact, the building’s original project manager, a Mr. Kelly, was notorious for going over budget.  It was no wonder, when they discovered that his house (which was just down the street) was built almost entirely with materials he had stolen from the project.  Even the massive columns – apparently, it took these going missing to tip off the authorities of the already multi-hundreds of thousands stolen from the work site…;) – graced his front porch (and still stand today at the front of the Kelly apartments).  He was forced to flea the city and live in the U.S.  Hmm, just desserts?

 On my tour, there were visitors from all over the world – England, Pakistan, Japan… interestingly, Manitobans formed the largest contingent of my 20+ person or so tour.  The group from Pakistan asked if there are any fist fights or wrestling matches in the Legislative Assembly.  At first, the tour guide thought that the man asking the question was joking?  Turns out, that fights are common place when it comes to Pakistani governance.  The tour guide assured him that there was no fighting… the occasional name calling and perhaps thumping of desks with hands… but no fighting.  We all seemed a little disappointed…J.

 Later that afternoon, I took the bus (oh, did I mention that it is FREE downtown between the hours of 11:00 and 3:30… it is called the Spirit Bus!  And, tourists are not the only ones who ride… cool idea when you think about it!) to the Manitoba Museum which also houses the Planetarium and Science Centre.  Quite the place!!  There was an interactive CSI type exhibit (you could run prints, compare DNA samples, read evidence briefs) where you had to solve the mystery of who murdered the curator of Ancient Collections.  Entertaining and well, forensics are hot right now!  Also a part of the collection – your typical mish mash of Natural History, First Nations exhibits, History of the Fur Trade and the partial evolution of Manitoba from agricultural to urban existence.  There is also a replica of the ‘Nonsuch,’ the ship that took the first cargo of furs to England in 1668, resulting in the founding of the Hudson Bay Company.

My favourite exhibit and one of personal connection featured Winnipmg in the 1920s.  There was a recreation of the main drags, and how they would have looked, accompanied by displays on the immigrants making their way to Canada at the time.  Included in these were the Scots.  My grandmother and her family were among these immigrants.  They arrived in 1920, my grandma was 6.  It was surreal to be surrounded by images that she herself has lived and experienced.  It was quite moving to think about really… Here I am, with a dream to see and experience Canada – and I found a piece of shared history…  a small part of where my Canadian identity begins. . 

 Her mother, after losing her husband in the First World War, made the decision to move with her two children to Winnipeg.  Here, she would operate a rooming house and take in the occasional sewing.  There was an exhibit on how this was common practice… and that rooming houses of the 20s, though yielded only a modest existence for the family that ran them, provided many opportunities for meeting some of not only Canada’s most affluent, but interesting of characters.  Grandma has shared some stories of those who stayed with them… quite entertaining tales indeed!  Her mother must also have been a woman of great personal strength to take on this venture while raising two small children.

 While meandering through the exhibit, I couldn’t help but wonder about other things.  Like whether the Chocolate Shop where my grandmother (now 92… soon to be 93) and grandfather (whom I never did have the pleasure of knowing) went on their first date still stands?  Or if my grandmother and the theatre group she was a part of performed on the well worn stages that grace the cultural district of today…  I may never know for sure, but it was still fun to wonder.  And it did make it extra special to be in this place… I made a mental note to be sure to tell her of my time here when I am home for a few days in July.

 My visit to the Manitoba Museum concluded with the Planetarium show on the “Western Sky”.  I for one really ENJOY a good Planetarium show.  Yep, that confirms it, I’m a geek and proud of it.  But really, looking up the night skies has fascinated us as humans for centuries… it can’t hurt to become a little more acquainted with what we have been staring at all these years…;).

 One evening, I decided to take the All About Ghosts tour which focuses on the history and haunted happenings within Winnipeg.  The tour was quite well done and definitely worth the price of admission.  Especially, considering the amount of ground we covered both walking and on the ‘ghoster coaster’… otherwise known as a mini tour bus.

 Not only did I learn more about the area’s history and ghoulish past… but my tour also had one other point of interest.  A bachelorette party had made this one of their stops on their evening of revelry!  A woman dawning a necklace with charms shaped like various parts of the male anatomy and handcuffed to a blow-up doll was my first clue that something other than tourists may be afoot.  My second was the progressively more intoxicated and giggly gaggle of young women clutching to each other as they walked through the cemetery that was a part of the tour.  I found it all quite entertaining and they were genuinely interested in the tour…  apparently the bride-to-be is quite a fan of everything involving the supernatural.  I enjoyed talking/joking and making friends with the whole lot!   

 Ah yes, good fun in Winnipeg!  Tomorrow, I will head off to Sioux Look Out for a little ‘Northern Exposure’.  A leisurely morning and a relatively short train ride (6 or so hours) await me tomorrow… so will close for now.  The weather here has been quite warm and humid… looking forward to a little relief lakeside in Northern Ontario.  Until then!!

The Student and His Teacher… Winnipeg!

Winnipeg is a fascinating place.  Here both water (3 Rivers – Red, Assiniboine, Winnipeg) and cultures collide –  and the results have woven a tapestry both naturally and historically that is unlike any other in our Country.

 With humble beginnings and a ‘natural’ choice for a trading post (and later for agriculture), Winnipeg would emerge as the ‘middle ground’ and blossomed into a larger centre in the heart of the nation.  Winnipeg is the mid-way point of the transcontinental railway – VIA rail to this day changes its crew in downtown’s Union Station. Air Canada continues to have one of its main operations bases here – there is even an office  tower downtown!  The largest francophone community and Metis Nation this side of the great lakes lives in and around Winnipeg.  Scottish and Ukranian communities have some of their deepest roots in the area… and more recently Winnipeg is now plays host to a myriad of cultures from around the globe.  Hopefully, you see what I mean…

 Often overlooked as an arts and culture hub, Winnipeg has numerous festivals, theatres, and events that suggest otherwise.  Heck, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is based here!  I was disappointed to learn that they are on hiatus during the summer months…

  At the Gite de la Cathedrale, I was enjoying an omelette with smoked ham, cheese, and the freshest of vegetables.  More than 80% of the time, Jacqueline and I would speak French.  My French is quite passable, but must admit that it has been put on a mental shelf as of late… that and in my previous job, I had a comfort zone of vocabulary and rarely had to discuss anything beyond our office’s scope.  Certainly not the intricacies of a 3 ½ month adventure across Canada…;).  

 Jean Yves on the other hand was having none of it… he could tell the vocabulary was once there and thus he challenged me to ‘dust’ off my language skills and discuss everything from my trip to philosophy to issues related to current affairs. 

 Jean Yves is a very intelligent man… he is a retired French teacher and guidance counsellor… he is extremely well read… I didn’t want to ‘sound dumb’.  I could have sat silent, pretended not to understand, screamed in frustration, or just spoken within a safety zone… the equivalent to “I think it is bad.” Or “it was nice.”.  And a few months ago, I may have done just that.  Played it safe. 

Instead, I chose making mistakes, sometimes mangling words, and reaching for vocabulary at the outer rim of my memory ….  If I stumbled, Jean Yves would gently correct me  - not the rolling of eyes, groans of frustration, etc. I had envisioned in my head -, if I couldn’t think of a word, he would ask me questions to describe what I meant and would provide a number of possibilities that would ‘fit’.  It was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. 

Each day, Jean Yves would ask what I wanted to see.  I would tell him of my plans and he would ‘insert’ things that I should stop to look at along the way.  For example, when I said that I was going to take a tour of the legislature… he said, be sure to look at both the statue of  Louis Riel here in St. Boniface and on the assembly grounds..  “On va les discuters demain” – We will discuss them tomorrow.  An assignment I happily accepted.

The original statue was built in 1970, in honour of the province’s centenary, on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly.  The artist wanted to capture the anguish and tortured being that would have plagued Riel and been what drove him to lead the Red River Rebellion.  The statue was allowed to stay, for five years anyway, when a collective, including powerful leaders within the Metis Nation, successfully petitioned to have the statue replaced with one that supposedly pays greater tribute to his work as a statesmen.  Afterall, he is credited with successfully negotiating Manitoba’s Secession from the NWT and becoming its own stand alone province within the new Canadian dominion.  But what to do with this other highly valuable statue?  Well, the College at St. Boniface lobbied to have the statue moved to its present home on their grounds.  Quite an interesting contrast in both historical interpretations and artistic styles.  Not to mention, a source of multiple topics for debate over breakfast with Jean Yves!

We would discuss not only the plight of Riel… but the beauty and significance of the sculptures in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg’s socioeconomic struggles, diversity within the Francophone community, and of course, the Canadian identity.

 
At the end of my stay, Jean Yves gave me a book.  He is the author and the inscription is to his compatriot in exploring our grand country… Jean  Yves writes in fabled verse… “there is much more to learn from a fable than just a fairy tale”.  The second half of the inscription, I realized later, wishes me many ‘fabled adventures’ on my journey. Merci bien mon ami… you have given me more than you realize.