Tag Archives: Canada

Tripping Out: Cross-Country to Canada

Since the world shut down in early 2020, my wife and I have undertaken some road trips of various duration and distance.  Sometimes they were made with specific destinations; but all were with the intent to just to get out of the house and experience a journey.  How American: we answered the call of the open road.  Happens more when cabin fever starts setting in.

There are more than a few good quotes about the journey and the destination. One comes from Harry Chapin: “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good.  That’s a thought for keeping, if I could.” (From song: “Greyhound”).

Our last big trip actually did have a worthwhile destination: our son and daughter-in-law who live near Toronto. Great to spend time with them, get a few projects done (or at least started), and help them settle into their “new” home; well, at least new to them.

I’m going to muse here a bit about both the journey and the destination.

We took nearly identical routes both ways to/from Ontario.  Yes, it was a shorter than alternate routes (for a drive). I think people are so interested in getting back-and-forth quickly that they easily – too easily – fall into the simple notion that all those fly-over states are boring and just full of nothing.

Simply not true.

Well, we are definitely going back to Omaha.  That’s were the Union Pacific started laying track in 1863, going westward, and finally meeting the Central Pacific at Promontory Point, UT in May, 1869.  East and West were linked by rail! The Transcontinental part was truly complete when the UP bridge across the Missouri River was complete and opened in 1873.

Omaha has an extensive river front, and we were hoping to spend some time enjoying it.  But it was all closed up, as they endeavor to complete a $300 million re-vitalization of the area.  That’s a lot of money and it is mostly private funds.  It’s due to be complete and re-opened in 2022.  The Heartland of America water-themed park will re-open in 2025.

Across the flowing water is Omaha’s river partner city: Council Bluffs, Iowa.  We stopped there for an hour on the way back.  Cute downtown area (it’s several times smaller than Omaha) with a great park. Bayliss Park has a wonderful Veterans memorial, beautiful fountain, plenty of trees, benches and tables. Speaking of which, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is there in CB; so that’s on another future stop. [We passed through on a Monday, when it was closed].

Moving sculpture at War Memorial, Council Bluffs, Iowa

The downtown areas of both cities are set well back from the river.  One presumes the historical reason is to avoid flooding of the big Missouri, which surely occurs from time-to-time.  There is a pedestrian bridge across the river, connecting the two cities and states: The Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge.  Good for views and stretching your legs.

Rock Island, IL was another pull-over place, and I’d like to spend more time there in the future.  It’s historic for sure: that’s where the first bridge across the Mississippi was completed, in 1855, leading directly to greater westward expansion, and Chicago’s leaping to the fore as the great economic and commercial capital of America’s heartland.

Returning, we stopped for a “leg stretch” in Kearney, Nebraska.  That’s the former site of Fort Kearney, built in 1848 as a base of protection, provisions and refuge for western emigrants traversing over the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail (think: gold rush), and Overland Trail… all of which passed through Kearney along the Great Platte River Road.  The short-lived but never forgotten Pony Express also passed through Kearney. There is a wonderful little museum built in an archway that spans across Interstate-80.  Takes about an hour to tour the whole thing; great way to get a “walk about” and learn a lot about America in the mid-19th century.  Even has a bit about the Donner Party.

Kearney Archway Museum

While in Canada, I learned a few more things about differences between “their” culture and “American” culture, at least so far as what we experienced in Ontario.

When at restaurants and bars, they have no “Rest Rooms.”  They have “Wash Rooms.”  Same thing, different name.  I like it: “Wash” seems more appropriate than “Rest.”  Does anyone actually take a nap in there?  I’d like to think that, at a minimum, people actually wash themselves while in there.

They have little quibble when US citizens refer to themselves as “Americans”, or their home country as “America”, even though Canada is certainly part of America (as is Mexico, etc.).  One thing that bugs me about “Americans” is our propensity to refer to any room or facility that has a toilet as a “bathroom.”  Really?  Does anyone really bathe in there?  I do rather prefer the simplicity of the Brits and Aussies, who call it “Loo”, “Public Toilet” or “W.C.” for water closet. (Toilette and WC work in Germany, too).

They seem to have little use for the pesky Phillips head screws.  And they are annoying.  There’s a strong preference for the square tipped screws and driver tips, which are far less likely to engage poorly, and – worse – strip.  They prefer to call these “Robertson” screws and tips.  Very useful.  I’d certainly seen square tips before, but never heard of Robertson.  And, it seems they were invented by a Canadian, named, of course, Robertson.

The Roberson tip

Southern Ontario is fairly low lying, rather flat, and has waterways that are often quite close together.  Such locales are dotted with little land links that separate the waterways, some of which have come to be called “portages.”  The word “portage,” which comes to us through French, shows up quite a bit in US history and geography as well.  One way to tell a Canadian from an “American” is how the word is pronounced.  In Canada the -age is pronounced as in “Massage”.  In the US it rhymes with “Porridge.”

I think I’ve mentioned other pronunciation differences before (e.g. the words: about, produce, product), but portage was new to me.

Canadians, at least Ontarians, are quite relaxed about units of measurement for many things.  They are fine with ounces (as fluid ounces or even pints) in place of liters – say for getting a beer –  but petrol (gasoline) is always in liters. Er, ah, litres. Same with pounds and kilograms, say if one is purchasing produce (“Prah-duce”) or meat.  That’s unofficial.  Officially, purchases in brick-and-mortar stores are made in kilos.

But mention Fahrenheit to anyone born after, oh, about 1975, and you’ll get a blank look.

You: “It was hot today, eh.  At least 90 degrees, eh. “ [Add the “-eh” to a statement when trying to fit in.]

Canadian: “ ——–”

You: “That’s 90 Fahrenheit”

Canadian: “——–”

To me, and in my unhumble opinion, Fahrenheit is a far better unit than Celsius, at least as relates to humans and weather.  I really don’t care what temperature water boils at (nominally 100C, which varies based on elevation/air pressure anyhow). Or where it freezes (0C). What could be simpler than 0 (zero) is really cold, and 100 is really hot??  Tip of the hat to Fahrenheit.  [However, 20 is really a quite comfy temperature as good reference point].

Final thoughts. This might well be biased by my long-term residency in Colorado, typically one of the very leanest and fittest states in the US, on average.  Canadians are every bit as fat – even obese – as we Americans are.  Plenty of waddlers and dunlap syndrome going on.  Guess it’s a common first world problem.

Oh by the way, try to buy your gas (and booze and cigarettes, if either of those are your poisons of choice) in the US before crossing the border.  Taxes on those things are pretty eye-popping “north of the border, in the great white north.”  We were scoffed at and chided a bit by the Border Officer when we claimed only half a case of beer.  “We need to train you better, eh.  <smirk>”.  I would have taken a picture of him and the border crossing, but that is definitely frowned upon. [1]

Be well, and may your travels be safe and interesting.

Bonus section: Sitting is the new smoking.
I’ve long known that sitting for long periods of time is bad for one’s health in so many ways.  And I’ve long thought that I knew everything that could go wrong with knees.  Well, put them together and I have a new super painful knee condition to share.  Those many, many hours of sitting on my butt took a toll.  Yes, I knew it was bad for the hamstrings and glutes.  So, I got out of the car every chance to walk, do jumping jacks (50-100 is the norm), even run 100 yds ,or do step-ups on benches.  But sitting all the way to Ontario, then doing hours of landscape work for several days really did a number on my ITB (Iliotibial band).  That thing tightened up just awful and left me crippled and crying for a while.  Moral: never, ever stop moving.  ITBS (syndrome), is real, is painful, and not to be taken lightly.

Iliotibial Band (ITB) and pain

 

Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Each adult can bring  the following across the border into Canada: up to one case of beer (24 standard 12 oz cans or bottles), 1.5 liters of wine  (2 standard size bottles) and 40 fluid ounces of hard liquor.  In most of Canada, one is considered adult and of drinking age at 19 years old, except where it is 18, such as Alberta and Quebec. I think you can bring more, but either (1) don’t mention it, i.e. lie, or (2) be prepared to pay some tax on it.  I think they wink and nod at the first, and really don’t want the hassle of the second.  

On the Border — a Library in Defiance

The US-Canada Border Runs Through this Tiny Library.

Meet the only library that operates in two countries at once.

by Sara Yahm (c) of Atlas Obscura

Rumor has it the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian  province of Quebec (*) were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile. But the residents of the border towns didn’t particularly mind, mostly because they ignored it altogether.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands athwart the US-Canadian border, on the Derby Line

{Link to the entire article here.  For copyright purposes I did not want to cut and paste the entire piece.}

Enjoy

Joe

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* Editor note: actually the British colony of Lower Canada.  The line was to be surveyed as the international boundary per the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812, which was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, and formally ended the war.  We will never know what would have happened if Col Andy Jackson and his ragtag army, allied with locals and pirates, had not defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, just a few weeks later.

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?