Category: Posts

Meet the River Otters

It’s amazing what a late afternoon walk will bring. Although it is getting close to Christmas, the leaves of some trees are still autumnal scarlet and have not yet fallen to the ground. Even as a muted sunset settles over Kitsilano, there is enough light to see wildlife that inhabit the local area.

There are many people on the seawalk, even so late in the afternoon. Most seem determined to get their constitutional finished before it gets dark. When a group is stopped on the sidewalk peering into the water, I know that there is something to be seen. Sure enough. Three seals or otters are swimming back and forth off shore. Then they disappear. The head of one pops up out in the deep water, first in one place; then in another. It then stops, turns, and heads back to shore, squeaking with a strange peeping sound over and over as if calling to the others. Eventually, all three of them are cavorting near the rocks only yards from where we are watching. One eats a fish, two slither ashore and climb onto the rocks, totally oblivious to the curious onlookers. Who would have guessed that they are so big? That their legs are so long? And that white markings are on their coat? A woman who seems knowledgeable tells us that these are river otters who are known to steal salmon from the fisherman on the nearby Capilano River. Now that would be something to see.

When I got home, I decided to play with the otters on my new photography program. In the past, I’ve taken courses from several very skilled photographers who have recommended using Adobe’s Lightroom for post-production. I’ve finally taken the plunge. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Levey, at the Advanced Digital Training School in North Vancouver, helped me download Lightroom and gave me a couple of lessons on how to use it. I can see the advantages that Lightroom offers over the Apple Photos program that I have used for years but which seems increasingly inflexible and of decreasing quality. But Lightroom, among other things, presupposes that my picture files are properly organized and readily findable. Organization of my digital files (for documents and for photographs) has not been my strong suit. Clearly that must change. Equally obviously, to learn the full extent of LIghtroom’s capabilities and how to export the improved photos to other platforms correctly will require much practice. That’s the point. I want to learn new publishing programs (such as Blurb or Shutterfly) to make the photography books that my grandkids love. And it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade the photos on my blog, as well. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

 

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Vancouver’s Circle Craft Market

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.

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Remembrance Day in West Vancouver

When the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month finally reached the west coast this morning, Marine Drive was closed and a huge crowd of folk was assembled in front of the arch in Memorial Park. It is located across the street from the West Vancouver Memorial Library which opened on November 11th, 1950, as a living war memorial to promote literacy and equal access to education for all. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony is organized by the local branch of the Canadian Legion, but it is fitting that Jenny Benedict, the Director of Library Services, was the “Master of Ceremonies.”

Just before eleven, the West Vancouver Youth Band played and the crowd clapped as an honour guard of flag-bearers led into formation a parade of veterans, alarmingly few remaining it seems, and ranks of local cadets, first responders, scouts, guides and cubs. Then, as four Harvard training aircraft flew overhead, there was the Last Post, two minutes of silence, the Lament and the Rouse. It is always stirring when so many people of all ages, children and dogs among them, stand in perfect silence to mark the ritual of remembrance. Whenever I hear the familiar words of In Flanders Fields, recited as they were today by two students, I think of the thousands at home and abroad who serve in our military and related services. Out of sight, they are not out of mind. Never more so than on November 11th.

At the end of the ceremony, the local Legion, the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, and the Friends of the Library invited everyone to Open Houses. I went to the Library where the Book of Remembrance was on display, as were examples of the Research to Remember Project which accumulated documentation relating to all local participants in the two World Wars. With coffee and cookies at hand, the Dundarave Players led everyone in a sing-along of First World War songs. We sang the repertoire: The White Cliffs of Dover, It’s Long Way to Tipperary, Lili Marlene, Pack Up Your Troubles, There’s a Long Long Trail, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and on and on. It was spirited, sentimental, and great fun. It occurred to me that the days of such sing-songs are likely numbered. Even without the words on the overheads, the crowd in the library knew the words and the tunes; few young people and new Canadians will know them now, or in the future. 

To end the day, I attended “One Last Song,” the 25th Annual Remembrance Day concert of the seventy-voice Chor Leoni Men’s Choir. Directed by Erick Lichte and accompanied by pianist Ken Cormier, they sang a rich collection of music, one piece after another, interspersed only with poetry readings from Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, and others. From the Scottish traditional “Will you go to Flanders?” and “Un Canadian errant,” through Alberta Celtic song-writer Lizzy Hoyt’s “Vimy Ridge,” adapted for choir and accompanied by a guitar, to a première performance of a new tune to “In Flanders Fields.” Then, Mendelssohn’s “Beati Mortui,” Kenneth Jennings’ music to the Dylan Thomas text “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Siegfried Sassoon’s text “Armistice: 1918 (Everyone Sang).” The concert concluded with the Last Post, two minutes of silence, and the entire congregation joining in the singing of “Kontakion,” with text from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Liturgy. There was not an empty seat in the large West Vancouver United Church where the concert took place and few left unmoved by what we had heard. Such music seems so very right on Remembrance Day.

 

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The Daughters of Hoyle Score Again

For thirty-two years, the self-styled Daughters of Hoyle, also known as The Sisters of Precious Little, have been getting together. Usually for a weekend in early November, it is a highlight of our year. In the past, we have come from Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto to a rented cottage where we can enjoy the autumn colours, somewhere in Prince Edward County, on Amherst Island, on Rice Lake, or in the Rideau river system of eastern Ontario. Once we met at Mary Ann’s home in Kingston; another time at Janne’s cottage near Minden. Two years ago, we ventured further afield, for four days in New York City. This year, we’ve spent five days at my “cottage” in Vancouver.

Three who met as “mature students” at Queen’s U. law school added me, the fourth, from Osgoode. We are all under or near five feet tall (except for Janne, a.k.a. “Stretch”) and we sport navy blue shirts emblazoned with “Daughters of Hoyle” in red print on the back. When we walk the streets together, we sometimes attract questions.

Mary Ann is a dedicated activist who fills us in on current causes. Knowledgeable about music and skilled at modern technology, she chooses the playlist which sets the ambiance. Peggy, who spends three months each year in Costa Rica and the rest visiting her large family around the country, putters in the kitchen. She makes sure that everything in the refrigerator finds its way into one meal or another. Janne, the artist, scouts out the latest exhibition or craft show we must see at the galleries. This year, I have luxuriated in the fact that my eastern friends are visiting in Vancouver when the sun is shining by day, there is a full moon by night, and a fresh fall of new snow on the North Shore mountains.

So what do we do? Each year, we pick up where we left off the last, as if we have never been apart. We talk, and talk, and talk, about all the things going on in our lives. We’ve been together through illness, death, family break-up and divorce, the care of children and of aging parents. We talk about the idiosyncrasies of the profession, politics, books and movies, our friends and families, our hopes and dreams. We drink lots of wine, although we are switching to water with various additives as we age. Mary Ann lays out a tray of fancy cheeses, spicy spreads, patés, prosciutto, smoked oysters, and crackers for snacks. This year, we’ve fed on chicken and salmon dishes prepared by Janne, Peggy, and me, and have felt absolutely no desire to eat out. Peggy’s Eggys with spinach, avocado, and prosciutto are the best Eggs Benedicts around. In New York, we ordered in and shared Thai fare with the night staff at the tables on the ground floor of our little Hell’s Kitchen hotel. They said that this was their first experience of Thai food. 

We listen to music, walk the local paths, and see the sights. If there is a church bazaar around, a bake sale or a craft fair, we will find it, and shop for treasures. In rural Ontario, our Saturday lunch is often a traditional pre-Christmas tea in a church basement, the tiny sandwiches and familiar sweets a nostalgic reminder of times past. In Wakefield, Ontario, we once caught their traditional pie auction and, after tasting the samples included with admission, we left with a winning pie. In New York, we walked the High Line in bright sunlight, had lunch at the Chelsea Market, and, after seeing the wonderful play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, stood at the stage door, to meet the actors. This year, we caught a show of portraits from the Queen’s collection at the Vancouver Art Gallery and, on Saturday, hit the bustling Flea Market at West Vancouver United Church, and the craft fair at the community centre across the street.

Once dinner is done, we settle into playing cards. I come from a birth family where playing cards was a favourite pastime. In my eastern life, I never play cards except with the Daughters of Hoyle. On my first weekend away with them, when we were sole occupants of an historic cottage at Isaiah Tubbs resort in Prince Edward Country, Mary Ann set up an easel to help teach me the proper names of the suits of cards. If I was going to play bugger bridge, I couldn’t bid calling one suit “broccolis” and another “shovels.” The next day that same weekend, we played cards on the rocks of Sandbanks beach in the hot November sun, a memory we often recall. This year Peggy brought along the “Five Crowns,” a five-suited variation on rummy. No matter what game we play, or how hard we play it, Janne always seems to win. Playing cards is good for serious strategic planning, acting out latent aggressions, and hearty laughs which sometimes leave us in tears.

At the end of our time together, we set the date for the next year and talk about suitable venues. Long may the Daughters of Hoyle continue to meet.

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Toronto Sings for Gord Downie

On October 24th, I joined the masses gathered on Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, to honour Gord Downie by singing his songs. Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman (aka “DaBu”), the founders in 2011 of the weekly drop-in singing group, Choir! Choir! Choir! in Toronto, organized and led what was a communal hootenanny. Most everyone knew the music and lyrics by heart; the rest of us sang along using words we’d downloaded from the internet. It was a very stirring event.

I went because I knew so little about the man and the band which has become a national phenomenon. I needed to fill the gap. The Tragically Hip is a familiar name. When they played the Dawson City Music Festival years ago, I knew that my sister had hosted the band in her home at the after party. Gord Downie’s actions, since his diagnosis with a brain tumour in December 2015, quite properly made him a national hero. I admired the Secret Path graphic book and also the album designed to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack’s tragic escape from an Indian Residential School, and promoted on the Hip’s last national tour. All proceeds from the Gord Downie/Chanie Wenjack Foundation go to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

For all that, I knew very little about Downie’s music over time; neither the tunes which made him and the band popular nor the lyrics which often read like poetry. I’m not alone. I’ve since learned that many of my cohort are equally oblivious to the impact he had on younger people, especially on those now in their late thirties or forties. People like the Prime Minister.

I now appreciate why his work has been so appealing. “I am a stranger… on a secret path,” the lead poem/song on his Secret Path album, released in tandem with the graphic book, is haunting and emotional. “Bobcaygeon,” where he “saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time,” resonates among those who know the north. “Ahead by a Century” speaks to who he was and what he stood for. “New Orleans is Sinking” and “Wheat Kings” speak of that which is familiar in ordinary life: “Bourbon blues on the street,” “hands in the river,” “Sundown in the Paris of the prairies,” “wheat kings and pretty things wait and see what tomorrow brings. “Late breaking story on the CBC.” “You can’t be fond of living in the past, Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re gonna last.” “Courage” sings of the human condition: “No simple… explanation for anything important… . Any of us do and yeah the human… Tragedy consists in… the necessity Of living with… The consequences Under pressure. Courage… it didn’t come… it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Mike Downie spoke to the crowd about the Downie Chanie Fund. In Gord’s honour, Don Kerr adapted “Fiddler’s Green for Gord.” The lyrics can be downloaded online. Beautiful.
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Current Legal Issues Worth Attention

1. Sean Fine’s gripping case study on unreasonable delay in the criminal courts: “I know the truth” in the Globe and Mail Focus section, Saturday October 21st.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Williamson threw out Kenneth Williamson’s convictions for buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency on Byron Ruttan because it had taken 35 months for the case to go to trial. Normally, victims of child sexual abuse are shielded by a court order banning publication of their identity. In August 2017, Mr. Ruttan requested that a judge lift the order so that he could tell his story. The judge agreed.

His story as conveyed to Sean Fine will break your heart. Mr. Ruttan, a fatherless child, was twelve years old at the time of the abuse. Mr. Williamson was his court-appointed big brother, a student at Queens University who later became a teacher. For decades, Mr. Ruttan lived with the effects of the abuse on himself and on his own family (including his children). In 2008, after telling his probation officer what had happened to him so many years before, Ruttan spoke with the police and charges were finally laid against his abuser.

To read why the case took so long to proceed through the courts is to weep. Although his abuser admitted some of the offences and a jury found him guilty of them all, the case is a classic example of how and why the courts repeatedly failed to provide the justice his situation required. I have never read a better rendition of the problem. The story is as searing as the photos taken by Fred Lum which accompany it.

2. Quebec’s Bill 62, forcing women with face coverings to show their faces to give and receive all government services.

By a vote of 66 to 51, the Quebec legislature on October l8th passed Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and… to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds… . Unprecedented in North America, the law extends to provincial and municipal services, to public transit, daycare, libraries, medical care, and more. Although popular in the rural areas of Quebec, the new law has aroused a storm of protest in Montreal (where the majority of face-covering women in Quebec live) and throughout the rest of Canada. The debate continues in the press and around dinner tables.

Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Friday, October 20th, entitled Quebec ban on face coverings is doomed in court.” His is likely the mainstream legal analysis on the issue, that the law is “a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights,” an example of gender discrimination, and more. He explains that any limits which governments impose on such freedom must “be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives” that alleviate some valid harm. Here, what evidence is there of any harm? And the law is vague and so potentially over-reaching that no one knows what it means or how it will be implemented.

So why, he asks, would the Quebec government pass a law which so obviously violates the Charter? Because it is politically useful to cater to majority public opinion, leaving it to the courts “to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate… minority rights.” He concludes that such political calculation does not excuse the Quebec government which “is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob” and encouraging “the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them.”

3. Bribery Charges under the Ontario Elections Act thrown out of court.

On October 24th, Judge Howard Borenstein, of the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury, acquitted Liberal operatives Patricia Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed of bribery charges under the Ontario Elections Act. He did so on a motion for a directed verdict, before the defence was even called to lead any evidence. As defence counsel Brian Greenspan told the press, “These are rare events. They occur when prosecutions ought not to have brought at the outset… when the law states very, very clearly that there was simply no evidence upon which any reasonable jury could possibly have convicted.” This is a definitive legal result which the opposition parties, who have made considerable political hay over the charges, would prefer to ignore.

Geoffrey Stevens, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, compared the Sudbury prosecutions to that of Mike Duffy in a piece entitled, “A tale of two senseless and unnecessary political prosecutions,” which will appear tomorrow in the Waterloo Regional Record. I quote: “On the face of it, the two prosecutions… have nothing in common beyond the fact that both involved political figures and allegations of bribery.

Mastering the Technology of a New Car

Our fifteen-year-old clunker, a 2002 Nissan Sentra with only 118,000 kilometres on it, finally ran into the ground on the July long weekend. There was a terrible racket from underneath the car that turned out to be a heat shield dragging on the pavement. A minor repair maybe, but we had long ago agreed that we would not put another cent into it. I called the Kidney Foundation and a few days later, they towed it away, providing me with a $300 charitable donations receipt.

We mined Phil Edmonston’s Lemon-aid New and Used Cars and discovered a new class of vehicle which we did not know existed. It’s a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle, which is smaller than an SUV and apparently very popular. That the seats of the car are higher off the ground is a huge advantage for seniors with mobility issues, and apparently there are now all sorts of safety features that will prevent crashes. We considered only two vehicles: the Nissan Rogue and the Toyota RAV4. Ultimately, we settled on the Toyota because I wanted a hybrid.

I made an appointment on the internet to test drive a RAV4 hybrid first thing Tuesday morning. The local Toyota dealership was only a short distance away by streetcar. When we arrived, the young sales rep showed us the exact model we were interested in and, within an hour, we became owners of a new RAV4 hybrid he would deliver to our home two days later. On delivery, the sales rep spent an hour and a half explaining how the car worked, and then left us with the car and two thick manuals. Undoubtedly, this was the most expeditious car purchase we have ever made.

Buying is easy. Learning how to use it more difficult. Three and a half months later, the car is still a continuing revelation. Keyless, the car door opens when we approach, so long as we have the fancy fob (worth $800 if lost) in pocket or purse. It took me several days to realize that, locking it, requires two taps on the door handle that will activate a light on the mirror to tell me that the car is actually locked. And although it is clear that one has to depress the brake before pushing the ignition button, the car is so quiet that we have on occasion forgotten to turn it off. Once, several hours after we last used it, a neighbour knocked on our front door to tell us that our car parked on the street still seemed to be running. Even yesterday when I was outside the car, the lights were still on and the door would not lock, and I couldn’t figure out why. Only then did it come to me that I had forgotten to depress the ignition button.

Then there is the gear shift lever. Whenever we put it into reverse, the camera appears on the master console screen with yellow and red lines showing where our car is in relation to cars behind it. The yellow line is apparently the trajectory of our car. The red line is the point at which I would actually hit the car behind. Gauging how those lines reflect the reality of the space required for parallel parking has been a challenge. But I’m getting the hang of it, finally. It even beeps a warning if someone or something should cross my path behind.

The warning beeps, and the flashing lights, are marvellous. So long as the various safety features are turned on, the lights on the mirrors will flash when a car, or sometimes even a bicycle in a bicycle lane, is passing in my blind spot. Or when I am drifting out of my lane on the freeway. If the beeps or lights come on, I now know to pay attention. Something is wrong; my job is to figure out what.

For all the wonderful safety features of this new car, the Master Console Screen is terribly distracting. It will take us forever to understand all its features, but already we are learning. We have more or less mastered the Audio; endless radio choices, SiriusXM if we knew why we should subscribe to it, and my entire music collection accessible by merely inserting a computer stick into the USB port below. And, just to make sure that we are fully informed, the screen identifies each program and each piece of music we hear.

As for the Apps, the Navigation feature has already proven invaluable. Tap in an address and a map and a friendly voice will give directions. Maybe even several options, with times and distances, for how to get there. How we are to evaluate the routes, we doen’t yet know. But we’ve already learned several things:

  1. The system will not allow us to tap in a new destination when the car is moving. Apparently that is a safety feature to prevent distracting the driver.
  2. The directions for the downtown core must be taken with a grain of salt. Often we know better than the system how to get from our home to the Gardiner expressway, for example. To its credit, the system adjusts to the route we actually choose to go.
  3. On the highway, the directions are usually right and we second guess the system at our peril.
  4. I must become more tolerant when the voice mispronounces local street names. The fact that AI is not perfect, I should consider some consolation.

The Telephone App is a light-year improvement over the dashboard cradle which used to hold my iPhone in the Sentra. So long as the smart phone is in my purse, it apparently connects by Bluetooth to the console screen. Phone numbers magically appear on the screen. Those numbers we use regularly are now installed for instant access by touch. And I’ve discovered a button on the steering wheel which I can push to activate a personal assistant who will call someone else on my Contacts list or find coffee shops, gas stations and restaurants nearby. All I need to do is think up something for the assistant to do and, voilà, the call is made or the results appear on the screen. Talking so easily on the telephone in the car is a new treat for me and I love it. As for the computer searches for nearby restaurants, I have to steel myself not to look at the results while driving alone. That would be dangerous.

Learning not to be distracted by the Master Console Screen is a major challenge. At first, we were endlessly fascinated by the colourful image which shows the flow of power in our hybrid from the gas engine and the battery, and back again. Trying to figure out what conditions cause the operation to change, and how that affects gas mileage, was an initial preoccupation which we have given up. I now just rely on the gas gauge showing the mileage to the next fill-up. It appears somewhere in the second set of information windows behind the steering wheel itself. Those are controlled by a toggle on the steering wheel which has multiple functions that I am gradually learning how and when to use. I wish I could just read the manual and assimilate all its info, flat-out. Alas, that’s not my learning style.

Last week, my husband looked up how to turn on the heated steering wheel and the heated seats which were supposed to be in this car. In the past, he scoffed at such amenities. Not any more. He likes the heated seat, even in warm fall temperatures. He says the warmth reduces the pain in his back. And the heated steering wheel? All the better to assuage arthritis in aching fingers and wrists. Who would have guessed that our new car, as well as being a fabulous new computer (perhaps more properly a mirror for my computer), was also going to be a new mode for therapy?

This could be the last new car we ever buy. Just as well. Learning how to use all its features may well take us a decade.

 

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A Rental House From Hell

My husband and I spent two weeks in Halifax this past August. When in April I put my mind to our accommodation, I discovered that Halifax was already booked out for the time we needed. So I looked at Vacation Rental By Owner and Airbnb.

I discovered a house which I thought would be suitable. It was in Dartmouth, across the harbour from downtown Halifax. The promo for the house spoke of the quiet street on which the house was located and touted the wonderful view of the harbour. Since we love our “cottage” overlooking the harbour in Vancouver, we thought we would compare Canada’s two major ports. The rental price was steep, but we assumed that, if the proprietor was charging the rent he did, the house would be up to the standard we expected.

It was a modern house, pleasant enough. There was a cozy living room with a fireplace, many interesting artifacts, and a wall-mounted television. Across the hall was an open dining room and kitchen. French doors led to a patio which, indeed, had a splendid view of the Halifax harbour. Furnished with a table and chairs, the patio was a very pleasant place where we could eat dinner, watch the boats go by, and check out the success of the fisher-folk with their lines out in search of catch on the shore beneath us. The house had laundry, three bathrooms, and parking in the back. The location was close to the Alderney Centre, where I could catch the ferry that transports commuters from Dartmouth to downtown Halifax every fifteen minutes. So far, so good.

I have had little experience in using computer rental services, and, when I spoke with the owner over the telephone, I did not think to ask him about the bed. The blurb for the house had a picture of the bed which looked okay. Elsewhere in the promo, it said that it “slept two.” As we discovered on our arrival, that is code for “double bed.” Maybe Maritimers take doubles for granted, but we haven’t slept in a double bed since we left our Paris apartment 46 years ago. And this was a soft double. Since my husband is six foot four and had medical issues at the time, sleeping on a soft double was highly problematic. It took us at least three or four nights to get used to the constraints of the space. Had I realized that the bed was a double, I would not have rented the house.

But that’s not the worst part. The owner definitely did not tell me about the train directly across the street beside the water. Even if he had, I probably would not have picked up on the significance of it. We are used to trains on the CN track below our Vancouver apartment in Ambleside. There, several trains pass by daily. We sometimes hear them if our sleep is fitful, but generally we forget that they are there. They pass by and are gone. When I arrived at the Dartmouth house, I noticed what I thought was a single track across the street, and asked the owner if we would hear the trains. “Yes,” he said, “you will hear them.”

And indeed we did. During the daytime, I was at my writing course. When I returned for the evening, the tracks were quiet. Only later, the activity began. We discovered that what we thought was a single track was instead at least three sets of tracks and that the purpose of the tracks was to marshal the railroad cars parked between us and the ferry terminal. Beginning shortly after midnight, the bumping and the clanging began, as an engine backed into the closest car and began to assemble the cars that would make up a new train. Have you ever heard train cars crashing together when they are being marshalled into a train? It is horrific, a constant clatter of loud banging, squealing and clashing, repeated as many times as there are cars in the ever-growing train, a persistent staccato, over and over. I heard the train from the moment the marshalling started, shortly after midnight, until the first train was assembled and pulled away an hour or so later. It would then be quiet for a while, until about 3:00 a.m. Just when I was finally back to sleep, I awoke to hear the chugging of the engine in the distance as it got closer and closer. Before long, the clatter and banging and shrieking started yet again and continued for another hour or so until train number two was assembled. Sometimes that happened three times a night.

My husband, who takes sleeping pills every night, generally slept through the racket. I had a few pills left on my high-power sleeping pill prescription, to be used only in times of great stress. When I discovered the trains, I decided to hoard the pills for those nights before I needed to present something orally in my course. Very shortly, I finished my supply of pills, Nytol didn’t work, and I was dragging myself around exhausted. I never even thought to close the window or go out and buy ear plugs. My lack of practical problem-solving skills in this situation may indicate early onset dementia. More likely, I was just too tired.

There were other issues with the place. On our arrival, the owner advised that the dishwasher didn’t work. Okay, we could wash our own dishes. Then his wife told me that they did not have a coffee pot. Her daughter apparently borrowed the coffee pot and not yet returned it. A tea drinker, she suggested that we could make coffee using paper filters over a cup, one cup at a time. We also discovered that the kitchen sink fixtures were in poor repair. What does it say about owners who charge big bucks for rental that covers their own vacation, who have more than three months’ notice to make the repairs before their unsuspecting tenants arrive, and who do not fix the dishwasher, pay $79.00 for a new coffee pot, and have a kitchen sink in proper repair? And then there is that antiquated double bed, an anomaly by modern standards. All of these would be deductible expenses.

When I told a friend about the rental house, she advised me to write a review on the VRBO website to warn future prospective tenants. I decided that I would write a post about the house instead, and then email the owner with the link. Mr. and Mrs. owner of 72 Shore Road, Dartmouth… be warned. As for me, I will know what to ask in the future.

 

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It’s Another Year…

I always think of September as the beginning of the new year. And so it is. A new school year, new activities for the kids at school and in the community, a new subscription season of films, music, theatre, new shows at the galleries, new courses to take, new routines at the gym, new projects at hand, new holidays to plan in the months ahead. The days are cooler, the nights are crisp, the sky is clear, and the leaves are changing into glorious fall colours. It strikes me that the best season of the year is at hand.

To my mind, the Jewish community which celebrates its High Holidays, both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at this time of year has got it right. Rosh Hashanah marks the first and second days of the Jewish year, which begins this year at sundown on September 20th and continues through nightfall on September 22nd. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the day when God is said to inscribe the fate of each individual in the Book of Life for the year ahead. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day of the year, which begins the evening of September 29th and ends the evening of September 30th. Depending on how Jews have sought forgiveness for any wrongs they may have done in the previous year, God “seals” the verdict for the year ahead on Yom Kippur. Not being Jewish, I am envious of this annual ritual of reflection and renewal. It strikes me that Jews start off their new year on the right foot.

John Lane & Marion Lane share a birthday cake.

Lacking a religious holiday to mark the season, I love to celebrate the many late summer and September birthdays which bring so many of my family and friends together at this time of the year. This holiday in Vancouver has been a wonderful example. John Lane, Dianne Slimmon, Cathie Percival, my husband Bill Irvine, and I began the festivities with a delightful lunch a week ago Friday at the Shaughnessy restaurant in Vancouver. Located in the VanDusen Garden, it is a beautiful venue, naturally lit and artfully designed to help guests enjoy good food and extended time together in peace and quiet. Birthday cake number one, for me and for John.

The next night, it was a birthday cake number two for me and for Bill Hall who was celebrating his 70th. He and his wife Carol threw a marvellous dinner for their closest friends in The Palmer Room, at the Northview Golf Club in Surrey. What a magnificent evening it was! The Palmer Room is a quietly elegant restaurant with lush plants, lavish chandeliers, a white fireplace, live piano music, and window walls that show off the view beyond the patio and the rich greens of the two eighteen-hole golf courses. The panorama is of fountains rising high in a chain of ponds, fields of farms in the distance rich with summer produce, and, on the horizon, a band of mountain tops silhouetted in black against the changing colours of the sunset. An absolutely glorious west coast mountain view.

Bill Hall’s 70th at Northview’s Palmer Room.

Apart from the ambience, the menu was stunning. I had simply superb salmon lox with herb cheese, capers, crostini and micro greens as an appetizer and a melt-in-the-mouth prime rib roast to die for. Others had rack of lamb, filet mignon, duck breast, jumbo prawns, and a cioppino of halibut, salmon, scallops, prawns, mussels, in a tomato based broth. Bill and I had red velvet birthday cake; tiramisu and lemon cheesecake were other dessert favourites.

Birthday celebrations are such fun. As we grow older, celebrating who we are, that we are still here, and that we have dear family and friends around, becomes all the more important. Bonne fête, tout le monde, whenever your birthday might be. And to all our Jewish friends, may you be signed into the Book of Life.

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Renaissance from a Forest Fire

In August 2003, my cousins Doug and Cheryl Fraser were on a fishing trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island when they received an emergency call to return home to Kelowna right away. Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, a tinderbox of old timber and dried duff which had accumulated for decades, was on fire. The Park sits to the west of their property which was in an area subject to an evacuation alert. Officials watched the progress of the fire which was dependent on the speed and direction of the wind.

Doug and Cheryl, attracted to the Rimrock area by the thick forest on their five-acre property and the view over Okanagan Lake, completed construction of their dream house two years before. Now they faced a desperate scramble to save their home. Doug consulted local fire officials who advised him to move anything flammable away from the house. The woodpile had to go. Doug called in professional woodsmen who felled fifteen trees which were close to the house, cut off all their branches, got rid of the leaves and the pine needles, mulched them, and hauled them away. The tree trunks were left lying on the ground, denuded of all readily flammable vegetation. They put three sprinklers on the roof, and used hoses to water down the cedar soffits.

Their neighbours thought they were crazy, but the plan paid off. One week after the evacuation notice was posted, the fire swept through Rimrock. When Cheryl and Doug returned to their house after the fire, they found the house below in rubble, and the house above razed to the ground. Of thirty houses in the area, fifteen were totally destroyed. Some the fire burned; others blew up when air in the modern-insulated, air-tight homes heated so rapidly that the houses exploded. The forest of trees on their property was charred, black and standing stark. The tallest of the trees, with a thick cambium layer, survived the fire although their trunks were singed close to the ground. Travelling fast through the property, the fire apparently jumped the structure with its soaking roof and no dry plants around to fuel the flames. Their house remained intact, with only a couple of window seals broken, a few spark burns on the roof, and some shingles that had become brittle and needed to be replaced.

After the fire, professional foresters removed five logging truckloads of marketable fir trees from the property. In all: 125 dead trees taken to the local mill where the wood was made into lumber. Within months, Doug and Cheryl started replanting. A local nursery gave everyone in the area a pallet of ponderosa pine seedlings, a total of 100 baby trees each. Doug and his brother Don dug up another 250 two- to three-foot fir, pine and larch trees which were growing under power lines up and down the valley. The brothers planted the young trees in sites across the five acres, strategically placed with open spaces nearby. To the east, is a standing stump from a tree that did not survive. Doug pulled it upright and keeps it for the birds.

It has been another season of forest fires in British Columbia. The worst ever, with hundreds of people evacuated, and fire fighters brought in from across the continent. The sky remains smoky, apparently from forest fires burning in Washington State. British Columbia is an economy based on the forest industry. Fires occur naturally and can be useful to clean out the forests and renew the resource. Out of control, they can bring devastation and disaster. My cousin’s experience in Kelowna is proof, however, that, from all the horror of that 2003 cataclysm, a renaissance has come.

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***** With great thanks to Doug and Cheryl Fraser for sharing their story. *****

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Compensation and an Apology to Omar Khadr

I’ve been asked to comment on the current Omar Khadr controversy. I wrote about the Omar Khadr case in an earlier post which will give the essential background. (It can be found here.) Apparently over 70% of Canadians oppose the federal government’s compensation payment of $10.5 million to Khadr, yet over 40% do not know whether he was fairly treated or not. If they don’t know, how can they have an opinion on the wisdom, or not, of the compensation? The Trudeau government paid to Khadr the same amount the Conservative government under Stephen Harper in 2007 paid to Maher Arar, who had been tortured in Syria after being sent there by the United States on the basis of false information from Canada. I agree with the Globe and Mail that compensation in both cases was the right thing. In my view, with respect to Omar Khadr at least, the government got off lightly.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the actions of the Canadian government towards Khadr at Guantanamo Bay and found that the Canadian government had clearly breached his rights under Canadian law, the Charter, and various international treaties. The breaches were multiple, grievous, with continuing effects at the time of the Supreme Court decision and into the future. He was a Canadian citizen, born in Toronto, 15 years of age when in July 2002 he was found very seriously wounded and the only survivor of a firefight that destroyed an al-Qaeda compound during the war in Afghanistan. Under Canadian law, he was a young person at the time, yet he was incarcerated indefinitely, refused repatriation back to his native country (unlike British and Australians similarly situated), denied access to counsel, tortured and interrogated repeatedly, including by Canadian intelligence agents and diplomats who shared the fruits of those interviews with US authorities. The videotapes of those interviews by Canadian officials were before the Supreme Court of Canada. Although he later pleaded guilty to having thrown a grenade which killed an American military medic and wounded another soldier, his guilty plea was extorted from him after he had been imprisoned for eight years, tortured and offered a resolution as the only way to escape indefinite incarceration without trial in Guantanamo Bay. In Canadian law, his “confession” would not be admissible and, according to reports, there is little other evidence by which he could be found guilty of the offences alleged against him. When he finally was returned to Canada in 2012, he served further time in a maximum security federal penitentiary until he was moved to a provincial facility and, finally, in 2015, freed on bail.

The Supreme Court of Canada found that multiple breaches of Khadr’s rights violated “the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.” There is no need for any further court action to establish those facts. Those are the facts which call for compensation and an apology. People who insist that the Liberal government has settled this case prematurely apparently do not appreciate that the issue has already been decided by the highest court in the country. Both the Liberal government in power at the time of the interrogations and the Conservatives who resisted later efforts to assert his rights and repatriate him back to Canada were responsible. In the circumstances, settlement is the prudent course of action.

I agree with the Globe and Mail that a civilized justice system does not torture people, even people who are fighting for the other side in a military conflict. “A legal justice system, one operating under the rule of law, does not coerce confessions with violence or threats,” does not single young people out for mistreatment, does not deny habeas corpus or access to a lawyer. The case is about “the rule of law” and the duty of the Canadian government to adhere to the rule of law in its interactions with all its citizens, including those abroad. We are all beneficiaries of the rule of law, never more so than when we find ourselves or our family or friends the focus of unproven allegations or alone, abroad, in trouble. The Canadian military fought for the rule of law in two World Wars, in Afghanistan and in various peacekeeping missions which continue today. Preserving the rule of law sometimes takes lives and sometimes takes treasure.

And I also agree with Colby Cash, writing in the National Post on July 6th:

“The intractable problem with Omar Khadr is simply his existence. The politicians who seem to crave (more of) his blood are… trying to punish the behaviour of his father, and to retroactively abnegate the slack application of dual-citizenship principles that allowed Khadr Sr. to become Canadian while leading a double life as an international terrorist. No one who has read Sophocles or the Old Testament can fail to recognize the mentality at work here. Omar Khadr is the manifestation of a curse upon the state. His personal activity and his ethical culpability are not really the point… It is the Khadr-frenzy crowd… who seem to own magic glasses that can see through time and penetrate the fog of war. They state confidently, as a fact, that Khadr was personally caught using violence against Canadian allies. This proposition seems untried by any forensic method we would expect to receive the benefit of, ourselves… Maybe you believe, to a moral certainty, that he threw the grenade… maybe you believe that Khadr deserves to be treated as if he had been a responsible, independent adult at the time. That is a fair amount of compounded confidence. But even granted all of that, don’t the legal traditions of Canada and the United States, whose courts have both condemned the regime under which he was tried and held, still require him to be given some credit for time served in an extra-national torture shop? Indeed, wouldn’t a non-legal idea of common justice require it? I am not a Christian, so I won’t invoke mercy. That concept does not seem necessary to the argument. But I do notice that no one seems very interested in adding it.”

 

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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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Nordic Pole Walking

Are you looking for the perfect high intensity, low impact exercise? We may have found it. Yesterday my husband and I had a lesson in Nordic Pole Walking. We both came away wildly enthusiastic. Even my normally cynical husband readily admitted that this may be the way to go.

His return from Vancouver has been Act Three in the saga of the broken kneecap. After a good recovery in Vancouver and an easy flight home, only a few days later, he was suddenly suffering excruciating pain in the leg opposite to that which had been broken. Although the pain was intermittent, when it occurred he was forced to walk almost doubled over, at half his height, leaning on his cane. We had no idea what was happening.

A friend referred us to the Insideout Physiotherapy and Wellness Group in downtown Toronto and, less than ten days later, he appears on his way to recovery. Among the diverse techniques physiotherapist Jennifer Howey used was to recommend that he take up Nordic Pole Walking.

Developed by the Finns in the 1990s to train their cross-country ski team during the summer, the technique makes perfect sense. It’s walking naturally with a kick. Using the specially designed walking poles with the proper technique transforms a lower-body exercise into a gentle full-body workout which includes the upper arms, back, shoulders and neck. That doubles the impact of the walking without adding to any apparent increase in exertion.

We have used poles for hiking and backpacking for years. There, they are invaluable in distributing the body weight, helping with balance, and adding a third and a fourth leg to ease crossing difficult terrain. These poles are different. They are shorter, have rubber boot tips which are shaped to add propulsion, and a glove which adds pressure to the push without straining the fingers. They are designed to get all the muscles of the body moving while walking naturally.

For my husband, the poles are a huge advantage. Giving what is perceived to be a gentle exercise, they help with balance and force him to stand upright and look ahead. Use of the poles reduces stress on the knees and hips. It is early yet, but we can see the benefits the poling will provide.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Nordic Pole Walking could be equally useful for me. Apparently, it is highly recommended for managing diabetes, blood pressure and weight control. In Europe, 20% of Finns now use these walking poles, as do millions in Germany where health insurance companies subsidize pole walking courses and equipment.

Jennifer and her partner, Peter Burrill, the Insideout Nordic Pole Walking Program Coordinator, are big promoters of the technique. They use it for their patients, offer Nordic walking workshops and special events, conduct clinical studies and even helped design the Nordixx pole they recommend. Walking around the trees and up the allies of Toronto’s iconic Yorkville Park and along Bloor Street in our lesson yesterday, Peter had specific suggestions to ensure we were using the correct technique. My husband walked better than he has in weeks and I could feel the difference. The proof, of course, will be in how we follow up.

For more detailed information about Nordic Pole Walking, the health benefits, the nature of the equipment (relatively inexpensive and remarkably light-weight), and demonstrations of the correct technique, check out the Insideout webpage.

My husband and I are clearly slow to catching on to new trends. Mike Snider reported in the Globe and Mail six years ago that occupational therapist Mandy Shintani launched Urban Poling in Vancouver in 2003, and has certified more than 1,000 instructors across the country. Nordixx maintains a webpage which allows you to locate the closest instructor in your area.  

 

 

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A Photo Shoot at Jack Poole Plaza

I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.

Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’

The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.

“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.

My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.

***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments. 

 

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A Five Star Photography Workshop

Billed as the “Ultimate Urban Travel Photography Workshop with International Award Winning Architect, Urban Designer and Photographer, Rick Hulbert,” this four-day workshop held in Vancouver last week was one of the most intense and engaging learning experiences of my life.

I’d taken a workshop with Rick years ago, while he was still working as an architect. It had been very useful and relatively laid-back. I jumped at the chance for a repeat, with a focus on my hometown. After all, blogging about Vancouver is one of my favourite themes, and improving my pictures would make future posts all the better.

Retired from architecture for more than a year, Rick now teaches photography all over the world. From his professional background, knowledge of art history, and interest in the rapidly changing neurosciences, he articulates his (perhaps revolutionary?) philosophy of photography with unbridled passion. His lectures are amazing. His own photographs used to illustrate his points, awesome. He answers all questions with equal grace, no matter how technical, controversial, or simple (as many of mine certainly were). Post-course, students receive a copy of his key point visuals, which relieves the pressure of taking notes and focuses student attention on what he says and does. Conscious of what each student wants and needs, he ensures everyone equal “one on one” time. It seems that Rick has become the platonic ideal of a photography teacher: rigorous, thoughtful, constantly learning himself, and downright funny to boot. No wonder he is in such demand.

The ten participants in the workshop were photography enthusiasts: devotees of camera clubs, journalists who use photos to illustrate their stories, a hip sound man who is a sports photographer wannabe, a busy father of four who somehow fits serious photography into his work/life balance, some who have already sold their pictures, at least one a computer tech. I was by far the least photo-experienced of the group. The workshop promo said to come and “share your skills with others.” Everyone did, most generously. One, with a camera similar to mine, helped me with my settings. A second showed me how to set up and manipulate my new tripod. Another told me that I could press the button in the corner of my iPhone screen and take pictures without even opening the phone. (I blush to admit, I’d never used that feature before. How could I have missed it?) He also showed me how to download photos onto a USB stick, an essential task in sharing photography (and much else) which I had never quite mastered. Even before the workshop began, I’d learned these two new skills which will undoubtedly change my life.

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The promo material promised that the course was “all about taking your photography to the next level.” It warned, however, that “you need a camera that you know how to use” and that you should “read the manual that came with your camera so you will be familiar with its features.” Easier said than done. Since creating my blog, my handy-dandy iPhone has been my camera of choice. But I knew that showing up at a Rick Hulbert workshop with only an iPhone was not on. I bought a light-weight, mirrorless camera two years ago but, out of sheer laziness, I’d used it only in Intelligent Auto mode. “Read the manual.” Are you kidding? Manuals are for techies. It takes a long time to become familiar with all the features on the contemporary camera computers we can now buy, and I hadn’t used my “new” camera for at least a year.

Fully aware that Rick doesn’t teach “Camera Operation 101,” I scheduled some lessons before the workshop to learn how my “new” camera worked. I also started to use my early morning walks for photo shoots. I thought I was ready to go. But, to go “to the next level,” in my case, was a really big leap. Rick recommends shooting in Manual and Aperture modes, and primarily in RAW file format. That’s a totally different thing. Manual mode I had forgotten. Shooting RAW files, I had never done before. I had no idea what impact this would have on how I used my camera. On Day One, I floundered big time.

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

That day Rick lectured in the morning. After a late lunch, we did a “hands on” walk-about over the Georgia Street Viaduct, down Main Street, and then along the waterfront to the Science Centre and the Olympic Village at the east of False Creek. It was less than a two kilometre walk, a glorious sunny day, and we stopped often to practice what Rick had taught us, and for him to make suggestions. His promo had said that we would learn what to wear on a photo shoot. I did! And it was definitely not what I had on: a black Icebreaker sweater, a wool sweater-coat and a new camera bag too small to hold all my gear. The next day, I jettisoned this attire and came more properly outfitted. That aside, around 4:00 p.m., in the shade of a patio near a bakery, Rick talked cameras and lenses with the more experienced photographers. They were on a short break while awaiting the change of light to continue the photo shoot into the evening.

Into the evening? How do they do it? I realized that I had to pace myself. Feeling a bit of a wimp, I took my leave, rode the Aquabus to the Plaza of Nations, and found my way home. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. I was utterly exhausted. Why was I so sore all over? What happened to my much-vaunted energy and the fruits of my physical training? Who knew that photographers worked so hard?

Day Two was another intensive session when Rick explained his principles for successful photography and we applied them to our pictures. In “Image Review” with Rick Hulbert, we saw a master manipulating Adobe Lightroom to improve the RAW data files we’d taken. Apart from teaching us about light, how to see, what to look for, and how to get what we want, “re-visualization,” as he calls his post-production editing, is an essential tool of the modern digital photographer. He made sure we knew how Lightroom works and why we would use its many features. Day Three was a lecture on street photography, a film, and an afternoon photo shoot on Granville Island, including another walk-about to unusual sites only a photographer like Rick would notice. Day Four was an early morning (6:30 a.m.) photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the harbour, with another full day of “Image Review” to further embed our skills.

After four days, others in the group were fading and even Rick admitted that he too was tired. No wonder. He gives out 100% all the time, and then some. It’s true that many of the activities he offered on the last two days were optional. But who wants to opt out when Rick is at hand to share his expertise? I may not yet be able to apply all I have learned, but I now understand the lingo and have the basic concepts firmly embedded in my brain. There is no doubt that I am many levels higher than when I started. Everyone rises to expectations, right?

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

So, how to rate Rick Hulbert as a teacher of photography? A+++ He more than delivers on what he promises, with the caveat to potential students that he deliberately pitches his program to make the best possible photos. “Learning by doing” is the name of the game. Nothing is more effective. Rick teaches a theory of photography which will stay with us forever. And the attention he pays each student makes it like a master class in photography. Listening to more experienced photographers teaches much, by osmosis. Just remember to get lots of sleep and exercise before the workshop begins, bring a water bottle and some trail snacks to keep you going. And tell your family in advance that you will be late getting home for dinner.

***** The uncaptioned photos are my RAW files of data, “re-visualized” with the help of Rick and the group. 

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