Tag Archives: Culture

Not Bored Walker

Saturday 1 October 2022 – Warning – lots of photos for you to wade through today!

Pinch, punch, first of the munch. (I hate assonance.) One week to go before we head back to the UK and we start our penultimate adventure, our time in Nova Scotia. As expected, yesterday, spent as it was in travelling two time zones eastwards from Winnipeg to Halifax, was entirely devoid of anything worth telling you about with the possible exception of the taxi ride from Halifax airport to our hotel. The (somewhat elderly) taxi driver started out being courteous and interesting and ended up ranting about the incompetence of government and the unfairness of taxes. He also delivered us to the wrong hotel, but was good enough to apologise and drive us to the right one.

So, today we found ourselves in the capital city of Nova Scotia with reasonable weather in prospect, so there was only one thing for it, which was to go for a walk. Obviously.

We had a chat with a very nice chap at the concierge desk, Tim. One thing we wanted to understand was whether there was a tall building which would give us a view over the city. Our thought was that it would be nice to be able to look down over the Citadel, which is a star-shaped fortress, to appreciate its shape. Tim suggested we go with him; he took us to the top floor of the hotel and unlocked the banqueting suite there, proudly telling us that this was the banqueting facility with the best view in the city. To be fair, it was not at all bad.

It didn’t however, give us the view over the citadel that we’d really have liked, but it did have an interesting ceiling with some great chandeliers.

The other nugget that we learned from Tim was that Halifax has its own (modest) equivalent of Toronto’s underground city, although here it’s overhead rather than underground. It’s called the Pedway, and you can see one of its aerial corridors crossing the road in the second of the view photos above. Of course we had to go and explore it. As with Toronto and Montreal, it’s linkways between halls, with some stores and eateries,

but is still in development – there are many hoardings promising a bright future with more stores to be opened.

It also gave us a view back to our hotel – you can see the inward-sloping windows of the banqueting suite at the top of it.

We also had a chat with Tim about the hotel, which is a curious mix of modern and dowdy, more old-fashioned areas (e.g. the wing where we have our room). It turns out that a complex set of circumstances involving mergers, takeovers, divestitures and pandemics means that planned improvements have not yet started.

Anyhow, we had more of the city to explore, so we headed out to wander about according to the plan that Jane had formulated. We passed City Hall

which overlooks the Grand Parade.

As you might infer from the picture above, an event was brewing in the Grand Parade, involving people of African-Canadian extraction, dressed in their finery and setting up a sound deck. Their mood was jolly and we hope they had a good time, but we had a city to explore so had to move on. Before we did, though, I took a picture of a mural that overlooked a building site

and the City Clock.

Behind the clock above, you can see a hill, atop which is the historic Halifax Citadel (climbing it also gives a nice view over the city’s impressive – but closed for maintenance – Angus L. Macdonald Bridge and the Clock).

We decided to visit the Citadel, as they offered a decently low entry price for us two old people, and so began to appreciate that Halifax has a great historical richness. The Citadel was first established in 1749, and the present citadel, built starting in 1828, is actually the fourth fortification built on the site.

The citadel’s fortifications were built and rebuilt to defend the town from various enemies – the indigenous Mi’kmaq and Acadians, for example, raided the capital region (Halifax and Dartmouth) 12 times, four times against Halifax itself. While never attacked, the Citadel was long the keystone to defence of the strategically important Halifax Harbour and its Royal Navy Dockyard.

The present citadel took thirty years to build and the general introduction of rifled artillery (with greater range and accuracy than earlier guns) shortly after its completion rendered the costly installation obsolescent. It was partially rearmed in the 1860s and 1870s, and continued in use as a barracks into the 20th century.

It is easy to understand its superb strategic location, overlooking the original town and harbour. It’s a very well-maintained institution, staffed with people dressed in period costumes who can tell you about various facets of life there in the 18th Century.

The central courtyard

is littered with cannons

as are the ramparts,

including a 12-pounder

which is still active and which is fired every day at noon – apparently a really loud bang.
After our visit, we walked along to the Public Gardens, a very pleasant environment.

Items of interest included a weeping beech tree

and a beautifully-coloured Blue Jay.

After the gardens, we passed the statue of Winston Churchill

were checked out by a starling

and then visited St. Mary’s Basilica,

a cathedral with a very handsome interior.

I was particularly struck by the stained glass half-dome above the altar. It being in the competitive nature of these things, the cathedral has, close by, the Anglican Church of St. David and

St. Matthew’s United Church.

Our rambling then took us in the general direction of the harbour, but en route we noticed that among all the modern high-rise constructions there are plenty of handsome old buildings in the city.

The downtown area has some interesting buildings, too;

and we were pleased to note that there is street art among the attempts to make the city look attractive.

We reached the harbour clock

which marks the start of a boardwalk stretching a couple of kilometres south, from the ferry terminal to the seaport. A lot of effort has gone into making this an attractive and pleasant area to walk, with artworks both mysterious and quirky along its length

(the tower structure is covered with plastic flaps, which flutter in the breeze – it’s rather lovely)

(the above street-light diptych is called “Get Drunk, Fall Down”)

as well as eating and drinking establishments. One of them, the BG (Halifax Beer Garden), was obviously paying its local tribute to Germany’s Oktoberfest, it being October first and that.

There is a life-size replica of the flagship of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of circumnavigation, 1519-1522 – the Trinidad

which in its day would have had 45 crew on board. I know people were smaller in those days, but I reckon it would still have been pretty cosy.

The rest of the walk down to the seaport passes many items of statuary – The Émigré, A tribute to Women in History, Samuel Cunard and three of the many examples of what might be figureheads that line the boardwalk here.

One significant statue is of Ruth Goldbloom, who fought for Pier 21 in the seaport to be restored and commemorated in recognition of the nearly one million immigrants who were processed through it between 1928 and 1971.

The plan was to get to Pier 22 which we thought might have some nice eateries and/or drinkeries. We were wrong. It turns out to be a tourist tat haven only open on cruise ship days intended, I imagine, to attract people who are boarding and who need to find just that one more special something for a special someone. Since there was a cruise ship in, only slightly larger than the substantial buildings of Pier 22,

it was open.

By this time, we were feeling somewhat sharp set, so we made our way back along the boardwalk with the idea of eating at a place that we’d seen earlier on, called Sea Smoke. There was a diversion en route in the form of a 1968 Routemaster London Bus,

used for hop-on-hop-off tours and, unsurprisingly, somewhat modified from the original,

because getting off the way we UK folk might consider would probably precipitate a traffic accident and lot of attendant paperwork. So an alternative exit is needed for the passengers

and an alternative entry for the driver.

As we ate our (very fine) meal at Sea Smoke, the cruise ship which had been at Pier 22 came by on its way out;

I’ve never seen so many radar aerials on a boat before.

We watched the ship do a graceful pirouette before exiting the harbour and then we ourselves exited the restaurant, which is distinguished by having many fire tables outside – very pleasant as the evening was chilly.

By this time, the light was fading (possibly matching your interest level in this post).

We passed a final, mystery piece of art

and then, as the evening light flared and then died,

we made our way back to the hotel.

Again, sorry for a long post with lots of photos, but I hope you found the read worthwhile. We had a really enjoyable day discovering the historical, arty and eat-y sides of Halifax, which comes across as being a very pleasant place to be.

Tomorrow has a planned excursion, if all goes well – a 10 mile hike. If we survive, I will be sure to document our progress here, but for now it’s time for bed. See you tomorrow!

Going to the Dogs

Thursday 29 September 2022 – Until we finally boarded our flight out of Churchill, the schedule for the day was in a more or less perpetual state of flux, as in no-one knowing what the flux going on. The first spanner in the works was that our flight would now be at midday, much earlier than originally planned. So Mark had to make some last-minute changes, involving finding our group some packed lunches and squeezing today’s excursions into a smaller window.  Later on, we found out that the midday flight had been cancelled and we were now going to fly out at (the original time of) 17.45. This meant that Mark, having crammed everything in, now had to find other diversions for us.  He managed all of this with aplomb and many phone calls.

Our first port of call was something that I hadn’t very high expectations of – very wrongly, as it turned out.  It was a visit to a dog yard.  Dogs have long been used to haul sleds and since there was no snow on the ground I couldn’t quite see how it could be made interesting. I hadn’t reckoned with the passion, energy and sheer charisma of “Big Dog” Dave Daley, the owner of the yard

who was accompanied by two of his sled dogs.

Where I had expected a routine presentation about dog sledding, he treated us to a brilliant, impassioned and amusing exposition about the relationship between man and dog, between dog and dog and between man, dog and the race he created and runs every year he can, the Hudson Bay Quest, a 220-mile wilderness race which knocks the more-widely-known 80-mile Iditarod into a cocked hat. In the HBQ, one man, 10 dogs and a sled have to complete the race unsupported except for a half-way stop for a compulsory 6-hour rest (for the dogs, not the men) and a reload of the hay that is needed to create rest dens for the dogs en route.  Extraordinarily, this distance can be covered in 40 hours, by someone who knows what he’s doing.

Much of the substance of Dave’s presentation consisted of underlining what “knowing what you’re doing” means when it comes to running a dog team, and this involves having a deep relationship with every dog, knowing its strengths, weaknesses, health and preferences.  Some dogs make good lead dogs, but would be no good as “wheel dogs”, the raw muscle power that runs just ahead of the sled, for example. (There are also point dogs and swing dogs, each with a role in the team, and “knowing what you’re doing” involves understanding and exploiting this.) Some dogs prefer to run on the left, some on the right. Some prefer sprints, some are better at marathons.  “Knowing what you’re doing” involves being a planner, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, nutritionist, physician, breeder, salesman and trainer.  Dave currently has 47 dogs in his yard and every single one of them seemed to be bursting with energy and enthusiasm when it became clear that they would be working that morning,

because after talking about the theory behind running a dog team, we actually got the chance to get a tiny insight into the practice.  There was no snow on the ground, but the dogs still need to work to keep them healthy and happy, so outside winter they pull carts; we got the chance to ride the carts whilst they were being pulled – two guests and a driver per cart, with the dogs in teams of five, rather than 10.

The energy and enthusiasm that was bursting out of the dogs increased, if anything, when they were hitched up to a cart – which had to be anchored to a huge boulder to stop them immediately rocketing off into the forest.  Jane and I were lucky – Dave picked on us as his passengers, and his team had seemingly impossible amounts of energy waiting to be harnessed.

As you can see from the video, there was a choice of track, but each ride was about 1½km, and so Dave calls the outing on the carts the “Ididamile”, which is rather lovely.  It was huge fun being carted along by these bundles of energy – and because Big Dog was our driver, we went faster than the others which necessitated veering off onto a forest path, rather than staying on the main drag, so we didn’t run into the other teams!  All in all, it was an absorbing, entertaining and thought-provoking couple of hours.

The next item on the agenda was a visit to Churchill’s museum, but before we did that we called in at the Churchill Post Office to get our passports stamped.

On the door of the Post Office building is, erm, posted a summary of encounters with bears.

So even though we’d had to search high and low for a bear, it seems as though bears are finding people, even this early in Bear Season.

The museum we visited is called the Itsanitaq Museum and is dedicated to Inuit culture, with wonderful collections of carvings and artefacts which are among the finest and oldest in the world, dating from 1700 B.C.

It used to be called the Eskimo Museum, but Eskimo is a term which has fallen out of favour; itsanitaq is an Inuit word meaning “things from the past”. This was explained to us by Lorraine, the lady in charge, who gave us a short introductory spiel,

and included further information about the principal peoples of the area.

Among the exhibits in the museum was an explanation of the script that we found on the Calm Air aeroplane safety leaflet.

It turns out that the symbols weren’t in themselves a language, but rather a phonetic code enabling the various indigenous languages to be written down.  So our safety leaflet was probably in the Cree language, that being the largest of the populations in the area.

We had a lunch stop at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, a non-profit facility that promotes and facilitates research and education about many issues that affect the northern regions, with an emphasis on sustainability and climate change. They provide accommodation and facilities for visiting researchers as well as carrying out their own research and educational programmes.

They allowed us to have our (clearly rather hastily-assembled) packed lunches in their canteen, and also hosted a tour of the place, which is sustainably designed and ecologically and environmentally secured so as not to affect the area around it.

After this, having discovered that the rescheduling of the rescheduled flight left us with time on our hands, Joe drove us slowly around the back roads whilst we searched again for bears.  Unfortunately the bloody bears had buggered off again, so all we saw was another Arctic Hare

who was reasonably close and so a bit easier to spot among the rocks than our elusive ursines. The sun came out and so this one perked up a bit

before it started raining again, with a stiff and cold wind blowing, so it hunkered down again, looking distinctly unimpressed with the weather.

Mark gave us a final chance to get images of the town, starting at the Churchill sign

and we managed to catch a couple of grab shots of artwork we hadn’t recorded before

and also an Interesting Church (see our Iceland pages).

And, barring visits to a couple of gift shops, that was that for Churchill.  We went to the airport and bade farewell to the guys who had made the last three days so interesting and varied.

We duly arrived into Winnipeg just in time to crash into the hotel’s Sports Bar where the group got together for a final time to consume (in some cases rather inadvisable) quantities of drink.  It was a good way to end this section of our holiday which was great fun, excellently guided and shared with some nice people.

Tomorrow is just a travel day – Winnipeg to Halifax, Nova Scotia via Toronto.  It’s unlikely that I’ll have anything interesting to report about two flights, so the story is To Be Continued in a couple of days.  I hope to see you then; bye for now.

Crossing a qulture qhasm

Monday September 19 2022 – The day started and ended with something warm and familiar – a Nice Cup Of Tea (Twinings Earl Grey, courtesy of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto). In between those comforting landmarks, there was a distinct culture shift as we headed to Québec City.

The Via Rail experience was broadly similar to that of our journey into Ottawa:  masks were required at all times in station and train, unless actually eating or drinking (even between sips of a drink, according to the stern-sounding MC shortly after we set off); food and drink were served at our comfortable seats; power and WiFi were available throughout the journey; and we arrived about half an hour late.  The differences were subtle, though marked:  the ham and omelette served for breakfast were both very odd creations; the WiFi worked for some websites (including, fortunately, this one) but not others (including my banking app, so I couldn’t check on whether the Ottawa hotel had really given us free internet access); and our suitcases were checked in, rather than accompanying us in the carriage. Oh, and the weather wasn’t all that brilliant, either, but then we were on a train, so didn’t really mind.

On the journey, Jane saw more churches with what looked like silver spires

(reminiscent of Notre Dame in Ottawa). The explanation will be forthcoming tomorrow, by the way, so please continue to pay attention.

But then we arrived in Québec city, and it was obvious that we had qrossed a qultural qhasm: we might as well have been in Paris.  The atmospheric change affected the passengers, whose previous orderly behaviour descended into an amorphous mob grabbing at their luggage as it came off the baggage car; initial signs directing passengers to taxis evaporated, leaving those in need of transport baffled as to where to go; a young lady at an “information” desk couldn’t be arsed to do more than hold up a piece of paper with a taxi phone number on it; and the taxi rank (once we discovered it, indicated by a scruffy and not very prominent sign attached crookedly to a lamppost hidden behind a construction site) was devoid of taxis. After all the orderly, North American and well-organised travels of the last six weeks, it was a distinctly European experience.

Eventually, taxis started appearing and the ragged queue that had rather grudgingly formed with a puzzled expression on its collective face, started being transported to its destinations. The sophistication of the local taxi network was laid bare as our taxi driver stopped at one point to shout at another taxi that he should go to the station as it was “plein” (full), and reinforced as he explained that he’d prefer us to pay cash – the first time we had actually had to use Canadian banknotes in a month and a half. Oh, how we chuckled!

The Parisian feel continued as we arrived at our hotel (yet another Fairmonster, the Chateau Frontenac)

whose front yard was littered with vehicles (Gawd alone knows how our taxi driver got out). Once inside, we had a choice of what might or might not have been three separate queues, any of which might or might not have led to a point where we might or might not have been able to check in, amid scenes of fairly voluble and rather unco-ordinated discussions going on all around us.  We took the only course of action one can under these circumstances, which is to stand separately in two of the least unpromising-looking queues, ready to spring to the other in case it was a more effective choice.  In the end, and completely by accident, I won.  I saw a couple of people apparently jump all of the available queues and decided that I should follow this very Parisian example; it turned out that they’d found the Fairmont Loyalty Card queue and since I have an Accor membership I was able to find someone prepared to help us.

Once that had happened, everything proceeded a lot more smoothly.  We got a nice room (rather reminiscent of Jane’s Parisian garret apartment of 30 years ago) on the seventh floor, and the last Parisian snook cocked at us was that we were charged by a hotel room service jobsworth for some milk for the cup of tea we were really in need of by this stage. This is our eighth Fairmont; none of the previous seven have cavilled at simply – and freely – helping out a couple of Brits in pitiful need of tea. But we were now in logical Paris, so not only were we charged for a glass of milk, but, of course, there was a delivery cost added to the bill.


It was late afternoon by this stage and so we decided to go for a walk. Obviously.  We (broadly) followed a recommendation from Ian Burley (you’ll remember – of course! – that we met him as we walked around Menorca a year ago) for a stroll around parts of the city.  The walk started on the terrace outside the hotel

which also gives an opportunity to see quite what a monster the hotel is.  The terrace is a pleasant boardwalk in a nice environment

with the occasional surprise, like this toboggan run (winters only, of course)

and, at the end, a really quite substantial set of steps up to Quebec’s Citadel.

Our route took us across the Plains of Abraham (no, not that one, actually; more likely a Scottish fisherman who came here early in the 17th century) which were the scene of a battle between perfidious Albion and those diabolical Frenchies in 1759 as the two nations struggled for control of an extremely important strategic location.  Then we went past the National Assembly building

(very imposing, and much more pleasant on the eye than the government buildings opposite),

and one of the historic gates into the city (St. Louis Gate).

It was almost impossible for me to shake off the feeling of being in Paris.  On one side of the street you could find a charming row of houses and brasseries,

and, directly opposite, great brutalist slabs of masonry;

inexplicable bits of statuary;

attempts to disguise, with a mural

a ghastly block of modern masonry;

and some really charming buildings.

We ended up walking along the Rue St. Jean, sadly by now in the dark, as it looks like it would be really interesting to see in the daylight, past the building site outside the cathedral and back towards the hotel. Québec is clearly going to be an interesting place to look around

despite the appalling solecism of having a Christmas Shop.

This was one of the giveaways that we were not, actually, in Paris; the other was that walking along Rue St. Jean was accompanied by the smells emanating from innumerable popcorn and ice-cream parlours – an ineluctable part of being anywhere near retail establishments in North America.

All in all, it was a pleasant and interesting introduction to somewhere which clearly has a great deal of historical interest to accompany its undoubted charm.  We will hardly scratch the surface in our forthcoming two days here, but it’ll be nice to aim for some degree of insight.

Tomorrow, we are promised, on our itinerary, “A Fabulous Country Tour” and, by the weather forecast, wind and rain.  Who knows how it will go?  Answer: you will, but only if you check back in to these pages to find out.