Friday, October 30, 2015


Grief is a funny thing the way it rises out of nowhere and swamps your boat. Forty years ago my son Kevin was born. I was 29 years old. Today he would have been 40--if he had lived past age 9 when he died from a brain tumour.

Every year at this time I am blindsided by sadness. It seeps into the Hallowe'en experience and leaves me without energy or enthusiasm for anything. I don't like this season at all. Darkness, rain and soggy leaves mark the transition into the long tunnel that is winter.

Most years I just push on through the depression and try to find things to lift me out of it. But this year I'm succumbing. I'm spending the day tucked under the covers and reading an Anne Tyler novel and remembering the sweetness of the time I spent with my first little son. Tomorrow I can pick up the oars and start rowing again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Yay oh yay, change has come to Canada

Whew! We are all breathing a huge sigh of relief with the election of Justin Trudeau as leader of a majority Liberal government. It's like we are waking up from a long bad dream. For the first time in many months or even years, Canadians are beginning to look forward to feeling comfortable and positive about our our own country.                                                                                                         Here on Vancouver Island though, the Liberal surge turned a slightly different colour. The NDP (orange) won 6 of the 7 seats and Green leader Elizabeth May won her seat again.  Although I supported Tom Mulcair, I am very pleased at Trudeau's win and I think he will actually be better for Canada because he's a member of a long-standing party, he's young and enthusiastic, plus he has the support of a lot of young people.                                                                                                                                         Funny thing, although everyone over 50 knows that Justin is the son of famous Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, I've heard the many young people aren't even aware of that.    
So far Justin appears to be ready to move on the campaign promises he made. Yesterday he held a news conference in Ottawa and one thing he said really resonated.

"Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years," said Trudeau. "Well I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians: We're back!"

Hooray. Now we can move on with our lives.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Excitement and dread in Victoria

It's October 19th--a date that we've had our sights on here for most of the last four years--election day in Canada. The interminable and increasingly nasty election has wound down and today is voting day. There has never before been an election like this. If we can't defeat Harper's government our country will never be the same.

Polls are showing shifting among voters and still many undecided voters. There have been attack ads and lies and gaffes by candidates. And the Green Party, which I thought I liked (but can't vote for in this election) has stooped to twisting the truth to try to defeat their opponent here in Victoria. There have been calls for strategic voting and discussion about whether it's effective or not. Only the results tonight will tell. There were huge lineups for the advance polls on the weekend--and we're hoping this is a good sign that change will be coming to Canada.

We came home to the final build-up towards the election. Everyone I meet can talk of nothing else. Everyone is exhausted from thinking about it and discussing the shifts in the polls. I saw a cartoon where a woman is visiting the doctor, and the doc says: Let's see if this nausea and anxiety goes away after the election. Everyone I know is feeling nausea and anxiety today.

Harry I voted before we left on our trip so we don't have to go to the polls today . But most people are heading out to vote sometime before the polls close at 7:00.  It's possible that the results will come down to the votes on Vancouver Island, even though Eastern Canada holds most of the seats because of their population. Today things things appear to go on as usual here but there's a palpable sense of excitement and dread--in about equal measure.

Tonight we'll know if the reign of the evil king is over--and if it is, the very first item on the agenda should be to fix our unfair electoral system so this will never happen again.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A walk around some neighbourhoods

Good news: I was able to find a replacement cord for the camera in a little hole-in-the-wall store on the way out of the Peel Metro station. Hooray! I can post a few more photos of our our time in Montreal. I've gone back to yesterday's post and added some from those explorations.

These are from our jaunt today on the Metro. We got a three-day pass and are using it to its maximum advantage. First stop was Cotes des Neiges, where Harry lived when he first came to Canada in 1967. We found the street where he lived but he was unable to select which apartment in the many brick buildings on the street was his. Plus, he remembered the street quite differently. Now it's leafy and tree-lined but he recalls no trees at all. But of course it was almost 50(!) years ago.

This is Harry in his old neighbourhood in the Snowdon area.

Next we took the Metro to a different area--and by the way I love the Metro. It's so fast and easy to get around the city. Each station is different, some of them quite nice, and it's so much fun to come up and up from deep beneath the ground to find yourself in a completely different neighbourhood.

Outrement is a varied area with many old buildings and different Ethnic groups. We walked down one street that appeared to be completely occupied by Orthodox Jewish families. It's so fascinating to see this neighbourhood where people wear clothes from a previous era, especially the men in their long black coats and top hats and fringes and the darling little girls in their school uniforms. I felt a little guilty taking photos but I really did want to remember this. It's so different from our homogenized population in Victoria.

This woman was clearly not happy with me taking a photograph.

An interesting feature of this area (as well as others in Montreal) is the outside staircases leading up to the second floor. Apparently they were outlawed in the 1940s but then in the 1990s they were allowed to be built on streets where they already exist to keep the look of the neighbourhood. I remember these from the only other time I was in Montreal when I came out on the train for Expo '67.

Here are a few more pics of some of the areas we visited today....

This family sat down beside us at a little sidewalk cafe on Rue Saint Denis this afternoon. It was such a lovely day, the temperature got up to 24 degrees and families were everywhere on the sidewalks enjoying an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving.

We also saw many families this evening at the Botanical Gardens where they feature a lantern show every evening in the Fall. It was so warm tonight that most people were still in short sleeves even as it got dark. Here are a couple of the lanterns to show you what it was like. They were a bit to Disneyesque for me but the kids loved them.

We finished the evening in a Brew Pub near McGill where I enjoyed the first beer I have ever ordered in Canada. It was very blond and light and went beautifully with the Margherita pizza. Tomorrow is our last day in Montreal and then we're back home. It's been a long and fascinating trip and we're ready to get back to our real life. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Unravelling in Montreal

I sat down to write a blog post tonight, only to find that the cord for my camera is missing in action. This means that I can't upload photos or charge my camera so the photographic elements can't be added.  Without that there's not too much to say as photos are a big part of this endeavour.

We're in Montreal for the last few days of our trip and we've had a nice time exploring the old town and some museums. Yesterday we encountered a demonstration down by the Tourist Information Bureau. There were lots of people both young and old with signs against oil pipelines. The big issue here is the Energy East pipeline and the arguments against it are the same. I was ready to join in the march but we already had our tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus. I found out later that Elizabeth May had attended that march.

As it turned out we hopped off the bus at the first stop because of the ignorant and prejudiced comments of the French Canadian commentator. He told the passengers that the demonstration was in support of the niquab and then proceeded to talk about how he was going to wear one to the polling station to show that he could even pretend to be a woman wearing it. I was disgusted with his overt racism.

Later I saw on TV that some people actually have been wearing niquab-like costumes that cover their face to the advance polls. Either they're commenting like the driver that it shouldn't be allowed, or they're saying the whole thing is a farce. It's odd to be in Eastern Canada at this time. We thought we could ignore the election while on our trip but it's really not possible. There are Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair signs everywhere. We saw lots of Conservative signs in the countryside but not many in Montreal.

At this point it's anybody's guess about what will happen on the 19th. We'll be home by then, and will be glad to be there. While we are enjoying this amazing city we are now very tired of being on the road and even the Rodin exhibit at the Beaux Art museum and the exhibits at the Biodome can't keep us from wanting to be home. I've also been having a lot of trouble walking with my knee and foot problems so we can't get around as easily as we've done in the past.

I'll maybe post again before we fly back on the 14th--that is if my camera cord turns up. Otherwise it will be from Victoria once we're home.

Photos added later--after I managed to get another camera cord....

Our sweet little hotel on Rue Stanley.

French anti-pipeline signage

A red stone builidng, faced with stone that came over as ballast in ships from Scotland.

Two paintings from the Musee de Beaux Arts that particularly appealed to me.

This is the street outside the gallery. The kids love it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Finally some real colours in the trees

 We spent the day drifting around the Eastern Townships admiring the lovely rolling hills, tidy farms, and lovely villages. But best of all was the colours of the trees. Finally I'm seeing what I hoped for when I planned our trip for October. Because they've had a late summer, the leaves have not turned as early as usual. But today we saw some lovely colours in the trees.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The countryside along the Saint Lawrence River

It felt as though we were in the prairie flatlands this morning. We drove through miles of dried-out cornfields and between little villages, each with its church. It seems there are broad agricultural lands each side of the St. Lawrence River. 

We noticed a lot of little farm houses and barns with tin roofs painted silver. The churches and the fancier buildings have these roofs too.

After a quick stop in Trois Rivières (note the silver roofs here as well) we crossed the river and headed west to the town of Sorel. 

This was a nostalgic destination for Harry, who visited here with his parents at the age of 10. All he remembers is his father making a joke after having a not very good lunch there 63 years ago. He remembered the phrase, "We were sore as hell when we left Sorel" and wanted to visit it again.  (Isn't it funny the things you remember from your childhood?)

Sorel is now a centre for tractors and car sales. We actually had a very nice Thai lunch and then headed south through more countryside of corn and hayfields towards the Eastern Townships.

As we drove south towards Vermont the countryside changes from flatland to rolling hills with mixed deciduous forest, now beginning to change to autumn colours.  This area was settled by American Loyalists and so many of the towns are still very English. We stopped in Richmond in a little bar and found all the signs in English and the barmaid chatting in English with a customer. The next town down the road is St-Claude. That one's French. Windsor is English of course. The names give you a clue. Apparently there are English schools in some of these towns--a rarity for Quebec. It was the first time we've heard English spoken since we arrived in Riviere du Loup about a week ago.

This is an area I've always wanted to explore but we're finding the towns kind of emptied out now. I think the summer is the real time to visit. Tonight we're in Magog, a very pretty spot and tomorrow we'll drive through a few more of these picture-book towns, and maybe even take some photos. The countryside is nice but it gets kind of boring after a while.

We are road weary now and tired of staying in motels and B&Bs. I think this trip has been a little bit too long (and too expensive). We wanted to see a big area so the driving and disruption is part of it, but tonight we are both homesick and wanting our own place. I know this is temporary and we will be revived when we get to Montreal on Friday. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Le Chemin du Roy

We left the city this morning and in a fancy new rental car headed west along the Saint Lawrence River. We are taking a very old road called the Chemin du Roy, the King's Road. Built in the 18th C it was the first carriage route between Quebec and Montreal. Now it's a sleepy backroad dotted with small villages and farm stands along the river. This plaque was on one of the gates of into the old walled part of Quebec City.

Before we leave the city though, I want to show you a few photos from our long walk yesterday. We took an elaborate boardwalk called Dufferin Terrace up and up to the Plains of Abraham. We also visited the Saint Roch area, an up-and-coming but still gritty neighbourhood, and then walked back to our hotel. I think we covered about three miles--and we still had sore feet in the morning.

On your left is the iconic Chateau Frontenac, the most elaborate of the CP hotels, modelled after a Loire valley chateau. Beside it is a restaurant called Les Anciens Canadienes, a famous spot serving authentic French Canadian food. We had a fabulous set price lunch which was finished off with services of maple syrup pie. It was so deliciously sweet and rich that I was only able to eat about 1/3 of the serving.

The streetscape below was one we noticed on our walk back up to the old town. This is an area of apartments lived in by normal people. It's on the edge of a popular neighbourhood called Saint Jean that's full of restaurants and delis and boulangeries. If we lived in this city I think we'd choose to live in this area--although it's very different from Victoria, with no greenspace at all. I think some of these apartments may have little balconies out the back. 

Now on to the rural lifestyle. Along the Saint Lawrence river there are many little villages, most are centres for small farms and each village has its own incredible church...

and darling little houses along the river and the railway tracks...

... and trees that are finally showing some colour.

We were wondering if we would ever see this as the season is very late this year. But now we're beginning to see some red and orange.

We stopped for lunch at this cute little cafe in a village called Cap Sainte, and found a long table full of some guys from a French cycling group. Apparently this road along the river is a destinations for cycling, even into the Fall.