Category Archives: Western Canada Travels

Embroidery

When we toured artist Emily Carr’s house in Victoria we saw these gorgeous heirloom fire screens that had been embroidered by Emily’s mother.

I have an heirloom piece of embroidery as well from my grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters. (1900-1999) I keep it on my bedroom dresser to remind me of her.

I was usually at my grandparents’ home in Gnadenthal Manitoba with my siblings or my thirteen cousins but occasionally I went there all by myself and have distinct memories of my grandmother teaching me to embroider on those visits.

I just ordered myself an embroidery kit for beginners online. Inspired by Emily Carr’s mother and my grandmother I’m going to reintroduce myself to this art form which I tried in childhood.

Other posts……..

Stitching a Story

All Those Doilies

Stitched with Love

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What A Trip!

This past month I immersed myself in nature. I studied the work of famous artists. I fostered friendships old and new. I explored Canadian history.

Since retiring from teaching my husband and I have made annual fall trips to places like Iceland, Germany, Croatia, Austria, Utah, Florida, Chicago, and New York. This year because of the pandemic, we thought it would be easiest and safest to stay in Canada.  So, we decided to drive to British Columbia and spend October there. 

We walked for many miles along the shore of the Pacific listening to the pounding surf and admiring the way the waves had turned the smooth sand, uprooted trees, and fragile shells into works of art.  We soaked in the beauty of shadowy old-growth forests, mist-shrouded mountains, and millions of leaves aflame with autumn color.  We watched the antics of seals in Victoria Harbor, listened to a bellowing choir of sea lions in Cowichan Bay, and delighted in the eating techniques of a sea otter having her breakfast by the dock in Tofino. 

We visited the childhood home of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most renowned artists known for her ability to ‘make trees dance’ in landscape paintings of the pacific northwest.

We explored a gallery where the genius of Robert Bateman was displayed in his realistic renditions of owls, cardinals, eagles, puffins, and egrets. “The world would be a better place if everyone was a bird watcher,” Bateman once said. 

In the rotunda of the British Columbia Legislature, we saw a giant wooden canoe designed and carved by Steven L. Point the first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The canoe is called Shxwtitosel which in the Halq’eméylem language means a safe place to cross the river. It represents the idea of building bridges between people.  

In New Westminster, I visited an old friend from my high school days in Steinbach.  We shared memories of the past and found we still enjoyed many of the same interests when it came to books, music, and art.

Near Surrey, I met a second cousin for the first time. She is an amateur historian and provided me with all kinds of help via e-mail when I was writing my novel Lost on the Prairie inspired by my grandfather’s life. It was a privilege to chat with her about our family’s interesting history. 

In Tofino, I had lunch with a former colleague. We taught together in the 1970s and 80s at Elmdale School in Steinbach. We had a great time bringing each other up to date on the paths our respective lives have taken. 

We stayed with my brother and his husband in Victoria. They moved there a year ago and were anxious to introduce us to all the things they have discovered about their new home. 

From a plaque on the Victoria harbor, I learned for the first time about Canadian adventurer Jeanne Socrates who twice completed a solo sail around the world at ages 70 and 77 making her the first woman and oldest person to accomplish that feat. 

In Kinsol I walked across one of the highest free-standing timber trestle bridges in the world. Built in the 1920s, it is a historic reminder of the glory days of mining and lumbering in the west. 

My trip to British Columbia reaffirmed that Canada is an amazing country. There is so much to see and do and learn right here.  I want to remember that even when borders re-open and higher vaccination rates make international travel safer.  Exploring my own country should remain a priority. 

Other posts……….

Beauty on the Beach

Tree Monsters and Trestles

I Love A Walking Holiday

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Ghost Town And A Fun Evening

It felt a bit like a ghost town. We spent a couple of hours walking through downtown Calgary earlier this week. I had read a recent article in The Globe and Mail about Calgary’s hollowed-out city center where some 13.5 million square feet of office space sits empty thanks to the pandemic and a downturn in the oil and gas industry.

And that’s what we found. Not only empty office buildings, but empty stores and restaurants and streets and public transportation even though it was around noon on what should have been a busy business day. Sadly the plight of the homeless and those struggling with addictions were also evident everywhere we turned in downtown Calgary.

The skyline is stunning and many of the buildings we saw are real architectural wonders. The city already is planning how they might fill them, by changing them to cultural centers, or entertainment venues, or apartments or office space for industries that pivot away from oil and gas. Hopefully, in a few years, the Calgary city center will be a thriving place again.

Our waitress Niki with my husband Dave

Our evening in Calgary by contrast was full of life and fun. We got together with my cousin Tim and his wife Jackie for supper at The Toolshed, a brewery, and barbeque establishment. Our waitress Niki who also works as a flight attendant was just delightful and filled us in on The Toolshed history as well as the origin of the names of the various beers they had on tap. During our conversation, we discovered she was a huge fan of our son’s music group Royal Canoe and she was excited about meeting the parents of one of the band members.

It had been many years since we’d had a chance for a good visit with Tim and Jackie. It was great to catch up and we spent a delightful evening with them.

Calgary is no different than any city in having some problems they need to address. But like every city we have visited in Canada it also has plenty of warm and friendly people.

Other posts……….

The Calgary Library

Haunted By Ghosts

Cousins

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What A Library!

I had heard the Calgary Library was something really special and so I wanted to pay a visit. The outside design of the building is certainly unique.

and the architecture inside is no less spectacular.

There are four floors full of light and space. Nothing felt crowded, except perhaps the playground in the children’s section which was filled with kids having a wonderful time. For privacy considerations, I didn’t take photos but it was clear the area is very popular.

I loved these colorful theme-specific book carts in the children’s area.

There are so many beautiful and unique kinds of areas to sit and read you’d have to visit the library dozens of times to try them all out.

And the views of the Calgary skyline through the library windows are fantastic.

There are art pieces throughout the library almost all of them from the Indigenous community. This piece, a bison made from alphabet letters was called Education is the New Buffalo.

There are special sections in the library for every age with unique features designed especially for that group in mind.

The Calgary Library is a special place, no doubt about it and……… something that made it extra special for me………. was discovering they have three copies of my book Lost on the Prairie in their catalog. How great is that?

Other posts…………

Winnipeg’s Millenium Library

The Library of Ever

A Waterfall on the Library

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Bits and Pieces of Vancouver Island

Yesterday we left Vancouver Island but there are some memorable things that happened there I don’t want to forget and haven’t posted about yet.

I had a lovely long lunch in Tofino with a former teaching colleague from Elmdale School in Steinbach. Joanne and I taught together more than thirty-five years ago but we both have fond memories of our years at Elmdale when we were just beginning our teaching careers. Joanne lives in Whistler BC now where she recently retired from teaching. Through social media, we realized we would both be in Tofino at the same time. It was so great to visit and reconnect and talk about our life journeys.

Although it was chilly and rainy for much of our time on the island we did have a warm and gorgeous autumn afternoon on a golf course in Qualicum Beach where we played nine holes with a friendly local couple about our age.

There are lots of sea mammals one can spot on the Vancouver Island coast. We saw three. On an afternoon hike along the breakwater in Victoria, we stopped to enjoy the antics of a seal. On our way to Tofino, we had lunch in Cowichan Bay and then spent a delightful half-hour or so marveling at the sounds of a sea lion choir.

Photo by Harvey Koffman

The sea lions were all different shapes and colors and sang at various pitches, making a myriad of crazy sounds, seemingly doing a kind of call and response with one another. It got incredibly loud at times.

Then our first morning in Tofino we walked down to the water and spent a long time watching a sea otter dive to catch shellfish, flip over on its back and crack them open to eat. There was a gull swimming nearby making sure it could feast on the remnants of the shellfish.

Although I said I wouldn’t write anymore about Dave’s beer brewing research we did visit a brewery in Tofino where he continued to explore the world of British Columbia beer.

There is a giant wooden canoe in the rotunda when you walk into the Legislative Buildings in Victoria. It was carved by Steven L. Point the first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The canoe is called Shxwtitosel which in the Halq’eméylem language means a safe place to cross the river. It represents the idea of building bridges between all the different people in BC.

I saw this unique tribute on the steps of the BC Legislature in Victoria in memory of all the Indigenous children found in unmarked graves in Canadian residential school burial grounds. There were hundreds of orange shirts each with a cross and a stone on them.

I discovered that the Victoria Art Gallery is partially housed in a beautiful heritage home.

On our drive back to Victoria from Tofino, we stopped for soup and cornbread at a country market cafe in Coombs called Goats on the Roof. The place was built by a family from Norway in the 1950s who decided to give it a sod roof like many traditional homes in Norway. In the 1980s the grass on the roof had become too tall and to spruce it up for the local county fair the family borrowed some goats to eat the grass. It turned their business into a tourist hotspot that now attracts more than a million visitors a year.

Probably other bits of Vancouver Island will find their way into posts I do in the future, but for now, we have said goodbye to the island. We had a great time there.

Other posts……..

My Grandchildren Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

I Love A Walking Holiday

A Post About Beer For Emily

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Resilience

Bald Eagle – by Robert Bateman-2010- Photographed at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria

What has helped to make you resilient during the pandemic? Think about it. Draw it. Share it.

Those were the instructions for an interesting activity I participated in at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria. The gallery displays the masterpieces of renowned Canadian artist Robert Bateman but also highlights the work done by the Bateman Foundation. The Foundation is funded by proceeds from Robert Bateman’s art sales. It sponsors art therapy programming for children and adults. In the art therapy room at the gallery, visitors were invited to take part in a community art activity.

The portrait wall at The Bateman Gallery.

We were asked to create a self-portrait and write about the things that had kept us resilient during the pandemic. Then we were invited to illustrate a mask with pictures of those things.

I said my writing, the ability to learn new things, and the love of my family and friends helped me stay resilient during the pandemic.

I drew my four grandchildren and a copy of my novel Lost on the Prairie on my mask to illustrate my sources of resilience.

If you are interested in trying this activity you can download it on the Bateman Gallery website.

Peregrine and Wave by Robert Bateman-2009- Photographed at the Bateman Gallery in Victoria

“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.”
― Sharon Salzberg

Other posts………

Oh What Fun

Getting Involved At the Human Rights Museum

The World Would Be A Better Place If Everyone Was A Birdwatcher

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It’s All About Emily

One of the reasons I was excited about visiting Victoria was because I knew it was the home of artist Emily Carr. I am a big fan of hers and have taught many different ages of children about Emily both in my school classrooms and at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when I worked there as a guide before the pandemic.

There is a statue of Emily Carr at the heart of the city of Victoria. Created by artist Barbara Patterson in 2010 it is called Our Emily. The accompanying plaque recognizes Emily Carr as British Columbia’s most famous artist.

One place you can learn about Emily is the Victoria Art Gallery. Their current exhibit about her is called Seeing and Being Seen. You can look at Emily Carr’s work and then look at the work other artists had done about her or did because they were inspired by her.

BC Forest by Emily Carr -1939 and The Hornby Suite Homage to Emily Carr- 1971 Jack Shadbolt

One of the items in the exhibit was this porcelain version of Emily Carr’s childhood home.

Emily Carr’s House by Valerie Pugh – 1981

Later we visited Emily Carr’s childhood home which is now a museum.

It is on Government Street but as this sign tells us when Emily lived there as a child the street was named after her family because their home was probably the only one on it in 1863 when it was built.

This plaque at Carr House shows Emily with her sisters

Although Emily studied art in Europe and spent some time living in San Francisco she often came back to the house in Victoria which her older sister Edith inherited after their father died.

Emily in the yard of her home on Simcoe Street. She raised sheepdogs, took in boarders and had all kinds of pets including a monkey named Woo. She chronicles that period of her life in her book The House of All Sorts.

Eventually, Emily would own a boarding house nearby on Simcoe Street but she gave art lessons in her childhood home.

Pascale our guide at Carr House talks about the work Emily did when she spent time in Indigenous communities near Ucluelet and on Haida Gwaii.

I have read Emily’s books, which made her famous before her art did, and I have studied her biography fairly thoroughly for the lessons and tours I have given about her. So it was really interesting to discuss various questions about her personal life and art with our guide at Carr House, a history graduate named Pascale. We talked about the way Emily shunned convention, her individualism and eccentricities, and her paintings of the villages of the Indigenous people of BC which some say are controversial since Emily wasn’t Indigenous.

Emily’s friends visit her at her caravan which she dubbed Elephant. She often took this travelling art studio out in the woods when she was painting the Pacific Northwest landscape.

We talked about Emily’s personal life, the way she shunned marriage in order to concentrate on her art, her group of female friends and the way her family discouraged her art. They thought it worthless and sometimes threw away the artwork she made for them as gifts. We speculated how they would react now when Emily’s paintings are selling for over 3 million dollars.

An exhibit in Carr House explains how the house became a restored Heritage Home in Victoria.

From Pascale I learned how Member of Parliament David Groos bought the Carr house in 1964, mortgaging his own home to do so, much to the consternation of his wife. Eventually, the Government of British Columbia bought the home from Mr Groos.

Just after we left the house we walked by the James Bay Inn where Emily died on March 3, 1945. At the time the inn was St. Mary’s Priory, a convalescent nursing home.

There are other things I could do and sites I could visit in Victoria and on Vancouver Island that would help me learn more about Emily’s life and legacy but I will have to save those for a second visit. Emily was such a complex and interesting person that there will always be new things to learn about her.

Other posts………

Talk About Defying Convention

Imitating Emily

Old Sun and Emily Carr

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Beauty on The Beach

One day in Tofino we went walking down Long Beach for several hours.

The surf was loud and pounding during our whole walk and the day was chilly and overcast much of the time. But there were so many wondrous and interesting things to see along the beach.

The waves and wind had created beautiful pictures in the sand.

I loved the various shades of pinks and purples in this shell.

This piece of wood brought to mind the profile of a fox.

Dave captured the beauty of this tiny bird perched on a log on the beach.

I shivered just thinking about these surfers going into the water on such a cold day but I admired their sense of adventure.

Look at the artistic way the wind and waves had created a sculpture out of this piece of wood.

The many coils of kelp we encountered often looked like abstract paintings.

Past beach walkers had used their ingenuity to create all kinds of unique shelters with driftwood.

This seaweed reminded me of a flower.

Look how this jellyfish blends in beautifully with its surroundings.

It was lovely to see green things sprouting on dead wood.

Dave silhouetted against the sky and sea and sand. I loved the way the clouds were reflected in the water pooling on the beach just behind him.

Other posts………

Biking on the Beach in Costa Rica

Autumn Beauty on the Black Sand Beach in Iceland

A Walk At Hillside Beach

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Tree Monsters and Trestles

I am well aware I look like some kind of tree monster in this photo. All I can say is, “My brother made me do it!”

A couple of days ago we were hiking a trail at the base of the Kinsol Trestle Bridge in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley and my brother Ken got the bright idea that if I stuck my head through a hole in this fallen tree it would make an interesting photo. He was right.

This is how the tree looked before I got involved.

The trail we were hiking was full of gorgeous trees and was at the base of this enormous trestle bridge.

The Kinsol Trestle is one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world.

It is 187 meters in length and towers 44 meters above the salmon-bearing Koksilah River.  I have to admit leaning over the railing to take this photo of the river from that high up was a little scary.

Perhaps if I had seen this view of the bridge first I would have been too fearful to walk over it.

The rail bridge was constructed in 1920 and provided a way for trains hauling lumber out of the area to cross the river.

A photo near the bridge shows what it looked like when trains rather than hikers used it.

The bridge gets its name Kinsol because it is a short way of saying King Solomon which was the name of a nearby mining venture which was never that successful.

The railroad shut down in the 1980s but the bridge was still basically sound and so was rebuilt for cyclists and walkers. The refurbished bridge opened to the public in 2011.

Beneath the bridge leading off in several directions are beautiful walking trails and we explored one of them.

The colors of autumn were out in full force and it was a wonderful way to spend a golden October afternoon.

Other posts………..

Agnes McDonald’s Railroad Adventure

Up In The Trees With A Man Who Knew It All

Living Beings Just Like Us

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The World Would Be A Better Place If Everyone Was A Birdwatcher

Chief by Robert Bateman- photographed at The Bateman Gallery Victoria

Does this painting of a bison make you think of a logging truck barreling down the road creating clouds of dust and then swerving suddenly towards YOU? That’s what Robert Bateman was envisioning when he painted it.

Everglades by Robert Bateman -photographed at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria

Does this painting of eight different kinds of water birds conjure up images of ballet dancers on stage getting ready to perform Swan Lake? That’s what Robert Bateman was thinking of when he painted it.

My friend Esther encouraged me to visit The Bateman Gallery in Victoria and I am so glad she recommended it. My curiosity about Robert Bateman had also been piqued by writer Margriet Ruurs who was the keynote speaker at a children’s writing conference I attended. Both Margriet and Robert Bateman live on Saltspring Island and Margriet has written a book for children about Robert and his art.

Lake Sasajewun – Algonquin Provincial Park- Robert Bateman 1948- Photographed at The Bateman Gallery Victoria

At The Bateman Gallery, I learned Robert was once a more impressionistic kind of painter like the Group of Seven but decided at one point he could either become part of the elite and more academic art world or paint what his heart told him he really wanted to paint and that was realistic renditions of the natural world. For many years before he was a full-time artist, Robert was a teacher helping kids learn to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature.

Robert Bateman Self Portrait – Photographed at The Bateman Gallery Victoria

It was interesting to discover that Robert takes some 50 or more photos of things he wants to paint. And it was also interesting to hear him talk on videos about what inspires his ideas for certain paintings.

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Rail Fence by Robert Bateman -photographed at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria

Does this painting of two red-winged blackbirds bring to mind a pair of Japanese samurai warriors ready for battle? Robert Bateman was inspired by that idea as he created this masterpiece.

Cardinal and Sumac by Robert Bateman- photographed at The Bateman Gallery Victoria

Once on a visit to The Smithsonian, Robert saw a man in a red turban walk past a red wall and that made him decide to do a painting of the reddest bird and the reddest tree he could think of.

The Birdwatcher by Robert Bateman -photographed at The Bateman Gallery in Victoria

Robert Bateman has said that “The world would be a better place if everyone was a birdwatcher.” He thinks it is vital for every person to have an informed and intimate relationship with nature. In a video we watched at the gallery, he talked about how important it is to get out into nature to give ourselves a sense of place in the natural world. He thinks nature can work a kind of magic on people. His artwork is proof that it can.

Other posts……..

Cataloguing History One Face At A Time

Lessons From Birds

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Bison

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