Monday, September 30, 2013

Sax music on the library patio interrupted

You never know when or how such news will come.

Mine came in the form of a phone call while I was listening to this woman play her saxophone at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

This was a few days ago, before the rains hit. It was a warm September day, and I had just finished a tasty bean stew and a latte.

I still had time before my writing group, and I was finishing my coffee and watching how the musician incorporated recordings from her laptop into her live performance.

When my cell phone rang, my aunt and cousins told me our beloved Auntie Doris had died at 91.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Okanagan Lake shows true blue against a blue sky

Seen from the highway, Okanagan Lake is its usual peerless blue.

On my recent trip, I drove down the east side, through Vernon.

Outside of Kelowna, I stopped at the Jammery for locally produced honey, jam and antipasto.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Boys and girls had separate entrances to Medicine Hat school

This historic Medicine Hat school is handsome and well-maintained. Below, close-ups of the two doors reveal how in the past there were separate entrances for boys and girls.

Reminded me of the "Ladies and Escorts" sign seen in childhood.

Such signs were common in the fifties and sixties. The "Men's Entrance" led to the same place, as each pub only had one room. There was no "Ladies' Entrance." Proper ladies were meant to know not to go in there unescorted by men!

A vintage "Ladies and Escorts" sign hangs in Leo's Pub and Grill in Pincher Creek.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Coulees and Paradise Canyon

Paradise Canyon, located in the coulee, has wide views and a groomed green golf course. It's a stunningly beautiful West Lethbridge attraction.

On the down side, there is little or no cell phone service down in the coulee.

Nice in a way, but inconvenient at times.

We have grown so accustomed to the constant availability of our phones.

Right: Oldman River Observatory in a coulee
Below: Popson Park in another coulee


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bomber Command Museum at Nanton, Alberta

This Lancaster bomber sits in front of the museum.

During World War II, England was under air attack within easy reach of the Nazi enemy.

Thus, many warplanes were built and pilots trained far away from the theatre of war, under an international arrangement called The Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Many of these were built in Canada, in places like Nanton, Alberta, now the site of a museum to commemorate those times.

Planes were ferried across the Atlantic and flown by international pilot groups under the direction of Britain's Bomber Command.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cougars and Rattlesnakes in Southern Alberta

In Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park, visitors are warned of the presence of cougars.
A rattlesnake suns itself in a rock crevice in the Milk River Canyon at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wind farms near Pincher Creek

The area around Pincher Creek, Alberta, where the wind sweeps down from the foothills of the Rockies, is full of wind farms. Many of the windmills  are far from the road, but this turbine was close enough to be more easily visible to the camera's eye.

Strange that while in northern Alberta, the controversial oil sands production continues, in the south, they're using something as clean and natural as wind to generate power.

Right: Taken in a heavy wind storm.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Alberta Birds of Prey in Coaldale

Photo: barn owl

At Alberta Birds of Prey, in Coaldale, close to Lethbridge, some people got together to reclaim wetlands and provide shelter for injured and endangered birds of prey.

It started small, when one family found hurt birds, nursed them back to health and re-wilded them.

Now the facility has grown to a spacious sanctuary with full-time staff and a peregrine falcon tethered to a perch in the gift shop.

We took a tour, watched a flying demonstration with hawks and were told some amazing facts.

For one thing, these birds avoid flying whenever possible, because it takes huge amounts of energy. In the wild, they spend over 90% of their time perched. We also learned that birds open their beaks like panting dogs to cool off.

To get the raw chicken from her trainer, the red hawk flew low as predicted. Sarah, who started at the sanctuary as a co-op student and then decided to stay, told us that to conserve energy, hawks enjoy coasting along on cool currents near the ground.

Left: Red Hawk interacts with handler Sarah

Above: Found blind and injured in a ditch, this bald eagle has recovered as much as he can, but will have to live out his life at the sanctuary, since he can no longer see to hunt.

Left: One of the large ponds at the sanctuary, surrounded by native plants.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Cover image from Amazon

As I read from Penny's mystery series, I grow ever fonder of Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache and his moody sidekick, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir.

I have also grown familiar with the tiny village of Three Pines, near Montreal. With these officers of the Surete du Quebec, I travel back and forth from the city across the Jacques Cartier Bridge, investigating murder in this small artistic community.

With a sure touch, Louise Penny reveals her complex mysteries, told from the very different points of view not just of Gamache and Beauvoir, but of various other characters as well.

Penny enjoys describing art, artists and gallery people in her novels; in fact, Gamache's clever Surete superior, Therese Brunel, is a former curator of the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal, with an encyclopedic knowledge of art she gleaned before taking up her second career of sleuthing. (Conveniently, her husband Jerome is a code and puzzle expert.)

Still, this author seems to take a certain pleasure in skewering the Montreal gallery owners she has imagined into being. They are not very nice people; they bully and manipulate the artists whose work they represent, even as they make money off them.

This story has a British Columbia connection. In the course of investigating the murder of a Czech hermit, Gamache finds himself thinking about Emily Carr's monkey and travelling to Haida Gwaii.

I enjoyed this as an audio book, ably narrated by Ralph Cosham.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Waterton Lakes National Park

Along with Glacier Park, Montana on the US side, Waterton Lakes National Park is part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, an idea dreamed up in 1932 by Canadian Nobel prize winner and Lester B. Pearson, and his American counterpart in the Rotary Club.

It was rainy when we drove into the park and the mountains were shielded in mist. The fenced buffalo pen stood open, with a cattle guard to prevent the animals from leaving the enclosure. An invitation to see the herd.

We drove in and followed the rough track for miles and miles before seeing any animals; when we did, they looked chilly in the mist.

The village was beautiful. The smell of wood smoke from the campsites reminded us of our days in Girl Guides as mother and daughter. While we were there, the weather cleared and the sun shone on the lake and mountains.

 My daughter loved the place, and earmarked it as a likely destination for a future camping trip.

The castle on the hill gives the village a slightly Swiss flavour.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a UNESCO Heritage site, as well as a Biosphere Reserve with a lot of different kinds of ecosystems.

Sadly, this area has not always been as peaceful as it is today. This link shows a chronology of the time after the Europeans came to the area with horses, smallpox and guns.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Medalta Pottery of Medicine Hat

Photo left: Historic brick kilns at Medalta

Established in 1912 by The Medicine Hat Pottery Company, the Medalta name combined word parts from town and province. This crockery facility once did a brisk trade.

The CPR was an important customer, as were the Armed Forces. In fact, peacetime pottery production was suspended for the duration of WWII, when troop trains, mess halls, hospitals and POW camps needed Medalta ware.

Even Haile Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia, had a set of dishes with his own crest on them made to order at Medalta.

Right: Inside the kiln, Yasemin ponders the pottery of the past.

Above: Western-themed pottery reflects the culture of the region.

One day, the doors closed on an intact operation.

In 1967, as a Centennial Project, Medalta reopened as a museum, displaying original processes, as well as an excavated kiln foundation.

A few dishes are still made and sold, and many, many designs, like the cattle themed ones above left, remain on display.

Right: Examples of made to order Medalta ware from the heyday

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Autumn crocus in glorious bloom

I planted them a year ago and waited to see how they'd do. Would they spread and naturalize? That was what I wanted.

It's been very gratifying to watch them this year, now that they're getting established.

Fall crocus provide such lovely colours, just when summer flowers begin to fade.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Oh My Darling by Shaena Lambert

Cover image from Shaena's website (HarperCollins 2013)

Last week, I attended the launch of a new book of short stories by Vancouver writer Shaena Lambert. It was a thrill to hear her read from the title story, which I read when it was published recently in the Walrus.

The book has been published under the new editorial imprint of veteran Canadian editor Patrick Crean.

It was lovely to connect with fellow writers and see how many people packed the launch at Cory Weeds's Cellar Jazz Club on West Broadway.

The day I met Shaena at the Writers' Studio, I developed an immediate rapport with her when I found in her a fellow fan of Ford Madox Ford.

Shaena's latest book was reviewed by Steven Brown in the Vancouver Sun, and has also been reviewed by Quill and Quire. Lambert's former short story collection is called The Falling Woman, and she has also published a novel, Radiance.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A six-figure number of page views

Recent inspiration was provided by my travels to southern Alberta, including Waterton Lakes National Park, where this picture was taken.

Not quite four years down the road from my early blogging efforts in November 2009, my posts have now received 100,000 page views. This milestone happened earlier than I expected it: I thought it would happen in December.

Not sure it means visitors are reading, but some must be. Today two Surrey viewers landed on fifty-one pages between them.

In the past four months, the average number of pages viewed per visitor has risen to new highs.

For me, the purpose of blogging been a personal challenge: a journey of self-imposed writing practice and an enforced discipline of meeting deadlines and writing daily whether I feel like it or not.

It's definitely paid off. The years of blogging have changed me. I've grown as a writer, and now I don't like to let a day go by without a post. These days, especially when traveling, I often take photos with blog posts in mind.

Visitors and their comments are pure gravy, since I've made no attempt to seek them out.Thanks for caring, and I hope you'll come again. Don't let my photo in the picture above scare you away -- it was a wet and windy day at Waterton.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why are they called the Badlands?

The sun-warmed coulees in the ranchlands of southern Alberta look anything but bad. In fact, they are very beautiful. This photo was taken near Medicine Hat.

Why are they called Badlands? Various sources including the National Park Service (South Dakota) report that this is a direct translation from the Lakota words of the Sioux people. The area was so called because it was dry, rugged and subject to extreme temperatures.

Today the word badlands has a geological meaning. In Alberta, the Badlands (also called Hoodoos) are located near Drumheller, as well as around Medicine Hat and Writing on Stone on the Milk River. They form when dry climates erode sedimentary rocks.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Now standing like an island of trees in the middle of the prairie, the Cypress Hills were once surrounded by ice. Somehow exempted from the coverage of the advancing glaciers, they remain today the location of the highest point of land between the Rockies and Labrador.

Cattle graze by the road in the Cypress Hills
It's a peaceful and beautiful landscape today, but in 1873, the Cypress Hills was the site of a grisly massacre: white traders slaughtered an entire encampment of Assiniboines. The time in history was troubled, the situation complex. Near starvation after the slaughter of buffalo herds, groups of Metis and Assiniboine people were camped in the hills.

Drunken American wolf hunters and whiskey traders from Fort Benton made incursions across the "Medicine Line" and got into an altercation with the native people.

Several men were responsible for the slaughter. Three Canadians were later tried in Winnipeg for murder, but all were acquitted.

According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, the government tried unsuccessfully to extradite the others from the US and they were never even tried for their ghastly drunken killing spree. 
The Cypress Hills straddle southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The men who carried out the Cypress Hills Massacre were never punished, but this event proved a crucial factor that confirmed the need of a Canadian police force in the west. The following year, the NWMP set out on their long march on horseback (there was no railroad yet) from Winnipeg to the Oldman River. There they built their first post on an island and tackled the problem of the whiskey trade at Fort Whoop Up.

Later, the Mounties established the post of Fort Walsh in the Hills, now a National Historic site.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Traditional style prairie elevators changed and repurposed

Crop Production Services, Coaldale
Border Seed Cleaning Coop, Milk River, AB

When I was a child growing up in Alberta, the elevators, then made of wood, were labelled with words that expressed simple concepts, a farmer owned co-operative. The signs read UGG (United Grain Growers), Alberta Wheat Pool, or simply Pool, and usually had the town names as well.

The one below left, in Big Valley, still had the Alberta Wheat Pool sign in 2012 but the one in St. Albert (right) is now a museum.

Pool elevator in Big Valley

Elevator Museum at St. Albert

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bow Island a misnomer

Photo: Mother and daughter pose in Bow Island with town mascot Pinto Macbean

Recently I drove with my daughter through Bow Island, a small town in southern Alberta, located on the Crowsnest Highway between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

I knew from letters Mom kept that Dad built elevators here in the 1950s. When we stopped on our way through, I hoped we might sense some connection with Dad, the grandfather that Yasemin met only once, when she was a tiny baby.

But the wooden elevators are all gone, and the old hotel burned down recently. That would have been where he stayed during the severe blizzard he described in the letter to Mom. The bad weather kept the men from working for several days.

We learned at the information kiosk that the place is not close to the Bow River and has no island. This is due to a bureaucratic mix-up that swapped the names of Bow Island and nearby Grassy Lake, a former coal town. The error was never corrected.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Father Lacombe

Father Lacombe, image from Canadian Encyclopedia

Albert Lacombe was born in 1827 near Montreal, the first of eight children. He inherited some Ojibway (or Ojibwe) blood through his maternal grandmother Duchamel.

He was ordained in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, in 1849 and travelled west to St. Boniface Mission on the Red River.

Lacombe worked extensively among the Cree and Blackfoot people, and learned to speak several aboriginal languages. During a challenging time in Canada's history, he carried out much more than his religious duties.

As reported in Alberta's Culture, he ministered to the sick and served as a cultural interpreter and mediator among the First Nations, Metis, Euro-Canadians and the CPR.

The city of St. Albert, located along Edmonton's northwestern boundary, was founded as an Oblate Mission in 1861. It was named after the patron saint of Father Lacombe. The city of Lacombe, north of Red Deer in central Alberta, is also named after this practical priest.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

James Macleod of the NWMP

Image of James F. Macleod of the NWMP from Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary

James Farquaharson Macleod was born on the Isle of Skye in 1836. In 1845, his family immigrated to Upper Canada. When he grew up, Macleod studied at Queen's College in Kingston, was called to the bar, and opened a law practice in Ontario

He was also a member of the Canadian militia. He got involved in putting down the first Red River Rebellion in 1870, and received a promotion to brigade major.

In 1873, when the federal government of the new nation of Canada decided to establish a police force to keep law and order in the West, James Macleod was made Assistant to Commissioner George French, and helped him lead the great march to southern Alberta from Manitoba.

The journey of 1600 km on horseback was arduous, and the first troop of North West Mounted Police travelled to Alberta indirectly, by way of Fort Benton, Montana, and the Sweetgrass Hills.

On the wise advice of Macleod, his second in command, Commissioner French hired Jerry Potts as a guide to lead the group to the Oldman River, where they were to establish their post and stamp out the illegal American whiskey trade at Fort Whoop Up (modern day Lethbridge). Fort Macleod was named after this respected leader, and later became a town of the same name.

Later, Macleod sent other patrols to the Cypress Hills, where they established Fort Walsh, and to the  Bow River where the modern city of Calgary still bears the name of the original fort.

Macleod served as Police Commissioner until 1880, and later became a judge in the North West Territories, which included Alberta at the time.

He was credited for establishing and maintaining good relations with the Blackfoot people, with the able assistance of linguistic and cultural interpreter, Jerry Potts.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jerry Potts

Grave markers of Jerry Potts and other NWMP members buried at Fort Macleod.

The son of a Blood Indian mother and a Scots father with three other wives, Jerry Potts, also called Bear Child, was born in 1840 at a Missouri River fort in Montana. After his father died, his mother, Crooked Back, returned to her tribe and left young Jerry to be raised at the fort by fur trader Alexander Harvey, who abandoned him at age 5.

Later, he was adopted by Andrew Dawson of the American Fur Company. He lived at Fort Benton, where he learned to read and write. Since he mixed freely with the inhabitants and visitors to the fort, Jerry was raised in a multi-cultural atmosphere and mixed freely with his mother's people as well as those at the fort.

A brave hunter, he was hired by the American fur company and a number of whiskey traders. On behalf of his employers, he was involved in various battles.

In 1874, when Commissioner George Arthur French led the first troop of North West Mounted Police through Fort Benton, he hired Jerry Potts as a guide, scout and interpreter.

As the new police force neared the location where they had been instructed to set up their first post and put a stop to the whiskey trade, they were in desperate need of the help of someone local. Potts proved an invaluable addition to the troop. Because he knew the geography of the area, he led most patrols, and later trained other scouts to do the same.

Also, since he understood the customs, values and concerns of the Blackfoot Indians, he was able to be an effective interpreter. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he was instrumental in maintaining peaceful relations between the Blackfoot and the Mounties, and also helped to secure Blackfoot neutrality during the Northwest Rebellion.

In 1874, Jerry Potts arranged the first meetings between NWMP Assistant Commissioner James Macleod and important Blackfoot leaders including Crowfoot and Red Crow. In 1877, he helped to complete the negotiations for Treaty 7 between the federal government and the Blackfoot.

Recognized as being instrumental in maintaining good relations between the NWMP and the local people, he remained in the employ of the police for 22 years, until his death in 1896. He was buried at Fort Macleod.

A school and soccer field in Calgary (formerly Fort Calgary) have been named after him, and the nearby city of Lethbridge has a Jerry Potts Boulevard.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Inside Fort Macleod

Left: tipi model Each had a unique design.

Right: Cannon points toward central flagpole inside fort enclosure. 

Below right: Sod-roofed building and covered wagon

Left: This head- dress is an example of the art work that can be seen inside the  gallery 
at Fort Macleod.

Right below: a supply of arms for the police