Category: Sports and Fitness

Fishing in Lake Ontario

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.






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Reacting to the May 27th Leaders’ Debate

Yesterday morning, between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m. China time, I watched the Ontario Leaders’ Debate live on my iPad in our hotel room in Luoyang in central China. It was a great debate. If you didn’t catch it, I would urge you to see it for yourself on the internet. Undoubtedly, it’s there somewhere.

All three leaders did much better than previously. Doug Ford is “learning to play the game,” but is long-winded, bombastic, and suffers from lack of any concrete platform or experience. Watching Doug Ford talk about daycare was positively hilarious; hearing him tout his “experience” at Toronto City Hall (a downright lie) must have been embarrassing for his party. Andrea Horwath is positively spritely, quick-witted, aggressive, and clearly an talented parliamentary debater. She was onto Ford like a bulldog, and scored points against Wynne on hydro privatization, if nothing else.

Kathleen Wynne was superb. From her opening statement, where she said, “I am sorry that you don’t like me,” but, “I am not sorry” about all the things my government has done, she showed herself head and shoulders over the other two.

Ford railed on against a carbon tax; Wynne told how she has talked with business leaders about how best to deal with carbon emissions and then implemented a cap and trade system which is effective and which conservatives are happy with. (See Andrew Coyne, he agrees with Wynne.) Ford said he will consult with front line professionals about how best to reform the health care system. Wynne explained that developing policy required her government to consult with these professionals already; if Ford had done so, he might actually have a campaign platform by now. Ford complained about Ontario’s debt load. Wynne replied that the debt has been accumulated to build necessary infrastructure funding for the power system, for health care, for transit, all that previous governments neglected. Wynne challenged Andrea Horwath on her Achilles’ heel, her refusal to support “return to work” legislation against public sector unions, and gave the York University strike as an example of the need for government intervention when collective bargaining reaches an impasse where no settlement is possible. When does the public interest have to dominate over the interests of particular unions?

I was awestruck by Wynne’s cool, calm, and mature contributions to the debate. She is totally knowledgeable about all the issues on her plate, discusses them with intelligence and sensitivity, and presented as an absolutely wonderful leader who deserves our respect. Why people dislike her so is beyond me. I see her at 65 years of age, at the height of her powers. She may well endure the demands of political life and the rigours of this particular campaign because she runs daily. What a role model she is for all of us.



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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 Super Fun Sports Gala

Another gala? It’s been a long time since my husband and I have attended a fund-raising gala of any sort, let alone a sports gala. I had a ball. Two organizations jointly sponsored the event: the Rotary Club of Coquitlam in aid of their local and international projects, and the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) to support their sports leagues for children and youth not normally involved in organized sports. Apart from the congenial company, the excellent meal, the interesting silent auction and the plenitude of games designed to extract $20 bills from everyone in sight, there were for me three highlights of the evening.

The first was that I met, and had my picture taken with, Lui Passaglia, a legend in the Canadian Football League and denizen of the national and provincial Sports and Football Halls of Fame. During his 25-year career as a placekicker/punter for the B.C. Lions, he scored more points than any other football player in the history of the league. He also kicked the last-minute field goal which enabled the Lions to win the 1994 Grey Cup against the Baltimore Stallions by a score of 26:23. He and I both admired the Hall of Fame display which included the No 38 jersey worn by By Bailey, my very favourite Lions football player in the 1950s. Then I was a passionate football fan. Listening to all the Lions games on the radio, I used to track the plays with a pencil in a paper scribbler so that, at the end of each game, I had a visual record of everything that had happened. Meeting Lui Passaglia was a bit of a sentimental journey to my youth.

The second was that we all met Robert Gagno, 28 years of age, from Burnaby B.C.  Did you know that he is the world’s best pinball player?  I certainly didn’t. He placed first at the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) World Championships held in Pittsburgh in April 2016. Chris Koentges has written a wonderful story entitled “The Charmer,” published November 13, 2016 in ESPN The Magazine, about how Robert, a child whom some doctors said might never talk, read or write, discovered pinball. He did it at five years of age and became “a pinball savant.” Apparently, as the machines have become more advanced each year, pinball has grown and now has 45,000 ranked competitors. A video tracing Robert’s progress in the sport, from his first victory in the 2009 California Extreme to his recent world championship, was an absolute inspiration for all of us to see. For fun, Robert challenged hockey player Kirk McLean to a pinball game. I know nothing about the sport nor how it is scored, so have no idea who won, but Robert clearly got as much of a kick  from the competition as we did watching them go at it.

And the third highlight? Because of my shrewd spending at the silent auction table, I actually won a raffle. And the prize? Two tickets to a hockey game at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena next Thursday night, between the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars. My husband and I have never been to a NHL Hockey Game before, and certainly not to the Rogers arena in Vancouver. We are not hockey fans, except when a Canadian team is in the Stanley Cup, or Canadians are playing Americans or Russians in international competitions, but this will be fun. As I said before, this was quite the gala.

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Susan Farquhar: An Artist who Runs

Susan Farquhar is an artist and printmaker who is as passionate about running and the YMCA as she is about her art.

Originally from North Bay, she studied at Guelph and then did a Fine Arts degree at York University in 1977. After graduation, she and her partner, artist Robert Game, joined Open Studio, a non-profit community where artists share facilities. As she perfected her printmaking, her first clients were other artists creating new images using printmaking. From 1991 to 2013, the couple ran their own studio, Atelier GF, in a warehouse building at 512 Lansdowne Avenue. They then worked from studios at home which, Susan says, gives her “much less space but… more time and opportunity to work.”

Originally into fine prints in etching, silkscreen and relief, Susan finds that the digital age has revolutionized the field. Artists can now use modern digital applications to create images themselves and without needing a printmaker. On the other hand, modern technology has also opened new opportunities that did not exist before. Now she combines many printmaking techniques with mixed media, on canvas and wood. She builds up images in layers of textile and colour, paper cuts, little drawings and paintings. Her goal is to use “traditional and contemporary imagery” to “reflect the changing nature of Canadian identity.”

Her work is on her website for all to see. She also blogs about new projects. When she completes a catalogue of a group of monoprints, she can now produce it herself in book form. Before digital solutions, such catalogues would have been very expensive to produce; now they can be ordered on demand, in paperback.

She participates in art shows, some solo and some with other artists. She does presentations to high school teachers, and has worked with printmaking students doing both silk screen and digital. She finds that she is busier than ever, doing her own work as never before.

Susan, now 62, has been a member of the West End YMCA on College Street for at least 15 years. Working at the print shop, she found that she desperately needed some exercise. First she used the pool, swimming lengths. Then she started lifting weights. Then her brother and sister-in-law in North Bay got her interested in running. For nine years now, she has run regularly, doing one or two half-marathons each year. She runs with the Longboat Roadrunners Club on Sunday mornings out of the Y.  Two or three times a week she runs with friends she met at the Y. She likes the support and camaraderie of the running club and the Y. Both attract a broad mix of people and accommodate different motivations for participating. She now works as a volunteer at the front desk of the Y and meets more people than ever. For her, this Y is different: “not too big, more social cohesion, room for volunteers, and a real community which services a lot of people.” It has become her “social centre” in recent years, almost like a second home.

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A Visit to Algonquin Park

This past Labour Day weekend, my husband and I visited the backcountry of Algonquin Park. We spent the day with our son, daughter-in-law and her family picnicking in a campsite on Grand Lake, not far from where Tom Thomson painted his iconic “Jack Pine.” My earlier visits to Algonquin Park had been primarily limited to the Highway 60 corridor, so this was a new experience for me. I now get it. I now appreciate why Ontarians so love their largest and most diverse provincial park.

The Achray Lake Campground is about 50 kilometres west of Highway 17 as it skirts around Pembroke and Petawawa on the Ottawa River. It is a trailhead for several popular back country canoe trips, and a campsite set among pine trees, half of which welcomes dogs. We gathered around two picnic tables beneath shady trees beside the lake and near its protected swimming area. This was a lake beach with soft yellow sand and shallow water that went out a very long way before it became deep. The water was warm and clear, with none of the muck and reeds which I had always disliked about Ontario lakes before. When we stood still, we could see the guppies swimming around our feet and the fresh water clams as they created their trails moving through the sand. In the distance, the occasional canoe passed by, and we could spot the loons. It was a perfect sunny day and, although it was a statutory holiday, there were not that many people around. This was an Ontario lake beach at its best.

We spent the day noshing on the food and drink we’d brought in the coolers, swimming, canoeing, playing with the dogs in the water, sleeping, reading, and exploring. Sitting around the picnic table or standing in the water, I got to know members of the Filipino-Canadian family into which my son has married. One of the partners is from La Beauce in the Chaudière-Appalaches region just south of Quebec City. She is a charming French-Canadian woman who always speaks French to their 19-month-old daughter. Those of us who know some French soon realized that we could attract the attention of the infant when we spoke French. All afternoon, we practiced our own French on the toddler.

I met three families of campers who were set up among the pines for their annual weekend away. They had pushed the tables together for communal eating around a big fire pit. Their multiple tents included a huge North Face “Mountain Manor” which, apparently, has two interior rooms and a large inner vestibule to accommodate a family and a large dog in the event of rain. The very creative fathers had fashioned a climbing apparatus which allowed the several young children to move and twist between the ropes. They also created a home-made zip line from a rope which dropped on an angle to a distant tree. They’d placed a pulley on the line from which they suspended a seat to allow the children to run down the line. I learned that one of the fathers was an ex-military with search and rescue training.

When we got to talking about why my husband and I had given up camping, one of the men suggested that we get a small tent-trailer like his mother-in-law had, which provided a good bed above the ground and could be hauled by a small car. They also explained the Ontario provincial park registration system and how we would need to register on the internet six months in advance to the day, if we wanted to get one of these ideal spots by the lake on a summer weekend. I spoke with another camper who had the premier campsite on a small wooded knoll overlooking the lake. He told me that he and his wife had camped there for two weeks, that they came from Hamilton, and were planning a move to the Lower Mainland around Vancouver when they retired next year. They have two sons in Vancouver, and he has a sister in Kelowna. We spent some time discussing the pros and cons of various suburbs and small towns around Vancouver where they might choose to live. Shooting the breeze with strangers is one of the pleasures of camping. Now I am highly motivated to find a tent-trailer outlet, and I know exactly the place where we could store any new acquisition. Maybe we haven’t given up camping, after all. Maybe we just need to do it in a different way. And in Ontario.

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Fit Fellas

One morning recently I was at the West Vancouver Seniors’ Activity Centre (for those fifty-five and older) to renew my membership. As I did, a horde of men of a certain age, all dressed in black t-shirts, streamed in the front door. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them. I was utterly amazed. Who were they?

“These are the Fit Fellas,” I was told, “and they are here for their coffee and cinnamon buns.” When I followed them into the large cafeteria, it was full of these men. Apparently Fit Fellas was started 41 years ago as a twice-a-week fitness class for eight older men. It has grown to 195 members who meet up to eight times a week for a fitness class “just for guys.” Led by four qualified volunteer trainers, they do aerobics, strength training, coordination, balance, stretching, all mixed with “plenty of laughter” and optional social events. The youngest is 62 years of age, the oldest 97 years, with an average age of around 76. Their membership is full, and there is a waiting list to join. Over 45% of the members have participated regularly for over ten years and 70% for over five years.

Their routine is to meet each morning from 7:50 to 8:50 at the West Vancouver Community Centre gym (two or three days a week, as they wish) and then adjourn to the cafeteria for coffee and refreshments. Anyone celebrating a birthday buys cinnamon buns for the group. They keep in touch by email and a quarterly newsletter, volunteer in various community groups and events, and take part together in other sports, competitions, pub nights, and fund-raising activities. As much as the exercise, their goal is to have fun and build friendships.

Their success has attracted the attention of the Department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser and the School of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia. They have been the subject of Masters theses, academic conferences across North America, and community workshops on the Lower Mainland. UBC Professor Mark Beauchamp claims, “There is no other program similar to or as successful as theirs,” anywhere else.

In “an effort to develop a framework for use by others,” The Canadian Institute for Health Research funded a two-year study conducted by UBC, in partnership with the Vancouver YMCA, for targeted studies on the Fit Fellas model. The Group-based physical activity for Older Adults (GOAL) Trial involved close to 600 females and males over 65, participating three times a week, free of charge, in single-gender and both-gender classes conducted at three YMCA locations. Data collection ended  in August 2015. The aims of the study were to assess how older adults stick with their physical activity over three months and six months, and whether group cohesion and enjoyment affected their adhesion.

That very morning, Dr. Beauchamp presented a plaque to Fit Fellas and a $500 honorarium to the West Vancouver Seniors’ Centre for their support of the research.

The statistics on physical activity by older adults are sobering. According to Statistics Canada, by 2036, 25% of Canadians will be over 65 years of age. At present, 50% of provincial and territorial healthy spending is on older adult care. Although a clear link has been found between physical activity, improved functional capacity, and reduced risk of chronic disease, only 13% of Canadians over 65 engage in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

Fit Fellas is a model to watch. Check out the great Fit Fellas You Tube Video, their Facebook page and the promotional video for the GOAL Trial.  It’s a blast. 

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Upgrading our Cable Coverage

So long as we have had our Vancouver cottage, we’ve had basic TV cable on our television. Some have lamented that fact; others have said that “it doesn’t matter. You can stream what you want on the internet.” For the Brexit vote, that is exactly what I did, all night live on BBC News.

It appears, however, that there is no live streaming of TSN unless one is a TSN subscriber on cable. Since I wanted to watch Milos Raonic live from Wimbledon last Sunday morning, I phoned Telus to get the sports coverage. By the time we’d finished our short conversation, I had a comprehensive new package which gave us most of those channels previously marked “not available.” The nice Telus lady assured me that this was a short-term upgrade and, as a friend had said, I could cancel when we left the apartment.

Wasn’t last Sunday’s sports coverage special? Seeing Milos Raonic battling it out with Britain’s Andy Murray in the Men’s Final at Wimbledon was a real thrill. They say that Raonic wasn’t playing his best game, but, tennis illiterate that I am, I thought he was impressive. I wasn’t even upset that the Brit won. Good news for Britain has been all too rare recently, and they need a break.

And then there was coverage of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov, only 16 years old, who won the Wimbledon Boys Championship. I had never heard of him, nor of the Canadian junior doubles team of Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime and Benjamin Sigouin from Vancouver who also won their championship game. According to the Globe and Mail, these three are ranked in the top 15 of the world’s players under 18, and there is no other country with so many players in the top 20. Apparently Canada is regarded as “a serious emerging tennis country, if not one of the leading tennis countries now” because of a decision Tennis Canada made in 2007 to invest in player development and not pay down the debt on the new tennis stadium in Toronto.

Later in the day was live coverage of the 2016 Euro Cup from Paris. I have been resolutely avoiding following the Euro Cup up until now. But as a resident of Little Italy in Toronto, excitement about the final game of any international soccer competition resonates. Now that I know the proprietors of Ralph’s Hardware who give so much to the football festivities on College Street, I would not miss the Euro Cup Final for the world.

Given the terrorist attacks last fall and the considerable time we have spent in France over the years, my husband and I were initially cheering for the French. A home team victory would be nice. But then the Portuguese team lost their key player, and the game went on, and on, and on, and the Portuguese goal-keeper prevented so many French goals, and it seemed as if the Portuguese were determined not to give up. Then, in the second half of extra time, Eder scored his goal, and the underdogs prevailed. We knew that our Portuguese friends and neighbours on College Street would be ecstatic. We were happy to share the excitement with them, if only from the west coast.

Having access to CNN this week has been more than sobering. First, there was live coverage of President Obama’s speech on Tuesday during the memorial service for the five police officers slain in Dallas. Yet another moving speech from a gifted orator who appeals to the best of the nation and of the world. Thursday, it was the horrific attack on those celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Developing coverage non-stop all day long. Watching becomes compulsive and is probably not healthy. Like the attack at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, and another in The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, this strikes all too close to home and is heart-breaking. And then yesterday, the attempted military coup in Turkey…. Not so long ago, we visited that glorious country with such pleasure. Now, we watch history in the making, live as it happens. And the future of Turkey is frightful to contemplate. 

Next week is the Republican Convention from Cleveland and, the week after that, the Democrats will be meeting in Philadelphia. Since the likely results from both events are known, watching the conventions is probably unnecessary. But Andrew Coyne has described next week’s convention as “shaping up to be one of the greatest political disasters since the fall of Rome,” and no political junkie will miss it. So we will likely feel compelled to watch all the CNN coverage. We could always press “mute.”

***** For those of you interested in our son’s response to my recent post on the Trudeau government, check out the extended comments from “Bob” you will find there. Clearly, assessing the achievements of the new Canadian government will be a continuing debate.

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Community Gardens

Community Gardens are increasingly commonplace. A wonderful addition to modern city life, they bring pleasure to everyone. In Toronto, the community allotment gardens in the heart of High Park are much sought after and much admired. On our own street in Toronto, between the fence of our local parkette and the city sidewalk, some unknown neighbours have planted bulbs and perennials we all enjoy. Behind the Lillian H. Smith Public Library, south of College Street, there is a large formal garden maintained by the local community.

There are community gardens on the hydro easements in Scarborough, and entire lots set aside in downtown Vancouver for gardeners to cultivate and others to enjoy. If not to eat the produce or pick the flowers, the public can luxuriate in the growth of the plants and the beauty of the flowers.

There are three community gardens within five minutes of our West Vancouver apartment. The closest is not strictly a “community” garden as it is private property belonging to a large rental apartment building across the street from where we live. Shorewood’s Navvy Jack Gardens are located, however, beside the railroad tracks on the public access path to the Ambleside Seawalk and no one can miss the industry of the tenant gardeners nor the beauty and bounty of their labour.

In the seaside public park just down from us, there are two community gardens, called Argyle Green Gardens and Argyle Village Gardens after the street beginning with “A,” indicating that it is closest to the ocean. (All the streets running up the hill in this community are rather quaintly named in alphabetical order.) Argyle Village Gardens is a single lot between two of the original houses still occupied by long-time owners. In this area now designated for public parks, the city has the legal right to buy all the old properties along the seashore when they go on the market. Some of the old houses have been refurbished as public venues for workshops and event sites; others have been taken down and the properties integrated into the adjacent park. Where the lots stand solitary between existing houses, they apparently become community gardens. What a wonderful use of space!

The Argyle Green Gardens are a new creation, a series of raised plant beds built expressly for community gardeners as part of a park upgrade, a couple of years ago. They have been installed in an area close to the street where before there was only plain grass field. Since there is plenty of vacant lawn elsewhere in the park, this is a welcome innovation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many more such raised planter boxes appear in the future. We’ll see.


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Ralph’s Hardware

It’s soccer season, Euro Cup is just ahead  (June 10 – July 10), and Little Italy is gearing up for big multinational festivities. No one is busier at the moment than Libby and Mike Sinopoli, the proprietors of Ralph’s Hardware, on College just west of Ossington. Their shop, bedecked with the brightly coloured flags of the soccer nations, becomes “action central” for soccer accessories and memorabilia throughout the summer.

In addition to t-shirts and hats for all ages from infants to grandparents, Libby fashions dresses, tank tops, golf shirts and fedoras  emblazoned with the emblems of all the teams and countries. Where mainstream suppliers do not provide for particular countries, Libby creates the right accessories herself. She likes to give for her customers what she would want to wear herself. There is something for everyone, so all can dress for the party.

Libby was brought up in the Açores, where celebrations were held for any occasion – some religious, some in response to the afternoon bullfight, preferably every weekend, as often as possible. She and Mike liken the summer soccer season in Little Italy to those Portuguese festivals where everyone stops, joins with their friends and neighbours, and has a good time. For Libby and Mike, the soccer season is the highlight of the year.

The historic sign on “Ralph’s Hardware” is a bit of a misnomer. Beginning around 1906, the Whetstone family owned the building and ran the hardware store for three generations. Mike’s father bought the building and the business sixty years ago and ran it as a traditional hardware store. Forty years later, Mike and Libby settled into the upstairs apartment and took over the store. The wall of wooden drawers behind the cash counter is original to the hardware store, each drawer with a story to tell.

Since Mike and Libby took over, the business has evolved into something quite different. What started as a hardware store, and still stocks all the hardware basics, has morphed into an amazing emporium well worth the browsing. Apart from the soccer memorabilia, it is a cache chock-full of collectibles, home-made lamps, used furniture, restored porcelain, goods on consignment, garden goods, jars, baskets, all sorts of hidden treasures just waiting for you to discover.

Libby and Mike are into re-using, recycling and restoring. They welcome second-hand furniture, kitchen goods, silverware, collectibles, which they are happy to accept on consignment and put on display in the window. If there is something you want to get rid of, Mike will come and pick it up. He will also make house calls to attend to built-in lamps needing attention.

Since she was a child and earned her own pocket-money, Libby has always worked with her hands. In her 20s, she sold her homemade sheepskin moccasins, jewellery, and hair bows in the street. Now, she makes many of the soccer goods for sale. She also collects old glass lamps, rewires them, and hangs them from the ceiling, all the better for customers to see the lovely range of colours. She repairs lighting and restores porcelain and other collectibles. She fixes costume jewellery (not gold). It occurred to me that she is like my father, who had the skill and the patience to fix anything. I think I will bring to Libby that box of old costume jewellery which has sentimental value and needs to be fixed. During the quiet winter months, she has time to attend to that kind of work.

In the meantime, the soccer season is moving into high gear, and the party will begin. Ralph’s Hardware is open 9:00 to 9:00. Later, during soccer season and other festivities. It is located at 840 College Street, Toronto M6H 1A2. The phone number is 416-533-7294.

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Port Renfrew and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail

Last Tuesday, Nikki Bayley wrote an effusive article on Port Renfrew in the Globe and Mail. She raved about how “the awesome beauty” of the town on Vancouver Island, “at the end of the West Coast highway,” only two hours drive from Victoria, was like “Tofino 20 years ago.” It’s “pristine and untouched…” and to quote her hiking guide Drea Gibson “quiet and quaint and gorgeous.” I agree that “it’s the perfect break for city types seeking a West Coast experience without the crowds.”

Ms. Bayley visited Port Renfrew in the winter when she had “torrential rains” and “a sudden hailstorm,” and the town lived up to its nickname ‘Port Rainfrew.’ Although she describes her hike to Botanical Beach and another to visit ‘Canada’s Gnarliest Tree’ in Avatar Grove, the weather constrained her activities and her review has two glaring omissions.

The first is any mention of the two fabulous hiking trails which run north and south from Port Renfrew and which attract visitors to the area every summer. The other is that Port Renfrew may be “the end of Highway 14” but it is not “the end of the road.”

Port Renfrew is the southern terminus of the West Coast Trail which runs 75 kilometres north to Bamfield in Pacific Rim National Park. This controlled-access coastal route is one of the world’s greatest hikes: a spectacular trail on the beach, beside the beach, through rain forests, down and up numerous river banks, over many rivers, climbing ladders, riding cable cars, and hiking long moss-covered logs. It is remote, accessible only to those prepared to backpack and camp, and a challenge for even experienced hikers.

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail runs 47 kilometres south from Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew to China Beach near Jordan River (west of Sooke). It is located in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and, unlike the West Coast Trail, is readily accessible from several trailheads, provides ample opportunity for day hiking and, should you feel so inclined, offers the chance to camp on the beach or in the midst of a west coast rain forest. Like the more well-known WCT, this trail also originated as an old telegraph line and a life-saving route for survivors of the many off-shore shipwrecks.

The last time we were there, admittedly several years ago, we paid memorable visits via three trailheads: Mystic Beach near the south, Sombrio Beach in the middle, and Botanical Beach at the north end.

Mystic Beach is close to popular China Beach, but more remote, accessible by a winding rainforest trail, over a suspension bridge, and down cut logs, about 45 minutes to the beach. At the end of the trail, the beach offers white sand, rocks, hanging waterfalls, and a rock arch one can walk through at low tide. See this video of the trail and beach (shot by van der Valk Photo and Video). When there on a Saturday night, we shared the beach with students from Victoria. The next night, we had the beach and the cold waterfall-fed pool to ourselves.

Sombrio Beach, located at kilometre 29 of the Trail, is an easy ten-minute walk to the wide, cobble-covered beach, the remnants of squatters’ cabins, open ocean vistas, views of surfers on the waves and, if you are lucky, grey or humpback whales. When we hiked from Sombrio Beach to Little Kuiche Creek, we skirted acres of clearcut, a stark reminder that, but for the park, all trees in this area might well also have been cut. It seemed utterly surreal that, as close we actually were to the clearcut, we camped above a creek in a lush rain forest, the only campers in a pristine campsite.

Botanical Beach, near Port Renfrew, is a marvel which obviously impressed Nikki Bayley even in the dead of winter. No wonder. Located at the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait, the beach gets the full force of the open water and the tides. Flat granite and sandstone outcroppings form shale rock formations and crystal-clear “basins like miniature aquariums” full of rich marine flora and fauna. As described on the internet, “this crowded intertidal zone has animals normally seen only by scuba divers.” To access this treasure trove of marine life, visitors walk through a network of easy forested trails. The best time for viewing is at low tide of 1.2 meters (four feet).

In the old days, a gravel forestry road ran from Port Renfrew on the coast, inland some 54 kilometres to Lake Cowichan. Locals drive forestry roads all the time; visitors may well be intimidated by the idea of running across fully loaded logging trucks on a gravel road, especially when the trucks have priority. Now, that gravel road is paved and is considered part of the Pacific Marine Circle Tour. It’s an easy drive from Port Renfrew to Cowichan and to the Island Highway which leads south back to Victoria or up island to Nanaimo.

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The Season of Steph

Basketball playoffs start Saturday, so I’m delighted to welcome back Guest Blogger, JESSE KLETT, to post about his passion: BASKETBALL. Jesse is a personal trainer at the West End YMCA and he loves writing about sports.

Here’s Jesse…


Haven’t heard the name Stephen Curry? Where have you been for the past eight months? Even my mother, not a sports enthusiast, asked me just the other day, “Who’s this Steph Curry guy?”

If you want to be up to speed, let me give you a brief rundown on the young man who has evolved into the hands-down best basketball player on the planet, and possibly the most skilled of all time.

He’s the point guard for the NBA reigning champion team, the Golden State Warriors. He is also the NBA’s reigning most valuable player. Standing at 6’3″ and 180 pounds, he’s neither the biggest nor most imposing player in the league, and nothing particularly athletic jumps out at you, either. What sets Stephen Curry apart from the rest is his craftiness with the basketball, his IQ on the court, and the fact that he has the most unstoppable shot ever.

In my lifetime of watching basketball, players like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and, most recently, Lebron James have dominated the game. Not to mention Michael Jordan, who was in his prime just before I started following the sport and who is still considered the best ever. All these stars had pretty amazing skill sets, all different but each with the ability to take over a game. Shaq, with his power at 7’ 0” and 325 pounds, was a monster near the net. Kobe and MJ had all-world ability and were very special athletes who could literally fly and, with cold blood, carry teams and make game-winning shots. Most recently, Lebron is one of the biggest, fastest and strongest players ever to grace a basketball court.

What sets Stephen Curry apart is his ability to dominate the game from over 30 feet away from the net, a skill which terrifies opposing teams. He can shoot the ball like no one ever before. How he moves on the court, how he dribbles the ball, and, of course, his world-famous jump shot are all simply magical. When I watch him, no matter how challenging the shot, I believe that it is going in. Most people would agree. It’s the efficiency of his shots, and the distance from which he shoots that is more than impressive. He’s shattered his previous record for three-pointers made in a season, a record which he has broken for three straight years. And who’s to say he’s not going to get better? He is changing the game before our eyes and it’s damn fun to watch.

Curry’s team just set a NBA record this season for most wins ever, a win-loss ratio of 73:9. This is one game better than Jordan’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. And Curry finished in style, scoring 10 three-pointers in the record-breaking game. To put his shooting greatness in perspective, this was the fourth time in 2016 alone that he has hit 10 or more three-pointers in a single game. No one else has hit 10 more than four times in their entire career. Curry is undoubtedly going to win his second consecutive MVP award and the Warriors are favourites to repeat again as Champions.

Nothing I say can do this man justice. He is simply astounding. To see what I’m talking about, even non-basketball fans might want to tune into the NBA playoffs that start tomorrow to watch Steph and his amazing team. You won’t be disappointed. Catch a preview on YouTube.

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Meetup Walking Groups

When I first came to Toronto as a graduate student, I found the city exciting but lonely. My fellow students met weekly for short seminars and then scattered. Hart House excluded women, unless accompanied by a man. Massey College did not admit female students.  I met a law student and we decided to share a flat near the Danforth. Apart from my new housemate and my landlady, I knew no one else, did not know the city, and spent a dismal year.

Today, newcomers to both Vancouver and Toronto needn’t despair. Meetup groups exist in both cities to bring people together around specific interests. It could be hiking, music, photography, local area groups, young mothers’ groups; options are broad and enticing, all described on the internet. Some Meetup groups are free; others have a small fee, to pay the facilitator and cover costs.

Meetup groups are not just for newcomers or young people. Anyone can take part. It occurred to me that the West End YMCA Walking Club, which meets Sunday mornings at the College Street West End YMCA, is like a Meetup group, although not structured the same way. Lori Myers, a dedicated and knowledgeable fan of Toronto, facilitates this particular group, maintains the webpage, and leads the walks. Participants can join in whenever they want, just by showing up at 9:00 a.m. The walks provide good exercise, interesting conversation, and great camaraderie. An internet search of “walking groups in Toronto” lists many other options in the city, including a power walking group, and groups that walk in malls.

I have a friend on the west coast who joined her local Meetup Walking Group in Maple Ridge in the Fraser Valley. Her membership is free of charge and gives access to all the other Meetup groups in the entire Lower Mainland. She receives notice of upcoming hikes by email and need only pre-register in advance by internet for each hike. She now hikes two or three times each week with different groups, each time exploring new areas of the city that she does not know, in the company of others.

Last month, I joined the Vancouver Walking Meetup group and, with my friend, explored the south end of Pacific Spirit Park near the University of British Columbia. A forest of trees, some old growth, intertwined with paths, Pacific Spirit Park has lots to offer. It is, however, a large area, and, even with a map, people may not feel comfortable exploring the park alone. The Meetup group is an ideal solution. An experienced guide with particular knowledge of the area led a small group of only fifteen or so hikers for two hours one Sunday morning. It was a perfect introduction to a wilderness area in the heart of the city which I had long wanted to visit and never had done.

The Sunday we went, it was raining hard. Hardly ideal hiking weather. But the trees in the woods shielded us from the rain, and the trails are well maintained so that footing is not a problem. The trees and the greenery are lush, and so aromatic. In the breaks in the weather, we stopped to dwell on the ferns, underbrush, hollowed out logs, evergreens, and pools of water. After two hours in the out-of-doors, we revel in our physical well-being and in the revival of our senses. Altogether a most delightful experience.


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Costa Rica #3: Surfing at Tamarindo

Four weeks ago, I knew nothing about surfing. My view of the sport was probably typical: that it is for the very young, dominated by shiftless, blonde, bronzed beach boys showing off their stunts to pick up chicks. The stereotypical California scene personified.

Our guide-book says that Costa Rica is known as the “Hawaii of Latin America” because of its world-class surfing and its warm waters all year round. Tamarindo is the surfing centre of the Costa Rican northwest Pacific coast. I understand why.

Watching the surfers at Tamarindo has made me a fan. Were I 40 years younger, 40 pounds lighter, and had I any athletic prowess at all, I might even have tried it. I now see the attraction. Surfing requires incredible stamina, a patient eye for just the right wave, great balance, the agility of a cat (if you can picture a cat on a surf board), spunky resilience, and a passionate love of the water and sun. Both water and sun are killers. Surfers have to deal with the one and protect themselves from the other.

First, the surfer must push his or her board out from shore, through or over crashing waves, to reach the distant waters where the big swells rise. Riding the waves outbound is the lull before the storm. Once the surfer reaches the heavy waters, he (or she, and there are many women surfers, apparently), must line up beside others waiting for the real waves, the ones they all desire to surf. The wait may take awhile. When a big wave comes, the surfers compete with each other to see who among them will actually run that wave. From a field of a dozen surfers, only two or three at the most may run a single big wave.

Observers on the beach, like me, see a line of surfers bobbing way out in the water, waiting for the big one. When we see the big wave rise up to the verge of crashing, the surfers taking this wave seem to jump above it and, like the most expert of skateboarders or downhill skiers, they run, and turn, and turn again, and ride the one wave all the way to shore. The best of them stand up all the way. The novices, the less agile, or the unlucky find their boards upended, and themselves scrambling. All have to be wary both of being hit by their own boards or of hitting other surfers in the shallower waters.

Our hosts, Lucio and Lucy Ramos, have retired from their real estate business in the west end of Toronto. They now spend several months each year living in Tamarindo. I am guessing that they are in their late 40s or early 50s, but I don’t know for certain. In Tamarindo, Lucio has taken up surfing. Fit and tanned, he goes out in the morning or late afternoon to catch the surf. During our visit, the waves were among the highest of the year, a predictable occurrence which good surfers anticipate with relish. Lucio, among them.

Meanwhile, I sit all morning by the beach, in my favourite bar-restaurant “The Ocean,” in the shade of the trees, watching the surfers skim by before me. It was like having a front row seat at an Olympic event, an amazing spectacle of athleticism which I tried to photograph with a new camera. Next time, I will use my burst function. Now I know what it is for.

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