Archive for the 'Canada' Category

04
Oct
13

Howe Sound Sea to Sky and Vancouver slideshow

After a solid week of rain, the clearing skies reveal the season’s first snowfalls on the surrounding peaks.

It’s easy to forget all that wet when what comes after looks like this:

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I must have driven that highway more than a thousand times over the years, seldom stopping to take in the scenery.  Took it for granted it would always be there.  But it changes all the time with the light and season, and in what’s amounting to a pre-retirement trial run, these days I’m not in much of a hurry.  So I did two things nobody else seems to do on that highway: drove the speed limit, and turned off to look around at every viewpoint.

A bit of a dangerous move nonetheless.  Standing on the new dock at Porteau I had this stab of regret at having left all this beauty behind one day so long ago.

One photo I could not get because there was no place to pull over I’ll just have to describe.  Locals will know what I’m talking about.

Driving south of Windy Point just after the new cut before you go over Deeks Creek you could see a long bank of cloud to the south hovering over the ridge above Horseshoe Bay.

Although the entire east side of the Sound was in still in dark shadow, that cloud bank was acting like a giant light disperser, diffusing the bright sunlight from behind the ridge to bathe that part beneath it on the eastern side in clear, white light.  Trees and ridges popped into view out of the shadow, the shoreline a strange orange glow.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my camera would have captured it.

01
Oct
13

I kissed a cod and I liked it

First off, let me just say that I am not a fisherman.  Stick a fishing rod in my hand, plunk me on the dock or in a boat, and the fish just know it’s time to head for the farthest shoreline.  So this isn’t about fishing, lures, or where the best spots are.

Newfoundland dead capelins beach But in three months of traversing Canada from Cape Spear and Bonavista to Courtenay on Vancouver Island – with a little hop between Toronto and Edmonton to skip the uninteresting parts –  we’ve seen a lot of fish.

Our piscatorial perambulations started at Twillingate, Newfoundland.   On an early-evening outing to a cliffside lighthouse we ran into a couple from New Hampshire who casually asked us if we’d seen all the millions of capelins on the shoreline a mile or so back.  Nope.  Never heard of capelins before, actually, but we were intrigued enough to tear ourselves away from the lighthouse and dramatic coastal views to go have a look.

We parked beside a beach and made our way the short distance through the grass to the Newfoundland capelin eggsbeach.  Right away we were struck by the strange, spongy feel to the sand, but thought nothing of it as we walked along the shoreline to some people with buckets and nets gathered by some rocky outcroppings at the northern end.   We passed by a few dead fish the size of large sardines or small herring scattered here and there – nothing approaching millions – but by the time we reached the end the fish were piled up six inches deep in places, and with every wave more were being thrown ashore.

These were capelins, which do indeed arrive by their millions in Newfoundland every June to spawn.  The females leave their eggs in the sand and the males come by to fertilise them.  Then they all die.  Keeps the divorce rate low, I guess.  Anyway, that spongy feel underfoot all along the beach were, in fact, the eggs.  They’re pin-head tiny, but there are billions of them, so they pile up thick on the shore.

Kissing that cod.

Our next fishy encounter was a few days later in Trout River, a former outport town on the western shore of Newfoundland just west of the Gros Morne National Park boundary.

Newfoundland Trout River north

Trout River wasn’t the prettiest town we visited, but in true Newfoundland fashion the people were very friendly and the more you hung around, the more you learned from them .  We talked to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada fellow staying in the cabin next to us about his life and work, how he goes out on the fishing boats monitoring catches and making sure they’re keeping within pre-set guidelines.  He suggested we drop by the local museum for their traditional codfish salt preserving tour, so we headed over there one rainy day and got the full face of it.

In a tour halfway up and down the shoreline boardwalk our guide described how Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River gutting fishNewfoundland life was back in the old days before TV and roads and a way out, much of it dedicated to the harvesting and preservation of fish.  Salt was what they used to preserve it back in the day before refrigeration, so after letting us try our hands at splitting – what we call gutting – the cod – she let us carefully scoop a half-bucket of it over the filets we’d managed to carve out.

Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River kissing cod

Then it was time to kiss the cod.  This ritual is only one of about three – some say there are up to eight – hoops you have to jump through – be you a tourist or recent immigrant – if you’re ever going to be a Newfoundlander.  Others involve drinking Newfie Screech, parroting back dialectical utterances to a Newfoundlander after having downed said Screech, and other stuff we won’t get into.

Up she held a fresh cod, out puckered our lips as we took turns smooching the dead-eyed creature.  I can’t say it was the most enjoyable kiss I’ve ever had, but to reveal how bad back in the day some of my dates were, it wasn’t the worst.

Giving it away.

After Trout River we had plans to head north to l’Anse-aux-Meadows to the world-famous Viking archaeological site, but didn’t want to put ourselves through yet more driving, so we headed back west and pulled into Elliston, a village a few minutes down the coast from Bonavista known for a rather large colony of puffins.Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston puffin

The puffins were cute and fun to watch as they waddled about on the grassy rocks and dive-bombed for fish, but what I’ll always remember about that place were the cod.

Newfoundland used to be the world capital of cod fishery, but over-fishing and gross mis-management led to a collapse of stocks and a complete closure more than 20 years ago.  Today the stocks are still low, but there are enough out there to allow your average joe and jane fisherperson an inland cod fishery two or three weeks at a time twice a year depending on location.  One boy in another town said, “we were supposed to catch 15, but only got nine,” when asked how the day went, humourously confusing their daily limit with obligation.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston splitting codEarly one morning I got up to look at the puffins, then kept on walking down the path to a nearby bay just to watch the waves roll in and maybe spy one of the many whales plying the Atlantic coastline.  I saw three men in a small boat heading for shore, and by the time I reached their tiny cove they were already onshore splitting their catch.

I headed down there with my camera and was immediately assaulted with the stench of old fish obviously discarded over days past.   Some were crawling with maggots.  Stepping over and around the carcasses I went up to the men and asked for a closer look at their catch.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston trio splitting cod

“Ya just missed tha biggest one,” said an elderly gent who must have been in his late seventies.  I would have liked to have seen the size of it, because the ones still in their buckets waiting to be split and thrown in coolers still looked pretty sizable.

“My wife and I were in Bonavista yesterday looking for some cod to buy on the docks,” I told them.  “My wife can’t understand why there’s no place to just pick one up from a boat.”

“Can’t sell’em,” the youngest one said, “but you want some cod?”

He pulled a couple of filets out of the cooler and threw them in an empty bucket.

“Here ya go,” he said.  “Ever had cod tongue?  How ’bout britches?

We’d heard about cod tongue, a tender, almost jelly-like part from the underside of the head, and britches turned out to be the roe, but we’d yet to try either.

They threw in a few of those for good measure and after a few more minutes’ gab sent me on my way.  Though it was barely past 10 they were finished for the day, and getting ready to pull the boat above the high-tide line for the night.

Mashed-up fish on Mashiter Creek

A month later clear across the country – it would take you 96 hours to cover the 7,402 km from Bonavista, Newfoundland to Squamish, BC according to my GPS thingy – we drove over a tonne of pink salmon without even knowing it.

Canada British Columbia Squamish Garibaldi Elfen Lakes trailThey were thrashing like crazy under a bridge we’d driven across one morning to reach the Elfin Lakes trailhead 14km up a winding road through the forest, but we had no idea they were there until many hours later on the way back down when we met a man from France in a hiking shelter.

Well, we didn’t know he was from France until he oPENNed his mouse and started struggling to talk like ziss…

So we got to chatting in our sadly little-used French and he said he was amazed at how so many fish were crowded into so small a creek, you could have walked across on their backs, and it was just down the hill a few kms away.

“Is that bridge just after a golf course on your right and a bunch of industrial buildings on your left?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Mashiter Creek,” I said.  “That has to be it,” realising I was about to have another experience in this town that I’d heard about all my life growing up but never bothered to have: see the fish spawning.

Once there we got out and stood on the bridge at the spectacle below us.

“We’ve got to go get the red-haired teen and show her this before the light’s gone,” I said.

So we headed back to our place and I hauled her back to show her the fish.  We didn’t just stand on the bridge and take a couple of snapshots, though.  We headed through the bush on the east side of the bridge to the water’s edge, marvelling at the sight of it all.  And up close, the stench.

Feeling the need to go see the fish as they turned off the Mamquam River up the Mashiter British Columbia pink salmon maggots roeonly 30 or so metres downstream, we walked through the sand and scrub to the confluence.  The salmon were thrashing like mad to fight the flow of both rivers, one after the other, a seemingly endless supply of them.  Along the way I stepped on a dead fish and got a footload of stench and maggoty goodness, but that only added to the fascination.

I suddenly realised that all this dead meat lying around might be a good place to see eagles and bears feeding –  the former majestic, the latter potentially dangerous – but surprisingly, we didn’t see either.

Nevertheless, we didn’t linger, even if the smell in our nostrils did.

24
Aug
13

Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.

18
Mar
13

I’m staying Canadian: an open letter to the mayor of Hamburg, Germany

calvin-hamburg-hamburgerDear Mr. Scholz,

Thank you very much for your letter in which you invited me to become a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany.  The recent introduction of standardised electronic EU permanent residence cards, one of which I had the pleasure of picking up recently (see below) has no doubt made it simpler for you to streamline your database and target the Ausländer of Hamburg in your drive to promote the benefits of citizenship in this great land.

I have given the matter a great deal of consideration, but have decided for a number of reasons that the chances of my becoming a German citizen are – at this time and most likely even if the temperature of Hell hits zero – zero.

Responding to only some of the many advantages you list:

All the rights I currently enjoy including the right to pay taxes will continue as before.

Mr. Scholz, I don’t mind paying taxes.  I’m Canadian, after all, where wallets are sold with special pouches that flip open automatically for quicker tax payment at every turn of the road.  But if you’re trying to sell me citizenship on this basis, you should re-phrase it somehow.  How about: You will continue to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling you get knowing your contributions to the great European Social Project and other black holes including the Elbe Philharmonic Centre, the new Berlin Airport and the bailout of Greece, will go on as before.

The German passport will allow me to enjoy visa-free travel to many countries.

Mr. Scholz, allow me to condense in a few lines how much of a pain in the kiester it was the last time my family crossed the Canada-US border by land on the way to Seattle.  I was flashing a Canadian passport, so no trouble there.  But because my wife was travelling on a German passport, we were singled out for special treatment and made to park our car off to the left in a huge lot and leave the keys on the dashboard.  I’m sure they had a good sniff though our undies as we shuffled off to a humungous building nearby to join the waiting queue of people in a similar situation.

Two hours and I forget how many US dollars in fees later, we were on our way again, but not before my wife and daughter nearly burst their bladders as they tried to find a toilet for those waiting their turn.  And to top it off – this is completely our fault – my wife forgot to get her passport stamped on the way out of the country, so there’s no telling what bureaucratic bullshit awaits our return to the US on holiday sometime this year.  An overnight stay in their specially designed hotel rooms, perhaps?

Ahah!  I now recall where the German passport has it all over the Canadian: when we were travelling to Turkey, the price of a visa for Canadian passport-holders was the highest in the world.  It’s more than double what anyone else pays.  That’s because Canada soaks the Turks for an equal amount for visas to Canada.  Fair is fair.  A German passport holder pays diddly-squat.

I won’t have to deal with the Foreign Residents’ Bureau anymore.

Because it is so very enticing, this point should be way up top.  But considering it is only once every five years that I have to get up in the middle of the night to stand around in front of a locked gate for a couple of hours to be handed at 6am a chit that allows me a couple hours later at 8am to get one of only 60 waiting-room numbers issued on any given day for the chance to hand over my new paperwork to one of your minions, well… I guess I can deal with it.  Besides, I love the smell of mothballs in the morning.  Smells like…

Mr. Scholz, I am unfortunately unable to continue this open letter because my upper limit of 700 words per blog post is fast approaching.  In a world where few read anything on the Internet beyond block letters superimposed over a cat pic photo, you have to keep it short and sweet.

Yours sincerely,

Ian OHamburg

PS. Damn the word count, when will Germans ever learn to spell my fz*cking name right?  I know nearly every automated computer system in the country explodes at the insertion of a capital letter in the midst of a name with no room for a space, but if you’re going to be communicating with Ausländer – some from countries with languages so bizarre the word for ball contains a glottal stop, four Ms and a silent Q – you really should try to update a bit.

21
Jun
12

The Germans don’t beef about draining my blood

I used to donate blood when I lived in Canada, but am no longer allowed to, even if I paid them.  Because I lived for more than three months in France in the early 1980s, I’m no longer eligible to give blood in Canada.

Eet ees ze vache folle, you see.  Mad Cow disease.  The Canadians fear I’m a carrier because France at the time I lived there was importing possibly infected beef from Thatcher’s Britain, a mad cow dominion if there ever was one.

Roast beef?  Hah! I could tell them that as a struggling student I lived exclusively on baguette and brie washed down with cheap wine, but it wouldn’t do any good.

In fact, if you applied Canada’s incredibly strict rules for donating blood to Germany, the entire system in this country would collapse.  That’s because Canada now says that if you’ve lived for more than five years at a time in Europe at any time since 1980, they won’t allow you to donate, either.

Canada is paranoid, I suppose, because there really is no way of knowing whether my blood is tainted or not, or, if I truly am a carrier, when it will flare up.  There’s this disease called Kuru that still pops up in former cannibals from New Guinea about once or twice a year, even though it was more than 50 years ago the last time they tucked into some filet humain.  Kuru is what they call a prion disease, and is like mad cow in that the cattle got it after being fed the ground-up – and infected – bits of their forefathers .  That was a bad idea, because it spread to humans and has killed more than 170 people so far.

But the Germans see beyond all that, and have no qualms about sticking needles into my left Canuck arm to drain a bit of fluid.

Every eight weeks I go to a clinic about 20 minutes away, down a litre of fruit juice while filling out a form that says I am still in a monogamous relationship with a human being I trust, have not suddenly decided to swap needles with strangers, and am not at the moment on day four of a three-day bender.

Then I go have some more juice while waiting my turn at the draining beds.   It takes only a few minutes of semi-horizontal relaxation with the friendly nurses, after which they give me a meal voucher I trade for two long, crunchy European wieners and a mound of potato salad washed down with another litre of fruit juice.  Gotta make sure I don’t collapse on the way home, I guess.

For all that they give me €23 to cover my bus fare, time and trouble.  But they also give me a bit more.  Even though your contribution is anonymous, indirect and just a drop in the bucket, it’s a good feeling to know it’s going to help someone get through their stay in hospital.

And you might call it the karmic installment savings plan, but some day I might be hauled in on a stretcher and need to make a withdrawal myself.

19
Jun
12

Such an awesome lunch we had at the Squamish White Spot

Seriously awesome.

A friendly staff member showed us to our table and as we settled down to look at the menu, our early twenty-something waiter came by.

“Hi, can I get you anything to drink to start?”

“We’ll all have coffee,” my brother Bruce said, “and my younger brother here will have some water.  He’ll have his coffee after, because he told us the other day that having coffee before a meal other than breakfasts is SO American.”

“Awesome,” said our waiter.  “I’ll be right back.”

By the time their coffee and my water came, we were ready to order.

“So, can I take your order now?

“Sure,” said Bruce. “I’ll have the Fat-free Triple-O Leanburger with lettuce and tomato, no mayo, please.”

“Awesome.  And for you, Sir?”

“I’ll have the baked potato,” I said.

“Awesome.”

And so it went.  For every statement resulting in the slightest need for a response, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Awesome.”

By the time he was so awesomely fetching our bill I started to imagine what tired, overused, meaningless bit of oral fluff he would be coming out with had we been suddenly slung back to the late sixties, when the land upon which the clean, bright White Spot stood - and in which we were now able to enjoy such an awesome lunch - would still for another 20 years be nothing more than a poorly drained swamp.

“Hi, can I take your order?”

“I’ll have the Triple-O Fatburger with extra cheese, bacon and mayonnaise and a side order fries with gravy, please.”

“Groovy, man!  And for you, ma’am?”

The thing is, I’d always thought Awesome was already passé, flung onto the heap along with the rest of the Neats, the Keens, the Cools, the Far-out-solid-right-on Hippie-dippie Weatherman stuff that so dates the user, even the worst offender avoids the aforementioned and please-just-let-it-stay-dead forever Groovy.

Apparently not.  You have to plunge right back into your home country to find out what people are talking about and how they’re saying it, so that’s what I did.  I vowed from then on to keep my ears open and listen to every waiter, bank teller, kiosk vendor, fast-food order-taker and clerk, taking note of every Awesome I heard in the short two weeks I’d be there.  I thought it might be fun to do a final tally, plotting the utterances onto an Awesomes per Hour chart.

But it was like going on a car ride as a kid back in the day before backseat Blu-Ray players, Playstations and Smartphones, when passing the time meant counting the cars coming the other direction.  After a few hundred or so, you just got tired of it.

07
Jun
12

The Queen was right about my home town

I couldn’t agree more:




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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