What I Learned on Spring Break, 2016

O Canada,

or: What I did (and learned) on my Spring vacation.

Niagara Falls!?!  Slowly I turned. Step by step.  Inch by inch.

My wife and I, along with two very good friends (Dan and Kristy Weprin) flew in to Buffalo.  We then took 13 days over the end of May to circumnavigate Lake Ontario, counterclockwise.

Niagara - American side, from below

Niagara Falls – American side, from below

Here’s a bit of we did.  And a bit of what we learned.

Niagara Falls is cool.  Very cool.  In fact, while we were there, it was cold.  Frigid even.  It snowed on us (May 15).

Niagara has three (3) A’s in it.  I did not know that.  I always thought it was “Niagra.”  See!?! I’m not perfect.

The Canadian side of the falls is way, way cooler than the US side.  That’s because 90% of the water flow goes over to the Canadian side, over Horseshoe Falls.  If you go, do the really dorky touristy thing and take the Maid in the Mist boat ride.  It takes you right up to the brink of the tremendous waterfall; you get covered in mist, … and sometimes snow.

Also, make the trip up to Niagra-by-the-Lake (Ontario side).  Just lovely and nice micro-brewery in an old Anglican church too.

Socks will wander.

What causes socks to go missing indefinitely? By an unintended experiment, I determined that this mysterious phenomenon has nothing to do with your own house.  It has nothing to do with your own hamper, nor you washer or dryer, nor the gremlins in your house.

May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day

May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day

Yes, I lost a sock on this trip.  Of course, I have no idea how.  As it has not reappeared, I deduce that this is a problem for socks in general, wherever they may be.

Socks just want to be free.

According to my research conducted to date on this subject, I’ve learned that May 9 is National lost sock Memorial Day. So the problem isn’t me — it’s the socks!! I guess we’re supposed to hang Wind Socks in front of our houses, in place of flags, in a sort of memoriam for all those who have served in sweaty, smelly, confined shoes. And then gone missing.

The Big Ditch. A Really, really big ditch. A 363 mile ditch.

Buffalo embraces its history as the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825 and changed the trajectory of North American History.  In the downtown area you’ll find a fun little micro-brewery called “Big Ditch”, which has a fine menu of foods as well as beers.  [Come to think of it: … is there a microbrewery that isn’t “fun”?]

If you don’t like feeling really cold, avoid Buffalo when the temperature is around 40F, the humidity is high, it’s cloudy or dark, and there’s a stiff breeze off the lake.  Must suck to be a Buffalo Bills fan.

Nearby is Lockport, where the westernmost locks on the canal are located.  They have a fun little museum and we were fortunate to see some pleasure craft pass through at the very start of tourist season.

Thousand Islands?  Is that the salad dressing?

At Lake Ontario’s eastern extent she gently drains into the St Lawrence River.  So gently that the transition is marked by a zillion islands of all manner of shapes and sizes.  Some with houses on them; some with castles.  Ok, there aren’t a zillion.  There are 1,864 islands.  Somehow it got the name Thousand Islands. Some are in Canada; the rest in the US.  The river’s main channel is the border.

It’s beautiful.  Do the dorky touristy thing and take the three hour boat tour, with the side trip to Boldt Castle on Heart Island.

Oh yeah…  Apparently the salad dressing does trace its roots to the 1000 Island area.  There are many unverifiable stories on how it originated, but the best bet is that this beautiful area is where it all started.

Canadian Beef is just the Best

Just trust me.  I’m not sure how they do it.  And if you can, get Dan Weprin to grill it for you.  Outside.  At sundown.  Then life is perfect.  We chowed down a lot of fine Canadian grain-fed beef.

Canadians are fat

OK, not to the same extent that folks are fat in the US; but disturbingly, a very large percentage of Canadians are … well … very large.

Muffin tops, jiggly arms, roly-poly bellies, ample behinds … Canadians have it all, and they don’t seem shy to show it off. It might have something to do with all that great beef. Sorry Canada, but we saw it in big cities like Ontario and Toronto, and small towns like Perth, Renfrew , Calabogie, Mamora and even Peterborough (where the world’s tallest hydraulic canal lift is located).  Of course, this is not a scientific study.  Just our observations based on about 10 days in Ontario.

 

Indians are fat, too

A few of the places we visited were typical tourist attractions: Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands, Toronto, even airports.  Here we always crossed paths with many East Indians. I’m talking now about “India Indians”, like from India.

Indians are fat.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not the beef.  Maybe it’s a bit unfair: any Indian wealthy enough to travel from Mumbai to New York and Ontario probably has access to more than a few extra calories.  Still, my previous image of Indians built around old pictures of Mahatma Gandhi is seriously shaken.  I’ll try to say something nice: most of the weight seems confined to the mid-section and buttocks.

It’s not a big deal (sorry for the pun).  It’s just that I’m getting sick of hearing how fat Americans are when I’ve seen the same things in Canadians, Indians, British.  It’s more of a First World Problem.

Speaking of Indians.  The first leg of our flight home was spent with a group of about 40 very enthusiastic and excited Indians … probably part of their dream trip to America.  I was able to discern that they were from Mumbai.  I’ll stop now and just say this: Indians have a very, very different concept of “personal space” than do Americans.

By the way, through our son Aaron we have a friend who an Indian-Canadian.  For the record, he is not fat.

Moving along.

Joe has a body image problem

“But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for the Lord sees not as mortals sees; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” — 1 Samuel 16:7

OK, I admit it.  I practice appearance-ism.  Yes, that’s a real thing.  It’s not that I judge people on that, per se, it’s just that I can’t help myself but to notice it.  Yet, I have an excuse and a reasonable cause: I live in Colorado – probably the healthiest and thinnest population in the US.  The peer pressure here is subtle, yet intense.  Everyone’s always talking about their workout routine, recent bike ride, which 14-er* they’ve climbed or will climb.  There is a subtle persistent pressure here to stay fit and healthy. [*A 14-er is a mountain peak at over 14,000 ft in elevation; Colorado has 57 of them].

I need to get over this.  People get heavy.  They get a tummy.  Everyone is beautiful, created by God in his image.  (oh gosh, did I just say that? Is God really fat? Is God a “he”?  Yes … No … and, probably, No)

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez*: Ontario still has Town Criers

When we travel we prefer to not schedule every day from dawn to dusk.  We like to leave time for serendipity.  You never know what you might find. Plus that way, you don’t feel guilty for sleeping in late, taking a nap or turning in early.  {Those can be serendipitous too. 😉 <sly grin and wink>}

[*- Oyez is pronounced “OH-YAY” – it is apparently the old French imperative for “to listen.”  I guess it’s like “HEAR YE”, or “Listen up, y’all, I got something important for you to know.”]

Competitor at the Ontario Town Crier Championship. Perth, Ontario, 2016.

Competitor at the Ontario Town Crier Championship. Perth, Ontario, 2016.

One day we made a side trip to Perth.  Why?  I guess because we have a son who lives in Perth, Australia.  Perth (Ontario) is named for Perth, Scotland.  Turns out the Brits were eager to have the region settled and developed after the struggles of the War of 1812 – when those nasty Americans were beaten back.  In fact, we learned that Canadians have a very serious (and different) view of that war than we do.

A settled and economically developed area is easier to defend:  Put people in a position to gain and lose something and they’ll fight.  Britain and British Canada were so desperate to settle the area that they even permitted – in fact they recruited – Scots and Irish to settle the area.  That’s how Perth got settled and got its name.

Well it was Victoria Day Weekend. Even though Victoria was a British Queen, and died in 1901, this is a huge 3-day holiday Weekend in Canada.  Who knew?

Over these three days – in addition to fairs and shows and the shops opening for the season now that all of the big-city folks were getting out of Ottawa and Toronto – Perth hosted the Ontario Provincial Town Crier Championship.

Yes, the Town Crier Championship.

We watched much of round two (out of three). While the others in our group lay in the shade, I braved the 30C temps and sunny skies to sit in the front row.  What a gas.  There were other sites to see, coffee shops and micro-breweries to visit, so we moved on when the round was barely half over.

[Learn more about Ontario’s town crier guild here at http://www.towncrier.on.ca/]

Words: some spellings and pronunciations are different.

Part of this I had expected.  My mom, who started her schooling in Alberta, was always proud of the “u” in flavour, colour, and neighbour.

But there is a bit more.  The Business center of a city is the “City Centre.”

The “pro-“ in process rhymes with the “pro-“ in professional.  But the “pro-“ in produce rhymes with the “pro-“ in product.  Or something like that. It could also be like “aw”.

And then there’s “out”; as in about, outside, let’s go out.  It would take a while for a US English speaker to get this one right, but the “OU” in Out is somewhere between “OH” and the “OO” in “food”.

The word “again” is often, although not always, more like “ah – gain” (rhymes with “a- grain”).

When in a restaurant or pub, do NOT ask for the bathroom.  Do you take a bath there?  And don’t ask for the restroom either.  It’s simply the washroom.  I kind of liked that.  I don’t intend to bathe or rest there; just relieve myself and wash up.  It’s a washroom.

If you mess up and ask for the bathroom or rest room, a Canadian will smile and politely say something like: “The *WASHROOM* is just down that hallway, on your left.” And they KNOW you are from “the States.”

In casual conversation, it’s polite to turn a statement into a question with a form of Canadian “up-speak”.  For example, “It’s lovely weather today, eh?” It conveys a sort of coziness and a “it’s nice to be around you, even though you might be a stranger” sort of feeling.

Which reminds me of the old joke on how Canada got its name.  They put all the consonants in a hat and started pulling them out.

“C – eh?

“N – eh?

“D – eh?”

“Sounds good.  C-A-N-A-D-A”

The use of “The”

There is only one future.  Canadians say “in future I will try harder”.  No need for “the.”

When someone is injured and they need hospital care, then “someone is in hospital”.  No need to say “the”, unless you know specifically which hospital, then you may use the definite article. “Joe is in the St Albert Hospital.”

They may over use the letter U, but save by using less of “the”.

Toronto is a big, big city.

Canada is a really, really big country; more than 20% larger in land mass than the lower 48 United States.  Yet it has a population of only about 35 million. The US is pushing 320 million.

The population of the Toronto metro area is over 6 million.  That’s kind of insane.  That would be like if the largest city in the US (New York, New York – so big they had to name it twice) had a metro population of well over 50 million!! JEESH.  All of California only has 38 million.

And Toronto is really, really crowded.  Difficult to get around due to density.  I don’t need to go there again.

Airports in Canada

I once wrote an essay about O’Hare Airport in Chicago, saying it was one of the very few airports that had an IATA* code wherein none of the letters reflected either the name of the city it served, or the name of the airport. [http://girardmeister.com/2015/03/14/ord/]
– [*IATA: International Air Transport Association].

Well now I know of another one.  Toronto’s main international airport, Pearson International, goes by YYZ.

Turns out codes for Canada’s airports have a curious history, connected to radio, telegraph and weather station history.

Almost all Canadian airports start with “Y”, and the history is as quirky as it is Canadian.

Weather is important in Canada.  It can be violent, swiftly changing and also life changing.  As communication improved (first telegraph, then radio), weather stations were attached to each telegraph, then radio transmit/receive station.  These generally had two letters.

When airports came along, they tacked on the weather identification.  If a weather station had an airport, it got a “Y” in front (for Yes); if there was no airport, it got a “W” (for Without). “X” and “Z” came along for places that are rail stations, marine stations, or where confusion with a US airport could occur. Seems to me the opposite of YES (Y) should be (N); oh, those Canadians.

The original commercial airport in Toronto, Billy Bishop Field, is on an island out in the harbor, oops, harbour.  It’s IATA identifier is YTZ.  So the middle “T” is for Toronto; the “T” for Toronto was taken.

Pearson International is named after former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, who’s also the winner of the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.  It is the very large international airport that most Toronto commercial passengers and cargo pass through – which is actually in the municipality of Mississauga, a “small” Toronto suburb of about 725,000.

Pearson got the designation YYZ. Turns out that “YZ” is the old Morse station code for the town of Malton, which is now incorporated within Mississauga, and where Pearson Field is located.  In fact, Pearson Field was originally known as Malton Airport, from its opening in 1939.

When Malton Airport arrived, it simply became a telegraph/weather station with “Why, YES, [“Y”] it does now have an airfield”, so another Y was just attached to the front of pre-existing “YZ”. It became YYZ, which Pearson simply inherited for simplicity. I have no idea how – and cannot find out why – the YZ somehow stood for Malton.

Must make sense to someone. I hope it’s a little less confusing for you now.

The Canadian Healthcare system is not all Rainbows, Lollipops and Unicorns

Sorry to dump this disappointment on you.  While on vacation I was in steady communication with my cousin who lives in Edmonton.  He suffered an aggravated assault in mid-March and has been trying to get treated for some very serious shoulder injuries.

In talking to other Canadians and locals, I’ll say this. First, if you have basic needs like stitches, a physical, a bad cold or flu, a sprain, a strain, then you can get great treatment almost right away.  Second, for non-serious and non-basic needs, you will definitely get the care you need if you can wait for your deviated septum repair or knee-replacement for several months, or years.  But, thirdly, if you have serious needs that require medical attention right away, well – good luck unless you are rich, are a famous hockey player, or are in parliament.

My cousin waited over 10 weeks for the MRI that confirmed his injuries.  Ten days later the surgeon said “good luck, get PT*” and never asked for a follow-up visit. [* PT = Physical therapy, which Canadians prefer to call Physio Therapy]

Seven weeks after that his special-needs PT finally began.

Subsequently he has incurred new damage, largely due to the slow diagnosis and treatment.

Still, it’s a great country. They are our faithful, peaceful and mostly civilized neighbours to our north. In fact, I’ve been back since and will likely visit often in future …

I wish you peace and hope you have a safe rest of your summer.

Joe Girard © 2016

 

 

Various sites chime in on IATA codes in Canada, eh?

 

 

One thought on “What I Learned on Spring Break, 2016”

  1. Lee Webb

    Keep up the great essays, Joe — another winner! Sending this to our Canadian friends — bet there’s stuff here even they didn’t know.

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