Goin' To The Hat!

While most Calgarians head west on the weekend, being the contrarians we tend to be, we headed east, on a recent Friday morning, with our ultimate destination being The ‘Hat (aka Medicine Hat).  Driving the back roads, we quickly wondered why we don’t do this every weekend – I could have stopped a dozen times to take photos.  

Here’s a sampling of what we discovered…

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Gleichen, Alberta

We had to stop in Gleichen for old times’ sake – having lived there from 1981 to 1985. Not much has changed; it is as if time stood still – and a sad reminder of the decline of small prairie towns everywhere. 

Our house is still there, looking pretty much the same, though worse for wear. No evidence remains of the “Street Art For Gleichen” project I initiated – the murals are all faded away or painted over and the art park is now Beaupre Park with the historic water tower, a buffalo sculpture and a few picnic tables. 

Backstory: The “Street Art For Gleichen” project was just as controversial in Gleichen as Bowfort Towers is in Calgary today.  In fact, a key issue was one of the artists used indigenous motifs without any consultation with the Siksika Nation just across the tracks.  I was so naïve.

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link    National Historic Sites

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link National Historic Sites

Cluny, Alberta

We weren’t planning a stop in Cluny on our way to Blackfoot Crossing but when we saw Pete’s Bakery and the folk art junkyard across the street the car came to a screeching halt.  After ogling the extra large cookies, we chose Pete’s strudel, which we ate while wandering around the junkyard resisting the urge to grab a souvenir for our yard.

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Soyopowahko (aka Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park)

Five minutes further south on Highway 842 from Cluny is Blackfoot Crossing (Soyopowahko means Blackfoot in their language), a designated national Heritage Site.  Its interpretive centre not only documents the complexity of the Treaty Seven (which was signed nearby), but the way of life of the Blackfoot people.  The setting is spectacular - on the edge of a cliff looking out over the Bow River Valley.

The building itself is also dramatic with its modern interpretation of a traditional tepee. Its grand entrance has a wonderful overhang that is made of several feather-shaped glass pieces forming a traditional Chief’s headdress that cast a playful and colourful shadow on the wall when the sun shines. The building was designed by Calgary's Rod Goodfellow and is full of references to traditional Blackfoot culture. Link: Blackfoot Crossing Architecture

Upon entering the exhibition area you encounter the entire Treaty Seven reproduced on large illuminated glass panels that form a huge circle in the middle of the exhibition space. (FYI. The original Treaty Seven document is currently located at Fort Calgary). The sheer length and “legalese” language make one wonder if the Chiefs could really have fully understood what they were signing.  It was sobering.

There are indeed some interesting artifacts, however the only interactive hands-on display we found was the display buttons you push and the Blackfoot word for various common words is played, then you repeat it and press “playback” to hear how close your pronunciation matches the correct one. Link: Blackfoot Dictionary 

My biggest disappointed was that photo taking was not allowed in the exhibition area. This  surprised me given most galleries and museums today allow photos without flashes. I realize some of the pieces might be sacred, but a significant free marketing opportunity is lost as people today love to take photos and post them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

We were also puzzled why the Centre is only open Monday to Friday.  With Calgary as their biggest market, you would think being open Wednesday to Sunday would make more sense.  Why not one weekend per month? We were the only ones there during our 90-minute visit. 

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

Saamis Tepee

Next stop - the world’s tallest tepee (20 storeys tall), originally constructed for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics and located at McMahon Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, is now installed in Medicine Hat.  This very impressive structure is located on the edge of the Seven Persons coulee, that includes one of the best Northern Plains archaeological sites – the Saamis Archaeological Site.  It is believed 83 million artifacts are buried at the site. I have no idea how they can make this estimate. 

Backstory: The name “Medicine Hat” is the English translation of Saamis (SA-MUS), the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men.

The white ghost-like tepee with its 10 large storyboards, explains the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present.  Several large circular paintings help create an informative  outdoor museum/art gallery.  We didn’t do the self-guided walking tour of the archaeological site.  Next time.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Calgary didn’t keep the tepee as a legacy of the Olympics. It would have been a great addition to Fort Calgary, which was an important gathering place for First Nations. It could also have been installed on Nose Hill, another important First Nations site.  It would have been a spectacular site lit up at night.  Medicine Hat's win; Calgary's loss.

Bonus: Be sure to check out the Visitor Center near the tepee - they have an abundance of great information, as well as FREE bikes.  Yep, just give them your ID information, leave your vehicle there and quickly you are off exploring the 150+ km of trails in the city.  Next time?

Downtown Fun

Medicine Hats lovely turn-of-the-century historic downtown is a fun place to flaneur.  Two of our stops were thrift stores – but unfortunately, we didn’t unearth any treasures.  However we did find the world’s largest chess set (behind the Library) and if we had more time, we would have played a game. 

We did find the patio at LOCAL (a welcome site given the 30+ sunny day) and enjoyed some local craft beer – Hell’s Basement and Medicine Hat Brewery Company beers were on tap.  My favourite was Hell’s Basement’s “Ryes Against The Machine.”

FYI: The Hell’s Basement name comes from a 1907 quote by Rudyard Kipling, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat. And you don’t even think of changing the name of your town. It’s all your own and the only hat of its kind on earth.” 

Dunmore Road SE

Most regular Everyday Tourist readers know we love finding off the beaten path spots when we visit a city.  In Medicine Hat’s case, it was a small, outdoor shopping mall along Dumore Road SE. Driving by, we spotted a window full of brightly coloured circles.  We had to stop.   Soon we were inside Rings & Things, a funky accessories/gift/home décor shop with the largest collection of UMBRA products we have ever seen. Turns out the quirky display was made of coloured Styrofoam plates – how simple; how clever. 

Also in the mall was McBrides Bakery a Medicine Hat institution, unfortunately it was closed on Friday night when we discovered Rings & Things, so we headed back first thing Saturday morning. It is famous for its giant apple fritters and tasty croissants.  Definitely worth the trip back - and a “must visit” when in The ‘Hat (not far off the TransCanada Highway, it might even be worth a stop if just passing through).

Also in the mall was an interesting home décor store Kerry Jayms Lighting and Décor and (on good authority) Dress Your Lashes Fashion Accessories is also worth a visit. 

Too much to see and do…too little time!

Not Tell Hotel Fun

The ’Hat has retained some of its mid-century motel charm along the TransCanada Highway.  We enjoyed our stayed at the Travelodge with its coloured silhouette running lights that give it a bit of a Las Vegas vibe at night.  It was very popular with families with its pool with a waterslide.

Not sure why but we got the huge family room with two queen beds and a bunk bed with double on bottom, but it would be perfect for a family travelling with a grandparent or two.

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Hutterite Culture Market

Entering the Saturday farmers’ market at Medicine Hat’s Rodeo Grounds is like entering a different culture with the presence of Hutterites from several colonies selling their vegetables.  We arrived early and unbeknownst to us, we entered through a side door (we later learned it was for vendors) and had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes.  We had no idea that there were probably 100 people lined up to get in at the public entrance.  We not only loved the great produce at great prices, but the sellers mostly young Hutterite women, with their charming demeanour and colourful dresses. 

Note: Wouldn’t it be great if the Calgary Stampede could find a way to host a weekend market at Stampede Park from after Stampede to Thanksgiving?  After all, it started as an agricultural fair.

Windmill Garden Centre & Butterfly Garden

This place is huge…would be very fun to be there in the spring when its full of bedding out plants. Still, it was fun to look at the perennials and the garden giftware.  The Butterfly Garden was a bit of a disappointment as there were only a few butterflies when we visited.  I was told they get a fresh shipment of butterflies about every two weeks with the number and variety of varying each time.  Too bad the admission price doesn’t vary with the number of butterflies on view.  If butterflies are your thing, check when they are getting their shipment and time your visit accordingly. 

Medalta Pottery

The Medalta Pottery is indeed an innovative industrial museum, art gallery and contemporary ceramic arts facility.  We arrived Saturday morning, took a quick look around and decided to come back for the 1:00pm guided tour to get a better appreciation for the history of the site.  (Note: Unfortunately, the 60 to 75-minute guided tours are only offered on weekends at 1 pm.) 

Medicine Hat had three things going for it that lead to it producing 75% of Canada’s pottery products early in the 20th century. 

  • First, a ready supply of natural gas provided a reliable source of heat for the kilns.
  • Second, an abundant supply of clay (for centuries the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks. As early as 1885 these clays deposits were tested for their brick-making potential and found to be of excellent quality. 
  • Third, the railway was right there enabling easy shipping across the country.

Though, many of the clay products factories in Medicine Hat were small businesses, two large-scale plants dominated the industry - Medicine Hat Brick & Tile and Alberta Clay Products.

Today, Medalta is the setting for a living, working museum, vibrant education centre, contemporary art gallery and 12,000 square foot contemporary ceramics studio for visiting artists from around the world.

Give yourself at least two hours to take the tour, then explore the museum and wander the site. 

If you happen to be in Medicine Hat on a Thursday in the summer – bonus! A vibrant farmers’ market (4:30 to 8:30pm) on site includes food trucks, artisans, live music and a bar. 

Medalta Historic Clay District History Link

Backstory: One of our reasons for this trip was see if we could get more information on set of vintage “Jill” pattern plates by Hycroft as an exhaustive Google search yielded no information. While we couldn’t get any help from the weekend staff, we were given a name and contact information, who provided much helpful information.
Do we keep them or Kijiji them, that is the question?

Walk In The Park

I took a walk with a buddy at the park-like Medicine Hat Golf & Country Club, with its beautiful century old trees and South Saskatchewan River vistas. While Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” I would argue, “ Golf is a good walk enhanced by 14 clubs.”

For nature walk purists, there is Police Point Park, a 400-acre natural reserve bordered on three sides by the South Saskatchewan River.  One of its signature attractions is its ancient, gnarled (the result of past floods) cottonwood trees. Great for photos and bird watching. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, Juncos, House Finches, Bald Eagles, Blue Herons and several types of owls have all been seen.

Where to Eat & Drink

LOCAL - best patio and great beer. Lots of shade - critical when summer temperatures are routinely above 30 degrees in a city boasting 330 days of sunshine.

Inspire – bright charming corner bistro / art gallery.  Good soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.  We are still drooling over the carrot cake.  

Thai Orchid Room - we didn’t make it to the Orchid but we have it on good authority (including CBC restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist) it is outstanding.  He loved the extensive, traditional, authentic menu with an extensive tea list and great service, rating it 8 out of 10.

Heartwood – located in the old Eaton’s store downtown, the soups are to “die for” (signature soup is roasted red pepper and tomato) and staff is very friendly.  Note: Not open weekends.

Station Coffee – best spot for a coffee, popular breakfast spot, good vibe, gluten free and vegetarian options - get there early.  Hot tip: try the caramel latte.

Last Word

If you live in Calgary, next time you are considering a (long) day road trip or weekend getaway, consider The ‘Hat. If you are passing through on the TransCanada Highway, give yourself some time to explore the city.

Canada 150 Reflections

This year we spent Canada Day with friends in Canmore, Alberta (26 km from Banff or 95 km from Calgary) an old coal mining town that has become a lovely international recreational resort town since the 1988 Olympics.  

While many cities and towns endeavoured to create a special Canada's 150 anniversary celebration (for example Calgary's fireworks was 10 minutes longer than Ottawa's), Canmore has a long tradition of celebrating Canada Day. This year's celebration included a block-long artisan market, parade, live music in their Centennial park and fireworks in Millennial Park.   

One of the first things that impressed me while flaneuring downtown Canmore before the parade were the unique and intriguing storefront window reflections. 

The (Candy) Canada Day Parade

We were treated by our friends to ring-side patio seats at Mountain Mercato for the colourful Canmore Canada Day Parade, which allowed us to enjoy lunch and beverages while watching the parade.   The 45-minute parade was perfect with lots of kids dancing and riding decorated bikes, a few bands and event a float by the local thrift store (pick-up truck with lots of stuffies). It doesn't get more authentic than that. 

One of the features of the parade was lots of candy being handed out to the kids - often by older kids.  There was a lovely sense of play near the end as almost every float had young adults with super soakers playfully shooting at the audience on a warm summer day.  

The parade was fun for everyone.....

Fashion Fun 

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 4.24.15 PM.png

Last Word

In Calgary, Canada Day is like a pre-season game for the "Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth" the Calgary Stampede, which starts with one of the largest parades in North America and ends every night with fireworks.  Every year, the 10-day Stampede starts the Friday after Canada Day.

In fact, the Calgary District and Agricultural Society (precursor to the Stampede which still includes a major agricultural exhibition) held the first exhibition in 1886, making it almost as old as Canada.  

City Travel: Canada vs. USA

Editor’s Note: This the second of a two-part blog looking at how Canadian cities like Edmonton, Winnipeg compare to places like New Orleans and Chicago as alternative urban travel destinations given the turmoil in the USA. The first blog compared Calgary to Austin, Portland, Nashville, Denver and Seattle, as hipster cities.

Link: Calgary vs. Austin, Portland, Nashville, Denver & Seattle

Recently, MetroNews published an article looking at what Canadian cities tourists might consider visiting this year rather than American cities, given the current turmoil in the USA.

While MetroNews picked off the obvious ones I thought it would be fun to share suggestions that might not be so obvious.

Link: "Don’t want to travel to the U.S. Visit these Canadian cities instead"

Edmonton

For those thinking New Orleans would be a fun place to visit, you might want to consider Edmonton - Canada’s Festival City.  New Orleans is known for its laid-back culture and year-round festival atmosphere, much like Edmonton where in the summer, they host back-to-back-to-back festivals… Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, Blues Festival, Street Performers Festival, The Works Art & Design Festival and the grand daddy of all  - the Fringe Festival, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Edmonton also boasts some spectacular contemporary architecture – Rogers Place arena, Art Gallery of Alberta and their City Hall.  Their river valley is spectacular too.

And then there is something called the West Edmonton Mall.

Link: Edmonton Tourism

Sample the butter tarts at Edmonton's Duchess Bake Shop at 10720 - 124th St.  Edmonton is home to several delicious bakeries. 124th St. it a fun pedestrian district.

Sample the butter tarts at Edmonton's Duchess Bake Shop at 10720 - 124th St.  Edmonton is home to several delicious bakeries. 124th St. it a fun pedestrian district.

124th Street is also home to several galleries, boutiques and restaurants.  

124th Street is also home to several galleries, boutiques and restaurants. 

Rogers Place is the new home of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and the anchor for their downtown's new sports and entertainment district called ICE district.  Next door is the new provincial museum. 

Rogers Place is the new home of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and the anchor for their downtown's new sports and entertainment district called ICE district.  Next door is the new provincial museum. 

Edmonton is known for its big summer festivals, however there are also fun street festivals almost every weekend in the summer.

Edmonton is known for its big summer festivals, however there are also fun street festivals almost every weekend in the summer.

Who doesn't like old fashion root beer delivered in a vintage truck. 

Who doesn't like old fashion root beer delivered in a vintage truck. 

City Market is the anchor for Edmonton's budding Brewery District. 

City Market is the anchor for Edmonton's budding Brewery District. 

Hyatt Place Hotel is the anchor for Edmonton's   east-side Quarters District.  It is an architectural jewel. 

Hyatt Place Hotel is the anchor for Edmonton's east-side Quarters District. It is an architectural jewel. 

Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta is located across the street from Churchill Square which hosts public events all summer long. 

Edmonton's Art Gallery of Alberta is located across the street from Churchill Square which hosts public events all summer long. 

Whyte Ave. is Edmonton's "bobo" district! 

Whyte Ave. is Edmonton's "bobo" district! 

Winnipeg

While MetroNews chose Toronto as an alternative to Chicago, what about Winnipeg? In fact, in the early 20th century, Chicago was worried Winnipeg would usurp it as the major transportation hub of the midwest.  Winnipeg’s Exchange District has one of the best collection of early 20th century architecture in North America. 

Visitors will love the Forks with its Human Rights Museum, Children’s Museum, Children’s Theatre, creative playground and one of the best minor league ballparks in North America. There is also the must-see Art Gallery of Winnipeg (largest collection of Inuit Art in Canada) and Assiniboine Park’s Polar Bear exhibit. 

And while Winnipeg doesn’t have a lake with a beautiful beach downtown, Grand Beach is just an hour away and it is a “sight for sore eyes“ (in a good way) in the summer.

Link: Visit Winnipeg

Winnipeg has lots of great ethnic bakeries and restaurants. Our favourite is Stella's (named after the owner's cat). 

Winnipeg has lots of great ethnic bakeries and restaurants. Our favourite is Stella's (named after the owner's cat). 

Esplande Riel bridge links The Forks with Winnipeg's historic french community of St. Bonaface with its St. Boniface Cathedral historical site. 

Esplande Riel bridge links The Forks with Winnipeg's historic french community of St. Bonaface with its St. Boniface Cathedral historical site. 

Winnipeg is famous for having the world's longest skating rink with warming huts designed by international artists and architects including Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor. 

Winnipeg is famous for having the world's longest skating rink with warming huts designed by international artists and architects including Frank Gehry and Anish Kapoor. 

The Polar Bear exhibit at Assiniboine Park is awesome. The park also has an art gallery, sculpture garden, creative kids playground and lovely restaurant.

The Polar Bear exhibit at Assiniboine Park is awesome. The park also has an art gallery, sculpture garden, creative kids playground and lovely restaurant.

Public art is prominent in downtown Winnipeg.

Public art is prominent in downtown Winnipeg.

In 1971, the Winnipeg Art Gallery moved into its uber modern building designed by Canadian architects Gustavo da Roza and Isadore Coop, long before it became trendy to create iconic/signature art galleries. 

In 1971, the Winnipeg Art Gallery moved into its uber modern building designed by Canadian architects Gustavo da Roza and Isadore Coop, long before it became trendy to create iconic/signature art galleries. 

Winnipeg's Exchange District is a fun place to explore or just hangout.

Winnipeg's Exchange District is a fun place to explore or just hangout.

It is fun to explore downtown and discover the ghost signs and murals. 

It is fun to explore downtown and discover the ghost signs and murals. 

Montreal

After a recent trip to Montreal, I think it would make a great alternative not only to Chicago, but also to Boston, Philadelphia or San Francisco.  Montreal has its mojo back and this year is celebrating its 350 anniversary, making it one of the oldest cities in North America.  Old Montreal is like walking back a hundred years in time, as are its two major public markets - Atwater and Jean Talon.

Like Edmonton, it too is a huge festival city. The Montreal Jazz Festival should be on everyone’s bucket list. The Black & Blue Festival is one of the world’s largest gay festivals (Montreal’s Gay Village along St. Catherine St. East has a great evening vibe).  They even have Mural Festival to celebrate their extensive collection of street art.

Don’t rule out Montreal for a winter visit either. That’s when they light up the night with Montreal En Lumiere and Nuit Blanche festivals. Indeed the lights are much brighter in downtown Montreal.

Montreal is a joy to wander any time of the year and see what you discover; fun surprises lurk around every corner.  Real urban explorers will want to test their skills at navigating the 30+ km underground tunnel system that connects hundreds of downtown buildings.

I can’t say enough good things about Montreal as a tourist destination.

Link: Tourism Montreal 

Montreal has the coolest streetscapes. 

Montreal has the coolest streetscapes. 

Check out the fun cinema walls in Montreal's Place des arts (performing arts centre).  

Check out the fun cinema walls in Montreal's Place des arts (performing arts centre). 

Montreal is a mecca for artists and artisans. 

Montreal is a mecca for artists and artisans. 

Montreal has been an international fashion centre for decades. 

Montreal has been an international fashion centre for decades. 

Montreals murals and street art create fun surprises as you wander the city.

Montreals murals and street art create fun surprises as you wander the city.

Montreal's two markets add a very European flavour to the city.

Montreal's two markets add a very European flavour to the city.

Montreal could be a stand-in for New York with its bagel culture. 

Montreal could be a stand-in for New York with its bagel culture. 

Victoria

Victoria could be a very good alternative to anyone thinking about heading to San Diego.  Its charming harbor, beaches, vibrant food and café culture, quaint antique district and world-class museum have won many people over. 

Shoppers too will love wandering the shops in downtown, Chinatown and Oak Bay. Two downtown hidden gems are the downtown Value Village (we always find great art there) and Capital Iron next door.  The Super Chance consignment shop in James Bay Village is a must visit, for treasure hunters preferring more of a curated collection of “finds.” We have almost always found something wonderful there.

The Ross Bay Cemetery is a fascinating experience where you can visit the gravesite of artist Emily Carr (Canada’s Georgia O’Keefe).  Across the street is the Dallas Road beach, a great place for beachcombers and to watch kite surfers. 

If a more traditional sand beach is more to your liking, head to Willow Beach with its view of Mount Baker.  Just a few blocks away on Estevan Avenue is quaint Willows Village where you will find the funky Crumsby’s Café (family fun) and the tiny Willow Galley (fish & chips shack).

Link: Tourism Victoria

Victoria collage.

Victoria collage.

Victoria's beach life.

Victoria's beach life.

Victoria's waterfront.

Victoria's waterfront.

Ross Bay Cemetery.

Ross Bay Cemetery.

Toronto / Vancouver

Both Toronto and Vancouver could be excellent alternatives to New York City, Los Angeles and Miami.  Home to world-class shopping, museums, restaurants, cafes, festivals and architecture, both have a lively urban joie de vivre.   

Link: Tourism Toronto

Link: Vancouver Tourism

Frank Gehry's facade gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Frank Gehry's facade gallery at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Toronto's City Centre is blessed with several urban villages with active street life. 

Toronto's City Centre is blessed with several urban villages with active street life. 

Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall in the foreground and CN Tower in the background. 

Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall in the foreground and CN Tower in the background. 

Vancouver's beach life.

Vancouver's beach life.

Vancouver was an early adopter of the food truck movement. 

Vancouver was an early adopter of the food truck movement. 

An impromptu Vancouver street market / garage sale that we stumbled into was too much fun.

An impromptu Vancouver street market / garage sale that we stumbled into was too much fun.

Vancouver was one of the first cities to build an spectacular downtown library as part of an urban renewal project. 

Vancouver was one of the first cities to build an spectacular downtown library as part of an urban renewal project. 

Last Word

So as you begin to finalize your travel plans for 2017 - Canada’s 150th birthday year – there is not better time to “Think Canada.”

If you like this blog, you will like:

Museum of Fine Arts Montreal: A Hands On Tour

Battle of Alberta: Urban Design 

The Forks vs East Village

Thrifting in Victoria

 

 

Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future

Given 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, I think every Canadian should read a book about Canada – past, present or future. This idea occurred to me when I recently found the book “Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future” in a Montreal thrift store. 

Inside back cover artwork

True confession

I admit I was originally attracted to the book by its lovely coloured reproduction of historical paintings of Canada.  Then I became more intrigued when I noticed the author was none other than Stephen Leacock.  I had always thought of him as humourist, never as a historian.

Upon closer look, it turns out the book is “a private and limited edition” copy published by The House of Seagram in MCMXLI (yes, they used Roman numerals in the old days). 

Ironically, the 1941 publishing date is almost exactly in the middle of Canada’s history, i.e. 76 years from today and 74 years from Confederation.  

Painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

painting by Frederick H. Varley, A.R.C.A., Vancouver, B.C. 1941

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Better Perspective

Written in a reader-friendly manner (not even once did I fall asleep), the book is a wealth of information. For this baby boomer, it brings back memories of what I learned (forgot) about Canadian history decades ago in history classes at school.  It was so much different reading Leacock’s stories now having since visited every province in Canada and one territory, as well as internationally. Consequently, a much broader perspective of Canada and the world, enables me to understand and appreciate the history of our country.

The older I get, the more interested I am in history. Funny how that is.

Charles W. Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto, Ont., 1941

Lessons Learned

painting by Charles W Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto., 1941

What is amazing is how relevant the book is to the plethora of issues facing Canada today – First Nations poverty, Arctic Sovereignty, Immigration Policy, Natural Resources, Climate Change, Religious Persecution, Economic Change, Booms & Busts and Technological Change.

It was interesting to re-read the history of arctic exploration, specifically the search for the Northwest Passage in the context of today’s climate change.  A hundred years ago, the shrinking of the polar ice caps would have been good news.  It also made me wonder about Canada’s claim to arctic sovereignty given we have so little settlement there.

I now have a much greater appreciation for the longstanding and entrenched French vs. English duality of Canada, which is still influences Canada politically, culturally and economically even today.

painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Leacock’s stories about the violence and injustices between the early settlers and First Nations.  Having lived next to and worked on the Siksika Reserve near Gleichen Alberta in the early ‘80s, I now have a hands-on appreciation of both sides. Indeed, one of Canada biggest issues today has to be the well-being of our First Nations people.  I wish I had answers!  

I was also reminded of the everyday hardships faced by early Canadian settlers – a far cry from the comforts and conveniences of our everyday lives today.  How easily we forget!  We really should focus more on being grateful than griping.

Then there is a reminder of the important role immigrants (mostly poor) played in shaping the identity and development of Canada since Day One.  Immigration issues are still top of mind today.   In 1913, a whopping 400,870 new immigrants came to Canada, which then had population of 7.5 million. Leacock states, “There were more foreign-language newspapers in the Canadian West than anywhere else in the world.  Immigrants were exchanging European poverty for a new chance…we have to remember that their energy and industry and their new patriotism towards their new home played a large part in the making of our Western Dominion.”

Perhaps the biggest enlightenment was how our attitude towards nature and the exploitation of natural resources has changed over the past 150 years.  Leacock constantly references the importance of exploiting our natural resources as the key to Canada’s future.  It is amazing how that attitude has changed. 

It was interesting to also be reminded how Canada’s economy has evolved from one of fur trading, to fishing, to forestry and then mining. There was no mention of oil and gas.

Oh, how much the world has changed and yet how it is still the same.

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Samuel Bronfman’s Preface

“It is no magic fiat which achieves this: it is the people of Canada who have made and are making Canada. The coureur de bois; the merchant-adventurer; the explorer; the colonist; the homesteader; all who came early, wrestled with Nature; and won – these are the precursors who made our country.”

artwork by Ernest Neumann, Montreal, P.Q., 1941 

“Certainly the future decades of this century, which in the words of the late Sir Wilfred Laurier “belong to Canada,” will see Canadians zealously dedicating themselves to the further development of the boundless resources of our country, and will see, too, those resources flowing to the farthest corner of the world – a Canadian contribution to the welfare of humanity.”

Nor can we leave unmentioned the part which Canada is playing and will continue to play as intermediary between the two greatest forces for good that exist in the world to-day.  Because of our geographic location upon this continent, and our spiritual location with the Empire, we are destined – as we indeed, have already seized that destiny – to bring closer together the best of the Old World and New.

Leacock’s Libations

Canadians instinctively think more of what is still to come in their country than of what has happened in the past. People of older lands typically and commonly look back. They think of their thousands of years of history…majesty of the past.”

“The emigrant ship….was the world’s symbol of peace and progress…”

“Then came the discovery of gold and quickened the pace of life.”

“Life received a new wakefulness from the arc lamp and the electric light bulb…”

“Many came in caravans of prairie schooners – children, chattel and all.”

“Calgary was non-existent at Confederation. When the Canadian Pacific was built it was just a poor place, a few shacks. They moved it a mile or so, on ropes, rather than move the railway line.”

painting by T.M. Schintz,  High River, Alta., 1941

painting by W.J.Phillips, R.C.A., Winnipeg, Man., 1941

Last Word

I leave this to Bronfman wrote in the preface, “To encompass them the vision of the early pioneers must still be with us still, for where there is no vision, the people perish. It is the vision of a free Canada, a united Canada, a mighty Dominion…are manifested the various groups of different origins and separate creeds, working together in harmonious unison, each making its own contribution to the complete achievement which is the Canadian mosaic.” 

Does Canada have a vision today?  

It would be an interesting 2017 project for the Globe & Mail, Postmedia or Maclean’s Magazine to ask our Prime Minister, Premiers and big city mayors to independently submit their vision for Canada’s future.  It would be interesting to see how much they have in common? 

Maybe we should also ask corporate CEOs too (perhaps one from each province and territory). Why stop there - lets ask social agency, cultural and postsecondary CEOs also.

I wonder, "Is it realistic in today’s world for any democracy to work in harmonious unison?”