Friday, August 31, 2012

Such Darling Dodos, by Angus Wilson

Image from Goodreads

The collection of short stories by Angus Wilson, Such Darling Dodos (London: Secker and Warburg, 1954), is satirical, funny and brilliant. I borrowed this copy, a third imprint after its original publication in 1950, from the Vancouver Public Library. Some of Wilson's novels have been reissued since 2000.

Wilson's habit of omniscient narration allows him to plumb his characters thoroughly. In "Learning's Little Tribute," we are shown Miss Wells, "scuttling with unseemly haste" toward the cemetery gates after the funeral of a colleague. This, even though she is well aware that while it is right "to leave the relatives to their private grief," one should not depart "at the double."

This lady's misfortune, Wilson tells us, is that "though well equipped with the proper rules of conduct in life, she too often spoiled their effect in her anxiety to show her knowledge of them."

Later in the story, the snobbery of Mr. Brunton, with his "sharp little eyes" and "blue-jowled face," is unveiled in this singular sentence by the all-seeing yet not entirely ruthless narrator: "The more kindly genial side of his nature, which he reserved for his private life and in particular for his academic hobby, was not proof against the rush of more brutal sentiments which surged up in him as he saw his offer rejected in this offhand manner by a person of absolutely no importance."

"A Little Companion" is both tragic and screamingly funny. A forty-seven-year-old woman, who considers that she has come to a calm and practical acceptance her "old maid" status, is visited by the mischievous and changeable spirit of a child who calls her Mummy, and wants always to race her home. Though this visitation increasingly annoys Miss Arkwright, the manner of its eventual departure is unexpected and poignant.

"Christmas Day in the Workhouse" provides a birds-eye view of a war-time party. The setting was no doubt inspired by Wilson's time at the secret code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park. Again, he portrays the human weaknesses of snobbery and class sensibility, with a potent combination of humour and compassion.

"Totentanz" presents a wry glimpse of the social life of the academic set. The story opens at a Scottish university party, with the news that the aging but still boyish Brian has been awarded the prestigious London Professory of the History of Technics and Art. Sadly affected by the "long apprenticeship in pleasing," Brian can hardly wait to get out of the provincial backwater and assume the new professorship. At the same time, his wife Isobel, whose only career option is social climbing, inherits money enough to live a London life more in line with her aspirations.

As she climbs the social ladder, Isobel gets to know Professor Cadaver and his art-admiring wife Lady Maude, who has "seen everything ...locked from all other Western gaze by Soviet secrecy or Muslim piety." She has been shown by American millionaires their art treasures "of provenance so dubious that they could not be publicly announced without international complications" and "has spent many hours watching the best modern fakers at work."

Meanwhile, unaware that he needs money to pay an endless stream of blackmailers, Isobel has put herself in the hands of a current London fashion maven, Guy Rice. Isobel's surprising friendship with this "rather old young man," grows daily, and she relies on him for help with decor, parties and clothing styles. But all good things must come to an end, and for Brian and Isobel, Wilson fashions a particularly sticky one.

The title story, "Such Darling Dodos," though less accessible to a contemporary audience, is a masterful tale. Set in the thirties, it portrays Priscilla as "a giant schoolgirl" who has pathos as her "dominating sensation." When condescending Cousin Tony is invited for a visit to give moral support while Priscilla's husband is dying, he looks down his snooty nose on Priscilla's every speech and deed. Lying in her guest bedroom in his hairnet, dyed hair and cold cream, he mentally deplores the breakfast she brings him, as well as the "over-harsh lighting and dirty flyblown glass of the dressing table mirror, placed, of course, exactly where it should not have been..."

The great thing about these stories is that while the narrator criticizes his characters with cold precision, his portrayals still manage to maintain a certain compassion. Wilson's matter-of-fact character assassinations are brilliant, tragicomic and in the netherworld of suspended disbelief, eminently believable.

The well-known British writer Sir Angus Wilson was born in 1913 in Sussex, and died in Bury St. Edmonds in 1991. He was educated at Westminster School in London and in Merton College Oxford. He was a cataloguer for the British Museum, and during the war, served the Foreign Office in Bletchley Park.

Wilson was a tireless supporter of writers and liberal social causes, and was among the first professors to be hired at the University of East Anglia, when it opened in 1966. He also wrote plays and was the biographer of Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling. Novelist and friend Margaret Drabble published Wilson's biography in 1997. His papers reside at the University of Iowa, where he taught literature courses for many years.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Feverfew

Photo: The Healing Muse

For many years, the leaves of this daisy-like plant have been used to reduce fevers, treat rheumatoid arthritis pain, and combat migraines.

However, according to the US NCCAM, the jury is still out on how effective this remedy can be. Although many doubt its efficacy in treating fever, some still use it.

The acrid taste makes its use as a herb tea impracticable. In fact, according to Gardens Ablaze, bees dislike the smell of the plant, and will not go near it. Thus, reasons the writer, it can work as an insect repellent. One recommended method of keeping bugs away is simply to rub the leaves onto the skin.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives lists this member of the Aster family as a crop. As well as being used for a variety of medicinal applications, it is used in the dried flower industry and prepared as an insect repellent.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tansy

Photo: Tansy rife along the railway, White Rock

The small gold buttons of this wildflower are beautiful. In the middle ages, tansy was used as a strewing herb, spread over rushes to make floors more fragrant for sleeping on.

Tansy was introduced to North America in the 1600s, but the province of Alberta has now designated it a noxious invasive alien species.

Dense clumps of tansy contain enough toxic alkaloids to threaten livestock, at least in theory. Fortunately, actual cases of poisoning are rare. Cattle must eat large amounts to be affected, and they don't appear to find the plant tasty.

Like other "noxious" plants, it has medicinal properties. Strongly aromatic tansy leaves can be used as an insect repellant.

According to Mrs. M. Grieve, the name probably comes from the Greek word for immortal. It was likely given because the plant was used in embalming the dead. Also, it was supposed to have have been fed to Ganymede to make him immortal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Loosestrife

Photo: Caroline Savage, Env Canada

Last summer we celebrated a friend's eightieth birthday by cruising along the Fraser in a riverboat. Curious about the gorgeous purple flowers that covered the small islands we passed, I asked someone what they were.

The answer was purple loosestrife. Native to Eurasia, in North America this plant is an invasive species. Among its epithets are marsh monster and beautiful killer.

This moisture-loving plant can quickly clog ditches, and in agricultural areas, it interferes with water flow through irrigation systems, and makes fodder less valuable. It is very hard to eradicate, as it can regenerate from roots as well as producing seeds with an almost perfect germination rate.

Individual plants grow up to two metres tall. Because it grows in wetlands, herbicides cannot be used against it. Amazingly, biological control takes the form of certain legally approved beetles and weevils that eat the plant and attack its roots and seeds, without damaging other plants.

Yet several varieties of this lovely-looking plant are grown in gardens. According to the Manitoba Purple Loosestrife Project, "garden escapes" lead to infestations: this tough and resilient plant quickly takes over, pushing out native species. Reduced biodiversity has deleterious effects on nutrient recycling and wildlife.

Oddly enough, loosestrife can be beneficial as well as being pesky. Thought to have come to North America on European ships in the early 1800s, it is believed by some to have been brought as a medicinal herb used to treat ulcers and dysentery. According to Botanical Online, the plant also combats skin diseases and conjunctivitis.

This plant's odd name is indeed derived from the Greek words for to loose, and strife. But how and why this plant came to be named this way is something I have been unable to discover.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yarrow

Photo: Herbal Remedies Info.

Though the yarrow that grows wild is often cream or white, the plant does come in various shades of pink, purple and yellow.

Grown in the garden, it is tough and hardy. The long-lasting and attractive blooms are useful for filling in bouquets, as one would use ferns, goldenrod or Queen Anne's lace.

A valued home remedy plant, its nicknames suggest  medicinal properties. Staunchweed, Bloodwort, Soldier's woundwart and Nose Bleed all refer to its longstanding use to stop bleeding.

According to Natural Healing, Achilles applied to to alleviate the bleeding wounds of his men: hence its Latin name, Achillea millefolium, or thousand-leaved Achilles. We do not know whether he applied the plant directly, or made a poultice. As war was his business, perhaps he had a salve made up ready before battle.

Commonn Yarrow is also valued as a cold and fever remedy. In this case, the flowers are made into a tea to be drunk several times a day. The plant also has been used against inflammations of various kinds.

Yarrow is also the name of a tiny town in the Fraser Valley, likely named after the plant.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Far Cry from Kensington, by Muriel Spark

World War II has been over for nearly ten years, and London is still recovering. Through the eyes of her protagonist, Muriel Spark shows us the charming offices of the small publishing company where she works. We also see holes where buildings have been bombed out, and other evidence of the recent war.

Mrs. Hawkins, our protagonist, is 28 years old. She is a competent and respected editor in the small and somewhat claustrophobic London publishing industry. Long since widowed from a brief wartime marriage, she enjoys her job. Her co-workers rely on her for help and advice. Even as the first-person narrator, she can't resist throwing in periodic bits of advice: for those who wish to slim, for those seeking jobs, and so on.

Sure of her editorial judgment, she is annoyed when an aspiring young man wants her help to get an introduction to her boss. When he waylays her in Green Park as she walks toward her workplace, she first tries politely to extricate herself, explaining that she cannot arrange for him to meet the publisher who owns her firm.

When he persists, she uses an impolite French epithet to describe him, calling him a pisseur de copie first silently to herself, and then aloud. With disastrous consequences, as it turns out. Hector has connections. His lover is the well-known author who demands that Mrs. Hawkins retract or be fired. Though her employers do not want to lose her, she refuses to tone down her judgment; on the contrary, she repeats her original insult. She has to go.

The cloud of unemployment, however, has a silver lining. At the boarding house, fellow boarders get into various scrapes and Mrs. Hawkins works away with her chum, the Irish landlady, to get things sorted out, especially for an excitable Polish seamstress who lives in the building. In her capacity as adviser, Mrs. Hawkins is asked out to supper by the wealthy father of a young tenant; his belief is that she can influence his young daughter positively.

Through the action of this novel, Mrs. Hawkins is transformed. From an overweight and officious young agony aunt, she grows into a slender and fashionable woman, with improving work and romantic prospects. However, her journey from Mrs. Hawkins to Nancy comes at a cost. And periodically, she backslides, resorting once again to dishing out advice.

Much later, when she meets her former nemesis, he barely recognizes her. Years have passed; her life is a far cry from that of Mrs. Hawkins of Kensington. The post-war London life so brilliantly portrayed by Muriel Spark is a far cry from life in London today. The book is a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era.

The first American edition of A Far Cry From Kensington was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1988, and the book was reissued by New Directions in 2000.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Free fruit fights back

Photo: Gravenstein apples, Putney Farm

All my life I seem to have had a powerful instinct to gather food. When blackberries ripen along the Serpentine Dike, I get my bucket and go down to pick.

In East Vancouver, I knew the Italian prune plum trees that grew in a nearby park. Our daughter was little; sitting on Dad's shoulders, she got an early start on food gathering by harvesting plums.

Down the road from our present home, before the abandoned apple orchard was sold, I liked to stop on my way home from work to fill my pockets or bag with the tart green apples and turn them into delicious applesauce by cooking them with water alone.

A few trees have survived the building boom to become part of the park, and I still stop from time to time. Gravensteins are delicious old-style garden apples that cannot be found in the shops. Heritage varieties, as they're now called -- a "limited edition" is a specialty product in California. 

Driving along a back street in Vancouver the other day, I thought I saw a treeful of ripe apples and stopped. Those tart yellow-green translucent beauties were hanging in a tree above the boulevard. Public space; fair game for picking.

When I stood beneath the tree, the apples were out of reach, and I looked around for something to help me knock some down. Nothing.

Unwilling to leave empty-handed, I reached up and wiggled a branch. One apple fell, but not onto the soft grass of the boulevard. It hit me square in the face, hard enough to give me a fat lip. Now what kind of message am I supposed to take away from that?

Picking free apples that others ignored, before they fell on the ground to rot and be wasted, had seemed to me to be an act of civic responsibility. I never expected to get beaned by my quarry.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Goldenrod signals summer's end

Photo: Goldenrod at White Rock beach

Goldenrod, solidago canadensis, is a common wildflower across Canada. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, it is sometimes blamed for allergies, but has also been used to treat ailments including arthritis, gout, and asthma, and has diuretic properties.

Said by some to prevent or alleviate kidney stones, goldenrod tea is a folk remedy for urinary tract infections.

For me, goldenrod is a pleasant reminder of late-summer childhood rambles in Northern BC, and a harbinger of autumn.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Poppies red and golden by Lake Louise

When as a child I first sang the song, I'd never seen the Rocky Mountains.
In my early years on the prairie, the only slope I knew was the coulee.

In school I learned to sing about "Lovely Alberta" long before I'd seen mountains, glaciers, or a jewel called Lake Louise:

"...and the golden poppies are blooming
round the banks of Lake Louise." They still bloom there.

The little gold ones are not native to the region. They're California poppies grown to beautify the gardens of the famed and venerable CPR hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise.

Photos: CT August 2012

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fireweed at Lake Louise

Photo: fireweed at Lake Louise Alberta. The glacier can be glimpsed behind the clump, at the far end of the lake. CT August 2012

Among the first plant to fill in after a fire has swept through a forest is the attractive wildflower called fireweed: hence its name.

In logged off areas, fireweed appears, swift and merciful, to fill in the "slash" with new life. Fireweed blooms from the bottom upward; blooms appear higher up the flower spike as those at the bottom fade. The opening of the top blooms is a harbinger of autumn.

The two firewood photos were taken only days apart. The difference is due to altitudes and climate zones.

Lake Louise, high in the Rocky Mountains near the continental roof, has a long winter and a short late summer. Thus its fireweed, seen above, is still at the peak of summer beauty.

Valemount is at a much lower elevation in the warmer climate of the BC interior. The fireweed plants on the left are visibly fading in colour as they approach the end of their bloom time while the top petals burst.

Fireweed is the floral emblem of the Yukon Territory.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Elk graze calmly by the highway in Jasper Park

Photo: Elk graze alongside the Yellowhead highway in Jasper National Park, CT August 2012

Jasper National Park is teeming with wildlife. A drive along the Yellowhead means a virtual guarantee of seeing deer, elk, mountain sheep or goats along the road. It's important to be cautious when driving through the park, especially at dusk when animals graze.

They can jump so suddenly up out of ditches in front of cars that it is impossible to stop. Each year, signs announce the wildlife highway mortality rates in the park -- more than a hundred animals each year, and 149 in 1990, the record year.

Obviously, accidents involving such large and heavy animals are very dangerous for motorists too. One friend had her nose broken when a collision with a deer caused her airbag to deploy. Her car was totaled.

Travelers who see a number of cars pulled over in the park rightly infer that there are animals to be observed. As for these elk, they seemed not the least bit concerned about the humans exclaiming over them and taking pictures. With the huge numbers of people passing through the park, they must be used to it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Saskatchewan River Crossing near continental roof

 A bridge crosses the North Saskatchewan River at this highway junction; hence its name. East along Highway 11, Rocky Mountain House,  once a Hudson's Bay Fort, is now a small town.

The Columbia Icefields are situated about 50 kilometers north along the Icefields Parkway, the scenic mountain route from Banff to Jasper. The toe of the Athabasca Glacier lies so close to the road that geology buffs can park and walk up to it, then reach out and place their hand in its ancient, grubby snow.

This is the  continental divide: from here great river systems flow east, west and north. The wide and mighty Fraser that flows into the Pacific at Vancouver is a small stream crossed a couple of times along the Icefields Parkway. After arising in the Rockies, the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers eventually join and flow into Lake Winnipeg, which drains into Hudson's Bay.

The Athabasca, the longest undammed river of the Canadian prairies, is now being depleted and polluted by oilsands development. It arises at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and flows through the varied geographic regions of Alberta and to the Peace-Athabasca delta. The Peace River system, in turn, drains into the long and wide Mackenzie, which flows through the Northwest Territories to empty into the Arctic Ocean through a vast delta, passing Aklavik and Inuvik on its way to Tuktoyaktuk. The Mackenzie River delta is an important bird area.

To see the lower hip or porch of the continental "roof," it is necessary to travel south into the Milk River system, which straddles the borders of Alberta and Montana. From that system, the rivers flow away south toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First Southbank writers celebrate completion

Yesterday, a top floor meeting room at Surrey Central Library was a site of celebration. The first batch of Southbank writers, those participating in the Surrey summer writing program launched this May by The Writers Studio, Simon Fraser University, completed their program with by participating in a public reading of their works.

TWS Program Director Wayde Compton opened the ceremony by reading a 4000-year-old poem found on cuneiform tablet at Ur. The students readings followed, kicked off with a story about girls and horses. After a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction pieces, the readings closed with poetry about plane trees, campfires, and solitary retreats.

Also joining the writers and their mentors in celebration today were, Katherine McManus, Program Director of the Writing and Communications Program, and Andrew Chesham, who also works with the Writers' Studio.

Further excitement was generated by Surrey Writers' International Conference representatives Ursula Maxwell-Lewis and Camille Netherton, who held a special draw. SIWC 2012 passes were awarded to lucky writers Leanna Greenway and Janet McLarty Fretter.

Southbank mentors*, along with the group of writers who have worked intensively with them since the end of May, felt a twinge of sadness along with the celebration. How could it all be over so soon?

With the reading complete and the pictures taken, the whole group repaired to Central City Brewing Company to raise a glass and enjoy a celebratory dinner.

Under the auspices of The Writers' SFU Harbour Centre, Southbank Writers' Program in Surrey has completed its inaugural year. We'll be back next summer. Meantime, keep on writing, everyone!

Claire de Boer
Renee Sakliklar
Toni Levi
Carol Tulpar (yes, lucky me)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Trails and airports

Including the airports at Villeneuve and Cooking Lake, Edmonton Airports operates four facilities. The Edmonton City Airport began its life as Blatchford field in 1927 with the arrival of two RAF fighter planes, and was named after Ken Blatchford, the Mayor of the time, in response partly to lobbying by the WWI flying ace turned bush pilot, Wop May.

Since the early days of flight, Edmonton has been considered the western gateway to the Far North. It also was the first to receive a federal license as an "Air Harbour." During World War II, it was of great strategic importance.

Photo below: A hangar built from the original blueprints used to build those at Blatchford Field can be seen at Fort Edmonton Park. CT August 2012

Today Edmonton City Centre Airport, or the Municipal Airport, is used for charters, training, corporate, private, medevac, industrial, and military flights. Meanwhile, the international airport at Leduc, Canada's largest in area, is expanding: in 2011 it unveiled a 25-year plan.

According to the EIA history, while the Edmonton International Airport was being built, security concerns involved more animals than people: beavers tried to flood the land, and livestock had to be kept off the runways.

The Municipal Airport, Canada's first, dates back to 1926. The newer facility opened in 1960, but more than half its land is still under cultivation, leased back to the original farmers until needed. EIA is located near Leduc, a few miles south along Highway 2, known as the Calgary Trail.

These trails that appear in the names of Edmonton's streets and Alberta's highways have long histories. Before it became a blacktopped highway, or even a wagon road, this route connected Fort Edmonton with the former North-West Mounted Police post, Fort Calgary.

Earlier still, the route was likely used by the aboriginal people who inhabited Alberta long before the idea of Canada was conceived.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Upper berth train ride old style

The old Canadian Northern train that runs around Fort Edmonton has the drop-down top berth. This train's sleeper system resembles later versions, when the convertible seats got more comfortable, with upholstery instead of wooden slats. These could be converted into lower berths, nicely screened off by heavy curtains.

When we moved from Alberta to BC in the late 1950s, I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. There were mountain goats beside the track, and a whole long train to explore.

I couldn't decide which was more thrilling:  to climb the ladder to the snug top berth or to lie in bed looking out the window, enjoying the changing views of sky and trees through the night, soothed by the rhythmic motion and the clacking of the train wheels.

Many years later, my mother and I rode the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto on a three day journey. For the long trip across mountain and prairie, we took a roomette, with tiny but perfectly cosy and adequate facilities.

There were two calls for dinner, early and late, signalling the times when passengers would go along to the dining car and enjoy delicious meals set out on elegant white tablecloths served using CN dishes and heavy silver cutlery.

In Toronto, we boarded the Ocean Limited, which took us as far as Sydney, Nova Scotia. From there, the ferry took us through the early morning to the small town of Port-aux-Basques on the west coast of Newfoundland.

The remainder of the journey to my mother's home city was accomplished by bus and took all day. We boarded at 7 am in Port-aux-Basques, and were greeted by our relatives in St. John's at 5 pm.

Newfoundland once had a narrow-gauge railroad, called, with affectionate irony, the Newfie Bullet. After this last province joined Canadian Confederation in 1949, the rails were torn up and replaced by the promised highway, the Trans-Canada. The completion of that long highway from Victoria BC to St. John's accompanied the overall decline of rail travel. Unfortunate.

The superior speed and increasing accessibility of airplanes heralded the end of passenger trains as serious modes of transportation. Train journeys across Canada are prohibitively expensive. In terms of cost, they have traded places with aircraft; while once only the wealthier people could afford to fly, now train travel is the expensive luxury.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Edmonton design: cowboy boot


The shape of cowboy boots gives these planters an Edmonton flair.

The shop is located on 104th Street, near Whyte Avenue.

Photo: Carol Tulpar, August 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Livery Stable

Photo: an old livery stable at Fort Edmonton Park, August 2012

Livery. I first heard this word from Dad. I was born on his 49th birthday, and his stories were old-fashioned, like grandpa stories. He talked about going to the livery stable when he was a kid.

The Free Dictionary defines a livery stable as a business that "boards horses and keeps horses and carriages for hire."

The contemporary equivalent of a livery stable would be limo rental companies, like Park Lane Livery and Rosedale Livery in Toronto, or Brentwood Livery in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The term livery comes from Great Britain, and it has other meanings. In the past it was "a distinctive uniform, badge or device formerly provided by someone of rank or title for his retainers." Livery once referred to uniforms worn by servants, and is now the "distinctive attire" worn by officials, or maybe  even members of certain companies.

The word goes back to the medieval days, when liverer meant an allowance of food or clothing. Today it is also used to describe the distinctive marking painted on aircraft. (Dictonary.com)

The City of London currently retains 108 tradition-steeped livery companies, descended from the guilds of the Middle Ages. Each has its own insignia and rituals. Some are of recent origin: for instance, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists was established in 1992. By scrolling down its charter, a reader can learn the history of the still common term Journeyman.

Along with the ancient Tanners, Wheelwrights, Glovers and Farriers, there are also the Hackney Carriage Drivers (or cabbies, who drive "hacks"). Their order of precedence is 104, just behind the World Traders and Water Conservators and ahead of the International Bankers and Tax Advisers.

As for the old Edmonton livery stable in the photo, it existed simply to board horses and hire out horse and carriage combinations, complete with the necessary equipment to drive them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Iron Creek meteorite, "now that the buffalo's gone"

Photo: The Manitou Stone stands before a photo of a huge pile of buffalo skulls with a man on top, RAM Aug 2012

Long ago beside Iron Creek, a tributary of the Battle River near Hardisty, Alberta, one of the largest meteorites ever to descend on Canada fell. According to Mark Lowey, this irregularly shaped lump of iron weighs 145 kilograms. The Blackfoot and Cree revered the Manitou Stone, associating it with the spirit of Old Man Buffalo, provider of food, clothing, and shelter.

Offerings were placed in front of the meteorite before hunting or war expeditions. When viewed from a certain angle, the stone appears to have a human face.

By 1866 the stone had been taken away by missionaries eager for converts. The Iron Creek meteorite was moved first to the Pakan Mission near Smoky Lake, then sent away to Victoria University in Cobourg, Ontario. Later it was housed at The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. After lobbying efforts by Albertans, it was returned to Edmonton in 1973.

At the time the stone was disturbed, an old medicine man warned that taking it from its place would result in war, pestilence, and the loss of the life-sustaining buffalo herds. Sadly, such conditions did prevail afterwards. Smallpox spread among the native nations, who had no resistance to it, and the Blackfoot went to war with the Cree. The once-teeming buffalo herds were decimated as the prairie was surveyed, fenced and farmed.

Today the Iron Creek meteorite stands in the Royal Alberta Museum, in the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture. Its backdrop is a photograph of an enormous pile of buffalo skulls that was taken in Detroit in the late 1800s, following an American government attempt to wipe out the buffalo herds so that the native people could be forced to assimilate to white ways.

Saskatchewan Cree songstress Buffy Sainte Marie alludes to this history in her haunting song, "Now that the Buffalo's Gone." The story of the Manitou Stone also inspired a beautiful painting by Aaron Paquette.

As reported by Jen Gerson in the National Post a few days ago, native elders and museum officials continue to discuss the possibility and wisdom of returning the meteorite to the place where it originally descended to earth.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wooden sidewalks and streetcars

The picture on the left shows the shaped wooden interior of an old street car that now runs back and forth across Fort Edmonton Park. Once a common sight, a wooden barrel, now a novelty, is visible through the window.

Before concrete became the norm, wood was used for train platforms and level crossings as well as sidewalks. I walked to Grade 3 on a sidewalk like the one below.

Some days we avoided walking on the cracks, or the nails that held down the planks, believing this would bring bad luck. The  chant went like this:

Step on a crack, break you mother's back.
  
                                 Step on a nail; your father goes to jail.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Storm windows with wooden frames

I enjoyed seeing the variety of Edmonton houses. The styles are different from those here in the Lower Mainland. Some still have old storm windows with three round air holes in the sash.

Wooden storm windows like these, seen near Whyte Avenue in historic Strathcona, used to be common. As a child, I remember opening the inside window so I could poke my fingers through the holes.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Prairie memories

Seeing these Fort Edmonton Park replica buildings set against an August thunder cloud evoked memories of my prairie origins in a sleepy town of false-fronted buildings and spectacularly changeable prairie skies.

The railroad was another essential feature of our town. During the fifties, Canada was a major wheat producer. Each day CN Rail carried trainloads of grain for export -- east to the lakehead and west to the Pacific coast.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thunder and sunsets

Our recent road trip to Edmonton was punctuated by numerous electric storms. We heard thunder, felt the heavy but short-lived rain and saw every possible type of lightning: sheet, forked and chain.

This bright slot opening in a sky full of storm clouds just at sunset was one spectacular view we enjoyed from the High Level Bridge. A glimpse of the North Saskatchewan shimmers through the darkness.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How White Rock got its name

The huge white rock for which the beach is named stands out, visible from a great distance. Kids love to climb it and lots tourists and locals get their picture taken beside it.

Beyond the unmoving stability of the rock, the beach continues its constant metamorphosis.

Meanwhile, at the London Olympics, an athlete from White Rock, Christine Girard, just earned a bronze medal for weightlifting. Bet she couldn't move this rock.