Life in Canada


4
May 15

How To Stay Warm in Canada

Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg

Not even joking. This is everything I wore in minus 35 Winnipeg

I’m a firm believer in the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Coming from England, I had no idea at all when I first came to Canada what truly cold weather felt like. I vividly remember it, I was staying at the Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto in late December. I’d taken a cab to the hotel from the airport, so hasn’t a clue what it was really like. I left my room and pulled on a coat, gloves and scarf. I got as far as the other side of the pavement before I scuttled back inside to, well, to put on pretty much absolutely everything else I owned.

Icy Canadian sub-zero temperatures cut like a knife. It starts like a vicious whipcrack shock of cold which smarts and aches, and then it builds, first burning and then numbing your bones and body. Oh man. It hurts. And that’s not even getting into the horror of your eye lashes freezing, the weird and deeply unpleasant sensation of your nose hairs freezing solid –and then the raw burn that just breathing sub-zero air brings to your nose and throat.

For once, I got smart fast. After all, I realised that people live quite happily in sub-zero Canada: so how do they do it?  The answer? The right kit. I managed to camp in minus 46 degrees with the right clothes this year without running shrieking into the snow, begging for it to end. I’ve come a long way from that gal just four years ago who thought you could put a cardigan on and you’d be fine. Now I have a stash of winter gear and that’s what I want to recommend right now, so if you’re planning a trip next winter you can score a deal in the sales. Continue reading →


7
Apr 15

Aboriginal Adventures Part 5: Storytelling with Yolande in the Wendake Longhouse

prn1I looked up over my breakfast and pondered the stuffed lynx staring glassy-eyed into the distance as I spooned up my yoghurt. I thoughtfully licked my spoon and turned my head a little and spotted a stuffed owl. The clink of china and babble of slow morning conversation mixed with a CD of rhythmic chants and tribal songs of the Huron Wendat people. Welcome to breakfast time at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations. Just 15 minutes drive from Quebec City, the Wendake reserve houses a museum and longhouse which has bought the culture of the Huron Wendat nation into an accessible tourist destination with a first class hotel and restaurant. Continue reading →


30
Mar 15

Aboriginal Adventures Part 4: Ice Fishing with the Atikamekw

IF2I guess I’d imagined that ice fishing would be like one of the cartoons that I’d seen when I was a kid. I had some Hanna-Barbera eskimo in my mind, a guy in a parka sawing a hole through the ice, baiting his hook and lowering the line. But this, if you’ll excuse the pun, was a different kettle of fish altogether.

The Atikamekw way of ice fishing means that you don’t drill one hole, you drill eight. “If you have just one hole you’ll only have enough for yourself,” explained Daveen, my Atikamekw  guide. “We use nets so we have enough for us all.” Once you’ve made your eight holes you thread a line through them and pull a net along it under the water. The plan is that you come back the next day to collect enough fish for everyone. I could see the logic but we’d been at it for almost three hours now and the sun was sinking like a hot buttered penny into the horizon, robbing us of light. Continue reading →


10
Mar 15

Aboriginal Adventures Part 3: The Story of Saint Kateri

ml8

I wasn’t expecting to see her when I walked into the tiny church, but there she was, in pride of place on the wall, just above photos of the new pope and the old one.

Who is that? I asked my guide.

It’s Saint Kateri, she told me. The world’s only First Nations saint.

Truth be told I’d not wanted to bother with the church at all on my tour around the reserve at Wendake. I was here to find out about the Huron-Wendat, to soak up their culture at the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, and so no, a catholic church was definitely not on my Must See list. But oftentimes when you’re with a guide you try to be polite, so, I’d walked in from the cold, kicked the snow from my boots at the door and looked around in a disinterested kind of way before double-taking at the altar. A glowing, gorgeous native girl, her long brown hair in braids, holding a crucifix. Not what you’d expect at all.

Continue reading →


18
Feb 15

Chinese New Year in Richmond

richmond3The last time I can remember this scent in the air was in Sri Lanka; the smoky perfume of incense mixed with the sweet smell of flowers left as offerings to Buddha. But this time I’m not in Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth, there is no elephant tethered outside, no mischievous monkeys clambering the temple walls, nor gaudily-painted tuk tuks or King Coconut sellers ready to take your money. No, despite the incense and the gloriously golden glitz of the multi-armed Guan-Yin, I’m actually just a few miles from Vancouver in Richmond.

A short stop away from the Canada Line train, along the Highway to Heaven (the poetic name for No. 5 Road) you’ll find some 20 different places of worship: temples, mosques and churches co-exist peacefully together, side by side. Take a turn on to the Steveston Highway and you’ll find the most dazzling of all, the International Buddhist Temple, North America’s largest, modelled after China’s Forbidden City in Beijing and the start of my exploration into how to celebrate Chinese New Year in Canada. The festival is a big deal in Richmond, where some 60% of residents are Asian-Canadian, so before each Lunar New Year in February, the temple does a brisk business in the golden baubles and flowers trade, with the devout stopping by to purchase armfuls of each to take home and to give as gifts.   Continue reading →


2
Feb 15

Aboriginal Adventures Part 1: Travel to Manawan, Quebec

“Do you like to live so far away from everyone?”

“Yes. It’s nice to to be with the nature here, the city is too busy.”

mlmw4I don’t think I’ve ever known what it meant to travel somewhere truly isolated before. Spending time in Manawan, a First Nations reserve for the Atikamekw (pronounced ah-tick-a-mick) nation some five hours away from Montreal pushed my limits like no other trip has done. You can only get to Manawan via a gravel path from the small town of Saint-Michel-des-Saints, or in winter by speeding over the frozen lakes on a snowmobile.

There is no road. There is no transit. You are alone.

I close my eyes for a moment and lean against his back, my crash helmet bumping a little against his as we speed across the snow on his motoneige. We smell of wood smoke from the stove crackling away in his father’s hunting shack on the edge of the vast frozen lake. Every once in a while I catch a little of the scent of the moose that we fried and ate with boiled potatoes before we set out.

mlmw2Even though I’m wearing (count them) five layers under my Canada Goose parka, plus a cashmere scarf triple wrapped around my neck and bundled over my nose AND a fleece head mask and hat, the painfully icy wind still manages to find chinks in my armor. It hurts, first it’s sharply cold, then a slow, aching burn, but it’s impossible to adjust anything with my huge down-stuffed mittens so I resign myself to the pain and look out over the christmas card scene around us. The trees are heavy with snow and as we zip along the narrow trails I feel like I’m in Narnia.

mlmw3It turns out that I’m a rotten driver when it comes to snowmobiles, maybe with practice I’d be better but there was no time, so that’s why my Atikamekw guide, Daveen, is ferrying me along this afternoon. There are too many narrow forest trails along the way and a section that cuts along a break-neck drop. As we skimmed over it, I looked down and thanked my lucky stars that for once I acquiesced and went as a passenger, not driver. I couldn’t have done this.

This trip is teaching me that I have limits: I’m a soft Brit, used to soft warm beds and a soft, relatively smooth-edged life. It’s all rough, hard edges out here on the reserve in the hunting shack. Everything takes so much time and nothing comes easy. Take washing a pan for instance: we wanted to clean it, but first we had to fill it with snow and put it on the wood stove, then wait for the snow to melt –and wow, snow melts down to nothing, it’s all air and no water– and then clean it. That took almost an a hour. An hour to clean one pan. Life is hard here, every single little thing.

MLMW5Many of the usual conversational gambits that you’d have when you meet strangers are irrelevant here for the most part. What do you do for a living? Well, it’s likely that they don’t have a ‘job’ but they’re also likely engaged in working within the community, living on the land in the traditional way; hunting and fishing if they’re men and staying home if they’re women, sewing and beading elaborate regalia for dances and ceremonies. All my usual chat of ‘where d’you like to go’ and ‘what d’you like to do’ melts away into irrelevance too. For the most part, people stay here and well, that’s that. It’s all about family and friends and community. There’s one snack bar in Manawan. One grocery store. That’s pretty much it for places to go in our sense of the word, but again, here’s another difference, for the Atikamekw, the best place to go is on to the land, their beloved land, which supports them and which, in turn, they cherish and protect.

Image © Google Maps.

Image © Google Maps.

My trip was made possible thanks to the CTC, Tourisme Autochtone Quebec, Tourism Quebec and the kindness and hospitality of Gilles, Daveen and Carson Moar, however as always – my words are 100% my own. 

More Information:

Tourisme Autochtone Quebec  Tourism Quebec Canadian Tourism Commission.


17
Jan 15

Storm Watching in Tofino at the Wickaninnish Inn

sw002The waves break first on the rocks that jut out to sea before crashing and flooding over the ones which lie directly below my window. The spray soars in the air–higher than my balcony– before falling back into the swirling white-foam waters. I snuggle up, swaddled in my Hudson’s Bay stripe woolen blanket and revel in that joyous feeling of watching a storm rage while I’m warm, dry and toasting myself by a roaring fire. sw005The floor to ceiling windows of the Wickaninnish Inn bring the raw chaotic beauty of the outside world to the cosy calm of indoors. This morning, before the sky darkened like a fresh bruise, I pulled on the bright yellow gum boots and rain jacket that were in my wardrobe and headed out to Chesterman’s Beach. There are curious sights to see here with the beach ringed by fir trees and red cedars: out to sea there are several small low-lying islands, bristling with trees which soar up, looking for all the world like greenly-mossy whales.  Rubber hose-like bull-whip kelp seaweed lines the beach with a frill of sandy-coloured sea foam whipped up on the wet sand like so many egg whites. I walk to the far end of the beach, feeling the wind get colder.

sw006The clouds scud past the weak December sun, flicking the day’s switch from light to shade and back again. I look back to the Inn and see the water lapping higher up the beach than when I first set off and I turn back at once, keenly aware that in a fight between the pounding waves and I, I would certainly lose.

sw004Back in my room, I do what storm watchers have done for generations: find myself the perfect spot that’s not too far from the fire and just close enough to the windows, and savour a mug of creamy hot chocolate. The waves have a rhythm, the water gushes into the inlet below hissing before it slaps the rocks and then sighing as it floods out again. Here in Tofino, in this picture-perfect slice of Pacific Northwest heaven at the end of a long and winding road, they get around 12 feet of rain each year. They are battered by hurricane force winds. And you couldn’t find a more contented set of people. Out in Tofino they know that there’s no such thing as bad weather– just the wrong clothes.  sw003Storm watching season at the Wickaninnish Inn is as popular for visitors as the idyllic days of summer. And I understand why. It’s mesmerising. At first, I try to capture the perfect wave, the arch of spray before it falls back into the sea. But after some hundreds or so snaps I finally put my camera down and just…watch. Each wave as it smashes against the shore smoothes away a paper-thin layer of stress. I’m glued to my window all afternoon, watching the waves and listening to the ocean’s music. By the time it’s dark I’m in a dreamy state of pure relaxation and I don’t close the widows for my whole stay: each night I go to sleep lulled by the hiss and crash of the waves, warmly wrapped up in a blanket-topped duvet, dreaming of capturing that perfect wave. Thanks to Tourism Vancouver Island, Tourism Tofino and the Wickaninnish Inn who hosted me. As ever – my words are 100% my own.

More info:

Tourism Vancouver Island, Tourism Tofino, The Wickaninnish Inn.


30
Dec 14

Challenge 10: Watch a hockey game

Canadians are obsessed with hockey in a way that makes even the British love of football seem like an idle fancy. I’ve tried my best to get interested but when it takes me around 10 minutes to spot the puck on-screen (it’s so small and moves too fast!) it’s hard to sustain an interest. However, recently I got to watch the Vancouver Canucks play live and I think I may have discovered the key to becoming interested. I LOVED watching it up close; the hiss and slither of the skate blades and that satisfying thwack and slap of a stick hitting at the puck. I’m not going to pretend for a second that I had a clue what was going on, but I did love it and I’d suggest a night at a game as a perfect way to see Canadians at their most Canadian.

IH1Ten things you probably need to know before you watch an ice hockey match: 

  1. It’s just ‘hockey’ not ‘ice hockey’.
  2. It’s a ‘game’ not a ‘match’.
  3. I’ve been told (by a man, through gritted teeth), that’s a ‘puck’ not a ‘ball-thing’.IH2
  4. The game starts with the national anthem, if it’s a USA/Canadian game there’ll be both. Charmingly, everyone stands and sings, rather than boos.
  5. Whenever pretty much anyone does anything on the ice (scores, falls over, gets sent off) a cheery burst of 80s rock anthems and pop tunes bellows from the sound system.
  6. It’s easy to pick a team, there are only seven Canadian teams in the NHL, I suspect this makes for fiercely passionate supporters. It’s not like so many UK cities where you have to choose which team to support – and potentially split family loyalties. IH3
  7. Fighting seems to be accepted. I’m told it’s not but hey, there was so much punching and pushing and shoving on the ice, it made football look squeaky-clean in comparison.
  8. They take a LOT of breaks: there are breaks to smooth down the ice with a Zamboni, breaks to seemingly get everyone on and off the ice (no idea why), breaks that are actually intervals. IH5
  9. If you’re lucky enough to watch the Canucks at the Rogers arena, thanks to some rather smart staffing, award-winning bartender Jay Jones is in charge and so it’s possible to drink a well-made cocktail, a BC wine or craft beer while you watch. On the food side, new chef Robert Bartley has introduced a programme of pleasingly-delicious stadium food from chunky ocean-fresh lobster rolls to house-smoked pulled pork sandwiches.
  10. My best advice? Get seats in the ‘club’ section, you can order food and drink to be bought to your seat here so you don’t miss a moment of the action. Failing that, make it dinner and a ‘show’ by booking a table at the Centre Ice Grill which has a great view from the top of the stadium.

Thank you so much to the Fairmont who treated me to a night at the hockey, special thanks to Nancie Hall who put up with me asking a thousand questions. Also thanks to Jay Jones for a delicious round of Vancouver cocktails. 

More info:

Rogers Arena

Canucks

Useful guide from The Guardian – a Beginner’s Guide to the NHL


16
Sep 14

Challenge 8: See the Northern Lights

 

Image Credit:  Jenafor Azure

Image Credit: Jenafor Azure


It finally happened: I’ve been chasing the Aurora Borealis for years. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of seeing those lights in the sky. I can vividly recall watching a cartoon about a little bear who skated under the northern lights. I couldn’t have been more than five but I remember thinking, “Woah: that looks amazing. I want to see that for real.’ Well – almost 40 years later I finally have.

See, my typical Northern Lights adventures involves driving for ages in a minibus, far away from any kind of warmth, coffee and civilisation wrapped up in chunky arctic-friendly clothing. Then my personal long, slow journey into disappointment: I freeze and feel my hopes fade away – and then, of course, the long bus journey home again, hoping my fingers won’t succumb to frostbite.

 

Gerald Azure, our incredibly kind and generous host at Blue Sky Mush

Gerald Azure, our incredibly kind and generous host at Blue Sky Mush

But not in Churchill. Manitoba. Oh no! Here at the edge of the edge of the world magical things just seem to happen with ease. That day we’d been dog carting (more of that in another post) at Blue Sky Mush and our hosts Jenafor and Gerald Azure had offered to pick us up and take us to see the lights. We got back at 10p.m., Jenafor was already there “They’re here!” she beamed.

Oh great, I thought – surely that means I’ll miss them again.

But no: a quick 10 minute journey to their place and I hopped out the van and looked up. I cried: I did. I wept like a baby when I saw them dancing in the sky, it took my breath away and filled my heart with pure wonder. It’s everything people say it will be and a little more amazing on top of that. It looks unreal: a green glowing flickering disco across the sky. It looks for all the world as though the sky was sighing in colour. You feel elated and fortunate, just so lucky to be standing there and able to see this natural wonder. I stood on their porch and stared and stared. Whenever I got cold – and I was only wearing a light fleece and a hat for protection!- I’d go inside the wood-fire lit warmth of their yurt.

lights2To celebrate our trip, Jenafor had even made us a cake in the shape of a beluga – and yes, oh – so much to come about those shiny white whales. It may have taken most of my life to get to see them but they were worth the wait: and who knew I’d finally get to see them in the summertime with a slice of cake?

I stayed as a guest of Tourism Manitoba and the Lazy Bear Lodge. Gerald and Jenafor of Blue Sky were kind enough to host us.  But as ever my words are 100% my own.

More info:

Blue Sky Mush [Official Site]

. Travel Manitoba [Official Site]

 


31
Mar 14

PEI: My Island Pictures

PEI1

There are some trips that you make which seem a little magical and dream-like even at the time. Of course; memory softens the edges; that annoying wait for the car that one afternoon or the rainy morning which made you pout, they all melt away with time. But there was something special about Prince Edward Island right from the start.
PEI3
The sharp bright colours of the island made you feel as though you’d stepped into a child’s drawing; the sky so blue, the grass and trees so green and this vivid, almost-glowing red soil and red sand. The coastline dotted about with reminders from the past and standard bearers for the future; lighthouses painted with quaint deckchair-stripes next to bright white bands of wind turbines stretching their arms as they scraped the sky.

PEI4We took a sightseeing trip in a small plane, rising just high enough to make the illusion of it all being a child’s colouring book seem real. We saw the cold, clear waters where some of the world’s best lobsters, mussels and oysters thrive. That iron oxide-rich soil which grows such sweet flavoursome potatoes, the lush green grass which feeds some of the most-prized cattle in North America.

PEI6Over the next week I’d eat and drink so many delicious things – all from just a few miles away from where I was staying in its historic capital Charlottetown. I’d meet some of the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve encountered anywhere in the world; a friendly acceptance and a delight in sharing and showing the best that they had, that felt as gracious as something from a more sepia-tinted age.

almorrisonOne afternoon I met an elderly man in a cafe and fell into conversation with him. He insisted on giving me a copy of a book, ‘My Island Pictures’ a History of Prince Edward Island by folk artist, A.L. Morrison. The pictures have that child-like dreamy quality that the island conjured up for me. I wish I knew if it had been the artist who gave it to me; I was in a rush but adopting island ways, I made time to stop and talk. But I put the book in my bag as I left and didn’t look at it until I got back home to Vancouver; now I can’t match the hazy memory of the lovely old man with the author shot on the book. Flipping through its pages now, it’s all as I remember it, almost like he drew it for me just as I remember it. He must have been the author –  who else would carry around spare copies of their book but an author? And where else would such a thing happen but PEI?

I travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism PEI but as ever, all my words are 100% my own.

More information:

Tourism Prince Edward Island

Air tour in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk thanks to FD Airtours

 

 

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