Category: Canadian Curiosities

A Friday the Thirteenth Commuters’ Nightmare

Never have I crossed the Lions Gate bridge so quickly. It was 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning, and I was on my way to drop off a parcel to cousins in upper Kitsilano. As I approached the north end of the bridge, traffic was going so fast that the cars did not even stop as they merged into the single lane with the green signal to cross the bridge. Merging four lanes into one at top speed was a unique experience which made me nervous. But once I was on the bridge, I marvelled at the wisdom of commuters going into the city so early. I turned off the Stanley Park causeway at Prospect Point, took the excursion around the park, past English Bay and over the Burrard Street bridge to my destination near Broadway and Vine. It took only twenty minutes, a record in my experience.

That was the trip there. The trip back was another story. As I left my cousins’ home at 8:30, I called my husband to tell him where I was and my plans for the morning. I assumed that I would be back at Park Royal by 9:00, would do several errands and be home shortly. It was a lovely drive east on Broadway, back over the Burrard Street Bridge and around English Bay, then north on Denman. Three blocks south of Robson, I came to halt behind a line of cars. I thought that it was the normal backup for the left turn lane from Denman onto West Georgia to go back over the Lions Gate Bridge. But the lights kept turning green and not a single car moved.

Finally, I decided to pull into the empty lane on Denman which required a right hand turn onto Robson. My idea was to get onto West Georgia at the next major light to the east, at Cardero. There, heading down the hill, I was the fifth car in line to turn left and I congratulated myself on my brilliant advance closer to Georgia. Alas, I soon realized that even a green light only allowed a single car to get through the intersection. Not only that, the one car was required to position itself in one of the two lanes of traffic apparently backed up on Georgia going west. Finally, it was my turn. I pulled into the far lane and joined the queue of vehicles. I was so preoccupied with the news on the car radio about the American indictments against the twelve Russian military officers that I scarcely paid any attention to the passing of time as I crawled west on Georgia.

By this time, I learned on CKNW that there was a “police incident” on the Lions Gate Bridge. Commuters to and from the North Shore were warned to use the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows bridge over the harbour. All very well and good to know when I was stopped on Georgia heading west.

It was an hour by the time I reached the head of my lane on Georgia and Denman. There, I found a police car straddled across the road behind the traffic ahead, orange pylons blocking my own lane, and a police officer directing traffic to go south on Denman or north the short distance towards the water. As I hesitated turning right, the officer yelled at me to “move along, you can’t stop there.” I yelled back, “How are we supposed to get back on the bridge eventually?” He replied, this time somewhat more politely, that “it would be faster to go over the Ironworkers Second Narrows Bridge.” OK, I could do that, so I continued my turn.

I had never been on this street before but knew that there was a road going east along the downtown waterfront and hoped that I could find it. Sure enough, I followed a couple of other cars as we turned right, and then left, and then right, and then left again through the maze of condos, hotels and office towers near Coal Harbour leading back to Cardero and onto the Convention Centre. This was not the street I was looking for, but I soon found myself on Hastings Street heading east. It was clear sailing across the city. Past Granville Street and Seymour, skirting Gastown, past Victory Square at Cambie and into Vancouver’s famous East Side, across Main Street, and into the port lands. As there were few cars on the street, I could notice the landmarks as I passed, and the colourful characters on the sidewalks.

Until I hit Powell Street. There my flight of fantasy came to an abrupt end and I found myself joining a single lane of traffic heading east bumper to bumper.

By this time, CKNW reported that traffic was backed up on the freeway leading to the Second Narrows Bridge, all the way to Capilano on the north shore, Sprotte Street in Burnaby, and Powell Street in Vancouver. Tell me about it. I was on Powell Street, a long way from the freeway. Apparently, the four North Shore bus routes that normally go over the Lions Gate Bridge were diverted to the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver where there was a four-ferry wait for pedestrians to cross the harbour on the seabus. As I sat, hardly moving at all, I saw huge transport trucks moving back and forth on an elevated roadway beside the port installations beyond the railroad tracks. Too bad that road was closed to the public.

Inching my way east on Powell, I saw two cars pull off on a quiet street that angled to the left. There was a sign saying, “No left turn 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday,” and another saying, “Local traffic area.” I also noticed a group of four or five adult cyclists emerging from the same street heading west. It occurred to me that they may have come on a bicycle path over the bridge from the North Shore, and that this might well be a short-cut to the freeway. What the heck? I had nothing to lose and made the turn.

I found myself on a pleasant street lined with nice houses built to enjoy a spectacular view of the port facilities, the harbour and the North Shore. As I travelled east on the street, I revelled at how quiet it was, how few cars there were, and how I could slow down to take in the view. Eventually, I found a park where I could stop and take photos of the Second Narrows bridge and the mountains across the water. What a glorious spot which I never before knew existed. I spoke to a couple of locals and asked if the road did lead to the freeway further on. “Yes, it does,” they replied, but, “it dipsy-doodles around corners and you have to pay attention.” Great, I got back into my car and headed east. Just think of all the cars I was passing.

A few blocks further east, the road turned right and appeared to climb the hill. But a sign for the Portside Bicycle Path pointed to a road going east and I decided to follow it instead. Alas, it soon ended in a cul de sac with a “private road” leading off down the hill on the left, an empty roadway curving past below, and what I assumed was McGill Street with the cars lined up bumper to bumper above. What to do? Surprisingly, I never thought to turn around and take the road mounting the hill.

Instead, I descended down the private road and found myself outside the front gate of a huge Self Service Storage facility with a big sign warning about the perimeter security system and cameras in use in the area. I pulled up and again considered my options. Coming down the “private road” may have been a mistake.

I looked at the empty roadway curving right beside me but had no idea if the road went both directions. One car came along the curved road heading west. Eventually, another came up behind me, went over the curb and headed east. So I followed him, drove east, past the storage yards and into the parking lot of yet another park. I saw the Portside Bicycle Path leading off to the east and other trails as well. A woman in the park told me how to get onto McGill. If I wanted to go east, she said that I had to take a left at the first light, turn around and then come back onto McGill.

I did as she instructed and soon found myself heading south on North Renfrew street beside the Pacific Coliseum Racecourse and Slots. This was a Vancouver landmark which I had heard about all my life but never before seen. I realized that had I taken this road up the hill, I could have made a direct left-turn onto McGill going east. Where I was now, I saw only a long line of cars stretching south as far as the eye could see. All were going north, waiting to make to make the right hand turn onto McGill. I turned around in the Pacific Coliseum parking lot, and waited to see if some kind soul would let me in. Someone did. Grateful for the generosity of this driver, I joined yet another queue heading for the Second Narrows Bridge. This time, the line was moving at least, and within what seemed like a relatively short time, I was over the freeway, onto the bridge, and back onto the North Shore heading home at full speed.

It took me two hours and fifty minutes to make the trip which had taken twenty minutes only a few hours before. But what I had discovered about the city in that time was worth every minute.

When I got home, Lions Gate Bridge was still closed in both directions as the “police incident” continued. Apparently, the bridge was closed both ways for over four hours and hundreds of thousands of morning commuters were affected. In the Vancouver Sun this morning, there was no mention of the incident. The local policy is not to encourage copycats.

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The Globe and Mail Blew It

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.



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Happy Canada Day

It’s Canada Day tomorrow and time to get into the mood.

How better to do so than to join in song? The music video, “Mon cher Canada/This is My Canada,” launched earlier this month has circulated via email and on social media. Acadian singer-songwriter Jeanette Arsenault wrote the stirring song 25 years ago. New Brunswick songwriter Don Coleman produced this new rendition with the help of a bevy of well-known Canadian music talent including David Clayton Thomas (formerly of Blood, Sweat and Tears), Liberty Silver, The Good Brothers, and Acadian vocalist Wilfred LeBouthillier. I particularly liked the multicultural and highly energetic Young Singers group led by Anna Lynn Murphy and the interjections of twelve-year-old Indigenous dancer, Malakai Daybutch. Apart from the music, splendid photographs from all over the country evoke the beauty of our nation. My only disappointment was that the images did not portray any of the rich diversity and energy of our major cities. Maybe there is only so much that you can do with a limited budget raised from 400 donors in a GoFundMe campaign. As for “Mon cher Canada” becoming our second national song? I applaud the initiative and am happy to have it better known across the country. Take a listen for yourself, here.

The column below, written by former managing editor of the Globe and Mail Geoffrey Stevens, and published in the Waterloo Region Record on June 26, 2017, will evoke rich memories for boomers and pre-boomers. Newcomers to the country and those under 50 may appreciate a bit of history to fill in the context for what we celebrate today. In 1967, we had no idea what would happen within three years and where that would lead. We all went to Montreal for Expo 67, fell in love with Quebec and les Québécois, and then were more than happy to buy into official bilingualism and biculturalism. No one would ever have anticipated the existential threat of the country breaking up which arose with the Second Quebec Referendum in October 1995, nor the constitutional wrangling that continued thereafter. In my view, those years of turmoil were part of the adolescence of our country as it struggled to forge the unique identity that we now take for granted. Quebec has moved on, Canada has moved on, and today the challenge is to reconcile with our Indigenous people and integrate our latest multicultural newcomers. We are now a mature nation with so much to celebrate and to offer the rest of the world. In difficult times when the world is changing before our eyes, may we in Canada feel yet again the optimism and enthusiasm that prevailed in 1967. Canadians are blessed beyond belief. May our certainty of that give us what we need to pursue the future with energy, perseverance and grace.

“Remembering the best birthday bash ever – Canada Day 1967

“The sesquicentennial celebrations marking Canada’s 150 years as a nation on Saturday will feature the biggest birthday bash on Parliament Hill since the centennial in 1967. It will be a great party – and, with a budget of $2.5 million, it should be.

“But no matter how splendid the weather, how spectacular the entertainment, how dramatic the air show, or how eloquent the speeches, this year’s event will not hold a candle to the bash 50 years ago.
Fifty years? Can it be?

“Although I have tried to con my children into believing that I, like the late Jack Benny, am a mere 39 years old, I must confess I was there on Parliament Hill on that day, July 1, 1967, 50 years ago, covering the event for the Globe and Mail.

“The Queen was there. So was the new governor general, Roland Michener, and the soon-to-retire prime minister, Lester Pearson. Although I don’t remember a word any of them said that day, I do remember the Queen cutting the gigantic birthday cake, which rose to a height of 30 feet (the metric system not having come to Canada yet). I remember the bright new Canadian flag fluttering atop the Peace Tower and the centennial flame burning brightly in front of the Centre Block.

“But mostly I remember the crowd, both for its size – there had to be at least 100,000 people from every corner of Canada on the Hill that day – and for its excitement. There was a powerful sense that they were taking part in a historic moment in the life of their country.

“Historians would say later that 1967 was a watershed year, the year Canada emerged as a modern nation, the year we shed the vestiges of a colonial past and realized we had become a grownup independent country.

“It was an emotional year – the year Bobby Gimby’s “CA-NA-DA” became our unofficial anthem, the year that Expo brought the world to our shores, and the year our prime minister sent the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, packing, telling him he was not welcome in Canada after he shouted the separatist slogan, “Vive le Québec libre,” from a balcony at Montreal City Hall.

“Trouble in Quebec was on the horizon in 1967. Terrorist bombings had begun the year before and five bombs went off on New Year`s Day, 1967. Before the year was over, René Lévesque, a charismatic former journalist, would leave the Quebec Liberals to form his own sovereignist party. Within three years, the Front de libération du Québec would kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross and murder Quebec’s Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, and the War Measures Act would be invoked in Quebec. Three years after that, Lévesque and his separatist Parti Québécois would be elected in Quebec.

“The year 1967 was also the year when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It would be the last Stanley for the Leafs for 50 years, and counting, although the crowd on Parliament Hill on that July 1 had no way of foreseeing this dismal fact.

“The mood that day 50 years ago was one of optimism and enthusiasm. There was a sense that anything was possible, that a new era was dawning. In terms of political leadership, it was true. Two months after the bash on the Hill, the Progressive Conservatives dumped their leader and former prime minister, John Diefenbaker, and replaced him with Robert Stanfield, the premier of Nova Scotia. Nine months after that, Pearson was gone and in his place the Liberals chose Pierre Trudeau, a swinging bachelor who made lady voters swoon and their significant others fume.

“He immediately called an election and swept to victory in June 1968. The “Trudeaumania election,” as it became known, was the most exciting election I ever covered. Yes I was there, on the planes and press buses, and one day I’ll tell my grandchildren all about it, even though I am still only 39.”

This column is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Stevens. 

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The Legacy Of Honest Ed’s on the TTC

Toronto’s most famous emporium, Honest Ed’s, closed its doors on December 31st, 2016. Merchants and restaurateurs in nearby Mirvish Village are decamping for new locations. It’s the end of an era.

To honour Mirvish Village merchants, three local residents’ associations planned a New Orleans-style “second line” parade with a brass band which would follow hot chocolate, hot cider and cornbread at Southern Accent restaurant on Markham Street. Unfortunately, the freak snow storm which blanketed the city beginning late afternoon, December 15th, meant that the brass band could not play, so the parade was cancelled. The party went ahead, nevertheless, with locals decked out in festive lights, great refreshments, and typical Southern Accent hospitality.

Losing Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village feels bittersweet. Although redevelopment is inevitable, the neighbourhood and the city can only hope that what rises in its place will generate the same enthusiasm and community spirit which prevailed before. At some point, I will write about the proposed new development.

The closing of Honest Ed’s prompted the TTC to plaster its western entry at the Bathurst Street subway station (on the Bloor line) with samples of Ed Mirvish’s famous advertising posters. (See above.) I thought that was it. A fitting memorial.

But I was wrong. I had occasion to use the station last week and discovered that the TTC has now commandeered someone with Honest Ed’s punster talents to advertise its own services. I love it. Someone at the TTC has a sense of humour. We desperately need more of that.

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Communicating with the Crows

Cranky crows are common in Ambleside. When we first arrive at our apartment on the seventh floor overlooking the outer Vancouver harbour, we pull the drapes, slide open the window to the balcony and step outside to enjoy the view. Inevitably, there are one or two crows sitting on the banisters, squawking wildly because we have invaded their domain. Obviously, in our absence, they have taken to using our balcony as an observation post over the neighbourhood.

Last year we noticed what we thought was an owl on the balcony of an opposite apartment. We were totally intrigued until, with the help of binoculars, we realized that the “owl” was one of those fake birds people put out to deter pigeons, seagulls and, undoubtedly, crows.

This year, we are developing a curious relationship with the crows that come to visit our balcony. They have become increasingly bold the longer we have been here.  Now they sit on the banisters even when we are on the balcony, often two at a time, cawing at each other. They seem to have no fear of us whatsoever, quite willing to carry on their conversations as we watch inches away. They jump onto our chairs and walk around on our floor almost, but not quite, approaching the door.

When I watch closely, I have observed that they are attracted to the green plastic wires which attach our Christmas lights to the balcony all year round. And then I noticed that they can spot scraps of food on the floor which I had not even seen. Of course. We eat on our balcony regularly, usually three meals a day, and our crumbs are probably inevitable. Trust the crows to show us what sloppy housekeepers we are.

A crow is a crow is a crow, and we have no idea if these are the same crows that come visiting daily, or whether our balcony is just a popular way-by on the local community route. Whatever. We are enchanted by them, and think of them as pets. In the first year of our marriage, my husband said we should have a bird. He knew nothing about birds, but put out the suggestion to counter my desire to get a kitten. It has taken nearly 45 years of marriage and we finally have our pet bird. And it’s not one, but several crows. Who would have thunk it?

Today would have been my father’s birthday. He was a bird lover who kept a fully stocked bird feeder hanging from his clothesline to watch from the kitchen window. It provided endless pleasure for years. He would have liked this post.

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Canadian Armed Forces Celebrate International Women’s Day

On the bench and in retirement, I ceased to become an activist. Apart from the work done by the charities I support, I have lost track of the mainstream women’s movement and of the progress (or not) of women in sectors other than the law profession and the judiciary. I am aware that sexual assault and domestic violence are still with us. Grandmothers carry the ball after the devastation of AIDS in Africa. And women’s issues have broadened to the demand for equality and diversity.

International Women’s Day serves a very useful purpose. Set aside as March 8th since 1911, it is intended to celebrate the achievements of women and promote further equality. On Thursday night, I attended a Women’s Day celebration sponsored by the 4th Canadian Division/Joint Task Force Central of the Canadian Armed Forces, which has its headquarters at the Downsview military base in Toronto. The event was held at the Canadian Forces College, located at Yonge Boulevard and Wilson Avenue in Armour Heights.

It was my first exposure in a long time to current developments in the women’s movement and I left invigorated, rejuvenated, and optimistic about the future of women in Canada and elsewhere. As the generations have passed, “feminism” has not died. It has morphed into a different expression, in different contexts and, with men on board, it has gone mainstream.

In this one joyous and highly energetic event, I learned so much. I learned that Canada is among the world’s leaders at integrating women into the Canadian military. Although it’s not the total story, google “Canadian Armed Forces – historical milestones of women.” I learned about the Canadian Women’s Foundation which has invested over $40 million in charitable support to over 1200 community programs and to every women’s shelter across Canada since it was founded in 1991. I learned about the G(irls) 20 Summit in Mexico City in 2012. It tracks the G20 summit of world leaders and provides them with input on how to promote economic opportunities for women around the world. All that new knowledge, from one event: mind-blowing.

Equally important, we heard from women who have “broken through” the barriers and are sharing their experience with others.

Claire Charness, a fourth-year student at Wilfred Laurier University, was Canada’s delegate to the 2012 G(irls) 20 Summit. Three years ago, Claire would have been petrified to speak in public. Having attended the summit, she has found her voice. She spoke about how personal empowerment, gaining confidence, and figuring out one’s own leadership style can make things happen. With these tools, networking and modern technology, small actions can create meaningful change and have an unexpected ripple effect. She now writes on issues affecting women and youth for the online journal Swigg Talk. If Claire is an example of today’s youthful leaders, we can be confident that the torch is in very good hands.

Angela Mondou is Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering (CFSATE) at Borden, Ontario, President of Canada Company, the national non-partisan charitable organization founded in 2006 to support Canadian military and their families, and a noted national speaker on leadership, marketing and career strategies. She served in the Canadian Forces as a Logistics Officer and, as a Captain, did tours of duty in the First Gulf War and in United Nations missions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her theme was the need for women to take charge of their own careers, to ask for what they want, take risks, push the envelope to the next level into positions where failure is not an option and into the grey area where you may need to fake it until you make it. The more often you exercise the fear muscle, the stronger it gets and you move ahead. Her book, “Hit the Ground Leading!” is available by writing to

Examples from her own career? When the military would not let women be trained as pilots, she took flying lessons on her own and soon became licensed to fly Cessnas. Working in Europe, she agitated for a posting in the “war zone” of the old Yugoslavia and found herself the only woman among 2,200 men in the field. When she retired from the military, she went on to senior positions in marketing for Nortel Networks and then for RIM-Blackberry. She described her efforts to get the Blackberry onto Oprah Winfrey. What should have been easy threw up all sorts of hurdles, including pushback from her own people. But she did it. And Blackberry thrived.

Sass Jordan, a singer and songwriter of hits such as “I Want to Believe,” and “Make you a Believer,” was appointed Honorary Colonel of 417 Combat Support Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, in September 2012. She has appeared on Broadway and on television, toured with her music, sang in the SARS relief concert in Toronto and entertained Canadian troops at Station Alert in the high Arctic. The secret of her success? Seeing people as people, focus, guts, defining your goal, being aware that you are not the only one on this planet. She has found that “being one person with an intention makes a huge difference in the world.” She loves story telling, and finds singing a form of story-telling which she can share with others. She knew she had “made it” when her songs showed up being sung at hockey games, and appearing on the back of a ketchup package at McDonald’s. She soon had everyone in the room joining in her song.

With such energy, enthusiasm and experience to draw on, there can be no doubt that women will thrive in the future. As they do so, the rest of the community will thrive with them.

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Bird Drunk Tanks? Polar Bear Jails?

Tristin Hopper had a story in the National Post recently about the “Yukon putting birds in the drunk tank.” The Bohemian waxwing is a songbird prevalent in northern B.C. and the Yukon. It normally feeds on berries. When frosts come, the berries freeze and ferment. Even with unusually large livers and speedy digestive systems, when the birds gorge on the fermented berries, they are prone to alcohol poisoning. They die of ruptured livers, fall off their perches and freeze to death, or weave as they fly and often hit windows. 

The Yukon’s Animal Health Unit has undertaken a rehab program for the drunken birds. Birds found injured or near death are sent to Whitehorse where they are housed in specially equipped “holding tanks: small cages equipped with water and bedding.” There, they are kept “quiet and dark so that [they] can have a good recovery.” Leona Green, who maintains a wildlife refuge near Dawson Creek in northern B. C., also takes in drunken waxwings. Her practice is to shelter them until the berries disappear and then “release them and hope that they don’t do it again.”

This story reminded me of the polar bear jail in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill is world-renowned for the hundreds of polar bears which gather near the town each autumn, waiting for the ice to freeze on James Bay. Normally, polar bears stay on the tundra, often curled up asleep on the patches of ice which freeze early. Some pace the beaches eating kelp, for lack of the seals they crave. Occasionally, they wander into town. Once they are spotted inside the safety perimeter which local authorities have established around the town, they are captured, tagged and airlifted back to the tundra. A bear with a tag who comes into town a second time is caught and jailed.

Churchill’s Polar Bear Holding Facility, the world’s only polar bear jail, is a major tool in local bear management during bear alert season. Built inside a former aircraft storage hangar in a compound outside of town, there are 25 cages, five air-conditioned cells for summer use, and a heated holding cell for orphaned cubs. Some bears are only held pending their trip back to the tundra. Recidivist bears stay much longer. Housed in separate cages, they are held without food. Local authorities realized, by trial and error, that supplying food gave them the wrong message. So the jail simulates a den and, when it is kept relatively dark, the bears sleep. When ice comes into the bay, about a kilometer away, the authorities open the door, and release the bears. They hightail it to the ice and are gone. The jail is empty for another season.

The number of jailed bears has declined since 2005 when a new garbage facility opened and the town dump closed. Now, their numbers are dependent on warming temperatures and changing ice conditions.

For birdwatchers, the waxwings may be a major attraction. For the rest of us, seeing polar bears in their natural habitat is a fabulous experience. In 2009, my sister and I spent a week visiting Churchill, including four full days on a polar bear safari by tundra buggy. Some of the pictures I took then are in the slide show. Enjoy. 

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Churchill is very well organized for visitors who come to see polar bears up close during the short autumn and winter season. Several companies offer many different tours, most of which fly out of Winnipeg. I would highly recommend a photo tour set up for fewer people, more days on safari, and with a professional photographer on board. Next time, I will try to visit when they open the doors of the polar bear jail. That would be a sight to behold.

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