Category Archives: Canada

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I went to get my passport renewed yesterday and was in and out of the building in under 15 minutes. I live just across the street from the passport office and after the pandemic I saw the people waiting to go inside in long lines that stretched far down my block.

I’d heard politicians from opposing parties accuse the Liberal government of inefficiency and irresponsibility for the way passport offices were being run. So I was wondering what kind of experience I would have at the passport office.

I was unable to apply for a new passport till we returned home from Africa in March since I needed my passport with me in Tanzania and South Africa and you have to submit your old passport to get a new one.

I chose not to mail in my passport for renewal because there was federal employee strike talk in the air when we returned to Canada and I didn’t want my passport to get marooned and forgotten in some passport office during a strike.

So I decided my best bet was to make an appointment to get my passport renewed in- person. I was a little concerned when the soonest appointment I could get was almost three months away.

But when I went in yesterday morning I was greeted by name by an officer at the front door and sent up to the fourth floor where again I was greeted by name and ushered up to a counter.

The woman who helped me was efficient and friendly and told me I’d done a great job of filling out my application form. We chatted a bit about my upcoming trip to France as she checked the pages of my application, put a void stamp on my old passport and I paid for my new one.

The whole thing only took a few minutes. The clerk reassured me that my passport would arrive in my mailbox at the latest in ten days nearly a month before my upcoming trip to France.

As I left the security guard said “Have a good day MaryLou.”

“You too” I said. “And thank you for the great service.”

I realize the passport offices in Canada have been criticized of late and maybe that was good because the pressure was on for them to improve.

If my experience yesterday is any indication they have found a way to up their game and provide efficient and friendly service.

I have to give credit where credit is due.

Other posts……….

A Passport of Her Own

My Nephew! My Hero!

Is Travelling For Pleasure Ethical?

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Filed under Canada, Politics

Gordon Lightfoot Road Trip

I loved Gordon Lightfoot’s music as a teen. I played it on my guitar, knew the words to many of his songs by memory, and remember how terribly excited I was to attend his show at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg in 1969.

The great Canadian singer died on Monday.

Driving out to see friends at their cottage yesterday my husband Dave and I decided to play Gordon Lightfoot songs on the road in his honour.

I had lots of Gordon Lightfoot tunes saved in my music library so I was going to skip over some of the ones that weren’t my favourites to be sure we’d have time to hear songs I love like Pussy Willows Cattails and If You Could Read My Mind before we reached our destination.

Dave however insisted that as a sign of respect for the talent of Gordon Lightfoot we had to listen to each song in order and not leave any out.

I was glad we got to listen to The Pony Man. When I taught elementary school I found this illustrated children’s book about the song and it inspired me to have my students create a book of their own. First I printed out the words to The Pony Man for the kids and we learned to sing all the verses. I played the guitar.

Then I divided up the lines to the song and each child in the class would illustrate a line and I’d collate them to make our own class book of The Pony Man. I did this every year for over a decade. I wish I’d kept those class Pony Man books or at least some of the kids’ marvellous drawings.

When I taught my middle- school students about the Great Lakes we listened to Gordon sing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and looked at the book The Gulls of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It tells the story of the sinking of a Great Lakes freighter in Lake Superior in 1975.

Spread from the picture book The Canadian Railroad Trilogy illustrated by Ian Wallace

With my high school students I discussed Gordon’s song The Canadian Railroad Trilogy which chronicles the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

A Gordon Lightfoot song that has special meaning for my husband Dave is Black Day in July from the album Did She Mention My Name. The song is about the race riots in Detroit in 1967. People died and thousands of buildings were burned.

Dave’s family had a farm just across the border from Detroit and when they were working out in their tomato fields in July of 1967 they could see the smoke from the burning buildings billowing in the sky.

Many people have their own personal memories and experiences that link their lives in some way to the music of Gordon Lightfoot.

It’s why his music was so popular and the announcement of his death has had an impact on so many Canadians.

Other posts……….

A Different Kind of Folk Festival


Recognition for My Favourite Winnipeg Band

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Filed under Canada, Music

Nettie Wiebe- A Canadian Woman of Influence

I learned about a community-minded, influential Canadian academic and passionate activist named Nettie Wiebe from an inspiring story about her told in graphic novel style by Jonathan Dyck and Josiah Neufeld in the most recent issue of Broadview Magazine.

Nettie a university philosophy student was spending the summer at home on her parent’s farm in Warman Saskatchewan in 1976 when she discovered that not only her family but others in the area were being approached by a provincial crown corporation to sell their farms to Eldorado Nuclear so they could build a uranium refinery in the area.

Story panels by Jonathan Dyck and Josiah Neufeld from the home page of Broadview Magazine

Nettie researched and discovered that uranium could be used to build nuclear weapons. Nettie was a Mennonite who believed in pacifism and so the thought of selling land to a company that might make weapons was unsettling to her and to the many Mennonite farmers in the area being approached to sell their land.

Nettie and other concerned people in the Warman area formed a citizens’ committee that worked tirelessly for three years to learn about the environmental and health risks of uranium.

The group, which Nettie helped to lead, shared their findings and expressed their concerns as they met with Eldorado Nuclear representatives.

Thanks to their hard work in raising the alarm about Eldorado when three weeks of public hearings on the decision to build the uranium plant were held in January of 1980 nearly 350 local farmers, pastors, Indigenous leaders, peace activists, business people, politicians and homemakers, expressed their misgivings about having a uranium plant in their community.

The dedicated efforts of Nettie’s citizens’ group finally led Eldorado Nuclear to abandon the idea of building a uranium refinery in Saskatchewan.

Photo of Nettie Wiebe from the IPES food website

Nettie went on to serve as the President of the National Farmers Union- the first woman to lead a national farm organization in Canada.

Nettie Wiebe receives an honorary degree from the University of Alberta in 2018 for her contributions as a farming and food security advocatephoto from University of Alberta website

She is a professor emeritus at St. Andrews College at the University of Saskatchewan.

Photo from Wikipedia

Nettie ran for the leadership of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party

She currently serves on an independent panel of experts shaping debates on how to transition to sustainable food systems around the world.

She and her partner own a farm in rural Saskatchewan where they raise cattle, organic grains and pulse crops.

Nettie Wiebe is a Canadian woman who has made a difference. She’s an inspiration!

Other posts…………

Cora Hind – The Wheat Oracle Who Wore Pants

Today is Saskatchewan Day

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas


Filed under Canada, History

Personal Connections For the Win!

I loved watching the Canada Reads competition this year primarily because it gave me a chance to observe Mattea Roach in action. What a delight to see this master debater at work!

Kate Beaton the author of Ducks- photo from the Drawn and Quarterly website

Mattea was defending the book Ducks by Kate Beaton. It is a non-fiction graphic novel that describes the author’s time spent working in the oil sands of Alberta in order to pay off her student loans.

Mattea Roach on Jeopardy- from Mattea Roach’s Twitter account

Of course, my husband Dave and I never miss an episode of Jeopardy so we were very familiar with what a knowledgeable and intelligent person Mattea is from seeing her become a star on the television game show where she emerged as the most successful Canadian contestant ever as she matched wits with competitor after competitor eventually winning 23 games and more than half a million American dollars.

The first brilliant move Mattea made in the Canada Reads competition was to choose a book to defend that she could connect with in such a personal way.

Kate Beaton the protagonist in Ducks is from Cape Breton and although Mattea grew up in Halifax she has Cape Breton family as well.

This personal connection with the Maritimes allowed Mattea to speak with heart and integrity because she too knows both the joys and challenges of being from the most eastern part of Canada.

Photo by the CBC from Matteo Roach’s Twitter page

Mattea had also been a university student. She got a general arts degree just like the character Kate in the book and Mattea ended her years of study with huge debt just like the main character in Ducks.

When people questioned the motivations of the young woman in Ducks for taking a job in the oil sands to pay off her student loans Kate was able to speak from personal experience to explain Kate’s decision because she knows too what it’s like to be a university graduate with debt who comes from a part of Canada where jobs aren’t plentiful.

Mattea Roach with the other panelists – photo from the CBC
Keegan Connor Tracy, Gurdeep Pandher, Mattea Roach, Michael Greyeyes, Tasnim Geedi

The second way Mattea used personal connection to achieve a victory on Canada Reads was by connecting her book to each of the show’s competitors and their novels in her final chance to defend Ducks. She went around the table and used what she had learned about the other Canada Reads panelists to make a final personal appeal to each of them to vote for her book.

I was not surprised to see Mattea win Canada Reads because after having observed her on Jeopardy and listening to her host the current season of the podcast The Backbench I knew what a quick thinker, articulate speaker and hard-working person Mattea is.

Photo by the CBC from Mattea Roach’s Twitter account

But I think it was using the advantage and power of personal connection that ultimately helped Mattea win Canada Reads.

Other posts…………

Reading Pictures

I Read Canadian

The Hero’s Walk- Canada Reads

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Filed under Books, Canada

There Soon Won’t Be Enough People in the World!

My grandparents with their children and grandchildren

My paternal grandparents had six children.

My parents had four children.

My husband and I have two children.

Do you see a pattern? It’s one you will find worldwide. Families are getting smaller.

And because of that……..there soon won’t be enough people in the world!

For years now we’ve been told that the increasing population of our planet is bad for the environment and that the demands so many people are making on the world’s resources will eventually destroy it.

We’ve been bombarded with the message that having fewer children is the primary way to save the planet. We must curb population growth!

That’s why it seemed strange to read, in a variety of recent articles in the New York Times and The Globe and Mail and The Lancet that the world’s population is about to experience an irreversible decline and while that may be great for the environment it’s not necessarily good for the human family.

In China, their past one-child policy has had a detrimental effect on the country’s long-term health. I took this photo in Jiang China in 2003.

In countries where decreasing populations are already a reality like Japan, Italy, China, South Korea, Australia, Sweden, Taiwan and the Philippines governments are actively intervening to increase the birth rate. They are very worried about how a smaller and smaller population of young people will be able to handle the burden of caring for a larger and larger population of old people.

These countries realize they need a growing contingent of young people to…….

use their money to purchase enough consumer goods to maintain their country’s economic health,

do the jobs that are required to keep their country’s infrastructure healthy and functioning,

pay taxes that will support the social programs which make everyone’s lives in their country better,

and contribute their minds and skills to the pool of creative thinkers and inventors required to solve their country’s problems.

Some countries are offering generous cash payouts to citizens for having children, while others are increasing the length of parental leave and making child care more affordable. Some are offering free fertility clinic services or increased tax deductions for families with children.

In Canada we’ve been relying on immigration to increase our population, setting targets of some half a million immigrants a year. But as the population declines in the countries our immigrants come from, that may not always be a viable option.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Manitoba last week to announce $ 10-a-day childcare for families in the provincephoto from the CBC

In 2023 Canada rolled out programs for free dental care for children and $10 a day childcare for families. Perhaps they are hoping by lowering the costs of having a child more people will be encouraged to add to their families.

It is still true that a declining world population will help the environment which is a positive thing but……… it will create a host of other major problems.

I won’t be around to see what happens but I’m hopeful that my grandchildren with their curious intelligence, creative spark and compassionate personalities will contribute to finding ways to deal with the challenges and opportunities a declining world population will bring with it.

Other posts………

What an Audacious Statement

She’s Lived For A Century

Paternity Leave- A Winning Scenario


Filed under Canada, Family, Politics

Words of Wisdom For 2023 From Erin O Toole

Erin O’Toole, former leader of Canada’s Conservative party has a podcast called Blue Skies. A recent blog post associated with it featured an excellent opinion piece bemoaning the way Canadians have become accepting and complacent about the aggressive often violent language in current political discourse and the tone of division and distrust which seems to permeate it.  

Freedom Convoy in Ottawa

O’Toole expresses the hope that in 2023 he will see fewer profanity-laden flags and placards and signs about Justin Trudeau. According to O’Toole, they are a symbol of a kind of hyper-aggressive rhetoric he fears is normalizing rage and damaging democracy. 

O’Toole is dismayed at the way extremists on both the political left and right are treating one another like enemies. They refuse to even listen to opposing perspectives. They make no effort to persuade people to change their minds in a reasoned fashion. Instead, they resort to pandering to the views of those who already support them with attention-grabbing insults. This only leads to greater polarization. 

O’Toole suggests some sources of this polarization – the amplification of angry voices by social media, the influence of the American political scene and the frustration brought on by the pandemic. 

Mr O’Toole’s remarks reminded me of a Steinbach friend who was driving his grandson home from school one day during the convoy protests. The child saw an expletive referring to Justin Trudeau on a sign and asked his grandfather why adults were allowed to say things about the prime minister he had been taught were impolite and disrespectful. I remember going for a walk in the nearby community of Mitchell with a friend around the same time and seeing a similar profanity about the prime minister on a building there and thinking children see that every day. 

Erin O’Toole

Mr O’Toole says he made it very clear to his own children during the last election that the Prime Minister was “not his enemy” but his political opponent.

Ironically the former Conservative Party leader is a prime example of just how easy it is to forget one’s laudable goals of sticking to policy critiques rather than personal ones. It took only a minute to find a news article online from the last federal election campaign where Mr O’Toole slammed Justin Trudeau as “privileged, entitled and only looking out for number one.”

I give him credit for suggesting in his recent podcast he is having second thoughts about that kind of rhetoric.

Although Mr O’Toole says both politicians on the left and right have been extremists in their actions and words conservative politicians have an even greater responsibility to affect change because seeding division and disorder is contrary to the very foundational principles of modern conservatism. 

Edmund Burke

Mr O’Toole references the philosopher and economist Edmund Burke who he suggests provided the framework for the modern conservative movement. Burke warned that rash actions and disorderly conduct were not the hallmarks of true conservatives and that rage could quickly tear down things prudence and deliberation had spent centuries building. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre greet each other as they gather in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.  SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Although anyone who reads my column regularly knows I have never been a Conservative Party supporter I find Mr O’Toole’s advice both wise and timely and something I personally need to take to heart when I write about politics.

In the coming year instead of treating other Canadians who we may disagree with as enemies, and becoming outraged with them, we need to try our best to refrain from personal attacks and engage in reasoned debate and respectful interaction. 

Other posts………

Overheard While Standing in Line to Vote

Single Young Women Are the Problem

Mandatory Voting

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Filed under Canada, Politics

Using Newspapers to Create Art of Exquisite Beauty

Canadian artist Myriam Dion recycles old newspapers into intricate works of art that simply take your breath away. She makes tiny precise cuts in the pages of newspapers to create meaningful masterpieces. You can find some on display now in the Headlines exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The name and date of the newspaper Myriam uses for each artwork are hidden somewhere in every piece. If you look carefully at the top of this photo you can see this one was from an August 2020 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

The page in the newspaper that inspired this artwork was describing the wildfires in California. Myriam often tries to pick appropriate colours and designs that convey something of the story. Here she has used the reds and oranges of the fire and the edge of the artwork looks sooty and singed.

Myriam usually includes some images that relate to the story on the page she uses for her artwork. Here you can see people in their cars trying to escape the fires.

Myriam works with an Exacto knife. With bigger works, she sometimes makes a stencil but most of the time, she doesn’t have a pattern figured out ahead of time before she begins cutting. She just improvises and lets the image and the content of the news story guide her hand. Dion says she has been influenced by handicraft arts like weaving, embroidery, lacework and other traditional handicrafts.

In this piece, Myriam has not only cut but has also folded the newspaper as well to create a collar.

If you look closely you can see an image of American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, well known for her rulings that were instrumental in gaining equal rights for women in the United States.

Myriam used a copy of a page from the New York Times June 15th, 1993 issue, the day President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court.

Myriam used a collar shape for her artwork because Ruth Bader Ginsberg was known for the unique collars she wore with her judicial robes.

There are other pieces by Myriam on display in the current Headlines The Art of the News Cycle exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, each as intriguing as these two. You will want to check them out.

Other posts…………

The Wheat Oracle Who Wore Pants

Perfect Companions

I’m Back At Work

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Filed under Art, Canada, winnipeg art gallery

The Best Way To Spend I Read Canadian Day

Did you know that exactly one week ago, November 2 was I Read Canadian Day? It’s a special day set aside to raise awareness of Canadian books for children and celebrate their richness, diversity and breadth.

I got to spend I Read Canadian Day in the best way possible. I was invited to make an author visit to John Pritchard School in Winnipeg to talk about my novel Lost on the Prairie which the grade six kids in Allison Caldwell’s room had just finished reading!

What a delight! Those students knew my novel inside and out! They had come up with twenty questions about Lost on the Prairie that really got me thinking and brought to mind all kinds of stories I could tell them about the writing of the book and my family members who inspired it.

They were so interested in the family artefacts I had brought along and when it was time to go out for recess many stayed behind to ask me MORE questions and to get my autograph.

I felt like a celebrity!

A Canadian author, visiting Canadian kids, in a Canadian classroom, in a Canadian school! What better way to celebrate I Read Canadian Day?

This week I made a pile of middle-grade fiction books by Canadians currently on my bookshelves but it really doesn’t do justice to all the amazing work by Canadian authors I’ve read over the last while.

That’s because I give away so many of the books immediately after reading them. Some go to my grandson who is ten or to my son who teaches a grade six languages arts class. I take them to our church to put in the library there so more kids will have a chance to read them. Many of the books in the stack pictured here will soon find their way to those destinations as well.

The next time you are buying a book for children why not be deliberate about buying Canadian? There are so many FANTASTIC titles out there for Canadian kids by Canadian authors.


Here are the most recent blog posts I’ve done about AMAZING books by Canadian authors!

Harvey Takes The Lead by Colleen Nelson

The U-nique Lou Fox by Jodi Carmichael

Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer by Leslie Gentile

Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy

The Undercover Book List by Colleen Nelson

Rescue At Lake Wild by Terry Lynne Johnson

Tainted Amber by Gabriele Goldstone

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes by Kathy Stinson

Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young

The Vegetable Museum by Michelle Mulder and Peter Lee’s Notes From the Field by Angela Ahn

The Fabulous Zed Watson by Basil and Kevin Silvester

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Filed under Books, Canada, Education, Lost on the Prairie

All Those Famous Canadian Writers

During our time on Pelee Island we visited the Pelee Island Heritage Centre founded in 1988 by none other than our intrepid biking tour guide Ron Tiessen.

Ron served as the museum’s curator for more than twenty years and is now recognized as its curator emeritus. The museum Ron founded is truly an eclectic place with …………

The old telephone system that an operator once used to keep folks on the island connected

A huge wasp nest found in the vicinity.

Fossils and stones that document the geologic history of Pelee Island.

A hand painted map of shipwrecks in the Pelee Island area.

A photo showing an aerial view of the island.

A painting of one of the steamer ferries that brought visitors out to the island in the 1930s.

Stuffed versions of some of the animals and birds found on the island.

But what really fascinated me were these posters advertising Spring Song an annual celebration held each May on Pelee Island. The literary guests for this event read like a who’s who of Canadian literature- Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Louise Penny, Farley Mowat, Lawrence Hill, David Suzuki, Miriam Toews, Elizabeth Hay, Vincent Lam, Joseph Boyden, Nino Ricci, Madeline Thien, Lorna Crozier and Jane Urquhart . 

Spring Song is traditionally held on Mother’s Day Weekend and began in 2002 as a fundraiser for the Pelee Island Heritage Centre. It is a joint project of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory and Canadian author Margaret Atwood who has a home on Pelee Island.

Each year a different birding expert comes out to the island as a Spring Song guest to lead a 24 hour competition to spot the most species of birds from the nearly 400 species that inhabit the island. Margaret Atwood hosts a banquet later where the winning birding team is announced and a well-known guest Canadian author gives a talk.

Spring Song it is definitely an event that could draw me back to Pelee Island in the future, perhaps with one of the birding aficionados in my family in tow.

Other posts…………

Ron the Storyteller

The Last Winery on Our Tour

Back to Pelee Island

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Filed under Canada, Cycling Trip- Ontario, Nature

No Trespassing and No Hunting

Meet Ron Tiessen a walking encyclopedia about Pelee Island.  Ron has made his home on the island since 1979 when he began a farming operation there with my husband Dave’s brother John. 

Ron served for many years as the curator and director of the Pelee Island Heritage Centre. We were lucky enough to have him spend two mornings with us cycling around the island and introducing us to so many interesting things. 

Dave walking up to the beautiful home built in 1911 which Ron shares with his wife Lynne a descendant of one of the first families to make their home on the island in the early 1830s. 

I took some pleasure as a woman posing with the sign of a club that had an exclusively male membership for over a century.

One of the places Ron took us to was the Pelee Club. It is an exclusive fishing and hunting club founded in 1883. Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln was a member, as was George Pullman the inventor of the Pullman railway car. Other members were Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland and William Taft.

Photo from the Pelee Club website

The club is still in operation today for those who can afford the fees.

The signs on the driveway of the Pelee Club said No Trespassing. Did we silently walk through the woods anyway to get a glimpse of this exclusive haven for the rich and famous? You won’t find out from me.

We definitely weren’t trespassing at the cemetery where Ron showed us the tombstones for the multiple victims of a tragic Pelee Island boating accident in 1888.

We also saw the graves of William and Mary McCormick who are considered the founders of the first permanent settlement on Pelee Island. They moved their family to the island in 1834. An Indigenous presence on the island can be dated to some 10,000 years before that.

There are many sad stories recorded in the cemetery, including the one about these two brothers from the Island who were both shot down while flying bombers during World War II.

We stopped at the island’s schoolhouse built in 1918 and still in use today. This is where Dave’s Dad and his aunts and uncles were once students during the time they lived as sharecroppers on the island after immigrating to Canada from Ukraine.

Dave was delighted when we visited the island’s museum later to find a school register with the names of some of his aunts and uncles in it.

The No Hunting sign on the schoolyard was probably placed there for the hunters who descend on the island every fall for the annual pheasant hunt.

We saw this photo of pheasant hunters in the island’s museum. The hunt has been going on since 1932. The pheasants are especially raised on a farm on the island and then released for the hunt. Dave’s brother John and his wife Linda supplemented their farming income by offering room and board to groups of pheasant hunters when they lived on Pelee Island.

Ron is not only an expert on the history of Pelee Island but also has wealth of knowledge about the island’s flora and fauna. Pelee Island is home to thousands of unique species of birds, plants, insects and wildlife not to be found elsewhere in Canada. Here Ron shows us the leaves of a Kentucky Coffee Tree, a species that is a rare find in southern Ontario.

When you are on a tour with Ron you do lots of LISTENING as he spins fascinating tales of an attempt by American Mafia members to take over the island, huge community hockey games his three sons participated in on a quarry pond, author Margaret Atwood’s long association with the island and the story of Huldah’s Rock a memorial stone that marks the spot where an Indigenous maiden plunged to her death in sorrow over her English’s husband broken vow to return to her.

Log house built by the Fox family in 1837

There are so many heritage homes on the island and Ron can tell you stories about them all and the families who owned them.

Ron talked about the island’s agricultural history. As this fascinating 1946 article in Macleans magazine by Gordon Sinclair points out at one time 80% of the islands 11,000 acres was cultivated. Many different crops have been grown there- tobacco, grapes, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, onions, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, hemp, sunflowers, peaches, apricots and cotton.

Our last stop on our Sunday morning tour was at a stone quarry. The island has a number of them. The first stones were quarried in 1821. Besides being used for construction on the island stone from these quarries was used to build the Welland Canal, a church in Colchester, sidewalks in Toronto, docks in Hamilton, a post office in Sarnia, streets in Chatham and many other projects.

This is just a smattering of things we learned from Ron about Pelee Island during our first morning with him. As I said Ron Tiessen is the walking Pelee Island encyclopedia.

Other posts…………

The Driedger Bike Boblo Island

A Winnipeg Island Full of History


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Filed under Canada, Cycling Trip- Ontario