Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

 I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.    

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

  These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

  Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.    They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

  This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

  This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.   

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

  I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

  These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

  I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

  Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

  Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

  I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

  For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

  Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

 We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

 Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

  Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

  Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

  Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

  Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

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Everyday Tourist Visits Calgary Expo 2016

While I am not into comics, action heroes, video games or fantasy, I was an early fan of the Big Bang Theory TV show.  As a result, by osmosis I have become very curious about cosplay and the comic-con culture.  

Calgary Expo (our comic-con convention and trade show) has grown exponentially since its inception in 2006.  Today it is the second largest in Canada with attendance exceeding 100,000 people.  

As an everyday tourist, how could I not go this year and see for myself what our Calgary Expo is all about.

Day 1

I was in "people watching" heaven with all of the costumes and displays. There were smiles everywhere and everyone loved to get their picture taken.  The Calgary Expo has many interesting elements - a mini film festival, educational workshops, autograph and photo opportunities with your favourite fantasy character.

After people watching for an hour or so, I headed to the lecture halls and found a Special Effects Cosplay Photography with Vancosplay workshop. This was way out the universe I operate in, but I did get a couple of good tips on some software that I might play with.  Always learn something! 

Next I checked out the short film "Downtime" about a frustrated husband desperate for some downtime, who heads out on an impromptu fishing trip.  It probably won't win any awards but it was interesting to watch.

I missed the "How to Nerd-provise! An Improve Workshop" which would have been fun, I have always enjoyed improv and have been curious about giving it a try. This would have been the perfect opportunity. 

I did attend the "Conversational Klingon: Express Yourself in a ConLand" class by Joseph Windsor  a University of Calgary PHD student.  I had no clue what he was talking about, but the audience loved it.  

The big surprise of the day was having Canada Post at the end of the Klingon lecture unveil two new Star Trek posters.  I am a sucker for surprises. 

It is all about the kids!

The highlight of day one were the children who seemed to be in awe at what they were seeing. 

Day 2 POW: Parade of Wonder 

Day 2 began with everyone gathering at the Eau Claire Plaza starting at 9 am to register, make final costume adjustments and to take lots of pictures.

Again, everyone was keen to have their picture taken, it was an urban photographer's heaven. 

The route went from Eau Claire Plaza, north on 3rd Street SW to Stephen Avenue Walk, where it proceeded east to Olympic Plaza for the Calgary Expo Official Opening by the Mayor. 

The parade lasted about 20 minutes and everyone seemed very pleased - those who watched and those who walked. I think the photos speak for themselves. 

The downtown air was electric with excitement!

The Parade on Stephen Ave.

Olympic Plaza Calgary Expo Opening 

Last Word

Day 3 and 4 were were amazing with thousands of colourful characters of all ages, shapes and sizes animating Stampede Park like I have never seen it before.  

The lectures and panel discussions were very interesting with talks about everything from the Zombie Apocalypse by two University of Calgary professors, to a discussion of Cosplay and body image.  The panel discussion with Jackie Cruz and Lea Delaria of Orange is the New Black to a standing room only audience at the Boyce Theatre, was one of the best improv comedy shows I have seen in years. 

For an urban guy who loves colour, street animation and people the Calgary Expo is now near the top of my list of my favourite Calgary festivals. I love that it attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life. 

I also love how it animated Stampede Park and demonstrated to me how the Park is truly a community park and not just about the 10 days of Stampede.   

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Lo-Burn: Austin's Vintage District

Mid-century flaneuring always makes me happy. I think it is the cheerful colours – bright oranges, baby blues, spring greens and sunshine yellows.

If you are into vintage and visiting Austin the Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet Road) district is a “must see.”

You can't miss Top Drawer Thrift with its huge floor lamp, lime green facade and drawers on the roof.  

Lo-Burn IBIZ District

We stumbled upon this up and coming district when we entered “thrift stores” on Google Maps and saw a cluster on Burnet Road (pronounced “Burn-it” by locals) from 49th N Street to North Loop Boulevard. Conveniently, it was in the car2go home area, so off we went.

Here you will find not only three thrift stores, but two mid-century furniture shops, an antique store and an outlet designer women’s clothing boutique, as well as local eatery favourites - Torchy’s Tacos and Tiny Pies. If you walk further south there are some other places that look interesting…but who has time to eat when there are treasures to be found.

Top Drawer Thrift (SW corner of Burnett and W 49th St)

Top Drawer Thrift was the best thrift store we found in Austin by a long shot.  While it isn’t the largest it had great quality and selection of vintage clothing, home accessories and art. The displays were fun and exotic. The staff were friendly and the prices were great.  The electronic section was the big surprise with unusual items from a huge pile of vintage radio tubes (Brenda couldn’t resist adding one to her collection) to old film projectors.  I got a framed kitschy artwork with a Cowboy face and Old Made cards background.

Vintage radio tubes at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage electronics at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage Fun

Uptown Modern (5111 Burnet Rd) is like walking into a mid-century furniture art museum.  The show room is spacious and the displays are grouped by colour.  If I was starting an art collection, this is where I would head.

Gypsies Antiques (5202 Burnet Rd) is a traditional antique store with many very interesting vignettes under glass domes.  And Vin Taj (52,000 Burnet Rd) has not only interesting furniture and home accessories, but some great paintings that we would have loved to take home.  Darn those airline baggage size restrictions!

Learn more about Austin’s mid-century modern scene

Uptown Modern has a wonderful collection of vintage furniture, home accessories and art. 

One of several glass dome pieces at Gypsies Antiques

Spring Frost Boutique (5101 Burnet Rd)

Though Spring Frost is not a vintage shop (it stocks designer clothing and shoes at deep discount prices), it is worth checking out. The staff were friendly and let me take all the photos I wanted. I love photographing women shoes – to me some are like works of miniature works of art.

Spring Frost shoe fun!

American League Alliance (4901 Burnet Rd)

Across the street from Top Drawer is a large American League Alliance thrift store, which is definitely worth stopping into. checking out. They had some great deals on cowboy boots when we were there. It is staffed by charming retired ladies who are very attentive to creating wonderful displays that give the store a vintage, grandmother-like atmosphere.

Savers (5222 Burnet RD)

Savers is Austin’s equivalent of Value Village and is just three blocks north of the Top Drawer.

American League has everything including the piano. 

Refreshments

I am told Torchy’s Tacos (5119 Burnet Rd), an icon in Austin, started with a single food cart. It now has several stores across the city.  The Burnet Road eatery’s patio is good place to recharge your batteries. 

Tiny Pies (5035 Burnet Road) - Zagat says, “The pies are just like mom used to make, only much much smaller. The petite offerings are modern twists on family recipes and include everything from breakfast pies to strawberry-basil pies, plus quiche, pie pops and mason-jar desserts.”  We loved the pecan pies after our Torchy’s tacos.

There is also a fun food truck hub village across the street from Tiny Pies. A bit hidden in the parking lot at the back, but it is worth a look with its own playground and a barbershop up front. How cool is that?

Pinthouse Pizza, Apothecary Café and Wine Bar, Pinthouse Pizza and Phoenicia Bakery and Deli south of W 49th Street all looked interesting.

Torchy's Tacos hit the spot!

Lo-Burn's food cart lot includes several food carts, a barber shop and playground. Very Cool!

IBIZ 101

Of Austin’s eight IBIZ (Independent Business Improvement Zones) Lo-Burn was the most interesting.

The criteria for an IBIZ district include:

  • At least 75% locally owned businesses (currently, all districts host 95% to 100% locally owned businesses)
  • Have 20 to 100 businesses (current districts have 23 to 90 businesses)
  • No more than one mile in walkable distance (current districts range from .4 to 1 mile)

Top Drawer Thrift fashions!

Last Word

Don’t expect a lot of streetscape improvements - banners, hanging flower baskets or street furniture – along Austin’s IBIZs.  And while the distances are walkable, the sidewalks may not be in the greatest shape (nor might there always be one) and streets are more vehicle-oriented than pedestrian-friendly.

But for the urban wanderer, these are interesting places to explore. We went to Lo-Burn twice!

Bonus: We were lucky enough to have the same car2go we’d parked 3 hours ago, still parked in the same spot we left it. 

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University of Texas: Backpack Fashion Show

One of the things we love to do when visiting a new city is to flaneur the university campus. We love the youthful vibrancy and are usually rewarded with a few surprises. We made some very interesting discoveries when flaneuring post-secondary campuses (see links at end of blog).  

So when in Austin, we decided to spend a Thursday morning checking out the Blanton Art Museum (free all day Thursday) and then flaneur the campus to see what hidden gems we cold find.

After finishing wandering the museum (highly recommended), we just followed the student pedestrian traffic into the centre of campus. Quickly we were swarmed by students trying to give us free stuff.  I still have no clue what was going on or why they were giving away things.

I think there is only one student in this photo who doesn't have a backpack.

Button Making Fun For Everyone!

Eventually, we did stop for four young women, who didn’t want any money, who asked us if we wanted to make personalize buttons for free. Who could resist?  In the end we made five and took a sixth one from their pre-made bin.  They didn’t want to take any money, but we gave them a donation.

Who could resist these smiles and the opportunity to make art buttons?

Backpacks Gone Wild

We wandered a bit further and the foot traffic was incredible, it was literally like an ant farm. Maybe a better analogy would be like a NYC subway station at rush hour.  We decided to just sit and absorb the amazing energy.  

After a few minutes I said to Brenda “I bet 90% of the students are wearing backpacks.” She looked around and said, “I bet it is higher. I am having a hard time finding a single student who doesn’t have one.”  

We then wondered when did the backpack become such an integral part of our everyday lives.  We often laugh when we walk by elementary schools and the backpack is almost as big as the child. It seems like people young and old don’t go anywhere these days without a backpack.

Backpack as a fashion statement!

If you Google “ What does your backpack say about you?” you will get over 34 million results in 1 second. 

I am not going to bore you with what they had to say. But I have integrated some fashion quotes with the postcard images that I thought might stimulate some backpack as a fashion statement thinking.

Has the backpack has become not only critical to our everyday life, but is it also a fashion statement. 

Below is a small sample of the backpack fashion show we experience at lunch at the University of Texas, Austin, campus on March 3, 2016. I hope you enjoy the show. 

Coco Chanel

'Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.'

Marilyn Monroe

'Give a girl the right shoes (backpack) and she can conquer the world.'

Christian Dior

'You can never take too much care over the choice of your shoes. Too many women think that they are unimportant, but the real proof of an elegant woman is what is on her feet (should that be her back).'

Alexander Wang

Anyone can get dressed up and glamorous, but it is how people dress in their days off that are the most intriguing.'

Orson Welles


Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.'

Backpack makes subtle political/social statement.

Love me, love my backpack

Michelle Obama

'If I can have any impact, I want women to feel good about themselves and have fun with fashion'

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As chance would have it the next day I was heading to Cafe Medici for a cup of java and passing the Mathews Elementary School I was treated to another back back fashion show. 


Glenbow: Strokes of Genius?

Everyday Tourist, challenges Calgary's major tourist attractions to have one free admission day per month. 

Posted: February 11, 2016, by Richard White, Everyday Tourist blogger

For several years, I have been advocating the Glenbow should have at least one “free admission” day a month (as do most major museums and art galleries). Kudos to Servus Credit Union for stepping up to sponsor a free “First Thursday Night” program for 2016.

I did not see the cat in this painting until I over heard a young male asking his friends "do you see the cat?" These were young street kids hanging out at the Glenbow, enjoying the art! How great is that?

Yes, the Glenbow is now free from 5 to 9 pm the first Thursday of every month.  From a marketing and branding perspective, this could be a stroke of genius for both Servus and the Glenbow.

Though I missed January’s event, I attended February’s and couldn’t believe my eyes. The Glenbow was packed (people were lined up out the door) with Calgarians of all ages and all walks of life.  It was great. The place was abuzz with a festival atmosphere, very different from the typical, rather subdued vibe at major exhibition openings.

Over 3,500 people visited during that four-hour period (while 3,000 took in January’s First Thursday event). And they weren’t just all there to see Paul Hardy’s blockbuster exhibition “Kaleidoscopic Animalia.” People flocked to exhibitions on all floors.

Glenbow Groupies 

I am also betting these new Glenbow groupies will bring visiting family and friends to the Glenbow in the future, which they didn't do before.  

Visiting "Family and Friends" represent 80% of Calgary's annual tourist market.

Hardy gives a passionate tour to group of very attentive Glenbow visitors on "Free First Thursday" night. 

A Second Stroke of Genius

Whoever came up with the idea of having Calgary fashion designer Paul Hardy be the Glenbow’s artist-in-residence and curate an exhibition using the Glenbow collection should get a big fat bonus check.

As a former art curator, I think this was a stroke of genius. The exhibition is both visually and intellectually stunning. (And having Hardy give a spirited tour himself on First Thursday was icing on the cake.)

This figure from one of Hardy's installations comes straight out of a modern haute couture runway. 

Microscopic Messaging?

It makes connections with everything from Warhol’s Soup Can to the Hudson Bay Company blanket; from nursery rhymes to beastly fetishes. There is surrealism to the exhibition that captured and held everyone’s imagination.  

Hardy's microscopic examination of the Glenbow's collection has indeed resulted in a wonder kaleidoscope of past and present images and relationships. 

Close up of one of Hardy's installations that combines hundreds of art and artifacts from the Glenbow's massive collection into a themed installation.

Armoured Horse, Carousel Horse, Horse Painting, Kaleidoscopic Animalia, Glenbow 

Department Stores Windows & Modern Art

Divided into a series of what looks like early 20th century department store windows (appropriate, given Hardy is a fashion designer), it resonated with me. I have been advocating for years that Calgary’s downtown stores should make better use of their storefront windows as a marketing tool.

Read: Christmas Shopping: The Thrill Is Gone

Look no further than the television series Mr. Selfridge, based on the life of Harry Selfridge, who in 1909 founded the London luxury department store Selfridges that still exists today.  The importance placed on the window displays plays prominently in almost every episode.  I believe early 20th Century department store windows were the precursor to contemporary installation art. 

You gotta love it when there is a synergy in one’s everyday experiences – like when television watching, museum/gallery visits and my interest in contemporary art and artifacts all connect. Bam!

An example of one of the massive department store-like window exhibitions. 

New Kind of Museum

Back in June 2014, I wrote about Glenbow President/CEO Donna Livingstone’s plans to re-imagine the Glenbow with more flexible programming and a greater diversity of perspectives. By God, I think she has done it!

Read: Glenbow: A New KInd of Art Museum

I also enjoyed the “Recent Acquisitions” exhibition, hung quasi-salon style - not quite floor to ceiling, but with several groupings. There was so much to see.  Gone was the “one artwork per wall” approach where there is more blank space than art. And there were some fun surprises - like an early Ron Moppett painting that looked remarkably like a Maxwell Bates.  I love it when I make new discoveries.

Ronald Moppett, "Father Thames II (study), 1983, oil on panel.  Does anybody else see the bird-like figure in the painting that looks strangely similar to the one Hardy created in his exhibition (see photo above).  

Pop Art meets Folk Art, New Acquisitions, Glenbow Museum

A Sense of Place

The “Historical Art from the Glenbow Collection” exhibition was also a treat, reminding me of Calgary’s historic sense of place – something only art can do (for me, anyway).  The same can be said for “Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life, The Blackfoot Gallery.” Both exhibitions were very relevant and timely given the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report.

And for me personally, having recently worked with two guest bloggers on how Calgary might better celebrate its history through better street and place names using First Nations’ language, these exhibitions struck a chord.

Read : Calgary: Mewata Village, Siksika Trail, Makhaban River

You gotta go!

If you haven’t been to the Glenbow recently, you simply gotta go. There is no excuse.  Mark the next Servus Credit Union’s Free Thursday Night (March 3) on your calendar.  

You will not only get to enjoy Hardy’s exhibition, but the new “Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven” (opening February 20) that promises to be very enlightening. 

Last Word

Livingstone is ecstatic by the response to the Free Thursday night program, saying that many people were returning again to see the exhibitions when it wasn’t so busy.

I put out a challenge to TELUS Spark, Fort Calgary, Heritage Park and the Calgary Tower – how about designating a free day once a month. If not free, how about Toonie Thursdays or Tuesdays.

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