29 Sep

Visit to St. Catharines

This past week, I spent four days in St. Catharines, Ontario. Some of you who know me will know the reason why, but for public consumption, let’s just call it a business trip.


Bright and early on Monday morning, I arrived at the Winnipeg airport ready to board a WestJet flight to the Center of the Universe in the first leg of the journey. The irony of flying WestJet to go east, while using QuebAir to fly west in June was not lost on me.

I had a little trouble at the self-serve kiosk, but a friendly WestJet staffer was there to help and got me on my way quickly. The friendliness of the WestJet staff would be a recurring theme both on the flight to C.U. and on the way back to Winnipeg. I can see why friends have told me that they far prefer WestJet to QuebAir.


Having just gone through the airport security experience recently, I was perhaps a little too cavalier and forgot to remove my necklace and watch. As a result, I got the full body swipe in the circular scanner. It turned up something near my stomach, but after a brief pat-down, they found that it was just some partially-digested food making its way through my system.


Past security with plenty of time to spare, I used the time to unload my bladder and tour the airport.

Airport Hilton?


I was not alone. You may understand. You may not. If you’re getting puzzled by these references, I encourage you to read my second book.



Is it wise to be plying passengers with liquor before boarding an aircraft?

Gate 6 with service to Toronto.


While waiting at Gate 6, one fellow traveller seated across from me lifted himself off his seat to blow off a little exhaust. For the benefit of one reader, yes, I did think of our former colleague and his connection to the postal service. Strangely enough, Mr. Fartman would later accompany me on the same Niagara Airbus shuttle bound for St. Catharines.

Leaving YWG.

The plane was much larger than the dinky contraption that QuebAir had used to take me to Calgary. There were three seats on each side of the aisle and I was thrilled to see the on-board, real-time display showing where we were. I could roughly tell where we were even without the visual aid, but it was nice added touch.

A paper vomitorium.

I was fortunate enough to have a window seat and got some good shots along the way to C.U.


Once we reached our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet and with the plane pointed in the direction of Toronto, I was surprised that they didn’t just turn the engines off and allow the vortex generated by the Center of the Universe to pull the plane into Pearson Airport. Perhaps they did and piped in engine noise just to give the passengers a more natural flight experience. It was another indication as to how far WestJet will go for their customers.




Approaching the Center of the Universe.



Almost immediately after touching down at Pearson Airport, I could definitely tell that I wasn’t on the prairies anymore. The enormity of the GTA is hard to digest for someone like me who has thus far spent his entire life in little old Winnipeg. Welcome to the world.


This really is the Center of the Universe.

During my brief time in the airport, I had hoped to find a place where first-time visitors to Toronto could change a light bulb. Like many of you, I’ve heard the stories about how Torontonians simply reach up, grasp onto a bulb and wait for the world to turn around them. Sadly, I couldn’t find one. Should I end up flying to C.U. again, I’ll have to inquire at an information desk.

I’ll spare you further Toronto jokes for the time being.

I did take note that the baggage claim area at Pearson Airport was in the secured area, unlike Winnipeg, where the carousels are accessible by anyone who walks in off the street. This was yet another grave oversight by the WAA in the design of the new terminal.

The second leg of the journey involved a Niagara Airbus shuttle to St. Catharines.


I quickly found the ground transportation desk next to Door C and within minutes, I was heading out into the labyrinth of concrete that is Southern Ontario’s sophisticated freeway system. If you’re a resident of the GTA and chortle at the term “sophisticated,” I invite you to visit the SPRM and make the comparison for yourself.



The driver was nice enough to let me sit in the front seat and I took full advantage. Many more pictures will soon be appearing on a Web site near you.


Westbound 403 past Hurontario Street.


Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the Dorval Drive/Kerr Street exit. The alert reader may notice the “ER” initials atop the light standards, which means Elizabeth Regina, Latin for Queen Elizabeth.


Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the split with 403 in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW approaching the North Shore Boulevard/Eastport Drive exit in Burlington.

Fort Erie-bound QEW crossing the Burlington Skyway.

The first sign for St. Catharines.


Entering the Regional Municipality of Niagara. At right is the Niagara Escarpment that protects the region from much of the winter snow. The clerk at the front desk of the hotel would later tell me that she had to take her children to Buffalo to go tobogganing last winter because there was so little snow in St. Catharines. During the trip, I would also learn that they have year-round golf courses in the area as well as green grass in the middle of January. My envy was as green as their January grass.



Crossing 40 Mile Creek. I’m surprised that it remains legal in Canada to name anything in Imperial measurements.



This sign certainly got my attention. Then again, every sign gets my attention. Indeed, it is a stiff, but deserved penalty for such reckless driving. I hope that it is enforced, unlike the SPRM, where governments spend their time enacting laws that police choose to ignore.

An encouraging sign.


Passing Jordan Harbor in Lincoln. Despite the fact that the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, it is one of the few views of the lake that motorists get on the route.


Interestingly, Lincoln’s population of approximately 22,000 only qualifies as a town in Ontario. In the SPRM, an urban center of 7,500 or more can be granted city status.

Welcome to St. Catharines.


After checking in at the Capri Inn, I set off on a tour towards the downtown area.


This qualifies as a bus stop in St. Catharines. Most bus stops don’t even have this much. There is a stop down the hill to the right that has only a pole with a sign from St. Catharines Transit where riders must stand off the curb on a piece of unmowed grass.


They have ratmobiles there, too. Oh right, they’re called “food trucks,” or, in this case, a “food trailer.”


This is the sign outside the General Parking lot at the General Motors plant. I took note of the sign saying that all vehicles not made by GM would be towed. I wonder if they would tow my bike away.


Despite the presence of a GM plant in St. Catharines, I would be shocked by the number of Beemers that I spotted during my stay. GM is a major employer in the community and it would almost seem disloyal to drive a foreign-made product.


There was even a “Beamer Avenue” off Niagara Street.


Perhaps there would be the same number of Beemers on Winnipeg streets if Winnipeggers could buy from a dealership that was not owned by the Chipman family. Just saying.


The offices of the Standard, the local paper. Strangely, I would not spot a single paper box anywhere in the city during my extensive travels on foot. Even in little Gimli, I’ve always noticed many boxes for the free Interlake Enterprise. Perhaps there’s a local ordinance against putting out those paper boxes.

Marker on St. Paul Street.

The Meridian Center, future home of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

Paul on St. Paul.

As they say in Texas, El Paso.

I stopped to take this shot on St. Paul Street. It is the familiar scene that the Standard uses as the cover image on their Web site.

I tend to agree.

 The public library. It’s not open on Monday.

 
 

City Hall.

Returning north, I visited the Fairview Mall.


While there and throughout my stay, I noticed that the majority of St. Cathariners seem to fall into one of two categories: student at Brock University or senior citizen. I was told the next day that St. Catharines recently tied with Vancouver for the highest percentage of seniors per capita in the country.

The sight of anything Snoopy-related is always going to catch my attention.

North Dakota plates are more common in the SPRM than in Southern Ontario.


Um, it’s “St. Catharines.” It would be only one of two misspelled signs that I would spot on the trip. As many of you know, I spot such signs in Winnipeg with frightening regularity.

No, I have no connection to this facility.


The GO bus that runs between Burlington and Niagara Falls.

Tuesday was mainly spent in meetings, but I still had time to explore Port Dalhousie and the areas north of the QEW east of Martindale Pond.

Locally, it’s pronounced da-LOO-zee, not dal-HOW-zee.


Martindale Pond. The seats in the background are to watch the rowing events.

Scenes in Jaycee Park.


An afternoon meeting involved a welcome side trip to nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake.


No, I was not horsing around.

A break at the Little Red Rooster.


Little could my gracious host have known how appropriate the motif was. Then again, maybe she did.


Wednesday was my day to explore the northern part of the city between Port Dalhousie and Port Weller.



The C.U. skyline from across Lake Ontario. I’m surprised that I wasn’t dragged across the lake into that swirling vortex. Before coming, I had half-expected to find a big seawall to protect St. Cathariners from a similar fate.

A ship headed for the Welland Canal.

Scenes along the Waterfront Trail.

This staircase had less stability than a swinging suspension bridge.


I reached Municipal Beach near Port Weller before returning to Lakeshore Road and Lock 1 of the Welland Canal.


Pear trees, I believe.

Goose crossing.

Highway H2O.


The start of the Welland Canals Trail. And yes, it is plural, as this is the fourth Welland Canal. The City of St. Catharines’ logo has four blue stripes to represent the four canals.

Welcome to St. Catharines.

Heading south on Niagara Street, I spotted house number “666.” Message sent. Message received.

 

Badly needing a lunch break, I finally found a Subway. I could have used a break much earlier, but the problem with spending your time in residential neighborhoods is the lack of washrooms and restaurants.


A Starbucks location was also conveniently located next door. Those of you who know me know that I will never patronize a Starbucks as long as I walk the face of the Earth, but I have no problem mooching off their Wi-Fi. My Twitter followers can guess pretty easily which tweet I sent while eating there.

After a much-needed rest and infusion of sustenance, I followed Scott Street east. On the way, a couple stopped and asked me for directions. Naturally, despite only having been in the city for three days, I was able to help them.

After reaching the canal, I headed south on the trail.

 

 Lock 2.


More than one reader may notice the lack of a trademark acknowledgement on the term “Staging Area”™. That’s an inside joke that most of you will not understand.


Approaching the Garden City Skyway.


Feet aching, I made it to the Welland Canals Center and the St. Catharines Museum.


I wanted to tour the museum, but a ship was headed in, so I instead headed out to watch its arrival at Lock 3.



I also captured video of the ship’s arrival.



This is the time-lapse edit, three times normal speed.

While watching the ship, I was talking with someone behind me who was from Windsor. He said that Winnipeg was a “friendly town.” He obviously has a rich sense of humor.

After the ship entered the lock, using reserves of energy that I’m not sure I had, I headed west back towards the Capri Inn.


I wondered about the tastefulness of placing the St. Catharines and District Retirees Association office next to a cemetery.


The surname “Duffus” rang a bell as I harkened back to my years following the IHL. Minnesota hockey “fan” Fiona Quick’s legendary infatuation with former Moose goaltender Parris Duffus will earn a full page in my next book that covers my experiences with the Manitoba Moose, pro hockey’s most unwanted team.


As I said, everything Snoopy-related catches my eye.


They’ve got construction there, too.


A New Brunswick plate. Message sent. Message received. The first three letters are also significant in my household, but I didn’t catch it at the time.


The next day was a travel day, though the prospect of returning to the SPRM was not exactly warming the cockles of my heart. I would be miserable and depressed the whole day and that feeling would persist long after touching down in Winnipeg.

Having received a call from Niagara Airbus on Wednesday saying that the pickup would be an hour earlier than previously arranged, I got up bright and early and waited for their arrival. And waited. And waited. After calling to find out where they were, they said that Wednesday’s call was for a different passenger and that I wasn’t scheduled for pickup for another half hour.

So I waited. And waited.

Growing increasingly nervous, I breathed a sigh of relief when the shuttle finally arrived. After getting in, the driver then told us that there had been an accident on the QEW near Stoney Creek that had closed the highway to all C.U.-bound traffic. He said that we were about to get and adventure and we got one.

He exited the QEW at Vineland, then navigated at high speeds through back roads atop the Niagara Escarpment to get us around the accident. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea and we ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic soon after reaching Hamilton.

Westbound on the “Linc” in Hamilton near the 403 interchange.

Fortunately, traffic moved much more swiftly after getting on the 403 and back to the QEW. The driver’s best efforts, however, weren’t enough for one passenger, who kept complaining the entire way to C.U.

“Of course there’s going to be a letter out.”

No doubt, she was talking about a letter of complaint, but given how well the driver had done under the circumstances, she should have instead been talking about a letter of commendation. The only thing that he could be faulted for was driving too fast.

All the while, I was having a friendly chat with the driver as I was taking pictures. It turned out that he lives in St. Catharines and used to write for the Standard. He spoke with pride about once having the opportunity to interview Pierre Berton, author of many outstanding works including the authoritative history of the War of 1812. The Niagara region was a major theater of that conflict and history abounds throughout the area.

There was one scary moment on the drive when someone used the emergency lane next to the median to pass us on the left, but we got to Pearson Airport safely and in plenty of time for the flight back to the SPRM. There was a long wait at security, however, since I was behind the women’s volleyball team from the U.C.U. Varsity Blues. Or would that be the Bluettes? No matter, they were annoying, but, fortunately, they were perfectly well behaved on the plane.

I didn’t have a window seat on the return trip, but since I was so depressed, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it much anyways. Even the fact that we spent much of the flight over U.S. airspace couldn’t cheer me up.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely productive trip and it was well worth going. No one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this particular excursion was no exception. It is my hope to return at some point in the future.
19 Sep

Heartless Vandalism

While on a bike ride recently, I stopped at the bench at the end of the Transcona Trail, a stone’s throw from the Perimeter Highway.



My heart sank after reading the notice posted there.


For those of you not familiar with the story, as the picture suggests, the bench has been dedicated in memory of Ken Stammers. A 51-year-old married father of two, Stammers was tragically killed when he was struck by a snowmobile while walking nearby.

The operation of snowmobiles is illegal within the City of Winnipeg.

As someone who regularly visits the Memory Garden behind Grace Hospice in honor of the late Carli Ward, I can fully appreciate the value of having a place such as this for the grieving family to remember their lost loved one. In many respects, it can be even more personal than a grave site, since it is close to where the person actually passed away.

Unfortunately, there are far too many in Winnipeg who don’t have the heart to appreciate the sanctity of such a site.

In past visits there, I had noticed the potted plants, but I had not seen the lights or garden statues before. Unfortunately, vandals have seen them and have taken full advantage of the privacy that the isolated location offers to maliciously destroy more than just property.

In spite of this heartless vandalism, I hope that Mr. Stammers’ family and friends can at least enjoy the solitude at the bench that bears his name to remember his impact on their lives.

10 Sep

Grass and the Miser


While out today, I spotted someone mowing a small patch of grass adjacent to a strip mall. It gave me a laugh as I thought of an incident involving a former employer and a similar small patch of grass. Perhaps the story will give you a laugh as well.

Before I begin, though I won’t name the employer, the owner is deceased and the company has long since gone out of business.
The fact that the company is no longer in business likely will not come as much of a surprise after you read this story. This is but one in a long series of comparable tales involving this foolhardy owner. He was skilled in his craft, but he was often left wanting as a businessman. As I look back, it was remarkable that the company stayed afloat for as long as it did.
This company had owned a two-storey building and it housed all of their staff comfortably for many years. A steady increase in business, however, had seen more and more staff come on board.
It got to the point that the building was literally bursting at the seams. A friend and I had jokingly suggested bunk desks as a solution. Like bunk beds, employees could work over top of each other. Perhaps the most senior employee would get dibs on the top bunk.
The company looked for more practical alternatives.
Across the street was a strip mall with a vacant office. A solution was readily at hand.
The owner and the property manager came to an agreement on the rent, though I’m sure that the negotiations were not easy. The owner was a notorious miser who would carefully track each penny that left the office.
As an example, there was a time during one winter that I had to wear a parka in the office because he had turned the heat down so much. It had caused such resentment that another staff member went as far as to call Workplace Safety and Health to no avail.
Everything looked to be on track with the nearby unit until the owner had found out that part of the monthly maintenance fee had included the cost of mowing a small patch of grass on the opposite side of the strip mall.
There was no grass next to his unit, so why should he have to pay for mowing grass, he said.
The property manager refused to lower the rent and the owner backed out of the deal.
Unfortunately, there was no other vacant office nearby. After much searching, he eventually found an empty building in an industrial park several miles away. He took out a second mortgage on his existing building to buy it and about a quarter of the staff made the move out there.
This arrangement soon resulted in many problems.
Staff were often shuttling between the two offices, resulting in an incalculable number of wasted person-hours. From my perspective, I began to spend so many extra hours on the phone trying to diagnose problems in the remote office that most often could have been easily solved with a five-minute trip downstairs.
This was in an era long before electronic communication became commonplace. The only network available to us was “sneaker net,” physically moving paper files from one desk to another.
Since so many items needed to be couriered between the two sites, the company had to hire an employee whose sole function was to act as a mailman. In addition, they also had to pay him a mileage allowance, since he was using his own vehicle.
In short, though those of us in the existing building appreciated having the space, the splitting of offices proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Bunk desks may have proved to be a better option after all.
Up until his dying day, however, I have no doubt that the owner was enormously proud of having stuck to his guns by refusing to pay for mowing that grass.
As they say, penny wise, pound foolish.
And that is why I will always chuckle when I see someone mowing a small patch of grass near a strip mall.

01 Sep

Selinger’s Soliloquy


I’m Greg Selinger, leader of Today’s NDP

Seems like some people aren’t too happy with me

Like a drunken sailor, I’m recklessly spending their cash

Emptying every bit of their private stash

What’s money, old chum

There’s plenty more where that came from

Eventually the public treasury won’t have even a dime

It will be someone else’s problem by that time

They tell me that absolute power corrupts more and more

Absolute nonsense, oh yeah, I’ve said that before

Against their will, I can raise the PST

What do they think this is, a democracy?

You’ll still be gullible folk if history is any sign

At election time, I’ll promise the moon and you’ll buy every line
Manitobans are terrible at math, you see
They don’t understand that for every dollar I give them, it costs them three
I’ll kiss a donkey or a goat
If it meant getting another vote
In the meantime, you can picket or protest, whatever the case may be
It doesn’t mean a thing to me