Don’t anyone ever say that the Christmas spirit is not alive and well in Toronto.
On the Tuesday before Christmas last week, my husband, who is the chef in our family, went to do his final shopping for Christmas dinner. He is seventy-six and looks his age (although he insists that he is still only thirty-nine). He uses a cane for balance and to alleviate the pain in his back.
He went first to Fiesta Farms, our favourite local supermarket known particularly for its organic foods and excellent fruits and vegetables. He went early in the morning, assuming that he would beat the crowd. Alas, when he arrived, there was already a long line-up of customers all masked and appropriately socially distanced. The line-up was the longest he had ever seen since we returned to Toronto. It stretched across the front of the store, around the corner and all the way down Christie Street to the end of the store at the back. As he walked down the sidewalk beside the line-up, several people suggested that he join the line-up ahead of them. Each time he demurred, reluctant to jump the queue. When he got to the end of the line-up, the woman ahead of him also suggested that he go to the front. He insisted that he could wait like everyone else. He wasn’t there more than a couple of minutes when the store employee staffing the front of line-up approached him and insisted that, no, he was to come into the store right away. Apparently someone from the line-up had told him about my husband, and getting him into the store ASAP became a priority. That saved my husband at least a half hour of waiting.
My husband then went to the local neighbourhood butcher shop, Vince Gasparro’s Meat Market on Bloor Street West. Again, there was an unusually long line of people, maybe fifteen, lined up on the sidewalk outside. Again, a woman ahead of him suggested that he go to the front of the queue. She said that she knew the woman at the head of the line and she would not mind. My husband responded that perhaps the people between them would be less keen. Whereupon, his neighbour went down the line asking each person if they would mind my hubby going ahead. None did. The woman at the head of the line went into the shop and spoke with Pat Gasparro who was working the cash register. My husband is a regular customer there, long known to the family. Pat stepped out of the shop and yelled, “Irvine, get your ass in here right away.” And he did.
When my husband got home, he was delighted that the shopping had gone so quickly and that he had been treated so well by his fellow shoppers. Are people with canes treated this well all the time? Or was it the spirit of the season? Whatever. It was a community act of kindness which was much appreciated.
Flying and the future of the airline industry have become major topics of discussion. The decision of Air Canada and WestJet to sell all their seats has provoked considerable controversy. The airline industry and some experts say that blocking the middle seats is unnecessary and that other new practices make an airplane flight safe enough. Taking temperatures at the airport, passengers wearing masks, staff clothed in PPE, enhanced cleaning of the aircraft interior, and more sophisticated ventilation systems, together, are considered sufficient to ensure that aircraft do not become hotspots for the virus if flights are full.
Both my husband and I flew back to Toronto from Vancouver in June, me on the l9th and my husband on the 30th. In both cases, the airport was virtually empty and preflight formalities were accomplished very quickly. There was little point in pre-registering as each passenger was required to complete a questionnaire about symptoms of COVID19 and prior flights taken, before checking their bags. There were few shops open at the airport, and no opportunity to buy even a newspaper. Sitting at the gate, most passengers wore masks and observed proper physical distancing. Loading into the aircraft was by zone; each lined up individually to keep passengers as separated as possible.
As for the flights themselves, both were cheaper than they have ever been and there was no extra tariff for fuel. Temperatures are taken before security, and everyone was required to wear a mask. Most importantly, all the centre seats were empty. That does not mean that there was a six-foot space between all passengers, but the large aircraft was at least one-third empty and the flight was quite pleasant. People did not physically distance as they were actually loading and unloading, but because there were many fewer passengers, there were fewer lineups, and the normally tedious process went much more quickly than formerly was the case. As the amount of hand baggage to be stowed up top was less, that cause for aisle congestion was also lessened. Waiting for luggage on arrival was quicker than normal, too.
Wearing a mask for the whole day, from arrival at the airport in Vancouver until leaving the airport in Toronto, was the one truly onerous requirement. Getting used to wearing a mask takes some doing. Staff would remind passengers to ensure their mask covered their noses if necessary. And to drink the water or eat any snacks, one had to improvise an alternative, if only momentarily. No food was provided on the flight, but most people had brought something to eat for the long flight across the country. Once seated in the aircraft, the staff provided personal kits containing several bottles of water, hand sanitizer, and gloves. The water was absolutely necessary; the rest was reassuring.
Canada is such a large country and cross-country connections are so extensive that flying is essential to the well-being of the economy and the populace. The future of the aircraft industry is a priority which takes some thought. Among my friends and associates, however, I have detected a strong disinclination to fly anytime in the near future. People would prefer to drive, even if it means driving long distances. The questions for the travel and tourism industries are: How will they entice people back to travel? What can they do to seduce Canadians back onto aircraft?
In my view, personal safety from the virus is the top priority of everyone at the moment. It strikes me that, for flying to become a viable option again, the airlines would be wise to make it as pleasant as possible at all fare levels. This may well mean continuing to block the middle seats for the foreseeable future so that the flying experience can be somewhat less congested than has been the usual case in recent years. I suspect that people would be willing to pay more money for the more space that this seating plan would provide. Certainly, my husband and I would have been willing to pay more in June for the service we received then.
The airlines need to gather data on why people are flying, what they think about current conditions, and what effects the various accommodations that the airlines are making will have. The more empirical data that is collected, the more future passengers may be inclined to fly.
It’s July and time to visit the blueberry patch. My father and mother started these visits as a family tradition years ago. They would go down the hill from East Burnaby, travel the highway across the Coquitlam flats, take the Mary Hill cut-off beside the Fraser River, cross over the Pitt River bridge and then turn left off the Lougheed Highway onto what is now called the Old Dewdney Trunk Road in Pitt Meadows. It’s an area of rich flat farm lands protected from flooding by dikes built along the Pitt River, the Fraser River and the Alouette River, all running beneath the peaks of the Golden Ears Mountains to the east. My parents met in nearby Hammond, a mill town by the Fraser River now incorporated into Ridge Meadows. In those days, this historical road through the farmlands was known as just the Dewdney Trunk Road.
Once my parents found the farm which they considered the best local blueberry producer, they’d buy forty pounds of freshly picked blueberries at a ridiculously low price, and take them home. Some they gave to their friends, the bulk they flash froze in their freezer for the winter. On my next visit to the west coast, I would load a camp freezer full of their frozen BC blueberries and haul them back to Toronto as my checked baggage on the airplane. All winter, my BC blueberries reminded me of home.
The tradition continues. On Thursday of last week, I made my annual pilgrimage to Pitt Meadows to get some blueberries, now for our Vancouver cottage. I googled “blueberry farms in Pitt Meadows, BC” and went with a list of local producers. I chose a couple that sounded great and set out to find them.
The first was the Middelveen Farms. When Old Dewdney Trunk turned at Harris Road, I knew that I should turn left. Then I drove along Harris, straining to read the street numbers on the farms I passed. But I was driving too fast, the road was narrow, there were too many cars, and I soon realized that I had missed the address I was looking for. When I saw a makeshift sign offering “local blueberries here,” I drove into another farm and bought twenty pounds of berries from the couple I found there in the barn. I knew nothing about the berries except that they were freshly picked and at $2.50 a pound, they seemed like a bargain. I decided that I would buy some from them and more from the others when I found them.
Then I turned around and very slowly retraced my steps looking for Middelveen. This time, I pulled the car over as close as I dared to the deep drainage ditch beside the road and put on my lights to warn others that I was travelling slowly and likely to turn.
After several stops and starts, I finally found the correct address and turned into the spiffy expanse of the parking lot in front of the well-kept home at Middelveen farm. Kerry Sully and Tom Middelveen, the son of the original owners who came to Canada from Holland, greeted me warmly but said that their family farm was primarily a “pick your own” operation.
They have seven varieties of blueberries which ripen at different times during the blueberry season. Sparkling clean white buckets are available for pickers. Tom drives pickers into the fields on his little green ATV, a Kawasaki Mule. When he tells newcomers that they would be going for “a mule ride,” children expect to ride on a donkey and parents enjoy the joke. The charge for blueberries is $2.00 a pound if you pick your own and $3.00 a pound if Kerry picks them. But they’d just sold their last picked berries for the day and had none left. Tom sampled the berries I’d already bought and thought that they were Spartans. He also used his smart phone to help me find the location of the second farm I’d chosen.
It’s a good thing he did. The second was Meadow Berry Farms on Wooldridge Road which was apparently on the south side of the Lougheed Highway, quite some distance away. When I finally found it, I drove into the front yard of what seemed to be a huge operation. There was a modern house at the front, greenhouses at the side, two huge buildings at the back and several parking lots all around. A sign on a door indicated that all visitors and drivers were to “use the front door” to report to the office upstairs. The only door I saw was the door to the house, so I knocked several times but there was no answer. The second building was much larger, and had several loading docks with a large transport truck parked in front. That building was in the midst of construction, with a row of would-be doors or windows framed into what looked like a second storey expansion.
A woman appeared in one of the openings and shouted at me that I was not to take photographs on the property. “This is a closed farm,” she said. I had no idea what “a closed farm” was. There was no sign barring entry at the gate. I explained that Meadow Berry Farms was listed on the internet and I was looking to buy some berries. She replied, “that’s Google, not us,” and Meadow Berry doesn’t sell to people like me, “we sell to the Superstore.” I beat a hasty retreat and left.
I still needed another twenty pounds of berries. So I returned to Old Dewdney Trunk Road and turned into the first farm I saw that had a sign for “fresh farm blue berries” and presented as welcoming to drive in customers.
I drove down a dirt road beside the field at back and found owner Davinder Thiara busy wrapping five-pound baskets of blueberries for repeat customers. He sold his berries at $2.00 a pound and was more than happy to sell me what I wanted. He told me that he has three varieties of blueberries: Dukes which ripen early, Blue Crop which are ready mid-season, and Elliotts which ripen later, are less sweet but have better anti-oxidant qualities. When I told him about my experience at Meadow Berry, he explained that they were a large wholesaler which sold blueberries all across Canada and that I would probably find the “Meadow Berry” label in stores in Toronto. Apparently, the local wholesalers also flash freeze blueberries for export to Asia.
Who would have guessed that a trip to the blueberry patch would open such a window into the blueberry industry? Clearly, the production and sale of blueberries is big business. No wonder. I think blueberries are the best fruit around. All who avidly ate all the blueberries I didn’t freeze agreed. Apparently there are several varieties of blueberries and the season extends to September. Enjoy.
- Middelveen Farms: 13472 Harris Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2T3, (604) 459-8764, www.middelveenblueberry.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hinda Farms: 18947 Old Dewdney Trunk Road, Pitt Meadows, BC, V3Y2R8, (604) 465-2310, email@example.com
Squawking gulls and cranky crows are a sure sign of trouble. Moving briskly west on the seawalk below my Vancouver cottage, I was focused on using my Nordic poles to pick up the pace of my early morning walk. The idea was to extend the stride of my step and the length of my arm pull to enhance the benefits of the walk. But the noise of the seagulls and the crows diverted all my good intentions and I stopped to see what was the matter.
Sure enough, at the water’s edge where the tide was retreating from the rocks coated with kelp and rich green algae, a bald-headed eagle was standing on the biggest stone around. Not as large as others I’ve seen, his shiny black feathers and snow-white head still stood as a beacon to the eyes. He stood there as if glaring at the hoards of smaller birds advancing towards him.
At least three large well-fed gulls and three more black crows took up positions around him, all squawking madly as if in a fit of frenzy. A couple of gulls approached, flapped their wings and swooped just above him. Then two cocky crows dive-bombed him from two different directions at the same time. They repeated these actions over and over. It all appeared as a well-choreographed attack, perhaps to protect the favoured feeding grounds of the smaller birds. Eventually, the eagle lifted his large wings and flew away across the bay and high in the sky, the crows and one seagull in hot pursuit.
It occurred to me that this may be an example of allied interspecies coöperation against a common enemy. I would have to ask a naturalist about that. As a friend and I had seen a similar incident about the same time yesterday morning, it probably is a daily ritual at a particularly rich feeding site on the shore.
Still later on the seawall, I narrowly avoided being hit by a snail-shell dropped by a crow descending over the sidewalk onto the rocks. As there was a live snail inside, we threw the snail onto the seashore for the crow to recover. Alas he was two slow. Another crow which I had not seen must have been watching and waiting. Just as soon as the snail hit the sand, the second crow was on it for his breakfast.
Later on this same walk, I spied a tall heron fishing in a shallow pool between the rocks. He was standing silently and stately, moving slowly and stealthily in search of his food. A bevy of gulls and Canada geese grazed nearby, and a squadron of crows sat on a log watching over the scene. Obviously, these birds coexist peacefully. I guess only the bald-headed eagle is considered a threat.
Update on the litigation between CN Rail and the District of West Vancouver.
In February 2017, I published a post describing CN Rail’s efforts to have the public using the seawalk declared “trespassers.” Their aim is to monetize to the maximum whatever leasehold interest they can enforce against the District. Diane Powers, spokesperson for the District, advised me last week that the Canadian Transportation Agency held a two-day oral hearing in October 2017 on the District’s application for a declaration that it has a “right of way” on whatever the interest held by the railroad. The CTA agreed that they had jurisdiction to deal with the issue but adjourned their decision until the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled on the earlier lawsuit started by CN alleging that the public were “trespassers.”
Ms. Powers told me that it may take another three to five years for the matter to be concluded. In the meantime, the District has refreshed notices to the public indicating that so long as the litigation is ongoing, the District can only do maintenance on the seawalk that affects health and safety. They can change lightbulbs that affect lighting, remove trip hazards, and engage in any storm cleanup. “Cosmetic maintenance” is suspended for the duration. The gardens at 19th Street and 24th Street that mark the boundaries of the seawalk, and the narrow green areas at 21st and 22nd streets, are designated park areas at the foot of District streets. The District will still tend to them. Like most North Shore residents, I have a visceral personal interest in this dispute, and will monitor what happens.
GEOFFREY STEVENS, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, writes a weekly column which he circulates to his personal distribution list and publishes in the Waterloo Region Record. His column entitled “Living with the fool next door; trade wars and tightropes,” published yesterday, says it all.
With thanks to Geoffrey, I commend it to you and share it here:
“Living with the fool next door: trade wars and tightropes
“’Trade wars are good, and easy to win’ – President Donald Trump, by tweet, 5:50 a.m. ET, March 2, 2018.
“Excuse me, but Donald Trump is a fool – a blithering, dangerous fool.
“This is the 21st century. Trade wars are never good. In today’s interdependent world, they may be impossible for any nation to win, even the United States, which is no longer the economic colossus that Trump, stuck in an isolationist time warp, believes it is.
“As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman put it on Friday, ‘You could survey a hundred economists – both liberal and conservative – and not one would tell you that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.’
“On Thursday, Trump, who has the power to do so by executive order, announced he will impose tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. ‘The immediate beneficiaries will be the American steel and aluminum industries, while the victims will be . . . well, anyone who buys anything that’s made with steel or aluminum, which is pretty much everyone,’ Waldman wrote.
“The New York Times noted on Sunday that the American mills and smelters that would directly benefit from the new tariffs employ fewer than 200,000 workers, while the companies that would bear the burden of the higher prices the tariffs would bring – firms that manufacture everything from trucks to chicken coops – employ more than 6.5 million.
“Trump’s tariffs, announced without warning, are not only bad economics, they are bad politics. They aim to please a corner of his base at the expense of much larger numbers of blue-collar workers in manufacturing.
“It may make no sense, but that does not matter. Some Trump analysts argue that he suffers from gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at. He seems convinced that America’s trading partners, led by China, are laughing at the United States and, by extension, at him personally. China, which accounts for 65 per cent of the U.S. global trade deficit, is the primary enemy in the trade war.
“After China, Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner. Trump, who betrays no comprehension of trade statistics, complains about a deficit with Canada. Yes, in terms of goods alone, the U.S. ran a deficit of US $18 billion in 2017. But when financial and other services are added to the ledger, the deficit becomes a surplus for the United States ($12.5 billion in 2016).
“Justin Trudeau and his emissaries have been making this case in Washington and state capitals for months. They argue that Canada and the United States enjoy the world’s best balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship. The object should be to strengthen it, not to tear it down, as by renouncing NAFTA or by raising new tariff walls. The governors get that and so do congressmen from states that trade with Canada.
“For the moment, China is taking a cautious approach to Trump’s tariffs, downplaying the anticipated impact on Chinese exports. Beijing is waiting to see what happens next. Is Trump serious? Can he get his way? Or will he perhaps change his mind at dawn tomorrow?
“Nothing is ever certain with the erratic Trump, but all available indicators suggest that, yes, he is serious. Yes, he can most likely get his way, unless members of his Republican party find the courage to stand up to him. But although he is not likely to change his mind on trade, he could be diverted in his next tweetstorm. Perhaps he will be so outraged by something at the Oscars that a trade war will be driven from his mind – until it returns.
“Canada can hope so. Propinquity makes dealing with Trump especially difficult, and the fact that NAFTA is hanging in the balance adds urgency to the challenge. Trudeau needs to keep walking a tightrope – humoring the president while making it clear that Canada is not about to be bullied. The blithering fool next door is Canada’s problem, too.”
Searching out the upbeat. Choosing what we can control as a diversion from a world run amok with negative news. These are recommended strategies in the age of Trump. If you are feeling anything like me these days, then the Christian Dior exhibit now on display at the Royal Ontario Museum is for you. It’s wonderful.
The haute couture house of Christian Dior opened in Paris in February 1947. The exhibition uses the ROM’S collection of Dior fashions to illustrate the first decade (1947-1957) of designs created for a “clientele of habitually well-dressed women.” Holt Renfrew, the sponsor of the exhibition, obtained the first license to sell and make Christian Dior designs in Canada. These are the actual day dresses, afternoon dresses, and evening dresses worn by Canada’s elite and donated to the museum. They are spectacularly beautiful.
Curator Alexandra Palmer has created a remarkably interesting show. It describes how the house of Dior functioned and how it achieved its international influence in a short ten years. We learn about “The New Look” and how it reflected (and added to) the aspirations of the post-war period. We learn how the house resurrected skills from the 18th and 19th centuries and adapted them to modern designs and materials. We visit the dressmaking atelier, see how the dresses were actually constructed, and what it took in both skill and materials to make “the look.” We see the difference between the original design concepts and the end product. We meet the tradespeople and suppliers of exquisite textiles, sequins, ribbons, and hand embroidery. We learn how their businesses operated and how they flourished with the success of Dior. We come to appreciate the relationship between the designer, the artisans, the models, the suppliers and ultimately between the design house, the merchants, and the clients. We see how the house stimulated other businesses to produce shoes, stockings, handbags, gloves, costume jewellery, and perfumes which promoted Dior’s design principles and added to the lustre of the label.
For a small exhibit with what seems like a modest footprint, it packs a wallop. It’s a fascinating insight into an amazing world.
To get full benefit from the show, make sure to read the electronic placards which describe all the dress designs on display. Klutz that I am with new technology, it took me awhile to figure out how to manipulate the touch screens. Once I did, I was enchanted. The placards describe the name of each design, the collection, the primary dress-maker, the model for whom the design was created, the significance of the design, the choice of the textiles and embellishments, and some of the clients who purchased the dresses. Here you will find copies of the original design drawings which are intriguing and beautiful works of art in themselves. There are also samples of textiles from which the dresses could be made.
Also, sit down and watch the film. Apart from resting your feet, to see the real images of Dior working with the dressmaker and the model to perfect the dress in its last stage is to understand the relationship between them. Join the world’s major fashion buyers and their exclusive clients as they watch the models presenting a new collection of designs on a 1947-1957 runway. Some of the designs we saw on the original runway are on display in the exhibition.
Everyone I heard talking at this show had opinions on what they liked and what they didn’t. All were awestruck by the care put into the creation of the designs and the exquisite workmanship on display.
I took in the exhibit with ease in about ninety minutes. I left with impressions and questions which diverted me for hours. I consider that good therapy. The show runs on the fourth floor of the ROM (using the new elevators to the left of the entrance foyer) until mid-March. See rom.on.ca/whatson for talks and workshops on the subject.
For several days they led us on. They promised a “new Globe and Mail,” presumably with new content, format and style that would befit Canada’s national newspaper. When they began to put out the promos, I was intrigued. Other news media are whining the blues. What was the Globe and Mail going to do to meet the current “crisis in journalism” and keep us reading from coast to coast?
When the first of “the new” publication arrived last week, I was horrified. What have they done? Who do they think they are publishing for? I am 73 years old, read three newspapers every day, and consider myself relatively well-informed about Canadian politics and public life. Most of the young people I know no longer read newspapers in hard copy. If they read any newspaper at all, it’s on the internet.
We pre-baby boomers, and baby boomers, too, are accustomed to our old habits, welcome the arrival of the newspaper on our doorstep (or outside our hotel room) each morning, and enjoy the luxury of being able to read it through with our coffee, at leisure. We may not represent the far distant future but, for the moment, and perhaps because of inertia, we may well be the primary demographic which continues to have all-week newspaper subscriptions in hard copy.
Now I can’t even read the Globe and Mail. Literally, I can’t read it. And I am not the only one. My husband and several friends have had the same reaction.
In the interests of what I assume is saving money, they have made the newspaper smaller in size, and apparently changed the font and/or lightened the type. The smaller size I can live with; it’s easier to fold into my purse or briefcase to take on public transit. The new font and/or typeface, however, is positively illegible. It gives me a headache to look at it, and more of a headache to read.
In an age when everyone (and I mean most everyone, including us old duffers) is using mobile devices and iPads with multiple fonts and expandable print capacities, it is positively counter-intuitive that a major newspaper seeking to expand its readership would go to print with what can only be considered a “reader-adverse” font and/or typeface. Who chose it? Someone under 60, I bet.
Since I started writing my blog, I mine the Globe and Mail, National Post and the Toronto Star (when in Toronto), and the Vancouver Sun (when in Vancouver) for potential topics of interest for a post. It takes up time, but I try to go through each newspaper daily. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. And apart from different perspectives, I like to pick up on quirky articles which alert me to something that I knew nothing about before.
In the past, I always went to the Globe and Mail first. Why? Because it’s “the national newspaper,” because I know people who write for it, and, although I do not always agree with its editorial perspective, at least I can expect competent coverage of major issues.
Now, it is too painful to read. As of last week, I now start with the National Post, or the Toronto Star, skim their coverage, and then pick up the Globe. But it’s so difficult to read beyond the headlines that I tend not to read it in detail. I make no comment on the new organization and content of the “new Globe and Mail” because the new font and/or typeface have deterred me from reading it further.
It has occurred to me that perhaps the powers that be at the Globe and Mail really do want to drive us all onto the internet. Make your hard copy inaccessible and subscribers will give up.
Last Friday, I spent the entire day exploring the Circle Craft Christmas Market at the Vancouver Convention Centre. When the doors opened at 10:00 a.m., already there was a lineup of shoppers like me, eager to see the wares without the crowds. Circle Craft is a self-sustaining cooperative of BC artists, formed in 1972, to promote “direct from the artist” quality crafts at the Market and at their gallery on Granville Island. Circle Craft is more intimate than the gigantic One of a Kind show, which runs in Toronto at the end of November but, with three hundred exhibitors, this offering is no less engaging.
One of the delights of these shows is the chance to speak with the artisans who produce such creative treasures. The X-tails couple from Prince George with their colourful line of children’s books started out by accident and are now in great demand for stories in schools. The Out of Ruins couple from Ottawa offered to come to my home in Toronto and propose a glass insert for my foyer window fashioned from their recycled glass. The Abeego Designs folks from Victoria promise that their beeswax paper will lengthen the freshness of left-over food. The Lemon Square bakers from Vancouver offer samples to die for. The 4 Paws Pure people from Prince George have an array of dried treats for animals too exotic for my cats but which the dog-lovers in the crowd were buying up with gusto. Don Pell of Wingnut Enterprises, Bellevue, Saskatchewan, told me that the brightly coloured whirligigs that I admired were for outdoor use and would withstand even the coldest prairie winter. The young man at Gift-a-Green had a range of inventive greeting cards that grow. An intriguing idea worth a try, I thought. The bamboo sleepwear on display at This is J, was colourful and soft, but I was in no mood to try on clothing, so took their Fall/Winter 2017 catalogue and may well buy online.
And so it goes. Back and forth along the rows, with too many wonderful treasures to explore. In the interests of expediency, I skipped the jewellery shops, and generally avoided the pottery, ceramics and wood. I declined the free samples offered by various distilleries, wineries and breweries; drinking so early in the day would undoubtedly deter me from the serious power shopping ahead.
For anything too heavy or cumbersome to carry back to Toronto, I decided to rely on webpages. Almost all the artisans seem to have an internet presence, and collecting cards for future reference online is useful. They also have those new-fangled little gadgets for taking credit cards and issuing receipts by email at the same time. Finding my email address already embedded in some machines was somewhat disconcerting; my email address preceded my attendance at the Market! I later thought that perhaps this occurred because I made purchases at the Harmony Festival in West Vancouver before, although not from these particular artisans. Even more shocking was to return home and find so many receipts clogging up my email. Did I really buy all that?
As at the One of a Kind, I made good use of the Parcel Check to store my purchases as I went along. The only downside of the practice is that I forgot how much I’d acquired until it was time to go home. Then I had to arrange all the bags on my arms and in my backpack, and then pack all the parcels myself up the escalator, across the foyer, and down the escalator again to get outside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand long until a cab came and whisked me over the bridge just as the setting sun lit up all of North Vancouver.
In the vast expanse of the One of a Kind in Toronto, I typically meet no one I know. At the Circle Craft Market, by contrast, shortly before noon I heard my name called, turned, and found my cousin Diane standing right behind me. Over a lemonade together, we caught up on all our news. Later, the same thing happened again; this time with the two new friends who had met me and my DOH companion at the airport last week. I may be in Vancouver for only a short time, but such encounters make me feel at home.
The front page headline in Thursday’s Vancouver Sun caught my attention: “CN fights West Vancouver Over Centennial Seawalk.” CN Rail is demanding $3.7 million dollars in annual rent from the district of West Vancouver for public use of the seawalk built on the CN right-of-way to celebrate Canada’s Centenary 50 years ago. Since the district has refused to pay such a sum, CN has terminated its lease on the property, and started a lawsuit against it in the B.C. Supreme Court.
CN wants a judge to declare that their termination is lawful, that the seawalk, gazebo, gardens and parking spots built by the district trespass on the railroad corridor and must be removed, and that the district (and presumably the public) must be restrained from further use of the right-of-way. Oh yes, they are also asking for damages for arrears of rent.
The district has responded by applying to the federal Canadian Transportation Agency which resolves public transportation disputes. The district says that nothing is owed to CN Rail at all because of the long public use of the right-of-way, the lack of any damage to CN’s property, and the district’s ongoing and expensive enhancement of the shoreline which provides added protection to CN’s tracks at no cost to the corporation. To settle the matter, the district has offered an annual rent of $12,500.00, indexed to future inflation. Apparently, that’s not good enough for CN Rail who want a rental value based on the very expensive real estate in the area.
My Vancouver rental “cottage” is very close to the seawalk and the gazebo in dispute. I have written about the seawalk in prior posts, and am one of the thousands of locals who use the seawalk every day. The 1.7 kilometre seawalk may be the single most popular attraction on the entire Vancouver North Shore. Tourists and residents from all over the Lower Mainland flock to the short walk along the seashore that links Dundarave Pier with John Lawson Park, Ambleside Park, and the Capilano River to the east. Beside the seawalk is a separate “dog run,” unique in the area, which allows dogs to pace their owners leash-free without interfering with other users of the seawalk, including many seniors with mobility issues.
I only have “the facts” as set out in the newspaper article, taken from documents filed by the district. Here’s the history. When the seawalk was built in the 1960s, the government-owned Pacific Great Eastern Railway also owned the right-of-way. The PGE became BC Rail, also owned by the government. In 2004, the B.C. government sold its railway operation to CN Rail but retained ownership of the right-of-way which it then leased on a long-term lease to CN.
I gather that the government-owned railway must have leased the right-of-way to the district when the seawalk was first built. The district paid an annual rent beginning at $25 and increasing to $300. BC Rail requested rent increases up to $9,523 in 1999, but the district paid nothing at all after 1994. BC Rail made no further demands for any payment after 1999. When CN Rail purchased the rail line in 2004, it would have taken its own lease subject to the pre-existing lease to the district. Apparently CN Rail made no demands for rental payment from the district until September 2015 when their officials met with the district “to regularize the lack of a written agreement, deal with compensation and risk allocation.”
Without the benefit of hundreds of hours of costly legal advice which, undoubtedly, CN Rail has available and which the district will have to incur on behalf of the taxpayers, the issue seems pretty straightforward to me.
Why is CN Rail doing this? It seems that CN Rail wants to play hardball with the district of West Vancouver like CP Rail did for fifteen years with the city of Vancouver over its abandoned Arbutus Corridor which runs for nine kilometres from False Creek to Marpole on the south side of the city. There, residents had used the right-of-way as a community trail and created community gardens which CP Rail then bulldozed as leverage to force the city into buying the property. CP initially said that the land was worth $400 million. The city ultimately paid CP $55 million to buy it.
But the Arbutus Corridor situation is entirely different from the West Vancouver seawalk. There, CP Rail actually owned the land, no trains had run on the right-of-way for fifteen years, and no public money was spent to enhance the value and use of the right-of-way. Here, the right-of-way is still owned by the province. The railroad and the seawalk have co-existed for nearly fifty years. I have no idea how much the district of West Vancouver has spent on the seawalk, its protection and amenities but it must be a lot. The seawalk is stunning and the anti-erosion enhancements have been substantial.
Who is CN Rail? CN Rail is the largest railway in Canada, with 32,831 kilometres of track extending from coast to coast and even into the United States (both to the Gulf of Mexico and to Alaska). According to the internet, the largest individual shareholder of CN Rail in 2014 was Bill Gates. The latest internet CN Rail Ownership Summary shows that the largest institutional investors in CN Rail are the Royal Bank of Canada, Massachusetts Financial Services, the Wellington Management Group, the Bank of Montreal and TD Asset Management In. The President and C.E.O. of CN Rail is Luc Jobin. He joined CN Rail as a senior executive in 2009, responsible for, among other things, “strategic planning.”
Some strategy. The court and/or the Tribunal should throw the Greedy Grouts out of court, and impose all possible legal costs against CN Rail and in favour of the district. What’s CN going to do? Impound all the cars from the parking spots? Tear down the gazebo? Bulldoze the seawalk? Their position is ridiculous, if not shameful, and will only serve to waste scarce public resources better spent on something else. What kind of corporate citizenship is that?