Tag Archives: Ontario

18 May

Voyage Under the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, I made another trip to Toronto, spending the bulk of the day in the universe’s center.

I left the house bright and early and walked to Fairview Mall to catch the #12 GO bus. Waiting nearby at the bus stop was a scruffy character madly gorging himself on a large box of Sugar Crisp as if someone was about to take it away from him.


Just can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp!

Just after St. Catharines’ answer to the Sugar Bear got to the bottom of the box, the bus pulled up and I joined about 15-20 others in getting on board.

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Traffic was moving slowly as we got past Burlington Street in Hamilton, but we eventually made it to the Burlington GO station, where I joined most of the others in heading to the platform to wait for the train.

While waiting, I spotted someone standing close by who had her eyes closed and was gently nodding her head up and down. No, she was not wearing headphones.

Watching her reminded me of a scene in Slap Shot, when “Killer” Carlson was recanting “One with the universe,” a line from the recordings of the Swami Baha, while his teammates were getting the tar beat out of them by Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken’s Syracuse Bulldogs. If you recall, McCracken was the head coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team, known for his ability to carve out a man’s eye with the flick of a wrist. But I digress.

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The train came shortly enough and we soon began making our way east toward Union Station. As the seats began filling up, I noticed what looked to be a small, semi-permanent gathering place for the homeless right by the tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw three of them seated on plastic chairs tapping away on their cell phones. I’ve heard about texting and driving, but texting and homeless? And again, I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. I’ve worked hard to pay my own way through life and I’ve never had a cell phone.

Closer to Union Station, I spotted a billboard for Krave Gourmet Jerky. How anyone could categorize ground-up testicles and hooves as “gourmet” is beyond me.

Just before pulling into the station, we got another introduction from our “customer service ambassador.” GO runs a fantastic service, but these self-serving introductions that are now coming a rate of twice per trip are growing increasingly annoying.

Following a bathroom break, I then followed the signs for the subway for what would be my first underground rail experience. Having just paid for my GO train ride, I kept my Presto card at hand and used it at the subway entrance to get through the turnstile. TTC is in the process of rolling out Presto throughout their system and not every station is Presto-enabled as yet, but luckily, Union is one of them.

As I would discover later, for those paying cash, you can either purchase a magnetic-striped ticket at the counter or put $3.25 into a machine and get a token smaller than a penny. To get through the non-Presto turnstiles, you swipe your ticket or deposit the pin-size token, assuming you didn’t drop it on your way from the vending machine.

When I got through the turnstile, I was glad I prepared ahead, since the #1 line serving Union Station runs northbound, but in two different directions. You need to know if you’re going north via University Avenue or Yonge Street, but I knew I was going via Yonge, so I quickly hopped aboard the waiting train headed that way. Even if I had missed it, however, they run about every three to four minutes.

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Seconds after I sat down, the doors closed and we began heading north underneath Yonge Street. Once again, just like on the GO train and buses, the subway cars were clean and the vomit, graffiti, condom wrappers and beer bottles frequently found aboard Winnipeg Transit buses were conspicuously absent.

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A handy feature was the subway system map above the doors where it not only shows the routes, but an amber light flashes at the next stop, while stops already covered are in green and those to come are in red. When approaching a connecting line, the entire line flashes on the map and a special announcement is made to that effect.

As you would expect, verbal announcements are also made at each stop, telling passengers not only the name of the station, but whether the doors will open on the left or right.

Near every seat is a yellow strip to press in the event of an emergency, and according to the posted signs, misusing it is a $500 fine. I can’t imagine the fun the hoodlums and bums would have it if they put such a thing aboard Winnipeg Transit buses. There, it would be more fitting to put in a yellow strip to press if there wasn’t an emergency.

When passing the College station, I couldn’t help but notice the mural depicting Montreal Canadiens players. Maybe one of these days, Toronto will get its own NHL team.

I got off at the Sheppard-Yonge station, where I had to go up an escalator to transfer to the eastbound #4 line. It was then I realized there are two levels of this underground rail system. All this, while Winnipeg is still farting around with Rapid Transit. But again, I digress.

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My subway ride came to an end at the Don Mills station, where I followed the crowd up to street level right by, oddly enough, Fairview Mall. I then proceeded east on Sheppard, stopping for pictures of 404, before turning south on Victoria Park Avenue.

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This is a shot I couldn’t resist. NBCUniversal just had to have a presence in the Center of the Universe.

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Crossing the 401, the world’s busiest highway, I continued south to Lawrence, west across the DVP to Don Mills Road, then south to Eglinton, where I again proceeded west.

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There are a lot of people in Toronto, but also a lot of raccoons, giving rise to new entrepreneurial opportunities.

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On Eglinton, there were times when I was getting farther on foot than the cars were on account of the multiple lane closures as GO puts in the Eglinton Crosstown line. More superior transit service, while, again, Winnipeg still farts around with Rapid Transit at great expense with nothing but ridicule to show for it.

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Farther down Eglinton, I ran into our esteemed premier’s constituency office.

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Across the street, not by coincidence, is a nice, big “in your face” billboard from The Rebel aimed squarely at Canada’s most unpopular premier. Of course, that distinction used to belong to Greasy Greg Selinger until he and his gang were unceremoniously thrown out of office. I posted this picture on Twitter today and it is quickly making the rounds in Twitterverse.

I was hoping to cover more ground, but growing tired and weary after putting on so many miles on foot, I decided instead to continue west to the Eglinton-Yonge subway station and return to Union. Oddly, one of the more popular stations on the route was not well-signed on street level, but I eventually found it and went below to catch a train.

Sadly, this was not a Presto-enabled station, so I had fork over the cash for a token. It also cost me a little extra, since the fare when paying with Presto is 40 cents cheaper. For those who are not aware, not only is paying with Presto more convenient, but cheaper. Each round trip to Toronto saves approximately $3.00, the TTC and OC Transpo fares are also cheaper with Presto, and the Hamilton Street Railway fare is only 50 cents when transferring from the GO bus. The card itself costs $6.00, but it more than pays for itself, even in the short term.

On board, the southbound train was packed, and I was lucky to get a seat after someone got off at the next stop. As in the northbound direction, the train moved swiftly, and I was soon back at Union.

Before getting on a Lakeshore West train, I wanted to make one last stop at the gift shop of the nearby NHL Hall of Political Correctness, known to most of you as the so-called Hockey Hall of Fame. Just for the heck of it, I wanted to browse around and to see if they had any small trinkets from the late Atlanta Thrashers, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when I didn’t find anything. On my way in, however, I could have sworn that I spotted Craig Ramsay, the last coach of the Thrashers, talking on his cell phone. Now that would have been an interesting encounter.

Following that diversionary trip, I returned to Union, where a Lakeshore West train was minutes from departing, so I went right up to the platform and found an empty seat. The train soon took off and I watched the familiar sights go by while recovering from a long day.

Everything seemed to be going normally until we got to the Oakville station. There, passengers who were disembarking got off, then the rest of us waited for the train to continue on.

But it didn’t.

Minutes later, our customer service ambassador, who again needlessly introduced himself as we were leaving Union, got on the intercom and told us this train was no longer in service because of “an emergency farther west.” He then instructed us to disembark and proceed to the bus loop, where buses would be waiting to take us farther west.

Great. GO suddenly turns into Rapid Transit.

I followed the rest of the crowd to the one waiting bus and was lucky to get on board. With no more room left, the bus took off, leaving countless numbers left to wait for another bus. We then proceeded through stop-and-go rush-hour traffic from station to station along the QEW. It was only on board that I heard from other passengers that there was a fire near the tracks, which forced the temporary closure of the Lakeshore West line.

When we got to Appleby, rather than take us one more stop to the Burlington station, we were told to get off the bus and wait for the next westbound train. No signs were posted as to which track it would be on or when it would be coming, so I just followed the crowd and asked a few people who I recognized from the bus.

Seemingly almost by accident, I ended up in the right place and ended up as part of an interesting conversation with three 20-somethings named Abby, Maria and Constantine.

Though soft-spoken, Maria was by far the most talkative of the three, and we listened as she espoused her theories on government conspiracies. According to her, the government wants to legalize marijuana to keep the people from thinking for themselves, briefly touching on how smoking weed opens up some part of the brain that normally doesn’t get used. I didn’t quite follow her thought process, but then she went on to talk about how the government might have started the fires in Fort McMurray because of the oil.

As Maria was treating us to her pseudoscientific thoughts, Abby grabbed onto the guard rail behind us and started doing some stretching exercises. I was again reminded of a former colleague who used to get up during meetings and go through all sorts of weird gyrations and contorting himself into varied and unimaginable positions. One loyal reader and former colleague will remember and no doubt laugh heartily at this reference.

After claiming to be able to read people’s minds and proudly stating “I am everything,” Maria then started talking about how to save money by peeing in the shower. I listened patiently as she and Abby exchanged their thoughts on this riveting topic. I just know I can use this stuff somewhere in a future writing project and conveniently left the fact that I was a writer with an off-beat sense of humor out of the conversation.

With so much writing fodder in the air, I was almost disappointed when the train showed up. We all got on and, minutes later, we pulled up to the Burlington station. After saying our goodbyes, I got in line for the #12 bus to St. Catharines and an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall, again having squeezed full value from my travel dollars.

It ended up as a much different kind of adventure than I had planned, but no less interesting and one I won’t soon forget.

25 Apr

Riding the Rails to Ottawa

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Last week, I spent four days and three nights in Ottawa. It was my first real visit to the city, having only been there last year on a road trip with the IceDogs in which we returned home right after the game.

Bright and early on Monday morning, I took the GO bus to Burlington, then boarded the jam-packed Lakeshore West train to Union Station in C.U. along with many commuters. So crowded was the train that many had to stand.

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I had a two-hour wait for my VIA connection to Ottawa, so I took the time to check my e-mail, get my bearings and find the VIA departure area amid the mad crush of humanity. I quickly learned not to stop and smell the roses as being in the middle of rush-hour crowds in Union Station is akin to running with the bulls in Pamplona. I could have safely waited for the next GO bus/train to avoid the busiest time of day, but I opted to go earlier in case of any unforeseen traffic problems.

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About a half hour before departure, passengers began lining up at the posted gate, where a service attendant went down one side of the line scanning boarding passes. On the other side, someone was wheeling a portable scale, stopping when he spotted some potentially overweight luggage. VIA has strict regulations regarding luggage. There is a charge for any bags between 41-50 pounds, and anything over 50 pounds is prohibited. He went past me without as much as a glance, as I was traveling with a small suitcase, having long since learned to travel light.

Soon, we were headed up the escalator to the platform, and I took my seat in Car 5. I’ll leave it for the reader to judge as to whether or not that was a coincidence. On the boarding pass, VIA notes they reserve the right to ask to see photo ID and to inspect baggage, but they did neither on the way to Ottawa or on the return trip.

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Settled into my seat, I got some shots before the car filled up. As I looked around, it again struck me, as it did with the GO bus and train, that there was no graffiti, vomit or garbage, nor any smell of booze or beer cans rolling down the aisle, all common occurrences in the last city I called home. The SPRM feels like a million miles away in more ways than one.

This car was packed solid and I had a young man in his 20s in the aisle seat next to me with a huge lunch pack almost as big as my suitcase. He was listening to music on his headphones, but I couldn’t hear a thing, and like everyone else, he was quiet and respectful. The way it ought to be.

As we pulled out of Union Station, as part of the introductory announcement, they said disrespectful behavior toward staff or other passengers will not be tolerated. In Winnipeg, such behavior is almost expected. It’s a red-letter day when you don’t get treated disrespectfully.

After leaving C.U., we rocketed through the eastern suburbs of Pickering, Ajax and Whitby at speeds reaching 93 mph. That’s miles per hour, not Trudeau-metric. Unlike the GO train, there aren’t a litany of stops to make, so there’s nothing to slow them down besides the odd curve or when we have to stop to allow a freight train to pass.

As we followed the 401, an attendant came around to validate our tickets for a second time, a practice they would repeat on the return trip.

Past Oshawa, the scenery turns to rolling hills and farmland with more cows than cars visible from the train. To the north is the old Highway 2, the main route that connected C.U. to Montreal before the 401 was built, and to the south is Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. I had a view of Highway 2 on the way to Ottawa, and a view of the lake on my way back.

Aboard the train was a mixed bag of people, not commuters, but holiday travelers young and old. Many, like me, were traveling alone and aside from some brief exceptions, there was little chatter on board.

Perhaps the only significant conversation came from the older couple behind me, neither of whom knew each other before stepping on the train. Seated on one side was a man from Guelph who was taking a vacation to Ottawa after breaking up from a relationship. He will be going to Mexico soon, where he rents a place in a community of around 12,000 expats near Guadalajara.

On the other side was a woman who is a lawyer with a private practice in Kanata who went to school in Guelph. She made a special effort to lament how the public service has been downsized under Harper. No doubt, Bobo the Clown will make every effort to “fix” this.

He feels safe in Mexico, but she has friends whose daughter was killed there. They never found the body and it wasn’t investigated properly.

It is amazing what people will tell each other on a train, or a bus.

Around noon, they came down the aisle with the lunch tray. The guy to my right bought three water bottles at $2 a pop, and he would buy another when they came around a second time. As he only made a couple of trips to the bathroom, he must have a bladder the size of a 45-gallon drum.

For your reading pleasure, following is the economy class menu:

Chocolate bar or chips (Lay’s or Pringle’s): $2
Yogurt: $2.50
Brownies or chocolate chip cookies: $3
Almond/dried fruit mixes: $3.50
Water or soft drink: $2
Milk, coffee or hot chocolate: $2.50
Orange, apple juice, V8 or lemonade: $3
Arthur’s Smoothie: $3.50
Coors Light or Molson 355 ml: $6
200 ml of wine or 330 ml of Heineken beer: $7
Classic cocktail (50 ml) or Bloody Caesar: $7.50
Instant oatmeal, chicken noodle soup, hummus and crackers, or banana bread: $3
Bagel with cream cheese: $4
Fontaine Santé salad: $5
Egg salad and bacon on a croissant: $6
Cheese, crackers, carrots and dip; Chicken salad sandwich; Black Forest ham and smoked Gouda with maple mayonnaise on a croissant; smoked turkey, apple and pesto wrap; whole wheat falafel wrap with fresh veggies and tzatziki: $7
Assorted cheese plate with crackers, fruit, nuts and chocolate: $10.50

Unlike WestJet, where all food transactions are cashless, they will take cash on VIA. Unfortunately, the same people who are handling money are also the same people handling your food or drink without washing their hands. On one occasion, I saw one of the attendants handling a stack of paper cups by the top end just after making change for someone. I realize this isn’t a traditional restaurant environment, but their sanitation practices need to be improved greatly.

Just past Brockville, I took my one and only bathroom break. Luckily, I wasn’t too far from the washroom, but on the return trip, it was a different story. The train shakes and, unlike tour buses, there are no railings to hang on to as you walk down the aisle. Even for me, someone who is steady on my feet, it was a challenge to get to the opposite end of the car without falling into someone’s lap.

Inside the washroom was another adventure. It’s clearly best to sit down under these circumstances, but with the toilet seat badly soiled from others who have preceded me, I opted to stand and do my business, trying as best as I can not to splash my pants.

There was ample soap and hand wipes, which I used and then returned to my seat thankful that I only had to use the washroom once during the four-hour trip in each direction.

After turning north at Brockville, the scenery turns to solid trees and brush. Staring out the window as we go past at 90+ mph, it all seemed like a blur.

Soon before reaching Ottawa, they came around collecting garbage, as they did near the end of the return trip.

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We pulled into Ottawa about 20-25 minutes behind schedule and I made my way across the walkway over the 417, through the ballpark parking lot to the Hampton Inn on Coventry Road.

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I checked in at the front desk, where the clerk must have called me “Mr. Walker” about six or seven times. I appreciate friendly service, but this was over-the-top butt-kissing. Interestingly, the clerk was a spitting image of Tony Rinella, who, in addition to expertly selling our house in Winnipeg, has taken me to Minneapolis and back many times as the proprietor of Sun Ice Tours.

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I dropped my suitcase in my room and headed out for a little adventure before the expected rain came later that evening.

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By sheer accident, I spotted the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivor’s Park, one of many scattered across North America. I always made a point of stopping at the park in downtown Minneapolis each time I visited, and I made a brief tour of this one before moving on.

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Sadly, there was construction galore, which fouled up my proposed route, but I still hit some sights before stopping for a meal at a Subway on Main Street.

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The Cuban Embassy. The car has special red diplomat plates, a common sighting in Ottawa. It probably means they can do as they please, much as the way most people behave in Winnipeg. In case there are some readers who haven’t figured it out yet, Winnipeg is a place you don’t really ever get over.

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Any signs featuring poultry will naturally catch my attention.

Fortunately, I made it back to the hotel before it started raining, and I went to bed early to try and get as much rest as I could for the first of a pair of big days ahead of me.

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At the crack of dawn, I was in the dining room for the complimentary breakfast. Oddly, the offerings were nearly identical to those at the Wyndham in Erie last October, the last time I stayed in a hotel. The oatmeal even seemed to come from the same mix.

Wearing my blue Atlanta Thrashers jersey, I was gawked at like a stranger who walks into a small-town diner.

I finished the most important meal of the day quickly, then caught a #9 northbound OC Transpo bus. Throughout my travels in Ottawa, I noticed that the vast majority of passengers, like me, paid their fare using Presto, an electronic fare card also accepted throughout the GCUA. Not only is the fare cheaper with Presto, but it is so much more convenient than having to fiddle around with cash. On larger buses, passengers paying with Presto can even board in the rear and tap their card on the machines by the door.

As someone who hails from Winnipeg, where I thought progress peaked at being able to pay with a paper ticket, the dramatic leap in infrastructure such as this still amazes me.

On the bus, I noticed a sign that read, “If you feel harassed, let OC Transpo know.” In Winnipeg, if you don’t feel harassed, it’s a red-letter day.

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On Sussex Drive, I rang the bell at the foot of the Macdonald-Cartier International Bridge and exited through the rear door that I didn’t have to use a battering ram to open, unlike the case with Winnipeg Transit buses. From there, I crossed the Rivière des Outaouais into Quebec, something I swore I would never do.

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Let the record reflect that on 7:34 am Eastern time on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, I broke that vow.

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Immediately upon entering the country, I began snapping pictures of the southern terminus of A-5, a fitting number for my first Quebec highway pictures. Right away, I noticed the massive traffic jam headed into Canada. I’ve heard it said that the public service is one big affirmative action program for the French, and this certainly proves it.

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After getting some shots from Rue Laurier, I continued north on a nice trail through Parc du Lac-Leamy.

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This would be just one of many nice trails I would see on both sides of the border. Though I had much to cover on the ground, I was wishing I had my wheels with me. But alas, maybe another time.

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I spotted this church at the corner of Rue Jacques-Cartier and Boulevard Gréber. It probably means something different in Canadian, but I wondered if this was the place used car salesmen congregate to try and invoke a higher power to boost their bottom line.

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I took note of this sign, as the accent was going the wrong way. For as militant as Quebecers are about their own language, including shoving it down the throats of their colony across the river, you’d think they’d be able to spell it correctly.

I continued north towards Boulevard Maloney Ouest and QC 148 for some pictures before returning south along the same route, stopping at Rue Saint-Louis/QC 307 for more highway pictures. On the way, I spotted some oddities for your viewing pleasure.

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That’s the Salvation Army in Canadian.

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Shoppers Drug Mart.

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The hood of this car looks like it was done by a nutty ex-neighbor of mine who elected to prematurely end her stay on Earth back in 2007.

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Poulet Frit à la Kentucky. The Colonel’s favorite recipe.

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Et pourquoi?

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Qu’est-ce que c’est? L’Anglais sur le Québec? N’est pas le Roi de Burger? Appelez la police tout de suite!

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Back across the bridge and through Parc du Lac-Leamy, I made my way west into the vieux secteur Hull.

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Though I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe around here, this is clearly not an area one wants to frequent at any hour of the day.

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I couldn’t help but notice this truck. I never knew there were this many ways to say “used.”

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Your “vehicule” will be towed.

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You haven’t experienced Quebec until you’ve seen an Arrêt sign. S-T-O-P is good enough for Paris, but not good enough for Quebec.

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After getting some shots around the western terminus of A-50 at Station Montcalm, I headed for the roundabout at Boulevard des Allumettières and Boulevard Saint-Joseph.

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With two lanes of both major thoroughfares headed into the roundabout from all four sides, this must act like be a 50,000-volt magnet for fender-benders. Horns were honking like crazy and that I didn’t see some crunched metal during my brief time at this mess of an intersection is nothing short of miraculous. For the benefit of readers in the SPRM, it would be the equivalent of putting a roundabout at Portage and Main.

As bad as things are for cars at this intersection, it is even worse for pedestrians like me. There are lights at opposite ends when crossing Boulevard des Allumettières, but at Boulevard Saint-Joseph, you’re on your own.

While at one of the lights, I peered around the post to get a picture of QC 148, much to the amusement of a Muslim couple waiting to cross the street. After I sat down for a break at a bench, they walked past and laughed as they pointed at me. And a good day to you too.

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I was hoping to avoid having to patronize any establishment in this country, but fatigue and hunger got the best of me, so I went inside a nearby Subway and placed my order, entirely in Quebecese. It was anything but an award-winning performance as I used my high-school French for the first time for real, but I know somewhere, Bruce Christie, my seventh-grade homeroom teacher at Arthur Day Junior High, is smiling and proud of his former pupil.

lesubway
After eating, I wrote up some notes while listening to all the Quebecese around me. Very little Canadian is spoken in this country, and the most popular word of Canadian I heard was four letters long and started with the letter “F.” Seeing all the people running across the street reminded me of what I saw on Gréber, a busy street where so many just ran across against traffic, forcing cars to stop to avoid a collision. The people here appear to be a lawless bunch that makes Winnipeg look good.

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Right across from me as I ate was this lawyer’s office. A female lawyer is an “avocate,” as the sign at right correctly states, yet on the one at left, it is incorrectly spelled “avocat.” When I, as anything but a fluent speaker of Quebecese, can catch the error, you know it’s bad.

Following the much-needed break, I headed back towards Canada, when I spotted this pillar of society panhandling, or hat-handling, at the on-ramp to A-50.

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I would soon spot another such character, which was not an uncommon sighting throughout my stay in the area.

There was also this bit of odd street entertainment at the corner of Boulevards Sacré-Coeur and Maisonneuve.

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Relieved to be back in my own country, I headed west toward the Parliament Buildings, passing some sights along the way.

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The Saudi Arabian Embassy.

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The Japanese Embassy.

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Embassy of the State of Kuwait.

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Though I didn’t go inside, I walked past the National Gallery.

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I don’t even want to know how much we paid for this piece of “art.” No doubt, each of those tentacles picked our pockets clean.

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You need to go to school to learn how to work for the government?

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The U.S. Embassy.

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A rather peculiar way to secure a bike.

Having put on countless miles on foot, I was done for the day and boarded the #9 bus to take me back to the hotel. First thing next morning, however, I was back at it for another day of exploration, this time mostly on the Canadian side. I was hoping to visit the Parliament Buildings and take advantage of the free tours they offer, but sadly, unbeknownst to me, they weren’t offering tours on this particular day because the potheads were holding a demonstration on the grounds.

Instead, I began my day with a visit to Lansdowne, home of the former Ottawa Civic Center and TD Place, home of the CFL’s Redblacks. Oh wait, it’s not the Redblacks, it’s the REDBLACKS. Watch out when they play the BLUEGOLDS or the GREENWHITES.

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While waiting for a connecting bus on Bank Street, I spotted this character seeking donations to fund his weed habit. All he had to do was visit Parliament Hill and he’d undoubtedly get all he wanted.

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Scenes around Gate 3 of the former Ottawa Civic Center. This is the area where we were dropped off around this time last year on the fan bus trip to see the IceDogs battle the 67’s in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. Loyal readers may recall we left right after the game and got back around 5:00 in the morning. The Ottawa Civic Center was also one of two host venues when the WHA kicked off its first season on the night of October 11, 1972.

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Overlooking the attached football stadium.

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After a brief tour of the area, I returned downtown and took in this outdoor mall on Sparks Street.

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The Terry Fox statue was something I definitely wanted to see. I would have liked to have spent more time there, but the statue is in the middle of a busy sidewalk, where, like Union Station, you really can’t stop and smell the roses.

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Despite the demonstration later in the day, I could still tour the grounds.

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I’m having a hard time picturing the 90-year-old Queen on a horse.

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The parliamentary outhouse. Maybe this is where Bobo forces the Conservatives to answer the call of nature.

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A War of 1812 memorial, a reminder of home.

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Sacré bleu! The French wording is in a smaller font than its Canadian equivalent. No doubt the language zealots on the other side of the border will soon be having a field day with this one.

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Moving on, I passed the Supreme Court of Canada, where more laws are made than in the House of Commons.

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At the foot of the Portage Bridge, I was again struck by the nice trails in the area.

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On the northbound lanes, there is a two-way bike path. I can’t imagine how scary it would be pedaling against busy traffic. I found it bad enough out on deserted Hecla Island in the SPRM many years earlier.

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Crossing Victoria Island, I went back over the river for another brief tour inside the empire du mal.

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Another nice trail to cover, if only I had my bike.

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A statue of Samuel de Champlain. If I didn’t know better, it looks like a spitting image of a former colleague with the initials of B.C. One reader will understand.

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Back over the bridge into Canada, I made my way to the Canadian War Museum.

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The admission price was $16.95, including KST, but it proved to be worth every penny.

The galleries were arranged in chronological order, beginning with the early wars among the aboriginal peoples.

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An early-model dagger, which looks like something one might find on a Winnipeg Transit bus.

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There was a phone where you could hear the dramatization of an Indian elder speaking about his first encounters with the French. I swear it sounded just like a good friend and loyal reader. He will understand and no doubt laugh heartily. I hope he was paid handsomely for the use of his voice.

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Of course, there were the usual bits of revisionist history, demonizing the British and making heroes out of the defeated French.

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The War of 1812, more reminders of home.

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The founding of the SPRM.

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There was a large collection on the First World War.

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How’s your “eyesite”?

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A display showing what it was like in a trench, sans the mud, of course.

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A plane with “C 5” on the wings. Loyal readers can judge for themselves as to whether or not that was a coincidence.

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Sadly, the slackers do rule Canada today and has an army of social justice warriors fighting on their behalf.

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There was an equally large collection on World War II, including Adolf Hitler’s Mercedes.

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One of the first flight simulators, used for training pilots.

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A U-boat torpedo.

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I know “retards” doesn’t mean the same in Quebecese as it does in Canadian, but it was still odd to see. This particular display showed what was being done on the home front, and a noteworthy omission was “If Day” held in Winnipeg in 1942. They had fake Nazis on the street, renamed Portage Avenue to Adolf-Hitler-Strasse and even published a fake edition of the Winnipeg Tribune to show what things would be like if Germany won the war, all in an effort to sell Victory Bonds.

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Wartime rationing.

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And peacetime propaganda is alive and well at the CBC, Toronto Star, Winnipeg Free Press and the rest of the Liberal-loving media.

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A Canadian beaver armed and ready for battle.

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An anti-aircraft gun.

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A German tank.

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There was a lot devoted to the Cold War, including this simulated World War III command center.

All told, I spent two and a half hours there and I can highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in military history.

After a stop at the café for refueling and rest, I was back on the road for some more sightseeing before catching the bus back to the hotel.

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By accident, I stumbled on the National Firefighters Memorial, located just across the street from the War Museum.

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I wasn’t aware the West had died.

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Potheads gathering at Parliament Hill. As I continued east, I passed many more on the sidewalk heading there.

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Upon reaching the bus stop, I spotted this rotund figure with the slogan “Keep it fit, hit the pit” on her back as she accompanied “Pita Pete” down the street. Had she passed by me, I might have been tempted to tell her to practice what she’s preaching.

The next day, I had plenty of time to sleep in before making my way back across the walkway to the train station.

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Scenes around the train station.

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Time went quickly, and I was soon on board the Toronto-bound train. The car was noticeably different than the last one, and even the woman sitting in front of me who travels this route frequently hadn’t seen one like it before.

The train was not completely full and I lucked out as the seat next to me, 5C in Car 5, was empty on the nine-year anniversary of my fateful inaugural visit to Carli Ward at Riverview Health Center. Whether or not that was a coincidence is left as an exercise to the reader.

As was the case on the trip to Ottawa, there would be little chatter on board except for a little bit in front of me before we left the station. A young woman in her 20s was telling the woman to her right that she was a student going to school in Toronto who was visiting family in Ottawa before going back to take her final exams the next day. She would later open her laptop and go through some sample questions on math logic. Hey, I got my math degree using paper and pencil.

As we were leaving, the announcement, “Hello, my name is Eric and I’ll be your service manager today,” came over the PA system, as it would after each of the Fallowfield and Kingston stops. Well, Eric, I’m Curtis and I’ll be your passenger today. To be more blunt, Eric, I really don’t give a flying rat’s behind what your name is. In fairness, however, Eric and his colleagues were much more pleasant than the bunch who were on the Ottawa-bound train.

The return trip offered me a view from the opposite side of the car, where I was able to see the lake, in addition to a couple of other odd sightings. One farmer was flying a Saskatchewan Roughrider flag upside down and I also spotted some assorted trailer trash sitting around an open pit with a fire going. The latter scene reminded me of an obnoxious former neighbor who would frequently burn railway ties in his backyard for no apparent reason.

Back at Union Station, I caught a Lakeshore West train and had a long wait at Burlington with many others for the #12 GO bus. Right behind me in line were three older women headed for Niagara Falls who were on the same VIA train from Ottawa as I was, just four rows ahead of me. I was able to help them with some directions and I hope they made their way there safely.

Tired and weary, I made it back to St. Catharines around 6:30 having experienced more over the last four days than I could digest.

I was glad I went, but I’m not sure I would return. There is still plenty I would like to see in Ottawa, but I might be inclined to save my money to go somewhere else.

21 Mar

Top Hat Ceremony

Today, I attended the annual Top Hat Ceremony for the official opening of the Welland Canal at Lock 3 here in St. Catharines.

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Judging from the packed house 20 minutes before the ceremony began, I didn’t arrive early enough.

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Before heading up to the second floor, I made sure to sign the guestbook and pry a program loose from one of the volunteers engrossed in a conversation with one of his colleagues. Luckily, I was able to get a good seat right up front before the others joined me.

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Master of Ceremonies D’Arcy Wilson kicked off the event while Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin shot me a “What the heck is he up to?” look. It’s a media event, Alan. I wasn’t the only one there with a camera.

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Francois Allard, Director of Marine Services for Windsor Salt and Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines.

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Betty Sutton of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Terence Bowles of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

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After an anthem singing I could have lived without, Bowles spoke first, followed by Sutton. Bowles played a video proudly showing off the new hands free mooring system being used on the canal and throughout the Seaway.

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Our mayor, Walter Sendzik, then took the podium. I have never known a more dynamic public speaker.

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Ted Luciani, Thorold’s mayor and a 25-year Seaway employee.

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Alan Caslin. Now he appears a little more receptive to the spotlight.

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Paterson spoke about the gloomy state of affairs with the market in China bottoming out.

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Allard then spoke about the salt business. There’s something so fitting about having the first ship through the canal being filled with the essence of Ontario.

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Gifts were then presented.

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Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum then presented the Top Hat to the captain of the Thunder Bay. The Top Hat tradition apparently dates back to the days of the fur trade, as the beaver pelts were used to make hats.

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The captain poses for the cameras.

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Bowles presented a plaque to the captain and chief engineer.

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Chaplain Arthur Taylor then led the group in prayer. No, we weren’t on our knees on a rug praying toward Mecca. Maybe there’s still some hope for us after all.

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Finally, Bowles and Sutton officially declare the shipping season open, bringing the hour-long ceremony to a close.

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As the crowd dispersed and headed downstairs for the free food, the participants posed for a group picture.

For the second straight year, I’m glad I went and again learned more about the Seaway’s importance not only to the region, but the North American economy.

03 Jan

Touring Toronto

Yesterday, with camera in hand, I spent the day touring the Center of the Universe for the third time.

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After catching the bus in St. Catharines, I got to Burlington in good time and waited for the Lakeshore West train. Before pulling into Burlington, the bus driver made sure to thank us for traveling with GO Transit and to wish us a happy new year. It sure beats the F-you greetings more common in my former home city.

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There were a number of people on the train, but being so early in the morning, I was able to get a seat off to myself. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice once again how clean the train was. There were no condom wrappers, vomit, graffiti, or any indigents passed out after another night of ingesting near-lethal quantities of solvents mixed with beverages sold only at LCBO stores. As I’ve said before, I could get used to this. In fact, I think I have.

Moving on, my early morning peace was disturbed by a family of four who got on headed for the C.U. aquarium. Just in case anyone on the train was asleep, their six-year-old daughter gave us several wake-up calls by screaming at the top of her lungs intermittently while her mother was bundling her up in a snowsuit as if they were about to march across frozen tundra to the nearest igloo a hundred miles away. Though there was a little bit of a wind on this day, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. These people just don’t know what real cold is, and I can’t imagine what they would do if they had to experience a typical January in the SPRM.

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My ears were relieved when we pulled into Union Station, which is undergoing many renovations. This shot shows what much of the station will look like in time, but for now, it’s a real mess. Navigating around the place, even for someone like me who is good with directions, was a challenge.

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I eventually got to Front Street, where I began my tour by walking through the largely deserted Financial District.

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The RBC Center. Other banks have equally gaudy towers, and TD even has two of them. For the benefit of one loyal reader, TD stands for Toronto Dominion, not Town Drunk, in reference to a former colleague.

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Continuing east, I ended up in the Old Town district passing St. Lawrence Market.

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It may not look like much from the street, but after checking into it the next day, St. Lawrence Market is probably worth a trip in itself. They even offer 90-minute guided walking tours of the market and surrounding area.

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On the way, I couldn’t help but be struck by all the white stuff. No, this isn’t snow, it’s salt. One thing I’ve noticed here in Southern Ontario is that as soon as the temperature hits zero and snow is forecasted, they apply salt by the truckload.

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Another trademark feature of Southern Ontario is the much-improved cycling infrastructure compared with the SPRM. Here, there is a special bike lane on top of the curb on one of many numbered bike routes in Toronto.

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Later, I would find many indoor racks like this one along the Bay Street entrance at Union Station. There were bike racks everywhere and many cyclists were out and about despite what they would call extreme cold.

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My first destination was the Don Valley Parkway as I made my way east on Queen Street.

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Such a nice, charming neighborhood. Or not.

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I couldn’t help but notice this sign. One loyal reader will understand the reference as it relates to a late colleague who used to brag about the number of computer languages he claimed to know.

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This sign certainly got my “attenion.”

After getting some shots of the DVP for my road photos site at the Queen Street and Dundas Street overpasses, I proceeded north through the Regent Park neighborhood.

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From there, I ended up at the Necropolis Cemetery.

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There, I found the grave of the late Jack Chow.

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I may want to use a character based on Mr. Chow, Canada’s answer to Lenin, in a future book, so I got some pictures of the monument. Though I know someone who would have wanted me to spit on his grave, I resisted the temptation. As someone who has suffered under the policies of the NDP in the SPRM, however, I admit the temptation was strong. Very strong.

While at Mr. Chow’s grave, I could hear the sounds of poultry across the street at Riverdale Farm. Apparently it is open year-round and it will likely be a place I will be touring in a future visit.

Moving on, I made way through Cabbagetown, where there are two and a half dogs for every human. It reminded me very much of Wolseley in the SPRM’s capital, where I swear there must be a neighborhood bylaw that requires each resident to have at least one dog. Leashes optional, of course.

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I ended up at Carlton Street, where I continued west until I reached Maple Leaf Gardens.

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Inside the former home of the Leafs is now a full-service Loblaws grocery store, where I wandered about before taking a break at their little café inside.

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Perhaps not coincidentally, I spotted this vanity plate right outside the historic former arena.

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After that much-needed break, I continued down Carlton to Yonge Street and the arts district.

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From there I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square, where many were taking advantage of the outdoor skating rink.

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Nearby, I was struck by this scene where people were lined up for opera tickets.

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I stopped for this shot of Roy Thomson Hall before continuing back toward Union Station.

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On the way, I passed by the Liberal Party of Canada headquarters, otherwise known as the evil CBC.

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I was particularly galled by this sign claiming that this was “private property,” conveniently ignoring the billions that Canadians have been forced to part with to prop up this propaganda-manufacturing empire.

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They have some nerve passing their lies off as “news.”

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My last destination was the NHL Hall of Political Correctness, where I browsed through their shop.

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Outside, they had a jersey from Jets legend Phil Housley.

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Back at Union Station, I couldn’t help but notice this beggar across the street, but one of many wandering the streets of Toronto.

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I noted with interest that he has a much better backpack than mine. Maybe I should have been begging him for money. Or I could simply call my MP, tell him I’m a refugee and hand him a forged Syrian passport.

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With my adventure in C.U. complete, I went up to the platform to wait for the Lakeshore West train to take me back to Burlington and the connection to the bus.

As we pulled out of Union Station, someone got on the intercom said, “Hello, my name is Ken and I’ll be your customer service ambassador this afternoon.” Well, good afternoon, Ken, my name is Curtis and I’ll be your passenger this afternoon.

As we got past Long Branch, an artificially cheery female voice replaced Ken, yet she failed to introduce herself. No doubt this is a major breach of GO protocol and if there was a supervisor on board, she’d be in some serious trouble.

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With a little bit of time in Burlington before the connecting bus, I made my way to the washroom. As you can see on the ramp, salt was again spread very generously.

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Again, more salt on the sidewalk.

Just as I was finishing up doing my business and getting ready to head to the sink, someone who was standing behind me, evidently eager for a conversation, said “Hi, how’s it going.” While I was washing my hands, he remarked about the “freezing cold” outside. I didn’t want to get into it with him, but trust me, +1 is not “freezing cold.” Try a 25-mile bike ride when it’s -20 outside, then come back and tell me about this “freezing cold.”

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Soon, our bus came, and about an hour later, I was back at Fairview Mall. I was surprised it took that long, since our driver was passing cars as if they were standing still. I have become convinced that the 100 km/h posted speed limit on the QEW is, in fact, a minimum, and not a maximum speed.

In any event, it was certainly an interesting day and one I won’t soon forget.

01 Jan

New Year’s Day Levee

Today, for the second consecutive year, I attended the New Year’s Day levee at the Lake Street Armoury featuring St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and other dignitaries.

Arriving early, I was able to take a tour of the facility beforehand.

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A member of the ceremonial guard.

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Views from the mezzanine level.

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Many took advantage of the free food. As they say, if it’s free, it’s for me.

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Two guns on display, enough to scare the bejesus out of any gun-control-loving socialist.

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A plaque honoring those who had fallen in the Boer War.

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The fire escape plan for the “St. Catherines” Armoury. I know the city’s name is often misspelled elsewhere, and I’ve been guilty of that myself before the prospect of moving here came on the radar, but it’s inexcusable for locals to do it.

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Two centuries of service.

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The flags of New Brunswick and the SPRM fittingly side by side.

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The receiving line, led by Mayor Sendzik. As he said in line, it’s not Mr. Mayor, it’s Walter.

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The Lincoln & Welland Regiment band played before the dignitaries spoke.

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The town crier begins the proceedings.

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Standing at attention for the playing of God Save the Queen. I don’t imagine our new MP, who was in attendance, was too amused.

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Mayor Sendzik raises a toast to St. Catharines. It was another one of those memorable “we really did it” moments as I recalled all we went through to leave the SPRM and come here. It remains the best thing I’ve ever done.

Mayor Sendzik, or Walter, then delivered a six-minute speech, and my ears are still throbbing after they fired the cannon three times to wrap up the event.

12 Sep

Two Days With Stephen Harper

This past week, as those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I had the honor of seeing Prime Minister Stephen Harper in person twice in as many days.

Tuesday night, I was part of a standing-room-only crowd at the Holiday Inn here in St. Catharines. I arrived more than an hour ahead of time, yet there was a lineup of people outside the door waiting to register. As I said to someone who I met there, so much for Canadians being apathetic about politics and “hating” Harper.

Of course, there were a handful of protesters on Ontario Street within shouting distance of those of us in line waiting to get in. They were screaming “Harper must go,” one was playing the bagpipes and I later heard one was waving the Palestinian flag.

I continually hear people repeating the same old tired line, “We’ve got to get rid of Stephen Harper,” but I have yet to hear a single intelligent argument as to why. As Harper said during the event the following day in Welland, “During the global financial crisis, where else would you rather have been?” As I suggested to someone behind me in line, we should have chipped in to buy those protesters plane tickets to Greece.

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Once finally inside, we had to wait in another room before being allowed inside the main hall.

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Being at the head of the line gave me a distinct advantage, and I was able to grab a seat only two rows away from where the prime minister would be speaking. To say the least, he was among friends here.

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Here, St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra chats with the woman who sang O Canada. Unfortunately, part of her rendition included some Quebecese, but it was thankfully drowned out by the gentleman behind me who was singing loudly in the Canadian language.

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MPs Rob Nicholson and Rick Dykstra pose for a fellow Conservative supporter. Many of Nicholson’s team made the trip from Niagara Falls to hear the prime minister.

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One woman holds up a campaign T-shirt.

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As he would do the following day in Welland, Nicholson introduced the prime minster.

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Harper then spoke for about 45 minutes. I had not seen him in person before and he came across as more of a down to earth person than I would have expected for someone in his position. As you can see from the pictures, he walked around the room a little while speaking and just used the podium to hold his notes. Not unexpectedly, I found him to be a good public speaker, but he was guilty of using the word “friends” too much.

After his speech, in a moment I won’t soon forget, both he and his wife came and shook hands with me and everyone in my row. It was an honor that ranked right up there with the evening I spent with a number of former WHA players in Calgary two years ago.

Though I hardly got any sleep overnight, first thing the next morning, my bike and I were on a Niagara Regional Transit bus headed for Welland to see Harper once again. After pedaling from the Welland transit terminal to the Canadian Tire Financial Services office on East Main Street, I waited outside with another large crowd.

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We were packed inside the small room like sardines in a tin can and I was one of the many who had to stand alongside the wall. As I said to someone behind me, I would hate to think what would happen if a fire alarm were to have gone off.

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Here, Dykstra chats with one of the attendees.

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Nicholson once again introduced the prime minister.

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Unlike the event in St. Catharines, this was not a party rally, but a roundtable discussion with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. On Harper’s right was Allan O’Dette, the OCC’s president and CEO, who had a number of questions for the prime minister. The OCC had invited each of the party leaders to such a discussion and the Conservatives were the only party to take them up on their offer.

As an ardent conservative, I didn’t need to be sold, but I came away very impressed with Harper’s detailed knowledge of the economy. It’s nice to know the country is in such good hands. As he pointed out, it would be a disaster for Canada if the Marijuana Party and its teenage leader or the Non Democratic Party were to form a government.

In front of the pro-business audience, Harper made sure to point out the Marijuana Party leader’s most recent childish statement, where he called most small businesses tax shelters for the wealthy.

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Following the discussion, Harper took a few questions from the assembled contingent from the Media Party in the back of the room. Concerned more with Syria than their own country, they grilled him about the refugees, but Harper stood his ground against his political rivals masquerading as journalists.

One so-called “reporter” from the Red Star chided Harper for his legitimate security concerns in regards to the refugees. After she made the ridiculous comparison to the Ukrainians who settled in Canada more than 100 years ago, I don’t know how Harper resisted the urge to point out that the Ukrainians were not fleeing a country largely held by barbarians threatening to destroy Western civilization.

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With the proceedings over, Harper left the stage and I turned to leave the building and return home, but not before seeing more misguided protesters outside waiting for Harper’s bus. I’m glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to see our prime minister and it certainly qualified as a thrill of a lifetime.

11 Aug

Ode to a Return to the Center of the Universe

Yesterday, for the second time I had occasion to enter
Ontario’s capital, otherwise known as the universe’s center

While waiting for the GO bus, there was a sight I wish I did miss
A fellow passenger gave his dog a big, wet sloppy good-bye kiss

As we sped our way around the lake, no ex-Winnipegger can resist taking a poke
At the Rapid Transit system, Winnipeg’s longest running joke

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Curiosity must have been in the air when I was out past Brown’s Line.
Who was this guy standing in the median taking pictures of a highway sign

On Kipling Avenue, a jolly fellow on the sidewalk I did see
What is a bear that has no teeth, he asked of me

He clearly wanted to catch me off guard
As he tried to get me to apply for a credit card

I heard a weirdo near the end of my lengthy stroll
Ranting and raving at some poor, unsuspecting soul

It’s Toronto, what else can I say
It’s still a whole lot better than the city I left more than a year ago today

08 Aug

Ode to the NOTL Peach Festival

Today, I enjoyed a bit of a break
As I took in the Peach Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake

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It was the second visit to the festival for me
Cogeco was even putting it on TV

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Even though the morning crowds were light in the town they used to call Newark
There was not a single place close by for anyone to park

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Peaches were available everywhere, even on a truck
You could buy a quart, a basket or just one for a buck

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Peaches were in every type of food
There’s one to fit just about any mood

Smoothies, tarts, pies and scones were in the group
There was even chilled peach and yogurt soup

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Eating a hot dog with peach relish does not sound like fun
Nor does peach garlic dressing or peach-infused sausage on a bun

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Pets were welcome if restrained by a piece of twine
But around food is the not the place to take a canine

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The two-man band was playing without a frown
While the horses waited to take visitors around town

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The going exchange rate was 20% for those paying with American dollars
This place that was taking U.S. money at par deserved some angry hollers

It was another interesting celebration of the peach
Summed up by these lines of rhyming speech

31 Jul

One Year Later

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed, but tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the day I left Winnipeg for the last time and came to settle in St. Catharines. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it feels like it happened more than a decade ago.

The hassle involved in the long-distance move certainly took an emotional toll, but it has paid off in spades. My only regret is that I did not come here sooner. I miss my friends, as I expected to, but I long for little else in the SPRM.

I suppose there’s a part of me that will always be linked to Manitoba. As Sylvester Stallone said about Vietnam in one of the Rambo movies, “As long as we’re alive, it’s alive.” Many positive memories from that part of the world do remain with me, and I try to focus on those instead of the many negative ones that helped fuel my desire to leave.

Today, I am better for having made the move, and I look forward to many more years to come in my new home city.

15 Jul

A Tale of Two Signs

While on North Service Road this morning, I noticed this new sign announcing upcoming bridge work at Victoria Avenue in Vineland in addition to a similar sign farther down the QEW for work at the Ontario Street bridge in Beamsville.

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Though the sign is in Liberal red and does have a slogan on it, most of the sign is informational, giving the location and expected completion date of the construction. For a scandal-plagued regime not above raiding the public treasury for self-promotion, I was actually quite impressed that they didn’t go overboard patting themselves on the back.

Contrast that with the approach taken in the SPRM, my former home.

More than a year ago, when I was still there, the Non Democratic Party rolled out a lavish ad campaign at the expense of taxpayers like me, spending over $1 million putting up signs like this at every construction site around the province.

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Conspicuously absent are the details of the construction project such as the estimated completion date, cost and the specifics on what’s actually being done. Clearly, the sign’s only purpose is to tell us poor suckers how grateful we should be for the infinite wisdom of the NDP. Steady growth. Good jobs. Words to make any Manitoban, past or present, vomit.

Yet another reason among many that I’m so glad to be out of the SPRM.