It was my first trip around the Stanley Park seawall this visit. And my first time riding an electric bike ever.
The attendant at Jo-e Cycles on Denman showed me the electric bike I would rent. It looked new, had small tires, an internal battery, and was somewhat heavy to lift. He lowered the seat and handlebars, demonstrated the derailleur control, brakes, bell, and then use of the additional electric power. To turn the electric power on or off, “you press down on this button for at least three seconds,” he said, “and there is a five-speed program: zero is coasting, one to five from slow to fast. I would recommend you stay on zero and one.”
When I left the store, the idea of additional power on a city street was too much. I cycled the bike on my own steam down the bicycle path from Denman to Stanley Park.
The cycle path around the Stanley Park seawall is nine kilometres long and designated one way. It heads north and east around Coal Harbour to Brockton Point, then west past Lumberman’s Arch and the Lions Gate Bridge to under Prospect Point, and on to Siwash Rock. It then heads south past Third Beach and Second Beach to exit at English Bay or to return past Lost Lagoon to Georgia Street.
Once on the cycle-only trail in the park, I pressed on the power and felt a surge of additional push up a small hill. That was nice, and certainly easier than if I had been pedalling on my own. Then I tried the power-pushed coasting past the pedestrians walking beside the yacht club and around Coal Harbour. This was fun. By the time I got to Brockton Point, I had the hang of it and felt sufficiently secure that I was willing to stop and take some photos.
Taking photos required that I get off the bike. That was easy enough. Getting back on was more difficult. I discovered that my legs are so short that lifting them over the bar and the battery of the bike was a major challenge. Stopping near a curb, a rock, a log or a fence helped. Standing on the additional height made it easier.
At Third Beach, I left the elevated cycle path to read some signs. When I tried to get back onto the cycle path, I found lifting the bike up the few inches of elevation difficult. Worse still, there was no place for me to stand to get back onto the bike. I had visions of falling off the path as I struggled with my balance on the bike. Fortunately, a friendly passerby offered to lift the bike and to hold it while I got back on. I greatly appreciated his help.
The cycle-path is paved all around the park, but in places it is narrow, there are several blind corners, and other cyclists pass from behind. I did exactly as I had been told, coast at zero and speed at one. Coasting is not passive, it still requires pedalling. According to the health app I discovered on my iPhone recently, I did over 5000 “steps” cycling around the park. Pedalling may not use the same energy as does walking, but at least it is something. As for the speed, it was fast enough for me. With all my stops for photos, I got around the park in two hours. Some people run around the park is less time than that. For me, it was the perfect pace.
And the vistas from the seawall are sublime. Such lovely views of the mountains, the harbour, the beaches, the trees and the people enjoying it all. There’s no better way to spend a quiet Sunday morning.
In the past, I have written about Tafelmusik’s Sing-along Messiah. Last Saturday, I shared a sing-along experience with a great choir which was totally different, but equally uplifting. On Sunday, February 23rd, the Bach Choir will perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in concert at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. This weekend, they invited other choirs and the public at large to join their rehearsal in a sing-along run-through. It was an utterly delightful experience.
German composer Carl Orff wrote Carmina Burana in 1935-36. It is a cantata based on 24 poems from a medieval collection which covered a range of topics described in Wikipedia as “the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.” Written in secular Latin, Middle High German, and Old French, it is one of the favourites of the classical music repertoire. You can hear it on YouTube. Normally sung with full orchestration, for the sing-along, Stephen Smith, rehearsal accompanist for the choir, played the piano.
Cathrie Yuen, Assistant Conductor of the choir, led the singing. She started with a series of exercises, to get the body in shape and the voice ready for the demanding music which followed. Then down to the serious business of singing “Oh Fortuna” and the twenty-four other movements that make up the cantata. After most major movements, Cathrie had suggestions for improvements and the group repeated the singing as she wanted it done. Needless to say, most people knew the music well.
My friend and I chose to sing alto and had never seen the score before. Of course, we had never sung it before. We felt good if we were able to find in the score where the rest were actually singing. It was great fun. And, sitting in the choir, the music was wonderful.
The Vancouver Bach Choir is in its 89th season and is one of the largest symphonic choirs in Canada. Under the direction of Leslie Dala, it performs traditional and new choral works, for a local, national and international audience. Since 1984, it has also built a multi-tiered children’s program that provides choral training to over 350 singers from kindergarten to post-secondary school. More recently, the Sarabande Chamber Choir has emerged for graduates of the youth program, current Vancouver Bach Youth Choir members, and outside applicants.
Donations from the Singable Saturday event were given to the Vancouver Adapted Music Society. Sam Sullivan and Dave Symington, two Vancouver musicians who became disabled as a result of sports injuries, co-founded that organization in 1988. The Society has specialized adaptive equipment which allows people of all levels of disability to learn to play the guitar, bass, keyboards, and to study singing. It also has a fully-accessible studio, which enables disabled musicians to learn studio techniques, record their music, and perform at Vancouver-area gigs. A worthy recipient of a most inspiring event.
While walking beside the sea in Ambleside park a couple of weeks ago, I came across a cluster of translucent domes sitting on the grass beside what used to be the beach refreshment stand. A sandwich board beside the sidewalk read: “Dinner with a View, January 15 – February 16. Seatings at 5:30, 7:30, 9:30. Book Online. Promo Code POPUP60 Dine with a view experience #dinnerwithaview.ca.” A passerby told me that he was taking his girlfriend there the next night to celebrate her birthday. I thought that would be a fun experience and made a note to check it out.
The website was enticing. It offered “a perfect evening” “under the sky,” “at an incredible place,” “with those you cherish most.” And a celebrity chef to boot. What more could you want? Apparently, this was the third Dinner with a View pop up experience. The first ones were in Toronto and Montreal in the spring of 2019. The next will be in San Diego next month and Chicago in the fall.
Making a reservation was an interesting process. There were two costs: $199.00 for the dome and $109 for each meal; drinks and tips were extra. The costs of the dome and the meal had to be prepaid, and clients had to choose one of three blind pre-set dishes: fish, meat, or vegan. The menu was guaranteed to be shellfish, pork, and nut-free.
But, according to the internet, “all reservations had a minimum of four and a maximum of six.” That was a problem. My husband and I had only recently come to Vancouver and our usual dinner partners were out of town. How could we put together four people for what appeared to be a relatively expensive event?
I checked their reservation calendar and discovered that all the 7:30 sittings were booked, but that there were vacancies for the 5:30 and 9:30 weeknight sittings. I sent an email enquiring if they would take us as a couple. We would be willing to share a dome. They replied that they would offer us a private dome at 75% off the dome price for the next night. We couldn’t go then, but we agreed that I would check in the following morning at 9:00 a.m. when they reviewed the reservations and see if there was room then. I did, and there was, and I made the reservation directly with the head office for the 5:30 sitting.
That day started dark, dreary, and wet. But, as happens often in Vancouver, the weather in the west cleared during the day and by the time of our dinner date, it was a lovely evening, clear but crisp. After parking directly opposite the entrance, several staff standing beside a fire pit welcomed us and showed us to our dome.
It was a translucent plastic dome designed to simulate a terrarium, with a door that zippered open and shut. On the wooden floor inside was a table with chairs, each with a blanket folded neatly over the back. We had a heater at our feet and were surrounded by plants. The terrain outside was aglow with white lights in the trees, an aqua screen adding more colour, and outdoor fire pits with blazing fires. All this behind a white picket fence beside the sea with a pale sunset in the west. It was utterly enchanting.
Wearing toques, our servers were young people, friendly and cosmopolitan. One was from Quebec, had never been to Vancouver before, and was eager to practice her English. Another was from Chile, in Canada on a work permit that she wanted to extend. They popped in and out, zipping the door open and shut, always attentive to what we needed.
And the food? It was exquisite. We started with a beet and apple salad appetizer which instantly told us that this cuisine was superb. My husband had black cod with onions and leeks. I had chicken with tiny carrots, fingerling potatoes, and mushrooms foraged by the chef. Our dessert was a fruit, mousse, and mint crumble that was light and utterly delectable. We were satisfied that the cooking was as good as, if not better than, anything we had ever had in Toronto.
Our chef was Paul Moran, Executive Chef of the widely-acclaimed 1909 Kitchen restaurant and The Hatch pub at Tofino Resort and Marina on Vancouver Island. He apprenticed with David Hawksworth in Vancouver and was the Top Chef Canada Winner in the 2019 Food Networks Canada’s Top Chef competition. He visited us in our dome after our meal and we chatted at length. It was a warm and wonderful conclusion to a fabulous evening.
I bought my iPhone 10XS from Costco in October 2018, over fifteen months ago. My old iPhone 5S was slow and often did not do what I wanted it to do. The time had come to get a new device. The new iPhone cost a lot of money, was beautiful to look at, and felt good in my hand. It held out the promise of efficiency, and access to the best that computer technology had to offer. I figured that this iPhone would do me for the next decade or so and, whatever the cost, the upgrade was worth it.
Alas, until now, I never knew how to use it. I have been struggling with basic functions that I didn’t know how to work. How to use the camera. How to select, cut/copy, and paste. How to use the device for other functions while still talking on the telephone. Of course, I could use the telephone, the text messages, the notes and the calendar, but I had no idea how to access the wonderful new features, supposedly on this telephone, which made it worthwhile. I was so frustrated. Ultimately, I concluded that it must be me. I must be losing it. Clearly I no longer had the mental capacity to deal with modern technology.
All that has changed. Two weeks ago, I signed up for a series of three-hour workshops on iPhones and iPads offered at the West Vancouver Seniors Activity Centre. The first three sessions were on the iOS13, the current operating system that runs the device. Then there are individual sessions on “Organizing your email,” “Messages,” “Everything Siri,” and “Photo Artistry.” Wow. I was thrilled. This appeared to be exactly what I needed to learn, to use my iPhone.
And indeed it has been so. The instructor is Andrea MacDonald who specializes in technology for seniors. Her card says that she offers “Patient, Gentle Instruction.” Maybe so. But she knows her stuff, moves the material along quickly, identifies the basic skills and has us practice them there and then. She also requires homework. After the first session, I dutifully went to the local coffee shop and asked for their wifi address and password. Andrea says that “this is a basic skill, necessary in modern life.” Who would have thunk it? But she is right. All the young people use Starbucks, Delaney’s, and all those other coffee emporia as pop-up workspaces. Accessing wifi today is like accessing the washroom.
This week, Andrea has required me to clean up my Contacts using the criteria required by the App. I have 657 contacts and “the homework” will take hours. But, of course, I only have to do it once. The changes will instantly show up on all my devices and once it is done…
Another example: I had tinkered with the dictation function on my previous smartphone. In theory, the dictation function is wonderful. You talk and the device instantly produces a transcript of what you have said. In the past, my transcripts were often garbled and full of mistakes. I needed to check them right away to ensure that I actually knew what I was talking about.
Andrea demonstrated dictation in class. She spoke in her usual voice, at her usual speed, with the iPhone on the table in front of her, and produced a perfect replica of what she had said, instantly. I was amazed. I went home and started dictating. I realized that I needed to slow down a little, enunciate more clearly, and think more precisely about what I was saying as I went along. Voilà: even I produced a perfect transcript. Now I dictate everything. My email. My messages. My notes. My blog posts. What I dictate is shared to all my devices, an instant first draft. That was after the first lesson.
In lesson number two, Andrea taught us about Swipe Typing. I had never heard of it. Then she demonstrated how pecking letter by letter on the keyboard was so passé. (Note, by the way, my newfound agility with adding accents.) Now the technology allows us to “write on the keyboard,” using a skating motion of the finger, lifting only between each word. As we glide over the letters, the automatic intelligence built into the smartphone fills in the entire words. It actually works. Amazing. But I still think dictating is easier.
A very fundamental truth which Andrea taught right up front was that modern iPhones are built to respond to a specific kind of touch. A light touch. A touch that is quick and even “lazy.” A touch that is too heavy-handed, too earnest, won’t work. For particular functions, the device is engineered to respond to a heavier steady touch. Press on the telephone icon, for example, and a window will pop up, like the “right-click” of a mouse, with convenient options for further actions. And, of course, with no home button any more, “the swipe” is essential. It’s “the swipe from the upper right corner” which opens the Control Centre. I’ve seen other people using that window before, but never knew how to access it. How to get out of Apps and other windows? Just touch or swipe. No wonder I have had such a hard time with my iPhone this past year.
I could go on. And on. But I won’t. The moral of the story is that it is never too late to take an appropriate computer training course. After only two weeks, I feel many years younger. I guess I haven’t lost my marbles after all.
The Lunar New Year started this past weekend. Also called Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, this is the big annual holiday for over two billion people. More than a quarter of the world’s population, and many more than celebrate Christmas. In Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, North and South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, and in cities around the world where these nationals now live, the “Lunar New Year” is a big event. So it is in Vancouver.
Red-coloured banners, ornaments, and lanterns abound. In Chinese culture, red stands for energy, happiness, good luck and success. Shopping malls advertise Lunar and Chinese New Year celebrations with all kinds of special features: night markets, food halls, musical performances, traditional dances, children’s craft workshops and art exhibits, lantern displays, a “Community of Castles” pop-up display illustrating different scenery and architecture, special sales, photo opportunities and door prizes. Supermarkets such as Osaka in Park Royal West Vancouver, which I have written about previously (here, and here), overflow with brightly coloured packages of special holiday sweets.
The 47th Annual Chinese New Year Parade took place on Sunday, starting at the Millennium Gate on Pender Street in the heart of Vancouver’s old Chinatown. It went on for two hours over a 1.3-kilometre route. Thousands lined the streets to watch the lion dances, traditional dance troupes, marching bands, and martial arts performances.
With a friend, I attended the Opening Ceremonies of the Lunar New Year on Saturday afternoon. This was the first day of the 15-day New Year festival. It was held at the International Mall, beside the Millennium Gate. Under bright red lanterns soaring to the ceiling, hundreds gathered to hear greetings, in English and in Mandarin, from Vancouver’s leading politicians and many of the local consular corps. I thought the speeches would go on forever.
Then a man wearing traditional costume threw red envelopes out to the crowd. Red envelopes signal the sharing of blessings and are traditional New Year’s gifts from parents, grandparents and older friends to children. Red envelopes normally contain money. These red envelopes contained lucky candies. An agile acrobat performed with hoops. And, finally, the Lion Dance began, with two giant multi-coloured dragon lions gyrating at length on the stage. The audience loved it.
The first day of the Lunar New Year changes every year. It is celebrated on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and falls anytime between January 21st and February 20th on the Gregorian calendar (which we use).
Each year in the Chinese calendar is named after one of twelve animals. The animals rotate on a twelve-year cycle. In order, they are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. People believe that the years represented by the animals affect the personalities of people born during that year.
This year celebrates the Year of the Rat. The years of the Rat include 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 and 2032. Although rats are the smallest of the zodiac animals and may be scorned by many, they are recognized as an animal with spirit, wit, alertness, flexibility and vitality. If you were born in the Year of the Rat, you are thought to be adaptable, quick-thinking, intuitive, energetic and optimistic in outlook.
You can find which animal you are by inserting your Gregorian birthdate into this Chinese Zodiac Sign Calculator.
Someone born in October 2009 was born in the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, oxen are “diligent, dependable, strong and determined. Also patient, methodical and persistent. Having an honest nature, they have ideals and ambitions for life, and attach importance to family and work. They achieve their goals by consistent effort.”
Most people born in 2007 were born in the Year of the Pig. But someone with an early January birthday (January 8, 2007, for example) is actually born in the Year of the Dog. This is because the previous year continues until the new year begins.
Dog is a symbol of loyalty and honesty. The Chinese zodiac says that people born in the Year of the Dog “possess the best traits of human nature. They are honest, friendly, faithful, loyal, smart, straightforward and have a strong sense of responsibility.” Although they may be “a bit introverted and timid,” they can make true friends for life.
Several times over the weekend, people wished me a happy new year. They said, “Gong hei fat choy.” According to Chinese new year etiquette specialists on the internet, however, using that phrase is technically not correct. That wish is actually for the recipient to become wealthy in the year ahead and is best used with fellow workers or in business. For your family and friends, better to say “Xin Nian (new year) Hao (good)” (pronounced: shin nee-an how).
Xin Nian Hao, everyone.
Rain in Vancouver in January is the normal daily forecast. 70%, 80%, 90% chance of rain is what the weather reports will say.
What the locals know is that the rain seldom goes on all day long. Watch the sky. It will seem to brighten, if only in the west. The cloud cover will lighten; distinct dark clouds may move on and maybe an instant of blue will appear in the sky. The pitter-patter of rain on the windows will stop. Pedestrians will appear on the sidewalks without umbrellas. All signs that the rain has stopped.
At those times, the seawalk in Ambleside will be full of people, particularly people with dogs. Now is the moment to get the dog out for a walk or a run on the beach or the boardwalk. The off-leash area for dogs is awash with a diversity of dogs, many chasing balls. One of the dogs I saw was a tiny thing with fluffy white fur, so pristine that it almost shone in the dreary day. I asked his owners how often they had to clean it. “Every day,” they smiled.
It’s a mistake to be lured into these breaks in the rain with the expectation that “the good day” will continue. It can be bright one moment and raining heavily the next. I was leaving the Seniors’ Centre on Monday in a drizzle. A man leaving with me, wearing only a zippered fleece, explained that it hadn’t been raining when he left home. Of course not. He hardly needed to explain.
But yesterday, on my first of the daily walks I intend to take here, I tried to lower the weight I was carrying. I brought my keys, my wallet, and my iPhone, thinking that would do.
No way. Twenty minutes out, I could take a rest on a bench on the beach and do some email while watching the water. I could stop and take photos of new developments, particularly ones that could be a potential topic for a future blog post. I could talk with strangers and they were happy to engage in a short conversation. Twenty minutes later, the rains came again.
By the time I reached Park Royal and found the entrance, I was soaking wet. I had to find a chesterfield in the mall, take off my supposedly water-resistant jacket and hang it to dry. All of which took some time. I should have known that you never go anywhere on any day in Vancouver in the winter without taking an umbrella.
A Vancouverite friend responded to my post with tips about “rain management” that only a local would know. She said that many prefer jackets with hoods rather than using an umbrella. “Good for dashing from cars when your hands are full or walking shorter distances.” Although some stores have umbrella stands by their doors, “you don’t want a damp umbrella in your pack or purse!”
She said that living in Kitsilano, you never “leave the house without your small umbrella and a reusable shopping bag.” Umbrella lovers have a collection of umbrellas of different weights, sizes and designs. “And because we use them so much we choose their colours and patterns carefully. They are a year-round accessory!”
So it is. Yesterday, on the seawall in a slight rain, I noticed that many, younger walkers particularly, were in rain gear with hoods. Older folk tended to stick with umbrellas. I was somewhat proud that I had not yet used the umbrella I carried in my pack.
Alerted to umbrellas as a “wardrobe accessory,” I noticed umbrellas that stood out. One was a collection of cartoons from the Vancouver Sun. Another was a strikingly colourful motif of a couple each carrying an umbrella. According to the owner, this was from a famous American painting she had seen in the Chicago Museum of Modern Art. She bought it years ago from a family-owned umbrella store that existed on Granville Island for decades. The store had made their own umbrellas which were more expensive but more sturdy than others. She expected that this umbrella would last longer than she does. She also spoke ruefully of a summer parasol (made of material that could not be used in the rain) which she had bought from the store. That umbrella had been stolen and she still missed it. I never would have thought how much one can learn from umbrellas.
For years, Aziza Café on College just west of Dovercourt has been a favourite for all-day breakfasts, brunch, and lunch. This past summer, the café moved to a new location two blocks east of Dovercourt, at 870 College Street. Two weeks ago, I was delighted to find the new Aziza Café and to talk at length with Lina Fonseca, and her daughter Amy Fonseca Reis, who are co-owners of the business. Theirs is a fascinating story, and their café is one to watch. It’s a work in progress which promises great things in the future.
The move has brought a more upbeat ambience. A Buddha sits in the window. A wall of wooden shelves and mirrors dominates the room, adopted from the hairdressing salon which was the previous tenant. The walls are hung with art. At the moment, it is a coffee shop (and tea emporium) that serves the same wonderful food made from the finest fresh ingredients that marked the café in the past. Apart from dining in the café itself, their menu is now available for corporate catering at Food-ee/Aziza Café and also for home delivery via Doordash and other residential delivery services.
In the future, the plan is to use the large patio out back, which becomes an oasis of green in the summer, and to encourage a casual vibe where people could come with their computers. They also see their café as becoming Toronto’s first bodega, a grocery store that sells food, as is popular in New York City. See the New York Times story by Julia Rothman and Shaina Feinberg entitled, “We Spent the Night at a Bodega and Wrote It All Down.”
Lina Fonseca, 53 years of age, was born in Mozambique to a Portuguese father and a mother from Malawi. Lina’s father came from a wealthy family and was an officer in the Portuguese Army for thirty years. Her mother came from an African village and had no formal education. She became the mother of nine children and also manager of the large family farm with over two hundred employees. Lina’s father did a great deal of entertaining and insisted that his wife and four daughters learn French cooking. When Mozambique became independent in 1974, the new government seized all her parents’ assets and the family moved to Portugal. There, Lina’s father bought his sister’s family farm, with no running water and no electricity, and the girls grew up having to make everything including all their cheeses and sausages.
Lina came to Canada by accident, alone, at 18 years of age. A Portuguese cousin who spent her summers visiting relatives in Canada broke her leg and could not use her airplane ticket. Lina’s father asked all his sons whether they would like to travel on the ticket, but none wanted to go. Lina said she would like to go to Canada and, because the visit was to family and would only last the summer, her father agreed. By that fall, Lina had tasted life as an adult and had no desire to return. She telephoned her parents and told them she wasn’t coming back. Two years later, she secured permanent residency status.
Since then, she worked as a chef and as a waitress in numerous restaurants and bars, some her own; one she operated for three years in a hotel in Gibsons, British Columbia. She has also helped run a large bakery. She has three children, including a son who is interested in a military career like that of his grandfather and has just joined the Canadian army. She talks to her sisters in Portugal almost every day on FaceTime. She admits that it was her children who inspired her effort to resurrect Aziza Café after her previous business partnership ended with significant debts and a new landlord took over the property.
Lina’s daughter, Amy Fonseca Reis, at 25 years old, is now co-owner of the business. Amy considers herself an introvert, in contrast to her mother who is a “people person.” Amy is an expert in modern technology. She takes care of the books and deals with all the apps which must be used nowadays in the business. She is also an “idea person” who has a vision of where Aziza could go, and what they could do in the future. It’s an ideal combination, one partner with years of experience in the industry, the other skilled in technology and a visionary. At the moment, the two of them run the café themselves. They look forward to hiring more staff and moving forward.
Visit their café, or order in for delivery at home or at your place of business. Their phone number is 416-516-9909. I think you will agree that their fare is excellent.
The bright yellow neon sign in front of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe in downtown Toronto drew my attention as I left Roy Thomson Hall after the Vivaldi concert a couple of weeks ago. It cycled through several messages: “A Christmas Carol Read by Tenor Ben Heppner and other GREAT voices,” and then, “An Evening of Readings, Carols & Gingerbread, Sat, Nov 30 at 7 p.m.,” and finally, “FREE Admission, Give generously to our Refugee Program.” I thought that this would be a wonderful way to start the holiday season. And so it was.
I took my new favourite TTC route downtown, using the Bathurst streetcar southbound to the marvellous King streetcar, which runs constantly without any waiting. The dark wooden balconies of the beautiful old church were bedecked with evergreen boughs and bright red bows. A large Christmas tree covered in white lights stood at the front, as white candles lit the floor below the podium. I was greeted by a lovely usher wearing the yellow T-shirt of the Refugee Sponsorship Program (STARS), a long scarf in seasonal colours and a Christmas bow in her hair. A brass quintet and a pianist on the grand piano played Christmas music as we waited for the program to begin. At the conclusion, we all went to the Great Hall for a Gingerbread and Cider Reception.
The Dickens story was divided into five staves, stave being another word for chapter, and also for staff in musical scores. The internet dictionary indicates that Dickens used the term “because each individual stave is a stand-alone story with its own distinctive mood. When taken together, all five staves combine to form a harmonious whole… as if the book is a Christmas carol, and each chapter is part of the song.”
Ben Heppner, who retired from professional opera five years ago and still hosts “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera” and “Backstage with Ben Heppner” on CBC Radio, began the readings. He was followed by Patricia Garnett-Smith, a British actress who came to Canada in l954 and has appeared in numerous theatre productions, films and commercials. Then came Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations mezzo-soprano, Marion Newman, who has sung numerous roles including the lead in the world premiere of the First Nations opera “Giiwedin.” Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth, who was raised in Alberta by parents from Sierra Leone, continued the story. She specializes in contemporary opera and musical theatre, is a Dora Mavor Moore award winner, and is slated to play the title character in Scott Joplin’s reinterpretation of “Treemonisha,” one of the world’s first Black operas. Rick Phillips concluded the readings. He is the producer of SOUND ADVICE, a guide to classical music and recordings heard weekly on CBC Radio One and Radio Two, author of “The Essential Classical Recordings—101 CDs,” and a well-known lecturer, consultant, and musical tour guide. Needless to say, the readings were stellar. Between each stave, the audience joined in singing Christmas carols accompanied by the glorious organ.
The event was a fundraiser for the St. Andrews Refugee Sponsorship program which has brought two Syrian Kurdish families to Canada: Gulistan and Abdulrazzak Abdo and their four children from Aleppo, Syria in 2016 and, in 2019, their relatives Abdulrahman, Amina and Roushin who were then living as refugees in Turkey. The extended family now live on different floors of the same apartment building, and are busy integrating into Canadian life. They have signed up for ESL and other courses, the children are in school and daycare, the older ones have gone to summer camp. The family gives back by helping with the coffee hour after church and volunteering in the Out of the Cold program. The success of this sponsorship has encouraged STARS to raise funds to sponsor another family. Learning the details of what these families and STARS have experienced encouraged me to think again about what I can do to help in the effort. The need remains as desperate as ever.
For me, the Christmas season is well underway.
The hot tub located in the women’s locker room of the West End College Street YMCA in Toronto is one of the highlights of the Y experience. (The men have a hot tub, too, but I know nothing of what happens there.) Unlike some Ys, where access to the hot tub is limited to members who pay a premium, the West End Y hot tub is open to everyone. Many love the warm luxury of the hot water and the “water therapy” provided by the jets. Together with the steam room, sauna and showers, the swimming pool, sports facilities, and the Zen deck on the roof, it provides “the ultimate spa experience” for those who like to treat it as such, even for a day.
The current hot tub is a pool clad with white tiles, up three stairs from the showers, sauna, and steam room. These stairs make the hot tub inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, hardly conducive to the Y’s commitment to physical accessibility. How this was missed during a relatively recent renovation escapes me, but it was. Putting that aside….
The tub holds a maximum of eight people at a time, sitting on underwater tile-clad benches, with jets on two sides. Sometimes when I use the hot tub, I have the hot tub to myself. Other times it is full. Each time, I wonder what my hot tub experience will bring that day. Consistent with the prevailing etiquette, sometimes all the bathers like to talk. Other times, it is apparent that some individuals want quiet time and it is best not to clutter their serenity with chatter.
I have met the most interesting people in the hot tub. One day, I was the sole fluent anglophone among four Portuguese women of a certain age, all talking to each other in Portuguese. I discovered that they had immigrated to Canada thirty or forty years ago and worked as cleaning ladies. They were talking about their summer vacations “back home.” All had second and even third homes in Portugal, near their families, which were opened up and aired out every summer in anticipation of their arrival. They all had at least one luxury car, a Mercedes, or an Audi, or a BMW, which they kept in Portugal for their use. I loved the fact that these modest immigrant women were so successful and that Canada had given them the means to be so.
Another time, I shared the pool with a trio of much younger women from Vietnam. In faltering English, they described how they came to Canada recently and, having learned about the Y from their friends, came to “use the spa.” Two had lived in Cambodia during the Vietnamese war; the third came from Ho Chi Minh City. Another Vietnamese woman told me that she worked long hours as a nurse and, although not a Y member, she spent her days off at this Y as a guest, because of the spa. When I admired the very distinctive flowered green bathing suit worn by yet another woman, also from Viet Nam, she told me that she had made it herself. She was the very first person I have ever met who made her own bathing suit.
The hot tub has become a font of invaluable information which consistently improves my life. A woman who was a writer told me about a legal book she published which was available as part of a series for young people from the Toronto Public Library. Although I have been very active in public legal education during my career, I did not know about the series and went to borrow her book right away. She also told me about a book store on Bathurst near Bloor which I did not know existed.
Just last week, I met a woman from Porto, in Portugal, who sews for a living from her studio on Vaughan Road. Among her clients is Malabar, Toronto’s pre-eminent costume emporium on McCaul Street. I figured that anyone who works for Malabar must be good. I told her about the sewing I needed to have done and she invited me to visit her studio. I gathered up some old jackets and dresses which have languished unworn for years and brought them to her. She pinned everything carefully and suggested several design remakes which were simple but which updated the outfits dramatically. I think I have finally found a fashion designer/seamstress/tailor who is more than a worthy successor to my beloved Frank the Tailor, who retired several years ago. (See my post about Frank, here.) After spending two hours with Naty, I went home and wrote this post on the YMCA Hot Tub which I have wanted to do for years.
Like traditional “waters” and community wells of old, the hot tub is the locus of the best that that Y has to offer. Where else could I meet such a variety of people and, by asking just a few questions, learn their stories, and become their friend or at least their acquaintance? It’s a marvellous means for cross-cultural interaction. By its mere existence, it reflects and builds the community of which it is a part.
The headline of John Terauds’ rave review of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s recent “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” concert in the Toronto Star on Tuesday said it all: “Downsized TSO upsizes the pleasure.” Led by violinist and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, the strings were augmented by a harpsichord, flute, oboe, bassoon and, in earlier parts of the program, a horn and a piano. Terauds gave the performance four stars, reflecting the repeated standing ovations from the nearly full house at Roy Thomson Hall.
I was so enthused by the review that I immediately phoned the RTH box office and secured a single ticket for Thursday night’s performance, the last of four. I could not have imagined a more splendid evening.
The theme was bringing nature into the theatre, particularly inviting on a dark and rainy November night. First up was the chamber orchestra version of Carmen Braden’s “Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars.” Thirty-four-year-old Braden was born in Whitehorse, Yukon and is now based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her “Songs” was originally composed as a septet for flute, oboe, horn, two violins, viola, and cello and premiered with the TSO Chamber Soloists in the 2017 Toronto Summer Music Festival. The version last night was expanded to evoke even more graphically the colours, textures, and sounds of her sub-arctic northern home. Her five-movement imaginative exploration of what the stars do when they disappear from the northern skies in the summer was “magical,” to quote my neighbour, and “one of the finest pieces of new music I have heard in a long time,” to quote Terauds. The RTH audience agreed. Imagine how thrilled this young Canadian composer must have been to have her distinctively northern suite played by the professional musicians of the TSO over four nights in Toronto, the last night in the presence of the Foundation donors who had commissioned her work.
American composer Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet suite followed with a 13-member ensemble of double string quartet, double bass, piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon. Composed for new Martha Graham ballets in 1944 and referred to as “Ballet for Martha,” Copland wrote “that it had to do with the American pioneer spirit, with youth and spring, optimism and hope.” When the score picked up the tune of “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’Tis the gift to be free, ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,” their rendition of the familiar Shaker hymn only highlighted the energy, simplicity, and purity of the entire performance. An utter delight.
The entire second half was a brilliant performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8” published in 1725. As familiar as parts of this music are to everyone, this performance was outstanding. I have heard the music before played on historic Baroque instruments. It was the first time I had heard it played on modern instruments. It was a different sound and it sparkled. Another addition was the reading of four Petrarchan sonnets, one at the beginning of each season, introducing the scenes which the music went on to so aptly describe. The delicacy and virtuosity of Crowe’s performance, and that of the rest of the group, were mesmerizing. The emotional impact was such that, on its conclusion, there was total silence in the house before the crowd jumped up in sustained applause.
Jonathan Crow, a native of Prince George British Columbia, got his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance at McGill in 1998, joined the Montreal Symphony and became “the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra” in 2002-2006. He joined the TSO as concertmaster in 2011 and teaches as an associate professor of violin at the University of Toronto. In 2016, he became Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music for three seasons. He is a founding member of the New Orford Strong Quartet which promotes the Canadian string repertoire throughout North America. I was so proud to hear so talented and passionate a musician and to learn that he came from British Columbia. Like many, I left the Hall with a smile on my face feeling warm and cozy. No wonder.
In the heat of an election campaign, after months of the SNC-Lavalin affair, it is easy to forget what the Liberal government has actually done in the past four years. I wrote two earlier posts on the subject which list what they did until December 2016. See those posts here and here.
As my contribution to the current election campaign, it is appropriate to review what the Liberals have done since 2016. What follows is not comprehensive, and benefits from my reading Aaron Wherry’s Promise And Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power (2019 HarperCollins), which I highly recommend.
From mid-January 2017 until late September 2018, the government was preoccupied with renegotiating the NAFTA agreement with the United States and Mexico. At first President Trump said that the relationship with Canada only needed “some tweaking.” By late April 2017, he was talking about “triggering a withdrawal.” Over the course of the negotiations, the US wanted to rebalance the trading relationship in favour of the US, impose a “rule of origin” which would require at least 50% of all auto parts to be produced in the USA, reduce the cap on autos exported from Canada to the US, do away with the Canadian supply management system which “unfairly” hurt American dairy farmers, include a sunset clause that would cause the agreement to expire after a certain time, and do away with the dispute resolution process.
In January 2017, Chrystia Freeland was made foreign affairs minister with responsibility for Canada-US Trade, including the negotiations about NAFTA. Born in rural Alberta of Ukrainian origin, now living in Toronto, she is an accomplished journalist who speaks five languages and has written extensively about income inequality. In June 2018, she was named Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy magazine.
In these negotiations, the government wanted the Americans to understand that Canada is “the signal largest market for US exports in all the world,” and that “at least a portion of their prosperity depended on (the existing) good trading relationship with Canada.” To do so, they decided that the best strategy was a united front at home. Cabinet ministers were assigned to chat up their counterparts in the Trump administration, the Congress, and in the states most dependent on Canadian trade (e.g.: Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, Texas, California, and Florida). Freeland put together a bipartisan Advisory Council that included two former ministers of Stephen Harper’s cabinet (Rona Ambrose and James Moore), an advisor to NDP leader Jack Layton, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Brian Mulroney offered to help, as did Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada. All spoke with whoever would meet with them in the United States.
The bipartisan lobbying proved successful. A Canadian suggestion that some percentage of each vehicle (ultimately 40-45%) should be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, which favoured both Canadian and American workers, was adopted. The cap on cars that could be imported to the US from Canada was set at a level well beyond that ever attained by Canada previously. American dairy producers were given access to 3.59% of the Canadian market, slightly more than the 3.25% granted to the countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The existing cultural exemption for Canada’s use of foreign ownership rules and target subsidies to protect domestic broadcast, news, and culture was maintained. Chapter 19, which allows for independent arbitration of any “unfair tariff,” was retained. The sunset suggestion was dropped.
In the fall of 2018, 59% of Canadians told polls that the Trudeau government had achieved “as much as possible” in the NAFTA negotiations. There was a general consensus in the media and among the non-partisan Advisory Committee that the Liberal government did the best job possible and should be commended both for what was accomplished and the manner in which it was done. Aaron Wherry, at p. 162, concluded that, “In conspicuously expending great effort in and around the United States, the Trudeau government at least insulated itself against any charge that it should have done more to swing the negotiations in Canada’s favour. That effort also showed a government that was otherwise not always on display: comprehensive, nimble, proactive and well communicated.”
In March 2018, President Trump announced tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum imported into the United States “as a matter of national security” but exempted Canada and Mexico “pending the completion of NAFTA negotiations.” Two months later, he changed his mind and imposed similar tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, even as the NAFTA negotiations continued. Both Freeland and Trudeau denounced the tariffs. Although recognizing that tariffs only increased prices for consumers, the Canadian government had no choice but to respond in kind. Canadian tariffs imposed on a host of American products covered $16.6 billion in American exports. They were targeted at areas considered politically important, and were coordinated with similar tariffs imposed by Mexico and Europe. In Freeland’s words, this was “the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the postwar era.” By the fall of 2018, the Trudeau government also allocated $2.4 billion in support for Canadian steel and aluminum producers affected by the US tariffs.
Polls in 2018 indicated that 73% of Canadians were “extremely” or “very concerned” about “Donald Trump.” As of the fall of 2018, the American tariffs on steel and aluminum still remained in place and the new USMCA agreement was not yet ratified by the American Congress. Recognizing that the existing NAFTA agreement is still good for Canada, the Canadian government has taken the position that it will not ratify the new agreement until it is ratified by the US Congress. If the Congress delays or refuses to ratify it, NAFTA remains in place. In May 2019, the United States agreed to drop the steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada.
As for peacekeeping, the Liberal government finally sent a helicopter squadron to provide support for UN peacekeepers in Mali. Other Canadian forces were deployed in training missions in Latvia, Ukraine, Iraq, and the Middle East.
Wherry suggests that the “mantra of the Trudeau era… the middle class and those working hard to join it… [is] a statement of empathy and aspiration.” The Liberals focused on it initially and now all parties are doing the same. Under the Liberal government, federal income tax for those earning $200,000 or more increased from 29 to 33% while the rate for those earning between $45,000 and $90,000 dropped from 22% to 20.5%.
Of primary importance to the Liberal government was its reformed federal supports for families with children. The Canada Child Benefit transfers $23 billion to Canadian families on a progressive basis. A family with less than $30,000 income receives the maximum amount of $6,400 per child under the age of six. Families with higher earnings get smaller cheques; families earning $200,000 or more get nothing. In mid-July 2019, the Canada Child Benefit was indexed to inflation. Statistics Canada reported in February 2019 that the overall poverty rate in Canada declined to 9.5% in 2017 and that, as compared to 2015, 278,000 fewer children were living in poverty, in part due to the Canada Child Benefit payments. As Wherry indicates, this is “the most significant increase (of children out of poverty) ever accomplished by any government in Canada.” In the summer of 2017, the governor of the Bank of Canada also credited the Canada Child Benefit with being “highly stimulative” for the economy.
The Liberal government also put new funding into the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Workers Benefit, both of which were made automatic for eligible individuals who file a tax return. Student grants were increased for low and middle-income families. Money was also allocated for training for workers. New pay equity legislation has been enacted for employees under federal jurisdiction. The government also agreed with the provinces to spend $7.5 billion over eleven years on early learning and childcare.
The Trudeau government eliminated the Public Transit Tax Credit, the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, the Children’s Arts Tax Credit and the Textbook Tax Credit. “Such micro-targeted… tax breaks were a hallmark of the Harper era, even as economists derided (them) as inefficient policies that generally rewarded people for behaviour that would have happened anyway.” (p. 83)
When the Conservatives left office in 2015, federal tax revenues as a share of GDP stood at 11.5%, a historic low and well below the pre-Harper average of 13.3%. Under Trudeau, tax revenues were set to settle at 12.4%, “exactly halfway between two different ideas of how much a federal government should properly need.” (p. 84)
Reflecting its priorities in spending, the Liberal government ran deficits of $17.8 billion in 2016-17, $14.9 billion in 2018-2019, and $19.8 billion in 2019-2020. It is argued that showing deficits in a period of economic growth is not a bad thing, and that the declining ratio of debt-to-GDP is an indication that federal finances are ultimately sustainable. In the mid-90s, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio reached 67%. Statistics Canada data as of March 2019 indicates that Canada’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio is now about 34%. To put this into context, it is interesting to note that, according to the US Bureau of Public Debt, April 17, 2019, the debt-to-GDP ratio in the United States in 2015 was 104.7% and in 2017 was 105.4%.
Wherry reports that efforts to move infrastructure funding have been slow. The Parliamentary Budget Office found that only $7.2 billion moved in the first two years of the Trudeau regime, half of what was projected. The impact on real GDP was only 0.1%. In the spring of 2019, the Trudeau government moved to fast-track $2.2 billion directly to municipalities to get around the several conservative provincial governments that were moving too slowly to match the federal funds. (p. 85)
The Liberal government passed legislation more slowly than did the Tories, but their new legislative process included wide consultation beforehand and extensive review by the newly independent Senate after. Between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2019, the Senate amended seventeen government bills, sending them back to the House for review. This compared to only one bill sent back to the Tories in the last four years of their government.
The Liberal government has faced continuing controversy on the pipelines as the political and legal scene has changed. Trudeau killed the Northern Gateway pipeline that was to go to Kitimat and banned large tankers from transporting crude oil along the north coast of BC. With the election of Donald Trump, TransCanada abandoned its Energy East proposal, which would have carried oil to Quebec and New Brunswick, in the expectation that their Keystone XL pipeline in the United States would be approved. That left only the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin its existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby on the BC coast which would triple the capacity of the line.
In November 2016, the Liberal government approved the Kinder Morgan proposal in exchange for Premier Rachel Notley’s reducing Alberta’s carbon emissions. Their intention was to mesh two ostensibly competing objectives: impose pricing on pollution to fight climate change in the long run, and build a pipeline to “create responsible and sustainable ways to get (Canadian) resources to market” in the short run. (p. 185). This delicate balance was undoubtedly difficult, guaranteed to concern environmentalists as much as it dissatisfied Albertans.
To win support of the BC government, the Trudeau government agreed to spend over $1.5 billion to improve marine safety and local spill responses and to protect the killer whale population. But, emerging from the May 2017 B.C. election, the NDP formed a government with the support of the Greens based on an agreement to oppose the Trans Mountain project. A year later, Kinder Morgan wanted to pull out of the pipeline project, and, to keep it going, the Liberal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion minus the capital gains.
In August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the National Energy Board had wrongly declined to consider the increase in tanker traffic related to the project and also that the Trudeau government’s consultations with the Indigenous were insufficient. In response to the court decision, the government ordered the National Energy Board to complete a review of marine impacts within twenty-two weeks, and appointed former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee new consultations with those Indigenous groups still opposed to the pipeline. The National Energy Board ultimately concluded that notwithstanding potential damage to the environment, twinning the pipeline was in the national interest and, in June 2019, the federal government again approved the Trans Mountain expansion project. The government committed that everything it earns from the pipeline will be invested in clean energy projects. Work is now underway on the pipeline, although legal appeals over the project continue.
In the fall of 2018, the Liberal government passed the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GHGPPA) which required all provinces to place a minimum price of $20 per ton on GHG emissions by January 1, 2019. Provinces have the flexibility to create their own solutions to deal with GHG emissions in their jurisdiction. If they do so, the federal government will not intervene. If they fail to do so, the federal government will impose a price on pollution and provide an annual rebate to families living within their jurisdiction. Although economists agree that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to combat carbon emissions, the newly-elected Jason Kenny government in Alberta, the Doug Ford government in Ontario, other conservative provincial governments, and the federal Tories are fighting what they call “the carbon tax” both on the hustings and in the courts.
The Trudeau government dealt with housing in two ways. For potential home buyers, it introduced between 2016 and 2018 the mortgage stress test which set stricter standards that federally-regulated lenders are to apply to borrowers seeking mortgages. The object is to ensure that buyers could still afford to carry their mortgages in the event that interest rates were to rise. In 2019 the Liberals also announced a $55 billion, ten-year National Housing Strategy led by the National Mortgage and Housing Corporation for renters. After several decades of little market attention to rental housing, the object is to create up to 125,000 affordable housing units and refurbish more than 300,000 public housing units.
With respect to the Indigenous community, the Trudeau government has taken initial steps to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Long-term water advisories have been lifted in 87 First Nation communities as of August 2019. The government has also committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes provisions that protect Indigenous peoples from harmful and unwanted encroachment on their lands and resources without their free, prior, and informed consent. Putting that commitment into practice has been more difficult, leading to criticism of how these standards were not applied to the Trans Mountain project and to their support of the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador. In the spring of 2019, they enacted legislation providing support to Indigenous peoples trying to protect their languages, and also returning jurisdiction for child welfare services to First Nations communities.
It strikes me that the Trudeau government has done a great deal since it in came into office, notwithstanding drastically changing conditions both abroad and at home. The election of Donald Trump threatened the most important relationship Canada has with any other country. The Trudeau government has negotiated that to their credit. The cooperation which characterized federal-provincial relations in the first couple years of the Trudeau mandate has disappeared. Whose fault is that? Promoting change is not easy, takes time, and the results can be insufficient and even messy. I’m satisfied, however, that activism at the federal level on the various issues promoted by the Trudeau government is preferable to none at all. It will be up to Canadians to decide.
When I left the hospital after my initial Afib episode, I had a referral to the AFQCP, the Atrial Fibrillation Quality Care Program at Women’s College Hospital for Wednesday of last week. Women’s College has been rebuilt in recent years as an outpatient medical centre. It is a beautiful new building, upbeat and efficient. I had no idea what superb care I would get there.
When I arrived at the Ambulatory Acute Care Centre, I was shown to a room where a nurse practitioner took my blood pressure, gave me an ECG and took my weight. She was a charming young woman who has been trained as a personal support worker and works during the week in Women’s College and also on call during weekends at the Michael Garron Hospital (the former Toronto East General). She told me how PSWs can train in hospitals and, using their formal training and their work-day experience, follow a path into second year Nursing studies.
I then met the Internal Medicine doctor. She had at her fingertips all the medical records created by the Toronto Western Hospital the previous week. Apparently, all medical records created in GTA hospitals are stored electronically and accessible according to privacy protocols. She reviewed my medical history and my medications, explained the nature of the condition, and the pros and cons of the medications I would need to take in the future. Apart from the regular blood-thinners, she also gave me a prescription for a medication that would settle any future Afib incidents. She ordered an echocardiogram and a Holter test.
Then, the unit pharmacist came into my room. This was a totally novel experience. She explained how the medications worked. She confirmed that taking Tylenol for my arthritis (which I have been hesitant to do) would not conflict with any of the other pills. And we had a discussion about expiry dates on medications. She said that I should gather up all the expired pills (both prescribed and over-the-counter) in my household and take them to my local pharmacy for disposal in their program. Throwing pills away in the garbage or the toilet contaminates the environment and the water system.
A doctor who specializes in respirology then arrived. He had a lovely accent and, in response to my question, told me that he had come from southern Ireland nine years before. He is conducting research into the relationship between sleep apnea and Afib. He questioned me at length on my sleep patterns and suggested that I might benefit from an overnight sleep test in a sleep lab. He then explained that his team was testing a new apparatus for “sleep tests” that patients could do at home. He showed me how it worked and asked me to take it home to use for one night. Once I’d done it, I was to return the memory card to him in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Why not? He told me to expect a call offering me convenient dates for the Lab Sleep Test. That will be interesting.
I was then sent upstairs for the echocardiogram. This ultrasound of the heart is the basic tool used by cardiologists to assess the working of the heart. I had scarcely sat down in the waiting room when I was called to the technician. After I had climbed up on the table and moved into the appropriate position, she set to work: “Breathe in, breathe out, hold it, breathe in a little, hold it, a little more, hold it, breathe out.” The procedure went on for quite some time. The swirling forms and colours on the screen of the machine were mesmerizing. I occurred to me that this is the raw data that my nephew must work with every day. The technologist knew what it was all about. She told me that she has been doing this work for twenty years and that she came from Moscow. I reflected how lucky we are in Canada to have the benefit of so many skilled immigrants.
When it was over, I left the hospital with an After Visit Summary which included my health data accumulated that day, the changes in my medications, instructions for the two further tests, the date I am to return for the followup appointment, the names of the people who had met me that morning, and all the relevant contact information.
What an amazing morning. In less than four hours, I had seen a nurse practitioner, an internist, a respirologist, a pharmacist, had an echocardiogram, and was set up for two further procedures that would complete the workup. What in the past would have taken several months of visiting various doctors’ offices and labs was done in a morning. And I had all the relevant information at my fingertips. An example of one-stop patient-centred service, clearly Cadillac service in a Cadillac facility. Thanks to all the warm and wonderful people who staff the program.
Last week, I had the most amazing experience in Emergency Care at the Toronto Western Hospital. About 7:45 that evening, after getting up from my couch at home, I felt a sudden onset of dizziness, chest pain, and a continuing compression in my chest which made me feel “winded.” It was like nothing I had ever felt before. When the condition continued, I called to my husband to drive me to the nearby hospital. I feared a heart attack and knew from the experience of several colleagues that it was imperative to get to the hospital ASAP. We were there within minutes.
Fifteen minutes after I signed into the emergency ward, I was called to the triage nurse. He heard my story, found my blood pressure to be high and noted that I had an abnormally fast heart rate, and immediately sent me for an ECG. That showed an arrhythmia in my heart and I was taken right away to what I later learned was the “Resuscitation Room.” I totally bypassed the normal Registration process which was done by the staff on their own while I was seeing the doctor.
The resident physician gave me a once-over and concluded that I had Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) which can cause a stroke or a heart attack. He gave me two aspirins and ordered immediate blood tests. To slow down and correct the rhythm of my heart rate, I had two choices. I could take a drip treatment which takes some time and which may or may not work, or they could do an immediate Electrical Cardioversion. He explained that an Electrical Cardioversion was a brief electrical “shock” to the heart using a machine (later I learned called a defibrillator) which uses two sticky pads that are put on the chest and back. During the procedure, I would be given meds to make me feel comfortable. Since my nephew on the west coast is an electrocardiologist and works with these procedures, I was more than willing to consent to the “shock” treatment.
Within an hour of my arrival, a senior doctor on the ward was doing the procedure in consultation with another doctor, and in the presence of two residents and two nurses. I was left in the Resuscitation Room for a while and then moved to the back of the ward for another three hours. They then took more blood tests and did another ECG. Although I later learned that my systolic blood pressure at one point had been over 200 and my heart was stressed for about an hour, the blood tests taken on my arrival and again three hours later showed no damage to my heart and, as the nurse said, I (now) had “the ECG of a 16-year-old girl.”
I was discharged with a prescription for blood thinners, a referral to the Atrial Fibrillation Quality Care Program (AFQCP) at Women’s College Hospital for the next Wednesday, and a recommendation that I see my family doctor within two days. I was able to see her at 7:00 p.m. later the same day.
I was blown away by the quality of the care. I consider myself most lucky. This AFib Incident identified my current cardiac condition and steered me onto a path of treatment which may avoid a major heart attack or stroke down the road. Although the AFib condition must now be managed, my chances of living a longer life and without stroke-induced disabilities just improved. Because I went to the hospital immediately, the “shock” treatment was an available option to stabilize my condition.
NOTE THAT THE “SHOCK” TREATMENT IS ONLY POSSIBLE FOR A SHORT PERIOD AFTER THE ORIGINAL AFIB INCIDENT. Should you suspect a heart attack, go ASAP TO YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT so that you too might qualify for this treatment.
I have subsequently learned that it may be better to call an ambulance immediately. The paramedics would monitor your condition en route to the hospital and you would be given a priority in triage on arrival. On the other hand, the ambulance may not take you to the nearest hospital; they decide where you go depending on how busy the different emergency wards are.
The incident taught me even more.
First, I saw that emergency care nurses have the most demanding of jobs. They work twelve-hour shifts. How they do it I do not know. They are constantly on the run, working in crisis situations, and responsive to many people who are difficult, impaired or addicted, and who make unreasonable demands like shouting that they want to go home when they clearly cannot.
One of my nurses is 62 years of age, has two grandchildren and a constitution which allows her to sleep only five hours a night. She “loves her work” and would miss it if she were to retire. She told me her name, and showed me pictures of her grandchildren. The other nurse is 30 years old. He came from Gander, Newfoundland, and spent the first two years of his career as a Flight Nurse working in Nunavut. He also told me his name and we talked about my forthcoming trip to Newfoundland in October. Both were extremely pleasant and resilient, with incredible patience and warm compassion. That they shared so much of themselves made me most comfortable. I very much appreciated that they kept me informed about my condition and what was happening as we went along. When I was discharged, one took me to the lobby and showed me how to call a cab.
Secondly, I learned that it is still common practice among medical professionals to refer to women patients as “my dear.” When the attending resident referred to me as “my dear,” I asked him not to call me that and to call me by my first name. I told him that I was surprised that young doctors are using that term in this day and age, that the only other doctor who had ever called me that before was an older cardiologist I consulted years ago, and that the term was well-recognized even then as being demeaning. The two very wonderful nurses admitted that they too used the term; one never thought anything of it, the other used it when she was looking for deep veins and thought she might be hurting me. The doctor concluded our interaction by saying that he learns something new every day. How is it that medical schools and institutions are not addressing the issue?
Thirdly, going home alone from the hospital in a cab at 5:00 a.m. is not to be feared. As we talked en route, the cab driver showed that he knew quite a bit about medical procedures in emergency wards. When I got out of the car, he added, “Marion, don’t forget to drink lots of water.” He was absolutely right to know that I might be dehydrated, and I was happy to take his advice. He waited at my doorstep until I was in the house.
My husband and I have lived in Toronto for forty-nine years and, until Labour Day this year, we had never once fished in Lake Ontario. Like most everyone else I know, we assumed that the lake was too dirty and the fish were inedible, or at least so toxic that consumption would need to be limited.
Not true. The lake has been cleaned dramatically in recent years. The government stocks the lake with salmon and rainbow trout. Every year the Toronto Sun sponsors the Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby which this year ran from June 29th to August l7th. During the derby, big prizes are offered to those who catch the biggest fish each week, the biggest fish during the derby, and the charter boats that catch the most fish. Winning fish can weigh twenty-seven to forty pounds.
My husband has been a fly fisherman most of his life; in B.C. as a youth, in the Wyoming mountain wilderness, and in northern Ontario rivers years ago. His catches were generally no more than a foot long and eaten immediately. We often salivate over stories of our relatives out west who go on big fishing trips in the salt chuck or on the big rivers of the B.C. interior. Once my brother caught a halibut well over 100 pounds near Tofino. It took over an hour to land and fed family and friends all winter. Two of my mother’s cousins fished for salmon up the B.C. coast until well into their eighties, canning the fresh salmon on the beach before they brought it home. People who live on the west coast are preoccupied with the size and health of the four-year salmon run. In Toronto, we didn’t even appreciate that there were salmon in Lake Ontario, also living a four-year cycle before they go upriver to spawn.
To celebrate my husband’s birthday, my younger son arranged to charter a fishing boat for a morning from Epic Sportfishing in Scarborough. At 6:00 a.m. on September 2nd, my husband, two sons, and I met skipper Aaron Flavell in the pre-dawn dark at Bluffers Park Marina. Before long, we were out in the water opposite the Scarborough Bluffs and Aaron began to let out what became eight lines, all set for different lengths and depths according to where his fish-finder indicated the fish could be. Fishing has obviously become a very sophisticated high tech affair.
Within a half-hour of leaving the dock, I caught our first fish, a rainbow trout well over five pounds and well over two feet long. Within minutes, Bill and Carl each caught, almost together, a couple of salmon of about the same size. Aaron said that they were two years old. We were utterly delighted. These were the biggest fish we had ever caught. It was Ben’s turn to reel in the next catch which turned out to be a yearling which we decided was too small to keep; our first catch and release. Ben’s next was another rainbow trout of a good size which ended up in the cooler. Over less than five hours, we caught nine fish: three rainbow trout and six salmon. We kept the six over five pounds to take home
Throughout the morning, Aaron filled us in on the mechanics of modern sports fishing, how the fish finder and the bottom feeders worked, and the advantages of different types of lines and reels. He told us about the big summer salmon-fishing derby, and how many of his clients had been winners. He was somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t pulled in a twenty-pounder. By contrast, we were ecstatic. Even more so when he filleted the fish for us as we returned to the marina. We brought our share home to put in the freezer.
It was a beautiful day for fishing. Not too hot nor too sunny. Apart from the fishing, the early morning air, the shining waters, the waves of monarch butterflies we saw flying south, and the vistas of the shore and the city were invigorating. The easy camaraderie between us was great fun. This was undoubtedly the beginning of a new tradition.
As the heart of the Klondike, Dawson City has numerous attractions which relate to its history as an Indigenous centre and as the site of the l898-1899 gold rush. The town itself is a national park and well worth a visit. I have discussed these in two earlier posts: Life in Dawson City, and Greetings From Dawson City, Yukon.
Apart from its history, Dawson City is the jumping-off spot for at least two excursions which can be most memorable day trips. Both trips take the visitor to some of the most fabulous vistas in the Yukon and suggest the need for more time to explore further.
The first trip we did was over the “top of the world” highway to the Alaska border, 105 kilometres west of Dawson. After crossing the Yukon River on the free ferry (which runs 24/7 during the summer months), the road mounts to the tops of the mountains south and west of Dawson. In 2004, when we visited Dawson during a major forest fire, we saw nothing on the highway but smoke. This time, we had dramatic views of the Yukon River, lush valleys, and what seem like endless mountains beyond. As we mounted above the tree line, the vistas became even more breath-taking. To say we were “on top of the world” is no exaggeration.
After the border crossing, we continued to the tiny hamlet of Chicken, famous for its “public gold panning areas” and as the locale where 19-year-old schoolteacher Anne Hobbs, in 1927, came to find adventure in a one-room schoolhouse. Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness (published originally in l976 and still available) recounts her classic memoir of love, rejection, and ultimate acceptance in the wilderness. It is a marvellous story which sticks with you. Like so many such stories, it is hard to imagine the life she must have led. Beyond Chicken, the visitor can drive another 78 kilometres to Tok, Alaska, the first major Alaskan community on the well-travelled Alaska Highway, and, from there, south to Haines Junction, Yukon or west to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Another excursion we did was up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Park, which, in l972, was named a UNESCO heritage site of “exceptional biological importance.” The Dempster Highway stretches 735 kilometres from near Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta of the Northwest Territories. It is the only Canadian road that crosses the Arctic Circle. Completed in 1979, It passes through six distinct geographic regions, each very different, all equally interesting and breathtakingly beautiful.
Much of the Dempster lies within Beringia, a broad stretch of land from Siberia to the Northwest Territories which was unglaciated during the last North American glacial period and was the home of many exotic animals which have since become extinct. It has also been the home of Indigenous peoples who have hunted and traded in the area ever since. Although the Canadian government built the highway expecting it to be a “road to resources,” it is used now primarily for transportation to the Northwest Territories, for Indigenous hunting, and for tourism.
Tombstone Territorial Park is called Ddhäl Ch’él Cha Nän (or “ragged mountain land”) by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in who agreed in their land claims to this part of their traditional territory becoming a park. The rugged mountain tops looming above the forest and tundra of the valleys below are spectacularly dramatic. Hikers and climbers must be experienced and well-equipped to climb into these mountains successfully.
The Tombstone Interpretive Centre, located at kilometre 71.5 of the highway, provides information and activities about the cultural and natural history of the park and the highway, mid-May to mid-September. Nearby, the Tombstone Mountain Campground offers car camping with fire pits, picnic tables, outhouses, water, and a picnic shelter. Several back-country campgrounds on lakes are also available. Visitors have a choice of six hiking trails from 0.5 kilometre to up to 19 kilometres in length, and ranging in difficulty.
Driving the Dempster is an exhilarating experience, especially in good weather when the mountains and tundra stand stark against the horizon and the vistas go on forever. The diversity of habitats along the highway encourages a tremendous variety of plants so that wildflowers are rich and vibrant throughout the growing season. When we were there, the fireweed was rampant as was the Arctic cotton, which my friend harvests for her art projects. My bucket list now includes a trip up the Dempster in late August-early September when the flowers are in greatest profusion.
Seeing animals in the wild is a matter of luck, which is a rare and exciting experience. In the spring and fall, one of the world’s largest herds of barren-ground caribou (197,000 as of 2013) travels through the Ogilvie and the Richardson Mountains (at the north of the Dempster) on their annual migration to and from their calving grounds on the Arctic coastal plain. The caribou of the smaller Fortymile herd and the mountain caribou of the Hart River Herd (some 2,600 animals) sometimes winter further south. Bears may be seen, and moose, Dall’s sheep, wolves, and numerous smaller mammals. To spot the animals takes time, knowledge of where they might be, and luck to be in the right place at the right time.
For a comprehensive, beautifully-illustrated description of the Dempster Highway, its geography, history, flora, fauna, and climate, see The Dempster, published in 2017 for the Friends of the Dempster Country Society, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.