A bald eagle in flight looks magnificent. They look so forceful that many empires, from Rome to America, have used bald eagles as their emblem. The bird has the gravitas conquerors feel is appropriate. Which is why I was so surprised a number of years ago when a bird expert at Acadia University described the eagle as a wimpy bird. They cast an impressive profile, but he wasn’t buying their media relations.
Nonetheless, people love to watch these imperial birds soar. And while America struggles to re-introduce a national symbol they inadvertently killed off through habitant destruction and pesticides, Nova Scotia is awash in eagles, as many as 52 have been spotted in a single tree by the roadside near Sheffield Mills.
This abundance of eagles inspired Sheffield Mills to launch their Eagle Watch Weekends. The birds, which summer along the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton, winter along the Minas Basin. At low tide the Basin becomes the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet of stranded tom cod and other fish. As if easy pickings wasn’t enough, local poultry farmers have helped concentrate the eagle flock around the community during the festival, which is held over two weekends in January/February, by putting out other food to supplement the eagles’ diet.
During the Eagle Watch Weekends, the community hosts pancake and sausage breakfasts, a chowder lunch and hearty supper to fortify birders against the cold. It’s a simple weekend of eagle aerobatics, cold weather and hearty, stick-to-yer-ribs cooking.
Sheffield Mills is outside Canning, Nova Scotia. For details log on to eaglens.ca.
In summer, bald eagles are also in abundance around the Bras d’Or Lakes. Check local tourist offices or outfitters for the best places to view them.
For a bit of an eagle-inspired laugh, visit Province House, Halifax. On her last visit to Nova Scotia, HM The Queen was taken into a room in the Legislature and shown a group of beheaded eagles. The eagles were decorative elements on window and door frames.
During the American revolution a member of the legislative assembly took umbrage to them. He felt they looked too much like the revolutionary symbol, so used his cane to behead as many of the eagles as he could reach. When shown the eagles and told the story, Her Majesty bent over with laughter at this fervent example of loyalty.
The Eagle Watch Weekends for 2017 are January 28th and 29th, and February 4th and 5th. However, eagles can still be seen outside the specific eagle watch weekends. You’ll just miss out on the breakfasts.
There are three types of Canadians – those who embrace winter, those who burrow in like a human hibernation waiting for spring, and snowbirds, who famously flock en masse to southern destinations.
Those who stay in country and don’t hibernate, charge into the hundreds of winter carnivals and local celebrations. The granddaddy of winter events in Canada is the Quebec Winter Carnival.
With a two-week festival that has 200 events and elements, Quebec takes the lead in harnessing their creativity and inherent joie de vivre in finding ways to enjoy winter.
Quebeckers are a different stock, they aren’t prepared to sacrifice so much of their year or any part of life in denied gratification. We live in a winter country, so they make the best of it.
Quebec City is one of those destinations that work in winter, like Mount Tremblant, Banff, Lake Louise or Whistler. But then visiting these locations we have the luxury of not worrying about practical things like shoveling and moving the car for the snow plough.
As cold as Quebec City gets in winter (my secret is silk long johns, they aren’t bulky under clothes, are really warm and can be washed and dry over night) it looks great draped in snow. The Norman architecture is just so damn romantic. There is a soulful warmth that comes from little beams of light which fall from the double-paned windows of sturdy stone buildings onto snowy cobblestones. Then there are inviting, joyful whiffs of music jumping into the night air each time a door opens. It’s a cold place filled with laughter and smiles. Perhaps people are on their best behaviour during a party, but it’s a pleasant change to see happiness in February versus the grim faces of work-bound commuters.
Quebec’s Winter Carnival is like revisiting Christmas without the pressure to find gifts for everyone. There’s great food, plenty of drink, lots of activities and happy crowds to socialize with. You don’t find carolers, but you can be entertained by the acts performing on stage in front of the Ice Palace at Place du Ville, across from the massive Victorian Legislature. After the formal entertainment, you can join the pulsating toque-topped mod bobbing to the music of a DJ spinning discs outside. While crowds build body heat from dancing, their ice castle background is washed in an ever-changing hue of coloured lights. Between the dancers and road is a ring of food stalls and carts, selling everything from barbecue to beavertails (the pastry, not the actual animal part). You may even find Caribou for sale. Caribou is the unofficial drink of Carnival. It’s a potent, blood-warming, sometimes breath-taking mixture somewhat like a Quebec version of Long Island Ice Tea, than can contain vodka, brandy, sherry and red wine or variations thereof. Sometimes it’s cut with maple syrup. Experienced carnival goers may have a bottle on reserve in an inner pocket. It’s a tonic for circulation and sinuses.
Each evening of Carnival there is something different to experience. Two nights there are massive parades with thousands of participants. One is in a suburb to bring the carnival to the most people. Another night parade marches through the downtown. Because it’s an event held in the dark, this parade employs lights, fireworks, torches, music and bright costumes. It’s something like an electrified circus parade. Dress warmly because it lasts over an hour.
Even if you opt out of planned evening events, there are plenty of do-it-yourself options. You can rent skates – if you didn’t pack your own – and join the crowd on pop-up rinks around the city.
Winter is a challenge for me because I don’t skate, ski or snowmobile. But I have discovered a love for snowshoeing. The city has snowshoe rentals and walking tours on the Plains of Abraham, which are sometimes lead by a guide dressed in ancient regime garb. In very short order you leave 20th century high rises to be enveloped in a wooded urban landscape punctuated with Victorian bandstands, ornate light stands and ancient defensive towers and battlements.
For those with a competitive streak, there are dogsled races and soapbox derbies in the old city. There are also horse and carriage tours, as well as horse-drawn sleight rides on the Plains. At the base of the Citadel you’ll find a winter-type of midway as well the most amazing ice sculptures. These aren’t glorified snowmen, but extraordinary temporary art installations.
In the evenings, beyond the carnival events are a pile of fantastic pubs, clubs and restaurants. There’s a great jazz Friday and Saturday nights in the art deco Hotel Clarendon on Rue Sainte-Anne. I like to make a type of pilgrimage to the Pub Alexander on Rue Saint-Jean. Look for the Union Jack. This is a serious beer pub with over 265 types of beer for sale from Canada, France, Belgium, Denmark, Columbia, China, Scotland, Italy, Holland, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland and Germany.
A must stop for many people is the Ice Hotel. Sleeping in a hotel made of ice lacks appeal to me. I like central heating and a bathroom close by. That said, the ice hotel is an amazing facility and worth visiting. It represents vision, creativity and skill in creating something unique. They have a bar so you can get the bragging rights of drinking from ice glasses.
Running and rowing across ice and open water. (Allan Lynch Photo)[/caption]
Of course the most exciting aspect of Carnival has to be the canoe race across a partially frozen St. Lawrence River. This is an exciting madness. There are three sets of races: men’s, women’s and amateur, with close to 60 teams racing and rowing over a course that requires competitors do a return trip across the river.
These crews are lean, fit and powerful. Local longshoremen tell me the canoe crews are out at 5 am five mornings a week, training year round.
There is a staggered start to the race. Teams start at the inner harbour, running beside their canoes over ice until they reach open water. Then they jump in and paddle like mad, navigating their way between ice flows until that’s too impractical or dangerous. This is when they jump out and run with their canoe over the ice to the next open water.
Watching the race I damn near froze, and could only think of the discomfort of those competitors whose feet went in the water as they raced across ice flows. I could see that the rowing, running, pushing and pulling would keep their upper bodies warm. But watching the teams jump from the ice into their canoes I wonder how many have accidently punctured hotels in their vessel? That’s because their shoes have long cleats to give traction on ice. Even their paddles have cleats embedded in them, so more ways to harm the canoe, themselves or a team-mate. This is not a sport for the timid.
What Carnival did for me, was to wake me up to the multiple possibilities of winter fun. I beats another night in front of a television.
For information about the Quebec Winter Carnival/ Carnaval de Quebec, January 27th to February 12th go to www.carnaval.qc.ca
For other winter fun ideas check out:
The World Pond Hockey Championships, the ultimate in non-professional play as 120 men’s and women’s teams from six countries, 35 US states, eight provinces and one territory gather outdoors in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick from February 16 – 19 http://worldpondhockey.ca/en/home
Montreal en Lumiere is a cultural and food festival, running February 23 – March 11. Top chefs from Canada, the UK and France tantalize with themed meals and events. It’s complimented by a raft of international music stars. The event also includes 181 installations of light art. Details for Nuit blanche à Montréal (when museums and arts galleries stay open all night) will be announced February 13. http://www.montrealhighlights.com/en-CA
Ottawa celebrates Winterlude on weekends from February 3 -20, 2012. Strap on some skates and tour the city via the frozen Rideau Canal. To avoid the commuter rush, don’t skate early morning or late afternoon Monday to Friday. Yes, people skate to work!
Winnipeg digs into its roots to host the Festival du Voyageur, February 17 – 26 https://festivalvoyageur.mb.ca/en/
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan holds the Canadian Challenge Dog Sled Race, February 21-25, 2012 www.canadianchallenge.com. This is a qualifier for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. Serious dogsled race fans head to Whitehorse for the Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile/1,600-km race between Whitehouse and Fairbacks, Alaska. The race, which runs nine-to-12 days, starts February 4th. http://www.yukonquest.com/
Pond hockey is an iconic Canadian experience. I’m a town kid, so had access to a rink/arena, but it was more fun to go outside of town to a frozen pond or river and skate there or play hockey. Hell, someone could get a breakaway and you never knew when you’d see them again.
My father is in a local hockey hall of fame, but I never played on a team. My career was a couple of pick up games on a pond or road hockey. You get a net – or something to mark the ground were a net would be if you had one, a puck or old tennis ball (depends on the number of cars around) and your worst stick and play in the driveway or street without much traffic. Because
you were literally playing in traffic someone always kept an eye out for a car.
The way to find a Canadian in a foreign country is to yell “Car!” The Canadians will always smile. Because that’s what you yelled when playing road hockey and a car or truck was coming down the road. It got everyone’s attention, you pulled the net out of the way and stood aside until they passed and then everyone went to where they were before the interruption.
Pond hockey started at Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Long Pond is where hockey was invented and where adherents make an annual pilgrimage to honour the national passion.
We know hockey was first played here thanks to the diaries and writings of Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Haliburton attended Kings College in Windsor from 1800-1810. In his 1844 book The Attache, Haliburton included this description: “…you boys let out racin’, yelpin’, hollerin’, and whoopin’ like mad with pleasure and the play-ground, and the game at base in the fields, or hurley on the long pond on the ice…”
Hurley is an Irish game, played with a curved stick and ball. Coincidentally, it’s also often played of low-traffic roads.
In a previous book, The Clockmaker, published in 1836 Haliburton wrote of “playing ball on ice”.
These are the first references of a game on ice using sticks and balls. Later newspaper letters by schoolmates of Haliburton wrote of “skating on the long ponds”. One wrote, “I recollect John Cunard (brother of Sir Samuel of Steamship fame) having his front teeth knocked out with a hurley by Pete Delancey, of Annapolis.”
These accounts give Windsor and Long Pond the unequivocal historic claim as the birthplace of hockey.
At the 2017 Long Pond Classic, the Hon. Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House of Commons, and an old boy of Kings College, flew in to play a game. Regan recalled writing a paper on Haliburton and realizing the first hockey games were before those recorded in Haliburton’s diary entries since the boys were already playing before he enrolled the Kings.
The Long Pond Classic celebrates this all-pervasive national heritage. First Nations, French or English, everyone plays. Whether you lace up or watch, the Classic is a fun experience because it replaces the pressures of profit-driven professionalism with the genuine feel of friends having fun. It is the game at its purist and most authentic.
And pond hockey is a huge retro vogue across Canada.
As part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations the city is hosting a pond hockey tournament on January 28-29. The idea was so popular that they had to shut off registration at 144 six-person teams. They’ve installed 16 open air rinks. Competitions are broken down to: Competitive, Recreation, Over 50s and Women’s (tho’ all teams can be co-ed).
Then on February 16-19 are the World Pond Hockey Championships take place Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Plaster Rock is a tiny community not near anywhere. Fifteen years ago some local guys through they would break up the winter by inviting people to pull together some teams and come play hockey outside. It wasn’t anything serious – just guys, ice and beer. It caught on so now they get 120 teams from six countries (Canada, United States, The Netherlands, England, Grand Cayman and Slovakia), 35 U.S. states, eight provinces and one territory.
Pond hockey takes us to the roots and sheer fun of the game.
No doubt there are old pond hockey events across the county. Go to Google.
If you are out west or can travel, check out the Lake Louise Pond Hockey Classic from February 22-26. It’s on the lake in directly in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort. No one does wilderness like Fairmont!