Golfing with bears in Whistler

A par three at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s course challenges with a rock face ready to throw a ball into the sand trap or water hazard. (Allan Lynch Photo)

While Whistler has a reputation as a top ski destination isn’t all downhill. In spite of co-host the Winter Olympics, residents laughingly tell you there’s more to do here in summer than winter. One of the delicious surprises for someone like me, who doesn’t ski or snowboard, is that Whistler is among the world’s top golf destinations. Every major golf magazine from Golf Digest to Score to Travel + Leisure raves about the play here.

Well they should. Whistler has three courses in the village, plus others nearby. And

Some holes on the Arnold Palmer designed Whistler Course offer a forest solitude. (Allan Lynch Photo)

they are all by name designers. Arnold Palmer designed The Whistler Golf Course. Jack Nicklaus personally designed the Nichlaus North Golf Course, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. created the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. A half hour drive away is the Big Sky Golf and Country Club designed by Robert Cupp.

It’s amazing how golf-centric this place is. I have heard of players flying up from Vancouver on a float plane, landing on Green Lake, which borders the Nicklaus North Course, and immediately getting into waiting golf carts to play 18 holes before checking in to their hotel. For an ultimate experience is heli-golf which airlifts you to the top of Mount Currie to practice your drive belting bio-degradable balls into the Pemberton Valley below.

At sunset, this Whistler mountain top turns pink. (Allan Lynch Photo)

That extravagance becomes a little more affordable since Whistler without snow is a much cheaper place to visit. On my trips to Whistler, I haven’t had a car, and relied on the shuttle service which operates between the Vancouver International Airport and the village, so I didn’t get a chance to try the highly rated Big Sky Course about 30 minutes north of Whistler and the Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Squamish. You may not know the course, but you probably recognize their signature number 14th hole that juts into Howe Sound.

The flowers offer visual appeal to players and a sometime snack for brown bears. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The first course I golfed in Whistler is the Arnold Palmer-designed Whistler Golf Course. It’s the preferred course of residents and I really like that you can walk to it from your hotel.

On my initial round my foursome was comprised of a Scot, a Newfoundlander and a Torontian. At the second hole, a short 306-yard par 4, we found a brown bear by the tee. I turned to the others and asked, “Shall we skip to the next hole?”

Oh no, they were keen to play every hole. Taking the cover off my driver I tried to remember what you do in the event of a bear attack. Do you fight back, play dead or try to get away in a speeding golf cart? The Scot said, “Ack, don’t worry, bears are vegetarian.” Just then the bear raised its head to look at us. He had a mouth full of wildflowers hanging from his jaws. He looked ridiculous. So I agreed to play the hole. As I was in my backswing I suddenly thought why am I listening to a Scotsman about a Canadian bear? And if bears are vegetarians, why do I always see pictures of them fishing? Inspired by fear, I managed to deliver one of my best drives ever, dropping the ball just in front of the green.

Having managed a good drive, I took comfort in that old adage about not having to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else in your group. I figured I could easily outrun the woman from Toronto.

The rest of the round was less eventful. The score was respectable and the scenery

The sign doesn’t lie. Crows swooped in to our cart and ate our lunch. (Allan Lynch Photo)

of snow-capped mountains, cedar forest, lakes and flower gardens made for a perfect day.

Across the village is the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. There, a local player told me, “They say if you can get over the first four holes (which are uphill) you’re okay, but I’ve never managed it.”

Nor did I. I was 28 after four holes! Par, for those who must know, on those same holes is 17. It was a grim beginning. But again, you have great scenery. This time it was the Blackcomb Mountains, forests of Douglas Fir and crystal-clear, glacier-fed lakes and creeks. The water is so clear we had a good view of our balls being flushed away in the fast-moving current. Ironically, two of our foursome were a Korean couple anxious to see a bear. I told them they were on the wrong course.

The finish to our golf triumvirate was the Nicklaus North Course. I had to laugh at the tee markers, they were small bears. We seemed to have had a theme.

Like the other courses here, Nicklaus North has a lot of water. There are nine lakes. Most aren’t in play, unless you have a really bad shot. However, there is that dangerously seductive risk and reward aspect. Number two has worrisome water for those with a slice.

The 12th hole is totally unforgiving. It’s a par three with water. I sunk two drives into the water to end up with an eight. And the finish on the par four, number 18 is just cruel for aqua-phobes. You have to hit over a brook 88 feet from the hole. I took a nine on it. Needless to say, I didn’t cross the water. Well, I did, my ball didn’t. That’s the thing about golf, it brings out the optimist in us. I guess it’s the mixture of sunshine and scenery that makes me think I can still hit a three iron or cross a water hazard. One day.

In the meantime, Whistler is worth adding to your play list. Apres golf Whistler has all the chic, fun Alpine amenities of a great year-round resort.

Whistler offers a variety of top golf amid stunning scenery. (Allan Lynch Photo)

If you play:

You best bargain are the various golf packages offered for Whistler and area through The Sea-to-Sky Golf Trail www.seatoskygolftrail.com and Golf Whistler (www.golfwhistler.com).

 

 

Rolling thru the Rockies

Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer provides an elegant way to explore the continent’s last frontiers.

The Rocky Mountaineer provides a luxury experience in a Canadian frontier of glacier-fed rivers, forests and mountains. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The crisp fall morning air is interrupted by the ding, ding, ding, ding of the train engine, followed by the echoing blurrrrrrrrph blasting from the train horn. Then there is the growing gentle scream of brakes as the clacking wheels come to an orderly halt in front of us. This is the entrance that the Rocky Mountaineer makes at the picturesque Banff train station.

Telling a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer starts with a red carpet for passengers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The train is painted in crisp white, blue and gold colors. Its windows function like a type of long mural, reflecting the forests and snow-capped mountains surrounding us. As we walk the length of this train, hands and fingers point, accompanied by a dozen languages and even more accents of the giggling crowd of excited passengers.

This is my second trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, which rolls through the spectacular mountain landscape between Vancouver and Calgary. This day the train from Calgary is stopping in Banff to pick us up for the trip to the coast. My previous trip was the reverse: Vancouver to Calgary.

The Mountaineer is an adjective-depleting experience that is almost unfair because of how it spoils passengers. This service has thought about every aspect of the travel experience. The staff are well-hired and well-trained. You can’t fake the kind of people skills that Rocky Mountaineer attendants posses. They’re considerate, efficient and happy. Rather than asking, they anticipate needs. The service is as grand as the landscape. It’s a level of retro elegance reminiscent of days when well-dressed people travelled with retinues and steamer trucks.

There is a great historic connection to taking a train from Banff. The Canadian federation was saved by American railroad executive Sir William Van Horne. In 1871 the federal government made a commitment to British Columbia that if it joined the Canadian federation, rather than becoming part of the United States, the new province would be connected to the rest of Canada via a railway. That was key for commerce. However, the project was bogged down by incompetence and corruption. Enter the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Illinois-born Van Horne, who pushed the railway through the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. When Van Horne saw the view of the Bow Valley from Banff he famously said, “Since we can’t export the scenery, we have to import the tourists.” And he made it so. He ordered what is now the iconic castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel built so that tourists arriving by rail had a place to stay.

This is the light-filled top level of the Gold Leaf Dome Car. Windows are washed daily so passenger views are clear. (Allan Lynch Photo)

On this morning most of us have come from the hotel to the train. My fellow passengers range from a group of British train enthusiasts, Americans celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, honeymooners, Germans, Dutch, Spanish and Canadians discovering their backyard. I chuckle at the Brits who are thrilled both with our train and with the massive, freight trains that share our tracks. A retired British transportation executive, counting 100 freight cars on one train, exclaimed, “That train is as long as the track from London to Brighton!”

Some of the wildlife seen from the train. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Riding these rails is like being part of a great nature documentary. Other than when the rails were laid, much of this landscape is as untouched as it has been for millennium. This is a view denied to all but extreme adventurists and those, like us, privileged enough to take this train. We pass prairies, foothills, wetlands, flatlands, forests, snow-capped mountains and glacier-fed rivers, lakes and gorges. We see beaver dams, elk, deer, bear, osprey and gravity-defying big-horned sheep who jump from one improbable perch to the next, somewhat like nature’s ultimate circus act. In one river we see the red schools of what my seatmate said are Kokanee salmon.

The sightseeing is accompanied by meals worthy of any good restaurant. In our

Breakfast on the Rocky Mountaineer. (Allan Lynch Photo)

dining room tables are set with white linens and fresh cut flowers. The five-item breakfast menu offers fresh omelettes of mozzarella, asparagus and smoked ham; scrambled eggs with steelhead salmon, kelp caviar and chive crème fraîche; eggs benedict with Montreal smoked meat; buttermilk pancakes; and a granola Parfait. Lunch, which changes daily, ranges from vegetarian and light options to wild BC Sockeye Salmon, Alberta pork tenderloin, short ribs and Black Tiger Prawns. The wine list features the best of BC’s vineyards: Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot, Shiraz and a sparkling wine. It all fortifies the message that life is good.

Aaron, our seat attendant, draws gales of laughter from passengers as he does his impression of a moose. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I consider the Rocky Mountaineer as being like a rolling resort. I’m in the Gold Leaf Service, which is the highest of their three passenger categories (Red, Silver and Gold). Each has its own style of rail car. Any level on this train is above what you will have experienced on another service. In Gold Leaf 68 of us share a dome car staffed by three seat attendants, two chefs, plus dining room servers. We sit in sunshine enjoying the vast panorama outside. The car’s lower level has a foyer/gift display, washrooms with fresh cut flowers and flagstone floors, dining room and is connected to the upper level via a spiral staircase and, for those with mobility challenges, an elevator. The real bonus is the balcony. Each dome car has a substantially-sized open-air balcony with room for 12-15 passengers to inhale the crisp, fresh, invigorating, seasonal aroma of forests and mountain lakes, and snap spectacular photos without any glass glare.

Among the company’s attention to detail is how they handle luggage. At the Fairmont Banff Springs my bag was placed in the coach taking me to the train station, from which it was delivered to my hotel room in Kamloops. This is a two-day trip. The train stops at night so passengers never miss the scenery and crews can restock and thoroughly clean the train. The next morning, my suitcase was picked up from my Kamloops hotel room and delivered to my room at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. This is really spoiling the traveler.

We rolled past pioneering communities with rustic names and identities, like Skuzzy Creek, Boston Bar, Jackass Mountain, Cisco Crossings, Avalanche Alley, Jaws of Death Gorge, and the Three Sisters Mountains. As we passed Sicamous, our attendants, who double as tour guides delivering local history and directing us to best upcoming angles for pictures, told us this is houseboat capital of Canada, where pizzas are delivered to the middle of the lake. Further on we experienced the engineering miracles of the “Spiral Tunnels”. The Cathedral Mountain tunnel turns 250 degrees in 993 meters/3,255 feet, while the Mount Ogden tunnel turns 230 degrees in 912 meters/2,922 feet.

Approaching Vancouver we pass vast vegetable and flower gardens, see log booms

Passengers are encircled by a large landscape of rivers, forests and mountains. (Allan Lynch Photo)

on the Fraser River and learn that at the narrowest part of that river, Hell’s Gate, 200 million gallons of water (909,218,000 liters) per minute pass through! This whole experience is about nature unhindered.

The experience caters to those who appreciate nature, a culinary experience, a glimpse into the discovery of the continent as well as engineering wizardry. At the very least it’s one elegant way to go from A to B.

A choice of experiences

Rocky Mountaineer (http://www.rockymountaineer.com) offers four services: First Passage to the West (Vancouver, Kamloops, Lake Louise, Banff), Journey through the Clouds (Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper), Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver, Whistler, Quesnel, Jasper) and the Coastal Passage (Seattle, Vancouver, Rockies).

Paddling Pumpkins

This cluster of solo-propelled pumpkins were sponsored by a cluster of pubs. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Peanuts’ fans are familiar with the concept of The Great Pumpkin.

Well, great and giant pumpkins are the norm in Nova Scotia. Our pumpkins are so big we hollow them out and paddle them across a lake as part of the Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

Pumpkinhead paddled in his 16th regatta. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The 19th Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor had over 50 entries, one of the largest turnouts in several years. We’re expecting even more for the 20th regatta in 2018.

The Giant Pumpkin weekend has a pumpkin painting party the night before the regatta. Regatta day there is a parade through Windsor of the entries and supporters. The parade ends on the far side of Lake Pisiquid where a team of forklifts remove them from their floats and transfer them to the lake. Then participants make any final adjustments to their pumpkin (like removing seeds they missed before) and are assisted into the craft.

Dressed as a hot dog and relish these participants were raising funds for the Children’s Wish Foundation. (Allan Lynch Photo)

And then the regatta begins!

It is great fun. The town of Windsor has a resident population of 3,500. Over 5,000 people come to the lakeside to watch the regatta.

Not only is the regatta fun, it illustrates the decency and good sportsmanship of people. For example, in 2016 two sight-impaired women participated. It was a bucket-list experience for them. However, as they were about to board their pumpkin they realized it had a crack and was taking on water. Two young men, students at Kings-Edgehill School, stepped forward and exchanged pumpkins with these women. A kayaker followed the women across the lake shouting directions to them so they could finish.

Early in the regatta one pumpkin sank. That didn’t deter its rower. He swam across the lake. It was probably less work than trying to paddle a giant pumpkin. (Allan Lynch Photo)
The spirit of Canada. (Allan Lynch Photo)

At the 2017 regatta one pumpkin was painted with the Canadian and Bolivian flags. A student from each country paddled the pumpkin. They were a living example of the real acceptance and diversity of Canada.

The Giant Pumpkin Regatta is an offshoot of the passion Windsor farmer Howard Dill had for growing giant pumpkins. In the 1970s Dill perfected the giant pumpkin. Dill was known to spend cold nights in his pumpkin patch, wrapping blankets around his early Atlantic Giant Pumpkins to protect them from the frost. Many people wondered why anyone would want a 500-pound pumpkin. Now giant pumpkins hit almost three times that size.

This pumpkin represents a craft rum distiller. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Guinness-Record- Holder Dill was crazy like a fox. He knew it would fire the imagination of competitive gardeners and launch a fun business around his quirky creation. His wife Hilda bought into his passion and wrote a pumpkin cookbook. Howard died in 2008, but his passion and humour lives on in every giant pumpkin in every pumpkin patch around the world and though Windsor’s annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta.

It’s a natural progression. Once you’ve weighted your pumpkin, then hollowed it out to make the couple of hundred pies a humongous gourd will yield, what else is left but to race the shells?

Windsor’s Giant Pumpkin Regatta is the coolest way to play with our food.

 

To track future pumpkin events, click on: https://www.town.windsor.ns.ca/events.html

Post-paddle pumpkins are pulled aside in a holding area. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Cowboy poetry celebrates a lifestyle in verse

Carmen Lindsay sings and recites cowboy-inspired songs and poetry. (Allan Lynch Photo)

When it comes to literary genres, most people don’t automatically turn to cowboy poetry. Nor do many people think to travel to hear it. We book London show tours, travel to once-a-decade presentations of passion plays and visit great capitals to wallow in so-called “high culture” like ballet and opera. But a significant number of people regularly chose to travel to cowboy poetry festivals to hear cowboy poets share their earthy, personal, passionate reflections of life lived in the saddle or on the plains.

I don’t recall studying cowboy poetry in English class. In fact, I had never heard of cowboy poetry until I got cable TV and saw them on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, who amused his audience with annual visits from both competitive bird callers and cowboy poets.

I was fascinated by these characters. The cowboys always seemed to have

Cowboy poets and preachers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

cliché nicknames, like “Slim” or “Tex”. As they lumbered, semi-bowled legged on to the stage, I imaged the dust trailing them. They sported big droopy mustaches, weathered hats, battered boots and shiny silver buckles.

Not to be outdone, Canada, I was surprised to learn, has our own cowboy poets. In fact, we have a thriving cowboy culture and a variety of cowboy poetry gatherings. One of the larger ones is the Stony Plain Cowboy Gathering, which has been held since 1992. Stony Plain (pop. 7,000) is 35 kms north of downtown Edmonton. It is where prairie meets boreal forest. The town has gained a reputation for the 27 large murals which decorate what would otherwise have been blank walls, turning the community into an open air gallery celebrating local history, agriculture, pioneers, native peoples, and the country doctor. Continue reading “Cowboy poetry celebrates a lifestyle in verse”

Tall ship adventures

The tall ship Caledonia. (Allan Lynch Photo)

“I must go down to the seas, again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” John Masefield, Sea Fever

 

The Europa about to sail under the Confederation Bridge. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Tall ship travel is the most elegant of life’s experiences.

It’s also romantic, poetic and fun. In a world where terrorism and wobbly economics have stripped the elegance from travel, sailing on a tall ship is a ray of sunshine directed to the adventurous soul. It is a type of boutique travel, where everyday hardy crews of fit young men and women weight anchor, cast off lines, climb rigging, pull ropes, and drop sails to glide over the sea to the next adventure. Except that on a tall ship this method of travel is part of the adventure.

As a travel writer I get to do a lot of very cool things. I get to see a lot of the

View from a tall ship to land. (Allan Lynch Photo)

world, experience fine food and meet interesting people. Sailing on a tall ship is at the top of my list of fun things to do.

I’ve sailed five times on four tall ships. The first was the SSFantome in the Bahamas. It was primarily a booze cruise under canvas. Next came a week on the tall ship Europa, sailing from Cape Tormentine around PEI to Pictou. After that was a week sailing the west coast of Newfoundland on the Concordia. Finally, I joined the initial cruise of the Caledonia in the French Caribbean and again from Quebec City to Bonne Bay.

Some of the five miles of ropes which secure the sails on the tall ship Europa. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The Europa, which is taking part in the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta, was built in 1911 as a floating lighthouse. It is 185-feet-long, has three masts, and 27 sails which cover 11,000 sq. ft. and requires over five miles of rope to manage. Europa’s white hull, neatly tied sails and taut rigging looks like Disney designed a pirate ship.

The barquentine S.V. Caledonia is 248-feet-long, 30-feet wide and has 21 sails containing 17,000 sq. ft. of canvas. Under sail, the Caledonia, which has a four-yard front mast and two single masts, looks like a cross between the Bounty and the Bluenose. Caledonia, which was based in Halifax, is not part of this year’s tall ship gathering. It is for sale if anyone catches the dream to play pirate or enter into boutique cruising. Caledonia can accommodate 57 passengers in 32 cabins in four-star comfort. It operated with 22 crew.

Tall ships are a true adventure. Because of their size they can take you to ports

A fiery sunset over Anticosti. (Allan Lynch Photo)

that bigger ships have to bypass. One of the places we visited was Anticosti Island. I’ve grown up hearing the weather forecasts for Anticosti, but how many every go there?

Not surprisingly tall ships draw a lot of interest from local residents. In every community a ship visited we were treated as part celebrity, part curiosity. People who live by the water, who make their living from the sea, sail recreationally or are descended from seafarers are naturally fascinated by the anachronism of such a creature in their midst. It was pleasant, surprising and natural since all the communities we visited were founded in the age of sail. In these communities, fortunes rose and fell during the period when tall ships connected the world, so we became part of their living history. Continue reading “Tall ship adventures”

Havin’ a blast in St. John’s at the biggest and oldest events in North America

For a week each summer, St. John’s George Street, becomes the continent’s largest open-air bar, with express service windows, drink specials and top entertainment. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Many travel publications give readers stories based on 24-, 36- or 48-hours in a place. They have readers rushing around major cities like refugees fleeing insurrection. Well, relax. For a true laid-back, kick-ass time you can always count on St. John’s.

This is especially true in mid-summer when The George Street Festival leads in to the Royal St. John’s Regatta.

Most people know George Street is the city’s infamous street of bars. In three blocks there are 24 pubs, clubs and bars. The easy-to-follow directions I was given on my first visit to St. John’s were, “Walk that way. You’ll hear it before you see it.”

For six nights each summer George Street closes to the public and implements an admission charge to become the continent’s largest pop-up bar. Bands perform on a main stage constructed for the festival and street establishments waive admission charges, create special drinks and provide express service windows. People are allowed to wander the street with drink in hand. It’s New Orleans north. While it sounds raucous, it’s a fun, multi-generational experience.

I’ve twice attended the festival. I kick myself for not taking a camera to the first when I saw three university-aged lads wandering the street with an olive-green, velvet sofa. Periodically they would sit it down in the middle of the street and pause for a drink. Other times it could be seen leaning beside the doorway of whatever club they were in.

Music fans fill the George Street and its bars for the week-long festival that closes the street to traffic. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The festival is a great, great time. You’re outside. People who smoke can and there’s top entertainment. In 2014 acts included Dr. Hook, Billy and The Bruisers, Bic & The Ballpoints, Serena Ryder and for the last night Alan Doyle, who pumped up the audience with gritty home-grown songs that seemed like impassioned generational anthems.

Alan Doyle drives his music into the souls of his audience at the George Street Festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

When he sang Just an Ordinary Day, it was like land-based thunder as a 5,000-voice choir joined in singing the chorus,

“And I say way-hey-hey,

It’s just an ordinary day

And it’s all your state of mind

At the end of the day you’ve just got

to say … it’s all right …”

He followed with When I’m Up, which begins with reflective lyrics “I am the fountain of affection, I’m the instrument of joy” then shifts to a driving joyful, powerful message about youthful exploits of grinning and spinning, finishing with a semi-Biblical, “I am lifted”.

Not to get involved in that song in this place means you’re dead. It was such a powerful performance the audience was exhausted by the time Doyle left the stage. It’s the passion of the place and people which is so uplifting.

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is North America’s oldest sporting event. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The next day, which was overcast, bought on the Royal St. John’s Regatta. This is one of the quirkiest events in the world. Quirky because it’s a floating civic holiday. While scheduled for the first Wednesday of August it is dependent on good weather. Every year at 6 am the regatta committee – not the mayor, council or premier – determines if the weather is good enough for the regatta to proceed, which triggers a civic holiday in St. John’s.

If the weather is bad, the committee meets Thursday to repeat the process

Regatta Day is about fun and food. (Allan Lynch Photo)

and so on. In it’s 198-year history the Regatta has only been postponed a few times: the death of George III, world wars (tho’ in 1941 it was held as a diversion for men at arms and to help with their physical fitness) and because of wind and rain in 2007 and 2008. Some times the weather turns during the regatta. In 1968 the last races ran so late that car lights were used to guide rowers to the finish.

Since Wednesday could be a holiday, St. Johner’s party the night before – like I did at the George Street Festival. If the regatta is postponed, they go to work and party again Wednesday night because Thursday could be a holiday. The local joke is never to schedule surgery for early August because you don’t know what state your surgeon will be in.

One side of the lake is for family fun and food, the other the diehard racers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The regatta is the oldest sporting event in North America and the last fixed-seat rowing competition in the world. It’s held on Quidi Vidi Lake (pronounced Kitty Vitty). The day is filled with 20 races between 80 sculls comprised of six rowers and a coxswain (the guy who yells at the rowers). There are competitions for men and women with teams made up of a wide swath of the community from lawyers, to car dealers, members of the military, students, airline staff, pharmacists and others. One side of the lake is occupied by regatta fans, the other by a massive festival with games of chance, crafts, food vendors, music and at the far end bouncy castles, slides and rides for kids. There are two types of regatta attendees: the rabid racing crowd and the carnival crowd who ask, “Oh, is there a race?”

The North Head Trail starts at Cabot Tower on the bluffs overlooking the North Atlantic and traces the edge of the continent back into the city. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Another of my St. John’s must-dos is to walk the North Head Trail on Signal Hill, below Cabot Tower. I’m a desk-bound person, but even I can do a two-hour stroll along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, surrounded by rocks and wildflowers. There’s the scent of wild roses, the aroma of salt air, accompanied by nature’s symphony of wind, waves, and seagulls’ cry.

The trail follows the shoreline. Ahead are The Narrows, the 180-metre-wide

Part of the North Head Trail is cut into the hillside running by the harbour entrance. (Allan Lynch Photo)

entrance to St. John’s Harbour. On the far right is the rainbow painted city. On the left is the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland. I like to come here with a small picnic and sit with my back to North America, gazing at the sunlight dancing on the deep blue ocean waves.

The trail turns right towards The Battery, that eccentric collection of rickety crayon-coloured homes, some on stilts over the water, some forced up against the cliffs, that are popular with artists, craftspeople and holiday rentals. The last stretch to The Battery is via a narrow path worn into the side of Signal Hill. In many places it’s a straight 40-60 ft drop into the water below. It ends at a wooden deck for a tiny, tidy cottage at 44 Outer Battery Road. Depending on your direction, it could be

The trail ends at the first house in North America. (Allan Lynch Photo)

the last house in North America or the first. It’s owned by Barb Garland. On my first walk I was unsure about trespassing across the deck. But her late brother, Harold, a retired fisherman, who sat waving to sea captains piloting their ships in and out of the harbour, told me the deck was a public right of way built by Parks Canada. Garland says, “If it weren’t for the walkers I’d be lonely.”

How can you not love a place like this? For a mid-week, mid-summer break St. John’s is a winner.

The 2017 George Street Festival http://georgestreetlive.ca/george-street-festival/ is July 27 – August 2. The Royal St. John’s Regatta http://www.stjohnsregatta.org is scheduled for August 2.

Summer in Montreal, dance and laugh all night

Montreal is for lovers. Before some people dance all night they say ‘I do’. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Whenever the sun chases away the last grim bits of blackened snow the lyrics of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City ring through my mind:

Hot Town, summer in the city

Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty

Been down, isn’t it a pity 


Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

 

All around, people looking half dead

Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

 

But at night it’s a different world


Go out and find a girl

Come-on come-on and dance all night

Despite the heat it’ll be alright

 

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity 


That the days can’t be like the nights 


In the summer, in the city 


In the summer, in the city

 

If there’s any city dedicated to grabbing someone to dance all night it’s Montreal. On an average year they host back-to-back events, concerts, exhibitions. But for 2017, Montreal is celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial

Montreal’s streets are full of great people watching. This couple arrived independently of each other and posed for pictures for strangers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

AND the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding. It’s fun on steroids. They scheduled 375 events for the anniversary, which mean expanding their calendar and starting in 2016.

With 9.5 bars and 64.9 restaurants per square km, Montreal is right up there with New York, LA, London and Miami for nightlife. The city has 200 theatre companies, 50 dance groups, and, curiously, is the tango capital of North America. Montreal is also home to three circus companies, including Cirque de Soleil.

I think of Montreal as Canada’s big apple. It’s been home to both massive fortunes (in its heyday, the residents of The Golden Square Mile owned 80 percent of Canada) and an uncharacteristic boldness for Canada. These two factors impacted the city by bequeathing great architecture and cultural amenities. Fifty years after hosting Expo 67, this Olympic city does not shy away from grand schemes or big ideas. And given the massive back-to-back redevelopment which took place for both Expo and the Olympics like the underground city, artificial islands, and reinvention of whole neighbourhoods someday Montreal may well be studied as a prime repository of mid-20th century architecture.

An iconic Montreal landmark, the Olympic Stadium. (Allan Lynch Photo)

But for now, let’s focus on fun. Montreal is French, so it has that focus on food and fashion. And to flush out the alliteration, let’s not forget festivals. For its 375th anniversary, Montreal is the epicenter of fun.

Montreal is the one of only six cities – with Rome, Paris, London, San Francisco and New York – that Gourmet magazine ever devoted an entire issue to. Editor Ruth Reichl said Montreal is “an absolutely extraordinary city. Here, it seems all the best aspects of the French, English, Greek, Italian, West Indian and Jewish traditions that have gone into the making of this city are treated with equal reverence. No wonder the markets are so rich, the restaurants so pleasurable. No wonder so many artists and musicians have chosen to live here. And no wonder Montreal is now becoming a tourist mecca. The fact that it is so affordable is another big bonus.”

Reichl added, “spending time in Montreal was perhaps most exciting of all. Everyone knows that these other cities are great places to visit; you have a good idea what you’ll find there. But Montreal is filled with surprises.” She concluded by quoting one of Gourmet’s other editors who says, “These people have really figured out how to live.”

Farmers’ market food presentation is an art. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Traditionally my visits to Montreal have included a Saturday morning at the Atwater Market for killer pastries at Boulangerie Premiere Moisson and salivating at the 750 cheeses on offer at la Fromagerie Atwater. I wanted to broaden my experience, so on my most recent visit I went to the Jean-Talon Market. Montreal’s markets are amazing because the vendors turn vegetable displays into art works. They make a cluster of cauliflower look like a great centerpiece. And they are manage to support specialists, like the Olive & Olives shop where the olive addict in me happily loaded up on so many cans of olives in lemon and olives in red pepper that I risked going over my airline baggage limit.

These markets are worth a visit for the colour, spirit, a late breakfast or lunch or to get the fixings for a picnic either on the Mountain or Expo islands.

Buckminister Fuller’s Geodesic dome which housed the United State’s pavilion at Expo 67. (Allan Lynch Photo)

I didn’t get to Expo 67, so the artificial islands created when the underground city was dug fascinate me. They’re great, green spaces close to and easily reached from downtown. If the city closes in on you or gets hot and gritty, a bus or a subway can whisk you to this watery countryside in minutes. There’s something awe-inspiring about seeing Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome rise over the treetops on Ile Sainte-Helene. I find the idealism of that period and setting calming. The islands are home the La Ronde amusement park, treed lanes and restaurants and places to picnic which overlook the city. Another option is to cross over to Ile Notre-Dame for a flutter at the Casino de Montreal, which is housed in the old French pavilion from Expo.

An office tower shows the faces of the performers who have appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

What I appreciate about Montreal is its small footprint, which is something else it shares with Paris. Both cities are big, but for what a visitor wants each has a relatively compact geography. Centre-Ville, Quartier Latin, Le Village, Quartier International and Vieux-Montreal are all cheek-by-jowl and serviced by 16 metro stations. So with a metro pass, and maybe the odd cab, you can easily explore the city without the need for your own vehicle.

For more animated experiences, I took in four festivals in four nights: the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, the Festival of Fire, an African music festival and circus festival!

Montreal’s gay village goes pink for Pride. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Lots of people were out for these events, but the only time it was crowded was going to La Ronde for the fireworks festival. The subway, buses and park were packed, but it was a short-term experience and even then people were orderly. And if you are an out-of-towner looking to avoid the crowds many downtown hotels host fireworks watching parties on upper floor lounges.

On my first night I attended the opening night of International Nuits d’Afrique Festival at the Metropolis Theatre. I came expecting tribal music, but was entertained by exciting African jazz artists with a type of calypso under-beat.

It was interesting because the crowd wasn’t enslaved to silence. They chatted, drank and enjoyed the music, but treated this as a cabaret not a concert.

My second night was back at Metropolis for the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival’s Nasty Show.

The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is everywhere is the city. (Allan Lynch Photo)

My third evening took me to the Olympia de Montréal in the gay village for

You never know what will take the stage at the circus festival. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Festival Montréal Complètement Cirque. It was like Ed Sullivan meets Cirque du Soleil. It’s a witty evening marrying art, music, circus discipline and story telling. Alas, for unilingual me, it was mostly in French and while the audience howled with laughter at the dialogue I had to make due with the physical acts, which were astounding. It is a prime example of how vibrant, inventive and interesting Montreal is.

My final night was at the International Fireworks Competition. Over nine nights during the summer pyrotechnic artists from around the world present an evening where they use the night sky as their canvas to paint a picture of their homeland. These are great nights because rather than just seemingly random ooo-and-aaahh-inspiring explosions, they present a theme built on national identity. My first exposure was a decade ago in Montreal when I saw Spain’s night. The sky was washed in vibrant reds and yellows exploding to flamingo music. This visit I saw Australia’s night. The fireworks, like the country, were brash, bright and bold, and accompanied by the didgeridoo.

The nice thing about summer evenings in the city is that it was warm enough to sit outside for a late meal and/or drink and people watching. At a cafe next to the Musee Contemporary Art I sat under a Mountain Ash watching children, out with their parents, happily squealing as they cooled off running into the changing coloured lights of a fountain.

It was also then I realized that because so many downtown streets were closed to traffic to facilitate performances, the city was astonishingly quiet. The primary sounds were splashing water, children, conversation, laughter and music.

Montreal is a complete package when it comes to a city holiday. It has style, surprise and fun. And since it hosts more events than any other community in Canada so you’ll never be bored and always find something targeted to your taste and interest.

Montreal is an art-filled city, including the numerous installations in the subway. (Allan Lynch Photo)

For current information on Montreal’s 375th anniversary events, click on: http://www.375mtl.com/en/

 

 

The Calgary Stampede is another Canadian superlative: the world’s biggest rodeo

Competitions in the rodeo ring can be a very long 8 seconds. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Alberta, like Texas, is big, brash and full of cash. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that its signature event, the superlative-inducing Calgary Stampede is both the world’s biggest outdoor show and the world’s richest rodeo. And for someone new to cowboy culture it is nothing short of thrilling.

Until you attend the Stampede you can’t imagine the colour, energy and excitement. It hits you the moment you land in the city. Everyone is dressed in their best cowboy bling. During the Stampede, Calgary is a city awash in boots and buckles, jeans and jewellery. It’s a city where cowboy hats don’t seem out-of-place in a bank, restaurant, office, behind the wheel of a truck or on someone in the saddle. Albertans seem born to the saddle, though I don’t understand how anyone wearing a belt buckle so big that it amounts to a small shield at their abdomen can bend over to sit in one, but they manage.

The flag parade launches the stadium activities. (Allan Lynch Photo)
Two Calgarians into the Stampede. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Before I arrived in the city, I was told that during Stampede week, Calgarians “drink triples, see double, and act single.” You certainly get the party feel. Not that the streets are full of falling down drunks. Far from it. But people smile and have that carefree attitude of holidayers for whom life is good. Hotel parking lots are converted into tented discos and cowboy bars. And a local restaurant hosts annual “Testicle Festival”, serving up platters of fresh Prairie Oysters in suggestively named dishes like Battered Balls and Italian Stallion (“oysters” on linguine in a tomato-basil bolognese). During the Stampede, Calgary lets down its hair and has a laugh – even at itself.

For a big city, whose core is dominated by the office towers of huge oil companies, Calgary is a friendly place with a real sense of community. The staggering scale of the volunteerism is one of the hidden superlatives about the Calgary Stampede. The Stampede operates with an army of 2,500 volunteers, working on 50 committees. There’s such community spirit here that there is a five-year waitlist to get on a Stampede committee.

First Nations lead the Stampede parade through the city. (Allan Lynch Photo)

To start the cowboy experience you can join a horse-drawn wagon tour of the downtown, which can also deliver you to the Stampede Grounds. Passengers are encouraged to mark intersections and greet pedestrians with throat-stretching YEE-HAWs and YA-HOOs, which often earn similar tribal chants in return. The rattle of the rigs, the clip clop of horses’ hooves and jingle of their harnesses seem to quickly transport these Prairie people back to their roots. Calgary may be the centre of the oil industry, but its heart is still in the Prairie’s wide open spaces and endless skies.

The Stampede midway at night. If it can be fried or barbecued, it’s here. (Allan Lynch Photo)

At the Stampede itself, my head spins like it did as a child. There are the usual screams and lights of the midway and diet-busting aromas from hundreds of food sellers – if it’s fryable or barbecuable it’s here. In addition to the usual carnival elements are surprise features like the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the Agrium Ag-tivity in the City and Indian Village.

A traditional dancer in a land-based rainbow-coloured costume. (Allan Lynch Photo)

While I looked at the over-the-top rhinestone infused costumes of Canadian country greats at the Hall of Fame, I was lured outside by the not-to-subtle blasts of the Stampede Brass Band, who wander the fair grounds putting on impromptu concerts. The Agrium is a cool area that introduces children to, and reminds the rest of us of, the source of our food. It’s like a hip, high-tech trip to the farm. Kids can sit on a wooden horse and lasso a steer. They can see a sow nursing her piglets, touch chicks, pat a bull, view a buffalo and milk a mechanical cow.

The Native People’s village contains rows of teepees, fantastically coloured costumes, cooking demonstrations, dance displays and native competitions.

Part of the First Nations’ participation in the Stampede. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Of course the main draw and action is in the Stampede ring. Since recorded history, mankind has been staging spectacles, from the blood and gorge of the Colosseum in Rome to the mock battles staged in the fountains of Versailles. The Stampede is equal to anything I know of for sheer spectacle.

Before each event, participants run into the Stampede ring to take a bow. I

Another long 8-second ride. (Allan Lynch Photo)

found it comical watching a wall of cowboys trying to run with their thick fringed leather chaps flapping like an ill-fitting kids’ costume. Then, with a quick wave of their hats, they disappear behind the head-high wall of metal railings to the animals.

The Stampede rodeo events include: Saddle Bronco, Bareback Bronco, Bareback Bull Riding, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Ladies Barrel Racing and Chuckwagon races.

Stampede bling includes plate-sized belt buckles. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Watching the Saddle Bronco and Bareback Bull Riding I wondered how many Prairie parents asked their sons, “Are you crazy? Are you trying to break your neck?” There’s a fine line between courage and crazy. The bronco and bull events are bone-rattling rides. The riders look like raggedly dolls being tossed unmercifully with limbs, hands and feet flying everywhere while they hold on for eight-very long seconds. Eight seconds doesn’t seem long until you’ve seen how much jumping, twisting, bucking and turning an horse or bull can manage in that time.

Riders are expected to have a lot of leg movement and are judged on how well

Some Stampede belt buckles are highly personalized. (Allan Lynch Photo)

they ride‚ as well as the participation of the animal. So it doesn’t pay to pick a passive pony or benevolent bull.

I also learned that different body types help with various events. For example, bull riders are short guys because it’s hard to balance yourself on a bull if you’re tall. They also tend to have very thick arms.

If the rider lasts his eight seconds, outriders come to his aid. Whether the cowboy is lifted from his mount by an outrider or picked up after being thrown face down in the dirt, it always ends in a classic cowboy tradition with him dusting himself off and raising his hand to the roar of an appreciative crowd. It is cliched and wonderful. It seemed like we had a new Colosseum, a new hero, and an updated spectacle.

Two of the many chiefs who appear at the Stampede. (Allan Lynch Photo)

One of the members of the medical team – the Stampede maintains a clinic in the cowboys’ lounge (there are even more vets on duty than doctors) – told me, “People who have not been around rodeo have a misconception that cowboys are weekend warriors, that ride on Saturday, sit around all week, then ride again the following weekend. To give you a little snapshot of the schedule most of these cowboys, eight of the guys rode here for on the first four days, all entered rodeos in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. They don’t get to stay two days in a row in one place. Typically they would have had to criss-cross between four rodeos. So, for example, yesterday one athlete was up in Sheraton in the morning, Colorado Springs that evening, then drove through the night to get here for today.”

What I also found interesting is the description of rodeo cowboys as athletes. It wasn’t something I ever considered, but of course they are. I wrongly assumed the competitors were ranch hands having a lark. What is different about their sport is the clothing. Nike doesn’t do boots and chaps, so they wear plaids instead of logos.

The thundering excitement of the Calgary Stampede chuck wagon races. (Allan Lynch Photo)
The outriders scramble to catch up with their chuckwagon. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The Stampede’s highlight is the chuckwagon races. The only thing I can liken this fast and frenetic pace to is the chariot race in the film Ben Hur. They are almost too exciting.

Each race is between four teams. Each team comprises a chuck wagon pulled by a four-horse team, a driver, four outriders and their horses. That means the ring fills with four wagons, 20 men and 32 horses. They begin from a static start, with riders on the ground by their horses, the reins of the wagon taut as these thoroughbred horses strain to do what they were born to do. When the start horn sounds the ring breaks into organized chaos. Suddenly teams of horses pulling brightly coloured chuckwagons dash around rubber pillions, while outriders fling items representative of the cattle-drive campfires on to the back of the wagons, then throw themselves on to their already racing horses. The air fills with a loud blur. The ring is blanketed by the thunder of 128 hooves, flapping tails and flying mud. Then in seconds, poof, they’re gone, leaving the ring calm for a minute or two before their thundering hooves, shouts of drivers and rattle of wagons flies to the finish. It’s orchestrated pandemonium.

It’s a hell of a high note on which to end the Stampede. It’s a massive job keeping an iconic festival or event fresh. So many become faded and worn around the edges as locals tire of it and volunteers repeat themselves. New blood is too often met with a ‘we tried that’ dismissal, so that slowly great events get strangled by inertia and protectionism from the old guard. Not the Calgary Stampede. This celebration, which started in 1912, manages to maintain its youthful energy, positive freshness and a frontier scappiness. It truly is worth experiencing.

Each evening, while animals and athletes rest there is a large MainStage show. (Allan Lynch Photo)

 

 

Celtic competitions and highland games

The caber toss is a star event at any highland games. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Philosophers may debate whether a tree falling in the forest makes a noise, but a tossed caber certainly generates sound. There’s the prolonged “aaaaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh” screamed by the caber tosser as he runs across an open field trying to throw a telephone-pole-sized log end-over-end, the clunk of the log falling on the ground and the excited cheers and chants of the audience. At least that’s how it is at the Antigonish Highland Games.

“Stick toss” is athlete lingo for the caber. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Highland games are quietly noisy events. Their noise isn’t the kind that causes neighbours to call the police, it’s of physical exertion, competition and culture. There is the gentle thump, thump, thump of dancers’ feet as they twirl amid crossed swords lain on the stage. The hum and squeal of bagpipes, the boom and rat-tat-tat of bass and tenor drums, the grunts and groans of the tug-of-rope competition, screams of their supporters and the prolonged yells of a heavy athlete either twirling in a cage to throw the Scottish hammer, a stone or building momentum for the caber toss.

As if the size wasn’t enough of a challenge, cabers come in a variety of finishes, weights and woods. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Attending the Antigonish Highland Games taught me so much about these ancient competitions. The Games were like being dropped into a Celtic bubble. Walking Antigonish’s main street I heard people speaking Gaelic. Signs leading to Columbus Field, where the games are held, are in Gaelic. And throughout the town are monuments and plaques to the area’s Scottish heritage.

At Columbus Field I first encountered a dance pavilion where pixie-size competitors in tiny tartans did nymph-like steps in unison across the stage. Their focus, discipline and precision is all the more impressive given their young ages. Next is an all-things Celtic commercial encampment selling everything from tartans, kilts, pipes, odd-looking bagpipe carrying cases, to bumper stickers showing a distinctly Scottish bias: ‘If it’s nay Scottish it’s crrr-ap’; ‘Have pipes will travel’; and ‘On the eighth day God created bagpipes’.

As the oldest such games outside Scotland, Antigonish can be forgiven their bias.

There is a stunning amount of strategy to the tug-of-war. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Lining one side of the dirt track, which encompasses the athletic field, tug-of-war-ers engage in what sometimes seems like a semi-static struggle. An announcer shifts from his calm observation, “The hands are beginning to burn now,” to an excited scream, “They’ve done it! They’re moving! It’s a flip!” With this, coaches bark orders to their team, water boys race along the line pouring water on heads and necks, while the pullers’ groaning increases, dust rises and spectators are bent forward in their seats or standing in the bleachers screaming their support quickly switching to cheers and applause when one team finally prevails and leaving the other in the dust.

Every aspect of the games is governed by strict rules and/or strategy. St. Andrews Ladies’ coach, Glen VanVonderen explains that in Tug of War, they use a two-and-three-quarter-inch-thick burlap rope since acrylic rope becomes too slippery for sweaty hands to hold. Rules don’t allow competitors to sit or dig their hands into the ground. He explains, “It’s all in technique. You’ve got to pull low. You can’t be wiggling your feet around. When you first start you gotta pull hard and then just kinda set in on the rope, kinda rest your hands, tuck the rope underneath your arm, and push in on it. You’re watching the other team to see if there’s a girl getting tired or starting to wear out. When that happens you switch and get down and dirty and pull, pull, pull.”

A heavy athlete in full flourish. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Over in the main field where athletes are competing in the traditional Scottish heavy events, there’s even more technique involved.

Not to take away from the other Games’ participants, but the heavy athletes are sort of the stars. Perhaps it’s because their events are both traditional and quirky.

What’s fascinating about the Games is how true they are to their roots. Whereas other major competitions, like the Olympics, have evolved in to a type of testament to science and invention in developing better equipment or costumes, Scottish heavy athletes, like generations before them, maintain a cultural purity. They compete in kilts, using irregular devices and real muscles, as opposed to gym-trained, designer muscles.

Four times Canadian and four-time World Masters Champion World and Senior Games Caber Champion Dirk Bishop from Perth-Andover explains that unlike other sporting events, Highland games have no uniformity in equipment. At each games a caber will vary in cut, tree type, length (20-to-26 feet long) and weight (100-to-150 pounds). It can range from spruce, fir to ironwood, “which is unbelievably heavy.” Bishop says, “Every caber has a different crook in it, the weight is different, the taper means a lot to it, how big the big end is compared to how small the small end is all mean something.”

Even the stones can vary. At one game they could throw smooth river stones,

Tiny dancers. (Allan Lynch Photo)

at another cement bricks of the correct weight. And there can be lots of injuries from splinters and scrapped skin, to cabers falling on tossers to broken limbs and ribs. For the hammer toss, athletes wear boots with spikes in the front that they dig into the ground for stability. It’s an invitation for injury.

The caber toss, also known as “stick turning” by competitors, is judged on several elements: whether it goes end-over-end, how straight the caber falls and the angle the caber reaches.

Bishop’s technique, which he likens to trying to balance a baseball bat from the narrow end, he learned from his caber mentor, Doug MacDonald from the Annapolis Valley.

Real skill and muscle is required to compete with irregular devices, like river stones. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Other heavy events include the Braemar, heavy and light stone throws, 16 and 22 lb hammer tosses, a 56 lb weight for height, and 28 and 56 lb weight for distance throws. Highland Games eschew metric. They stick to the old rules and measures.

In a wooded corner off the playing field is Piper’s Glenn. It is bordered by a river where some non-kilted kayakers slowly paddle past the impromptu serenade provided by pipers and drummers who have positioned themselves along the riverbank to practice and warm up before facing a battery of judges for their solo competitions.

History suggests that games evolved from an ancient type of job interview. A clan chief would either host or attend a set of games to see who the fastest runners and strongest and best fighters were. These would become the chieftain’s messengers and bodyguards. The best pipers and dancers would provide his entertainment. More recently they have been a way to keep the culture alive.

Whatever their purpose, they’re a fun experience. And there’s a lot more to them than burly men in heritage drag.

 

 

More Games:

Dancers compete. Athletes compete. Pipers, drummers and pipe bands compete. (Allan Lynch Photo)

Highland Games also include evening ceilidhs, parades, massed bands, concerts and kilted golf. Some, like PEI’s, include sheepdog herding demos and Scottish country dance. Other communities hosting games include:

For 2017, the Antigonish Highland Games are technically held from July 2 to 9, but the actual competitions are July 7, 8 and 9. The Antigonish Games are the oldest, most authentic in North America. 2017 is their 154th games.

One of the trophies given out at the Antigonish Highland Games. (Allan Lynch Photo)

http://www.antigonishhighlandgames.ca

Festival of the Tartans and Highland Games, New Glasgow, July 12 – 16, 2017.

http://www.festivalofthetartans.ca

The New Brunswick Highland Games will be held in Fredericton, July 28 – 30, 2017.

http://highlandgames.ca

Glengary Highland Games are in Maxville, Ontario, August 4th and 5th:

https://glengarryhighlandgames.com

PEI Highland Games and Scottish Festival is scheduled for the Lord Selkirk Provincial Park, August 5th and 6th, 2017.

https://www.tourismpei.com/search/EventDetails/prod_id/24592/

Margaree Highland Games will be held August 11-13.

http://highlandgames.mfocc.ca

The Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games are also August 11-13 in Fergus, Ontario:

https://fergusscottishfestival.com

The North Lanark Highland Games are held August 26, 2017 in Almonte, Ontario:

http://www.almontehighlandgames.com

The Canmore Highland Games are September 2-3, 2017 in Canmore, Alberta:

http://canmorehighlandgames.ca

The Calgary Highland Games, which are over 100 years old, will be held September 2, 2017:

http://calgaryhighlandgames.org

For future reference, here are other games held in Canada:

The Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival, Vancouver Island, BC in May each year:

http://victoriahighlandgames.com/games/

The BC Highland Games and Scottish Festival are held in mid-June in Coquitlam, BC:

http://bchighlandgames.com

The Manitoba Highland Gathering is held in mid-June in Selkirk:

http://manitobahighlandgathering.org/home/

The Summerside Highland Gathering is late June in Summerside, PEI:

https://collegeofpiping.com

Pride of place, Pier 21 tells the immigrant story

John Cree’s arrival on the Halifax waterfront in 1929 wasn’t an auspicious start to a new life in a land of opportunity. Fortunately, the stock market crash, which occurred shortly after his arrival, didn’t make much difference to Cree since he was already poor. Homesick and seasick, Cree arrived to a snowy landscape made grey and grim by rain. He was one of the first immigrants to arrive in the newly opened Pier 21 immigration facility beside Halifax Harbour. While the facility was less than a year old, it wasn’t flashy says Cree who slept that first night on a rough wooden bench in cold room.

After working “the most miserable six months I ever had in my life” on a farm outside Edmonton, where he was cheated and abused by his farm employer, the pluckish Irishman hopped a freight train to Montreal. He rode for days on the roofs of box cars, lashed by wind, rain and smoke from the engine. In spite of the economic hardship of the time, strangers offered him places to sleep and meals. One family gave him a new pair of running shoes, and a CN engineer actually slowed the train down so Cree could jump aboard.

In Montreal he had three options: find a half-brother (whose address he didn’t know), try to reach an aunt in New York or get caught at the border and be deported home to Ireland. He walked to within five miles of the US border where he met someone who knew his half-brother. The next day he started work putting glue on dynamite for CIL. He worked for CIL for 39 more years, finally retiring to Dartmouth. For Cree, Canada was an adventure that paid off.

Cree’s is just one story in a book that would have 1.5 million chapters – one for each man, woman and child who passed through Pier 21. From 1928 until 1971 Pier 21 was Canada’s Ellis Island, welcoming immigrants, refugees, child evacuees, war brides, defectors and returning members of the armed forces. Over time Pier 21 became a small community within the city of Halifax. It had overnight accommodation for 400 people, a hospital, dining room and kitchen, reception areas, canteen, baggage and storage areas, and even a jail. Ships arrived daily – sometimes as many as four and five ships a day – at all hours of the day or night, discharging hundreds and thousands of frightened, traumatized, and sometimes-happy people looking to escape war, political instability, persecution and hard times in their homelands.

A wall of photos of some of the ships which brought immigrants – and returning warriors – to Canada. (Allan Lynch Photo)

In 1990, to help preserve and tell those many stories, a group of Haligonians, led by a few former immigration officers began discussing the formation of a museum dedicated to the immigrant experience. They were prompted by an aging population, who soon wouldn’t be around to tell their stories, and a fading Pier 21. As Canada’s last surviving immigration shed, the once bustling building had become a waterside derelict. It housed a few artist studios, but otherwise was given over to seagulls, pigeons and other vermin.

The Pier 21 Society was formed to establish a memorial to the immigrant experience. Society president Ruth Goldbloom says the group felt, “We had something sitting on the Halifax waterfront that was so important to the history of Canada that if we didn’t do something it would just disappear.”

Goldbloom recalls that former immigration head John LeBlanc felt that so

The contents of battered bags were all many families had to restart their lives in the new world. (Allan Lynch Photo)

much of the historical knowledge and background of Pier 21 was with people who were now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and once they were gone, so was the opportunity to get first-hand experiences of the immigrant experience. Pier 21 presented Canada with an unique opportunity to preserve the past in a way no other museum facility has. Goldbloom says, “We wanted to be able to tell your great-great grandchildren what was it like to arrive in a new country with nothing. We are a country of immigrants, but we’ve never taken the time to say thank you to the immigrant population.”

The group spent years studying the issue and trying to build support for the project. Their big breakthrough came at the end of the 1995 G-7 Economic Summit held in Halifax. As a thank you to the citizens of Canada for hosting the summit, the Prime Minister announced that $4.5 million was available to the Pier 21 Society – contingent on their raising matching funds.

Goldbloom, a diminutive dynamo, criss-crossed Canada raising money from anyone who would listen to her. She called on government departments, corporations, foundations and wealthy individuals to raise the money. In November 1998, work began converting the pier into Canada’s new national historic site.

Pier 21 opened on Canada Day, 1999. Behind the scenes organizers thought if 2,000 people turned out that would be great. In reality 9,000 people came to Pier 21 on that day.

The opening was an emotional roller-coaster ride for those who attended it. The day began with an erie silence, as people of all ethic backgrounds and dress quietly walked as if on as pilgrimage to this south end location.

A black military piper in tartan kilt played while women in dashikis and Louis Vuitton bags, and men in suits and casual wear took their places. War brides arrived on board HMCS Preserver. Mounties came in their scarlet tunics. And the Legion Colour Parties stood as proudly by as when they were young men returning from European battlefields. Everyone had some connection to Pier 21. Many had originally been the brave ones seeking a new life. Others were their sons and daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Throughout the ceremonies the audience nodded in agreement, wept and clapped. (One woman told Goldbloom that after losing all her family to the Holocaust, she now considers Pier 21 to be her place of birth.) When the Royal salute was given, one grandfather with a swift, loving hand deftly slid a ball cap off his grandson’s head and over the child’s heart. During the robust singing of O Canada most of the crowd shed even more tears.

For many arrivals at Pier 21 it had been years since anyone said welcome. (Allan Lynch Photo)

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